The Customer’s Point of View

customer point of viewPiss poor customer service will kill your business almost as quickly as piss poor marketing will!!!

A while back, Jackie Huba wrote about the bad customer service she experienced in attempting to purchase a gift certificate to a dayspa. In Handling fee, or manhandled? Jackie gives a spa owner an up close and personal look at what it looks like from the customer’s point of view.

At the time, I was in possession of an unused spa gift certificate.  After reading Jackie’s spa horror story, I worried that there might be an “un-noted” expiration date on my gift certificate as well, so I called that afternoon to schedule my appointment.

I definitely got the impression that the staff at the spa wasn’t happy to be making good on a sale they pocketed months ago.

At that point, I realized that if I weren’t in possession of a gift certificate, I probably would have hung up the phone and tried to find another spa.  However, the buying decision had already been made so I went ahead and scheduled an afternoon appointment.

The morning of my appointment, I got a DM from a friend telling me that I had serious problems on my blog.

Let’s see – I can spend my afternoon getting a massage and pedicure, or I can fix the problem with my blog. Hmmm….. this is a no brainer.  I pick up the phone and prepare myself for the ordeal of  speaking to Ms. Snooty Spa Receptionist again.

Ms. Snooty Spa Receptionist tells me there will be a 50% charge for rescheduling my appointment with less than 24 hours notice. I bit my tongue and said “I’ll be there”…. and hoped that fixing my blog wouldn’t be a big deal.  Fortunately it wasn’t but I show up for my spa treatment looking like I’d just rolled out of bed.

It’s been a while since I redeemed that gift certificate. The manicure and pedicure are long gone and my neck and shoulders are as tight as a drum once again – but I won’t be calling for another appointment at this particular spa.  If you ask the owners of the spa why, I’m certain they would blame the “bad economy.”

WRONG!

I have to assume that I’m not the only person who received exceptionally poor customer service at this day spa – which should be the ONE type of business where exceptionally good customer service should be the goal.

However, as bad as their customer service is – it’s not the piss poor customer service that is killing this business – it’s piss poor follow through and marketing.

Piss poor marketing will kill your business faster than piss poor customer service will.

The only reason I remembered this particular experience is that I found this post in my drafts folder this morning.  I began writing the post right after the experience but never posted it.

Make this your marketing mantra: Out of sight – out of mind.

I haven’t heard anything from this spa since my initial visit and that qualifies as “piss poor marketing”.

I didn’t get a follow up “We hope you were delighted with your spa experience” email, note or phone call.  A phone call would have given me the opportunity to “vent” and would have given the spa owners the chance to redeem the relationship.

However, it didn’t happen.

Time has passed and yet I have never received a “we’re still here” note – aka direct mail piece reminding me of my visit and encouraging me to schedule another.

I have never been offered the opportunity to “send five friends and get a free massage.”

My daughter – who purchased the initial gift certificate for her mother’s birthday in March- didn’t get a reminder that a gift certificate to the spa would make a wonderful Mother’s Day present.

This spa is relying on “word of mouth” marketing to promote their business.  My daughter heard about the spa from someone with whom she works.  Word of mouth marketing worked once – but the buzz of the new discovery is over and my daughter ended up spending just as much on other presents for Mother’s Day – but she didn’t spend that money with the spa.

This spa is ignoring their most valuable marketing asset – their current customer files.  Unfortunately, they are not alone.

It costs a lot more to acquire a new customer than it does to sell an existing customer.

This is not my ‘opinion” – it is a fact.

A lot of small business owners are terrified of “marketing” but sometimes, “marketing” can merely nothing more than acts of customer appreciation.

Stop!  Watch closely – can you see the line between “marketing” and “customer service” blurring?

Reach out and touch your existing customers this week.  Create a special “thank you offer” just for existing customers and then let them know about it.  Even if it’s just a simple “thank you” card, you’ll be surprised what it can do for your bottom line.

How Familiarity Breeds Business a.k.a. the power of word of mouth

When you talk about marketing your small business, what you’re really talking about is communicating what it is your small business does for prospective customers or clients.

However, marketing is MORE than just communication – it’s communication that inspires action.

