Category Archives: Business

Your Holiday E-Card is in the Trash

Yesterday my spam filter caught 6 holiday e-cards. This morning it caught 11. I understand companies are looking for ways to cut costs. I get that people don’t necessarily have time to sign a few hundred cards. However, if you think your e-greeting has the same effect as a paper card, I’m sorry but it does not.

The general reason to send holiday greetings is to say hi, I’m thinking of you during this festive season and I wish you and your family the best. Business reasons to send holiday greetings, along with the above,  are to keep you and your company name in front of the customer, to make them feel special and to add a personal touch to a professional relationship. But an e-card doesn’t do this, especially if it comes into an inbox along with a lot of other greetings.

First of all, it being caught in a spam filter makes me treat it as bulk mail. I don’t feel special getting a “Happy Holidays” email blast. It’s not personal. It doesn’t remind me of your service/product. In fact, your e-card does not make me feel like anything other than a name on your email list. At least with a paper card I’m going to open it, read it and probably put it on display in my office. If you personally signed it I’m going to appreciate the extra effort.

I’m not saying you must do paper cards, but I am saying if you are going to acknowledge the holidays, do something that won’t get filed as spam. For instance, start right after Thanksgiving and send a personal email to 10 of your contacts each day welcoming the holiday season. Thank them for their business (make this specific) and mention a way you will follow-up in the new year (lunch maybe, etc.).   And don’t title it Happy Holidays!

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Who’s On Your Advisory Panel?

Here are three personalities that should be in your circle:

The Optimist. We all need a cheerleader, the person that will tell us we can do anything and will point out the positive in any situation. The Optimist is perfect when you’re feeling down and need a pep talk. 

The Analyst. This person knows a little about a lot of things and enjoys sharing the knowledge. (S)He has a practical way of reviewing facts and presents a solution based on numbers, not emotions. You may not get an instant response, because this process may take some time.

The Naysayer. You need someone that can see pitfalls and is open enough to tell you. When choosing a naysayer make sure (s)he has your best intentions at heart. If you feel their intentions are not good then by all means find another naysayer.

Vertical Customer Relationships

Vertical customers want an expert. They want to feel like you not only understand your product/service, but that you understand their industry.

Here are a few ways you can highlight your knowledge throughout the relationship, not just during the pitch:

  • Include industry news in your communications (e-newsletters, emails, website, etc.).
  • Offer commentary with solutions regarding current hot topics. For example, a mask manufacturer could discuss swine flu.
  • Host a monthly (or weekly, quarterly, annually) seminar. Don’t exclusively highlight your company; instead mix up the agenda with speakers from other businesses.

BONUS: This is a great way to build relationships with companies that may be able to forward referrals.

  • When discussing your business, use friendly language. Avoid jargon and big words as much as possible; they don’t say knowledgeable. It says you’re overcompensating or hiding something.

Small is Not a Bad Word

Here are a few reasons why small businesses should embrace their size and not feel pressure to stretch the truth or their size:

You have an expertise. Instead of building a long list of product/service offerings, focus on your strongest capabilities. Build your business on these, and you limit the risk of mistakes, which can damage your brand image.

This will also help you focus your brand and corner your niche.

Red tape is non-existent. A great asset is there is little room for bureaucracy. Instead of dealing with an automated service, boilerplate answers and inflexible rules, your customers get to deal with a person. Trust me, that’s invaluable.

There is no “bait and switch”. How many times have you been pitched by the VP or another high-level executive at a company, only to find out you will never work with that person? Instead, you will be working with a junior team that is nowhere near the initial meeting.

Yes, this junior team may be capable, but it doesn’t matter because you’ve built a report with the initial pitch team. Eliminating the bait and switch puts you at an advantage and sets the tone for an honest work relationship.

Your business is flexible. Most small businesses are nimble by design. Can you meet or complete projects at unconventional times? Do you have a unique way to work (special worksheets, work plans, etc.)? Make sure your clients know about it.

Using the New for Motivation

The pink crystal paperweight on my desk? I bought it on a lunch break when I had writer’s block. And a lot of the cutesy jewelry I wear on my right hand? Well, that was purchased when I needed some motivation and/or inspiration for a project.

Adding something new can help us look at everything in a new light. It’s the reason throw pillows can change the look of a living room and why adding a plant can give new life to a room.

This works not only for our living and work spaces, but also for projects. If you are in a rut, now is the time to try something new. Freshen up your presentations with new graphs. Here’s a Seth Godin post on making graphs that work. Compliment a campaign with some social media initiatives. Here are some great examples compiled by Mashable. If these are too drastic, then at least go shopping. You may find your inspiration there.

Talking to Your Customers is Great for More Reasons than You Think

conversationcloudHere are three ways you benefit from talking to your customers regularly:

Things mentioned in casual conversation may spark a great value-add opportunity. This opportunity can be a service that you offer and your client forgot or never knew you provided. It can also be an opportunity for you to offer a referral. It may even highlight a new service that you could provide with little or no effort, but that may be a lifesaver for your customer.

Your conversations can serve as informal research. You can learn everything from true competitor pricing (not what’s posted on a website) to industry news (how it’s really affecting them) to stereotypes and/or urban legends that you may need to address.

You may learn of other places to reach your target market. For instance, regional events and hobbies are a great way to connect with your customers. Unfortunately it is difficult to figure out which regional events are worth a second look without some insider information. And you may never know that your customer loves bird-watching unless he mentions an upcoming trip in a conversation.

The Real Problem with Calling Customer Service

It’s more than the annoyance of prompts for an account number, zip code, phone number, pin number, birth date, last five digits of a social security number and your bra size (okay maybe not that one but you get the idea).

It’s the false sense of hope once a customer service rep answers. For a minute, customers believe that the rep has power to resolve an issue. They believe that the person will be able to listen to an issue and come up with a human-based answer, not an automated, scripted one.

However, customers soon realize the rep is just a live version of the automated help maze. They see that the person on the line has little to no power, because they are not trained to use their judgment to make a decision. They must rely on scripts and cookie-cutter answers for questions that are not cookie-cutter.

If your company is going to hire people for customer service, empower them to make decisions (Zappos is my favorite example of this). If you don’t feel your reps can handle making decisions, then hire new people with competent judgment skills. Stop giving your customers a false sense of hope when they hear a person. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to your reps that have to deal with irate customers.

Here are other things you can do to improve the customer service experience:

  • Don’t ask customers to repeat the information they just entered into your automated system.
  • Use a CRM (customer relationship management) system to record your customer’s history. That way your customers won’t have to rehash previous problems or conversations with other reps.
  • Insist that all reps are nice to clients (And no, this is not a given. I’ve had reps hang up on me and I was not irate).
  • If you are going to use a survey to evaluate your efficiency, use questions that will offer productive feedback. Instead of “Were you happy with your service today?” try “What part of your experience could have been better?”
  • Hire happy people.
  • Monitor what people are saying about you online (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).
  • Don’t use generic answers (e.g. Our policy states…).
  • Find reasons to say yes to customers’ requests.