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5 Ways to Make Service Part of Your Business DNA

Customer service expert Ron Kaufman has a radical notion that great service shouldn’t be as hard as it seems to be for so many businesses to deliver. “Service is everywhere,” says Kaufman, author of the new book Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Customers, Colleagues and Everyone Else you Meet. “But there’s a disconnect between the volume of service we need and the quality of service we are giving and receiving. Businesses have turned a simple concept into a catastrophic cliché. They remain blind to the fact that true service comes not from demands and dashboards, but from a basic desire to take care of other people.”

Here are five keys to making exceptional customer service part of your business DNA:

1) Start by instilling a service orientation in your business.

Unfortunately, when most small businesses hire someone new, the part of new orientation that relates to customer service is often nonexistent. “This is your desk; this is your password; those are your colleagues; these are the tools we use. Welcome to the organization. Now get to work.”

“Service orientation goes far beyond induction,” says Kaufman. “Zappos is an example of one company that really gets this. Its four-week cross-department process is an example of new-hire orientation at its finest—deeply embedding and delivering on the company’s brand and core value, ‘Deliver WOW Through Service.’ Zappos understands that new team members should feel informed, inspired, and encouraged to contribute to the culture.”

2. Establish an engaging service vision.

A clear and engaging service vision will unify and energize everyone in your business to aim high for customer service. It doesn’t matter whether you call this building block your service vision, mission, core value, guiding principle, credo, motto, slogan, saying, or tagline. What matters is that your engaging service vision is actually engaging.

3. Communicate your service goals.

A company’s service communications can be as big and bold as signs in the front of the store proclaiming your commitment to customer satisfaction, or as simple as including employees’ hobbies or passions on their nametags. Service communications are used to educate and inform, to connect people, and to encourage collaboration, motivate, congratulate, and inspire.

“They’re essential because they can be used to promote your service vision, showcase your new hires, announce your latest contest, explain have you measure good service, and give voice to your customers’ compliments and complaints,” says Kaufman. Service communications keep your people up-to-date with what’s happening, what’s changing, what’s coming next, and most of all what’s needed now.

4. Offer service recognition and rewards.

Service recognition and rewards are vital building blocks of a service culture. They are a way of saying “thank you,” “job well done,” and “please do it again” all at the same time. Recognition is a human performance accelerator and one of the fastest ways to encourage repeat service behavior.

“While money may seem like the most obvious reward for employees, it isn’t always the most effective,” says Kaufman. “An auto dealership I know of learned this lesson the hard way. It paid its sales team a special bonus for achieving high levels of customer satisfaction. But when bonus payments were curtailed during a sales slump, customer satisfaction levels also fell.”

Genuine appreciation makes a more lasting impact on any employee. And there are tons of great ways to reward and recognize. You can do it in public, in private, in person, in writing, for individuals, or for teams. You can do it with a handwritten note, a standing ovation, tickets to a concert or ball game, an extra day off, dinner for the family or many other ways.

5. Create a common service language.

The whole domain of service suffers from weak clichés, poor distinctions, and inaccurate common sense. “Oh, you want service?” an employee asks. “Well, you’ll have to talk to our service department.” Or, “You want something else or something different? That’s not our policy.”

“We create meaning with language, and we can change our world by inventing or adopting new language. Your common service language should be meaningful and attractive—a shared vocabulary to focus the attention and the actions of your team. It should clarify meaning, promote purpose, and align everyone’s intentions and objectives,” says Kaufman.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

How Return-on-Relationship (ROR) Trumps ROI

Small business owners traditionally view customer relationships this way: You produce a product or service, and customers pay you money, some of which you re-invest in finding more customers.

But Bill Lee, author of a new book called The Hidden Wealth of Customers (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012) has a different notion.  Wouldn’t it be far more effective if you let the customers you already have help drive your sales and marketing efforts and fuel your growth? Makes sense, right?  No matter how much you spend on marketing and advertising through outside channels, they are still at least one layer removed from actual buyers. Existing customers have the best handle on understanding your potential customers, hands down.

Lee’s research has revealed this: Businesses that achieve rapid growth are the ones that don’t just think of customers as “people or businesses that buy stuff” but rather as advocates, influencers and contributors.

That’s a key mindset that can work magic for small and local businesses of all kinds, no matter where they are or what they sell. Instead of thinking only about a return of investment (ROI) on your marketing dollars spent, start thinking also about a “return on relationship” (ROR) with your customers.

The truth is, says Lee, your customers are incredibly well equipped to market, sell and even help develop your products and services.

