Who is responsible for great customer service?

ID-10087507I’ve just witnessed a frankly stunning display of how technology, designed to improve customer experience can, in the wrong hands, have the reverse effect. My local dentist has installed a touch screen appointment log-in system – you’ve no doubt come across them; touch a few buttons on-screen and it confirms you are in the right place at the right time. Simple. In this case though something obviously went wrong. I overheard a customer asking the receptionist when the dentist was likely to see him (he had already been waiting for half an hour), only to be told that he had not logged in correctly.

Strangely the receptionist felt that this was a sufficient explanation. The other patients, myself included, did our best to hide the relief that it hadn’t happened to us! I didn’t hear the end of the exchange; suffice to say the guy was still in the waiting room when I left after my appointment though.

So who is to blame? The product developers for inventing something that may solve one problem but also creates a series of other issues, the sales  person who sold the system inappropriately ( the surgery probably doesn’t need that level of sophistication), the receptionist who handled the human interaction so badly, or the marketer that forgot to think about the customer and allowed the technology to take centre stage? One thing is certain, it’s not the customers fault!

It’s easy to see how this kind of situation could arise in a big corporate environment where communication between  armies of product developers, marketers, sales people and front line staff  may not be perfect. But how can it happen in a small provincial dental surgery? How could they have lost sight of the customer so completely?

Great customer service is a team effort and everyone, from marketing through front line staff, should be aware that they have a part to play. Put your customers  at the centre of your business decisions and you have a much better chance of delivering consistently good service.

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Why you should use infographics

InfographicInfographics  are my new marketing best friends! They are appealing and useful on so many levels.

I see infographics used most frequently in the content marketing arena  and they do work particularly well in the place of wordy blog posts. They are very versatile though and I have used then to great effect in awards submissions, proposal documents and strategy presentations; in fact in any situation where you need to convey key information quickly and clearly.

Here’s why I love them:

  • they can convey information in a user-friendly manner; appealing particularly to people with a visual learning style
  • they can provide focus and clarity  to complex subjects
  • they can convey lots of information in a relatively small space
  • they are memorable
  • they can bring  potentially boring or mundane subjects to life
  • they are easy to share.

Here’s a nice example of a seasonal infographic that inspired my post today.

How could you use infographics in your business?

Image: freedigitalphotos.net

How to look after your best customers

I have just signed a new mobile phone contract with my existing supplier that gives me a lesser package at a higher price than I could have got from a competitor. Fact is, I accepted a plan that will cost me almost 40% more and has fewer benefits; so how did they persuade me to part with my cash and why was I happy to do so?

In simple terms the downside of moving my contract to a new supplier outweighed the benefits they were offering.

Here are some of the reasons I stayed:

  • inertia (well I’m only human!): I was looking for reasons to stay with my existing supplier as I didn’t really want the hassle of changing. This meant that I was receptive when they offered me an incentive to stay. As it turned out, it didn’t even need to be a particularly great offer to retain my business
  • good service: I have always had good (though not outstanding) service from my existing supplier
  • value added offers: My existing supplier has sent regular offers and incentives over the years, which have continued to remind me that I am a valued customer
  • brand familiarity:  I don’t consider myself to be a particularly brand loyal person, but having trusted in this brand for some 10 years, I certainly feel I know what I’m getting.

In contrast, I did decide  to move my broadband contract a few months ago. In this case I felt that my existing supplier offered a mediocre service at a high rate and made absolutely no effort to add value or to retain me as a customer!

While this example relates to a highly competitive market dominated by big organisations, the messages translate to small, medium and even micro businesses. Whilst I certainly wouldn’t advocate building a customer retention model based on the premise that your customers can’t really be bothered to move to a new supplier, your aim should be to ensure that they don’t want to move. If your existing clients are happy with you, you will have a fighting chance of keeping them regardless of what tactics your competitors are using to try to poach them.

Existing customers are a really valuable asset to your business so make sure you are looking after them well.

Image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Practice your fundamental sales skills

ScalesMy nine-year old came home from gymnastics the other day complaining bitterly that her coach had made her practice ‘millions’ of cartwheels when she is perfectly capable of doing a round off flick tuck back (or some such complicated gymnastic tumble!) I tried to explain that even the best gymnasts have to practice the basic skills to improve on the more complex ones, just like great musicians still practice their scales.

Coincidentally I came across the same message related to the business world, and sales techniques in particular. This short video from Cranfield University explains how important it is to get your core skills to the highest possible level and to keep on practicing the fundamentals if you are to become a better sales person.

It’s well worth the 4 minutes it will take you to watch.

Image: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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Are you wasting your marketing resources?

