Noah Fleming

If You Want Happier Customers Get These Three Things Right

Most executives I talk to feel like they’re drowning in data and yet anyone and everyone within the organization is telling them they need more and more data! Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all the things you need to worry about, let alone the collection of “big data” with the belief that data might help you generate better customer relations, or a more loyal customer!?

I’m going to let you in on a big secret. The companies and clients that I work with who are at the top of their games, or continuously increasing revenue are only really placing a concerted effort on three key areas. I’m going to warn you, there’s nothing ground-breaking here that you don’t already know, but how these companies are focusing on these areas might surprise you.

I’m a customer loyalty and retention expert. I’ll tell you until the cows come home that most organizations are too focused on the new customer at the expense of their existing customers, but I’m also a realist. The current customer is the beating heart of any great business, but you need new customers to grow. Anybody who tells you otherwise should be thrown from your office. Today we’re going to about new and existing customers.

The first area that these companies excel in is their uncanny ability to sell to their existing customers more often. I said sell, not just “market to,” and not just putting offers in front of them, but selling. You need the same level of gravitas and effort that is put towards new customer acquisition, applied to selling more to your existing customer base. That requires a customer retention process. Most businesses have a sales process but not a retention process. The best companies do.

I once heard an author and marketer say that all great sales & marketing is just about sharing your message over and over again. He might have been half right, once. A decade ago, maybe a quarter right. Now, it’s more like a tenth.

If you want to sell to your prospects and existing customers either the first time or the sixth time, then you need to get three things right. But you need to get them right, all the time and every time.

1. You need to maintain top-of-mind awareness with your prospects and existing customers. Some of your prospective customers aren’t ready to buy yet, and some existing customers might buy from your competitors if you’re not there. Here’s an example.

I was doing a workshop with a 60M construction firm. During the workshop, an employee in the back of the carefully raised his hand and asked if he could make a confession. With the CEO room I didn’t know what to expect, but here’s what he told us.

They had just finished an enormous and successful project. The client was thrilled! But when he returned to the client a month or two later, he found their biggest competitor performing an even larger job. They didn’t even get a chance to quote, and when he enquired the client just kind of shrugged it off and said, “They were here at the right time.”

How often is this happening in your business? Customer loyalty is never owed. It’s a function of day in and day out marketing.

2. You need maintain consistent and valuable messing. You need to have effective sales and marketing processes for before, during, and after the sale. You can’t just show up on your customer’s doorstep when you’re looking to meet quotas or get the next deal. The best companies are consistently showing up with value.

I was speaking to a group of Executives in Calgary when one woman raised her hand and asked me the following question, “Why would we continue to spend time, energy, and money communicating with our existing customers in a down economy when they don’t have any money to spend?” This is exactly the type of backward thinking that plagues organizations everywhere. Eventually, they’ll have money to spend and guess where they’ll be spending it!

3. Lastly, you need a way to test, track, measure, and ensure your sales and marketing, and customer-related processes are being completed, and that the things you expect to be happening are actually happening.

With another client, the CEO expected that when a sale was made, there was a handoff to the next person, and a package was sent to each and every customer. It took about half a day and talking to a handful of their new customers to find out this was happening, but rarely. It was only happening about 20% of the time. I’m continually advocating that you need a defined sales process for each stage of the buying cycle, and proper reporting to show you the right things are getting done. Without a systematized process, it’s virtually impossible to know where you need to improve, or where you’re dropping the ball.

Getting these three things right is all about having the right tools, processes, and procedures in place. If you do that, your organization will run smoother, your customers will be happier, and you’ll be more profitable. It’s hard to argue against that.

Over 20,000 executives receive my weekly Tuesday Tidbit. You can subscribe here. Every week I give them a specific challenge they can take back and use in their companies. Here’s one for you.

Secret shop your customers and clients. Have someone from outside of your company call a couple of your top clients ask them for a referral for something that’s directly in your wheelhouse and see if your customer refers you.

These are the types of growth-focused challenges that can be hard to swallow. But that’s how we learn. If you hear something that makes you flinch, it likely has nothing to do with the quality of your products and services, and almost everything to do with one the three areas listed above.


