Why the tourist drove past your business

Changes2005vs2013Photo credit: AP

You’ve probably seen this AP image contrasting the crowds at St. Peter’s in Rome over the last eight years.

The first photo was taken by Luca Bruno in 2005 during preparations for the public viewing of Pope John Paul II’s body – almost two years before the iPhone was first announced.

The second photo was taken by Michael Sohn in March 2013 as the crowd waited for the first balcony appearance of a newly-elected Pope Francis I.

No matter how you feel about mobile devices, smartphones, the mobile browsing experience, the quality of smartphone photos, the always-connected lifestyle and how these things relate to your personal life, ignoring the business impact of the widespread adoption of these devices is done at your peril.

So what?

Seems like just yesterday that I did a series of speaking gigs with groups of local business owners about social media, getting found via local web search, the growth of mobile and the impact of these things on local businesses. Fact is, it’s been closer to 18 months since that series concluded.

To their credit, some have picked up on what we talked about and are interacting with their prospects and clients via social media. At least one local business that I frequent offers occasional coupons for subscribers to their text message (SMS) based opt-in list.

While most local business sites display acceptably on today’s tablets, the story is altogether different on a phone, where a smaller number have made efforts to improve the experience of a website visitor using a phone. Let’s refresh why it’s important to deal with this.

It’s not uncommon to hear “So what?” when this topic comes up in discussion. That’s not the right question.

First impressions

Again, you must set aside your personal likes/dislikes about these devices because it isn’t about you. It’s about your customers.

If these customers are tourists whose first impression – and purchase decision – is tied to the usability of your site on their phone, it’s worth considering whether your site is helping them (and you).

You might be thinking “Well, they have smartphones, but do they use them for that?” It’s a good question. I can tell you 25% of visitors to the Columbia Falls’ Chamber website are using mobile devices – a number that grows every month. I’ve been told churches see an even larger percentage of mobile users.

So what do you do?

A mobile website checklist

Let’s talk about mobile website basics:

  • Do you have a website that is actually usable on a phone?
  • Does it clearly describe what you do, when you are open, how to get there (using Google Maps, et al) and how to contact your business?
  • Restaurants, is your menu visible on the phone or does it appear on a phone as tiny print because it’s in a PDF intended for desktop users?

To start this process, claim your business on Google Places for Business and setup a Facebook Page (not a Facebook user account) for your business. Both of these will give you a basic summary presence on mobile devices that includes hours, contact info and location.

Compare these two mobile search results:

flathead beacon mobile search result dmbdgoogle

The one on the left (without a Google Places listing) is tougher to read on a phone and requires additional screen taps to get answers to the basic questions listed above.

The one on the right (with a Google Places listing) gives you everything you need to make the next choice. One tap to call, get directions or view their site.

Which of those do you want your prospects to see?

Why’d they drive by?

When your website makes it easy for mobile phone users to learn about your business, it helps them decide what to do, where and when to go, and how well your business fits their needs/wants.

So why did the tourist drive past your business?

Three reasons:

  • They didn’t know your business exists, or they didn’t know enough about your business
  • The info they found didn’t help them make a decision.
  • The info they found helped them make a decision to go elsewhere.

The last reason is acceptable. You shouldn’t expect everyone to be your customer, much less to stop in simply because your business is easy to learn about and find online.

A passing meteor

2009 Leonid Meteor
Creative Commons License photo credit: Navicore

The wrong email at the wrong time, no matter how well intended, can be like a meteor strike.

It can weaken, dismantle or even ruin the relationship you’ve built with a customer.

A friend recently relayed a story about a summer stay at a hotel in South Texas.

Shortly after his stay, he got an email from the hotel chain’s corporate HQ asking how he enjoyed his stay. It was automatically generated, no doubt – but that’s OK when done right.

As it happened, he had just checked his bank statement and saw that they had overcharged him almost $100 more than what his final invoice indicated. After responding to the email, he followed up with a call to the front desk of the hotel.

