Tactical caring

I don’t talk about “b word” too often, but branding is really what a lot of our discussions are ultimately about.

One of the more incisive definitions of branding that I’ve seen is “What people think when your business name is mentioned”. If that doesn’t cut right to the bone, I’m not sure what does.

A recent branding discussion between Justin Kownacki, TD Hurst and myself eventually settled into talking about businesses using “looking like we care” as a tactic as opposed to actually showing that they care. So here we are.

Take a moment

Consider the places you do business with. What’s the first thought you have when you think of them? One of the things that comes to mind for me is “Do they care about my business?”

In other words, is my business important to them? No, my business probably doesn’t keep the local watering hole or pizza joint open all by itself, but do the folks who run and work in those places (and others) give me the impression that they know I could have gone somewhere else?

Not far from my parents’ old place in Plano Texas, there’s a pizza place owned by a Greek family. My parents would almost always take us there when we went to Big D to visit. No matter how busy that place was, the owner always made a point of taking a moment to come out from behind the counter to greet us at our table, welcome us to his place and “visit”, as my grandmother called it.

While this wasn’t necessary, it was a painless, cost-free way to recognize a regular customer by simply being friendly without being mechanical. It only took a moment, but it meant a lot. How do you know? I haven’t visited Dallas in almost ten years. My parents moved.

Yet almost 10 years later, I still remember the impression left by a balding Greek patriarch who was proud of his place and happy we chose to have dinner with him.

If you’re the recipient of this kind of attention, you’re aware of the night and day difference between that and the “tactical caring” you’re used to receiving.

Which kind of care does your business serve up?

Do they or don’t they?

About those places you considered earlier…Do they care? Or do they do things to look like they care?

What’s the difference?

  • Looking like you care: Including a photo of a USB cable on the instructions included in my new printer’s box so you can save the 48 cents per sale that the cable and its packaging cost.
  • Showing that you care: Including a USB cable and charging a dollar more for the printer to save your client a 20 minute trip to the store.
  • Looking like you care: Saying a mechanical “Thanks for coming” as I leave. “Mechanical” because I hear you say the same words to everyone, right after the bell above the door frame jingles.
  • Showing that you care: Thanking me before the bell jingles, and doing so by using my name or some other personalized message that doesn’t get repeated to the next 41 people who leave after I do. Also…thanking me later, via email, a postcard, text message or by somehow rewarding my visit – even with something that costs you nothing. Remembering that I’ve been there before and making note of it, even if you don’t remember my name.
  • Looking like you care: Smiling at my four year old granddaughter when we enter your store, even though you sell nothing she’s interested in.
  • Showing that you care: Smiling at my four year old granddaughter, kneeling down to her level and saying “Hello, young lady”, even though you sell nothing she’s interested in.

It’s OK

Training your staff to look up from the cash register and grunt when a customer enters is transparent, repetitive motion, tactical caring. Stop it. If people needed random grunts to make their lives more fulfilling, they’d install iGrunt on their phone.

Training your staff to take a brief moment to greet someone personally is scary. Do it anyway. Yes, it’s common sense. So why aren’t your people doing it?

The election cycle is behind us. It’s OK to care again. Just don’t grunt.

How to make it easy for customers to fall in love


Creative Commons License photo credit: MahPadilha

Back in March, I wrote about a lamp shopping experience I had in a local store.

Today, this story in VentureBeat (reminds me of TigerBeat…) and Forbes caught my eye.

It’s about the preferred angle of the MacBook screen on store displays in the Apple Store.

The lamp and the MacBook stories… are about the same topic. Love.

I’ll ask again… Are you paying attention to the things that make it easy for people to fall in love with what you sell?

Small business owner: “What’s with these funny new barcodes?”

Ralp Lauren Rugby QR code
Creative Commons License photo credit: mackarus

You may have seen those odd-looking square barcodes in newspapers and magazines, on product boxes, etc.

You might even have noticed them in the middle of the star-shaped signage in some Macy’s television commercials.

They’re called “QR codes“.

Why should business owners should care about them?

A smartphone can scan/read a QR code, which will take it to a specific web site address (URL).

Why use them at all? Who really cares about yet another barcode?

Your prospects and customers do. Some of your websites make it really hard to buy.

For prospects and customers using smartphones, it can be particularly annoying. But your customers don’t use smartphones, right?

Let’s talk about that. Currently, Nielsen (yes, those TV ratings people count other things too) says 40% of U.S. cell phone users use a smartphone.

