Take a minute to think about your three favorite stores. Chances are, you’ve been shopping at the same spots for years. You might even know the owners by name and have referred friends who’ve turned into long-term customers themselves. If this sounds familiar, you are, as Steve Curtain describes, “a customer who creates customers.”
But as a business owner yourself, how do you find these people? The answer lies in the attitudes of your customer service employees, says Curtain, author of the upcoming book (out in June) Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary.
Identifying job essence
In researching his book, Curtain sat down with several customer service employees to ask them the question, “What does your job entail?” Most responses sounded like they were read off of an online job description: to answer calls, transfer calls, retrieve account information, etc.
“Rarely did employees refer to actions and behaviors pertaining to job essence, which is creating promoters to your company—people who will spread positive word of mouth,” he says. “They can do this by seeing service as a verb, as something they have to work on and cultivate every day.”
Service as a verb
Employees who focus exclusively on the transactional part of their jobs (how many calls executed in an hour, sales leads brought in per quarter or month) can make customers feel devalued. In order to change this dynamic, Curtain recommends business owners train customer service employees to emotionally cultivate each customer. This can be accomplished by expressing genuine interest in the customer (knowing/learning their name), sharing unique knowledge that cannot be found on a company’s website or inside a brochure, and conveying authentic enthusiasm or energy in their voice.
“Think of service as a verb, just like love is a verb in a committed relationship,” Curtain says. “Being in a relationship with someone requires you to be interested, to care and to do things that make the other person feel appreciated. It is the same with customer service. Instead of looking at a customer service role as just practical, empower your employees to think of what they do as a journey and something to cultivate every day.
“Companies that do this tend to attract more business opportunities and create customers who go out and create more customers.”
“The biggest mistake a small business owner can make is to think social media replaces customer service, and to just use Twitter and Facebook to put out fires,” says Peter Shankman, author of Customer Service: New Rules in a Social Media World and Nice Companies Finish First.
Good customer service, says Shankman, comes down to making customers happy at the point of purchase and engaging them in positive ways via social media channels.
But what should a small business owner do if a customer leaves a negative comment on the company’s Facebook or Twitter page?
“Answer as quickly as possible and explain that you are in the process of fixing the problem,” he recommends. “Remember: there is no better lover than a former hater.”
Shankman advises business owners to create alternative email addresses for complaints. For example, if a customer visits a company’s social media page to complain about something, respond quickly (in an hour or less, if possible) and ask them to send you an email documenting their complaint via an alternative email address (one that is different from your primary address, but is still forwarded to you). This will help cut down on spammers who see the same tweet and want to send you multiple ranting emails.
While it can be difficult to see scathing reviews on your company’s social media pages, remember not to react in haste by responding unprofessionally or deleting the customer’s comment altogether.
“Deleting comments is never a good idea,” says Shankman. “The customer can easily retaliate by taking a screenshot of their former comment, posting the screenshot and telling the world that you deleted the comment, which can make matters even worse.
“Just reach out, acknowledge their complaint, tell them that you are taking steps to find a solution and then offer your contact information.”
There was time when marketing was simple. If you said your message loud enough, customers believed it. You simply said your product was amazing, and if they bought today you’d throw in some freebies. You would repeat the message endlessly and they’d buy, endlessly.
But things have changed. Consumers have become numb, jaded and skeptical of hype-marketing and self-promotion. The greater your deal, product or service, the more likely they are to be suspicious.
Remember the, “But wait there’s more!” Ginsu Knife approach from the 80s and 90s? It was all hype-marketing and it worked. Too well. Internet info-marketers exploited the hype-marketing tactics at hyper speed during the first decade of 2000. Just like the Ginsu, the techniques worked. Consumers lapped up every info-product on the net because of marketing techniques like:
Just like the Chia Pet, Pet Rock and Snuggie, at a certain point you can have too much of a “good” thing. Hype-marketing worked so well that it became the addiction of all marketers, causing it to finally implode in recent years.
Hype-marketing is finally dead (and I spit on its grave). There’s a whole new age of marketing being born and hype has no place in it. The new marketing method, Permanence Marketing, overcomes the hurdles of distrust and skepticism by addressing the new customer needs:
If you’re still hyping a message instead of living the message you’re not going to be in business much longer. Here is how to adopt Permanence Marketing in your organization:
Pick a platform (or two) and commit to staying on it for the next 5 years. It can be a blog, or Facebook, or Twitter, or Linkedin. The thing is you don’t pick it, your customer does. Where do your best customers already hangout on social media. That’s where you need to be. Permanently.
