Deliver an Outstanding CX When Customers Aren’t Talking to You

Customers like self-service. This makes sense when you already have a relationship with a company and you’re just trying to execute a transaction as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do this with American Airlines, interacting with a kiosk to check in rather than an agent.

I just saw the headline, “Consumers Like Self-service More Than Associate Interaction, Reveals Survey.” The gist of the research is if consumers have a choice they’re more likely to tap self-service technology vs. interacting with a retail sales associate, according to a SOTI survey.

This makes sense when you already have a relationship with a company and you’re just trying to execute a transaction as quickly and efficiently as possible. I do this with American Airlines, interacting with a kiosk to check in rather than an agent. I use the self-check-out at Harris Teeter (a grocery store). And I use an app on my phone or an ATM more frequently than a teller at my bank. I also have more than a 20-year relationship with each of these brands.

If they don’t know me after 20 years, they aren’t listening. And, after 20 years, if I’m not pleased with an experience, I’ll let them know about it.

If I didn’t already have a relationship with the airline, the bank or the grocery store, I don’t think I’d trust their other distribution channels. I certainly wouldn’t be familiar with them, they’d be less convenient to use, and I likely would not use them — it would no longer be the most efficient way for me to do what I need to get done.

  • What are you doing to engage your customers and provide an outstanding customer experience?
  • Are you providing a product or service that addresses a problem or concern of your customer?
  • Do you make it easy for your customer to buy?

Do you, or your customer-facing employees, try to engage your customer in a conversation along these lines:

  • What’s driving you to buy our product?
  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Have you used our product before?
  • How’s our service?
  • What can we do to improve our product or service?

A lot has been written recently about how customers don’t want to have a relationship with a brand. However, a brand is not a person.

I believe customers do want to have a relationship with a representative of the brand. Someone with whom they can share a comment or suggestion and know that it will be heard and acted upon.

Typically, the people interacting with your customers are your employees.

Do you encourage your employees to engage customers in a conversation to learn more about their needs and wants? What they’re happy with and what can be improved?

Your customers probably don’t want to talk to you because you’ve shown no interest in talking to them. They may have no emotional connection to your brand and don’t care whether you succeed or not.

I have an 11-year relationship with Chipotle and fill out an online feedback form after every visit because I do have an emotional connection with the brand and I want to see it delivering an outstanding customer experience.

You may send a customer satisfaction survey or mine sales data, but have you, or your employees, had a conversation with the customer?

People like to do business with people they know, like and trust. People also don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care about them. This is done person-to-person, not by analyzing data. This is how you build an emotional connection between a customer and a brand.

This is a function of having empathy and being sincerely concerned about why the customer is buying your product vs. that of your competitors — B2B or B2C.

Customers want relationships with brands and product and service providers on their terms. They want to be able to talk with a real person with some knowledge and authority if they have a question, suggestion or complaint.

The customer wants what they want when they want it, and it’s up to the service provider to figure out what it is.

Empower employees to find out what your customers and prospects want to know and how they want to find out about it.

By finding out how different customers want to learn about your products and services, you’ll be able to differentiate and segment your customers; thereby, providing them with more relevant information of value.

You must provide your customers the options they want in order to keep them satisfied. If you don’t, they will find someone else who will. In order to understand your customers’ needs and wants, you need to have a relationship with them, so you’ll be able to fulfill their needs on an ongoing basis.

If customers don’t want to talk to you, it may be because they don’t have a need right now, or they’re pressed for time. However, they are not saying they never want to talk to you or give you feedback.

Don’t stop trying to have a relationship with your customers. Don’t stop trying to gather real customer insights. Be there for your customers when they’re ready to talk.  If you’re not, they’ll go to someone who is.

How Traditional PR Can Boost Your SEO

It’s easy to overlook traditional public relations when considering how to improve your website’s search engine rankings. But in cracking down on superficial search signals, Google elevated the importance of earning inbound links from trustworthy movers and shakers, and that’s where PR can be invaluable.

Dust off those people skills: Good PR can give you a huge advantage for improving your website’s SEO.

It’s easy to overlook traditional public relations when considering how to improve your website’s search engine rankings. For years, marketers could use low-brow tactics such as link spamming and keyword stuffing for easy (and sizeable) bumps. Recently, though, Google refined its algorithm to reward websites that offer intuitive and valuable user experiences. It’s impossible to game the system like 10 years ago.

But in cracking down on superficial signals, Google elevated the importance of earning inbound links from trustworthy movers and shakers.

