Don’t pretend you’re clairvoyant; your value proposition won’t be hurt just because you admit you don't know everything about your customers. If you listen to the customer it will help you know what to say to them later. In the early stages of a new customer relationship it’s all about the questions. Get advocates from sales or business development to help ask your questions too, and to help you understand the customer organization. Triangulate. If you supply something truly essential to your customer’s value proposition those customers will turn out to have a strategic view of how you fit into how they talk about themselves. Be aware that sometimes actions speak louder than words and the best reply is how you shape your future products to meet customer needs. Often customer intelligence comes from senior people in your organization. That’s fine but listen to everyone; you can often learn something very different ‘at the coal face’ – speak to the junior engagement points (customer experience, local sales, helpdesk etc.) to get a sense of other customer issues that you can address too.
Make contact personal. The quality of personalisation is often limited by the volume of customers but data and CRM makes personalization possible however many customers you have. With the sophistication of today’s relationship handling tools you can really understand your customer’s interests. To the right customer, showing them how you support charity, engage in Open Source, advocate workers rights, or even how you are listening to them, can hold great value.
Don't be afraid to have customers talk to each other. One of the best direct customer communications activities I use is a series of networking events for senior execs. Make sure that you have one of your businesses execs for every six customers. This means that much of the time customers have to talk to each other, even though that might be something they would otherwise never do. The feedback? They love it. I often hear of customers doing business together as a result (or at least becoming cordial for the first time!) And what do you get? An event series that will continue to get stronger and stronger and customers who genuinely want to come and engage with you.
Timing is everything. Ever sent a new product announcement to a customer who just bought the old product? Then you know what I mean. Segment your communications so that they are pertinent and timely. With modern CRM systems there’s no reason this isn't done and with direct to customer communication this is much easier than with scattergun tactics like PR. Know where your contact is on their customer journey and communicate accordingly.
Think of all the touch points. Indirect communications can count too. Survey your customers. Know what they read, where they go. Then be on that page, at that event. Be where they go for fun. Be in the publications they read for pleasure. Sometimes you still have to let them come to you.