Lack of Customer Service is a Critical Broken Window in Business

Michael Levine

A “broken window” in a business could be any flaw that is real or perceived by a customer. It could be paint peeling from the walls, an unclean bathroom, or a messy condiment section. But, one of the most significant broken windows in business are the employees.

Every employee is going to make a mistake at some point – it is human nature. Employees who learn from their mistakes and become better at their jobs as a result are the best employees to have. But unfortunately, not all employees do this and no matter how devastating it may be to the manager, the only way to make sure the mistake does not recur is to fire the employee. However, this doesn’t always happen.

Instead, the system institutes what some people call the dance of the lemons, moving incompetent workers from one job to the other, losing none of them. This is an even worse scenario because now the worst employees are working in multiple departments.

It is an example of the lax, laissez-faire attitude that has infected American businesses in the area of customer service. Much of it traces back to incomplete training, mainly failing to train employees in how to have impeccable customer service.

Here are the most important concepts in employee training: 1. Customer service. 2. Customer service. 3. Customer service. 4. Employee motivation. 5. Advancement for excellent performance. 7. See 1, 2, and 3. Customer service is what sets a business apart. It creates customer loyalty, and a steady stream of revenue for the business.

But what makes employees, especially ones working minimum wage, motivated to provide top-tier customer service? Employees should know, not just from the corporate statements but through examples they can see in their own outlets, that excellent performance will be rewarded with advancement and salary… They should also know that punishment will be the result of poor performance, and that after a certain number of warnings, they will be terminated.

This structuring would not allow for distracted, indifferent, and especially not rude employees – but they should also offer incentive so that employees have a reason to not be distracted or indifferent. The customer will go somewhere else if they notice a broken window, and much of the time the broken window is how they were treated while they were there.
As a consumer, you should do exactly that. You should patronize only those businesses you think exhibit the attitude and priorities you feel are important. If you, as a business owner, are not paying attention to that kind of broken window, the kind that walks in and punches the time clock every morning, you are inviting disaster.

Every employee, from the newest hire on the counter to the CEO, must be accountable, and the person to whom they are all accountable to is the customer. There is no higher authority. This mindset could completely change the way businesses are conducted. Somewhere along the way, priorities got lost. But this mindset of motivating employees with pay raises, providing exceptional customer service, and the customer being the highest authority, will repair the broken windows.


Michael Levine for consideration - May 28About the Author: He has represented a record-breaking 58 Academy Award winners, 34 Grammy Award winners, 43 New York Times best-sellers. He has authored 19 books, including 5 best-sellers, “Broken Windows, Broken Business” (Warner Books) and “Guerrilla P.R.” (HarperCollins Publisher). He has appeared on countless TV shows as a media expert including regular slots on “Good Morning America” and the “Today” show for the last 20 years. Born with dyslexia, Levine is currently the only person in the world, without ever attending college (merely a high school diploma), to lecture at both Harvard and Oxford University.




5 Ways to Improve Customer Service

Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels

Victoria Smith

The lifeblood of every successful business is customer service. Without good customer service, you can forget about ever trying to retain customers for the long term. Instead, excellent customer service should be the centerpiece of your business model. Sadly, many companies fail at this important task. If you are lacking in this department, there are strategies you can implement to greatly improve your business’s customer service. Below are five.

Vet and Train Your Employees

Customer service is essentially a people service. It all hinges on exactly how your employees interact with customers in a variety of different contexts. It’s no secret that excellent customer service seems to be much rarer today. You have probably experienced plenty of very unhelpful employees in retail stores and elsewhere that simply could care less about what you want. Overall, customer service begins on this personal level as a one-to-one relationship between the customer and the employee. If you hire the wrong people with the wrong attitude, that will reflect poorly on your company as a whole. Employees must also be trained well on how to help customers with what they need. Without this training, you can really only blame mismanagement when your reputation as a business sours.

Consider Outsourcing Some of Your Customer Service Needs

Customer service can also become a problem when your business’s customer base expands beyond the capabilities of your own in-house staff. You may, for example, feel swamped with customer phone calls all day long. If that is the case, you should consider outsourcing that area of customer service to inbound call centers. However, make sure to take an active hand in developing the customer service protocols that will be used when your customers call into those call center employees. You know your products best, and it is your job to help train outsiders on how to properly provide service for your own products.

Track Online Reviews and Social Media Mentions

96 percent of consumers say that customer service is an integral part of their brand loyalty. One way you can track people’s customer service experiences is by reading online reviews and social media mentions. Doing so is extremely important. The experiences of individual customers can determine whether or not they come back to your business. However, the fact that those experiences remain online where people can see them means they can influence scores of other people as well. Negative online reviews can certainly affect a business’s revenue for months or even years into the future. Adjust to what is said about your service and reach out to those individuals with poor experiences so you can fix their issues.

Integrate Customer Feedback

A lot can be said about a company’s brand and products online. There are certain times when you should ignore negative feedback. Twitter, for example, tends to whip up “outrage mobs” of people who have never purchased a company’s products and only join in with negative scorn due to the social aspect of agreeing with one another. The feedback you should listen to and integrate, though, is the feedback you receive from honest individuals trying your service for the first time or longtime customers that are trying to give you constructive criticism. If they had a genuinely negative experience with your products or service, try to see what you can change to prevent such a negative experience from happening again. There is always room for improvement.

Institute a Customer Loyalty Program

Everything you do as a business should be about building long-term customer loyalty. It is that loyalty that will give your business the revenue it needs to survive far into the future. Without that loyalty, changing trends could wipe out your business overnight. One way you can build customer loyalty is by launching a program specifically to foster it. A customer loyalty program that allows consumers to accrue points, freebies, discounts, gifts and more is an excellent choice. This will give those customers an incentive to continue choosing your business over your competitors, and they will feel like the organization truly values their loyalty as a result.

Customer service is the cornerstone of every successful business. There is of course no business without customers. Keep that in mind when you hire and train employees. Consider new ways to improve customer services such as using loyalty programs or outsourcing. Never ignore the experiences customers have with your services and products as expressed through feedback both online and offline.


About the Author: Victoria Smith is a freelance writer who specialized in business and finance, with a passion for cooking and wellness. She lives in Austin, TX where she is currently working towards her MBA.

 




#9 MOST-READ in 2017: Strategic Trends – AI, Machine Learning and Customer Service

Wendy Glavin, Founder & CEO, Wendy Glavin Agency

2017-strategic-trends-ai-machine-learning-and-customer-serviceInnovative technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), the geopolitical regulatory environment and cyber risks are creating new challenges for global organizations and investors. Gathering and analyzing data is the norm, but the real value of data analytics and automation is in the insights — and the value to the customer.

Across all industries, innovation is transforming the way we operate in the world. In the investment industry, startups have developed proprietary technologies, such as machine learning, workflow optimization software and next-generation investment technologies for investors. “Yet the world’s largest funds are closed off from these innovations. Instead, they tend to perpetuate the status quo,” Harvard Business Review, November 2016

Gartner defines a strategic technology trend as one with substantial disruptive potential that is just beginning to break out of an emerging state into broader impact and use. Gartner named AI and Machine learning one of top 10 strategic technology trends for 2017. Today, big banks are trying to figure out ways to deal with 2016’s disruptor, now a revolution.

Artificial intelligence can help people make faster, better, and cheaper decisions. But you have to be willing to collaborate with the machine,” says Anand Rao, Innovation Lead Analytics, Price Waterhouse, December 2016: https://www.pwc.com/us/en/governance-insights-center/publications/assets/pwc-sharing-insights-investor-and-ceo-perspectives.pdf

Anad suggests financial institutions analyze business challenges across the value chain, including, marketing, operations, risk and finance, and define key decisions and metrics for where and how AI can help.

Significant potential exists for firms using large volumes of unstructured and non-transactional data. Replacing mundane tasks with AI and machine learning offers speed and personalization. “A human advisor can’t begin to compete with that level of detail and automation,” said Forbes contributor Bernard Marr, December 2016.

“The Year of the Customer” continues in 2017. For financial institutions, improving the customer experience is the top goal. FinTech firms, smaller banks and other financial services firms offer predictive analytics that determine buyer’s choices, sentiments, habits, geo location data, behavior patterns, and contextual analysis.

Some robo advisers are adding artificial intelligence capabilities to track account activity on their products and other integrated services, others are using AI to analyze and understand how account holders are spending, investing and making their financial decisions. Some banks are even using AI for customer service. – FinExtra, January 2017: https://www.finextra.com/blogposting/13503/five-key-trends-that-will-see-fintech-enhance-its-role-and-impact-in-2017

Artificial intelligence is also playing a big role in wealth management. For example, financial services company, OpenFinance analyzes and aggregates data from multiple sources then distributes it to banks and financial institutions. “The technology allows the company to access information from several hundred institutions, put it into a ‘common language’ so it can be worked on, then returned to each institution in the form they want,” says Open Finance Managing Director, Edward Loughran, Wall Street Journal, December 2016: https://blogs.wsj.com/riskandcompliance/2016/05/19/financial-firms-turn-to-artificial-intelligence-to-handle-compliance-overload/

For corporations, investors and brokers, machine learning can efficiently identify strategic relationship synergies by integrating institutional investors, brokers and C-Suite dashboards to highlight knowledge and share value-added services.

