3 Most Common Local SEO Mistakes to Avoid

The other day, I was consulting with a new client who wanted to boost local visibility for all of his business locations. However, as I dug deeper into his current local SEO status, I discovered he had made some common local SEO mistakes.

The other day, I was consulting with a new client who wanted to boost local visibility for all of his business locations. This new client’s main business office is in NYC, but he told me he has smaller offices throughout Long Island, Fairfield, CT, and Hackensack, NJ. His goal was to rank #1 for all of these areas. At first, this didn’t seem difficult to do with some local SEO work, such as optimizing his Google My Business accounts for each location, citations for each one, and then content to support the different offices. However, as I dug deeper into his current local SEO status, I discovered he had made some big local SEO mistakes.

Common Local SEO Mistakes

Most of the mistakes I identified for this client are ones we’ve seen many times, and have helped clients correct, so they could move on to better exposure for their local areas. In an attempt to help others avoid those mistakes, I wanted to explain what these common local SEO mistakes are and why they can end up hurting your online marketing efforts.

Mistake #1: Setting Up Fake Office Locations

Many people set up Google My Business pages for locations where they don’t physically have an office. This includes using P.O. Boxes, employees’ home addresses, and even addresses of other businesses. As long as you have an address, Google My Business allows you to open a page for it.

While this may seem like a good idea because it makes it possible to rank for different local areas, if or when you get caught, it could ruin your online visibility for all locations. Yes, this includes your real office location. Google doesn’t stand for people trying to scam the system, and will penalize them when caught.

Competitors of businesses have turned in Google My Business pages to Google for investigation.  Also, frustrated customers who thought a business was in their local area and then found out it wasn’t have reported it to Google.

The risk isn’t worth it. You may be leading in many local areas one day, and then vanish from all search results the next day if you’re caught using fake addresses.

Mistake #2:  Using One Phone Number for Multiple Locations

Having one central number to capture your online leads makes sense, but it’s not what Google wants. They want business locations to be separate entities with different phone numbers. To Google, having one phone number listed for more than one business is considered as duplicate or incorrect information, which could decrease your ranking for local SEO.

If you don’t want to use your main number for each of your business locations, consider getting a different line for each one just for online leads. You would then be able to satisfy Google and still be able to have a way to keep track of calls from people who found you online.

Mistake #3: Stuffing Google My Business with Keywords

When Google Places was first introduced, marketers quickly determined that adding keywords to the business name and description helped the profile rank higher in the search results.

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 2: Landing Pages

In my last post, I gave some specific and proven best practices for the creation of successful emails. In this post, I’ll talk about Landing Pages—because now that you’ve been able to lure your target into opening your email and clicking on the embedded link(s), you want to continue to drive that prospect to your desired outcome.

In my last post, I gave some specific and proven best practices for the creation of successful emails. In this post, I’ll talk about Landing Pages—because now that you’ve been able to lure your target into opening your email and clicking on the embedded link(s), you want to continue to drive that prospect to your desired outcome.

Whether your email offer is more information, a video, an e-book, a survey or a whitepaper, don’t send your prospect down a black hole by linking them to your website. Instead, create a specific digital destination (a landing page) for your campaign so you can not only quantify site visitors and their actions on the site, but it also reassures prospects that they’ve arrived at the right destination.

