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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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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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The Seeds of Legendary

Pete Townshend - THE WHO
Creative Commons License photo credit: flipkeat

I was reading AJ Leon’s blog this morning and thought that sipping a cuppa joe in Shakespeare’s hometown while gnawing on a “legendary brownie” sounds pretty good.

The term legendary struck me, as AJ probably meant it to. I don’t stumble across things of that quality every day, but I guess that’s the nature of legendary, isn’t it?

It got me to thinking about the products and services that I encounter and which among them are legendary.

Sometimes legendary just sits on the shelf and stares back at you – expecting you to recognize its stature without being told.

The Best Product Wins?

Some businesses act as if they were trained by this unseen, all-knowing old school mentor who believes that the best product wins.

This means that marketing, PR and any effort to become an authority in their market are things that only mediocre products require. The best should sell itself simply because it’s the best.

For that reason, the greatest product or service in the world may serve out its life in anonymous mediocrity.

Think about the businesses you visit regularly. Do any of them do something in a legendary manner? If so and they don’t make a fuss about it, maybe you should mention their amazingness to them and ask “Why the big secret?”

I’d Drive Across Town For…

Which products/services are without peer? Which of them would you drive across town for? Which of them do you seek out or at least think about every time you’re in that part of town, the state or the country? Which product, service or business would you go out of your way to enjoy sharing with a friend?

A few that come to mind:

These things aren’t legendary because what they create is untouchable. Some are quite common, yet they deliver a step (or three) above anyone around them. Some are legendary because their creators form a great memory in the process of delivering them. Some are just incredibly consistent at touching all the bases and doing so in a manner that’s just right. Some are just great.

Being Legendary

Do you see any common behaviors or characteristics of those offering this level of quality? Success leaves clues.

To me, the folks that deliver legendary service offer consistency, little surprises, thoughtful, caring service. Not just nice, but more than you expect. Above and beyond.

More than that, they set expectations by sharing with you that you’re about to experience the extraordinary – and then they deliver that and more. Talk isn’t enough. Delivery is critical.

Muhammad Ali told you in advance, followed up in the ring, and as he stood over you….told you again while canaries circled your groggy head.

While you don’t have to deliver your message like Ali, you also shouldn’t miss the opportunity to better people’s lives in some way by helping them to see that that you have something amazing to offer.

It’s worth the effort, even for a legendary brownie.

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Pushing You Starts The Whispering

Whispering Grass
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Gallop

Earlier this week, I wrote about breaking down Chet Holmes’ “Dream 100” list of prospective customers into 10 lists of 10.

What I didn’t tell you was why I break the list down.

Asking you to name 100 random prospects would like result in an impact focused on one thing – “just the sales”.

This set of lists takes you well beyond that. Instead of having to think of 100 ideal prospects, you have only 10 of a specific type to come up with and each one has a context.

More importantly, each of the 10 groups has a specific purpose.

  • The 10 testimonial prospects need to be well-known in your market. Influencers. People or companies that, when mentioned, make people think your company hits home runs.
  • 10 CEOs you’d learn the most from – Obvious. Good to have their business, but great to have them, effectively, as business partners.
  • The 10 biggest upsides will make great turnaround / rags-to-riches stories. Powerful stuff.
  • The 10 clients to test your strengths are there because your strengths needed to be pushed – they ARE your strengths, after all.
  • The clients to expose your company’s weaknesses are there because you need to be reminded of them and decide whether to let them be or eliminate them.
  • Clients with a demanding nature are there to make your team better. Like your strengths, they too need to be pushed.
  • The transformational wave of revenue is going to be needed if you get these other things right – because a lot of change is going to come one way or another.
  • The 10 clients who need what you don’t have really need YOU. The fact that you don’t yet offer what they need will force you to stretch in your market.
  • The 10 clients who wouldn’t likely survive without your help are there for several reasons. They’ll remind you of the small fry you might be ignoring. Maybe they shouldn’t survive without your help. What will you learn from that process?
  • The 10 clients who would make you wake up in the middle of the night and think to yourself “I canâ??t believe I got those guys” are there for all the above reasons. They’ll push most of the buttons the other 90 clients will push – but in different ways.

The real reason that last category is there is to push you and your business well beyond your current boundaries as you see them.

You need to be pushed. You need to realize that you have another level inside your business that you’ve yet to discover.

PS: Getting these 100 clients will establish you as the leader in your market. Other prospects will notice you success, notice who they are and notice what you did to get them. And they’ll want some of that. Which is why you needed to be pushed.

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Taking Care

One of the lessons my dad impressed on me when I was old enough to begin to “get it” (or so I thought) was “Be a good listener.”

Naturally, the meaning of that phrase changed for me over the years.

  • As a teenager, it had a rather obvious meaning, “Pay attention and you might learn something.”
  • As a college student, the meaning changed a bit, but the fundamentals were the same.
  • As a newly married guy and later as a dad, I fine-tuned it a bit for the roles I found myself in.

Ultimately, it was about listening before speaking or acting. A handy business lesson if there ever was one.

At work, it became far more complex as it became about listening…really listening to customers (including other people’s customers) about the detective work necessary to create and retain customer loyalty, and sometimes, about figuring out what wasn’t being said while the words still flowed.

Sometimes the most important words from a customer are the ones they fail to say.

