EnviroScience’s Weevil Understands that Slow and Steady Gets the Job Done

I have been working for EnviroScience as a contract writer, and in the process, I’ve learned quite a lot about Milfoilsand aquatic weed control. Each time I write something about a Milfoil weevil and the weeds they eat, I think two things:

1.  Lake Chautauqua. The lovely, shallow lake that the Chautauqua Institute is situated on is filled to the brim with the nasty, motorboat propeller choking weeds that the little milfoil love to chomp on. I wish someone from Chautauqua Lake would look into the weevils so I don’t have to swim around the lake with those tangling, leg grabbing weeds.  Ick.

2. The pace the weevils work. EnviroScience will tell you that weevils are an eco-friendly solution to chemicals but you have to be patient. It isn’t a solution that happens over night. It takes time for those little Milfoil weevils to eat their way through the weeds.

Not unlike building a relationship with a customer.

Ooooh, did you love that transition?

But it is true.  It takes time to build a relationship. You can’t just send a postcard or make a single phone call and think that the customer will be loyal for life. Even if they buy from you, there isn’t any guarantee they won’t turn around and go to the competition next time.

You have to work at it. Eating one weed at a time.

So what are some of the ways you can slowly work at a customer relationship?

  • I love Jay Conrad Levinson, the father of Guerilla Marketing. In his book Mastering Guerilla Marketing, he talks about the importance of a vibrant database in which you keep personal, unique information about your customers and prospects. Really listen to the hints they leave. Chances are they are helping to plant the seeds for future purchases. Keep track of one new thing every time you talk to a customer.
  • Connect with your customers just cuz. Send a postcard. Send an email. Pick up the phone. “Just thought of you and wondered how you are.” That’s building a relationship – being interested in your customer when their wallet isn’t in their hand.
  • Ask them questions. How can I serve you better? In a perfect world, what could I do differently next time? Have your customers define your process, services and products. Amazingly, if you offer what they ask for – guess what – I bet they’ll buy. I am a speaker and trainer and have several presentations/workshops in the can. When a company calls asking about my speaking options, I suggest they visit my speaker site, but I’m always quick to tell them that I’ll customize the presentation. Each session, although it may start with a foundation I’ve used before, becomes totally unique based on the audience’s participation and the industry.  They love it. I love it.  Win – win.

So like the weevil, do what you do best but know that it takes time to build customer connections. Set your expectations accordingly.

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Starting Over with a Customers First Approach

store frontIf you have been following my blog, you know that I have had a little bit of a melt down over the last month. A discouragement brought on by the realization that MOST businesses just don’t care about the customer.

(by the way – if  you disagreee – please tell me why in the comments)

That being said – this blog is now dedicated to the few businesses out there who truly want to put the customers first. Those business owners, managers, directors, employees and entrepreneurs that believe that if the customer is your primary focus; the money will follow.

Going forward – rather than spotlight the crappy customer stories – because there are just so many they make my heart hurt – and instead, I want to just focus on the positive.

Calling all business professionals who GET IT – the customer comes first – let’s start talking about one thing you can do differently to improve/enhance the customer experience.

Let’s talk customer expectations.

Let’s talk customer experience.

Let’s talk customer relationships.

If you have a story – please share. If you have a tip – we want to hear about it.

If the rest of the business are just in it for the money and consequently treat the customer like the dirt under their feet – let them. That is all the more customers for us.

Can I hear an “AMEN!”

So, here is the first Customers First tip

What is one thing your customer expects when doing business with you? Not you specifically, but your industry. Let’s take a retailer with a destination location. When a customer thinks about shopping with you – what do they expect?

  • Clean entryway
  • Well lit store
  • Organized merchandise
  • POP (point of purchase posters) that clearly spell out your current offer
  • Smiling – knowledgeable employees
  • Warm greeting
  • A question about how they can help you

Anything else? Are you already doing all of those? Do people feel welcome when they walk in your door? Is there something you can do to improve the first impression?

Take a walk outside your store right now and look at the entryway from the customer’s perspective.  Are there finger prints on the door? Is there trash in the bushes?

Think about that initial visual experience from the customer’s point of view.  What can you change or enhance to make it better?

