Posted by: Andy Porter | October 11, 2015

50% OFF CANVAS WRAPS AND PRINTS

I am offering a special 50% OFF discount on all Canvas Wrapped Prints and Fine Art Prints.

Simply visit the Gallery Page (here) scroll through the images, find your favorite(s) click the image to see the sizes and options available and go to check out. Then enter the coupon code: OCTOBER and you’ll receive 50% your entire order!!!!
Winchester Lookout 3

Here are some details about:
Canvas Wrapped Prints: Our traditional gallery wraps feature wood frames and hand-stretched, top-quality canvas–not unlike those found in a typical art gallery. Our 1.5 inch thick wrap remains our most popular option, they are ready for display out of the box.

If you would like your Gallery Wrap framed, there are two categories of option: Floating Frames and Traditional Frames.

Floating Frames

Traditional Frames

Fine Art Print Options

Archival Watercolor Fine Art Paper A vellum surface (lightly textured) paper ideally suited for luxurious fine art. Listed size is the finished image, we also add a white 1″ border.
Archival Smooth Fine Art Paper A luxuriously smooth surface that delivers excellent dmax and color gamut. Listed size is the finished image, we also add a white 1″ border.
Photo Luster Paper Produces vivid, lifelike images that rival those of traditional silver halide prints. Listed size is the finished image, we also add a white 1″ border.
Rolled Canvas A museum-grade matte poly cotton blend that is a performance leader in color gamut, and print permanence. Listed size is the face of the canvas, we add room for the wrap edge as well as 2″ for stretching.

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Posted by: Andy Porter | June 21, 2013

Transparent Customer Service

Gather customer feedback; share it openly with all employees and together make any needed changes 

The first step is to provide multiple channels for customer feedback. Have a page on your web site with pointed questions and a blank box for answers. Make sure that anyone can answer anonymously. Send out emails asking about service, directly ask customers what they like or don’t like, hand out customer service questionnaires if you have staff on-site or mail surveys out through the post. And always be sure to note unsolicited comments customers made to staff, ANY comments, good or negative.

At the weekly meeting read each comment aloud. Not just the good ones, all of them.

After each comment invite the staff to make comments. Discuss what was done right, or what mistakes were made. Most of your comments, by far, will be positive. Reading these aloud acknowledges all of the group’s hard work. Acknowledging rightness is a powerful tool! It gets ignored too often. Take the time to collect and share any and all good comments.

If the comment is a complaint of some sort, invite the employees to figure out what can or should be changed. It may be clear from the discussion of what happened (in the case of a complaint) that you (the staff) did everything right and there was nothing that you could have done differently that would have avoided the complaint. Great! Or maybe there needs to be a new protocol for relay of messages, or changes to customer orders, or a better system for keeping track of appointments or a change in what’s being promoted and advertised…

In this system management just reads the comments, asks what happened and stands back. The staff will decide if anything was done wrong and what needs to be changed, if anything.

Every complaint is an opportunity for improvement. Any customer feedback is welcomed, good or bad, smart or silly, it’s all valuable.  Too often groups (and individuals) avoid looking for feedback. They feel that a negative comment is hurtful, or take it as a criticism, a slap in the face. Maybe they equate a negative comment with being wrong, or it reminds them of some past upset. But the proper view is to welcome any and all comments, invite them, embrace them, seek them out.

Unfortunately here is the “system” used in many groups:

  • Comments are not sought and are sometimes actually avoided
  • Negative comments create immediate upset or concern
  • “Correction” or discipline is often meted out before the details are known
  • The employee or department is often not made aware of the complaint, or just a part of it.
  • Changes of policy or procedure (in response to a complaint)are implemented without first truly discovering what happened and/or obtaining understanding and agreement from staff.

Customer service, to be consistently exceptional, must be a truly transparent, group effort. A lot has been written about getting employees involved with decisions, making them stake holders in the process. But in the realm of customer service this is sorely lacking. A common purpose is a powerful thing in a group. Loyalty, dedication and pride flow from a feeling that one is contributing to some bigger, common purpose. Work itself can sometimes be tedious, stressful or arduous, but having a purpose sets all these consideration aside, at least most of the time, and keeps the fires stoked.   Providing fast, friendly customer service can and must be a purpose that unifies the group.

Fear is a factor when dealing with customers. The old mantra of the customer is always right sits smack dab in the mind of employees causing them to worry about the consequences of any complaint. Too often management reacts to any complaint before taking the time and effort to discover the exact details of the interaction.  Proper handling of any complaint requires a thorough understanding of what happened. The simple fact of having received a complaint does not necessarily mean that the employee or the company were at fault. A certain percent of the population are rarely satisfied and relish the prospect of being unhappy and loudly voicing their discontent.

Competent management carefully hires staff, sees that they are trained and trusts that they will deliver great customer service. If you don’t trust the employees then they shouldn’t be working for you. Trust is an important part of a tight group. Management trusts that the employees will do their best to service customers. Employees trusts that when and if there are complaints that management will take the necessary time to look into what happened and decide if any corrective actions are needed.

Incompetent management does the opposite: the hiring process is arduous and bumpy, training spotty and not supervised, customer complaints reacted to with irrational changes and/or staff discipline. And when there are truly incompetent staff who DO deliver poor service, incompetent management does nothing, or makes excuses and fails to re-train or replace them quickly.

A few last pointers:

  • If there is a particularly negative comment which names a specific person this would be addressed in person with the individual named in the complaint. The details of the event must be understood before any action taken.
  • The goal of having no complaints or 100% customer satisfaction is unachievable. Someone will say your prices are too high, another that their hair was cut too short or that the eggs are too runny. You can have one quality (service or product) that 88% of your customers rave about, but 12% don’t like one bit.
  • Make sure that no team member is ever disciplined or chastised for writing a complaint in the comment log.
  • For the system to work it must be followed consistently, every week.

 Improving the Internal Atmosphere

When conducting a job interview it’s common to ask “Why did you leave your last position?” And one of the more common answers is that they left because of an unfriendly or even toxic internal environment. Too much gossiping, back-biting and complaining; too many petty squabbles or disagreements between departments; all of these make it not fun to work somewhere. And when it stops being fun the company will usually lose it’s best staff first. This is not only a situation related to hiring and HR; it is also a major underlying cause of poor customer service.

When the “front staff” don’t like or get along with the “back staff” you’re goose is cooked. Whether it’s in a restaurant, an auto dealer or a doctors office, too much friction amongst staff ruins everyone mood, makes it harder to retain good staff and lowers your overall level of customer service.

There are three primary ways that a toxic internal atmosphere hurts customer service:

  1. The majority of customer complaints at any company stem from dropped communications. A key piece of information was not passed along. This could be anything from a food order at a restaurant to a schedule change for an appointment. When the employees, or worse, entire departments go out of communication there is a MUCH greater likelihood that communications will get altered or lost.
  2. When staff are embroiled in who said what about who and the drama of petty squabbles it is a distraction. When people are distracted there will be spelling errors, details missed, flubs on billing, etc.
  3. A toxic atmosphere brings the overall mood of the group down. The employees aren’t as bright and cheerful.

The possible causes for a toxic internal atmosphere include: poorly trained employees; non existent channels for interoffice communication, missing or not known protocols, procedures or policy; lack of competent management and many more.

One the most vital roles of management is to ensure that the internal atmosphere IS friendly, calm, conducive to team work and having fun. An internal atmosphere filled with drama and friction cannot be ignored or put off for handling later. However the majority of businesses, both large and small suffer from this malady.

The most common and simple cause of a toxic internal atmosphere is this: Susie in the back sees that an appointment made for one of the doctors was not scheduled for the right amount of time. Instead of simply looking to see who scheduled the appointment and going to speak directly with this person to sort it out, Susie makes a disparaging comment about the person, or worse, about the “incompetent receptionists” in the front.  This comment inevitably finds its way to the front staff and so, causes a rift between employees and/or entire departments.

This practice is unfortunately all too common. I have never seen a business, ever, where this did not occur. In most businesses, both private and public, it is rampant. If you asked Susie :”If you made a mistake, and someone at work noticed it, would you rather the person come see you directly, or make comments to another employee about your error?”, she will for sure tell you that she’d rather have the person come directly to her.

If Susie does go out to the front and speak to the receptionist, Amber, and asks about the appointment in question she may discover that Amber was specifically directed to make that appointment for that amount of time by a doctor or other technical staff. And so that would be the end of it. Or maybe Amber DID make an error in the schedule and Susie can give some simple instruction of proper scheduling. Either outcome is perfectly fine and the problem is solved.

At least 80% of any internal friction can be resolved by simply engaging (and enforcing!) a policy that says: If you have a problem with Joe, talk to Joe. If that doesn’t work, go to management. Telling Alice about your problem with Joe is grounds for immediate dismissal.

If this one simple policy is in force, the staff speaking directly to each other and resolving issues, handling errors or mistakes and having the self discipline to follow the protocol, things will smooth out fast.

The primary reason that Susie does not speak directly to Amber is fear. Susie has some trepidation about Amber’s possible reaction. Maybe Amber will be upset. So it’s easier to talk to Alice about Amber than directly to Amber.

When getting started with this you’ll probably hear some grumblings about it. “But Amber is the boss’s friend” or “I spoke to Amber about this before and she is still making the same mistake.”

People will often try to weasel around the corner on this point and dream up all sorts of excuses to avoid simply communicating to Joe. Don’t buy them, simply insist that there be direct communication.

If direct communication does not result in change or improvement, then by all means speak to the manager.

Of course there are exceptions: if you observe Joe committing a crime of some sort, then directly to the management you would go. There are other obvious exceptions.

Management has to itself follow the policy. This is vital. If a manager, say for instance, a Sales Manager in a auto sales business, has issues with the service department, he or she should NEVER make any comments about this so that any of his staff can hear it. The Sales Manager would address this issue with the Service Manager, or someone above. If the Sales Manager is overheard by any sales staff to make negative comments about the Service Department , or any specific employees in that department, then he has set in motion this virus and helped create a toxic environment in the dealership. The Sales Staff will follow his lead and start bad-mouthing the other staff and/or departments.

When I hire new people and explain this policy to them I inevitably hear: “Oh, god bless you, that’s why I left my last job…” People very much want to have someone come speak directly to them if they make a mistake. They would rather have some one communicate directly to them rather than behind their backs.

Its true that some people react poorly when corrected. I have done this myself, someone came to let me know that I needed to do something differently and I sort of went off muttering to myself…but then I made the needed changes and was grateful that they told me.

There are two sides to this: one is that if you mess up someone will speak directly to you, not behind your back. That’s cool! In reality there may be a few people who get upset with you no matter how nicely you say things. They SAY they would rather have you speak directly to them, but then they get upset when you do. A person needs somewhat thick skin to work in an environment where they get corrected.

But in the end it is always better to just go talk to the person. Help them do better and you help the entire company. Once this is accepted as the normal culture of your business the atmosphere will greatly improve. And that will be good for everyone!

red tulips blue and orange sky3


Posted by: Andy Porter | February 15, 2012

Just Be Yourself Customer Service

To be successful at dealing with people you have to first and foremost be able to just be yourself.

