A word on customer loyalty

“Good evening, Mr. Christiansen,” the electronic voice said.¬†

“This is an automated call from T-Mobile’s customer care center. After reviewing your phone’s internet usage, we have noticed that you use between 100 to 135 megabytes of data per month. You are currently on the 5 GB plan, which is approximately 40 times your average monthly data usage. By downgrading to our new 200 megabyte plan, you will save $20 per month. Press 1 to make this change, press 9 to remain on the 5 Gigabyte plan, and thank you for using T-Mobile”

I was blown away. I’d never had a company inform me of a less expensive option that would be a better fit. And since every bit of cash I can save counts, I pressed 1.

“Thank you Mr Christiansen. Your plan has been modified. Press 1 if you would like to speak to a representative.”

I pressed 1, asked the representative to renew my contract. They had a loyal customer for life.

Impressed?

I would be too.

But this never happened. Here’s what actually happened:

I have been having unreliable data coverage from T-Mobile--but dreading the half hour troubleshooting experience, I procrastinated calling customer service. After about a month, I finally called and told them to cancel my data plan so I could just save the 30 bucks a month until my plan expired in 3 months when I was planning on switching to Verizon anyway.

The rep said that I HAD to have a data plan (like a lot of smart phones) ¬†but also informed me there was a 200 MB plan for 10 bucks a month, compared to the the 5 GB plan I was on for $30/month. He said I never went over 135 MB. ¬†Also, my wife’s line has been on the same 5 GB plan, and her data usage was about the same as mine.

When I realized this meant we’ve been overpaying for completely unused data, the tech support agent said quickly that the “data plans change all the time”. ¬†The new $10 plan was about a year old, so I guess I’ve only overpaid about $400 for the past year for the two lines. Whew.

My fault? Absolutely. I could have done a better job vigilantly checking T-Mobile.com for new ever-changing data plans, and could have monitored my data usage. But like most people, I signed up for the service, set the bill on auto-pay, and thought all along I was on the best plan possible.

Oh well, live and learn. It certainly wasn’t the first time I have overpaid for a service. And for this, I take full responsibility. But in a competitive market, I’m baffled with how readily some companies are to idly sit by, while the customer so obviously overpays for unused services and features.

So my question is… why? Why not keep a protective eye out for customers, guiding them into the best plan for them? Why leave them in a situation where they are paying extra, completely wasting their money?

I guess I can understand from a purely financial perspective–more profits for the company, shareholders, blah blah blah… but what about creating that ever-elusive “customer LOYALTY?”

Traditional customer loyalty doesn’t seem to exist as much anymore. People like me will gladly invest 15 minutes to find cheaper auto insurance–even if my parents have been with State Farm for 50 years.

But too many companies act like this is the new permanent behavior of the customer–and act like they as the company need to go¬†for the quick buck, instead of going after the long term value of the customer.

They talk like “the customer comes first,” but their efforts are misdirected. ¬†Acting¬†kind and pleasant during my phone call doesn’t earn my loyalty.¬†Decreasing my hold time before I talk to someone doesn’t earn my loyalty. Caring about me as a customer does.

And if I feel like I am cared about, like they TRULY are there to help me find the best plan, I’ll stick with that company…even if they are a more than their competitor. And in a world where every bit of cash I can save counts, that’s saying a lot.

What companies have earned your customer loyalty?

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Why are entire call centers built to handle customer complaints, yet virtually no organized way to express thank you?

First off, did you know you could download a Kindle App for PC’s, MACs, or smartphones? I didn’t. Here is the link here. The links to download your various devices are right above the list of apps that are sold. So don’t be led astray, your free kindle download is above the list.

So, as per a suggestion from my extremely smart and well read brother Mark, (And relatively new to twitter, so go follow him at¬†@markwc) I downloaded a free book of essays entitled “The Myth of the Garage” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. EXCELLENT article on showing gratitude. The point the Heaths make is this: In America alone there are 2.7 MILLION call center employees whose sole mission is to handle disgruntled, dissatisfied customers. The infrastructure to support the callers is immense, state of the art call tracking software, top of the line phone systems. The reps are professional, personable, and you know that the feedback is getting to the right sources. That’s a lot of families getting paid off of us complaining.

