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Collaborate With Customers to Unlock Sustainable Growth

Businesses dimensionally synergizing with customers are about to become your stiffest competition, and here's what you need to learn in order to beat them.

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Look up "collaboration" in a dictionary, and you think you know what it means: working together to achieve a goal. In business, that goal is growth, and business leaders have long been looking for ways to improve team collaboration to get there. When digital options, like FaceTime and Google Hangouts, started making it easier for families to stay connected, business owners realized they could do the same for their employees. Since the pandemic, those options have exploded, and it seems like everyone these days is focused on collaboration, but virtually no one is capitalizing on the awesome potential that has been unlocked — a new form of collaboration is on the horizon, allowing businesses to work with the players who are the very crux of achieving their business goals: their customers.

Stuck in the universe of colleagues and teams — at best, stretched to include partners or other companies — most people embracing collaboration these days are missing out on the major benefits of collaborating with their customers. But not for long. Soon enough, as more of our daily lives move online, businesses will start to realize the advantages and leave those who hesitate in the dust. In the years to come, building new products and services based on customer collaboration will be what drives your businesses — and the future of industry.

Related: 3 Ways You Can Let Your Customers' Stories Speak for Your Brand

Room for improvement

Collaboration has to be a two-way street, but most of the touchpoints between a company and its customers are missed opportunities. The first contact will most likely be from the marketing team: banners at the airport, TV commercials, billboards on the side of the highway. This first touchpoint is usually void of all collaboration — no billboards offer scannable QR codes that take you straight to a representative. If they did, customers and prospects could more easily offer their input in that exact moment, giving you data that could improve their overall experience and draw more people to your company.

The next person likely to encounter a customer is someone from sales. He or she seeks you out, even offers you incentives, like free gifts, to stay on a 20-minute phone call with him or her, but all the salesperson's talk is to sell you a product, and then he or she disappears. Finally, when a customer has already paid and reaches out to a company’s customer success and support team, trying to speak to a real person can feel nearly impossible. Company employees talk to the customer or at the customer, but rarely with the customer, and these are missed opportunities for feedback that can drive a business in every dimension of growth.

Know where to grow

Two-way communication with your customers gives you specific and measurable data about the direction they want to see your business go. Imagine trying out a new coffee shop. An employee might tell you about the launch of a new holiday flavor, but the most you get is a one-way conversation — one party seeking specific answers. A collaborative approach would be to ask what kinds of holiday flavors customers would want before the holiday season to know which flavors they want to buy. Alternatively, ask for feedback on the current options and bring that information back to the team for improvements. Either way, seeking out input from customers results in better sales and greater loyalty.

To grow your business, you either need to up your game in customer satisfaction or keep coming out with new products or services, and the best way to do both is to collaborate with the people buying them. Customers want to be heard, not drop their opinions in some dusty suggestion box. When I give product feedback, I usually reach out to company pages on Twitter or Facebook because I know I’m more likely to find a human who will listen. Not only does listening to customer feedback make customers feel more satisfied, it lets you more easily determine what products and services they will buy and recommend to others.

Related: The Bigger the Brand, the More Likely Its Customers Feel Ignored

Pioneers have already begun

Industry leaders are waking up to customer collaboration, but right now, they’re still at square one. When I was working for Symphony, the leading markets’ infrastructure and technology platform, I saw how much people in wealth management were struggling to maintain communication with their customers. They essentially could only meet in person or via email because other modern, digital avenues to collaborate were insecure, which is why major banks had to call in Symphony for solutions. From the leaders of HSBC to the CEO of Salesforce, the biggest names in business are turning to customer collaboration to drive growth, which means it’s only a matter of time before that evolves into something bigger.

We may be at square one, but no one is really talking about getting to 100 yet. Most people are still waiting for some kind of segue — a point in the customer journey that makes collaboration possible, but there is none. Even before they start looking for what you sell, you can make the decision to start collaborating with your customers. Teenagers, for example, may not need your product yet, but you can encourage their feedback for when they do. Collaborate from their first impression and all the way through their lifetime with your company so they continue to enhance your reputation with public reviews and promotions. Lean into your customers as teammates working towards your company’s growth now and outpace even the industry giants still slowly taking action. 

Related: 3 Measurable Ways Collaboration Grows Businesses

Tools make it easier than ever

To access all touchpoints for collaboration, look to the digital tools that are making it easier and more affordable than ever. Most applications offer messaging so people can contact you in real-time. Facebook Messenger, Intercom, Yelp — customers can even leave messages through a Google My Business landing page. For small businesses with little time to spend collaborating across so many apps, companies like GoSite offer all-in-one platforms that help them better manage it. Providing quick responses to customer questions and feedback gives them a better, more efficient user experience, driving their satisfaction and increasing your revenue.

The digital universe has the capacity to endow customer collaboration with a personalized touch: a greeting by a person with a name who asks how you liked your last customized cup of coffee or how it could have been better. To make the most of it, this two-way street for collaboration needs to be open all the time, and customers need to know all the ways to access it. Be it a coffee shop, laundromat or bank — every business is going to need a person or enterprise SaaS solution to be responsible for getting that done. With greater collaboration, customers will start taking on bigger roles as influencers and affiliates, and the business structure of tomorrow will likely include entire customer teams.

Online, in-store and in hybrid ways — across the entire spectrum of business, universal collaboration should be the goal for every past, present and future customer you have. Collaborate with them everywhere. Stop thinking only about your shareholders, investors, executives and employees. Your customers are important business partners that already contribute time and money to the growth of your company. Include them in your plans and support the people who support you. Open your eyes to the possibilities of customer collaboration because, whether you do or not, this is where the future is headed.

Bhavin Rawal

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Bhavin Rawal is the chief product officer of GoSite, the all-in-one platform that empowers small-business owners to collaborate with their customers to drive growth and increase business efficiency.