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Banking Corporate America customer retention Customer service Management podcast Public Relations quality service Small Business Telemarketing

Pity the fool who doesn’t communicate

Over the last week or so, I’ve hunkered down in the perfect storm of communications.

Bresnan

I get a card in the mail asking me if the recent visit by a Bresnan Cable tech took care of the problem and if I was happy with the service. It’s the same guy who always comes to work on my cable issues. Treats you like a relative, even if he does sometimes have to come back more than once now and then. I wonder if they intentionally send the same guy. Smart if done on purpose (assuming the guy isn’t a bozo<g>).

Usually when I see him more than once in a week – it’s because cable boxes in general are just poorly made hardware commodities that fixing one thing exposes another thing (but later, of course<g>). But…that isn’t his fault.

Movie Gallery

During Thanksgiving week, my kids went up to Movie Gallery to pick up a DVD. My account was in lockdown. That was their terminology for it – ushers up nice images of Shawshank, doesn’t it?

Lockdown apparently occurs when you don’t return a movie for 3 weeks, I guess.

So my kids use their own account instead of mine and I later go up there – after finding the movie – to ask what the deal is. Turns out I’ve had the movie for 26 days (yes, it was a 3 day rental<g>).

Ok, my bad. However, I wondered where the reminder postcard was. Where’s the phone call asking where the heck I put the video?

NOT ONE WORD.

I’d had the movie for a month – without a single call, email, postcard, carrier pigeon, etc.

Folks, as we talked in role reversal last week – look at things from your customer’s point of view. Late fees are not good. Why else would people agree to wait for movies by mail?

Before I left, I asked the clerk what the deal is with no notifications. They don’t mail anymore. Costs too much (what she was told – vs “Earns too much in late fees”?).

I ask why I wasn’t called. For years, they’ve been good about calling, even if it is after the movie is late.

Why don’t they send text messages 2-3-4 hours before they close in order to remind people about the almost-late movie that’s . Seems obvious that they want them to be late. “Late” might be legit / intentional, so why not let it slide.

Because it isn’t in the best interest of the CUSTOMER. “Pity the fools”, as Mr. T would say.

Her reply regarding the calls. “We can’t make the calls anymore. Corporate does that now, they have some kind of automated system…. but some people never get called. It doesn’t work too well.”

Repeat after me…Business is Personal. Think like the customer.

Wells Fargo

We’ll close with a little bit of good news.

I use Wells Fargo for a bunch of stuff.

I got a live call from a lady working for Wells 2 weeks ago. She called simply to “make sure we were doing ok”.

I said “Sure, why do you ask?”

She says (paraphrased, it’s been a week or so), “Well, a lot of people are struggling with their mortgages and stuff, so we’re calling all of our customers to check on them even if they aren’t late. If they’re having some problems and they haven’t told us yet, it gives us a chance to help them figure out a solution before things get worse for them.”

Out-frickin’-standing.

They may be a big lumbering megalith, but someone there really gets it. Yeah, I know. It’s a little self-serving on their part, but the positioning of the call is smart.

Making the call before it has to be made (even if it might never have to be made), that’s the brilliant part.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/PityTheFoolWhoDoesntCommunicate.mp3]
Categories
Automation Creativity Customer service Montana podcast service Small Business SMS Social Media Technology Web 2.0

What do a turkey and an iPhone have in common?

Old istanbul
Creative Commons License photo credit: Atilla1000

Plenty, if you’re thinking and paying attention to what other businesses are up to. 

We had a Hutterite turkey last week, but in the process of digging around, I came across some innovative things that Butterball is doing to make life easier for their customers. 

Things like text messages to remind you to start thawing the turkey. Simple, helpful, smart. 

Who HASN’T forgotten to start thawing the turkey on time at least once in their life? We sure have. 

Learn more about Butterball’s mobile tools. 

Now…salt to taste for your business. What are your takeaways from what they’ve done?

