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Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Getting new customers Guarantees Retail Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Who accepts the risk of buying from you?

free
Creative Commons License photo credit: Amanda Nicole Betley

If you don’t accept the risk and responsibility of a purchase, the customer automatically does.

How does that hurt your ability to get a product or service into the hands of someone who very much wants or needs it?

Consider these thought processes that might be going on in the mind of your prospective customer:

If I buy this and it doesn’t work out….I’m going to have to take the hit for this purchase decision from the big boss. I can’t take that risk because I’m due for a review next month and I really want a raise/a promotion/to keep my job.

If I buy this and it doesn’t work out…my spouse is going to blame me.

Are they going to take care of me when the bloom is off the rose (ie: after they have my money)?

Are you going to take the risk of explaining this purchase to my spouse if it goes south? Or am I still on the hook?

Or will you simply guarantee what you sell in a manner that eliminates risk as a concern in the buyer’s mind?

Sales are lost every day because the apparent risk is too high when compared with the trustworthiness of the salesperson, their company, the manufacturer backing the product, or the service provider.

While we signal that with little things that say and do, our guarantee and our history in backing it up goes a long way.

Who accepts the risk of buying from you?

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attitude Business culture Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Getting new customers Leadership Sales service Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Stop worrying about your commissions

Recently I was doing a little business with a large Microsoft distributor – a sale that required a license agreement.

Initially, the deal couldn’t be finalized because I use a PO Box for my business address. Trouble is, they “don’t allow” license agreements with a business that uses a PO Box.

Irony: That I can easily send money directly from my bank to the Caymans (or pretty much anywhere) from my iPhone, but heaven forbid that I receive paper business mail to a PO Box housed in a United States government building. But I digress.

When I provided a street address (one that cannot receive USPS mail – which the distributor/manufacturer will likely attempt to use for mail if history repeats), the salesperson’s autoresponder email came back to say he would be out for the next four days. It’s always nice to know when my rep is not going to be around and I appreciate the effort to inform, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the fulfillment of my order. We’ll get back to that.

Follow up

My reply included the requested info and a comment about PO Box use by rural businesses. The response? An automated order fulfillment email from the manufacturer. I received nothing from the distributor who fulfilled the sale or the salesperson. Salespeople – This is a missed opportunity to follow up and learn more about your new customer. It is not me encouraging you to deliver a prefab sales pitch.

The PO Box thing annoys both because my business uses one and because it’s patently stupid to decline to accept them. A fair number of businesses that I’ve interacted with over the years have claimed they can’t accept a PO Box as my company’s official business address.

Their party line is “companies who use a PO Box are more likely to commit fraud and PO Boxes are not secure“.

When I give them my “suite number” at the local UPS Store as my physical business address, I can see how that completely eliminates the possibility of fraud. As for “not secure”, given that a PO Box is in a Federal building under multiple locks and keys, it’s probably less secure than a street-side box that you can drive up to and whack with a ball bat.

Sarcasm aside, this isn’t about PO Boxes. They’re simply a good example of an excuse.

Excuse vs. Reason – What’s the difference?

The words uttered by a salesperson that most frustrate a customer tend to be excuses rather than reasons.

“Your salesperson is out of town till Tuesday” may be true, but it’s an excuse because that absence has nothing to do with order fulfillment/delivery. Fulfillment is a process owned by the business (not the salesperson) and is completed for the customer’s benefit, not the salesperson’s.

Can the salesperson pay attention/follow up to make sure nothing goes wrong? If they’re smart, yes. Should the process be dependent on the salesperson not being out of town? No way.

Some might say that “It’s his order, his relationship, he has to personally handle anything related to the sale in order to earn his commission.”

They’re wrong because they’re worried about the wrong thing. While you may not get the commission from Mary’s sale by helping her client when they call or email, the commission from her sale helps your employer as much as your sales do. Not helping that customer doesn’t hurt Mary, it hurts your employer.

Stop worrying about ownership and commission. Notice that I didn’t say stop worrying about commissions (plural) – I mean stop worrying about each individual one as if they are some combination of birthright and sovereignty.

Worry about the right thing

So what should you worry about? Helping your customers eliminate their worries. Make their lives easier.

Do so and you’ll have more and better customers who stick around. You’ll get more referrals. You might end up training/managing a group and get a commission from their sales. Then you get to focus on training them to take better care of the customer.

Never forget that the reason to make the sale is to get/keep a customer. Not the reverse.

Get customers and ignore them? No. Get, cultivate, care for and keep them.

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attitude Business culture Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Leadership Management Public Relations Restaurants Retail Setting Expectations Small Business Social Media Word of mouth marketing

Did you train them to defend your business or your reputation?

Them, meaning “your staff”.

Are they using your policies and training as a shield to protect your business, or are they using them as tools and leverage to protect your customers and your brand?

