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Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Management Strategic Notepad

Strategic Notepad: Take Ownership

Last week, we talked about the opportunity presented to you when you find yourself helping a client in a stressed, deadline-driven or other pressure-filled situation. You can either create a good memory or a bad one.

We’ve talked about how to make the best of these situations and we’ve talked about the opportunity created and what I experienced with a travel agent. Sometimes people act on your behalf because you have signed a contract with them to do so. For example, I have a client that owns a bed and breakfast and they are “represented” in some fashion by online booking agents, travel review sites (like Trip Advisor) and so on. If a reservation agent treats one of their clients rudely, you can bet it will reflect on the B&B.

Take ownership

Whether you like it or not, anyone who sells for you, advertises for you, reps for you or in any way helps you sell what you do REPRESENTS YOU. Make no mistake, if they do something wrong while working on your behalf, your client will associate you with the situation – and they should. While you can’t always control whether or not these situations occur, you can certainly impact what happens when it manages to roll downhill to you.

Here’s an example of the wrong approach:

When I contacted the car rental company about the situation I was dealing with, this was their response:

Hello Mark, I can understand how this experience would be frustrating for you. Expedia is an independent third party brokerage service that is not affiliated with Enterprise. If given the wrong information such as the address and pickup time, please contact Expedia for further investigation.”

Read that again… “NOT AFFILIATED WITH ENTERPRISE”.

While I have little doubt that this description is accurate from a legal / terms of service perspective, the reality is that I rented a Enterprise car via Expedia. Affiliated or not, anything Expedia does regarding that rental certainly reflects on Enterprise whether they like it or not. Expedia doesn’t own the cars. They’re basically a combination of Google (ie: a search engine) for flights, hotel rooms and cars – and a store that can hook me up with those time and location sensitive assets.

Keep in mind that this was the response vs. something like “Hmm, that’s unfortunate and I apologize that the site sent you to the wrong address. I will reach out to our Expedia vendor rep and make sure the rental location address is corrected.” Most importantly, there was no “Can we get you a car, or have you taken care of that already?” – remember, their business is renting cars, not tweeting. There was STILL a sales opportunity and more importantly, an opportunity to “come to the rescue”. That opportunity was squandered.

While it might seem like I’m busting on the support representative who sent me this message, that’s not the case. Almost certainly, the text of this was approved by management for situations like this. A few minutes later I received the same message intended for someone else. The only difference between the message addressed to me and the second message was that the second one was addressed to “Dan” and mentioned Travelocity rather than Expedia. I politely noted that to the rep so Dan would get his message.

Canned responses are a normal part of customer support. You wouldn’t want reps who handle hundreds of messages per day retyping them, much less authoring them on the fly. The rep did exactly what she was trained to do and in fact, provided the fastest response I received from anyone – but it didn’t help me get a car.

My response to the rep is the real message of this post:

I get that, but do understand that ultimately they represent you and I suspect, do so on millions of bookings per year. Its not solely on them.

If someone sends you thousands of purchases per day, for all intents and purposes, they represent you even if the TOS says otherwise. Take ownership. People are buying your stuff from you, even if someone else takes the money. YOU deliver.

The most serious error of this entire situation was the failure to close the sale and provide a car for me. That’s the business they’re in. NEVER forget what business you’re in, or your clientele might.

Categories
Customer relationships Customer service Management Setting Expectations Small Business Strategic Notepad

Strategic Notepad: Customer Service

Last week, I noted that how you should recover from a client’s poor experience with you is dependent upon the context.

For example, a four hour flight delay is meaningless if you have a six hour layover. It becomes serious if you have a three hour layover before an international flight late in the day, or if the delay causes you to miss an important meeting, a wedding, or a funeral. If the delay causes you to get bumped to a connecting flight later in the day, it might not be a big deal. If it causes you to get bumped to next Saturday…

Context matters a lot.

Serious context is a serious opportunity

When your client is under pressure, deadline, stress or similar, you have an opportunity to create a memory that can last a lifetime. Will that memory be good or bad? Whichever way it goes is likely to be how your relationship with that customer… unless you treat them like a client.