The problem was taken care of right away by the person who answered the phone.

As time passed, he forgot all about the email, which was sent by and returned to the hotel’s corporate parent.

Time heals (almost) all wounds

Fast forward 4 months.

My friend gets an email from the hotel parent company’s “Email Resolution Desk”. The agent notes that “she appreciated my email, but she couldn’t do anything about my issue, so I need to contact the hotel directly.”

His comment: “Wow, they’d have been better off just not replying at this point.”

Exactly.

The extra email, like the meteor, left a crater in that customer’s experience.

This sort of disconnected communication is common to franchises whose corporate parent thinks it’s doing the right thing by monitoring customer “satisfaction”. The problem is, the disconnection and the lack of follow up.

The unfortunate part

What’s unfortunate about the situation is that a 2 min phone call could have turned that into a follow up email just to make sure he was happy with the resolution. Even if corporate had merely taken the trouble to email the hotel and ask how the situation was resolved (if reported at all), it would have given them far more insight into the situation and (hopefully) resulted in a far more intelligent email to my friend.

Instead of ticking him off by making it obvious that corporate was detached from the situation and not in touch with their franchisee, it would have conveyed (albeit 90 days late IMO) that they were making sure things were properly handled by their franchisee.

Rather than creating a negative vibe for an event that turned out positive, it would have reminded him that the situation was handled promptly and properly – and holy cow, someone at corporate was so on top of things that they were checking up on franchisee conflicts to make sure they were handled properly.

Which of these impressions are your automated emails leaving? Disconnected, or on top of  things?

Just because they’re automated doesn’t mean they have to be clueless.

And the data…

Finally, consider what you’re doing with the info you collect from these “How did we do?” emails, postcards and phone calls.

  • Are you leveraging valuable customer feedback to improve internal processes or eliminate unnecessary ones?
  • Are you using them to motivate staff, create new services, eliminate outdated products, and spruce up what needs a dust and a polish?
  • Are you using them to recognize and reward those who go over the top to please a customer?
  • Are you using them to find places where your training has gaps?

If you aren’t doing some of those things…why are you collecting that info? Why waste the time? Just to make a customer think they have a voice?

In a lot of cases, customers assume those postcards, emails and web forms go into never-never land. Maybe it’s because they don’t see tangible changes as a result of their feedback. Or maybe it’s because businesses seldom (if ever?) follow up on the feedback they get.

I suggest your share these things with your customers. Reward those with great ideas you’ve implemented. Let them know – without a puddle of corporate speak – that you’ve handled the situation they spoke of and put in motion a plan to prevent future occurrences.

Not only will your customers’ experience improve, but their feedback will as well.

Automation *can be* personal

Run, Motherfucker, Run
Creative Commons License photo credit: JOE MARINARO

Like I suspect you do, I get a number of automated emails asking how someone’s service was, or reminding me to deal with this or that before a deadline.

Most of these are innocuous emails that were done with an honest effort to help, but because the process was left unfinished, there’s very little long-term or accumulating value in them.

More value *could* come with a little more automation salted with a little personal touch.

For example, if I take a box to the local UPS Store (which recently reopened in our town, thankfully), I have an email waiting for me before I arrive home from the 3 mile drive from their shop.

The email includes the tracking number, a link to check on my package, an estimated arrival date, and perhaps the destination and a brief thank you.

Right up to that point, this is a minimum that should be getting done. There’s value in this email because I can check the link and perhaps put the email in my calendar so I remember to check the status later. Yes, a link to an iCal file to auto-add the delivery date to my calendar would be a nice option.

And then….silence.

Silence isn’t the right answer. It’s unfinished business.

Why silence isn’t golden

In many businesses, there is no email confirmation going on.

When doing business with those firms, I have to call (or they do) in order to find out what’s going on, when my work is done, what the estimate amount was and so on.  For those businesses, this post is a bit of a what-to-do checklist.

So why is the silence after that first email “unfinished business”?

