Business Success Starts with Great Customer Service

Hôtel des Pirates ***  - DolancourtBusiness success has always been elusive, but, as the economy tightened, businesses stepped up their search for the next trick to give them a competitive advantage.  Maybe social media marketing would work?  Or increasing appeal to a specific demographic?  But, these marketing tactics can be very expensive and the ROI is often speculative.

Other businesses tried to “shrink to greatness” thinking business success came from cutting costs to a minimum.  These efforts are often misguided, since cutting costs often translates to cutting corners that force customers into the arms of a competitor.  Cutting costs may also mean cutting your promotional expenses which amounts to cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Another popular solution to create business success is copying what competitors do under the mistaken notion that, if competitors are making money doing something, you should do it to.  This, in effect, keeps you swimming in the red ocean — never a good thing.

The solution for business success is right under your nose — providing great customer service.

No matter how well you manage your marketing and promotion, poor customer service will TANK your business success.  In fact, the more customers generated by your marketing efforts, the GREATER your loss if your customer service fails.  The days of treating customers as if they don’t matter are gone.  In today’s competitive markets, you have to prove yourself to customers everyday.  That’s because 5 times as many people complain when they get bad service as promote you when they get great service.

Thus, negative word of mouth travels 5 times faster and farther than positive.  Disappointed customers don’t just complain to you — they complain to anyone who will listen.  And, they might keep complaining for years.  Twitter is the perfect vehicle for customers who feel they received poor customer service and complaints are one of the most re-Tweeted types of posts. Twitter is also a darling of traditional media outlets, who love to find a customer complaint and amplify it through their vast broadcast networks.

And, most folks who experience poor customer service will never say anything — they’ll just leave and never come back.  Resting on past laurels also doesn’t help much as customers expect ever-increasing improvements in service quality and additional services.

I mean, think about hotels.  It used to be fine if you had a nice clean room and good TV reception.  Then, people demanded premium TV channels and designer rooms, because EVERYONE had a nice clean room and good TV reception.  Now, hotels compete on branded amenities, such as Westin’s “Heavenly Bed”.

Great Customer Service Doesn’t Just HAPPEN

And, ensuring great customer service is just as much a part of marketing as your TV advertising and social media presence.  In fact, if your customer service (or product quality) isn’t up to snuff, your efforts are better spend in fixing these problems rather than publicizing your offering.

Remember, the rule of 5 I mentioned earlier.  The more visibility your create while failing to provide good products and service, the more likely complaints will surface and these complaints are increasingly likely to go VIRAL.

How do I insure great customer service, you might ask? And here’s the answer.

1. Talk to customers

Don’t just ask customers what they liked and didn’t like about your service.  Track sales to see whether customers stop coming to your store or buying your brand. Monitor what customer say about you on Facebook and Twitter.

When customers say something wasn’t good, fix the problem right away and make it up to them.  The trick to handling service failure is:

  1. communicate – don’t just do things internally, let customers know they’re valuable and what you’re doing to fix things.
  2. make the customer whole — make sure they are at least as well off as if you hadn’t failed them.
  3. do it fast — the longer customers are dissatisfied, the bigger your problem.
  4. establish a process that consistently uncovers problems and charges specific individuals with fixing the problem.
  5. fix underlying problems to reduce future service failure.

2. Do a SERVICE AUDIT

A service audit tracks customer experiences from the beginning of the sales cycle through post-purchase issues such as returns.  Where do problems or delays arise? What can be done to fix these problems? How can you improve the customer experience?  Remember, according to Deming, most problems are SYSTEM problems, not human laziness or stupidity.

3. Keep your promises

No one likes it when you don’t deliver on your promises.  You don’t seem trustworthy and they think everything you say is a lie — witness consumers don’t believe anything they hear on commercials.  It’s much better to deliver MORE than you promise than to not keep your promise EVERY time.  People are thrilled when they get more and angry (possibly lawsuit angry) when they don’t get what they thought you promised.  Remember, all marketing is about perceptions — what THEY think you promised — not on reality — what you really promised.  The distinction may help you in a lawsuit, but not in the court of public opinion.

4. Cater to internal customers

Internal customers are your employees.  These folks are critical, especially if they’re forward facing — interacting directly with customers.  Poor employee morale translates into poor customer service. Moreover, employees see and hear what’s going on in your stores, hotels, restaurants …  They can give you valuable, free feedback on improving your service before things get out of hand. But, they won’t do that if they don’t like you.

5. Employee empowerment

Forward facing employees are in a perfect position to fix problems that occur on the spot.  Say a guest at your hotel finds their room wasn’t cleaned to their satisfaction.  Who do they complain to? The front desk, of course.  So give front desk employees leeway to discount room charges, give out free meals, etc to appease dissatisfied customers.

