November 23, 2014

Letting Customers Contribute to the B2B Experience

SpiceRexHow can companies get their customers more engaged and involved? Social media has been making it easier for user-generated content to appear as part of a brand’s marketing, usually with consumers. If a consumer is truly a loyal fan of that brand, they will be very excited to see their submission being used by their favorite company. There are many, many examples of companies using these tactics for marketing buzz and excitement as part of a social media campaign. When the campaign ends, the buzz usually dies down, and the new “fans” go look for other contests to enter. Not a great way to create long-term relationships. For this reason, I often say that social media is not a campaign; it is a relationship.

Customers Contribute

Some companies have been engaging with their true fans for years. For example, at Jones Soda their bottle labels are actually photos submitted by their customers via the Jones Soda website. Customer photos appear on the Jones Soda gallery, and a lucky few get theirs put on a bottle. Even though there is no fame and fortune to be received from this activity, Jones Soda fans love to contribute to the Jones community in this fashion.

Spice it Up in B2B

Spiceworks is a great example of letting customers contribute in the B2B space.  Spiceworks is a free set of tools that helps over 1 million IT professionals manage their network, helpdesk, and “everything IT in small and medium businesses.” They have a very active online community which answers questions for each other and shares what they think on a variety of topics. Spiceworks put together a photo contest asking IT professionals to share some creative pics that contained the Spiceworks logo, brand name, or simply a red chili pepper. From that contest, a community mascot was born, SpiceRex. Submitted by one of the members, SpiceRex grabbed the attention of the Spiceworks team and the hearts of the community, and he travels the world to visit various members (he is made of paper, so he travels light). He has become so popular that Spiceworks will be featuring the red orange T-Rex in a series of ads, created by community members, to tell the IT world about their free software. Spiceworks recently won a Groundswell award for the way they have energized their customers and created tremendous word of mouth through them.

When you have information about your customers and their passions that your competitors don’t have, you have an advantage.  When you use what you know about your customers and let them play a role in the experience, such as featuring a community mascot in your ads, now you are building on the customer relationship and increasing the likelihood of loyalty.

(Credit: SpiceRex created by akp982 @UnofficialSpice)

First Impressions

First impressionsThis past weekend, we decided to go wine tasting in a small area of Southern California called Temecula. It was our first time out there, and we were hoping to find some good local wineries that we could support. We started with two wineries, where we paid for our tastings as we came in the door and headed for the tasting counter. After experiencing mediocre wines with high prices, we decided to try a smaller winery.

How NOT to Reach Out to Prospects

This winery was slightly off the main thoroughfare at the end of a dusty road. The building looked quaint, and we were hopeful we would find something more down-to-earth (and reasonably priced). We walked around the building on the wooden porch and came to this sign: “START Your Tasting Adventure at The Register. Thank You!”

We almost turned around and left! We knew that we needed to pay for the tastings, but to have that sign as the first thing we saw was a little off-putting. How about “We are glad you are here; come on in!” Or “Start your tasting adventure through this door”. Hitting us over the head with a request for money was NOT welcoming.

Why would they use signage like this? Well, the winery also had a restaurant on the property, so perhaps they were trying to let foodies know they needed to go across the parking lot to eat. Or perhaps they have had prospective wine tasters skip the register and go straight to the tasting bar, only to have to send them back to the till to pay up. Either way, there are several other ways they could have handled this to leave a better first impression with visitors. (Ideas for improvement? Share them below in the comments.)

Welcoming Customers

Many businesses have started to understand that the customer welcome is important. We had a favorite sushi place where we used to live, and as we would come in the door, the sushi chefs would shout out a welcome to us in Japanese. This was fun, as we were regulars and they knew us. I am also a regular at my local bank, and the entire branch, it seems, shouts out a hello when a customer comes in the door.  For some reason, this doesn’t feel as sincere; it feels like they are checking off a box on their list of “how to greet a customer.” Retail clothing stores such as Coldwater Creek and White House Black Market have someone near the door to welcome customers and help point them in the right direction (so does Walmart).

If at first you don’t succeed…

… you might not get a second chance. Customers ROCK! companies look closely at how prospects first see their business.

- For a retailer, the first impression might be as they walk by or in the door. Is the person there truly happy to see them? Or are they just checking off their tasks and biding their time until the lunch break?