One of the reasons that dealing with customers can be stressful is that when we are communicating with them we are not “being ourselves”.    

By NOT being ourselves is meant, among other things, that you are not saying exactly what you want to say to the person. You are not (at least not always) handling the person in the exact manner in which YOU would handle the person, but following some pre-conceived, or possibly pre-trained, response mechanism.

But the basic thing is that you’re not being entirely yourself.

Have you ever spoken to a customer service person who sounded phony? Or sounded like they were pretending to be nice? Have you ever heard a customer service person speak and it sounded canned, like someone pulled a string on the side of their neck and a stream of words came out?   

Now if you are the customer and you speak to a customer service person (CSP) and they sound phony, canned and/or robotic this alone can cause some small degree of irritation, just by itself. You know, you can sense the insincerity of the conversation and have an innate understanding that the person does not, in fact, really care a whit about you.   

How does it happen that the CSP comes to this state? Why do we often feel we are not speaking to a REAL person?

One reason is that CSP’s are trained with several false ideas. The most common one of these, the old stand-by of customer service is “The customer is always right.”

If you operate on the premise that the customer is always right then you have to be nice no matter what the customer says. In this case even if the customer is an asshole you are supposed to be sweet and “not let it bother you.”

This is going to go against what most anyone would do if it were completely up to them and so you have the CSP not being themselves and being phony.

Another factor is fear. The CSP has some, worry, anxiety, fear if you will, that they may possibly get disciplined, or even fired if a customer complains about them personally. I have seen many places of employment where any customer complaint is taken as the gospel truth and any CSP who is complained about is then disciplined. There is not any effort by the (lazy) management to sort out what really happened and get the facts and then decide what’s to be done, its back to the maxim of the customer is always right and the CSP is wrong.

So a CSP, operating with these factors, is often caught between a rock and a hard place: if I am just myself and say what’s real to ME then I will probably get into trouble, but if I just follow the canned script and act like a puppet, then I will escape getting into trouble and all will be fine.

As I mentioned above this is partly what causes these jobs to be stressful: you spend your time at work NOT being yourself. And if you look at it, any time spent denying your self is stressful.

Have you ever been in a close personal relationship where you couldn’t be yourself? Where you felt you had to act different around someone? And how did you like that?

Of all the memorable Customer Service People I have ever encountered, you know, the remarkable ones, who are funny, or smart or kind, every one of them was NOT robotic or canned. They were just being their old fine selves. These are the people we like in customer service. We may tolerate the robotic ones, but we never really like them.

Any employer has guidelines regarding what is proper etiquette for dealing with customers. Generally the guidelines are pretty reasonable, treat people with respect and be polite. I have seen companies where the management is lenient with CSP staff as to how they interact, but the CSP’s are still nervous and tentative about how real they should be with the customers. Maybe this is due to the CSP having been employed in the past at a poorly managed business.

Actually the CSP who can be comfortable and be them selves and deal with customers has a great value to the business where they work. I have known several businesses where the customers come back again and again because of the friendly and real customer service people who work there.

Sometimes the owner of the business or its management does not know how to deal with people and not be phony. Remember that if you work for an extended period of time in such an environment the phoniness will probably rub off on you!

It may come to mind that telling a CSP to “just be yourself” will in some cases not work. True, if the “customer service person” in question is sitting at the front desk busy texting their “friends” and views all customers as a distraction to their networking activity then, no, this will not work.

The simplest bench mark for how to treat customers, besides to be yourself, is to act as if YOU are the owner of the company. How would you communicate? How would you deal with an irate customer?  

It may take some time and diligence to find a place of employment where you can just be yourself. But it’s definitely worth the effort!

Posted by: Andy Porter | February 13, 2012

Creating a successful Owner – Office Manager Relationship

In order to have a successful working relationship between an office manager and the owner of the business there are several very key actions which MUST be established AND maintained.

If these actions are dropped out or start to be neglected you can rest assured that the result will be disharmony and strife, followed soon after by decreasing profit.

First and foremost the owner and the OM must have a written agreement as to scope of work. In simple, concise form the duties of the OM must be delineated. This agreement is NOT a description of how to actually DO each duty, but rather serves as a list of what the duties encompass.

This basic agreement should also include such details as hours of work, pay and any bonus.

NEVER leave any of these details vaguely stated, or even worse, NEVER make any verbal agreements on these points. Both sides should have signed copies of any agreement made as to scope of work, hours and compensation.

Once this is complete it is expected that both parties will actually follow the agreements. For example, if the owner has delegated the hiring of staff to the OM then the owner simply lets the OM do the function and does not butt in or micromanage the process. Another example would be if the owner has NOT delegated the duty of advertising and marketing to the OM, yet the OM is making and signing agreements with various vendors, committing business monies to marketing programs with out approval from the owner.

In short, the owner would not ever chastise the OM for not handling duties not previously delegated to the OM and the OM would not ever exceed his or her level of authority.

Theory of the OM Post

The general idea of having an OM is that this frees up the owner/practitioner to spend all his/her time treating patients and/or dealing with clients. Only the practitioner can deliver billable minutes and hours and so every minute the owner spends working on resolving a staff dispute or unclogging toilets is viewed as wasted (and unrecoverable) billable time.

From this view the more the owner can delegate to the OM the better for the practice.

Owners are generally well trained in their area of expertise, whether this is being a veterinarian or an auto mechanic, and the owner is often specifically NOT very adept in handling personnel and other management issues. In fact in many cases efforts made by the practitioner to handle these management areas lead to bigger problems.

The general mood or tone of the owner/practitioner is important. Often the owner is one of the biggest producers of revenue for the business. If the mood of the owner is decreased through dealings with management issues this can have a significant effect on the owners personal production statistics. Without question a high tone or good mood tends to improve the statistics of the owner (or any production worker, for that matter). Keeping the personnel and day to day management problems off of the owner can in itself increase the production statistics of the company.

In any medical setting, be it human or veterinary, any and all technical questions are always routed to the doctor to handle. The receptionist or manager does not answer patient medical questions for the reason that they are not trained or licensed to do so. This applies equally in many businesses, such as computer or auto repair.

This same policy is wise for any practice owner as regards to management issues: Hire a competent manager and route all of these problems to him or her for handling.

If the OM is clearly unable to perform the functions, there may be a short period of time during which the owner may try to train the OM in how to properly handle the post. But more likely what the owner needs to do is to find a new OM, one who is competent to handle the post fully.

Note that having the owner bypass the manager and do part of the OM’s job duties is NOT the way to go. The policy is that you either trust the OM to DO their job and get out of the way and let them do it, or you emphatically do NOT trust the OM, at which time one needs to replace the OM with someone who IS trusted. There is no middle of the road, where the owner doesn’t really trust the OM and so is always nosing around and watching, etc to see if it’s done right. This defeats the purpose of having an office manager in the first place, as described above.

The process is to decide which duties are to be done by the OM, delegate these duties, then back off and let the OM do the duties with no interference.

Note: “No interference” does NOT mean that there would be NO supervision or oversight. Abandoning all oversight is the reverse swing of the pendulum to micromanaging.

Certainly duties can be delegated to the OM on a gradient scale, giving some duties and observing if the OM can correctly accomplish them before delegating more duties to the OM. This gives the new OM a chance to learn and provides the owner with a chance to gradually build trust with the OM.

Roles and duties

If we take as an example a medical type of office we will have the doctor being the owner of the business. The owner/doctor then has two very separate hats or jobs, one is owner and one is doctor. These two jobs must be kept completely separate as to time and schedule.

Based on any simple Organizing Structure the owner of the business sits at the top of the command chart. We could say the owner is the CEO, or President or what ever, but they are at the very top of responsibility and oversight. Next as we move down the organizing scheme, we would have the manager. The manager is answerable only to the owner and carries out the duties assigned by the owner.

ALL other employees would then fall under the control of the manager. It is the manager who has the duty to oversee the performance of all employees.

Interestingly this means that the manager also over sees and manages the work of all doctors, including the owner.

This can make for some interesting issues, if the owner of the business also has some sort of production post in the business then he or she MUST submit to the edicts of the manager, even though as the owner he/she can fire the manager.

An example of this being done wrong would be where the OM has issued an order regarding use of estimates before work is commenced. The owner/practitioner may decide that because he or she is the owner that they can do what ever they like and not follow the rules issued by the OM. In this case the owner makes verbal price agreements with clients, in violation of the edict laid out by the OM. This sort of behavior from the owner tends to negate the authority of the OM in the minds of other employees, creates internal strife and while common, is destructive to the business in general and to the OM/Owner relationship specifically.

This situation necessitates that the person who is both owner AND practitioner behaves in a very exact fashion. This includes setting up specific times to meet with the manager to discuss strategies, plans programs and the like.

This situation allows the doctor the most freedom to simply be a doctor and not be concerned with any of the day to day issues of the business. ALL staff issues would be handled by the manger. This is a wonderful idea from the view of the owner in that he/she can be aloof from any conflicts and be seen as the benign monarch and the hard decisions and dealings with staff would be handled by the manager alone.

Errors

If an office manager has been given the duty of hiring or advertising and has been entrusted FULLY to deal with these duties than a major error would be for the OM to constantly go back and ask the owner for advice. If for example the owner has given complete control to the manager on staff discipline and the manager decides to fire an employee the manager would NOT go back and ask the owner what he/she thought about firing so and so. The manager would simply fire the employee and let the owner know it was done. The same would apply to marketing. If the decision has been granted to the manager to make, then they would need to make it (and inform the owner of its having been made), but NEVER to pull the owner into the decision making process. If the manager violates this rule the result will be the owner being pulled into making management decisions more and more, while NOT doing the duties of being a doctor, to the detriment of all.

The owner also can make errors by delegating duties to an employee and then micromanaging the execution of these duties.

Purity of Communication Lines

Both owner and manager MUST be very disciplined regarding their communication in the business. If either party has any disagreements about how things are done these comments would always be done in private and directly to the other party. NEVER make any comments of discord to any other employee as they relate to each other. Just as the manager would NEVER make a negative comment to the receptionist concerning the quality of the medical work performed by the doctor, the doctor/owner would NEVER make any critical or derogatory comment concerning the manager to anyone other then the OM and only in a person to person / face to face meeting.

Regular owner/OM meetings

In any owner/manager relationship the most common source of conflict (second only to no agreed upon list of duties) is always a lack of communication. A regular and strong communication line ensures that the parties know what is going on, what has been accomplished and what the plans for the near future are. Not having a smooth and regular communication line between owner and manager will create havoc very quickly.

Ideally the owner/manager meeting would occur once a week. A specific day and time should be scheduled and kept at the same time each and every week. The meeting need not be long, no more than 30 to 60 minutes but it MUST be held and held weekly. This time slot should be cleared on the schedule and the staff briefed that this time is sacrosanct and NOT to be taken away.

The manager must create a battle plan (to do list). The Battleplan (BP) would include all of the actions that the manager plans to accomplish in the near future. The BP would be separated into sections, such as

  • Advertising/Marketing
  • Building/Equipment
  • Computers
  • Finance (Billing, A/R, etc)
  • Personnel
  • Staff meetings
  • Education
  • Staff training

The BP can be created by the OM alone, or with the assistance of the Owner. In any case, an assessment of what needs to be done and any future plans are envisioned and written up in the BP.

