How To Lose A Customer Without Losing Your Cool

Tags

, , ,

When a customer tells you that they’re giving their business to someone else, how do you respond?

This was the question staring me in the face this past week. For the customer in question, I should have seen it coming long before it happened. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to dissect this common sales scenario step-by-step. This is the best way to call out patterns that occur all too frequently in business relationships, and they apply equally to eCommerce, retail, and B2B. This time, for me, it was too little too late. Let’s hope the following tips can help us all be more proactive as we evaluate our sales strategy in the future.

More Often Than Not, You Won’t Get A Warning

In my case, the customer told me after the fact. It almost felt like I was #10 on their checklist: Research new suppliers, evaluate new suppliers, negotiate pricing, negotiate terms… and only then inform your current supplier. As much as this stung, my case is the exception and not the norm. In the vast majority of cases, the customer won’t say anything. They’ll just… stop ordering. If the company doesn’t notice, we can arrive at two interrelated conclusions:

  1. Shame on them! Clearly they didn’t value that customer very highly.
  2. What the company doesn’t know won’t hurt them… much.

Note the tone of exaggerated irony. If you are not monitoring your customers’ purchasing and usage behavior, how much do you really value their business? If you earn your customers’ trust, if they believe that your solution delivers a unique value that no other company can match, and if they enjoy doing business with you… by most measures you’re doing pretty well. But if you’re not holding yourself accountable for your customers’ success, and if you’re not delivering your unique value proposition to every customer every time… then do you even have a business worth running?

Never before has it been easier for customers to take their business elsewhere if they believe they’re not receiving the service they deserve. Think of it this way: if you felt that a company didn’t care enough about your needs and goals, and if that company’s service or product was erratic and failed to inspire, wouldn’t you jump ship?

By the same token, never before has it been easier to track your customers’ behavior, especially as more and more businesses move online. There are a million and one resources that explain the ‘How’ and the ‘Why,’ but they all point to the same basic question: If there were a simple way for you to create and maintain a strong emotional connection between your customers and your brand, wouldn’t you do it?

The funny thing is, I thought that neither of the two conclusions above applied to me. I was in constant communication with members of their Finance Department and C-Suite, and one of their managers had even told me they appreciated that I made their lives easier. I valued them as a customer, and they knew it. So where did I drop the ball?

You Know What They Say About Assumptions…

Perhaps I didn’t value them highly enough. Here’s an abridged transcript of a conversation I had with my manager a few days before I received the disturbing news:

Andrew’s Manager: “Andrew, have you spoken with Customer X recently?”

Andrew: “You know it! We’re preparing their order to ship early next week.”

Andrew’s Manager: “Great Work!”

Andrew: <beams inwardly>

Yikes! I’m certainly not beaming now. There’s egg on my face and I’m playing catch-up with all my other customers.

Assumptions never bear fruit, just like hope will never be an effective business strategy. A conversation like this would have worked far better:

Two months prior to the anticipated order predicted above…

Andrew: “We’re so glad we can help you achieve your goals for Customer X, Manager X!”

Manager X: “Thank you, Andrew! We really appreciate all your help and we’re glad to work with you.”

Andrew: “We appreciate you. And while I know we’ve scheduled your next few orders for Ingredient X, I’d like to ask you a simple question: What if you received an offer from Competitor X at a lower price?”

Manager X: “That’s a good question. We enjoy working with you and in the interest of transparency we would share Competitor X’s offer to see how you would counter.”

Andrew: “Thank you, I appreciate that. And if you compared us to Competitor X and some members of your team wanted to begin ordering Ingredient X from them instead, what would I need to do to strengthen our partnership?”

And so on. Questions like this are not designed to make anyone comfortable. We can’t make effective business decisions based upon assumptions and expectations. We must uncover the truth. Conducting a dialogue like this with your customers can be extremely powerful, even especially when it seems like everything is going just fine.

As leaders we must do all we can to learn more about our customers’ goals, do more to help them achieve those goals, and provide them with the resources they need to aim even higher.

In my case, I didn’t even get as far as considering whether or not these questions would reveal the unspoken goals of Customer X. Shame on me, indeed!

But there’s even more to the story than tracking your customers’ behavior and asking tough questions. You need to have a strategy in place before your customer even knows you exist.

Land And Expand

If I had backed up two months and shared an intimate dialogue with Manager X, then I would have been more prepared when they had told me they were switching suppliers for Ingredient X.

But here’s what would have worked even better (key points in bold):

Nine and a half months prior to the anticipated order predicted above…

Andrew: “Andrew’s Manager, I just found out about Soon-To-Be-Customer X. They’ve got a killer brand and I think we could do a lot of business with them.”

