Using Values: Connecting Deeply with Customers

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by: John Caddell

(This is another in a series of posts about gathering & using customer stories via social media. Prior posts are listed at the bottom of this post.)

Last post I talked about using emergent constructs to determine customer values related to a company’s product or service. Values are things customers find value in, don’t find value in, or find negative value in (that is, they buy & use in spite of a characteristic).

Knowing the values that apply across customer segments is a powerful tool for companies. They can use this to architect their services, products, support, etc., to emphasize the values that connect with the customers they want to attract. They can also focus their attention on those customers who share the values that they offer, and ignore customers who have other values.

Companies that understand what their customers value often have very deep connections with those customers, and strong attendant loyalty. Examples like Harley-Davidson, BMW and Apple come to mind.

Startup companies by definition espouse a set of values, often set in place by their founders. At least in part, this is because startups have to make explicit tradeoffs between what they will and won’t do. This address by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, at the recent SxSW Interactive Conference, illustrates the tradeoffs Zappos made:

For established companies, espousing values isn’t so easy. They don’t have the resource scarcity nor the founder’s focus of a startup. But they have a crucial resource most startups don’t–a customer base and history serving it. So, they can tap that base to gather stories and use the emergent construct sensemaking processes set out in the earlier posts in this series.

The story-gathering approach can measure values as the companies and markets change–and as the company’s leadership grows more disconnected from customers and their values, an inevitable result of business growth. Another powerful advantage: story-based values can trace back to the actual stories that influenced them. This is useful for communicating the values and their importance to internal groups and the outside world. “We help our customers save precious time by providing an easy-to-use, intuitive system. For example….[real user story here].”

[A similar type of assessment was described in the recent book "Marketing Metaphoria" by Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman. The Zaltmans use interviews and constructed collages to derive the values (what they call "deep metaphors"), rather than by gathering and looking at stories.]

Prior posts in this series:
Many ways businesses can listen to customers
Are 200 stories more useful than 2,000,000 data points?
Dealing with what customers tell you online

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