September 20, 2014

New eBook on Social Media

ebook-solis.jpg Last month, I got a chance to meet another blogger, Brian Solis of PR 2.0, face to face in San Francisco.  We had a great conversation, and the next day he asked me if I would be willing to collaborate on his upcoming eBook on, what else, social media. 

Here we are one month later, and Brian just launched his eBook today!  It is titled, “Customer Service: The Art of Listening and Engagement Through Social Media.”  Brian was nice enough to give me billing right on the front cover – thanks, Brian!

If you haven’t read any of Brian’s writings, then you should definitely pick up this eBook.  He and I come from a very similar perspective on many things, and his thinking is simply brilliant.  If you have read Brian before, then you need to pick this up, as you know what you will be getting – lots of good information!  It relates very well to my three key points from my post earlier this week on social media and relationships:

  • Social media is one tool in the toolbox for interacting with customers.  It will work well if customers are willing to engage in that medium!
  • Social media is a great tool to help create and strengthen relationships.
  • It is all about the people.

You can download the eBook from Brian’s site or from right here at Customers Rock!

PDF version

Word version

Let us know what you think, and if you have any other examples of using social media to engage and interact with customers, please send them along.

Which Customer Matters Most?

goofy.jpg In a recent post, I gave an example of doing little things to grow a customer relationship.  It was a good reminder about using long-term rather than short-term thinking when it comes to customers.   An individual could look small now but be coming into a growth period due to their lifestage/change in status.  A small business customer today could acquire (or be acquired) tomorrow and become very valuable.

When I was with Peppers and Rogers Group, we spent a lot of time helping clients figure out how to measure this very thing, as well as creating action plans for each customer value segment.  Don Peppers and Martha Rogers also wrote a great book about this called Return on Customer.  I highly recommend it!

In a down economy, increasing the value of existing customers may be a critical success factor.   Here are some questions to ask yourself as you think about your customer base:

  • Are we focused on growing our business organically through increasing share of wallet with each customer?  

Expanding business with existing customers is often the easiest way to grow.

  • Are we looking for ways to get our community of customers engaged with us to the point where they become “passionistas” for our brand, sharing their enthusiasm with others?  

Brand ambassadors can do more for sales than our own marketing departments.

  • Are we doing something as simple as thanking our existing customers for their continued business – without trying to sell them something? 

Whenever I speak to groups, I always get feedback on how many are making a point to simply thank their customers.  Most aren’t!

As on most Mondays, I was a guest today on the Big Biz Show, a nationally-syndicated radio program.  I was asked which company I considered to be tops at customer service.   I answered, “The Disney resorts.”  Each Cast Member (ie. employee) at a Disney resort goes out of their way to make each moment magical for guests (visitors).  I have had many wonderful experiences myself at Disney resorts, including an experience this past fall where I was overwhelmed by the generosity of a Disney Cast Member.

Over fifty years ago, Disney was one of the first to put customer service first and foremost; today, the Disney resorts are often viewed as a standard for other organizations.

Companies, such as Disney, that are held up as shining examples of customer service or customer focus usually do things a little differently.  They view their customer service department as a key contact point with customers – and measure their agents on customer satisfaction rather than talk time.  They put the customer experience at the center of their strategy.  They hire for people-skills first and foremost.  They empower employees to do the right thing for the customer.   They set expectations properly - then exceed them.  And they consider each interaction with a customer to be critical to the brand experience… 

Because you never know who will be your most valuable customer next month – or next year.

(Image credit:solarseven)

How do I Love Thee?

hearts-and-hands.jpg Let me count the ways…

Love is in the air today as it is Valentine’s Day in the USA.  Here at Customers Rock!, we think about the ways we let our customers know we care about and appreciate them.  Some of us are not very good at that (or so you have told me), and we need reminders to make it happen.  Consider this your reminder – go out and let your best customers know you appreciate them and their business!

Of course, this act of recognition should be part of your larger customer strategy – you know, the one which outlines how you want to strengthen your customer relationships.  If you are a little short on ideas, go check out today’s post by Toby Bloomberg at Diva Marketing Blog.  Toby has enlisted many of her friends (me included – thanks, Toby!) to share how they build relationships with vendors/clients.  Some common threads seem to be the following:

  • Communicate openly, honestly, and frequently
  • Seek out the needs of the other person – then listen closely and take action!
  • Look for the win-win at all times
  • Build a personal relationship where possible
  • Be willing to give more than you receive; don’t always look for something in return
  • Shut up and listen!
  • Exceed expectations

I would add one more to the list - follow up with customers/clients at times when you aren’t trying to sell anything… like today.

