Tie a bow tie for your customer!

Todd SchnickSo, about two weeks ago for a client gig, I forced myself to learn how to tie a real bow tie.

[It is harder than it looks...]

But let’s step back a little bit:

So, my poor business partner. Several years ago, I vowed to never use the skanky clip-on bow tie that come with rental tuxes. Ever again.

Two months ago, a client hired us to broadcast from an industry awards show that they help organize.

Being an “awards” show, we were going to conduct the interviews of the executives who had just won an important industry award, such as “Most Innovative.”

Sounds like those red carpet interviews you see on TV, right? You know, right after the actor wins the Golden Globe and hits the Hollywood press backstage.

You need a tux for that kind of interview, right?

Right. So I recommended the idea:

My client loved the idea.

Boom. We were on!

Flash forward several weeks later, when getting fitted for the tux. I decline the standard clip-on bow tie that comes with the rental, and purchase my own real black bow tie.

My business partner, not to be outmanned, does the exact same thing.

Now all we have to do is learn how to do it. At this point in my life, I’d never even made one ATTEMPT to tie a bow tie.

And over the next two weeks, he and I both spend about two to three hours studying cheesy YouTube videos learning how to tie a damn bow tie.

Two key findings from the experience:

1. My business partner and I had heck of a lot of fun going through the goofy experience. And we bonded a little more deeply as a result.

2. [And more importantly] My client is deeply grateful to our commitment to doing something meaningful for THEIR event, to add some pizazz to THEIR event.

Not that we needed this essay to learn that clients appreciate little gestures like this, but it really had an impact on the bonding between us and our client.

[Did I mention this event was our FIRST formal gig with this client?]

Take little dramatic actions like this to ingratiate yourself into your customer. The dividends are almost incalculable.

Better yet, do something vulnerable, goofy, and human: You never know how impactful little actions like this can be…

P.S. We are now currently in discussions for several more new gigs…

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If you know your party’s extension…

“If you know your party’s extension, dial it now…”

Hearing this makes my blood boil.

There is nothing more frustrating than having to interact with some damned automated phone system.

It is a major turnoff.

It is maddening.

It pisses me off.

It makes me think you don’t care.

And that’s just me. Can you imagine what your customer (or prospect) thinks?

And the infernal process of trying to key in someone’s name in a company directory over the phone? This is why I don’t own a weapon.

And finally, when you get through the end of the automated process and they don’t even offer the “Dial zero to go to the operator” option is even more teeth grinding.

Why are you doing this? Why why why?

Don’t you know this makes you typical? Don’t you know this practice lumps you in with all the mediocre organizations that exist?

If you are cool with that, keep on doing what you’re doing. But people are rolling their eyes at you, and that’s a shame. But it is your decision. Live with it.

[And don't give me the cost savings excuse. If people will need to call your organization, you need humans answering the phones. Technology, schmecktology. You need humans to interact with humans.]

Very rarely do I blindly call into an organization, I’ve long ago given up cold calling.

But today, I am making a few calls as part of a project for one of my clients. Trust me, I had forgotten how frustrating and maddening this process of “cold calling” is.

But that’s my point of view and the reason I refuse to engage that sales tactic.

But again, I ask you to think about the general public and what you are putting them through.

Do it yourself. Today. Right now. Grab some cold list and start calling it. See what happens. See how you feel. See how frustrated you get when you hear “For HR, press one. For customer service, press two. For IT, press three…”

You’ll want to shoot yourself.

So why in God’s name are you doing that to your customers (or prospects)?

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Drawing by Hugh.

Driving the customer relationship – Don’t fool yourself, you probably aren’t doing it

I recently had the pleasure to chat with best-selling author Mitch Joel on Intrepid Radio. The most profound lesson from my conversation was this:

“It isn’t what’s NEXT. It has to be what’s NOW.”

Business isn’t changing. It has changed. Mitch just recently shared this slide deck containing MIND BLOWING stats about business:


You are already too late if you aren’t already deeply thinking about how to engage and drive the customer relationship with digital tools. And no, it isn’t simply about merely having a Facebook page, or a LinkedIn profile. No.