Inbound links from authoritative, credible, high-volume websites can take your SEO to new heights. These links bring attention to amazing content and attract shoppers to online store fronts. Google considers these high-quality links as endorsements of your website’s content and credibility. And there’s no better way to win these links than with old-fashioned public relation skills. Read on to learn how your PR strategy can improve your website’s SEO.

Not Being Spammy Isn’t Good Enough

In the Wild West era of SEO, marketers used all kinds of dirty tricks to gain inbound links. They’d buy links from high-traffic websites, spam forums and blogs with automated comments, and create fake online profiles. They’d also turn to link farms — companies that build scores of thin, low-quality websites for the sole purpose of linking to other sites.

Fortunately, those days are long gone. Try any of those tactics, and Google’s advanced algorithm will blow your website’s SERP rankings to smithereens.

That said, building links that don’t cause alarm bells at Google isn’t enough to boost your website’s SEO. Google’s algorithm is tuned to reward inbound links from trustworthy, authoritative websites. These links must also be from websites that are relevant to your industry, and those websites must have credible, relevant link networks of their own.

Your SEO won’t get much help — if any at all — from inbound links posted to your friends’ personal blogs and websites. Even an inbound link from someone who blogs about your industry probably won’t move the needle. It’s not enough for inbound links to be compliant. They must also be impressive! Think about websites that people look to for information. We’re talking regional and national newspapers, popular consumer websites and highly reputable trade magazines. Earn inbound links from those sources, and Google’s algorithm will notice.

Of course, the next logical question is “how do I get inbound links from such high-profile sources?” How can you get one of your better remodeling projects featured in Better Homes & Gardens, or how can you entice the New York Times to feature your restaurant in its Food section?

It Starts with Great Content

Having great people skills ultimately doesn’t matter if your website isn’t worth talking about. And whether your website is deserving of attention depends entirely on the quality of your content.

By now, you might be sick of hearing the old SEO adage that “content is king.” It’s true, though. Investing in unique, remarkable content is more important now than ever. Over the years, Google used artificial intelligence to analyze countless digital signals generated by how people react to certain types of content. Thanks to this effort, Google’s algorithm is incredibly proficient at determining whether content is valuable and engaging. In today’s SEO landscape, none of your SEO efforts will gain traction if your content can’t grab attention.

High-quality content is also part of your sales pitch when asking for inbound links from your industry’s movers and shakers. They should see your amazing content and want to link back to your site! Your outreach won’t be taken seriously if your content is dull, useless or irrelevant.

Next, Make a List

Before reaching out to anyone, make a list of all the websites, blogs, newspapers, magazines and other editorial sources where you’d like to earn inbound links.

Does Your Copy Have a ‘Human’ Voice? Or a ‘Copywriter’s’ Voice?

The other day I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. The subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” Wow, I thought! I haven’t heard from this person in a long time, so I eagerly opened the email. But in a split-second, I realized this wasn’t a personal email. It was an autoresponder. And it didn’t sound like the person I know who sent it. It felt like it had been written by a copywriter.

The other day I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. The subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” Wow, I thought! I haven’t heard from this person in a long time, so I eagerly opened the email. But in a split-second, I realized this wasn’t a personal email. It was an autoresponder. And the voice didn’t sound like the person I know who sent it. It felt like it had been written by a copywriter.
business_personalThat experience jarred me into wondering about my own copy: Does it sound human? Do I capture the right “voice” of either the sender or the organization?

Sometimes copy gets lost by overthinking it, making sure every “t” is crossed and “i” dotted. Sometimes the tone gets lost through input from other marketing team members, rounds of approvals, and review for compliance, where the tone degrades into being less human and more unnatural — to the point of being distracting or off-putting.

So today I share a few thoughts about copy’s “voice.”

I’ve come up with a scale that might help guide you to the “voice” or tone of copy for you. It’s a scale of 1 to 3. One is the most casual. Three is the most formal. You might find there are more than three for your situation. These are examples of how you might greet someone, ranging from a close friend, to casual acquaintance, to someone you’d meet for the first time:

  1. ‘Sup my brother/sister?
  2. Hey there, <name>! How are you?!
  3. Hello, <name>, nice to meet you.

In the example email from a friend I cited earlier, the subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” But the tone shifted, once the email was opened to a more canned, more formal, “Hello, nice to meet you” approach.