Organizations that are able to harness these data and analytics capabilities effectively will create significant value, differentiate themselves and gain a competitive edge.

AI and machine learning’s potential to deliver real-time optimization across industries is just starting to evolve and will quickly accelerate in the next three years.
“I see time becoming the most valuable currency that we as mankind see in the future. And autonomy, or autonomy in second is going to return time back to people that we don’t have today.” – Jennifer Tejada, CEO PagerDuty

 

About the Author: Wendy Glavin is Founder and CEO of Wendy Glavin, a NYC full-service agency. Wendy is a 20-year veteran of corporate, agency, consulting and small business ownership. She specializes in B2B marketing communications, PR, social and digital media. Her website is: https://wendyglavin.com/. Contact her at: wendy@wendyglavin.com

 




#3 MOST-READ in 2017: Don’t Get Too Obsessed with Recent Airline Customer Service Incidents – There are Bigger Sharks in the Risk Waters

Chris Britton, COO, RockDove Solutions

Target is a great place to shop. I love going there, and I bet many of you do too.

But I also find the company fascinating because over the past few years it has provided huge debating points for those of us who make a living managing issues and crises.

Until United Airlines recently showed how to turn a crisis into a disaster and created learning points for years of lectures, Target’s handling of its 2013 data breach was the poster child for “what not to do in a crisis” workshops.

More recently, and a little less clear cut in terms of best practice, Target has been in the spotlight ever since it published a blog post in April 2016 welcoming transgender employees and customers to use the restrooms and fitting rooms corresponding to their gender identities.

While we all got obsessed by the United tragi-comedy over recent weeks, a couple of studies were published which suggested that the Target bathroom issue is the one we should examine most closely.

There is growing evidence that managing risk from cultural, social and political issues is the biggest emerging challenge for all kinds of organizations.

One of those recent studies was from The Institute for Crisis Management (ICM). It published its annual crisis report in which it tracks six hundred thousand crisis stories in the news worldwide.

Mismanagement (malpractice, misconduct, negligence, unethical practices and so on) was top of the charts accounting for nearly 30% of crises.

But look what was number two on the list with a bullet.

Discrimination stories skyrocketed to around 20%, with ICM’s report citing news articles involving Papa John’s pizza, the restaurant chain Noodles & Co and the North Carolina bathroom bill (which is when Target published its now infamous bathroom blog).

By comparison natural disasters accounted for just one per cent of crisis stories in 2016 – and stories about data breaches just five percent.

The second study published in April was from the thought leadership unit of the marketing agency McCann, ‘The Truth about America’.

McCann highlights how the rising political divisiveness in America and the sharp divide between liberals and conservatives deeply affects perceptions about values, institutions, brands, foreign countries, American symbols or news sources.

It is always a careful walk when brands and companies make judgment calls and get involved in issues around race, gender, nationality and politics – but never greater than right now in divided America.

Once you tear your eyes away from the United Airlines soap opera and become aware of the emerging risks to brands from issues such as gender, race, politics and polarizing social issues, you keep tripping over them everywhere.

Another example is Chick-fil-A whose culture is strongly influenced by its founder’s, Truitt Cathy, southern Baptist beliefs. This can range from hungry customers getting grumpy because the chain does not open on a Sunday to more strongly held opinions, on both sides of the issue, about the causes that Chick-fil-A has chosen to support in the past.

On the opposite spectrum, there was a fascinating moment in time in April. The 20th of that month is a ‘holiday’, a celebration of marijuana use, known as 4/20.

Brands with famously liberal leanings such as Ben & Jerrys and the Californian brewery Lagunitas went so far as to name products with overtones of drug culture (‘Half Baked’ ice cream, for example).

But getting involved in 4/20 created gyrations in what brands were prepared to say outright in public.

An article in the Washington Post reported Ben & Jerry’s statement on the topic of the ‘Half Baked’ ice cream, “We’re really known for our tongue-in-cheek humor but it’s pretty coincidental that it’s coming out on the 20th…That’s the official line.”

But don’t think you can avoid cultural risk by doing nothing. Consumers have taken that option off the table.
Earlier this year, the marketing behemoth Unilever unveiled an international study that showed a third of consumers buy brands that can demonstrate a social and environmental impact.

In 2016, the BBMG agency identified a sector of the buying public it calls ‘Aspirationals,’ which it claimed represent 40 percent of the global public and are defined by their love of shopping, desire for responsible consumption, and their trust in brands to act in the best interest of society.
So, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

What does all this mean for you in your role as a defender of your organization’s reputation?

Take a look at your crisis planning.

How well does it equip you to manage these kinds of issues? How well would you respond in this type of crisis? What inputs and counsel can you call upon to overcome lurking cultural blindness?

When you access your plan on your crisis mobile app and you have to react at social media speed, you will want to know that these questions have been answered.

About the Author: Chris Britton is COO of RockDove Solutions, based in Reston VA. He has served as executive leader of business operations since the company was founded in 2014. Chris has spent more than 30 years in technology, including leadership roles at AT&T, VOCUS (now CISION) and Rosetta Stone.




How to Get Excellent Customer Service this Holiday Shopping Season – Inside Tips from a Call Center Executive

How to Get Excellent Customer Service this Holiday Shopping Season – Inside Tips from a Call Center ExecutiveBy Marilyn Tyfting, Chief Corporate Officer, TELUS International

With the holiday season upon us, consumers are looking forward to buying and receiving their new gadgets and gizmos. But what happens when those gadgets don’t live up to their promised expectations? Contacting customer support can turn the fun of receiving a new toy into a nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

As Chief Corporate Officer at a global contact center outsourcing company, let me share a few tips on how to turn the need for customer service into an efficient and successful experience:

  1. Plan your “get help” tactic: As a consumer, you have choice when it comes to connecting with a company. Brands now offer numerous ways to get in touch – phone, email, chat, and social media. Pick the right channel for support that coincides with your service expectations, keeping in mind that each channel has its own set of response metrics. Companies often aim to answer calls within so many minutes while email may take a few hours. For immediate help, consider phone or chat, or take control of your own journey and engage in care through social media. But if you’re willing to wait a little longer for a resolution, email might be your better option.
  1. Make the most of your time on hold: During periods of high call volume, it’s hard to avoid that dreaded hold music. Believe it or not however, companies are not out to torture you with horrible wait times; in fact leaders in contact center environments are working hard to reduce hold times and create a great customer experience. However, trying to predict consumer behavior and plan for call volumes in advance is never perfect.

Besides making the most of your “on hold time,” by wrapping presents or hanging stockings, take advantage of any callback features if offered. These are handy notifications giving you the option to have the company call you back when your position in the queue is getting close. In many cases, you even get an approximate callback time, so you can attempt to plan ahead.

  1. Listen to the menu system: This tip has been debated for ages, with many suggesting it’s better to bypass menu options (press 1 for this, 2 for that) and go straight to hitting 0 to get an agent. In most cases, the menu system (known as the interactive voice response system – or IVR for short) has been carefully planned to connect people to the right department or contact center agent from the start. This skills-based routing ensures that if you want billing support, you are connected to a billing representative, and in many cases, engaging in an IVR will expedite reaching the appropriate agent to resolve your concerns.
  1. Be prepared: Many people call the call center ready to launch into their issues but fail to have all of the necessary information ready to verify their accounts, including PINs if required. In today’s identity theft environment, it’s crucial that contact centers verify with whom they are speaking and decline to assist otherwise.
  1. Consider having some fun: Imagine answering calls and supporting frustrated customers all day long. It is not an easy job – and can be repetitive. Why not make an agent’s day by presenting your problem in a more creative way? (But keeping clarity paramount in your request.)

You may recall the Netflix customer service story years ago where a Netflix support rep introduced himself as “Captain Mike of the good ship Netflix.” Although Netflix initiated the fun intro, the customer jumped right in responding as “Lieutenant” Norm, as if he was a ranking officer from Star Trek. While Netflix is not an outsourcing client of ours, the agent’s creativity caught our attention. In fact, we’ve also had customers contact us via chat or email support using poems to explain their issues, in which we’ve responded with similar prose.

  1. Escalate if needed: When your needs are not being met or when it’s clear that the solution may exceed what the agent can provide, be sure to ask to speak to the next tier of technical support. Ideally, part of training contact center agents is to give them a good idea when to escalate a customer’s issue as being the right thing to do. Companies have worked hard to earn you as a customer. And as many know, it costs far more to win new customers than to keep existing ones. As a result, if you’ve escalated things already, ask to speak directly to the Loyalty & Retention department to see what they say.
  1. Help yourself: Self-service is a growing area of customer support. This is where consumers can go online to find company FAQs, online tutorials, even help forums to solve their own issues. And brands love this because it avoids the need to contact the call center. If customers can take control of their own issues and feel empowered to solve them online or via social media, then brands can reduce call volumes, and it’s a win-win situation.
  1. Close the call properly: In the ideal customer service interaction, your contact center agent should provide you with a ticket (or case) number along with clear directions for follow-up should you need to contact them again. Ideally, they will also offer their own contact details, taking ownership of your customer satisfaction. If they fail to do any of these things, be sure to ask. Having a ticket number or contact will help the next support agent quickly access your support history to date.

Drawing from our experience handling over 175 million customers support interactions annually via phone, email, chat and social media customer support for some of the world’s top brands, we hope these tips contribute to your customer service success this holiday season.