Andrew’s Manager: “Interesting! Tell me more.”

Andrew: “Well, I know they use Ingredient X, but that’s probably dwarfed by their needs for Ingredient Y.”

Andrew’s Manager: “Really? And what makes you say that?”

Andrew: “Because they’re in Industry X. I see Ingredient Y featured in many competing products, but none of those products also uses Ingredient X.”

Andrew’s Manager: “This is good intel. We have several strong sources for Ingredient X but we’re just getting started with Ingredient Y.”

Andrew: “I’m confident they can be our customer for Ingredient X, but we also need to plan to make them an offer on Ingredient Y towards the end of the year. Doesn’t the annual harvest for Ingredient Y come in August?”

Andrew’s Manager: “That’s right. It looks like this is really good timing. Do all you can to win their business for Ingredient X as quickly as possible. That way we’ll have more time to demonstrate our value as we investigate their needs for Ingredient Y.”

Andrew: “Awesome. I’m on it!”

Sigh… I see it so clearly now. Since I never took the time to investigate Customer X’s needs for Ingredient Y until a month ago, I had no leverage when they decided to give their Ingredient X business to someone else. Worse, I knew from the start that they must use at least 10 times as much Ingredient Y as Ingredient X. So even if I made a bunch of concessions on Ingredient X to keep their business, any savings to them would have been trivial compared to what they could save by negotiating on the value of Ingredient Y.

If you have a solution that can deliver Ingredient X on time and under budget… and your solution can also – with a few minor tweaks – deliver Ingredient Y, then Ingredient Y must be part of your strategy for winning and retaining Customer X.

And by the way… If you ever find yourself making concessions it’s already way too late. You may want to revisit that part about unique value above.

The only way to lose a customer without losing your cool is to extract as much information as you can from every interaction, every would-be interaction, and every missed opportunity. Increasing your intelligence and awareness now can only pave the way for much greater opportunities in the future.

Finally, if you found yourself grimacing and shaking your head as I recounted my experience, then I achieved my goal of shocking you into reflection and appropriate action. On the other hand, my trials pale in comparison to what American Express is facing right now. But to claim that either of us was down for the count would be a grave underestimation.

sales strategy, customer success, sales funnel

Note to Sales: Stop Playing Catch-Up With Your Customers!

When I first began this blog I included a recipe at the conclusion of every post. I tried to pick something appropriate which would hearken back to the business principles I explored in the body. I dropped the recipes after I realized that I enjoyed writing about business much more.

But when life hands you not just lemons but a refreshing glass of lemonade, drink it with gratitude and shout your praise to the heavens. That’s how I felt when I was planning this post and I came across the article on American Express I linked above. When I read the section where American Express was compared to ketchup, I almost fell off my chair laughing.

“This,” I thought, “is perfect.”

May you always go in with a plan, may you always ask the tough questions, and may you never, EVER, have to play catch-up.

Homemade Ketchup

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Time: Ready in 5 Days, Requires only 8 minutes active prep
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Inspired by Nourished Kitchen.

  1. Spoon tomato paste into a large mixing bowl and fold in raw honey
  2. Whisk in one-quarter cup fresh whey into the sweetened tomato paste along with apple cider vinegar, sea salt, and spices. Continue whisking these ingredients together until the paste is smooth and uniform.
  3. Spoon the homemade ketchup into a mason jar, top with remaining two tablespoons fresh whey, cover tightly with a lid, and allow the ketchup to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for three to five days.
  4. After three to five days, uncover the homemade ketchup and give it a thorough stir before transferring to the refrigerator. Naturally fermented homemade ketchup will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

playing catch-up, ketchup, sales strategy

The Only Time When Playing Catch-Up Is A Winning Strategy

*Making whey is easier than you think. All it takes is a little motivation… now you can make two delicious condiments!

Please note that some of the links in this post may take you to affiliate sites. To read my full Affiliate Disclosure please click here.

Why Should Improving Customer Experience Be So Hard?

Tags

, ,

In an effort to make this blog more fun and easy to manage, I recently signed up for Email Marketing through AWeber (you can subscribe to my email list in the left sidebar). There are tons of email marketing tools out there, but after hearing recommendations from several other bloggers I decided to check them out.

I wanted a way to easily integrate an AWeber email signup form into this WordPress site, and while AWeber has several helpful pages in their FAQ, I still thought it would be nice to get confirmation on live chat.

What came next surprised me… in a good way.

