Persuasive Picks for the week of 01/03/11

5 Must-Read Reports on Social Media & Public Relations
TopRankBlog‘s Lee Odden shares a 5-pack of “brainfood” that should keep you busy this weekend! Need to learn more about how social media and public relations intersect? Visit this post for Lee’s pick of reports on the subject.

StumbleUpon starts 2011 as the #1 source of Social Media traffic
Is StumbleUpon part of your content promotion strategy? This post from Christina Doland shares results from StatCounter that just might persuade you to move some of your eggs to another basket.

Social Media: Next Dot-Com Bubble?
Is there a growing “Social Media Bubble” that will eventually burst and potentially ruin companies in the same fashion that the bursting of the “Dot-Com Bubble” did years ago? Contributing editor, Lauren Bloom shares her thoughts on the subject via this post on TheStreet.com.

All set for Social Media in 2011? Not so fast!
For many brands, the new year marks an opportunity to make new headway into the social space. Be sure to check out this CustomerThink.com post from Leader Networks‘ CEO, Vanessa DiMauro before you get your feet wet.

4 skills brands *should* be seeking in their social media talent
Execution of an in-depth social strategy sometime means bringing on some full-time talent to handle the new workload. This post from Arik Hanson provides several tips to help ensure you avoid the so-called “social media expert,” and hire someone with the appropriate skill set to get the job done.

Being Thankful in Business is a Good Thing – Brands that GET IT

We’d like to wish our US-readers a Happy Thanksgiving and send a HUGE thanks to all of our colleagues, clients, community and partners. We’re thankful for your support, your business and your respect.

Over the course of the last two decades I’ve been told more than once that appearing too grateful in business can be a negative thing – putting me in a position of perceived lesser power. I disagree. I think being thankful in business – and for business – is a good thing and I am happy to see social media bringing it more to light. Businesses who appreciate their customers are more likely to reap the rewards of loyalty, repeat business, positive word of mouth and long-term success.

Since I went on a rampage about my negative experience at McGee Toyota recently, I wanted to also take the time to highlight some businesses doing well by their customers. I think it’s important that as our customer voices become louder and more viral, we use them to celebrate what brands are doing right as well. So while I recently gave personal props to Jet Blue and Ideeli, I also took to Twitter and Facebook to ask my community what companies have done right by them recently, and why. Specifically, I asked, “When is the last time a company or brand went above and beyond to make you a happy customer? What did they do?” Here are some of the answers – below. Thanks to everyone who took the time to share and respond, and kudos to the brands who agree – being thankful in business is a good thing.

Chris Theisen: My fav personal experience from @brewhouse http://bit.ly/d2VGn4

Greg Meyer: We had an event at @sushisambachi – they made us feel at home, tweeted about the event, and provided excellent service

Shannon DiGregorio: The Apple store at the Cambridge Gallaria replaced a broken (my fault) iPhone 4 for free after AT&T was awful to me! Love them!

Kristina Bobrowski: @ArtVanFurniture went out of the way to meet my budget/timing needs, & responded to my praise on here. @netflix impressed me too.. My DVDs weren’t coming- they sent me 3 at once to tide me over while they fixed it

Chad Northrup: It was @supercuts. Got a bad haircut yesterday, so returned in the evening. They fixed it AND made my next cut free #custserv

Frank Eliason: my former company, Comcast has been working hard to improve (google my name and Comcast). My current company, Citi, is working to improve http://new.citi.com/2010/11/together-we-are-building-a-stronger-citi-for-you.shtml

 

And from Facebook, where I did not include my friends’ names because it’s permission-based (vs Twitter, which is public), here are the replies:

American Express has the nicest customer service people I have ever talked to. Except for maybe Southwest’s. They always say things like “we’ll take care of that right now for you” or “make sure you have a great day.” Sounds simple but stands out.

Nordstroms this morning made my entire day – live chat customer support applied a promo code for me after my order was submitted so I would get free shipping on an emergency pair of new heels since the Web site wouldn’t accept the code.

Jouer Cosmetics! BEST customer service. I ordered some makeup and when it arrived two of the lipsticks were smooshed at the top. I called to let them know about it, without any expectations. I just wanted them to know about it. They sen…t me two more lipsticks for free and I got to keep the ones I already had. The lipsticks were like $22 each. Also, Huggies…we got a big box of diapers and one whole sleeve of diapers was defective. The tape wasn’t long enough and every time we tried to put them on the baby, it would rip. I called Huggies and the woman was so apologetic. She sent coupons-one for an entire box for free. You know how expensive diapers are! I was a satisfied customer on both occasions!