It was distracting. And disappointing. These unintended — but very real — impressions overwhelmed whatever impact was hoped for about the message content. So my advice is this:

  • Know your audience. When you know your audience, you’ll know if your voice can be casual or formal. Settling on the appropriate voice can be based on past transactions, the type of product or service you offer, or what you know about your customer’s age, demos or behavioral data.
  • Distinguish the level of relationship and product awareness. The voice of a subject line of an email, and headline of any copy (website, landing page, letter, etc.), should be based on the awareness and relationship your prospective customer has with your product or its category.
  • Choose the right type of lead. The relationship and awareness (or lack thereof) dictates if you should use a direct lead (offer, promise or problem-solution) or an indirect lead (secret, declaration or story). I’ll share more about these six lead types in a future blog post.
  • Be consistent. Don’t shift from one voice type to another within the same promo. If the copy has been significantly edited, be sure to read it aloud so you can hear if the voice is consistent throughout.
  • Be consistent across channels. If you’re using email, make sure the voice is consistent from the subject line to the email body, and from the email to the landing page, and yes, consistent all the way through the order page.

Finally, let someone read your copy who is unfamiliar with what has been written, to make sure the voice is appropriate and, probably most importantly, that it sounds like it was written by a human.

Just curious: do you feel my “voice” in these blog posts is appropriate? I invite your feedback.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!,” available from the DirectMarketingIQ Bookstore. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

What I Learned at College: A Business Lesson in Revenue Maximization

Now, after attending three different colleges, I’m impressed with some of the strategies colleges are deploying to make sure they’ve got your kid (and you!) hooked for a four to six year relationship. Some of these institutions have mastered both acquisition and retention efforts and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could teach a course on the subject.

This fall, my twin sons are headed to college. Make no mistake — this is not my first trip to that rodeo. Our older son started his journey six years earlier.

While my husband handled all the college tours, Mom was the designated supporter for completing college applications and, upon acceptance, attending the orientation sessions. Now, after attending three different colleges, I’m impressed with some of the strategies colleges are deploying to make sure they’ve got your kid (and you!) hooked for a four to six year relationship. Some of these institutions have mastered both acquisition and retention efforts and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could teach a course on the subject.

Considering only 55 percent of undergraduates finished their degree within six years, and the average four-year college cost is between $23,410 and $46,272, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk. So, like any good business, colleges have started figure out that there needs to be some really smart marketing strategies at play if they’re going to maximize their student investment, and it involves both the student and a key group of influencers — their parents.

One state college orientation was by and far the most memorable of the three, as I left their event feeling like I was the one going to college (clearly, they had me hooked). So take a few tips and apply them to your own marketing efforts.

  • Relationship Nurturing 101: The Welcome Letter
    You’d think we’d voluntarily joined a membership club with the surprise and delight that exudes from the acceptance letter. “Congratulations,” it chirps, “and welcome to the Class of 2019!” already planting the seed that we’re in it for the next four years. The letter goes on to remind you of all the fabulous things you’ll be encountering on your journey and keeps reiterating that we’ve made a fabulous choice. (Remember, my son hadn’t yet “accepted” their offer, so the sales pitch needed to be a powerful reminder of all the reasons he applied in the first place.) The “handwritten” notation by the Dean of his school of study, casually jotted at the bottom of the letter, added to the personal experience and feeling that they really, really wanted my son to attend.
  • Reaffirming the Purchase Decision: The Acceptance Confirmation Letter
    Once my son had confirmed his attendance, the next communication came via email — and you’d think he had won the lottery. It was lighthearted in tone, oozing with details about what he’ll experience in his campus life, and setting the stage for the mandatory orientation. But instead of feeling like a punishment, it was sold as an exciting way to meet new friends, learn to navigate the campus before classes actually start, and discover “insider’s” tips on how to make the most of your next four years.
  • Onboarding: The Orientation
    A two-day effort, this event was carefully calculated as a way to weed apart the parent/child relationship and start the separate, but equally important, sales pitch(es). Parents registered at a separate table, while students were redirected to a location beyond my line of sight. Parents were directed to a large room where a combination of student leaders and selected faculty sat on the stage. Each one was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and truly made me feel welcome. After brief opening remarks, they asked, through a show of hands, which states families were from – and then encouraged us to introduce ourselves to the people seated around us. Of course that sparked immediate conversation, helped everyone to relax and start to feel an intimate part of a special community. To keep your attention, they broke parents into different groups and moved us into different and smaller rooms for more Q&A-style sessions so that by lunch time, you weren’t worried about finding a buddy to share a lunch table. At cocktail hour, they walked us over to their new state-of-the-art music center where a group of students performed followed by a casual wine and cheese event. The faculty moved easily from table to table distributing a brochure featuring their fall line-up of musicians and it definitely made me want to return regularly to see other performers (yes, I was shifting from “like” to “evangelism” rather rapidly at this point, but they could also see the ROI in that cross-sell effort).It seems my son was getting the same welcoming treatment, only from a different angle. Lots of pretty girls and attractive boys created an upbeat environment. Broken into smaller groups, he was immersed into campus life. They played games, met professors, learned about course options, selected his fall semester classes, played ultimate Frisbee, participated in a water fight, and stayed up late watching horror flicks on the grassy knoll before retiring to his temporary dorm quarters exhausted.
  • Sealing the Deal: The Closing Rally
    At the end of a second day that involved a tour of the athletic center (Olympic-sized pool, five gyms, squash courts, workout rooms, yoga studio – heck, sign me up!), library (where all the cool kids study), and lake-side luncheon (can you say BBQ?), we were ushered into another venue for the closing ceremonies, and that’s the first time I laid eyes on my son since the morning we arrived. He was sitting with his newfound friends wearing a team t-shirt with a big grin on his face. Within minutes of being seated, group by group stood up and shouted their newly created team cheers, razzed other groups, and generally laughed their way to the final gong. Music filled the air as we danced our way out of the venue and made our way back to our cars for the trip home, barely containing our excitement about the start of his new life away from home.
  • Performance Improvement: The Survey
    About 2 days after we returned, we were both sent an online survey about our onboarding experience. Needless to say it got very high marks from this mother and son.

