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Your customer’s lowest low. Washed away.

In the case of Portland Oregon’s Plaza Dry Cleaners, a picture really is worth 1000 words.

I’m guessing Plaza owner Steve Young knows at least one thing that’s on his customers’ minds – particularly those who might not be able to afford his service at a time when they most need it.

Imagine the loyalty this builds in someone who is dealing with the fear, humiliation and anything else that goes with being unemployed. It’s such a kind act for people in his neighborhood.

Are you entering the conversation already going on in your customers’ minds? Steve did.

Outstanding.

News story from the Oregonian

Visiting Portland? Live there? Get your stuff cleaned at Plaza

Plaza Dry Cleaners
909 NW Everett
Portland OR 97209
(503)241-5417

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Habits and Heatmaps

Here’s your sign.

While it is a well-known “redneck” comedian punch line, it’s also something you should be looking for.

Some signs you must seek out, while others have been right in front of you all year long.

Many of those signs are buried in your existing business data.

Habits

Your business data illustrates your customers’ behavior, including buying and service calls. Some companies use it, some don’t.

For example, I realized today that I hadn’t sent out thank yous to a few clients. It’s been a very hectic, deadline-filled November and December and this is something I usually do right after Thanksgiving.

Not this year. And no, it wasn’t on my calendar because it’s just ingrained behavior. Bad Mark. Bad, Bad, Bad.

When I do remember this (and now, when it pops up on my calendar), I use high-end vendors to ship items like fresh or smoked salmon to a short list of folks that I do business with year-in and year-out.

One of the reasons I forgot? I didn’t get a catalog from either of the two vendors that I usually use. Well, sort of. I got a catalog two months ago, but that isn’t prime ordering season for “corporate gifts”.

The problem with this is that these businesses know when I order. If they look at the data from prior orders, they could *predict* when I place an order and what I might buy, much less where I’d send it.

Predictable Male Behavior

If I bought a two pound smoked salmon for the last five years, they know this because the ship to isn’t my name or address (not to mention the “It’s a gift” checkbox on the order form).

Given typical male shopping predictability (“get in, get out, move on”), they could have won the order by simply dropping a card in the mail or sending me an email saying “Hey Mark, we appreciate that you’ve ordered our delicious smoked salmon as a gift for the last five years, would you like us to send Joe another two pounds or would you prefer something different but in the same price range, such as our crab sampler?”

Or something like that. How tough would that be? No cold call. No catalog. Just an email from data that already tells them how I behave.

Do you want to do this for everyone? Probably not, but it would be of use in concept at the very least. Look at your order/sales data. Not just across the board, but for your best customers, however you define that. When do they buy? Might be a good time to place a reminder in front of them.

Look for the heat

Have you ever looked at a heat map?

On a heat map, the “hotter” looking places are either the locations where most people click or they indicate where eye-tracking tools determined that people are looking most of the time when they view a page.

Below, you can see an example website heat map illustrating click locations.

The red places indicate locations where the most people clicked.

The yellow and green areas are slightly less popular click locations and the blue are even less frequently clicked.

In other words, red is hot, yellow is warm, green is cool, blue is cold – just like on a graphical heat display – only this one shows the locations where people click on this web page.

 

Videos also do a nice job of illustrating data on a heat map, like this click location map.

This video shows a heat map eye movement on a video advertisement and the results aren’t what you might assume from seeing the still preview image.

Stir

Like any other measurement device, tools like the heat map help you understand if your site is well-designed for your user community (they are not alike from niche to niche) and can indicate usability issues, copywriting problems (and wins) and design strengths and weaknesses.

Your sales/order data is full of behavioral information.

People tend to be visual learners. What if we stirred these two together?

What would you learn if you looked at your calendar overlaid with a heat map based on your lead, sales, order and service data?

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Advertising Business model Competition Customer relationships customer retention Getting new customers marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Positioning Sales service Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Where’s my concierge?

One of the rungs on your ascension ladder should include cater-to-their-every-whim service – within the context of your business.

