While the debate continues regarding the impact of the iPad, Apple does many things right.
Today when I was purchasing a new case for my iPhone, the sales person noticed my company name on my credit card. She asked me about the business and if I was interested in joining their business loyalty program where I could earn benefits, discounts, etc.
This simple act made me appreciate that she was focused on my needs as a customer, and not just focused on the sale.
We do this all the time in our personal lives. You may notice a tree growing too close to a neighbor’s house and offer to recommend an arborist. Your friend’s car may leak antifreeze on your driveway and so you recommend a mechanic. The benefit to you? Helping a friend. Keeping a strong relationship.
When I meet with clients, I listen to what they need and often recommend services or companies that can help, regardless of whether it benefits my bottom line. I recommend a business coach if I see organizational challenges; CFO consultants if their revenue model is flawed; or an M&A consultant if my client needs a better understanding of what their end-game needs to be.
The same thing should be done with your brand.
What are you doing to take the extra step to help your customers out? Are you a resource that your customers trust because you are looking out for them? How can you train your employees to recognize the opportunity to become that trusted resource?
When the hard drive on my Powerbook was dying, I took it to the Genius Bar at Apple for support. To my surprise, they recommended I take it to someone else who could put in a faster drive and increase my memory at a lower cost. They even gave me a card for the place.
I bet you can guess what my next computer will be.
When a company does the little things to make your interaction more enjoyable, it goes a long way.
Over the Christmas break I spent some time in Chattanooga, TN at the Doubletree Hotel.
While Doubletree is best known for its warm chocolate chip cookies, it was some of the other things they did that really made the difference:
- They called a nearby hotel with an indoor pool so my kids could go swimming.
- The clock radio had pre-set stations listed as rock, news, pop and sports, so I didn’t have to navigate unfamiliar stations.
- Even the language they used for the ever-present room signage made me appreciate the experience that much more.
Current economic trends might be preventing you from increasing your marketing spend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a positive impact on your customers by making small, positive changes in how you do business.
- I’ve seen home service companies bring the newspaper to the door or clear cobwebs from around the house.
- Publix employees still bring your groceries to your car and they are not allowed to accept tips.
- I’ve received a personal note from my Nordstrom’s sales person.
- Zappo’s typically upgrades shipping to next day air.
In this day of social media – where anyone can make their opinion known to millions – doing the little things to make a positive impact can go far. And often these little things don’t cost you anything.
As you look at 2010, share what you are doing to make a difference with your customers.
Employees are always representing your brand as long as they have on your uniform or are at your place of work. They play the most important role in creating a brand experience that is consistent with how you want your brand to be perceived.
One company that works hard to manage its brand is Starbucks. One key element of the Starbucks brand is creating an environment in which its patrons can enjoy coffee.
Imagine my surprise when two Starbucks employees took their break to have a cigarette, and instead of sitting on the side of the patio in which no one was sitting – and smoking was allowed – they decided to sit near myself and other patrons.
I am not sure what offended me more – the smoke or the ignorance of these employees about the message they were sending to customers at a time when Starbucks is struggling to keep its customers.
Being a marketer and brand advocate, I decided it was the latter.
When your employees interact with the public, they are your brand. If your truck cuts someone off the road, the person you cut off will remember. If an employee spits gum on the ground before walking in for their shift – the customer will remember.
Branding starts at home so make sure your employees understand their role in making your brand and your business a success.
Credit card usage is a key component in creating customer loyalty, from earning frequent flyer miles to rewards points. In today’s economy can you increase loyalty by encouraging your customers to use their cards less?
A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of keeping pricing consistent and instead adding value. This is important because cutting your pricing may impact your ability to recoup a higher margin for an extended period of time.
But in today’s economy, the pressure facing companies to provide discounts on their products and services is strong.
So what can you do to encourage consumers to purchase your product, remain loyal to your brand and keep your price consistent?
Change your model – by giving your customers the incentive to pay another way.
The average company pays between 1.5% and 5% in credit card service charges. If you have $5,000,000 in revenue and are paying 3.5% in service charges, up to $175,000 of your bottom line could be going to the credit card companies.
While you may consider this a cost of doing business, what if you encouraged your customers to pay by cash, check or bill pay by putting 2.5% of their bill (based on the 3.5% noted above) into a loyalty account for them to use towards future purchases? You would still come out ahead by $50,000.
Such a program provides many consumer benefits:
- Reduces their cost on future services
- Does not increase credit card debt (according to IndexCreditCard.com the average consumer household is carrying a $10,640 balance on their credit cards)
- Saves money by not having to pay interest on credit card purchases
- Provides value for products and services they already use
Your company benefits as well:
- Reduces transaction costs (thus benefitting the bottom line)
- Increases customer loyalty
- Provides unique point of difference
A recession is great time to change how you do business without changing your business.
One of the recent trends facing B2B companies is the shift in power back up the corporate ladder. In the past a mid-level manager may have had the authority to purchase your product or service. That responsibility now exists farther up the food chain where you may or may not have relationships.
So how do you get the ear of the executive suite? In the March issue of Harvard Business Review, authors Philip Lay, Todd Hewlin, and Geoffrey Moore cover this topic in their cover article called “Provoke Your Customers“.
The article talks about changing how you sell – from solutions-based to provocation-based. You need to sell by understanding your client’s “critical issue” beyond what your product or service provides them. What are the bottom line issues that their business faces and how are you the company to solve it?
Once you identify that critical issue, you need to find a path to the executive in charge. Unfortunately, your current point of contact may be a hindrance since most people don’t like admitting they no longer have the influence they once had.
This is where your sales training goes beyond the typical lead generation. The authors go on to talk about the importance of using your referral network to get you a meeting. My advice to you is opening your pitch with “this is going to benefit your bottom line” – as return on investment is critical now more than ever.
People mistake marketing as the final product people see. In fact, it is the thinking and knowledge behind the final product that shows you know how to market smarter.
I was re-reading a 2001 article from the Harvard Business Review about how to navigate your business in a downturn. It reminded me that so many companies often try to diversify their products and services to capture revenue from new sources. Instead of being distracted by new ventures which deplete your resources and invite new competition, strengthen your core services and ensure you maintain your competitive edge.
Focusing on your core customers is equally important. Reaching out to a wider customer segment is important for growth – but it can take time. For a near-term (and ongoing solution) reach out to your existing customers. Provide them incentives to use your services or purchase your products again. Use email marketing, direct mail and/or telemarketing to communicate your offer and bring your customers back.
In addition, provide you customers an incentive to refer you to their friends. Word-of-mouth marketing is the one of the most credible marketing tools and providing your customers a reason to talk about you to their friends will certainly help drive sales.
To weather the economic storm follow these steps to solidify your core business and strengthen your customer relationships thus allowing you to market smarter.