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How to Set Your Business Up So You Never Have To Actually Talk to Anyone

I’m guessing the headline for this post brought you here for one of two reasons – you were curious or you were dismayed by the thought of it. And I’m okay with either, but one of you is going to be disappointed.

human touch

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

See, technology has indeed brought us to the point where we can actually run a business, sell a product and serve a customer without the need for human interaction.

This is a glorious thing, right? By throwing off the physical bonds of storefronts, employees and office hours many people have been able to carve out a non-traditional living that wouldn’t have been possible just a few short years ago.

While this is a positive thing for some, it’s also created an opposing opportunity for smart marketers to seize.

You can set up a business so you never have to actually talk to anyone, but the more we engage in automated contact, the more we crave human contact.

As our daily business transactions become cold and machine driven, we seek out and are far more receptive to the kinds of real life interactions this very convenience walls us from.

Think about a typical marketing related engagement these days. You get an email urging you to sign up for an online seminar. You fill out the form, get an email confirmation, miss the call because you know you’ll get the recording, download the recording and put it in a digital folder where it sits today unplayed.

Heck, I do this all the time, so there’s no judgment here; it’s simply the recognition of reality.

So, where’s the opportunity in that? What if we started adding human engagement back into our automated routines? What if we starting shocking people by asking them what they wanted? What if we took the time and energy to warmly greet and welcome people into our communities?

Let’s go back to the online seminar above. Imagine if you enrolled in that online seminar and then received a call thanking you, confirming the time zone conversion for you and offering you some material that would make the call even more useful.

Something tells me you’re gonna be more likely to attend that call and pay just a little more attention to what’s being said and offered.

Now, let’s say you sign up for that session, but couldn’t make it, and then received a call letting you know where to get the recording and how to get the transcript as well. Again, I’m thinking you’re going to respond simply because nobody does that.

Not everyone wants a phone call from you, but a growing percentage of people will be open to contact and so taken by the effort they will feel a sense of obligation to see what else you’ve got in store for them.

And that’s the point – this being human stuff means you’re going to need to raise the bar on everything.

This is one simple example of how you can turn the tide of technology numbing marketing to your favor by being that company that actually delivers value and shows appreciation for every single member of your community.

You can build and add human touchpoints as internal systems initially and as you perfect them and grow use external resources to scale.

This is how you stand out today and this is how you stay close enough to your list of customers (people) to discover what they need and want and how to turn your best customers into raving fans.

5 Ways to Turn Incredible Customer Support Into a Profit Center

This post is one in a series of tips for making your small business run better and is sponsored by UPS. UPS is all about logistics — the logistics that makes your business run better and faster

customer support

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

Providing customer training and support is costly, but it’s also quite important.

Some organizations view it as a necessary evil while other, more innovative thinking companies, view it as a way to differentiate, up sell and create additional profits.

The key to creating support that generates profit is to create support that’s worth paying for. The way to do this is make it a formal package, think about it like a product and offer it either as a tangible added value or as an à la carte offering.

The Apple Genius Bar is a great example of how to generate profits from support. They sell service packages, offer training programs and even take back and recycle old products when you upgrade.

There are many ways to tap this mindset. Below are just five examples of how to turn extraordinary customer service into a revenue stream.

Live Q and A chats

When someone buys a product or service of any kind you can offer reassurance that they will receive full value from their purchase by implementing regularly scheduled chat sessions where users or customers may ask questions about their purchase and receive help with features or implementations.

Of course this is also something you could offer as a pre-sales education tactic as well as a paid subscription add-on.

There are many tools available that make this tactic somewhat easy to implement. If you are a 37Signals software user you probably already use their integrated chat tool Campfire. There are other tools such as Chatroll that allow you to embed a group chat tool on your website for a simple branded option.

Drop in Fridays

If your customers are primarily local you may want to schedule a time where customers can come in or bring a product in and receive additional advice, specific training or simply a chance to network with other users.

Trade in days

If you sell a product that is upgraded frequently, such as technology, or has you going head to head with competitors, create and promote specific times when customers or prospects can come in and get credit for recycling an old version or upgrading to your product over a competitors.

Be prepared to offer a service that makes it both very attractive and very easy to switch.

This tactic lends itself to hard goods, but certainly software and other process driven services could benefit from this approach as well.

Weekly Hangouts

One of my favorite tools right now is Google+ Hangouts. Using this tool you could easily create video Q and A chats, offer weekly lessons or simply create a series of expert adviser knowledge sharing sessions to benefit your clients.

One of the reasons I really like this tool is that you also broadcast these sessions publicly or password protected and archive them on YouTube to instantly create a library of customer service and training videos.

Online courses

Once someone buys a product or engages you to provide a service you easily establish a relationship of ongoing support through online courses.

The technology to create, manage and deliver content using full-blown membership site tools such as Kajabi or WordPress plugins such as Premise or Wishlist Member makes this approach something that every business should consider as a way to expand offerings and generate a residual stream of revenue.

