Want the best customers? Three golden rules to educate consumers

Good customers are not born; they are made. It is your responsibility to educate them as consumers before they become customers. Follow three golden rules.
Written by Esteban Kolsky, Contributor

We all complain about our "bad customers".  Yes, you can admit it... it is true.  Some of them can be quite a pain in the --- unbridled expectations department.  However, we fail to understand that just like kids/teens pre-adults (as the father of two amazing daughters 15 and 18, I can attest to this), they are not born that way: we made them.  

Prepping for this article, I decided to do a little research on what's out there about the topic. I found a handful of articles from the early 2010s through today -- some of them very good, some of them interesting.  A few analyst reports but nothing earth-shattering because they focus on the same thing: how do organizations shift their content strategies or marketing campaigns from distribution to "education" (a distribution with fancier words), but none really focused on a different approach.  

The problem is not what you call the targeting-attraction-capturing stages of customer acquisition; the problem is how you do it.  This is not about your company needs; this is about understanding consumers and their expectations, meeting them, and letting them become customers on their own.

You have bad habits and bad processes around your need to sell your product above everything else. Consumers and your customers are only trying to a) get what they need, even if it necessitates some "whining", or b) survive your inane approach to customers lifecycle.  

If you were to separate your processes along expected outcomes to spot, attract, and capture consumers, and engage them as customers - just like good kids who graduate high school (my daughter just did, very proud of her considering the damage done by COVID-19 and bad educators along the way -- but I digress) and set their path in life -- you too can have awesome customers.

But how do you do that?  Glad you asked! The answer is three separate processes:

1) Find the right consumers: I am not even going to start to assume you have something you call segmentation.  I will also not begin to discuss how you are doing it right/wrong; you can figure that out.  Needless to say,  I am going to emphasize that you are most likely (if everyone else is the same as you, and I believe they are) segmenting customers into what your company considers value segments, not your customers' needs.  Whether you are doing demographic, predictive analytics, or some other quirky model, you are segmenting based on what you think will make good customer life cycle targets, not what your customer told you about themselves or what they need.  

It's ok; you can admit it; it works for most brands this way.  

If you are willing to try something different, then how about segmenting based on customer need (no, not about their need for their product but about their real need for a (re)solution?  thanks to digital transformation, social media, online communities and better data management - consumers are constantly telling us what they need.  

If you set out to understand their needs (intent and all) and their timelines, requirements, contingencies and dependencies, and similar elements, you can create segments not based on "let's pray we are right about our segmentation" but based on the balance between business outcomes sought and customer expectations to be fulfilled these are the right people for you to tackle as segments or customer targets.  Sure, it's different, but have you been getting the best results with traditional processes?  

Learn about your customers needs, understand your company's sought outcomes, and replace traditional segments with need-and-resolution-based segments, retrofit your campaigns and delivery to fit this new model (and your content, most likely) and let me know what you will find out.  I have some ideas...

2) Empower them to become good customers: This is where it starts becoming tricky -- this is the middle lands. At this time, you begin to utilize the technology infrastructure you recently built: leverage your unique-id investment to identify the consumer and begin to learn about them and correlate these lessons with the right education. It is not only educating the consumers about your products, processes, brand promise, brand identification, etc. It is about learning about their expectations and desires so you can solve for those better and target the right education. If you did that before, at least partly, for targeting purposes and populated your outreach and inbound efforts, then you know that you have some good eggs amongst the many consumers flocking to your business. 

Once you do that, you can then start empowering them according to their needs and expectations. Do they need product information? Company information? Or both? What is most important to them? How does your content and content distribution strategy address their needs? How do you update profiles (even as non-customers) to reflect what you learn?

The most important part, though, is to understand and embrace their expectations. You have traditionally done content distribution by campaign and/or by default. New customers get this; existing customers get that; new customers interested in this product get placed in this workflow, etc. At a high level, that works well with a numbers approach to consumer education: if we target 100, we may get 1-2-3 that are "live". In this new world, leveraging the tools and technologies you implement, you can change that to be more personalized, and that personalization comes via known expectations. You can set up rules and workflows that will dynamically adapt to each piece of known information that is added to a profile and known about a consumer. These workflows will have, as an end goal, to convert consumers into customers.

Use the lessons you learned, especially about expectations, to deliver the information they need to make choices and trust you as a provider.  your goal is not to convert them, but to empower them to learn about you, your product and convert themselves.

3) Guide customers to engage: This is where it becomes fun or interesting. Until now, it has been operationally efficient; now, the focus shifts to effectiveness. How do we leverage the fact that we found the right people and empowered them to become customers (via education and sharing of information)? We continue sharing information but become more targeted in what and how we do it. Building trust, empower empathy from employees to customers, and remaining focused on meeting expectations (customers) and delivering outcomes (organization) done on a step-by-step model is what brings engagement about.

The main difference between what we are proposing here and what most organisations do today is that it is not about mass production of information (that would be continuing the operationally efficient aspects of it) but discovering and using the right information. Both to give and to receive from customers -- in order to create highly personalized interactions. The execution of these interactions (measured against effectiveness, not efficiency - good, not how many) becomes the basis for engagement. When you focus on delivering great interactions, part of a larger end-to-end experience, based on the specific needs and using the right information -- both ways, that is how engagement is generated. There is no method to artificially building engagement any more than we cannot "force" people to interact with us. As long as customers give the organization the opportunity, the organization, in return, should focus on the proper resolution without further expectations and this over time will generate trust, need, and ends up being the way to engage customers.

Your guidance, not coercion, to be part of those processes and journeys is what sets the organization apart versus another one that is just focused on the wrong goals. Fulfill outcomes, manage expectations, deliver great interactions. The rest is aligned automatically.

Sounds simple enough. This may sound like a cliche, but you can get far better customers if you nurture your consumers rather than if you just go for numbers (something about flies, honey, etc.). This takes time, attention to detail in areas where we would've normally shoehorn consumers into segments just to make our numbers, and a process to nurture them based on their needs, not the company.

It works.  Maybe not a technology marvel, but certainly something worth trying.  Worst-case scenario, you learn about your customers, outcomes, expectations, and how to make it all work together. In a best-case scenario, you educate your consumers into becoming better customers.

Try it?

As always, comments and invitations to talk/converse are always welcome down below, in Linkedin, via the world's worse-kept-secret (my email address) and potentially soon via other channels if some evil forces conspiring against me win...

See you soon and thanks for reading.

Editorial standards