But on the other side, have you ever tried to show gratitude? Does a “thank you line” exist, with any company? Let’s say you enjoy a stake dinner. You compliment the server, and do you really think the compliment gets to the right person? Do you think it might be dilluted before it is delivered, and be a watered down version, resembling something like “Hey, a customer likes this.”

The point is, while there are multi-million dollar ways to receive complaints, there is virtually nothing to receive thank yous. This is especially remarkable when as the Heaths said:

“This is an economic issue as well as an emotional one: In a survey of 10,000 employees from the 1,000 largest companies, 40% of workers cited ‚Äúlack of recognition‚ÄĚ as a key reason for leaving a job.” ¬†Taken from The Myth of The Garage–essay 3 entitled “I love you. Now what?”

Sure, there are online surveys. But few companies do them, and those that do, don’t do them correctly or personably. There are comment boxes… but those are taken as a joke. ¬†As a business owner, I want an official way to give thanks to my specific employees, and I want those thanks to be delivered to them directly.

And we all know how showing gratitude makes us feel, from a previous post…

So go out and do it. Find a way to make sure that the right gratitude gets to the right person. Don’t just tell the waiter, write down the note. Tell him it is for the creator of that steak. And do it!

Craig

A few thoughts on Social Media–Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I established ¬†that any business or professional who isn’t using Social Media ¬†is missing out and falling behind. In this post, I hope to discuss HOW business and professionals should use Social Media, by focusing on ¬†one single point:

The primary focus of social media is NOT to advertise your product. If that is your main focus, STOP. NOW. The PRIMARY focus of your Social Media activities should be ENGAGEMENT with your customers and prospects. 

Let me describe why.

Have you followed or “liked” businesses or professional on Facebook or Twitter, only to be receive a barrage of never ending self promotion? ¬†I certainly have. I’ve followed Journalists and bloggers who seem to think the only reason for twitter is to announce a link for their newest story, or to make their followers privy to their wisdom. I’ve followed businesses whose every FaceBook post tells me to come in and try a new product. It gets old. Quick. I followed them initially to show my loyalty to their brand, and to be a part of it, but my loyalty began to wain as they clogged up my timelines by “push” advertising.

This kind of advertising is essentially no different than what has been done for 100 years on “traditional” forms of media. ¬†And this is why these types of companies or individuals only achieve a small fraction of what they are capable of.

See, what many don’t realize, Twitter is a huge party, filled with good friends discussing common interests and reflecting upon current events. And some of the same social rules apply to Twitter, as apply in party situations. So staying with our party analogy, ¬†you arrive–not really knowing anyone, so you start to eavesdrop. ¬†You get to know people by engaging, asking questions, and learning about others.¬†Twitter is filled with insightful, hilarious, and very interesting people.

Suddenly, a guy shows up in a nice car. Everyone notices, because this guy is filthy rich or a celebrity, and at first, everyone surrounds him to see what he’s like. Well, this guy proceeds to ONLY talk about himself. Or as Brian Regan puts it, he is a “Me Monster.” (Watch the clip here) ¬†What do think happens at the party? People start to lose interest and walk away. ¬† Why? Because oh yeah, it’s a crowded party. And there are a lot more interesting people to talk to, and quite frankly, no one has time to waste listening to someone only talking about themselves. The same thing happens on Twitter. “Famous people” ¬†and businesses get massive followings, just because they want to see what they’ll say. But if they don’t mix things up, and only advertise, they may not lose many followers–but they will definitely miss out on the passionate following they COULD ¬†have.

Also comparing Twitter to a party, Marla Tabaka said in her article entitled “Giving up on Twitter–if you are thinking of throwing in the towel, take a closer look at what you’ll be missing out on.”

“So now you‚Äôre asking, ‚Äúwhat do I say?‚ÄĚ Well, what would you say at your party? Remember, it‚Äôs not all about you. If you are a good communicator you typically ask questions and show interest in the life of others, right? Social Media is about what you can give, how you can help others, and learning from others as well. If you are expecting to make a quick buck you might consider another form of internet marketing. I‚Äôm not saying that it isn‚Äôt possible, but realistically most seasoned veterans are here to offer value.” (emphasis added)

Back to what this means for businesses… quite frankly, a century-old buying cycle has been completely destroyed within the last 10 years. This is a remarkable revolution that you cannot afford to not know about. ¬†Many customers have all but abandoned the “funnel technique” of choosing a product–which is starting with several possible brands, comparing, narrowing it down, until finally making their choice and not engaging with the company at all, until they need to buy again.