Here are six ways that customers can help grow your business better than you can:

1) Attract high-value information from and about other customers and prospects.

Existing customers have inside knowledge of their peers that can be super valuable. For example, they know what movies they watch, which restaurants they visit, where they like to travel and so on. Consider a company called Westlaw, which provides research services for law firms. It realized that its clients were interested in how they and the markets they served stacked up to other firms and markets. So Westlaw created something called Peer Monitor, which collects and aggregates client information (anonymously, with their permission) and turned it into a lucrative new business.

2) Believably promote your product or service.

No matter how hard you try, you can never be as believable in promoting your own business as one of your customers can. It’s this simple: You’re trying to sell something. Your customer isn’t. That fact alone makes them far more credible to other potential customers than outside agencies or internal employees.

3) Close the sale.

Yes, customers also make better salespeople than you do. They can honestly say, “This product or service worked for me and it can work for you too.” Look for ways to connect existing customers with prospects.  Many business owners find that prospects are far more interested in talking to other customers than to you or others at your firm.

4) Connect with their peers (your prospects).

Prospects are much more open to opportunities of connecting with friends and peers than they are with getting close to companies. That’s human nature. But too often when companies try to form “communities” around their business or brand they put the focus on the business logos and a company spokesperson. Instead, look for ways to creatively foster dialog between customers and their peers that touches on issues related to your products or services.

5) Energize your online and social media marketing.

Try as they might, many small businesses get nowhere with their social media marketing efforts. Often that’s because they try to force traditional ways of communicating into the social sphere.  Try other creative ways, such as video and mobile to engage customers in social media.

6) Help you enter new markets.

Typically, a small business hoping to enter a new market will hire and agency or use employees to help with research. How about using local customers in those areas?  Find and engage local VIP players to play a central role in your effort. Use them for product testing and feedback and to communicate your message.

Too many small businesses say, “customers are our best assets” but never leverage those assets. By using social media and other methods to harvest those assets, you can spark a new source of growth for your business.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

8 Ways to Deftly Handle Customer Complaints

When a small business receives a customer complaint it has two basic choices: Treat the complaining customer like a pain in the neck, or use the complaint as an opportunity to improve.

Business owners who are adept at handling and learning from complaints know all too well that one complaining customer might represent many others with the same problem who did not speak up. They’re the ones who tell others, complain about you online, and take their business elsewhere. Here are eight ways to deftly handle customer complaints, suggested by Ron Kaufman, author of “Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers” (Evolve Publishing, 2012).

  1. Thank the customer for bringing it to your attention. “Show appreciation for the complaining customer’s time, effort, communication, feedback, and suggestions,” says Kaufman. “Always keep in mind that the customer didn’t have to come to you at all. They could have simply taken their business elsewhere.”
  2. Don’t be defensive. It’s easy to get defensive when an angry customer is on the other end of the line or in your face. Just remember that customers with complaints tend to exaggerate situations, so getting defensive will only make it worse. When a customer complains, they’re doing so because they feel wronged in some way. You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying. But you do have to hear them out. That’s how you move the conversation in a positive direction.
  3. Acknowledge what’s important to the customer. Even if you think the customer’s complaint is unfair, there is something they value that your business didn’t deliver on. Embrace that value. “What the customer wants is to feel right,” says Kaufman. “When you agree with their value dimension, you’re telling them they are right to value this specific thing.” For example, if a customer says your service was slow, then that customer values speed. You might then acknowledge that they deserve quick, efficient service.
  4. Apologize once, upfront. Every service provider knows that the customer is not always right. But the customer is always the customer. You don’t have to admit you were wrong, but you should apologize for the inconvenience. When you do that, you’re showing understanding and empathy.
  5. Express your desire to improve. When you understand what the customer values, show them things your business does that helps you perform well in that area. Calmly explain what happened. “Show you are sincere about your commitment to do well in the areas the customer values,” says Kaufman. “At the very least, you can say you’re going to make sure everyone at your business knows about the problem so it won’t happen again.
  6. Offer helpful information. Part of hearing the customer out is answering any questions they have about the specific situation. Provide additional, useful information as much as you can. If they ask a question that you don’t know the answer to, tell them you’ll find out.  And then actually follow through. These are additional opportunities for you to say through your actions that you value their business.
  7. Contain the problem. Let’s say a family is at a crowded theme park on a hot day. The youngest child in the group starts to have an all-out meltdown. Suddenly, a theme park staff member sweeps onto the scene and whisks the family into a special room. Inside, they find an air conditioned room with water and other beverages, an ice cream machine, a bathroom, a comfortable sitting area, etc. The only thing missing in the room is any connection to the theme park’s brand. That’s because this room is used to isolate customers from the brand until they’re all — parents and children —having a more pleasurable experience.  “That’s how you contain a problem,” says Kaufman.
  8. Recover. Show the customer you care about them, even if you feel your business did everything right. Businesses worry that they’ll get taken advantage of if they offer vouchers, discounts, or freebies as part of their service recovery. But in reality that rarely happens. “Offer the customer something and then explain that you’re doing so as a gesture of goodwill or a token of your appreciation,” says Kaufman. Businesses do this because they know that a successfully recovered customer can become their most loyal advocate.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Six Lead Ranking Tactics that Really Pay Off

