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.

Gaining New Information from Old Ground

Dig in for fresh marketing insights

As a child, I envisioned myself an archeologist. Digging in pits, dusting off ancient bones, pottery or dinosaur bones. What compelled me was the expectation that I could make surprising discoveries.

Recently, scientists announced new discoveries at Stonehenge, that ancient site which is a profound mystery. Over the course of several years they used non-invasive technologies including motorized magnometers, ground-penetrating radar arrays, electromagnetic induction sensors, earth resistance surveys, and 3-D laser scanners to help them see below the surface. Analysis of their mapping proved startling.

Their fresh way of seeing has uncovered (virtually, as no actual digging was done) information as well as previously undetected structures in the area surrounding Stonehenge. Read articles from National Geographic and Fast Company.

What new discoveries can you make?

Science is replete with stories of ground-breaking discoveries made by reviewing familiar territory. Yet, I see few small businesses using similar scientific diligence or even gaining new observations.

Taking a new perspective, using novel methods of analysis or just sitting down with your customers can lead to astounding insights which lead you to innovation. Whether from fear of the new or from paralysis, many plod the known path, and never diverge to the uncut field, breaking new ground.

Most critical to any new insight is data. Research. Comprehension. How often do you consider what your customers need, not what you have to sell. Or how easy it is for you to sell it. Going over the old ground of why and how you established your business can yield insights. So can interviewing customers.

Recently a client asked me what should she do to help her gain more business. But she had no marketing research or observations from which to form conclusions. Or to gain clues to things buried in the landscape, just awaiting the archaeologist’s trowel.

Observe, ask, seek to get marketing research

Research is an often feared tactic. Many business owners think it expensive and a waste of time. And undertaken with that point of view, is probably true. Many avoid customer service surveys and even the simple Net Promoter Score which is based on a single question: “Would you recommend this to a friend?” Just a simple question with highly complex ramifications. If seven out of ten say, “no,” then your business is failing to meet customer expectations. Meaning your business is vulnerable. You are just a hair away from failing.

Small enterprise’s new products and services are often built on “me too” knee-jerk response to societal or commercial trends, but not as often tested to validate a particular firm’s customers need the service.

With the tools of the Internet, it’s not hard to format a straight forward customer survey. Or find existing research.

So, if you want to gather a bit of insight, start with frank conversation with a few of your most longstanding customers. The ones who know you well. Ask them the big question: “What do you wish we would do better?” Don’t flinch or equivocate, listen. Record their answers. Either audio or by taking notes. Follow that question up with “What do you wish we could do to help your business grow?” OR “What do you wish we did that we don’t do now?” Then finally, “When have we served you best?”

In the last half-decade anthropologists have become essential partners to big business; observing everything from how customers interact with products to how they peruse shopping aisles. These observations provide fresh insights which lead to product innovation.

You can do the same thing if you have a retail store. (Note, if you’re doing this, be sure to have customer service people in the store so you don’t have to worry about customers being helped.) Practice observation. Really seeing without trying to figure out what you can do to make a sale. You may find that the display you most wanted your shoppers to see is never approached. Or that your too precise array of merchandise doesn’t invite handling.

Getting help

Life has a way of detouring from childhood dreams. In my case, I’m not an archeologist, but a marketing consultant. And that’s great. I get to help talented business people make new discoveries every day.

If you don’t feel you have the neutrality, time or ability to observe or question your customers, we do. We can arrange customer interviews, observe customers on location or conduct in-depth surveys.

Now exactly how did they get those stones to Stonehenge?

Photo credit: Flickr user Bala Sivakumar, Smoking Stonehenge

Mail Merge with Gmail and Google Drive

Mail merge with Gmail and Google Drive provides a very simple set of tools to create merged email

What is a mail merge? Wikipedia entry defines it as:

Mail merge is a software function describing the production of multiple (and potentially large numbers of) documents from a single template form and a structured data source.

Do you need to send unique, personalized emails to a list of people? For example:  You are managing a  trade show exhibit for an organization and need to tell each person what time they are supposed to staff the trade show booth. You could send them hand edited individual e-mails or your could simply use the spreadsheet you create to assign times and merge each individual’s time into an email just for them, attaching the whole schedule.  A merged email allows you to employ data contained in a flat database, AKA a spreadsheet, merge it with a saved draft email to produce a unique email specifically for a single recipient.

In the past people did this using desk-top email clients such as Microsoft Outlook, but with Google Drive and Gmail, you can do this without a desktop email application. There are some limitations to using Google Drive, Gmail and the script Yet Another Mail Merge because you are limited to 50 emails per day unless you purchase credits.

Another limitation is the need to carefully protect your status as a non-spammer and prevent getting your email blacklisted. If you have a large list of people who have opted in to receive email from your business, you are better off using a commercial email provider such as MailChimp or Constant Contact.

What is Google Drive?

Watch a video to learn more about Google Drive.

Google Drive home page with YouTube video about Drive
Visit the Google Drive homepage and watch a brief video to learn more about what Google Drive is and how to use it.

Advantages of merge email with Google Drive and Gmail?

  1. It’s pretty simple.
  2. You can get copies of the individuals emails in your inbox
  3. You can include graphics
  4. You can add attachments
  5. You avoid using desktop-tied applications
  6. Your work is “in the cloud” where you can get to it with all types of devices and from any computer.
  7. You save trees, because you’re not printing and snail-mailing information.
  8. You send everyone on your e-mail list a unique email just for them.

I’ve outlined how to format the mail merge with Gmail, install a simple script into your Google Docs spreadsheet with the specific information for your merge and then perform the merge. The script used is “Yet Another Mail Merge” which you will find by searching the script library as illustrated in the Slide Share presentation.