Customer Service Tips: Do You Treat Different Customers Differently?

Seth Godin brought up this thought-provoking question in a blog post. My answer? Yes, I treat different customers differently. I treat all customers with respect and in a professional manner. But the customers who take responsibility for their marketing and who are willing to be a partner with me in the process — those are the ones who get top priority.

By the way, those customers are not always the ones who spend the most money with me either. When it comes to working with people, I’m like a blood hound. I NEED to see the customer succeed — it’s more than just a want. In order for that to happen, though, the customer needs to be a part of the process, at least for the type of work I do. This is why those customers get top priority.

How ’bout you? Do you treat different customers differently?

Business Anniversaries – 5 Celebratory Ideas

It always amazes me when companies overlook the simple things, like their own birthdays. Marking major milestones, like 10 years in business, is a great way to engage customers, reinforce credibility, and garner press. If you or one of your clients has a significant birthday coming up in 2011, here are five celebratory ideas to weave into the marketing plan.

1. Note it on your website. I’m not talking words, but rather some sort of a visual that appears on every page. (Yes, you’ll want to note it in words as well — a blurb on your home page and a press release in your media section will work.)

2. Create a promotion around the number. For example, if you’re celebrating 10 years in business and you’re an acupuncturist, have a contest where you’ll give one lucky winner 10 FREE treatments. You can get a lot of mileage out of a contest like this, since you can promote it through your website, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, email signatures, etc. To enter, people can fill out a form and write a brief statement (250 words or less) as to why they should be the winner and what they’d use the treatments for.

3. Expand your “About Us” section on your website. Add  “Through the Years” or a “Time Line” (or both) on your site where you visually walk people through some of your major milestones.

4. Throw a party. Seems obvious, right? But I mean throw a party for your employees, customers, and vendors. No, not everyone will be able to come, but a party mid-year (late June is a good time) is always a great way to thank people for their involvement in your success. Here in Massachusetts, a cool, fun place to hold a corporate event in Kimball Farm (great ice cream!) in Westford, Mass. Michael Katz of Blue Penguin has been holding events there for the last several years.

5. Give gifts. Identify your top tier clients and send them a gift that signifies your business milestone. For example, if you’re celebrating 20 years in business, consider sending an arrangement of day lilies to your top clients with a heartfelt thank you note (the day lily is the flower associated with 20th anniversaries).

Have some other ideas? I’d love to hear them. Leave ’em in the comments.

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Penalized for Proper Behavior? A Marketing Don’t.

Got my car insurance invoice in the mail the other day. If I pay the bill in full right now, I’ll receive a 10 percent discount. So far, so good. I like being rewarded for good behavior.

The invoice goes on to explain that if I’m late with a payment, I’ll be charged a $25 late fee. That’s fair and makes sense. No problem there.

The invoice finally explains that if I make my monthly minimum payment on time — they call it an installment plan — a $6 “installment charge” will be added to each invoice.

Here’s my question: should customers be penalized for making payments on time? (I imagine you know what my answer is.) I’m sure, if asked, the insurance company would make an argument as to why the installment charge is necessary. I don’t need to hear it to offer my counterargument, which is this: think of your customers first. How does penalizing them for proper behavior help them? It doesn’t help them, and despite what you think, it doesn’t help your company in the long run.

Think about your own business and ask yourself if you’re penalizing your customers somewhere along the way for simply doing what they’re supposed to do. If you are, rethink that strategy.

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8 Fresh Ideas for Email Newsletters

Many of my clients are working on their 2011 marketing plans, which means they’re likely thinking of their e-newsletter editorial calendars as well.

Need some fresh ideas for newsletter articles and sidebar items? Check these out.

1. Private Sale/Private Offering. Construct a newsletter around a special sale or offering that will be available to subscribers only. Promote this fact on Twitter and Facebook and grow your list while you’re at it. I recently worked on this concept for one of my retail clients, and we got a good number of sales out of it as a result.

2. Inside Views. I don’t know about you, but I love learning about the real people in companies, especially those I do business with. In a time when corporate “spin” is in our faces more than ever thanks to the Internet, it’s refreshing to hear real thoughts and real views from real people. Do a “Q&A” feature with some of the people in your company. Ask questions that invite real answers — in other words, answers that provide insight into who these people are as human beings (e.g. favorite movie, favorite book, three songs queued on their iPods).

3. Highlight Charitable Giving. I’m not suggesting that you toot your own horn, but what you can do is provide real exposure to some of the charities and nonprofit organizations that you and your employees support. (Always a crowd pleaser in November.)