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Lowering the Customer Service Bar

 

After my most recent blog post, basically giving up on our ability to make a difference in the customer service experience, I read this response from a group member on LinkedIn:

This is a great conversation to show how the bar of customer service keeps being set and re-set…lower and lower. That makes it easier and cheaper to differentiate a brand, a company, by plain old customer service. Just serve the customer. Serve the customer and then they’ll tell your story to many more and in a much more compelling version: their words describing their experience.

Are we lowering the bar? As business owners/managers/sales professionals, are we lowering the bar of what we have decided to provide to our customers? And what about the customer? Are they beginning to EXPECT a lack of service?

My son, twenty, should be hip with all things technology, but he isn’t. His employer pays him through auto deposit and his check stubs are online. Any conversation with his boss is conducted via email because Ben works 6pm-6am and the boss isn’t there. Additional training is online. He is finding the same thing with paying his bills, college classes, even conversation with friends – it is all through some form of technology.

Are we taking the PEOPLE out of the customer experience? As consumers, do we expect less because we know the experience is going to be technology-based and everyone knows technology has its glitches?

Where will it bottom out? At what point will consumers and business professionals alike stop and demand that we bring the human back into the customer experience?

As the person quoted above alludes to – just basic customer service is now enough to stand out from the competition and yet we fail to even do the minimum.

Where does it end? Is customer service dead and buried? Please – someone chime in and convince me otherwise.

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Too Much Work? How Do You Keep From Disappointing Customers?

customer disappointmentThe economy is showing signs of improvement. Businesses are getting busier.  When we are slow it is easy to chat up a customer, exceed expectations with deadlines and go the extra mile. But what about when it gets busy? I recently asked this question of the Build Customer Relationship group on LinkedIn and here are some of the comments:

Emily Kelly • Communication is key! People are so much more understanding when they know where things stand. A quick phone call or email with an update goes a long way. Just don’t leave them in the dark wondering if you forgot about them!

De-de Mulligan, CMP, CMM • Deborah, I think you have two choices…one is what Emily said. Tell the client the realistic timeline for completing their work and then determine if it is acceptable to them. The second choice is to subcontract the work out to the other professionals. I have done that from time-to-time and it works very well.

ToshibaBob Weinhardt • ASK for their specific timeframe…. reevaluate YOUR priorities …explain your dilemma …if it just can’t be done by you or your associates, within their time restraints… YOU suggest that YOU will connect them with one of your quality competitors …they will be keenly aware that YOU provided them with an adquate (not perfect… only you are) solution to their concern. CHECK BACK …all else being equal people buy from those who show they CARE … it is amazing how reciprosity works….

Kurt Leibensperger • To echo Bob’s comment…what goes around comes around. Referrals..even to the competition…do provide an opportunity for reciprocity. The client appreciates your honesty, and who do you think the referred competitor will think ro refer when they can’t handle their workload? You!

LaNita Darden • I agree to all of the above comments. COMMUNICATION is the key. The customer ,whoever they are, is who we serve however that may be.

Ife (Efay) Collins • I think you have the right idea, blesses with work is right especially these days, we might be over crowded with to much on our plate at times but at that means were doing something right, and that means we have a job! I do the same thing in my position at General Appliance of Berkeley as the Director of Marketing, when I have customers that have been loyal to out business and have an issue I make a conscious effort to address them to the best of my ability seeing as that customers are what makes the business stay affloat, even if I cant give them the answer they want to hear I let thme know honestly I will do my best to find out, and I always get back to them even if I dont have what they need, customers are human they appreciate honesty and want to feel like there important.

Faye Haber • We have gotten extremely busy of late. When taking an order, I give them my best guess for when the product will be done. That way, they can make sure down the line that the timeline reflects a longer lead time. As we do custom projects, and we don’t have the option to refer them to another source, it is up to me to evaluate the urgency of my client’s needs and then to act in order of importance. Sometimes, if I can’t make it to their timeframe, I will offer a concession to make them feel better about it – perhaps pay the shipping. I will do this especially if I gave them a date and then couldn’t meet it. The most important thing is to COMMUNICATE….and don’t wait till the day before the product is due to tell them it will be late. Give them as much time as you can, so they can adjust their expectations. If it is extremely urgent to them, then perhaps I need to adjust my schedule to accommodate them.

