Address Online Customer Reviews Sincerely

We don’t have a good online rating on customer service. What should we do?

Thoughts of the Day: Excellent customer service has real value. Put someone who knows what they’re doing in charge, and then make sure they do their homework. Keep your eye on competitors and treat the good ones as coopetitors. If you messed up be genuine and solve it, but also know when to quit trying to please.

Ours is a service economy, and buyers don’t have to work hard to find alternatives. Customers use customer service reviews as a deciding factor when looking to make a purchase. Make every customer feel special – pre-sale, at time of sale and post-sale.

Make the buying experience as easy as possible, frustrated buyers will leave before completing their purchases. That’s lost opportunity, and lost trust. Those who have something to complain about, most often won’t – leaving your company in the dark, unaware there’s a problem.

Convert every complaint into an opportunity to connect. People do business with people they trust. It’s the little things that count like asking how a customer would like to be addressed. Have reps give out their names and contact info before being asked.

Keep a log of complaints and resolutions, use that to train new employees. Teach them to keep their cool when under attack. Escalation and anger won’t solve problems, patience, understanding and a cool head needs to prevail.

Sending a customer away with incomplete information leaves your company vulnerable. People turn to the internet for information, which makes it easy to look at other options. Ask a simple question on every interaction: Did that answer meet your needs, or do you need something more?

Be aware that even the most loyal of customers can leave. The effort to acquire new customers is estimated at 10 – 20 times that needed to maintain existing ones. Reduce the opportunity for loss.

One way to get customers to rave about your company is to look at services that customers complain about, and do an honest assessment. If a competitor can do it better, maybe it’s a good opportunity to refer a customer to them. But make sure to look for competitors who will return the favor.

Not all customers are equal. Some like to complain – a lot, be alter to that, and monitor it. Steer clear of customers who’ve already dissed your best competitors. Complaints are inevitable, but how you deal with them is what really matters. Put someone experienced in charge of finding out what really happened, and offer solutions. Show you’re doing everything possible to make things right. The customer is always right, or needs to feel like they are. No one ever wins by having a public fight with a customer.

Do research your research, Google your company. Don’t get defensive. Grow from each experience. If your company was wrong, go above and beyond. If customers are talking to you, they’re indicating willingness to continue doing business. Win them back by being generous. Once things are fixed, encourage customer engagement about their experience on social media. Signal to the marketplace that your company stands behind what it sells.

Use feedback from customers to help design better products or services. What did the customer really want? Get information to your product or service design team. Review it regularly for ideas on products or services to keep, modify and dump.

Do more than manage complaints. As a small business, customer service is one way you can stand out. In-depth knowledge of the company, its products and services, and even the personnel assigned to each customer, will make your company seem more personal and relatable.

Set realistic expectations with customers in order to build trust. If you don’t have an answer, tell the truth. Estimate the time needed to do research. If you still don’t have an answer within the specified time explain you’re still working on it, and offer a new timeframe. And then follow through. Make it a mission to help every customer. A bad situation handled well, results in customer satisfaction, 7/10 times will ensure future business. Make relationships count by fighting to insure every customer goes away satisfied.

Looking for a good book? Sticks and Stones: How Digital Business Reputations Are Created Over Time and Lost in a Click, by Larry Weber.

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Utilize Marketing to Get Your Wow Factor

Our product has a wow factor when it’s in your hand. That wow factor doesn’t come across online, in fact our product looks pretty boring when sitting in a display. We fear that on line, the product doesn’t get the attention it deserves. What can we do?

Thoughts of the Day: Marketing is all about creating excitement and drawing people in. Think about who buys your product and why. Testimonials in the online environment can be very dramatic and engaging. Make a splash and get the internet to do your work for you.

Whether online, in print, or at trade shows, it’s the exciting, interesting and unusual that catches peoples’ attention. Look to be thought-provoking, creative, even thrilling. Arouse your audience to get them to take action. Give them a challenge they can’t ignore.