Now go do it!

(Photo credit: Drx)

Re-Experiencing Starbucks

coffeecup.jpg Special Project: Jay Ehret of The Marketing Spot and Becky Carroll of Customers Rock!

Howard Schultz has returned to Starbucks and promises a return to the customer experience. We salute that announcement. Starbucks holds a special place in our heart and we want to do our part to help Howard get it right.

Inspired by John Moore’s 2007 Manifesto : WHAT MUST STARBUCKS DO?, Jay and I have decided to work with Howard (even though he hasn’t hired us) to help Starbucks improve their customer experience in 2008.

Today we begin a series of posts that will continue throughout the year. We will analyze the current Starbucks experience, make suggestions for improvement, and then compare at the end of the year. You are invited to contribute with your comments and suggestions; let us know what you see/don’t see changing about the customer experience at the Starbucks you visit!

Jay already has his post up, which includes a letter to Howard and some commentary.   Here is my take on the “state of the Starbucks experience.”

It’s All About Customers

I am very glad to hear Mr. Schultz’s plan to put customers at the center of business decisions.  Starbucks used to focus on being what they called the “third place” – not home, not work, but somewhere in-between the two where people could come to relax and talk.  When I lived in the UK, I found something similar in their pubs.  That was where people went to relax, have something to drink or eat, and meet up with friends. 

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Starbucks over the coming months.  I understand that more details are coming in March.  In the meantime, here are some Customers Rock! observations about the current Starbucks experience in my neck of the woods, San Diego.

Kudos Here

One of the best things about the Starbucks experience is the baristas. 

At every Starbucks I have ever gone into, the employees are always friendly, smiling, and helpful.  They know the names of their regulars and chat with them upon sight.  They are patient at explaining things patrons don’t understand (there is quite a lingo to learn).  They always listen to kids when they place their orders, viewing them as important (and future!) customers.  They are polite and quick to help when there is a problem (like a spill), never making someone feel bad.  They apologize when there is a wait and thank you for their business.  Starbucks, your employees rock!

They have a nice atmosphere with music and soft, comfy chairs in one area.

We always scope out those soft armchairs when we go in.  They make the environment feel friendly and more like being in someone’s living room.  (Not all Starbucks have this, though.)  The background music is great, and it is kind of fun being able to see that on an iPod now (for possible purchase).

Room for Improvement Here

Improve the store navigation.

Starbucks, like other companies, has expanded their offerings beyond coffee and drinks.  I find that this is often difficult to do well.  In the case of Starbucks, their aisles are now so full of displays of coffee mugs, espresso machines, and bagged coffee that it can become difficult to navigate the store.

starbucks-line.jpg For example, I took this picture today during the morning rush.  It was a little hard not to knock into some of the display items (a major concern for young moms with their toddlers) on my way to place my order in this queue.  Harder still was navigating my way back out!  I couldn’t go down this line in reverse, and on the other side of the display were the ordering stations.

One look into a Starbucks of late appears to be more of a retail shop than a coffee shop.  And people hate being sold to all the time.

Encourage people to stay awhile.

More comfortable chairs (only a few of those aforementioned soft chairs are in each store, and some don’t have any) would be great.  Also, if Starbucks is looking to encourage those with laptops, slightly larger tables would be handy (hard to put a laptop, coffee, and pastry on the table at the same time).  One of my local Starbucks has a nice laptop station, like you might find in a library, with a long table which could accommodate multiple laptops.  It has a power strip down the middle and some low lighting.

Jay also mentioned the high cost of WiFi, which I won’t go into here but do agree with as it is a great way to get customers to stay longer and buy more.

If employees aren’t too busy serving other customers or cleaning/prepping for later, they could offer to clear away cups, etc, for current patrons while they are wiping down tables.  Just a nice touch to consider.

Decide what to do about the food.

I have seen press that states Starbucks will no longer offer the breakfast sandwiches because their aroma overtakes the wonderful smell of coffee.  I haven’t personally noticed that, but I have noticed that most pastries are very dry.  Choose the food you will offer (don’t forget to ask your customers what they want!) and do it well.  Don’t try to be everything to everyone.