Nina Messina • Communicate. I have found that in most situations my clients have been willing to wait till I can get to the job they have for me. If they can’t wait, I try to find a subcontractor who can get the work done sooner.

Keeping the lines of commmunication open, being honest, staying connected all seem to be similar themes throughout the comments. We hate to disappoint our customers and so we often fine ourselves promising something we HOPE we can deliver but find ourselves being unable to follow through. The knee jerk reaction is to avoid the conversation – hope they’ll forget – put our head in the sand but in fact, if we call, email or text our customer and let them know the status, they’ll appreciate it, and us, even more.

I was in Target today in Macedonia and wanted to purchase a piece of patio furniture that they didn’t have. The employee told me the Streetsboro Target had one in stock and gave me the phone number so I could call and check before driving. I called and and explained what I wanted and the woman said she’d check. She came back on the line and said “I show we have one in stock but before you drive over, let me make sure. I think we have it but I didn’t want you to continue to hold and think I had forgotten you.”

I really appreciated that. She was telling me that she didn’t have any new news. However, the fact that she kept me apprised really meant a lot and I was happy to hold for several more minutes.

So are you blessed with too much work? Don’t fret – just keep those lines of communication open.

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It Takes a Village: Revamping A Website

women writing happyIf you have ever revamped your website or started over from scratch, you know the challenge of thinking through all of the details from functionality, design, content, and who to trust with the project. As a website writer I find myself in the position of shoemaker – focusing on writing content, consulting and training my customers and leaving my own site to grow old and stale.

As the new year approached, I decided to tackle the site myself, transferrinng the URL and the content from a web host company to my own hosted site and combining one of my blogs into the company site. It became more of a challenge than I expected and I first thank the members of the Akron Blogger Community for their monthly tips and encouragement.

I then met Crystal Pirri at a visioning workshop and liked her fresh approach and can do anything – especially anything technical – attitude, and I asked her to help me think through the process.

Crystal is an excellent example of what it means to go above the expected.

  • She offered advice and counsel for free – she is a great brainstormer
  • She taught me how to do many of the technical tasks that most would have charged for
  • She provided all the tools I needed to work on the site
  • She offered suggestions and advice and examples of what the site could look like

At the end of the day, I said – here – take it and she did. She had already proved her knowledge and expertise and the fact that she was willing to give away her knowledge for free secured my trust. I gladly provided user names, passwords and the contents of my checking account (no – she was very reasonably priced for the value!) so that she could make her website magic.

She build the site on WordPress.org so that I could work along side her by adding content and the plugins and widgets that I desired. Together we did pretty darn good, if I must say so myself. I then forwarded the link to a few trusted people (including Mom who found a typo) and they offered additonal suggestions and advice.

It was a true group effort.

It is perfect? No – it is a work in progress, but it is functional and a fine representation of who I am as a website writer. Thanks to a team of very special and gifted people.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

One last note – there was a piece of technical training that Crystal provided and I took notes but then when I went to repeat what she’d taught – I forgot the first step. How did she respond? She made a three minute video that walked me through the steps so that I now have the tools necessary for the future.

Crystal has fed me for a lifetime. This is my little thank you note to her!

Deborah and Crystal

Deborah and Crystal

Check out my new site:

AllWrite Ink: Ohio’s Best Website Writer.

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Assumptions are the Holy Grail

holy grailOkay – that title requires some explanation.

Imagine a world in which your customer is so convinced that you’ll be there for them, when they need you, with the answers they need in a easy to use fashion – every time that they just assume it as fact.

They assume you’ll meet their needs.  So much so that they don’t even consider your competition as an option. That would be the holy grail.

Well, I feel that way about Mail Chimp. mail chimp

I have been a customer of Mail Chimp since 2005 – using them for my e-newsletter, my email list management, my auto responders and sign up forms. Usually when people talk about companies that provide these services they mention Constant Contact or Aweber or some other online service and I’m always quick to add:  “and Mail Chimp.”

They offer the same services, at similar pricing, with DIY templates or build your own options all with a fun monkey brand.  When I first looked for a company to use, I went to Constant Contact but their DIY process was confusing and I quickly gave up. When I heard about Mail Chimp I thought – hey, if a monkey can do it….

Sure enough – it was a piece of cake and a banana too. Over time I have heard about the competition offering new bells and whistles and sure enough when I went back to my account, I discovered that I could do the same with Mail Chimp.