Today’s buying cycle looks more like this model, taken from a Harvard Business Review article on this very subject:

In this new model, it shows that how the relationship with the company doesn’t END with the purchase. But rather, customers want to continue to INTERACT with and PROMOTE their favorite brands. As customers enter the “Loyalty Loop”, they want to follow their brand on Facebook, communicate with their favorite company, and advocate the brand to others. In other words, they want to feel involved.

It is a business owners dream come true–armies of passionate customers, advertising by word of mouth.

This will ONLY happen ¬†if you have ways for customers to bond and engage with you. If you aren’t engaging, it’s one-way self-promotion. And unable to participate, your customers won’t become advocates.

By publicly answering questions, laughing at customer’s jokes, and retweeting what they write (not just about you), you are showing publically that those indivuduals are IMPORTANT. It also proves you or your company¬†are personable, and they will love you for it.

Here are my questions, in order to better engage with customers:

  1. Try to publicly answer every question posed to you by those who follow your company or brand. If it is a complaint or criticism, apologize, and ask them to send you the details in an email, where there is more space to discuss.
  2. Follow people you think are interesting.
  3. Retweet tweets you find funny or interesting–NOT just tweets about your company. Retweeting is a form of praise on Twitter.
  4. Be approachable. On blog entries, show respect for their comments–this goes a long way to encourage more participation from those who are silently reading.
  5. Be AUTHENTIC. Be real. Show a sense of humor. Don’t force it, but just be genuine.
  6. On your Facebook page, consider discussing not only your business, but other subjects your customer base is also interested.
  7. Try to stay away from automated tweets. On twitter, the more personable, the better.
  8. Encourage fan participation through things like giving awards for the best photo uploaded, conducting polls, holding contests.
  9. Read everything you can on how to use Social Media. www.inc.com is a great place to start.
  10. Read the book “Unmarketing” by Scott Stratten and follow him at @unmarketing. That guy is a genius when it comes to social media, especially Twitter. Even though he has over 100,000 followers, he regularly interacts with readers.

The more you engage, the more loyal your customers will be. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Craig

P.S. As for my Social Media experience, I was VP of Marketing and Sales for a small business that provided services to Senior Care companies. I oversaw our implementation of Social Media, as we tried to develop a plan for our nich company in our industry. I left to focus on my own entrepreneurial efforts. ¬†I’m a business owner of a local Utah business, and ¬†conduct all of the Social Media. We aren’t HUGE, we have about 3,200 fans on Facebook, and about 700 followers on Twitter. So I know there is room for growth, and I’m learning as I’m going, while studying, and attempting to implement what I learn. I hope something I’ve shared can provide a benefit of some kind.

A few thoughts on Social Media–Part 1

If you would have approached a business owner, a celebrity, a politician 15 years ago, and told them, “ok, I have a technology which allows you to listen to what your customers are saying about your product, your competitor’s product, and give you ¬†insight into what they value most in their buying decisions.” ¬†Essentially, you have just offered them the holy grail of marketing… to know EXACTLY why people buy what they buy. If you know this, you can provide that product–and sales go up.

How much do you think you could have charged for such a product 15 years ago? Probably millions of dollars. Think about what a company like Johnson and Johnson could do with that kind of technology, or Proctor and Gamble. They pay millions of dollars each year for market research, and it only touches the tip of the iceberg into gaining this kind of true customer insight.

That product exists now… it’s called Social Media.

P.S. I received a suggestion that I needed more pictures in my blog entries…so I hope you like that one– ūüôā

Social media fascinates me for so many reasons. When we think back to different revolutionary technologies–the¬†assembly¬†line, the cotton gin, the transcontinental railroad or the first telegraph across the Atlantic Ocean, the world changed forever. Entire industries were created. Fortunes were created that were only dreamed of before. Ford became a household name. Names like Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller became business titans. But think about those first few points. Entire INDUSTRIES were created. The business world changed FOREVER.