Based on lots of testing with our own clients and best practices from sites like Marketing Experiments, Marketing Sherpa, KISSmetrics, HubSpot and more, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Your LP Headline Should Match Your Email Headline: While this may not seem like rocket science, prospects can get easily confused. You have less than a second to help them take the next step, so why create confusion with a brand new headline that is seemingly unrelated to the email they opened, read and clicked?
  • Place the CTA ABOVE the Fold: Especially now that we’ve entered the world of responsive design, it’s critical that your call-to-action is near the top of your page so that those viewing on even the smallest screens can clearly take the next step. And, make sure it’s the most obvious thing on the page because—after all—it’s the action you want them to take!
  • Make Buttons Highly Obvious and Actionable: Whether it’s using a color that contrasts to the rest of your page, uses language that makes it clear what you want/what they’ll get when they click, or are sized big enough to be obvious and legible, don’t hide your action buttons where they might get missed. Instead of buttons that say “Click here” try “Get me my..”
  • Have a Single Purpose With a Single-Focused Message: Think about why the prospect clicked on the email, and what their expectations are for when they arrive on your page. Don’t clutter it up with extraneous copy points or additional “stuff.” In fact, remove other types of navigation from the page as it can unnecessarily distract the visitor from taking the desired next step.
  • Be Authentic and Transparent With Real Testimonials: While you can—and should—edit quotes, make sure they’re attributable to someone even if it’s “Carolyn G., Business owner” or “C. Goodman, California.” Make sure they’re pithy and don’t ramble. These days, “social proof” (using quotes from Facebook posts or Tweets), adds social credibility. Plus people are influenced based on reviews by others.
  • Use Bullet Points for Copy: People skim, and won’t spend any time reading long paragraphs of text. Make sure your copy is crisp—short, sharp and to the point.
  • Include a Phone Number: This helps overcome buyer insecurity that they may be dealing with a company based overseas. Plus, they may have questions before completing an order, so it’s best to provide an easy-to-find phone number to help.
  • Keep Your Forms Simple: If you don’t need to collect certain data, then don’t ask/collect it. As a rule-of-thumb, shorter forms tend to work better. Personally, I’m always annoyed that certain forms ask me for personal information that is seemingly irrelevant to my purchase. As a result, I’m often untruthful in the information I provide in that field because I consider it none of their business.
  • Radio Buttons or Drop Down Menus? The right answer is to test it yourself because different tests for different customers yield different results. Marketing Experiments provides some great case studies on this topic. In one experiment, radio buttons generated a 15% lift over a drop down menu.

In summary, if all of these marketers have already done all the testing for you, why wouldn’t you at least consider these insights and apply them to your own landing page efforts? Tell me. I’m all ears.

Omnichannel Customers Are 2X as Valuable – How to Make Them Yours

With so many trying to sort out an “omnichannel” marketing strategy, I thought it would make the most sense this month to provide some structure around what it is, the best way to take the “buzz” out of the term, and provide a framework for thinking strategically about this new mandate in marketing and strategy. For starters, here’s a simple idea, or “true north,” you can use to drive your own marketing strategy as you embrace the omnichannel consumer. “Put the Customer First” and build your “omnichannel strategy” around them.

With so many trying to sort out an “omnichannel” marketing strategy, I thought it would make the most sense this month to provide some structure around what it is, the best way to take the “buzz” out of the term, and provide a framework for thinking strategically about this new mandate in marketing and strategy.

For starters, here’s a simple idea, or “true north,” you can use to drive your own marketing strategy as you embrace the omnichannel consumer. “Put the Customer First” and build your “omnichannel strategy” around them.

Let’s remember, connecting with, engaging and finding the right new customers are where customer value is created and realized in omnichannel marketing. Optimizing that value comes through studying and tuning communications, improving your relevance and becoming more creatively authentic, not in the boardroom, but in the eyes of your customer.

Today, marketers appreciate that consumers engage on multiple platforms, devices and channels—the ones they want, when they want. With mobile devices being a spontaneous window into their thoughts and an outlet for their wants and needs as they arise. What’s a bit more subtle and more often missed is the objective and capability to respect the way your customers choose to engage and buy across them in a scalable manner—as it will either fragment their relationship with your brand or galvanize it.

Consider Kohls. Not exactly a high tech player in most folks’ minds. However they now deliver an omnichannel experience that deepens relationships with them. Recently, my wife received a promotion by direct mail (I doubt if she remembers when they asked for her phone number the first time, making the connection between the POS and her online purchases), she had it in hand as she went to the website to browse. Later, she used another promotion from her email right at the POS with her iPhone.

In a single engagement with the brand, she hopped across three channels, not including a customer service call by phone. As a consumer, she didn’t even notice—she just expected it to work.

Similarly, OpenTable will consistently get you to a good restaurant based on where you’ve dined before, and what your current online browsing and mobile location is. You probably do it all the time. Your relationship with that brand hops between mobile, desktop and point of sale effortlessly—but as a consumer, you’re not exactly impressed: You expect it to work.

As a result, effective omnichannel organizations have become “stitched into” the lifestyles of their customers. Moreover, this supports the creation of competitive advantage in the measurable, trackable, digital age.

Omnichannel Means Understanding the Customer
Putting the customer first obviates really knowing and understanding your customer in more meaningful and actionable ways. Not just with an anecdote of the “average customer,” but with legitimate, fact-based methods that are built on a statistical and logical foundation. This is the basis for the “absolute truth” that your omnichannel source is dependent on.

This, too, is no small task for many organizations, but it’s becoming more “doable.” And it has to be—because your competition is thinking and investing in this path, and it’s not a long-term, viable position to not have an actionable strategy to miss the boat on knowing your customer in a way that is valuable, actionable and profitable.