  1. Their rep was prompt, professional, and anticipated all my questions. Key Insight: Many of your customers probably come to you with similar questions. That’s why you have an FAQ section and a Help page in the first place, right? Yet if your customer needs hand-holding it pays to have someone on your side who can be proactive in getting your customer exactly what they asked for and what they’ll need next. This is one of the hallmarks of excellent customer service.
  2. Their rep was so helpful, I was able to setup my account in minutes. Grateful for their help and easy-to-follow guidelines, I shared my thoughts on Twitter. You can see our conversation below, I think they responded to me in less than a minute. Key Insight: Do more than just serve your customers. Amaze, delight, and excite them. If you really want to succeed, Excellent Customer Service is not just part of your business, it is your business. Customer Experience, Customer Service, Email Marketing
  3. How often do you talk about a positive experience with a brand online? How about a negative experience? I consider myself about average in this, but I’m definitely not alone. Social Media is now a key factor necessity for all businesses. Need more proof? With access to a wealth of data through Social Media and our other online behaviors, improving your customers’ experience has become both extremely easy and frighteningly challenging. Easy, because brands now have the opportunity to respond to customers’ challenges in real time. The frightening part? Parsing the fire-hose of information. Key Insight: I didn’t expect AWeber to respond to my tweet immediately, I just wanted everyone else to know what great service I had received. Yet if a customer lobs you a softball like this, knock it out of the park like AWeber. And even if they publicly vent their frustrations, that’s still a chance for you to shine… if you are prompt, courteous, and empathetic.

So again I ask you, Why should improving customer experience be so hard? Often it’s a lack of will, but you have to more than simply like the ‘idea’ of improving customer experience. You need to have a real commitment to it at every level of your organization: it needs to be part of your culture, part of your company’s DNA. And it is far easier to instill this at the very beginning, before you have any customers or even any employees. In fact, the questions to ask yourself when meeting with your employees are some of the same questions to consider with communicating with your customer.

AWeber has been around for more than 15 years, and I’d suspect that one of the reasons they communicated with me the way they did was because they’ve focused on improving their customers’ experience since the beginning. But what if you’re not a startup? What if you’re not just a large, well-known company but a large, well-known, universally hated company? Readers can take heart from David Thodey’s work to reinvigorate Telstra. If a company like AWeber can do it for 15 years running, and a company like Telstra can reverse course after so many years of mediocrity, what about you?

It will take sacrifice, for sure. It will take deep commitment over a long period of time. But once you decide in your heart of hearts that Customer Experience is important, AWeber and Telstra will be standing by to welcome you with open arms. I guarantee it.

Please note that some of the links in this post may take you to affiliate sites. To read my full Affiliate Disclosure please click here.

Price, Value, and Perceived Predictability

Tags

, , ,

Every day, every moment of your working life, what type of value are you delivering?

In an ideal world, when you first start working at a company you and your employer agree on a price for your inborn talents and aptitude to learn. But if you have ambition for the company’s success, the actual value of your work will always outpace its price. Your drive to succeed – for the company to succeed – will transform you into someone who everyone wants to work with. In contrast, think of someone who is always bemoaning the company and what it stands for. Not exactly leadership material.

Your price – your material compensation – can probably be summarized in less than three paragraphs. Your value unfolds across the arc of your career, revealed in every conversation with your customers, co-workers, vendors… really any time you talk about your company you affect your value.

Now let’s return to the title of this post. The moment you conflate your price and your value, you begin to believe that the former determines the latter, instead of the other way around. I like to call this mindset Perceived Predictability: you have locked yourself into thinking that what happens to you every day at work is only a reflection of your price.

In a way, this is true: what happens to you is a reflection of your price, but only in the most superficial, trivial sense. “If I complete tasks X, Y, and Z, then in exchange I receive $.” Say this to yourself enough times, and watch your confidence and courage deflate like a whoopee cushion. If ambition were a requirement for this job, would you hire yourself?

Yet nothing ever ‘happens’ to those who have ambition without ego. Instead, they make it happen for everyone around them – that’s a huge part of their value. But when Perceived Predictability takes over, you start to identify with the object of your work instead of its subject.

In an ideal world, your price will always be playing catch-up with your value. This is our goal. If you really want greatness for yourself, it must come as a consequence of the pursuit of greatness for your company. Are you self-employed or currently in transition? Then strike out ‘company’ and replace it with community.

If you want greatness for yourself, try to help everyone around you be great. If you are willing to sacrifice your comfort, your time, and above all your self for the good of your community, your value will increase without bound.

And while it might sound paradoxical, we cannot avoid Perceived Predictability by running away from it. We need to set our sights on something greater than ourselves. Ambition is pointless without a goal, and just as we cannot measure our own value by our price, so too we cannot measure it by our company’s sales numbers or its rise on the stock market. There is something deeper at work here, something greater than chasing numbers.

