27 October 2021
Mention customer relationships to almost anybody—including your favorite search engine—and, whether you like it or not, you probably just found yourself having a conversation about software. There are dozens of apps, programs, websites and other assorted platforms that can help you manage and track your online and offline engagement with your customers. Some of these are actually quite good, and we have our favorites among them, too. But customer relationship management is more than data and tracking. Long-term success in your business requires moving your customer interaction beyond the stage of being a transaction and create an actual relationship with those your brand serves. And, not unlike the other relationships in your life, that takes a little bit of thought and more than a little bit of effort. Here’s five things to consider when you’re cultivating customer relationships: Communication As the foundation of any successful relationship, communication is key to your customer engagement. If you want to move beyond a transactional relationship with your customers, start a conversation. But do more than just tell them about your products or services. Make it about them. How does your new roofing product enhance the pride they have in their home? Is your dry-cleaning service just faster and more convenient, or does it also help them make it to their date on time and feel better about the way they look? Consider every customer relationship conversation from their perspective. Ask Permission Your customers’ personal data and contact information often are necessary to complete an initial order or simply to request information. Do not abuse this privilege. Before adding anyone to your regular contact cycle, always ask their permission and which channel they prefer. This not only increases the odds of actually getting their attention with your next email or text notification, it’s also an important step in earning their trust. And remember: Signing customers up for multiple distribution lists all at once is not a cheat code. They are more likely to remember the hassle of unsubscribing multiple times than they are anything of value you managed to sneak through in your initial contact. Pace Yourself The good news is that technology (and CRM software) has made communicating with your customers by email, text message and phone easier than ever. The bad news is this can make it too easy to try to goose this week’s revenue at the expense of the customer relationship. To be effective, your communication with your customers must be relevant, useful and reasonable. Sharing some company news or a new product offering—even a limited time offer—is great, so long as it doesn’t become more of an obstacle than an advantage to the customer relationship. But also include something useful for them, like a tip or an interesting fact about something that interests them. A personal example: I shared my email address with a business about a month ago, opting into their email list for special offers. Over the next eight days I received three daily emails with offers and promotions. Three emails. Every. Single. Day. Needless to say, I’m not inclined to continue that conversation. Or relationship. Don’t Burn Out the Channel Another way to build a customer relationship that’s similar to your real-life relationships is to have shared interests and hang out in the same places. In the digital world, that means social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, et al. Using these platforms comes with its own considerations, most immediately, deciding which are appropriate for your audience. There may be 300 million users on Snapchat, but chances are far fewer of them are business decision-makers or homeowners in your service area. You also need to consider your content needs and capabilities. An image platform like Instagram requires visual assets. Can you consistently serve up new and interesting pictures to capture people’s attention? Is your messaging appropriate for a Twitter audience? And if so, is it succinct enough? As with email and the other channels we discussed above, avoid burning out the channel—and your customers’ attention spans—with messages that are simply promotional. A good rule of thumb is your social content should serve your audience 80% of the time (think content that’s informative, enjoyable, entertaining, etc.) while promoting your products or services no more than 20% of the time. We all remember the guy at the party who only talks about himself, but we don’t necessarily want to sit next to him. Social media is a conversation, so leave room for others to participate. Ask questions, invite suggestions and respond to the comments and questions your audience shares. Make It About Them You know what’s at stake for your brand and your business in a customer relationship. So do they. Whatever channels, platforms and technology you use to plan, distribute and track your customer contacts, content and context will always be fundamental to maintaining and growing your customer relationships. Reaching your customers where they are depends on your message being interesting and relevant—even useful—to their lives before and between transactions.