Because it doesn’t complete the task at least as well as you would if you were standing in front of them when the package was delivered. An email isn’t an excuse to get out of work. It’s a way to give your customer the choice of being better informed.

But still, unfinished?

Yes, because (for example) I don’t get an email when the package is delivered and signed for.

That means they’ve missed an opportunity to confirm that the transaction completed as promised while subconsciously reminding me I use them because their job is to set my mind at ease.

It also subconsciously plants yet another seed that I can trust that business to get my package where it’s going safely and on time so I can consider the job delegated successfully.

That’s a big thing if you’re in the service biz.

In addition, they miss the opportunity to add a comment that…

  • Reminds me that 9 packages have been shipped this month and all arrived on time for less than USPS or Fedex rates (or similar).
  • Reminds me that customers who ship as often as I do can save time by opening a monthly-pay account at the store, allowing me to walk in, drop the package and leave rather than wait in line to ship and pay.

And so on.

Note that none of these emails require any manual labor once the templates are setup. The automated shipping notification systems are doing all of the work from that point forward. The result is that your business is more productive (given fewer calls re: package status) and your clients are better informed.

The next step: Those “How was our service?” emails could be of far more value to your customers and your business if someone paid attention to them. More on that tomorrow.

PS: These references to email could just as easily be text messages to my phone. Wouldn’t be lovely if I could choose one or both?

A bus of a different color

Post-Katrina School Bus
Creative Commons License photo credit: laffy4k

When I say “bus travel”, I’m guessing that many / some / most of you think of things on this list (and maybe some others):

  • Greyhound (et al)
  • Tour buses full of senior citizens
  • A noisy school bus full of kids
  • people of lesser means
  • panhandlers
  • bus terminals
  • when will it arrive?

Here are a few things that I’ll bet you don’t think of when it comes to bus travel:

  • Comfort
  • Productivity
  • Care-free
  • Customer service
  • Wireless
  • Convenience
  • Safety

Red Arrow Motorcoach in Canada thinks a little differently about bus travel. For starters, they don’t even use the word “bus”. Like most companies of their type, they call it “motorcoach service”.

Because they know that you don’t want to sit around their bus terminal waiting an extra 30 to 300 minutes for your friend, family or colleague, they offer visual location tracking of their bus on their website, PLUS they will email and/or text you when the motorcoach is between 5 and 20 minutes (your choice) of reaching its destination.

Think about that benefit. It isn’t for the customer. It’s for someone who hasn’t even bought a ticket: the person meeting the customer at their station.

Not your grandpa’s bus

The customer isn’t ignored, however. Red Arrow’s website includes online reservations and a virtual tour of their coaches, which include a complimentary galley with drinks and snacks.

Their motorcoaches have a choice of plush or leather seats and they are careful to point out that they offer 30% more legroom than on a typical airliner.

For travelers with laptops, their coaches include pulldown tables, electrical plugs and wireless internet. Compare that to an airliner, which is often too cramped to use a laptop unless you’re in first class.

Their on-board magazine points out that you never have to turn off your cell phone and that the positive amenities of air travel (such as they are) are met on their motorcoaches as well.

Things the website missed

  • What’s the environment like at their drop-off/pickup points? Is it well-lit?
  • Does the place look safe if I step off the bus at 10pm or if I have to wait an extra hour due to weather or other delays?Do they have 24 hour security personnel on-site? Cameras? Yes, I know it’s Canada, but bear with me anyway.
  • Which stations have a nearby car rental?  (they do have car rental partners)
  • Do the stations offer wireless?
  • How does the station differ from typical bus stations?

You get the idea.

And the point of all this?

Cracks in the plumbing

What do people automatically think when your type of business is mentioned? Looking for an example? Think “plumbers”.

What are you doing to counteract and/or take advantage of that image? What sets you apart – and not just a little.

What are you doing that will completely change your prospective customer’s perception of your business?

What should you be doing that you just haven’t gotten around to?