Last month I tried and failed to embed a video in my newsletter, however, I didn’t realize that it hadn’t worked until the newsletter had gone out to my email list. Disappointed – I sent a follow up email with a link to the video and an apology.

Within minutes – and I mean that – minutes – I had a tweet from Mail chimp telling me how I could embed the video in the future.

The month before that I had tweeted a question about Mail Chimp and again had a message from them shortly after with the answer.

So today I decided to make some changes to my newsletter sign up form. Rather than have it embedded in the side bar – I longed for a pop up that would appear in the middle of the page. But in my dream world, that pop up would wait for a little while before popping up so people would have a chance to visit the site and read a post.

I went out to my Mail Chimp account and didn’t find that option. So I ASSUMED that if I sent a tweet out to the Twitter world, I would get an answer. You see the head chimps at Mail Chimp scour the web for people commenting about them and asking questions and having issues and they jump right on the question and provide an answer. Sure enough – in less than an hour, I had a tweet with a positive answer and a link to a blog post with simple, easy to follow instructions.

They make it easy.

They are consistent.

They are connected.

They communicate.

They have the answers.

For me, they are the only choice. And that, my friends, is how I want my customers to feel about me. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful world? The ultimate prize? The Holy Grail? If ever there was an example of the value of being tuned into social media and the social conversation – this is it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, social conversations is a top ten trend for 2011 – I’d say Mail Chimp is ahead of the curve.

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Knowing Your Customer’s Most Basic Needs

I am reading the latest Good Housekeeping magazine and had to laugh out loud at a brief article touting a new website and mobile application.

The company is called Run Pee.

Target audience: post child bearing women or people with a weak bladder who love to go to the movies.

Visit Run Pee to learn when in the movie you can quickly sneak out to run to the loo.  The application will tell you:

  • How many minutes into the movie your chance occurs
  • What happens on screen to trigger your movement (pun intended)
  • How many minutes you’ll have
  • What happens in the movie while you are gone

Example – I just took five 14 year old girls to see Little Fockers on New Year’s Eve. By visiting Run Pee (or having the app on my phone) I would have known:

30 minutes in Laura Dern comes on screen – I can be gone for 5 minutes

30 minutes later (or an hour into the film) I have four minutes to run to the bathroom and I should look for Little Henry asking Ben Stiller if he can climb the rock wall.

The genius behind this application understands that their target audience may avoid the enjoyment of seeing a movie on the big screen and the cost associated with an evening out because they have a weak bladder.  I just love the focused attention on a specific customer need.

Bravo to Run Pee’s creator Dan Florio. Here is the blog for even more information. Run Pee Blog.

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Starbucks Refusal Hurts Barnes and Noble Employees

starbucks

I met a customer at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore over the weekend.  We both decided to grab a cup of coffee.  My customer, Kathy, is a loyal – no, more like an obsessed Starbucks fan. Everyday she has to have her Starbucks – not just in the morning but several throughout the day. So, of course, she has a Starbucks card. She handed it to the employee behind the cafe counter.

“I’m sorry but we don’t take the Starbucks card.”

“But the Starbucks logo is on the menu, the coffee you are pouring is Starbucks and the apron you have on has the Starbucks logo emblazoned across the front.”

“Yes, I know, but Starbucks won’t allow us to take their cards.”

She went on to tell us that the Barnes and Noble officials had approached Starbucks and offered to set up the system to take their cards and coupons but Starbucks refused.

Here’s the gig.  Who is left to enforce that corporate decision? Who is left to disappoint the customer? Who is faced with ridicule when a customer gets angry?

The employee.

Just like my recent story of CVS and Moneygram who partnered up to offer additional services to customers yet refuse to support them, here is Starbucks plastering their brand name all over the Barnes and Noble cafe and yet refusing to allow customers a true Starbucks experience.

Who looks bad? Everyone.  Who is impacted? Not Starbucks. Not even Barnes and Noble. It is the employee that has to face the grief and the customer who is faced with disappointment.

When corporations get together and decide to combine brands – do they think these decisions through from the frontline experience perspective?

I think not.