Audible has figured this out, as you can see from the screen shot above.

I’ve told you about my use of it in the software business (“done-for-you software setups in 7 days, guaranteed”) as a way of getting new users started quickly as a way of increasing sales, improving our percentage of sales closed and improving our service so that renewal / maintenance agreements were a non-issue.

Have you figured it out? If so, I’d like to hear what your “cater to their every whim” concierge service is like.

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attitude Business culture Competition Employees Productivity Retail service Small Business

A handshake and a thank you

Last week I was talking with a friend who was celebrating, or at the very least – remembering, the fact that a certain day this week marked the 10th year on the job at his employer’s business.

10 years. How many people do you know that have had the same job for 10 years? I’ll bet the number is smaller than it used to be.

A decade or two ago, it was commonplace to have the same job for 10 years. In the decades of my parents’ work life, 25 or more years wasn’t unusual at one job.

Recent research indicates that people entering the workforce will have as many as 30 jobs during their lifetime. Meanwhile, some of today’s employers are often heard lamenting the attitude of the supposedly uncaring young people they employ, not realizing that their actions often provoke the attitude they perceive.

The “all corporations are evil” tribe members out there will likely be quick to paint all employers with this uncaring brush, but that would be intellectually dishonest of them. While some certainly fit that mold, numerous large businesses treat their employees as if they’re critical to accomplishing their mission. You already know their names.

To be sure, some companies struggle with ethical, accountable behavior. When businesses hit rough times, some organizations will have employees who continue to show loyalty and deliver quality work. Guess which ones? The rest may look like a rodent-infested, Renaissance-era sailing ship slipping below the water – people won’t be able to leave fast enough. But they will, because their management will have made it so it just isn’t worth it anymore.

Is that really what this birthday thing is about? Of course not. It’s about common courtesy. Remember that?

Little Things

As I learned more about this employee’s work anniversary and how the day went, it became clear through the conversation that no one at this business remembered the date (who would after 10 years?). No wonder there was no mention of the anniversary.

No, it’s not a huge issue, unless you’re that employee.

Keep in mind that:

  • Someone who feels valued, even by the smallest of occasional gestures, will think nothing of doing a little extra when asked. Sometimes even when not asked. Remember, they’re the front line between you and your customers more often than not.
  • Someone who feels like they are just another brick in the wall tends to be made to feel that way over time. Little signals like the anniversary thing send the message that staffers are taken for granted are received, perhaps intermittently, but they continue to arrive.

For most adults, work is more than a paycheck. It’s part of who we are at some level. If it isn’t for someone on your staff, ask yourself how that adult came to feel that way about their work.

What you are vs. who you are

Sometimes the little things people do to recognize events like this 10 year anniversary are the ones that remind them that they’re more than a “(whatever you make/create/repair)”.

Imagine the conversation I would’ve had with that person if their general manager, regional manager  or (gasp) the home office sent the guy a hand written note. Two minutes to write it. What message does that send?

Imagine the value of a phone call or an off-location cup of coffee with an employee who has seen your business change and adapt over the last 10 years. Remember the year. This particular anniversary means the hire happened just after 9/11, when very few were hiring.

Any number of small things could have been done. A small “10” on a new name tag. A name badge that’s a different color, with “10 years” on it. A custom fitted company ball cap with “10 years” across the back. Any number of inexpensive gestures.

Perhaps something as inexpensive and priceless as a handshake and a sincere “Thank you”.

How difficult?

How difficult and expensive would it be to put every new hire’s start date into a private-to-your-business Google calendar? Hark, I hear the cries of privacy advocates, so talk to your HR folks before making this egregious error (that was sarcasm, mostly). That Google calendar will automatically email or text you to remind you of each date.

Your work is almost done, but keep in mind that your Google calendar can’t put meaning into that handshake.

You have to do that.