What’s the difference? A customer is a transactional thing. Customers buy and consume “stuff”. Clients are like patients – under your constant (or at least regular) observation and care. Which are you more likely to take better care of, based on that definition? My guess is the client. Despite the definition, it’s all about perception. If you perceive them as an asset to be cared for (and to extract revenue from for a lifetime), you’re likely to treat them differently than you would if you think you might never see them again. Thing is, if you treat them like you’ll never see them again, you might experience that.

The opportunity to save the day / be a hero in your client’s most stressful, pressured, awful moment is a gift – but only if you open it. Sure, you might push COGS a little higher for their transaction. You might take a little heat from your manager if you take the initiative to solve a client’s problem in a slightly unorthodox way – but not if they truly get it because they’ll know you’re protecting the business.

Are you encouraging initiative?

One of the things that seems to be getting being “beaten” out of employees these days is initiative. Evidence? The fact that people are so impressed when someone takes initiative to help them as if they read the Business is Personal playbook. Businesses have produced a generation of workers who fear helping clients in an appropriate manner (when context calls for it) because not adhering to policy and procedure is often considered as a firing offense, even if you acted in the client’s best interest.

Even if you can’t stretch, provide options

Last month, I reserved a car rental with a pickup at 3:00pm. The rental location address provided by the vendor was wrong – fortunately it was wrong by a few blocks (and across the street). However, the rental location closed at 3:00pm and the nearest open branch was about 50 miles away. After waiting on hold for 54 minutes, customer service basically said the whole thing was my fault because I arrived a few minutes after the pickup time. By the time my call came off hold, I was more than an hour’s drive from their only open location and due to my appointment schedule, I was unable to visit that location. I made it clear that I was more or less stranded but my comments were ignored.

How could this have been handled – even if the customer service person couldn’t spend a dime? They could have offered to send someone to pick me up – but at 5pm on a Saturday (which tells you how long I was on the phone), there was no extra staff at the airport to shuttle a car to me. Had they said they checked and couldn’t do that due to a lack of extra staff on duty, I would have appreciated it. They could have asked which hotel I was at and (because they are a travel agency), offered to rebook me at a hotel close to me and have the car delivered the next morning.

Instead, they chose to blame me for the entire situation. They were focused on shifting blame, rather than helping a client juggling business and family travel on a very important family day. I will not forget and neither will your (former?) clients.

Protect your business by protecting your clients.

Categories
Business culture Customer relationships Customer service Management Small Business

Protecting your business

Business owners protect their business by reducing risk, managing cash flow, getting appropriate legal advice and insuring their people and assets properly. Most businesses decide to check out motor trade insurance instant online quotes and look for the company that suits them. The thing is, you can do those all things properly and still leave your business open to damage that’s incredibly difficult, expensive and time consuming to repair. How? By providing out of context customer service.

Specifically, I’m referring to what tends to occur when you’re trying to recover from a mistake. The perfect time to show them you have their back… or to turn your back.

Which do you do?

Every once in a while, you make a mistake. Hopefully you learn from it. If it was caused by a systemic failure, you know by now to put a system (preferably automated) in place to prevent it from happening again and of course, integrate it into the rest of your systems. If it wasn’t caused by a systemic failure, then the problem might have been caused by a customer service flub, a product or service mistake, or a failure to deliver – regardless of the reason.

What happens next is where I see businesses repeatedly making a mistake: How they recover for the customer. That’s when context becomes critical.

Recovering FOR your client

When approached by a disappointed, angry, concerned, distraught customer, it seems that many businesses have trained their people such that their Customer Service Prime Directive is to protect the business at all costs.

Guess what. Recovering from your mistakes in a way that preserves the customer relationship IS protecting the business, but only if it’s done right. While protection of the business is essential in these circumstances – your legal paperwork and insurance should have already done that. The third leg of the stool is how the customer feels when the exchange is over.

Consider what happens if a flight attendant accidentally spills a cup of black tea in someone’s lap on a plane. The passenger’s linen skirt is stained (a bit embarrassing for now), but it could impact the skirt wearer’s day severely if they’re being met at the airport by an important new prospect. What if their next direct manager is meeting them at the airport for an interview? What if the flight arrives at midnight and the traveler simply has to grab their bag and drive home alone at midnight.