We are witnessing this in our own lifetime. We point our finger and mock the person who is completely addicted to facebook, but we’re ALL part of this revolution. We are changing our very habits of communication, buying products, interacting with brands, and conducting research. I’m about to leave T-Mobile for another cell provider. How did I conduct most of my research? Asked my friends on Facebook. Why? Because I trust them.¬†I could have just compared the info found on Verizon Wireless and T-mobile’s websites, but anyone can create a great website.¬†I can read testimonials online all day long, but I don’t know if the positive ones were written by a Verizon employee, and if the negative ones were written by someone from Cricket.

Never again will companies wonder what their customers are saying, because they can search the hundreds of millions of tweets being sent every day. They can set up highly interactive brand pages on Facebook, and conduct polls, contests, and ask for testimonials. And the best part about it? It is FREE.

Free.

This isn’t a $10,000 a month contract you sign with people, this is literally a service that takes about 3 minutes to get started.

So my first series of questions: Why are SO MANY professionals not doing everything they can to learn how to harness the power of Social Media? Why isn’t every business developing a strategy for how to implement Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare? Why doesn’t every company answer customer questions or frustrations right away, like Dish Network (@dish_answers) and ¬†America First Credit Union (@AFCU) did for me this past week? Literally, within minutes, they had answered.

For @dish_answers, I had just complained that my recording I had scheduled was off by an hour–which made it useless. ¬†They contacted me right away, apologized, and made some recommendations of how I could fix the problem. With @AFCU, I had just praised their customer account services, and mentioned we were looking into their business services. They thanked me for my business, and sent me a link for some of their business services. To tell you the truth, I was extremely impressed. Just like that, in a medium I feel comfortable using, they addressed my issue. No hold time, no automated voice telling me which options to push, just good customer service–through Twitter.

And just like that, I went from a satisfied customer, to a loyal customer.  Mind you, this was all in public, for tweets that all could see (more on my next post).

I find it incredibly odd that ALL businesses aren’t more deeply engaged in Social Media. Why the continued skepticism? Why the whole, “Ah… I just don’t get Twitter… it’s just not for OUR business.” ¬†You realize almost ALL of your customers are on Facebook, right? They use it. They interact with countless brands. Except yours. You have access to their preferences, insight into buying decisions, and the chance to build your own brand image which will build customer loyalty like never before… DIVE IN!

Here are a few suggestions for getting started:

1. There are a LOT of very insightful articles on developing a Social Media strategy for businesses all over the internet. I really like Inc Magazine though–at simply inc.com. I’ve read some really good stuff there–particularly written for beginners.

2. Set up a Facebook, Google+, and Twitter account for your business. From day one, use it as an opportunity to INTERACT with your customers. Don’t use it as just a sales tool. use it as a chance for customers to see just how human, funny, and personable you truly are. Be genuine, though.

3. Get started! Tell your customers about your page, and set up notifications for whenever you receive tweets, or when someone posts on your company’s wall.

When my wife and I were first told to put up a Facebook page for our business, we wondered, “What would we ever write on there?” Our business has about 3,000 fans now, and I honestly wouldn’t know what we’d do without that opportunity to interact with our customers. We absolutely love it. ¬†It’s become ¬†a priceless part of our business.

What have been some of your experiences with interacting with companies or professionals through social media?

Why work in sales?

I honestly think everyone should work a commission only sales job at least once in their life. Not for just a few weeks, but for a year or so. The benefits are enormous. (By the way, I also consider almost all self employed jobs and paid-by-the-job kind of jobs “sales”, because whether a dentist or an attorney calls himself a sales professional, if he/she doesn’t sell their services, they won’t last).

I’ll try to outline the benefits in this post.

Why would I recommend everyone get a job in sales, when there is so much rejection, struggle, and hard work required to experience success? Why not pick some relaxed job at a corporation where you don’t have to work hard all day?

I can think of many different reasons why I’ve chosen my career in sales. But the following are a few of my primary reasons. They are the ones that keep me here, even during the times when I’m cursing my career choice. These are the ones that keep me coming back. And if you are considering a career in sales, these are ¬†the top reasons you should consider.

1. It prepares you for business ownership. If your ultimate goal is to own your own business at some point, and leave the E or S quandrant for the I or B quandrant, there is almost no better training than sales. You will have to sell employees on why they should work for your company that doesn’ t quite exist yet. (I’ll never forget the looks on applicant’s faces, when I interviewed them for a position in our cafe–which was under construction. We sat amidst the rubble and sawdust of construction–very few could see past that) You may have to sell investors on why they should invest into your concept. You will probably have to sell your spouse or loved one on why you should push through those trying times during those tough beginning years. Sales–except for maybe accounting–is the best training if you want to be a business owner.

