Communicating with your clients the way THEY want … wait, what?

Phone • Email • Chat

What else is there to use in contacting or supporting clients or perspective clients?

Phone contact is great, but it is not 24×7 for small business, and often, clients do not recognize a number and will not answer the phone. Often, automated reception systems and on-hold music can greet incoming calls.

Emails are great, but they can languish as inbox clutter, get sent to spam or get trashed if they are viewed as spam.

Online Chat systems are great for immediate support (if it is available and staffed).,but the user is tied to a computer or phone during  the session (which has to be contiguous or you start all over) which means in most cases it takes a lot of time that your clients may not have.

How do most people communicate with each other now?   Texting.

Texting is immediate. Texts get opened and read much faster than email. Typically a text is more concise than email. Your clients want to communicate with your company by text. They just don’t know how. And beyond using individual employee phones, probably neither do you.

Affordable managed texting is possible for small businesses. These systems can use your company phone number or department phone numbers and can be scaled from 1 to dozens of users, Conversations are logged, searchable and reviewable.

Texting “conversations” can happen over days if needed. They can be dropped and picked back up easily by your staff. They can be assigned, just like a call center.

Oh, and did you know you can easily have clients “pay-by-text”? When a client is sent a link by text, it will automatically fire up Apple Pay, or Google Pay if they have it linked to the phone. Pretty nifty.


This is a system specifically for small businesses. $14.99/mo.

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Core Values generate profits for small companies

Most small companies and startups have some form of a mission statement. It is posted (hopefully) and passed in the hall daily by employees who probably cannot recite it fully.

Core values, however, that are derived BY THE EMPLOYEES have much more meaning and can drive profits through efficiency of communication, clarity in expectations and lack of tolerance for non-conformance to the values themselves.

My first introduction to core values was through an ex-HP business unit manager, and with his guidance, I found extreme value in taking the time to lead the company through the exercise. I have run the process of creating core value statements numerous times, seeing great success and empowerment when all employees (voluntary) are involved. The last poor experience was with a CEO who backed the effort, but then injected himself into the process, took over the conversation and clearly could not let it be driven organically from the bottom up. The organic creation is the secret sauce to the process.

Many small business owners feel that the organic creation of a core values statement is mumbo jumbo, but done right, it is much more powerful to daily operations that a mission statement ever could be.  Contact us if you feel your core values are not on track.


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Great Service and price gouging – is just price gouging.

I dropped into a local pack and ship store to overnight an envelope of documents.

$82.   Seemed high but it was a weighty package and it NEEDED to get there.

Other than reminding me not to ship overnight unless necessary, I would not have given it too much thought. However, very early that same morning I attempted to process through Fed-X, and though it turned out their shipping systems were not working  (strange for a shipping company) the cost would have been $54.

Small businesses differentiate themselves with exceptional and personal service.            50% markup.  There is no justification for that type of price gouging on a commodity unless you are the only game in town for many miles around.

As a small business you often can’t afford to fight competitors on price given your lack of volume discounts that your larger competitors can negotiate from suppliers.

So what is a reasonable range of markup for a commodity product of service?

I’d argue 20% is the max markup, where you can still make a valid argument for the exceptional service or customer experience surrounding a commodity.

Customers still want a SENSE OF VALUE, or they will not return .. just like I won’t be back to this mom and pop shipping store.  It is critical that have understand what that value level is for your client base.

Footnote: Amazon is obviously a beast in the shipping segment. and they are cutting into UPS/Fed-X markets with their own vehicles and their own Prime Airline planes. Will they get into the shipping business outright and offer to ship your packages?

I’d expect so.

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A case for being small, nimble and innovative. A big company going Forward to the Past

Just tried to make reservations to stay in Yosemite in 2018. In this age of exceptional travel and booking sites, I was very surprised that the site for Yosemite lodging appeared to be from about 2006 in it’s poor performance, load times and content.

It was crazy .. to advance the calendar for reservations it had to cycle through about 5 seconds before you could advance a single month. I checked again a few days later and got the same performance and then a 2006ish message in the middle of the day “System is down for scheduled maintenance.With just a bit of digging I found my answer to why I was transported back 10+ years while looking at this mess .. Aramark.   The uniform / food / facilities services company is running the facilities and reservation system for Yosemite.

Stats from their website states that Aramark has 270,000 employees in 19 countries. I’d say that was a big company.

I believe a company with 5 employees could build a superior reservation UI/experience with exceptional performance. It is 2017, isn’t it?

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Baked goods vs. no good

I recently had two service experiences on polar opposites of the spectrum.

I have been using a local physical therapy company (Lafayette Physical Therapy) for a post-op recovery regimen.Within a week of my first visit, I received a thank you card in the mail. When is the last time you got a physical thank you card from a business? On each visit, the staff is ready to see me promptly at my scheduled time. From front to back, the people are all friendly. I’ve had to visit these folks for a few months now, and the experience is consistent .. it has been “baked in” to the company. This week I got “happy birthday” greeting from at least 5 staff members as I passed through the building. The granular level of customer service and attention to detail is commendable and unusual. This is a small business with under 20 staff members.

