How to Mess Up a Perfectly Good Customer Experience


As a marketer, you should be overly concerned about how your customers experience your brand, products and customer service. I evangelize how in the internet age it’s very easy for a company to wind up getting skewered via social media.

But all isn’t the same out there. I come across businesses daily who don’t have their proverbial act together. All could really learn some lessons on how customers must be king or else.

I love to go to the movies. The local theater I go to recently underwent a complete makeover, including new, wider reclining chairs; a bar with real food and alcoholic beverages; and more. This theater already had a really great loyalty program in place: it seemed for every couple of movies I went to, I wound up with a free ticket. Very cool!

Even more cool (guilty pleasure alert), it actually used real butter on its popcorn. Oh, and free refills. And it was never too crowded like the mega-giga-multiplex in town where you need a shuttle bus a la Disney to get from the parking lot to the theater.

Enter Frank Theatres a few short months ago and the mega-giga-multiplex doesn’t look so bad. It upped the price of a movie ticket by a few bucks, made it harder than winning the lottery to get a free ticket via its points-based loyalty program and in general tortured me as a customer by making the $6 popcorn nonrefillable. Now you have to buy the $7.50 size (maybe you city folks pay that for 30 cents of corn, oil and seasonings, but down south here that’s a big jump) in order to get refills. I’m pretty sure the $6 bag and the $7.50 bucket are about the same size, so why not just charge me $1.50 for a refill and stop with the subterfuge already.

I won’t even tell you about how customers are supposed to understand how to wait in one central line for the candy counter until the next person is called without any velvet ropes or a queue. Ridiculous! Is it one line or three lines? This is for sure going to turn into a fistfight one day soon because people try to form three lines only to be told they’re cutting the line.

The kicker: I took my family to the movies last weekend knowing I’d drop close to $100 for the latest 3-D flick (an additional $3 just to use the theater’s 3-D glasses), but I couldn’t even use a $100 bill. The girl at the ticket booth told me flatly, “We don’t take that, it’s our policy.”

So by now the moral of the story should be obvious — wait for the movie to come out on cable. Wait, that’s not it.

The moral is your customers have expectations. If you meet or beat those expectations, you’ll do well in business. If you don’t, there will likely be consequences — i.e., lost sales. Your customers are creatures of habit. They like their little creature comforts. If you take them away, they tend to get upset and take their business elsewhere.

So a note to Frank Theatres: This is the internet age. Get it together or deal with some very vocal customers who like what they like. If it’s going to take over another theater, keep the customs of that theater or risk losing business (or at least go with gradual change). It’s OK to add to a better user experience. Be careful that progress isn’t taking one step forward and two steps back.

7 ways to make the Inc. Magazine 500 Fastest Growing Companies list in a down economy like my client did


I’m not really big on self-promotion or self-congratulations — especially here in my column. However, I’m quite pleased to “admit” that one of the companies I work for has made Inc. magazine’s fastest growing companies in America listOpens in a new window.

So, what does it take to make the list? While it’s not Inc.’s criteria, I’ll tell you from my perspective what you and your company need to do to get there.

But before I do, let me tell you a bit about the company in question. The Fresh Diet Opens in a new windowwas founded in 2005 in classic entrepreneurial style — in the kitchen of CEO Zalmi Duchman with Executive Chef Yosef Schwartz . The company creates gourmet meals that are healthy, portion controlled and delicious (Chef Yos is a Cordon BleuOpens in a new window-trained chef). The meals are prepared fresh and hand-delivered to clients’ homes every day.

For this luxury (or is it?), customers dish out about $35 a day (most order a month’s worth of Fresh Diet meals at a time — about $1,100).

So, how can your company follow in The Fresh Diet’s footsteps and makeInc.’s 500 list? Here are seven ways how:

