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 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.
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.