July 29, 2014

Five in the Morning: Customers Rock! Edition

My good friend (and fellow wine enthusiast) Steve Woodruff asked me to join in his community activity “Five in the Morning” – five posts that I find interesting – so here is my contribution! Grab a cup of coffee and a bagel, find a quiet five minutes, and let’s dig in!

Are Companies Looking for Customer Feedback?

One of the first blogs I read after starting my Customers Rock! blog was Church of the Customer. This easy-to-digest post from Jackie Huba shares the results of a recent survey by conducted by the CMO Council on whether companies are tracking customer conversations about their brand, along with whether they have employee incentives around customer satisfaction. Interesting that not many are focusing on these areas! Especially in this economy, Customers Rock! companies view customer feedback (including word of mouth) as a critical part of their business and create customer listening post in several venues (including but not limited to social media). What are you doing in regards to listening to your customers?

Kill ‘em With Kindness

Tom Vander Well of QA QnA writes an inspiring post on how to treat your customers, even if you think they are going to be somewhat nasty to you! It might sound easy, but this type of treatment strategy requires a plan as well as a certain fortitude to carry it out when a call center rep is “in the thick of it”. Check out the post for tips on “staying chill”.

Handling Negative Reviews

Linda Bustos at GetElastic has a thought-provoking post on how to handle negative reviews. Ignore them? No. Delete them? Definitely not! How about embrace them? Linda highlights one company that has embraced both the positive and the negative; check out her post to see how they do it.

Social Media: Music to my Ears

I met someone new this week (virtually, as many introductions are these days) who works for Heavybag Media. There was a fascinating post on their blog about the use of social media and web strategies in the musical instrument business. Contained in the post are lists of who is using what, as well as who is currently best-in-class using these new tools in the industry.

A Little Self-Promotion (sort-of)

As many of you know, I teach a class at University of California San Diego called Marketing via New Media. One of my long-time blogging friends, Tim Jackson, was kind enough to come and be a guest speaker. Tim shared about his MasiGuy blog and how it has really helped re-invigorate the brand. His stories were riveting, and the students really enjoyed his talk. Here is the post where Tim shares his experience talking to my class, along with some photos, so if you ever wanted to see what my class looks like, here it is! Thanks again, Tim, for sharing your knowledge and passion about Masi Bikes. You rock!

Liked Five in the Morning? Get more where this came from at Steve Woodruff’s Sticky Figure blog, subscribe to Steve’s blog, or follow him on Twitter. Like Customers Rock!? Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog.

(Photo credit: bberry)

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!

A Tale of Two Doctors

compare1.jpg Can customer service make or break a sale?  You betcha!

We recently found ourselves in need of a “primary care physician” for my husband (he was very sick).  Not familiar with the doctors in this area, I asked a good friend for a recommendation.  Here is what happened:

Doctor #1: I spent 20 minutes on hold with this doctor’s office before I ever reached a live person.  The lady who answered the phone was fairly abrupt and matter-of-fact with me.  As we are considered “new patients”, I was told my husband would have to take a 30-minute “new patient” appointment (as opposed to a simple office visit); could he also show up 30 minutes early to do paperwork?  At this point, the lady checked the appointment schedule – and informed me the doctor was fully booked for 2 days!  She referred me to the local urgent care clinic.  I thanked her and hung up.

Doctor #2:I found this doctor’s office online.  I spent about 3 minutes on hold before I was connected to a very pleasant lady.  She was friendly and sympathetic, acknowledging my husband’s illness right away.  She quickly found an appointment for him to come in a few hours later (a regular office visit), with a request that he come 15 minutes early for paperwork.  Relieved, my husband saw this doctor.

Takeaways from this story:

-WOM (Word of Mouth) referrals mean nothing if the customer experience is poor.  The first doctor was a referral from my friend.  I trusted that this would be a good doctor.  However, the customer service we had (long wait for phone, surly phone agent, no appointment) discouraged us greatly.

I found out that the person who answered the phone was a call center rep that answered calls for all the clinics in this particular physican’s network.  A nurse from the office called me later in the day to chastise me for not taking the “new patient intake” appointment as they are apparently very difficult to come by.  When I told her I wasn’t sure I wanted to have a doctor that was this busy, she told me all their doctors were very busy.  I told her that was fine, and we would find another doctor!

- You can hear a smile over the phone.  Just by listening to the lady from the second doctor, I could actually hear her smile; she sounded glad to be talking to a potential new patient.  I felt welcome!  This is important for anyone representing your company by phone, including not just customer service but also sales and marketing.

- Make the process convenient for the customer, not for the company.  Requiring a very sick patient to take a longer (and harder to come by) appointment because they are new to your office is not the right thing to do for the customer!  A follow-up appointment would have been more beneficial and probably would have allowed my husband to be seen sooner.

- Look for the long-term, not just the short-term.  A patient-doctor relationship can last for many years, as once someone finds a doctor, they don’t go shopping around for a new one very often.  Making it easy for customers to do business with you helps start the relationship in such a way that there is room for trust to build.

Amazing how the customer service experience affected our decision of which doctor to begin seeing as our family doctor!  Even before we were customers, the customer service experience mattered.

What does your experience say to your potential customers?  Will they come back to you, or will they walk on down the street? 

Customers Rock! organizations make each encounter count!

Related post: Customer service can make it or break it

(Photo: Eraxion)