UPDATE: Want some hints on how to improve how you thank your staff? Check this out:

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Business culture Buy Local Community Customer relationships customer retention Entrepreneurs Marketing Positioning Retail service Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Your story says why you care

One of the things I help business owners understand is how to tell their story (and why they should bother).

Sometimes, business owners don’t have a story, or at least, they think they don’t. Yet when you ask them, it’s a rare person who doesn’t have a tale that answers “How’d you get into this business?”

Many times, the work people do is a means to an end, or at least it seems that way on the surface because they just haven’t thought about it as their story.

Sometimes they got there by happenstance or by being in the right place at the right time. A family tradition leads others into a line of work after a parent sells or leaves them a business they didn’t even consider being in. Some folks “grow up” in the business and follow in their parents’ footsteps – even if that requires years of college.

For others, a business might have come out of something they’d done forever and decided to turn that activity into their way of making a living – say, a serious fly fisher starting a fly shop or a fishing guide service business.

More often than not the story is rooted in their passion for the work, for solving the problem their business solves, or the people they work with while doing so.

Your story is what sets the stage for a well-worn quote: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.“  (Attributed to everyone from FDR to a soccer coach from UNC to John Maxwell)

It does that because how you got to where you are today says a lot of about the “how much you care” thing.

But sometimes, the answer isn’t so exciting. Or so it seems.

At Our Company, we strive to stay current with the latest products and techniques. We consider ourselves experts in our field and we invite you to take advantage of our expertise so that you can be assured to have the equipment, accessories and service that meets your needs.

Please take a look around our website. Youâ??ll find information about the comprehensive line of cycling products and services we offer to maximize the fun factor in your outdoor activities. And be sure to check out our Resources & Links page where you can access all sorts of valuable information for cycling enthusiasts.

Stop by and visit us at Our Company â?¦ weâ??d love to get to know you better.

Check out Our Company online and add your â??Likeâ?? on facebook.com/ourcompany

Only 2 things in all of that give you any idea what they do: “cycling” and “outdoor activities”.

Why you?

I can buy cycling gear in a lot of places, including WalMart and Amazon.

I buy it from locally-owned stores for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I want access to someone who can do more than just hand me the bag with my stuff in it. I want access to an expert who will base their answers to my newbie questions on their 27,438 miles of riding.

I have a lot of wants, just like people who play Warcraft, brew their own beer, restore mid-1950 Chevys or manicure Bonsai trees.

People who do those things don’t want to buy stuff from someone who doesn’t know anything about those things – and they sure don’t want to buy them from someone who doesn’t care about those things.

Something like this (which I just tossed together) tells people why you care:

We’re cyclists. The finest moments of our lives are memories of eating dust on single tracks only we and the bears know about, getting air at BMX events, leading the Tour de Hometown (even if only for a moment), riding in the kiddie seat on the back of our parents’ bikes during a trip to France and sharing the same memory with our kids right here at home.

Every bike, component, accessory gear and clothing in our shop is tested and personally approved by our staff. We don’t just hire salespeople or mechanics. We hire cyclists. We know you want help from someone who’s been where you’re going – or wants to ride along.

When we aren’t on our bikes, we love to use our combined 74 years of road racing, BMX, trail riding and cross-country touring experience to help you get the most out of your ride. We can’t wait to meet you and talk bikes.

If they know your story, they’ll know why you care.

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Apple attitude Business culture Business Ethics Customer relationships Customer service Improvement Leadership Management Marketing Positioning service Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

It Starts With Trust

Earning, retaining and regaining the trust of your customers has been central to this blog from the beginning.

We talk about a lot of different things that all come down to creating an atmosphere of trust with your clientele. That trust will build a relationship and that relationship, even if impersonal, is what makes business personal to your customers.

A few questions came out of recent conversations on these topics and the best ones were these:

  • How can an impersonal business relationship truly be personal?
  • How does a vendor recover from a massive loss of trust?

Come on, Steeeeve

How can an impersonal business relationship truly be personal?

Easy…it starts with trust.

For example, I have a relationship with Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Do we know each other personally, like I do some of my readers? No.