- For an online business, the first impression is the website, which could also be a social media site or blog. Is it clear what a prospect should do first? Or does a first-timer have to slice through a jungle of words and pictures to make headway towards their task?

- For a commercial business, first impressions are often a rep making a sales call. Does the sales rep seem to understand the burning issues for their business? Or are they just interested in pushing their products and services?

(Although I like to be positive here on this blog, I just need to share a tiny rant about Twitter and first impressions. There is a feature where you can “follow”, or subscribe to someone, and they can decide whether to follow you back. Some people and businesses have set up an automatic reply to a new follower, and most times it is a sales message (try our mattresses, check out our store, please join my Facebook page, etc). I firmly believe this is the wrong approach! A new prospect/follower has not had the chance to get to know you yet; don’t try to go for the close. Allow a relationship to develop first. OK, end of rant. ;)

Take the Customer’s Perspective

If you aren’t sure what your organizations “first impression” looks like, go get a mirror and find out. It is hard to do this when you see the front door everyday, so many companies use someone new to their organization, or hire an outside “mystery shopper” to review the customer experience for them. Here are the areas to review:

- Your “front door”, whether it be a physical door/entry or a website. What does it say to visitors? What does it say to those who have been there before?

- Your “greeter” (usually a physical person, although some web sites have these). 

- Your “action” – what do you want them to do next? Make it clear, and give guidance if needed.

Your Turn!

In addition to sharing ideas for the winery in the comments, please share either great or terrible “welcome” experiences with a business, B2B or B2C. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

What Does Brand Look Like in a Digital World?

The folks over at MPlanet have been reaching out to bloggers this week, asking us to post on one of the following four topics:

- Brand building in a digital world (my topic!)

- Connecting with empowered consumers

- Marketing mix in a fragmented world

- Global marketing on a borderless planet

Here’s my take on brands in this digital world we are working with.

Brand Ownership

There has been quite a bit of discussion of late about social media and brands. Who “owns” the brand in a digital world?  This reminds me of conversations about CRM and “managing” customer relationships. Can we really manage our customers’ relationships with us? Who is in control of the relationship? The customer. Likewise, as much as a brand may cater to their customers, it is ultimately the customer who is in charge of whether they purchase again (and whether they recommend you).

So, what does a brand look like in a digital world?  Whatever its customers say it looks like.

Online brand “impressions” come not only from interactions with a company’s official website, they come from every part of the customer experience.  Customer service, search results (yes, they are part of the customer experience), banner ads, and, of course, reviews, ratings, and blog posts about the company’s products or services all influence perception of the brand. There is general agreement that the brand is a summation of all these small touchpoints of a customer with a company.

Customers may agree or disagree with the branding that a company is doing, but in a digital world, they now have a very fast and easy way to share their thoughts. Thousands or millions of others can see, hear, and experience multiple customer perceptions of most brands, regardless of whether that brand has a strong online presence. In the digital world, other customers may be a stronger influence on the company’s brand than the company itself.

The community defines the brand in a digital world.

More Than a Conversation

Earlier this week I spoke with Jonathan Baskin, author of the book Branding Only Works on Cattle (podcast of the discussion coming soon!). We talked about the opportunities for a different take on branding. What should really be the goal? Jonathan suggested we create more than a two-way online conversation with customers; we need to drive them to action. Talking is great; buying is even better!  Jonathan posed the idea of doing this by creating a branding game plan where the brand comes alive through all the customer touchpoints (such as customer service). And he means games here, using games as models for how to do business with customers. This helps create experiences where customers are moved towards action (purchase, repurchase, or recommendation to others are good ones to start with!) in a way that they not only enjoy but where they can also feed back into the process.

Playing in a Digital World

Brands in a digital world have a lot of opportunities to take advantage of this type of game play. I don’t mean that brands should create online games for customers to play! I mean there is a challenge to make each customer interaction unique, exciting, and relevant to that customer at that moment in time. What your brand is to me is likely very different than what it is to my colleague, sister, or friend. Additionally, my perception of your brand may change depending on what I am intent on doing at the moment or even where I am in my customer lifecycle. Digital media allows companies to be extremely flexible in how they create customer experiences that are differentiated based on customer need (and value). And it also allows brands to make these experiences fun and engaging!

