Trick or Treat – but Don’t Scare – Your Customers

Last week when Facebook made some pretty significant changes to how its users pages appeared and functioned, it resulted in a deluge of user whines, groans and complaints played out not only in status feeds but in articles and blogs across the internet. That – and the pumpkin on my mantel – served as the inspiration for this post, reminding me of some things business owners need to keep in mind when implementing change.

Here’s how to trick or treat – – but not scare – your customers:

Yes, you want to innovate and make improvements to efficiencies and processes—especially when those changes represent enhancements to the customer experience. But businesses on the change track can fall prey to two fairly significant problems, which can result in negative consequences that outweigh (at least temporarily) positive results the change is intended to produce.

One, they run the risk of changing too many things, and thereby (knowingly or unknowingly) eliminating or altering things that their customers don’t want to see changed at all.

And two, as evidenced last week with the latest round of Facebook changes, they run the risk of making significant changes that their customers don’t understand and aren’t ready to accept.

In my personal view, the latest round of Facebook changes gave the application functionality it should have had all along. I saw them as improvements, the way the program should have looked and worked all along. Most of my friends, however, reacted with anger, fear (that they wouldn’t be able to navigate as well or set up their pages)and some pretty raw frustration.

So, if you are going to implement major changes in your business, make sure that your overall plan includes several means and phases of communication with customers and employees beforehand:

  • Tell customers about major changes to appearance or functionality (online or in your bricks-and-mortar store) well in advance of changes, more than once, and across a variety of communications channels. Depending on the frequency with which customers typically visit your business, this might mean communications occurring over many months.
  • Tell customers what they can physically expect (to see, hear, experience, etc.) after changes take place.
  • Tell customers specifically how the changes you’re making benefit them directly (such as changes to the customer experience) or indirectly (through reduced overhead or improved capabilities, better efficiency, new offerings, etc.)
  • Educate your employees about the changes ahead of time. Make sure they are prepared to walk customers through new processes or layouts, prepared to tell customers how the changes benefit them and prepared to handle questions and complaints. Educate and empower employees to respond to complaints and resolve problems.
  • Give customers a medium for expressing feedback before, during and after the change process. Solicit feedback from employees and customers during all phases of the change process.
  • Acknowledge complaints and questions and do what you can to minimize customer discomfort (such as by providing employees to assist with new procedures, distributing store or internet site maps, etc.)
  • If you do make a mistake – or scare your customers – by moving too fast or going to far, acknowledge any mistakes made and do what you can to remedy the situation. Open up the channels of communication, educate customers about the benefits of the changes you made, provide additional staff to assist, consider rolling back some or all of the changes (at least temporarily), and ensure that customers have the means to express concerns, frustrations or suggestions.

Halloween is almost here – make sure you “treat” your customers well. As the saying goes, “If we don’t take care of our customers, someone else will!

A 2012 Marketing Calendar for Small Business is in the works! [ Subscribe ] to my e-mail newsletter to keep reading this series of little white marketing lies, to be notified of the 2012 marketing calendar release and for more good stuff — it’s going to be a great year!

Elizabeth Kraus –
365 Days of Marketing is available on in book and digital formats.

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