What are coupons for?

Saturday when I checked the mail, I found a coupon from Staples.

Two coupons, actually.

One of them was for $10 off a $25 purchase.

The other was for a sizable percentage off of Avery labels.

Positives:

The coupon expired in six weeks, forcing the customer to take action.

Negatives:

TEN DOLLARS off of a $25 purchase seemed a bit extreme. As a consumer you love it, but as a business person I was stunned.

Here’s the dirty little secret about this coupon – it was for people in their loyalty (frequent buyer) program.

While it’s nice to give those folks (like me) a little bonus once in a while, keep in mind that coupons are intended to alter behavior. One example: To get you in the door of a business that doesn’t normally see you.

Yet this coupon gives loyal customers the discount, people who have already demonstrated that they will return again and again.

I can see both sides of it, but ….it certainly made me wonder.

Why am I here?

I went to Staples because I needed a big roll of bubble wrap for shipping. I would’ve bought it regardless. Instead, I took home the bubble wrap (discounted), a pack of pens (free) and a Diet Coke (free).

Do I feel more loyal to their store because of the coupon? Nope. I go there for certain things because I know they have them – and because Lisa the cashier has been there forever, is very nice and remembers my name even though I visit only a few times a year.

I do appreciate the ten bucks, but it makes me wonder…how are you keeping tabs with your most loyal customers?

When did you last ask them an important question? Do they know that you’re aware of how important they are to you?

How are you getting them back into the fold?

I can see fine without windows
Creative Commons License photo credit: Blyzz

A number of vendors that I used to do business with waste my time and theirs with their lame, cookie cutter attempts to get me to renew a subscription, update my software or renew some other sort of thing I use to have.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that they made the effort, but the effort made is usually so weak that it makes whatever is left of the relationship even weaker.

Sometimes I’m not interested anymore and I unsubscribe. Other times I just hit delete because for whatever reason, I’m just not ready to unsubscribe. I may be planning to buy sometime in the future, but not just yet…

One of the vendors who emails me like clockwork does so once a month to remind me that my subscription to their data, software and newsletter has lapsed. Sure, those emails are automated, but I don’t mind because 1) I’ve done business with them and 2) they don’t nag the crap out of me. I can depend on a single monthly email.

Keep in mind that these emails don’t LOOK automated, but I know they are. They look and are written like someone actually cared about what the email says – and that makes all the difference.

A Surprise

But today was different. Better.

I received this email from SearchEngineNews.com:

Hi Mark,

It can sometimes be challenging to find a graceful way to give a gift. These days many people are suspicious or cynical. They’ve been jaded by so many nefarious schemes with hidden agendas. But in spite of all that, I am going to try to give you something anyway …something that is truly valuable and doesn’t have any strings attached.

Here goes.

You, as a past subscriber of Planet Ocean’s SearchEngineNews.com, raised your hand as someone with interest in ranking at the top of the Search Engines. I can only guess that you may still be interested. And assuming that you are, I am giving you a full and free membership to SearchEngineNews.com for the rest of the year — complete access through December 31st, 2009.

This gift is without strings or restrictions. It is simply a gift. You may download the most recent UnFair Advantage Book, gain access to all of the SearchEngineNews.com articles and expert reports, peruse the archives, use each and every one of the resources and test your site against your competitor’s by running it through our amazing tool, the Site Strength Indicator.

Now I hear you asking “why.”

We’ll it isn’t because we are desperate for members. On the contrary, ever since 1996, Planet Ocean has had a better year than the previous one — And this year is no exception. Our membership revenues have never been higher. 2009 has blessed us with our best year…in spite of all the so-called economic doom and gloom in the news lately.

I’m not bragging–exactly the opposite. I am humbled by our success and proud of our Planet Ocean people who have worked together to succeed in the face of challenge and adversity.

But most of all, I am thankful for having had you as a subscriber. And, this is a chance for me to give *you* something that is affordable for us and *could easily be more valuable than money* to you during what many are predicting to be a continuation of the challenges being faced all over the economic landscape.

Personally, I feel energized by the opportunities upon us. My 57 years of life experience have taught me that, in good times, anybody can succeed. But when the industry turns challenging, those of us with the best attitude, resources and information become the eagles who literally soar above the turmoil.