It All Adds Up

As Jonathan’s book states, “Branding is experience in time, and the brand becomes a series of interrelated behaviors.” Brands that will be successful in a Digital World are those that can not only tailor those experiences to their customers as needed, they are able to interact with and engage with customers online in a meaningful way – both for the company as well as for the customer.

(Photo credit: Will Lion http://www.flickr.com/photos/will-lion/2782049563/)

Advertising Trends – It is All About You

 Something different drove past us this weekend here in the San Diego area: a Safeco-sponsored truck with a moped, cello, and chair on pedestals.  Not just a picture of these things, but the actual objects.  It certainly caught my eye, and we snapped a quick shot of it with a cell phone (yes, the text in the photo is in Spanish – the other side was in English, but we would’ve had to run into traffic to get that one!).

I have noticed more and more advertising, from television to radio to mobile billboards touting the ability for customers to make it personal.  I grew up on “Have it Your Way at Burger King” jingles, so this may not seem new.  Here at Customers Rock!, we always encourage companies to customize their offerings (in the most efficient way, of course).  My observation is that companies are finally starting to see this as a differentiator and are advertising it.

However, it won’t really make the desired impact unless the customer knowledge gained from working on personalizing products and services is used to improve the customer’s experience – leading to a longer relationship.  In a slowing economy, the strength of these relationships will help companies weather the difficult times.  Not slick ads (although this truck really did look pretty cool!).

What do you think?

(Photo credit: T. Carroll)

Right-Selling Customers

 I read an interesting article on “Scientific Selling”, which started with the following tagline:

“The way in which a customer is handled has much to do with results obtained.”

How true that is!  It goes on to discuss how a customer cannot be “up-sold” unless that customer is thoroughly understood.

“The worst evil in selling is the action of the man who merely gives the customer what he asks for.  The man who does this is not a salesman, he is just a clerk.”

This article, by the way, is from the New York Times and was printed June 18, 1922!  It still rings true today. 

We need to understand not just who our customers are and what they say they want, but we also need to understand how they are currently using our products and services.  Yesterday, I spoke with Nancy Arter and Suzanne Obermire at RRW Consulting (their blog here) about the marketing basic of “right selling” customers.  We agreed that the most-satisfied customers tend to be those who are using the products and services which are a best fit for their needs.

For example, when I was at HP, I worked in the division where we marketed service subscriptions for HP’s mainframe computers to businesses.  Part of the service subscription included software updates and the ability to contact the call center (this was before eSupport was prevalent!).  At the end of the year, a customer could decide whether to renew their subscription.  If they never called in with a problem, they might have felt that they didn’t get value from their investment.  The most successful subscription services salespeople (say that three times fast!) were those that helped a business find the right level of service for the next year, rather than trying to renew them on the same (under-utilized) level of service.

Some of you may be thinking, hey, they left money on the table!  You should just try and get the most from the customer.  This, readers, is short-term thinking – trying to maximize the amount of revenues this quarter or year.  This type of thinking backfires when a customer realizes they have been over-paying for services they don’t use, and they then get upset that they weren’t told they could have switched to a subscription which was a better fit. (Does this sound familiar – cell phone plans come to mind…)

The long-term viewpoint says we want our customers to have the right level of service.  That may mean that they reduce the level of service they have with us.  However, if it is the right level of service, the customer will ultimately be more satisfied.  Customer satisfaction equates to long-term loyalty, which equates to increased positive word of mouth.

And that is what right-selling is all about!

(Flickr photo credit: TimParkinson)

Focus on WOW for Customers

 I just got back from my local branch of Wells Fargo, and something caught my eye behind the friendly teller, Jennifer.  Another employee was preparing a chart to go on the wall entitled, “11 Ways to WOW the Customer.”  Of course, being the customer-focused professional that I am, I had to ask about the chart.

Great Customer Service

Jennifer told me it was to help remind the team about customer service, with the main goal being that customers feel welcome each time they come into the bank.  They want the experience to be such a good one that customers will seek them out for their future banking activities, even if this is not their home branch.  Most of the items on the chart are simple, such as welcoming customers into the bank verbally when they come in the door.  Smiling.  Or, as she said, “Keeping your grump to yourself!”

This is consistent with Wells Fargo’s corporate focus on customers.  Here is an excerpt from the Customer Service page on their website, describing the 11 Ways to WOW.