But first, let’s clear up some of the confusion that we’ve been hearing for at least a year now: Is omnichannel more than the buzzword of 2015, or is it something much more important?

Multichannel
At the most basic level, “multi” means many. As soon as you adopted your second or third channel, be it a catalog or an e-commerce website, your organization became a multichannel organization. Multichannel came quickly—as it’s not uncommon that the majority of a customer base has made a purchase across more than one channel—whether you have that resolution or not is another matter, and often requires a smarter approach to collection.

Digital growth is accelerating channel expansion. With the explosion of online and digital channels and the rapid adoption of mobile smartphones, tablets and now wearables, digital can no longer be viewed as a single channel. We now have the merging and proliferation of digital, physical and traditional channels.

Many marketers have experienced as much challenge in juggling an increasing number of channels as there is opportunity. But digital channels, of course, are more measurable and challenge the traditional approaches by bringing a greater resolution and visibility for some, and confusion for others.

Key factors in leveraging, managing, and maximizing those channels include:

  • Competencies developed in the organization
  • Identifying third-party competencies, especially in digital partnerships
  • The culture of the organization
  • Support for change and innovation in marketing
  • The depth of technical capability in an organization

As channel usage expands, data assets “pile up,” though most of the data in its raw format is of limited practical use and less actionable as one would hope. From the inside of dozens of IT organizations, the refrain is common; “We’re just capturing everything right now.” Creating marketing value would require strategists and the business units.

Omnichannel Is the Way Forward
While most organizations are still working through mastering their channels and the data they perpetually generate, the next wave of both competitive advantage and threats have come with them. The customer learns what works for them relatively quickly and easily, adopting new channels and buying where they want, how they want. Those touches are often lower touch, and introduce intermediaries, and are surrounded by contextual advertising, often from competitors.

Omnichannel buyers aren’t just more complex, they are substantially more valuable. We’ve seen them be as much as twice as valuable as those whose relationship is on a single channel. Perhaps this a reflection of the greater engagement with the brand.

Delivering that omnichannel experience will require more thought, focus and expertise than before. It requires the integration of systems, apps and experiences in a way that’s meaningful—to the customer—and that of course requires an integration of the data about those purchases and experiences.

To serve the business, the Omnichannel Readiness Process has six components, each of which require thoughtful consideration:

1. Capture—many organizations are aware that they need to capture “the data.” The challenge here is shifting to what to capture, and what they may be missing. The key challenge is: It’s impossible to capture “everything” without understanding how it can and should be used and leveraged. How that data is captured in terms of format and organization is of great importance.

2. Consolidate—In order to act on the omnichannel reality, we must have all our data in one place. In the ongoing effort to find the balance between cost, speed and value, “silos” have been built to house various data components. Those data sources must be consolidated through a process that is not quite trivial if those data sources are to create value in the customer experience and over the customer lifetime.

3. Enhance—Even after we’ve pulled our data together into an intelligent framework and model, built to support the business needs, virtually every marketer is missing data that consumers generally don’t provide, or don’t provide reliably on a self-reported basis. “Completing the customer record” requires planning and investing in appropriate third-party data. This will be a requirement if we’re to utilize tools and technology to mine for opportunity in our customer base.

4. Transform—much of the data we need to perform the kinds of analysis and create the kinds of communication that maximize response now, and the customer value over time, utilizes the derivation of new data points from the data you already have. Here is one example: Inter-order purchase time. Calculating the number of days between purchases for every customer in your base allows you to see whose purchase cadences are similar, faster, slower or in decline. On average, we’ll derive hundreds of such fields. This is one example of how a marketer can “mine” data for evidence of opportunity worth acting on and investing in.

5. Summarize—The richest view of a customer with the best data in its most complete state is a lot to digest. So to help make it actionable, we must roll it up into logical and valuable cohorts and components. Call them what you will—segments, personas or models—they are derivative groups that have value and potential that you can act on and learn from.

Many marketers traditionally spend 80 percent to 90 percent of their time and effort on getting their data to a point where it serves both the omnichannel customer and their brand. However, marketers can do better with emerging tools and technologies.There is no replacement for solid data strategy that is built around the customer, but efficiencies can be gained that speed time-to-value in an omnichannel environment.

6. Communicate—The prep work has been done, you’ve found the pockets of opportunity, now it’s time to deliver on the expectations the omnichannel customer holds for marketers. At this juncture, we need to quickly craft and deploy messages that resonate in ways consumers will think about their situation and your brand. They must address the concerns they have and the desires and opportunities they tend to perceive.