Hopefully you are already soaring like an eagle. And if not yet, then please allow me to put a little wind under your wings by gifting you with our researched information for ranking your business at the top. No strings attached, here is your login information for the October 09 issue of SearchEngineNews.com.

(login and link left out)

Again – Thank you,

Stephen Mahaney – CEO/Founder
Planet Ocean
75-1027 Henry St. 111A #301 · Kailua-Kona HI 96740-3154
800-334-5662, 808-329-5700

Yeah, it’s kinda long (and it was formatted narrower since it was an email – just in case you were wondering), but it is a really smart email. Why?

First – His product doesn’t have an incremental cost, so it doesn’t matter if he gives it away to the *right people*. Giving it away to just anyone would be a waste of time and server resources. Giving it away for a short time to lapsed customers who already are familiar with the product and saw enough value to subscribe in the past is absolutely the right thing to do. No selling needed. Just lay the fly on the water, right out there in front of his nose and let Mr. Rainbow take a look at it. If there’s no trout there, what’s the point?

Second – He isn’t getting my subscription $ right now anyhow, so (thanks to the lack of incremental cost) he isn’t losing anything by giving me 70 days of his product. That presumably will give me a chance to check it out again and remember how much I got out of it before my subscription lapsed, was forgotten or whatever the situation was.

Third – Rather than just saying “Hey, we want you back cuz we *really* miss your money, here’s a bribe”, he provides the “Reason Why”. He tells a story about what provoked him to do this, weaves in the state of the economy, and it all makes sense.

Your turn

What are you doing to get your lapsed customers back into the fold?

If you’re a retailer, did you lose them after a return? I know darned well you have the point of sale data there to figure that out. Get it out and crunch it. Find out which customers haven’t been back since they asked for a refund, exchange, return or what not. Did they fail to return intentionally because their last experience was about as pleasant as a spoonful of cold bacon grease?

If you run a restaurant, did you lose them after a party booking? Or a regular visit? Your loyalty program data should be able to tell you when they last visited and your point of sale data will tell you what they last bought. Don’t have a loyalty program? All your point of sale data is on little order pads? Do I really have to go there?

If you sell a service, you should be able to figure out from your point of sale data what they last had serviced (or what service they bought). Same question re: loyalty program and point of sale data.

No matter what you do, you should be able to identify the lapsed customers.

With that in hand, how will you get their attention and show them the value they’re missing out on?

Either Stephen figured it out, or had someone help him do it. Doesn’t matter which way as long as it got done.

5 ways to thank your customers

THANK YOU
Creative Commons License photo credit: psd

Today’s guest post comes from Valeria Maltoni over at ConversationAgent.com, where she talks about 5 ways to thank your customers. 

#5 is my favorite, but all of them are definitely worth reading and more importantly, implementing.

Planning for the train wreck before it happens

Step one after the fire is out or the flood waters have receded (or both) – if you haven’t already done so – is implementing your comeback plan.

Notice that I said implementing the comeback plan, not making it. When times are hectic and the ceiling is dripping with smoky water, your mind isn’t going to be in a place where you can make a solid plan for recovery.

You need to have it roughed out and thought through BEFORE the bad stuff occurs.

Some things, like the references to the tragedy and how you’ll use it specifically in your ads and press releases, will change – but if the plan is in place before your worst nightmare happens you’ll be that much farther ahead and you’ll have a plan made by someone who isn’t fried, tired, ticked off and trying to figure out where next week’s payroll cash will come from.

So what should be in that plan? Here’s a partial list of things to consider…

Important elements of your comeback plan

Get a reward program in place NOW.

This is important to have in place and working well before your disaster so that you know how to contact your BEST customers. The occasional ones might not even notice you were closed for 3 months, but the regulars will and you must be ready to keep them as regulars.

Have a serious conversation about this with yourself, your banker, your insurance agent, your accountant and your attorney.

Now is not the time to find out you would’ve been OK if it wasn’t for that $100,000 deductible and flood exclusion. Pin these folks down. Make them talk about and help you arrange for the ideal recovery (if there is such a thing) in the same location.

Figure out how you’re going to keep your staff.