Marketing = Communication that moves people to action

In my book, Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results, I spend a LOT of time covering how important it is for you to get to know your customers.    Getting to know your target audience is a vitally important part of creating a compelling and selling marketing message.  After all, if you don’t know to whom you are speaking – how can you communicate in a way that moves people to action?

One way some business owners try to “get around” this whole ugly “target market identification” is to rely upon the most coveted of marketing tactics to promote their business – word of mouth marketing.

While having your customers spreading the word about what your business does is every business owners idea of nirvana – word of mouth marketing doesn’t just “happen”.  In fact, a lot of thought goes into laying the proper foundation for a successful word of mouth marketing campaign.

Laying the foundation for your Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign

When you start thinking of marketing less like “selling” and more like other forms of communication, a lot of factors start to fall easily into place.

Note: If you want to make a real MESS of social media – treat social networking tools like a sales call instead of a cocktail party!

Marketing communication is really not so very different than striking up a conversation at a cocktail party.  Part of cocktail party etiquette includes making a proper introduction of yourself.  However, in the case of marketing communications it’s not considered bad form to include an introduction of your services as well.

This introduction is called many things.  Some circles call it an elevator speech while authors would call it creating a great “back story”.  Whatever name you use, creating this introductory piece is an essential part of laying a foundation for your word of mouth campaign.

Brian Clark wrote a truly profound article on How Word of Mouth Marketing Really Works where he points out that the KEY to creating successful word of mouth marketing is to create a story that your customers want to tell.

An essential part of creating a story your customers want to tell is to give them a proper introduction to your business.

Let’s go back to the cocktail party.  You’re laughing, drinking and having a wonderful time when “that guy” corners you.  There’s no introduction – no pleasantries  – he thrusts his business card upon you and launches into his hard closing sales spiel.

EWWWW!!!!!

You want to run.  This guy doesn’t know you and you certainly don’t want to get to know him any better.  The same principle holds true when you’re striking up a conversation with prospective customers.  A natural part of the process is introducing yourself to your customers.

When you’re blogging, you do that on your “about” page.  The “about” page on any business website or blog is a very popular destination for prospective customers.

So while it’s important to become familiar with your customers -knowing who they are and what problems they need to solve, you must also be sure that they become just as familiar with you.

Jason Alba, the founder of Jibber Jobber, understands how important building familiarity is to building his business.  Meridith Levinson wrote about Jason in the article, How a Job Search Led Jason Alba to Start JibberJobber, and shares the story of how Jason went from aspiring CIO to unemployed “geek” to successful entrepreneur.  When the story is published, Jason notices that sign ups for Jibber Jobber have increased.

Word of mouth marketing is simply when people tell the story of your product or service for you. PR is what happens when the person telling the story is a journalist.

Jason has been building “familiarity” with his target audience ever since he launched his business.  One important tool he’s been using to tell this story is his blog.  The story of how Jibber Jobber came to be is told often in his posts such as, Happy January 13th! Guess what’s special about today?

Jason has carefully crafted a story that is easy for others to pick up and tell – whether they’re journalists, job seekers or career coaches. Notice how the story not only tells the problems Jibber Jobber helps to “solve” but how it also offers assurance to his target audience (job seekers)  that Jason “gets it”.  He knows what works – and what doesn’t in a job search and he has created a tool to make job searching better!

By creating such an appealing “back story”, he has laid the necessary foundation to create a powerful word of mouth marketing campaign.

Part of crafting your story is knowing who your target customers are.  Once you get familiar with your target audience, be sure that they become just as familiar with you.  Crafting your business introduction is perhaps one of the most important marketing tasks you’ll undertake.

If you don’t think your business has a “story”, try answering these questions:

  • How did your business get started?
  • If yours is a family business, why did your ancestors get into this line of work?
  • What problems were you trying to solve when you bought or launched your business?

To work as hard as you do, there must be a compelling reason for doing what you’ve chosen do for a living. The story of how your business came into existence can create a great foundation for a word of mouth marketing campaign.

What’s the story behind the launch of your business and/or blog?

Do Small Business Social Media Blunders = Small Business Marketing Blunders?

When you’re a small business owner, do social media blunders automatically translate into business marketing blunders.?

