Have you had a customer conversation lately?

I like the elegant language we use talking about customer loyalty -‘predictive analytics’ and ‘behavioral targeting’ come immediately to mind. They make loyalty work sound almost like an academic discipline. Good for the ego.

On the other hand, the 50-cent words tend mask the beauty of what customer loyalty applications really accomplish – which is to is let a business person have a privileged and private ‘conversation’ with each and every customer – no matter how many customers are on the books.

You need to be a good listener to learn anything from the conversation. And the process involves some sophisticated math, but the computer does that. However getting to know your customers and their habits definitely isn’t brain surgery.

Listening starts with learning from your customer databases, looking at orders, invoices, shipping information and other ordinary customer transaction data. This puts the conversation on a purely factual basis – because the information on an invoice is not an opinion. It’s what’s actually happened.

In a lot of organizations these facts are still touched only by billing clerks. But upload the facts to a customer loyalty application, and that application can reveal a lot more useful information about what customers have been up to lately. All you have to do is listen.

Customers’ data will tell you what they’ve been buying, and re-ordering. Buying patterns emerge. Over time it’s easy to see if the patterns are changing and to spot buying trends. A good listener will be able to forecast customers’ future purchases with accuracy – which can help plan inventory needs.

The conversation can predict when customers should buy next, and what they’ll buy. It can identify the customers who should have bought but didn’t and what they’re not buying that others like them are. The customers will also tell you loud and clear when they’re unhappy enough that they just might leave and take their business elsewhere. Since you’re talking with every customer, about every item they’ve purchased, this kind of conversation produces more dependable answers than a few face-to-face interviews.

Of course, listening isn’t worth much unless you do something about what you hear – but we don’t call that analytics. We call that marketing.

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