Category Archives: Business

Take a 360 Degree View of Your Customer

Do all the external-facing departments in your company see the world through your customer’s eyes?  All customer touch points, including marketing, sales, customer  service, technical support and accounts receivables, should be integrated with each other.

No matter who your customers connect with in your company, their experience must be consistent, clear and coordinated, an integrated “360-degree” view of your customer,  ensuring that promise and delivery are in sync.

Three elements of a company propel its business: marketing, sales and customer service.  Most companies know, theoretically, that these three elements need to work  together effectively to produce steady sales, revenue growth and happy customers.

Frequently, however, there are aspects of human nature that get in the way of each of these elements, preventing them from performing at peak opportunity. Ego, compensation models, bonus programs often take precident over customer concerns.  The ability to identify, address and resolve these issues goes a long way towards building a loyal customer base that keeps coming back.

— Lisa Dennis

The Chicken or the Egg? Sales or Marketing Focus

At the risk of being a little controversial – I have to say I’ve never understood why so many companies talk about “Sales & Marketing” as a discipline, rather than “Marketing & Sales.” Often, conversationally and organizationally, the focus is on Sales first – with marketing placed in an enablement role. The truth is that the process of finding a prospect and converting them to a customer starts with Demand Creation – and the majority of that activity begins with Marketing. Marketing is setting the stage, targeting the most likely segments, honing the right message, and hopefully creating the right set of sales materials, in addition to customer collateral, to give Sales everything they need to take that prospect through the sales process. Without this crucial orientation, it’s too easy to cut marketing when times get tough. Sales people are pushed out the door to “sell harder,” but not given the marketing support to make that happen. Put the activities in their proper order. Think about them in terms of an extended and repeatable progression and you will have gone a long way into aligning and integrating the efforts of both organizations. They are mutually interdependent – so alignment has nothing to do with having one department report to the other.

— Lisa Dennis

Social Media Makes It Too Easy to Complain? Boo-Hoo!

A recent article in the NY Times titled Consumer Complaints Made Easy. Maybe Too Easy. discusses a company called Gripe, where customers can post complaints or kudos about companies they’ve dealt with, and these comments are posted to the customer’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as to the company in question’s service department.

Personally, I think this is an awesome idea, and frankly, so should businesses.  I do think Gripe’s company name is a bit of a misnomer, as it does allow consumers to praise a business’ positive service delivery as easily as it allows for complaints.  And while some businesses still cling to the idea that their reputation is (or should be) one of complete customer satisfaction and perfection, c’mon, let’s add a dose of reality here, shall we?

No business is perfect.  No business magnificently serves all their customers, all of the time.  Fact.  But along with that fact, it should be mentioned that many studies (including one by Technical Assistance Research Programs) show that customers who have had a problem resolved successfully and amicably tend to be more loyal than customers who have never experienced a problem with a particular business.

So, Gripe lets customers air their complaints in a public forum, but it also allows businesses to resolve those complaints in public, too.  I see this as a big boost for the concept of customer service, in general.  For customers AND for businesses.  Readers of this space know that we are complete advocates of customer rights, but we love to see businesses step up their service game and shine.  It’s all good, as the young people say.

What I don’t get is the article’s author wondering if Gripe makes it TOO EASY for consumers to complain!  He seems to indicate that there should be some kind of effort in persistence  for complaining customers in order to have their complaint heard.  I’m thinking that he fears such a forum will make it too easy for wackos to air their real or imagined slights to the world, thus creating “a din of complaints.”  Whereas, I feel that every customer, and every complaint, deserves to be heard, and every business that cares about its customers and its reputation should be eager to hear, and resolve, such complaints.  In this way, a business’ service delivery and remedies can actually become a vehicle for positive marketing.  Yes, it does raise the bar for service departments across the globe, but given the overall decline in service worldwide, this is not a bad thing.

So businesses, dry your eyes, blow your nose, hike up your bloomers, and get serious about your customers on social media!

— Chuck Dennis

Thank You is Always in Good Taste

You may have noticed that LinkedIn, the online business networking site, recently went over 100 million members.  One hundred million. 1, followed by eight zeros.  A lot of members.

ThankYouLanguage-main_Full But instead of chest-thumping and crowing, Linkedin co-founder and chairman, Reid Hoffman, took a much more subtle approach.  He sent out thank yous to each of the organizations members, not just the premium members from whom they make money, but even the cheapo freebie members like me!  And it was personalized, not only with my name, but with my place in the long line of LinkedIn members.  (I’m #735127, nice to meet you!)

