Outstanding Customer Service is the Best Marketing

What is the single most important marketing tactic you can implement?

Many businesses feel they cannot identify what marketing yields the most improvement in business. They invest money in better technology, product development, print advertisements, outdoor ads, coupon marketing, social marketing, Google Ads, and more. Yet they are overlooking the most fundamental marketing tactic. One which they can integrate into every aspect of the brand and which yields the highest results. I’m speaking of customer service. Superior customer experiences are the absolute best marketing. This is marketing you cannot buy from any ad vendor or source. It comes from applied values, long-term goals, singular focus on the significance of the consumer to the brand and the importance of that customer’s interactions with every aspect of your business. 

We are in the age of the individual. Consumers buy by experience.

The most important asset your company has is your customer’s experience. If your personnel make your customers feel valued you will have a loyal customer. However, if you break that experience, you will lose your customer.

When service is lauded, customers recommend your business over others. Recommendations are the most powerful form of marketing. However, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, our collective and individual faith in organizations is declining. Over the last year, trust has crashed in the United States. Fewer individuals trust “people like me” preferring credentialed individuals. This means your business needs to work even harder to create and sustain trust among your existing and potential customers. Edelman’s results indicate that consumers expect businesses to take the lead to create trust and credibility.

Edleman Trust Barometer 2018 Organization Trust

 

Edelman Businesses CEOs expected to rebuild trust

Local businesses can out-perform national businesses through truly exceptional service. 

Everyone can share anything. Anytime. Anywhere. Today’s always-connected, always-on world allows us to be in the know about any current event, breaking news, or friend’s activity. It’s no secret that consumers share what they like, photograph your store, your employees and post that to their social media channels. The worst and the best experiences are frequently called out and extolled.

What are your customers saying about your brand?

Take for example this Charleston area resident’s experience with Ticketmaster:

Or consider this outstanding experience a customer had on Southwest Air:

You can spend all the advertising dollars in the world, but you cannot buy this kind of marketing.

Experiences make or break your brand in consumers’ minds.

During the Future of Social online conference sponsored by HootSuite, Cody Crnkovich, Head of Platform Partners and Strategy, Adobe Experience Cloud, discussed experience makers and experience breakers. These are the experiences we have which cause us to stick with a brand or leave it.

Crnkovich said,

“Your customers can leave you at any moment, at any time for whatever reason they choose. So you’ve constantly gotta be delighting them, you’ve constantly gotta be surprising them and making them excited about your brand. That’s critical. If you don’t do that, you’re dead, you’re a dinosaur, you’re gonna go away.”

It’s up to us to build trust with our customers. Without trust, and given bad experiences, we will all go out of business. Therefore, we must build-in signals of value to our customers. Whether that’s assuring them of their control and privacy of their data or delivering exceptional interactions at every level across all channels, we must deliver in our brand promise.

We have one chance to get things right. So, how do we do that?

Our customers expect us to “just make it work” no matter their level of interaction with us. Crnkovich went on on to explain that our customers expect that we will:

  • Know and respect them
  • Speak with them in one voice — (a unified message across all platforms)
  • Make technology transparent
  • Delight me at every turn.

If your brand authentically provides these experiences, your brand will thrive. Customers will refer others to you. You’ll gain new business.

Examples of exceptional customer experiences

Charleston resident Joan Perry said, “I think Publix is amazing. Their employees are always friendly and helpful.” I must agree with Joan. When I’ve been in Publix I’ve noticed that every employee makes eye contact, even if they are only walking the aisle in which I happen to be shopping. They always inquire as to whether or not I’m finding what I need. When in Publix recently, I felt I was in the way of a staff member returning carts to the storage area in the store’s vestibule and apologized for being in the way. The employee replied, “No, absolutely not. You come first. We’re here to serve you.” I was impressed.

Marilyn Wilson Markel, Manager of The Spice & Tea Exchange® Charleston has a staff of which she is justifiably proud. She said, “Customer service is the cornerstone of my business…everyone is keenly aware our customer is the number one priority.” In the shop, customers are welcome to browse. Store employees are oriented to be sensitive to which guests need assistance, which simply wish to browse and which may welcome guided introductions to the products. Marilyn encourages employees to learn about the shop’s products by taking them home and using them. Product education is a critical component of staff development. She recognizes, “If my employees are having a good experience at work that experience automatically extends to our customers.”