The subconscious loss of confidence in the client / employment situations could alter the airline client’s entire life. Maybe that’s good, maybe not. How the airline reacts FOR their customer can determine how that customer feels about them for the rest of their lives. People remember how they were treated – particularly in situations like this. The context the client provides (even if you have to extract it from them) is critical to the level of your response.

I’m reminded of a surprise Peter Shankman received in 2011 from Morton’s Steakhouse after he jokingly asked for a steak to be delivered to Newark airport. You might think that was an expensive response resulting only because Peter had a lot of Twitter followers at the time. I think they saw an opportunity to make a lifetime memory for a good customer, even if they knew that he’d blog/tweet about it. Five years later, where do you think he takes clients to dinner more often than not?

How you recover for the client in their current context is everything. If Peter was landing in Missoula (which has no Morton’s), then a clever tweeted response might have sufficed, though they could take if further if they had a connection to a solid steak house in MSO.

In Customer Service, context is everything

Sometime’s a “Sorry” and replacement / discount will suffice. Sometimes, the client’s context makes your $154 mistake a memory that could last for years. Imagine you had a romantic evening out of town planned with your significant other and when you arrived at the hotel, they didn’t have a room – even though you’d paid in advance. What if the town is booked solid because of a local event? There’s “no room at the inn”… ANY inn.

How you protect the business is everything at that point – keeping in mind that the wrong kind of business protection creates customer defection. If you’re going to create a lifetime memory, make sure it’s a good one.

Categories
Customer relationships Setting Expectations Small Business

Where’s the Maitre’ D?

When a new client arrives at your store and/or on your website, do they know exactly where everything is? Probably not.

If not, are there clear introductions to where things are, what the rules of the road are, how (and where) to get help, what the buying process looks like, where to find service help and so on?

Guidance needed

In a retail store, these things are somewhat common – at least the basics. You’ll probably see signs that say things like Parts, Service, Lawnmowers, Chainsaws, and whatever the other departments of your store are. Even so, is there guidance in any form that helps people figure out where they can get warranty, financing or delivery information?

Think of it like a website that you’ve never visited before. When you first get on a retailer’s web site, you often have to dig around a little to find policies and procedures, or how they handle refunds, delivery/shipping, etc.

You have two choices when onboarding a new visitor who will presumably become a client:

1) Guide them step by step in a logical manner and provide them with the tools they need to have exactly the experience you want them to have, and position them to be the ideal buyer.

2) Let them figure it out for themselves and explain where they went wrong when they find themselves painted into a corner, or stuck trying to figure out how to get service, delivery, refunds, exchanges, on-site help, upgrades / updates / improvements, financing and repairs.

Think of it like a restaurant

At some restaurants, you are greeted at the door, guided to your seat, provided with a menu, and introduced to your wait staff (or advised of their name). You might then have your expectations set regarding the arrival of someone to take your drink order, explain the menu, share the night’s special entrees and desserts, as well as any other information you might need. Later, you might be asked additional details about how you want your order, whether or not you want dessert, coffee, etc.

Obviously, this varies a bit depending on the type of restaurant, but I suspect you’ve experienced this level of guidance – all to do something you do every day: Eat.

The alternative, even in the same restaurant, might be to provided none of that guidance, have menus on the table, be expected to place your order at the counter, pick up your food at the counter and pay on your way out the door.

Neither of these is wrong, but both types of guidance are designed to fit the type of restaurant you’re in. Generally, you probably know what to expect when you enter the first restaurant vs. the second. If the experience is not in sync with the type of restaurant you’re in, the “system” seems out of place or the experience feels broken. When I experienced things like this with my dad, he would say “This would be a great place for a restaurant” – noting of course that we were in a restaurant at the time.

Restaurantize your business?

Now overlay those restaurant experiences onto your business. Think about each step of the dining experience (in both types of restaurants). Which one of these experiences is a better fit for a new visitor to your business (or your website)? Which is a better fit to a long-time client?

