No business intentionally ignores its customers. In fact, most managers think they do a reasonably good job of listening. But, if a customer feels ignored, big trouble lies ahead. Customer engagement is essential to business success.

The pain of being ignored

Naomi Eisenberger undertook a neuroscience research project to explore what goes on in people’s brains when they feel rejected.

Subjects participated in a computer game where they believed they were playing against other people. After a while, the other “players” (actually the computer) continued to play but the subjects were left out of the game.

Even when the subjects were told the other “players” were not real, they still felt excluded, disliked, judged, and angry. This result might surprise some readers – after all, who would be offended by a computer program? The most remarkable part of the finding was that this virtual shunning lit up areas of the brain associated with physical pain.

In fact, as we often read here, real people are driven by emotions and apparently irrational impulses. Even purchase decisions are often made based on subconscious feelings and emotions. Logical reasoning is used only at the end of the process to justify the decision they want to make.

Feeling Ignored – Customer engagement

Retail stores are prime locations for the “feeling ignored” reaction to kick in. Shoppers don’t usually like to be interrupted by sales staff, but want staff to be available when they need it.

We surveyed customers from a department store to determine why sales were below expectations. One of the stories we heard was “The staff were so busy talking to each other that I had to interrupt them to ask for help. Then, as soon as they answered my question, they immediately went back to their conversation.”
How likely is it that the shopper wants to stay in the store now, let alone buy anything?

While that’s an extreme example of rude staff behavior, even more benign situations can be miss the mark in customer engagement. If a clerk is restocking misplaced items, or performing other important tasks, a shopper wanting attention may still feel ignored.

This real-world situation is very similar to the simulation in Eisenberger’s research. Even if the customer would not admit it, he would almost certainly feel hurt and rejected.

This is just one example. This sort of experience is all too common. In 2012, Forrester found that only 37% of firms provided a good or “excellent” service , and Parature estimated $83 billion was lost in sales just in the US because of customer defections and abandoned purchases! Many companies have not got customer engagement right.

There’s clearly a lot of room for improvement, and this gap presents an opportunity to gain a real competitive advantage.

10 steps to attracting customers who love you

I love the insight in this simple quote: “In a few months people won’t remember what you said but they will always remember how you made them feel.” In other words, if you work at customer engagement it will pay dividends.

So, if it would transform your sales results, would you decide to show customers how much you appreciated and valued them?

We are tracking companies that are growing at 15% or more year after year profitably – even in tough industries. Without exception they all make their customers feel special. When you do the same they will buy more, and their enthusiasm will attract their friends- in droves.

What is more, it is not so hard. It is a mindset change:

  1. Consider the sales experiences you are involved in as a customer over the next few days.
    a. Ask yourself, “Do I feel appreciated? Rejected? Irrelevant?”
    b. What could the firms have done (or did they do) to make you feel appreciated and valued?
  2. If you can, actually try to repeat this with a test purchase or two in your own business.
  3. Now, work with key people across your business who are involved in sales, marketing and customer service. Share your thinking, experiences, and what you wish to achieve.
  4. Ask them to do the same thing you did in step 1. Remember that changing their mindset is the key to making this work.
  5. Compare your personal findings to any data you have from your own customers: comment cards, surveys, etc.
  6. Now, working with your team, create a list of all the different interactions you have with customers, e.g. coming into the store to buy, buying by phone, buying over the web, calling about a problem (list some of the most common problems).
  7. Using the experiences you have all had from steps 1 and 3, create a plan of action to ensure your customers feel valued and appreciated.
  8. In order for your employees to treat customers in a way that they feel valued, they need to feel valued, too. How will you and your team make that happen?
  9. Jointly agree on the metrics you will track to ensure your plans are working.
  10. Enjoy implementing your customer engagement plans, and watch your results improve!

This kind of process isn’t a one-time project. The most successful businesses (think, for example) are constantly monitoring customer behavior, evaluating feedback, and making changes to business processes.

And remember, it isn’t whether you are really ignoring your customers that counts – it’s whether they feel ignored. You may think a 24 hour email response is perfectly acceptable, but that may seem like a lengthy wait to a customer with a problem.

Frequent and friendly communication will go a long way toward making your customers feel like they are still “in the game!”

What experiences have you had, good or bad that impacted your decision to buy a product or service? I would be interested to hear from you.

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