About the Author

Noah FlemingNoah Fleming is a globally recognized customer loyalty expert. He works with companies in a broad range of industries with revenues ranging from 5M to 2B per year to create dramatic results. He is the author of the new book, The Customer Loyalty Loop, and the Amazon #1 bestselling book in sales, marketing and customer service categories, Evergreen: Cultivate the Enduring Customer Loyalty that Keeps Your Business Thriving.

Sharon Drew Morgen

Why the Need to Build Relationships is a Myth

In 1937 Dale Carnegie published his celebrated How to Win Friends and Influence People – the first book suggesting sellers build relationships. 1937: with primitive transportation, sellers found clients closer to home; telephones were emerging (FYI – Morse Code was preferred for 40 years after the telephone was invented!); marketing avenues were limited, as was advertising (Sears Catalogue, Life Magazine, The Farmer’s Almanac, the local paper or general store). Obviously there was no technology, or global competition.

Selling focused on natural customers – face-to-face relationships with neighbors and friends. And buyers needed sellers for information and relevance. Relationships were vital.

It’s now 2016. We have a plethora of options to present our solutions. Our communications capability is global, cheap, and ubiquitous. With safe payment and delivery options, global competitors are pervasive. And – here’s the big one – our prospects have the ability to receive the information they need to easily choose a solution without us. Buyers contact us only when they’ve done their Pre-Sales change work and are ready. They don’t need a relationship with us.

The Ploy of Building Relationships

So why do we continue to think we must ‘build relationships’?? As a carryover from Carnegie, relationship building has been used as a ploy to manipulate a sale. If buyers like us, the thinking goes, they’ll buy. Here’s the reality:

Everyone knows you’re pretending. Until you’ve known people over time, through the good times and bad, you’re not in a relationship with anyone, especially when you’re trying to be nice so you can meet your own agenda.

Your ‘relationship’ will not facilitate a sale. Buyers cannot buy unless they have managed their internal change management journey that

  1. assembles all the people needed to be involved and hears their voices/concerns/criteria;
  2. gets buy-in from the Buying Decision Team that something must change;
  3. figures out how to meet everyone’s needs and make adjustments that fit without internal disruption.

Buyers can’t buy until they’re ready, willing, and able to bring something new into their status quo regardless of how ‘nice’ you are.

Buyers aren’t swayed by your niceness. It will, however, make you a preferred vendor WHEN ALL ELSE IS EQUAL and WHEN THEY HAVE REACHED THE POINT OF CHOICE.

It doesn’t work when your focus is a sale. Here is a real dialogue:

SELLER: HI SHARON! AND how are YOU today?? ?
SDM:[picking up the phone in tears, thinking it was my friend] My name’s not Sharon! And I’m rotten. I just put my dog down!

I offered an ‘authentic’ moment, useful as an opportunity to connect: he should have said ‘I’m sorry that happened. Obviously you can’t speak now. Is there a better time? This is a sales call and I’d like to discuss X when you’re feeling better.’

Whether for a large, complex sale, or a small personal item, buyers cannot buy until they have their internal ducks in a row, and then agree to seek an external solution (Step 10 of a 13 Step process). Because the sales model focuses on placing solutions – possible only after buyers have completed their Pre-Sales change management issues – we can’t discern where buyers are along their Buying Decision Path and buyers show up seeking a transactional connection. Our ‘niceness’ (which I’m differentiating from real customer service) is irrelevant; we just sound like everyone else trying to sell them something.

Differentiation?

I’m told sellers use the ‘make nice’ ploy to differentiate – difficult using the conventional sales route. Following acceptable marketing criteria of the era – words and phrases that are in vogue, graphics and colors that are deemed ‘what everyone is doing’ – it’s hard to be unique. And the myth of being a ‘Relationship Manager’ or ‘creating a relationship’ is supposed to show buyers why they should choose us over the competition. See?? I’m NICE!