A web search will tell you that there are 327 million active mobile subscriptions in the U.S. Yes, that’s more mobile subscriptions than there are adults, per the 2010 census. The numbers get a little whacked partly because of the number of people with a personal account/cellphone and a business one (provided to them or otherwise).

327 million is a fairly big number. Too big, maybe. To get a better handle on the numbers, a glance at a 2009 CTIA (wireless telecom industry group) survey of their members report indicated that 257 million Americans have data-capable devices and about half of those are phones. The rest are laptops and tablets. So we’ve reduced the number to roughly half the population, which is close to the Nielsen number.

Again, that’s a end-of-2009 number….BEFORE the availability of iPhone4 (and 4S), iPad and other modern-ish tablets.

Seems to me a number that’s even 10 million smartphones too big would be enough to provoke interest in the experience mobile/smartphone website users have at your site.

So now that you have big scary (or exciting) numbers to think about – particularly if your business deals in retail, tourism and other core business-to-consumer fields – get back to solving “we make it hard to buy” problem.

Important safety tip about using QR codes

Never (yes, never) use your home page URL as the destination.

Reason #1 – QR code users are, by definition, mobile users. Presumably you have a URL that is designed to be used by mobile browser users so they don’t spend all of their time squinting, pinching and spreading (or pressing zoom buttons) to read about your cool new product. If your site automatically senses mobile browsers and changes behavior or reroutes them to pages designed for mobile users, all the better.

Reason #2 – Sending them directly to your home page can make it far more difficult to measure inbound visitor numbers.

Why is that important? Because you want to know how your QR code links are performing by media/by ad/by publication etc. If you have them going to different URLs (web site addresses) such as MyReallyCoolsite.com/QR1 and MyReallycoolsite.com/QR2, then you can figure out their individual performance.

If QR code A works better than QR code B, you have information about the effectiveness of the media, placement and other characteristics of the location of that code. You can eliminate this reason by including QR code specific analytics codes (Google Analytics, et al) in your URLs, but that doesn’t eliminate the most important reason…

Reason #3 – Why did they scan (and hopefully share) that QR code/URL? Because they wanted something specific that they were looking at RIGHT THEN. If I’m looking at a Corvette ad in an in-flight magazine, do I want to go to Chevy.com or do I want to go to the page that describes the smokin’ Vette I’m looking at?

The primary reason to use them

Consider how annoying it is to navigate not-so-mobile friendly sites on a smartphone. Make yours the friendly, easy site for mobile users.

Make your customers’ life easier. Make it easier for them to visit your site, visit the right page and share something about your business that they want to share.

Ask anyone in the publishing business about pass-along numbers. They’re important to readership, so much so that they claim pass-along readership as an asset to advertisers.

Transfer that thought to your website, catalog, ads, trade show materials, demo products and other materials. Do they need a QR code so that people can view/share them easily?

In many cases, I think so.

Service before the no-sale

This is what can happen when a legitimate customer hits an artificial wall within your business.

It’s made worse when customer service is setup to fail. Clearly the service person has no power to do anything positive to seal the deal and help / retain this customer.

The guy is standing there with money in his hand and she is forced to tell him they can’t take it unless he’s willing to buy an old, backdated version of the product.

What’s worse is that the rep has been trained to say something like “I understand why you would be concerned.”, which is code speak for “Yeah, it stinks but I can’t do anything about it, sorry.”

Don’t put up artificial walls.

Don’t make customer service (much less your website) into a “sales prevention department”.

Make it easy to buy.

Verizon’s pleasant surprise

Waiting For an Important Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

Thursday was the first day of retail, walk-in Verizon iPhone sales in the U.S.

Normally a visit to our VZW store is guaranteed to consume 60-90 min, even here in rural Montana. They’re usually busy, so you sign in on a screen and they call your name in the order you arrive.

If you set your expectations at that 60-90 min, you’re not so annoyed when you finally get to leave.

Fast forward to the end of Thursday. My wife comes home, saying she wants to go get her phone.

I’m thinking “Oh man, its the first day. Its gonna be nuts.” Based on past history, I expect at least 2 hours.

The Surprise

We walk in and they are hammered. Even so, they still have 3-4 people standing around freed up, waiting for wanna-be hipsters.

We get someone right away. We pay, the Verizon guy moves her contacts from her Blackberry to the iPhone 4. The phone activates in 27 seconds and we leave in a total of 10 minutes.