In the weekly OM/Owner meeting the OM would first go through the tasks which were accomplished from the last week, for example, that all of the client statements were sent out on Wednesday, or that the new technician started to work, or what ever was done. The report of what has been accomplished is important as the owner, being busy with production, is often not aware of the tasks which were completed during the week.

The owner can ask about the reports of what was done to gain clarification as needed.

Next the OM would the read out loud and discuss the BP for the upcoming week. Again, the owner would be listening and add suggestions here or there, as needed/requested.

Ideally the owner would be impressed with what was done last week and equally impressed with the plans for the new week and simply say; “Great and your plan sounds wonderful!”

Of course the owner may want to discuss the upcoming weeks plan, add to it or modify the targets set by the OM.

During this meeting if the manager needs to ask the owner for approval for a specific project, then this is the time to do it. Discussion of other employees, marketing, all of these issues would be discussed during this meeting.

Timeliness of Communication

Both the owner and office manager must be well disciplined as to the speed of their communication to and from each other. If for example the OM has put together a proposed new Yellow Page ad and needs the owner’s approval by a certain date, then the owner must be certain to respond by the deadline agreed to. Reversely, if the OM has been given a task to compile certain financial reports by a certain date, then these must be done on time and returned to the owner with out the owner having to chase down the OM for the reports.

Accurate financial reports

Financial reports form one of the pillars of the Owner/OM relationship. These reports show the overall health of the business, whether the business is expanding or contracting, the state of expenses, areas of income generation and more.

The accuracy of these reports is therefore paramount.

Each industry or type of business has different details which a complete financial report should include, and creating the ideal reporting system can be researched or developed. But several keys hold true no matter what the type of business is in question.

First, the categories of income and expenses should be scrutinized thoroughly to ensure that the correct numbers go into the correct category. In many small businesses expenses are NOT categorized correctly. Care must be taken to ensure this is correct as otherwise the numbers on the Profit and loss statements become meaningless.

Often the financial reports are some on a generic quick-books basis and the income/expenditures are vaguely understood and not monitored.

Each months report should show the current month’s numbers and percentage of sales, as well as the YTD totals and percentage of sales as well.

These reports would be scrutinized each month and discrepancies taken up and handled.

It is vital that the owner spend time each month reviewing the financial records as above as this, if not done, opens the door for lots of bad surprises, like money missing etc.

The OM would also review these reports to see where the expenses are at, looking for methods to reduce them and also looking at income sources, seeing the trends and working to strengthen the up-trending statistics.

A bonus system or compensation questions for the OM or any employees would then be determined, in part at least, by the number reflected on the profit and loss statement.

Regular staff meetings

One last important component of the Owner/OM relationship is staff meetings. Staff meetings should be held regularly, ideally once a week. The staff meetings are to done completely separately from the Owner/OM meeting.

In the staff meeting the OM would be the one running the meeting. The OM would review the business statistics, review policy or procedure, read the entries from the customer comment log and brief the staff on any news about the business. The owner may add any comments he/she wishes, but defers to the OM in these meetings.

During the weekly staff meetings the owner/practitioner is emphatically wearing his/her hat as practitioner, NOT owner.

If the owner has any specific things that he/she would like covered in the weekly staff meeting, then this would be discussed at the weekly Owner/OM meeting before the staff meeting.

The above points, while not covering every possible angle of Owner/Office Manager interaction, provide a strong foundation for getting started and creating a mutually beneficial relationship.

Posted by: Andy Porter | January 1, 2012

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,900 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted by: Andy Porter | September 15, 2011

Advertising and Responses

As a marketing consultant I am often asked, “How do you really know if the money spent on advertising is wasted or driving in business?”

The most basic rule of advertising is this: More pieces out equals more responses back.

If you outflow (send out) flyers, coupons, newspaper or magazine ads, letters, etc. you will get more people coming in (inflow). More outflow equals more inflow. This basic principle applies to many areas of life. The more times you send out your resume the quicker you tend to find a good job. Networking is another great example of this principle. The more you get out and meet people and make friends the better your business goes. In an even more general sense the amount of kindness one sends out is directly proportional to the amount of kindness one receives.

But back to advertising! How do you know if it is working? Well, many businesses ask callers or new customers the question “how did you hear about us?” This is a good thing to do and you should definitely do it. But are the answers you get accurate? Very often they are not.

First, look at how advertising works. Each advertisement is a message. The message reaches the ears or eyes of the potential customer and can be ignored or accepted. How many messages does it take to get a response? How many times do you need to hear about a business or product before you go to take it for a test drive, or go in for a visit?

Timing is important. One reason the message needs to be repeated is that the message needs to hit the customer at the right time for it to be accepted. You may hear or see an advertisement for a place to get your oil changed many times and never notice it and then one day you hear or see the ad when you are actually in need of an oil change and it’s on your mind. Bingo! Now the ad registers and is accepted.

Most potential customers need to get your message repeatedly before deciding to try your product or service. So when you ask the client “how did you hear about us?” they usually give you the first thing that comes to their mind. “I saw your yellow page ad”, or “I received your Val-Pak coupon”, or “a friend told me about you”. But realistically they probably have heard or seen your message many times before actually arriving for service.

Well, if this is true, how does one ever know if their marketing is working? Simply by looking at the raw statistics of how many people come in for service.

Remember the basic law above. If you send out your message, whether its via Val-Pak coupons, letters, postcards, email, your web site, newspaper ads, TV, radio, networking groups, billboards or word of mouth your should expect a response. So, the more you send out your message the more numbers of customers you should be getting in. This does not always mean that you will get in more new customers, just more customers.

Just remember that the response you get may not be what you expected. You may devise an advertisement with the intention of attracting new clients, and instead you may get a lot of former clients coming back in for something. They see or hear your message and it reminds them that they need to come back in to see you!

As you probably know advertising does not always work immediately. Sometimes you need to send out your message repeatedly for some time to start to see noticeable responses. So the message here is: be Patient!

There is one more VERY important thing to mention related to advertising and response. The quality of your service or product and the level of customer service you provide. Actually these are two things, not one. You can have a great product or service and lousy customer service. An example would be a dentist who is wonderful, friendly, and a great technical dentist, but the front desk employees are hurried and uninterested. The opposite is possible as well; you can have an auto repair business with great front desk staff who the customers love and lousy technicians who can’t fix a lawn mower much less an Audi. Of course (heaven forbid) it’s possible that both of these situations exist.    

So let’s look at what happens if one of these variants exists: you, the owner invest money and advertise your business. Customers show up for service. The product or service is in some way not up to par. Those customers may come back, maybe not. They for sure are not loyal customers, and they will

probably not be referring other people to you. These customers will most likely be looking for something better and when they find it, goodbye to you! So of course to attract more new customers this owner may need to spend more money to advertise.

You can see where this is heading. More and more money spent for advertising and less response and less customers coming in. If this is happening you MUST immediately do what ever is needed to handle it now. More staff training, better equipment, or even new equipment and new staff! Poor product or less than wonderful customer service is like having an open artery pumping your blood onto the sand. You (or your business) will soon die! 

What should be happening is this: you advertise, new customers come in, they get great product and service, become loyal customers and refer new customers to via word of mouth. You business expands and grows. This should be what is happening.  

Yes, if you are spending your hard earned cash on advertising you should expect to see a result. If the results are not there it could be that you are sending the marketing pieces to the wrong groups of people. Like sending oil change coupons to people aged 70 and older who live in a retirement community. Maybe you need to survey customers better or redesign your ad. Maybe your vehicle used for advertising (say, advertising in the local newspaper) is not getting responses anymore.

And lastly, but NOT leastly, my advice would be to take a complete, detailed look at your quality of product and your level of customer service. Improving them can be the difference between an advertising campaign that drives in boatloads of customers and one where you get few or no responses and your hard earned cash is wasted.

Posted by: Andy Porter | September 9, 2011

Word of Mouth Marketing: Questions and Answers!

Is word of mouth really the best form of advertising?

          Yes. Without question Word of Mouth IS the best form of advertising. This fact is widely known and accepted. The big question is: How do I capitalize on this fact and use it to expand my business?  

          Just knowing that Word of Mouth is important or telling all of your employees how vital good word of mouth really is to the business will never be enough to create the level of service necessary to WOW your customers.

The purpose of this article is to expand understanding of the basic factors making up great word of mouth and excite you, the business owner, so that your creative juices flow and ideas pop like a huge 4th of July fireworks display and you get all excited about what can be done in your company to expand through word of mouth!!!

A few basic facts…

          If a business is providing adequate, normal, regular run-of-the-mill service they will get SOME word of mouth referrals. The way this works is that if, for instance, someone asks you where to go for dry cleaning or computer repair you will most likely want to give some recommendation. People generally want to be helpful and we all like to give advice, so we will give some answer, we will often refer someone to a place where we received simply mediocre service. The point is that if you are providing what is considered to be good, or acceptable service you can only expect a few referrals.  

          Really great word of mouth comes from a remarkable or memorable experience. Lets say that you have been in to your local veterinary hospital, or Thai restaurant and the experience was memorable you very possibly will not wait until some asks you for a good vet clinic or Thai place before you tell people about it. Your word of mouth becomes unsolicited. Have you ever done this or seen it done? I have seen people talking up their hair stylist or espresso stand to people who are bald or don’t even like coffee!

          Let there be no mistake, unsolicited word of mouth is what will really drive in more new customers. This is (or should be) the goal of any company. 

          On the other hand, unsolicited word of mouth DEFINITELY applies for bad service as well! Customers who are irate with a business will sometimes tell as many as 20, 30, maybe up to 50 people about their bad experience, with out ever being asked directly about the business.   

          So, when we are speaking about word of mouth, we must understand that what, exactly, we are going for is unsolicited, positive, word of mouth about your business.

Why IS word of mouth the most effective form of advertising?

          Well, the first answer is that word of mouth means that someone, probably someone who you know, is telling you that Olympic Pizza has the best pizza, or that Fred’s Auto Repair does fantastic and reasonable work. You’re hearing it from a person, someone that you know and (probably!) trust.

          Compare this with normal advertising: TV, Radio, news papers, magazines, web, direct mail, etc. Let me ask you this, as a consumer, do you BELIEVE what you see advertised? I mean really, if you get a flyer in the mail offering you a “low cost mortgage”, do you believe it? If you see an ad for a cheap airline ticket toFlorida, are you suspicious that it may be a scam? Do you wonder if the quoted price for the ticket actually includes things like airport fees, taxes and that your baggage actually gets to go with you?

          By far the majority of consumers, when they hear any advertisement, wonder: “What’s the catch?” We look for the fine print. We think, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it is!” We have all heard the pat phrase, “new and improved” so many times that the words don’t have meaning to us. The point is the very few people completely believe ANY regular advertisement. We know that ads all too often contain exaggerations, half truths, gimmicks and sometimes even complete fabrications. In case you haven’t noticed, this trend is getting worse, not better.