Hype is dead! Hype is dead! Welcome to Permanence Marketing. It has been a long time coming, and it’s here for the long term.
Have you ever gone to one of those business websites where you’re looking for something simple—like a phone number to call or an email address to contact the business quickly—and you can’t find it? Frustrating, isn’t it?
Sometimes small business owners and their Web designers get so caught up in making a website look cool or adding the latest graphics and technology that they lose sight of a website’s core purpose: to serve customers. To see if your business website is serving customers effectively, ask yourself these four questions:
In this 24/7 instant gratification world of the Internet, customers with questions are too impatient to wait on the phone or for a reply through email for their answer. It is also expensive for small businesses to staff this function so customers can receive a reply quickly. Instead, customers would much rather use web self service and watch a short one minute video to get their answer. Ultimately, this will decrease company service costs while increasing customer satisfaction.
Successful small business owners use videos effectively in three areas:
These videos can be created by the employees, but customers should also be encouraged to submit their own versions. Companies testing their products could never dream of all the ways their products could be used or issues that might eventually come up. Videos submitted by real customers using products in their environment are a very powerful testimonial. 87% of customers check reviews before completing their purchase.
Barry Moltz gets small businesses unstuck. He is a small business motivational speaker, writer, and radio host. Barry can be found at www.barrymoltz.com
I hope you have your seat belt on (even if you're sitting in your office chair). At the very least you're about to experience a jolt, and at the very best you are about to master the greatest tool for colossal business growth. This best kept secret is not so secret after all. It is something you likely have already heard about – it’s called Pareto's rule, or the 80/20 principle. The secret is not in knowing it, it’s in using it.
In case you're not familiar with the 80/20 rule here is a quick primer: In 1906 an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. He started looking around and noticed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas, and so and on and so on. He determined that much of life, and muh of business, can be categorized with this 80/20 principle. In fact, you may have heard that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. Yep. That's from Pareto's law.
I recently saw a presentation by Peter Philippi, the President of Strategex, a business growth consultancy that focuses on the 80/20 rule. In his presentation he displayed a chart that blew my mind away. His company had studied the P&L of nearly 1,000 companies and divisions. They broke down the P&L by customer, sorted by revenue per customer from most to least, and segmented the clients into four quartiles. Pareto would have been proud because this is what they found:
Top Middle 25%
Bottom Middle 25%
breakeven to loss
Shocking, right? 89% of the revenue is generated through the top 25% of clients. And look where all the Net Profit is! Right at the top. Pareto was obviously onto something huge, and if you want to benefit from what he discovered you'll put this principle into action. Use the same table to figure out who your twenty to twenty five percenters are and start focusing on them:
This process alone should be a big eye opener for you and get you motivated to do what's next.
When I did this exercise for my business, I found it to be very similar to the share above. My top clients and, you will find, your top clients represent most of the revenue and all the income for our respective business. Now that you have this clarity, you're ready to take action to benefit from it.
Just knowing this information isn't enough. I mean it's fun to know, but it's way more fun to take action on it. So, here is what you want to do next… Pumpkin Plan your business. If you don't know what that means, then allow me to shamelessly plug my book by the same name. Until you have time to check it out, here's the applicable part of the plan in a three-step nutshell:
I can hear you baulking already. I did too. In fact, I even asked Peter a question specifically about this. I said, “Peter, this is great, but I think I need to keep all of my clients. What if one of them turns into a top 25% client?” I mean, you never know, right? And even the major leagues keep a farm league around to move up their talent. But I was thinking about this all wrong.
Peter told me a sobering fact. His firm researched this question, and found that only 1% of lower tier clients ever jump to the top. This means it costs far more to wait and see which weak client becomes strong, then to set up a marketing plan that just goes after top clients.
The 80/20 rule makes it clear that different clients have a dramatically different impact on our business. We need to focus our energies on serving and duplicating our best clients. The weak ones, shouldn’t be mistreated, but they should never been served to the level as our best.
Mom told us to treat all clients equally. She lied. Or at least she didn’t know the Pareto principle.