The CEO's Blog (8)
I recently heard a story about Albert Einstein.
He had just given an exam to the seniors in the physics class he taught. While collecting the completed tests, his aide noticed a similarity between the exam the students just took and the one Einstein had given the class when they were juniors the year before.
When she questioned him, he admitted they were indeed the same exams. She asked him why he wasn’t concerned that the questions this year were exactly the same as last year's. Einstein replied, “Because the answers have changed.”
That got me thinking…
Why is it that once we find an answer to a problem, we don’t revisit that situation in the future to see if we can come up with a better alternative?
How often do we present ourselves with only one solution to a problem and call it a day?
Why do we tend to look at a problem from only one perspective or with only one focus?
How often do we confine our solutions to fit within a prescribed set of restrictions or parameters?
Is it because we assume nothing’s changed?
Do we tell ourselves “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Are we not inspired or do we have other priorities?
Do we lack the bandwidth or time we’d need to invest in new solutions?
Or, is it because we don’t have the “know how” or the confidence to determine the problem, let alone come up with multiple solutions?
And if that’s the case, do we know who can identify the problem and then solve it for us? Is it an employee? Is it an internal department? If so, do they have the expertise, time and resources?
Or do we need to go out of house to get it done? If so, where do we go?
Those are the types of questions we often put off if we spend most of our time working “IN” our business - performing daily tasks and putting out fires - and not enough time working “ON” on our business, positioning it for the future.
This pandemic is providing us all with opportunities to become much better companies.
It’s easy to be successful when the economy is rockin’, but it’s during times like these that business leaders earn their stripes.
So, how do you better position your company?
First, start by performing audits - deep audits. I’d suggest auditing your marketing (with a special emphasis on your digital strengths and weaknesses); your competitive landscape, and how you’re positioned in it; and your customer experience (across all touchpoints). I also recommend analyzing your product and service offerings, distribution channels, and your CRM and workflow systems.
Second, look at which functions you want to bring or keep in-house, and which you should outsource.
Finally, prioritize your initiatives into three stages: 1) getting through this immediate situation, 2) positioning yourself to quickly take off once the economy re-opens, and 3) driving the new company you want to be.
The uncertainty during a crisis can be very stressful, especially when it comes to running a business.
Your customers' energies can become less focused on long-term business decisions and more about choices that need to be made right now: putting out fires, paying the bills, hunkering down to protect what they have.
Their decisions are made not from a powerful stance of success or significance, but from a position of instability or even worse - survival. Your customers start looking for answers, sometimes to problems they can't even identify yet.
They may need help; a fresh point of view. They may benefit from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in, or the advice of a counterpart who's navigated a similar situation.
Your customers want to know you’re thinking about them. They want your help in identifying and solving their problems, especially in times like these.
Communication is the key. It should be frequent and effective, practiced in a way that best serves your customer, using the channels they prefer.
Reach out as a consultant or advisor, as a friend would, not as a vendor or salesperson. Be honest, sincere and empathetic. Ask your customers how they're doing. Offer advice and learn of the other ways you can help.
Your customers may have something you can help with. In the past, they probably have identified problems that you’ve been able to solve. But this is a different time. They may have unusual, even more challenging problems now.
To be candid, I seldom have success when asking “how can I help you?” and even less with “may I help you?” Both of those questions suggest that I expect my client to do the legwork necessary to define a problem.
I’m much more productive when I present problems that similar businesses to theirs are having. If my clients are experiencing the same problems, we can then discuss the solutions others have implemented. And I get much more client buy-in when I can provide proof that those solutions worked.
Depending on the roles of the people you communicate with, their perception of you as an expert, and the level of trust they have in you, you’ll either want to focus on the problems and solutions associated with running their businesses, or those associated with growing their businesses. The lower your contacts are on their company’s organizational chart, the more they’ll be interested in discussing issues related to working “in” the business. The higher up the chart, the more they’ll want to focus on topics related to working “on” the business.
The point: be prepared to discuss problems and solutions when calling customers, especially in times of crisis when they're stressed and short on time. Identify potential problems, determine possible solutions, and be ready to provide proof that the solutions work. At the very least that should be a starting point. That way your customers know you’re prepared and that you won’t waste their time.
Don’t leave it up to your customer to do your job for you.
I received a testimonial yesterday.
That's not unusual. We're fortunate to receive hundreds each year.
But this testimonial was special.