I’m a huge fan of  Boston-based Rue La La. Ordered some resin plates. 3 sets of 4. The freight carrier “dropped” them on my front step. 3 of them were damaged. I photographed which patterns were damaged and their amazing Customer Service specialist hunted them down, replaced them AND gave me a $40 credit for all my trouble.

USAA – the very best customer service I’ve ever experienced. Every time I call, they offer to help me with my investments, or just to review where I’m at financially, just to make sure I am ok. They will give advice, give me suggestions where I should be putting money and once even said WOW – you are doing a great job. They never try to get you off the phone or rush you. They will even call and check up on recent investments. They are incredible.

Great Customer Service Department. UPS driver sees me at the mail box five blocks from my home. Stops next to my car. Shouts out “Mr. Corbett, I have a package for you.” Now that is great customer service and an employee who lives well the brand!!! Kudos to UPS!!! Living the Brand!

I also think TMobile has done some serious investment in training their reps. I used to think they were awful, now its almost a pleasure to call in. They make you feel like they are on your side – they say things like “yeah, that would make… me mad too” or “that would definitely not fly with me.” You can’t even get mad because they are so helpful now. I’ve been having major BB issues & the third time I called in the rep said, “well, this is ridiculous that you’ve had to call three times, after you get this replacement, *I* am going to call YOU”See More

The Ritz-Carlton has the absolute best customer service in the world. No matter the property, it is top notch. Bali, Jamaica, etc. – all superb. No one comes close.

Zappos. Order something at 10:00 at night and it’s on your door the next day for free with free return shipping if needed . . . Great example of a company that built it’s culture based on customer service from the day it started as a way to differentiate itself.

Pizza Hut in Big Rapids, MI………..awesome service and the C.J.’s special cannot be beat.

USAA is the best. They go above and beyond every single time.

I have to say that Spectrum Health in Reed City has an outstanding policy for good customer service. If someone asks for directions the employee won’t just point and explain. They escort them to the place with a smile on their face! And during parking lot construction they provided men driving golf carts who were at the car before it stopped to pick you up and take you to the door! Way above and beyond is their policy. They tell employees, “Surprise them (your customer). And they do in a good way.”

I third USAA

Readers – if a brand or company has done right by you lately, won’t you help spread the word and thank them here in the comments? Thanks for reading!

Do You Treat Your Customers Like a Deal or a Relationship? A Lesson from McGee Toyota

What’s more valuable to your business – one customer deal or a lifelong customer relationship that results in repeat business and referrals? You’d think the answer is obvious, wouldn’t you?

My family is in the market for a new SUV. We’ve got a Toyota Sequoia that’s nearly a decade old with about 160k miles on it – and it’s time for us to get a new one. It’s been a good truck for us – so naturally, looking at new Sequoias was part of our purchasing plan. After some other research and a few peeks at various other brands and models, we narrowed our search down to a Toyota Sequoia or a Ford Expedition.

After a lot of discussions, research on both brands and price negotiations, we decided to stick with the Toyota. So my husband struck a good deal and signed the papers with McGee Toyota in Hanover, MA, on Friday. We bought our last Toyota from McGee and we have gone there for every service need for the last decade. So, it seemed to be a natural and feel-good move.

He had such a good experience with the salesman on Friday that on Saturday, after running a road race, we headed right back to the dealership with my sister-in-law who was also in the market for a new SUV.

After another great experience with the same salesman, we sat down do talk price – including an option for trading in her existing SUV (which we were driving, so the dealer could see it on the spot). The natural back and forth took place with the manager in his office (ivory tower) and the poor salesman running back and forth between him and us – trying to strike a deal.

Let me just point a few things out:

  1. We’re repeat customers
  2. We’ve been loyal customers for a decade
  3. We brought in more customers/referrals
  4. We just bought a car the day before
  5. We came after a road race – in our running gear!
  6. The point being, clearly, we were serious buyers.

As I mentioned, my sister-in-law had a car to trade in. And the manager refused to tell her the estimate for the trade in – or negotiate the cost of the car she was trying to buy – until she would commit to buying RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Clearly, that wasn’t going to happen if a) she didn’t know the value of her trade-in, and b) the bottom line cost of the car she wanted to buy, and c) her husband (who wasn’t present) had an opportunity to see the car and hear the possible deal (i.e., value of the trade-in as well as the deal for the new car after negotiation). Oh, and also – why would we commit to buying something without knowing the cost? Who does that?

This was the exact opposite experience than the day before – with a different manager (same salesman). What a shock.