Ranking your leads – also called “lead scoring” – is an exercise most small business owners don’t bother with. At least not in a formal sense. But that may be passing up an opportunity to make follow-up efforts more effective by targeting and nurturing them in different ways based on their score.

Lead scoring is basically a way of objectively ranking your sales leads according to a variety of factors such as expected time to purchase, level of interest, “fit” and others. It’s about trying to determine the quality of your leads and allocate your immediate efforts toward the ones that have the best chance of converting, while others go into the nurture track.

More Important Now than Ever

Lead scoring is becoming increasingly important today for small businesses that are strapped for resources and need to do more, with less. In that environment, it’s a perfect fit. Different types of leads call for different types of follow-up. For example, some may fall into the long-term bucket, while others are just plain hot.

According to a study by Aberdeen Group, a major business research firm, companies that do lead scoring right are able to qualify leads at a 192 percent higher rate than other companies. Not only does lead scoring help you hone in on the most promising prospects, it also gives you an objective way to calculate and schedule the right types of follow-up for each ranking level.

Online Behavior is Key

The old “BANT” approach to lead scoring (does the lead have: Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline) doesn’t work well anymore. Today’s buyers – both consumers and businesses – start their information gathering process much earlier than in the past and rely on the web – and social media in particular – more than ever before. While most businesses have little visibility into this web-based behavior, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems are still trying to figure this out, new “Social CRM” services such as Nimble (www.nimble.com) are revolutionizing how this is done, especially for smaller businesses and work groups.

Here are six lead-ranking tactics that can really pay off for any size business:

1)    Start by clearly defining what constitutes a “priority lead” for your business. Once you communicate this to your sales people it gives you a handy way to measure how good they are at engaging these prospects and closing sales.

2)    Create a system to capture information on leads, score it and measure it. Key information you will want to understand is whether the lead is the right person to purchase your product or service, and whether they have the right level of interest.

3)    Consider information from the digital and social “graph.”  While you still want traditional demographic or business information on prospects such as age, income level and job title, the real key to discerning true purchasing intent is found in “behavioral” type information. In other words, it’s not who they are that defines them, it’s what they actually do. And since this can be found online, today’s term for this is “digital body language.” Tracking what prospects do online, in social media, to consume information about your business and interact with you in some way is far more powerful ammunition than information you might get, say, by telephone.

4)    Pick your proof points. There’s no single way to define a lead score, as it differs business to business. But generally you’ll want to assign a number (1-5 for example) and/or weighting (such as 10-30%) for each factor. In a B2B setting, for example, factors might include the level of pain (that is, how badly they need a solution to a problem), the prospect’s job role, business or industry and the source of the lead.

5)    Map your prospects’ variations. Spell out the type of lead that each score represents, and the follow-up action that’s called for. For example, the right person at the right time with the right amount of interest is top priority and gets immediate attention. Likewise, the right prospect at the wrong time is flagged with nurturing and follow-up. A lead that’s ranked as a wrong fit with no interest can be eliminated.

6)    Keep it simple to start. Don’t try to use too many scoring criteria or create complex follow-up plans. Start with a simple approach and carefully measure your results. You can always expand from there.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

How Rock Star Customers can Help You Grow

In an age of digital discovery and social media, here’s something that more and more local business are learning:  Existing customers can be one of the most powerful growth engines ever.  One way to put this engine to work is to identify and harness the hidden marketing potential in your “Rock Star” customers.

But watch out: they might not be the ones you think. For example, they aren’t necessarily the biggest spenders or most loyal. Loyal customers don’t always promote you (in fact, it’s likely they’re not), while big spending customers may not be profitable or have a good story to tell.

So who are your Rock Stars?