Barrelli Barber is a men’s salon offering an array of grooming services like haircuts, shaves, beard and mustache trims. Jennifer Dyer Buddin lauds their service, “They worked with me for weeks to basically provide exposure therapy to my three year old so he’d enjoy getting his hair cut. Everything is so top notch from the services to the waiting area.” When a service enterprise takes that much time to create a customer, knowing how intensive the up-front time invested is, they are focused on the long-game.

What happens with customer service is outstanding?

People are more than happy to share stories of brands which go-beyond expectations. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are great sources of voluntary accolades (as well as brand bashing for horrible experiences.) Testimonials like the ones here were crowd-sourced via social media. The testimonials for Charleston businesses with phenomenal service are perfect examples of how people make recommendations. These stories are a microcosm of how personalized, individual interactions build preference and trust.

Steps to take to create a business brand which is recognized for noteworthy service:

  1. Have high quality services and products.
  2. Establish ethical company values and ensure values are communicated at every touchpoint.
  3. Make business decisions which reflect company values.
  4. Be transparent when the company or individuals in the company fail to live up to established values, or make bad decisions, or have difficulties.
  5. Value employees as critical members of the team.
  6. Provide ongoing staff and employee development with the goal of heightening and improving customer service skills and abilities as well as product knowledge.
  7. Empower every employee at every level to act in real time to satisfy the customer in alignment with the established company values.
  8. Give consumers and customers a voice; a way to provide feedback and listen to and act on this feedback.
  9. Protect customer data and communicate clearly and transparently how that is done.
  10. Be sensitive to customer needs, catering to them individually.
  11. Develop benchmarks to indicate success in each of these areas and consistently and constantly evaluate success.

If you put in the time to accomplish each of steps, you will have a brand which becomes recognized and lauded among your customers. You’ll experience increased loyalty, greater recommendations and lower staff turnover. These investments in your brand require diligence and focus:  They are not cheap, but when made, generate brand loyalty, recommendations and preference which are invaluable, and which cannot be purchased.

What does it mean to take your business to the next level?

The office phone rang and I answered. The person on the other end said, “Hi, I’m Phil, and I’d like your help to take my business to the next level.” After a few basic questions, I asked Phil what he wanted to accomplish with his business. He could not answer that question.

So, I asked him, “What does the the ‘next level’ look like to you? Still he was not able to respond. Finally, he said, “Can you help me figure it out”?

The mysterious business elevator

Over the years, I’ve had lots of calls from executives and business owners who want to take that mysterious business elevator “to the next level.” Just the other day I read the following in a press release about the hiring of a new CEO for a breakfast restaurant franchise,

“Having a leader of [Name redacted] caliber and experience will allow us to take the brand to the next level. His particular expertise in helping founder-led, franchised restaurants realize their next stage of growth will be of tremendous value as we leverage the increasing popularity of breakfast-based concepts and attract new franchise partners to our family.”

Even in this press release there was no specificity behind the desire to elevate the brand and grow to the next stage. How can potential franchisees reading this comprehend where the business is headed?

If after a few years in business, you want to surge forward, increasing your business footprint or adding a new line of services, or increasing capital investments, but unless you’re specific, “taking my business to the next level” doesn’t mean anything to a marketing consultant.

How can you help your marketing consultant understand the next level?

In the marketing world, we work with quantifiable audiences and goals. We quantify who we want to receive our messages, where they will find or consume our messages and how frequently we expect they will engage with our messages. So we need to be precise.

You, too, should be precise when consulting us. We rejoice to hear goals such as, “I want to increase my Facebook page engagement 20%,” or “I’d like to gain 10 new customers per month for my warranty service.” This laser-focuses us on your business development goals and allows us to begin honing an audience segment. But to get that focused, you need customer insights.

Customer insights — what are they and where to get them

It’s not simple to arrive as these numbers. You need to track your sales trends by customer, period, service, and product. This implies you have the type of data system to allow you to retrieve this insight from either a CRM system or at least a POS system.

Some industries use loyalty programs to help them get data on a segment of their customers who have opted-in to a loyalty / rewards system. Grocery stores love loyalty programs for this very reason. They provide incentives to customers which cause them to use loyalty / rewards cards and the company then has a meta understanding of their purchasing/shopping behaviour.

In my career I’ve established loyalty programs that allowed us to identify our best customers and get more insights on their frequency, recency and preferences. We could identify those who dined infrequently and incent them to dine more.

Restaurants are generally able to pull up metrics such as how frequently particular entrees are sold and cross reference that with daypart/time. This type of insight can help spot the dogs on a menu or the upward trends in taste preferences. This alone can help identify market segments for a restaurant.