 

 About the Author: Marilyn Tyfting is Chief Corporate Officer at TELUS International, a global provider of contact center outsourcing and customer service solutions. Learn more at telusinternational.com 

 

 




Offering In-House Delivery Services: What Small Eateries Need to Consider

Offering In-House Delivery Services

Jodie James, Freelancer

Third-party delivery services have a few benefits, but they have lots of drawbacks as well. You don’t need to manage deliveries or buy a vehicle when using one, which drives staffing and equipment costs down. On the other hand, you are at the mercy of whatever driver delivers the food for you and are subject to huge fees that can eat into your margins. This is why more small eateries are deciding to revert to delivering food themselves. If that is your plan, then you have to know what running your delivery service entails and what you need to prepare for. Here are some of the things small eateries need to consider before handling food delivery in-house.

Is it Really the Best Option for You?

You first need to look at whether handling deliveries on your own is truly the best idea for you. If you’re a new business, you need to understand that food delivery services do more than ship food for you. Try to think of a food delivery service as a huge food court where you can choose to have more or less visibility. If you’re just starting your business, you have to know that foot traffic and dine-in orders are way down at the moment and building traction without the visibility a food delivery service can offer could be difficult.

This is why you should think twice about handling all deliveries on your own. You should also know that you can use both a third-party delivery service and have an in-house driver. Some services will also allow you to have your store to be featured there, but use your driver to send the food, so look at all your options.

Extra Expenses

You will also need to look at the additional expenses that come with handling deliveries in-house. You’ll have to get a decent vehicle or a fleet of them, hire one or multiple drivers, and look at things like business car insurance as well. You also have to look at things like maintenance and fuel costs and how they affect your bottom line. You might realize that the difference in cost between handling deliveries or paying delivery fees is minimal and that going with a third party might be a better strategic decision even if your margins are slightly narrower.

Taking Care of Dine-In Guests

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they start offering delivery is that they start neglecting their dine-in guests. If you’re just starting to deliver, you have to know that you might experience trouble if you try to manage take-out and dine-in orders through the same channels.

You might realize that you’re getting many more delivery orders than expected, for instance. Restaurants often feel like deliveries should be a priority because angry customers will be more likely to post negative reviews; however, dine-in clients might be the ones who pay most of your bills. This is why we suggest that you separate your kitchen space and have one part handling table orders and another one dealing with deliveries exclusively.

Setting Up a Web Portal

You also have to know that people are now used to ordering food online, so you will have to set up a website and probably have to develop an app for your service. You will also need to start looking at online and mobile POS solutions

Hire the Right Drivers

When you work with a third-party service, they pre-screen drivers for you. Finding a reliable driver on your own can be difficult and hiring the wrong one can have disastrous consequences. So, be ready for the challenges that come with hiring. The drivers you hire will make the biggest impact on the whole delivery experience, so recruit wisely. You need to hire people who will care about your brand and the customer. Hire drivers with experience and good references. You may have the best food in the world and really care about service, but if your drivers don’t, your brand will suffer. So, be extra careful there and conduct thorough background and reference checks on all prospective drivers.

These are all things you have to think about when setting up an in-house delivery service. Take the time to evaluate all your options and only go through with your decision if you’re 100% sure that it’s the right choice from a business standpoint.




How Fixing Failed Payments Can Improve Customer Retention (INFOGRAPHIC)

Brian Wallace, Founder & President, NowSourcing

Most business owners know how much revenue is coming in at the top, but how many know the cost of failed payments? For subscription services, more than two thirds of businesses lose 17% of their profits to churn, often involuntary churn. The #1 cause of involuntary churn? Failed payments. The main causes of failed payments are, in order: insufficient funds, credit card limits, and credit card changes. 

One factor that increases the risk of failed payments is auto-renewal. 35% of subscriptions automatically renew, but auto-renewal increases the likelihood of failed payments by 47%. Many customers don’t know a payment failed until they lose service, so failed payments drive up customer service contacts, which 43% of businesses say drives up costs. If the customer service they receive is poor, said customer is unlikely to manually renew after a failed payment. 32% of people will stop doing business with a brand or company after just one bad experience, turning failed payments into a failure of customer retention. Seeing as 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers, this could spell long term trouble for a company.

How can companies recover failed payments? One thing they shouldn’t do is send automated emails. Such forms of contact lack empathy, they put the onus on the customer to act, and they cannot replace traditional customer service. Only 15% of customers respond to emails prompting them to update payment information. Meanwhile, 69% of customers want to shop with retailers who offer consistent and quality customer service. 

Instead, companies should employ some combination of direct debit, which allows bank-to-bank transactions; digital wallets, which are more likely to be up-to-date and include backup payment methods; and a payment processor who accepts a wide variety of credit card brands. Reducing card declines can bring down payment failure rates to as low as 0.5%. That would be a 70% reduction in involuntary churn.

Other ways to prevent failed payments include employing an automated card updater, which checks card networks to update payment information behind the scenes, adding sophisticated retry logic capable of selecting the optimal time to rerun transactions based on error type, and integrating more personalization into the process, which allows human interaction to recover failed payments and boost customer loyalty.

It’s time for customer churn to stop costing US businesses $136 billion a year. It’s time to recover your company’s lost payments today with Gravy Solutions.

 

How Legendary Companies Make Money
Source: GravySolutions.io


Brian WallaceAbout the Author: Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian runs #LinkedInLocal events, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Adviser for 2016-present. Follow Brian Wallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.




6 Steps To Qualify Potential Customers Easily

Samantha Higgins

In today’s world, businesses and entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to grow more revenue. One way to do so is through building a customer base of qualified customers. But how can you find more qualified customers? Here are six steps to qualify potential customers quickly, which will help you identify and target those with a need for what you sell.

Do your market research first.

If you don’t know what is selling, how will you know which market to go into? Evaluate current trends, and take note of them. The most popular trends are indicators of what is currently selling to consumers. Markets can follow their flow, or they can show seasonal ups and downs. When you choose to sell products and services in demand, you are more likely to find potential customers.

Pick the right market for your products and services.

No matter what you choose to sell, it is essential to select the right market to reach the customers who need or desire what you want to sell. You may have an idea of who you want to buy your products and services, but that doesn’t always mean looking for something like what you have to offer. Consider that the most significant customer audiences mathematically give more opportunities for sales. Make a list of all the different industries and markets that you may want to sell into. This will help you gain access to a relevant customer base.

Determine the type of person who is part of your target market.

You can use many methods to zero in on the qualifications needed for your target market. The demographic process looks at the different characteristics of a specific population, such as age group, gender, education level, income level, and ethnic background. The behavioral method looks at an individual’s actions, such as buying habits, shopping preferences, media preferences, and travel patterns. The psychographic techniques consider a person’s values and interests regarding buying a particular product and looking at how they think and view the world. Once you determine the type of customer persona your business is targeting, it will be much easier to find qualified customers.

Consider the location of a potential customer before reaching out.

It is paramount to consider location if your company specializes in a particular service or time-sensitive product. All of the other factors mean little if you cannot reach the client or not reach you. Consider the location of customers to qualify them as well. Services that are not virtual are often limited to a specific geographical area. You can use targeted advertising to find the type of customers who can get to you, so you don’t waste each other’s time.

Screen customers online before they buy.

Asking potential clients to fill out a survey, form, or questionnaire can help you find valid customers in a sea of window shoppers. This method allows you to prescreen people who may be interested. Asking for a name, valid address, telephone number, or email address can help you ensure that customers are who they are and qualified to do business with you.

With identity theft on the rise, knowing the difference between a total sale and a legit one could mean saving your business from lawsuits later. The Small Business Chronicle suggests that business owners can request a current photo ID before accepting checks or credit cards, and one can use multiple layers to encrypt customer information. Suppose you want to ensure that your customer has a particular credit score or can pay you. In that case, you can partner with a buy now deliver later provider on your website to give customers another chance to qualify to buy from you. The agency will have already prescreened the clients for you who are capable of making the purchase.

Allow a customer service agency to screen customers.

If customers call to place an order, inbound call centers can take the calls and prescreen candidates for companies. Hiring an inbound calling agency to answer calls for your business, process orders, and provide other services to satisfy customers is a smart move for better service. During the prequalification process, friendly customer agents will ask the necessary questions by phone or live chat to determine whether they are good clients for your business. You can then reach out to qualified customers with a specialized message that will get their attention.

Since every business needs customers, you must know how to find qualified ones. You are marketing to human beings, so just like everyone else, they don’t want to be sold on something they don’t think is valuable. Offer your target market compatible products and services, and you can increase your odds of finding qualified customers exponentially.


About the Author: Samantha Higgins is a professional writer with a passion for research, observation, and innovation. She is nurturing a growing family of twin boys in Portland, Oregon with her husband. She loves kayaking and reading creative non-fiction. 




5 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

Samantha Higgins

How important is the well-being and satisfaction of your customers? If you are a business owner, you know how crucial it is to keep them happy. The long term success of your business will surely depend on positive reviews. Here are 5 great new tips and tricks that you can make use of in order to improve your customer experience.

1. Improve Your Speech Analytics from AI

One of the very best things that you can do to improve the quality of your customer experience will be to make better use of AI speech analytics. This is the method by which you can gather valuable info from customer calls. Data from these calls will be critical in determining the needs and wishes of your customers.