  • Identify products that create fanatics and advocates. It’s easy to go into the meal delivery business and not deliver food daily, or by hand, or buy top-quality meats and produce. But why do that? The Fresh Diet constantly strives to exceed its customers’ expectations.
  • Build a persona around your business and your people. It’s not enough to just be a business these days. With social media and peer recommendations fully in play, companies must put a face to the nameless, faceless corporate entity. Use social media as a way to connect with your customers. But don’t do it as a strategy. Connect in an honest and personal way, in a real voice. For a good example of how The Fresh Diet accomplishes this, check out its Facebook pageOpens in a new window.
  • Take risks, but calculated ones. Develop a mentality of testing — everything from marketing channels to individual campaigns. But also calculate the risks. Test small and do your math up front; big results can potentially be found in tests of all sizes. Even companies that are struggling should test. By making testing part of your culture, the rewards will outweigh the risks.
  • Empower your employees to think and act independently. The days of micromanaging employees are over. Empowered employees are more productive employees. Find great talent, then let them do their thing. OK, so sometimes they won’t do what you thought they should do, but that will be offset by things you never would have thought of.
  • Use all of your channels. I’ve seen too many companies get stuck these days by a specific kind of thinking: online retailers who only market online; direct marketers who fear advertising online; etc. Don’t fall into that trap. The Fresh Diet survives quite nicely in the online and traditional worlds, where it’s tested and rolled out many successful programs.
  • Understand that messaging needs time to develop. Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither should your messaging. Going back to developing a culture of testing, your marketing message falls into a category that should be constantly tested. And even if you hit it big and have “control” messaging that works, always strive to make it better.
  • Handle customer service issues promptly, and look to resolve each issue in the customer’s favor. Know that an upset customer is a brand ambassador waiting to happen once their issue is resolved (which says much for the lack of customer centricity with other brands).
  • What Multichannel, Direct and Ecommerce Marketers Can Learn From the Way Old-School Retailers Do Business


    This week I want to tell you a story, and pay tribute to a local businessperson who recently passed away.

    I don’t live in a particularly small town (about 200,000 residents), but for the last 16 years — since I moved to Florida — I’ve been a regular patron at Howards, a local gourmet market named after its founder.

    After a brief illness, Howard passed away on July 5. I found out the next day when I walked into the market and saw the looks on the employees’ faces. One look and I knew something was very wrong. In a short period of time, I saw quite a few people weeping — both employees and patrons.

    On the TV monitor over the register a tribute was playing to the owner in a loop. I offered my condolences to some of the long-time employees, paid and left. As I walked to my car, I started to tear up, too. Now I’m not a particularly weepy person, so I found it odd that I started to cry.

    But this man, and the business he’d built, had been a part of my daily life for a long time. The store would hold classic car shows, July 4th fireworks and more in its parking lot. When there was a hurricane, Howards stayed open to keep the community going.

    I can’t tell you how many parties, BBQs, dinners, etc. my wife and I have enjoyed courtesy of the foods Howards provided.

    And almost every day for 16 years, there was Howard by the front register talking to customers and building relationships with all who entered. He knew my family by name. Even gave my son, who was seven-years-old at the time, a job application to fill out (we had fun with that!)

    So Why Am I Telling You This?
    Think about your company: Do you know your customers by name, or are you just a nameless, faceless entity that people buy product from? How about your staff. Are they, especially your customer service reps (CSRs), connected to your customers? Via how many touchpoints?

    There’s a lot to be learned from your old-school retailer. I wonder on a daily basis how to translate that to my business and clients. From trial and error, I’ve learned and hopefully taught the companies I’ve worked for how to build relationships with their clients. It used to be that people only bought “stuff” from retailers. I tell companies, “People don’t buy from companies, they buy from people.”

    How Does That Translate in the E-Commerce Age?
    Simple! Make sure all of your customer touchpoints “keep it real.” Have your CSRs build relationships with your customers. Send them a surprise email special. Connect via your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. (Still don’t have these up and running? What are you waiting for?) Push your employees to the forefront. Do stories, biographies and contests revolving around them. Learn to use your website and social media efforts to project a real and personal voice. Respond immediately to complaints, issues, etc.

    I could go on here, but you get the picture. Feel free to use the comments section below to tell us how you connect and engage with your customers. Go for it!

    And Howard … RIP! You’ll be missed!

    Use these tips to connect the dots of your customer touchpoints, Part 1


    Direct and multichannel marketers encounter moments of truth that make or break their sales and marketing effectiveness multiple times each day. How they interact with customers, prospects — essentially all consumers — is critical to their success.

    Direct marketers touch consumers in both traditional (call center, website) and nontraditional ways (mobile, social media). Reputation management is everywhere.

    Marketing in the 21st century, with the internet and social media in play, has become even more of a challenge as direct and multichannel aren’t fully in control of all of the messaging that’s communicated to (and between) consumers regarding their brands. This is why today’s brands need to make sure that all client-facing activities are buttoned up, in sync and consistent across all channels.

    Well, at least that’s the goal to shoot for!

    Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a multipart series on how to maximize results in all selling channels and at all consumer touchpoints — from your call center to your website to your Facebook page.

    But before I get started, I want to offer you a challenge. I have some questions for you to ask yourself. I want you to become a detective in your own organization. And I don’t care if you’re the CEO or a customer service representative in a call center. Try the following:

    1. List all of the points of contact your customers and prospects interact with you in. The more specific, the better. For example, if you use landing pages for marketing campaigns, list them.
    2. Get out of your office. Go to your call center and listen to multiple customer service and sales-oriented calls. Do searches on your company name and/or products to see what your reputation is in the social mediasphere.
    3. Do a complete audit of all of the places your brand touches consumers. Note the good and the bad.
    4. Get others in your organization involved. My best suggestion to you is to get your CEO to put together a customer experience team to investigate the above. It should meet weekly to discuss its findings. Then build a plan to ensure your touchpoints are doing exactly what you want them to do — i.e., driving sales and engagement.

    Stay tuned for part two of this series in a few days. But in the meantime, go ahead and post your comments, suggestions and even fact findings below

    Gilbert Directs 6th Annual Preparedness Guide to Surviving a Disaster


    This may be the most important blog post you read this week.  As I am writing this, there’s actually a tropical disturbance brewing in the Atlantic. We’ve already suffered through earthquakes in major regions and a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus I felt it was time for my yearly guide to disaster preparation, right in time for hurricane and tornado season.

    Much like a four-letter word, disasters happen in all forms just about anywhere, without warning, at any time. So prepare your company and yourself. Here’s a disaster-readiness checklist I suggest you look over carefully. If you think you’re on top of it, compare your list to this one to ensure you have all the bases covered.

    • Have a business survival disaster plan in place. Get your department heads involved as stakeholders. Let your employees know what to do in the event of any emergency.
    • Publish a list of all emergency contact numbers for your key personnel and vendors. Include home and cell phone numbers, as well as home email addresses as alternative ways of contact if main communication channels go down. And don’t forget instant messaging and Skype addresses, as well as text messages.
    • Twitter and Facebook can be effective tools for communicating with your employees, vendors and customers during times of crisis.
    • Designate someone in your company as chief disaster planning officer.
    • Back up your computers and computer systems regularly. Then back up your backups. Most importantly, keep them off-site. I have five backup drives and all my files backed up on DVDs. There are two kinds of computer users: those who have lost data, and those who will lose it. I fall into the first category: Last year one of my backup drives failed with more than 750 gigabytes of data on it. Luckily, while I lost three-quarters of a terabyte of data, I had almost all of it backed up on DVDs. I’m one of the fortunate ones who lost a little, not a lot.
    • Work with your call center so it can operate if a disaster strikes. If you use an external call center, inquire about its disaster plan.
    • If your call center is on-site, consider hiring a backup call-center staff to field calls in case of emergency (this saved one my clients’ bacon a few years ago).
    • If you host your own website, have a plan in place in case you lose all power. Find out what your ISP does if it loses all electricity.
    • If your business is in a disaster-prone area, buy a generator.
    • If your business isn’t in a disaster-prone area, contact any vendors that are. Disasters, either natural or man-made, can interrupt your workflow with printers, the Postal Service or any other vendors.
    • Don’t market into disaster-impacted areas because they won’t respond. If you’ve already marketed in a disaster-impacted area, adjust your projections downward.

    Bottom line for all this, remember my motto (or is it the Boy Scout motto?): ALWAYS BE PREPARED!

    Do you have a disaster plan? Feel free to add to this list by posting a comment below.

    Attention Marketers: Watch this episode of Undercover Boss now


    This Sunday’s episode of Undercover Boss, focused on GSI Commerce and it’s CEO Michael Rubin.  It’s all about direct marketing, customer service, call center training and shipping and fulfillment.  Lots of great nuggets of info to learn from here.

    Watch the episode for free click here

    6 Marketing and Management Tips to learn from TV’s Undercover Boss


    I had a boss in the early stages of my career, one of the last great bosses I’ve ever had, who was a huge fan of Tom Peters and his “excellence” training.

    Tom Peters’ notion of “management by wandering around” (MBWA) is one of the concepts that really hit home and became a career-defining principle for me.

    MBWA is defined by BusinessDictionary.com as “Unstructured approach to hands-on, direct participation by the managers in the work-related affairs of their subordinates, in contrast to rigid and distant management. In MBWA practice, managers spend a significant amount of their time making informal visits to work area and listening to the employees. The purpose of this exercise is to collect qualitative information, listen to suggestions and complaints, and keep a finger on the pulse of the organization.”

    Recently, a version of MBWA has shown up on network TV in the form of CBS’ show “Undercover Boss.”

    If you’re not watching, you should be! While it’s not a perfect show by any means — it’s sappy, formulaic, sometimes manipulative, and as reality TV goes, a lot of it feels staged — it does convey the right message.

    Each week a different CEO goes undercover in his or her own company, taking entry-level positions. These CEOs learn about their companies, processes and employees (lots of sappiness here) as individuals, in an attempt to better manage their businesses. The bosses in the first four weeks of the show have been from Waste Management, Hooters, 7-Eleven and White Castle.