“It isn’t about what to do on Facebook. It is about WHY to do Facebook.”

Most people aren’t asking that question. They’re just following the herd (and the marketing manual) and slapping up a page because someone said so.

This no longer moves the needle.

The mere act of pushing out your latest blog post via Twitter no longer moves the needle. Posting pics of your office staff at the recent Memorial Day parade no longer move the needle.

No, I hope the lessons from the deck shared above indicate to you that you have to drive the customer relationship – not merely be present.

Look at that deck again. There were some pretty amazing numbers with regards to Amazon, yes?

If you use Amazon, you know exactly what I mean. Amazon knows you. They cater to you. They feed you. They support you. They help you. They drive the relationship with their customer and give them what they want.

Most likely, you don’t walk into your local Office Depot and have some random employee call out and say “Hey Todd! Last time you were here, you bought print cartridges. HP 60, I think. Let me bring some up for you right away!”

No.

But Amazon does. That’s the power of digital marketing and digital tools. That’s what’s possible.

And that’s why Amazon’s revenues exceed the GDPs of half of the world’s nations.

Business has changed. It isn’t in the process of changing.

Have you?

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Again, you can get your hands on Mitch’s book below (affiliate link):

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Staff Beat Downs And Other Lessons On Losing Your Customers

customer serviceI just witnessed firsthand how an organization should build a company culture where great customer service can blossom.

Once a year, we go to the Ritz-Carlton Lodge in Reynolds Plantation, Georgia. Being a Ritz property, you should expect, and we do, receive exemplary customer service.

If I had a dollar for every time we’re told “My pleasure…”

When we were last there in 2011, we had a “chiminea” dinner, which is when you are given a private piece of land on the bank of Lake Oconee, and Ritz staff bring out to you a three-course meal in front of a campfire. As you can see from the photograph, it is a glorious, peaceful, enriching experience.

Back in 2011, we stayed during the off-season, so there were not as many guests on property, and so, we were not rushed, and could take as much time as we wanted between courses.

Forward to this past weekend, when the Lodge was full, the chiminea situation was different. Having to move people through the process a little faster, we were not prepared to be as rushed as we were.

And we mentioned it to our “butler” who was taking care of us.

As you would almost expect, within minutes, a manager was at our site apologizing, and making right the situation. In the end, we still had a GLORIOUS time and would continue to recommend this experience to anyone.

But here is the thing I want you to remember:

We were not impressed with the manager and his fast handling of our minor complaint. Any manager worth his or her salt would do this.

I was impressed with the butler. He didn’t have to mention this to his management team. For as you would expect in some organizations, saying something to his boss might get him in trouble.

But he said something. And fast.

And instead of berating him, I bet management said something to the effect of “Thanks for letting me know, what can we do to improve this experience, and make the experience even better.”

Too many managers beat down, yell at, berate, and might as well back hand employees who perform subpar customer service. It is the American way.

This only results in bitter employees, who in turn, are hardly incentivized to provide better customer service.

Our butler continued to treat us with extreme courtesy and respect, and with a smile on his face. Not coldly as you would expect someone who might have gotten in trouble for not performing at his best.

If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times on the blog… Build a culture where your co-workers are teammates, and staff are ENCOURAGED to do what is necessary to make the customer experience a meaningful one.

Don’t smack employees for making a mistake. Reward them for coming to you to address a poor customer experience, and then together, work on making the experience a better one.

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The Questions You Need To Ask About Your Customer’s Experience

I was reading an article about someone doing sort sort of company financial audit. And it got me thinking…

What other audits should be we doing in our organizations? And I began to wonder…is it time to do a customer audit?

Probably.

As defined here, a customer audit is reviewing your current customer/client engagement, and asking some hard penetrating questions to be sure things are still on track, and that both sides are getting value and, well, having fun co-creating together.

So, here are some suggested questions I’d ask:

1. Do we still both agree on the mission of the engagement?

2. More frankly, do you even remember why you connected with one another in the first place?

3. Is it time to review the engagement to determine if mid-course corrections are necessary?

4. Honestly, the world has changed a lot since you probably first started crafting your engagement. What do you need to adjust?

