As a business, active engagement with our clients is something we are continually told is beneficial. As with any business advice, however, we need to dig deeper into the intent and understand the dangers in the phrase “too much of a good thing…”
With the great advances in communication technologies over the past decades, it has become increasingly easy to communicate with our customers. This is a good thing… right?
In many instances, yes, it is. In many others, however, it is not. In the “old days”, unprompted communication with customers, leads, or their potentials, had to be thought out well in advance. The timing, the recipients, and even the message itself had to be weighed against the cost–both in money and labor. The question “Is this worth doing?” was not rhetorical; it was an important business decision.
These days, however, communication is “free and easy”. Ten minutes and ten pennies is all it takes to “communicate” with a million people.
Which brings us to the problem; a new question. It’s no longer “is it worth it (for the company)?”, it’s now “is it worthwhile (to the customers)?” Too often companies choose the wrong answer–if they bother to ask the question in the first place.
Helpers & Hawkers & Hounders
While there are many approaches to business interactions, on the active side there are three basic categories that stand out: Helpers, Hawkers, and Hounders
The “Hounder” is the person (or company) that is “in your face”. They’re constantly pushing “news” or “information” (put in quotes for good reason) about new products, sales, or things for you to buy. They’re the guy with fake watches that follows you down the street insisting you need a knock-off Rolex.
In a digital world, these are the pop-up ads that won’t go away. They’re the chat-bots that pop up on every page telling you about the great deals they have. They’re the top reason that ad-blocking software is so popular.
The “Hawker” is slightly less annoying. But only slightly. The hawker doesn’t chase you down, but neither do they shut up. They’re the guy who stands on the street corner shouting “Watches! We got watches! Cheap watches!” They may not be saying it directly to you, but you can still hear it. And that’s all you can hear.
In a digital world, these are the companies whose online presence consists only of advertisements–and lots of them. Their contributions to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the rest are nothing but product pictures and a sentence on where to buy them. This is an easy trap to fall into. Consistently posting informative and interesting content is hard.
The “Helper” is the most worthwhile to the customer. But it’s also the most difficult to balance and maintain. As a company, you need to be pro-active. You need to approach people who want to know about your company and products, but aren’t able or willing to approach you first. It might be as simple as saying “Hello. May I help you with something?” Or it might be something as complex as sitting down (literally or metaphorically) and having a long conversation.
In a digital world, the helpers are often not the most visually prominent companies. They don’t have hourly advertisements posted to LinkedIn, a bazzilion followers on Facebook, or 17 tweets in 24 hours saying “Retweet this and win!” (I actually saw this).
They are, however, the name your co-worker or your best friend mentions when you ask “What’s a good place to get…?” They’re the ones to seek to educate their customers. They provide information and insight, and treat their customers–actual or potential–with respect.
Building attention is easy as a hounder or hawker. A helpful company might take longer to reach critical mass with regards to popular attention, but along they way they build strong relationships, a positive reputation, and the loyalty of their customers.