Most importantly, spend more time finding out what customers want.

What are the Starbucks customers’ needs and preferences?  Mr. Schultz has referred to comments from baristas as a way he gets input on what works and what doesn’t, which is great!  Talking to the front line employees is very helpful in finding out what to improve.  However, I would like to see more effort spent on finding out what customers like by asking them directly.  Perhaps Starbucks is doing a lot of this already (I do know they sometimes hand out special survey codes with receipts), but it isn’t being discussed right now in the press releases. 

Talk to the different types of customers you get and see what each type would like to have.  For example, those young moms might like to have a changing table in the restroom.  Students, business people, and travelers will all have their specific needs as well.  Who is the Starbucks target/ideal customer?   Starbucks shouldn’t cater to everyone, but they should definitely understand their most loyal customers – and take care of them.  If they can do that, there won’t be a need to offer $1 cups of mini-coffee or worry about losing customers to other chains.

What do you see? 

That’s it for now.  Jay and I will be keeping an eye on how the Starbucks experience changes over these upcoming months and will be reporting back what we observe.  Please send in your observations, comments, and suggestions.  Alternatively, comment on your blog and let us know; we’ll refer to your post with a link.  I have seen some good links on Glenn Ross’s blog, including a reference to a barista blog.

Let’s help Starbucks get back to offering a fabulous experience!

Buick Reaches Out to Golfing Owners

members-only.jpg I attended the semi-final round at the Buick Invitational Golf Tournament this past weekend, held at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego (beautiful course!).  It was great fun watching Tiger Woods and other golfers tackling the rugged terrain (and managing the fans).  Something else caught my eye: the VIP tents.

We looked at the usual VIP tents, sponsored by companies for their guests (many of whom were likely valuable customers); is there any way for the average Joe to get into a hospitality area?  The Buick Owner VIP Area provided that luxury, and all you had to do to get in was show your Buick car keys!  Once inside the ropes, you registered as a Buick owner and had access to an area where you could relax.  Additionally, from what I could understand, you also had access to a VIP viewing area on the 18th fairway!  (As I am not a Buick owner, I couldn’t get in to check it out for all of you, and the security person at the ropes couldn’t tell me much… did any of you readers attend this?  Let me know if you were a Buick Owner VIP!)

I would bet that Buick customers were surprised and delighted at this offering.  Plus, the people who were “in” would feel like part of a special community.  What a great way to tell your customers you appreciate them!

Buick has been reaching out to its customers interested in golf in other ways as well.  Through their Buick Clubhouse loyalty program, Buick owners have the opportunity to purchase special tickets to premier golf events.  Their interactive Clubhouse website is actually kind of fun; Tiger Woods invites you to come in, and he prompts you to click on various areas while you are there (must have been fun for him to do!). 

The loyalty program targets new owners, but Buick is also accepting existing customers into the program.  Per an article in Promo magazine, Buick is using this to engage new demographics for their vehicles:

“Buick traditionally has had the highest loyalty in the automotive industry,” (Larry) Peck said. “Our buyer has been older, too. With this program, we are trying to get younger buyers. Golf offers younger, more affluent, more educated consumers. We are trying to reach our demographic through the Internet…and offer a premiere owner experience.”

Proceeds from loyalty program events or merchandise after expenses will benefit the Buick Open Southeast Michigan Charities.

Building Customer Loyalty

What are your customers interested in?  Where do they spend their time?  Understanding customers, their interests, and their needs helps us tailor not just products and services, but also outreach and loyalty programs.  Do your customers want to feel special?  Create a customer recognition program.  Do your customers want to have “access” to your company?  Create a community, with your key execs/programmers/personnel playing a central role.

One of the most important ingredients in building customer loyalty is consistency of customer experience.  Buick needed to make sure an owner’s experience at the Invitational Tournament was a good one in every way possible in order to contribute in a positive way to the brand experience.  The same experiences now need to occur with the Service and Parts department, with Sales managers, with any emails and marketing sent to customers, and basically, in every single customer touch at every dealer.  This requires knowing your customers, coordinating across functional areas internally, as well as collaborating with partners (in this case, the dealerships).

Is that doable?  Yes – with planning.  And flawless execution.  Customers have high expectations.  The companies that can do this have an edge.  Is your company one of them?