Aim higher. Find your purpose and your career will never be the same.

Ambition, Leadership, Price, Value

Could House-Sitting Really Be The Ultimate Seller’s Market?

Tags

, ,

Over the past three months my wife and I have been house-sitting in and around Victoria, British Columbia. Though there are several sites out there for connecting home-owners with those who love to travel and care for pets, we generally use Trusted Housesitters. While it’s been an incredible opportunity to make new friends and see a part of the world we’ve admired for years, house-sitting in this way is also remarkably similar to running a successful business.

Spend More Time Qualifying

The corollary to this principle, of course, is that you need to be extremely specific. Applying for every house-sit that comes up is not only a waste of time for everyone involved, it’s also meaningless unless you clearly define your goals. Think about it: in your business, does your team have a clear understanding of your target customer and how your product will help that customer meet their business objectives? Because it’s never just about your product, it’s about how your product can help make the lives of a specific set of people much easier and more enjoyable. This is a basic tenet of customer success. If your product can’t help your customers meet their goals – and if your team hasn’t picked up on this crucial fact – then you don’t have a business, you have street theater. House-sitting is no different, except that the product is you.

We Win With Referrals

Referrals are essential to running a great business, but their importance runs even deeper than you think. On a very shallow level, referrals help you grow your business without continuously spending time and money to do so.

But do you know the true meaning of referrals?

Trust.

Your product may be fantastic, your salespeople might be rock-stars, your accountants might be wizards… but without trust once again your business looks like a sideshow. One of your loyal customers told their friends about you and those friends are now calling you for more information? Treat those calls like gold manna from heaven, because nothing could be more valuable to fuel the growth of your company. Of course, there will always be exceptions. That’s why we need empathetic individuals who have the willingness and capability to lead at all levels of an organization.

Even before our first house-sit had concluded, my wife and I were already receiving references for future opportunities. When you are the product and the goals of your customer involve caring for their home and beloved pets, the meaning of trust comes into sharp focus.

To Teach Or Not To Teach? Wrong Question

House-sitting in this way is relatively new in the United States and Canada, so the question naturally arises, “Are we hurting ourselves by telling more people about Trusted Housesitters? Won’t that just create more competition?”

This question only skims the surface. Here’s how to re-frame it:

“How can we be the best house-sitters possible? From the moment we first reach out to a new home-owner to the moment we give them back their keys at the end of our stay, how can we nurture our mutual trust?”

I love telling people about house-sitting. The people who care enough to check it out for themselves and become house-sitting legends will raise the awareness and appreciation of house-sitting around the world. This helps create a community of sharing and everyone improves their game. Win-Win to the nth degree. Those who don’t care, we don’t have to worry about.

As in life, so in business. If you try to imitate someone’s every move you won’t make it far. Running a business is not difficult, but running a great business means that we need to instill a culture of leadership and discipline throughout our entire organization. We need you to be awesome in every sense of the word, and this includes being generous with your newly acquired wisdom. In the very act of teaching you will learn more about what it means to be the best. Of course, what matters most is being extremely specific (there’s that word again) about how you define ‘the best.’

By focusing on these three assets, we take the guess-work out of house-sitting and form lasting relationships with every home-owner we meet. Think back to the title of this post and I hope you’ll agree that the answer is a resounding ‘No.’ By identifying the needs of home-owners, we’re making ourselves more valuable and loving every minute of it. It’s more challenging, it takes a greater investment of talent… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Customer Success, Leadership, Empathy

Please note that some of the links in this post may take you to affiliate sites. To read my full Affiliate Disclosure, please click here.

What It Means to Change Your Mind

Tags

, ,

Throughout this blog I have attempted to share my perspectives on trust, empathy, and leadership in business. This post is not about indecision – far from it. My journey over the past year began with two of my interests – food and business excellence – but through the simple act of writing I have come to a stunning conclusion.

When we first begin a new line of work, usually we’re attracted to the subject. Maybe we have extensive knowledge about a certain area, or perhaps we see a gap in the market and we launch our own business. Whatever it is, it’s usually an industry in which we believe we have some authority.

Yet as we learn more about our industry and the work of our associates, we might realize that it’s not only the subject that gets us up in the morning. It’s not the subject that can steer us through our darkest days or steel our nerve when push comes to shove. We have changed our minds from subject to object.

In my case (surprise), the subject was food. One question – Where can I find the highest quality? – led me across the country and exposed me to almost every aspect of our modern food chain. But over the past few years, and especially in the past 12 months with this blog, I’ve changed my mind.