Here’s the truth: buyers don’t start off wanting to buy anything whether it sounds like they have a need or not. They merely want solve a problem. But they have work to do before they’re ready. It’s only once they’ve determined their systemic change management requirements that they’ll buy – but by then they’ll haven chosen their list of vendors and solutions from online data or referrals.

By focusing on attempting to influence people to buy because we’re nice, we’re left out of their behind-the-scenes decision process and reduced to ‘being there’ when/if they show up (the low hanging fruit, or 5%). Not to mention chasing bad leads with folks who we think should be buyers (Prospects are those who WILL buy, not those who SHOULD buy.).

We can mitigate this and REALLY be nice by entering enter early and facilitating buyers along the route of their systemic change/Pre Sales path. I’ve coded the steps in their decision sequence and developed a model that facilitates Pre-Sales Buyer Readiness (Buying Facilitation®). You don’t have to use my model – create your own! But entering the buyer/seller interaction as a change facilitator will differentiate you and enable a true relationship.

Buyers would never buy from anyone else when a seller has taught the prospect how to assemble ALL of the folks necessary to be part of the Decision Team, or HOW to get everyone on board for change. Remember: they will do this anyway before they buy – they might as well do this with you.

There’s a way to make money AND make nice. It’s by being a true Servant Leader and change facilitator; by entering into a WE Space in which there is a tracit agreement that everyone will be served. Stop using ‘nice’ as a sales ploy. Stop focusing on the low hanging fruit. Add a change management focus and find real buyers who’ve already recognized a problem, and first facilitate them through their route to inclusive, congruent, systemic change. Then you can become part of the Buying Decision Team, make a difference, close more, waste less time, and act with integrity.


About the Author

Sharon Drew MorgenSharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the New York Times Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

CJ Stafford

Don’t Forget to Connect Customer Service Week with Strategy

This week, thousands of organizations around the world are recognizing Customer Service Week. It’s encouraging to see companies across all types of industries make an effort to celebrate their commitment to customer satisfaction. However, many leaders are doing their organizations a disservice by not using Customer Service Week to its fullest potential as a platform for employee engagement that fosters a deeper culture of service.

There’s not a single customer service professional I know who wouldn’t agree that employee engagement is critically important to the service a company ultimately delivers to its customers. As reaffirmed in Gartner’s 2015 report, How to Get Your Customer Service Employees to Care About the Customer, research shows “high levels of employee engagement contribute to higher levels of customer satisfaction.” Yet, Customer Service Week – a time so clearly and publicly dedicated to recognizing customer care – is far too often overlooked as a critical opportunity to strengthen an organization’s relationship with and among its employees. It’s often swept aside as a ‘check-the-box’ activity fulfilled by simply giving staff members branded chotskies. Or it might be five days riddled with a host of activities that have been carefully planned but focus more on the fun than the functional. In many cases, Customer Service Week falls flat on strategy.

As you celebrate Customer Service Week at your organization, ask yourself these three questions to help ensure your initiatives are connected with a larger strategy. Use these considerations as a guide … and you may discover enhancements you can make on the fly to make this important week even more meaningful.

Are your planned activities fun and functional?

Of course, Customer Service Week calls for celebration. But the festivities should go beyond being simply fun and simultaneously serve a purpose that benefits the business. This doesn’t mean you have to cut your creativity short or make what should be lighter, enjoyable activities feel like they’re work. It does, however, require dedicated thought about how to make surface-level initiatives more impactful.

For example, consider a ‘Superhero Showcase’ dress-up day – a nod to the heroic feats customer service representatives are known for pulling off. Beyond building camaraderie by having staff members sport their favorite costumes or t-shirts on a designated day, use the opportunity to have each person share how the traits of their assumed characters relate to providing extraordinary service. This sharing will open up a meaningful discussion about what it means to embody service in its various forms and challenge professionals to think beyond traditional notions of customer service.

Do the activities engage other parts of the company?

The importance of service is hardly limited to the customer service department – and Customer Service Week activities shouldn’t be either. There’s no better time to educate others within the organization about how customer service impacts the business, so use this week (and the weeks that follow) to connect with colleagues in other departments.

