Category Archives: Relationship Marketing
Several years ago, we stayed at an international hotel chain in Northern California. When we arrived, we were surprised that there were no pillows in our room. When we called the front desk to ask for a few, the staff informed us that they were out of pillows because, prior to our arrival, several other guests had requested extras. And, naturally, the maids thought it best to raid our room in order to meet the demand.
After we unpacked, we rode the elevator to the lobby. Brianna leaned on the metal railing, knocking it to the ground, slamming it against her exposed toes. Brent bent down to extract the fallen metal edifice from our daughter’s swollen feet and encountered screws and sawdust, which had apparently fallen from the disheveled elevator ceiling.
Ordering food in the restaurant was difficult because the waitress informed us the kitchen was out of, well, food…bread, fruit, coffee, lettuce and milk. Later, the combination of loud party-goers in the atrium and thin walls made us desperate to see the light of day so we could finally end the misadventure and check out of Hotel Hell.
While I don’t normally complain about poor service, when our trip was over, I wrote a letter to recount our experience to hotel management. In addition to a letter of apology, we received a refund for our visit as well as vouchers for a free two-night stay. The next time we were in the area, we threw caution to the wind and booked a suite. Construction was complete. A gift basket welcomed our return. All was right with the world.
I share this story because I believe the Holiday Inn Sacramento Northeast did things right. We live in an imperfect world. Stuff happens. Odds are if you are in business long enough, you will one day inadvertently provide less than stellar service or inferior products to unwitting clients, customers or donors. What matters is how you prepare to respond to the challenge.
Establish a customer-centric procedure for handling complaints. Once upon a time, virtually every business man and woman adhered to the adage, “The customer is always right.” Since this is no longer standard procedure, your company will gain favor by letting potential clients know that they matter. For ideas, take a cue from brands that are known for superior customer service such as Nordstrom, Four Seasons, Apple and General Motors.
For what not to do, look to the third annual study done by MSN Money, the Customer Service Hall of Shame. AOL, Comcast, Sprint Nextel, Capital One and Time Warner Cable head the list for what avoid when it comes to handling customer concerns.
On a Limited Budget—
Once you develop superior customer service policies, leverage them in your advertising. Come up with a campaign slogan that includes the details of your customer satisfaction guarantee. Then repeat the slogan in every form of marketing. Add it to your business cards, website, stationery, and the signature line of your email.
Internet users who enter “100% customer service satisfaction” in Google search bars stumble upon otherwise little known companies such as Oak Plus Furniture, Cigna and Fieldhouse. If your business has yet to make its mark, what better way than by guaranteeing satisfaction to otherwise wary would-be consumers?
The Sky’s the Limit—
Entrepreneurs sometimes hesitate to guarantee satisfaction for fear the policy will be costly. But according to a recent study done by McKinsey & Company, “Companies that have a strategic approach to customer satisfaction and make technology investments to support specific business and financial objectives are likely to achieve high rates of customer retention, fast growth, and increased profitability.”
In other words, if you invest on the front end to guarantee customer satisfaction on the back end, you will reap the rewards of more traffic, repeat business and a better bottom line.
And with the increase, you will be able to pop for the little things that make a difference…say, for example, food for your restaurant or pillows for your hotel.
Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.
Tags: AOL, Bowling for Business, Capital One, Comcast, customer is always right, Customer Service Hall of shame, for free, Holiday Inn Sacramento Northeast, hotel management, Kathy Bowling, lonelyplanet, McKinsey & Company, mountain marketing group, MSN Money, Nextel, on a limited budget, satisfaction, Sprint, the sky's the limit, Time Warner Cable, travel websites, travelocity, tripadvisor
This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 15, 2010
Under-promise and Over-deliver
Before the advent of the Internet, cable television or PlayStation, as a five-year-old, I was over the moon with excitement about my kindergarten class’s upcoming field trip to Albertson’s. In the weeks leading up to the outing, Mrs. Dale would remind us to turn in our permission slips and then she would recount the following highlights of our impending journey:
- We would be greeted by the store manager, who would give us an official “Albertson’s uniform.”
