It has long been a given in more recent customer attraction and retention strategies that knowing your customers is key to connecting and staying connected with them to obtain maximum lifetime value including, with the advent of social media, the value of those they can influence.
The ability to accurately identify customers and to determine their incomes, demographics, purchasing patterns, likes and dislikes enables more personalized, targeted and successful offers and service that hopefully leads to repeat business, recommendations and referrals.
Customers in turn expect that when companies contact them or when they reach out to firms that they know them well enough to meet and anticipate their needs.
Or do they?
Are there and are there many (and growing) customers who prefer to remain anonymous, their mantras being “don’t contact us, we’ll contact you”?
I suspect there is. In today’s environment the customers are in charge and in many instances they i.e. us want to investigate companies before making their buying decisions without alerting them. They can—and do—find information about firms whether from web sites or via social media. Many will ignore the chat requests that pop up or work around the registration requests. They become as stealthy as reporters in investigating outfits. Only when they have done their homework will they make their outreach.
Moreover many consumers want to keep their personal information private. They/we have unlisted phone numbers, cloak e-mail addresses and call and e-mail gatekeeper programs. And once they realize "if its online it is public" they use handles in posts and restrict the information they provide to firms and post about themselves. As many individuals are now doing.
The proclamation by some businesses that “individual privacy is dead, deal with it” is being countered by a backlash on privacy as witnessed by “do not track” legislation that in itself is the latest of such laws going back to Do Not Call and efforts to regulate door-to-door sales. Making unsolicited calls (and soon texts) to wireless phones is a big no-no.
Moreover the amount of personal information that is being collected by any entity—private and public--is being challenged. Canada recently made compliance with the long-form Census voluntary.
The reasons are the same. Many consumers don’t want to be bothered by people—and firms --they don’t know. When companies reveal, even hint what they know about buyers/prospects it creeps many of them out. Call it “commercial stalking”.
And as more tools are devised to strip away privacy—firms are now busy coming up with solutions to identify the authors behind anonymous posts—there will then be pressure from annoyed consumers (and voters) on lawmakers for legislation restricting these practices.
As politicians have learned, privacy gets votes. And marketers make for great punching bags. Just ask the telemarketing industry.
There are two other factors that come into play: the commoditization and interchangeability of products and services and a slow growth economy. Products and services and their providers are only as good as their last performances. If the customers’ experiences were good they may--or they may not stay--if the next time they need their wares someone else offers equal if not better features, services and quality at and/or lower prices. If they stunk, wasting customers’ scarce resources and annoying them greatly, these buyers may very well go elsewhere because there is no shortage of hungry competitors they can do business—and recommend others to do likewise via social media--as sweet payback. No matter how nice and helpful the contact center agents bearing the brunt or reaching out to them may be.
Yes, knowing the individual customers are improves organizations’ abilities’ to provide excellent service to them: including giving them the attention and service and offers based on their value to the enterprise.
Yet how much information is needed and shouldn’t all buyers be treated well? The data collected on consumers especially is a lousy source of predicting future behavior. No software can crystal-ball in today's uncertain economy what will happen to individuals' jobs and earnings and purchases, and value to enterprises. Individuals' values are also only as good as their last transactions.
Moreover why put the extra effort in to get to know customers as if they are best pals and intrude on their privacy? When customer loyalty itself is ephemeral?
How do you manage customers including those that wish to remain anonymous? The best strategy is to assume they want to be anonymous until they give you permission to act otherwise. Ask only the most critical questions for the interactions and to listen to them, for they will tell firms what they need to know, nothing more, nothing less.
And if they wish to remain behind the curtain and do not want to give any data respect that. Don’t sneak to obtain that material behind their backs. Any good listener/reader will know the language including the tone, just like the smart retail sale staff knows when to move forward or to back off.
Customer relationships whether one-off, recurring or occasional are or should be based on respect and trust.
By respecting customers’ anonymity, by not tracking their every move (and avoiding the risk of annoying them) will result in a smaller but sweeter pool of buyers. Just like telemarketing clients who got with the Do Not Call program. Buyers who will be more likely to return: if/when they are ready to buy and what is being offered meet their needs and the service is excellent.