(Photo credit: fintastic)

New Year’s Musings 2008

new-year-2008.jpg What are your goals for your business in 2008?  Last year at this time, I discussed some suggested Customer Service New Year’s Resolutions.  The customer has become much more front-and-center in this past year, but it is about more than just marketing.  We need to make sure all aspect of our organizations are customer-focused.  I think the resolutions I suggested last year are still valid for this year, so I wanted to share them with you again! 

Here are my suggested Customer Service New Year’s Resolutions.

  • Create a customer strategy for the customer service organization.

While most organizations have a product or marketing strategy, many do not have a customer strategy. A customer strategy addresses who our customers are, how we can differentiate them from one another both in value and needs, and how we will treat them.  This strategy should be built around the interactions and relationship that the customer has with your organization. The right customer strategy in your service organization lays the groundwork for the rest of the journey.

  • Proactively “manage” the customer experience. 

The customer experience takes place through all touch points with a customer, including agents, web sites, newsletters, and automated systems. We can think about each interaction as an opportunity to either increase or decrease a customer’s value to us. Example: I recently moved to a new house and needed to contact multiple utility companies.  In the first instance, I called the customer service line and waited on hold for nearly 30 minutes in order to tell an agent I would not be able to make the installation appointment that was previously scheduled. At the end of that half-hour period, I was not having a very good experience! The next day, the second instance but with a different utility, I called to cancel the service at our old residence. Wait times again were high, but in this case I was given the choice of receiving a call-back from an agent.  An agent called me 25 minutes later, exactly as they had predicted, and a recording of my own voice validated the call.  My elapsed time to deal with that call was 3 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes the day before. In both cases, the contact center was scheduling agents to take calls as they come in; however, in the second case my experience was optimized to make the interaction as convenient for me as possible. Which one built a stronger customer relationship and increased customer value? 

  • Formally link rewards with customer-centric behavior. 

A hard look at customer-based metrics is necessary in order to retain a balance between customer focus and cost reduction, especially in areas such as the contact center. Activity in the contact center should be reviewed based on measures of both efficiency such as call handle time, and measures of effectiveness such as first contact resolution, the number of repeat contacts, and the share of customer data. These measures have the greatest impact when they are linked to performance improvement opportunities including coaching plans and training as well as root cause analysis activities. The wrong measures can cause behaviors which reduce cost but also reduce customer value. For example, if an agent is measured solely on average talk time but not on how well the customer’s concern is resolved, that agent won’t care that the customer has to contact the organization again.   In addition, these customer-based measures need to roll up the management chain so the success of all members of the contact center organization is tied closely to customer success.

(Photo credit: lacreme)

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)

VIP Treatment

red-carpet.jpg I just attended a hip holiday party last night here in San Diego, in our historic Gas Lamp district.  It was put on by a number of marketing, advertising, and PR associations jointly, which brought a crowd with some nice cross-pollination.  The event was on two-levels of a swank club.

As I went upstairs, I noticed an area near the back bar which was roped-off with velvet ropes and looked very luxurious.  It was obviously a VIP area, and there was a sentry at the entrance to it with a list of names to allow through.  A few minutes later, I spotted a few ladies with yellow wrist-bands they were trying to put on; these would allow them into the VIP area.

Me: “Hi there.  I noticed you have some of the VIP wrist-bands.  Out of curiosity, what did you do to get those?”

Ladies: “We don’t know!  They were given to us when we picked up our badges at the front door.”

Hmm, I thought.  I will check back with them on this later.  Party continued, great time had by all.

This morning, I was corresponding with one of these ladies by email.  I asked her if she ever found out why they were issued the wrist-bands.

Her response: “I have no idea how we got into the VIP area!  But it made us feel special.”

I am glad she and her friend received special treatment.  However, that treatment was not a very good use of money for the organization granting it if the recipient doesn’t know why!  The organization could have made the most of this opportunity by sending out a note ahead of time, letting the VIPs know they were in for a special evening and telling them why they were selected for this privilege. At the very least, a note or comment at the door would have helped.  Ideally, someone from the organization could have wandered the event, personally thanking VIPs and letting them know why there were chosen.

It is great to treat your best customers well.  But it is potentially a waste of marketing money if they don’t know why they are getting special treatment!