Whatever challenge you put together, make sure it’s audience appropriate. Knowing who buys your product, and why they buy, will help narrow the field of possibilities. Do some investigative work if you’re not sure.

Ask current customers what they like about your product, where they bought it, and how they came to deciding it was time to buy. Hang out where your customers hang out. When they pick your product up to look at it, or walk to the register to make a purchase, ask them for a minute of their time.

Engage in a dialog, if they’re open to it, to find out what motivated them. Ask: What caught their attention? Did they plan to buy something? Or did they make a spur-of-the-moment impulse buy? Is the purchase for them or for someone else? Treat these new customers like the friends they are – now part of your world because they bought your product – and get to know a little bit more about what moved them to action.

Once you know what interests and arouses your customers, use marketing to put it out there in pictures. Try posting videos to YouTube. Take pictures of your product being used. These pictures can bring your product to life, make it jump off the page, and into your customers’ hands.

Found out that customers look up to stars, but you can’t afford a star to promote the product? No problem. Affiliate by dressing and acting the way the star dresses and acts, putting your product out in the environment in which the star usually is seen.

Do something relevant and at the same time unusual, in order to grab peoples’ attention. Brainstorm all the ways your product gets used, and then put something odd or unconventional into the picture – not enough to take over, just enough to make people think, “well, I haven’t seen that before”.

To get someone’s conscious attention you have to interrupt their thoughts. To keep them looking you have to engage their emotional side. Arouse feelings – passion, excitement, thrills, quivers, even shock can work for you – as long as it doesn’t turn your audience away.

Get the media to do your work for you. Get a buzz going about what you’re doing with your product. Whether in print or online, it’s all about getting others to talk about your stuff. Start by getting the attention of people who talk to people – the influencers. Electrify them, then watch as they help you spread the word.

There’s tons of advice posted on the internet discussing how to “go viral”. Do some reading. One of the better posts I saw said start with a marketing plan – so that you’re working with intention. Good idea!

Stay true to your ideal audience, your customers, by making sure that when they see your marketing piece it resonates with them. Be willing to try, fail and try again at grabbing attention. Make sure that anyone who does sees your marketing pieces can also figure out quickly how to get in touch with you. Don’t be shy about prominently including your contact information.
Looking for a good book? No B.S. Direct Marketing: The Ultimate No Holds Barred Kick Butt Take No Prisoners Direct Marketing for Non-Direct Marketing Businesses, by Dan S. Kennedy

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Is Building a Presence Online Really Necessary?

I’m still not sold that I need to be active on the internet. Personally, I could take it or leave it. I’m ready to give up on it, but my employees are pushing me to keep it up. I could be willing to give it more time, but is it worth it?

Thoughts of the Day: Remember the days when you used to go to face-to-face networking events? How often have you wondered what your customers have to say about your company? When’s the last time you used your cell phone to look for information?

Believe it or not, all of these questions relate to your presence in the world of social media. Our world is constantly changing, every minute of every day, and social media is the new way to communicate at that pace. Regardless of the fast pace, it is important that you be both patient and diligent, and think of social media as the new way of building relationships. Some connections happen more quickly than others. Some will lose interest and drop away, and others will join the circle. The ones who stay are the ones that matter.

Before social media, we used up a lot of energy running from one networking event to another to meet prospects and vendors, and remain relevant in the business community. Fast forward to today. Now, much of that energy is spent garnering virtual connections, with less driving. But it’s hard to juggle the anonymous aspect of social media with people’s need to see real people.

People like dealing with people. There’s just not as much time to do the running around, so do it virtually. Make it easy to connect by being present where people discuss topics related to what your company does. Keep the conversation formal, but professional. No rants, no tirades, no foul language. Be a role model and a leader and watch to see if people follow.

Before the internet became popular, when we had a need, we used to call a friend or trusted advisor to ask for advice on who to speak with. Today through the internet we can tap into a million advisors for information on any topic. The question is who to trust.