    Somehow — and I find this to be highly disingenuous — all these CEOs managed to have game-changing “aha” moments. The game changers usually centered around actually learning who their normally nameless/faceless employees were on a human level: their medical problems; their multitasking in order to keep roofs over their heads; their stupidity (especially the Hooters manager and his humiliation of his female workers). Somehow these bosses were reminded that they were in business to employ people, and that people matter. Reality show emotional manipulation at its finest. Oh the humanity!

    And two of the CEOs managed to cry on camera. Frankly, I just don’t get it.

    How could these CEOs be so completely out of touch with their line employees? And how can these bosses, all family men, as seen in the show’s opening sequences stating the exact same thing, word for word, “that their families are their rocks,” seemingly with hearts of gold, not have a clue?

    But that’s not why I’m writing about the show. Here’s why: While I highly doubt it’ll happen, every CEO and C-level executive in America should watch “Undercover Boss.” But since they won’t, here are six takeaways for any businessperson from CEO on down:

    1. If you listen and get past the syrup, there are deep messages in the show about the disconnect between corporate and line workers. But that’s just a metaphor; the disconnect is from all workers and customers alike. While sanitized for the typical reality show audience, for the savvy boss, the message is there for the taking.

    2. Direct marketers should run, not walk to their nearest call centers. Listen to your customer service reps. Listen to your customers and prospects. I guarantee it’ll be an eye-opening experience for you.

    3. Send emails to past customers, asking why they’ve left you. This will give you firsthand knowledge of why your customer churn is so high. And along the way, you may find some customers you can reactivate as well.

    4. Do the same with present customers. Ask them what you can do better; watch what happens.

    5. Ask your employees to write a one-page essay on what your company’s doing right and wrong. Have them anonymously put their essays into a “suggestion” box (remember them?).

    6. Don’t assume that since you’re the boss, you actually know what’s going on in your company. Chances are you know the least. Remember the maxim: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely!” What do I mean? Your employees fear you — much like in the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

    So check out “Undercover Boss” on CBS. Then go on a walkabout in your own company. Post a comment below or email me your experiences at jimdirect@aol.com. I’ll post them (anonymously) in a follow-up to this article.

    Social Media Rules (of engagement) To Live By


    Over in the linkedin group I manage, (Direct Marketing Questions & Answers), we’ve been having a discussion on the zig vs. zag nature of direct marketing and social media.

    In essence, the theory is this: with everybody zigging towards social media these days, does that leave a giant hole (translation: opportunity) for traditional direct marketing to be used to engage customers and prospects?    It’s been a spirited discussion so far.  And I firmly believe that traditional direct marketing (integrated with the web) presents such an opportunity in a zigzag market.

    My personal bottom line is that social media marketing is just one of the tools in my kit bag, and should be used (tested and rolled out) as part of the direct marketing mix.  So I use it all.

    But no discussion of social media these days should be done without a basic understanding of it’s strategic vs. tactical use.

    I see many companies using social media tactically, without thinking through the strategy.  The truth is, anyone can post a video, start tweeting or blogging, etc., and many companies have jumped on this bandwagon as a tactic.  However, much like direct mail or any other direct marketing discipline, the tactical use of social media can have little or no results at all, thus giving the marketer the erroneous impression that social media doesn’t work.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say, we tried direct mail (or insert medium here) and it doesn’t work.  Some of these people when further queried will admit to not following the rules… the first of which is define the strategy, the list, the offer, etc.   And with some of these business owners if they are willing to learn how to do direct mail right, their next attempt will have better, if not profitable results.

    There are many places in which to find the rules of direct mail, or traditional direct marketing.  But when it comes to social media, the rules of engagement are a bit vague.

    Beyond strategy – the common sense rules of engagement:

    So I have been studying social media marketing for the last year.  Practicing it strategically, and analyzing my results.  And I have also been looking for a good quality set of rules to live by.  Today thanks to Twitter I found some published by Intel for their employees and their contractors.  These are a good place to start.

    http://www.intel.com/sites/sitewide/en_US/social-media.htm

    Note from Jim:  Article originally written by me for eMarketing & Commerce Magazine (eM+C): http://www.emarketingandcommerce.com/story/eview-social-media-rules-engagement-live

    Helping you stay motivated, watch this…


    Everybody needs a little inspiration and motivation once in a while….

    And people also like to increase their knowledge to stay motivated.  Join our Linkedin Direct Marketing Questions & Answers Group.  Knowledge is power!

    Guest Article: What Has the Most Impact on CSRs’ Performance?


    In the last 20 years, I’ve primarily focused on improving one area of multichannel retail: What’s the key to improving a customer service rep’s (CSR) performance in the call center? Continue reading

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