07 September 2021
Author: Kyle O'Daniel
If you’re a franchise marketer, retailer and consumer services advertiser, you’re likely investing significant resources in lead generation. New customers are, after all, the fuel your brand needs for sustained growth. Typically, residential service firms and franchise networks alike focus a large proportion of their marketing budget on generating fresh leads, but in many cases the most direct way to efficient growth is referrals from your current and past customers. Referrals Can Be Your Best Leads The leads you generate through digital advertising and other marketing are essential to your success, but it remains a numbers game: Generate X leads to get Y consultations to deliver Z proposals then try to close. That process creates a reliable sales funnel, but includes several steps—and delays—between your marketing investment and seeing the return on that investment in the form of actual sales. A generated referral provides a lead that has already placed your brand firmly in their consideration. But a referral from a current or past customer has an emotional value beyond your brand name and contact details. Even a casual referral is accepted as an endorsement. An actual recommendation moves your offering and your brand that much closer to a sale because it removes so much of the uncertainty for individuals making a one-time, first-time or infrequent purchase decision. The most effective referrals, naturally, are endorsements from friends or colleagues your prospects know and trust. (More on that later.) But for sheer reach and volume, online reviews are a highly effective channel for making a positive first impression for your brand. Search engines, particularly (unsurprisingly) Google, are the first resource most customers use to find the products and services that interest them. That’s true across all categories—from small impulse buys to more considered purchases like home-improvement projects and major appliances. It remains true even for decision-makers in businesses making supply or capital expense decisions. Positive online reviews demonstrate to prospects that your brand is the safer choice. Even your responsiveness to the occasional negative comment can provide proof of your company’s genuine interest in responding to customer concerns, and provide valuable insights into the preferences of your audience. As an added bonus, Google’s search algorithm takes your number of reviews into account, meaning more reviews can have a great effect on your organic search ranking. How to Generate More Reviews and Endorsements The simplest answer, of course, is to ask for reviews. Soliciting reviews ensures that your many satisfied customers are seen and heard by people researching your company. You can ask for reviews in whatever channels you already use to communicate products, specials, offers or any marketing message. Include it in your direct mail. Send follow-up email and text messages thanking your customers for their business and asking for a review. And to make it extra easy for them, make sure you include a link to your business profiles—not just on Google, but on any other site where you maintain a presence, including Facebook, Instagram, Angi, the Better Business Bureau and others. Will all of the reviews be glowing endorsements? Probably not all of them. But your responses to those less than effusive comments will help reinforce your commitment to customer satisfaction. There’s more on that here. How to Gain More Direct Referrals As mentioned earlier, the gold standard for acquiring new customers is a direct referral from someone your prospect knows and trusts. That means getting your current and past customers to actually recommend your product or service to others in their network, whether that’s friends and neighbors or business colleagues. Often, that requires an incentive of some sort. The right incentive for your existing customer making the referral will vary greatly based on your line of business. For a brand built around long-term engagements and repeated transactions—think carpet cleaning, landscaping, heating & cooling—offering free upgrades or a discount on regular service may be all it takes. And it’s a small price to pay to acquire a new customer, the lifetime value of whom will greatly exceed the cost of your gratitude. On the other hand, if it’s a major or one-time transaction—if you provide residential roofing services, for example—it’s unlikely that a homeowner will be motivated by a discount on future work since it’s a purchase that most people make only a couple of times in their lives. In the latter case, consider a meal at a popular restaurant (better yet: a choice of restaurants) or a gift card for online or retail shopping. Just make the thank-you gift something with mass appeal and appropriate to your audience. Remind Your Customers and Prospects Your referral program is only as good as your promotion of it. Make sure that every single one of your customers knows how it works and how to take advantage of it. Add a form on your website so customers can make referrals at their own convenience—even multiple times. Or leave them with a referral card that a new customer can use to redeem a one-time offer and help you track where referrals are coming from. Promote it on your home pages and link to your referral page from customer surveys, email blasts and thank-you messages and texts. New customers are life-giving for your business. Attracting prospects already predisposed to trust your brand and value your offerings can shorten your sales cycle and improve the return on your marketing investment.