Most content delivery applications today integrate with leading eCommerce payment systems as well as shopping cart, CRM and email service providers.

The need to provide basic support and training will always be part of the deal, but by creating even greater levels of support, delivering it in new and exciting ways and making is worth paying for is how you grow your profitability in ways that also makes your organization stand out.

5 Social Media Lessons Gleaned from a New SMB Study

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Frank Strong, director of Public Relations, Vocus – Enjoy!

There is no shortage of social media advice.  Unfortunately, much of it is often at odds, conflicting and even confusing.

For example, consider scheduling tweets.  A quick Google search will return many passionate arguments both for – and against – the case for scheduled tweets. Proponents point out automation allows them to space out their social posts to avoid inundating their followers. Meanwhile, opponents say it can lead to disastrous results when these posts coincide with unforeseen events.  There’s always room for middle ground.

While such advice comes with a great deal of experience and has points of merit, it often also comes with the unique and perhaps, narrow perspective specific to that person or organization.

This is why sound research is so important and why we teamed with Duct Tape Marketing to conduct a statistically valid social media survey of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB). As we have studied the data over a course of several weeks, we have come to several conclusions based on research.

Here are five lessons we have learned from the study:

1.  You have to find your own path to influence.  Social media users are almost spiritual about the ‘right’ way to approach social promotion.  Many believe that building a tighter, highly engaged community is the best approach – it is a concept I subscribe to as well.  However, 27% of SMBs reported focusing on building a very large number of followers or fans on social media, regardless of interaction.  While this flies in the face of conventional social media wisdom, this same group was also more likely to say that social media has been very helpful for their business.  This is a testament to the fact that every business is unique: What works for one, may not work for another.  We all face different challenges in terms of industry, budget and finite resources and have to experiment to decide what will work best for us.

Lesson:  Listen, study, and observe what others are doing, but do not be afraid to go against the grain and try something different.  After all, that is what entrepreneurs often do best.

2.  Social works, but only with effort.  Most SMBs believed that social media was moving the needle for their organization. Fifty-eight percent said social media had been somewhat helpful, while almost one-third said it was very helpful. Just 10% said it had no impact.  However, there is a clear correlation between effort and results:  Those that were more willing to work at social media saw better results.  Entrepreneurs understand this concept. In many ways, it is the very reason they decided to strike out on their own.  Social media can be productive and it certainly takes an investment of time. Those that invest the time are more likely to see a return in the long run.

Lesson:  When committing to social media, keep in mind it is a marathon, not a sprint.  An aspiration of a quick hit that goes viral and leads to instant sales is setting you up for disappointment. 

3. Addressing customer service issues is an untapped opportunity.  Ninety-one percent of SMBs say they use social media to share news about their organization – the most common activity.  That is not surprising, since it is easy to share good news.  The least cited activity was managing customer service complaints, with just 46% of SMBs saying they engage in this activity online.  That is less than half and the reason is clear:  It is uncomfortable to address service complaints in such a public manner. Certainly there are different levels of customer complaints online – marketing strategist Peter Shankman breaks them down into five types – but more often than not, complaints represent an opportunity.  What opportunity?  It is the chance to resolve an issue and earn greater loyalty from the customer.

Lesson:  Addressing service complaints quickly may not just resolve the issue, but turn a customer into an advocate; there is a bonus in that those observing will credit you for addressing the matter.

4.  The challenge of dual hat responsibility.  Seventy-three percent of SMBs have added social media as an additional duty of an existing marketing person. In other words, they had a job, and then got a little more work on top of it. As your community grows, so too will the time demands of social media. How you resolve this challenge may vary – perhaps new tools, new efficiencies, or even new people. The danger of simply assigning someone an additional duty is in forcing people to do things that may not meet their natural abilities, skills or inclinations. Sure, we all have to roll up our sleeves and do grunt work sometimes, but it is the sort of commitment John Jantsch is referencing in The Commitment Engine Resources that we should be after.

Lesson:  Consider carefully who gets assigned social media as an additional duty; experience matters, but then so too does enthusiasm.

5.   Facebook dominates but keep tabs on emerging social sites. Google+ and StumbleUpon were ranked by fewer SMBs as effective social platforms for their engagement, but those that use them were also more likely to say they were very effective. It reminded me of the first solid case study I saw several years ago that used FourSquare, where a burger joint named AJ Bombers, had tapped the network with such success it captured national attention.  With social media, we do not simply build a presence and hope people visit. Instead, we go to where our customers and prospects are spending their time.

Lesson:  It may seem like everyone is on a platform, but it is important to understand if the users there are the people you want to engage. A less popular site may be the answer to driving business results.

* * *

If there’s one overarching value proposition of engagement on social media, I would borrow a phrase from a respondent to this survey:  “It has allowed us to promote our products to people we may not have been able to reach normally.”  Indeed that is simply the power of the Web.  To download a copy of the survey please visit: Path to Influence: An Industry Study of SMBs and Social Media.

Frank Strong is the director of PR for Vocus. Find him on Twitter and the Vocus blog.

