Is your call center creating phone rage? Read this story of superior customer service.


OK, listen up readers: I really want your opinion on this.

I recently bought a new MacBook Pro from Apple’s Web site. But rather than get rid of my old Mac PowerBook, I decided to update it with the latest operating system. So during a routine check of the old Mac, I noticed there was only half the RAM in the machine than when I originally purchased it.  Huh?

I bought the PowerBook four years ago, and my warranty has long since expired. But hey, where’s the RAM that was supposed to be in my Mac?

So expecting nothing, I called Apple and apprised them of the situation.  Not unexpectedly, the customer service representative (CSR) told me that my warranty was up — “It’s been four years after all! But let me check something out anyway,” she said.  So she put me on hold for about six or seven minutes, (although she did come back on the line a few times to politely let me know she was working on the issue), which was good.

To make a long story short, this incredible CSR then came back on the line and told me she’d spoken with another department, and she’d like me to talk to them. From that point, it unfolded pretty quickly.  I spoke for about a minute with someone in the customer care department, and the next thing I knew, I was being told that a 512 megabyte RAM chip was being shipped out to me immediately. 

Looking back, I wish I’d gotten the name of the CSR who originally helped me.  Whatever she did was above and beyond the call of duty. 

If I wasn’t already a Mac fan, I’d certainly be now!  Hey Apple, you managed to cement my relationship with you in one call.  Bravo!

The moral of the story?   I’ve spent a great deal of time writing about customer service issues lately.  From my time in this industry, I unfortunately can tell you many more customer service horror stories than positive ones like this.  But this story was exceptional, so I had to share.

When evaluating customer service, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How many companies will do that for a customer?
2. Would yours?
3. Do you empower your CSRs to really help customers?  To truly solve their problems?
4. Are your CSRs intelligent?  Or do you hire the lowest paid people you can find?   And if the latter, does that really work for you in the long run?

That’s all customers and prospects really want anyway — to be taken care of. We’re sick of indifferent people handling our problems.  Forget road rage:  Are your prospects and customers suffering from phone rage?

Comments?  Did Apple go too far?  I mean, how dare they give something to a customer that calls four years later.  And off-warranty, to boot?  The nerve having superior, well trained, customer focused representatives on the phone!

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert, or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

Four Last-minute Tactics to Increase Your Catalog’s Holiday Revenue


I’ll keep this column brief (I know you want this week to end. I can’t wait for the advanced stages of tryptophan sleepiness to set in after the turkey is done). Want to add some revenue before the end of the year? Try the following:

1. Add an extra mailing in before the end of the year. Try it this way: After your last mailing is complete, mail one more catalog just to your hotline buyers, those who just responded from your last mailings of the year. If it’s too late to get your printer involved, grab some of your bounce back and office copy catalogs and mail them. Even if you send them out first class, you should still get great response. I’ve done this before and it works.

2. Speaking of bounce backs, add a special offer to your outgoing packages beyond the traditional bounce back book. This gives your customers a compelling reason to make another purchase before the holidays. It’s especially persuasive if you can target your offer to people who are on the receiving end of gifts.

3. Extend the life of an existing catalog by sending a postcard special offer to your best buyers with a last-minute incentive. Try something like this: “Last minute shoppers save (a percentage)” or “Last minute offer! Get a Specially Priced (product here).” Postcards are quick, inexpensive and can drive both catalog and Web traffic.

4. Don’t forget e-mail. Deliver offers right up to the last possible date you can ship product for Christmas. 

If you have any additional ideas for last minute marketing tactics, please share them with us by clicking on the link below.

I wish you a safe, happy and healthy Thanksgiving. Thanks for reading! Speak to you next Tuesday.

Why you must always be networking – and Linkedin is the key (part 1)


My dad is a C.P.A. who worked for the same accounting firm for 35 years. He had a typical career path: He started at a low-level manager position, worked hard and eventually became partner.

These days, that’s anything but typical. The average employee stays at a company for about two years. Climbing the corporate ladder is now acceptably done by frequently switching jobs.

