Category Archives: Towanda Long

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!

Craig’s List Is An Art

Here’s a post from my newest blog, Queenocracy, on the art of shopping on Craig’s List. Enjoy!

http://queenocracy.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/the-art-of-craigs-list/

Why Should They Buy?

It doesn’t matter that you have a great service or product. It doesn’t even matter that your potential customer needs it. When it comes to your marketing campaign, your message must engage the customer so that they understand, in their way, why they need your product/service.

Here are some ways to get your message heard and spark the “need” factor:

  • Tell your story in an engaging way. Make it colorful, different and memorable.
  • Highlight the benefits that are important to your potential customer, not necessarily the things that are important to you. For instance, it’s great that your shoes are scuff-proof, but if I only care that they are comfortable tell me more about comfort. Stop trying to make me care about scuffs.
  • Show the specific need you answer as well as the impact on their general wellness.
  • Acknowledge your competition and highlight the differences. This one is tricky because you don’t want to speak negatively about your competitors, you only want to point out your uniqueness.
  • Use a customer-friendly tone. Avoid big words, jargon and by all means, condescending stereotypical language.
  • Use testimonials of current customers that are similar to your target audience.

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.

Twitter/Facebook Therapy

To all my Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers, THANK YOU for being a therapist.

Yes, I usually post article links, professional resources and inspirational quotes. True, I give family updates, try to answer questions and offer my opinion when asked. But you are great because you see that our relationship is more than this.

You understand that I also need an outlet to vent. You get that sometimes my updates are all about me. And not only that, you encourage it by replying and offering me your reassurance, advice or even a simple LOL or :-).

You’ve helped me through a lot – road rage situations, poor customer service, crickets chirping EXTREMELY loud under my window, third trimester pains and so much more.

So again, thanks! I truly appreciate it.

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.

Debunking Twitter Rules

Myth #1: Don’t tell us what you’re doing. Some people enjoy knowing what you are doing, and if those are your followers then there is nothing wrong with your tweets.

I enjoy getting personal tweets mixed in with professional tweets. It makes my Twitter friends feel real, not so much virtual. I’ve also found great restaurants from these tweets.

Myth #2: It’s about two-way conversations. This is not always the case. There are some people and companies that I follow because of the information they provide. It doesn’t matter to me if they respond to a DM or @ reply. What’s important is that the information they give me is accurate and useful.

Myth #3: Don’t tweet more than 5 times a day. True, some people go overboard with spam, but that’s another issue. I don’t care how many times you tweet; as long as I can use some of the information I’m fine.

Myth #4: Only follow people with similar interests, that you can learn from, etc. One of the great things about Twitter is it’s a community of people with different interests, expertise and information.

Do not feel like you must limit who you follow because of any absolute; you set the rules for who you follow. I follow people with similar interests and opinions along with those that are the complete opposite. I follow marketers as well as jewelry designers. I don’t follow spammers.

Here’s the thing, I use Twitter as a news feed. It’s a place where I can find out about current events, career news as well as my friends and family. And from each of these Tweeps I am interested in different information.

So, if you must have a Twitter rule this is it. Tweet what’s important to your current and potential followers.

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.

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.