If your company does not have a CRM system or way to extract the data, what do you have? Sales associates. They are a real gold mine when it comes to customer insights. They know about issues and customer satisfaction. And they often have insights into new segments or uses for your product.

Sometimes growth can simply be stopping or reducing the customer churn. Everyone loses customers. It happens. But if you’re not staying level, then you’re declining. Your sales associates and customer service staff ought to be able to help identify the reasons for customer churn.

Ultimately, the best way to grow customers is to provide simply amazing service, so that no one wants to leave you. High customer satisfaction comes at a cost. It implies that you have high quality products and services and are constantly refining or improving every aspect of what you do and why you do it.

So next time you want to take the magic business elevator to the top, stop and determine what all the floors are between you and the penthouse.

Still need help to determine what the next level is?

Here’s a template you can use to be more specific regarding next level growth when you’re going to talk about your marketing with a consultant.

Quantifying the Next Level – A strategic approach to identifying what you’re going to accomplish.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive planning document. This is an outline to comprehend where you want to go and what is required to get there. Obviously greater planning of every component must be undertaken. What would you add to this? Leave your comments below.

Step 1: Identify the Goal

Over the next _____ (months/years) our company will grow. Specifically we will:

 

  • Add ____ (number of ) customers for ______________________________ (service/daypart/segment) and we will expect these customers to spend $00.00 per person per ____________ (week/month/quarter/year).

OR

  • Increase our top line sales by ________ percent

OR

  • We will open ____ (new storefronts/add new sales outlets/distributors)  in ________ (locations).

OR

  • We will increase customer satisfaction after the sale by ___________ percent. We will measure this using our customer survey.

OR

  • We will increase customer retention from __________ (months/years) to ___________ (months/years).

Step 2: Outline Your Strategy

Our strategy for accomplishing these goals will be:

Enumerate and outline exactly what will be required to accomplish this growth. Include all necessary components and their expected cost.

  • Personnel
  • Bricks and mortar
  • Technology
  • Capital
  • Training
  • Raw Materials

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

GDPR Applies to US Companies

New European privacy laws affect US websites, companies and businesses.

We ARE NOT attorneys and this is not legal advice. We encourage you to consult your attorney for advice on how this may affect you.

No doubt you’ve noticed you’ve been getting a lot of email and notifications from companies you do business with about their updated privacy policies. You may wonder why you have been seeing all this information. The reason is that the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is going into effect on May 25th.

What is GDPR?

[From Wikipedia] The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) 2016/679 is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union. The GDPR aims primarily to give control to citizens and residents over their personal data.

In a recent article from CNBC discussing how GDPR applies to US companies, the main points of GDPR are stated:

  • Consumers will have a right to be informed about the collection of their information.
  • People will also have the right to access their information via a subject access request and companies must provide this within a month. If any data is inaccurate, companies must correct it.
  • Consumers have the right to have their information erased, also known as the right to be forgotten. They can also ask for their data to be restricted: companies can store data but not use it.
  • People will be able to move or copy personal information from one source to another, known as data portability.
  • Consumers will have the right to object about how their data is used — including for direct marketing. They can also object to profiling, when companies automatically process data to make assumptions about a person for marketing.

Get more information on GDPR

View a brief presentation on GDPR by Heather Solos Bergman of Feedblitz which she gave at our WordPress Users Group meeting this week. Heather helped make this much clearer to me and all of our attendees.

What is covered by GDPR?

GDPR applies to Personally Identifiable Information where ability identify someone is direct and indirect.

Direct Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is for example: Email Address, Name, Social, Date of Birth. Then there is indirect Personally Identifiable Information such as IP address and cookies (collected by Google Analytics or other services which provide data about how people use your website).

Do these things to gain  your customer’s consent

Forms on your website need a (un) ticked box to allow the person using your site to provide consent for you to use their data to contact them. Additionally, there must also be a Privacy Policy on your site which details how you will use their information. As an example, you can view our’s on Charleston PR & Design.

If you have collected information in the past from people which you are using for marketing, it would be wise to request their re-consent to your use of their information to contact them for any purpose. You must also ensure that the data you collect is secure and you have to be able to erase any PII on any customer or user. 

We would be happy to assist you with modifying your website forms or adding a privacy policy or adjusting your MailChimp or Constant Contact forms to have opt-ins or creating an email confirming consent of anyone whose contact information you already have.

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash