7 Must-Follow Tips from Apple’s Customer Care Playbook


So I’m sitting on a hard wooden seat in my local Apple store waiting patiently. It had been a half-hour since I was politely shown to a waiting area while the large crowd buzzed around me. Twice an Apple rep came over to apologize for my wait. Her apology felt sincere, like she actually cared that I was waiting and inconvenienced. Another point scored for Apple — sincerity.

Which is when it hit me. In any other store, I’d be cursing under my breath, impatient as heck, demanding to be served.

So why was I being patient? What I came up with is this… (click here to read more on the Retail Online Integration Magazine site)

How These Call Center Training Techniques Can Increase Your Call-Center Conversions


As direct marketers, we spend a great deal of time and money developing programs to make the phone ring. But it’s the call-center agents that truly make the cash register sing.

Therefore, I spend a great deal of time training customer service reps (CSRs) to be powerful brand advocates with the ability to make a difference with all customers. Personally, I hate calling a company and hearing some disinterested rep deal with my order in a lackluster way. It tells me the company I’m dealing with doesn’t get that the people manning the phones are the voice of the company.

A simple CSR training program can solve the lackluster attitude and increase conversion.

CSR’s should be trained to think on their feet rather than interacting with customers and prospects by reading a script. Of course, good call-center software with a scripted environment can be beneficial, but even the best scripting can’t beat a well-trained CSR’s instincts. It’s important to hire reps that can work this way, and then mentor and monitor them on an ongoing basis. A word of caution: Analyze call times to ensure your reps aren’t burning up phone time with the personal touch.

CSR training programs are quite simple. You don’t need elaborate monitoring equipment. Simply use a cassette recorder and some basic monitoring equipment you can buy at Radio Shack to record CSRs’ calls for a day, then listen to the tapes. Break the reps into teams of three or four and sit in a room together and listen to the day’s calls. Teach the reps to listen actively and objectively to the calls.

Let them coach each other on the cues and buying signals that sometimes get missed in real time. If you spot a missed buying signal, stop the tape — I encourage all of the reps in the group to stop the tape if they hear something — and role-play how the rep could’ve made a difference in converting the call.

Set up contests during the training process for the individual CSR and training team that generates the highest conversion rates. Drill the reps on making sure to be gentle and not pushy, as it’s human nature to get more aggressive to win a contest. Stress the quality of the relationship with the customer as well as the quantity of the order.

Using this simple technique at one company I worked with, we increased conversion rates by as much as 20 percent. Also, by fostering an atmosphere of teamwork and healthy competition, we increased the enthusiasm and morale in its call center as well.

Train CSRs to seek out opportunities to cross-sell effectively. Let your reps know which items complement each other, and coach them on the art of cross-selling. Truth is, sometimes all it takes is a suggestion, something like, “Do you know, Ms. Jones, that we have a beautiful top that complements the shorts you’re purchasing today?”

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!

Your Call Center is Bleeding! – Connecting the Dots of Your Customer Touchpoints, Part 2


In part one of this series on customer touchpoints, I defined touchpoints as all the points of contact between your company and its prospects and customers. In part two, I look at one of the two main touchpoints: your call center.

Before I start any discussion on call center and web results, I always tell clients, “Look out — what you’re about to hear may bruise your egos.” I offer that same warning to you.

Here goes …

No matter what company I visit, I always come away with the same thing: They’re not as efficient at converting sales as they could be. I get that knowledge the old-fashioned way: I listen to calls in the call center, and I make a number of test calls externally. I also go to a client company’s website and order a product (or attempt to, in some cases).

First Off, the Call Center
There are just too many missed opportunities in the call centers I evaluate. Missed buying signals, missed cues, reps not listening effectively, etc. I also see environments that are too tightly controlled and scripted, and others that are totally unscripted.

Of course when I tell clients this, often times I get a blank stare, like, “What do you mean my call center sucks? Do you know how much effort I put into technology, people and training there?”

And sometimes, right there, the messenger gets shot! But in truth, this does happen, and if you’re willing to spend time listening, you’ll hear it too. We reconvene here in two weeks. When we do, I’ll offer some simple call-center training techniques I’ve used to increase sales conversion rates by as much as 20 percent.

