Chances are, we are both seeking to find rich, unique and sustainable value propositions to offer to our customers. Innovative concepts, distinctive marketing and offering better products or services are our focus point in a world where the USP has little to no existential right anymore. We focus on what our products and services will do to help a customer prosper but what do we, as organisations, do to help our customers organisations evolve? And why should we bother?
Customer education is to be a part of a great marketing strategy
There has been a greater attention for sustaining long-term relationships with our customers in recent years. This renewed focus might be driven by the yearlong strain on our marketing budgets for preserving an existing customer base is still much cheaper than attracting new customers. Whatever the cause may be, several factors influence our customer’s loyalty and most of these factors, but not all, are given the necessary attention.
Many organisations have not yet sufficiently permeated the fact that customer loyalty depends on knowledge. Our success does not only depend on the knowledge that enables us to create our products or services but also depends on many other forms of knowledge, most of them connected to our customers. For instance, educational support can not be provided effectively without truly understanding our customer’s preferences.
The level of loyalty our customers experience is, in turn, partly determined by their level of knowledge concerning our activities. Moreover, the exchange of knowledge defines our value creation process, for value creation greatly depends on our knowledge of- and our ability to- understand the customer and vice versa. That alone should be enough reason to qualify customer education as an important part of the marketing strategy within organisations that offer complex products, tailor-made products or within organisations that offer longer-term services. Through creating expertise amongst customers, the underlying relations are reinforced. This educational process requires a constant flow of communication and the possibility to learn from one another.
The transfer of knowledge from the organisation to its customers enables the customer to make more well-founded decisions. This results in a customer that has a greater sense of influence improving their level of confidence. It will ultimately lead to a more positive evaluation of the organisation’s trustworthiness and will also result in the conviction that the organisation is sincere in its efforts to facilitate and support the customer. All of which improve customer loyalty.
Customer education enables customers to assess services better
Well educated customers can use our products and services more effectively because they are better able to understand their application and thus better assess their value. A customer that has sufficient background information will recognise and appreciate (developing a positive attitude) both the technical and functional aspects of a product and will have a better estimate of the knowledge needed to offer certain services. Also, well-educated customers have been found to experience a higher sense of satisfaction and a greater sense of loyalty than uneducated customers. The knowledge a customer has, influences mutual trust, both cognitive and affective*, and will create a heightened sense of control over the products and services they use. Because of this, customer education ultimately influences the decision-making process of customers.
* Cognitive trust is the level of willingness a customer has to rely on the competencies and steadfastness of an organisation. This form of trust is based on the accumulated knowledge about a relation that enables the customer to predict behaviour with a degree of certainty. The affective trust is based on the emotional life of a customer.
Customer education stands for intentionally organised activities that are aimed at improving attitudes, knowledge and skills of customers and prospects within a certain market or industry. The most commonly used media for educating customers within educational programs are advertisements, contact with employees (consulting amongst others), leaflets, brochures, seminars, websites, training, blogs, books, technical documents and forums. In which the interaction with employees and especially sales appears to influence the perceived risk and development of mutual relations the most. This is likely attributed to the interactive aspect, enabling customers to ask questions during the transfer of knowledge.
Creating awareness about the effects of customer education
It is important to realise that problems can arise when customers develop a certain level of expertise. Their level of knowledge will affect both their expectations and their perception of the products or services they use. Organisations should be aware that knowledge leads to greater appreciation but also comes with higher expectations on quality and, in most cases, an increased need for tailor-made products and services.
Managers within organisations will need to follow intensive training to fully understand the quality and complexity of the offered services and products so that they can convey their effects in a constructive manner. It is advisable to let employees emphasise on the aspects of the product or service that are hardest to replicate. The development of educational programs in order to share knowledge with customers and other employees proves to be ideal in light of this objective.
Employees should be taught to focus on interacting with the customer while taking the customer’s wants and needs into account constantly. To sustain the success of these educational programs, organisations need to find ways to continuously update their knowledge by tapping into their market and translating that knowledge into their own activities. By managing knowledge, both customer and organisation will evolve.
Customer relations are dynamic and the level of knowledge a customer has is evolving from day to day. Therefore, a constant and two-way data flow is crucial for our success tomorrow.