2. Interact with Customers on Social Media

Another very important tip that you should be following for success is to be more interactive with your customers. You can do this by getting pages on all of the major social media networks. Once you have accounts on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and the like, you can answer the questions, comments, and concerns your customers have.

This will be a great way to increase your public profile. Viewers want to know that there is a human being behind the profile. The more presence you have on social media, the higher your level of credibility will be. This will establish a crucial link between you and your audience that will help you develop a positive public image.

3. Use SEO to Determine Your Customers’ Needs

You can make use of SEO keywords to heighten the quality of your average customer experience. Doing so will give you a great insight into the needs and wants of your target demographic. The more you know about the keywords they use to search for goods and services, the easier it will be for you to match those needs.

This is a crucial tip for a struggling business owner who has just established a startup. The knowledge that you can gain by researching and making the proper use of SEO will give you a definite leg up. This is info that you can use to satisfy the immediate needs of your customers while also anticipating their future desires.

4. Automate All of the Minor Details

You don’t have to be present in-person to answer every single detail of a phone or chat box call. In fact, were you to try to do so, you would be wasting huge amounts of very valuable time and energy. Instead, your best bet will be to automate all of the simple details, such as asking about prices or availability of items on your site.

You can do this by installing AI on your site as well as on your official contact phone lines. A customer can call in and leave their name and info. If the question can be handled via a prerecorded response, so much the better. If not, it can still be a great way to weed out all but the most essential calls that demand your attention.

5. Make Sure Your Site is Completely Mobile

One of the most important qualities that customers look for in a website is responsiveness. Your site needs to be quick loading and easy to access across all of the major platforms. It needs to be fully responsive and easy for your customers to view on a laptop, PC, Smartphone, Android, tablet, and all other devices.

You will be judged on how quickly your site responds on all of these platforms. It’s important to keep in mind that the attention span of the average viewer is only a bare few seconds. The quicker you make a good first impression, the quicker you can proceed to make a sale.

It’s Time to Improve Your Customer Experience

There is nothing in the world more satisfying to a business owner than a positive and profitable interaction with a customer. Keeping a high level of satisfaction for all of your customers is an absolute must. Taking heed of these handy tips will help you maintain a high level of positive reviews that will help your firm grow and thrive.


About the Author: Samantha Higgins is a professional writer with a passion for research, observation, and innovation. She is nurturing a growing family of twin boys in Portland, Oregon with her husband. She loves kayaking and reading creative non-fiction. 




7 Media Trends for 2021 include Supply Chains, Healthcare, Telepresence and Customer Experiences

 

Norman Birnbach, President, Birnbach Communications

It’s great that 2020 is over. Finally.

Although many of the trends and issues from last year sadly will continue into 2021, PR and marketing teams should look at new trends to find ways to stay relevant and engaged with other stories the media will be covering. 

Our approach to identifying trends is based on conversations with reporters and a review of a wide-range of sources, with the goal of helping clients understand the media landscape. For example, we’ve been telling clients for the last few weeks that reporters have been very distracted during the post-election – so it was gratifying to read that Ina Fried at Axios Login, the company’s tech newsletter, validated our perspective this week. Writing about the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a major tech showcase that generates tons of media coverage because it’s where consumer product companies typically launch exciting cutting-edge products, Fried noted: “The 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media’s attention focused elsewhere.” 

We’ve recognized the media’s distraction and have advised clients appropriately to set expectations. In so doing, we may have helped clients better time and position their announcements. 

Here are seven of our top media predictions for 2021: 

  1. We will all become more aware of supply chains. While supply chain and logistics are vital, they rarely get mentioned in the mainstream media because they’re typically invisible to consumers. Because the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines encountered significant challenges and there were shortages of key consumer goods and appliances, we will all become more aware of supply chains issues this year. We expect more coverage if key shortages arise. What this means: Executives with supply chain expertise have an opportunity to position themselves as thought leaders if they can provide big-picture perspectives and insights to help reporters explain the challenges we’re seeing.
  2. The workplace of the future will be your home. Experts predict that a significant percentage of employees will choose to continue to work from home – which has propelled some to move to cheaper, less dense neighborhoods. Companies will have to rethink HR, recruiting and team building as well as reconfigure workflow, collaboration, and customer support to address the realities of the new workplace. For grocery stores, restaurants and retail locations, expect short-term changes like plexiglass dividers, asking people to socially distance, etc. to likely remain into 2022. What this means: HR executives can offer insights into the long-term implications for job-hunters and current employees or companies can talk about how their new products solve new challenges. (For example: selfie lights. Last year you might not have heard of them but if you have a dark corner of your home from which you now conduct video calls, you should get some.)
  3. Cities will need to reimagine downtown business districts. Office buildings will be emptier in 2021 as many businesses re-evaluate office needs and try to get out of leases. Local hospitality businesses and retailers need to focus on delivering customer experience, not just commodity service. To overcome stories about closures and stagnation, stimulate the local economy and give people a reason to visit, cities will need to revitalize downtown areas by expanding cultural activities. What this means: Even if you’re pitching a totally different story, if your organization has big downtown presence, you should be prepared to address reporters’ questions about the future of your office space and your commitment to support the community.
  4. Telepresence, industrial robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will get more attention. Companies will experiment with deploying telepresence and robotic solutions and integrating AI to be better able to weather the next pandemic. This is an opportunity for industries like manufacturing that require onsite employees but haven’t updated processes. There will also be articles noting concerns about the impact of robots in the workplace on jobs as well as advances in AI. What this means: Companies may have an opportunity to showcase themselves as case studies for deploying new technology (though it shouldn’t just be about new technology as about a new way of getting work done).
  5. Telehealth becomes a preferred option, not an alternative. Telehealth will become the preferred option, particularly for therapy or appointments that don’t require hands-on treatment. We expect to see stories on the delivery of healthcare to those who don’t have access to telehealth and whether patients will get the same level of care and attention via virtual sessions as they do with in-person visits. What this means: There are a number implications that HR staffs will need to address. Instead of taking an hour from work to go to a doctor’s office, an employee will need a quiet, private location from which to conduct a telehealth call. That’s not a problem for mployees working from home; but it could be an issue if they work from a bullpen area in an office. HR execs will need to reconfigure policies and expectations to deal with telehealth visits, for example.
  6. Big Tech’s role will be scrutinized. With antitrust suits against Facebook and concerns about Section 230 – the FCC rule that protects social media companies from being sued for the content posted onto their sites – 2021 will be a tough year for Big Tech. Forcing Facebook to sell off Instagram and WhatsApp won’t solve the real problem: the polarizing nature of social media and the impact of disinformation in the public square. But everyone has an opinion, and we expect to see numerous stories exploring the topic this year. What this means: Organizations need to look at how people are using various platforms and to be prepared to adjust their social media activities based on shifting laws and regulations as well as algorithms that may impact those campaigns.
  7. The streaming wars will continue with no real losers. With the exception of Qubi, a standalone service that closed in six months, most of the new streaming services were launched by networks trying to optimize their content. The currently expanding number of streaming services have benefited from people staying home, but there are too many different providers to be sustainable. Contraction of non-network-based services (Crackle and Tubi, for example) won’t happen this year but could happen within 24 months. What this means: This trend could be significant for marketers because people who primarily stream content are harder to reach via advertising than those who watch on-air advertising-supported networks. So marketers will need to find other, more creative ways to reach those consumers.

Of course, these aren’t the only trends we expect to hit this year. We are optimistic, and do expect 2021 to be a better year. It’s important to pay attention to the factors driving media coverage to be able to generate positive coverage and to position executives as thought leaders.


Norman BirnbachAbout the Author: Norman Birnbach is the president of Birnbach Communications, www.birnbach.com, a Boston-based PR and social media agency that helps clients navigate trends and raise awareness through earned media and thought leadership. His blog, PR BackTalk, provides insights and attitude about PR, journalism and traditional and social media.




How To Find Local Customers with Twitter

Frank Hamilton, Editor, Online Writers Rating

Social media presents you with the opportunity to identify with the right target audience for your business or brand. There are several tools and devices so that you always meet the specific targets every time. From the safety and comfort of the internet and social media, you can study and engage your audience initially. From there, you can begin to accelerate your business through networking, partnerships, advertising, and several other tactics

How To Easily Find The Right Customers With Twitter

With Twitter, you are just one click away from a potential client or making a sale. It is possible to find either in seconds if you know your way around. Also technology has provided us with extra tools to further narrow-down/expand our reach in finding useful leads or clients.

There are two essential methods through which you can find local customers for your business on Twitter:

  • Update your location.
  • Employ Advanced Search Using:
    • Keywords, Phrase, or Hashtags.
    • By Category.

    You can implement both of these techniques in real-time or have them geographically targeted, depending on your needs. There are also several other third-party tools that you can incorporate to increase the functionalities of both of these tools further.

    Let’s look at how we can effectively make use of some of Twitter’s native methods for winning local customers around your area.

    Advanced Search:

    • Visit https://twitter.com/search-advanced
    • Input your zip code in the ‘Near This Place’ field.
    • (You will see results showing nearby people tweeting from within your area).
    • Click on your prospect’s name and follow them.
    • You can follow up to 200 new prospects daily using this technique.

    Hash Tags:

    Use hashtags to get more clients for your business on twitter.  You can achieve this by searching for hashtags that fit into your business or industry.