Despite the complexity that lesson has taken on at times, the core message is still the important one – a message of listening to learn, one of the most valuable lessons my father taught me.

What level of care do you deliver?

My current context for the most personal level of service was set by Hospice of Cumberland County (Tenn.), but the who and what isn’t really the context I’m trying to get at. The level itself is what I want you to arrive at, regardless of what you do.

Consider the level of care that you’d give to a sick family member. It’s likely to always exceed that given during the course of business, but it’s a standard of care that you can consider when designing different levels of service in your business.

A level of care we’re speaking of is very personal. It isn’t suited for just any business and perhaps not for just any customer, but that isn’t my decision to make about your business. Fact is, it might be perfect for a subset of your customers…or perhaps all of them.

As personal as the end of life care you’d provide for a family member? Isn’t that a bit much? Sure it is.

I suggest that because it brings a level of personal touch to what you deliver that you might not ever have considered. While you still might not deliver something that’s of the same class as end of life care for a family member, it might just provoke a thought that transforms your high end business. That which transforms your high end business quite often transforms the rest of it as well.

What level of care have you failed to offer to your clients? Beyond levels of care, what care itself are you failing to deliver to your clientele?

Doing it right

The other lesson I remember most is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” The unspoken second part of that is “That doesn’t mean that you should do less.”

You might wonder if there is a conflict there, but I don’t believe so. Doing the job the best you can, each time, doesn’t mean perfect. It just means best for you given the skills you possess at that time *and* with a commitment to continuous improvement.

Not starting a project (or a piece of work) because the outcome can’t be perfect is far worse than finishing it with your best, yet imperfect effort. What have you not started because you felt you couldn’t deliver perfect?

Oh and the third part…focus. Doing things right requires focus on those things. Doing 100 things poorly serves no one well, least of all you. What efforts are you making to get and stay focused? To deflect, destroy or defer distractions?

The undercurrent

Over the last seven weeks, I had many opportunities to learn while caring for my dad. Whether from him, my mom or their friends, the lessons were almost always about taking care.

Are you truly taking care of your clientele? Is there a level of care that you’ve neglected, ignored or simply failed to design?

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Checkmate on the Fridge

My favorite story about setting expectations comes from a really smart real estate agent.

When you decide to buy or sell a house with her, she gives you a pre-printed list of all the things that can happen during the process of buying or selling.

A list of 20 or 30 things that could delay the sale or otherwise go wrong might seem like a bad thing to give to a customer, but it works for her.

She explains that the list contains the most common roadblocks encountered during a transaction and assures the customer that she knows how to handle all of them.

If and when they occur, she’ll call and say “Number 16 on your list just happened, and I’ll take care of it.”

Works for me

How does this work for her?

First off – it shows the buyer/seller that she is experienced and is prepared for the little things that come along and try to derail a transaction. By discussing them in advance, she sets expectations, establishes her expertise (again, by warning you about these things in advance and telling you she has your back) and leaves you far more confident about things.

If trouble occurs, the sheet (which also acts as a timeline) shows that she predicted that it could occur and handled it for you vs. the appearance that this could be a surprise.

Once the transaction is done, the list serves as a reminder of all the things that *could* have gone wrong but didn’t. The list also reminds you of the value she delivered by taking care of all those things.

She could have simply provided a generic FAQ list and made the client sign it (likely without reading it) and handle it like other agents handle these things.

Instead, she leverages it into an advantage that – among other things – demonstrates why the client should value her services.

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The hungry dog expects a bone

Pancho's Bones 02.09.09 [40]
Creative Commons License photo credit: timlewisnm

In almost every market, there’s someone who seemingly owns that market’s customers and prospects.

They’re the household name in that marketplace.

A common assumption is that they get so many customers that they may as well get them all.

To be sure, doing things that make you that household name is something I strongly encourage you to do. So what do you do if the market you want to enter already has a household name?

You’ve heard me suggest that you: Do more. Do it better. Do it more often. Do it differently.

The owner never has 100% of the market. If it’s a market you’re truly interested in, you need to figure out if there is enough left to make a business of it.

“Enough to make a business of it” has to last at least long enough to get a foothold so you can start to chip away at the leader and/or create new markets for what you do.

Can’t Get No…

For example, every single market includes customers who are dissatisfied.

They might not be that way because the market leader treated them poorly or failed to meet their expectations – though that’s certainly possible.

Every market has people who aren’t aware of the market “owner”, people who will intentionally choose someone other than the market leader just because that business is the leader, people who want something more/better/faster than what the leader does, people who want something different, people who have had a run in with the leader, and so on.

No matter what the reason is that you have them, the expectations thing is a big deal.

In the absence of someone setting expectations for them, people assume their personal expectations will be met – at whatever level they have them. Failing to set expectations almost guarantees dissatisfaction among some portion of the population you serve because their assumptions will be higher than yours.

Different levels are OK. Disappointment is not.

Because you’ll find different levels of expectations, you have an opportunity to create good, better, best, unbelievable, and rock-star class tiers of products and services. Still, your job is to set those expectations as appropriate so that even the lowest tier of service gets *at the very least* exactly what they expect.

How often do you get *exactly what you expect* from a business?

Think hard about that.

Now the hard question: How often do your customers get exactly what they expect from your business?