One way to do this is by providing employees with a “passport” and including an insert with different missions – such as spending time with peers across the organization – that need to be completed. During those visits, employees can learn about each other’s job functions and how they deliver service to their customers, then report back to their respective teams for broader knowledge sharing. Not only does this exposure enhance employees’ perspectives and further their professional development, it also helps to fortify a consistent company-wide culture of service.

What’s next?

The spotlight on customer service recognition during these five days shouldn’t just be a moment in time. Rather, look at it as a jump-start for longer-term or ongoing initiatives for engaging employees and strengthening the service culture. Use this week as a learning opportunity to determine which approaches and tactics were most successful as well as those that weren’t as well-received … and plan for the future from there.

Did the team have a blast with the superheroes? Keep their enthusiasm going by creating a ‘Superhero Shout-out’ bulletin board in a high-traffic area where they can publicly post and share kudos for their colleagues. Were the passports a hit? That’s your cue to organize more frequent peer-to-peer exchanges among different departments.

Regardless of your approach, keep strategy central to your Customer Service Week celebrations to make them count. For more ideas or to learn more about how you can deliver outstanding care to your customers, visit www.staffcom.com.


About the Author

CJ StaffordCJ Stafford is president of Stafford Communications Group Inc., a boutique company with three distinct, yet complementary, lines of business: outsourced call center services, customer care consulting and marketing services. Stafford works with pharmaceutical, healthcare, food, consumer packaged goods and beauty care companies – ensuring their customer service initiatives are aligned to their marketing programs so they intrinsically support each other.

Sharon Drew Morgen

The Business of Kindness

Lately, while listening to an NPR program, I heard a group of business people discussing kindness.

Kindness – not a word historically associated with corporations, those bastions of male verve – is now being equated with the bottom line. How times have changed. In the 90s when I gave keynotes titled ‘Sales as a Spiritual Practice’ I would get asked: “Yes, but how would we make money?”

Imagine embracing the desire to be helpful and considerate, compassionate and generous as part of accepted business practice. We all know what happens when it’s ignored. We know how workplace issues grind people down, and how infrequently those below the top tier get asked their opinions. We know we lose more good employees to treatment issues than to pay issues. We know that 70% of buying decisions are made by women.

And yet we continue assuming the bottom line is about minimizing costs and maximizing profit.

How Kindness Can Effect Our Bottom Line

The costs of degrading and ignoring employees and making customers conform to our money-saving practices cost us high turnover, a paucity of fresh ideas and new leaders, and the need to hire more supervisory managers to handle the fallout. I know a company here in Austin with a reputation of treating employees so punitively that only naïve out-of-towners apply for the many available jobs.

Research has shown kindness actually increases our bottom line:

  • When employees are asked their opinions, treated respectfully, given jobs that enable them to exhibit excellence regardless of their pay scale, they are more creative, responsible, and loyal. They adopt leadership roles, put in longer hours, and have fewer sick days.
  • When we treat our clients kindly we keep them longer, hear about problems (rather than lose them to competitors), are offered new ideas to monetize, and have brand ambassadors to offer free marketing to connections who may become clients.

Here are a few of my personal experiences of monetizing kindness:

1. Kindness with customers:

a. In Portland recently, I couldn’t locate my correct bus stop. I called the Transit help line and a person answered! And he stayed on the line until I got to my destination!

  • Takeaway: the random acts of kindness I found throughout Portland have led me to prepare to move there.

b. After not receiving my NYTimes for four Sundays, I made two angry calls. The first woman said I would need to speak with a supervisor on Monday; the second woman not only called my local delivery folks, she called back to tell me when the paper would be delivered, called again to make sure I got it, and then left me her cell number in case the problem occurred again.

  • Takeaway: I won’t cancel my subscription.