Omnichannel customers expect you will recognize them for their loyalty and their engagement with your brand at multiple levels, and that those experiences will be tailored in small ways that can make a bigger difference.

They expect your story to better-fit with their own, if not complete it. That sounds like a dramatic promise, but the ability to know your customers and engage them in the way they prefer, and at scale, is upon us.

Keep It Relevant to Your Business
This entire process must include of course, the answers to key business questions about the types of discoveries we’d make and questions we’d answer with it—for example, does the Web cannibalize our traditional channels? (Hint: It surely doesn’t have to).

That said, we’ve learned to start with the most basic questions—and are not surprised when there are no robust answers:

1. How many customers do you have today?

2. Do you have a working definition of a High Value or Most Valuable Customer?

3. If so, how many of those customers do you have?

4. How many customers did you gain this past quarter? How many did you lose?

a. Assuming you know how many you lost, what was the working definition of a lost customer?

5. How many customers have bought more than once?

6. What’s the value of your “average” customer, understanding that averages are misleading and synthetic numbers are not to be trusted? But we can measure where other customers are in terms of their distance from the mean.

7. Who paid full price? Who bought at discount? Who did both? How many of all the above?

8. For those who bought “down-market,” did they trade up?

9. How many times does a customer or logical customer group (let’s call them “segments,” for now) buy? How long, on average, is it between their purchases? And the order sizes, all channels included?

10. All this, of course, gets back to understanding more deeply, “Who is your customer?” While all this information about how they engage and buy from us is powerful, how old are they? Where are they from? What is relevant to them?

Now, even if a marketer could get the answers to all of these questions, how does this relate to this “Omnichannel” Evolution?

Simple. It only relates to your customer. Of course, they are the most important actors in this business of marketing—in fact in the business of business. What this really means is deceptively simple, often overlooked, and awesomely powerful:

Omnichannel Is Singularly Focused on Customers, Not Channels
It’s about the customer, and having the resources, data and insights at your disposal to serve that customer better. Virtually all of your customers are “multichannel” already. Granted, some are more dominantly influenced by a single channel. For example, online through the voice of the “crowd.” But even then, the point of omnichannel only means one thing: Know your customers across all the channels on which they engage with you. Note the chasm between having the dexterity to examine and serve customers across all the channels, and just knowing their transactions, behaviors or directional, qualitative descriptors.

So “knowing the customer” really means having ready access to actionable customer data. Think about it. If your understanding of your customer data isn’t actionable, how well do you really know your customer in the first place?

Considering the 10 questions above, and evaluating the answers in terms of the most important questions about your customers, is a solid starting point.

When you’ve worked through all of these, you’re now ready to create experiences and communications for customers that are not only relevant, but valuable—to your customer and to the business.

When you’re adding value and are channel-agnostic, as you must become, you’ve achieved the coveted omnichannel distinction that market leaders are bringing to bear already.

Not only is this an impressive accomplishment professionally, it surely is—but remember—it’s the customer we have to impress.

QR Codes Can Make Your Direct Mail More Effective

Direct mail is an effective way to reach prospects and customers. But, we have to admit that both customers and prospects are becoming more mobile and therefore digital content is becoming more important

Direct mail is an effective way to reach prospects and customers. But, we have to admit that both customers and prospects are becoming more mobile, and therefore digital content is becoming more important. QR codes are simple 2D barcodes that can be scanned by a smartphone or tablet to create a bridge between direct mail and digital content. To be effective, QR codes need to be easy to scan, so make sure that you leave room for the barcode.

Your direct mail is already in your customers’ hands, which means you have their attention. It’s the perfect opportunity to encourage further engagement by using a QR code to invite them to connect with digital content. You want your QR code to work for you—simply linking to your homepage isn’t enough. Your code needs to offer something valuable to your customers/prospects that will catch their interest and encourage them to get in touch, make a purchase, sign up for information or come back for more.

Here are five examples of ways you can use QR Codes to add value for your customers/prospects:

  1. Link to exclusive or time-limited content.
  2. Provide specific information about you, your products, or services.
  3. Connect your customers/prospects with media such as a video or gallery.
  4. Direct your customers/prospects to a landing page, email sign up form, or even dial a phone number.
  5. Send out special offers such as coupons or discounts.

As with any kind of marketing campaign, there are do’s and don’ts of using QR codes. Knowing them will help you make the most of your QR codes. Check out four of each listed below.