07 May 2021
For a restaurant or home services company, name recognition and trust are core assets—and any lack of that positive awareness can be a big hurdle to your marketing success. Your investment in traditional and digital advertising and social media engagement are just table stakes. But there’s another way to help people become familiar with your brand and garner trust and good will: community engagement that reaches your neighbors and customers where they live. And before you ask: It’s not cynical to engage in charitable giving or volunteerism with the goal of improving your marketing. It’s good business, and it’s good for your neighbors. When you dedicate your business and your brand to a cause—whether by sponsoring a community event, supporting the volunteer efforts of your employees, providing in-kind donations of food or professional services, or any other goodwill efforts—you actually are making your community a better place to live and work. The only real difference between community engagement for marketing and pure altruism is that, as a business, it’s not unseemly to take credit. Meanwhile, the positive reputation you already have among customers and neighbors in the community serves to multiply your business’s contribution and lend credibility to the cause, multiplying the effect. In addition to helping make the community a better place to live and work, you’re introducing potential customers to your brand in the best way possible: by making a strongly positive association with something they care about, in their community, and in an authentic and long-lasting way. Your company’s name will be connected to more than just the event or the issue it addresses, too. Community engagement for marketing allows you to make a deeper emotional connection, associating your brand with how people feel when they get involved in their own community. And that feeling is amplified every time your charitable partner tweets or posts or sends out an email blast. A few tips on choosing a charity: Steer clear of anything controversial or divisive. Generalities are your friends here. For example, there may be a dispute in the community about whether a disc golf course or a bocci court is a more pressing local need, but it’s likely that most agree that parks and green spaces are a good thing in general. Seek relationships with organizations that complement your brand message. For example, a restaurant specializing in fresh or healthy menu items may find a natural fit with a wellness cause or event. A home services company that caters to families might choose to work with a local children’s hospital. The point is, you still can invest in a cause that’s close to your heart—and feel great about the trust and name recognition you’re banking for your business. Another advantage: here often are operational benefits as well. Don’t underestimate the morale boost your own team will feel as a result of being part of something bigger than themselves.
07 April 2021
The best marketing strategy in the world can only have temporary results if it doesn’t account for the entire customer experience. Sure, our first job is to get people in the door, on the lot or to the website, but that’s just the beginning of the journey. I was lucky to learn this at my first and only job before I started my professional career. I was working at a high-end butcher shop in downtown Cincinnati where the clientele had expectations for their rack of lamb just as high as my current clients do for their multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns. How does a teenager become a butcher at such a place and what did I learn from my time working there? For the first question, ask my dad. For the second, I think it’s safe to say that I learned as much working as a butcher as I did in college. Scary, right? The most important lesson I learned there is that the customer experience is just as important as the product. This is easy to overlook while organizations focus on product and process, but it can be the most important part of your business plan. Marketing’s job isn’t over when the customer comes through the door. In some ways it’s just beginning. Think about it. One of the first lessons at the butcher shop was wrapping orders. At the time I didn’t understand why my father made such a big deal about it. Finally, he explained that the package that goes out the door is a big part of the customer experience. The way it feels in our guest’s hands, the way it looks that afternoon in the refrigerator. The appearance, the aroma, the reveal when he first unwraps his roast or chops to start cooking. All those moments are an opportunity to reinforce his decision to choose us. The challenge is to own as many of those moments as possible. Why is that customer in the market in the first place? It’s a butcher shop, so the simple answer is for food. But probably not because they’re hungry. Usually, our customers were preparing a meal to be shared with others, and likely somebody they wanted to impress. That changes the