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.
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.
“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:
- Have high quality services and products.
- Establish ethical company values and ensure values are communicated at every touchpoint.
- Make business decisions which reflect company values.
- Be transparent when the company or individuals in the company fail to live up to established values, or make bad decisions, or have difficulties.
- Value employees as critical members of the team.
- Provide ongoing staff and employee development with the goal of heightening and improving customer service skills and abilities as well as product knowledge.
- Empower every employee at every level to act in real time to satisfy the customer in alignment with the established company values.
- Give consumers and customers a voice; a way to provide feedback and listen to and act on this feedback.
- Protect customer data and communicate clearly and transparently how that is done.
- Be sensitive to customer needs, catering to them individually.
- 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.