What began as novel way to explore excellence in business – associate each post with a relevant recipe – ended up leaving me tense and anxious. I had worked with food for so long, this seemed like a natural way to share my interests in strategic planning and design thinking. So why did I feel like I was tearing myself in two every time I tried to find the “right” recipe? I didn’t realize it at the time, but the simple act of expressing my thoughts in print was beginning to push me from subject to object. It’s been almost one year since I began this blog, and now the object is coming into focus.

Our work only has value to the extent that it enriches those around us. When we change our minds and move from subject- to object-thinking, we touch on the deeper values that unite all of us in our shared humanity. Ideally, the subject would be the final coat of paint on a house we’ve spent a lifetime designing, building, and furnishing. When someone asks you where you live, it’s easy to say, “The blue house on the corner.” Only when you invite your friends and family inside do they begin to understand and appreciate your soul.

It is exactly the same with our work. All of us have a soundbite, an elevator speech – call it what you will – to help those we meet immediately place us into context. But is one sentence about our job (the subject) enough to convey our deeper values (our object)?

Never.

Context is an imaginary map with mythical continents that we only view from 10,000 feet. If I learn that he’s a lawyer, she’s a chemist, and he owns a restaurant, I have not gained any insight into their lives and goals. Even worse, which all of us must try to avoid, I might cast my own biases from past experience with other people who worked in those professions.

My personal mission statement – my objective – is to apply my passions for teaching and long-term strategy to help everyone in my community succeed throughout their careers. It’s interesting that when I first began working with food more than 10 years ago, I defined my subject broadly at the expense of my object. If I were to translate my mission statement now into Andrew 2005 words, you could have removed “long-term strategy” and “throughout their careers” and replaced “associates” with “customers.” Huge difference, but back then my goals were much more immediate and near-sighted. When a customer calls, you pick up the phone.

What a difference a decade makes. Looking back at my career, even from this relatively early vantage point, convinces me that we all have a personal objective deep within us. Mine was never food; it was always teaching, consulting, coaching, guiding, and nurturing business owners in their quest for success.

Unfortunately, many of us – myself included – often squash our true objective before it can emerge into the sunlight. Where would I have been if I had realized this eight years ago? Wrong question. The converse is much more valuable:

Now that I know this about myself, what I will do?

This is the question we must all ask ourselves – and each other – if we are to succeed in our work and our lives. The next step is to transform our work so that it becomes aligned with our personal mission. Turns out that WHAT we do is not nearly as important as HOW we do it.

My next step on this journey is still unfolding. Let’s just say that things are about to get interesting.

Mission, Goals, Success

 

 

How to Guarantee Your Unicorn Won’t Be A One-Trick Pony

Tags

, ,

I’ve been honored to work with Natural Foods for almost ten years now, though my real education in food began much earlier. Lately, I’ve come to see that working with food is not the end goal: on a deeper level food provides an accessible platform for sharing inspiration with other entrepreneurs, in all industries across a wide variety of disciplines.

Which brings us to ice cream, and one of the lessons of this post.

Cold Comfort is one of the most impressive, quirky, welcoming ice cream parlors I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. They’re tagline just about sums it up: “Doing whatever the hell we want since 2010.” Yet what they want is actually quite specific: their goal is to foster community. They accomplish this in several ways:

  1. Every Flavour Feels Like An Exclusive Offer: Cold Comfort has a rotating menu of over 340 flavours, yet they only offer 6 – 7 on any given day. Did you see your favourite flavour featured on Facebook or Twitter? Better hurry, because it’ll be gone tomorrow. Want them to make a new flavour just for you, one that you’ve dreamt of but never seen anywhere else? Ask them: they’ll whip up a batch for only $25. That would be unheard of at one of the larger chains – for that type of business ‘community’ has an entirely different meaning. Lesson: You can’t build a successful business by offering only one option with the same set of features every time your customers are ready to purchase. And if you offer a million options at once you’ll leave your customers feeling more overwhelmed than amazed (think food coma = not good).
  2. Play to your strengths: The most popular flavours make it into heavy rotation, but they also offer a complementary menu of ice-cream sandwiches. This highlights what they do best: making exotic flavours from scratch using the highest-quality ingredients. Lesson: Sometimes your original canvas is too small and you need to branch out into an entirely new product line. If you are specific about how you expand, the new line has the potential to be even more successful than the original.
  3. Everything they do points to their deeper values: Zany flavours and ice-cream sandwiches all point to their love of crafting delicious food by hand, but they don’t stop there: they also promote other local companies that love food just as much as they do. So in addition to ice cream you’ll also find bread from Fol Epi, chocolate from Sirene, and a few other products from like-minded small businesses nearby. They are encouraging their customers to think local for everything they eat, not just ice cream. Lesson: They didn’t start this business just to make ice cream; no, that’s just the gateway to a more vibrant community. It all comes back to community.
  4. They’re very specific on what they WON’T do: Want two scoops in a cone? Ha! Don’t make them laugh (and believe me, they will. It’s your own fault you didn’t read “No Cones” on the chalkboard when you walked in). Want to place a special order for an ice cream cake? Read their disclaimer first… if you dare. Imagine reading this on the websites of either DQ or Baskin Robbins. Yet Cold Comfort’s goals are completely different from these dairy behemoths. Lesson: Ice cream is the context, community is the goal.