No matter what size business you run, business marketing blunders are what happens when we, as business owners, take our eyes of the road – and sometimes take our hands off the wheel.  (Ah – there it is again.  Another example of how marketing a business is like planning a trip. )  However, when you add social media into the marketing mix, the chances for missteps increases exponentially!

In the past, some of the most spectacular marketing blunders have happened when otherwise smart business owners agree to allow someone else  to take control of the marketing strategy. As a result, the business owner takes his or her hands off the wheel and leaves the driving up to a professional (or group of professionals).   Sometimes, that trust is horribly misplaced.  A case in point is the notable Motrin Viral Marketing Mess of 2008.  However, unfortunately this mess does not stand alone. There are a surprising collection of marketing blunders for 2008 – almost all are centered around companies with six figure monthly ad budgets being managed by marketing professionals who should have known better.

Collateral Damage has compiled a list of the top 10 marketing blunders of 2008 with the number 1 marketing blunder being declared a tie between John McCain and GM. (Personally, I don’t think John McCain’s marketing blunders can in any way compare with the scope and magnitude of GM’s mea culpa ad.  GM’s dedication to disappointing customers without remorse – until the handouts begin gives it TOP marketing blunder billing in my book!)  Meanwhile the Otherside Group has their own nominations in 8 Noteable Marketing Blunders.  Their top pick – the Microsoft’s ads which attempted to be “fun”and “cool” “just like Apple”.  Unfortunately, when Microsoft tried on that persona, the result was anything other than “fun and cool”.

It’s easy to sit back and feel smug as you watch the big guys go out and stub their toes as they attempt to build “a brand” for thei business – but what about the small business social media blunders that are going on every day?  Do those count as small marketing blunders?

Marketing Pilgrim touches upon this topic in a comic reminder to avoid social media blunders.  The post features an illustration which shows three unemployed people who confess that they are “unemployable” because of things they put on their social media profiles.  However, it’s not just the “wage slaves” who are making epic missteps in the world of social media.  From Facebook to Myspace to YouTube – small business owners are making social media blunders daily.

When you’re a small business, I don’t think it’s possible to separate the sharing and communication that goes on in social media from the marketing of your small business.  The two are just opposite sides of the same coin in my book. However,  Beth Harte in her post Is social media the same as marketing? respectfully disagrees.

I agree that social media plays a different role in the business where “marketing” is a department and the advertising budget is a six figure proposition than it does in a small business.  In the small business though, marketing is not a department and often it’s not even a job title.  More often than not, marketing in the small business is that thing that you do when you’re not busy doing what it is you do to make the mortgage payment every month.  (Try saying THAT ten times fast!)

However, there’s another important difference between the social media blunders of the “big boys” and the social media blunders small business owners make.

In the case of a small business – a social media blunder doesn’t have any possibility of an upside.

See, when a small business owner makes a social media or marketing blunder, it rarely generates the ensuing media coverage which accompanies larger scale social media and marketing blunders.  When Microsoft or GM makes a  blunder – everyone from Seth Godin to the most obscure blogger jumps on the bandwagon to report the tragic, misguided effort.   The ensuing public dissection creates a lot of activity and attention which brings to mind the axiom that there’s no such thing as bad press!

All those mentions – all those links – all that discussion usually end up doing little to do long term damage to the reputation of a well established business.  (The effect on a start-up is significantly different by the way – case in point – Cuil.  Turns out when you’re a startup there IS such a thing as bad pubilicity.)   When you’ve got a long track history in the public eye – a “negative” mention here or there only heightens your visibility and therefore reputation over the long run.

Meanwhile,  when we small business owners make a social media or small business marketing blunders – there is no upside.  More often than not, a botched attempt at shameless self promotion in a graceless age won’t end in a thrashing at TechCrunch and the accompanying increased links, buzz and notoriety.  On the contrary, when a small business owner makes a social media or business marketing blunder, there is no press coverage and therefore no positive effect.  Instead, potential customers and clients just quietly unsubscribe from our RSS feeds, stop following us on Twitter or simply ignore our message in the future and move on with their lives.  While they may forget about us, their search for another provider of the products and services we so lovingly provide will continue.

What do you think?  Is it possible for social media communications to be distinct from small business marketing communications?