I heard on the news this week that a staggering amount of gas, equivalent to one-third of the consumption of the EU each year, is simply being burnt off as a waste product of oil drilling. Clearly there isn’t a straight forward solution to this monumental waste or someone would have thought of it already, but it did make me think about the marketing resources that are potentially being squandered by businesses.

In an age where we are all looking to generate free and low-cost marketing, how many of us have looked to the underutilised marketing assets we already own?

Here are just a few examples of marketing assets that may exist in your business and that you could be using more effectively:

  • Awards and memberships – if you have won an award or are a member of a professional body are you telling your customer and potential customers about it? By simply placing an award logo on your email sign off,  website, LinkedIn profile, letterhead, business cards, online brochures etc you are demonstrating your credibility
  • Client testimonials – if, like me, you have a collection of testimonials and case studies gathering dust, you should be using them wherever possible to woo potential clients
  • Blog posts, white papers and top tips – you will be surprised  what content most companies have that can be re-purposed. You will have to do a little work here as it’s important that you don’t simply regurgitate the same content across different platforms. Can you turn a blog post  into several Facebook posts or enhanced  it to form a white paper, an e-book or an infographic?
  • Your existing clients and employees – these guys should be your biggest advocates so how can you encourage them to recommend you? Again, this won’t happen on its own, a little effort is needed; but happy customers can be a huge untapped asset
  • Your marketing strategy – are you spending your marketing budget on the right activities? No amount of tweaking around the edges is substitute for thorough research, rigorous planning, measurement and evaluation.

What marketing assets do you have lying around that you could use?

The marketing mix: why it is important to your business

If you treat marketing as being synonymous with advertising, promotions and other forms of communication then you are, almost certainly, missing a trick. This week I came across a great example of how, by taking this narrow view of marketing and ignoring some of the elements of the marketing mix, you can seriously damage your revenue.

I’m currently in the market for a coffee table. I’m looking for something quite specific; a square, light oak coffee table. Having searched online I have a rough idea of the price I’m happy to pay and what I can expect to get for my money. Armed with this information I visited a local, independently run, furniture show room to see how they matched up to the internet.

It all started quite well as I was left to browse for a while before being approached by the sales guy who asked if I was looking for something specific. Having explained my requirements to him he proceeded to show me a number of distinctly rectangular looking coffee tables, and tutting, he said: ‘ how come everyone wants square coffee tables when I only have rectangular ones’. Good question. Perhaps he should check his product range?

After this rather awkward moment, he told me that some of the ranges included a square coffee table, and we were back on track again! I chose a style I liked and he scurried off to get a brochure. We then discussed price and, whilst his first offer was more than I wanted to pay, I could see that he was up for a negotiation. I asked about delivery and he agreed to deliver free of charge, so that was another tick in the box.

Finally I asked when the coffee table could be delivered…and it all started to fall apart (again). ‘Before Christmas’, was the response I got. ‘Before Christmas’ I repeated, ‘Yes, before Christmas as opposed to after Christmas’ he said. A little dumbfounded I asked if he could be more specific. Apparently not. The result, a lost sale.

For your marketing to be successful you need to consider all the elements of the marketing mix. It’s less important which definition of the marketing mix you prefer (the 4Ps, 7Ps , 4Cs…the list goes on), just that you have a joined up approach to marketing that puts the customer at the centre.

Image: freedigitalphotos.net

How to keep your marketing campaigns relevant

I received a number of totally irrelevant email shots this week which got me wondering why ‘common sense’ seems to be lacking in many marketing campaigns.

The first was a fantastic buy-one-get-one-free offer on dog biscuits – great…if you own a dog that is! I am (slightly) sympathetic to this campaign as I do currently buy pet supplies from the company in question and, statistically speaking, there is a 30% chance I have a dog. Although, looking at it another way, there is a 70% chance I don’t have a dog, so why bother trying to sell me dog food without finding out first?

The second was another discount offer, this time on nursery furniture – brilliant, but 12 years too late. The third was announcing a new range of clothes for toddlers which again, was totally mis-timed. Getting the timing of a marketing campaign right can be tricky, but surely anyone can work out that whilst baby products would have been relevant to me some years ago, they aren’t now.

Companies like Tesco are masters of using transactional data to match up the right offers with the right customers, but many smaller companies simply don’t have access to mountains of data or the ability to act on it. So what can they do?

Here are a couple of common sense ideas that may help make your marketing campaigns more relevant:

  • Map your customers buying process – including the time period over which your products are likely to be relevant to your customers
  • Know your customers – a research programme or engagement through social media may help you get closer to their needs
  • Keep your data clean – it’s worth taking the time and effort to keep your customer data up to date
  • Take calculated risks – use the data that you have to make an educated guess about what additional products your customers might buy (in the pet suppliers example I’m sure the company could have narrowed my pet ownership down to a rabbit, guinea pig or other small pet).