It wasn’t from a client, partner, prospect or vendor. In fact, it wasn’t from someone we’ve ever worked with.
It was from a man who called us by mistake. That’s right: a wrong number.
But, it turns out, he had such a positive experience with the person who answered our phone that he was compelled to let me know about it. He wrote the following.
“I actually called by accident. Your number is one digit different from another company I was reaching out to. But, when I got off the line with Courtney, I went to your website and read the intro about the importance of making a positive impact during EVERY interaction. It very much hit home because I’d just had that experience with Courtney. It’s been three hours and I still feel the positive vibe she puts out. I want to commend your organization and her sincerely. Nice, genuine people seem to be in short supply these days.”
His email made me smile with gratitude.
As CEO of MadAveGroup, one of my primary responsibilities is to “protect our culture.” And nothing has a greater effect on that culture than the people we employ and our commitment to creating positive customer experiences.
Building that type of environment doesn't happen by accident. Ideally, it's organic and begins with an authentic desire to serve people, but it must always be encouraged and nurtured.
It can be grown, too. For instance, you can use ongoing training to teach employees how to actively create positive experiences for your customers.
Do you provide the tools or incentives to create great interactions? Do your team members know they have the power to make things right with angry customers on the spot? Do you talk about proactively looking for opportunities to wow your clients?
And most importantly, do you follow specific hiring procedures that improve the chances of your new recruits fitting into your positive experience culture?
How would your customers describe their experiences with your organization?
The success of your company depends on their answers.
I don’t eat fast food often, but one day my wife and I were in a hurry. She suggested we stop into Chick-fil-A. I’d never been there before, but I agreed to give it a try.
When we arrived, rain was pouring down. While we were working up the courage to sprint into the building, someone knocked on my wife's window. It was a young man from Chick-fil-A, and he was holding an umbrella. He escorted her into the restaurant and then came back for me.
Once inside, we were welcomed with smiles and friendly greetings. Ordering our food was easy and convenient. And instead of waiting at the counter for it, we were invited to relax at a table, and told that our food would be brought to us.
During our meal, our host checked to see if we wanted anything. He cleared our table of the paper and containers we no longer needed. He refilled my drink - twice. He asked if we’d like dessert. And after we finished eating, he brought me coffee.
In just one visit, I was treated to eight pleasant surprises. I enjoyed a level of service I would have never expected from a fast food restaurant.
Chick-fil-A’s food was fine, but it was the overall experience that left me so satisfied. Both my wife and I left the host with a heartfelt “thank you” and “good-bye,” as well as sincere smiles.
Now, I find myself visiting Chick-fil-A more often, not primarily for the food, but because they make me feel so good.
So, what can you do to help your customers feel that same way? Surely, there are many points before, during and after your buying process that you can improve to wow your customers and generate loyalty and great word-of-mouth.
The process begins by caring enough to look for them.
You left work late because a meeting ran long; a meeting in which you were given the responsibility of reducing office supply costs.
Now you’re driving home listening to talk radio. Traffic is a mess, and you need to pick up something for dinner. You pass, not one, but two billboards promoting the grand opening of a new store that sells deeply discounted office supplies. But, you’re so busy fighting traffic and looking for a drive-thru that you never see them.
Traditional outbound marketing and advertising rely on a “shotgun” approach for their delivery. Just present the messages over and over to as large an audience as possible and someone is bound to see or hear them.
And hopefully, your potential buyers will be in the right frame of mind to process the information.
That’s a very expensive way to market, largely because you're paying for access to a city's or region's or nation's worth of impressions, when only a small percentage of that audience will have an interest in what you sell at the time they see or hear your message.
Inbound, or Point-of-Entry Marketing, uses more of a “rifle” approach. It focuses on a one-to-one experience that always takes place when your prospects and customers are ready to do business with you.
They’ve taken the time to seek you out. They’ve called you on the phone, looked you up online, or walked through your front door. Usually their hands are on their wallets and they’re prepared to spend money.
I’m not suggesting that you eliminate traditional marketing and advertising from your strategy. Most often it’s the best, if not only, way to attract the number of prospects you need to be successful.
What I am suggesting is that you also implement robust marketing programs at the three points-of-entry into your business: your telephone, website, and front door / physical spaces. That way you’re sure to engage your prospects and customers when they’re in the right frame of mind to do business with you.