4. Blog Roundup. Sure, we want to believe our clients and prospects are flocking to our blogs and hanging on every word we write, but the truth is, life happens. Even when you consistently post great articles, not everyone will see them the first time around. So do a newsletter article where you recap those key articles: ones that garnered the most comments, ones that provoked controversy, and ones you feel are important “can’t miss” articles. This strategy can work well when you’re tight on time and can’t bang out a complete article or when you’re coming off the holidays or summer, since people might have missed some key blog posts due to travels and general craziness.

5. In their own words. Ever thought of giving one of your clients the pulpit? Somewhere between a customer story and a customer testimonial, a customer letter “in his or her own words” could be refreshing. DO NOT EDIT CONTENT. Simply fix glaring punctuation/spelling errors and anything that’s factually inaccurate.

6. How’d we do that? You take what you do for granted, but chances are you have some readers who might be really curious about a certain aspect of your business. For example, if you’re an online retailer, you could provide insight on how you choose the lines you carry. If you’re a custom cabinetmaker, you could do a before and after “refurbishing” series, complete with images or video. You get the idea.

7. Do the opposite of what you normally do. Do you usually focus on customer stories? Offer some how-to articles instead. Do you normally write long articles? Find one great image — like a cartoon — that gets your point across and then attach it to an offer. People find value in any number of things. Mixing it up is a great way to keep your audience engaged.

8. Did You Know? Chances are your customers — even your best customers — don’t know everything that you do or every product you offer. Take a hard look at service offerings or products that you think should be resulting in more business. Then highlight two or three in a “Did You Know We Offer This” sort of article.

Need help organizing your company’s editorial calendar? That would be a perfect activity for my Rent My Noggin program.

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Messaging Strategies: Two Approaches

I recently worked on a messaging project for a client who’s in an industry where everyone says the same thing. Part of the reason for the message’s “sameness” is due to legal and compliancy issues. But the other reason has to do with fear.

When I thought about it, I realized this situation is no different from any other messaging challenge for any other industry. Basically, you can approach messaging in one of two ways:

1. Churn out the same consistent (and often expected ) messages that many, if not all, of your competitors are churning out and focus on your reach and how often you bombard the market with your message

Or

2. Turn the message upside down and on its head. Choose a different message that no one else is focusing on and/or take risks in how you deliver the message

Both strategies have pros and cons. But knowing which strategy you’re going to use will help make other decisions (like who to use for your marketing and writing) go more smoothly.

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Kick-Start Your Marketing Plan for Fall

Remember all those grand plans you had on January 1st? Yeah, exactly. Life happens. Business happens (or not). Bottom line is this: plans change, for better and for worse.

That’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. What’s not okay? Ignoring your plan until December. Here’s a strategy for adjusting your marketing plan and getting it in the best shape possible as you head into fall.

1. Review the last eight months. Review all the marketing activities that took place: online, offline, print, newsletters, advertising. You get the idea. If you have a formal, written plan, simply refer to it and go through each item. If you don’t have a formal plan, don’t panic. Call up a Word doc and create a month-by-month list. Refer to your calendar and business credit card/checking statements to help jog your memory as to what you spent your marketing dollars on. (Trust me — it’s worth the effort…and it will be a huge help when you sit down to create next year’s plan. Because you WILL be creating one, right?) As you review each marketing activity, indicate the results. The more specific and scientific, the better. For example, if you did a direct mail campaign to 1000 people and got 20 sales, you know you had a two percent conversion rate. If you don’t have these details, make an educated guess.

2. What are the top business-producing marketing activities? Which marketing activities produced the most leads? Which marketing activities produced the best lead conversions? Are the lists the same, different, or is there overlap? Note: I define leads as anyone who takes action: the person fills out a form, mails in a reply card, calls you about an offer, etc. I define conversions as leads that turn into paying customers.

3. What marketing activities did you and your employees enjoy doing the most? Do any of those activities match the ones on the top marketing activities list? If yes, note those.

4. What marketing activities did you and your employees hate doing? This is not the place to be coy or to think, “Well, we don’t like doing X, but we’ll get better at it.” Be honest. Do any of those activities match those on the top marketing activities list? If yes, make note.

Now, I’m not suggesting you should get rid of all activities you don’t like doing. But let’s say your company has a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You and your employees are active on Facebook and you’re starting to build a community. You also use LinkedIn consistently. But then there’s Twitter. You haven’t tweeted in months. You hardly have any followers. You and your employees don’t particularly like it. I’m a big fan of the “do one thing well” philosophy, and the truth is that adding Twitter to the mix might be overwhelming you and your employees, at least right now. So perhaps it makes sense to refocus the time you had earmarked for Twitter and put it towards Facebook and LinkedIn instead. You can always add in Twitter later, and you should keep it on your marketing radar. But the enthusiasm and effort you and your employees are showing towards Facebook and LinkedIn will make up for the fact you’re not on Twitter (at least in the short term).

Sometimes you’ll be in a situation where you hate a particular activity, but you recognize its value. Should you sacrifice your sanity for leads? No. Instead, this would be the time to outsource. For example, I have a client who has a blog, but she has no time — or interest — in writing posts. At the same time, she knows the blog is a “must-have” from an industry perspective and SEO perspective. So she outsources the activity to me. Every month, she knows I’ll be writing 8 to 10 blog posts. (This would be something you’d note on your marketing plan.)

5. What marketing activities do you wish you did (or did more of)? Make sure you can explain why. It’s perfectly fine to say, “We should be on Twitter” or “We should create a Facebook group,” if you have good reasons behind your proclamations.

6. Now look at the next four months. Take a hard look. What you want to do is make adjustments based on what you noted above. You want to weed out the activities that you know aren’t working and re-focus on the activities that are yielding good results.

For the activities that are yielding good results and that you and your employees like doing, would it make sense to devote more time and dollars to these activities? Would the investment yield more leads and increase conversions? While you can’t know for sure, you can make educated guesses. For example, if you ran a contest on Facebook during, say, April and it resulted in increased leads and more conversions that month, it might make sense to run a contest in September and December and see if the results are the same, better, or worse. This sort of experimenting will help you build an even stronger marketing plan for next year.

Remember: avoid making rash judgments. If you’re thinking of eliminating an activity for the second half of the year, ask yourself this question first and then drill down: What’s the problem with this particular marketing activity:

  • Is it the execution?
  • Is it the copy?
  • Are your metrics faulty (or non-existent)?
  • Is it some other reason?
  • Is it something you can fix?

If you go through this checklist and feel you’ve done everything right and that it’s not fixable, then it might make sense to eliminate it from the plan, at least for now. You can always add it back in at some point, should conditions change.

If you think the problem isn’t the marketing activity itself, but rather something else, such as the execution, then adjust your marketing plan to address the issue. For example, let’s say you’re thinking about eliminating email marketing because your open rate is low and you’re not seeing any direct business coming from the newsletter. As you consider the checklist above, you wonder if the problem isn’t email marketing itself but rather if you’re delivering the right message and including the best offers. And you’re wondering about the health of your list and the overall design of your newsletter.

You decide you might not be ready to lose email marketing just yet, but you know you need to do something different. This is where your marketing plan comes in. As you adjust your plan for the next four months, you add in these activities:

  • Research email marketing best practices
  • Research email marketing consultants
  • Have email consultants review email campaigns, make recommendations, and provide a proposal for implementing recommendations
  • Review proposals and make a decision

From there, the email marketing consultant will likely have a plan for re-launching the e-newsletter. His or her plan will flow into your plan. And six months from now when you’re evaluating your marketing plan again, you might be thinking very differently about your email newsletter.

But let’s pretend for a moment that it is six months later and your email marketing results are the same or even a little worse. It might be time to reallocate those marketing dollars elsewhere.

This is why it’s essential to review your plan regularly. I recommend once a quarter. But I’m also a realist and realize most small business owners aren’t going to do that. So reviewing at a halfway point is the next best thing.

By the way, there is one item that all companies should definitely build into the next four months: creating your 2011 marketing plan. Late October or early November is a good time to do this. And if you need assistance from a competent third party well versed in marketing? This would be a perfect activity for Rent My Noggin.

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If You Went Away for a Month, Would Your Customers Come Back?

It’s a provocative question, isn’t it? If you paused your business for a whole month, would your customers find somewhere else to go or would they hold out and wait for you? Does it depend on what you’re selling? For example, if you’re an accountant, would your clients wait out those 30 days or would they find someone else? What if you’re a doctor? What if you run a bagel shop?

And if people did go somewhere else for those 30 days, do you think they’d eventually come back to you? Are you that confident in what you give to your customers — I’m not talking the specific product or service, but what you GIVE them — that you know they’d come back because what you “give,” they can’t get anywhere else?

Intriguing, right? And you probably think it’s just a hypothetical. But that’s exactly what my favorite bagel shop in my hometown did this summer. It took the month of July off.

I’m a semi-regular customer. I go through bagel-craving spurts, so I might go a month or two (max) without a visit. Well, I showed up at the end of June one day, craving a bagel, only to be greeted by a handmade sign saying they were closed until late July. I actually had to read the note twice. We were talking a whole month. Whoa, I thought. That’s not going to be good for business. I went somewhere else for my bagel (it wasn’t as good) and filed away that Cafe Bagel was off limits until the end of July.

Well, guess what? I went back. Numerous times. And so did everyone else, it seems, given the full parking lot and the regulars (I know they’re regulars because the owner often greets people by name).