Despite that, I know enough about him from his behavior and the behavior of his company to trust him – at least enough to invest in his company’s products and recommend them to others who trust me.

His behavior and the behavior of his company over time tell me a few things:

I trust that when he walks on stage to speak about new products:

  • He is going to announce things will often seem as if they were designed specifically for my use. Not because he has me on speed dial, but because his company has habitually built products which do just that.
  • He is going to announce products that will be publicly available today or very soon.

 

How is that different from others?

Some companies build something not to fill a need their customers have expressed,  or a need that they’ve discovered through vision and research, but because (for example) they compete with Apple in some other way and perhaps feel obligated to compete there too.

Those conversations seem to start with “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “Well, if so-and-so did it, so can we…”

When you come to market with a product with that much R&D behind it and no one blinks… somewhere, somehow, your company simply isn’t listening well.

Example, HP just cancelled WebOS and their TouchPad tablet one day after Best Buy publicly complained they’d only managed to sell 25,000 of the 270,000 devices they ordered. While it seems to me that this is a strategic buying error on Best Buy’s part, it isn’t as if HP can’t be held accountable for making a product that can’t compete in the marketplace. No question that the iPad and other devices hurt them badly, but they’ve known about the iPad since at least January 2010.

Again…listen well.

Some vendors announce new products years before they plan to ship – and in some cases they never deliver them. In the most extreme cases, they pre-sell them and then fail to deliver. Some repeatedly toss out anticipated release dates and never meet any of them. Try recovering from a misstep like that, even if it wasn’t intentional.

Trust starts in the mirror

How does a vendor recover from a massive loss of trust?

At the risk of being Mr. Obvious, you start recovering by earning back the trust you lost (or earning what you never had).

Start with this: Say what you’ll do, then do what you said. If you stumble, own up to it. Seem too simple? Laugh it off if you like, but as Tom Peters says “There’s not much traffic on the extra mile.”

Some of you will point to Jerry over there and you’ll say “He’ll never come back no matter what we do.”

You might be right, but more Jerrys will leave if you keep acting the way you do now. If you don’t change, how can you expect them to? Even if you don’t get Jerry back, there are others who will recognize your efforts with each bit of trust you earn.

Each customer you lose because of something you did to lose the trust of that customer. You delivered late. You didn’t deliver at all. Your quality was poor. You treated them poorly.

These problems can be repaired. Just like trust.

 

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Business culture Competition Customer relationships Feedback Improvement Leadership quality service Small Business

Feedback and the Great Client

Feedback-wise…

  • A great client is one who asks tough questions incessantly, almost always in a polite manner.
  • A good client is one who asks tough questions regularly, sometimes politely.
  • A bad customer is one who asks poor questions, regardless of how they ask them.

Tough questions are your friend. Theyâ??re like competitors because they make you better. Or at least, they should.

As for those that aren’t yet great? Your job is to help them achieve it.

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attitude Business culture Community Competition Consumer Advocacy Creativity Customer service Entrepreneurs Hospitality Leadership Management marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Restaurants service Small Business

A business problem, not a water problem

Photo credit: Michael Hyatt

When book publisher Michael Hyatt posted this image saying “When you read this at Panera, you know your city has a water problem”, it struck me as a business problem.

Sure, the city might have a problem, but that shouldn’t be your customers’ problem.

Every day, we must adapt to the cards we’re dealt.

Rather than “We are not serving tap water, sodas or brewed tea today” and taking what might be perceived as a political shot at the city (the same one who does their next restaurant inspection?), a customer-centered management team could have called Culligan (et al) to get all the restaurant-approved water they’d need to provide glasses of water and brewed tea.

If you’re Culligan, there’s a win-win there.

Perhaps you can’t easily and quickly alter the water supply for a soda dispensing system, but that still doesn’t require a sign.

A quick look at last week’s sales totals from the register would have told them that they sell 430 sodas per day on average and run over to Costco or Sam’s (or called their normal supplier) for a canned/bottled supply that would span the gap for them.