Before you decide which experience is best for an experienced client vs a new one, let’s back up a step… even when you go to a restaurant with a highly guided experience, does the maitre’d recognize that you’ve eaten there before? If so, do they hand you a menu and point at the dining room and leave you to figure out the rest, or are you guided through the process in a similar manner to every other visit?

Which of those experiences makes sense for visits to your store? Which experience makes sense for visitors to your site? Which experience creates a new client who is more prepared to purchase what they really need vs. what they think they need? Which experience produces the client retention you want? Is there a difference? How do you know? Testing helps.

Fine tune the experience for each stage of your client lifecycle in a way that creates an optimum client experience for them while producing the ideal client for you.

Categories
Buy Local Customer relationships Marketing Retail Sales Small Business Strategy

And after Small Business Saturday?

Besides being a particularly busy Christmas shopping day, this coming Saturday is “Small Business Saturday”.

Once a year, American Express (organizer of Small Business Saturday) encourages shoppers to shop at a small local business and offers marketing materials to help small businesses take part in the event by encouraging locals to shop their store.

While you might be thankful that Amex makes an effort to place shoppers’ focus on small retailers for that all-important Saturday in November, and for the (hopefully) positive effect it has on your Christmas season sales, Small Business Saturday (and the holiday shopping season in general) is far more important than a one day sales boost.

For many shoppers, it might be the one opportunity you have all year to get their attention and leave an impression on them that helps them remember to shop your store all year long. Bottom line: Amex has gotten the ball rolling for Thanksgiving Saturday. The other 51 Saturdays are on you.

Not simply another sales day

Even without Amex’s help to promote Small Business Saturday, it’s an opportunity to do so many things because you’ll see shoppers you usually don’t see.

Show them why they should shop at your place more often. Make it clear to price shoppers that your prices are competitive, and if they aren’t, make it clear that your prices are justifiably higher because your products/services are of higher value, or that you deliver more, save time, save hassle, etc.

Use this opportunity to engage shoppers in recurring purchase opportunities, but do it in a way that makes sense for your clientele, not simply because I suggested it.

Collect contact information. While some are protective of this info, it’s often because their contact info has been misused or used ineffectively. No one wants to hear more noise, but most people will happily accept valuable info that helps them. Tell people what you will do and do that and nothing else. Let them be selective about the resources you send them rather than giving them only one choice.

You might have lists for monthly promotions, value shoppers, last minute (or low stock / closeout) deals, as well as for special events. Let THEM decide what list they’re on and treat that list with great care.

Make your place a refuge from shopping mayhem

We’ve all seen the news stories and video of the ugliness of box store Black Friday sales. People are fighting traffic, fighting for parking spaces, fighting to be one of the first 62 people to get the Barbie Turbo Fashion Corvette, fighting massive crowds and so on.

Don’t let your store become a part of that. REI decided to close their store on Black Friday. To be sure, some of this is about publicity and this decision was likely made based on their Friday sales figures (think about their clientele), but no matter what really drove the decision, they really are making a point about not taking part in what goes on during Black Friday.

While closing shop probably doesn’t make sense for you, the idea to stand out and take steps to be a refuge from the mayhem is a good one.

Standing out in a crowd

Think about the things that reduce the enjoyment that people get when shopping for gifts for the people they love:

  • Starting at 4am
  • Lines
  • Crowds
  • Parking
  • Dealing with “those people who only seem to drive/park/shop one weekend a year”
  • Shortages of items
  • Hauling around the day’s booty

Everyone’s list might be different. What steps can you take to take the pain, hassle and aggravation out of their day?

While it might be too late to plan and execute a big splash, do nothing wastes everyone else’s efforts and puts off your gains for a year. Even if you start today, a focused effort to do what you *can* do will help.

If you have a preferred client list, this is a great time to bestow a nice benefit for those who have earned the right to be on that list. Offer them valet parking, special shopping hours all to themselves and deferred pickup of items.

Let them order by phone or via your website, even if you aren’t setup to take their money until they arrive for pickup.