I contrast this with another recent interaction. A relative was looking to buy a condo in the area. We connected them with a realtor we knew and in very short time, with minimal fuss or contingencies, a purchase occurred. This transaction was nearly 3x the value of the realtors normal range of listing. Crickets. That’s what we got from the realtor… not a call or note to say thanks. A simple post transaction question to the realtor took days to get answered. What is “baked” into this realtor’s business is a mentality of “the next transaction” and that will not make you ultimately successful.

What is “baked” into your business? How would you categorize your customer service experience stacked against other exceptional companies? Vision, culture, attitude, training, hiring and systems all need to be aligned and measured/revisited to have a consistently exceptional experience.

If you feel that your company is falling short in this area, let’s have a discussion to see how we can help make your top to bottom customer experience exceptional.

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What businesses of all sizes can learn from Amazon.

A colleague was describing his online buying experience with FRYE boots and it wasn’t pretty. The driver for not using Amazon (or in this case Zappos, an Amazon company since 2009), was a particular size was only available from FRYE direct.

The shoes that were ordered didn’t fit correctly, and the pain train started with the return process .. archaic and painfully long and convoluted.

3 weeks to refund?
Refund process via pen and paper?
CS blamed the buyer for not reading the product feedback section to see the shoe ran small? Really?

Why can’t a major brand give an online experience .. even similar to Amazon .. in ease of use?

FRYE has had fanatic customers since 1863 because of product quality, but this poor experience means FRYE has forever lost a customer for direct-from-manufacturer purchase.

Amazon has spoiled us, and isn’t that the goal of all companies? It appears not.

For all of the types of services and cool gadgets that Amazon offers, the real power of Amazon is the ability to delight customers in a consistent, expeditious and easy-to-use manner.

If you sell a product or service, do you really have fanatic customers?

A touchpoint is the interface with customers before, during and after a transaction. Optimizing touchpoints ultimately drives your reputation and profitability. This is the heart of creating fanatic customers. This is where Amazon excels.

Business owners do not spend nearly enough time attempting to understand how to spoil their customers into being fanatics. They do not spend enough time dreaming of what “the perfect customer experience” would look like.

Take some time to dream about your customer’s journey. Talk to your customers to get their take on a perfect experience. Make sure you have an easy-to-use feedback mechanism. You don’t have to be Amazon to create a vision for perfection. If you need inspiration in starting this process and improving your touchpoints creating just give us a call .. we are easy to work with.

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Good Ecommerce has ruined our expectations of mediocrity

Good Ecommerce is now standard practice. Most sites will display products clearly,give us the ability to get the product to our door within a max of 5 working days, depending on our location and ship method. Larger vendors absorb free shipping with larger orders, and most sites have good channels for order tracking, FAQ’s and contact channels.  It works well and we’ve come to reply on these standards.

I’ve run across a couple of ordering instances in the past few weeks that made me dwell on the fact that “ok” performance is just not good enough any more. The standard Ecommerce bar has been raised too high now, and consumers will just get angry with situations that used to be ok.

A. Customer Service from 8:30-5:30 PST      Not good enough. This smells of a company that is too small or not committed to other time zones or both. This is not a local-only company, and the transactional portion of the Ecommerce experience is sophisticated with everything you’d expect from a good Ecommerce company, so why fumble on the complete customer service aspect when a client has to potentially wait until 11:30am EST to speak with a rep.

B.   I ordered a product on 10/25, and it will arrive in the week of 11/23. Not good enough. It appears this is a case of just in time manufacturing gone bad, where manufacturing appears to be happening outside the USA. There is no FAQ page or reviews page at all that would have clued me in to the lengthy supply chain lag. There is no order tracking method that would have allowed me to find out the lengthy delay without having to write the company (Karma Mobility).

I write the quick blurb about this experiences to highlight that no matter how big or small your company is, the Ecommerce portion has to have a standard set of features that are consistently supported, and has to have a customer-centric set of human support to match. You need to match customer expectations with performance, or clients/potential clients will leave you for a choice that provides the new standard.

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Can small businesses use 1:1 marketing?

Can small businesses use 1:1 marketing?

1:1 marketing is when the marketing message is specifically tailored to an individual user. Criteria such as age, location and past purchase information of a user, and really, any publicly available information about an individual can be used to create a specific message meant to elicit a higher response rate for an action (click, buy, read, etc).

Amazon has spent many years and countless $$ making sure their customer’s tastes generate lists of “you might like” items. This information is usually quite helpful to shoppers or potential shoppers. We typically don’t think twice that our tastes and purchases are being tracked for this purpose. Amazon users know and trust the brand.  This is good use of 1:1 “personalized” marketing.

