Customer service

Customer Service: the Milk and Cookies of Marketing

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Despite the fact that marketing and customer service are usually separate departments, I find that, like milk and cookies, the two are always better together.

When we traditionally think about marketing, we think about strategy, our messaging, our unique brand identity and how to attract new clients. It is fair to say that marketing tactics, therefore, are often focused on attracting the attention of potential clients.  With an increase in a global economy and growth in competition, many companies have discovered that client retention costs less than client acquisition.  Quite simply, the value of loyal clients is that they buy more, buy frequently, are cheaper to serve, have higher retention rates and are more profitable than newly acquired clients.

Ideally then, we all want more loyal clients and the only way to do this is to make sure we treat our existing clients very well.

So in addition to thinking up clever advertising and direct mail pieces, we need to “walk the talk” of good customer service, ensuring that every staff member, especially the ones that deal directly with the clients, provide superior customer service. Your staff should know who the client is, where they are in the buying cycle, what opportunities they might want to be involved in and how your business can help them achieve their goals. You have to be able to align yourself with the values of your client and make decisions in the interest of their company.

By ensuring your staff provides consistent customer service at every touch point with the client (including online marketing), your client will come to trust you and therefore, continue to come to you to help them.

Let’s face it- all companies care about their clients, but the companies that keep them happy are the ones that prosper! A happy client is a repeat client.

Where have you seen quality customer service make a difference with a client? How do you employ good customer service tactics? I look forward to your thoughts below!

“You Like Me… You Really Like Me!”

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Coined by Sally Field in 1985, the infamous (and actually misquoted) “like me” line was delivered when she won an academy award for her performance in Places in the Heart. This saying is also true for many SMB owners who tell me that their customers choose them “because they like our amazing customer service”, or “our quick response times” or “our knowledge of the business”.

It’s not surprising that no matter how long a SMB has been in business, the business owner feels they know their customers well.  However, what is surprising is that many of these business owners will defend how well they know their customers based on a “gut” feeling or “years dealing with their customers”, but only a few of them can actually validate their claims. When there are literally thousands of choices for customers to choose from, your company really needs to understand not just who they are, but who your customers are and why they would choose to buy from you versus your competitors.

The best method I recommend SMB owners use to help them better understand their customers is to create a customer survey. It shouldn’t be more than 10 questions that your customer can easily answer, and it will help you determine why they have chosen your service/product. Here are a few tips on what should be on your survey to help your business get the best insights and results:

  1. Type of Questions – The questions should be mostly open-ended. You are looking for as much data as you can get, so you don’t want a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
  2. Professionalism – The survey needs to be professionally written and laid-out.
  3. Delivery – Offer this survey online via a private landing page, or as a direct email to clients as an interactive PDF. If your customer base is small, make personal calls or better yet, make the survey part of your client meetings.
  4. Incentive – Depending on how difficult you feel it may be to get customers to fill out your survey, you may want to offer some sort of incentive, such as the first 15 customers to reply will win a $25 gift certificate.
  5. Appreciation – Once you know a customer has filled in the survey, you need to establish a mechanism for saying thank you.
  6. End Date – Make sure you provide an end date for the survey so you can analyze the results.
  7. Provide Timely Feedback and Actionable Items – Once you have analyzed the results of the survey, share the top-level results with your clients in a timely manner. Make a point to note how their input has helped you better serve them by outlining some actionable items.
  8. Communicate – As the actionable items are completed, make a point to communicate it to your customers so they feel “heard”. This communication validates that you care about their opinion, which in turn builds loyalty.

In marketing, if you want them to “like you”, you need to spend the time to find out why they do, so you can build marketing strategies that target their needs.

Do you feel it is critical to your marketing success to understand your customer? Have you ever conducted a formal customer survey?  If so, what advantage did this give you in the marketplace? If not, what other methods do you use to ascertain what your customers want?  I look forward to hearing from you in the comments below.

If Your Clients Aren’t Important, Then Who Is?

It’s the beginning of a New Year, and new opportunities for small businesses abound… or so I would have thought.

Only one week into 2013, I have found myself unimpressed by, and amazed at the lack of basic customer service that I have encountered when trying to buy services from several small businesses.

To be honest, this experience is not new to this year. I have found in the last six months that, despite the fact that providing excellent customer service is the foundation for business growth, many small business owners are caring less and less about providing for their customers’ needs.

There has never been a time in recent history when we have seen such a boom in new business growth:

  • 543,000 new companies are started in the U.S. every month; (according to Forbes Magazine)
  • The 50 and over age group is the fastest growing segment of new business owners, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of start-ups in Canada;
  • The self-employed in Canada are more educated – a third have a university degree;
  • 70 per cent of new businesses in Canada are started by men but women tend to be more successful;
  • Businesses focussed on educational services (up almost 65 per cent since 2007) and health care are (up almost 20 per cent) are growing fastest in Canada;

 

(http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1041489/canada-to-see-unprecedented-boom-in-new-businesses-in-the-coming-decade-cibc)

Although this is very exciting news, from a marketing perspective, it also means that there is increased competition among small businesses. More than ever, businesses need to not only differentiate themselves, but also to provide excellent customer service, to present themselves in a professional manner, and to be accountable for their actions, in order to attract and generate long-term growth.

Considering the number of hard-working small business owners that I know, who are truly devoted to serving their customers, as well as being aware of the statistics which I have shared with you above, I’m always shocked when I come across SMB’s who appear to want business, but then don’t respond professionally when a new customer (me, that is) comes knocking.

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My process for finding a new service might sound familiar: I ask colleagues, consultants and friends for referrals for the service I seek.  Then, I narrow down the list to the top 2 or 3, and I look them up online. Once I find the one provider that stands out, I usually contact them either via their site, or with an email.  I wait a day or two.  If I still hear nothing, I pick up the phone and call them, usually leaving a message (as often, no actual person answers the phone). I wait another couple of days. Sometimes, I may email or call them one last time, and if I then still receive no communication from them, I write them off. In the past week, I have contacted three small businesses, and not one of them has called or emailed me back.

As I said in last week’s blog, I attribute much of my marketing agency’s success to the fact that I value each and every one of my clients. As such, my message to small business owners and entrepreneurs is to make your customers feel that they are important, and that their business matters.  Treat them the way you’d like to be treated.  If a potential client emails you, calls you, or contacts you in any way, get back to them within 24 hours. If you can’t do this yourself, make sure you have a back-up plan in place, so that you don’t lose their interest.

Bottom line – make sure you let your potential clients know just how important they are.

What customer service practices does your company follow?  Do you think asking for a response within 24 hours is too much to ask in this highly competitive world? Let me know in the comments below.