In the mean time, please listen to your calls, make test calls to your call center and soak in as much as you can. You may be in for an eye-opening experience. This is especially true if you’re in another department or are an executive in your company.

After the call-center training in my next post, I’ll move into web orders and how you’re missing the boat there.

Oh, and a last point: If you don’t have a call center, you ARE missing sales. We’ll discuss that next week, too.

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

How to Spread Exponential Customer Goodwill


Last week I sent out an email for a client to its recent past customers. The email’s goal was to reactivate those customers, and the copy was written as a message from the company’s CEO.

At the bottom of the email in a P.S., I added the opportunity for these customers to let the brand know why they weren’t ordering from it anymore.

So the email was sent, and the responses came back to me. There were some complaints that were easy fixes and others where people were upset with the company.

My philosophy on this situation is simple: Customer complaints are customer advocates waiting to happen. That’s right. Once you resolve a customer’s complaint — in a way that he feels like you care — you have a good shot at retaining that customer for life.

And here’s another interesting outcome from this email campaign: Many of the customers who received the email responded with thank-yous to the CEO for taking the time to ask why they left.

It’s amazing how a little customer care from a typical nameless, faceless corporate entity changes peoples’ attitudes and perceptions of a company. And when the CEO gets involved, the goodwill level goes up exponentially.

I missed the TV show “Undercover Boss” after last week’s Super Bowl (it’s on my DVR; I’ll review it after I watch), but I think its message applies here. The general premise of the show is just how much a CEO can learn about his/her company, customers and employees just by getting involved.

To me it’s a no-brainer. My CEO philosophy was formed a long time ago, thanks to Tom Peters (he’s my mentor, even if he doesn’t know me) and his principle of management by wandering around. In other words, get out of the corner office — i.e., ivory tower — and get involved with your “X” (fill it in, folks).

But enough about CEOs. The feedback the company received at the behest of the CEO’s email was handed out to the senior customer service team. Systematically, all complaints are being resolved.

Now I want to ask you something: Do you think these customers, with their newly acquired “warm fuzzies” about the company, will tell their friends? Absolutely! And they’ll likely do it via social media channels, too. I call that spreading exponential good will.

The 9 Immutable Laws of Social Media Marketing


“What can I expect from social media?”

“What kind of return on investment will I get?”

“I tried social media and got no customers!”

These are the kinds of questions and responses I hear daily in my conversations with clients both present and potential about social media. Often I tell folks to set and manage expectations correctly and that social media marketing is not a play if you are looking for immediate gratification.  I also tell state that social media is one of the tools in your marketing kit and it should fit strategically into your overall marketing plan.

From these conversations I’ve come up with a set of nine laws of social media to provide all marketers with proper expectations.

1. Brand + time = revenue. The more time consumers spend with your brand and products, the more likely they are to buy. Engaging customers or prospects in social media channels increases brand/time.

2Brand + channels = revenue. The more channels in which consumers interact with your brand, the more likely they’ll buy. Offering multiple engagement channels allows for consumer self-selection of preferred channels. Being in the right social media channels based on your market increases channel interaction.

3Brand + time + channels = advocates. Consumers spending time in multiple channels breeds customers more likely to become brand advocates and influencers. This is the new multichannel marketing model for the 21st century. Social media creates brand advocates and turns peers into your best salespeople.

4. Exponential search factor. Social media increases your search engine rankings and, when combined with your website, drives additional traffic via organic search.

5. The newfangled customer service factor. Consumers choose their contact preferences. Brands that don’t have multiple channels for customer service risk losing customers. Consumers expect instant gratification, and social media delivers.

6Behind-the-scenes factor. People don’t buy from brands; they buy from people. Social media puts a human face on the faceless corporate entity. Social media’s biggest opportunity is to allow people to connect with your employees as peers.

7. Trust is the new black. If done correctly, the aforementioned laws allow consumers to build or rebuild trust. Social media harkens back to the days of the corner store where consumers and brands had a cordial relationship. Social media builds relationships over time.

8. The reputation factor. Whether you like it or not, consumers are talking about your brand. Social media is the great neutralizer. It allows you to seek out negatives and turn them into positives via reputation management and communications.