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]

Permission to market, sir?

People don’t want to buy from people who place sales calls to them during dinner (duh). It isn’t because they don’t want to buy your item. They just don’t want to buy it from someone they don’t know. Someone they don’t know hasn’t got “permission” to sell to them, because there isn’t yet a relationship with someone who knows better than to call during dinner.

People can get violent – electronically, at least – when people they don’t know send them an email asking them to buy something. Usually it’s a poorly written email, so it wouldn’t sell anything to most people in the first place.

Of course, because email costs so little to send, when you send out 62 million emails, the .0001% that buy (and yes, they actually do) make it worthwhile to the slimy character who sends them. That is, until their internet provider cuts them off. More on that shortly.

It isn’t as bad with U.S. Mail because you don’t have to pay to receive it, but so-called junk email still gets some people pretty steamed up.

The message itself determines a lot of what happens when it gets delivered.

If you send email, you can be a total putz and not think about your message at all. Send it to everyone with a heartbeat. Who cares if you try to sell a comb to a bald guy? Maybe he collects them.

Direct mail has a way of sorting out the lazy. They go broke rather quickly if they mail poorly.

Not many people have my cell number. I only get text messages only from my kids, my wife, kids in the Scout troop, and from my kids’ friends.

Parents of teenagers know what happens when text messages go big: Big cell bills. Imagine if you got even 10% as many spam text messages as you do spam emails. Suddenly, we’re talking real money unless you’re paying for unlimited texting.

For the most part, you have two choices: Get all text messages or get none. Some cell carriers have filtering tools, but they are mostly all or none choices. As in “filter all text messages that arrive by email” or “allow all text messages that arrive by email”. Not much of a choice, particularly if you’re the parent of a young adult, or if your business automation uses emailed text messages to alert you to various situations.

But today’s column isn’t about Verizon, most days I actually like them – especially the nice folks in the office in C-Falls.

It’s about not making the mistakes that lazy marketers make, and they make them in every media there is.

For example, I recently received a poorly targeted pitch via text message. It says “Four Phones sharing UNLIMITED minutes only $xxx.xx/month. Quality, Service, Value. Cellular ONE in Polson. 885-xxxx.”

Misguided.

First of all, if you emailed this text message to every other 406-249-xxxx number in the Valley, you probably got a lot of nasty phone calls and emails. That probably wasted your time. Wasting time is not typically the goal of your marketing:)

Second, I don’t live in Polson. Why in the world would everyone in the North Valley want a cell number that’s local to Polson – over an hour south of us?

The really unfortunate part was using a Bresnan email account to send your message. See, Bresnan’s terms of service for internet service include a clause that says you can’t spam people. So when Bresnan gets all of the complaints about your message, they’ll probably terminate your account. And of course, since you don’t use a CellularOnePolson.com email like you should, any legitimate email to your Bresnan account will just disappear when they cancel your account for being a spammer.

That’s probably not the desired effect.

Fine tune your message. Send it to the right people. Send it at the right time (which is likely “more than once”).

And for heaven’s sake, don’t call during dinner.

Operations and Details: Why you need a passion for crossing the T and dotting the I

One of the very few troubling things about living in a small town or a rural area is that sometimes, not all that often, but sometimes (yeah, I repeat myself), you find yourself “forced” to use a vendor that drives you crazy.

Because of what appears to be a lack of passion about operations and details.

Talk about timing. As I was writing this post, up on Twitter pops this tweet from @ChrisBrogan :

“Is anyone really *passionate* about operations and details?”
Chris Brogan

To be sure, when I say “passion”, I don’t mean that your hormone levels start rising when you are making sure your business’ detailed operations are just so – and have processes in place to keep them that way, but I’ll tell you what: I’ll bet you ARE passionate about the lifestyle that your business provides for you.

You know. Things like being able to make that Boy Scout meeting, that piano recital, that Wednesday afternoon golf “meeting” every other week, the choir practice, your kid’s soccer games or the bridge club.