QR Code Do’s:

  1. Offer An Incentive to Scan
    QR codes are a fast and easy, but people still need a good reason to grab their phone and scan your code. Make sure scanning the code is worth their while by offering them information or an offer they won’t want to miss.
  2. Make Your Destination Mobile Friendly
    When scanning customers/prospects will need to use their smartphone or tablet, so make sure the place they’re headed to is optimized for mobile viewing. If you don’t, they’ll click away and your opportunity will be lost.
  3. Include a Call to Action
    Treat your QR code as you would any marketing materials, with a clear call to action that lets your customer/prospect know what they should do next, and why. Tell them why they should scan your QR code, for example “scan here to receive your free gift” or “scan to watch our two minute marketing 101 video.”
  4. Test It
    Just like everything else you send out, your QR code tells your customer something about your business. That means that as well as offering value and being convenient to use, the QR code destination needs to work, too. Make sure it’s tested for functionality, quality, and mobile compatibility before you send it out to your customers.

QR Code Don’ts:

  1. Assume Your Customers Will Scan the Code
    It’s unlikely that your customers/prospects will scan your QR code just out of curiosity. It’s up to you to encourage them to scan the code by making doing so just a little bit irresistible.
  2. Link to Information That Could Be Easily Found Elsewhere
    If your QR code links straight to your homepage or Facebook profile, you’re not making the best use of it. Use it as a shortcut to something informative or exclusive.
  3. Make It Hard to Scan
    QR codes need to be as easy as pie to use. That means making them at least an inch square, clearly printed and positioned so as to be accessible.
  4. Waste It
    QR codes provide you with an opportunity to track customer/prospect activity and find out what they like and respond to. By tracking how customers/prospects respond to your QR codes you can see what works best and what doesn’t. This information will help to make your next QR code campaign even better.

QR codes are an effective way to make your direct mail more interactive, connecting your customers with digital content that they won’t want to miss. When you bridge the gap between offline and online marketing you provide a better experience for your customer/prospect. This in turn will provide you with better results.

You Know Your Mobile Customers Better Than You Think

Consumers are generally very attached to their smartphones and only connect with those they trust. This very reason is why mobile marketing is perceived as a “friendlier” way to engage with consumers. Research shows 95 percent of mobile users read their text messages within three minutes. Now, imagine the impact your mobile marketing will have if you deliver relevant offers, mobile coupons and discounts to your customers-they are almost guaranteed to be read and are more than likely to be acted upon if the message is targeted based on the what you already know about the customer.

Consumers are generally very attached to their smartphones and only connect with those they trust. This very reason is why mobile marketing is perceived as a “friendlier” way to engage with consumers. Research shows 95 percent of mobile users read their text messages within three minutes. Now, imagine the impact your mobile marketing will have if you deliver relevant offers, mobile coupons and discounts to your customers—they are almost guaranteed to be read and are more than likely to be acted upon if the message is targeted based on the what you already know about the customer.

Over the last couple years, mobile marketing has proven itself as an effective way to acquire and maintain customer data. This is true because people generally keep their phone numbers forever compared to their email addresses. Therefore having strong persistent personal IDs, such as a phone number, enables brands to track, evaluate, and optimize their mobile marketing campaigns to determine overall effectiveness.

Leverage What You Already Know
There are major benefits from using mobile messaging as part of a brands overall marketing campaign. Now brands and organizations are tracking and segmenting the users who are in their marketing databases. Information that has been collected through loyalty programs, incentive based marketing and opt-in’s which enables brands to better understand their customers interests and what they will respond to.

Turn Loyalty Programs Into Customize Incentives
Connecting a consumer’s phone number to their loyalty program ID can turn generic SMS offers into customized incentives. If you know what your customers are buying, and more importantly, what incentives bring them into your stores, you can use this information to make offers more dynamic and personal. Which in turn will drive a higher return rate and increase on-going customer loyalty.

CRM and Triggered Messaging
Most CRM systems track events throughout the customer lifecycle. Many of these events represent an opportunity to sell more product and service. These events can be used to trigger personalized messages to your customers that facilitate the sales process. Include a click to call, or drive them to your e-commerce enabled website to move them to purchase faster. Make sure your website is mobile ready!

Extend Your Knowledge of Your Customers
Using Mobile Messaging in your retention marketing doesn’t have to be a one-way conversation. In addition to tying in what you already know about your customers within your CRM or loyalty databases, you can gain insight from the SMS interactions as well. An integration between your back-office systems and your SMS provider can push new data points into your database that round out your customer profiles and lead to additional re-marketing opportunities.