          But if someone you know, or better, someone you like, or even better, someone whose taste or opinion you respect, tells you that the Mocha’s Espresso stand on 4th and Main is awesome, or that theNorthCascadeVeterinaryHospital is the best around you will listen. If you have a connection with the person telling you about a business it becomes much more believable. Another reason for this believability is that the person has no reason to mislead you. The person telling you about the fantastic service atNorthCascadeVeterinaryHospital probably doesn’t work there, or get commissions from them, so we reason that they don’t have any reason to mislead us.

          There is also a common statement that not only is word of mouth the best form of advertising, but it’s the cheapest. This brings up the question of how to determine how much it costs to attract a new customer, client or patient. Most businesses I see are sorely lacking in any effective method to track where their new customers come from, but at least they can say how many new clients they had in a month. Calculating the “cost of each new customer” is not too difficult, simply add up your entire expenses for advertising and marketing for a month and divide this by the number of new customers, and there you have it, you can now see how much you “paid” for each new customer. This is a great exercise, by the way and I highly recommend not only doing the calculations but sharing the results withALLof your staff.

          Of course if you are really on the ball and can track not only how many new clients you got in a month but HOW each new client heard of you, it is possible to calculate the cost-effectiveness of each form of marketing you use. (Look for a new blog entry coming soon on tracking new clients.) For example you can see how much your yellow page ad cost, and how many new clients it brought you and do the math. This is a very enlightening exercise and the most intelligent way to make decisions about where you spend your advertising dollars. 

          In either case I bet you will be surprised to see how much one new client “costs”.

          Word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing because it is more believable and the less expensive than any other form of advertising. 

Great word of mouth about your company makes all of your other marketing efforts much more effective.

          The above statement should be in huge bold CAPS. This is one of most important and grossly overlooked laws in all of advertising and marketing.

Let’s say that you have a spa. You are sending out all sorts of marketing messages; yellow page ads, a web site with search engine marketing, you’re in lots of travel guides, you attend chamber meetings, maybe you use billboards, you are using a whole host of avenues to get your name out there.

          Now let’s look at this from two possibilities, let’s say first that the overall word of mouth about your spa is awesome. If someone has already heard from a friend that the spa is great and then they see one of your ads, or maybe a special offer you are currently running, they are much more likely to respond. Positive word of mouth makes your other marketing more believable, more effective, more productive. A business will get a MUCH bigger bang for their advertising buck when they have great word of mouth.

          Once in a while I have heard people talking positively about an ad they saw or heard for a business or product. Your friend tells you about the great experience she had at a clothing store recently. A little later your with a different friend and you see or hear an advertisement for that same store, and you say: “Hey, isn’t that’s the place Sally went last week where she bought those cute new dresses?!”

The effect of great word of mouth on your other marketing efforts cannot be overstated! 

          A person may hear some good word of mouth about a company and at that time not need the service or product, but later when the need arises and they are searching or when they get exposure to an ad, they willTRYto remember what they heard and will respond.

          On the other hand, if the word of mouth about your spa is poor, then the money you spend on marketing will get LESS response. If a potential new customer has already heard some negative feedback from someone about the Bayside Spa and then they see an ad somewhere promoting the Spa, their tendency will be to discount it, or ignore it. They won’t listen to your message, their mind is already turned away from the business.

          Have you ever experienced this? If you have heard bad word of mouth about a company and THEN hear an advertisement for the company, what’s the first thing that flashes in your mind? The negative story you heard before, that’s what!

          How about this example, lets say you yourself had a very bad experience with a company (think telephone service provider, or maybe bank…). Now you’re sitting with a friend watching TV and an ad comes on for the company that you feel wronged you. What happens? In many cases just seeing the ad will elicit a negative comment from you to your friend! “That’s the bank that ripped me off!” “I used to have that cell phone service and I’ll NEVER go back to them!!!” Have you ever seen this, or done this yourself?

What can be done to improve your word of mouth?

          Here are two of the most effective (and rarely done!) things to do:

Follow up.

          Calling a client, customer, patient, back to see how they are doing is an AWESOME way to improve word of mouth. Has your doctor ever called you back to see how you were feeling? If they did, did it impress you? Have you ever been to a restaurant where the chef (or cook) came out into the dining area and asked the customers how they liked the food? This can be done in auto repair, chiropractic clinics, schools, nail salons, cleaning companies; really, the list of businesses that can make use of follow up contacts is endless. It does take some basic communication skills so that your follow up doesn’t make the customer angry, but it’s pretty simple. And the higher up the person doing the follow ups is, the more wow factor it imparts. Anyone who is doing follow up calls MUST be interested in what ever the customer has to say, positive or negative. I think that one reason that follow up calls are NOT done is because there is trepidation that the response will be less than positive. Who ever makes the calls has to be equally happy to receive positive or negative response, and be prepared with what to say and do if the response is negative. 

  • “Did your shipment arrive on time, did you receive what you expected?”
  • “How was your adjustment with the doctor last night? How is your neck feeling today?”
  • “How was your chicken cordon bleu? Did you like the green beans?”
  • “I know that yesterday was your first visit to see us, did things so as smoothly as you hoped?”

There’s an infinity of questions that you can ask.

          Follow up calls, done correctly; show the customer that you genuinely care about the product or service that was provided, that you care about the customer and that their complete satisfaction is important.

          Follow up calls can give you valuable feed back from your customers that you can use right now to make your product or service better.

          Remember that statistics show that only 1 in 25 unsatisfied customer will ever say anything to you about what they don’t like. (Although they may tell 25 other people what they didn’t like about you!) Asking them in a way that shows that you WANT them to tell what they liked or didn’t like REALLY works.

Compensation when things go wrong.

          Every company has things go wrong with clients from time to time. Customers get shipped the wrong thing, or someone’s steak is cooked wrong, or there is WAY too little chocolate in their mocha. How you handle it when things go wrong is HUGE. If a customer has to wait, or client came in to pick up a product (which you forgot to order for them), or what ever you did wrong, be sure to have on hand some form of compensation ready. I recommend buying $100 worth of $5 coffee cards, and also movie tickets, or restaurant gift cards and have them on hand to give out. I say have three types and values for the various levels of how badly you may have messed up (or how irate the customer is!) 

          Your company should have a set system for compensating irate customers. Create “tiers” of compensation, start with the coffee card, then the movie tickets, then the restaurant gift card. If the client has to wait more than a short time, use the coffee card: “Mr. Thompson, we are very sorry you had to wait so long today, here is a gift card for the “Mochas” espresso stand over on Fir Street,  thanks for hanging in there with us today!”

          You may not think that a $5 coffee card is going to make any impact, but it DOES. Your customers will feel appreciated, acknowledged, validated and recognized.

           I have gone over this idea with many businesses and everyone thinks it a great idea, but implementing it is not always a snap. From my experience the hardest thing is to get the staff to hand them out as much as I would like! Sometimes employees will get a little stingy with them, “Well, she only had to wait half an hour, and it wasn’t our fault she had to wait, so no card for her”. “I don’t want to waste the card on that person, or why give away five dollars…” are some of the things I have heard. Some times you get busy and just forget to hand them out…

          Let’s go back to an earlier article: Why IS word of mouth the most effective form of advertising?

          This was where we discussed the cost of a new customer, and if you did the calculations in that article you probably saw that a new customer may “cost” $50, $80, $100 or possibly a lot more.

          Well, how many people will your customer talk to about you if they receive a coffee card or movie tickets? Do you think that they’ll tell anyone? If you give out a $5 coffee card and the customer tells 7 people about it, how does that work out? You get the idea, giving out a $5 coffee card that results in even one new client is easily the “cheapest” form of advertisement ever! So, give the cards out when there is any even slight problem. 

          Back to our tiered system of compensation, the coffee card is for a small upset or inconvenience, the movie tickets for a bigger screw up on your part, the restaurant gift certificate is used for…you get the idea, figure out your own system and tiers. If you don’t like coffee cards you can use discounts for future services at your business, you can credit money to the clients account, give out free items, the list is endless. The stuff you give out does not need to be expensive to create a powerful effect. 

This is NOT only for irate customers!

          Do you have awesome customers or clients who you love? Give them coffee cards or what ever you decide for “compensation” once in a while! “Julia, I just wanted to say that you are the most awesome customer! Here, have a coffee card (or movie tickets, or what ever).” There doesn’t have to be any set system for this (like giving a gift card on a special holiday, etc), in fact random and unexpected tends to create more of a memorable experience.

Two more short footnotes:

  • Employees who are encouraged to liberally compensate customers are happier employees! They feel empowered and will also give your business good word of mouth to THEIR friends.
  • The better your word of mouth the higher employee morale will be and the easier it will be to hire great employees and retain them!!!

Word of Mouth Round-up!

          Well, are your creative juices popping like pop corn? Are you excited to implement some of your new ideas about improving your company’s word of mouth?

           I certainly hope so! I am always happy to receive any feed back, so if you have any great ideas on improving word of mouth, please send them in!

          And lastly if after reading this article you are thinking that you would certainly LOVE to implement some of these ideas, but it would be difficult because of a lack of time, or that some (or all!) of your employees may not embrace your enthusiasm, then with out question you are in need of a little help!

            If you call me directly I may be able to assist you in handling these barriers. There is no charge for calling, I am available to give advice anytime! I am located inWestern Washington, Pacific Time zone! My number is: 360-809-0661.

         Best of luck!

         Andy Porter  

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Posted by: Andy Porter | July 11, 2011

Knowing What Your Customers Are Thinking

In most businesses the owner and even the employees are the last ones to know what the customers think!

A business is there to service or provide products for customers.  At the same time, research shows that only one in twenty-five dissatisfied customers, will tell you what was wrong.  The other twenty-four customers, who leave dissatisfied with your business, will almost certainly tell other people.  They just won’t tell you!

Customer feedback is extremely valuable.  You can do so much with it.  A primary use is to help the business correct problems.  If your customers are complaining of long wait times, you can add more staff or streamline the order process.  But that’s just the tip of the tulip.  Customer feedback can be used to:

  • Create effective bundles of services or products
  • Improve perception of value
  • Set pricing/discounts
  • Determine which products to carry
  • Educate employees
  • Motivate your team

In fact customer feedback is one of the most valuable management tools in existence!

It’s really impossible to get too much customer feedback.  I don’t know of any company that gets enough.  Realistically if you want to create loyal customers you need to know what ALL of your customers think about you, NOT just the ones who love you!

Of course how you USE your customer feedback is tremendously important.  But before we get to that lets discuss more about HOW to gather the feedback. 

A company must establish three easy-to-find and use channels for customers to communicate what they like and don’t like.  In addition, you must create a customer service record where you and your staff can track any and all customer comments, both good and bad. 