Creating business success isn’t hard when your focus on great customer service first.  Ideas? Suggestions? Gripes? Please post below.

Image courtesy of Aube Champagne on Flickr.

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Marketing Strategy: Are the 4P’s of Marketing Obsolete?

the new marketing mixSince the dawn of marketing time, the 4 P’s  formed the nexus of the marketing strategy we teach students and if you ever took marketing you’ll recall these elements are: product, price, promotion, and place (OK, distribution, but we needed another P).  Of course, marketing is only about 75 years old (born of Economics and Psychology which is some really strange inter-species relationship) so there’s a certain fluidity in our theories.  And, the 4 P’s, or the marketing mix, have come under attack many times.

The newest competitor is a different kind of 4 P’s — the 4 P’s of a Fully Lively Business, introduced by John Janetsch of Duct Tape Marketing.  While I hate the name, I think there’s a lot to recommend the P’s introduced — Passion, Personality, Positioning and Purpose.  However, I don’t think there’s any real threat to the original 4 P’s — not that I think the original 4P’s are all that great.

The 4 P’s of Marketing and Beyond

The concept of a marketing mix was introduced by Neil Borden in 1953 and the 4 P’s construction introduced by Dr. McCarthy in 1960 — and still form the organizational foundation of marketing.

But, have the 4 P’s become obsolete, as proposed by Mr. Janetsch in the following quote?

In fact, the very definition of marketing has changed dramatically enough to render the original Four P’s somewhat useless as a foundational marketing and business strategy concept.

Well, let’s take a look at the new definition of marketing to see if, in fact, the old 4P’s of marketing are obsolete.

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

There’s a lot of similarity in this definition and the 4 P’s of marketing — creating offerings looks a lot like product; communicating offerings looks a lot like promotion; delivering offerings looks a lot like place; and exchanging offerings looks a lot like price.

So, while the 4 P’s still fit the definition, are they obsolete for other reasons?

Other Constructions of the Marketing Mix

Of course, Mr. Janetsch isn’t the first person to come up with an alternative view of the marketing mix.  There are the 4 C’s (consumer wants and needs, convenience, cost, and communication), designed to put the consumer in a more central position in the marketing constellation, and the 7 P’s (the original 4 P’s plus people, process and physical evidence), as reflected in the picture above. And, these are but a few of the alternate constructions of the marketing mix.

The 4 P’s and Marketing Strategy

The 4 P’s of marketing were never meant to reflect the whole that is marketing.  They form the marketing mix — controllable elements in the organizations marketing quiver.  These are the elements we can manipulate to meet customers’ needs and respond to competitive pressures.  And, while the existing 4 P’s are not the only way of looking at building marketing strategy, they’re as good as any for organizing our marketing tactics.  They’re also very flexible, recognizing that different consumers buy for different reasons and different industries operate in different ways.

Mr. Janetsch claims:

Engagement, connection and story are the new forms of promotional art. Price is a function of value and place has become bytes and ether more often than a shelf or an office.

While this is certainly true for some products and some markets, it’s not true for everyone for every product.  As a consumer, I don’t always want to engage with every brand — it’s too exhausting.  As a business, I don’t want to use storytelling in every context, as it loses it’s efficacy if everyone is doing it.  And, MOST products are still bought from store shelves, not electronically.

Moreover, the original 4 P’s still work in these contexts.  Value underscores pricing in the 4 P’s.  Promotion includes social media, as well as traditional media — and using the 2 synergistically likely has a greater impact than either one separately.  Product revolves around solving consumer problems.  And, distribution includes electronic delivery, web design issues, and other online delivery methods, as well as traditional distribution methods.

So, I don’t think the 4 P’s of marketing are perfect, nor are they the sum total of marketing, but they still work as a way to think about competing in today’s marketing places.  What do you think?

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Integrating Social Media into Your Marketing Strategy

Social media is an increasingly widespread tactic to achieve marketing goals.  But, like a hammer, its only good at some things and to be effective social media needs to be part of a larger marketing strategy that uses other tactics, as well.  Integrating across these marketing tactics is termed Integrated Marketing Communications.  But, marketing strategy goes beyond simple communication strategies, such as social media marketing, advertising, and promotion.  Marketing strategy combines these communication strategies with other marketing tools to reach organizational goals.