PS: You can learn about Montana’s Hutterites here and get some additional info here.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/TurkeyiPhone.mp3]
Categories
affluence Competition Corporate America customer retention Customer service Management Marketing marketing to the affluent podcast Positioning Pricing quality Retail service Small Business Strategy Wal-Mart

Stampedes and shootings: Just another Black Friday

It’s hard to imagine why big national retailers continue to play the fools game, thinking that by discounting their prices 40-50% or more they’ll increase their profit.

Perhaps they think they’ll make it up on volume.

When you cut prices, the first thing that you give up is a piece (or all) of your profit.

Retailers who spent the weekend falling all over themselves catering to an upscale clientele don’t have this problem, especially if they’ve cultivated and groomed the relationship with that clientele all year long.

They didn’t have to go to the home of an employee and explain how a young employee was trampled to death, simply by having the misfortune of being the guy who unlocked the front door to his employer’s store.

When price is the only way you have to differentiate yourself from your competition, you deserve any pain you feel on your financial statement at the end of the quarter.

Is that the only competitive edge that you can find? If so, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Is there a Wal-Mart in Pamplona?

Another “competitive edge” – one that contributed directly to last weekend’s trampling death and injuries at a Long Island WalMart – is the special sale that starts at 0-dark-thirty in the morning and offers limited items at the special pricing. 2010 update about stampede.

Our store is better because we can get our people to the store before yours. Woooo, impressive.

If your competitors’ move their start time to an hour before yours, when does it end? Do you start a Cold War over who can open their doors first? In an ultra-competitive environment, is that really how you want your clientele to choose who their vendor is?

Do you really have to stir up a frenzy over one (or 10, whatever) $299 plasma screen TV to get people into your store? Is that the only edge you have?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve told you to read Cialdini and will again. We’ve discussed scarcity and will again. However, we’ve also discussed common sense. Hopefully, we don’t have to discuss making sure your staff and clients leave the store alive.

Is it really worth having 300-400 people stampede over your staff and each other as if their survival depends on it? This isn’t the first time it has happened. Human behavior is not a surprise in these circumstances.

Yeah, sure. You can blame a small percentage of morons for this ridiculous behavior, but it isn’t just the customers in that store who were in the wrong. But… big retail, in their typical lazy way – they continue to confuse the customer with the sale as the most valuable part of their business.

All this focus on creating temporary insanity among your prospects for one transaction on one day illustrates the lousy, if not non-existent, relationship that most large US retailers have with the buying public.

That’s where the problems really lie. When you commoditize your marketplace by competing solely on price, you’re one of two things: Wal-Mart or crazy.

Wal-Mart can afford to do these things. Their entire business – and the systems that drive it – is built around that premise. They have the logistics, automation, buying power and mammoth size to make it happen.

If you aren’t Wal-Mart or crazy, you have to do something different and better. I don’t mean to suggest that you can just double your prices, do nothing else and expect all to go right with the world.

You can’t.

Remember, Business is Personal. Build the relationship. Deliver the value. When nothing else matters, they’ll shop on price.

Make other things matter.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/StampedesAndShootingsBlackFriday.mp3]
Categories
Customer service Entrepreneurs Leadership Management Marketing podcast Productivity quality service Small Business startups Strategy Time management

How to be a business burnout. Or not.

Just the other day, I was talking with a client about the long term future of their business, and after being quizzed a bit, reflecting with them on what provoked me to sell my software biz several years ago.

This client has a small business people-wise, but its quite successful. Remarkably, that is the problem.

Been there, seen that, done it as well. Lived it again during that conversation.

Nothing else I’ve ever said in this blog is as important as what I’m about to discuss with you.

Simple Simon was a pie man

Growth happens.

Unless you’re rude, a dope, someone who thinks they know it all, unlucky, or someone seriously in the wrong line of work, if you are paying close attention to your customers and their needs (and knocking them out of the park) – your business is pretty likely to grow.

At some point in that growth, many business owners find themselves in the situation that Lucy and Ethel find themselves in below: (2m58s video)

While Lucy and Ethel are employees in the video, the point is the same for business owners.