2. Kindness with employees:

a. In the 80s I ran a tech support company in London with 48 tech folks. Annually, I gave them $2000 to take a week off to renew themselves by attending any course they wanted (photography, cooking). I also required them to take off one day a month to do volunteer work. And at least four times I year went to their job sites (and they were not my direct reports), took them to lunch, and picked their brains on ways we could do better for them and for our clients. Their ideas were terrific. As a side note, I often ran into competitors at conferences who said they tried to hire my folks away yet couldn’t pry them from my grip. “What are you doing to those folks?” I was just respecting them.

  • Takeaway: there was no turnover in 4 years; the tech folks called us whenever they heard rumors of new business and I was in place by the time the vendor delivered the product.

b. I hired a full time ‘make nice’ guy whose job it was to visit staff and clients on site to make sure the relationships and programming worked efficiently, nipping problems in the bud. With no fires to fight I had nothing to do but grow my company.

  • Takeaway: revenue doubled annually; I had a 42% net profit.

The How of Kindness: Using Listening Skills Enhance Relationships

I believe the process of listening is one of the skills that will enable us to be kind. Not only do we need to set up client Listening Conferences and staff Listening Hours, we must hear what’s being said between the lines. My new book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? explains whatever we listen for determines what we hear. So rather than merely listen for problems, we must listen for the patterns in the problems: Lots of turnover? What are we ignoring that can be resolved? Bottom line decreasing due to competition? What are clients telling us that we haven’t been listening for?

Through the years, with clients and staff, coachees and colleagues, I have found the biggest obstacle to authentic communication is how imperfectly we hear others. Far too often we enter conversations with a bias and miss what’s being conveyed that falls outside the range of expectation. Imagine if we approach our conversations with the bias of kindness:

  • An employee is perpetually late with work assignments: is there something going on in the department, with other employees, with her work load, that is causing the problem?
  • Customer service folks must recognize patterns in complaints and become leaders in resolving problems rather than maintaining the status quo. I recently heard a rep say: “I’ve had lots of complaints about this. But there are no plans to fix it.”

How can we monetize kindness with staff and clients? It’s possible to make money AND be kind. Let’s begin the conversation.


About the Author

Sharon Drew Morgen is a visionary, original thinker, and thought leader in change management and decision facilitation. She works as a coach, trainer, speaker, and consultant, and has authored 9 books including the NYTimes Business BestsellerSelling with Integrity. Morgen developed the Buying Facilitation® method (www.sharondrewmorgen.com) in 1985 to facilitate change decisions, notably to help buyers buy and help leaders and coaches affect permanent change. Her newest book What? www.didihearyou.com explains how to close the gap between what’s said and what’s heard. She can be reached at [email protected]

Build Relationships that Last for National Entrepreneurship Month

It’s only natural that we have the holidays on our minds this time of year, but I’ll admit the event I’m thinking of most may not be the same one you’re focused on. November is National Entrepreneurship Month and, as someone who works with small business owners on a daily basis and knows how hard it is to grow a business, I can’t overstate how much I appreciate the creativity, innovation and hard work of today’s entrepreneur. For me, November is synonymous with these self-starters who are following their dreams and doing business their own way. There are plenty of ways we can celebrate these entrepreneurial risk takers, and I think the best way I can show my appreciation is to provide a few tips for developing sustainable customer relationships that are critical to long-term small business success.

Starting your own business requires perseverance and determination. You are doing everything you can to increase visibility, and the next step is capturing the hearts and minds of your customers. The best way for you to grow your business into a healthy and sustainable future is by finding and retaining customers. A report provided by Bain & Company showed that increasing customer retention by as little as 5 percent boosted profits from 25 percent to a whopping 95 percent. Here’s what you need to achieve similar success.


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About the Author

H. John Oechsle joined Swiftpage in July 2012 and currently serves as president and chief executive officer. John came to Swiftpage with a 30 year track record of building highly profitable and sustainable revenue growth for emerging companies and established global leaders. John is an advocate for technology and education in Colorado and has been an active contributor to the Colorado Technology Association (CTA). He has been recognized several times for his involvement in the tech industry. In 2006 and in 2009, John was awarded the Technology Executive of the Year, and the Titan of Technology awards by the CTA. John was also awarded the Bob Newman Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community by the CTA in 2011.