In essence, there’s no loyalty anymore between employees and their companies — and vice versa — which is a shame. Business continuity, team spirit and other vital relationship ingredients that can provide a positive effect on businesses are all but lost. But businesses are better served by nurturing long-term employees.

(Update: For part 2, click here, for part 3 of the series on linkedin click here)

Building Your Personal Rolodex
I recently read that the goal of business today is about adding new and influential contacts daily to your sphere of influence — i.e., building your networking Rolodex.

Stir in our current economy, with its impersonal, almost random, premature “because we can!” layoffs, and the need for business networking becomes more evident daily.

Which is why business networking Web sites, especially LinkedIn, are becoming the way of the future. LinkedIn is an amazing tool, and if you’re not currently a user, I suggest you join (it’s free). Right now, you can probably find 70 percent of the businesspeople you know using it. Over the next few weeks, I’ll delve into some of the basic and power user features of LinkedIn to help you prepare your network.

Where to Start (Even if You’re Already a User)
Consider this: There are people who are on LinkedIn (they’re listed), and then there those who are proactive in taking advantage of its many powerful features. Regardless of which type of user you may or may not be, I suggest you do four things immediately:

1. Contact everyone you’ve worked with in the past (who is already linked to you) — as well as present — and request to be endorsed.

2. Join as many LinkedIn groups as you can. You’re allowed to join up to 50.

3. And if you haven’t done so already, add “link” requests to all your contacts in all of your address books (and ones who you have worked with, ask them to endorse you).

4. Add your linked in URL to al of your outbound emails, both personal and business.

You also can link to me at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert. And if you aren’t a LinkedIn member already, by all means spend a few minutes to join.

Check back next week for tips on how to become a LinkedIn power user.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

Why you need to network now more than any other time in history!


If you aren’t in full-on networking mode in this economy, let this week’s column be a call to action for you.

(For more about why, see last week’s column.)

These days, I’m always networking. I’m on MySpace, Facebook, and have just started to play around with Twitter and other less known networking sites like Schmoozii. Even Plaxo has gotten into the social and business networking game.

But by far, the best networking tool to use in my opinion is LinkedIn. Most LinkedIn users already know how to link to other people in and out of their networks. I wrote about the beginner stuff about a year ago.

There are LinkedIn users and then there are LinkedIn players!

Let’s talk more about how to go from being merely listed on LinkedIn to being a networking “player,” which has helped me get job inquiries, plus writing and consulting gigs.

Follow these steps to help grow your career:

1. Update your profile often. Every time you update your profile, that info gets sent to your connections. Also, update your “status” often, as this gets transmitted as well. You always want to be visible to other people in your network. Updates keep you in front of them.

2. Ask questions. Use the question function of LinkedIn — it’s a great tool to get your name in front of LinkedIn users. Some quick tips: Always try to ask thoughtful and relevant questions. Ask questions that’ll generate a lot of response, and give plenty of background info for why you’re asking the question. When people respond to your question, always send a thank-you e-mail to them. And, if appropriate, you may want to send them a connection request. When your question closes, go back and use the site’s rating system to pick the best answers. When you “best” someone, they earn expertise (which shows up on their profile and adds credibility, too).

3. Answer questions. Same as above. You can earn expert status and your answers help other LinkedIn users solve their problems. And don’t forget to add a URL to your answer to help support your position.

4. Join groups. LinkedIn allows you to join up to 50 groups. Once you join a group, announce to it who you are, what you do and provide a link to your profile, blog or Web site. You can also post and answer discussions within groups. Get involved and watch your network and sphere of influence grow.

Stay tuned for part three next week, where I’ll provide some cool power-user tips. I’ll also reveal how to build a “super-profile.”

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

Want to be a better communicator? 4 key points to better get your point across!


I’ve learned I’m a much better communicator via written word than in person. With writing, you can choose your words carefully, so not to miscommunicate your intention.