Today, we’ll focus on integrating social media marketing with other communication tactics and in later posts, we’ll focus on building overall marketing strategy combining various elements of the marketing mix.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Elements of Communication Strategy

Classically, we talk about:

  • Advertising – which consists of media including social networks, broadcast media, internet marketing, and print media.
  • Promotion – consists of contests, coupons, discounts, promotional items, sponsorships, etc.
  • Public Relations – which is unpaid advertising through media.  Social media marketing might fit into this category, as  well.
  • Personal Selling – which involves using trained sales agents to promote the firms products and services.

Because the preferred goal is to coordinate across these efforts, most communication strategies consist of combinations rather than individual elements.

This gives us our first important aspect of social media marketing

Social media marketing is most effective when combined with other communications strategies, rather than being used in isolation.

For instance, using your print advertising to encourage fanning on Facebook would be an example of combining across social media and other advertising.  However, this is not a particularly valuable way to combine social media with other elements to create an effective marketing strategy.

Integrating Social Media

The overriding principle of integrating social media into your marketing strategy is to use the right tool for the right task — like a hammer works a lot better to nail something than to turn a screw.  So, what does social media do well:

  • Build community and relationships
  • Build credibility and trust
  • Harness the power of word of mouth
  • Create awareness
  • Share information

By the same token, social media is not so good at:

  • Advertising
  • Public Relations
  • Sales, although, that might be changing

That’s why social media should be combined with other communication strategies to optimize its effectiveness. Here are some ways to integrate social media effectively with other marketing strategies.

  • Contests are particularly effective in social media because they encourage sharing among members of a social network.  Supporting these contests through traditional advertising and PR are also proven marketing strategies.  For instance, Dunkin Donuts is giving away a trip to Costa Rica or free coffee for a year to winners of their contest.  Key elements of this contest are that entries must be in the form of a video uploaded to their Facebook page and that Fans of Dunkin Donuts vote for the winner.  This encourages sharing and creates valuable content that drives more traffic to the site and can be used in future advertising efforts.
  • Product advertising can be uploaded to YouTube, where it might be picked up by individuals and shared on their social networks.  For instance, the “Axe Ball Spray” commercials have been viewed millions of times from YouTube.  These commercials have received thousands of comments and been uploaded millions of times to Facebook profiles.
  • Events marketing can be supported through Twitter hashtags. These tags allow attendees to share information about the event (before, during, and after) with their social networks.  DC Digital Capital Week used the hashtag #dcweek as a tool linking across its week long events at various venues.
  • Similarly, events can use LivingSocial or Groupon to gain attendance.  The additional advantage is that attendees are encouraged to share their attendance on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.  If they get their friends to also attend the event, they can get their payments refunded.  A great incentive to share with their social networks.  Combining these social media with your advertising doubles your impact, but the integration is most effective if each advertising effort includes reference to the other.
  • Blogging can be a great way to support your sales and marketing efforts.  For instance, I recently worked with a client who used their blog as a means to connect with prospects.  By sharing information of interest to these prospects and highlighting the efforts of these prospects, the client was able to establish “top of mind” recognition that encouraged prospects to request a sales presentation when they needed services provided by my client.

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How to Use Social Media to Replace your Publisher

Ever tried to publish a book or sell music without a publisher or recording studio?  Its not easy to be successful without their marketing efforts.  But, publishers and recording studios hurt both creators and consumers because they don’t take risks.  Hence some phenomenal artists fail and the public gets too few options and more of same old thing.

Enter social media.  Now artists can effectively sell their works to a public hungry for new and interesting options.  Social media acts to match consumers with new talent.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Using Social Media to Monetize Your Talents

Traditional promotion

You can use social media in much the same way as a publisher/ recording studio uses traditional promotion.  Warren Whitlock has been extremely successful promoting his books this way and offers lots of recommendations for those who want to do the same (for a fee – see here for more information).

Strategies include including excerpts from the book in social media, using influencers to promote your book, developing a community of enthusiastic readers, and using multiple social networks to promote your book.  Many of these strategies are common to any type of social media marketing.  However, yesterday I heard an author discuss some strategies specific to book marketing and thought I’d share them with you.

I also have a “friend”, Martha Maria who records as Marmelodian, and uses social media to promote both her songwriting and recording.  Check her out here.

Social media works for these artists because it is cheap, can go viral, is easily communicated, and is conducive for building community.

But, publishers do more than simply market books, they are instrumental in editing them, then distributing them to the public.

How to Publish Your Book through Social Media

Cory Doctorow is a best selling science fiction author whose new book, “With a Little Help” was put together by his online community and is distributed either online for free or as a printed book for a fee.  All this without a publisher.  He publishes on demand, so the book is evolving based on feedback from his community.