There is a lot that can be done with the information that is collected about customers within a CRM system. While this data can be a great resource for things like consumer segmentation and establishing marketing strategy, it can also be leveraged real-time on a very personal level. Leveraging this data via SMS or other mobile engagements can lead to greater results through right-time, right device, and the right-message that walk the customer down the path to purchase.

As brands continue to evolve their mobile marketing strategies through more personalized interactions, they will be able to build stronger relationships, increase engagement and drive loyalty.

5 Steps to Customer Data Hygiene: It’s Not Sexy, But It’s Essential

Are you happy with the quality of the information in your marketing database? Probably not. A new report from NetProspex confirms: 64 percent of company records in the database of a typical B-to-B marketer have no phone number attached. Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it? And 88 percent are missing basic firmographic data

Are you happy with the quality of the information in your marketing database? Probably not. A new report from NetProspex confirms: 64 percent of company records in the database of a typical B-to-B marketer have no phone number attached.

Pretty much eliminates phone as a reliable communications medium, doesn’t it?

And 88 percent are missing basic firmographic data, like industry, revenue or employee size—so profiling and segmentation is pretty tough. In fact, the Netprospex report concluded that 84 percent of B-to-B marketing databases are “barely functional.” Yipes. So, what can you do about it?

This is not a new problem. Dun & Bradstreet reports regularly on how quickly B-to-B data degrades. Get this: Every year, in the U.S., business postal addresses change at a rate of 20.7 percent. If your customer is a new business, the rate is 27.3 percent. Phone numbers change at the rate of 18 percent, and 22.7 percent among new businesses. Even company names fluctuate: 12.4 percent overall, and a staggering 36.4 percent percent among new businesses.

No wonder your sales force is always complaining that your data is no good (although they probably use more colorful words).

Here are five steps you can take to maintain data accuracy, a process known as “data hygiene.”

1. Key enter the data correctly in the first place.
Sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked. This means following address guidelines from the Postal Service (for example, USPS Publication 28), and standardizing such complex things as job functions and company names. But it also means training for your key-entry personnel. These folks are often at the bottom of the status heap, but they are handling one of your most important corporate assets. So give them the respect they deserve.

2. Harness customer-facing personnel to update the data.
Leverage the access of customer-facing personnel to refresh contact information. Train and motivate call center personnel, customer service, salespeople and distributors—anyone with direct customer contact—to request updated information at each meeting. When it comes to sales people, this is an entirely debatable matter. You want sales people selling, not entering data. But it’s worth at least a conversation to see if you can come up with a painless way to extract fresh contact updates as sales people interact with their accounts.

3. Use data-cleansing software, internally or from a service provider, and delete obsolete records.
Use the software tools that are available, which will de-duplicate, standardize and sometimes append missing fields. These won’t correct much—it’s mostly email and postal address standardization—but they will save you time, and they are much cheaper than other methods.

4. Allow customers access to their records online, so they can make changes.
Consider setting up a customer preference center, where customers can manage the data you have on them, and indicate how they want to hear from you. Offer a premium or incentive, or even a discount, to obtain higher levels of compliance.

5. Outbound phone or email to verify, especially to top customers.
Segment your file, and conduct outbound confirmation campaigns for the highest value accounts. This can be by mail, email or telephone, and done annually. When you have some results, decide whether to put your less valuable accounts through the same process.

Do you have any favorite hygiene techniques to add to my list?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

When a Customer Is Not Worthy

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts. It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but

As business owners and employees of businesses, we all work diligently to acquire prospects, qualify leads and convert customers, but sometimes we need to stop and consider whether a particular person or company is worthy of our efforts.

It makes our constituents feel appreciated and empowered when we treat them well and expend effort to develop the relationship, but in some cases that empowerment can go to one of their heads and lead the person to behave in a manner not conducive to a healthy relationship.

There have been a number of instances over the years where I’ve needed to ask prospective or current customers to take their business elsewhere. While this is never a pleasant conversation, it can be critical in ensuring your company remains profitable, your employees remain appreciated and happy, and you remain sane. The best way to approach this conversation is with civility and a calm tone.

More often than not, an unhappy customer will vent their frustration on an underling with the assumption the person is unprepared to manage the onslaught. Annoyed customers will attack in a way they believes will result in a resolution favoring them—sometimes greatly and to the detriment of the employee’s wellbeing and the company’s profitability. We’re all able to take a loss every now and then to satisfy an unhappy customer, but when you have a repeat offender (customer), it’s time to step in.