Methods to gather customer comments: 

  • Mail out survey forms to all of your new or existing customers
    • Surveys can be mailed with your invoices
    • Surveys can be mailed to all new customers with a personalized letter
    • Have survey forms to hand to customers
      • If you do on-site repairs for example, your technician should hand the customer the survey as they leave. 
    • Place stacks of surveys forms for customers to fill out or take home and send back. 
      • If you have a business where customers come in, there must be a customer survey table with stacks of surveys, in plain view where customers can report! 
    • Have a survey section on your web site
      • The survey on your web site must be easy to find! 
      • This is a great time to provide your anonymous feedback avenue. 
    • Send out emails with surveys
      • This can be used with an offer for discounts if they fill out the survey
    • Call new or existing customers and survey them on the phone. 
      • Follow-up calls rock!  All follow up calls are essentially opportunities for customer feedback. 
    • Survey the customers in person while they are still in the store or business

Rule # 1:  You must have at least three channels for customers to provide feedback. 

Rule # 2:  One of these channels must enable customers to give feedback anonymously. 

Rule # 3:  In addition to the three avenues you choose to gather feedback, you must ALSO use the Customer Service log!   

Before we tackle the methods of gathering feedback let’s look at the survey itself.  What questions do you want to ask your customers?

Posted by: Andy Porter | July 11, 2011

Creating Survey Questions

The purpose of a customer survey is to get your customers to tell YOU if there was anything they didn’t like.  And to tell what they DO like! 

As already covered, only 1 in 25 customers will tell you what they didn’t like.  This is not good!  A customer who leaves unhappy may or may not come back to see you, or they may start to look for a new service provider.  They will almost always tell other people what they didn’t like about your business.  It’s always better for them to tell you, and the sooner the better, so something can be done. 

From my view, I always want to know what went wrong:  Why did the customer leave?  Maybe you can fix things and the customer stays, maybe you can’t.  But even if the unhappy customer does leave, if you know why, you can make changes and prevent other customers from leaving as well. 

Have you ever gotten lousy service or product and yet you didn’t complain?  Why didn’t you say anything?  The most common reasons are that the customer: 

  • didn’t want a confrontation
  • was in a hurry
  • didn’t want to get someone in trouble
  • felt that it wouldn’t make a difference

Generally speaking people are much more likely to tell you what they DID like than what they DIDN’T like. 

If you are going to ask your customers’ questions about your company, you need to ask intelligent questions that will provide you with data you can use to make improvements. 

To create your survey questions, start with making a list of the things that your customers are most likely to get irate about.  Here are a few possible categories: 

  • Cost, pricing is too high
  • Value, was it worth the price?
  • Speed of service
  • Receiving the wrong item
  • Schedule
  • Selection of products
  • Friendliness
  • Cleanliness 

Next, make a similar list for YOUR business.  Then, based on these lists, create your questions.  If the questions on your customer feedback form make you nervous about asking them, then you are on the right track! 

Make the survey no more than seven to ten questions.  No multiple choice or numerical ratings.  Just ask the question (or bundle of questions) and leave a box for the customer to answer. 

I recommend that you list all your questions and have one box for the customer to answer.  Below is a sample of a customer service survey from a web site: 

How are we doing? 

Your input is valuable and helps us in our never ending quest to improve our levels of customer service.  Please take a moment and let us know how we did. 

  • When you called was the receptionist friendly and helpful?
  • How about when you arrived, did things go smoothly?
  • Was the doctor compassionate, helpful, and knowledgeable?
  • Did you receive more or less than you expected?
  • Do you have any suggestions for us on how we can get better? 

 

Comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 You can leave your contact data if you like, it is not required. 

 Your Name:  ____________________________

Date of service:  ______________________

In this example you could have an answer box after each question, or just one box as above.  There could be more questions.  But don’t forget what you’re after:  Honest feedback that enables you to make things better.

Once you have your survey questions the next step is figuring out how to get them distributed. 

Now that you have your survey questions all ready, go ahead and choose three of the above methods for gathering feedback and get started

Posted by: Andy Porter | June 16, 2011

Word of Mouth Know-How: Weekly Staff Meeting

Hold Weekly Staff Meetings

There are many reasons to have a staff meeting each week.  The most basic reason is that if you want to have a team that works together then you have to enable the employees to communicate.  Yes, there is an investment of time, and it’s hard to schedule, etc.  But, NOT having weekly staff meetings, as outlined below, will decrease your bottom line, period.

Often staff meetings are rather boring affairs (at least from the viewpoint of the employees!). They are usually one-sided with management doing most of the talking. The actual purpose of staff meeting is to co-ordinate actions and get everyone working together as a team.

In all my years of experience I have never seen any system for staff meeting work better than the one outlined below:

  1. Schedule a set day of the week where the staff meeting can be held.  This should be done at a time when there are no customers in the office and there are no distractions.  It needs to be held the same day each week.  Set an exact time.  The meeting should be between 30 and 60 minutes long. If you have a large number of staff, the meetings could be for smaller groups, but ideally this ‘word of mouth meeting’ would include everyone.
  1. Before the meeting, make sure that all comments are in the log; including any customer surveys, notes from follow-up calls, and comments from your web site – any and all comments should be gathered up.
  1. Read aloud each item from the Customer Comment Log.
    1. Congratulate any department or employee named in the compliment.
    2. Take time to discuss each complaint from the viewpoint of what could be done better.  You may come to the conclusion that there was nothing that you could have done better.  So be it.
    3. Invite the STAFF to solve the problem or come up with the new policy or procedure that will make sure the problem does not repeat.
    4. The manager should not be lecturing here, he or she should invite the staff to talk and come up with the answer.
  1. Ensure a record of the meetings are produced and made available for staff not in attendance.
  1. Additional Notes:
    1. Read all comments no matter who they are about.  If the complaints are about a manager or owner, address them as you would any other complaint.
    2. Staff who are upset about this program tend to quit fast.
    3. Make certain the no one is EVER chastised for writing a customer complaint in the Log.
Posted by: Andy Porter | June 15, 2011

Word of Mouth Know-How: Customer Comment Log

The Customer Comment log is a record of any and all customer compliments or complaints, accessible so all staff can make entries.  It may be a large sized book with specially divided sheets, or a shared spreadsheet document, etc.

The log is a vital tool for developing a team of people who work well together and care about what happens at work.  Not to mention creating loyal customers and improving word of mouth about the company!  Most everyone wants to take pride in their work and are highly motivated when they can personally make a difference.

The log has several columns that are filled in completely when a compliment or complaint is received.  The columns are:

Client name / date / who took data / what was said /what was done / result.

Client name and date are self evident.  Who took data is who spoke to the client and is writing the data.

What was said is EXACTLY what the client said.  The only editing should be if there was any foul language used by the client.  This need not be written verbatim.  But if for example the client names a staff member who they feel has wronged them, this must be written down.

What was done is any action the staff member took at that time to remedy the situation.  Was there any apology given?  Was there a promise to investigate further?  Was a product exchange or credit given?  Was a refund given?  Was nothing done?

Then, what was the result of the handling done in the previous step?  Did the customer leave happy?  Were they still upset?  Did they say they would never come back?  Were they smiling?

The Customer Comment log must be kept in a very accessible location where ALL staff can easily add to it or read what is in it.  Larger companies might categorize the logs by department or division.

The idea is that ALL staff would take the time to fill in the things that they hear from clients, both positive and negative.  Usually receptionists, and other front-line staff, hear more of what the customers have to say, but not always.  Sometimes they are afraid to pass on what they hear because they fear repercussions from staff higher up.  There needs to be a firm policy in place that no staff member can be disciplined in any way for writing what the customer says.

It is up to the executives to make sure that the log is USED.  Any and all compliments or complaints should be recorded daily.  The log should be reviewed regularly by executives and gone over in staff meetings.

The log gives execs a broad picture of the client’s point of view, where the company is strong and where it needs work.  It is a very valuable tool and can and will create strong staff member enthusiasm when used.

 

CUSTOMER COMMENT LOG

CLIENT NAME DATE WHO TOOK DATA WHAT WAS SAID WHAT WAS DONE RESULT

Posted by: Andy Porter | June 15, 2011

Word of Mouth Marketing: Top Down Service

Top-down Service

 What creates an atmosphere of friendliness and a culture of truly caring customer service?  Is it simply having great employees?  Or a generous benefits package?  How about an effective staff training program?  Clearly these points are part of it, but there is a lot more to it.

Internal customer service, meaning how everyone in the company interacts with each other, is what sets the tone for the overall level of customer service.  This is true in small businesses and it is true in large corporations.  Larger companies have distinct levels or echelons of employees, owners or directors, upper management, middle management, and so on.  Internal word of mouth between these “groups within the group”  are the corner stone of a successful business.

What Employees Want

Employees want to know where things stand and they want stability.  Sudden change never goes over well.  Direct, honest communication works two ways:  Ideally, management would communicate exactly what they think to employees and all employees would feel perfectly safe in communicating what’s on their minds to management.

While this ideal may never be completely achieved one can see that every company is somewhere on the scale of open communication.  Where communication is more open and honest the employees tend to be more loyal to the employer.

Another thing that employees want is simply to be able to contribute to the company.  Anyone who is part of a group wants to help out and make things better.  When their efforts are ignored or rebuffed they tend to lose interest.  If a person feels they cannot be of help to the group they stop caring.

Who are your customers?

Everyone knows the basic definition of the term “customer”.  It’s a person who purchases your goods or services.  This definition applies to most business transactions.

Now let’s look at the customers of a government office.  In many cases the person does not purchase or pay for the service.  So let’s revise that basic definition to:  A person or group for whom you provide services or products.

These two concepts are similar in that the organization is providing services or products to an outside entity, an individual or group.  One could say that these are external customers.

Internal Customers

Internal customers are those individuals or groups within a company or agency who are helping to provide/sell goods and services to the external customers.

Each department or division of an organization is a “customer” to the other.  The sales department is a customer of HR.  Shipping is a customer of Sales.  All departments are customers of reception or the call center.  Effective management views everyone, clients and all employees, as customers.

In the same way that a company can have bad word of mouth with its customers, an employee can create bad word of mouth inside a company.  Have you ever seen an employee whom many of the other employees constantly complained about?  “If you have a problem, don’t ask George for help, he’s always grumpy.”

An entire department or part of a company can have bad internal word of mouth.  “Those idiots in shipping can’t even write their own names.” or “The planning department just sits on their butts all day long.”  Have you ever heard anything like this, in your company?

Most companies and agencies tend to focus solely on external customers.  The paying customer gets more attention than the company employees.  This can be a grave mistake.

In any company with more than two employees a majority of the customer’s complaints stem from a lack of communication or coordination between employees, sections, groups or departments.

I’ve seen this in countless businesses:  The wait staff bickering with the cooks; the technical support staff cursing the sales staff; the management critical of the employees, and vice-versa.  It’s hard to be friendly, courteous and smile to the customers when someone you work with is being rude, nasty or disrespectful to you.

If you have work groups or departments bickering in your company, you had better get busy.  Right there is the source of some, if not all, of your word of mouth complaints.

 

Posted by: Andy Porter | June 15, 2011

Where Does Great Word of Mouth About a Business Come From?