Next year, plan your Small Business Saturday

Next year, be sure to plan and promote your Small Business Saturday event well in advance.

Ask your local retailers group and your Chamber of Commerce to get involved in promoting the event both to shoppers and to local retailers, if they aren’t already.

Take advantage of the effort Amex is making, and the resources they provide to make Small Business Saturday your own – and not simply a one day bump in sales.

Categories
Buy Local Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships Leadership Setting Expectations Small Business

Your referrals leave an impression

Recently, I received an email from someone who described a rather unpleasant home improvement job, which involved the purchase of materials and a subsequent installation of them. We like these things to be boring – meaning everything went smoothly with no drama.

This one doesn’t appear to be turning out that way.

When I say rather unpleasant, the job describing to me included the theft of building materials by a contractor who was referred by the company where the materials were purchased. They also described bill padding on two occasions by the contractor, once for materials, and once for the labor. I’m told the referring supplier reimbursed the customer for the stolen materials, and that the contractor first offered to reimburse for the padded bills and then disappeared.

A few things about this merit discussion: First, there’s probably more to the story. Second, these situations almost always leave clues before bad things happen. Finally, this is really about how much care are you (the business owner) take when you refer someone to help your clients.

Do no legal ties mean no responsibility?

Referrals made in these situations are typically made to businesses with no legal ties to the referring business. You can understand why a referring business would make a point of distancing themselves legally from the folks they refer, but *does the lack of a legal connection matter to the consumer*?

Only legally, if that. And only until you establish a pattern of referring people to your clients regardless of how the referred vendor performs. The corporate line will almost certainly be one of maintaining that legal separation and that the consumer must be responsible for selecting a contractor.

The thing is, if you are going to go to the trouble of referring someone, why do it poorly and without conviction?

Taking the wimpy, “no legal connection” angle is not how you make business personal. I understand that there’s a desire to avoid burdening the corporate parent with the possibly sketchy behavior of a local contractor. What I don’t get is why you would recruit and refer contractors with so little care that it’s simply a matter of time before you run into trouble.

Even if there’s no business relationship and no legal responsibility accepted by the referring company, only a fool would believe that a referral doesn’t reflect on the one who makes it. So why do it poorly?

Why not refer well?

The smart business who makes these referrals will recruit, select and refer contractors that are so good that they leave the kind of impression that you can’t wait to refer them to your clients. Help your customers choose by giving them the tools they need to choose the best contractor from your vetted list of referrals.

The smart business who makes these referrals won’t stop there. They’ll follow up with every referral after the job, perhaps during each job until they’ve developed a level of confidence in the contractors they refer. It isn’t enough to recruit and select well – you have to keep it up. These people represent you whether you like it or not. Make sure they do it well and make sure they understand the importance of the work you’re sending to them.

The consumer bears the burden too

Part of the story that I left out up to now is that the referred contractor asked the customer if they could pay in cash because of some irrelevant reason.

If you (the consumer) don’t immediately disqualify a contractor who asks this question, you shouldn’t be surprised if (when) you have problems with them. In this case, that’s what happened. I told the consumer that this should have been a red flag to expect trouble.

When I get this question, I ask myself what else they want to skip.

Will they skip work that would result in dangerous construction? Will they skip town with my money? Will they skip town with materials? What else might they do while having access to my home or business? Did they skip buying insurance? What else did they shortcut?

The smart business will remind their clients that while working this might save you a few bucks, it might also cost them a lot.

The quality of your referrals matters. Make sure they’re worth giving.

Categories
Competition Customer relationships Employees Improvement Management Small Business The Slight Edge

On the playing field, little things matter

Saturday was a bit of a football day. I attended my first Griz game, watched my Razorbacks disintegrate in the fourth quarter (yes, again) and stayed up late watching a fascinating, action-filled Utah / Cal game.

It was a day full of watching highly skilled athletes do little things that have a substantial impact on their success – or fail to do them.

On the way to a great night on the field, Utah’s Devontae Booker did a little thing that many running backs don’t do. For example, when he ran up the middle and found himself stuck in a pile, he didn’t simply keep driving as if he thought he could push a pile of 10 guys somewhere – he turned and ran around them.