Every employee and contractor in my organization knows they are never expected to submit to a venting, complaining or abusive customer—period. The employee’s response is mandatory and simple, “Please hold and I will have our manager help you.” From there, I am quick to set the ground rules as I take over the call. I will listen to the customer politely and allow that person to give voice to their entire complaint, but they may not scream, call names or be uncivil in any manner. If they are, I will hang up. I will continue to hang up each time the person calls back until they accept and adhere to the rules of this engagement (to date, it hasn’t gone beyond three hang ups).

Beyond this, I make it clear I am fully responsible for my team’s actions and responses, and we will not engage in a bashing of a personal nature. I will not side with the complainant against my team, but I will be empathetic to the customer’s plight and go to great lengths to find a resolution suitable to the situation—for as long as we can continue to have a professional, if not amicable, discussion.

For plaintiffs who cannot accept and follow the ground rules, it’s even simpler: “I’m sorry we did not meet your expectations, here is the phone number to another company providing this product/service. We’re confident you will be happier elsewhere.”

This type of response shifts the power from the complaining customer to the employee and fosters a better relationship between you and the person with whom you work every day instead of a customer whose value is far less. Yes, some customers have great monetary worth, and for those you will exert additional effort to resolve the situation before sending them on their way, but for most small businesses, individual customers have a smaller overall value than a dedicated employee.

With that said, there are ways for a customer to complain without aggressive discourse—those are the customers we want to please, keep, and reward—and for those, it’s best to keep the employee in the discussion. These are the customers whom I prefer to foster and benefit, even at a monetary loss to the company. They often turn out to be long-term, repeat customers because we have created an atmosphere of loyalty by tending to their concerns as a team. (Why would we allow an abusive customer to receive a more beneficial resolution than a kind, calm customer who truly wishes to resolve the condition?)

Sometimes customers are unworthy in other manners. We recently spent quite some time reviewing a lead’s current drip-marketing campaign, only to come to the conclusion we really couldn’t add enough value to their current process to make hiring our company beneficial to them. In this situation, we fired the customer before we were hired, and we were quite frank about why. I don’t know how this response was truly received by the customer; they did seem to be happy with our honesty. If I were on the receiving end of this conversation, I would rather have a company tell me genuinely they cannot help me than to have them take my money for months/years and be no wiser for the engagement—but not everyone thinks like I do. (Thankfully.)

In many ways, email marketing has cultivated an atmosphere allowing customers to be more unhappy and more quickly. The anonymity of email makes marketers seem less like a company of people here to serve their needs and more like a faceless organization poised to aggravate them. Gone are phone calls that allowed us to connect with at least a modicum human interaction, in their place we have electronic communications sent to thousands of people all at once. This is why personalization can be so important to you and to the recipient. Adding a bit or a lot of personalization warms the tone and the relationship. It reminds the receiver, you are a company of people who care about their success. It will also help lay a foundation of civility if a divorce is imminent.

If you must fire an email customer, don’t fire by email. Pick up the phone, set the ground rules, and be polite and professional. It’s the least you can do. You may not be able to salvage the relationship, but you’re less likely to leave them with a terrible last impression.

Hello, Complaint Department? My Friends Are Listening

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints? For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

If it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep one, why do brands continue to try and ignore customer complaints?

For as long as there have been businesses selling goods and services, there have been complaint departments. And I’m guessing that as the number of sales increased, so did the number of complaints. So why did it take until the creation of the Internet and the popularity of social media for so many businesses to really start to address customer satisfaction issues?

In the early 1970’s, interactive voice response (IVR) technology came into vogue. While it was designed to service high call volumes, reduce costs and improve the customer experience, we all know it was a great way to avoid actually talking to customers—especially those with complaints.

As companies got bigger, somebody decided that titles like “customer service rep” weren’t friendly enough, or didn’t accurately describe the importance of the position. (Perhaps because they didn’t actually provide service? Well, that’s a topic for another day.)

That said, titles changed to be things like “Customer Relationship Specialist” or “Customer Interaction Management Specialist” (I kid you not). But it didn’t change the job function … nor the attitude or behavior of the rep who was supposedly resolving your complaint.

As complaints soared, so did the many ways businesses tried to avoid a direct dialogue with those harboring a complaint. Once consumers discovered that pressing “0” usually connected one with a live body, businesses changed that option. I recently called one financial institution to complain that the ATM had eaten my card (yes, I was standing in front of the machine reading the teeny-tiny 800 number posted to the machine in the least obvious location). I probably went through five or six different “menu” options before I finally got someone live on the phone who told me that he had never heard of an ATM eating a card before. So I guess he felt it was helpful to call me a liar. Hmmm …

Next came the Web—and with it the “Contact Us” page. But once again, businesses became overwhelmed with the number of consumers who wanted to have a dialogue with them. Now when you visit “Contact Us,” there’s a form to fill out or worse—no email or phone number, but just a link to “Commonly Asked Questions & Answers” or “Popular Topics” or, one of my favorites, “Where’s My Stuff?”