“Welcoming”

  • you make me feel at home.
  • you care about me.
  • you make me feel special.

“Delivering value”

  • you give me the right advice.
  • you provide me value.
  • you keep your promises.

“Following up and building relationships”

  • you help me when I really need it.
  • you know me.
  • when you make a mistake you make things even better.
  • you thank me.
  • you reach out to me.

Employee Retention

Jennifer said this customer focus makes the branch experience not only better for customers, but also better for her and the other employees that work there.  She enjoys her job more when she is able to truly help customers with their needs.  She spends time talking to them about the task at hand, but she also spends time listening to them talk about their lives.  Customers have become her regulars, and one of them even brought in not one, but two cakes for the team.  The pace at this branch is a little more leisurely, so the employees there have time to chat with customers, their kids, and even their dogs!

I love this line, again from the Wells Fargo website: “We’re only as good as our first impression and last connection. This is all about culture and attitude.”

That, my friends, is what this blog is all about. 

 

WOW Your Customers

I encourage each of you to think of how you can WOW your customers.  Don’t leave it to chance or count on just hiring great employees.  That is not enough.  Customers Rock! companies set a goal for WOW customer interactions, then they make a specific plan to meet that goal.  Finally, they check back with their customers to see whether they made a difference from the customer’s perspective.

Jennifer, you guys rock!  Thanks for making it special, and I will work on baking you some cookies for the next time I come in…

(Photo credit: ChrisL_AK)

Instant Customer Connection – The Personal Touch

A note from Tsufit Marketing is all about building personal relationships.  Here is a wonderful example of the right way to reach out to others. 

Todd Andrlik contacted me to say my blog was included in the appendix of a new book called Step Into the Spotlight!- ‘Cause ALL Business is Show Business! by Tsufit (her full name, by the way).   Customers Rock! was one of 39 blogs on Tsufit’s list of Cool Marketing Blogs.  Thanks, Tsufit! 

Todd wanted to know if I would like a complimentary copy of the book, and I agreed.  It arrived in my mailbox the other day; on the envelope were a bunch of very cool-looking postage stamps picturing movie stars (Tsufit was most recently in the entertainment industry in Canada before becoming a business coach).  Excited to see the book, I ripped the package open (carefully, of course!).

Tsufit

I was really pleased to see that Tsufit had written me a note, on a Post-It, and had attached it to the front of the book.  Not only was it hand-written (see photo above), but it was personal.  She had taken the time to go to my blog, read some of my posts, and find a connection between us.  Here is the text of her note:

“Becky,

Here’s the book Todd Andrlik promised you.  I see you & I have singing in common.  Couldn’t believe it when I found a post on your blog called ‘Where Did My Dress Go?’ – years ago, I co-wrote a spoof song to the tune of You Light Up My Life about a shopper’s disappointment in a store ’cause the dress disappeared & it was called ‘Where Did My Dress Go?’  Hope you enjoy my book.  Pls confirm receipt.  Tsufit”

Not only that, but she autographed it as well on the inside: Tsufit\'s autograph

Her efforts to personalize the material she sent me were very much appreciated and brought a smile to my face.  I felt compelled to go find a quiet corner and sit down with the book. (Note: It is a very interesting book about how to “get noticed”, treating your business and yourself as if you were a star!  I will review it here soon.)  Not only that, but I felt special that she took the time to get to know me and reach out in this way.

A Lesson in Outreach

As a blogger, I am often asked if I would be willing to read a book and review it on my blog (I was asked to read Tsufit’s, but the email that went out in December got completely lost in my inbox).  Sometimes, I say no if I don’t feel the book will be relevant for my readers.  Other times, I accept, and the author sends me the book.  I then share my honest thoughts in a book review post (look in the left margin of my blog in the Book Reviews category to see books I have written about).

Very rarely does an author or PR firm take the time to personalize the material sent to me.  Sometimes, I get a printed letter from the PR firm with “sound bites” about the book and the link to where to get more info/book cover photos.  Usually, there is just a book in an envelope, sent to my address (once, I even got a book I never requested!).

Tsufit provides us with a glowing example of how to market.  It should be relevant.  It should build a personal relationship.  It should stand out in our minds, not due to clever tactics, but due to the personal touch.

Thanks, Tsufit and Todd.  I can’t wait to finish reading the book!

Related Posts:

Where Did My Dress Go?