Also, does the size  of the business matter when making that distinction?

Shameless Self Promotion in a Graceless Age

There was a time, not so very long ago, when female cultural icons were the likes of Grace Kelly and Jackie O.  These two women were not only stunningly beautiful, but both were the epitome of class and grace.

The AMC series Mad Men is a critically acclaimed television series for good reason.  The superbly written and acted scripts provide a behind the scenes glimpse into the lives of people working at a second tier ad agency in the early 1960’s.  This was a time when Marilyn Monroe was controversial,  Grace Kelly was the “it” girl and Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy’s monogram didn’t include an “O”.  In one episode, a client of the fictional advertising agency refuses to allow their spot to run during a controversial television program episode.  In the “too hot to handle” program the word abortion was mentioned.

That was then – and this is now.  Heather Rand sums it up beautifully in her post Marketing in a Graceless Age:

This idea of grace, of making informed decisions and acting with poise and self-awareness, a countenance of dignity and beyond reproach has me thinking of Grace Kelly and Jackie O.  These ladies seemed the epitome of class, and represent a bygone era where acting with circumspect and moderation were important self-governance attributes.

In her post – she’s railing against Pepsi’s New Suicide-Themed Ads and makes the observation that marketing in the new millennium seems to be “continuously pushing the boundaries of propriety”.  (Thanks Liz Strauss for introducing me to Heather’s blog!)

This is an age where our cultural icons are Brittney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan.   To get noticed, to create a marketing message that “goes viral“, you’d better be pushing the boundaries of propriety.   It seems that morality is joining traditional media in the death march to extinction.   Unfortunately in the age of reality television, that feat is becoming more and more difficult to achieve without making the commitment to acting like a Filthy Marketing Whore.

Well – there is another way and that’s to file a frivolous law suit – which is exactly what Liskula Cohen, a Canadian model, has done.  If you’ve never heard of Liskula Cohen – well, you’re not alone but that’s about to change because she has obviously embarked upon a campaign to raise her visibility.  Her act of shameless self promotion is a graceless age is to sue Google because one of it’s many blogger blogs is the now infamous Skanks in NYC.

This act of shameless self promotion has been remarkably effective.  According to Caroline McCarthy over at Cnet news:

Meanwhile, the search terms “Liskula Cohen” and “Skanks in NYC” skyrocketed to the top of (ironically) Google Trends, earning “on fire” ratings. Hey, considering that I’d never heard of Liskula Cohen before, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one, this might’ve been the best thing that ever happened to her.

Gyutae Park assures me that being Snarky will come back to bite those seeking shameless self promotion in a graceless age.   Tom assures me that authenticity is still the necessary ingredient in the search for success. Stacey assures me that this too shall pass.

I certainly hope they’re right.

Twitterpated by Twitter

“Twitter is stupid.”  Before you lash out at me for that line – you should know that I didn’t say that.   Laura Fitton of Pistachio said it in her Twitter for Business keynote at Webcom Montreal, November 2008.  Laura is an EXPERT on Twitter and makes her living speaking on and educating business owners about the Twitter phenomenon so she should know! 🙂

I recently wrote about  how important it is to overcome doubt because sometimes when you’re starting a business a “stupid” idea can turn into a run away success.  Twitter is a GREAT example of a “stupid” idea that has become quite a success story.

Twitter may be “stupid” – but it’s a growing phenomenon. I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s a necessary evil – even though it appears to have been an important part of the Hitler regime:

I remember when I first signed up for Twitter – and quickly forgot about it.  I couldn’t imagine why anyone would CARE what I was doing!   A few weeks ago – I placed the widget in my sidebar and started to make an effort to “tweet” and to follow others.  The more I use Twitter – the more I can see how important it is to stay “connected”.

Because I’ve been twitterpated by Twitter, posts like Kalena’s 16 Must Have Tools for Twitter Users and  Twitter – Social Media’s Hidden Gem are now catching my eye.  Because of Twitter, I’ve discovered Darren Rowse’s TwiTip blog which is a blog devoted to all things Twitter.

