Complaints: Problem Solvers in Disguise

27 04 2012

While it’s hard to think of customer complaints as a good thing, most of them are actually great problem-solving tools for your business. Valid complaints expose problems that cost your business time and money.

With that in mind, here are a few ways to deal with and learn from customer complaints:

  • Offer several convenient ways for customers to express their dissatisfaction, such as customer surveys, comment cards, a toll-free number, a dedicated email address, and an online feedback form.
  • Listen to customers, and let them tell their story without interrupting.
  • Apologize for the issue they are experiencing.
  • Take necessary actions immediately to resolve the issue and re-establish rapport.
  • Ask customers for suggestions for improvement. Sometimes the solution may be easier than you think.
  • Thank customers for bringing issues to your attention.
  • Gather as much data as you can about customer complaints, and share them within your business. While all issues should be addressed, you may want to start by fixing those that waste the most time and cost the most money.
  • Follow-up with customers to be sure their issues were solved and that they were satisfied with the outcome.

Customers who complain and have a problem solved are generally much more loyal than those who are simply happy with your business. Regardless of the issue at hand, one of the easiest ways to ensure customer satisfaction is by reminding them you’re all ears.

The 411 on 404 Pages: Taking the Ugly Out of Errors

24 04 2012

If prospects and customers make the effort to visit your website, the last thing you want them to do is experience a frustrating dead-end “404 error” message that discourages them from continuing. These messages commonly occur when a page has been renamed, removed, or moved from its previous location. Instead of losing potential business over a faulty link, here are a few ways to give an ugly error page a marketing makeover:

  • Customize your 404 page so it is recognizable as part of your website. Feature your web banner, logo, or a similar color scheme.
  • Provide the basic structure of your website’s navigation tools, so users can navigate elsewhere within your site without closing the webpage in frustration. Also consider including a home link as a convenient way to start over.
  • Include a friendly message that apologizes for the inconvenience.
  • Encourage users to continue searching by offering a “site search” box. Some users who are frustrated with an error message may be more likely to type in a keyword than spend time sorting through your website’s navigation.
  • Consider adding a lighthearted quote or humorous graphic to your 404 page that allows your website’s personality to shine through.
  • Provide an easy way for users to report broken links, such as including an automated “report this link” button that users can click to report the broken link to your web support team. Be sure to follow-up if broken links are reported.

Of course, the best way to avoid error messages is by frequently visiting your own website and clicking through pages and links to be sure everything is in working order. Websites are visited more often than many storefronts, so be sure to keep your site presentable and ready for business.

7 Secrets to Customer-Focused Marketing

20 04 2012

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”

While many businesses like to focus promotional materials on their company story, business accomplishments, and products, they should instead focus on the customer — their wants, their needs, and solutions to solve their problems. Here are a few ways to show your customers you truly care about their needs:

  • Educate your customers about industry trends, product training, upgrade options, and product releases.
  • Provide resources that are focused on helping your customer, such as product and/or price comparisons, product reviews, customer testimonials, and customer references.
  • Listen to your customers’ needs, then recommend products and services that are the best fit for them, not your pocketbook. If a customer truly feels like you helped him with a buying decision, he will likely return for more advice and sales.
  • Promote a solid guarantee that shows your commitment to quality and gives customers confidence in your products. Then stand behind your warranty should a customer need to use it.
  • Customize marketing messages based on your target audience. Thrill seekers often respond better to upbeat, urban electronic messaging. Older audiences often prefer traditional print messaging with larger fonts.
  • When customers give you the opportunity to serve them, make the extra effort to ensure every experience with your business is positive.
  • And finally, be sure to reward customers for their loyalty. Throw down the red carpet occasionally by offering exclusive discounts, loyalty incentives, and free bonus gifts to your top customers.

Got any other customer-focused marketing secrets you’d like to share? Add them in the comments below.

Tips to Convey Quality

17 04 2012

While the quality of your products and services is ultimately measured by customer satisfaction, here are a few tips on how to convey quality in everything your business does:

  • Provide a no-hassle satisfaction guarantee…and stand behind it.
  • Offer a longer or more inclusive warranty than your competition does. This will show customers how committed you are to your products.
  • Post customer reviews and testimonials to encourage readers to see what others are saying about your products and services.
  • Offer a risk-free evaluation of your products to allow customers to experience your outstanding products and customer support firsthand.
  • Create a customer referral program that encourages and rewards customers to do the selling for you.
  • Distribute professional marketing materials such as letterhead, envelopes, business cards, brochures, flyers, and product catalogs.
  • Use only high-resolution, quality images. If an image isn’t up to par, don’t use it.
  • Include your contact information on all materials, including your physical address, phone numbers, and email address. This will show customers you are easily accessible.
  • Choose words carefully when marketing your products. Instead of using the word “quality,” use words that imply quality, such as “premium.” Instead of “inexpensive,” use the word “value.”

One of the easiest ways to show customers your dedication to customer satisfaction is by following Henry Ford’s famous words of advice: “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”

Does Print Still Have a Role to Play in the Online World?