Your People: The Competitive Advantage

FreshBooks Rocks: Getting Personal with Customers

wagon.png One of the best ways to get to know your customers is to spend time with them face-to-face.  This method of doing business is a hallmark of a Customers Rock! company and is usually supplemented with other types of customer conversation, including traditional and social media marketing.  For FreshBooks, based in Toronto, Canada, this is not an unusual way to do business – it is business as usual!

Unique Customer Outreach

FreshBooks provides online invoicing and time-tracking for service professionals.  I had the chance to speak with CEO Mike McDerment, and he shared with me his story about their unique and effective customer outreach campaign.  Mike and a few other folks from FreshBooks were attending two different conferences here in the USA last month, including speaking at this year’s SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.  Coming from Toronto, the easiest way to get there would have been to fly – but not for this team.  They decided to take the fun path and rent an RV (see photo above), meeting and talking with customers along the way!  By the end of their Roadburn roadtrip, Mike and his employees Saul (who put the trip together) and Sunir (marketing and community development) had 11 meals over a period of 4 days, meeting with more than 100 customers over breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The Roadburn blog above chronicles the trip, and several customers came out to it, requesting stops in their towns.

vinyl_rev01.png This was not a product roadshow.  This was a listening tour.  Mike and his team didn’t lead the conversations at all.  They merely asked a few simple questions to get them started, such as, “Hey, how are you?  What do you do?”  Rather than peppering their customers with questions, they encouraged the customers to network with each other.  By the end of these meals, many of these customers were swapping business cards and planning to do business with each other.  According to Mike, the result was “almost a mini eco-system!”  Listening in this type of environment provides fresh (get it?) customer insights that you can’t get on a survey!

I loved the way the FreshBooks team described the intent of the road trip on their site:

“The FreshBooks RoadBurn may seem like a stunt or a marketing ploy but in reality it is pretty much what FreshBooks is all about….listening to it’s beautiful customer base and getting to know them on a level that other companies wouldn’t make the effort to do so.”

Getting to Know You

FreshBooks wants to get to know customers and wants to be easy to talk to as well.  They have actually been holding these “customer meals” for about four years now.  According to Mike, every time he goes to a city he gets a list of FreshBooks customers in that city, and he invites them out for dinner to see what is going on with their business.  As you can imagine, this is pretty effective for building customer relationships, as well as for great word-of-mouth.  Mike says,

“We are conscious that there is always someone on the other end of the computer screen who is using our products.  We keep asking ourselves, how can we get closer to our customers?”

FreshBooks does it not only with face-to-face meetings, but they believe that social media really helps, too.  First of all, there is their blog, FreshThinking.  FreshBooks uses it as a way to communicate updates to their customers, as well as business tips and other tidbits.  It must be working – the blog regularly gets comments and has over 1100 readers (per Feedburner).  In addition, FreshBooks is a big fan of Twitter.  They twittered the road trip as they went across the country; Mike described it as “random and quirky” writings.  They Twitter from inside of FreshBooks as well to share with customers what is going on at the company.  It is also part of their customer support mix.  For example, the aforementioned Saul, at home on a weekday evening, sees someone using Twitter to ask how to do something in FreshBooks, and he replies and gives the answer. 

Good customer service, right?  Yes.  FreshBooks is paying attention to customer conversation and helping where needed.  Per Mike, “…we are not instigating these conversations; rather, we are being where they are.”

Caring – A Core Value

Customers are embedded in the corporate culture at FreshBooks; it is in their DNA.  Mike supports this in a few ways.  One, he hires for fit.  He describes this as hiring people who feel good about helping people out.  In addition, everyone at FreshBooks does a rotation into customer support.  This gives all employees the opportunity to hear from customers directly and to understand their pain points.

Mike says one of their core values is caring.  As CEO, Mike is always taking care of employees, making sure they have what they need for their jobs as well as looking out for their happiness and health.  Here is his formula for success:

Take care of staff –> Staff takes care of customers –> Customers take care of referrals

This works!  From customer satisfaction surveys last year, FreshBooks had a customer referral rate of 98%.  This year, the rate went up to 99%!  This rocks.  Per Mike: “There is really nothing better.  Happy customers are a great pool of positive WOM.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Mike.  FreshBooks rocks!