All-in-all, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with any college ever. Everyone was welcoming, friendly, helpful and truly invested in ensuring both me and my son were excited about what the future would hold for both of us. My other two college orientation experiences lacked the genuine enthusiasm, excitement and innovativeness of experience and felt more like their role was to make sure that I realized I needed to let go — but not before understanding that I would not have access to grades unless granted permission by my child.

Many colleges could take a lesson from this state school because I’m sure their retention rate thru graduation is better than the norm. They figured out that it isn’t just the student who needs to fall in love with the school, but the parent, too. After all, my son won’t be writing those tuition checks all by himself.

To Succeed Long-Term With SEO, Focus on Relationships

While the word “best” is still a bit nebulous, Google is basically looking for rich, deep content by subject matter experts who are trustworthy and credible. To meet that description, stop chasing techniques and start focusing on relationships. Here are three relationships that can transform your SEO strategy and keep your rankings high.

As Google algorithms continue to change at a tremendous rate, it can be tempting to chase after the latest SEO (search engine optimization) tips and techniques. The Internet is full of conflicting and confusing advice, and trying to keep up can feel like a full-time job. To get out of this loop, try thinking of SEO in a whole new way. Google’s fundamental goal is to provide the best search results. While the word “best” is still a bit nebulous, Google is basically looking for rich, deep content by subject matter experts who are trustworthy and credible. To meet that description, stop chasing techniques and start focusing on relationships. Here are three relationships that can transform your SEO strategy and keep your rankings high.

1. Your Relationship With Google
Many company owners and web masters have an adversarial relationship with Google. Yet if Google succeeds in its mission, everyone benefits, from conscientious business owners to potential customers. Look at Google as your partner in the quest to deliver the best, most useful information to your buyers and prospects. The more you understand Google’s mission, the easier it will be for you to align your website and content to rank higher in the search results.

2. Your Relationship With the Searcher
Building relationships with web searchers is at the heart of both improving your conversions (turning a prospect into a buyer) and boosting your Google rankings. The concept is extremely simple. Provide an excellent user experience from the moment a searcher clicks on your website. Deliver on your promises, describe the benefits of your product or service, present an irresistible offer, and use a clear call to action.

A big part of this is also providing a great mobile experience on your website. Today’s searchers move rapidly between computer, tablet, and smart phone, and they expect your website to move with them. Make sure that every web page is mobile friendly, and that your website functions properly in all devices. Pay particular attention to page load times, playability, and providing an experience on mobile devices that is as rich and complete as your full computer-optimized site.

3. Your Relationship With Other Websites
Ongoing relationships with other websites help you earn organic links, build referral traffic, and send signals to Google that your website is trustworthy. All of these factors improve your Google rankings. Yet they are not enough on their own. Increasingly, building strong rankings requires you to develop human relationships with brand advocates, social media followers, and especially influencers.

An influencer is a person with a strong online following, generally through a popular blog. Influencers typically focus on a niche market, and have become respected experts within their niche. Whether they are actual subject matter experts or not, they heavily influence trends and can be invaluable in spreading the word about your product or service.

To connect with influencers, search for bloggers that cover your industry. Drill down to see how active the blogger is, how many followers he or she has, and how active the followers are in commenting on posts. When you have a short list of potential influencers, start following them. Tag them in your social media posts, comment on their posts, and become part of their community.