How do you figure out who is qualified to provide an expert referral? Or to provide advice on a particular topic? Social media. We look for people who are talking about a specific subject in which we are interested. We look to see how many others are referencing that source. Does the advice make sense, even if it’s something we might not agree with right off the bat?

This is where blogging can lend a helping hand. Blogging is an opportunity to show your expertise, gather input from others, and continue to expand the dialog. Invite other experts to contribute. People can weigh in with their thoughts and the blogger who is paying attention gets to defend or expand upon the topic. When someone else is looking for information on the same topic, they may find the blogger, read the posts, and reach the conclusion this is a person worth following.

Take advantage of opportunities to contribute to current events and use it as an opportunity to build your reputation as a leader. Look for topics that relate to your business. Take time to read and then post a comment. Invite others to expand on what you’ve said. If you’ve picked the right topic, you’ll find you have a dialog going. And if you picked a topic no one is interested in, you’ll get feedback on that, too.

Ask your customers to refer your company using social media tools. They can write about their experience on your company’s Facebook page. They can send out tweets when they’re engaging with your company. You can take a video of customers using your products or services, then post it on any number of sites (make sure you get their permission).

Afraid that someone might post a negative comment? Better to know what’s being said than to have it said behind your back. Invite comments, and if someone has a beef, deal with it quickly and professionally. You wouldn’t leave an irate customer fuming in the real world, don’t do so in the virtual world, either. Apologize, but don’t get defensive. Let people know you take the comments seriously. Invite the offended person to correspond further by email in order to get the discussion to a less public forum. Remember that relationships are often built on solving breakdowns.

Even the most reluctant cell phone users are getting into the act of using their phones to search for information. One recent ad we posted had over 50% of viewers using a mobile device to look at our website. Make sure your company’s content is available in a format that reads well on a cell phone.

Looking for a good book? The Giveaway Formula: How to Use the Power of Internet Giveaway Offers to Build Your Email List, by Chris Lockwood.
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Do I Really Need a Marketing Person?

Administrative help we can find, but marketing seems a little more difficult. How do we know who to look for and how to know if they’re any good at it? Do I really need someone on staff? Or should I hire people to work on projects? If I don’t manage marketing, who will? When it comes to marketing, it seems like I have more questions than answers. Help!

Thoughts of the Day: Marketing is the most diverse of all of the company’s core functions, as well as the least well understood or measured. Marketing is essential to the company’s future. Building a team to work on marketing is the way to go. Figure out what it is that you plan to measure before you hire. Grow into marketing over time.

Most business owners are very good at what they do. But unless the services they provide fall into the marketing arena or they’ve had a past job in marketing, the whole field of marketing seems pretty foreign and uncomfortable to them. And we all know that we are less likely to jump on tasks that are unfamiliar.

Combine unfamiliarity with uncertainty – as in lack of clarity around expected results – and you’ll find most business owners will go out of their way to avoid the subject. Why work on something they don’t understand when instead, they could immerse themselves in something more comfortable, such as the work the company does to keep its current customers satisfied?

The breadth of marketing can be intimidating. There’s print, telecommunications and online venues through which to approach potential customers. Advertising, direct mail, social media, networking and phone campaigns are just some of the tools to use to attract attention. Just because people pay attention doesn’t mean that they’re the right targets – that’s where research comes into play. Focus on online presence with a website that lacks good design and programming and you could do more harm than damage. And of course, today’s customers may or may not be the customers your company needs in the future.

There are so many unknowns in marketing. Of course business owners choose to avoid the subject. But avoiding the subject can lead to big problems down the road when there aren’t enough of the right kinds of leads to keep the business growing profitably. So, the solution is to learn enough to be able to engage with the subject, learn about what does and doesn’t work and build a robust marketing function.

Get some experience with marketing by joining a club or taking a course devoted to the subject. There are national associations devoted to marketing. Schools provide semester and weekend courses. Look online for seminars available from business trainers. Start by learning about the subject and picking one or two topic areas to focus on.