Do Service and Profit Go Hand in Hand

Marketing podcast with Micah Solomon (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes or subscribe via other RSS device (Google Listen)

My guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is Micah Solomon, a customer service expert, entrepreneur, business leader, speaker, and author. He built his company, Oasis Disc Manufacturing, from a one-man operation in a leaky basement (financed with just a credit card) into a market leader in the independent entertainment field. He is also the co-author of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization, a book we talked about for this show.

One of the core points of the book is that companies can’t simply provide satisfactory customer service they must provide anticipatory customer service. In other words, we need to anticipate what customers want and provide it without them asking.

We must build systems to record the preferences of our customers, hire the right people and give them the tools and permission to meet our customer’s needs.

To be considered the service leader in our industry we can’t simply consider our direct competitors, we must consider every service provider that also offers exceptional service, they are setting the bar and we must study, model and consider them our competition.

Organizations that are customer centered are very careful about the language and words they use throughout the business and consciously choose specific language when referring to and addressing customers. If marketing is painting a positive customer message and then the owner of the business is constantly putting customers down or complaining about problem customers, the entire customer service mentality will get derailed.

Check out Micah’s article for Fast Company – Seven Keys to Building Customer Loyalty–and Company Profits to get an even deeper understanding of the ideas behind Exceptional Customer Service.

You can listen to the show by subscribing the feed in iTunes or a variety of other free services such as Google Listen (Use this RSS feed) or you can buy the Duct Tape Marketing iPhone app. (iTunes link – Cost is $2.99) or

Has Social Media Changed Customer Service?

Marketing podcast with Peter Shankman (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes or subscribe via other RSS device (Google Listen)

Custom ServiceMy guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is Peter Shankman. Many of you may know him for his great Help A Reporter Out, (HARO) tool, which he sold recently to Vocus.

In addition to HARO, Peter is the founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc., a boutique Marketing and PR Strategy firm located in New York City, and author of several books, including Customer Service: New Rules for a Social Media World

The adoption of social media on every level of business has certainly changed how we serve customers and created opportunities for those that choose to take advantage.

In this session we talk about ways to:

  • Choose online media that make the most sense for you
  • Avoid wasting time with platforms that won’t help you
  • Earn your customer’s loyalty, trust, and credibility
  • Learn from other companies’ viral “disasters”
  • Rebuild your credibility after you’ve taken a public “hit” online

So, how has social media changed customer service as a customer and a business?

You can listen to the show by subscribing the feed in iTunes or a variety of other free services such as Google Listen (Use this RSS feed) or you can buy the Duct Tape Marketing iPhone app. (iTunes link – Cost is $2.99) or

Is the Customer Always Right?

Here’s my quick answer – “hell no”

customer serviceLet me start by giving you some back story to this post. I read and pointed out on twitter an article from Fast Company – here’s the tweet – @ducttape: Are You Building a Consumer-Facing Company? http://su.pr/2XxE7B the customer vs culture debate rages on. The gist of the article is that sometimes you have to bend to make sure the customer is ultimately served. But, a little voice inside my head said – at what cost?

I stated as much and drew a couple exchanges from customer service consultant @tedcoinecustomer is not always right/Rule #1: The customer is always right. Rule #2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread rule #1! and There is a certain surrender necessary in winning customer service. You have to BELIEVE the customer is always right, true or not – to which I owe the timing of this post.

I have no problem whatsoever with the premise of the article, but I’ve come across far too many small businesses that view this age old saying “the customer is always right” as a lone justification for taking abuse at the hands of life sucking customers.

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What’s Your Signature Response to Problems?

serviceI’ve written often that one of the ways to create goodwill, positive buzz and happy customers is to exceed expectations. Responding proactively to problems offers, in my opinion, one of the easiest ways to exceed expectations available.

Problems happen, that’s a fact, and you can choose to respond to customer challenges, problems, let downs, screw-ups and mistakes in one of two ways. You can ignore them and create the kind of friction that drags your trust into the ground or you can respond in such an over the top, out of control, nobody does that kind of way that can turn problems into gold mines. If you want to exceed expectation, choose the latter!

Most everyone is familiar with the Nordstrom’s policy of refund – no time limit, no receipt, no questions asked. It’s an example given whenever someone talks about customer service, but it’s really a signature response to a customer problem and it’s become something that creates incredible word of mouth for them.

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How To Be Easier To Talk To

Phone boothOne thing I know about these fast times we live in – people want information and engagement when they want and how them want it. The best way to turn this to your advantage is to employ tools that make it as easy as possible for prospects and customers to contact, engage, discuss, provide feedback, get help, collaborate and otherwise talk to you, while still having a life.

Job 1 is to make certain that you have your basic contact information, including maps and directions, right there on every page. Secure contact forms are a great way to make sure messages get through and I’ve also added EmailCenterPro email management software to make sure those emails get answered by the right person in the right way.

Instant Message - providing IM and chat room widgets allow visitors to get an answers and chat with other visitors
Meebo
Bold Chat

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