If your marketing campaigns are relevant they are likely to be more successful and produce a better return for you. Better to spend the time planning the right campaign than irritating customers with irrelevant marketing.

Image: www.tomfishburne.com

Speak the language of your customers

I cooked goulash last weekend and the recipe called for chuck steak. Hmm. Now,  I know my sirloin from my rump and fillet, but my knowledge of individual cuts of meat doesn’t stretch much further than that.  Still, I knew that the recipe called for slow cooking over a long period so I went in search of, what I knew as, braising steak.

Unfortunately our local butcher has recently retired so I had to turn to the supermarket shelves. Here I was faced with endless packs of meat all simply bearing the label ‘cubed beef’. They were helpfully under a banner marked ‘casseroles’…so I knew I was in roughly the right place. I tried, through a process of price comparison,  (logically braising steak would be more expensive than stewing steak so I thought) to find what I wanted, but that all fell apart when I realised that the English beef was more expensive than the Irish (or was it the other way around?). The organic beef was the cheapest of all which totally blew my theory out of the water!

I finally plumped for a nice looking pack of lean meat which simply said ‘beef’ but went away feeling disgruntled that the decision had taken so long. I felt somewhat patronised too and wondered if I was just simply out of date with the language of meat.

In my view, the supermarket had gone too far in their effort to simplify the buying process for the consumer; so far in fact, that they had actually made it more complicated…for some of us at least.

It’s not an easy one for us marketers; customers don’t all use the same terminology and language clearly changes over time. What is important is to put yourself in your customers shoes, keep it simple without assuming your customers are all stupid and test your messages to make sure they really make sense to your target audience.

What is the difference between and stew and a casserole by the way?

Image: www.freedigitalphotos.net

Refreshing ideas

I’ve just bought a new marketing book which I am ridiculously excited about reading. It’s a weighty tome and has the feel of a text-book about it with plenty of diagrams & charts and an extremely practical sounding title: ‘Marketing Plans: how to prepare then, how to use them’.

Most of the marketing text I read these days concerns ‘new’ concepts – social media, inbound marketing, content marketing, engagement, and is often in bite-sized chunks. It is, of course, important to keep up to date with new ideas as marketing methods change so rapidly; and blogs & white papers are a  great way to gain a quick overview. What I’m looking forward to though, is an in-depth and thoroughly researched approach to marketing planning.  Marketing planning is, in my view, one of the most important aspects of any business. After all, what is the point of having a barrel full of ‘new’ marketing tactics without a proper marketing plan in place?

It’s been a while since I read such an academic looking book and now, with twenty something years of real-life marketing experience behind me, I expect it will take on a new light. The challenge for me will be to adapt the concepts in the book, which are broadly aimed at big businesses,  and make them relevant for small and medium businesses.

I’ll let you know how I get on!

Why customer experience is an important concept for your business

I normally leave marketing ‘buzz’ words at the door when I’m talking to owner managers and generally stick to jargon-free explanations. I have, however, recently found myself using the term ‘customer experience’ more and more. Why? Because, for me, it is the very essence of good marketing and a really useful concept for small business owners to embrace.

In simple terms customer experience is the sum of all the ways that customers come in contact with your product or service. It includes the moment when a potential customer first becomes aware of your product, through to buying it, using it and, hopefully recommending it to others. The benefit of looking at  customer experience as a whole – as opposed to looking at marketing, sales and customer service etc as separate entities – is that you are less likely to miss some vital part of the process.

Let me give you an example of where failing to look at the whole process turned a good customer experience bad in a matter of minutes. Here is how the story goes. I won a prize in a charity raffle a few weeks ago; it was a voucher for a new clothes shop in my high street. Having walked  passed the shop many times since it opened I decided to finally venture in. Once inside the shop I was impressed by the variety of items they stocked, the staff were friendly but not pushy and the prices represented good value. So far my customer experience was all positive. I tried a couple of things on and decided so buy one of them. I handed over my credit card and the voucher…and then the crunch came. The staff member looked suspiciously at the voucher and didn’t hide the fact she was unsure what to do with it; she called another staff member and they loudly discussed the fact that they hadn’t  seen such a voucher before. Another staff member soon joined them. Now faced with three staff members looking bemused, a queue forming behind me and feeling distinctly embarrassed, my instinct was to flee the shop never to return. Luckily common sense took over and I finally managed to make the purchase. I won’t be rushing back though and I certainly wouldn’t buy a gift voucher there!

It seems such a basic mistake to make – not communicating a promotional offer to front line staff – and unforgivable for a small company where lines of communication are short. It could have easily been avoided by simply mapping out the process and (hopefully) spotting the flaw in the plan in advance.

Image courtesy of http://tomfishburne.com/cartoons