4 ways to change your customer relationships forever

Forget about customer satisfaction. Your real goal ought to be customer transformation.

Every now and then you come across an idea that is just brilliant. Do yourself a favour and read a Harvard Business Review post from a couple of years ago called, “Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?” In it, Michael Schrage a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, argues that just meeting the needs of customers or even addressing their pain points, isn’t good enough.

His assertion is that most business owners see customers only as a means to the end goal of growth or profitability. True success however comes from making the customer the raison d’etre of all business activity and asking the question, who do you want your customers to become? Shrage turns the classic approach to innovation on its head. Instead of asking how can we design better products and services, the more powerful question is how can we design better customers. Think about Apple. Ten years ago, their customers never imagined the ways in which a smartphone would impact their lives.

It’s a powerful idea. But does it have practical application for the 99.9% of businesses that lack the god-like aura of Apple? Can a manufacturing company or a professional services firm really transform the lives of its customers? The answer is a resounding yes but it demands that you answer an incredibly challenging question. For my business, what do I want my customers to become? Do you want them to use products differently or implement new processes or take a more sophisticated view of an industry? Another way of looking at it is what is the intersection point of a better state of being for my customers and improved business performance for me?

The path to changing the reality of your customers begins with a very practical question. How can you  begin to transform the lives of customers today? Here are 4 ways.

Engage. You can’t begin to think about making customers’ lives better without knowing who and what your customers are today. Give them tons of opportunities to tell you about what they want and need. That can be done using social media or various forms of market research. Or better yet, go out and meet with your customers. In person. Nothing can replace the power of a face to face conversation.

Inform. Make sure your customers are up to date with the latest trends and best practices. Yes, they should be subscribed to your blog and receiving of all your case studies. But you can also point them to other sources of information – industry sites and newsletters, conferences and webinars for example.

Connect. Create communities for your customers. Give them the opportunity to talk to others in the same industry or those from different industries with similar challenges. How? You can create online forums or social media communities. But the low tech approach may be the best. Introduce your customers to other customers – one-on-one or in gatherings. Enable them to develop the relationships that will make a difference to their business.

Inspire. Help customers set the bar higher. Empower your customers to see beyond their current realities and imagine something better – whether its a new product, process or ultimately better results. Provide your customers with white papers that detail the cutting edge of the industry. Connect them to inspiring people. Talk to them about – or better yet introduce them to – businesspeople who dared to dream. Share your own aspirations.

The reality is that by making your customers both the means and the end goal of business success – by putting them at the very centre of what you do, you not only have the potential to transform your customers, but you will create a truly powerful relationship with them. No pricing strategy, customer satisfaction plan or quality assurance program can match the impact of transforming the lives of customers.

What do you think?

Is the goal of customer transformation reasonable and attainable? How would you achieve it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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