TEN MINUTES. Someone put some logistics work into this rollout.

I’m FLOORED that we got in and out of their store with a phone switch in 10 minutes on the first day of retail sales, especially given that a normal day takes an hour on most occasions.

I talk to someone later and find out that after several hours in line, a guy in Seattle called to say he was still 8 blocks from the store.

10 minutes = Montana fringe benefits.

Meating expectations

When I first came across this meat vending machine, the comment I read introducing it was something along the lines of “Do we *really* need this?”

If this butcher has customers who do shift work – or anything that keeps them from visiting the shop during business hours- it’s worth a try.

Perhaps he had a lot of customer comments about his hours from shift workers and this was how he decided to serve them.

Perhaps it only serves custom pre-paid orders. You don’t really know, but if it works for the shopkeeper and their customers, who cares?

The real question is what can you borrow (and change to suit your needs) from another line of work in order to better serve your customers?

Brookstone: Thinking like road warrior

Someone at Brookstone is paying attention.

Maybe it’s Brookstone policy. Maybe it’s the person that just happens to be running the Brookstone counter where Jason walked in.

No matter what, there’s a huge lesson in this brief comment from Jason Falls.

Brookstone rocks. Bought an iPad/iPhone backup battery unit. They said, "Would you like one fully charged for your flight?" Hell yeah!less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

You’re in an airport and you buy a battery. OF COURSE you want it charged.

Someone thought about this enough to actually have charged ones available.

Huge. This is the kind of thing you think of IN ADVANCE in order to make loyal fans out of “mere customers”.

How can you Brookstone your business like this?

Mining shoeboxes for customers

Prospector
Creative Commons License photo credit: ToOliver2

In these days of oil spills and mine disasters, it might seem a little off-base to ask about mining, but I think you need to become an expert at it – and do it regularly.

It’s a critical skill if you’re concerned about keeping your business pump primed with new and returning customers – especially returning ones.

When I say mining, I mean mining your customer/order database.

Yellow pads and shoeboxes

No matter what you use to keep track of this stuff; a yellow pad, QuickBooks, a ledger book, your CRM (customer relationship management system) if you’re using that tool like a shoebox, you’re likely making a five or six figure mistake.

What I mean is by shoebox is stuffing receipts and sales data and similar info into it all year long and never referencing it again until it’s time to do your taxes.

That shoebox is your gold mine. It’s the asset that many businesses ignore – often at their own risk.

Missing out

Let’s talk about Mary. She owns her own business and has 14 employees.

You would typically know this because you saw a profile of her business in the paper. How do you remember that fact?

You put it into your CRM (again, customer relationship management system), tickler file or *something* that organizes your data so that you can search for it later (I’ll get back to that).

Out of nothing more than gut feel, you know that she visits your restaurant 3 times a month and you also see her occasionally at events you cater.

What you may not know is that Mary’s business entertains clients twice a month and has an in-office staff appreciation lunch every other Friday.

Have you ever catered those events?

If not, does she know that you cater? She should, because she attends events you’ve catered – so why doesn’t she use you once in awhile?

Have you asked her?

It’s possible that her current caterer rocks the house *so well* that you might not ever get a chance to show your stuff.

One thing is certain – if you don’t ask, you won’t likely get a shot. Tantamount to that is *knowing that you should ask*.

The who

A message that is in context to the proper person is miles ahead of a generic message to everyone.

Have you made any effort to let your regular customers know that you offer catering for their special events? More importantly, do you know exactly which regulars would have a use for those services?

Do you know how to get in contact with them? Do you know when they last visited your restaurant? Do you know what kind of experience they had during their last visit?

Your customer / order tracking system should allow you to store info that lets you find out such things. If yours doesn’t, get a new one or at the very least, find a way to export the data into something that allows you to search this info.

Things you’d like to know:

  • Who has reservations this weekend who also owns a business?
  • Who has reservations this weekend who hasn’t visited in two or three times their normal visit frequency?
  • What regulars have we not seen in a month or more?

The answers to these questions will yield info about your customers and more importantly, about what you’re doing, how well you’re doing it and best of all – what customers you should have a catering conversation with.

If they do, who else does?

Here’s where the mining comes in handy…

If your catering gig database is sorted by “What do the businesses do?” and then you ask to see only those businesses that use you monthly, what do you ask for next?

