How to Turn Customers Into Strategic Partners

May 18, 2017
7 Min Read
David Nour - How to turn customers into strategic partners

David Nour - How to turn customers into strategic partners


Think about the last time you were asked to fill out a customer satisfaction survey. Chances are, you rated everything “fine” and then moved onto something else.

You may have actually been fine with the service or the product, or maybe you didn’t want to be a hater and give the company a bad rating. But the problem with such a tepid response is that it gives the company a false sense of well-being – and that can lead to real bottom-line consequences.

“Too many companies have on rose-colored glasses and they’re not getting sufficient data to read between the lines,” says David Nour, author of “Co-Create: How Your Business Will Profit from Innovative and Strategic Collaboration.” “A rating of ‘fine’ isn’t what gets customers to come back.”

That lack of true insight can doom an organization to failure at a time when competition is keen and disruptors are around every corner. If companies instead rely on “listening louder” to customers, they can turn them into strategic partners that can help them be more innovative and responsive, Nour says.

By collaborating with customers and listening to their ideas at every stage of new product and service development, the customers are happier with the outcome, he says. These customers are then much more likely to tell their friends about the company and the product, and continue to add value by offering more insight into themselves and offering new ideas.

This idea of “co-creation” is the focus on Nour’s book, where he advocates that companies must learn to partner with their most ardent customers to build something together that the company could not have built alone, he says.

Nour points to the “1/9/90 rule” that states that 1% of your customers are front and center and ready to advocate for your company; 9% will participate, but they’re not going to be the first ones; and 90% are passive customers.

He suggests that companies must identify their 1% “and love on them” by showering them with attention and soliciting their feedback and ideas. Then, the 1% and the 9% must be brought together to get their input and educate them about what the company does and how it functions. That can lead to a stronger bond and bring them closer as strategic partners, he explains.


Adding value

At the same time, Nour says that customers aren’t the only strategic partners for organizations – other companies also can fill that role.

For example, Hilton and Uber have recently partnered as a way to create value in the hospitality industry. Hilton, recognizing Uber’s growing market reach, now encourages its customers to connect their Hilton Honors and Uber accounts, Nour says. Now, when a customer stays at a Hilton property, it makes it easier for Uber to know where the customer is located and make a pickup.

“The space between a hotel and various events – or between the airport and the hotel – used to be a bit of an anonymous wasteland. But now it is becoming a seamless extension of both brands,” Nour explains.

He says companies should begin by asking themselves: “With whom could we join forces to add value in a space in which no one has before added value?”

He cautions, however, that when organizations co-create, they need to be prepared “to give up a little bit of self-interest and control, to find the sweet spot in which both of your organizations will benefit.” Co-creation works best when both sides dial back their self-interest, and instead believe that they will be much stronger moving forward together, he says.


Being agile

Nour says that in order for co-creation to be successful, companies must be ready to be more agile, to react more quickly to ideas from customers, to partner with other organizations and to listen to their own employees. Those workers who best understand the customer and have a better grasp of problems that customers face are the ones who need to be given the tools and freedom to solve those issues and then funnel that information up the organization’s chain of command.

“Unfortunately, too many companies spend time defending the status quo rather than challenging it,” he says.  “You have to learn to nurture employee innovation. There’s a reason Google is the company it is. They encourage their employees to come up with new ideas. Some have failed, but they continue trying. Companies evolve when their employees are willing to take a risk and try new things.”


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