Boring is good business

Even though we usually consider boring as something negative, in business being boring can be a blessing, writes Suvi Nenonen. 

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, you have been told over and over again that this decade is all about customer engagement. 

In this experience economy, you have to build meaningful relationships to your customers. Every business is a stage – but you must remain authentic at the same time. And nothing beats ardent customer advocates, declaring their undying love for you and your products on various social media, and in so doing propelling your sales through the roof.

But what to do if your net promoter score is average at best, nobody uses your company’s hashtags on Twitter or Instagram, and getting an unsolicited customer recommendation is about as likely as winning the lottery – but your customers keep buying your products and pay their bills on time? Should you be worried?

Well, it depends. First, you (and all customer engagement enthusiasts in particular) should differentiate between high interest products and low interest ones. 

Certain product or service categories tend to be evoke deep interest among customers, for example due to their functional importance (homes for consumers, production machinery for business customers) or their ability to express the identity of the user (clothes in both B2C and B2B). In such high interest products and services it is possible to aim for high levels of customer engagement. 

Sometimes deep customer engagement is a plain necessity in these industries – just think how important high rankings in TripAdvisor have become to all businesses related to tourism. 

However, the situation is dramatically different in product and service categories that most customers consider as low interest ones. For many consumers, plain flour is about as plain as it gets – no need to get excited or write raving reviews. 

The same logic can also be applied to different customer segments: some are more prone to high levels of engagement than others. Therefore, you should know intimately how engaged your target customers could, and should, be. 

The customers of an airport hotel probably don’t care about anything else than catching their early morning flight – even though the very same people might be very engaged with the hotel in their final destination – whereas a producer of artisan organic flour indeed can engage its foodie customers in a meaningful dialogue on their Facebook page.

 

There is more to engagement than emotion
The other major problem with engagement is that the popular press emphasises just one aspect of it. 

Blame it on the overly emotional zeitgeist or poorly chosen word, ‘engagement’ is predominately associated with emotional engagement. Yet, there are also other aspects of engagement than emotion: cognition and behaviour are to be considered as well. 

Cognitive engagement is about ensuring that your customers know all that they need to know about your products and services. All too often I meet business owners who think that their customers “get” their products and services – but in reality their customers are struggling to cope with these offerings, even to the point of walking away, just because they lack the necessary know-how. 

On a similar vein, you could consider whether it is possible to involve customers in some parts of your business process. IKEA is a classic example of such behavioural engagement (sometimes also called co-creation), but you can involve your customers in other activities as well, ranging from design to disposal.  

Lack of engagement can be a good thing
So, if you are in a low interest business with customers that are not predisposed to high levels of emotional engagement, then there is probably no need to worry if your company doesn’t have a cult following. 

In fact, you should consider congratulating yourself for having a boring business. Even though we usually consider boring as something negative, in business being boring can be a blessing. Boring can signal a big business opportunity – after all, the majority of consumption relates to the everyday, not to exceptional experiences. 

Boring can also mean that your customers are very loyal to you: if they are not that interested, then they are likely to be uninterested enough to keep using the same provider.

However, please bear in mind that there is one exception to these rules of thumb: when something goes wrong, customers tend to get very engaged – negatively, that is – even about the most boring businesses.

So, excellent service recovery processes are also needed in those industries that otherwise don’t need to worry about customer engagement.  

 

 

 

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