Don’t Set Customer Expectations with Your Outbound Marketing That Your Inbound Marketing Can’t FulfillWritten by Jerry Brown, Chief Executive Officer
A few months ago, I started seeing a local outfitter's online ads for Lucchese boots. The more I saw the ads, the more I wanted to buy a pair. They were beautiful boots!
The last ad I saw offered a 20% discount on the boots through the end of the month.
I didn't hesitate. I clicked on a link that took me to the seller's website. But since I never buy shoes or clothes without trying them on, I was searching the site for the store's hours.
The website was not impressive. I couldn't find their hours, and I couldn't find pictures or even a mention of the boots showcased in all those ads.
I finally found a phone number, so I gave them a call.
My visit to the store's website was disappointing, but my telephone experience was even worse.
After the fourth or fifth ring, a woman answered with only the name of the store and then "please hold." And then...nothing!
It took me a few seconds to realize I was on hold.
After what seemed like five minutes (but was probably closer to one or two), she picked up the phone. I let her know I was interested in their Lucchese boots and asked for the store's hours.
"We're closed," she said.
No effort to answer my question. No "I'm sorry." No "but we'll be open at 9am tomorrow."
I was so frustrated I hung up without saying good-bye.
That company obviously spent time and money trying to attract my attention. And they did a good job drawing me in. But the excitement their advertising built in me was quickly eroded when I visited their website, and it completely vanished after being treated so callously on the phone.
How could this business have ensured that my customer experience matched the expectation they encouraged with their ads?
1) They should have made the product they were advertising easier to find on their website.
2) They should have made their store hours - and other basic information - easy to find on their site.
3) They should have taught all their employees about the value of proper telephone etiquette. Answering my call with "Thank you for calling XYZ Store. This is Judy. May I put you on hold for a moment?" would have done wonders for my attitude.
Hearing her name would have made her seem more personable and suggested that she was taking responsibility for my call. And asking my permission to put me on hold would have given me a sense of control and reduced any stress. Pretty basic stuff, but what an immediate difference it makes.
4) My time on hold would not have been wasted if the owners had used that time to share information about the purchase and care of their boots, or tell me about one of their convenient services, or provide an on-hold offer, or reinforce the reasons for shopping there.
5) The company should have provided all of their employees with communication and customer service training. I clearly told the lady I spoke with that I wanted to try on their Lucchese boots. She could have said she was sorry the store was closed. And she should have told me right away when they would re-open.
Your customers will tolerate disappointment when you offer solutions, or, at the very least, a little empathy.
6) Perhaps most importantly, the company should have a more stringent hiring process to ensure that only happy, confident, customer-centric employees are given the responsibility of communicating directly with prospects and customers. Make it a privilege to represent your brand, not a chore for those unwilling to embrace the honor.
A solid Point-of-Entry Marketing program that focuses on providing a more fulfilling online and on-phone experience would have definitely brought me into that store to buy a new pair of Lucchese boots.
I did buy the boots, by the way. Two weeks later. From that store's competitor.
Worldwide, advertisers will spend $600 billion this year.
The money in most of those budgets will fund projects, programs, and initiatives that focus on trying to get people to call, click, or visit. Many studies claim that 90% or more of those marketing dollars are spent on outbound marketing using broadcast, print, digital, outdoor, and other channels.
But a very small amount is spent on inbound marketing - marketing focused on those prospects and customers who contact or visit you.
So what happens to the interested prospects and repeat customers who actually take the time to seek you out?
They can reach out to you in one of three ways. They can call you on the telephone. They can look you up on your website. And they can walk through your front door.
What will their experience be when they do? Will they be greeted by friendly, helpful telephone personnel, or will they get lost in a cumbersome and time-wasting automated telephone system?
Will they enjoy a well-designed website with quality content that's easy to navigate, or will they be relegated to an online wasteland of limited information and confusing directions?
Will they feel warm and welcome in a professional, sophisticated environment, or will they stumble into an uncomfortably sterile and uninteresting atmosphere?
As a marketer, you invest a lot of time, energy, and money building your brand, creating awareness of your products and services, and getting prospects to seek you out. Why waste those efforts and money by building up prospect expectations with your outbound marketing that your inbound marketing doesn't support?
A sound and comprehensive marketing plan must include both outbound and inbound strategies. It would be quite hard to build your business without prospects. It would be just as hard to build your business without being able to turn prospects into customers, or existing customers into repeat customers.
Trying to make the best possible impression on, and the best possible experience for, those who take the time to call you on the telephone, look you up on your website, or walk through your front doors is what we call Point-of-Entry Marketing (POEM).