Have you ever tried to call Amazon? Yeah. Good luck finding a phone number. I will say that I had a problem with my Kindle and, after quite a bit of scouring around the website, found a phone number from a dialogue in a Kindle forum. I called it and got GREAT customer service (I think it was Bob’s first call all day because he actually sounded happy to help me).

Now the Web has created a whole new business complaint system—and it’s for all the world to see. From the formalized review process of Yelp and Angie’s List to sites that let you rate your experience with a product/service like OpenTable.com or Hotels.com, you can whine all you want and it’s very difficult for the brands to respond/resolve (even if they wanted to).

It’s easy to go to a company’s Facebook page and post a rant (I’ve seen some really ugly comments posted on some of the biggest brands’ Facebook pages).

I know these public forums can be an extremely unfair system—especially to smaller businesses who live and die from customer reviews. And I know that not everyone is reasonable with their expectation about a product/service, nor do all consumers have legitimate complaints (although they may feel otherwise).

So here’s my suggestion: If you want to build a positive image of your brand, create a culture that allows for customer feedback and conflict resolution. Make it easy for customers to find a phone number, call you and speak to a live person and/or email you and get a fast response. Empower your reps to resolve issues quickly and fairly—perhaps invest in training them how to listen with empathy, and how to make a decision to do “the right thing.” Spend less time and money on “satisfaction surveys” (which I personally dislike) and more time on “creating satisfaction.”

Net-net, treat every customer as if they were your most valuable asset—because they are. It will return a bigger ROI than any marketing campaign investment.

How Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Saved a Customer

Talk about valuing your customers and providing exceptional customer service! It’s no wonder that GMCR is one of the fastest growing brands out there today, with 11 consecutive quarters of better than 40 percent net sales growth.

I wanted to make public a recent experience I had with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). My wife, Stephanie, an avid coffee drinker (and a shopping nut, who’s probably better suited to be writing a retail blog than yours truly, who looks forward to a trip to the mall with the same enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist), received GMCR’s Keurig brand Special Edition Single-Cup Brewer system nearly 10 months ago as a wedding shower gift.

Excited at the thought of enjoying GMCR’s specialty coffee blends brewed fresh each morning, Stephanie couldn’t have been happier. After the long, harsh winter we had in the Northeast part of the country, I can attest that the brewer was put to good use. All in all, the Keurig brewer was a hit, making just the right amount of coffee for our house. And Stephanie was a loyal customer, restocking her supply of the specialty coffee K-cups with purchases at local retail stores. That is, until this summer.

The complaints were few and far between at first — it wasn’t always brewing a full cup; the coffee splattered out at the end of brewing, leaving a mess on the counter; and sometimes when turning the machine on to “get ready to brew,” it would make a grinding noise and then just shut down — but grew louder as time went on. So Stephanie decided to take action.

Her first step was to go to GMCR’s website for info. on its warrantied products. After learning that we had a one-year warranty from date of purchase, Stephanie called the customer service phone number listed on GMCR’s website (she didn’t see an email address to send a message to). After providing some basic information — name, address, phone number, item purchased — her call was transferred to a GMCR product technician.

Upon confirming the purchase type and date of purchase via serial number, Stephanie was asked to explain the problems she was having with her Keurig Single-Cup Brewer. The technician on the other end of the line walked Stephanie through some “troubleshooting” ideas, but none of them corrected the problems.

Satisfied that the error lay with GMCR, the technician said a replacement would be mailed out to us within seven to 10 business days. Not only that, but in recognition of her troubles, GMCR was throwing in two boxes of its specialty coffee blend K-Cups as well.

Talk about valuing your customers and providing exceptional customer service! Not to mention the fact that Stephanie reported that both women she spoke with on the phone couldn’t have been nicer and more patient. The whole process took less than 20 minutes. She’s now a fan of GMCR for life. It’s no wonder that GMCR is one of the fastest growing brands out there today, with 11 consecutive quarters of better than 40 percent net sales growth.

Editor’s Note: Make sure to check out the Sept. issue of Retail Online Integration, in which GMCR will be featured as the cover story profile (written before my wife’s personal experience with the brand). Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from a brand that’s doing things right.