After several rounds with the poor salesman – embarrassed and frustrated, recognizing we were serious buyers and repeat customers, shaking his head and apologizing – that went nowhere, we decided to get up and leave. My sister-in-law wasn’t about to commit to buying a car without understanding the costs or even the courtesy of an estimate or starting point. Why were these games necessary when we were obviously serious about buying?

Before we left, my husband (keep in mind, it was his sister he brought in and thus, he’s naturally protective) stated that he couldn’t believe the way we were being treated after having just bought a car yesterday. And he began asking about the timeframe available to us to change our minds on our earlier purchase, considering we were not only being treated rudely, and being toyed with, but the manager didn’t even have the courtesy to come out and thank us for not only buying a car the day before – but coming back the next day with another customer.

So my husband said he was going to look into the time we had to change our mind on our purchase – unless we heard from them on an estimate for her trade in soon. (Keep in mind, it’s not that he didn’t know the estimate – the salesman confirmed the manager had a price; he just didn’t want to give it to us – wouldn’t write down a number – until she committed to buying on the spot.) The salesman said “I don’t want to tell him [the manager] that, you tell him.” And my husband said, “I would if he ever had the courtesy to come out here and talk to us.”

So we walked out and as we were getting into our car, the manager finally found a reason to walk out and talk to us. He boldly sauntered to our car and walked right up to the window as my husband got out. The manager then said, “Oh, you wanna call off the deal? That’s fine, we’ll rip up the contract right now.”

SAY WHAT?

Does this bullying tactic work on others? Because it didn’t work on us. This man couldn’t give us the privilege of a face-to-face discussion when we were ready to buy another car, and insisted on playing unnecessary, old-school games with a serious customer – and then he comes out with bravado and ego and tells us he’d rather lose TWO SALES than give us a simple estimate?

What is going on here? Would YOU do this? Is this how you treat your repeat customers? I sure hope not.

I can tell you what’s going on now:

  1. McGee Toyota just lost two car sales – over ego. (Ask yourself, will your investment matter to them either?)
  2. They just lost a loyal, potentially life-long customer
  3. They showed how little their customers mean to them
  4. They created a negative brand experience associated with Toyota
  5. We’ll not only never return, and never refer someone to them again, but we’ll continually tell everyone we know not to buy from them – ever
  6. We’re now back to discussions with Ford and may abandon Toyota altogether – we’re still negotiating
  7. They showed that the value of a deal is more important to them than the value of a customer relationship.

A customer deal is great. But a salesman – especially a sales manager (or, perhaps he was the owner, which makes it even more ludicrous) – should be savvy enough to recognize when a customer is a serious, loyal and repeat customer who not only continues to give you business, but also refers others. This manager basically took the customer referral pyramid and chucked it out the window.

Am I out of touch here? Are $40-50k cars flying out the door in this economy? Are ready-to-buy customers flocking to the doors for you? Even if they were, would you treat a long time, loyal customer in this manner?

Make sure your sales team can recognize the difference between a customer deal and a customer relationship – and if you care about your business, train them to treat every customer with respect and gratitude. Even if you are in the car sales business.

Client Service – Deliver What They Don’t Know They Want

The other day one of our clients asked us for something that was relatively easy to do – something that we could have handled with a quick email response without even knowing why the client needed the information. But I tend to be nosey, so I asked. The client contact needed the information to share with superiors to show the success of a recent campaign. So, we had a choice – we could have simply delivered what was asked of us, or we could think about this further and deliver something that they did not even know they wanted – or didn’t realize they could even ask for – but that would provide greater value than expected.

We ended up delivering a document that, although it did not take much longer to produce than the original request, put the information in clear context for the client in a way that they could see not only the success of the recent campaign, but also its relation to other campaigns. We knew that this would be more beneficial and would make our client contact look good in the eyes of superiors, so we took the longer road.

I started really thinking about this and wondering how often I do this, or how often I push my teams to do this. Are we delivering what they ask for, or are we thinking about what they really need? Are we checking off tasks on our list, or are we thoughtfully delivering information in ways that will make our clients more successful?

Because, quite honestly, going the extra step on this one felt good – it wasn’t a huge deal, but it was actually kind of fun. I liked the idea of delivering a surprise to the client – giving them what they asked for plus a little bit more. And it made me think twice about how we can present what we do in a more meaningful way.

When you do a job for a long time, certain tasks can become routine or mundane, and it’s easy to just check things off. But when clients give us references or talk about us, I want them to say that we didn’t treat anything as “routine” – that we were always thinking ahead, differently and creatively. I am very proud that we have a staff here that keeps me on my toes, challenges me to do better and who aren’t afraid to push me, even when I’m the boss.