We all know there are two forms of communication: verbal and nonverbal. In person, nonverbal communication is sometimes more powerful. While I cannot address nonverbal communication, as I don’t personally know you, I felt it deserved mention. But I digress.

What Stops Us From ‘Clean’ Communication
Did you ever play that game telephone when you were a child? You know, the one where you whispered a message to someone next to you, and that person told the person next to him or her, and so on, and by the time it got to the last person, the message had changed.

Well, that’s how we communicate every day. For most people, the goal of communication is to make sure the message they state is heard. The truth is, that’s only three-quarters of the total communication path.

Four Touchpoints
When you think about communication, there are four major touchpoints:

1. What you’re thinking;

2. what you actually say;

3. what the other person hears; and

4. how the other person interprets what’s heard.

Let’s think about the four touchpoints above, and in two weeks we’ll continue this discussion by examining how to overcome the gaps between what you think and how people interpret what you actually say.

So, what’s the secret to being a great communicator? It’s simple: Excellent communicators make sure that what they say is interpreted correctly. Most people communicate to be heard. They’re most concerned that the listener hears what they say.

But there’s one step beyond No. 4 above, and it takes some training on the part of the speaker. The next time you’re speaking, watch the other people closely. Did they get what you said, or are they just acknowledging your words? With practice, you’ll be able to notice some differences. If you’re not sure, ask people you’re speaking with to mirror back what you said. Compare their responses to see if you delivered your message successfully.

3 Characteristics of Gifted Communicators:


1.
 They’re very animated — they convey their meaning through movement, body language and even hand signals (like “air quotes” and such).

2. They speak with intention — they choose their words carefully, leaving no room for interpretation.

3. They’re very descriptive — they use analogies, metaphors, anything they can to make their point. If you try these three on for size, however, be careful: too much of this can ruin a good conversation. Watch to see if your listeners’ eyes glaze over when you’re speaking.

There’s one type of communicator that you don’t ever want to become: the person who speaks to hear him- or herself speak. These people aren’t really concerned about the listeners understanding what they’re saying. All they want to do is speak, to get it out, so they can feel satisfied that they communicated. They forget to “look over there” when speaking, because their primary concern is to get the communication out. Their mind-set is if they say it, you’ll get it. When dealing with these people, especially in business, be the better communicator. Mirror back what they just said to make sure you get it fully.

Also, remember that communicating is a two-way street. Be an active listener, and don’t just accept what you hear.

Finally, as a listener and interpreter of communication, I urge you to beware of duplicity. Business is full of BS, subterfuge and political agendas. Know who you’re communicating with and adjust accordingly. Make sure you listen past the BS to get to the real meaning.

Well, that’s it for this week. I hope I delivered this communication effectively. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

Are we communicating, or what? (part 1)


I speak much differently in the business world than I do in real life. 

In real life, I like to use little words and keep all concepts simple.  I wish I could do that in the business world. Frankly, I always prefer to use the word “total” than “aggregate,” (even though that’s a lousy example.)  Truth is, I believe that if there are two choices of words to use, I prefer the simpler one.

I find I communicate more effectively that way.

Unfortunately, as a business executive, it’s expected of me to be a bit more shall we say, high-minded. There must be some unwritten law, or maybe in an executive communication book somewhere, that states, “We need to speak at a level that’s different than the masses.” Maybe it’s a psychological thing — some concept saying that we must sound more important, or maybe just self-important. 

So on a daily basis, I have to deal with the made-up, pseudo-intelligent speak that we call modern day business jargon. It makes me a bit crazy, if you know what I mean. Hearing it means I have to translate a lot in my old-school direct marketing brain.

And when it comes to speaking the jargon, much like learning a new language, it sounds foreign on my tongue.

But I must speak the sacred language, for if I don’t I won’t be considered one of the few, but one of the many — a simpleton in a complex business (right!).

Even worse, the jargon keeps changing. For example, not so long ago, catalog analysis became benchmarking. Then it became metrics, and these days we call it analytics or KPIs, (Key Performance Indicators).