The Griz failed to do a few little things, one of which was managing their use of the clock near the end of the game. With less than three minutes left, they managed to use 90 seconds to run three plays and punt. Some teams drive the length of the field in 90 seconds. This time, nothing of substance was accomplished.

In each of these three games, little things contributed substantially to each team’s loss or win. All the teams involved are capable of operating at very high competency levels, yet these little things forgotten even once in some cases can nullify everything they’ve accomplished that day.

The same little things that have a transformational effect on the field are exactly the kinds of things that make or break your customer experience on a hour to hour, day to day basis. That’s your playing field.

What are YOUR little things?

If you and your staff aren’t sure or aren’t on the same page about what your little things are, make a list. Once you have a list of your own, have your staff make a list. That’s where most people stop.

To really standout, take that list and prioritize it. Once you’ve done that, share it with a few trusted clients. Ask them to prioritize the list from their perspective. Ask all of your clients on occasion what little things make them come back to you.

Once you’re there, training is essential to keep these skills sharp. Yes, it’s a skill to keep the little things top of mind and perform them well, rather than simply going through the motions.

These little things may not be obvious and your staff may not think they are a big deal until you explain WHY they are and how they bring back clients repeatedly. If you aren’t absolutely sure that your staff ties the return of clients to their job security, be explicit about it. Explain how much a lost customer costs and how many lost customers translate to a job.

Repetition and training matter – but they matter more when you give them context. Not everyone sees the big picture like you do – and some may see it differently or better, so discuss it as a team.

Too busy to deal with little things?

We all react differently to increased workload, pressure and a larger than normal number of customers (internal or otherwise) demanding our help at the same time. What often disappears from your customer experience under these circumstances are these little things. Courtesy is often one of them. We communicate less in order to get the task done and to our client, it feels like an uncaring interaction.

The costly part of these failures is that at a time when your people are stressed with how busy things are, your clients are too. How you deal with them under these circumstances is a big deal. These little things can be easy to forget when you’re in a hurry, under pressure or dealing with a lot of people at once. When your team is fully present, focused and attentive to the client in front of them and their transaction and is focused solely on that (even if the client is on the phone), the experience is memorable. When the mindset is “I must get this done quickly so I can get the next 22 people taken care of“, the customer experience will suffer.

The emphasis on these little things, along with reminders and training are critical to getting your company to the point where these things happen as a natural part of doing business without explicitly thinking about them.

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Customer relationships Direct Marketing Email marketing Management planning Public Relations Setting Expectations Small Business strategic planning systems Travel marketing

Communicate when nature threatens

Last week I said “Allowing perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

Part of your job is to set guests’ minds at ease by giving them the advice they need to make considered decisions during situations they’re unaccustomed to.

They want to protect their investment, their vacation and their families. It’s safe to say that your local, regional and/or state tourism groups, media and attractions will put effort into this. What isn’t safe to assume is that your guests will see their message and understand it as you do.

You might be the only one in the area with their name and contact info. You might be the only one who develops a relationship with them. Your business is the one that will pay the price if they get off a plane in Minneapolis and see an airport gate “if it bleeds, it leads” style news video with an uninformed announcer from 2500 miles away saying “Glacier Park is on fire“.

They don’t know what you know. You’ve seen all of this before.

Make sure they understand that and that you are giving them time-tested advice based on your knowledge of their visit and their family. YOU need to contact them and make sure they have accurate information, otherwise, their next flight might be toward home.

Details protect your business

Last time, I added a lot to your plate:

Segmenting guests into groups. Collecting emails. Collecting cell numbers. Writing emails. Sending emails. Documenting the various communication processes so anyone can do it, even if you’re tending to a sick parent. Producing templates for the emails you might need to send. Producing templates for the text messages you might need to send. Producing a fill-in-the-blanks script that a staffer can read when calling guests who are in transit or in the area. Documenting the process so that anyone on site knows who is responsible for starting the process, which one to start, who to notify and what to say.

This isn’t about creating more work for the owner/manager. This is about putting a trust-building, by the numbers, automated where necessary system in place so that it can be handled by employees who never dealt with it before.