equation. It means they need more than just quality product. They want and expect our expertise beyond which cut is particularly good that day. We’d make suggestions for preparation and serving, selecting side dishes and other ideas for making their meal a success. We understood that we were playing a role in that special meal and it could very well be one of the most important occasions in our customer’s week … or career or relationship. And the customer experience isn’t complete until the dishes are cleared from the table. How you create an unforgettable customer experience will be specific to your business, products or services, and target audience. However, there are some things that all businesses can do to improve their customer experience. These may seem basic, but in our experience, they’re often overlooked. Ready? Here are our top two tips for creating an unforgettable customer experience. Plus, how St. Gregory can help you implement them. Customer Experience Tip 1: Be Convenient There are many different ways that customers might communicate with your business, including: Phone calls Face-to-face interactions Text messages Online chats Social media messages Website forms Emails Old fashioned snail mail How your customers (and potential customers) prefer to communicate with you about your products or services will depend on a lot of factors such as the urgency of their need and audience demographics like age. Do not force your customers to conform to your preferred methods of communication! Instead, take steps to identify which channels your customers prefer and make yourself available. When it comes to customer experience tip one, St. Gregory can help you identify those preferred communication channels by mining any existing website and marketing data, such as that from Google Analytics, and conducting consumer research. Pro tip: Keep in mind that some people may prefer no communication. Part of being convenient is making it easy for people to find the information they need without having to reach out to you and wait for a response. This can be achieved through website copy, blog posts, an online knowledge base, or chatbots. St. Gregory has experienced copywriters that can help craft search engine optimized and user-friendly copy that conveys necessary information. In addition, our web designers can help you make smart user experience decisions that will make your website more accessible to current and perspective customers. Customer Experience Tip 2: Learn and Grow Guess who knows what your customers really want … that’s right, your customers. In order to create that unforgettable customer experience, you have to listen to current, perspective, and yes, former customers. How you solicit this feedback may vary. Here are a few possible options: Customer experience surveys that are sent out after a product is purchased or after a service is provided. Polls sent out to social media audiences or email lists. Polls conducted at community events or community gathering places. Online reviews. Ask your customers and audiences for their opinion and feedback. Analyze the information you receive for opportunities. Then, and this is the most important part, use that knowledge to improve the customer experience! Feedback is useless if you don’t actually learn from it. At St. Gregory, our public relations specialists can help you design reputation management and community engagement plans that includes soliciting customer feedback and reviews. Bonus, not only will online reviews help you improve your customer experience, they can also help you make more sales. A study by the Spiegel Research Center showed that the “likelihood of a product getting purchased increases 270% when it gets five reviews.” Yes, 270%. That is not a typo. And notice that it’s just five reviews; the study did not specify positive versus negative reviews. While you do not want a bevy of bad reviews, a few will not sink your ship, so to speak. In fact, one or two bad reviews mixed in with a bunch of stellar reviews can actually make your business seem more credible. Speaking of negative reviews…. It can be hard to receive critical feedback, especially in a public setting such as Google or Facebook. However, remember, every complaint is an opportunity to provide an unforgettable customer experience. How you act in the face of negativity can be far more telling than how you act when everything is going perfectly. When you do receive a negative review, before responding, read our tips on how to handle negative reviews. St. Gregory is a full-service marketing agency. That means we can help with all of your marketing and customer experience needs including digital and traditional marketing, public relations and community engagement, reputation management, and creative needs like graphic design, video production, and content marketing. We’d love to talk to you about how to take your customer experience to a buzz-worthy level. For a free consultation on how we might be an asset to your business, contact us today.