The thing about Twitter is that it really is like blogging -which is why it’s called “micro blogging”.  Like Blogging, Twitter is incredibly easy to use while at the same time being very difficult to master.  If there’s just ONE blog post you read about Twitter – make it Liz Strauss’ 25 Traits of Twitter Users.  Liz writes:

Certain signs and characteristics seem to show in the folks who live the social media culture. Certain value and actions make people who care about having relationships and conversation before transactions easy to spot.

It’s a must read because, as Liz’s post points out – not everyone “gets” Twitter.  Despite what you may have read in the latest “get rich sitting on your ass” email newsletter, signing up for Twitter is NOT going to get you tens of thousands of visitors to your blog and it isn’t going to put money in the bank for you.

If you use Twitter to brag about how many followers you have – or you just blast Tweets about your latest blog post – then you won’t find Twitter to be a rewarding experience.

Twitter is a communication tool.

I’ll say it again – Twitter is JUST ANOTHER communication tool.   There are other Twitter-like micro blogging applications that are competing with Twitter.  Over at Splitbrain they’ve said goodbye to Twitter and hello to a new micro blogging communication tool.  Does this mean Twitter is a business failure?  Of course not.  It means that someone had an idea about how to make Twitter better.   (Remember this as you’re going through the steps to starting a small business. Can you do it better, faster, cheaper? Then maybe you should!)

One thing I will say for any start up that tries to make Twitter BETTER,  they will benefit from the fact that Twitter “broke ground” with micro-blogging.  It’s taken a couple of years for people to figure out what Twitter was good for and for Twitter to “catch on”.  Anyone who can make a better version of Twitter will have to thank Twitter founders for going through the arduous process of educating the masses over the last two years on the benefits of micro-blogging.

Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. Over 100 years ago there was another communication tool hitting the scene – the telephone.  It might surprise you to learn that people yawned when they heard about the telephone just like I yawned when I first heard of Twitter.

There’s a story that says the early telephone sales force wasn’t greeted with enthusiast demand when they first began selling their new fangled communication tool.  The story goes that the single most effective “sales spiel” used to “sell” the new way of communicating was to tell people that the telephone made it so they could talk to their neighbors without getting dressed to go outside.  It wasn’t until that “benefit” was communicated to prospects that the telephone began to “catch on” as a communication tool.

Ah – the first tale in the never ending saga of being human in the age of the electronic mob.

Wikipedia reports that “Twitter had by one measure over 3 million accounts and, by another, well over 5 million visitors in September 2008, a fivefold increase in a month.”  I’m seeing other evidence of a groundswell around Twitter as well.

I use the Google Keyword Tool plug in to check for keywords when I begin a post.  (It’s something I recommend you do and cover in more detail in my 8 Week Power Blog Launch course.)  So, as I began this post, I went to check on what’s happening in Googleland around the term “Twitter”.  What I saw was the average search around the term “Twitter” is in the 550K range.  However last month (in November)  that number skyrocketed to 1.2 MILLION searches.    Yet more evidence that people are twitterpated by Twitter!

However, there’s another reason why Twitter is becoming the latest bell of the ball.  See, Twitter promises free and easy communication with a mob of people  Since communication is the foundation of advertising and marketing – well the appeal is obvious.

Advertising and marketing are simply communicating what it is your business can do for people to a mob of people.

Since Twitter is “free” and “easy to use” that makes it a “Free – easy to use marketing tool”.  VIOLA!  A small business owners favorite marketing combo – free + easy!  This is why when a new means of “communication” comes down the path, it doesn’t take long for the marketing “gurus” to line up and announce that the SUREFIRE KEY to making untold riches is to simply utilizing the new method of mass communication.

Oh but here’s the “reality check” in the Twitter as the surefire path to riches scheme–  If you don’t have anything to say – and you don’t know who you’re talking to – then Twitter won’t do much in the way of your marketing or your business.  As a matter of fact, unless you’re a major company (like Dell) whose customers follow you just so they’ll know about the latest sale – you won’t find that using Twitter will put any cash directly into your pocket.

However, if part of your job description is that you have your finger “on the pulse” and to be “in the know” then Twitter is an indispensable tool.  Since being “in the know” is an essential part of every blogger’s job description – that’s why Twitter is important for bloggers.

Are you twitterpated by Twitter?  If so -why?  If not – why not?