Getting More Customers – Beginning of a New Series

With this post, I am beginning a series on getting more customers.  Most of my customers think that getting more customers is the answer to all of their problems.  They are usually wrong in this respect because you need to get most of the other things right (product, service, quality, etc.) for you to keep all the new customers you are planning to get.  In many cases though, getting more customers is often a key activity that needs to be accomplished, as long as it is the right kind of customers that you are trying to get.  All that being said, here goes.

The first thing I want to say is that to be successful, you need to go out and get your customers, not wait for them to come to you (because you have a great mouse trap…).  To do this, you need to have a strategy, a process to identify and exploit the methods that will work, and an understanding of all of the sales approaches or channels that might work for you.

I have already posted a lot about the need and effectiveness of having a marketing strategy, so I will start next week with what process you should use to identify the best marketing channels to exploit.  In subsequent posts, I will discuss each channel in turn.  Finally, once you have identified the best channel to use, and this takes your company to the next level, your growth will likely level off.  This is because your company is much larger now, and you have diminishing returns on the channel you used.  You will need to start again to identify the then most promising channels, and so on.

A Small Business Guide to Protecting Customer Data and Information

Following up on a post from last week on ways to control the use of employees’ own devices when used for work, here is a useful article on protecting customer data.  This is very important topic and most small businesses don’t know what to do, or even how to approach the problem. This is a good introduction.

Customer Service Needs to be Different for Different Types of Customers – Part 2 – Improving The Customer Experience

In last week’s post, I talked about needing to provide a different experience for different types of customers.  Then I provided the first of five approaches to getting the right kind of customer facing staff to be able to do it.  I now continue with the remaining four approaches.

2. Instill a culture that values diversity. Every business has a culture and hopefully, yours values and respects diversity. This goes beyond the usual race, religion, etc.  It needs to include a diversity of thought.  This may mean that there are multiple ways to do something, not just one.  They need to be able to approach different customers in different ways.  (There goes your intro script!)  Your employees need to focus on meeting customers’ needs and desires but in different ways.  Your staff needs to understand that this is the right thing to do and that it is in everyone’s interest to serve a broad and diverse group of customers.

3. Training. One way to get the right values and approaches in your staff is to describe hypothetical situations and work through the right approaches to fit the situation. While this is hard and needs to be ongoing, consider the alternative-having staff that cannot meet the needs of a diverse customer set.

4. Be tuned in to the details. Get your staff to watch the faces and mannerisms of your customers and react appropriately. Get them to anticipate the needs of your customers and offer help when they look puzzled. Don’t always wait for a customer to approach.  By teaching your staff to pay attention to body language and expressions – comfortable or not, stressed confused, overwhelmed, etc. you teach your employees to focus on the whole customer.  This will allow them to be much more effective at meeting your customers’ needs and in providing a good customer experience.

5. Be gracious. When an employee is helping a customer, they need to find the right product to meet their needs and they need to do it in a way that does not make the customer feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. By choosing words that shift the conversation to the benefit for the customer from the emotional state or uncomfortable situation the customer finds himself in, sales effectiveness with be greatly improved.

Customer Service Needs to be Different for Different Types of Customers – Part 1 – Improving The Customer Experience

As we have discussed before, different types of customers want a different experience.  Younger customers may prefer speed and efficiency and to be able to do everything at the touch of a button.  Older customers often want a more personal interaction.  Customers from different cultures have different customs and a different approach to making purchases.  For example, Hispanics often want a more social and personal approach to the buying process.  They may even want to have a discussion unrelated to the product or service under consideration.  Many recent immigrant groups may have a lot more questions about a product. (They might be like me, give me the facts, just the facts.)

All of this puts a lot of pressure on your employees.  Besides all the usual characteristics you want from your employees, polite, helpful, etc. you need them to be flexible, adaptable and very aware of cultural, age and other differences.

So, how do you get people like this?  You might find this impossible.  Here is a list of five approaches to get it right:

  1. Hire the right person. To some extent, through out what you thought you wanted in terms of skills and experience and look for someone that is the right kind of person for the job, and might only be missing teachable job skills (that unfortunately may mean that you will need someone to teach them). Look for someone with key characteristics (per Bill Thompson): genuine warmth, empathetic, a good listener, conscientious, anticipatory and optimistic.  Now you have a start.

As this is getting long, I will describe the additional four approaches in next week’s posting.

Creating Good Customer Experiences that may not Always Directly Involve Your Company – Improving the Customer Experience

We have been talking a lot about using social media to engage customers and prospective customers.  We have also talked about how social media is best for building relationships over direct selling.  In this vein, using social media requires you to be part of a community and to help your customers connect with others.  One of the primary benefits of using social media for your company is to listen to what your customers are saying so that you can understand their needs and how those needs may be evolving.  What happens if you hear about something your customers want but you don’t supply it?  You might want to direct that customer to a place where they can get what they want.  By doing this, you send a message that you value that customer as a person, even if it does not benefit you in a direct way.  It puts the customer relationship first and the sale second.

Of course, you want to have a process where customer needs that are identified through social media have a way of getting to the folks that do product and service planning so your company can consider a new offering.  In this way, it will make your company stronger over the long run.

Using Social Media as a Channel to Provide Customer Service – Improving the Customer Experience

Before social media, a disgruntled customer might tell a few people about their bad experience.  Now, they can tell millions.  So it is important to respond immediately and appropriately. We have been talking a lot about improving the customer experience and how different customers want to do business with us in different ways.  This means that we have to have as many ways to handle customer issues as our customers want.

As lots of customers use social for many purposes, many of those customers would be happy to use social media channels to resolve issues.  That is why companies are beginning to set up specific channels using Facebook and Twitter, among others.  It is critical that if you decide that this is something that makes sense for your company that the service people or the “Community Manager” that are responding to customer issues can resolve issues quickly, fairly and without the use of additional channels such as calling a customer service number or email. Nothing would be more frustrating than teasing customers with a way to resolve issues using the new channels of social media but not being able to really solve their issue through that channel.

Keep in mind that your communication with customers over these channels will for the most part be public so it requires a whole new level of tact and awareness.  In some cases, you can have the community manager take the conversation offline for resolutions but this has drawbacks too. So recognize that by using social media to resolve customer complaints is going to push you to have a better outcome with customers.  This may require a reevaluation of your policies (such as your return policy) and the limits of what you are willing to do for a customer in order to produce the desired outcome for your customers.