To me it’s just response, lifetime value analysis and simple stuff like sales per catalog mailed.

It Gets Better; Consider This …

Sometimes we use business speak to confuse. (OK, I really wanted to work the word “subterfuge” rather than confuse into this last sentence; this speaking simply stuff isn’t easy!)

One of my favorite forms of confusion is the “high-level” discussion!  Every time I hear someone say high level in a meeting, I know it’s probably going to be a line of bunk.  We live in a world of direct and catalog marketing where the details are everything.  A world where lists drive mailings, which drive mail plans which drive the top line.  

You can forget that top-line hooey; it’s below the line where our best business discussions need to take place.

Said another way, you can’t grow the top line in a multichannel business; it’s impossible — well, almost. You can have a high-level discussion about top-line growth while your circulation planners are snickering in the corner.

Maybe people who have high-level discussions forget all that. Or maybe they just don’t want to understand the details. Could they be the people who changed the saying from “God is in the details” to “the devil is in the details?”

Any time someone wants to get into a high-level discussion with me, I instantly become wary. You know, that same kind of reaction — a raising of the hairs on the back of my neck — that I get any time someone tells me to think outside the box. (Note to readers: Thinking outside the catalog marketing box can have deadly consequences. There’s a reason for the “inside the box” rules we have in this business.)

The joke is, we do all of this business communication to better communicate our ideas and thoughts to each other. That is, until the “four crappy communicators” arrive and get in the way.

In my next column, I’ll help decipher some of the most common (and possibly ridiculous) business terms. Then, I’ll offer a foolproof method for communicating more effectively (all about the four crappy communicators). Don’t miss this column; it will make your career go much smoother.

In the meantime, use the link below to serve up some of your more silly business speak jargon or e-mail me at my address below.  (I know you have your favorite ridiculous jargon, c’mon post it here)  Speak to you in my next entry.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at http://www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

Cost Reduction: Is Downsizing a Last Resort, or Merely the Road More Easily Traveled?


There have been some high profile layoffs in our industry over the last few weeks. And with our economy in the tank, companies experiencing slumping sales and the outlook for the rest of Q4 painted as “bleak,” it’s safe to expect more downsizing to follow.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how to bulletproof your career in this economy by cutting costs. And don’t fear, I have many more cost-cutting/revenue-creating tips for you this week. (Forthcoming, stay tuned.)

(For my most recent column, and those cost-cutting tips, click here.)

But first I’d like to address all the C-level folks who read my column (and the rest of you, too, of course). Let me begin by making the assertion that your business is not very efficient. No matter how well you run your business, you’re still bleeding cash out the door in many places.

Here, let me help you out:

1. Your call center doesn’t convert enough prospects to customers.

2. Neither does your Web site. Most likely your Web site converts customers in the single digits.

3. Right now, someone is speaking to one of your call-center reps or is on your Web site, and is getting annoyed and/or frustrated.

4. Did you hear that? That’s the sound of clicking away and the phone hanging up.

These are just four areas I see daily that always need work. They’re usually the lowest-hanging fruit.

In short, no matter how you slice it, both your sales acumen and customer service need major work. And by only fixing those parts of your business, you’ll recoup enough revenue to probably help you through the storm.

Ask yourself the following: How much more revenue will you create by converting 1 percent more sales in your call center or Web site? How much more gross profit will you get by reducing returns by a percent? There’s plenty of stuff here to fix.

That’s why I don’t believe in downsizing, rightsizing, layoffs, cutting head count or whatever euphemism you call it in your company. To me, that’s taking the easy way out — the path of least resistance. And I see it as a sign of weakness, unless all other options for cost cutting and revenue increasing have been completely and thoroughly exhausted.

If not, you’re going to mess up the lives of some people who deeply care about their jobs and your company. And desperately need their jobs, too.

The job outlook is bleak. Many of your employees who are let go will absolutely have a hard time in this economy. Your actions could have devastating consequences on these people. Some could lose their homes, and money troubles at home are one of the leading causes of divorce.