Let’s sort them by what they do. Maybe the top 3 types of businesses are architects, real estate brokers and luxury home builders.  You can guess, but you won’t know until actually you collect this data.

Now take a look at your entire restaurant database of regulars. How many of them are in those 3 lines of work?

Hmmm. Wonder if any of them need catering?

PS: If you don’t have a restaurant, look at this through the lens / terminology of what you do. The same concepts apply no matter what.

If you want to sell honey, don’t forget the biscuits

Earlier this week, one of my younger Scouts did a presentation on beekeeping to the troop.

His family keeps bees and sells some of the honey as a hobby, so he had some knowledge of the topic and how the bees are handled – but if you are going to talk about a topic like that in front of a group of 11-17 year olds, you gotta come loaded for bear, right Winnie?

Lame puns aside, he did a nice job of talking about how beekeeping is done.

We talked about how they start a hive, where the bees come from, what jobs each type of bee does (sidebar: all teenage boys find the job of the drones a bit fascinating), how the honey (and wax) is made, how many times you get stung, how the honey is harvested and all the cool equipment – including the smoke puffer gun thing, the honey extractor, hot knife and of course, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man beekeepers suit.

40 gallons of sticky-sweet fun

And then it got interesting. Someone asked him what they do with the honey, and how much they have.

His answer was “About 40 gallons stored around the house”, and he wasn’t sure how much they made each year. Someone asked again, “So what do you do with all that?”

“Eat it”, he says. Oh, and we sell some too, adding that he brought a few bottles if anyone wants some.

At this point, I’m thinking “We’re gonna have tasting and its going to be all over fingers, faces, hands and of course – the floor”.

But I was wrong.

That young man was wiser than his years.

He brought freshly-made biscuits, which he laid on the counter and sliced in half. Everyone who wanted some got to slather honey on em before they gobbled them down. These are teenaged boys we’re talking about. Any sort of food is an endangered species around these guys.

Once the honey-fest was over, lots of moms and dads got asked to take some home as a result (not something we do normally, but this was a special occasion – we had BISCUITS!).

What do they sop up your product/service with?

Your turn: What would be the biscuit that transforms the sale of your honey? (whatever your product or service might be)

In particular, think about stuff like this before a presentation, trade show or similar group event. Create the feeding frenzy, even if you sell something like fuel filters. Think about what would make your demonstration make people think “I GOTTA HAVE THAT!”

iTunes LP, the rich media salesperson

Doors.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Polifemus

A couple of days ago, Apple introduced iTunes9 and demonstrated a new iTunes feature called iTunes LP.

That’s “LP” as in long-playing album.

Those of us who were of music-buying age in the 1960s (not me, old man), 1970s and early 1980s remember some of the albums we bought.

I remember a Santana album back in the late 70s that came with a really cool poster. Others came with liner notes that included lyrics, tour photos and all sorts of special items that only a real fan could appreciate.

When CDs rolled into town, most of that ground to a halt. You had to survive on just the music, which was getting companded and less rich-sounding by the minute. No, this isn’t an audiophile rant. Maybe later.

A few groups included little booklets in their CD packages, and over time, some shipped CDs with bigger packaging and extra treats, but these were rare.

Digital Shifting

Then, MP3s arrived and the last vestiges of liner notes were gone.

This week, they returned.

In the video above, you can see Apple exec Phil Robbin showing off the iTunes LP feature. Watch the 3 minute clip before moving on. You need to see it before our discussion continues.

So what?

Whether you sell software, food, $700 blenders, recreational vehicles, luxurious experiences in a bed and breakfast, or detail cars – you’d better get what “LP-ing” means to your marketing and sales process.

How can your products and services benefit from being presented in that way?

Look at what you sell through the lens of iTunes LP. You should have already been doing so – we’ve talked about using audio and video to market/deliver your services but now, you have a great new example.

iTunes LP just scratches the surface for now, just like iPhone/iTouch apps. You have so many opportunities to leverage these capabilities, but you have to take advantage of them even if they aren’t perfect.

We’ve come a long way since 1994. Internet/technology-wise, it’s just past 8am. There’s still plenty of opportunity.

Get to work.

Postscript for the argumentative

Some might say that Apple copied what the Microsoft Zune HD already does. So what. Both copy what was done 20 years ago in a vinyl record. Does that make it less useful? Less impactful? No. For that matter, the iPod and Zune are modern day versions of the Sony Walkman, which copies…. (and so on).