Finally, reach out via email to the bloggers you like and explain why you think it makes sense to work together. Most will likely not work out so approach this like dating. You may need to kiss a few frogs to find your prince!

Today, SEO is no longer an individual pursuit. While it is important to continue to follow the basic SEO best practices, many tactics are giving way to relationships. Building relationships is not fast or easy, but when done correctly, it is a key factor to improving your Google rankings.

It’s Time to Move On

Until now, you’ve been happy with your email-automation vendor, but lately you feel as though perhaps something is missing … Email automation is a wondrous thing and I’d be lost without it—as would all of my clients—but like most relationships, both parties must maintain dialogue, work together and compromise when necessary or you may find you’ll drift apart. What may have started out as your dream partner, over the months or years has become less ideal

Until now, you’ve been happy with your email-automation vendor, but lately you feel as though perhaps something is missing …

Email automation is a wondrous thing and I’d be lost without it—as would all of my clients—but like most relationships, both parties must maintain dialogue, work together and compromise when necessary or you may find you’ll drift apart.

What may have started out as your dream partner, over the months or years has become less ideal. And because you dread restarting the vendor search, you continue to work with a solution that no longer meets your needs and thus hinders your progress.

Customers and vendors should be fired when the relationship no longer brings the same value to the table it did when the engagement began. Not every company is a great fit for your business, be that one who buys from you or one who sells to you.

Many of us started out with the bare minimum—iContact, Constant Contact, or the like—but as our companies grow, so must our software. Sometimes the software company will continue to develop new features, but those are not released at the speed your demand develops, or the features they release are not in the direction you need. It’s okay to want for more, and when working with email automation, we all want more.

Spider Trainers recently outgrew our email-automation application. We had been with our vendor since they were a mere upstart, and we watched them grow to become a fine solution and start challenging the industry leaders, but they weren’t developing the features we needed. So, despite the gargantuan effort it would take to convert all of our lead-capture forms, update all of our inbound content, port our lists, and recreate our campaign workflows, in the end, we felt those efforts would be worth what we would gain in features that aligned more closely with our needs.

When I say gargantuan, it truly was—and a month in, we’re still nowhere near finished making the transition. What’s more, as an agency, it’s not just our content and assets, it’s also that of the clients we have moved with us.

Today, marketers have hundreds (yes, it really is hundreds) of vendors from whom to choose and features numbering in nothing less than thousands. It’s not likely you would be looking for a vendor having the most features, just the vendor offering the features on which you place the most importance. That’s why hundreds of options can exist; each of us has our own set of priorities. Companies aligned with your priorities narrow the field substantially, and companies aligned with your budget narrow it even more.

Our most important feature requirements might mean less to you, but we needed a solution providing more in-depth visibility pre-engagement, engagement depth (how were our prospects and leads using our website and content), and post-engagement. In order to get these things, we had to give up some things, and that’s the relationship compromise.

Although we vetted more than a dozen new vendors, we did finally make a choice and one that I’m happy with. I’ve had a few fearful moments, but the new software is—for the moment—what we need, and one with a roadmap aligned with our planned growth. I know there’s a good chance someday I may need to move on from this relationship too, but as in life, I’m going to get while the getting’s good.

Oh, and because I know you’re wondering, our new vendor is SharpSpring.

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.

What Customer-Centric, Customer-Obsessed Companies Must Do

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession. Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

In building relationships with and value for customers, my longtime observation is most organizations tend to progress through several stages of performance: customer awareness, customer sensitivity, customer focus and customer obsession.

Here is the “executive summary” version of some conditions of each stage.

Customer Awareness
Customers are known, but in the aggregate. The organization believes it can select its customers and understand their needs. Measurement of performance is rudimentary, if it exists at all; and customer data are siloed. There’s a traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal) with little evidence of teaming.

Customer Sensitivity
Customers are known, but still mostly in the aggregate. Customer service is somewhat more evident (though still viewed as a cost center), with a focus on complaint and problem resolution (but not proactive complaint generation; internal groups tend to point fingers and blame each other for negative customer issues). Measurement is mostly around customer attitudes and functional transactions, i.e. satisfaction, with little awareness of emotional relationship drivers. The organization has a principally traditional, hierarchical, top-down management model, with “chimneyed” or “smokestack” communication (goes up or down, but not horizontal), with some evidence of teaming (mostly in areas of complaint resolution).