Granted, the personalization is not difficult to do, nor is the emailing to the organization’s 100,000,000 members.  But this is not about degree of difficulty.  Nor is it about “getting” any prizes or discounts.  Hell, it’s a free service – that’s my prize!

What is cool about this is that an organization that has not only impacted millions of lives, but has changed the way the world does business, actually thought of its customers, and stopped and THANKED THEM for being part of the organization’s success.

To quote from Mr. Hoffman’s email: “I want to personally thank you because you were one of LinkedIn’s first million members (member number 735127 in fact!*). In any technology adoption lifecycle, there are the early adopters, those who help lead the way. That was you.”

That was ME!  He not only thanked me, but gave me a reason why I was being thanked.  No, I haven’t put any money in Mr. Hoffman’s pocket, but he nonetheless thanked me for using his organization’s product, and the impact that I (and many others) made in facilitating its success.

I thought it was kind of cool that, while celebrating a significant milestone for his business, he went out of his way to thank the people who made it possible.  A small gesture, but an important one.  You heard from Mark Zuckerberg lately?  Me neither.

Businesses: mind your manners.  Didn’t your mommas teach to say THANK YOU?  You don’t have to make a big production out of it.  You don’t have to offer “discounts” so that people will buy more from you to help celebrate your success.  You can just say thanks, and mean it.

— Chuck Dennis

Fly Me to the Moon

People don’t mind paying for premium service.  They don’t mind cost so much when they know what to expect.  But imagine dining in a restaurant, ordering from a nice menu, and then discovering that there are extra charges for the dishes, glasses, and silverware.  That glass of water?  Extra.  Oh, and remember when you asked to move away from the table by the kitchen door, to that empty booth in the corner?  That's another BIG extra charge.

In this crazy scenario, I believe that most level-headed would soon stop dining out.  But isn't this exactly what the airlines are doing?   
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In the 2nd Quarter of 2010, U.S. airlines collected $2.1 billion in fees and extra charges from passengers in the, up 13 percent from the first three months of the year. This is from the US Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ recent quarterly report.  This $2.1 billion has been collected for the following "services": baggage fees, reservation change fees and miscellaneous operating revenue, including pet transportation, sale of frequent flyer award miles to airline business partners and standby passenger fees, as well as revenue from seating assignments and on-board sales of food, drink, pillows, blankets, and entertainment.  None of these are listed "on the menu" when one buys a ticket.

Oh, and by the way, I haven’t noticed a whole lot of customer service awards being granted to airlines these days. Seems like all of them regularly run behind schedule, and a lot of their personnel are pretty grumpy. There are a couple of airlines that seem to “get it,” but for the most part, the customer experience is pretty mediocre-to-poor.  So what’s a customer to do?  

Well, the Consumer Travel Alliance , the Business Travel Coalition, and the American Society of Travel Agents have launched the website MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com.  To date, they have collected over 50,000 signatures, including mine, on a petition they plan to present to the Department of Transportation (DOT) today (9/23/2010).  I think when fifty thousand of your customers speak up against how you are running your business, and they are mad enough to go to the government about it, you kinda hafta listen, dontcha?

I will be very interested in seeing how this plays out.  At least one of the airlines that “get it” is making the fact that they do NOT charge for checked baggage a big part of their advertising campaign.  Good idea on their part, but at the same time, kind of sad that NOT charging a hidden fee is viewed as a competitive advantage.

 – Chuck Dennis

Customer Retention Outside the Box

I read an interesting piece today by Australian business consultant Peter Shallard, called Repeat Business and Customer Retention Formula Revealed.

He talks about a coffee shop in Sydney that, in addition to serving good coffee in a timely manner (a baseline for any coffee shop), had Polaroid snapshots all over the walls.  The photos are all of dogs, all taken in the cafe, with each pup's name written on the bottom.  Mr. Shallard then looked around at the other patrons, and estimated that 80% of them had dogs with them!  This is when the light bulb went on for him.

This cafe, one of many within the area, had built a loyal clientele by providing a good product with good service, and then combined that with another, unrelated, aspect that many customers were drawn to. 

To Mr. Shallard, and to me, this is brilliant in it simplicity.  For almost any product or service being sold, there are no doubt dozens, if not hundreds of other competitors selling the same thing.  Quality, price, service, and locale may not be enough to win a customer's loyalty.  But combining a business' primary product with another unrelated (but interesting) concept may seal the deal for certain customers to whom that unrelated concept appeals.