You won’t have time to do any of this when a fire blows up in the park. You won’t have time to manually send 300 emails or make 100 phone calls while deciding what to say on the fly.

This is about creating time to deal with critical high-season work when you least want to be “messing around with emails”, even if your place isn’t directly threatened. These tasks need to be organized, tested and ready to implement before the season starts.

Fine tuning the message

When you sit down to build this system, you’ll have a lot to think about. For example, the urgency and means of contacting them is as different as the message for each group and situation.

What conditions that merit separate communications and (most likely) separate messages? What groups should be split out of “the entire list of guests”?

A number of situations will expose themselves as you think it through. Go back over prior years and think about the times you handled this well and not so well. What did you learn after the fact that you didn’t consider when things were unfolding? Your own experiences count too – How was this done when you were on vacation and unexpected problems occurred?

Two examples:

  • If evacuations or cancellations are necessary, will evacuated / cancelled guests get priority booking for a substitute stay at your property?
  • As the situation unfolds, it will become more clear what to say to your guests with reservations a month or more out – but you need to communicate the plan now so they know what to expect. What will you say?

Your business may not be affected by fire season but nature threatens your business somehow and when it does, “fire season lessons” apply. Your area might be subject to drought, low (or high) water in rivers/lakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or a damaged bridge instead of a forest fire.

No matter what happens, send the right message to the right guests in a timely manner in the right way. Build trust. Practice, automate, document, delegate.

 

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Customer relationships Direct Marketing Email marketing Management marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Setting Expectations Small Business Travel marketing

Forest fire communication can burn you

Now that the Reynolds Creek fire is 65% contained, there are two myths to squash:

The fire is almost out.

Not true. Ask anyone close to the fire teams and they’ll likely tell you that only a season-ending snow will likely knock it out completely. Even so, if you let this cancel your 2015 Glacier National Park visit, you’re probably making a mistake.

There’s not much to see with the fire burning.

Not true. As I noted online numerous times over the last several weeks, the park’s still open, the Going-to-the-Sun road is mostly open, 99.97% of the park is not burning and it remains more than capable of wowing (and challenging) your mind and body. Thankfully, news organizations, Inciweb, GNP, various tourism groups and others are communicating this message so that visitors don’t cancel their plans.

Allowing these two perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

What else gets burned in a forest fire?

Forests aren’t the only thing that are burned by forest fires. Profitability, traffic, cash flow and our well-laid plans can also go up in smoke.

When we have a fire, it’s all but certain to hurt tourism – particularly if you depend on someone else to set your visitors at ease.

I know you’re busy. It’s peak season, or should be. Even so, the Reynolds Creek fire should have you thinking about a few things:

  • How does your business react when red flag conditions are present?
  • How does your business react when that first fire of the season hits the news?
  • How does your business react when the first wave of cancellations comes in?
  • Are those reactions planned? Have they been rehearsed / tested?
  • If you’re away from the property (perhaps your parent is sick), will these plans be executed as you wish with the type of messages you want delivered?
  • Do you have all of the steps in place to communicate with your visitors in order to minimize the damage to your business?

Yes, this is all about communication.

The first thing you might ask is “Which visitors do we communicate with?“, but don’t forget that what you say is as important as who you say it to.

Which guest needs which information?

My suggestion would be “All of them“, but that’s an incomplete answer.

When a fire (or similar event) happens, there are several groups of guests impacted – and their decisions will affect you and your business. The better prepared you are to keep them up to date with calm, consumable information, the better they will be able to make well-considered decisions. The last thing you want to do is (intentionally or otherwise) convince them to continue their trip only to have them deal with circumstances that cause them to never return to your area.

Sidebar: You are doing your best to get them back on a recurring basis, right? Sorry, I digress.

These groups of guests include:

  • Guests currently at your property
  • Guests in transit to your property
  • Guests with reservations in the next couple of weeks
  • Guests with reservations a month out or longer
  • Guests pondering making reservations for next year
  • Guests whose reservations must be cancelled because of an evacuation order
  • Guests wondering if they can get into your place due to cancellations

I’ll bet you can think of a few other groups of tourists, guests, visitors – whatever you call them.