Bill Lee, CEO of an educational organization called the Customer Reference Forum, says your Rock Stars are simply the ones with the biggest potential to promote your business and influence others. “First, they’re loyal—that’s the price of admission,” says Lee. “They have a good story to tell about how your product or service helps them. Second, they’re eager to tell it. Third, they have access—and want to gain more access—to influential networks that contain more buyers like them. And fourth, they want to build their reputation and influence in such networks.”

But as much as they might love you, these Rock Star customers won’t help grow your business on their own. Even customers who identify themselves as “promoters” in customer surveys—saying they’d be highly likely to refer you to a colleague or friend—aren’t actually doing so. Studies have shown that only about 10 percent of self-described promoters actually refer profitable new customers. The key is this: You have to take the initiative and make it easy for them to do so.

Make it About Them

To make it work, it has to be all about them – not about you, says Lee, who is also author of a book called “The Hidden Wealth of Customers” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).

One tactic that works with Rock Stars is community marketing that recognizes how people buy things locally, from a refrigerator or flat screen TV, to a new roof or a doctor’s services. In that context, most people aren’t likely to seek out a salesperson or collect brochures. Instead, they’ll talk to friends, neighbors, colleagues or other peers to find out what or whom they’re using.

Some big companies have caught on to this. For example, Microsoft has brilliantly deployed “customer advocates” to leverage this natural approach to buying, particularly overseas. Microsoft will find local “MVP” customers who are well-connected in their local communities and want to increase their status, and help them do so by providing access to early releases and “insider knowledge.”

Getting known through established locals is faster—as well as more affordable—than trying to get locals to know a business through advertising, PR, big splash events, and other traditional marketing. Small businesses can use this same approach.

Make Yourself an Influencer

But instead of relying on your Rock Stars to carry the ball completely, the trick is to enlist their help in making you more of a “thought leader” in your own industry or community. Many business owners fall into the rut of seeking influencers—such as bloggers with large followings, or prominent personalities in their markets or communities.  But it’s usually better to be the influencer yourself – enlisting your Rock Stars to help you do it.

A good local business providing exceptional solutions to a community or market has two things that no outside influencer can match, says Lee. You have actual customers who are happy, plus you have your own “subject matter experts” (you and your employees) who work with these customers all the time. That alone gives you far more valuable knowledge than the usual outside influencer.

Perhaps the best thing about Rock Star customers is that they already exist, quietly thriving under the radar, waiting for you to discover them and put them to work. Failing to do so is a little like being a homeowner who knows a stash of gold is hidden in the wall but never uses a metal detector to find it.

Copyright © 2000-2012 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Best Ways to Take CRM Mobile

Mobile apps that can help you boost sales, manage customer relationships and basicaly run your entire business are getting better and more plentiful by the day.  This is the second in Business.com’s series of posts that will profile smartphone business apps that can help you: Complete credit card transactions; Manage customer information; Access documents; Complete and send business forms; Track your time; Capture and manage voice recording; Manage and track assets, inventory and employees; Track sales and assign tasks; Manage schedules and projects; Monitor patient care and services.

This post profiles four mobile apps for managing customer information and relationships.

Handheld Contact
$19.95/month
www.handheldcontact.com
Offers two-way wireless syncing between your ACT! database and your smartphone. Handheld Contact manages your contacts, activities, calendar and notes and histories from your BlackBerry, iPhone, Pocket PC, or Treo Smartphone.  ACT! data is stored directly on your handheld device. Includes history logging for calls and emails with automatic time-stamping. Customizable settings let you determine what is and isn’t synchronized.

SalesForce Mobile and Mobile Lite
($25/month and up; Lite version free)
www.salesforce.com/mobile
Customer data and business applications are always at your fingertips with Salesforce Mobile.  View and edit your key Salesforce records (accounts, opportunities, and other records).  Log sales or service activities, such as emails, phone calls and in-person meetings.  Assign tasks and events to colleagues or yourself.

Nice Office
www.niceoffice.com
$9.95/month

Nice Office CRM turns your BlackBerry or Windows Mobile Smartphone into a virtual mobile office. Manage your email, calendar, contacts and tasks. Store forms and documents online and send them directly to your customers. Track sales and lead activity by workflows and status levels. Create custom sales fields and record sales activity. Nice Office CRM also automatically logs device activity and gives you detailed reporting on mobile interactions with your contacts, tracking messages, calls and appointments automatically.

CompanionLink Express
$49.95 one-time purchase
www.companionlink.com
Great for business professionals who need to have their PC contacts, calendar and tasks on their phone.  Access your customer data from your Google account or your BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile, Palm OS or Google phone. Sync with popular PC software, including ACT!, GoldMine, Outlook, Lotus Notes, Palm Desktop and Novell GroupWise.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.