    Try to use up to three hashtags per tweet. Also, take note of the popular hashtags used by the nearby people you followed using the advanced search. Use their hashtags as leads and also try to integrate them into your tweets as well so you can reach out to newer audiences.

    Keywords and Phrases:

    • Go back to twitter.com/search-advanced
    • Input keywords or phrases customers can use to find you.
    • Input your zip code in the ‘Near This Place’ field.
    • Identify and respond to the tweets that you think can use your product or service.

    Tweet Often:

    • Don’t worry about over-tweeting; in fact, tweeting at least once every half-hour is good business.
    • Naturally, the more you tweet, the more you get new followers.
    • Make good use of your hashtags. An easy way to benefit from this is by sharing news that is relevant to people in your industry. Sort for and use hashtags pertinent to your business and industry.
    • Don’t be too complacent with only your content; retweet other tweets you find interesting or relevant to your business and industry.
    • Shake things up a little bit by sharing funny stories now and then. Keep your followers engaged and excited.

    Share Local Content:

    • Kindly share useful information like the local news, events, calendar, etc. with your followers. If you do this, you stand better chances of having people retweeting your post every often.
    • Patronize local news websites for free-to-share content.
    • Leverage non-profit information. Capitalize on Sharing the weather, politics, and other non-profit information that can be useful to your audience.

    Update Your Twitter Profile:

    • It is essential to have a comprehensive but brief description of your company in your profile.
    • Share pictures often! Try to visualize your product or service in a way that is attractive and appealing. Images draw a lot of attention. Also, include them in your tweets.
    • Use a quality HD profile picture to represent your brand; it could be your brand or business logo. You can also try catchy photos that relate to your product or service. It is okay to switch things up a bit from time to time. Pictures are paramount. Research shows that tweeters do not usually take accounts without a profile picture seriously.

    Join The Conversation!

    • Reach out to the people that follow you and those you follow. Spend a few minutes daily getting involved in their discussions and make useful inputs.
    • Reply tweets from your followers, comment on their links, comment on their pictures, retweet relevant tweets.
    • Visit your follower’s websites. Also, request for guest post openings.
    • Engage with new followers by responding to your mentions, follow back new followers, and generally try to find more people to connect with daily.
    • Do not buy followers, they’re not real people, and a good chunk of them are not interested in your business.

    Third-party Tools You Can Integrate To Find More Customers On Twitter

    Besides the native methods, there are several third-party tools that you can integrate to help you work smarter. These instruments capitalize on Twitter’s existing native tools to give you more advantage. They can also help you find local customers for your business using various techniques. Some good examples of these applications include:

    • Fan Page Robot
    • Hootsuite
    • Twellow
    • Wefollow
    • Topsy
    • The Archivist, and several others.

    Fan Page Robot:

    This program offers an excellent automated social media management and marketing system that syncs directly with your twitter. It is designed to assist busy internet marketers and only requires the most minimalist input throughout. The program can manage all your social media accounts, scheduling, and pages independently. It can also automatically create quality content and auto-post them to your different social media accounts/pages.

    How It Works:

    • Enter keywords related to your business to automatically (or manually) generate compelling local content. 
    • Use popup campaigns to post on Twitter and other social media to generate local leads.
    • You can find and connect with local influencers within your industry using your keywords. Take the spotlight to your business by retweeting their posts.
    • Fan Page Robot can also automatically convert any web page into your lead page with only one click.

    Conclusion

    Twitter provides business with one of the most straightforward ways to find local customers and businesses around you. The Advanced Search feature alone can give you access to a wealth of customers within the twitter community. Also, several third-party applications can add to the already existing functionalities of the native tools available on twitter to help you find the right customers for your business effortlessly.


    Frank HamiltonAbout the Author: Frank Hamilton has been working as an editor at review service Online Writers Rating. He is a professional writing expert in such topics as blogging, digital marketing and self-education. He also loves traveling and speaks Spanish, French, German and English.  




    Planning For Life Post-Coronavirus: Anticipate Your Customers Needs With Content That Is Educational, Entertaining, and Inspirational

    Maria Meadows, President, Model B 

    If you’re like me, you’ve been inundated with emails from CEOs in the age of coronavirus. With an increasing number of people social distancing, brands, retailers, restaurants, and others are—wisely, I might add—pushing to online content and ramping up their email marketing. Good marketing reaches people where they are, and people are staying at home and digitally interacting with the world. 

    It makes sense that businesses have initially relied on email to stay in front of their audience. Email and social media have long been two of the biggest digital marketing channels, so it’s only natural that companies large and small have been leaning into them as the world adjusts. For some businesses, sending an email to remind customers that they’re still providing services can make the difference between riding out the storm or shuttering permanently. 

    We’re not knocking email, but with inboxes being flooded with iterations of the same message, consumers are tuning out. We get it: you’re concerned, closely monitoring the situation, and taking precautions. With that initial outreach out of the way, what do you do next? Companies need to think about how to stand out while preparing to succeed in the new business landscape that will exist when we come out on the other side. 

    We know everyone’s eyeballs are online right now. We also know that many consumers are also stuck at home, trying to balance professional and domestic responsibilities. They’re learning, many through trial and error, how to conduct business as usual in a highly unusual environment. 

    That represents an opportunity. To capitalize on it, businesses need to create meaningful content that adds value to their audiences instead of further distracting or frustrating them. By planning to engage differently, they can create long-term meaningful connections with their customers. 

    To start, companies should think about their current and potential customers’ headspaces. For many working families, adaptation is the challenge du jour. For parents, it’s adapting to doing a job while keeping children occupied (and out of the background of their video conference calls). For older generations, it may be learning to use new technologies that replace face-to-face interaction. And all of us are working through feelings of fear and vulnerability that arise from uncertainty about how—and when—this situation will be resolved. 

    In these early weeks, brands can forge deeply personal connections with their customers by acknowledging the vulnerability that we are all experiencing and the interconnectedness of who we are, even though we may be in a virtual environment. And your content plan over the next several weeks should reflect that by focusing on acknowledging the uncertainty while adding value to help your community get through it—instead of solely thinking about what you can sell them. While brands are always trying to have an authentic voice, authenticity is more important than ever. 

    One local business I take my daughter to on the weekends is dealing with the financial strain and working to push through revenue losses. But they’re a great example of this approach. The business owner understands that my headspace as a mother is balancing work and home life, and rather than go on a hiatus, she is focused on creating content and ideas that parents can use for their children to keep them busy while working from home. 

    That acknowledges the situation, anticipates customers’ needs,  and provides something useful to make their lives easier. She found a new platform and leveraged email and social media to maximize its potential. And she’s not only winning the hearts and minds of her current customer base—people are sharing the resources she’s providing, which enables her business to emerge in a stronger position when this is all over. 

    Every company now needs to think deliberately about their messaging and the frequency by which they deploy it. And if they want their content to break through the clutter, they can do so by ensuring it’s three things: educational, entertaining, and inspirational. They need to think about what they’re going to say, produce, release, and provide to target audiences that is actually entertaining enough, useful enough, or inspiring enough to attract eyes and resonate. 

    You may have had to pause your business plans, and the stakes are certainly high. But if you evolve your marketing strategy in an agile way that is smart and deliberate about connection points, the relationships that you build now will keep the momentum going when we’re out on the other side.


    About the Author: Maria Meadows is the President of Model B. For more information, visit www.ModelB.com.




    SIMBA Chain Celebrates Launch of New Smart Contract as a Service on Microsoft Azure Marketplace

    CommPro.biz Editorial Staff

    SIMBA Chain has chosen Las Vegas to celebrate the launch of its new cloud-based blockchain solution, Smart Contract-as-a-Service, on Microsoft Azure Marketplace, betting the ease and speed of developing, testing, and deploying custom enterprise-level distributed apps (dApps) will captured the attention of attendees of Microsoft Inspire, at the Mandalay Bay Convention Centre.

    Inspire is Microsoft’s largest annual global partner-to-partner networking event that attracts thousands of attendees from more than 130 countries to connect, collaborate, and share experiences and insights to ignite business growth.

    Government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and startups are looking to blockchain as a transparent, verifiable system for establishing and enforcing contracts, transferring assets and sharing data. SIMBA Chain’s Smart Contract-as-a-Service removes the barrier to entry by enabling users to deploy blockchain dApps for iOS, Android, and the web in minutes rather than months. Users define the assets and parameters and SIMBA Chain auto generates the smart contract and API keys that interface to the blockchain. This reduces development time and cost and enables rapid prototyping and deployment.

    SIMBA Chain CEO Joel Neidig says Inspire is the perfect venue for introducing its Smart Contracts as a Service and availability on Azure Marketplace. “People come to Inspire from all over the world to learn what’s coming next from Microsoft and partners like SIMBA Chain that are powering the smart economy with transformative digital technology.”

    SIMBA Chain runs on Microsoft Azure, a calculated decision by the company. “We believe Azure is the most extensive, trusted cloud infrastructure in the world. Azure is a tremendous asset for our government and business customers; with SIMBA’s help, they can adopt and blockchain with confidence and without time-consuming vetting,” says Neidig.