5. Are you communicating? You can video chat with someone on the other side of planet. For free. Are you communicating with your client on the right medium?

6. Are you communicating enough? Has his/her needs for more contact changed? Are you aware of what they need?

7. Is the pricing right? Are they not getting enough for what they are paying? Or…. are you not getting paid enough for the value you are GIVING?

8. Be honest with yourself. Are you taking your customer for granted?

9. Is your client taking YOU for granted?

10. Is it time to shake things up? Or is it time to just do things better?

11. Is it time to review and recalibrate the project timeline?

12. Wait…you can’t even remember what the original timeline stipulated, can you?

13. Contract? What contract?

14. Are you building relationships with others in the organization, apart from your project lead? You know, just in case your contact gets downsized…

15. Are you both just dialing it in? Or does the work still have an impact on things?

16. Does your client still believe in the work you are doing together? Or is he just going through the motions because stopping is harder?

17. Are you creating work that people in the organization want to talk about?

18. Are you adding complexity to your project, in a phony attempt to make it seem more important, and thus, keeping you important?

19. Or are you simplifying things to keep the focus clear and simple?

20. Are you teaching your client what you know? If you aren’t working yourself out of job, perhaps you are doing it wrong.

21. But if you are truly unique and your role in mission critical, are you taking steps to continue learning and get better at what you do?

22. Are you encouraging your customer to innovate? Is your customer encouraging YOU to innovate?

23. Are you asking your customer for feedback often enough? And are YOU providing feedback to your customer often enough?

24. Let me ask again. Do you even remember what the goals of the engagement are?

25. Are you having fun? Is your customer having fun?

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Drawing by Hugh.

Your Totally Unreasonable Customer

Customers make such unreasonable demands. How dare they?

Don’t they know how busy we are? Don’t they know there are only so many hours in the day? Don’t they know we are doing the best we can?

Here follows a list of the most unreasonable demands I’ve ever heard from customers:

1. They want projects completed ahead of schedule.

2. They want their project put at the front of your priority list.

3. They want more value than they paid for.

4. They want you to create something no one else has seen before.

5. They want the best work you’ve ever done.

6. They want you to fulfill every promise.

7. They want it done when you said it would be done, despite life sometimes getting in the way.

8. They want your input on business struggles that go above and beyond what they are technically paying for.

9. They want you to answer their phone call. No matter the time.

10. They want you to respond to their email soon after they send it.

11. They want you to jump through hoops to fix a problem.

12. They want fresh, new ideas.

13. They will take their time, but want you to move at lightning speed.

14. They want to prove ROI almost instantly.

15. They want to see dramatic improvement across all key performance indicators. Immediately.

16. They want an unlimited amount of revisions on graphic design, despite wanting to pay a low price for that design.

17. They want an unlimited amount of service calls to troubleshoot problems long after your role in the launch implementation has passed.

18. They want discounts, just because, you know, they are who they are.

19. They change the project scope at will, but expect the original timeline to be met.

20. Project scope creep, but expect the original budget to be kept.

Wait…

You’ve made these kinds of demands before, haven’t you?

Yeah. Me too…

OK, so maybe these demands aren’t that unreasonable after all?

So…it obviously goes without saying that the above list, while perhaps unreasonable in some eyes, is really a cheat sheet on how to give your customers the “wow” experience they deserve.

Sure, sometimes demands are in fact unreasonable. But that’s your fault. You need to set boundaries, you need to set expectations, and you need to set up a communication process where both sides are on the same page, and clear what is happening with the engagement. And when.

You have to communicate when expectations become out of sync. And you have to do it fast. Sometimes, they don’t even realize they are doing it.

[Or they do, but are just seeing how far they can push. They stop when called on it.]

Yeah, you should ALWAYS seek to exceed expectations. You should ALWAYS seek to improve your customer’s experience…at every possible touchpoint. And you should EMPOWER your people to do so without jumping through hoops.