How do Customers Want to Engage in Social Media?

blog.jpg I spoke to a fabulous group of marketers last night at the iMarketers.org meeting, talking about social media and customer loyalty.  Before the talk, I spoke with a few of the attendees about how they were using social media to engage with their existing customers.  As I listened to some of the ways people were working with new media for “old” customers, I started to hear three main themes critical to success.

  • Ask customers – Don’t just assume your existing customers want to engage in a certain way or with certain media.  If the uptake isn’t what you expected, go back and ask your customer/client base whether they use this media.  If so, how do they use it?  If not, why not?  What might get them to use it?
  • Use trial and error- The adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” was never more true than in the age of social media.  One example we discussed last night was a sports and social club and their use of Facebook.  Members were definitely engaging through this medium, and the CEO was looking for ways to further get customers involved.  He thought the “Send someone a beer/martini/drink” application would be a perfect fit for this group of active adults, as the club often met in bars after the sports events were over.  It flopped.  However, putting photos of the sports contests and the after-sports happy hours was a big hit!
  • Make a plan- Don’t just blog or start using MySpace because everyone else is doing it.  Social media needs to be as well thought-out as the rest of your marketing mix, perhaps even more so because it is so quickly visible!  Set goals, create guidelines for your internal team, test with customers, and ask for feedback.  In other words, treat social media as a great marketing tool, using the same rigor as you would for direct mail or email (those are still great tools to use).

Do you have any social media tips for how to better engage with customers?  Come on out and share them here!

How We Communicate Matters – It Really Does!

blah-sign.jpg I spent today with an auditorium full of non-profit marketers as I co-chaired the American Marketing Association’s 10th Annual Cause Conference.  There were many smart speakers who shared ideas about branding, marketing, and even social media marketing that Not For Profit organizations can take back and use immediately in their jobs.  The day’s most amusing speaker had to be Elaine Fogel.  Elaine is a senior contributor for MarketingProfs Daily Fix, and today she previewed her lunchtime keynote speech on marketing mistakes.  See her post for two examples of copy-writing gaffes.

How you communicate with your customers/clients/donors is critical to how they view your organization.  Whether the communication is written or verbal, brand impressions are made at each interaction.  So – take a few minutes to review that email  you are sending to multiple clients.  Have someone else read over your copy for that newsletter article.  Check those call center scripts for plain English!

Make each interaction count.  Your customers will thank you for it.

Fun detour: If you enjoy reading other people’s English errors or just like word play, you should grab a copy of one of Richard Lederer’s books.  His book Anguished English is a riot!  That said, in some ways it is kind of disturbing as well…

Customer Expectations and Loyalty

red-carpet-2.jpg I have long been telling clients that they need to look outside of their industry for competitors.  I shared this in a blog post last year:

Do you know who is rocking your customer’s world?  Is your competitor more focused on customers than you are?  Perhaps there isn’t anyone in your industry yet who has a Customers Rock! attitude and strategy.  However, your consumers may be experiencing Nordstrom or Southwest and their great customer service.  Your business clients may be serviced by Pitney Bowes, who have been recognized by Gartner for their excellence in CRM. 

Doug Meacham over at NextUp points out something similar from trendwatching.com’s latest briefing.  In their article on the Expectation Economy, they discuss how the increasing speed of worldwide communication among consumers, along with blogs and other online reviews, is helping to raise the bar on customer expectations in every product or service consumed.  Doug states the following:

“While consumer’s expectations are up and rising, most brands choose to not keep up with the “best of the best”. The result: Informed Consumers are Indifferent or Irritated. The briefing suggests that these states will likely manifest themselves in Fake Loyalty and Postponed Purchases.”

He describes Fake Loyalty as something which is gone as soon as something better (or sometimes cheaper or more convenient) comes along.  Drew McLellan at Drew’s Marketing Minute discussed something similar in his recent post about his dry cleaner.  Drew describes his relationship this way:

“By all impressions — I should be an easy win for another dry cleaners. 

  • I am very dissatisfied with my current provider
  • What they sell is a commodity
  • There is a low cost of entry — doesn’t cost me a lot to switch

Yet, I (so far) am staying put.