It’s the classic problem covered in the E-Myth – the pie baker who gets overwhelmed with the business of making pies – but really it’s much more than that.

It’s a big reason I push you to document all your business processes.

It’s the reason I made it easier for clients to document their processes – by creating a simple app for them and their staffs to document, catalog, print and view the procedures.

It certainly isn’t the <ahem> millions in royalties I receive because of all the links in this blog to the E-Myth book at Amazon.com. You’ll have to trust me on that one:)

Pinch point

If you are the technician in your business, whatever that means – your business has a single, huge limitation. A pinch point.

It doesn’t matter whether you are making pies, doing heart surgery through a microscope, negotiating complex international commerce agreements between countries; programming complicated, real-time rocket fuel calculations for the next generation of space shuttles or carving bear figurines out of logs using a chainsaw – you’re a technician.

If you’re the owner AND technician, your business is limited by one thing.

You.

Unless you are very, very lucky (sort of), you are likely to work harder and longer than anyone you hire.

Delta 331 heavy, ascend to cruising altitude

2007_08_15_bos-lax-sba_009.JPG
Creative Commons License photo credit: dsearls

If you are working 14-16-18 hour days to get your dream off the ground, it’s a thrilling time (business-wise, at least). Everything is exciting.

Imagine an airline pilot on their first heavy takeoff. An astronaut on their first shuttle trip. Ok, maybe your biz isn’t as exciting as the shuttle ride, but its as close as you might get.

As for the effort you put in, that’s like a Boeing 777 taking off from your local airport, or the shuttle launching into orbit. The 777 burns LOTS more fuel per mile getting to its cruising altitude than it does once it levels off.

Likewise, the shuttle and its boosters burn thousands of pounds of fuel getting to escape velocity, only to have essentially effortless flight in space until its return to Earth.

You, however, are not like the Boeing 777 or the space shuttle. Fast forward a few years. Perhaps your business has reached cruising altitude.

Despite reaching cruising altitude, you’re still working 12-14 hour days 5-6-7 days a week, burning the same amount of fuel it took to reach escape velocity. That’s ok for a while, but didn’t you start your business to get freedom as well as the money?

(at this point, I’m assuming you’re nodding “yes”)

Those 12-14 hour days still exist because you’re still the owner and technician. Even if you have gathered some staff members to swat the skeeters away so you can focus on the real work, you’ve probably found that the real work (Yes, I mean the technician work) will expand to fill the container you give it.

The difference between you and Mark Cuban

You don’t see serial entrepreneurs in that position. They still have time to run a fistful of multi-million dollar businesses and a NBA basketball franchise, and have enough time left over to annoy the SEC (the government agency, not the athletic conference).

For many entrepreneurs, the startup phase is the only phase they can tolerate.

Everything else bores them and their business easily lives without them. They build businesses with the intention of selling them as soon as the business reaches cruising altitude.

Right at the end of the most expensive, most exciting phase of the business’ lifespan, they can leave or replace themselves with another qualified CEO/owner in short order.

What would that do to your business as it is currently structured?

Imagine if you walked out the door, handed the keys to the new owner and never came back. Would your business thrive? Would it be likely to survive?

Serial entrepreneurs might take a serious bag of management savvy and leadership skills out the door with them, but walking out the door still doesn’t kill their business. Likewise, they often start other businesses, still without having to work 120 hours a week.

The important distinction between most small business owners and most serial entrepreneurs? The serial entrepreneurs aren’t technicians.

Before you make an assumption about the small business owners I’m talking about… we aren’t talking about being smart or not being smart.

It isn’t just small business people sharpening mower blades, making pies, frying donuts and changing oil. The same issue arises for chiropractors, dentists, attorneys, physicians and others in technician roles.

Be careful what you wish for

Here’s another way of looking at it: If your largest competitor had a serious problem such as health, health of a parent, car accident, bailout related issues – and ALL of their business came to you starting tomorrow… Could you handle it?

If you suddenly found the Holy Grail of marketing for your niche and people flocked to do business with you, could you triple the number of clients you serve in a month?

