I Am the Judge of You

Pointing the finger has never been so easy … and so anonymous. I suppose it’s human nature to feel (and act on) the need to take pot shots at others—whether it’s their point of view, their creations or their behavior. But to be able to do so without the fear of repercussion seems to be a growing trend. And as the owner of a product or service, it’s never been more infuriating

Pointing the finger has never been so easy … and so anonymous.

I suppose it’s human nature to feel (and act on) the need to take pot shots at others—whether it’s their point of view, their creations or their behavior. But to be able to do so without the fear of repercussion seems to be a growing trend. And as the owner of a product or service, it’s never been more infuriating.

Many small business owners complain about the power of Yelp, and understandably so. But the concept is actually brilliant. Interact with a business and, whether your experience was good or bad, you have a very large forum where you can share the love (or not). The fatal flaw is that you can do so without the business owner having the ability to correct the situation because, inevitably, pot shots are done from behind the shield of anonymity.

My Dad always used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I believe in the concept of healthy debate, so I don’t necessarily agree with my Dad, but to have a healthy debate, you need to know the enemy.

Many sites (like this one) require you to log in before you can post a comment. However you can log in with your gmail or yahoo account … and if your user name is not your actual name, it’s easy to start the attack without your boss, co-workers, spouse or clients judging you for your aggressive behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct.

The behavior is not limited to consumer sites like Yelp. On business-to-business sites like this one, there are lots of negative posts from unknown readers, and I wonder, what do they hope to accomplish??

I was recently planning a trip to Mexico and visited several travel sites trying to get the inside scoop on hotels and restaurants. While I was delighted with the many insights like “try to stay on the 4th floor or higher because the thumping beat from the dance floor will keep you awake until midnight,” I was also stunned by the spewing rants from individuals who have logged in with names like “CrabbyinNJ.”

How do we, as brand ambassadors, overcome these customer feedback challenges?

First, and foremost, train AND empower those who are on the front lines of customer engagement to act like the customer—is—always—right. Granted, you can never please all the people all of the time, but sometimes a lot of customer sympathy and a few “my apologies!” can go a long way to diffuse a situation. There is nothing more infuriating than having an issue and the person serving you is either indifferent or plainly unequipped to help solve your problem.

Second, don’t just send blanket “How did we do?” emails to every customer after an interaction. If the customer has had an issue, there should be a place to flag that issue in your customer database, so it can be quickly followed up on by someone who is in authority. Many situations can be rectified before the individual decides to go into a public forum to publicly skewer you and your business.

Third, listen to complaints and actually try to think about ways you may be able to change your policies or procedures in order to ensure the issue doesn’t repeat itself.

Finally, circle back to those customers who had an issue, got it resolved satisfactorily, and ask them if they’d be willing to write about the incident. I hear many business owners say they’re worried that if the customer “advertises” they got something for free or at a deeper discount as a way to try and resolve the issue, it will set the stage for a future customers demanding the same thing. My response is that if, as a rule of business, you treat people the way they want to be treated in the first place—with respect, concern and understanding—you shouldn’t have a problem.

As for those who slap others from behind the shield of anonymity (and you know who you are), man up.

3 Online Recommendations for Small Business Direct Marketers

Many smaller companies who use direct mail don’t have a large staff to identify digital alternatives. This column is for the organization wondering what to do online when direct mail response is declining, costs are increasing, and inevitably, profits are shrinking. Today’s topic was triggered by

Many smaller companies who use direct mail don’t have a large staff to identify digital alternatives. This column is for the organization wondering what to do online when direct mail response is declining, costs are increasing, and inevitably, profits are shrinking. Today’s topic was triggered by a phone call from the new owner of a company we worked with a few years ago.

His challenge was typical of a lot of small business owners using direct mail: declining response rates, with lower profit, exacerbated by the fact that postage, once again, has recently gone up.

When we worked with the previous owner of this company a few years ago, we identified a more responsive direct mailing, built a new website, and got him started with a modest pay-per-click campaign. We wanted to test email, but the owner didn’t want to use email, so we didn’t. The outcome from these efforts was a combination of a better list; the capability for responders to complete a lead form on a new, search-engine-optimized website; and a PPC campaign that put them back in the black.

Fast forward about five years and direct mail response has declined yet again, while costs are up. The new owner wanted to rebrand his company with a different website. But in his attempt to save money, and having no clue what he was doing, the “new” website became a brand liability and all optimization was lost. And the pay-per-click campaign faltered because of the website switch.

So what to do? He called us for help.

In an instance like this, and in the interest of keeping a plan of action simple and as cost-effective as possible for the small business going at this alone, here are three initiatives that should be explored to keep things simple and cost-effective.

1. Website Review
Most small businesses have a website. But what is its purpose, and is it effective at achieving that? Ask someone to evaluate it for you who will understand what websites should do for a company. Get an audit. Invest the money to make it a stronger representation of your brand; create great content, videos, and don’t forget your all-important opt-in form to capture email addresses. Make sure it’s optimized for the search engines. And make sure you claim your local listing on the search engines if you’re a local company.

2. Manage Expectations if You Test Email to Prospects
Because email marketing costs less than direct mail, it’s natural to think you can divert all your efforts to email and achieve the same results. But that’s often not the case, especially when you’re prospecting and not emailing a customer list. Making email prospecting more challenging is that there is no established relationship between the marketer and recipient. This isn’t to say that email prospecting shouldn’t be used, but rather, run the numbers first to manage expectations (see “Crack the Email Prospecting Code” for more on this topic). If you’re going to use email, make sure you have a compelling, relevant landing page and opt-in form to begin nurture marketing with regular email or direct mail follow-up (more about nurture marketing in a future blog post).

3. Give Pay-Per-Click a Shot
PPC enables you to set a daily budget comfortable for you. It can be ramped up, or shut down, without a lot of cost exposure. But you need strong text copy, understand your keywords, and have a powerful landing page. There, someone who clicks will opt-in by asking for more information. You can add those individuals to your nurture marketing campaign.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a quick and affordable way to reinvent or expand your direct marketing from exclusively direct mail to cross-media online efforts, these three initiatives are a good place to start.