Whatever it might be…the passion that you have for the lifestyle you lead has a direct relationship with the passion you have for crossing the T and dotting the I.

You probably think I’m nuts, so let’s talk about a few examples from my business life. I suppose this could be a reference to the pet peeves discussion of a few days ago, but this is really a bit different because the kinds of things I’m talking about here could be a part of any business.

In my case, it’s a local business whose services I use every month. Likewise, several of my clients use this service every month because they produce the production version of what I created for my clients (gee, is that vague enough?)

Why do I put up with the annoyance?

One reason and one reason only: There is no viable alternative business that provides this service within the community with the slate of features I need.

These are the kinds of things that any service business could be doing, and quite a few online or brick and mortar retail product stores could be as well. That way YOU can fix the ones you might be doing.

Number 1 – They deliver, but they can’t tell me for sure (in advance) when a produced job will be delivered.

When they do deliver, they don’t notify me that they’ve delivered the product. Because I happen to be one of those “Likes to know if the client got the stuff I ordered for them” kinds of guys, I have to call back (and remember to call back<g> and ask if the stuff was delivered. Today, I had to do this and they had to call me back because they had no idea.

Number 2 – They don’t notify me when the job is done/delivered unless I ask (and sometimes not even then). They clearly have no system to keep track of what needs to be delivered, what is on the truck, what has been delivered and what couldn’t be delivered. My guess is that they might have a clipboard nailed to a wall somewhere. Maybe.

Note that the big box store that competes with them (but doesnt offer enough services to make me switch), DOES have automated email notification that the job is done and I can pick it up.

Little things make a difference, especially when I can decide to give them my cell phone’s SMS email address, forcing their email to my phone.

Why is this apparent triviality even important?

Lessee…In the days of $4 gas, an emailed notification that goes to my phone could save me a 40 mile round trip drive (if I’m already in town for something else), PLUS 40+ minutes of their productive time if I have to turn around and come get that job because it is time-bound.

I don’t like doing business with companies that waste my time. Do you?

It might not just be my time. Maybe I have my virtual assistant (who lives here) pick them up. Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to take the email and forward to her, or call her? Sure, they could email directly to her – but if they aren’t emailing, what difference does it make? So now we’re talking about contractor or employee time, depending on your situation.

Number 3 – Out of control accounting. OK, I admit it, I *hate* bookkeeping (yes, I do appreciate and take action on the reports).

This is important with them because I often pay by credit or debit card and then get invoiced for the same amount at a later time. This happens repeatedly. So much so, in fact, that I have to get statements and make sure I haven’t paid for something twice. Sometimes I pay in person. Sometimes I pay over the phone or even via email. It doesn’t seem to matter, because double payments or unlogged payments are a frequent issue.

In the case of the in-store payment, this occurs despite the fact that they appear to enter the payment on the computer when I’m in their store. In fact, most of the problems originated from in-store payments.

Call me confused.

By now, you’re probably still wondering where the “why cross and dot” in all this is.

Simple: It’s those lifestyle things that make owning a business worthwhile. If your business is out of control, you don’t have time for that every other Wednesday golf meeting with friends you treasure. You can’t make that Rotary meeting once a month, much less once a week.

You can’t go on that photo safari across Montana, much less across Africa. And you sure can’t leave at 10am or 2pm for that school play or soccer game out of town that you promised your kid you’d make, even though they know you’ll be on your cell phone the whole time.

Why? Because you can’t leave your business for a week for fear that it will collapse into chaos when you aren’t there.

Cross the T and dot the I, and put systems in place to make sure it happens even when you aren’t there.

Imagine if you don’t have these things in place. That ONE important delivery to your best client gets messed up, or forgotten and that client leaves forever taking 5 or 6 figures worth of business to a competitor.

Now you feel like you can’t ever leave to watch a kid’s recital, ball game or what not.

Is that really worth not putting some effort, some passion into systems that cross the T and dot the I?