  1. Great word of mouth starts at the top of any company.  It flows from the owner to the management to the staff, and then amongst all of them.  We already know that people tend to treat others the way they are treated.  If the owner or management treat the staff with kindness and understanding and follow the next five points, they will have loyal employees, which is the first big step to great word of mouth.   If not, they will have trouble.
  1. A business must have a system to gather accurate, up-to-date feedback from customers in order to understand how customers feel and where the company might improve.  Otherwise it’s all just guessing.
  1. Constant attention on quality of service based on the feedback you receive is vital.  Hold weekly meetings to discuss what is working and what needs to work better.  Invite your experienced staff to come up with ways to handle any problems.
  1. An ongoing program to train and educate staff is a must.  This includes:  Training for their basic duties and complete understanding of the services or products offered, mastery of all applicable software, training on customer service and when that’s all done, cross training on related positions.
  1. Recognizing and rewarding service excellence.  Employees who excel at servicing customers should be acknowledged and if possible promoted.  Building a team of motivated, empowered staff is the key to creating loyal customers.
  1. Recognize and effectively deal with employees who constantly gossip, gripe and complain.  These behaviors cause stress for the rest of the staff and can ruin morale.  If management does not effectively rid the company of these behaviors, they will drive your best staff away.

Drill:  Give your company a grade on each of the 6 areas above.  Grade each point like in school:  A, B, C, D, F, and write the grades in the left-hand margin.  If applicable, grade your department in the right-hand margin.

Posted by: Andy Porter | March 21, 2011

Customers and Co-Workers: Dealing with Emotions

Any discussion of customer service and dealing with people needs to touch on the subject of emotions and stress.

Negative or unpleasant emotions and stress are what make dealing with employees and customers sometimes difficult. If everyone were happy and relaxed then dealing with people would be a snap and stress free. Of course this is not always the case.

Sometimes a person is temporarily grumpy or miserable. Life is full of surprises, some good and some bad. When a person is under any type of stress or strain it changes their emotional outlook. This in turn changes how a person communicates, how well they listen to what you have to say and of course what comes out of their mouth.

Everyone has experienced moments when they were under stress and said or did things that they may have later regretted. This doesn’t mean that the person is bad or always like this, in this case it was a temporary thing.

Then there are people who are just generally irritable, grumpy or unhappy. We have all encountered such people. In this case their emotional state is not temporary. For example: a person who always disagrees or argues or the customer that you just can’t please no matter what you do or say.

The difference is that in the first case the person soon “comes out of it” and goes back to being himself or herself, while in the second case the person stays in an unhappy condition.

Dealing with customers, employees or co-workers

Temporary upsets

            When a person feels that something did not go as planned it can upset them. Some people get upset when there is any change, or if something unexpected happens. If a customer has certain expectations which are not being met this will cause some problems, not to mention if the customer feels that your company did not do what was advertised or promised.

When someone yells at you does it change your emotional outlook? How about when you get a speeding ticket? Are you happy about this? An otherwise happy person can become angry, sad, worried, etc temporarily when something happens that they don’t want to have happen!

When a customer is upset it is usually because either your company actually did do something wrong or the customers feels that you did something wrong.

A customer may be irritated and direct this to you or your company when the actual source of the upset was elsewhere. Maybe the person just received a speeding ticket, got laid off, or is ill. All of these things probably came as somewhat of an unwanted surprise and were not on the person’s wish list for the day!

It doesn’t matter what caused the customer to be upset. The biggest mistake that you can make is to take it personally and become upset yourself. Being defensive is one of the most common reactions. Interrupting the person because you don’t want to hear the customer’s problems is another one.

Sometimes what a customer is saying is pretty crazy. Once I called the phone company and was ready to scream at the person on the phone because they “couldn’t find my account”. Then it dawned on me that I was calling the wrong phone company!

Emotions are interesting. Just being near someone in a specific emotion can have an effect on ones mood and outlook. Of course when a customer is emitting a strong negative emotion it’s more difficult to remain light hearted.

Being able to master ones emotions and remain calm is a vital necessity when dealing with customers. It can also come in handy when being married, having a family or in any relationships!

The most important attributes of anyone dealing with customers are: friendly, calm, interested, helpful and knowledgeable about their services or products.

What about the person who is always unpleasant to deal with?

Customers:

Generally it would take many different interactions with a customer to know if they fall into the impossible to please category. But if this is the case, what does one do?

Of course all of the points above for dealing with unhappy customers apply: being friendly, calm, interested, helpful and knowledgeable. With such customers one needs to triple their efforts!

Sometimes it’s best to find another person to deal with the customer. Some personalities don’t mesh well. So you can tag team with another co-worker. In many cases this alone can turn the situation around and everyone will be happy. If you do this and it works, don’t take it personally! No one gets along with everyone.

Just recognizing that the person is generally grumpy or irritable can help. RULE: once you know the general emotional condition of a person you can predict what they will do and say. Knowing this you can keep from becoming upset about them. This rule can be helpful in dealing some customers and possibly even select relatives!!!

I am also a firm believer in the idea that you don’t have to like everyone. And you don’t have to service everyone. If a customer is just too belligerent then in some cases it may be better to send them elsewhere for service. Customers can fire their provider. Well, service providers can also “fire” a customer!

Employees and Co-workers:

What if you work with someone who is constantly miserable, grumpy and unhappy?

First of all make sure that you are looking at things on a long term basis, don’t look at a temporary condition.

People who are constantly negative don’t tend to have good days and bad days. They have bad days and worse days! Such people tend to get upset very easily and then stay that way. Another characteristic is that they tend to blame someone else for their problems. It’s never their fault.

Gossiping and spreading negative news or rumors is another favorite pastime. An interesting fact is that when they do spread gossip or rumors it is usually about your most productive employees!

There are many words written about stress at work. One idea is that stress comes from being busy. In my experience stress at work comes from having to work with someone who is constantly negative. Its hard to get excited about going to work if you know that you’re going to have to listen to Joe or Sally complain all day long!

I have hired many professional people in many different businesses. I have found that one of their main concerns is the atmosphere of the work place. Is there lots of unrest? Gossiping? Back biting? More and more people understand that this is the cause of stress at work and want to get away from such places.

When you trace it down you will probably find that the majority of the stress and drama at work comes from a very few people.

Don’t make excuses for such people. Just apply your regular HR procedures and start to hunt for a replacement!

Click here to learn about our WelcomeTeam Training program.

 

 

Posted by: Andy Porter | January 28, 2011

Hold a Client Appreciation Week!

Holding a Client Appreciation Week is a wonderful way to promote your business, get the staff excited and attract positive attention from your clients and the community at large. The general idea is to schedule a week (or two) for the event.

The event is promoted as Client Appreciation! We love and appreciate all of our awesome clients and this event is for you! Come in to see us any time during the 2 week event and have refreshments, get entered in a drawing, pick up free stuff and generally have a good time.

For the entire duration of the event the business will:

  • Give a drawing ticket to every person who comes in the office for any reason
  • At the end of the event winners are drawn and prizes are given out to all winners.
  • Provide refreshments to anyone who comes in, maybe home baked cookies, some drinks (hot chocolate, cider, tea) or what ever is correct based on the time of year you hold the event.
  • Decorate the entire office, inside and out. The decorations can be based on when you have the event, it can be themed with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentines Day, Christmas, or any other local event.
  • Create baskets at reception of Free stuff to give out to everyone who comes in. (see below for details)
  • Ask your staff to come up with any and all ideas of what to do for the event that would show your customers that you appreciate them! Add what ever fun ideas they come up with.
  • If you do the event during the end of the year you can concurrently run a Toy collection drive, or a Food drive.

Here are a few more details about what to do:

  • Create some kind of special offer for products or services to run concurrent with the CAW, create flyers or what ever to promote it.
  • Get an announcement and explanation of the event on your web site
  • Use your email data base to promote the event well before it happens
  • Get signs up in the office with dates for the event
  • Use what ever social media you can to announce the event and invite everyone (existing customers as well as new people) to drop by for a visit.
  • Have a sign up and offer tours to any new people who come in.
  • Prepare welcome kits to hand out to anyone who comes in
  • Create a list of prizes to give out to the winners of the drawing.
  • If you are also running a food or toy drive, set up a collection bin along with signs for people to drop their donations.
  • Depending upon your business ask your suppliers for free stuff. If your purchaser calls and lets your vendors know that you’re holding a Open House type event they will sometimes offer to give you actual gifts that you can give away in the drawing, and in many cases will give you loads of free stuff, like pens, hats, Frisbees, cups, mugs, etc. You’d be surprised what you can get if you ask!

Other details:

  • Create an Appreciation Week Program. Go over it with all staff well in advance of the event, get their input.
  • If the staff are excited it will be easy to delegate the various steps of the program to them.
  • Set exact dates for each step of the program to get done.
  • Make sure that you’re marketing actions are done well in advance of the event!

After the event is over:

  • Create a list of all prizes and do the drawing for winners.
  • Designate someone to call and notify the winners!
  • Make sure all prizes are given out. In some cases you can ask to take their picture with the prize.
  • If you ran a food or toy drive, deliver the items to the appropriate agency, and get some sort of receipt noting what you donated.
  • Do a write up after the event detailing how great it went, how many prizes you gave out, include pictures of the decorations or all the people who showed up, prize winners, etc.
  • Get this on your web site, email it as a newsletter, on your blog page, etc.
  • If you did a food or toy drive you can create a simple press release and get it sent in to the local newspaper or Chamber of Commerce office.

Click here for more information about WelcomeTeam Training!

Posted by: Andy Porter | January 28, 2011

The Customer is EVERYTHING!

If you take time to read customer service manuals, books or articles or if you go to seminars or workshops then you know that they all talk about the same basic stuff:

  • How to please the customer.
  • How to wow the customer.
  • How to make your customers loyal
  • How to knock your customer’s socks off
  • How to create a memorable experience for your customers.
  • How to anticipate each and every small need of the customer.

You’ve heard it all before. The customer is your boss. The customer signs your paycheck. The customer’s needs and desires are paramount.

The customer is God.

We shall all bow before the holy customer and do everything to service thee.

It gets a little crazy, doesn’t it?

Can we be honest for a minute?

First of all let’s face it, you can’t please everyone. There are certain customers that just cannot be pleased. You know it and I know it, but it’s never written about in the customer service books or manuals. The basic idea is that you MUST please EVERYONE! And if you can’t or don’t, then boy are you just plain lousy at customer service!

There are customers who would complain if you gave them a bag of gold. (“It will hurt my back if I have to carry this out to the car!)

While were being honest, lets really dig deep, shall we?

It’s actually OKAY if you don’t please everyone.

I know that sounds sacrilegious. This is something that should never be said out loud. We’ve all known an employee who would immediately grab a hold of this idea and use it to write off any and all complaints. That’s why no one ever talks about it.

There are many reasons why you will never be able to please everyone.

First, not everyone likes or dislikes the same things. You may have one customer complain about your receptionist and 100 other customers say that she or he is the best they’ve ever seen. In a restaurant your most loved dish (Chicken Cordon Bleu with Béarnaise Sauce) won’t be loved by everyone. You can count on the fact that someone won’t like it at all!

Then there is the type of customers you hope to attract. Is your service or product a run of the mill sort, or is it for high-end customers?  If you run a 4 star hotel some guests will complain about the price. No matter what your prices are. If you run a Motel 6 some will complain that there is no wireless Internet or valet service. So we have the fact that as soon as you try to focus on a specific type of customers you tend to make the others unhappy.