Same issue.

Becoming easily replaceable isn’t easy

Consider that you have figured out that if your business is to grow (perhaps massively), you have to hire someone to do the technical work you do so that you can manage the firm.

If you plan to have the time to actually manage this growing firm instead of getting pulled back into the technical end of things, you can’t afford to hire someone brand new to the field.

Likewise, you can’t afford someone who has to be babysat, so this person (2 persons, more likely) will need to have a similar degree and depth of experience.

Result: It might take 2 or 3 new staff members to replace you to the point that would allow you to spend your time on the right things (marketing and management), much less to go home at a normal time without working into the evening from your La-Z-Boy or rising at 4am so that you can have some form of family life in the evenings without doing that La-Z-Boy thing.

At your current cash flow and revenue levels, can you afford to hire 2 people with your degree and depth of experience? If not, will hiring those two people allow you to make enough deals to pay them?

If the answer is no, or if the answer is “yes, but I really don’t want to do that”, then you have 2 choices.

Decide to grow, or decide to find a business model/strategy that works with you as the technician.

Either way, your business has to be structured so that the world doesn’t come to an end if your cell battery dies while you walk the beach on Maui at sunset with your spouse.

Meh. You old guys are grumpy.

If you’re 25ish, single and reading this, you might be thinking – “Meh. That old guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about“.

Things that might change your mind:

  • When a spouse, kids, a surprise set of triplets, a house, dogs, cats, kid sports leagues and that dust behind the fridge comes calling – and your business suddenly can’t get as much as you as it used to, and neither can your family.
  • When a friend takes off to the Caribbean for 3 weeks without a cell phone or laptop, and you can’t go because the business can’t deal with you being gone that long.
  • When a competitor’s business is up for sale and buying it would allow you to totally dominate the market – but you don’t know how you’d possibly handle doubling or tripling the number of customers you have – overnight.
  • On April 28, 1998, I had 213 new customers that I didn’t have on April 27th. With a staff of 2, of which I was one. On May 1, 1999 I had 269 new customers that I didn’t have on April 30, 1999 with a staff of 4, again including myself. Trust me when I say that these kinds of changes alter your life even if you think you’ve seriously prepared for them.
  • When an opportunity you’ve wished for all your life is suddenly right in front of you, and you have to choose between it and billing hours that you know you need in order to pay next month’s bills (and the baby comes next month).

Desperately Seeking Susan (er, I mean Clarity)

How you structure your business for the future is one of the most important things you’ll ever do for your business, yourself and your family.

If after 3 or 4 years you haven’t structured your business so that you can walk away for a week without total chaos taking over – you haven’t created a business. You’ve created a job.

Just because it’s built that way now doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

So how do you change your business so that it’ll fit a lifestyle you’d actually want to live long term – while it remains a raging success?

What do you do? Where do you start?

Stay tuned…

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/HowToBeABusinessBurnout.mp3]
Categories
Customer service Management service Small Business Social Media Strategy Technology Web 2.0

Customer service: Why your business should be using social media

We’ve talked about the use of Twitter and other social media / Web 2.0 stuff for your business in the past, mostly surrounding customer service, communications and broadcast of new info.

I noticed this post (don’t recall where – probably Twitter) and thought it offered another great explanation of customer service uses for social media.

As a result, Jason’s comments are today’s guest post: The canary in the customer service coal mine. Perfect.

Categories
Competition Direct Mail Direct Marketing Marketing Positioning President-proof Retail Sales service Small Business Strategy

President proof your business #2: Drizzle on the absolute best

Even though President-Elect Obama’s staff has started to take shape (and the hand-wringing has begun), you shouldn’t think of “President-Proofing” your business as something specific to him.

Sure, some things will be different in an Obama administration than in a McCain one, but the things you have the ability to exert control over are largely insensitive to the personality sitting behind the Resolute desk.

One way of President proofing your business is to simply do more business. Obviously, we talk about a number of additional ways to attract (as opposed to chase) new clients, but one we haven’t ever discussed is that of the ripest fruit.

