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Building loyalty through customized products and services

Eagle Watch Golf Course, Woodstock, GAAs kids we used to happily create personal gifts for our family and friends. It’s ironic, during my last move to my new home that keeping those special “Arts and Crafts” products made by my son are the very ones I still cherish the most. Of course, there’s the emotional ties included in those lopsided candy dishes and Christmas ornaments made out of popsicle sticks, but it reminds me of the latest trends labeled as “Go Green,” “Do-it-Yourself,” and “Buy Local Farmer Markets.” Buying custom merchandise, although a bit more sophisticated than the necklace made by my son with colored glass beads for my Mother’s Day present, still brings to mind being able to design a piece of custom jewelry in the colors I want to match an outfit, or even those custom sneakers specially made to lift my arches that truly commands a shopper’s appreciation of individualism – a concept we all cherish.

Macy’s, a Cincinnati based department store saw their sales increase in June by  7.5 percent rising from $2.2 billion to $2.4 billion. So how did they do it? Their innovative “My Macy’s” program divides the organization into small geographic segments, each of which is handled by “on-the-ground” buyers who select merchandise based on the specific demands of a store’s customers. Where fashion for the golf communities of Palm Beach Florida are infinitely more applicable to the Macy’s in South Florida, chances are there is far less demand in Wichita, Kansas. And if those same golfers in Palm Beach can avail themselves to custom golf shoes or other individualized golf course necessities, the more communication and individualization – the more likelihood of customers returning to the same stores.

This shopper customization service may cost companies millions of dollars collecting data to segment buyers, but the rewards no doubt are paying off. Finding out what customers in specific locations buy and how and why they buy, offers the company the opportunity to meet individual needs and ultimately build loyalty. As consumers find the easy way to buy custom products made exactly the way they want, it helps eCommerce establishments to interact with their customers. Of course that is exactly what any retail establishment wants since it makes consumers feel they are dealing with real people in real situations.

No longer will a  customer be lost in the generic “shopping cart” of Internet buying. Interesting concept, don’t you think?

photo credit: danperry.com

Customer service for Web users?

SIMO Network (2010)It seems the federal government is making some strong suggestions to companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple that it’s about time they employ some technology to prevent advertisers from tracking consumer movement across the Web. In other words, why isn’t consumer privacy protected when we power up and go online? Isn’t that all part of customer service; to protect our privacy wherever we shop? Of course some tracking is needed for the Internet to function, but invasive practices by advertisers and online publishers have taken the privacy out of our virtual shopping carts too many times.

It seems rather strange to the technologically handicapped person like myself to understand why advertisers get away with tracking consumers around the Internet? No matter where we go or what we buy, some company is making a pitch to sell me something, and I just know it’s not a coincidence. This practice, called behavioral advertising is invasive and generally annoying. After all, don’t we all remember the constant badgering of telephone solicitations during dinner hour? Didn’t we all welcome the “Do Not Call” registry for telephone solicitors?

Let’s face it; consumers don’t want to be tracked, and I shutter to think what is being done with the personal information these “cookies” gather on me whenever I search the Web. No matter what I look up, what I buy, or what advice I seek, someone is looking to invade my privacy and make a profit.  According to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), consumers want to shop, browse and share information that is respectful of someone’s personal information.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va) stated;

“I want ordinary consumers to know what is being done with their personal information, and I want to give them the power to do something about it.”

Online privacy demands began with the Federal Trade Commission and are calling for a “Do Not Track” type of technology. Surely the entrepreneurial technology gurus have an idea how to protect customer privacy. If this were to become law, it would become illegal to collect identifying information including names, email addresses, and credit card numbers without an individual’s consent. Sensitive data like religion, sexual preferences and identity as well as health related issues would be prohibited unless a person consented. Businesses would have to make it clear how data is used; customer service on the Internet would prevail.

photo credit: red.es

Customer service benefits by going green

CCC2 MRF Glass2The environment matters! The concern over the environment does affect people’s choices of business. We bring our own recyclable grocery bags to food markets, we use less paper in our offices, we adjust our office lighting, we use more environmentally friendly detergents to wash our clothes, and most of us are willing to spend more for “green” products and packaging.