Customer Focus
Customers are both known and valued, down to the individual level, and they are recognized as having different needs, both functional and emotional. The customer life cycle is front-and-center; and performance measurement is much more about emotion and value drivers than satisfaction. Service and value provision is regarded as an enterprise priority; and customer stabilization and recovery are goals when problems or complaints arise. Communication and collaboration with customers, between employees, and between employees and customers is featured. Management model and style is considerably more horizontal, with greater emphasis on teaming to improve customer value processes.

It’s notable that, at this more evolved and advanced stage of enterprise customer-centricity, complaints are thought of more in terms of a life cycle component, and recovery is more of a strategy than a resolution.

Customer Obsession
Throughout the organization, customer needs and expectations—especially those that are emotional—are well understood, and response is appropriate (and often proactive).

Everyone is involved in providing value to customers—from C-suite to front-line—and everyone understands his/her role. Customer behavior is recognized as essential to enterprise success, and optimal relationships are sought.

Performance measurement is focused, and shared, on what most monetizes customer behavior (loyalty, emotion and communication metrics—such as brand-bonding and advocacy—replace satisfaction and recommendation).

Customer service (along with pipelines and processes) is an enterprise priority, and seen as a vital, and profitable, element of value delivery.

The management model is far more horizontal, replacing traditional hierarchy; and there is an emphasis on teaming and inclusion of customers to create or enhance value.

Companies that are customer-obsessed, and what makes them both unique and successful, have been extensively profiled by consultants and the business press. Often, they go so far as to create emotionally driven, engaged and even branded experiences for their customers, strategically differentiating them from their peers.

In addition, these companies focus on the complete customer life cycle, and much more on retention, loyalty and risk mitigation (and even winback) than acquisition. Support experiences are strategic, nimble and seamless, and often omnichannel. Multiple sources of data are used to develop insights. Recognizing the information needs of their customers, they invest in altruistic content creation (over advertising); and they communicate proactively and in as personalized a manner as possible

Customer obsession, what I refer to as “inside-out” customer-centricity, has been a frequent subject of my blogs and articles: One of Albert Einstein’s iconic quotes reflects the complete dedication of resources and values needed for an organization to optimize its relationships with customers: “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master.” Mastery requires, as well, a storehouse of experience coming from experimentation; so, just like in the pole vault and high jump, we can expect that the customer-centricity bar will continue to be raised.

5 Important Email Tips for Converting Prospects to Customers

The harder you make it for your prospects to become customers, the fewer will. Most marketers agree that lead generation and lead conversion are the bedrocks of their efforts. As you scrutinize your internal process to convert prospects to customers, remember that, in order to consistently convert, you must at least

(Editor’s Note: This is a preview of Cyndie’s presentation on the upcoming webinar “Email for Customer Acquisition: 5 Great Ways to Expand Your List, and Your Profits!,” with Yeva Roberts of Standard Register, airing Jan. 28 at 2 p.m. EST. Register here to watch the rest live tomorrow, or catch it on-demand starting Jan. 29.)

The harder you make it for your prospects to become customers, the fewer will.

Most marketers agree that lead generation and lead conversion are the bedrocks of their efforts. As you scrutinize your internal process to convert prospects to customers, remember that, in order to consistently convert, you must at least:

  • Provide a clear, concise path to becoming a customer.
  • Enable your prospect to become a customer.
  • Resolve any concerns your prospect has about becoming a customer.

1. Be Timely, Relevant and Easy
Conversion begins at the moment of acquisition—waiting to engage is the kiss of death if you hope to hold the attention of your new prospect. We humans have very short memories—and attention spans—and marketers who allow the opportunity for one to forget a recent engagement will be saddled with lower retention and conversion rates over the customer’s lifecycle.

Your first touch to new prospects must be prompt and direct as you remind the recipient of how the relationship began and, ideally, lay out the path for becoming a highly valued customer. Using email, converting prospects to leads can be quite easy, and when you group likeminded prospects into segments, you can also create highly relevant content appropriate for this audience.

When relevant content is bolstered by personalization, your messaging can transcend a timid first step and become a flat stone skipping through sales ripples reducing necessary touches to a simple few.

Tracking clicked links and buttons within your email will enable you to appropriately respond to engagement with auto-responders recognizing specific engagement activities. Auto-responders are unique tools for reminding prospects they engaged with your brand and helping them resume the process if they’ve become distracted along the way.

2. Provide High-value Content
Inbound marketing represents one of the most successful approaches to converting prospects to leads, leads to subscribers, and subscribers to customers. Your content should be well-written and professionally designed while establishing your brand as an expert.

Your e-books, slide decks, videos, webcasts, demos and the like must be honest and forthright in order to establish your credibility, and should not shy away from areas where your competitors have you bested. Recognizing and addressing these areas will foster trust and help you to build upon these new, budding relationships.