Don’t you want your business to be the one that is known as the one that never drops the ball?

Sticking a fork in restaurant websites

Though I haven’t mentioned it here in a while, my series of columns in the Flathead Beacon about local websites has continued over the last couple weeks. It’s on topic here as well, so let’s elaborate on it a bit further than I have space for in the Beacon.

Next week’s column takes a look at local restaurant websites in my area.

One thing stands out here, and thatâ??s the chains. Most all of the franchise restaurant chains have corporate-managed websites that are well done. But weâ??re not here to help them â?? they have plenty of help already.

What you can do is look to them to see what to consider when putting your web site together. Things like menus, a map to your location (pleaseâ?¦), whether or not you do catering, what meals you serve (ie: do you serve breakfast and lunch only?)

One example was a restaurant between Columbia Falls and Kalispell that I happen to like. Their site is simple, isnâ??t much eye candy-wise, but it touched on the essentials for a 3 or 4 page restaurant website.

It talked about their location (included a graphical map), their phone number, their address, their catering info (could have been more complete), their hours, which credit cards they take and the facilities they offered. This site could easily be completed in an afternoon. No, itâ??s not as fancy or as complete as it could be but it is what is absolutely necessary.

Slow cooked Angus sirloin, local asparagus, truffle butter sauce
photo credit: irrational_cat

They didn’t bother to go into great detail on the food, the special ingredients they fly in from coastal fisheries, their use of local game, organic local vegetables, custom processed meats and local seasonings, the romance of their massive fireplace area, the expertly trained staff, the menu, special occasion bookings, private dining rooms, banquet and special occasion services, their expert sommelier (not sure if they have one), the chef and his/her training and experience, and so on (those are all hints, if Iâ??m not being obvious enough).

No testimonials. No photos. No video. Cooking is an experiential thing. Video and photos are critical.

Butâ?¦their site achieved an important goal: to provide basic information needed to contact them and go there for a meal.

The unfortunate thing is that many local restaurants had no site at all, and that included those who also offer catering.

Iâ??ve gotten some good feedback from previous posts on this topic, including a great phone call from a reader in Kalispell whose input I will include in a later post on the subject.

Someone told me they felt that not all businesses need a website. Sorry, but I have to disagree.

Even if all you do is put up a one page site with your location, hours and a map, that is far better than nothing. You wouldnâ??t likely open a business and not have a phone. You wouldnâ??t skip on printing menus in your restaurant. If youâ??re a consultant, attorney, CPA or other service professional, you wouldnâ??t blow off printing business cards.

Not having even a one page website is equivalent to not having a phone or a business card.

Even if your business is busy and doesnâ??t need more work right now, you need a website. Everything has ups and downs. The time to dig the well is before youâ??re thirsty.

See all those kids running around with cell phones? They wouldnâ??t use the Yellow Pages unless you forced it on them. It wonâ??t be long before they are your 18-35 demographic group.

If you donâ??t have a website, to that group of people, you donâ??t exist.

Kids these days know that they can text â??59937 mexicanâ? to 466453 (ie: G-o-o-g-l-e on your phone’s dial pad) from their cell phone and get back a list of Mexican restaurants in Whitefish Montana with their phone numbers.

Le digo yo
photo credit: fluzo

Did you know about that? This feature isnâ??t limited to searching for restaurants. Where do you think that data comes from? A Google search, of course.

But it isnâ??t just the young adults who use the web these days.

One of the phone calls I received about websites was from a self-proclaimed â??older personâ?. She had some great feedback about what is important to make a site usable for people who arenâ??t 29 anymore. She doesnâ??t want to be ignored when she uses the web. Neither do the 18-35 or 25-55 groups.

What demographic can you afford to ignore? Most businesses canâ??t afford to ignore any of them, but there are exceptions. Not having a website is ignoring at least one, maybe more â?? especially tourists. They research what they plan to do using the internet.

Do you want to be on their radar, or not?