- He would usher us to the back of the store, where we would be given an exclusive “behind the scenes” tour of the market.
- Then, the produce manager would show us where the deliveries arrived and how the fruits and vegetables were processed.
- Next, the bakery manager would take us into the magic room where all of the breads and pies were created.
- And, finally, to cap off the exciting event…we would be given a special treat, created exclusively for us.
After what felt like several years, the morning of our field trip finally arrived. To kill time (and evidently drive the rest of the bus crazy) on the 45-minute journey, my friend and I sang an endless loop of Grandma’s Feather Bed. (Don’t ask me why we didn’t visit a grocery store nearer to our school. Even in the 1960s, there were markets on every street corner. Also, don’t ask me why we chose that particular song. Even at five, I wasn’t a huge John Denver fan.)
Unfortunately, our arrival at the store marked the end of the adventure. No one greeted us at the front door. Instead, we wandered back to the meat counter, where a gruff butcher gave us paper hats in lieu of uniforms. Mrs. Dale and the room mothers were told to occupy us by pointing out the food. Mind you; while we were easily amused in the 60s, walking up and down the aisles was hardly entertaining, much less educational. And, our exclusive “treat” was a small, stale cookie…the kind that each child gets at every bakery department in America, when accompanied by an adult.
As we rode home that afternoon, I made a silent resolution. “I’m just a kid right now. So they think I don’t matter. But, someday, I’m going to be a grown-up who shops for groceries. And I am never going to spend my money at Albertson’s.”
Somehow, despite the loss of my business, some 40 years later, Albertson’s remains a viable entity. And, looking back, I doubt any field trip could have lived up to the hype. But I learned a valuable lesson that day which has served me well in my own business. Whatever your product or service, target market or budget: under promise and over deliver.
If you can’t do it, don’t say that you will. While this sounds like common sense, the concept sometimes evades sales reps intent on landing new clients. This is especially true of mountain folks, who are, unfortunately, notorious for saying they will start and finish projects in unrealistic timeframes. If you can’t start a project for three weeks, tell the truth. If you do what you say you will do when you say you will do it, your business will grow. And this is true regardless of the location of your company.
On a Limited Budget—
If circumstances arise which make it impossible for you to hold up your end of any business bargain, hire someone to help you out. While this might negatively impact your bottom line in the short run, in the long run, it will pay dividends where they matter most…in satisfied customers and glowing referrals.
The Sky’s the Limit—
If you can afford to promise the moon, then do it. There is nothing wrong with promoting the superior products that you provide. If you can afford to give away exclusive gifts, then, by all means, let your target market know about the perks. Just remember that if you fail to live up to the hype, you will most likely lose their business for life. Because that’s the way the stale grocery store cookie crumbles.
Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.
This column appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on November 22, 2009.
Several years ago, my mother-in-law decided to make life easier on herself by preparing the turkey on Christmas Eve. That way, she would be able to slice and store it in broth so she could just re-heat it and relax on Christmas Day. But while she was resting the roasted bird on the oven door so she could get a firmer grip, the weight of the turkey broke the door, spilling 25 pounds of white and dark meat and a gallon of drippings all over her newly mopped floor.
She and my father-in-law spent the better part of Christmas Eve cleaning turkey grease out of the hinges and off of the slick linoleum. They jerry-rigged the door and saved as much of the meat as they could, grateful that the rest of the family was taking care of the side dishes.
But, the next day, while my husband was carrying five pounds of mashed potatoes to the car, he inexplicably dropped the Crock-pot on our tile entryway. The crack that emanated from the broken pot and mess was audible to the entire neighborhood, including both of our dogs, who scurried to the scene to lick up as much as they could before being pelted with throw pillows, slippers and car keys.
Despite the mishaps, we somehow survived the holidays that year, instant mashed potatoes and inevitable surges in blood pressure. And, in the end, we realized that what mattered most hadn’t changed. We were safe, healthy and had a lot to be thankful for.