But you should also manage your customer’s expectations so that you don’t create an environment where they expect too much, something you could never possibly deliver on.

Hopefully, you are good at what you do. And getting better. But you are also not Superman, and sometimes, you simply cannot perform miracles…

Sign-up for my customer experience newsletter, TheCustomerDaily, and get some ideas on how to rock your customer’s experience!

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Drawing by Hugh.

Why You Need The Energy For Success

The latest conversation in the Todd and Taja video series, with Taja Dockendorf, principal out of Pulp + Wire. Today, we turn the tables, and Taja leads the conversation about how she and I conduct the discovery process with our clients.

TODAY’S SHOW NOTES:

1. Taja and I discuss how each of us go through an initial discovery process with our respective clients, in order to get a sense of who they are, and what they want to become. And thus, how each of us can best serve them.

2. “Why are you in business? What is your purpose? What is your mission? What’s the story about you and your business?”

3. Both Taja and I attempt to spend time with the organization’s customers, in an attempt to get a sense of what our client’s brand means to them. From this, we can see where we need to go from there, whether that is a corrective measure, or if things are on the right track.

3.5. And frankly, if an organization can’t ask themselves – and their customers — these hard questions, they cannot improve and innovate over the long-term. We stress the importance of daily self-examination…

4. We both agree that an organization has to be willing to change. And that they have to be willing to put everything on the table, or the working relationship will most likely be unfruitful.

5. “Being human. And finding solutions.” The keys to success from Taja…

6. Once you know the “why” of your business, virtually everything else becomes so much simpler…

7. “How can we make your life easier?” This is the question EVERY business should ask of it’s customers…including Taja and myself.

8. And if you’ve made your customer’s life easier…word of mouth about you and your business becomes almost automatic.

9. And if your customer achieves that…then business becomes fun again…and worth getting up in the morning.

10. The importance of “the energy for success.”

11. You can find Taja here at Pulp + Wire.

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If you want to make the lives of your customers easier, here are some tips!

WPTouch Is Critical For All You Mobile WordPress Bloggers!

Who Is Calling You?

In 2010, 8% of the users visiting my website came via a mobile device.

In 2011, that increased to 11%. In the past six months, that number is 13%.

In the past month? That number jumps to 18%. Safe to say the era of mobile is here. And oh, of that final number, 47% of them visited me on an iPhone.

And tracking my podcasts, the numbers of people listening and downloading them via a smart phone are growing fast.

So…what to do?

Well, if your website is WordPress based, it is time to do something about it. (Well, even if you aren’t WordPress based, it is time to do something about it. You had better ask your webmaster about it).

As of last week, I have uploaded WPTouch to ALL my client’s WordPress blogs.

Said simply, WPTouch makes it easy for people to view your website on their smartphone. Gone are the days when a full-sized website appears in your little window, and you need Superman-ish vision to read the content.

WPTouch solves that problem. In fact, I waited too long to make this move. According to Google Analytics, the bounce rate is higher for iPhones than for iPads, because it was obviously hard to view my website on a small iPhone than a larger iPad.

WPTouch is a simple plug-in that you can install on your WordPress for FREE. Learn more about it here.

So, if you’ve ever gone to a website on your smartphone, and gave up because the text was too small, or you couldn’t find what you were looking for, WPTouch might be just for you…

Remember, please keep your customer in mind when deciding whether installing this plug-in is for you. Imagine, for a moment, the customer driving to find your retail location, and pulling off the side of the road to pull up your website to get a phone number or directions… Don’t you want them to easily find what they are looking for?

I thought so…

And if you have other tools, plug-ins and apps that enhance the mobile experience of your WordPress website, please share in the comments!

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[time get get intrepiddy with me!]

[photo from flickr]

[disclaimer: there is such a thing as WPTouch Pro, which is the next level tool. I have not used it, and cannot tell you anything about it.]

The Next Available Operator Will Be With You When She Damn Well Feels Like It

Look hard...you'll see me in the herd somewhere.

“Due to heavy call volume, the next available operator will be with you momentarily.”