The ripest fruit might not be the best term for it, but bear with me. I’m talking about the clients you would simply LOVE to have. Surely there’s a list in your head of 1, 2, half a dozen or 100 of them.

You might not have 100 on the tip of your tongue, so let’s talk about the process.

If you were asked to choose the absolute best group of people (if you run a consumer-oriented business) or absolute best businesses (if you run a business that serves other businesses) that you don’t currently have as a client, but would be thrilled to have as new clients, who would be on your list?

Yes, I’m suggesting you make a list and that you expand your thinking a bit. There are all kinds of ways to qualify for this list.

Will they be a high-profit or long-term repeat client?

Will they be a client who will result in other people flocking to your business, simply because you can say they are your client?

Will they push your business into a new market for the products and services you already sell?

If you own a retail store, maybe you do some wholesale or online selling as well, so don’t forget those. If you own a service business that primarily serves consumers, don’t forget that some businesses might need your help – sort of like an quick lube oil change shop might do all the vehicles for a city, a county, or a business with a fleet of cars and trucks.

This technique works better as a way to attract businesses than it does to attract a consumer type of client, but it will work for both if you put some thought into the next piece of the process.

Putting the list to use

Once you have this list, make it a part of your daily schedule to learn as much as you can about the businesses / people (be polite, please) on your list. Maybe you or your assistant spend 15 minutes a day researching the people on this list, but do it. Schedule it.

Even if we’re talking about attracting a business – there’s still a person you must attract. Businesses don’t buy stuff. People do.

Begin contacting them regularly – but not with a pile of sales stuff, no matter how good it is.

Create a system for researching, contacting and continuing to casually drizzle pertinent, helpful information on your prospect list.

Your system might include some of these steps – and might include ones I haven’t listed here:

  • Add them to your print newsletter mailing list. DO NOT start emailing them a bunch of stuff, even your email newsletter. Your print newsletter should refer to it so they can sign up if that is one of the ways they prefer to get info.
  • Every week or two, send them a hand-written note or card – NOT a sales pitch - that includes something important or meaningful to them. This might include an article in the paper or on the net about one of their staff, themselves, their business, one of their customers or a family member. It could be something as simple as a snipping of something out of a paper from across the state that talks about a cousin. It might be as simple as a web page about one of their customers, or about their industry, accompanied by a short note that says you thought they might be interested.
  • Maybe you don’t know their cousin, but you see a similar name from the same hometown as theirs in their hometown paper. Cut it out, send it to them with a note saying you were guessing they might be related and if so, hope they enjoy the snip from that local paper.

Expand on this as it makes sense for the type of person or business you are courting. DO NOT chase them. Simply “be present” with information helpful, interesting or pertinent to them.

You want to be seen as a valuable resource to them, not a pest – this is particularly true for consumers. If your marketing to this group of people was a rainstorm, it wouldn’t be a driving, windblown drencher, it’d be a fine drizzle.  

Add this as just one of the ways you attract new clients to your business. Why not go for the clients you’d really like to have? Someone has to serve them. Why not you?

Once they respond, then they should become a part of the funnel or process that your marketing system takes them through to guide them to being a client.

There’s no need to wait for the inauguration. You can start working on this today.

Categories
Employees Good Examples Internet marketing Marketing Media Montana Positioning Public Relations Sales service Small Business Social Media Strategy Web 2.0

Obama and Don K Infomercials: Breeding familiarity

The other night after the Obama infomercial, there was a 30 minute infomercial-style video by a local Chevy dealer in Whitefish (not the same dealer that Jim the birthday phone caller works for) on one of the cable channels here in the Flathead Valley.

While there were a few rough places, it was a nice, home-grown piece that introduced the staff, talked about their experience, educated you about their business and their staff.

It was similar in strategy to Obama’s infomercial – and several million dollars cheaper:)

A friendly, informal, not overproduced video like this was ideal for familiarizing you with things and people in their biz so that when you actually visit, you feel that deja-vu, I’ve been a customer before feeling – even if you aren’t.

Familiarity.

