The Surprising Benefits of Giving Your Customers the Reins

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When I think of companies pursuing the consumer-to-business model, “Star Trek” often comes to mind.

Hear me out. They both share the same core value: to boldly go where no man (or business) has gone before. If you’ve ever watched the classic TV show, then you’ll remember Patrick Stewart setting the coordinates for the mission and telling his crew one thing: engage.

The same concept applies to the C2B model. Essentially, it flips the traditional business-to-consumer model on its head. Rather than having a company decide what product or service to offer with minimal input from its target audience, consumers create value and dictate their needs to the company.

Take Elance-oDesk, for instance. The first thing you see when you open the company’s website is great: “Work... reinvented.” It’s a pretty confident claim, but the company has found a way to engage with professionals across the globe and fill a need for small businesses looking for freelancers. 

In this sense, C2B is like extreme customer service, but it’s more than keeping your customers happy. Rather, this model empowers customers to take an active role in determining how or what your company is going to provide. It’s a bold way to get customers invested in your company and ensure that you’re attuned to their needs.

Let Customers Add Value to Your Business

C2B companies know the power of engagement. Technology and social networks are taking active roles in the lives of consumers, rendering customer service complaints expressed via social media commonplace. However, a great opportunity exists if you can learn how to listen and respond to your customer.

Take Uber, for example. People were tired of long waits and average taxi service, and Uber found a way to connect drivers and passengers. The founders realized that with a simple app, they could build a massive ride-sharing network in more than 200 cities worldwide. But one of the most unique aspects of the company is that its rating system is a two-way street. This way, drivers and passengers are both involved in improving the experience. It’s simple and brilliant — and it’s an excellent example of why you should let customers design aspects of your business.

After all, who knows what your audience wants better than your audience? Sure, companies have been conducting market research for decades. The difference is that with the C2B model, there’s constant two-way communication between the company and the consumer. Both parties are invested in improving the experience.

What’s so exciting about the C2B model is that it satisfies a deep desire many entrepreneurs have when dreaming of starting their own business: filling a real need. Adopting aspects of the C2B model is valuable for a number of reasons:

· It helps systemize how you address problems. Before engaging your customers, you have to listen to them. In doing so, you’ll learn what is (and isn’t) working. Eventually, patterns will appear, and after taking care of individual issues, you can determine how your company can prevent recurring missteps.

· It highlights missed opportunities. Having a direct line to customers can lead to insights in areas you haven’t thought about before. You might be the leading expert on your product, but your customers are the leading experts on what they’re willing to pay for.

· It recruits brand ambassadors. By engaging customers in an authentic way, you help them feel fully invested in your company. People want to feel like they’re part of something. If you let your customers contribute, they’ll likely share your products with friends, family, and their social networks. You can hire people to promote your brand or pay for a big ad campaign, but potential customers trust their friends’ recommendations over paid media.

How to Begin the Process

To gain authentic responses from your audience, you have to be more authentic in your approach. Asking customers to rate products and services is common, but it doesn’t do much for your customer. Unless someone has had an extreme experience, feedback surveys can feel time-consuming and pointless. Here are three key ways to open up the lines of communication between you and your audience:

1. Interview: Develop a few open-ended questions, and take the time to listen to each respondent’s full answer. Allowing customers to elaborate will give you much more valuable information than asking them to rate an item’s importance on a 10-point scale.

2. Read: Customers are writing reviews and having conversations online that can tell you a lot about your business. Make sure you read what people are writing about your company, but pay equally close attention to what they’re saying about your competitors.

3. Respond: It’s important to stay tuned into what people are saying — especially if you’re in an industry where you don’t engage with your customers face-to-face. The majority of consumers never receive a response concerning their feedback; to them, it feels like they’ve made little or no difference. If you want your customers to keep talking, be sure to respond.

Remember that C2B’s concept of engagement works both externally and internally. While you’re busy impressing customers with your ability to listen and respond to their needs, don’t forget about your team. This concept of engagement can help facilitate a more dynamic workplace for the same reasons it works externally: It fosters belonging and fulfillment.

With the technology available today, business is changing faster than ever. As customers become more engaged with the companies they work with, this new C2B model will only continue to grow. By applying these C2B strategies throughout your company, you’ll have better products, improved customer satisfaction, and a stronger team.

Brian Zeng is the chief marketing officer of OWNONLY, a multinational company that specializes in providing custom-tailored business and casual suits to its global customer base through an online boutique. 

About Brian Zeng

About Brian Zeng

Brian Zeng is the chief marketing officer of OWNONLY, a multinational company that specializes in providing custom-tailored business and casual suits to its global customer base through an online boutique. 

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