I have also called customers who exhibit this Fake Loyalty by another name: “hostages”.  Hostage customers are those who subscribe to cable because it is the only way to get certain channels they want to watch.  Or they are those customers who sign up for a company’s service plan for their machines because no one else (currently) offers service for them.  Or, as in Drew’s case, they stay with a service because it is convenient – until something more convenient comes along (Drew, what if someone offered a service to pick up and drop off your cleaning at your house, for the same price?).

All of this goes back to understanding customer expectations.  We need to begin benchmarking what is going on in our own industry, but also the other industries where our customers do their purchasing of goods and services.  I may be a business customer by day, but by night I experience Amazon or Lands’ End and their fabulous customer service.  As I stated in my previously-quoted blog post,

Customer expectations are set not just by our organizations but also by all the other organizations our customers touch, whether in their personal or business lives.  Do you want to rock your customer’s world?  First, understand their world and who is rocking it.  Then, meet their needs.  Along the way, exceed their expectations.  You will then have the building blocks for a long-term customer relationship.

Which companies are rocking your customer’s world?  If you have been a reader of my blog for some time, you will think of candidates such as Nordstrom, who focuses on people, Southwest Airlines, who is good at engaging customers via their blog, and even The Busy Bunny, who is good at thanking customers.  They are all Customers Rock! companies in one fashion or another. 

Do your customers do business with these companies, or others like them?  If so, now you know more about your customer’s expectations.  If not, you can still learn from these examples as you create your customer strategy to keep and grow business.

(Photo credit: eraxion)

Thanking Customers

thank-you-2.jpg I read a great example of interaction between a business and its customers – a pizza restaurant!  Ben McConnell at Church of the Customer blogged about HomeMade Pizza in Chicago and the experience of one of his friends there.  In response to filling out the (optional) customer contact card, Ben’s friend received an email from the store manager thanking her for her business.  She sent back a quick reply (that she loved the pizza) and then received another message, this time from a company VP, thanking her for her feedback!  (Be sure to go read Ben’s blog post for the text of the emails – they are very sincere and not at all canned.)

No where in these messages was any selling taking place.  There was simply an air of customer appreciation and open lines of communication.  HomeMade Pizza has started a conversation with their customer, and I predict that a long customer relationship will be a result of this interaction.

Why did this have such an impact on Ben’s friend?  The simple fact is, very few businesses stop and take the time to thank their customers.  When they do, it exceeds our expectations and stands out above other experiences. 

Have you thanked a customer lately?  The best companies don’t do it randomly; they make thanking and interacting with customers a regular part of how they do business.  It is baked into their marketing plans.  It is taught in their customer service training sessions.  It is modeled by managers that thank employees.  It becomes part of a company’s DNA.

What’s in your organization’s DNA?

(Photo credit: karenr)

Marketing Like a Rock-Star

rock-crowd.jpg Anyone who has ever been to a rock concert has felt the excitement in the air.  Fans are wild about the band’s music, especially when a favorite song is played.  Rock-stars can amass quite a loyal following!

Mack Collier of The Viral Garden has written a great post about how to take some of a rockstars “secrets” and apply it to your marketing.  Here are the six main themes of his post (be sure to go read it first!), along with some of my additional thoughts.

- Join in with your customer community.  Be a fan of your own company and products/services.  Do you use your own products and services?  You need to be part of the community conversation around your offerings.  A great idea is to try and hire some of your fans to work for you!  Coldwater Creek reached out to its loyal customers who live near their retail stores to get extra help for the holiday season.  What better way to ensure your customers are talking to raving fans?!

- View your company and products the way your customers do.  It is too easy to use corporate lingo and assume our customers will “get it.”  We need to look at our company using customer lenses.  This will help us understand what our customers see in our offerings, how they talk about it, and what motivates them to buy and use our products or services.

- Empower your fans to market on  your behalf.  A strong customer strategy will build up customer relationships to the point where customers become outgoing advocates for your company and products.  There have been many reports lately on customer trust which state consumers in particular trust what others have to say about a product more than what that company has to say.  If you are involved in your customer community and are using their lingo/way of thinking, creating customer advocates will be a natural outcome.

- Give customers input, and listen to it.  Engaged customers have a lot of great ideas for product or service improvements.  This is a good area to use social media in order to create ongoing conversations around products.  Just be sure to let customers know their input was heard!

