The firm as a great listener… Do businesses underutilize reverse channels?

In marketing, we frequently discuss distribution channels (how a manufacturer gets something to a customer to buy) but I rarely hear conversations about  reverse channels, which we can think of as the way a customer gets something to the manufacturer.

As marketers and business leaders, I think we are missing out on a large opportunity to: engage with customers, build brand equity, hear the customer voice, get ahead of trends, and create more sales opportunities through greater number of customer touch points.

One straightforward way of using a reverse channel is to recycle products when the customer decides they want to replace it.  DELL does this with their computer/electronics recycling program, and I think it is great.  Not only does it encourage environmentally conscious customers to buy new DELL products, but it creates brand equity with these customers who are rightly led to believe that DELL cares about the environment.  But this isn’t the only way in which a reverse channel be used.

Reverse Channels Facilitate Dialogue

In this information age that we are living in, channels also serve as the means for information gathering and sharing.  In the same way a manufacturer’s forward channels serve as a means for educating customers about product information, a reverse channel can serve as the means for customers sharing feedback about the products with the manufacturers, for example.  Customer service/support is an example of a reverse channel that almost every company has, but I still think marketers are under utilizing reverse channels.

Consumers use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools to have a dialogue with each other, and brands use these these tools to talk to consumers, but I feel like the digital-marketing conversations I hear these days are focused on how brands can effectively communicate a message to their target audience.   I propose that marketers would be wise to also focus on the reverse channel, both physical and digital, so as to facilitate a two-way conversation.

Reverse Channels Add Value Pre and Post -sale

Reverse channels can serve as the means for sharing product feedback with the manufacturer after they have purchased and used the product, but couldn’t customers use a reverse channel to share ideas for new products that they want but that are not currently offered for sale?   In a sense, a reverse channel could be used to augment product development functions.

The Firm As a Great Listener; Not Just Great Speaker

To me, what this all suggests that smart firms will try to be great listeners as well as great story tellers; and we should think about how we can create reverse channels that provide the means for us to efficiently hear the customer voice.

Facilitating Customer-to-Customer Dialogue

Lastly, eBay goes a step further by enabling its customers to speak with one another.  eBay does not serve as an intermediary between these conversations, which act as free advertising and promotion.  To extract further value from this kind of customer-to-customer communication channel, I think it makes sense for the brand to strategically design the communication channel so that it can efficiently harness and mine this information.  The brand could perhaps monitor customer sentiment and get ahead of market trends.

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