Not only is Point-of-Entry Marketing essential to an effective and successful marketing plan, but I believe impressions made by Point-of-Entry Marketing are more valuable than those made through outbound marketing for the following reasons.
With Point-of-Entry Marketing you...
1) Always reach your most important target audience. Your existing customers and interested prospects. Broadcast, print, outdoor, or any other traditional advertising can't guarantee every impression it makes will be on a viable prospect or customer. But Point-of-Entry Marketing can.
While traditional advertising may only reach your targeted audience one out of a thousand times (or less), POEM will make impressions only on interested prospects and customers 100% of the time.
2) Always reach your prospects and customers when they're in the right frame of mind to do business with you. When it comes to marketing - or any other type of communication - there's something to be said for timing. Your audience is either ready to listen to and act upon your message, or they're not.
POEM influences prospects and customers who have taken the time to seek you out. And it's especially important to reach buyers during business or shopping hours when they have their hands on their wallets and they're ready to buy.
3) Make invaluable marketing impressions on every person who enters your company - EVERY SINGLE ONE. There's no other method of marketing that can make that claim. Digital marketing can't. Direct marketing can't. And print, broadcast, and outdoor advertising can't. Only Point-of-Entry Marketing makes an impression on every single person who enters your company, whether they call you on the phone, visit your website, or walk through your front door.
4) Pick up where your traditional outbound marketing leaves off by providing a consistent transition "into" your organization. How many times have you been impressed by a company's marketing and advertising only to be completely let down when you actually followed through and contacted the organization?
Maybe it was a poorly designed website, a cluttered lobby, or a frustrating telephone system. POEM can keep you from wasting the interest your outbound marketing generates.
5) Reinforce your brand identity. Can you think of a better opportunity to reinforce your brand identity than during the thousands of hours a year your customers are spending on hold, perusing your website, or shopping in your store?
6) Expand top-of-mind awareness of your products and services. How many of your customers aren't aware of everything you do? I'd bet it's the majority of them.
People are bombarded with information on a non-stop basis every day. As a marketer, you know that to get your message to stick, you have to repeat it over and over. Each time a customer is on your website, or visits your store, or calls you on the phone is an opportunity to reinforce awareness of what you sell.
7) Improve your call-to-action or direct response marketing. I once called a car dealer for a price on tires. They were too expensive and I ended up getting them elsewhere. But during the call, I was put on hold and heard about a winterization special that sounded like a great deal. I had the work done and was so pleased with the service that I ended up buying my next car from them.
Don't underestimate the power of using the time your customers spend on hold, stand in your lobby, or read through your website to ask them to take action.
8) Increase impulse purchases. There are some pretty reliable sources that claim up to 90% of all sales are made on impulse at the point-of-purchase. I can't tell you the last time I went into a grocery store to buy a gallon of milk and came out with just a gallon of milk.
9) Increase your customer share and retention. Have you ever heard a customer say "I didn't know you did that"? Hopefully, it wasn't right after they switched to a competitor for a broader selection of products or services.
The more you provide a customer, the more valuable your relationship is perceived to be and the less susceptible your customer is to competitors. And Point-of-Entry Marketing is one of the best ways to let your customers know about all you do.
10) Spend less money. With POEM, the medium is FREE. The cost to produce a radio or TV commercial, a magazine or pay-per-click ad, or an online video can be expensive. But it's nowhere near the cost of actually running the ad.
Media can be ridiculously expensive. With POEM, you still pay to create the content, but the media is free. Whether you're telecasting messages to your callers, store casting specials to your shoppers, or using your website to provide information to online visitors, you own the media.
So, if you're not doing it already, focus on providing the best possible impression on, and the best possible experience for, people who take the time to call you on the phone, look you up on your website, or walk through your front doors.
If you’re like most marketers, you focus on getting prospects and customers to seek out your product or company. While that can be an effective way to grow your business, it lacks an integral component.
It’s my opinion that the best way to ensure long-term growth is to provide positive customer experiences each time someone contacts your organization. A successful marketing strategy must include a plan for delighting your prospects and customers EVERY time they call, click or visit.
Occasional efforts don’t guarantee a consistently positive customer experience. Outstanding products and customer service supported by strategic, integrated, and sustained marketing programs are the best way to develop loyal brand ambassadors.
Years, months, weeks, even days after customers interact with your company they may not remember the details of the experience, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.