A strong, well-rounded marketing function will help to ensure that your company is working on both today and the future. That’s your long-term goal. In the meantime you have to start somewhere. Build your confidence by starting small and getting a couple wins under your belt.

Interview people who provide various marketing services. For each area of marketing that you want to focus on, always interview at least three candidates. Use the interview process to learn about the topic. Use common sense. Don’t get intimidated. If it appeals to you, give it a try.

It’s hard to stay committed to any activity unless it shows measurable results. Unfortunately in marketing you have to give things time to gel. And it may be hard to compare the costs of a marketing activity to actual results. In addition, marketing is a multiplier function. Typically the more activities you engage in, the more likely you are to see a result.

Build your confidence. Make a list of things to work on in marketing. Then get one or two of the items checked off. Put together a timetable and a budget for marketing activities. That will help you see marketing as a process rather than an event.

Looking for a good book? Try “Small Business Marketing, Your Ultimate Guide” by Jimmy Nichols.

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Social Media – Why Bother

My marketing advisor is pushing me to do more with social media, as a tool to market my company. I just don’t know how effective it would be, and I’m concerned about the amount of time I’d have to put in. What do you see as the best ways to go about this, and is it worth it?

Marketing in general can be frustrating, especially when you’re getting started, because there’s usually no direct link between do this, get that out of it. It takes time and effort to build up presence and awareness. And it’s important to be in many places, rather than becoming an expert at just one route.

There are lots of ways to get noticed on the internet. Think through what you’re trying to accomplish and set some goals. Don’t go for the end goal of get more sales – that’s too remote and difficult to measure, especially early on. Think more about general visibility on the internet, visits to your website and connections with potential buyers and referral sources.

A website is essential. If you don’t have one, make that a priority. Hire 4 sets of skills: design, writing, programming and SEO (search engine optimization). These may not all be available in one marketing firm, unless that firm is larger, or has a team of outsiders they work with. Beware if one person says they do it all – the skills are all very different, and require specific expertise.

Think of the website as a destination, and social media as a way to point people towards that destination. Playing on the internet is both a competition for grabbing attention, and a community of influence. You want to get known for having expertise on a particular topic related to what you do. Then attract followers who are interested in what you have to say. And finally have people pay more attention to what you have to say than anyone else.

Your best bet it to set aside time every day to work on your social media program. Spending an hour a day on social media will result in fresh content for all your updates.

Start by looking at others who are influential in your field. See what they’re doing that you like, or don’t like. Look around for blogs that relate to what your company does. Check out key words on the internet to see who comes up first. Note the different ways of getting noticed – from having a website at the top of the search to seeing press release notices, published articles and other information sources referencing the topic you’re looking up.

Think about the voice of your company. What’s the best way to get the word out about your company’s beliefs. What’s educational or of interest to people? Do you write clients stories and case studies, or do you publish research? How are you most comfortable sharing information in written format? As fact based articles, or anecdotes and stories.

Try to find several ways to get the word out about your company. Join Linked-In if you are selling Business-to-Business, and then join groups within Linked-In. If you’re selling Business-to-Consumer, Facebook may be a better environment. YouTube is something worth considering for either B-to-B or B-to-C, as a picture is still worth a thousand words, but that means you’ll need video that looks professional.

Consider connecting what your company does for marketing outside of the internet, with your eMarketing. For example, if your company is doing seminars, or promoting charities, or participating in events that are noteworthy, get the word out on the internet through your LinkedIn and Facebook connections, as well as by blogging about what you’re doing.

Given everyone’s increasing reliance on the internet for information, I’d say you have no choice but to climb on the bandwagon and start to develop your own social media program. Give it time to develop. Think about it as a fun activity, rather than a chore. After all, you’re probably passionate about what your company does, here’s your opportunity to share that passion with everyone else.

Looking for a good book? The Social Media Bible by Lon Safko.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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