When you post inbound content to your website, you will drive repeat visits; visits that naturally develop, deepen and nurture the relationship to the next stage.

Inbound content such as blogs, videos and online tools also extend the time of visit, and this is an important metric that contributes to your search-engine optimization effort.

Though content at your site is important for this reason and others, resist the urge to keep your content to yourself. Create partnerships with companies that will post your content or choose apps such as SlideShare, YouTube or edocr.com to syndicate your content beyond your own reach. Requiring a form submission to download your content will result in capturing some leads, but you will benefit far more from unrestricted content that is shared liberally.

3. Convey Urgency and Scarcity
Certainly not news to most seasoned marketers, urgency and exclusivity still motivate prospects to act more quickly. Procrastination is a sales killer, so text within your email reminding the recipient of how few widgets remain or how few days to buy the widget remains can dispel bouts of procrastination that grip many of us at one time or another.

Positioning your offer as time-sensitive, quantity-bound or event-based will boost your conversions, but lack of instructions for how to take advantage of your offer can easily negate the benefit gained.

4. Provide Instant Gratification
In email marketing, it’s key to first identify and then solve the customer’s problem—as quickly as possible. Your customers have come to expect and even demand instant gratification, not just in electronic platforms but physical as well. (It’s unbelievable that Amazon is currently testing same-day drone delivery and delivery before you’ve even ordered in order to meet such demands.) You must strive to deliver now.

In your emails, recognize that your clients want it now, and use words such as “instant,” “immediate,” and “now” as trigger words to put them in the buying mood. If your product doesn’t lend itself to being delivered via drone so they can get it now, offer an instant rebate or immediate download. By solving your customer’s problem more quickly than your competitor, you will be more likely to gain the coveted conversion.

As with urgency and scarcity, it’s imperative that you are clear on what steps must be taken in order to achieve instant gratification.

5. Test, Track and Tweak
Don’t guess at what it takes to reduce clicks and shorten your sales cycle, nor should you be a focus group of one. While your opinion about what works and what does not is important, you are not the customer. Use your opinion and expertise as the starting point for testing, but analytics must be used to prove or disprove your educated guesses.

As you begin to understand areas or components slowing your conversions, consider paths that provide information in a more compact and effective manner. Videos are a great solution and a preferred vehicle for many, but podcasts, self-running demos and other online options are also ideal for replacing overhead-heavy meetings, site visits and other person-to-person events.

There are myriad sales-funnel processes, but all can benefit from trusting relationships and consistent experiences. Your blast, drip and nurture emails should be professional, branded and graduated in order to nudge your constituents along. It’s important to remind your prospects why they should choose you—both explicitly and obscurely.

Building Customer-Centric, Trust-Based Relationships

More than a buzzword, “being human,” especially in brand-building and leveraging customer relationships, has become a buzz-phrase or buzz-concept. But, there is little that is new or trailblazing in this idea. To understand customers, the enterprise needs to think in human, emotional terms. To make the brand or company more attractive, and have more impact on customer decision-making, there must be an emphasis on creating more perceived value and more personalization. Much of this is, culturally, operationally, and from a communications perspective, what we have been describing as “inside-out advocacy” for years.

More than a buzzword, “being human,” especially in brand-building and leveraging customer relationships, has become a buzz-phrase or buzz-concept. But, there is little that is new or trailblazing in this idea. To understand customers, the enterprise needs to think in human, emotional terms. To make the brand or company more attractive, and have more impact on customer decision-making, there must be an emphasis on creating more perceived value and more personalization. Much of this is, culturally, operationally, and from a communications perspective, what we have been describing as “inside-out advocacy” for years.

Most brands and corporations get by on transactional approaches to customer relationships. These might include customer service speed, occasional price promotions, merchandising gimmicks, new product offerings, and the like. In most instances, the customers see no brand “personality” or brand-to-brand differentiation, and their experience of the brand is one-dimensional, easily capable of replacement. Moreover, the customer has no personal investment in choosing, and staying with, one brand or supplier over another.

A key opportunity for companies to become stronger and more viable to customers is creation of branded experiences. Beyond simply selling a product or service, these “experiential brands” connect with their customers. They understand that delivering on the tangible and functional elements of value are just tablestakes, and that connecting and having an emotionally based relationship with customers is the key to leveraging loyalty and advocacy behavior.

These companies are also invariably quite disciplined. Every aspect of a company’s offering—customer service, advertising, packaging, billing, products, etc.—are all thought out for consistency. They market, and create experiences, within the branded vision. IKEA might get away with selling super-expensive furniture, but it doesn’t. Starbucks might make more money selling Pepsi, but it doesn’t. Every function that delivers experience is “closed-loop,” carefully maintaining balance between customer expectations and what is actually executed.