In some cases the customer just wants a fight. I have known customers who ALWAYS return their food and complain in the restaurants they visit. They feel it’s their duty. Some love the drama. Some love the new and exciting stories they can tell their friends about how they got such HORRIBLE service at such and such a place.

Some of the customers that I have bent over backwards to treat the best were the ones who complained the most.

I know customers who feel slighted if they are not really wowed and impressed. I recently read a book where the author was irate because the hotel clerk did not drive down to Wal-Mart to buy him a full sized ironing board. He was NOT happy with the small ones the hotel had, and wanted a regular sized ironing board. The idea was what louts they were for not going to buy one for him.

So where does this leave us?

When there are complaints do the usual. Go and look to see what happened and if there is something to fix, fix it.

But maybe you have been over and over everything and you just can’t see what you did wrong or what you could have done better. Then what?

My advice is simple: Don’t sweat it. Don’t get upset or feel bad. Don’t yell at your co-workers or get angry at the employees. Just smile, laugh and be happy! Recognize that you do a heck of a good job at customer service and go have fun servicing the next customer!

Click here for more information about WelcomeTeam Training!

Posted by: Andy Porter | January 14, 2011

Firing Bad Customers

Why it can be therapeutic to fire customers.

I suddenly realized the other day that I have never written an article on how to fire a customer! Or why a company would want to in the first place.

From my experience, most businesses never officially fire customers. They just muddle along trying to do their best. If the business has a very troublesome customer, the employees usually just grit their teeth and get through it and/or try to get a co-worker to deal with the problem customer.

Sometimes the employees “fire” the customer without telling the boss or asking for approval! They simply decide that this specific customer is horrible and they make things so miserable for the customer that the customer never returns. This is NOT the correct, preferred method to fire bad customers!!!!!

There is a danger of even mentioning this subject to the employees (or owners, for that matter) about “firing bad customers” for fear that they will start to fire every customer that they have (even the slightest or in some cases, imaginary) problems with!

Which customers should be fired?

There is a world of difference between a customer who is having a bad day and one who consistently chops people up. Show me a person who is always nice and never gets upset and I will show you a person from another planet!! Alien Alert!

Here are some of the reasons to fire a customer:

  • Threatening employees: Anyone making personal threats should be “let go”. Personal threats do NOT mean threatening to talk to the manager about bad service but any sort of threat of physical violence.
  • Unwarranted, over-the-top verbal abuse including swearing abusively. If a customer continues this type of behavior – despite asking them to stop, it is probably time to give them the heave –ho.
  • Constantly demanding extra service or attention. This last category is, by far, more common than the other three. For example, a customer who calls back three times a day, demanding to speak to you and gets angry with all of the employees, and expects you do provide lots of extra service or products for free. And then even when you and your staff treat the customer perfectly, they still complain and tell everyone how you robbed them!

Everyone has different tolerance levels for this sort of thing. Any trained and competent customer service person understands the cardinal rule of the trade: Don’t take it personally. I have seen both ends of the spectrum.  Once I saw a clerk in a gas station “fire” a customer simply because the customer complained that the credit card reader outside was broken. More than once, I have seen a receptionist take far too much aggravation from a customer who should have been fired on the spot.

The point is, that you have to balance being tolerant, patient and having thick skin, with knowing when keeping a destructive customer around is creating real turmoil for your company and employees.

Use your better judgment

There are no hard and fast rules for when to fire a customer. Each case has to be taken individually. The manager must look at many factors: The effect the customer has on the staff as a whole; any mitigating circumstances regarding the customer’s upset; the length of time the person has been a customer; their history as a customer, etc.

If you are an auto mechanic and you mistakenly damage a customer’s car while you are test-driving it, of course the customer will be very upset. One would use considerably more care and empathy with someone upset in these circumstances.

Sometimes, customers get incredibly upset and abusive over very minor things, I have even seen customers become upset over an imaginary error or complete misunderstanding.

There are many articles advising that your main criteria for deciding whether to fire a customer or not is to calculate how much money the customer spends at your business. The idea being that if they are high paying customers, you shouldn’t fire them. This is understandable, but I don’t agree with this viewpoint. In my view, you should weigh how much stress they bring to you and your employees.

Having several really horrible customers can cause you to lose your best staff and make working conditions for you and your employees miserable and really, no amount of money from the customer is worth that.

Employees who want to fire customers often

If I have an employee who is constantly clamoring for me to fire customers, I become very interested in what THAT employee is doing! Any employee who has a short temper and poor listening skills may think that the company needs to fire half of the customers! Rather than starting to fire customers, you are better off re-training, reposting or replacing that employee!

How do you fire a customer?

 

The best way to let a customer know that they are fired is to write them a letter.

The worst possible thing to do when firing a customer is to speak to them when you are angry. If there has been an upset or incident, which has convinced you to end your relationship with the customer, take a few days and collect your thoughts.

What you DO want to do is to end the customer/provider relationship as painlessly and professionally as possible without making it any more stressful for you or the customer. This should help prevent poor word-of-mouth.

Of course, once you are to the point of firing the customer, you are probably not hoping for a positive review, but on the other hand there is no sense in driving the customer to make even more bad waves for your business.

So, take some time and write a letter.

What to say?

Here is a simple outline with a few ideas, try something like this:

Dear John Doe,

 

I am writing to you regarding your relationship with our business. It has come to my attention that you have indicated displeasure with either our services or our team.

 

It appears that we are no longer able to fulfill your ________ needs to your satisfaction and, therefore, are unable to retain you as our customer/client.  As an alternative, we would like to suggest that you select another ___type of business provider___ who may be better suited to meet your needs.

 

We thank you for your past business and wish you the best of success in finding another __type of business that will be a better fit for you.

 

Sincerely,

Business Owner

The above letter is simply a starting point; you can quickly fill in the blanks and mail away. There is no need to outline in the letter what you feel the customer did wrong, or explain WHY you are choosing not to do business with them anymore; it is generally a waste of time and may stir things up and make things worse. Remember, the purpose of the letter is to fire the customer, not reform them If you want to reform them, then you need a different type of letter! This letter is sent specifically to fire them, so keep it simple!

The letter should be: short; professional; non-accusatory and make it very clear that you would like the customer to go elsewhere for services/products.

Customer Responses

Don’t be surprised if you send the letter and the customer calls you back right away apologizing and wanting to make amends. This happens 30% to 40% of the time. If they do this, I would consider giving them another chance. I have seen this work out well in many cases. Of course if the customer’s bad behavior starts to happen again, I would suggest firing them again right away and make sure it is for good!

Different types of business

There are definitely types of businesses where you are more likely to get rude customers. For example, a drive-up window at McDonalds ; people working at a government office that serves the public – oftentimes people come in actually looking for a fight even before they arrive.

 

What happens if you don’t fire customers?

If you have a customer clearly deserving to be fired and yet you do nothing about the situation, it lowers staff morale. It will appear to your staff that you care more about the customer’s money than you do about them – your trusted employees.

The holy commandment that “the customer is always right” is not only wrong, but tends to invalidate your employees if there is a crazy customer around. I have seen many employees punished, or even fired, in situations where it should have been the customer who was fired, not the employee!

Keeping customers around after they have repeatedly created turmoil in a company has a detrimental effect on the overall atmosphere of the business. If employees have just spent time dealing with a badly behaving customer – their interaction with the next customer might also be compromised. In fact, having to deal with one really horrible customer can sour a customer service person for an entire day.

The above is related to how abusive customers affect employees. Let’s look at how an abusive customer can affect you, the business owner using the following example:

You have a consulting client who always calls and demands special service, does not respect your time, or schedule and expects you to put your other clients on hold to help them only. You have had several heart-to-heart conversations with the customer and there has been no change in their behavior. If you spend a few hours dealing with this customer’s complaining, whining, criticizing and special demands – it could have a considerable negative effect on your dealings with your next customer. In fact, burn-out can often be traced to being saddled with several of these overly demanding and unpleasant customers. After a while, you may decide to give up consulting altogether!

Part of a manager’s job is to back up and support their employees. This creates employee loyalty.

Another key manager duty is to ensure that the best level of customer service is delivered.

These duties take intelligence, diligence and understanding. And sometimes, firing “bad” customers can help you achieve both.

Click here for more information about WelcomeTeam Training!

Posted by: Andy Porter | December 30, 2010

Internal Marketing – 16 Simple Steps

Marketing efforts can be divided into two categories.

External Marketing denotes all of the actions you take to attract new customers. External marketing includes such things as your sign outside, your web site, attending Chamber meetings, all advertising and… well the list is very long! The purpose of external marketing is to let people know that you’re there, what services or products you offer and to entice them to visit your web site or come in, call or in any way reach for services/products.

Internal Marketing includes all of your actions to maintain a relationship with someone who has already purchased your product. Letting existing customers know about an upcoming sale is a common and narrow use of this type of marketing. A comprehensive internal marketing program includes such things as customer service surveys, providing educational information, showing the customer that they ARE important to your company and is simply a way for a company to maintain communication with their customer base. Of course the purpose of this is to increase sales, but effective internal marketing also improves word of mouth, increasing referrals.

Sometimes marketing actions overlap, reaching both “old” and “new” customers at the same time. For example collecting toys or food and donating them to a food bank or community center involves and interests your existing clients and if made known in your community will also attract new customers. Any internal marketing program that creates good will or educates or improves service will improve your customer’s loyalty and so increase positive word of mouth for your business.

It is a mistake to not balance these two marketing functions. Actually your external actions will bolster your internal programs and vice-versa. Focusing too heavily on one area while not developing the other can be detrimental.

One example of this is “new client packages”, where the new customer is offered a package of services at a MUCH lower rate than the existing customers receive. This often offends your existing customer base, possibly motivating them to leave your company so that they can come back and be a “new” customer!

Basics

Here are some internal marketing statistics:

  1. It costs, on average, 6 – 10 times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one
  2. The average organization loses 50% of its customers every five years; and the cost of replacing them can be six to seven times more expensive than winning them in the first place.
  3. Studies have proven that a mere 5% increase in customer retention can result in profit increases of at least 20% (and as much as 80%) for most businesses or, that repeat customers spend an average of 67% more than new customers. Additionally, after 10 purchases, a customer may have referred as many as 7 people.
  4. Studies show that the average business loses 20 percent of its customer base each year.  For example, let’s say your business has 700 customers that buy repeatedly from you during the year and each customer spends an average of $300 a year. If you lose 20 percent of them (one hundred and forty), you’ll loose $42,000 a year. That’s a lot of money to make up with new customers.

Of course all of these numbers and percentages vary from industry to industry and from region to region, but the general idea is that most of the income a business receives is from existing customers and keeping them happy is of the utmost importance.

Internal Marketing targets your current or past customers. It keeps your customers connected, lets the customer know that you haven’t forgotten them and that you care about them, and provides an opportunity for you to let your customers know about new products, services, equipment and so on.

Per my own surveys with thousands of people the number one reason they are loyal customers to any provider is related to personalized service. Some one remembered their name, or their likes, or some detail about them.