This holiday season, I encourage you to take time from your business, and in your business, to focus on what really matters. If you feel more like Ebenezer Scrooge than Tiny Tim, let me take this opportunity to help you remember that, no matter the condition of your business, there are still plenty of things to appreciate.
If Business is Bad, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. According to poll results released on May 4, 2008, by CBS News and the New York Times, “America’s view of the condition of the national economy has never been bleaker.” And that was 18 months ago…when the unemployment rate was lower and Circuit City was still in the black! So why would I suggest we should remain thankful, nonetheless?
I think American Author Napoleon Hill said it best: “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”
If Business is So-So, no matter how small your profit margin, then take solace in the fact that you remain in the fortunate minority. According to a report by the SBA Office of Advocacy, 14,300 small business owners in America declared bankruptcy in the first quarter of 2009. If you weren’t among them, then pat yourself on the back. Though you might feel like you’re hanging onto the roots of a blade of grass on the edge of the world, try to be thankful that you have anything to hang on to at all.
English Football Coach and former player Steve McClaren summarized the reason we can look forward with hope in tough times, “I survived ultimate failure. Now I fear nothing.” Remember, also, that even Genghis Khan lost some early battles.
If Business is Good, then prepare for greatness. If you are kicking business butt in a bad economy, imagine what you will be able to achieve when economic conditions improve.
Instead of passively taking it all in, leverage your position to stimulate the local economy. Take a tip from Benjamin Franklin, who encouraged his contemporaries to do well by doing good, often noting that “he is ill clothed that is bare of virtue.”
Express your gratitude for business success by
- Creating jobs
- Mentoring a new business owner
- Purchasing locally made products
- And, most importantly, using your super powers for good instead of evil.
Until next week, I’m thankful to be Bowling for Business.
Tags: being thankful, Bowling for Business, bowling on a budget, creating jobs, Genthis Khan, holiday entertaining humor, holiday season, Kathy Bowling, mentoring in business, Napoleon Hill, small business tips, Steve McClaren
So I keep having the same conversation with various clients. Everyone wants to know how to use social media to promote business. Basically, the best way to do this is to be who you are when you are meeting with people one-on-one, only do so on a larger scale.
In other words, if you own a hair salon (like my clients Dave & Sylvia), you probably share tips about haircare while you are working on clients’ hair. I know that this is true because I am always asking Dave how to tame my flat, quickly-graying crown. He gives me advice about which products to use, how to blow dry and take care of my hair.
I value his suggestions and trust them for several reasons:
1) He is a professional.
2) He is great at what he does.
2) We have built a relationship.
The great thing about social media is that it allows business professionals to do these same things on a larger scale. Why not just post the same types of tips and suggestions on a blog, Facebook, in Twitter or on your own company website? Thanks to relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use technology, anyone can become an “expert in the field.”
So don’t sit back while your competition dives in. To borrow a popular advertising phrase, “Just do it.”
I just got back from a PRSA seminar. For the uninitiated, that is a professional networking group for public relations’ practitioners where people actually sometimes meet in the flesh instead of over bits of data on the Internet.
While I was there, I ran into several people I met in previous monthly PRSA luncheons and events. And, because we have been Tweeting each other for awhile, I actually felt more connected to them today than I had prior to all of my seemingly aimless social media networking.
When I got back to my office, I logged onto Twitter. And I stumbled across several tweets that actually interested me. Mind you, in the weeks and months since I started tweeting, I have been doing so almost like a blind squirrel crawling across a pile of acorns. My intentions were good. But I had no real idea of what I was doing.
Trying to follow streams of conversation on Twitter, at the time, was a bit like trying to watch Sabado Gigante on Telemundo for a gringa. A lot is apparently happening. But none of it makes sense to me.
Apparently, I was not alone in my confusion. For, even at social media seminars, most speakers couldn’t communicate the actual reason, method or need to use these new platforms. They only said that use them we must!
So, today, I feel a bit of vindication about my confusion. And I’m glad I faked it until I made it. I finally the conversation. If you want to join the madness, follow me. Together, we might just uncover a few nuts.