    Source: Blockchain Wire

     




    Customer Communities and the Future of Loyalty Programs

    Jon C. Wolfe, Founder, President and CEO, House Advantage

    Changes in marketing technology and consumer behavior this past year are setting the stage for innovative trends to come. In terms of customer expectations, marketers are just now beginning to identify and cater to the influence a person’s family and friends exerts on their buying behavior. A customer’s community not only affects how they personally view brands, but it’s also directly linked to how loyal they are to brands. The bottom line: if your brand is only marketing to individuals, you’re missing a vital opportunity to connect with influencers behind many of those purchasing decisions. However, acknowledging and communicating with a customer’s reference group isn’t the only trend certain to impact loyalty this year, as electronic payments and omnichannel communication are poised to redefine loyalty programs. 

    Here’s how looking beyond individual consumers can strengthen your brand’s loyalty rewards program and what trends will impact loyalty during the remainder of 2019 and into 2020.

    Designing for Customer Communities 

    Brands have traditionally approached the relationship between themselves and their customers as a one-to-one dynamic. However, as we witness increasingly large groups of consumers engaging collectively with brands, it has become important to recognize each individual in that social circle and understand the relationships among all members. Financial and motivational differences can be expected among the individuals of most groups, so brands must make determinations about how they are going to treat the collective. Regardless of the industry, brands must be very strategic about how they communicate with customers’ communities. The more ease and versatility a program offers, the greater likelihood it has of group adoption and advocacy. On the other side, if they offend one member, they risk offending the entire group.

    Once brands start seeing customers as members of communities, it’s vital to understand the underlying motivators driving repeat customer visits. Oftentimes patrons keep coming back, not because of the product, building or facilities, but because of the relationships with others while engaging with brands. Take the gym, for example. We’ve applied HALOfit for cycling studios, among other fitness-related clients, and we’ve found that repeat business and engagement is really built upon connections with instructors and fellow gym members.

    We’ve come to realize that rather than just friendship, these relationships represent support systems or competitive systems to consumers. In the example of the gym, some people go to compete and that’s the motivation – the relationship to the building means almost nothing. For others who view their gym network as a support system, the relationship with the trainer may be key. In stores, hotels or restaurants, these networks may be with clerks, waiting staff, or receptionists, to mention a few. As opposed to having any connection with facilities or buildings, this loyalty impetus is socially driven. Successful loyalty programs understand and are able to fully optimize such group dynamics, treating those patrons as a collective customer rather than a single one.

    Greater Adoption of E-Payments 

    Beyond recognizing communities of customers, 2019 will see a number of critical changes to loyalty. The first trend is electronic payments. We’re seeing electronic payments changing everything, and the past few years are only the beginning. There are a lot of changes happening which are impacting industries from retail to restaurants and hospitality to gaming, and there are a lot of new technologies being introduced. These technologies can determine how consumers make purchasing decisions and carry out these transactions, which are dynamic advancements and a drastic change to the current status quo. 

    The epayment and epurchasing structure is critical because of the rich data it provides for actionable marketing not just after the fact, but during the actual purchasing decision and through the consummating of the sale. Additionally, when payment is put in the hands of the customers, it enables the company to focus on creating a phenomenal customer experience. For example, Apple employees are able to perform the hands-on expertise Apple is known for, without having to also juggle being cashiers. We’re also seeing companies like Whole Foods perfecting their order and delivery systems thanks to Amazon. Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with electronic payment options for both of the aforementioned brands, and not only have the purchasing and epayments made the experience seamless and more enjoyable, but I find myself as a customer investing more of my own time and money in those brands as a direct result of these experiences. 

    Understanding your Best Customer 

    Another critical theme to loyalty in 2019 will be establishing the building blocks of omnichannel so that brands are able to determine the difference between a great customer and a not-so-great customer. Brands will really need to understand the dynamic of who, what and where their best customers are and we’re seeing a continued shift in this direction. This is a requirement for every company, no matter where they are on the loyalty journey. There’s always opportunity to know your customer better, to improve the customer experience and to enhance the delivery of that service and brand promise to the customer. 

    The influence of reference groups – social groups, work groups, family or close friends – on consumers’ behavior and attitudes cannot be denied. With that in mind, brands who truly want to cater to individuals must target the collective if they want their loyalty programs to offer an experience that will resonate across the board with both the customer and their communities. As 2019 rolls on, this perspective, along with optimizing electronic payments and ingraining an omnichannel approach, will go a long way in ensuring that your loyalty program will keep bringing customers back to your brand, albeit with a crew in tow.


    About the Author: Jon C. Wolfe is the founder, president and CEO of House Advantage, an international customer loyalty, marketing, strategy and technology company headquartered in Las Vegas, the CEO of eTouchMenu, a sophisticated menu, ordering, and electronic payments platform, and a member of the Forbes Technology Council. With over a quarter century of senior casino management, technology and loyalty experience in the gaming and hospitality industries, Jon is widely considered an expert in business intelligence and loyalty technology and is renowned for his ability to leverage patron information across integrated resort operations to drive revenues and profitability.

     




    4 Ways to Effectively Engage Customers for B2B PR Efforts

    Katie Creaser, Senior Vice President, Affect 

    The earned media landscape is tough for anyone trying to secure positive publicity for a B2B company. It seems as if the same sort of stories are being told over and over again. So how can you differentiate your public relations efforts to stand out in a highly competitive and crowded field?

    For B2B PR professionals, engaging customers and empowering them to become brand ambassadors or third-party validators is a critical part of any marketing strategy. However, it’s not always easy to convince customers to commit to anything beyond a traditional case study or partner announcement.

    From customers that don’t want to be named, to a lack of data or measureable outcomes to bland uses cases – many companies end up with PR and marketing collateral that goes nowhere. Boring case studies, self-promotional press releases, low quality social content and blog posts are likely outcomes. But nothing is worse than media outreach that falls flat with no earned coverage in sight.

    As PR professionals plan for 2019, here are four ways to powerfully engage customers to support B2B sales and marketing efforts:

    1. Identify the “Right” Customers. Closed sales and signed contracts don’t guarantee great stories. If you’re hoping to see ROI from customer engagement, it’s important to focus on the ones that are primed for media outreach. Customers that fit the PR profile are:
    • Well-recognized brands or executives
    • Innovative and using your solutions and services to disrupt their business
    • Seeing measurable results and impact
    • Able to provide prescriptive advice to the industry at-large
    • Willing to participate in thought leadership opportunities beyond traditional case studies, canned quotes
    1. Tell a Powerful Story: Traditional case studies are generally too bland to generate press interest – they’re simply not newsworthy (e.g. “our customer bought our product, it did what it was supposed to do…and they loved it!”) is not enough. A strong customer story has a compelling narrative arc – whether it’s a challenge that was overcome, a surprising outcome or discovery, an emotional journey or a lesson learned. It’s also critical to use data as proof points with key takeaways for readers.
    1. Go Beyond the Press Release: A press release is the least interesting way to tell a great customer story – and thinking outside of the box can generate stronger ROI. Inviting customers to be part of creative thought leadership initiatives is a powerful way to expand PR pitch efforts, this can include:
    • Q&A style articles or blog posts
    • Joint speaking opportunities, media interviews and byline articles
    • Participation in surveys and reports
    • Customer advisory boards and councils
    • Joint responses to breaking news and trends 
    1. Institutionalize Customer Engagement: B2B marketers should build customer stories into branding, content and thought leadership campaigns to directly support and empower sales efforts. It’s also important to put a formal customer engagement process and strategy in place and align with business development and sales teams to flag strong stories and educate customers on the benefits of PR participation.

    To truly see ROI on customer engagement, it’s critical to think outside the box and bake it into an overall PR and marketing strategy. Institutionalizing the customer engagement process is a company’s best bet to extract as much mutual PR value from the relationship as possible. PR professionals have to be more creative than the traditional case study or customer announcement to move the needle in swaying public opinion, generating more business, and/or securing positive publicity.


    Katie C - AffectAbout the Author: Katie Creaser is senior vice president at Affect a public relations agency in NYC that specializes in B2B technology, healthcare and professional services. She provides counsel to technology clients that are looking to bring PR and social media into their communications program as part of a thoughtful, holistic strategy. Follow her on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

     

     

     




    Disrupting the Financial Services Industry and the Communication Headaches that Follow

    Disrupting the Financial Services Industry and the Communication Headaches that Follow

     

    Tracey Gordon, Founder, TargetPitching LLC

    There was a time – actually not that long ago – when financial services firms were able to introduce new ideas or products and solidify first-to-market brand awareness before others emulated the success. Fidelity, Vanguard, and Blackrock did it in asset management. Schwab did it in the brokerage industry. Amex did it with cards. PayPal did it with online payments.

    Times have changed as new companies disrupt old, rush to market with new ideas, new technologies and new ways of expanding how people invest and spend their money.

    The speed at which this fundamental alteration of the traditional landscape is happening so rapidly, that the fear of stagnation, of being left behind, has irrevocably altered how fast decisions on business strategy, marketing campaigns and messaging have to be made.

    Firms used to be able to establish early dominance with smart ideas that were so attractive to customers that the company became synonymous with not just the idea, but the entire market that grew around it. And the numbers were astounding. In each of the examples above, growth numbered in the trillions of money flows or spending transactions

    When the numbers are that large and the potential so great, something else happens.

    It’s not exclusive to financial services, but occurs across all industries when new, very popular ideas come to market.