The next work day, they could consult with their soda mix supplier and explain the situation further, ask for advice on water supply adaptation and then contact their plumber to arrange for a way to feed the third-party water into their soda system. Or they simply could have adapted using pre-mix, though that would probably be too much of an interference to the restaurant’s workflow.

Instead, they chose to sell no soda and no tea (both high profit margin items) and take a shot at the city.

Maybe the city needed a smack, but the place to do that is at the city offices, at a council meeting and worst case, in the local press.

Using your customers as pawns in that game makes for a losing battle, especially when they are standing at your front door with their wallets and purses open.

PS: Interesting that coffee wasn’t mentioned on that sign. Might be because many places use high-tech water filtration systems for their coffee water supply lines. I wonder if a non-franchise restaurant would have reacted the same way.

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Advertising Business culture Business Ethics Buy Local Competition Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships customer retention Entrepreneurs Ethics Leadership Marketing Public Relations service Setting Expectations Small Business Social Media Strategy Technology Word of mouth marketing

Help Them Buy Better

Nap @ Västra hamnen
Creative Commons License photo credit: bjaglin

A few days ago, Seth Godin asked why ethical marketers wouldn’t be “eager to have aggressive, clear and well-defined regulations” (about marketing).

He set the context by talking about the lies used to sell sunscreen, noting that lobbyists kindly helped the FDA water down proposed sunscreen regulations.

To quote Seth:

Why aren’t ethical marketers (of any product) eager to have clear and well-defined regulations, creating a set of honest definitions so that they can actually do what they set out to do–make a difference and make a living at the same time? If you’re busy competing against people willing to cut corners, I’d think you’d want the rules to be really aggressive, clear and obvious.

Yes, clear and obvious regulations would be great, but the assertion that we need more regulations to deal with them requires that I call BullSeth.

Enforcement and Influence

The enforcement of existing regulations in a fair and consistent manner is the primary issue.

Selective enforcement of these regulations is sometimes used to send a political message to some industries while others are left to their own honor or lack thereof.

At times, the agencies responsible for enforcement find themselves taking direction from elected officials who often take direction in the form of campaign contributions. At other times, these agencies do whatever they like, regardless of regulatory boundaries created to manage their work.

Before the everything-is-one-party’s-fault types weigh in, keep in mind that this ISN’T a (R) problem or a (D) problem. It’s universal regardless of the animal you represent.

A healthy business / consumer / economic environment doesn’t require oppressive business marketing/advertising regulations like Germany’s, we need those who represent us to use the existing regulations in a fair and consistent manner AND continue to improve them.

Smart businesses can’t sit around and wait for that to happen.

Don’t Wait, Educate.

Waiting for these changes isn’t going to cut it. Smart businesses educate prospects and customers about the quality choices they have.

That doesn’t mean your marketing has to be boring (far from it). It doesn’t mean your marketing can’t be compelling, entertaining, motivational and most importantly, effective – but it can be all those things without breaking existing laws, much less new ones.

In the meantime, we have to do our part to eliminate the slimeballs. Yes, I absolutely mean put them out of business, even if it means a game of Whack-a-Mole as they close one and start another.

Ethical business people don’t do enough to call out the slimy behavior of their competitors. Neither do consumers.

Buy Better

Meanwhile, people continue to take it from the cretins Seth referred to, rewarding these “businesses” for their behavior.

If folks keep buying from them and media outlets keep accepting their advertising, do you really think they are going to change?

Have you ever contacted a media outlet about the advertising they accepted from vendors advertising one thing and delivering another? Sure, it’s your word against the vendor’s. And yes, the media outlet will likely claim they have no responsibility for what appears in their paper, on their station or on their website.

I think you’re smarter than that.

The power of the customer to deal with these vendors comes simply: STOP BUYING FROM THESE IDIOTS.

It’s Just Word of Mouth

Businesses can help them do that.