13 04 2012

With the constant drumbeat of articles and posts discussing how the Internet has affected so many aspects of businesses large and small, it’s been hard to argue any other points of view and make a real dent in the conversation. However, it’s important to look objectively at all sides in order to come to the best conclusion of what works best for your particular business model.

There’s no arguing that the Internet and social media have an important role to play for most businesses that rely on engaging with their customers to drive sales and revenue. The danger is believing that a purely online strategy is the only way forward for business success. That is simply not the case. Customers prefer to receive messages in ways that they enjoy and find most useful. Some prefer the physical piece in their hand while others consume messages on their computer screen or mobile device.

The wise business will not guess and force feed their audience in ways that might alienate them. The smartest businesses will use all available media in practical ways to educate their target audience. What is the best way to do this? You need to cross-promote.

Cross-promotion involves finding a balance between your online and print campaigns. For example, when you send out a postcard or other printed item, make sure to include information about your website and how it can help make a customer’s life easier.

When running a marketing campaign, utilize both print and online media to get the most powerful effect. Don’t neglect either if you want successful results. When you use consistent messages across all media, you will create a consistent front to deliver your audience to the exact place you want them to be, whether a physical storefront or your online portals.

There are many ways to marry the online world with the physical world. Here are two examples:

Mobile Barcodes or QR Codes – These funny-looking codes are becoming more mainstream and accepted in North America with each passing month. QR codes (or Quick Response codes) allow instant access to information via smart phones (iPhones, Droids, etc.). That information may include videos, contact information, product brochures…the possibilities are endless. The QR codes can be printed on postcards, brochures, business cards, signs, posters, vehicles, and even billboards.

PURLs – Another creative way to marry the two worlds is through PURLs. PURLs are personalized URLs that can deliver highly targeted messages to each recipient. The recipient receives a unique web address, typically with their name as part of the URL, delivered via a printed item like a postcard. The destination website can be used to collect information and deliver incentives for the recipient to further engage with your business on a much more direct level.

Breaking through all the clutter (whether in the online world or in the physical mailbox of your targeted recipient) requires the same strategy: creativity. Your marketing messages must be a little unique in order to stand out. Using print to drive your online and social media presence ensures that your messages will reach your customers and prospects in ways they want to be reached. It is said that only 50% of all advertising is effective; the problem is figuring out which 50%! When you cross-promote, you take some of this guesswork out of the equation.

Turn Customers into Salespeople

10 04 2012

One of the most cost effective ways to grow your business is by letting your customers do the selling for you via referrals. Here are a few tips on how to grow your business through customer referrals:

  • Create a customer referral program. For example, provide custom printed referral cards that provide an exclusive discount to new customers. Also reward existing customers based on how many new customers they recruit.
  • Educate your customers with the information they need to market your products. Make sure your customers have access to adequate print literature, website links, blogs, newsletters, and other materials relevant to your company.
  • Differentiate your business based on a key feature or benefit you offer that your competition doesn’t, such as free shipping or low-price guarantees. These differentiators make great selling points to entice new customers.
  • Ask for referrals. If you’ve just talked to a happy customer who complimented your business, ask if they would be willing to refer others on your behalf.
  • Popularity sells. If your business has a very high number of referrals, promote the fact on your marketing materials and website. For example, “More than half of our new customers are derived from customer referrals” would make a great tagline somewhere on your website or in your product literature.
  • Ask new customers how they learned about your business. It’s always exciting to see real-world results from your marketing efforts, especially from word-of-mouth.
  • Include a statement on the back of your brochures, business cards, and other collateral that encourages customer referrals. “A customer referral is the finest compliment we can receive” would be a good example.

Don’t forget to show your sincere appreciation to customers who refer others to your business. A handwritten thank you note is a great way to follow-up, and that one extra step will reinforce the reasons why they recommended you in the first place.

Hot Summer Marketing Ideas to Think About This Spring

6 04 2012

For many businesses, the weather may heat up, but sales cool off in the summer. While summer may be a few months away, it’s never too early to start thinking about a summer marketing plan. Here are a few creative ways to stay on the minds of your customers this summer:

  • Plan a customer appreciation lunch or ice cream social to stay in touch with customers and prospects during your slow season. Fire up the grill, set up some tents, and get ready to greet some new and familiar faces.
  • Encourage customers to sign up to win something related to summer fun (ranging from something as simple as a large cooler filled with goodies for a picnic to something as extravagant as a boat or paid getaway to a fun summer destination).
  • Offer value add-ons to summer purchases, such as “Receive XYZ free with a $40+ purchase!”
  • Surprise loyal customers with a summer-related lumpy mailer campaign that includes a promotional gift such as a sleeve of branded golf balls, a reusable water bottle, a frisbee, sunscreen, lip balm, or a can coolie with a creative note.
  • Plan a sidewalk sale to draw attention to your storefront and encourage people to check out your sales.
  • Keep in touch with social media. Offer prizes and discounts for customers who provide input, participate in quizzes, or sign up for contests.
  • Organize a community-driven goodwill event, such as hosting a toy drive, a blood drive, etc.
  • Create a forum for customers to share their favorite summer recipes or grilling tips.
  • Offer free lemonade and cookies daily during the month of July to those who visit your store.