(Photo credit: Eraxion)

Consumer Stories and Relationship

stories.jpg 

I received an email from Kim Palmer, author of the blog AlphaConsumer at US News and World Report.  She recently published a post about telling stories on consumer websites.   She shares her initial response to an “invitation” from a grocery store, Giant, who is seeking consumer stories about their experiences with the supermarket.  Kim says,

“Really? Me? Does Giant really care? I was flattered but not so much so that I shared why I shop there. (If you must know, it is because I enjoy the brightly lit aisles and ethnic food section.) I can barely keep up with the friends I do have; I’m not sure I can handle another, especially one that’s a corporate entity.”

I wanted to share my comments back to her here, as I have often wondered about this as well!  Creating strong customer relationships is a goal of many companies today, but I don’t believe consumers want a relationship with an “entity”.   They will, however, build connections with key employees at those companies (such as the cashier at the local market).

I believe companies want customers to “tell their stories” for a few reasons.  First, more and more organizations are looking to create two-way conversations with their customers.  This is taking place at blogs all over the world.   The Southwest Airlines blog is a good example of customers sharing stories (especially where CEO Gary Kelly talks about the recent changes to their boarding procedure and 212 customers weighed-in via the comments); note that not all stories are necessarily glowing, but they are still valid stories.

Second, companies realize that word-of-mouth marketing is still very successful, as consumers are more likely to trust each other than that “entity”.  Gathering and sharing consumer stories seems to be one way of trying to make it happen.

Not everyone will want to share their story, nor should they!  Kim is not comfortable doing so, and that is fine.  Companies should understand the ways in which their customers want to interact and gather feedback (and referrals) accordingly.  Kim shared some great info on why she shops there; I hope Giant was reading her post!

I think very loyal customers, the kind who want to create connections with organizations in which they believe, will feel more compelled to share their stories.  Disney has a section of their “Insider” newsletter that showcases consumer stories, and it is fun to read.

However, are consumers really moved to wax poetic on their local grocery store?  I am not convinced that is the case, but time will tell.

Do you have a company where you would be willing to “share your story”?  I would do so with Disney, Coldwater Creek, and Southwest.  What about you?

(Photo: Paha L

‘Tis the Season: Holiday Giving

christmas-hearts.jpg At this time of year, companies think about their customers with a holiday card, and for some customers even a gift.  But customer service isn’t a once-a-year phenomenon.  It is year-round. 

What message is sent to the customer that only hears from a company once per year?  Put another way, what do you think about those holiday cards that are the only communication you receive all year (other than bills)?  Customer relationships require ongoing care and feeding in order to be maintained or to grow.  The same can be said for mentoring junior staff, employee reviews, and many other things.  They should not be once per year events but a continual process.

Here are a few tips for creating a customer contact plan for existing customers.

  1. Be sure to understand your customers’ preferences.  How do they want to be communicated with?  Email?  Print?  Phone?  Facebook?  Utilize their preferred method of interaction; it is probably different for different customers.
  2. Understand what business your customers are doing with your company.  Have they been customers for a long time?  Is this their first 30 days of doing business with you?  Have they just referred new business to you?  Communications should be adjusted accordingly and should acknowledge that level of business.  Most customers want to know you see them as more than just a number/name in an email list.
  3. Intersperse up-sell and cross-sell communications with “just because” communications.  At least quarterly, call or contact customers to see how things are going and check in on their satisfaction levels.  Customers are usually happy that you want to know how they are doing.

Go ahead and send out those holiday greetings.  As you put together the finishing touches on your plans for this upcoming year, however, make sure you are creating a plan for how you want to contact your customers throughout the months that follow.

(Photo: zocky)

Giving Thanks

dscn1715-small.jpg As America gets ready for our annual Thanksgiving holidays, our thoughts turn to what we are thankful for. 

Be thankful for your customers  Without them, you wouldn’t have a business!  Take a minute, right now, and let two or three of your best customers know you are thankful for them (without trying to up-sell or cross-sell them).  You can write a thank-you note (here are some suggestions from Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer).  You can call them.  Just let them know they are important to you!

Be thankful for your employees  Many of them are your company’s face to the customer.  As I mentioned in the story about my Disney World experience, employees who are empowered and who feel great about where they work can turn that into positive experiences for customers.  It will ultimately also help with employee retention (for other thoughts on making a difference from employees, see these ideas from Lori Deschene at BNET).  Let your employees know they matter to you!

Be thankful for your business network  We often meet many, many people and collect many more business cards, but have we stopped and thanked these folks for how they help us?   Valeria Maltoni of Conversation Agent has a great post on how to make the most of your network (hint: don’t do it for what you will get back!).  Let  your contacts know you value their relationship!