To keep us all fresh, I want to make sure I challenge myself and my teams constantly and always ask – are we just checking off boxes, or are we giving our clients everything we have? Let’s strive every day to deliver what they don’t yet know they want.

It’s All About the Details

Details have been on my mind lately – you know, the nuances in life that make life, well – interesting. I thought this topic would be a personal blog post, because the details that have stood out to me recently have been pretty personal. One of our three dogs passed away recently – a sad first for our family – and while the event itself was huge, it’s the little things that stand out the most in regards to his absence. The way my youngest son still pushes his plate back from the edge of the table because the dog used to steal his food, the empty chair in our bedroom where we’d find him every morning, the fact that I can put bird seed in my bird feeders again and not have to worry that the dog will eat it. These and many other little details are what remind me every day of the bigger loss.

So how does this post end up here, on our agency’s blog? Because it has occurred to me that it’s the details that matter in business, too. The big events are certainly the most memorable – winning new clients, watching the first sale come through, unveiling your new brand or opening a new store. But it’s the little details in between all these larger situations that really matter – and the little details that help you not only to keep your business up and running, but to beat the competition.

Are you thinking about the little details? Once you win a customer or a client, are you welcoming them and thanking them for their business? Does your website make an interaction with your company pleasant and easy, or are you making prospects work too hard to become a customer? Can they easily find what they are looking for? Do you have a waiting room that’s comfortable or stark? Do you think about simple yet “nice touches” that would make a prospect want to do business with you over a similar competitor?

Once you win a customer or a client, are you communicating with them regularly – but not more than they want? Do you know how your customers prefer to be contacted and how often? Have you asked? When you’re following up with a prospect, do you make them feel personally wanted as a customer? Just this week, a company followed up with me based on an interaction at a trade show (good) but I was turned off by the method (bad) of follow up and it made me not want to do business with them. I understand that companies need to maximize time – that sales leads have to be captured and plopped into databases (we’ve worked with enough sales and marketing software clients – Landslide, Salesnet, RightNow, Genius, etc. – to understand how it works and why). And maybe I’m naive, or expecting too much – but as technology gets better, it seems to me it could also help companies to at least appear to be more personable in sales. When I receive a sales email that’s claiming to understand my business, and want my business, but is clearly a generated “next step” email from a sales automation software solution, I feel insulted – not really wanted as a customer. When they use my login name as the lead – which appears as “christine” because I rarely capitalize when I’m signing up for something online – it’s obvious. It’s a little, tiny detail, right? But to me – it’s a detail that turned me off from doing business with this company. A little detail that turned into a lost sale.

On the flip side, we’ve got a client who – even as they’ve grown from startup to public company – calls each prospect when they trial a product. I remember the first time I tried Constant Contact – the call startled me – it literally happened within minutes of me entering my information online. I didn’t need help but you know what? Knowing that if I did – especially in this day and age of electronic communication – I could get a human on the phone, was a nice touch. It stood out – the call was brief, to the point and not intrusive. I was impressed – and that was before they were a client.

An experience that falls somewhere in between these two is a recent interaction with our bank. They recently upgraded some services for us and assigned a personal Account Manager (great!). He emailed and called me to introduce himself, which was good, but the little details that were missing, some that I felt could have made me a happier customer (and not feeling like a call was wasting my time), were some suggestions or thoughtful interaction. The introduction, in my opinion, could have included something more along the lines of, “We noticed you often do this, and we think this change will make your life easier – do you want to learn more?” It didn’t need to be anything complicated, but just something that showed a personal touch about my business and my banking habits that demonstrate you care about me specifically as a customer.

In PR, one of the biggest complaints reporters have always had is that they receive off-topic, automated emails from PR executives. PR teams do this – using software to automate email blasts – because time is money in our business, literally. Not only can you move faster and thus work on more clients and charge more hours, but the more pitches you get out, the longer a “We Pitched” list you can give to a client, right? Well, I guess that may be true – but the little details, taking the time to pitch a reporter with a custom email or call, mentioning personal details that remind them you know them or you at least know their work and read what they write – are more likely to yield big results. Would a client rather have a long list of “We pitched 100 reporters” – but no coverage results – or a shorter list of “We pitched 10 key publications and here’s the result – 10 quality feature articles”? I’m guessing the latter.

So take time to think about the details today. Whether it’s how you sell, how you service or how you build your business – branding, HR, promotion, etc. – caring about the little details can make a big difference.

How do you incorporate the little details in your daily business?