9. The time spent factor. Customers aren’t always ready to buy. Social media prepares customers with all of the above over time.

Note from Jim.  This article was originally written for eMarketing and Commerce Magazine.  Click here for the original I wrote

We’re on a mission to create the best direct marketing education forum on Linkedin


3 weeks, 540 members strong. Join us: http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/2080726/ We have members from all area’s of direct marketing ready to share their expertise with you.  We also have international members.

Want to know more about search, blogs, direct mail, telemarketing, lists, social media, and all direct marketing disciplines, then join us.

If you are an expert in direct marketing, please join us too.  And our members are using this group as a great networking tool!

Thanks, we look forward to seeing you there. http://www.linkedin.com/e/vgh/2080726/

Jim Gilbert

Four Questions to Continually Ask About Your Customers, Products and Brand


You don’t have to operate any stores to always “mind the store.” For us in the catalog/direct/multichannel world, that means finding time in our 24/7, 365-days-a-year world to step back and ask ourselves a few questions. It’s not an easy task to pull back from our everyday happenings, especially in this insane and fear driven economy, but it’s still mission critical to stop and ask:

1. Are we the company our customers want us to be? 

2. Are we the company our competition envies? 

3. Are we looking around every corner to see what’s coming next? 

4. And for that matter, how can we adapt to meet the needs of the next “trend” so we can effectively contribute to our customers’ wants and needs and therefore our own EBITDA?

Superior Product, Exceptional Customer Service: The keys to the success of Cloud 9 Adventures and Jam Cruise


In today’s social media age, it’s not enough to just build a brand and assume it’ll flourish. More than ever, companies need customers to be emotionally cemented to their brands via superior products and exceptional customer service. 

For the past three years, I’ve been a customer of Cloud 9 Adventures, a company that exemplifies the spirit of customer centricity. Specifically, I’m a frequent passenger aboard  Jam Cruise

Imagine Mardi Gras on an ultra-luxurious Italian cruise liner, with live music from more than 20 jazz, funk, rock and jam bands playing nearly 24 hours a day. Mix in theme nights with costumes, karaoke contests where all-star musicians back up the contestants, excursions like all-terrain vehicle rides through the jungles of Belize, and workshops that go “behind the music,” and you get the idea. 

Now imagine that the customers, many of whom are repeat cruisers who call themselves “repeat offenders,” for the most part drive the experience. 

After each cruise, a large survey goes out to the passengers. This year’s contained 58 questions and arrived in my e-mail inbox one week after the cruise. Despite its length, the response rate is regularly 30 percent, according to Annabel Lukins Stelling, the marketing director for Jam Cruise. More importantly, customers answer each question with great detail because they know their answers are going to make the next cruise even better. 

Additionally, the company’s staff maintains a strong presence on Jam Cruise’s message boards, Facebook and MySpace pages. The message boards have a very strong community feel and remain highly active throughout the year. By continually monitoring these social sites and communicating back when appropriate, much is learned about jam cruisers and what they like and dislike. 

Which is why Jam Cruise, six years later, always sells out. In fact, many people prebook a year in advance and love to spread the word to bring new people on the ship. 

But, like any other business, Jam Cruise isn’t perfect. This year, a major computer snafu caused the passenger embarkation process to go awry. Some people waited in excess of six hours to get on the ship. 

Almost within minutes of the ship’s arrival back at port, the message boards lit up like a Christmas tree with complaints. 

One of the risks of social media is the impact negative comments could have on business. As more people seek out peer reviews via social media, Internet chatter can make or break a business. 

To its credit, the Jam Cruise staff posted a number of explanations and apologies for the embarkation problems, along with assurances that the problem was found, addressed and won’t happen again. Those apologies and assertions made a difference, and the message boards settled down. 

The Jam Cruise staff plans to send a second survey and additional communications in the near future to allay peoples’ fears about future issues, according to Lukins Stelling. 

The moral of the story: Social media can be an enormous benefit to a company — or a major detractor. Listening to your customers is crucial and can provide many rewards, as well as help with customer service and product-related issues. 

Jim Gilbert is president and CEO of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla.-based catalog and direct marketing agency. Reach Jim at jimdirect@aol.com.

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