It’s clear that the creators of Cold Comfort asked themselves the really hard questions early on. And I don’t mean, “Do we like making ice cream?” That’s (almost) a no- brainer. “Are we ready to create the best environment for nurturing and supporting a vibrant community, using ice cream as the foundation?” As I mentioned in an earlier post, that’s a question worthy of a lifetime of exploration.

Lately there has been an incredible amount of press about “unicorns,” companies that defy all expectations by exceeding $1 Billion valuations in what seems like the blink of an eye. But is this the only kind of company worth creating, joining as an employee, or supporting as a customer? What kind of work excites you, and what type of community are you trying to create? Those are the types of questions that all of us need to ask ourselves.

It’s easy to Oooh! and Aaaah! as we point at the unicorns, but how often do we pause to recognize entrepreneurs who are creating experiences that are no less novel, no less revolutionary? We look to the most lofty peaks for inspiration, when real innovation lies all around us. A company’s valuation only tells part of the story, a story that is being rewritten even before the ink on the press release has dried. Look more closely to find the true lessons hidden behind all those zeroes. Sometimes you can learn just as much by walking down the street and ordering a pint of vanilla to go.

Are you ready to ask the hard questions?

unicorn, ice cream, community

How To Choose Between Tactics And Strategy

Tags

, , , ,

Last weekend I was shopping at the Peninsula Farmer’s Market in Central Saanich, British Columbia. Gorgeous day, birds chirping, people laughing… perfect opportunity for a story on customer success.

I stopped at the local butcher’s booth and made my selection. I asked them, “Do you take cards?” I had plenty of cash but I always like to check. “We take cards at our main retail location, but we don’t take cards at the market right now. We still need to set up the swipe device that plugs into a smartphone.”

Oh, really?

I used to work in Merchant Services and since then my ears always perk up when I hear a statement like this. Credit Card processing is an industry with extremely high churn (~25%), where the emphasis is often on acquiring new accounts as quickly as possible. In a situation like this (merchant has one existing account with good sales volume on credit cards, looking to add a new device), I might have suggested creating an entirely new account to support the mobile device. Good for the merchant, even better for me.

This time I took a slightly different approach.

“You know,” I casually suggested, “you may want to speak with your account representative about simply adding a mobile device to your existing account, instead of creating an entirely separate account to accept cards at the Farmer’s Market. This way, you can leverage your existing high sales volume on credit cards at your retail location to get the same low rates everywhere.”

Put yourself in the shoes of their account representative and review your options:

From a tactical perspective, you could have encouraged them to open an entirely new account. You might sell them on the value of this solution with an additional startup fee, separate monthly fees for both the device and the service… as well as higher rates to go with fewer transactions through the mobile device compared to the retail location. In this way you would treat the mobile device as an entirely separate business that only just-so-happens to have the same owners as the brick and mortar store. You get another feather in your cap and your customer gets… a piece of hardware for their smartphone.

With a strategic approach, pause for a moment and consider the potential Lifetime Value of this customer. What steps you’ve taken to nurture their trust. How much time you’ve spent reviewing their current business structure. The energy you’ve committed to understanding their business goals. Once you look at all these factors, you begin to consider an entirely new set of questions:

  • “What can I do to make my customer’s experience as easy as possible – without sacrificing functionality?”
  • “If I look ahead 12 months… what would I like my customer to say to other business owners when they ask about my attention to detail?”
  • “When my customer’s customers interact with the mobile device at the Farmer’s Market, what emotions do I want to elicit?”

Now’s the time to explain to your customer why you recommend adding a device to their existing account versus creating an entirely new account to support a mobile device. How adding a mobile device will provide them with several advantages with none of the downsides (juggling two separate account numbers and logins, plus higher rates where you might be even more likely to see rewards cards). Forget the feather in the cap, you just sacrificed short-term gain for a more loyal customer.

This is what I live for – that Aha! moment when customers understand their business better than ever. You can almost see the light bulb ignite.