Here’s how he’s making money without a publisher:

  1. He monetizes typos – if you find a typo in the book, he’ll fix it and include a footnote thanking you for finding the typo.  You may buy a copy of the book so you can show your friends your footnote.  This also performs the editing function normally performed by editors.
  2. He accepts donations.  Sometimes things people aren’t willing to pay for, they’ll donate to. He can only do this without a publisher.
  3. He sells printed books for readers who prefer this to an ebook, which is free.  Readers can pick from optional covers so their book is customized for them.
  4. He also sells limited edition hard cover books for $275 each.  Not only are these hand-sewn, they include an audio version and end-papers containing letters from friends, a friends funny report card from second grade, and a watercolor painted by another friend, as well as other unique paper items.

He estimates this strategy will net him between $70,000 and $80,000.  Not too bad.



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5 Reasons you NEED a Listening Post to Enhance Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

Do you know what people are saying about you online?

Do you have a system in place to capitalize on your online social presence in real time?

Does your social media marketing strategy include a way to handle massive amounts of unstructured (text) data?

If your answer to these questions is NO, you are missing huge opportunities to increase the performance of your marketing strategy.

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social networks create massive amounts of textual data every day through Facebook posts, LinkedIn updates, and Twitter posts.  More text is entered on blogs every day and in emails sent around the globe.  Even if you wanted to listen to all this conversation, it would be impossible without a huge staff to read every post, comment, tweet, email …. Then you have to do the same thing with conversations related to your competitors, industry, suppliers ….

Although difficult, listening may be more important than anything else you do to promote your business, especially in terms of social networking. Consider the following quote from Bill French:

Listening to what customers, competitors and experts are saying can be a much more productive social networking tactic than promoting your [business] through blogs, tweets and the like.

Therefore, even if you don’t choose to establish a social network presence, a good listening post is a must. A listening post is a tool for crawling the internet in search of mentions of keywords, such as your company name, your competitors names, your brand names, etc.

Companies make a big mistake when they fail to establish effective listening posts; a mistake that can cost them dearly. Here are 5 Reasons you need a listening post:

1. Monitor online brand image

Online reputation management is critical in today’s networked economy.  According to Nielsen, the world spends 110 Billion minutes of blogs and social networking sites or 22% of all time spent online.  They also find that three of the top global brands are social networking sites and the average users spends 6 hours on social network sites (more than doubling in just a year).

What these people say during that time online may be damaging your brand.  Even if you’re not crazy about talking to customers online, you’d better hear what they’re saying.

2. Complaint handling

When customers complain, they don’t care if they do so in a place designated for complaints — they want it handled.  That means they might be doing it on your Facebook fan page or in their tweets. Having a listening post which detects these negative comments gives you a heads up on fixing the problem.

For instance, at the SPSS workshop they recounted a story about an airline passenger who slept through the meal service.  When he woke up, he tweeted his unhappiness over the missed meal.  An adroit employee monitoring social networks “heard” the post, sent word to the airplane staff who used the manifest to determine where the passenger was sitting and brought him a meal.  Imagine his delight and, of course, he shared that on his social network, too.

3. Discover what customers want

Market research is EXPENSIVE and often, despite their best efforts, its difficult for market researchers to determine what customers want.  More than poor planning, this is a function of the inability of consumers to articulate what they want.  Its also difficult for them to conceive of something that doesn’t yet exist so how can they ask for it.

By listening to customer conversations, especially lead or influential customers, companies can detect problems they encounter with existing products or problems not currently solved by existing products.  These represent prime opportunities for companies to develop innovative products with a high chance of success.

4. Track trends

Again, marketing research costs time and money.  Listening to customers to see how they construct their lives, how they live them, and the things that give meaning to their lives offers critical information for making decisions regarding your brand — product or market extensions, eliminating products, etc.  Importantly, this information comes in continuously, making it easier to track trends. This information is also rich, providing insights in constructing marketing communications that hit their sweat spots (or hot buttons).

5. Determine what other firms are doing

Listening to the conversations your competitors are having among themselves and customers can offer insights into what they’re planning – giving you a heads up and time to develop your own alternatives.

Knowing how customers view your suppliers and downstream channel partners is also important since S**t flows both ways.  If they are unhappy with your distributor or your supplier has developed a reputation as a bad corporate citizen, you need to know this well ahead of time so you can develop new channel partners before the discontent spreads to your brand.

Next steps

Having a lot of textual information can be almost as bad as having none.  Next week I’ll discuss tools for analyzing this data — bringing it down to a manageable size and apportioning information to decision makers.

Meanwhile, don’t forget tomorrow is “Ask a Marketing Expert“. Remember, its FUN … its FREE … its FRIDAY !

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