There’s a big difference between the two. An example is this story involving a repeatedly broken-down U-Haul truck, whose details quickly spread across Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

You can see things ratchet up here (the tweets are listed in reverse chronological order, 21m means “21 minutes ago”, 3h means “3 hours ago”):

If some of those names don’t mean much, consider that:

  • @Mashable reaches almost 3 million people via Twitter and millions more in the business and tech world via retweets and Mashable.com.
  • @petershankman reaches 140k people on Twitter and has an email list full of journalists, authors, bloggers and PR people waiting for his HARO emails several times a day (HARO - Help-a-Reporter-Out)
The timeframe between 28 Jun (11pm) and the tweets marked 3h is about 36 hours. There are no responses from UHaul during that timeframe. Yet minutes after I mentioned the situation to @PenskeCares, they responded with this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/PenskeCares/statuses/219109851844984834″]

After social media pressure started to heat up, U-Haul finally spoke up on day three with this (which you see Dave’s response to at “21m”, above):

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/UHaul_Cares/status/219102539017224193″]

Defending the brand

I’m sure that Dave and his dad will be cared for. What about the several hundred thousand people (according to HashTracking.com) who have seen this? Will it be what pops into their head the next time moving related topics are on their mind? That certainly isn’t what U-Haul wants. Will Dave, his friends and family ever use U-Haul again?

Is this what would happen if your business had a problem with someone who knows how to enlist help like this?

Things break. People make mistakes. Customers generally understand. They’re cranky when it happens because it’s unexpected change, discomfort and challenge, but their reaction depends on how you respond.

Your staff’s character and training determine how they implement your policies – and whether the situation becomes the next feel good story (or customer service nightmare) that your customers talk about on Facebook, Twitter and to their friends and family.

Character, Training and Policy

Reputation damage prevention comes down to character, training and policy implementation because you can’t always be there. There’s little doubt in my mind that U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen would have taken care of this properly – just like you would.

But Joe isn’t the one answering the phone.

He has managers and call centers handling that. Initially, it appears they did little to assure Dave that they had his back even though (or because) this drama took place in the region near U-Haul’s Phoenix corporate headquarters.

Efforts to defend their business damaged their reputation – by design, but not by intent. By design means we train our employees to defend our business, but we seldom empower them to defend its brand.

Why? We want to be the one making the decision when money is spent or time is committed to resolve a problem. We believe that no one would make the same decision we would because the staff isn’t spending their money. The problem is that we aren’t always around when these decisions are needed, so we make policy. Policies produce consistent handling of daily operations, a good thing.

We often provide our staff with policy that encourages non-responsibility (“It’s our policy” and “There’s nothing else I can do”) combined with job insecurity (“violating policy is a termination offense”). This prevents your staff from doing the right thing when the unusual occurs.

For edge cases requiring conscientious thought, our policies are often silent. They rarely say “If use of this policy could damage our reputation, do what you think is best for the customer if the short-term cost to the company is less than (whatever), otherwise ask for approval of your resolution.”

And that’s where U-Haul is right now, both at the corporate customer support level and sadly, at a few franchises in the U.S. Southwest. Franchisees have just as much ability to damage the brand as HQ does.

It’s OK to train your staff to defend the business, but be sure they’re empowered and trained to defend your reputation as well.

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Buy Local Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Improvement marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Small Business Word of mouth marketing

What if you could email a hug?

Email is sometimes looked upon as an impersonal evil, but it seems impersonal because of the way most people use it.

I hope this discussion gives you an idea to improve your business’ email.

Not long ago, I sent a live plant to a memorial service over 2000 miles away.

I spoke with a very friendly and helpful lady on the phone when I placed my order. She made suggestions about what fit my needs based on what I told her and what they had in stock. Before it was all done, I’d ordered just what I wanted and I knew that the person on the other end would take care of sending just the right plant.

How’d that happen?

I never use a toll-free national floral delivery number. Instead, I look for the closest florists to the destination address and then check out their reviews until I find one that stands out. Once I’ve chosen a florist, I call them directly. As a result, I get the same local service I’d get if I walked in the front door and the local florist doesn’t have to pay a commission.

Last time I used this technique, I reached a florist at 12:30pm on a Saturday. On Saturday, they close at 2pm. Despite a 30 minute drive to the destination, they still made a great arrangement and got it delivered that day. Without complaint, without an extra charge, and the entire process was handled with classic Southern charm and courtesy.

Before

Email can seem impersonal perhaps because we get a little lazy, or maybe just because we don’t think about it with the same care that we do other things. Even if we do it right…is it possible to make it a bit more personal?

Absolutely.

Here’s a redacted copy of the delivery notification email I received:

I have no complaints about it. In fact, I rarely receive notification emails from local florists, so this is a nice plus to add to the service I received while on the phone.

But…it could have been better. So how to we make it more personal?