Each group to make a decision about their visit, but the message each group requires is not the same. If you’re communicating with all guests with the same information, it’s likely that you are not helping them make the best decision for them and in turn, it’s costing you business.

Rules of the road

I suspect you have the ability to communicate with these groups easily using email. Please don’t send one generic email to 746 visitors. Many of them will not receive it and the “tech savvy” ones will find it aggravating.

You should also have their cell number so you can catch them in-transit or in the area.

You should be able to get a personal message to each person in each of these groups without a lot of hassle.

By now, you may be wondering why I left a lot unsaid. That’s why we have next time.

Categories
Competition Customer relationships Leadership Positioning Real Estate Sales Small Business

Why do they want to disrupt your market?

The big word in the startup world is disruption, as in “We will disrupt the what-cha-ma-call-it market.” Thinking about last week’s discussion about buying a new vehicle, let’s talk about what disruption is and why “they” want to disrupt our market.

Some examples of disruption

Paypal disrupted the credit card merchant account market. Old news, but it’s a good example. At the time, it was a substantial effort for a small business to get setup so their clients could pay them with a credit card – particularly if there was a web site or phone sales involved. You could do it, but the fees and the startup obstacles put in place by the banks offering merchant accounts were a time-consuming hassle. The assumption was that you weren’t as “real” as a business selling hard goods out of a retail location. Paypal knew better and treated these businesses with honor rather than suspicion and contempt.

Ultimately, Paypal made it easy to get a merchant account. They made it easy by allowing you to manage it online. Finally, they made it more secure by creating a layer between the client and the small business taking the payment. The client gained because they didn’t have to reveal their card number to the small business. The small business gained because the “layer” that kept the card number out of the hands of the small businesses meant Paypal took on the security requirements and many of the risks of card payment fraud. More secure equals less hassle. Easier and less risk for all involved.

You can find many other examples of disruption in the finance-related sector – all of them based on eliminating the annoyances and artificial barriers established by long-term players in that field.

Other examples include Uber (Is the cab business focused on being a high-quality customer-centric experience?) and SpaceX (Is the defense / aerospace business is designed to provide the best bang for the buck?).

Why do they want to disrupt my market?

Simply put, because doing business with you or your peers (or both) is a pain in the keister. When you make it hard to deal with you, you create opportunities for startups that don’t mind doing things differently.

How do they disrupt my business? Mostly by taking the hassle out of it. Those who disrupt your market talk to your clients and identify the things that drive them crazy about working with you. What keeps you from doing that? Nothing other than you being stuck in “We’ve always done it that way” mode.

The real estate market is a great example of how businesses get disrupted. Zillow produced a website that allowed would-be buyers to identify properties for sale before they were ready to contact a Realtor. Will they still have to work with a Realtor at some point? Probably. Before they “get serious”, are they required to deal with the barriers that most real estate firms put in place? Before Zillow and the like, it was all but a necessity. At that point, you did things their way on their terms. Today, you don’t have to engage a Realtor until you’re ready to take some action.

Could Realtors have opened up MLS to web access before Zillow appeared? Yes, but they didn’t. Could they have made it easier to shop before getting signed up with a Realtor? Yes, but they didn’t. Instead, the MLS was used as a wall around the property-for-sale inventory. Until Zillow and similar vendors provided access to this data (or a subset of it), there was little if any pressure on real estate firms to implement such systems or radically improve their processes to make them more client-friendly.

Eventually, they figured it out and created a new Realtor.com that competes with Zillow and similar sites.

Realtors are not the target

These types of problems are not unique to Realtors. They are common to many businesses.

If you look at these disruptive new businesses, they’re usually focused on eliminating the market’s pet peeves.

Referring back to last week’s car lot experience, consider the business model that Vroom.com has put together. It’s not perfect, but it does a nice job of eliminating the horse biscuits from the buying process. And yet, there’s not a single thing they’re doing that local car dealers can’t do.

Will they notice and adopt the best parts?

And in your market, will you?