- Have fun with your marketing – and your customers!  Mack gives some great examples here of companies who know how to make their marketing fun for all involved.  Do it in a respectful way, and you could really get customers talking!  How about this idea from David Polinchock over at Experience Manifesto blog on the Volvo “human joystick” game played at movie theaters – by all the patrons at the same time!  Here is a video of the experience:

Finally, use your community like Threadless does.  Mack gives some great examples of this in his rockin’ post, so go check it out if you haven’t already!

Music definitely has raving fans.  Your company can, too, when you decide to talk with your customers instead of talking at them.  Listen to their needs, and create your products and services in such a way that your customers can customize your offerings for themselves.  Hire great people who have a positive customer service attitude and who love your products.  You will then be on your way to having a Customers Rock! company.

(Photo credit: solarseven)

BrandingWire: Communicating with Customers

rainbow-glove.jpg We communicate with our customers in many ways.  In fact, customers pick up communication clues from not just our words, but also from tone of voice, demeanor (yes, a smile can be heard!), and body language.  In certain settings, the sense of smell plays a large part, even impacting long-term memory.  In written communications, words aren’t everything – pictures and color make up a large part of the story.  One of the masters of using non-verbal communication was one of my favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock:

“Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”  Alfred Hitchcock

This brings me to the latest BrandingWire challenge about color.  Rachel is a color consultant for business and helps organizations use color as an effective tool in their marketing arsenal.  She is relatively new to the market of color consulting, and she wants to spread the word about what she can do (and keep in mind that she is moving states within the year!).  She also writes a blog about color called Hue.

The new BrandingWire model is to leave the case study open for others to share their advice, expanding it beyond our original “posse”.  There are already several comments on Rachel’s challenge, including mine today.  Here were my suggestions for Rachel:

1. Do some quick research with small businesses in your area; you can use them as a “proxy” for what small businesses in other areas might think.

Talk to those who see the inherent value in being color-conscious and those who don’t. What were the drivers and motivators behind the color decisions made by the savvy businesses? What helped them make the choice to use color in marketing?

Talk to those who don’t yet know the value using color can bring them. What are their thoughts/concerns/objections?  Understanding your customers and potential customers is a key step towards business success for you!  This will also help you with Chris Brown’s suggestion of finding the right client.

2. Your blog is potentially a very powerful tool for your business! You have a strong writing style and good insight. However, I am not convinced it will appeal to your potential customers – yet.

You can make your blog content more relevant by adding insights at the end of each post with how it can apply to small business. This would help your potential clients to see that they could use these concepts in their businesses, and by the way, Rachel seems like she really gets how I could do that!

Feel free to go to the BrandingWire site and add your own ideas for Rachel.  There are also many other great ideas in the comments, so grab a cup of coffee and take a few minutes to peruse the thoughts of some smart bloggers.  (Photo credit: nruboc)

Speaker Tips

speech.jpg Many of us are often called upon to give speeches.  I do it on a regular basis and find it quite fun.  Others of us are not too keen to get up in front of an audience, whether at a conference, a customer presentation, or at an end-of-year employee gathering. 

C. B. Whittemore, blogger extraordinaire at Flooring the Consumer, came up with 10 Tips to Not Trip Up a Speech.  I especially like her first one (also applies if you are doing any singing!):

1. Never eat a banana immediately before a speech. For that matter, avoid dairy products, too. Both contribute to a distracting need to clear one’s throat during a presentation.

Here are my tips to add to her list.

  1. Find a friendly face in the audience.  You should “work the room”, of course, but in so doing you might find a face or two that are frowning.  Don’t take it personally!  Find a friendly face and keep coming back to that person for encouragement.
  2. Always keep a mint or hard candy with you at the podium.  Sometimes a sip of water doesn’t clear the “frog” in your throat!
  3. Minimize the number of bullets on each slide.  No one can read a slide with too many words on it!  Three bullets of short phrases are all that is necessary.
  4. Include something humorous at strategic points during your speech. A light laugh is always good to keep people focused!
  5. If you are comfortable in front of the crowd, get out from behind the podium lecturn!  A bit of wandering makes your presentation more visually interesting. (I know, C. B. had this one, too, but I think it is worth mentioning again.)
  6. Turn off your lavaliere microphone if you go to the bathroom before your speech.  ‘Nuff said.

All you public speakers out there, what are your top tips for a successful speech?  Add them to the comments or to C.B.’s post, and let us know what makes you shine!

(Photo: tomml)