Tactics busies itself with the immediate, moment-by-moment, how-can-I-win-the-battle choices. Strategy is more concerned with the long-term view, recognizing that exceptional value for the customer means so much more than dollars and cents for you. Strategy also gives you the opportunity to gauge every decision based upon your team’s goals, your company’s goals, and your career goals. Try making a million tactical choices every day while keeping the same perspective.

The scenario described above could have taken place in any industry – the benefits of embracing Customer Success and reducing churn are by no means restricted to Merchant Services. It’s not about what you can gain but what you can give. You can start by creating an environment in which your customers, your vendors, and your associates can thrive.

Customer Success, Loyalty, Strategy

 

 

How To Interrupt Your Customers Right Now

Tags

,

A few days ago I was the victim of misguided marketing strategy. Let’s break it down one step at a time.

  1. I’m spending a few months in Canada, so I recently got a prepaid phone plan and a new SIM Card for my unlocked smartphone. So far so good.
  2. One week later I received a random call from one of the customer service agents of the company managing my new plan. This came after I had already opted out of their text message alerts (not-so-good), and the first thing the agent did was mispronounce my name (bad).
  3. The agent asked if I had a moment to go through the new service on the phone. I told her no, I didn’t, and asked her if she could email me. I admit, I was trying to make this a polite brush-off, but her response shocked me:
  4. “Actually, I cannot email you the information. Would you like to reschedule the phone call?” (worst)

There is a clear hierarchy in communication methods. In ascending order of detail:

  1. Very short messages of a general nature that do not require a response can be handled effectively via text (ie, account information)
  2. Brief messages that may prompt a response can usually be sent through email (ie, our privacy statement has changed)
  3. Longer, more detailed messages that will definitely motivate a response are best handled on a phone call (ie, Q&A sessions)

The higher the level of detail, the greater the level of interruption if the message is delivered unexpectedly.

Do you see the problem? I already told the company that I didn’t want to be interrupted with messages of Type #1… but then they immediately jumped to Type #3. This was their first mistake, and I hope it set off alarm bells at corporate headquarters

Their second mistake? I told them I wasn’t interested in talking with them on the phone, and they responded that they were only able to share this information on the phone at a later date, and they asked me to schedule a new time to talk. Wait… are you telling me you’re unable to make a gentle transition from one type of communication to another, even at a customer’s request? And you expect me to believe you can only share this information over the phone. Seriously?

How about an interactive online guide where I could see animations of the different features? Or what if you gamified the process and I could win a statement credit for different levels of engagement? Either of these options – and many more – would have been easy to implement and even easier to track through digital means. But if you the company are asking me the customer to reschedule an inconvenient event that I never wanted in the first place… kiss your customer engagement goodbye.

Now believe me, I understand the motivation behind their original strategy. Engage with your customers directly and you’ll have a better opportunity to upsell or cross-sell them on related products and services. Makes total sense. Too bad they missed all my non-verbal cues.

If you want to surprise your customers, make it spontaneous and delightful. If you begin with an interruption you’re already at a disadvantage. Not insurmountable, but why create a challenge unless there’s a gigantic upside? But if you then ignore the three levels of hierarchy in communication and try to pigeonhole your customers on top of that… you may as well hang up the phone now and spend the rest of the day practicing email etiquette. You’ll need it.

Stay Focused

Tags

, ,

I began this blog with a two-fold purpose: I like to write about business and I like to cook. I thought it would be easy to combine the two, especially if I focused on business at the beginning of each post and then included a recipe at the end. We’re all in business one way or another, and everyone eats, so I thought I could capture both audiences at once.

You may already know the moral of this story, but if not just keep in mind the title for this post is as much a reminder for myself as a lesson for us all.

When I first began this blog, I noticed two things:

  1. I really enjoyed exploring business and personal achievement. The more I wrote, the more energized I felt.
  2. I always got bogged down when it came time to find, re-create, and format each recipe and point it back to the business lesson.

I was flying, ideas crackling like bacon in a skillet, and then I would lose my momentum in a heartbeat. Once I realized this I made my first shift, and immediately I felt ten times better. Since February I’ve felt more empowered to write and explore novel ideas, and less compelled to deliver a recipe every time I publish.

But lately I’ve felt a version of the same insecurity creeping in. Sometimes I even felt like I was “forcing it” by including a recipe at the end of a post. Writing was supposed to be fun, but every new recipe felt like a distraction at best and whiplash at worst.

I never intended this to be a food blog. I’ve spent most of my life working with food and I wanted to use this space to create, learn, and explore new horizons. I want to go beyond first appearances to share new insights from all businesses, whether or not they deal with food.