An effective internal marketing program is a very effective way to create and maintain a personalized relationship with your customer base.

Keeping track of your customers

Creation and maintenance of your customer database is of HUGE value to any business. A customer database lets you keep track or people who bought from your company:

o       Recently, or based on time

o       Volume or frequency of purchase

o       Types or selection of products

o       Total yearly or lifetime purchases

o       Location, city or zip code

Creation of the database is not the topic of this article, but I will make a mention about maintaining the accuracy of the contact information of your customers. Obviously having just a customers name and no contact data is not of much value. All businesses large and small MUST create and follow simple protocols to make sure that customer info is correct and up to date. Contact info can be updated on line, over the phone or when ever a customer comes into the office, store or what ever.

Regular mailings (every three to six months) ensuring that you will get back address corrections is vital if you plan to use your date base for regular mailings. Marking “Address Correction Requested” ensures that if the customer moved and filed a forwarding form with the post office that you will be able to update your files accurately.

This area is sometimes overlooked, in many businesses no one is watching to ensure that the database is up to date and being corrected regularly. Noting is a bigger waste of effort and money than to be sending your message out to no one!

In my experience there are no internal marketing actions that work for everyone or work everywhere. Every type of business is different. They have different types of customers, different needs, wants, etc. Not only that but even in a single industry, say Auto Repair, or Dentistry, so much varies from region to region that you just have to try things and see what works for you and your customers. What is workable in Mobile, Alabama may not get any results in Aberdeen, Washington.

Here is a list (in no particular order!) of some internal marketing actions that can be used.

  1. Sending out Birthday cards, either by mail or email, congratulating the person and possibly offering a free product or service. People (usually!) like to have their birthday remembered and (always!) love birthday gifts.
  2. Creation and distribution of business cards and business card size magnets matching in look and feel to your web site.
  3. Regular mailing of “Most Commonly Asked Questions” postcards to active and inactive customers.
  4. Personalized letters to customers/clients/clients from the mechanic, doctor, instructor and or staff. Topics such as How did we do?, Was there anything wrong, Follow up letters (how is the car running?; how is Fluffy’s foot doing?, etc). These can be typed and then signed personally.
  5. Creation and publication of newsletters, educational materials. Any information that could be of practical use to your customers. These can be distributed on your web site, through email, or mailed out regular like.
  6. Client, Customer Appreciation Day or Week. This is a good bi-yearly idea. For one week have home-baked cookies, offer free drawing tickets, give away stuff, spruce the place up and plaster the place with stuff saying how much you love your customers.
  7. Holiday Decorations! Every Holiday is an opportunity for getting decorated! Christmas, Halloween, July 4th, etc, are great reasons to go crazy and decorate. Staff love it, and it makes things fun. Customers can tell when the staff are having fun! Don’t forget to decorate your web site!
  8. Do annual or semi annual food or toy or shoe drives. Collect and donate any useful item. Staff always love this program, your customers love donating and if you contact the local paper they will cover it and your name will get out into the community. And besides, its FUN!
  9. Referrals through a rewards and validation program, dinners, movie tickets. First you need to have an effective method to find out how every new clients came to your business, then if they were referred to you, ask who referred them, and then give the referrer a reward, either credit their account, or give any award that fits and is legal!
  10. Open House, can be done yearly. An Open House does NOT have to be an expensive affair, decorations and food can be done on a budget. Any reason can be used for an Open House, a yearly anniversary of the business, getting new staff, new equipment, etc.
  11. Workshops and client education lectures. Offer free or low cost lectures or workshops for existing clients (and non-clients). The lectures can be about flea control, auto maintenance, teeth whitening, etc. They can be done after hours, or anytime.
  12. Gift certificates for holidays. Create them promote them sell them!
  13. Success Story/Client Testimonial Campaign – success stories collected from your clients and place in a binder or on the wall in your reception, waiting area or treatment rooms. Use the testimonials on your web site, include them in news letters, review them for ideas of what to write about how great you are!
  14. Educational T.V., Videos playing in the waiting area to educate clients. These can be annoying if poorly done, but can be very useful if they are educational, not just about a sales pitch.
  15. Follow Up Calls. Calling a client, customer, patient, back to see how they are doing is an AWESOME way to improve word of mouth. Follow up calls, done correctly, show the customer that you genuinely care about the product or service that was provided, that you care about the customer and that their complete satisfaction is important.
  16. Customer compensation when things go wrong. Every company has things go wrong with clients from time to time. Be sure to have on hand some form of compensation ready. I recommend buying $100 worth of $5 coffee cards, and also movie tickets, or restaurant gift cards and have them on hand to give out. I say have three types and values for the various levels of how badly you may have messed up (or how irate the customer is!).

Click here for more information about WelcomeTeam Training!

Posted by: Andy Porter | December 1, 2010

Former employees and word of mouth about your business

In the world of customer service it is said that a satisfied customer may tell 9 to 12 other people about their positive experience, but will tell 20 people (or more) if their experience was bad.

This idea is widely known and accepted. If the customer doesn’t like your company they will talk (or text, or post on social media) and tell others.

My only problem with this idea is how the word “customer” is defined.

Most business owners and managers I have met don’t seem to get that in this case “customer” is meant anyone and everyone who walks in your door or in anyway interacts with your company.

This would include, but not be limited to:

  • The Fed Ex or UPS delivery person
  • A person who comes in to use the bathroom
  • All employees
  • Employees spouses/partners
  • The mailman
  • Any sales person who comes in to sell you their products
  • People who are lost and ask for directions

Of all these groups I can tell you for certain that the group above that will spread the most negative news about your business is former employees.

Before I describe this more thoroughly, let me ask you this:

Have you ever left employ at any business, EVER, and later made negative comments that company? Can you think of specifics?

Did you tell many people?

Now of course if you fire a person for being a poor employee you might not expect a glowing reference from them. But before we discuss an employee who is fired or laid off let’s talk about an employee who quits.

Say that there is an employee who has been working at a company for some time and has been doing a good job. In many cases when the employee gives notice the employer is suprised, agitated, frustrated, irate, angry or upset. Have you ever experienced this? I have seen employers act very badly when they receive notice that one of their employees is planning to leave. Sometimes the employer will just tell the employee to leave right this minute. As if the employee has committed a crime by wanting to leave.

I have seen and/or experienced all sorts of wild reactions. I have seen employers who feel “betrayed” by the employee, or feel that the employee is some sort of enemy for leaving! Unfortunately this is not uncommon.

Of course this is absolute insanity. If a person who works for you decides to move on the only correct response is to be excited for the person! Maybe they got a better job offer and will make more money, or have new duties, or they are in some way moving up or trying something new, or moving to a new city, or, or or…the point is that its exciting and the only sane reaction is to be excited for the person and validate them.

If the employee was productive, had been there for sometime, give them a party, buy them the gold watch and chain and thank them for their years of service. Any employer reaction other than this is not just wrong from the point of view that the employee has helped the business, but it is certain to create rancor.

The very worst thing to do is to treat them like some traitor. I have seen businesses try to gyp them out of benefits or try to make life miserable for them. Many staff, when they do give notice are worried about what the reaction will be. This is because of the bad reactions they have had in the past!

Now if you want to talk about bad word of mouth, this will take the cake!

Any person who is treated badly, as in the above examples will spread not just bad, but horrible word of mouth about your company from here to Nairobi and everywhere in between.

One reason for this outpouring of bad word of mouth is the injustice of it all. Simply quitting is NO reason to be treated badly.

Employees who do get fired will usually do LESS trash-talking about the company than the employee who quits and is treated poorly.

There are volumes to be written about how to treat employees and why this is important. It is a fact that ONLY loyal employees will deliver consistent top-shelf service to your customers.

But no matter how well you treat employees they will at some point move on.

How you react to the news and treat the employee who leaves tells volumes about your company and will, for better or worse, have a gigantic effect on your companies overall word of mouth out in the community.

Posted by: Andy Porter | November 15, 2010

New Customer Tracking Log and Referral Rewards program

Keeping accurate track of where your new customers come from is extremely valuable! Advertising is expensive. When a business advertises, through any method, they must keep track of how many new customers come in as a result. If you don’t keep track, then you’ll never know if your advertising is actually working.

Guessing about how to spend your money on advertising is not the right way to go! Your business MUST have a simple and accurate method to discover where your new customer, clients or patients come from.

Every business if different, some businesses have customers come in to purchase services, others do their business on-line. A dentist’s office, an auto repair shop, a restaurant all interact with their customers in a slightly different way. So there is not one system for collecting this information.

However here are a few ideas on which you base your system for tracking new customers:

First is to create a simple log sheet, either on a clip board or in the computer that is easy to access where you can quickly mark down how a new customer heard about you.

Here is a simple example:

NEW CUSTOMER TRACKING SHEET

Date call received Val Pak Drive by or banner Yellow pages Web Site ReferralFrom who? Other       Customer Name

The chart for your business would of course have the headings applicable to your business and marketing actions. Note the section on Referrals: If the customer says they were referred in, you should ask WHO referred them and note that persons name in this box. If you ask a new customer WHO referred them in they may ask “Why are you asking?”, and the answer is: “We always send a gift to anyone who refers new customers to our business.”

If your business receives phone calls from prospective customers then at some point the receptionist can ask the customer some variant of the question: When was the last time you visited us? If the customer says that this will be their first visit/purchase, then the next question is: That’s great! How did you hear about us?

The same basic system applies when a customer comes into the store, shop or clinic. The receptionist interacts and establishes if the person is new to the business, and if they are there for the first time, asks the “How did you hear about us” question.

In my experience the staff who deal with new customers will have to trained, drilled and reminded many, many times before they start to do this each and every time. The point is: don’t give up on collecting this info just because people tend to forget to ask: just keep reminding and insisting until they DO always ask!

Another important tip to gain support from the staff about diligently gathering this data is to simply explain in great detail WHY it is important.

Most software applications have a way to track how many new customers come in during a given time period. This will show you how many new customers you got, but not where they came from. But you can use this number to compare to the NCTL and see if there are more new customers reported than there are on the NCTL. This gives you some way to check the veracity of the NCTL. You should periodically check this number against the number of customers logged on the New Customer Tracking Chart to see how many (if any) are missed.

Any business that uses a web site to contact customers can easily have fields on their forms asking how you heard about us.

Referral Rewards:

Once you have an accurate system to track where your new customers come from you will know how many referrals you are getting, and WHO is referring these new customers in to your business.

When one of your customers refers new customers in to see you they are showing how much they appreciate you and your business. Rewarding your customers for referring new business to you is an effective and real way to show your appreciation back.

Here are a few simple ways to reward your customers who have referred in a new customer:

  • Determine a dollar value for the reward and then simply credit this amount of the customer who referred new business to you. If you use this method you MUST send a letter to the referring customer thanking them for the referral AND telling them how much you have credited to their account.
  • Purchase gift cards and mail them with a thank you letter to the customers who refer in new business. The gift cards can be Starbucks, Target, a movie theater or local restaurant. People LOVE gift cards and no matter if it is for $5 or $10 dollars, they will use them and think of you!

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