After

How about this?

Dear Mark,

After looking closely at the blooming plants we have in stock, I’ve selected
a fresh (plant common name) and arranged it in a nice basket that complements it.

I took a photo of your (plant common name) and the card before packing them for delivery:

Here’s the card:

Chuck, our afternoon driver, just sent me a message to say he has personally delivered your plant. He also delivered a small envelope of our custom-blended plant food with a card explaining the care and feeding of the (plant common name).

If you’d like to discuss your order or the plant I selected, please call toll-free at 800.yyy.xxxx and ask for me (Dorothy). If you prefer email, just click reply. Both our customer service department and I will receive your email. I will answer your email unless your question or comment is related to your payment.

I hope you’re pleased with the plant I selected and that you’ll keep us in mind the next time you’d like to brighten someone’s day here in (city). If you like, you’re welcome to request that I select your next floral arrangement or plant.

Thank you for supporting my family,

Dorothy Lastname
Certified Floral Artist since 1982
(florist business)
(store phone)
(store URL)

PS: Your order number is 0387xxxx and was delivered at 1:56 p.m.

Please fill out our quick online survey by following
this link and be entered to win a $50 gift card.
(survey url)

 

What would you change?

Does it make sense for your business to email a hug?

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attitude Business culture Business Ethics Buy Local Creativity Customer service Getting new customers Leadership Marketing Public Relations service Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Your customer’s lowest low. Washed away.

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

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

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

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

Outstanding.

News story from the Oregonian

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

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

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Automation Business Resources Direct Marketing ECommerce Etsy Facebook Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Sales Small Business systems Word of mouth marketing

Etsy’s Social Commerce: Smart at Christmas

Etsy’s new Facebook app, the Gift Recommender, is a smart move and a great example of ways to use your data to attract more business.

I’ve no doubt that some will see Etsy’s “social commerce” via Facebook as “creepy” or invasive, but I suggest you give it a try to get an idea how this new app might impact your business or generate some ideas.

If Facebook isn’t your thing, but any form of retail is, create a test Facebook account with a throwaway email address so you too can see what the fuss is about.

Etsy is widely known for their belief in automated software testing. You can read about their latest project in their developers’ blog at  http://codeascraft.etsy.com/2011/11/09/engineering-social-commerce/

Hat tip to Scobleizer for pointing it out.

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Blogging Business model Community Competition Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships customer retention Facebook Feedback Getting new customers Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

The ROI of Social Media is…

Two minutes and change that hit some of “the what and the why” discussed during my Social Media – A Roadmap for Small Businesses talk this week.

The ROI of social media is that your business is still here in five years.

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attitude Business culture Employees Leadership Management Public Relations Restaurants Retail Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Watch your mouth

A good discussion re: vocabulary in a business setting: http://lifehacker.com/5859392/swearing-to-make-your-point-a-tale-of-fk-and-sht

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Buy Local Creativity Direct Marketing Homemade products Internet marketing Marketing Small Business Social Media Trade Shows Word of mouth marketing

URL the Cat

Oh Happy me !!
Creative Commons License photo credit: rainy city

Last weekend I spent some time visiting my youngest son at college in Western Oregon.

While there, we visited the Portland Saturday Market, which is full of homemade goods from art to clothing to food.

While many of the booths offered business cards that had a website on them, a very small percentage of the booths displayed a website address.

I didn’t see a single QR code.

Extending your reach

After talking to several of the booth owners, I got the impression that many were showing up every Saturday or Sunday at the market and “letting business happen to them”. That’s why I mentioned the booths not displaying a website address or a QR code.

It’s right to be focused on making sales that day, but you want to make it as easy as possible to remember your site, share it and come back for more – even if you can’t make it to Saturday Market.

Lots of tourists visit the market, so it’s important to engage them once they’ve gone home rather than limiting your market reach to “people in downtown Portland on any random Saturday”.

None of the businesses we bought items from asked for contact information so that they could keep us informed about new products and the like.  No question, it would have to be asked in the right way given people’s dislike of spam but that CAN be done.

A motel in Eastern Oregon once asked me, “Can I get your email address so that we can contact you if you leave an item in your room?” Who *hasn’t* left something in a hotel room? It strikes dead center on the “well, of course, I don’t want to lose my stuff” nerve. Simple and smart.

Purrrrr

There was a bright spot at the market in addition to some really great art and hand-made products: the booth for “The Spoiled Cat”, where a woman and her daughter were selling catnip pillows,

The sides and back wall of her booth were plastered with laminated 8″ x 10″ photos that her customers had sent in. Each photo was of a cat mauling, loving, hugging and/or generally having a ball jonesing on their catnip pillows.

Some of the photos were hilarious. That booth stood out to anyone in her target market – cat owners and friends/family of cat owners.

Exactly what it should have done.

Is that what your booth does?

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

Your story says why you care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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