At some point, you really need to look deeply at your company and take the hit. It’s not the market, the economy, your products and/or your employees who got you into this mess. As the leader of the ship, it’syour responsibility.

There’s Hope … Just Follow My Lead
All you have to do is look and I guarantee you’ll find ways to cut costs in your company — and do so without negatively affecting quality. In fact, if you look in the right places, you’ll likely increase quality.

I implore you to look at processes, not people. I beg you to take the high ground here, the road less traveled. Forget about head count; get past the political BS your executives tell you. Remember, they’re scared of losing their jobs, too. Get out and speak with lower-level employees. If you find one who isn’t too scared to tell you what you really need to know (translation: the unfiltered truth), then listen.

And finally, this is my challenge to you: If you cannot find where to cut costs, contact me and I’ll help you. I’ll choose two companies to do this for, pro bono (but only if you let me use the results of my help in a future column here).

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

Congrats, You Too Can Be a Gazillionaire!


Back in the late ’80s I started a publishing company that worked with Realtors to help sell its properties. My goal was to get my publication into prospects’ hands before they bought a home from another real estate firm who wasn’t one of my advertisers. To accomplish this, I came up with a ridiculously high-tech method of reaching potential buyers: I “bulk-dropped” my publication in every supermarket, restaurant and bank that would let me.

And it worked. My company prospered. My clients sold houses. I spent a lot of time teaching my clients how to track their responses on such technological devices as “tick sheets,” where you place a tick mark on the sheet whenever a response came in.

For a time, this was fun. But bulk-drop distribution isn’t the best way to reach prospects. So I racked my 20-something-year-old brain for a better method, but came up empty.

By 1991, I’d had enough. Luckily, one of my former employers was interested in buying the company, so I sold it. “Good riddance,” I said, even though the new owner offered me a standing opportunity to come back to run things.

Come 1993, I had my first proper job in direct marketing and went to New York University for its direct marketing certificate curriculum. A visitor came into my class one night and started talking about this thing called the Internet and its marketing arm, the World Wide Web — with something called a graphical interface. It’s coming, he said, and we entered into this whole speculative, theoretical conversation about direct marketing in the future.

A year later, a girl I was dating showed me the Internet. I asked her, “Where’s the three w’s?” She directed me to Yahoo.com. From what I remember, Yahoo! was a mishmash of totally unrelated links. I was more interested in learning how to instant message people who wanted to do cyber-things that I won’t mention here and laughing with my date over this.

So why the trip down memory lane? Simple! I had every tool necessary to take my publishing company to levels beyond my wildest dreams literally at my fingertips. Some days I look back and think, “If I’d only gotten the concept of the Internet and its vast search capabilities, I could’ve married real estate listings, search and Web sites together.” And become a gazillionaire in the process. In 1993, I could’ve gone back to my former company and made this a reality. If only I’d understood the Internet’s potential!

What’s amazing to me is how the Internet and search have changed everything in such a short time.

I also wonder these days what exactly I’m missing right now, much like I missed in the past. Where’s the next big profit center going to be? The next multimillion dollar idea? Are you thinking? Me too!

 

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/jimwgilbert or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at jimdirect@aol.com.

Other ways to reach Jim: Phone:561-302-1719.

Profitable Cataloging on CatalogSuccess.com: http://www.catalogsuccess.com/blogs/jimgilbert.bsp

The direct mail list business – A primer for general management


Since last September, we’ve discussed printing, merchandise and catalog creative execution. Over the next few weeks, I’ll serve up some suggestions and insights regarding the list side of the catalog business.

Always remember, the 40/40/20 rule of direct marketing states that list selection can impact 40 percent of your direct marketing efforts. 

For starters, you’re probably paying WAY too much attention to your merchandise and creative efforts! That’s O.K., it’s only natural. You’re a merchant in a product driven company and you want your products and your brand image to represent the sum of your hard work. Besides, your products and image are the calling card for your business, right? 