08 March 2021
Does your company have a crisis communication plan? Most consumer services companies, especially franchise businesses, have at least some sort of business continuation or disaster recovery plan. These are usually very good at cataloging resources to keep your company operating, but what happens when the crisis is not with your operation, but with the brand? At some point, every organization will face an angry, frustrated or just disappointed audience. Knowing how to take responsibility and reassure customers and the community in the middle of a crisis is not the sort of thing you want to make up on the fly. And no matter how well your home-improvement company or fast-casual restaurant treats customers, businesses are run by humans and sooner or later, somebody will do something wrong. How to Respond Obviously, we can’t run around wildly like a bunch of cartoon characters offering a heartfelt apology for every unfortunate circumstance. Operators in food service, home improvement and other consumer-facing businesses know there’s always a squeaky wheel. But when our own action or inaction clearly led to an unpleasant outcome, an effective apology can help you (as the neighbor, the spouse, the anthropomorphized brand, etc.) regain trust. Customers in general are open to forgiving a brand that takes responsibility and expresses regret for its own actions or failures—and it certainly beats blaming somebody else on this score. However, it’s only effective when done properly. These are polite norms that we all kinda, sorta know intuitively, but behavioral scientists Steven Martin and Joseph Marks codified them for us in their book Messengers. They explain that an effective apology: Must be delivered quickly; Must be expressed sincerely; and Must demonstrate a commitment to change. Most of the public apologies we encounter these days fall short on at least one of these criteria. So, where do these less timely, insincere or noncommittal apologies go wrong? Often, it’s a matter of completeness. For example, the apologies lack any tangible or expressed commitment to change or to prevent the offense from happening again. More often, the person apologizing allows his or her personal pride to get between the expression and the whole point of the exercise. They know they need to apologize, but they don’t want to actually take any blame for anything personally. The result is usually some sort of excuse or qualified apology, which is to say, not an apology at all. I am sorry if my words were misunderstood. I apologize to anyone who may have been offended. I didn’t know you were going in there when I left my shoes in the middle of the room. That sort of thing. Knowing when and how to offer an apology can be the difference between regaining the trust of your customers and the public, or turning disappointment into rage.
20 January 2021
Reputation management is key to defending the brand you’ve worked so hard to build. The most visible aspect of reputation management is how customers see you respond to negative reviews and comments. Responding to negative online reviews is one of the more nuanced and, at times, nerve-racking challenges of a successful social media program. Your brand, whether you’re selling confections or construction equipment, ultimately serves customers. Customers are people. And sometimes people are disappointed, unreasonable or just want to get some attention for being the squeaky wheel. It comes with the territory. In fact, online reputation management was one of the greatest obstacles to traditional companies adopting branded social media as much as a dozen years ago. One high-profile CEO with an expression of horror asked me, “You mean anybody can say anything they want, even if it makes us look bad?!” As reassuringly as I could, I told her, “Yes. They can. And they will.” Fast forward a few years and having a social media presence is not an option anymore. Even if you don’t own a smartphone or have an Instagram account, your customers do. And platforms like Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor are incentivizing them to share their opinions. If you’re not engaged in reputation management, somebody will do it for you. Accepting the inevitability of negative online reviews is a great first step in preparing to respond to Google reviews, Yelp comments or Facebook and Twitter posts that may be less than admiring of your product, service or brand. Over the past few years, some brands even have become quite popular for their skill at online reputation management, with some even clapping back at online detractors. Local bars and restaurants have taken to displaying some of their more outrageous reviews ironically as a way to demonstrate their bona fides. Even well-known national brands have gotten into the act. Wendy’s Twitter account, for example, has developed an enthusiastic following for their funny and sometimes brutal roasts in response to unfair attacks. This works for these brands because it’s both in keeping with their brand character AND they have the talent and resources—especially time—to commit to responding. In general, unless you have a very specific clientele that is attracted to wit and snark, it’s not usually a good idea for your reputation management effort to include aggressive banter with dissatisfied customers. Some are trolls, yes, and while it’s tempting, it’s never a great idea to feed them. The most successful brands in the social space respond to negative online reviews and comments with sincere empathy. They demonstrate a genuine concern for consumers while making it clear to their customers and others who may be following along that a single bad experience is not typical and not acceptable. How do smart brands approach online reputation management? The most important best practice is to respond to all negative reviews. Responding will, all by itself, earn you credit in the community. Imagine you’re out there in the real world and somebody is making a complaint to the manager at some business you patronize. You may have no idea whether the customer is right in the case or not. You may even be inclined to feel that the complaints are valid. But as an experienced consumer, you also know that even in the best run organizations, there can be mistakes and disappointments. Demonstrating your openness to listening to your customers and responding to their comments—positive or negative—builds trust in your brand. Take the detailed discussion offline. More than anything, people who post negative online reviews usually just want to be heard. They were looking forward to a pleasant experience and something went wrong. They’re disappointed. Hear them out, but not in the public space of an online back-and-forth if it’s at all possible. Invite them to send a direct message with details and their contact information. Or, offer them a dedicated email address or phone number to open up a personal exchange. Most important, respond quickly. Online and social media interactions are conversations and your brand needs to be present to hold up your end of the dialogue. That means devoting enough resources so that your reputation management team can monitor and quickly respond to questions or comments, positive and negative. It’s OK to say you’re sorry, even if it’s not your fault. Assume best intentions on the part of negative reviewers. At least until demonstrated otherwise. Maybe they were just expecting something else. Maybe they have your place confused with another business. Showing sympathy for the misunderstanding shows a commitment to service and can only enhance your brand reputation. For a customizable toolkit for responding to negative online reviews, subscribe to our email list!