You’ve no doubt heard this yourself…many times.

I have a growing appreciation for the complexity – and cost – of running a call center, as I have a client that serves that business, and I have interviewed several executives who run companies that service that sector.

But still…

That line just says to me “we could give a flying [BEEEP] about you.”

What about you? Tell me honestly in the comments. How do you interpret that statement when you hear it?

Do you have heavy call volume because your products stinks? Do you have heavy call volume because you are too cheap to invest in the appropriate amount of customer service teams?

What this says to me is that you don’t care enough about the customer. That their experience, their interaction with your company really isn’t that important to you. Slapping up that recording is you just dialing it in…

Look…perhaps you cannot afford to hire an extra team of personnel to man the phones. Perhaps you are smart enough not to invest in those awful automated processes where I have to “hit one for this, hit two for that…”

But maybe you do this: Maybe while people have to wait for technical assitance, you drive them to a special landing page on the website where you present a series of EASY-TO-UNDERSTAND videos with friendly people walking you through solutions to common problems. Make these videos easy to watch, easy to understand, viewable on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets…

[Oh! Make the domain easy to remember, since I will be jotting it down whilst on hold with you!]

But do something more than what EVERYONE else does. Do something that demonstrates you care. That I am not just another pain-in-the-ass-caller waiting in a long line…

“The next available customer may go the other direction. Thank you. Have a nice day.”

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[pic from flickr]

The True Secret To Building Your Fan Base

Do You Know Who Your Fans Are?

If you haven’t read Kevin Kelly’s post on 1,000 True Fans yet, you should do so as soon as you finish this post.

The gist of it is, if you have 1,000 true fans, you can achieve virtually anything: win an election, start a massive movement, become profitable, sell enough albums to matter, sell enough paintings to matter, become a bestseller, etc…

So, the question becomes: do you have true fans?

My answer: yes I do. Although I certainly don’t have 1,000. In fact, under my definition of what I think a true fan is, I have less than 100.

Under my definition, if I published an e-book and charged for it, I believe my true fans would pay. And then they would share the product with their network. My true fans actively engage on my content. My true fans tell others about me. My true fans send me notes telling me that I matter and that my message resonates with them. [This makes doing what I do worth it...]

So, therein lies my challenge. To grow this list. And as you correctly surmise, this task doesn’t happen overnight. So, here is a simple checklist on how to begin:

1. Create list of your current TRUE FANS. Be discerning. This list only matters if you are honest with yourself. Even if you have less than ten, this matters. You can build from there. Getting the first true fan is the hardest part…

2. Figure out some short-term, and long-term steps, to keep them fans. To thank them. To show them appreciation.

2.5. For me? I am writing an e-book just for them. At no charge, just to thank them for their love and support.

3. Work to understand, to analyze why they became true fans in the first place. Understand this, and it becomes easier to develop more true fans.

4. Continue to believe in giving and serving all of your network with meaningful, helpful (free) content.

5. See below.

Another way to frame what we are talking about here is creating evangelists for your work. People that – without pay – do the selling for you because they are so inspired by your work, and want to tell others.

The simple goal here today is to ask you to do recognize who your true fans are, do something to demonstrate appreciation, understand why they are true fans, and then focus your energy on adding to your fan base…

But here is the most important understanding:

5. You must recognize that you can’t force this. Looking at my list of true fans, I did nothing different for these folks than I’ve done for any other. For some reason, my work and my message just works for these people. And that’s great. There are others who have read the very same content, and not been so moved.

The more you focus on just building your fan base, just to report a cool number of fans, the more difficult it will be. Instead, focus on generating the meaningful work that got you your first few fans, and keep going from there, innovating and improving as you go. And, caring for and appreciating your fans along the journey.

Before long, you will have an army of evangelists that love and support you, and help you spread the message. This is when business and art is fun!

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[Important note: the photograph above includes, as you've probably guessed, Beatles fans. These are not folks reacting to my most recent post...And the photo is from Google.]

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[Todd Schnick is a marketing strategist, helping entrepreneurs become intrepid marketers...]
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