Green marketing is not just the weekend garden place you can go to buy fresh vegetables, fruits, and home-made goods in your community; it is a tried and true marketing strategy to get more customers and make more money. There are no special customer service tricks in going green, but there are some basic principles to be followed to ensure a successful endeavor.

Most important in green marketing is to be true to an organization’s environment saving campaign. A business has to be consistent. For instance, Mary S. owns a shoe store, and encourages her customers to bring their own recyclable cotton made bags to her store when they go shopping. She no longer accepts cardboard or the plastic packaging in the boxes from the manufacturers; working in her own little way to cut down on paper and plastic goods, and when a customer buys a pair of shoes, the customer just puts them in their reusable bag. Rarely does she ever get a complaint, and word of mouth has brought in new customers just because Mary S has stepped out of the “box” in a very traditional community.

Part two is that Mary S actually educates her customers as to the overuse of plastic packaging and how plastic bags, packaging, and bottles end up in landfills or oceans. She tells people how plastics are made up of petroleum-based, and non biodegradable materials. Since we live within moments of the Atlantic Ocean, she is able to be even more convincing by explaining how plastics are designed to last forever and do not break down, are not digested by marine organisms, and describes the potential danger to our oceans and our futures.

Let’s face it; it’s all part of customer service. We do our best to provide the best products and services for all of our customers. As part of the living planet, we have the opportunity to educate and then let our customers participate. Now more people may choose to utilize better practices in their lives; use less plastic, and even use alternative packaging.

“My customers don’t have any qualms about walking out with a product from my store that hasn’t been wrapped. I give them a sales receipt, and they’re grateful because I reflect my savings back to them, plus I’m helping the environment and actually doing something more for my customers. I’m making them aware of our planet, and they like it! They tell their friends, and we’re all utilizing new ideas to make this a greener world,” stated Mary S.

photo credit: siftnz

How Do You Know When Your Customers Are Starting to Stray?

Putnam County Route 12 - New YorkMost businesses tend to focus their efforts on growing along a single dimension: acquisition. Good ones take it step further and focus on “service recovery,” making every attempt to retain a customer’s business after something has gone horribly wrong.

Great businesses recognize and actively work a third dimension by paying attention to those cues that indicate their customer is becoming disinterested. When these leading indicators start to show in the customer relationship, great businesses recognize it and begin cultivating the relationship once again to make sure an event never takes place that requires “service recovery.”

So, how do you know when your customers are starting to stray? A recent dining experience with my family is the perfect example.

My family traveled to another town last weekend for my daughter’s basketball tournament, and with time on our hands before tip-off, we decided to grab a bite to eat. I found a few restaurants in the area using the iPhone app Around Me and picked one based on the menu and reviews.

We were initially happy with our selection. The place was clean, had a nice atmosphere, and a great menu. The restaurant was packed, which is always a good sign. But our initial enthusiasm slowly gave way toward indifference when every “leading indicator” I presented went unnoticed.

What were those cues?

  • The first was little or unclear direction from my “coach” — in this case, our waitress, on the product. I was torn between two entrées, and when I pressed for information and a recommendation on each I got a very tepid, non-committal response. The waitress couldn’t speak to either product, probe with any questions around why I picked those two, and basically left me with little to use as the basis of my selection.
  • The second cue was the most obvious: disengagement with the product. The entrée I selected was not good. I made that clear by leaving the plate of food virtually untouched. Strike two was when I declined another drink, and strike three (you’re out!) was when the waitress picked up the nearly full plate at the end of the meal and asked the standard, “Was everything okay?” question to all of us. Recognizing disengagement with the product and proactively saying, “You didn’t seem to enjoy the entrée. Can I ask why?” would have been the right thing to do.

The customer lifecycle can be measured in years, months, or in some cases, in just a matter of hours. Not recognizing the warning signs can result in lost business and unfavorable word of mouth feedback. Recognizing those leading indicators and taking immediate action to put a customer back on the “happy path” are just as important to business growth as acquisition and service recovery.

Are your customers starting to stray? How would you recognize that and what actions would you/should you take?  Share your thoughts!

With twenty-plus years working in a variety of contact center roles, Larry Streeter now heads up the award winning Customer Support team at Constant Contact, the leader in online marketing tools for small businesses. Insuring the 1.2 million calls, chats, and emails his staff handle each year with nothing less than an “awe-inspiring” experience is Larry’s passion. With a keen eye for recognizing service triumphs and failures, Larry loves to shares his experiences on his blog, www.serviceexcellencedefined.blogspot.com.

photo credit: dougtone

Can we increase customer loyalty?

CBR001831Customer loyalty is an integral part of doing business, but what precisely is involved?  Better yet, how do customers become loyal? Most of what we hear about loyalty centers around loyalty to products, but brand loyalty is different from service loyalty. The first element of customer loyalty to consider is reliability; either product or service, but more so, it is doing what you say your service will do. Breaking it down, customer loyalty is based on doing it right the first time, and doing it on time.

Customers will accept the occasional mistake, but too many mistakes are the kiss of death. Customers will ultimately find a better product or service, won’t refer you to their friends, nor will they stay with you if you let them down too often. We take it for granted that the new computer, the new television, or the new i phone will work, and if it doesn’t the product will be replaced. Do we take it in stride however, that someone does not call us back, does not deliver what she said she would, or does not send the information promised to us? Probably not, because we will most likely move on to someone who does. In other words, everything you say has to be reliable.

Then there is another important aspect of building customer loyalty, and that is one of being likeable. Customers want to feel good about the people they do business with, so don’t ever underestimate the need for “charm school.” Being likeable doesn’t cost a lot of money, but the following people skills may keep your clients coming back:

  • Always display a genuine smile and be warm and friendly.
  • Listen to your customer using eye contact, and make it obvious that you are listening.
  • Address your customer by name.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Treat your customers as you would expect someone to treat you.
  • If there is a problem or complaint, respond quickly and show genuine empathy for the situation. Picture in your mind how you would feel if faced with a similar problem.
  • Occasionally do something special for your client or customer to show her/him that you appreciate their loyalty.

Customers rely on those intangible cues, and as we deliver and develop the interpersonal bonds, we increase our customer loyalty. It’s part of making outstanding service our primary “product.”

photo credit: Spirit-Fire

Inexpensive customer surveys can provide valuable feedback

SurvsAt one time only large organizations could afford the expense of customer surveys. Third party companies would construct and conduct the questionnaire, send them out to customers and clients, and tally up the results. Unfortunately, by the time the results came back, the product or the service was outdated. Surveys need to provide immediate actionable information that can boost performance and build trust and confidence.

Surveys can be objective, informal, and utilize candid methods to help improve a company. It can supply critical information that affects sales, customer loyalty, and profit margins, but they must be designed to be short, target specific areas, and engage the customer’s interest immediately. A survey needs to focus in on one product, one service, one team, or even one agent, and the data collected and responded to immediately.

As an example, Mary Jones has a popular online website devoted to scrap booking crafts. She sells everything from stamps, stickers, albums, tools and inks to ribbons and die cuts and even transfers. A customer can spend anywhere from just a few dollars to hundreds of dollars depending on what they purchase, so how would Mary design a survey?

Survey tools are readily available online, and many are inexpensive and easy to set up. Suppose Mary wants to find out the popularity of her stamps and stickers. An online survey can provide feedback on her product in addition to giving her more detailed written comments since online stores have the disadvantage of not directly communicating with the customer (as in Mary’s type of business). One key to online surveys is not to have too many questions, tell the purpose, how long the survey will take, and always leave room for comments. Here is an example:

  • How likely are you to buy rubber stamps, stickers, and embellishments in the next six months?
  • How much are you likely to spend on these supplies in the next six months?
  • Where else do you buy similar supplies?
  • What other designs for stamps, stickers, and embellishments would you like to see made available for sale here?
  • What would you suggest we do to improve our service to you?

The survey should be left online for no more than a few weeks. Provide an incentive to encourage responses. Offer a discount off the next purchase, or offer all who respond a chance to win a gift certificate. At the end of the survey, make sure you publish the results prominently on your site, and tell your customers how their feedback is the best way to stay informed as to what customers want – both in products and services. If you ask the same questions each year, you can compare answers and compare business numbers; maybe it’s time to add new products or discontinue ones that are not selling. After all, as business owners we all strive to please our customers.

photo credit: Gustavo Pimenta

Name tags for employees; thumbs up for customer satisfaction

Oh the punsIf you need more convincing that it is truly the little things that can make a big difference in the way your customers feel, then you won’t want to stop reading. Admittedly, the survey done by Shopper Anonymous of London surveyed 116,000 shoppers in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, but I’m betting that most shoppers either in the United States or abroad have similar opinions as to the quality of customer service and their respective appraisals of what they define as customer satisfaction.

Shopper Anonymous reports a 12 percent rise in customer satisfaction in a range of businesses whose staff wears name badges as opposed to companies with no name badges. The company has been following the trend for the last eight years.

So what makes name badges so wonderful? Customers like to be able to distinguish between other shoppers and employees. Haven’t we all asked someone if they worked at a particular store when we were searching for personnel to help us? Customers trust staff members wearing name badges; even more employees are easily recognizable. It gives employees accountability because we have a name, and that makes a sales agent a real person. In addition it creates a professional appearance, and one of an assumed authority; at least in an employee’s profession.

In real estate sales, buyers and sellers appreciate real estate agents wearing name badges. It is a state licensed profession; we have a responsibility to the public. Physicians wear name badges; I’m interested in knowing who put the cast on my broken wrist three weeks ago, and many other professions follow suit. It’s perfectly logical that we all want to know who we are dealing with in our professional lives; therefore why wouldn’t we want to know who we are dealing with when we purchase a new suit, a new washing machine, a computer, or even a pair of Gucci shoes?

In addition, an organization can reap the benefits of using name badges. The design of the badge can promote a company’s identity; it can boost one’s brand. Haven’t we all noticed we are naturally friendlier to those we can identify with a name? When I go to a restaurant, if a server is not wearing a name badge, I always ask for their name. It just helps me connect, and build a rapport so when I want that extra glass of wine, I don’t have to raise my hand for a server; I can actually ask Sean Pagliarro to help me. Publix employees all wear name badges, and when I get to the checkout counter, and Mary Boyle says hello, I can say hello to Mary. All in all, it’s a great way to give a tiny bit of personal attention to your customers, and even if just for a few minutes show us you’re human.

photo credit: minor9th

Maximizing customer satisfaction for e-commerce

logo150ForeSee, a market research consulting company which rates website satisfaction reports both Amazon.com and Netflix.com as the best online retailers for customer satisfaction. Both companies scored 86 out of 100 – any score over 80 considered to be excellent. This is the sixth year of the survey, and both companies have consistently done well.

What made Netflix so successful in the customer satisfaction category and how can we apply their success to our e-commerce future successes? Netflix didn’t start out with a great deal of content, but grew using more methods for customer accessing content by the Internet connected devices, game consoles, Blu-ray Disc players, and television sets. Netflix streaming videos were an instant success, and their marketing campaign have made their services and hardware extremely popular. What’s more is the company continues to expand and improve; an absolute necessity in today’s online market.

The home entertainment giant has been credited with having a great website. According to ForeSee, shoppers are 61 percent more likely to purchase online with customer satisfaction scores above 80. The criteria judged included brand loyalty, recommending the company to others, and how customers are treated online. Customers are concerned with content, quality, website functionality, and merchandise. Ironically price slashing wasn’t a big deal; customers were more interested in the website functionality. That would serve as an interesting element for smaller online organizations worried about competing with the huge companies who cut their prices more often (prices still need to be kept competitive however).

Website functionality success includes an easily accessible site with content and  user-friendly explanations. Customers are interested in blogs, and forums – good quality discussions and helpful solutions to commonly asked questions. Recent and relevant articles pertaining to the venue of the business, and customer service avenues readily available with immediate solutions, guarantees, and personal service add to their appeal. The website should be vibrant, and above all offer the customer the best shopping experience ever!

“In a recovering economy, a lot of us assume that declining satisfaction is a result of frustration with prices. Our research shows that is not always the case, and that it varies drastically from company to company,” states ForeSee Results CEO Larry Freed.

Care about how your customers are treated online, and it seems they will care about you.

photo credit: bizbuzzmedia

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