07 May 2020
Author: Steve Bleh
In every category, there’s a baseline level of competence that customers expect. But long-term brand success depends on the consumer preferring not just your product, but the experience of doing business with you. If the food is perfect, but the atmosphere is unattractive, diners won’t come back. If your service is efficient but your technicians are sloppy, nobody wants them back in their home. If your product is a great value but the cashier is rude, shoppers will take their business somewhere else. Exceeding those expectations is what fosters long-term customer loyalty. And that’s harder than ever in a socially distanced world. It’s not like front-line employees aren’t already going above and beyond the call. But even a slight added value in the customer experience can make a difference. You may have noticed this in action already. Some restaurants not traditionally in the carryout business have been forced to earn their chops in a hurry and it’s clear who gets it. It’s impossible to replicate a fine dining experience in a drive-thru window, no matter how well prepared and packaged the food is. But by making the experience of picking up the order more pleasant, or adding a small surprise to the unpacking at home, brands are giving their customers another reason to come back. And, ideally, even a positive story to share. In-home service providers naturally are taking extra precautions to protect their providers and the families they serve. Some of these changes are obvious, but not all. By making the extra time and effort apparent—sharing a checklist or sending a pre-call email, for example—brands can gain the lasting trust of homeowners that builds repeat business and referrals. One of the greatest business casualties of COVID-19 social distancing may be the one asset that’s hardest to replace. Even for businesses who continue to operate during stay-at-home orders, the customer experience has been changed dramatically. This is a tremendous opportunity for brands to invest in experience, while brands that miss the opportunity could be nudged toward commoditization. Or worse. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
06 January 2020
There’s no denying that we live in a review culture now. Social media started it, and online retailers made it the norm. Often overlooked, this element of word-of-mouth marketing has become one of the most powerful drivers of sales, particularly in the “decision” phase of the buyer’s journey.
14 November 2019
Author: Gail Back
Independent and family-owned companies tend to grow up with an ingrained do-it-yourself ethic. It’s part of the attraction: Working in a place where decisions can be made quickly and most tasks can be handled in-house. But that’s not always the best option when it comes to decisions that require specific expertise or where your managers make purchase decisions less frequently. It’s not unlike the annual ritual of selecting health insurance for your team: There are dozens of options, each with different features and benefits, and only limited visibility to what others are paying for similar results. More often than not, you’re better off working with a professional. That’s also true when it comes to advertising media buying. The contracts are complicated. And while you may only make your advertising decisions a few times each year, usually you’re negotiating with professionals who handle the same kind of deal every single day. Often, professional media planning not only saves your company more money than it costs—it also simplifies your life. Your media planner will present you with a couple of options that meet your marketing objectives for timing, reach and frequency. A comprehensive plan will also combine print, broadcast, streaming and digital elements to make the greatest impact for your advertising investment. If you’re not sure about the offers and options you’re fielding from different advertising outlets, take a look at what your agency’s media department can do for you. We can simplify the decision-making process and can also be a business owner’s best friend when it comes to watching the budget.