In his 2010 book, “Marketing 3.0: From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit,” noted marketing scholar Philip Kotler recognized that the new model for organizations was to treat customers not as mere consumers, but as the complex, multi-dimensional human beings they are. Customers, in turn, have been choosing companies and products that satisfy deeper needs for participation, creativity, community and idealism.

This sea change is why, according to Kotler, the future of marketing lies in creating products, services and company cultures that inspire, include and reflect the values of target customers. It also meant that every transaction and touchpoint interaction, and the long-term relationship, needed to carry the organization’s unique stamp, a reflection of the perceived value represented to the customer.

Kotler picked up a theme that was articulated in the 2007 book, “Firms of Endearment.” Authors Jagdish N. Sheth, Rajendra S. Sisodia and David B. Wolfe called such organizations “humanistic” companies, i.e. those which seek to maximize their value to each group of stakeholders, not just to shareholders. As they state, right up front (Chapter 1, Page 4):

“What we call a humanistic company is run in such a way that its stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, business partners, society, and many investors—develop an emotional connection with it, an affectionate regard not unlike the way many people feel about their favorite sports teams. Humanistic companies—or firms of endearment (FoEs)—seek to maximize their value to society as a whole, not just to their shareholders. They are the ultimate value creators: They create emotional value, experiential value, social value, and, of course, financial value. People who interact with such companies feel safe, secure, and pleased in their dealings. They enjoy working with or for the company, buying from it, investing in it, and having it as a neighbor.”

For these authors, a truly great company is one that makes the world a better place because it exists. It’s as simple as that. In the book, they have identified about 30 companies, from multiple industries, that met their criteria. They included CarMax, BMW, Costco, Harley-Davidson, IKEA, JetBlue, Johnson & Johnson, New Balance, Patagonia, Timberland, Trader Joe’s, UPS, Wegmans and Southwest Airlines. Had the book been written a bit later, it’s likely that Zappos would have made their list, as well.

The authors compared financial performance of their selections with the 11 public companies identified by Jim Collins in “Good to Great” as superior in terms of investor return over an extended period of time. Here’s what they learned:

  • Over a 10-year horizon, their selected companies outperformed the “Good to Greatcompanies by 1,028 percent to 331 percent (a 3.1 to 1 ratio)
  • Over five years, their selected companies outperformed the “Good to Great companies by 128 percent to 77 percent (a 1.7 to 1 ratio)

Just on the basis of comparison to the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, the public companies singled out by “Firms of Endearment” returned 1,026 percent for investors during the 10 years ending June 30, 2006, compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500—more than an 8 to 1 ratio. Over 5 years, it was even higher—128 percent compared to 13 percent, about a 10 to 1 ratio. Bottom line: Being human is good for the balance sheet, as well as the stakeholders.

Exemplars of branded customer experience also understand that there is a “journey” for customers in relationships with preferred companies. It begins with awareness, how the brand is introduced, i.e. the promise. Then, promise and created expectations must at least equal—and, ideally, exceed—real-world touchpoint results (such as through service), initially and sustained over time, with a minimum of disappointment.

As noted, there is a strong recognition that customer service is especially important in the branded experience. Service is one of the few times that companies will directly interact with their customers. This interaction helps the company understand customers’ needs while, at the same time, shaping customers’ overall perception of the company and influencing both downstream communication and future purchase.

And, branding the customer experience requires that the brand’s image, its personality if you will, is sustained and reinforced in communications and in every point of contact. Advanced companies map and plan this out, recognizing that experiences are actually a form of branding architecture, brought to life through excellent engineering. Companies need to focus on the touchpoints which are most influential.

Also, how much influence do your employees have on customer value perceptions and loyalty behavior through their day-to-day interactions? All employees, whether they are customer-facing or not, are the key common denominator in delivering optimized branded customer experiences. Making the experience for customers positive and attractive at each point where the company interacts with them requires an in-depth understanding of both customer needs and what the company currently does to achieve that goal, particularly through the employees. That means companies must fully comprehend, and leverage, the impact employees have on customer behavior.

So, is your company “human”? Does it understand customers and their individual journeys? Are customer experiences “human” and branded? Is communication, and are marketing efforts, micro-segmented and even personalized? Does the company create emotional, trust-based connections and relationships with customers? If the answer to these questions is “YES,” then “being human” becomes a reality, the value of which has been recognized for some time, and not merely as a buzz-concept.