Raising your comfort level simply by seeing places and faces you’ve seen before, and hearing voices you’ve heard before.

Don K’s place is informal, not stuffy. You expect humor and shooting from the hip – just like in the video – but always with a purpose.

One of the staff introduced a new guy as having 30 days of experience at the dealer, but 29 years in sales. They promoted him as having lots of knowledge about sales, which was one of the few trip ups in this piece. “Knowing a lot about sales” is absolutely NOT what people come to a car dealer for.

The finance guy was great. Talked about warranties and loans in a common sense, interesting fashion (hard to believe, isn’t it?) as well as a bunch of other stuff. He was very personable.

The service guy was a fish out of water. They probably should have found someone else in that department to talk as he just didn’t seem comfortable. Be sure the people you choose are right for the task. It just isn’t some folks’ cup of tea – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

No other dealer around here has bothered to do something like this.

I suspect this 30 minute infomercial (Don K’s) was bought as remainder time, which is time that gets used (like on the radio) when they don’t have ad space or programming sold already. You don’t have to buy 30 minutes worth of expensive prime TV time to get eyeballs.

I hope Don adds clips of the video to YouTube and puts them on his site. That’s what you should be doing as well.

Breed familiarity with your staff and your business. Video is but one tool to use for that purpose.

All you need is an outline for your message, a $50 webcam and YouTube. What are you waiting for?

Categories
Competition customer retention Management Retail service Small Business

Are you getting paid?

One of the comments I’m hearing from business owners these days is that payments are slow in coming. 

While the last thing you might want to do is add more to your receivables, it might just be the thing that gets you an edge over your competition and gets more new customers in your door. 

One option: Offer financing. 

Obviously, you have to make sure the economics are right, particularly if you have cost of goods sold. If the economics work for you, offering a 3 payment, 90 days same as cash is a very effective way of making it easier to buy, no matter what business you’re in.

You might need to change the terms to fit your delivery schedule, the cost, and so on, but it’s worth examining. I’ve seen businesses mushroom in size simply by offering a small down and a monthly payment plan for services and non-tangible goods (software is a good example). 

This probably doesn’t help you if you sell coffee by the cup.

On the other hand, if you do catering jobs and you take reservations for events that are weeks away, take a credit card number and offer to divide the cost by the number of weeks between now and the event. Ring the card up weekly. 

Got an existing accounts receivable with a good client that’s due in one big piece? If it’s late, offer to let them split it into 2 or 3 payments, with payments coming every 2 weeks, 4 weeks or whatever makes sense.

Remember, you don’t have to offer this option to everyone. Perhaps only your best clients receive this benefit. As famous retailer Murray Raphael said, “Treat everyone the same (ie: really well), but reward them differently.”

Doing what makes sense to help your customers pay you (and they really do want to) beats not getting the business, not getting paid and perhaps most importantly, discounting your work and getting into a price battle. 

Be creative. Make it easy to buy, now more than ever.

Categories
Advertising Creativity Marketing Restaurants Retail service Small Business Strategy

5 billion reasons to stop using boring marketing

In 2007, Americans spent $5 billion on a holiday that most businesses ignore in their marketing plan.

Yep, I said IGNORE. I guess maybe they feel like the holiday is too childish to participate, or that it doesn’t seem right to use the theme of this holiday for a serious business like theirs. 5 billion dollars of adult spending is hardly childish.

Only 1 secular holiday – Valentine’s Day – generates more consumer spending than the holiday that gets ignored.

You might have guessed by now that the mysterious holiday is Halloween. You still have 3 weeks, so what would do you do?

Ask yourself a few questions to get yourself thinking about a promotion or ad campaign:

  • Does your business involve reduction of fear?
  • Is there anything scary about buying a new house?
  • Getting surgery? Having a tooth drilled? Scary.
  • Getting a will or other legal paperwork done?
  • Scared of spending money on <any service> and not getting your money’s worth?

I think you could do a lot better than these, but they should get your thought process rolling.

You have 5 billion reasons to think about it and take some action.