I am very thankful for all of you, my Customers Rock! readers.  Without you, I would be talking to myself!  Thank you so much for your support and loyalty.

Now to all my American friends: Happy Thanksgiving!  And to the rest of you, think about what you are thankful for.

Related Posts

Thanking Others (expressing thanks)

Customer Language (using the preferred communication methods of customers)

(Photo taken by me at Disney World, EPCOT at the end of the Test Track attraction.)

How to Take Care of Existing Customers

bird-in-hand.jpg Business is tough to juggle sometimes.  We have to focus on two main areas when it comes to our customers: bringing new customers in and taking care of existing customers.  The old idiom, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” comes to mind here.  I like this definition from the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (Third Edition, 2002). 

The things we already have are more valuable than the things we only hope to get.

From my experience, many companies spend most of their time and budget focusing on the sale to new customers and end up neglecting their existing ones.  This works in the short-term, but eventually these companies find themselves losing more customers out the back door than they bring in the front door. 

Example

Here is a hypothetical example.   Company A, a business-to-business  manufacturer, is growing rapidly and has had a big year-end push on getting new customers to purchase their product.  During their latest promotion, Company A saw a lot of interest in their product and was able to acquire several new business customers.  As the promotion drew to a close, the focus remained on bringing in those last few customers who had expressed interest but weren’t yet “in the fold”.  Company A succeeded in beating their promotion goals by bringing in additional business for the year.

Was Company A successful?  Yes, with their goal of bringing in new customers.  Were they successful in taking care of existing customers?  Yes.  They didn’t lose sight of those that had already purchased before and during this big push because Company A has a team of people that focus on keeping and growing existing business.

Five Tips

Here are a few tips for companies to ensure they aren’t letting go of the “bird in the hand” while pursuing those in the bush:

  • Be sure to thank customers when they buy from you.  Whether products or services, you want customers to know you appreciate their business!  If possible, a personal thank-you card is best when you have a small or targetted group of customers. 
  • Recognize a return customer.  If a customer has purchased from you before, acknowledge that in your thank-you note.  A customer doesn’t feel valued when they get a note saying “Thanks for trying us.” when they have been buying from you for 5 years!
  • Properly welcome a new customer.  This could be a customer who is new to you altogether, or they may be new to this part of your company.  Best practice organizations provide “welcome kits” to help customers navigate the system or get started.  It could be as simple as the name of their account manager along with that person’s phone number.  The kit is usually sent after the “thank you” note goes out.
  • Follow up with existing customers on a regular basis.  This could be an email or note to customers (especially useful if you have a lot of customers, as many consumer-focused companies do) or a quick phone call to see how things are going.   Use whichever interaction approach your customer prefers.  NOTE: This is not a sales call!  The best way to turn off existing customers is to constantly pressure them for business (see Seth Godin’s post today on Spam for examples of how not to do it, especially his Dell example). 
  • Look for ways to improve the relationship.  Let your customers know you truly value their relationship with you by asking them how it could be made better.  Needs change.  Budgets shrink and grow.  By keeping in touch with your customers and understanding their needs and preferences, you will be aware of these changes and can react to meet those new needs.

Taking care of existing customers can’t be left to random chance.  It also can’t be left only to great customer service personnel who react when there is a problem.  Taking care of customers needs to be an ongoing, proactive part of the business.  This will take time and budget. 

But it’s worth it: just ask Harley-Davidson!  They were the subject of one of my first blog posts here at Customers Rock!, and they have legendary customer loyalty.  They are truly a great Customers Rock! company.

(Picture credit: Erika Aoyama, November 16, 2002)

Consistency of experience counts

car-keys.jpg When it comes to customer experience, there are a lot of factors that contribute to positive word of mouth.  In particular, a consistent experience is critical, whether it be across visits or across locations.  Doug Meacham of NextUp has recently joined the ranks of road warrior (ie. consultant – welcome, Doug!) and shares with us his story about the Hertz Gold program.  Doug loves the convenience of the service (so do I).

Unfortunately, some of the comments on Doug’s blog indicate the Hertz Gold experience is not consistent across Hertz locations.  Doug responds to the comments:

Clearly, the quality of a company’s customer experience is determined by its ability to execute the great experience CONSISTENTLY over time.