    With so much at stake, a very expensive differentiation battle begins. Competitors who want to remain relevant don’t sit idly by. The idea originators who have become the leaders in the space don’t intend to relinquish what they’ve built. Very quickly billions are being spent across every channel that reaches a potential customer – sales, advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media.

    Over the years, the communication cottage industry spinning around financial services has created many memorable and innovative campaigns. This gave practitioners an important seat at the table in the success stories for leading firms like Vanguard, Schwab, Fidelity, Amex, JP Morgan etc.

    The fact that this industry is so prone to disruption has created continual need and opportunity for smart communicators who can quickly adapt to change.

    But, today change is happening faster than ever, impacting more of the industry than ever, and with greater consequences than ever before.

    In the past, putting aside extreme market downturns, but focusing on new product or service introductions, the time allowed for adjusting could be slower, companies could react more methodically while building the communication campaigns around them.

    Today, the speed of change is not just fast, but also splintering every segment of the industry, from investment management, to banking, Wall Street, payments, lending, funding and every part of the technology and component elements of the back and front-end that support and drive the space. Thank you very much blockchain.

    What this means, is that communication and differentiated storylines have to happen at all levels, from the overall company, the separate channels that reach different customers, and if it’s a global company with multiple business lines across time zones, it all has to be adapted and localized for non-US regions.

    So, how are marketing and communicators handling all the disruption?

    Let’s just say it’s all a work in progress as in-house teams and consulting firms figure how to message about the new competitors, plan for their own reaction product, and then wrap the specific messaging into the overall firm’s communication and branding.

    And, that all has to happen in a media and advertising arena that too has fundamentally changed, but that’s a discussion for another time.

    The most important thing for any communicator to know now, is that we must go deep into the changes and their impact. What’s happening is complex and knowledge gets us that seat at the table. Being just a communicator means we’re outside the early decision making. It’s why the very best are industry and trend experts first and foremost. We must have the business knowledge and understand both the details and the broader trends. Only then can we provide the very best advice on how to tell a company’s story.


    About the Author: Tracey Gordon became one of the most sought-after communication strategists during her years with four of the most prominent global financial firms –  Fidelity Investments, Morgan Stanley, Charges Schwab and ING, where she acquired a reputation among reporters and executives for crafting some of the most impactful industry campaigns. Her ability to understand both the complexities of the business and shifting media landscape helped her become an important advisor to the C-suite. That, coupled with her intuitive sense of what will connect with the marketplace, helped these firms become the industry leaders they are today. As a senior executive with Edelman’s Corporate Group, Tracey counseled many of their largest clients, and was part of the global Executive Positioning team.

    Today, she is mirroring those achievements through her own firm www.targetpitching.com, which designs differentiation strategies for companies looking to stand out in a crowded media world, grow market share, and frustrate disruptors and competitors.

     

     




    Customer Data Management in 2019

     Ajay Khanna, Vice President, Marketing, Reltio

    In 2018 we saw some transformational shifts in customer data management, ranging from renewed focus on Customer 360 solutions to the introduction of regulations such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to AI and machine learning becoming mainstream technology. As companies strive to provide more relevant offerings to customers, they’re also mindful of data privacy, security, values and ethical concerns. In 2019, we’ll see this shift even further. 

    The segment of One 

    As the era of mass promotion wanes away, an increased focus on hyper-personalization was a major highlight of 2018. Enterprises strove to provide the best customer experience by offering the right content to the right customer at the right time and via the channels of their choice. The mantra has always been “the segment of one,” and companies are using advanced analytics and machine learning to learn more about customer needs and provide them with the relevant information. 

    Consent precedes content 

    Availability of reliable data has been a big challenge. To offer personalized content, you must know your customer well, including how and when they want to engage with you.

    New regulations such as GDPR and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are enforcing that customers have more control over how their personal information is collected and used. Individuals can ask for access to the data companies are collecting about them, ask companies to make updates to the data, or purge it all together. In case of any data breach, companies are obligated to inform the affected parties in the stipulated time frame. Organizations must adhere to these regulations or face severe fines. When putting together the customer data management strategy, enterprises must make sure that compliance and privacy requirements are incorporated. Again, companies must manage such compliance and governance at the enterprise level.

    In 2019, companies will focus on their data management strategies and use modern data management technologies to create reliable data foundations not only for personalization but also for compliant engagement. They will keep investing in AI and Machine Learning (ML) technologies to learn about their customers and offer better-targeted information. Investment in AI/ML to improve data quality and seek intelligent recommendations will gain an increasing foothold in life sciences, healthcare, and financial services this year. 

    Values before Sales 

    Customer-centricity stems from customer understanding. Understanding customer behavior, needs, and preferences and then providing them with information on their terms is critical. Today, transparency is becoming increasingly important. Customers tend to support companies that fit their value systems. They are increasingly asking for information about product sourcing, fair wages, fair trade, organic, and environment friendliness, not only for food but apparel and electronic goods as well.

    Being customer-centric means that we offer choices for how customers can do business with us. Companies need to be data-driven when engaging with the customer. They must bring together customer information from all sources for a real customer 360 view as well as have the ability to share data about products, their relevance, and value-fit with the customer, on-demand. Customers are willing to pay a premium for products and services that conform to their values.

    A significant shift is happening where companies increasingly realize the need to refrain from the unscrupulous practice of using data management technologies to collect highly personalized customer information including and manipulating for commercial goals. Enterprises are recognizing the social obligation to go beyond privacy compliance regulation and understanding and implementing next-gen data management and governance practices to become more transparent and authentic around customers’ values.

    This year, we’ll see enterprises adopting data management technologies, powered by advanced analytics and machine learning to serve customers as individuals. Stricter privacy and security regulations will force companies to me mindful of how they collect, handle, and use customer data. We’ll also will see companies be more transparent about their business practices and use the value-aligned business ethics as a differentiator.


    About the Author: Ajay Khanna is Vice President, Marketing at Reltio, a data management innovator. Prior to joining Reltio he held senior positions at Veeva Systems, Oracle and other software companies including KANA, Progress and Amdocs. He holds an MBA in marketing and finance from Santa Clara University.

     

     

     

     




    Personalize Your Black Friday Outreach — Without Creeping Customers Out!

    Tara Kelly, CEO, SPLICE Software

    People all over the world are increasingly worried about their digital privacy. High-profile hacking incidents that compromise personal and financial information are constantly in the news. A recent survey found that eight out of 10 Americans don’t like being tracked online, and more than 70 percent are more concerned about their privacy now than they were 10 years ago.

    Consumers’ concerns about online privacy are certainly reasonable. On the other hand, willingness to share information with the brands they like can open new opportunities to find bargains and improve customers’ overall experience. Even better, Marketo’s recent State of Engagement survey showed that 2 out of 3 consumers want to advocate for brands that engage and show they care. To solve this dilemma, brands need to find a way to communicate and engage with customers without coming across as creepy and intrusive.

    That can be a challenge, but the easiest way to overcome it is to enlist customers in your efforts to navigate the space between proactive communication and privacy invasion. To do so, it’s helpful to understand the difference between big and small data. Big data is large caches of information about groups. Small data comprises details about individuals. Put more simply, big data includes everything you know and learn about your customers across every touchpoint; small data is the stuff your customers share with you individually that you can use to make their experience more personal.

    Both are important for customer outreach, and experienced marketers know big data can yield important clues about individuals. But small data is crucial to building customer loyalty and engaging in two-way conversations. And the basis of the formation of a productive relationship with customers is a value exchange: Customers are willing to share data if they consistently receive value in return.

    The holiday buying season is a great time to leverage or establish trust-based relationships with customers, and it starts by signaling that you respect their preferences regarding contact. When you ask customers to share personal information, make the value proposition clear — let them know what to expect. And ask them how they’d prefer that you contact them, and respect their wishes.

    The line between legitimate contact and intrusiveness isn’t always well-defined, but most of us know it when we see it. For example, if you met someone at a business function and exchanged email addresses to stay in contact, but that person then used your name and email address to look up your phone number and called you, you’d probably find that a bit creepy — even though it’s publicly available information.

    Customers feel the same way when their personal information is used in a way they did not explicitly authorize. So, ask customers about contacting them in the future. Find out their preferred communication methods and platforms. And make the payoff clear to them, e.g., discounts, more relevant offers, etc. That’s the way adults establish mutually respectful relationships, in personal life or in business.

    Once the communication framework is identified, e.g., voice messages, text, social media, etc., it’s time to deliver value. The nature of that value will depend on the type of merchandise you offer and the customers’ preference. Examples of communications might include texts to update customers on deliveries, special events (in-store or online) that align with their interests and more.

    That’s where the small data becomes so important. Using the previous example, if you exchanged information with that person at a business function and he shared not only his email address but his birthday and favorite author, a failure to wish him a happy birthday or to acknowledge that author information wouldn’t necessarily hurt the relationship, but including that information can make the relationship far stronger than it would be by ignoring it. The same is true with your customer engagement. Sending a birthday message via email (his channel of choice) or referencing that author in a future message would make you stand out, because he shared the information freely.

    A communications strategy that allays security fears and aligns with customer permissions and preferences makes it that much more likely that consumers will turn to you when they’re in the “micro-moment” — which Google defines as the instance when people look for information about a product or make a buying decision. So, be proactive, but keep respectful boundaries, and you’ll set yourself up for success in the holiday season.