I have updated my About page to reflect my new focus: I enjoy exploring and teaching business concepts far more than I like writing about cooking. When I learn something new about business or personal motivation, sometimes the idea will haunt me for weeks as I consider the best way to share it on these pages. Sometimes, very rarely, a new dish or recipe will take hold of me the same way. But I don’t feel the same need to write about it.

Growing up, I can’t tell you the number of people who tasted something I made and exclaimed, “You should be a chef!” I smiled and nodded, but I never once considered it: I knew what an average day looked like for a chef and I knew that wasn’t the life for me.

Writing about food, even on a very limited scale, falls into the exact same category. I enjoy cooking, but it’s not my career. I love to write, but not about cooking.

Here on these pages I hold my own feet to the fire. Only by straying from the path could I realize the value in staying focused on my core motivation – exploring new business insights through writing. I could only arrive at this understanding by writing each post, finding each recipe, re-reading and deleting and amending and re-reading again and again to make sure my heart was on the page every time, with no hiccups or interruptions along the way.

This cannot be taught, it must be felt. We don’t ‘learn’ something by receiving a gift-wrapped secret. We have to experience it, live it, build it up so that no one else can tear it down.

What are your passions, and how are you sharing them?

Chase This One Down

Tags

, ,

Recently we examined the repercussions of poor design in a virtual setting. This new post is a tribute to good design in a physical product, one that most of us have within easy reach every single day. For all those who think that design is merely a nice-to-have… I hope this makes you think twice.

I recently applied for the new Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, based on recommendations I received here and here. When it comes to Credit Cards, we all ask ourselves, “What will I do with this new resource?” and I am no different. In the extreme, Credit Cards are dreams made manifest, and the banks know this. But what I got with this particular card was so much more.

If you look at this image of the card, you’ll notice something a bit… off. CSPwithchip - Copy

Where’s the Card Number?
It’s on the back of the card, and this is where Chase’s genius begins.

 

  • They started with a common experience, then flipped it.
  • You’ll notice it every time you use it to pay for something
  • When you use it in public everyone else will notice it, too.

So right away anyone who sees the card realizes that it’s different, unique, and special among all other credit cards. It begs the question, Why did Chase do it this way? Any time a brand can make its potential customers curious in a good or even neutral way, it’s on the right path.

When you first handle the card, you realize the second defining attribute: it’s heavy. Not enough to weigh down your wallet or purse, but just enough that you can feel the difference when you hold it in your hand. (By the way, you will notice from the picture above that the Chase card has an embedded Chip. This is not the source of the additional weight.) If we free-associate with this sensation for a moment, these are the words that come to mind:

  • Secure
  • Stable
  • Solid

In one of the most subtle ways possible, Chase has instilled the most desirable descriptors of its brand directly into its customers’ subconscious. The exact words that every financial institution hopes to implant through extremely expensive channels on mainstream media, Chase accomplished by tweaking one overlooked characteristic. To be fair, you have to hold it for yourself to realize it weighs more – promoting this “un-feature” in a commercial or print ad would miss the point. But for everyone that holds one in their hand, they’ll know.

Two simple differences – the number is on the back and the card weighs a bit more – add up to a big changes in behavior:

I use it on larger purchases

With these two factors in mind, Chase makes it just that much easier to favor this card over others when considering larger purchases. When we believe a product is special, unique, and secure, we’re more likely to use it when it really counts.

I use it more often

It’s nice to behold and even better to hold – again Chase gives you more subliminal reasons to use this card more often than other cards. In fact, once I got this card my very next action was to remove every other card from my wallet. Why use those when I could make things simpler and just use this one? It it makes everything so much easier. Which brings me to the most important point of all…

I trust it more

This is the ultimate goal for any brand. Customer lifetime value, brand loyalty, referrals… at the root of all of these concepts you will find the naked truth: there are a million ways to make a sale, but trust is the only way to make a customer.

Of course we need to keep everything in perspective – it’s tempting to wield a Credit Card as a status symbol, but remember that pride will fool us while ambition will fuel us. There is a difference. Also, I want to explicitly state that this post contains no affiliate links whatsoever. This card made me a fan of Chase, but these lessons in design make any monetary commission seem trivial in comparison. Recognizing the tenets of good design in one product can open your eyes to good design everywhere. That’s invaluable.

 

Good design in appearance has come to be expected. But the potential for good design across time – revealed in the pace and staging of a well-crafted meal, for example – still offers unlimited opportunities for engagement and delight. The experience makes the meal, and if you invite your guests to create Mango Popsicles before the celebration begins, they’ll enjoy them even more at its conclusion. Recipe courtesy Desserts for Breakfast.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers