Saturday, April 17, 2010

Customer Service is a Marketing Strategy

image This article was written by Robin Noah, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor and Training Chairperson

CUSTOMER SERVICE IS A MARKETING STRATEGY. In my early years in business the “customer was king”. We did everything to please customers so they would return and/or refer us to friends and etc. What happened? Where did King Customer go? Are we so busy we are not paying attention to our income generators? When I review marketing strategy plans I look for the customer service plan. There is a lot of product and service planning but none that specifically tackles the customer service part. We need to emblazon a credo of “Bring them back alive and well and happy to see us!” While we know they need us – we need them more. So I encourage you to add customer service to your marketing check list of items to be included in marketing plans.

What’s the secret? Provide customer service that exceeds your customers' expectations and outshines your competitors' customer service. Let’s not be a YEA and it takes care of itself but a YEA and this is what we are going to do, outlining the specific actions that will place your business at the forefront of your competition and builds an army of long-term relationships.

What are some things you can do? Start by making a commitment to yourself that you will pro-actively take this challenge and work it until it becomes your company’s culture.

Then develop a tag line for your company that reflects that you do it better, that serving customers is a primary goal of your company. This becomes a commitment…just like you promise to deliver product or service at top level quality (I prefer premium service) you will also deliver and maintain the kind of service that creates loyalty, trust, repeat business and referrals.

Let the folks who provide the service in on your secret – your new business model - where the Customer is a critical consideration for a successful marketing plan. Marketing is not always about buying and selling – it is about building customer relationships that ultimately lead to better business. You need to Rise to the Exceptional.

Then get everybody involved in getting committed to your goal of “Rising to the Exceptional”

Go to it. Ask for recommendations: The people who are closest to the customer always have good ideas on what needs to change. List what you now do for Customers and check off the things that are routine and the ones that are “special”. Start making recommendations for making the routine rise to exceptional. Develop your strategy. Sometimes rising to the exceptional involves revamping what you’ve always done.

  • Collectively write up the plan.
  • Promise only what you can deliver.
  • Share with all persons involved.
  • Implement your plan.

Be creative. Get to personally know your customers and recognize their individual needs. Above all, make certain that what you are offering really is something that your customer can value; that's the key to good customer service.

Not only will your customers notice – your employees will feel a lot better when they are focusing on the customer. Even a return of product or complaint of on error can be an opportunity to show off your exceptional customer service.

You may want to do a brief customer response feedback .Not only will you get input from the customers, it will also signal that you are truly interested in your customers and are serious about service excellence.

Dealing With An Irate Customer

image This article was written by Barry McKinley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

It has been said that a satisfied customer might tell three people about your company but a dissatisfied customer will tell 11 people! So for every upset customer you need to find a bunch of new ones. It is much easier and less expensive to keep and win over the irate customer.

Think of the Irate Customer like blowing up a balloon. The more pressure that is put in the balloon the bigger it gets until it finally bursts. If you don’t want that to happen, you need to find a way to release the pressure in a slow and controlled manner.

When an Irate Customer blasts us we may feel hurt, angry and dismissive. These negative feelings can short circuit communications. They exhaust our ability to process information and consider opinions. We may react defensively, but this isn’t the path to the best outcome.

Some people just aren’t reasonable. We have to accept that we cannot reach them, no matter what we do or say. They just don’t care how they affect others. These are very unhappy people and fortunately they are a small minority. The good news about these people is that those with whom they interact know their personality is what it is, and don’t place much confidence in their opinions.

Customers get upset for many reasons, but let’s focus on the most common factors. People want respect. If they don’t get it and if they feel they were lied to or devalued, watch out. Our instinctive reactions often fail us. We might calmly talk them through reasoned steps to resolution. We may stonewall or deflect their anger. Sometimes we get mad ourselves. At this point we might just as well surrender and release the balloon and let it fly everywhere with no direction!

Try dealing with the irate customer in two steps: Diffuse and Restore.

Diffuse the person’s anger by actively listening. Set aside your agenda and seek only to accurately understand and reflect on what they tell you. Ask clarifying questions. Above all, at this stage don’t offer solutions, advice, your opinion, blame or any other new information. Simply focus 100% of the conversation on their state of mind and their story. Do not move on until they confirm that you understand what they’re saying. (Be sure to eliminate any interruptions during this time and turn off your cell phone).

Restore means to give them back the respect they feel due. You’ve actually begun this in step one by actively listening which is a powerful form of respect. Now you can share new information that helps the situation, or short of that, communicates to the now not-so-angry person that you respect them by providing something of real value to them. Directing them to resources, giving helpful advice, walking them through a process, or simply and sincerely apologizing for a mistake are examples.

Treat them as you would like to be treated! Remember, they are your paycheck!

The Skyscraper Index


This article was written by John Lafare, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

The recent grand opening of the Burj Dubai reminded me of the Skyscraper Index. Everybody follows the gyrations of the markets and the global economy, relying on the S&P 500 or GDP statistics, but there is a much more reliable (albeit not scientific) indicator by which to plan the future of your business. Back in 1999, at the height of the tech bubble, Andrew Lawrence, a research director at Deutsche Bank, created the "Skyscraper Index," which showed that the world's tallest buildings have risen on the eve of economic downturns.

This correlation is far from pure coincidence, and the business cycle theory of the Austrian school of economics actually provides a solid theoretical foundation for the concept. Lawrence’s study has also been the subject of scholarly papers published in English, German and Czech as well as scores of newspaper articles.

You may note that as of November 2008, as markets were collapsing around the world, a host of gigantic buildings were rising into the sky, many of them to be stopped halfway up or destined to remain without tenants into the future. In fact, of a list of the world’s tallest 20 buildings compiled by the website, 14 remain unfinished.

History being history, Lawrence started tracing the correlation of the world’s latest tallest building with the construction of the Singer Building in New York, completed in 1908 just after the Panic of 1907, also known as the Banker’s Panic, in which the New York Stock Exchange fell 50 percent from its peak a year earlier. In 1929, 40 Wall Street Tower was completed – we recall what happened in that year – followed by the Chrysler Building in 1930 and the Empire State Building in 1931, which remained nearly empty for years. In 1973, the ill-fated World Trade Center in New York and the Sears Tower topped out just in time for the recession of 1973-1975, considered at the time to be the most severe since World War II. The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, then the world’s tallest buildings, and the Baiyoke Tower in Bangkok, Thailand’s tallest, were finished in 1997, just in time for the Asian financial crisis.

clip_image003The world’s tallest buildings obviously don’t cause economic collapses. But inevitably hubris catches up with businessmen at the end of long booms and they can’t resist. It is usually a time of overinvestment, rampant speculation, and monetary expansion – all of which the world had in spades at the start of 2008. Indeed, the common pattern that correlates skyscrapers with economic disasters starts first with a period of easy money, leading to a rapid expansion of the economy and a boom in the stock market.

So, if you want to find out what the future holds for you and your business, just watch the skyline. If you see it dominated by giant cranes, then my advice is to run for cover.

Thinking Differently About Change

image This article was written by Steve Day, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

As we strive to help our small-business clients cope with the many daily challenges they face, we must remember that what we are really doing in almost every counseling transaction is helping them deal with change. Sometimes, we counsel them away from a change they think they want to make. Other times, we assist them in navigating a change process that can be hard to understand and even harder to get through. In this and a subsequent newsletter article, I want to propose a different way of thinking about change, a way that you might find useful as you work with SCORE clients.

There are many ways to define the change process, to label the various phases or steps. One way that I find useful looks like change in reverse, a different way to visualize change. In its simplest terms, we can think of the change process as having three major sequential phases: Beginning; Middle Ground; Ending. This process is easy to internalize, easy to explain. But it is just the reverse of these three phases that will enable a client, or anyone else for that matter, to deal with change successfully. In a great book on the subject, “Managing Transitions: Making The Most of Change”, by William Bridges, the author describes successful change in terms of the following process:

Endings>>>>>>Neutral Zone>>>>>>Beginnings

The author’s premise is that successful change starts with endings, not beginnings. Endings refers to the letting go that must occur to free up the individual from old habits, relationships, associations, ways of making money, things that will get in the way of making change happen successfully. Moving on to something new is a whole lot easier without a lot of excess baggage. Letting go is the hardest part of the change process because it often means that people must step out of their comfort zones, the warm-and-fuzzies that all of us like to cling to. And letting go can take a long time.

The Neutral Zone is a time of great uncertainty, somewhere between having let go and actually starting to effect the desired change. A good way to think about the Neutral Zone is to recall a time when you and your family relocated from a place you had lived for a long time to somewhere new. Think about all the confusion of moving, the uncertainty of whether or not the move was indeed the right or best thing for you and your family, and all the details of getting established in a new environment. And all this on top of having “let go” of friends, neighbors, familiar surroundings, and co-workers that you left behind!

Beginnings is that period of time during which we “begin” to arrive emotionally at our change destination. We’re there physically; that’s the easy part. Much harder is to plant new roots, establish & build new relationships, and approach a point where the change starts to feel comfortable.

Next time: How you can help clients with Endings, the necessary “letting go”.