I don’t know if the owner simply “had” to go, business be damned (he told me he’d gone to visit his mother in Egypt, which is where he’s from), or if he simply assumed that because he makes the best bagels in town, the people would come back.

But it makes for an interesting challenge, doesn’t it? If you went away for a month, would your customers remember to come back? Or would they move on for good? If you think they might move on, what can you do to change the way you do business to ensure that they don’t?

Go do it.

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Rules Change. If You’re Not Sure, Just Ask Your Customers.

It’s almost Labor Day here in the U.S. I remember being raised with the rule that you never wore white (mostly applied to shoes, from my recollection) after Labor Day. What do you think? Is the “rule” outdated?

Last week, JC Penney conducted a smart survey on its Facebook company page regarding this very question. Here’s a screen shot:


It’s hard to see from this one snippet, but the majority of the comments disagreed, saying the rule was outdated. Granted, this isn’t a scientific survey, but it certainly gives JC Penney something to think about, like maybe conducting a more formal survey of its core base and seeing if they feel the same way (my hunch is they will).

Imagine how this could impact the decisions JC Penney makes when it plans its fall lines. And while this may seem like “new” possibilities for JC Penney, keep in mind that the customer would simply see it as JC Penney meeting the customers’ expectations.

Don’t make assumptions about anything when it comes to your business. When you’re in doubt and in need of a sanity check, go straight to your customers for answers.

 

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Starburst’s Tagline Works Overtime

I’ve been working with many clients lately who are rethinking their taglines or coming up with one for the first time. So I thought I’d write a post on some tagline “basics” and talk about Starburst’s tagline, which is working overtime these days.

What is a tagline?

In my mind, a tagline is a fun (yes, fun — we should all be having more fun, shouldn’t we?) way of branding what you do (or what your product does) in the minds of customers. The best taglines have staying power, and, over time, they can stand alone, meaning you could read or hear only the tagline, and you’d still know what it represents.

For example, I bet you can easily match the tags below to a company or product:

  1. Good to the last drop.
  2. We bring good things to life.
  3. When you care enough to send the very best.

But also keep this in mind: a tagline in today’s world is more than just a “line.” It’s a line that can create a whole new world of engagement for your customers and prospects…if it’s done right (more on this in a minute).

What are the Rules for Tagline/Slogan Creation?

I hate rules. Sounds so restrictive, and for every rule I give about taglines or slogans, I’m sure someone could easily give me a good example of someone breaking the rule well. So let’s call them guidelines.

  • Figure out what you want your tagline to accomplish. Should it incite passion? Should it educate? Should it be risky? Should it be clever? Why? Think about your prospective audience and consider what they would appreciate.
  • Brainstorm words you want associated with your business. Think specific and concrete, but don’t rule out thematic words like “enlightening” or “inspired.” A great place to look for words and phrases? Customer testimonials. Or ask your Facebook fans to shout out 2 or 3 words that describe your business, your service, your “essence.”
  • Brainstorm words you don’t want associated with your business. You know, like “poopy” or “swamp ass.” Unless, of course, those phrases apply in a positive way.
  • Now start brainstorming actual tags. Don’t edit yourself. And involve other people from your company. You never know where a brilliant idea is going to come from and you don’t need to be a writer or have a marketing degree to come up with something brilliant. However, when in doubt, hire a copywriter (like me! shameless plug!) to craft a tagline for you.
  • Keep length in mind. Typically, taglines should be short, punchy, and memorable. What’s the definition of short? That depends. The best taglines typically (but not always) fall in the five- to eight-word (or so) category.
  • Test, test, test. Test on current customers. Test it out with your Facebook fans (you could even turn it into a contest — have them vote for the best tag). Test it on people who know your business (e.g. your networking group, like BNI). Don’t allow people to simply say “I like this one.” Make sure they can explain why.

Starburst’s Tagline

One company that I think is doing an awesome job with its tagline is Starburst. Here’s the tagline: It’s a juicy contradiction.

Here’s how it’s working overtime: Starburst has turned the tag into a game on its website and Facebook. It’s created a “Contradictionary” where people can share contradictions in phrases (otherwise known as oxy morons), like “tears of joy” or “old news.” It invites fans to rate the additions to its Contradictionary, which promotes engagement. And its Starburst Channel on YouTube is also quite cool and shows off clever commercials that really bring the tag to life.

Here’s one of said commercials:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVyBIRL90cM&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Can you think of some other good, contemporary tagline examples — taglines that are working overtime for the product or service? I want to hear about them! Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Southwest Air, Facebook Status Updates, & The Copy Bitch

In Wednesday’s post, I provided links to some of my blog posts from the last nine months. Kinda like a “best of.” As promised, here are three more you might want to check out.

The Copy Bitch will be back next week with some brand-spanking new content. Got a question you want answered? Email me — address is posted to the right.