Most everyone has seen marketing mail that has your specific name amongst the pictures and text of the “mass mail” message (junk mail to most of us). “Steve, would you like …”   This is the simplest form of personalized marketing. You can accomplish this with data merge techniques in traditional mail and when using an email marketing service like Mail Chimp or Constant Contact.

Very few companies use 1:1 marketing to it’s full advantage. Scenario: You have visited a car dealer for repairs. What do they use in marketing to existing clients? Typically  • Name / Address • Maintenance due based on mileage •  Maybe they reference the make/model you own

What do they have recorded that they could use?  •  distance from your home to dealer (loyalty) • Maintenance habits (just major service/repair or all service/repair)  •  your usual mechanic’s name  •  payment history if financed

What could they use if their employees were trained to notice?  • general satisfaction with the dealer • any kudos or complaints logged  • if you’ve eyed a new car model while waiting  •  the change in family makeup (more kids, driving kids, empty nesters etc.) • what other types of vehicles you own      The personalized message can get “big brother” creepy if it is to personal or not used tastefully, but with a bit of training you can know enough to generate a personalized and more effective marketing effort.

When digital printing is combined with a database, each individual print can be customized with pictures and text that are specific to the user.  Response rates are boosted on average from low single digit response to numbers in the mid teens.  In the car dealer scenario, the mailing could include 6-8 pieces of specific information including your specific care image to create a better response rate.  Small businesses can spend the same on personalized emails, and incrementally more for 1:1 personalized printing that drive better response. Contact us if you are interested in knowing more about 1:1 marketing.

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Online vs. offline customer experience at a small business

I just hung up after 7 minutes on hold with an ecommerce company . I was not calling to resolve an issue, but rather to give them money with an order for an item they don’t process online. After being put onhold by a wholly disinterested receptionist and listening to 7 minutes of loud conga music (ok it was a Miami company), I will look elsewhere for replacement sunglass lenses.

The disparity between the online and offline experience is staggering with smaller ecommerce companies in particular, as if they were two different companies.

In this particular case, the initial product was purchased through the Amazon marketplace, so the online experience was exceptional. Things fell apart when direct contact was initiated

With a clear goal of exceptional service across the board, resource-strapped smaller companies can succeed by taking the same care with the offline customer experience as they do with the online ecommerce engine.

  • Have a clear company goal of exceptional service, define what this means and reinforce this goal at every turn
  • Staff accordingly with like-minded, service oriented people that embrace this concept.
  • Make sure your systems are solid to handle calls/chats and expedite order lookups and order processing.
  • Spot check your customer’s experience, using a friend or colleague to process a service request or an order online and offline.

A two-person ecommerce shop can look like they employ hundreds by handling online and offline interactions quickly, efficiently and with a friendly attitude.

It’s not rocket science.

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Why do many companies treat their contract customers poorly?

Scenario: Your customer is under contract; the need to wow them still applies, but many vendors don’t act like it.  Vendors tend to use that “wow” energy to woo new customers. Maybe they’ll keep that energy through a honeymoon period, but then they lapse into an ongoing maintenance mode.

I’ve been on both sides of this conversation, and learned this lesson the hard way.

As a vendor, your performance for a client maybe good. Your service maybe good.But is your organization geared to improve the relationship on a consistent basis?Can you continually WOW clients so the relationship can easily withstand a few rounds of RFP’s, and your clients will not hesitate to recommend you?

Everyone has felt this contract-means-mediocrity phenomena. Look no farther than your mobile phone or cable contract. The new customers get all the good stuff.It would not be that difficult to throw a few perks to longtime customers under the guise of just that; loyal and longtime cash cows clients.

I had a recent discussion with a user of Lifetouch Services (school pictures) and I’ve heard this story before with this company. The school is under contract and the ongoing service, performance and general attitude is poor, which is a direct reflection of management. Do contracts = lower margin = poor service?

As a vendor, you should think of these contracts a bit like dating vs. marriage or a long term relationship.  The date gets the best of what you have to offer. The date typically gets more of your energy and enthusiasm. You are constantly trying to impress a date in one way or another. Can you say this about your relationship with a client?

Well run ecommerce businesses can more easily maintain the wow factor through good use of CRM, delivering relevant recommendations and sales offers on a consistent basis.  Traditional business can do this as well, but those with high touch businesses need their service staff has to have the “dating” mentality on an ongoing basis. Surprise the client. Wow them by digging deeper into their needs to solve problems vs. just delivering products/services.

“Wow” is a top down attitude that will serve your company well with long term relationships and new business garnered from those relationships.

This is not rocket science.  Two quick and easy exercises: 1. Picture a long term client issuing an RFP. What will the competition come in with?  Are you already providing that?  How can you improve the proposal?   2. Picture your client as a new target. How would you craft a proposal to win their business over your hungry competition?  You need to be answering those questions and delivering on those answers.

There are so many actions that a company can take, with little investment, to wow clients. If you need assistance in making this shift, we’d be happy to guide the process.

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