I imagine this was the thinking behind the first sports bar.  People get thirsty and hungry, so let's open an establishment to provide them beverages and food.  But wait, many people like sports, too, so lets decorate the place with sports memorabilia, and put a bunch of strategically-placed TVs throughout, showing sporting events or sports-related programming! Genius!

So, let's look at our own businesses.  We all work hard to provide a quality product and great service.  But what else can we add to that, that will appeal to a significant segment of our buying audience?  It doesn't have to be big, expensive, or complicated.  Polaroid snapshots of dogs on the wall – hello?

This is a great way to increase customer loyalty and retention, and have fun while doing it!  What a concept!  What can you add to your business to lock in loyalty from a significant segment of your prospects?  Please comment and share your ideas, and feel free to link to your site!

Service So Good it Changed the Game

Readers of this space know that we are, to say the least, passionate about customer service.  REAL customer service, not the pre-defined, pre-packaged, beware-of-the-fine-print kind of customer service.  For that reason, certain businesses have warm spots in our hearts.  Zappos is one of those businesses. 

I will freely admit that I have never purchased anything from Zappos.  But I have read and heard and seen so much about them.  And I think I love them.  Two things always stand out: outstanding customer service, and a wacky, fun work environment.  I don't think these two things are unrelated.

AdAge recently published an article called Is Customer Service a Media Channel? Ask Zappos.  In the article, author Pete Blackshaw states

"Zappos is a game changer, and it found value — and ferocious
word-of-mouth and brand advocacy — in a place most of us leave for
dead and certainly don't consider even close to being a media channel:
customer service. They took this "cost center" input and turned it into
an unassailable asset, fortified by the founder-CEO's sometimes
"cult-like" (arguably irrational, by the typical marketing book)
obsession with serving the consumer at all costs."

The game-changing aspect that Blackshaw points to is Zappos' challenging the long-standing tradition of viewing "customer service" as a cost center, a necessary evil where calls can be quickly dispatched to barely-trained entry-level employees who would rather be doing anything else in the world.

By providing a fun and engaging work environment, Zappos has attracted a certain level of enthusiastic employees.  Their enthusiasm is barely containable when they interact with customers, and the customers are energized by the experience. 

Zappos is not the most inexpensive shoe seller in the world, not by a long shot.  You don't go there looking for bargains.  And they are an online-only shop.  They sell shoes, for heaven's sake!  Something that my mother used to have me try on dozens of pairs of, in order to fine the one pair that felt right, and didn't look totally dorky.  And Zappos is raking in the bucks.  Why?

Because their service is legendary.  And they are leveraging it, and not by actively marketing it.  They let their customers do that for them. 

Now we see that another pillar of service, Amazon.com, has purchased Zappos for a billion bucks.  This is interesting.  Amazon has been a real pioneer in self-service… their philosophy is that a great customer experience does not require human interaction if the systems are set up correctly and functioning properly.  I find it difficult to challenge their premise, as I have never had a negative experience with Amazon.  Based on past purchases and recent viewing, they helpfully yet unobtrusively suggest other items of interest.  But they just laid out a big chunk of change for a company known for brilliant service on the other side of the dial – the human interactive service.

It is no great shock that Amazon has bought a shoe store; they've dipped into a lot of product lines since their bookstore days.  But could this expenditure portend an evolution in Amazon's automated service delivery?  It's like a team with great pitching just acquired a bunch of the top hitters in the league.  This could get interesting, very quickly.

   — Chuck Dennis

The Tweet is Mightier than the Sword

I’ve been reading a lot about how Twitter_logo_header is really a great tool for business.  It makes it easy for businesses to engage in dialogue with their customers.  It provides real-time market research and competitive intelligence information.  It opens up opportunities for on-the-spot marketing, sales, and service activity.  Monitor the Twittersphere, and respond to every mention of your business or product.  What better time to engage your customer than when he or she is already talking about you?

But on the other hand, if a business has some flaws, made some mistakes, employed some questionable people, provided shoddy product or service, or otherwise failed to live up to a customer’s expectation, it should not be a surprise to find angry, pointed, and downright nasty tweets on the subject speeding around the globe.

This scenario, coupled with the fact that 76% of all consumers do not believe that companies tell the truth in their advertising, but that 78% do trust the recommendations of other people (source: Yankelovich, Inc.), does not paint a rosy picture for businesses that are struggling to provide positive customer experiences.  The offended party tweets, and 22 million monthly Twitter visitors have the opportunity to see how poorly the business has performed.  You get enough of those kinds of tweets, and people are going to stay away in droves!