The *last* thing you need with all this turmoil is to lose your trained people. Make sure that you find a way to involve them in the comeback and do as much as you can to keep paying them, or at least the core players that you’d never want to work for a competitor. Be inventive. Talk to your insurance agent. Do whatever it takes.

Make sure your customer and financial databases are backed up offsite

Backups that sit on a CD or thumb drive that’s sitting on top of your melted computer are pretty worthless. Take a thumb drive home at least weekly, if not daily. Make sure it has your customer and financial databases on it, such as your QuickBooks database.

You can tell QuickBooks to automatically backup your data daily to a certain location. Put your flash drive on your keyring or attached to something else you take home every night. Note: if it’s on your keyring, it might not hurt to use one of those detachable security rings so you don’t lose your keys AND give out your financial data.

One of the biggest reasons that you see businesses fail after a disaster like this is that they don’t have customer records, order records, service records or financial information anymore. If on the day after the disaster you don’t know who owes you money, who has appointments next week and so on – you’ve got a big problem.

Many programs can automatically backup your data, and even send it to a secure backup location.

Communicate with the media and your clients regularly about the progress of your recovery

This is no time to keep secrets. If you will get power tomorrow, let everyone know. Use a blog, press releases and if it merits it, postcards and phone calls (etc) to get the word out.  If you have a problem during the recovery, talk about it. Get people interested in the process so that it becomes “water cooler talk” during the week. Make sure people know that you’re blogging about the experience.

Here’s a great example: http://digmypics.com/recovery/default.aspx

Make it a special event

Dining room closed? Sure, maybe it is, but your parking lot probably isn’t. Throw a block party. Roast hot dogs. Roast a pig. Do whatever it takes to get people to your place of business, even if they have to sit in rented chairs in the parking lot. Just be sure and do it right. Keep them in the habit of coming back, even if the building is a smoldering pile. If they liked you before, give them as many chances to show it as you can.

Go a little crazy

Now is not the time to be boring. The media likes a little eccentricity, so give them what they want…a LITTLE. Funny, silly crazy is fine. Insane asylum crazy is not fine.

If you cook, manufacture, warehouse or store stuff, figure out how that’s going to happen in the weeks immediately after the disaster.

The guy we talked about yesterday managed to arrange for competitors and friends with kitchens so he could continue fulfilling his catering obligations. But what about retail? Don’t make the excuses everyone else would make. Find a way and make it work.

Remember, quitting is the easy thing to do.

What can you learn from a business disaster?

Last week, while I was being a slacker (I was canoeing 50 miles or so around Hungry Horse Reservoir with the troop’s older guys), a friend’s restaurant was struck by lightning.

His business wasn’t physically destroyed, but it did take a pretty serious punch from smoke and water damage. Amazingly, the water damage came from a melted pipe that actually put out the fire and prevented the entire facility from burning to the ground.

Since that Sunday, his restaurant has been closed. Imagine having to close your business with zero notice for 10 days to 2 weeks during the summer – despite having a pile of catering work already scheduled.

Not ideal by anyone’s standards.

I spoke with him yesterday to ask what lessons he would take away from this.

The #1 thing that he felt he would do differently, knowing what he knows now, is to raise the value of his business interruption/overhead coverage so that he could make payroll despite being (mostly) closed and restock all perishable foods (think about what it would cost to restock an empty pantry or fridge…).

He felt confident that his facilities insurance and other coverages were in good shape and would probably take care of cleanup and build out of the damaged areas.

Because he does a lot of catering, he’s had to scramble around to friends who own restaurants or have certified kitchens, and has managed to keep that part of the business alive.

We also brainstormed a little about what to do to move forward and prevent the loss of retail, walk-in customers.

A traditional approach would require cleanup (already in progress), build-out, kitchen recertification and so on.  That could take months. In months, all those retail customers are going to already be in the habit of going somewhere else.

So how do you save them?

We’ll talk about that in coming posts, and lessons business owners have learned from other business disasters as well as strategies for keeping those customers and making sure everyone knows you aren’t going down with one punch.

One thing you should expect right off the bat – if you aren’t collecting the names and contact info for your customers – how will you tell them that you’re still open?

Could you contact your customers tomorrow and tell them that the fire wasn’t that bad and you’ll be back in the saddle in no time?

His loyalty/reward program is one way that will help him do just that. Do you have one in place?