2. The opportunity to help other people. I’m putting this ahead of the income potential, because if you put this first, the income will follow. It is said that people want a “consultant”, not a “salesman”, so many sales organizations refer to their representatives as such. It’s also said, “people love to buy, but they HATE to be SOLD.” If you are a real estate agent (or any other sales pro) who is only concerned about commissions, you won’t help your customers get into the best deal possible–in fact, you may just push them into the most expensive deal possible, so you will receive a higher commission. Furthermore, your customers, despite what you may think, are smart enough to pick up on the fact that you are out to serve yourself, will feel SOLD, and won’t ¬†recommend you to others. But if you truly focus on getting the best deal for your customer, word will get out, and you’ll have a line of customers waiting to work with you. And to draw upon a spiritual principle, almost every major religion teaches that by putting others first, you become a better person. If you have an opportunity in your profession to be 100% committed to helping others, you will improve as a person.

3. Income. Yes, the income can certainly be great.¬†I have yet to find a salaried position with the kind of income potential sales can provide. There are countless sales sloors and organizations where the top performers make several hundred thousand dollars per year. What salaried job can even compete with that? Maybe if you stay with a major corporation for years and years. But the highest paid people I know, are either lifers at a major corporation and are living on 200K+ salaries in mid-level management positions, are Doctors/Attorneys/Dentists who had to build up their practice for years and years AFTER spending nearly a decade in school, are business owners who have made it through the gauntlet of their first few shaky years, or they are top performing sales professionals. I have seen sales professionals crack a hundred grand their FIRST YEAR of sales. And I’ve seen that a lot. It is one of the only professions out there where you can make that kind of money, with or without experience, and with or without an education. You have to be able to stick with it though, and be teachable, coachable, and motivated. Don’t expect to have it handed to you either, you have to get after it all the time. But if I’m going to put in my time working for someone else, I’d like to be able to at least have the POTENTIAL to make that kind of money. At least even have it as a possibility, and then I know what to aim for. Now, with all of that being said, not all commission plans are created equal. You can work as hard as you want, but you may never make six figures selling small ticket items–yet you will work harder, and deal with the same amount of rejection as someone who does make six figures.

4. Personal Development.¬†This reason isn’t as glamorous as reason #4, but is far more important. The sales industry reminds me a lot of what my High School Wrestling coach told me after I’d been on the team for a month or so. “You stick this out, and you’ll be tougher than nails.” That’s really how a sales job goes. There’s something about starting at zero and working through a deal over and over and over that thickens your skin and tempers your perseverance. You become unstoppable. You increase in knowledge, people skills, general knowledge, etc, but the other intangibles are far more valuable. Just the confidence you have in yourself that you can get the job done is priceless. ¬†I remember when I had a posh salaried position with a major corporation. I felt fat and out of shape–psychologically. I didn’t have to HUNT anymore for my income. It just came to me, week in, week out.¬†¬†I finally quit after I realized what had happened to my work ethic. Was the money good? Sure, but not worth losing my edge in the process. Sales gives you your edge, and helps you maintain it. Survive and thrive in a commission-only sales job, and you’ll be an unstoppable force–able to do anything from this point forward. The primary ways I’ve transformed that have helped with other areas of life are things like persistence, goal setting, communication, reading people, understanding what motivates people and other things about human psychology, and just tempered steel-like self confidence.

5. The Thrill.¬†Honestly, I’m addicted to the rush that goes with sales. There is nothing like running a big deal through. It’s addictive. I know a lot of guys in sales get addicted to drugs because they feel like they need them to sustain the enthusiasm and emotional “up” feeling they need to have all day. I never have messed with that crap. You don’t need to either. Get addicted to success and you’ll be fine, no matter how addictive your personality is. If you have to have some external help, you’re weaker than the guy that just needs himself and a telephone. Get addicted to the rush of success, and you’ll keep coming back over and over.

These some of the top reasons that keep me in sales, and are reasons I think everyone should try a commission only sales job at least once in their life.

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