Customers have lots of resources that enable them to take control, including Yelp, Urbanspoon, Angie’s List, Trip Advisor, etc. These services help people find businesses that deliver what they say and avoid the ones who don’t.

In a perfect world, we shouldn’t need any of them. Until we get there, we all have to help each other by calling BS when it’s warranted and giving kudos as well.

Too few businesses pay attention to those services. If you think no one is using them to make daily purchasing choices in your little town, you’re dead wrong – particularly if your area is frequented by tourists. You need to be monitoring them, addressing issues, “claiming” your business so people can find you, and encouraging consumers to share their thoughts there.

Encourage your customers to use tools that help them buy better. Provide them when you can. Help them stop buying from the wrong people.

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attitude Business culture Competition customer retention Customer service Improvement Leadership Marketing Positioning service Small Business Social Media The Slight Edge Word of mouth marketing

Good business is personal

smart fortwo passion mhd coupe & cabrio * Play
Creative Commons License photo credit: jiazi

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a lot of time to rethink a lot of things.

It struck me that I’ve spent a lot more time discussing the dumb things that businesses do rather than the smart things they do.

While I turn the story of those dumb things into a lesson for the smart business, and have made note of the reasons to expect me to focus on “bugs” on my About page; I’ve decided that we need to spend more time here focusing on the smart businesses and what they do.

Angie and Friends

It hit me while motoring from Memphis to Mom’s place after hearing yet another ad for Angie’s List.

It struck me that we “need” things like Angie’s List, Consumerist, the Better Business Bureau (which has little to do with better business IMO) and to a lesser extent, the US Consumer Protection Agency partly because we are lazy consumers.

Consumer laziness provokes us to return to a business even though they were treated poorly the last time we went there. Consumers are going to do what they’re going to do, collectively. Individually, of course, each of us can do something about it via word of mouth.

Responsibility

On the other hand, businesses have a lot of responsibility here as well, and it’s not just the ones treating consumers poorly.

Why do businesses that routinely treat their customers poorly manage to stay open?

I blame your business. And myself.

It doesn’t matter what economic level, what market position, or what part of the world your business is in. This isn’t about businesses focused on serving value-seeking customers vs. those focused on serving affluent customers.

It’s about customers on every rung of the economic ladder, how you take care of them and how you educate them.

The responsibility of a good business doesn’t stop there. Not even close.

Obligation

A good business is obligated to communicate why they are either the only logical solution (or on the “short list” of logical solutions).

“We’ll beat any price.” doesn’t do that. In fact, it usually takes everything else off the table, saying “We believe nothing is more important than price.” That might be true in a few situations, but in reality, people make one or two cent buying decisions every day.

Do you know what drives them?

A good business is obligated to find a way, even in commodity markets, to get their clientele to cross the street in their direction and pay 2 cents more. Most importantly, these customers are glad they did so and will happy to again.

Likewise, a good business is obligated to do whatever is necessary to make it as easy as possible for their clients to tell others about the insanely good (or maybe just consistently good) experience they have with that business.

Talk is cheap, until they talk about you

Why does Angie’s List have to exist in order to get someone’s testimonial for your business online?

To expand that beyond AL (I’m not picking on them – I happen to like their service), why do people have to search the internet to find out word-of-mouth info about you? It’s great that the info is there, but you should be leading the charge (strategically, not smarmily – yes, I made up that word) to let people know who thinks you hung the moon.

It’s your responsibility to first do good business and then make sure others find out what your clientele experienced. Doesn’t matter whether they find out via Twitter, Facebook, at the grocery store, after church or at a kid’s ballgame.

What haven’t you done to get that information on your site? In your store?

What haven’t you done to personalize your business to the point that people can’t help but tell their friends about you?

If you can identify those things, why haven’t you done them?

Why is that?

Are you really willing to sit there and let people cross the street to the other guy to save a penny or two, knowing full well the experience they will have?

The treatment they get from a competitor reflects on you because you’re in the same business. Do you take that personally?

You should. I wonder what you’ll do about it.