    About the Author: A serial innovator, published author and founder, president and CEO of SPLICE Software, Tara Kelly (@tktechnow) is passionate about technology’s potential to change lives for the better. She has consistently channeled that belief into developing technologies that enhance operations, enable better service delivery, and improve the customer experience. This has led to the creation of three customer experience companies and turning an innovative idea into a patented, proprietary technology (US Patent Number 9348812) that harnesses data streams to create personalized, automated messages. The technology solution was included in Gartner’s “Cool Vendors in Insurance, 2016” report and Forrester’s “IoT and Analytics Startups Can Turn Insurers into the ‘Good Guys’” brief.

    Kelly – an open source activist and recognized user experience designer – served as a board member for the International Board for Voice User Interface Design, the Canadian Cloud Council, Technology Alberta and is a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization. Kelly’s expertise combined with tenacity, understanding of market trends, and strong communication skills has allowed her to create dynamic solutions and successful teams; not only in her businesses, but also as a community leader on volunteer boards including Food for the Sol, EO Water Walk, and Special Olympics Ontario. Kelly shares these experiences – and her goal of creating a healthy, humane work environment – in the recently published book, Our Journey To Corporate Sanity: Transformational Stories from the Frontiers of 21stCentury Leadership.




    Employee and Customer Experience are One and the Same

    Employee and Customer Experience are One and the SameLeslie Stefanik, Vice President, Marketing, PublicRelay

    The correlation between employee and customer experience is a natural one. A customer’s experience with your brand is ultimately shaped by the people they interact with, not by the positive article they read or catchy advertisement they saw on TV. Good marketing and PR will get a customer in the door, great customer service will keep them coming back. Nothing turns potential customers off like an employee that clearly doesn’t want to be at his or her job. An employee that wants to go to work each day with a positive attitude is one of the strongest endorsements a brand can receive – and customers notice.

    A recent article from the Institute for Public Relations blog discusses the important relationship between employee and customer experience. CEO of Integral Communications and internal comms expert, Ethan McCarty, interviewed SVP of Communications and Marketing at Trinity Health, Bret Gallaway, on how smart communications can strengthen both employee and customer experience. Below are a couple of take-aways:

    Employee and Customer Experience is About Listening

    There are a variety of ways to collect employee and customer feedback – through surveys, reviews, focus groups, etc. At Trinity Health, the communications team has carved out time for storytelling sessions to promote employee and customer experience. Whatever the strategy may be, it is imperative that organizations get this feedback somehow and really listen. It’s not enough to compare the number of negative vs. positive reviews or find an average star rating and if it’s pretty good say the job is done. Organizations need to listen to their stakeholders’ stories and dig deep into the feedback they receive to uncover actionable insights that drive business decisions. What are the topics driving both positive and negative feedback? A single employee review might speak positively to managerial skills and workplace diversity, but negatively to company benefits and work/life balance.

    Performing contextual analysis of stakeholder feedback to quantify topics like these will show where improvement is needed and where to capitalize on positive trends. If managerial skills are highly praised, HR will know the management training courses they’ve invested in are valuable and they should continue to allocate resources to those. Conversely, they can adjust and try new strategies if employees are dissatisfied.

    Being an organization where employees and customers feel encouraged to share their experiences and feel heard can only help your brand. Really listening to your stakeholders’ stories and incorporating the feedback into business decisions will lead to greater satisfaction for both employees and customers. In turn, this will lead to less employee turnover, a better ability to attract top talent, and will strengthen your bottom line as customers will trust and continue to come back to your brand.

    Communications Needs to Integrate and Align Business Units

    Creating positive employee and customer experiences spans several departments. Communications is in a unique position to collaborate with other departments to listen, promote, and strengthen stakeholder experience. At Trinity Health, the communications team worked with the compliance department from the outset to collect and promote employee and customer stories. This way, everyone is aligned from the start on the necessary processes to most efficiently accomplish this business goal. On the front lines of customer and employee communications, the PR and Communications function has relevant insights to share with several departments such as, HR, recruitment, compliance, and operations that allow these colleagues to do their jobs better and work together to deliver business results.

    Read the full article, “Employee Experience is Customer Experience.”




    Martech Stacks and The Customer

    Eric V. Holtzclaw, Chief Strategist, PossibleNOW

    In the older days of marketing, several CMOs invested in tools designed to help better manage their campaigns and audiences. These marketers sought to organize, analyze and improve performance, and thus created the first marketing technology stacks- integrated systems that brought order, unlocked targeted campaigns, and personalized messages for better results.

    Considering how far the marketing industry has come in the past few years, the changes have been particularly rapid.  In 2011, there were approximately 150 companies offering marketing technology, and now more than 6,800 technology-based tools including digital advertising, content marketing, marketing automation, social media, data analytics and many more are available.

    Somewhere along the way, marketers became stack managers: shadow IT experts who spend more time on technology implementation than messaging, creative development or customer research. For some, the job is now “nothing but the stack.”

    Marketers today face unprecedented pressure to build and manage stacks. Technology and software companies are desperate to control as much of the stack as possible. Internal technology teams are desperate to maintain their seat at the table. And all too often, customers and prospects suffer as a result.

    In part, this is due to fierce competition among a few major software players vying for ultimate control. As a result, there is little incentive to build in a way that enables sharing and communication with competitive or ancillary products.

    This problem is most apparent in the collection and distribution of customer and prospect consent and preferences – likes, dislikes, topics of interest and so on. Almost all of these marketing technology systems and frameworks that comprise the almighty stack collect and store preferences. However, their functionality is limited, and few of them are designed to communicate with other technologies or contribute to a holistic customer record.

    As a result, customer consent and preferences stored in a sales CRM system never migrate to customer support, marketing or third-party providers. For example, explicit permission to contact a cell phone – absolutely vital for compliance purposes – lives inside an ESP that can’t interface with the marketing automation solution.

    When asked, many enterprise clients often guess that their customer preference information flows through four to six separate, disconnected technologies. Through subsequent analysis, an average of 12-14 distinct systems are revealed- more than double their estimate, as well as clear evidence of deep compliance and customer experience challenges.

    All of this makes sense considering each system is better at one thing than another.

    If an organization is using Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics or SAP, they want to track their customers from a “sales” perspective – the classic customer relationship management (CRM) solution.  These platforms are geared to enable sales organizations with the information they need to do their job – understand the customer across the lifecycle and achieve insight into what the customer has bought – or could buy – from the company.

    Preference and compliance requires maintaining history – the ability to look back over time as the customer changes from one preference choice to another. With the forward-looking bias of these platforms, use of a CRM-oriented system can leave you with an incomplete picture of the customer and lacking the information you need to answer a compliance inquiry. 

    If an organizations implements an outbound email service provider like IBM Watson Marketing, Oracle Responsys or Oracle Eloqua, the primary goal is to send communications to the customer to move them further along in the buyer journey, based on scoring, behavior or company objectives. While these systems extensively cover email as the primary form of communication, the customer is likely engaging with the company across multiple channels.

    Customers expect that when they provide a preference across one channel, the result is shared across the organization. Frustrations exist when the customer feels like they aren’t heard. Preferences shared to one system should easily propagate across all of your outbound communication platforms with a clear understanding of the source of the change.

    If the organization is counting on the customer identity access management system like SAP or LoginRadius to solve the problem, they need to look only to their primary purpose to understand why they fall short.  These systems are built to provide the customer with easy access across the enterprise and to more deeply understand them (from third party sources, for example). The power in an effective preference management implementation is found in an ongoing conversation with the customer as their desires change for how and what they receive in communications across all of the company’s channels.

    A complete picture of your customer requires more than just the information you’ve collected from them to date. It also requires that they have seamless access to update their profile data and their preferences as their situation changes. It is not a “point in time” collection. It is a combination of a technology approach with a built-in process that considers the customer and their ability to participate in the preference conversation in an ongoing fashion.

    What is the biggest problem marketers are facing today with these technological systems?

    None of them are built with direct customer interaction in mind for the management, maintenance and collection of preference data or to provide compliance support across the enterprise.

    Enterprises are always hopeful to find one system that can solve all the needs of the marketing stack, but often forget it is called a “stack” for a reason. Each component solves for a specialized and specific marketing problem. It’s important to consider the original heritage of any system a business might be considering.


    About the Author: Eric V. Holtzclaw is Chief Strategist of PossibleNOW. He’s a researcher, writer, serial entrepreneur and challenger-of-conventional wisdom. Check out his book with Wiley Publishing on consumer behavior – Laddering: Unlocking the Potential of Consumer Behavior. Eric helps strategically guide companies with the implementation of enterprise-wide consent and preference management solutions.

    About PossibleNOW: PossibleNOW leverages powerful technology and industry-leading expertise to enable companies to listen to customers, remember what they like and dislike and respond in useful, personalized ways. Its enterprise consent and preference management platform, MyPreferences®, collects customer and prospect preferences, stores them safely and makes them available to any other system or application in the enterprise. PossibleNOW strategic services experts identify opportunities, plan technology deployments, design preference collection interfaces and position clients for a win. MyPreferences is purpose-built to help large, complex organizations gain control over communications, mitigate compliance risk and reduce marketing expenses while improving customer experience and loyalty. For more information, call (800) 585-4888, email info(at)possiblenow(dot)com or visit https://www.possiblenow.com.

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