But as I’ve said before, don’t yourself as a product-driven company. Start focusing on matching up the right lists to the right offering — not one before the other, but in concert with each other.

Your job as a direct marketer is to put the puzzle pieces in the right place regarding the list choices you make. But it can be much more complicated than that.

Let’s take a look at lists in general for a minute. There are many different lists on the market and many different list brokers you can choose from. 

Simply put, lists are either two things, customers or prospects. They are made up of people with some sort of affinity to each other. Usually the glue that holds the names on a list together represents certain demographic, psychographic, social or behavioral factors.

Three Kinds of Lists

The basic three kinds of lists you can choose for your marketing efforts are the following:

• House lists: your own customers and prospects already in your database

• Response lists: lists of people who’ve responded to a specific offer (eg: catalog buyers)

• Compiled lists: people who came from a source like compiling from a phone book or public records etc.

The closer you stick with product offering’s affinity, the better for your results. For instance, your house list will always yield the best response. If you’re a consumer mail order cataloger, stay away from compiled lists and stick with response lists unless you have such a small list that you’ve exhausted all possible names of mail order buyers. From a product affinity perspective, the response list that most closely resembles your customers will most often return the best response rate. 

If you are a B-to-B marketer, then you may want to delve into the compiled list world.

Why? Stay tuned to my upcoming blogs, and I’ll explain why B-to-B and B-to-C catalog marketing efforts have very different list demands. We’ll also look in to some basics on list brokers and how to choose the right one, as well as other list concepts like circulation planning, RFM analysis, catalog co-op databases and models in the coming weeks.

Getting the Most Out of Your Catalog Printer


Marketing via catalog can be a daunting task.  Just printing a catalog has it’s own set of core competencies that you’ll need to develop.  Here is some information you’ll need in order to start…

Getting Print Bids From Catalog Printers:

If you look at a catalog printer’s price quote, and you’re not already in the catalog business, you may be awfully confused. I know I was the first time I got a catalog print quote.

The thing is, with a catalog printer you’re not just getting a quote on printing alone. The most efficient catalog printers — and the only ones from which you should get quotes — also do the following:

* Bind the catalog and any other materials, such as an order form, together. Many times I’ve had materials printed in addition to the catalog that were bound or blown in. Most companies don’t bind in order forms anymore. However, other inserts, such as special offers for different market segments, still get bound in. Many times this printed material gets printed elsewhere and shipped to the printer for binding.

* Print the customers’ names, addresses and associated postal barcodes on the outside of the catalog and inside the order form. They also print additional messages and special offers on the outside of the catalog and the order form.

* Sort the catalogs out to take advantage of postal discounts, and then palettize them based on this sortation.

* Truck the catalogs closer to the end reader by delivering them — on the same truck as other catalogs to save money — to the Bulk Mail Centers (BMC) and Sectional Center Facilities (SCF).

All of these processes, plus plate making, shipping bounceback copies to your offices and other miscellaneous charges, get line items on your price quote. 

Which is why I say that it’s a good idea to make friends with your printer. 

Seriously, a good printer rep will be looking to mail your catalog in the most efficient way possible. Work with it to determine the most efficient trim size and number of pages.

Catalog postal rates are determined by the weight of the catalog. Also, since catalog printers have different press efficiencies, ask yours whether plates of eight, 12 or 16 pages work better. Also, ask which trim size fits its presses for the best pricing.

Once you’ve discussed all of the possibilities with your potential printer, have it take the quote and put it in a spreadsheet, projected out by the amount of catalogs you’re planning to mail. I regularly plan out an entire year in advance, but for the purposes of long-range planning, I’ve had printers develop print models for three to five years out.

When getting print quotes from multiple vendors, take the first quote you get and use that as a standardized form. Get each printer to follow the same format.

As always, please feel free to fire off a comment using the form below.  For more info see next weeks article.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing and a professor of direct marketing at Miami International University of Art and Design. He can be reached at jimdirect@aol.com

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