Thus far, I’ve been speaking about tweets containing legitimate complaints about a company or their policies / procedures / execution.  But what about the lunatic fringe?  This is the Internet we’re talking about here.  What of the fabricated smear campaigns, vengefully created by some scorned employee or rejected suitor?  In the Twittersphere, everything looks like a fact!  Businesses must be vigilant in protecting their reputations, but given the public’s propensity for believing their peers over businesses, this is a tough battle to fight.

In my view, the best defense is a strong offense.  Businesses need to establish themselves on Twitter, and take the initiative to share useful information and address customer concerns – in other words, become an active and positive member of the community.  Once you’ve established a good reputation on Twitter, you will have built some protection against the occasional tweets of anger.

— Chuck Dennis  (follow me on Twitter @AngryCustomer)

All (Good) Business is About Relationships

I've never met the man in person, but I've known him for several years now.  We met on the social media web site, Ryze.com, and have stayed in contact over the years.  I've always liked this guy, and he has always been very generous with his time in answering any web- or SEO-related questions I might have.  So when a client of mine needed a new web host, I was quick to direct him to Reg Charie of 0Grief.com.

We got the client's new site up on Reg's servers, and all worked well.  But then I needed to add some content to the site for the first time, and needed guidance.  Reg was able to instruct me in this endeavor.  But then a strange problem popped up.

I noticed that the web site looked fine in browsers like Firefox, Chrome, and Flock, but in Internet Explorer, the text was all centered, as opposed to justified left.  I contacted the web site designer, but he had no explanation for why or how that could happen.  I mentioned it to Reg  on a Skype chat, and he spent the next 45 minutes of his own time, trying to figure out and correct the problem.  As Reg is much more familiar with HTML code than I, he scoured it, looking for the root cause of this particular problem.  He managed to correct the home page, but then realized the problem carried over to the entire site.  At this point, he advised me that it might be easier just to reload the entire site.  I contacted the web designer and had him do just that, and the problem was resolved.

The point of this post is to show the value of relationships in business.  Your vendors don't all have to be your best friends, but if you have maintained a good relationship with them, you will find they will provide you with the Platinum level of service, even if you're only a Bronze level customer.  On the other side of that coin, if you are providing service, when you give that Platinum level of service to everyone you come in contact with, you will find yourself being referred to friends and colleagues of all your clients, and will build a reputation as a trusted adviser.  There's a reputation that will serve you well.  It's worked for Reg Charie!

  — Chuck Dennis

Customer Retention – What is it, Really?

It wasn't so long ago, when people said "customer service," it meant a group of fairly low-salaried people in cubicles, wearing headsets, struggling to answer questions and complaints from customers.  Then came a period of enlightenment, when someone said "Customer Service is NOT a department!  It is a business philosophy and part of everyone's job!"  This is when businesses started realizing that service wasn't a nice-to-have, but something that customers expected as a baseline for engaging.  Businesses started seeing customer service as a differentiator.  This is not to say that the execution of customer service has gotten much better, but at least there is more of an understanding of its role in the business equation.

So now, in the midst of the Great Recession, the new (and misunderstood) buzzphrase is "customer retention."  And guess what?  History is repeating itself!  Surprise, surprise.  "Customer Retention departments" are popping up everywhere.  But they are often used like relief pitchers in a baseball game, brought in to "save" a situation.  This is NOT what customer retention is all about!

When a customer is irritated, frustrated, unhappy, or downright angry, he or she is now frequently transferred to a "customer retention specialist," whose job it is to placate the angry customer, perhaps throw him or her a bone, and salvage the business relationship.  Technically, I suppose, this does define customer retention in some sense.  But in reality, giving an employee a script on how to try to keep a customer from leaving your business is a far cry from what customer retention is all about.

Like customer service, customer retention is NOT a department, but a philosophy.  It is not about "salvaging" a business relationship.  It is about solidifying one.  It's not about having a closer in your bullpen; it's about having an entire great pitching staff who participate in every game.

Customer retention is the combination of things your business does for customers on a regular basis to make them not want to leave you.  Customer retention makes your business impervious to sales, discounts, deals, introductory offers, and the like from your competitors.  Customer retention is a combination of excellent customer service, regular and valuable customer communication, the anticipation of customer needs, and creating and maintaining an enjoyable customer experience.  Customer retention is something that is done all day, every day.

If you do it right, then your business won't need the "customer retention department," because customers will not be trying to close their accounts.  You may want to pick up a few more service-oriented personnel, however. Your staff will have their hands full, taking care of all the loyal, happy customers you have!

   — Chuck Dennis

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