Once customer expectations are set, it is important to ensure they can be met each time, in each location.  This is a key area where many customer loyalty programs fall down.  Travel customer loyalty programs have become so popular, nearly everyone is “gold”.  It used to be a great day when you could board the plane early or get the choice cars.  Now, there are so many people using these services, it can sometimes be more the rule than the exception.  What happens when a frequent flyer/driver/stayer is one of many and there isn’t enough capacity for the “special treatment”?  Expectations are not met, and deep customer dissatisfaction occurs.

For this reason, customer experience isn’t just about giving employees incentives to treat customers nicely or to deliver great customer service.  It is about creating a strategy for how customers will be treated, across all touchpoints, and for the extent of the customer’s lifecycle.

Does your company have a customer strategy?  Tell me about it, and I will feature you and your company on the Customers Rock! blog.

BrandingWire: Helping a Consulting Business

last-slide.jpg For this month’s BrandingWire installment, the posse of pundits (including me) is tackling how to help a consulting firm.  Here is the challenge:

The ideal client/customer for the consulting firm looks like:

    Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
    Employees: 150 or fewer
    Verticals: High-tech and health care
    Location: North America

The challenges facing these client/customers: consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses (as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals) are experiencing stagnant growth, or even losing market share. Many of these clients don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

The consulting firm’s challenge: as a small marketing firm, they are losing contracts to lower pricing and to bigger firms. The consultancy after three years has stopped growing and most of its clients buy one project and don’t return for more assistance for several years, if at all. How do they position and brand themselves in order to return to greater marketplace success?

In a nutshell: Business growth has slowed or stopped, clients are not likely to return, and the firm is being under-cut in price by larger consulting firms.  This same scenario could apply to many businesses, but there is something unique about a consulting firm.  This is a service business.  The marketing of services is often a challenge for companies, as there is not a tangible product to sell.

In this month’s case, marketing may not solve the problem up front.  There looks to be more legwork to do before we attempt any slick re-branding or marketing campaigns.  We need to understand what has gone wrong.

Here are some suggestions on how this ABC Consulting could proceed at this point.

  • Talk to current clients about existing projects.  We want to make sure the firm’s current clients are completely satisfied with the work being done for them.  Are they satisfied with the work done so far?  Is there anything that could be done to better meet their needs?  Would they consider continuing with this consulting firm for follow-on work?  If not, why not?
  • Build relationships with the clients on multiple levels.  People come and go, both from clients as well as from consulting firms.  Building relationships at many levels helps insulate the consulting firm from being ousted when the “new guy” comes along.  Additionally, a strong client/consultant relationship will help keep those lower-priced competitors at bay!
  • Make sure all project work is adding value for the client.  Do we truly understand each client’s needs?  Do we know how the results of this work will be used after we leave?  Binders full of research and “consulting speak” that sit on a shelf or complicated marketing plans that no one buys into will never see the light of day.  Often times, consultants are not re-hired to do follow-on work because the last “consulting deliverable” wasn’t something that the client could use to take action and make a difference for their company.  Every work product delivered to a client needs to count!
  • Look for the next project from this client before the current one is finished.  It is always easier and more cost effective to get business from an existing client than from a new one.  Consultants should keep their eyes open for others areas where the consulting firm’s services can help the client.  It could be to assist the client in taking further action from this project.  It could be in a completely different area. 
  • Quickly put a process in place to capture end-of-project results.  A good project manager always does a “post mortem review” on the project.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What could have been done differently?  Be sure to get feedback from the client during this review process!  Take what is learned from the review and immediately apply it to other existing projects; immediate action is required to keep from making the same mistakes.
  • Talk to former clients, if possible, to find out why they did not continue working with the firm.  Too many firms that lose the sale don’t go back and ask why.  Many times, clients are willing to share what their issues are, if any.  By doing this, the firm may find out that the way they are approaching their projects doesn’t leave room for future work.  Of course, this should only be done with clients that the firm is still on good terms with! 

Putting some of these suggestions into play will help this consulting firm to understand their mistakes, and it will also help set them up for the future.  Now go talk to those clients!

Check out these other posts from the BrandingWire posse for more insight and perspective!

Lewis Green

Drew McLellan

Martin Jelsema

Patrick Schaber

Olivier Blanchard

Steve Woodruff

Valeria Maltoni

Kevin Dugan

Gavin Heaton