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Do You Treat Employees Like You Want Customers Treated?

sponge bobCustomer Service isn’t a title or a department – it is a culture. In a recent post over at Duct Tape Marketing his lead paragraph says it all

Here’s something your customers won’t ever tell you but that you had better understand: Your employees probably treat your customers about the same way you treat your employees. Let that soak that in for a minute, and think about the ways your everyday behavior might be affecting your organization’s ability to generate positive buzz.

Many years ago this thought was slapped in my face. As a regional manager for a national optical chain, I had responsibilities for the franchise locations in New England. I was visiting one location and observed the employees doing the very minimum when it came to customer interaction. During a lull in the business day I asked them about their sales and customer service focus. The response was telling:

“The owner never calls, never visits, never sends us to training or provides any updated information. If he wanted us talking about stuff with customers and offering them services to meet their needs then I guess he’d spend more time paying attention to us.  But he doesn’t, so why should we?”

Ouch.

Even great employees will eventually lose their steam if they feel their efforts aren’t valued or recognized or supported by their boss.  If we looked in the mirror would we be able to say that we treat our employees like we expect them to treat our customers? Do we encourage and support or just point out their short comings?

Thanks Duct Tape for reminding us that customer service is the job of EVERYONE in the company, not just those that have immediate customer interaction.

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Set Yourself Apart from the Competition

I decided that I needed to hire a virtual assistant. I am at a point where there are some things I just can’t do anymore and a friend of mine once told me “delegate everything but your genius.”  So – I was off to find a virtual assistant.

The first project – transcribe a one hour speech from an audio file. I’m familiar with Elance but a colleague who had a similar project told me that she’d had great success with oDesk – so that’s where I started.

It was simple to set up the account and post the job and before long I had 40 people apply for the job. Each had a resume, test scores of the tests they’d volunteered to take to show their abilities and each provided a cover letter and their hourly rate.

Hourly rates ranged from $2 and change to over $46.  Candidates were from around the world.  So throwing out the high and the low, I started to look for people to interview.  Here’s what I discovered:

  • Some had experience and testimonials – that was a bonus. However, I kept thinking, how can they get experience if someone doesn’t hire them so I didn’t eliminate all without experience on oDesk….at first.
  • I thought I would prefer someone from the United States and Canada but I soon learned that they were the highest cost and not all had experience.
  • The cover letters were of varying degrees – some addressed me as Sir/Madam or To Whom It May Concern while some called me by name.
  • Most cover letters stated that English was their first language or that they had experience with transcribing English
  • Some listed their experience in audio transcription

I narrowed it down to a few – prices ranging from just under $4/hour to $16/hour. I started to look at their test scores.

  • Some took more tests than others
  • Some did better on the tests than others

I now had it narrowed down to a gentleman from India and a woman from Bolivia.  I sent emailed interview questions. Shriram responded within minutes. His record had the most experience and the highest number of testimonials and the highest test scores for English grammar and vocabulary (higher than the United States candidates).

His responses anticipated my questions – he offered a website, an easy way to upload my audio file and a clear cut amount of time I could expect the job would take.

He has a Mac and I have a PC – he sent me a Word document as a test so I could be assured that I’d be able to open his files.

Shriram joined my team.

Within an hour of his receiving the audio file – he sent me an email with the first four minutes transcribed and saved in FOUR DIFFERENT FORMATS. He gave me options.

At the end of the day he sent me an updated email – he kept me in the loop.

The following day – I discovered that he’d subscribed to my blog and commented here on my award receipt. Within 48 hours  1/2 of the project was complete.

He has kept me informed, showed that he wants to know more about my business and be actively involved, the quality of his work is impeccable and as a customer, I feel valued and supported.

Wow!

Needless to say he will be receiving more work from me going forward.

I set out with an expectation that I only wanted to hire someone from a country I was familiar with and yet it was someone from a different country that has more closely met my needs and treated me like a valued customer – even before he secured the job.

How do you set yourself apart from the competition? If your services were stacked up against the competition, like the candidates at oDesk, how would you compare? Have you taken the extra step of additional testing or certifications or memberships? Do you have testimonials? Do you take the time to address the prospect by name rather than a generic form letter? Do you anticipate their needs and offer them options?

And oDesk has been a great resource. They provide reports that show hours worked and random screen shots of Shriram’s computer so that I can see he’s working on my project during the hours he says he is.  Cool beans.

So how do you set yourself apart?

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