5 Ways to Improve Customer Service … & Boost Profits

By Maribeth Kuzmeski

INV-Vol 26-Issue 12-December 2010-CoverOnce upon a time customer service meant more than pressing 2 to wait (and wait and wait) for “the next available representative.”

Companies valued those who bought their goods and services and went the proverbial extra mile to make them happy. Today we’re more likely to hear about a company that’s ripped off its customers – Dell knowingly selling defective computers or any of the financial institutions’ shenanigans that left customers with huge losses while paying executives big bonuses – than one that regularly delights them.

Failing to make your customers happy is more than a shame. It’s slow-motion suicide. If you want to make it in today’s crowded, recession-wracked market, you absolutely must create clients and customers who rave about your company or product.

Obviously, making raving fans out of your clients is easier said than done. If it were easy, then corporate giants that have plenty of money to throw at such a concept would be overrun with happy customers.

So what’s the big secret?

To truly get clients to go wild about your business or product, there must be an overriding and strong emotional connection – the same kind that we feel when we cheer for our favorite sports team, or support a cause that means something to us.

You can get others to connect to your company, product, or service by emotionally energizing them through a passionate delivery of information. This is a true differentiator, because so few people and businesses act with this kind of enthusiasm. So, when someone is exhibiting passion about something, we take notice.

The idea is to trigger a strong emotional connection in the minds of prospects and clients – followed by a response that is so powerful that your loyal clients won’t be able to stop talking about you.

Too many businesses get caught up in trying to find the “perfect” clients. The reality is you can’t find the perfect clients; you have to create them. You must give your clients reasons to keep coming back for more. You must connect with them so strongly that they cannot help themselves from telling their friends, family, and colleagues all about you.

Here’s how:

1. What Are You Doing That No One Else Is?

To gain exposure, it helps to be or to offer something unique — or do something that no one else dares.

Standing out from the crowd is risky. However, it may be equally risky to run a conservative, “under-the-radar” firm these days – you risk becoming an anachronism. While successful firms stick to their values, they also find ways to be so exciting that people don’t have a choice but to pay attention … and buy.

Sometimes what your competitors consider to be “unimportant” may just turn out to be the differentiation that gets customers coming back for more.

Buc-ee’s gas stations, located throughout Texas, have focused their number-one offering on what people dread most about stopping at a gas station: the bathrooms. Each of the 30 locations has incredibly clean, substantially sized bathrooms, along with full-time attendants to keep them in tip-top shape.

Buc-ee’s built their customer service around the bathrooms – a feature they knew they could use to differentiate their business. It employs more than 1,000 Texans, has been written about in local newspapers, and has even been featured on national TV. Company co-owner Beaver Aplin says he gets hundreds of e-mails a month from happy customers.

Buc-ee’s has gone new school and old school with its customer-service marketing. It erected billboards across Texas that say things such as, “Only 262 miles to Buc-ee’s. You can hold it.” The company also has its own blog where it requests and promotes pictures on its Web site, in the media, and in its advertising, as well as customer testimonials.

Gaining exposure for your products and services today often requires a Herculean effort. To cut through all the noise in your clients’ and potential clients’ daily lives, you have to stand out.

But in order to be noticed in a credible way, you must have a compelling reason for grabbing people’s attention. Your product, promotion, offer, staff, or culture – or something else about your business – must be unique in some way.

2. Marketing Benefits, Results and a Call to Action.

Too many businesses accentuate the features of their products or services rather than the benefits, what your clients really care about.

“Open 24 Hours” is a feature. Benefits are value statements about the features of a product or service, with an emphasis on what the customer gets. For example, a benefit might be that a product makes you look slimmer or saves lots of money on gas.

Juice company Odwalla was founded in Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1980 by Greg Steltenpohl, Gerry Percy and Bonnie Bassett.

The trio took the idea of selling fruit juices from a business guidebook. They began by squeezing orange juice with a secondhand juicer in a shed in Steltenpohl’s backyard. Their plan was to make enough profit to help fund music programs in local schools. They had only one box of oranges that first day. They delivered the juice to restaurants around town.

The profits from that first day allowed them to buy two boxes of oranges to juice for day two of their business. Today you can find Odwalla in supermarkets across the country.

Odwalla was driven by a corporate conscience and a goal of leading the public toward a closer-to-nature way of nourishing their bodies. The juices were highly rated for taste. But the true success came in the way that they appealed to their customers.

The founders hired marketing and advertising experts and created what they called their “Drink Tank,” a group responsible for developing and managing the Odwalla brand. In building the brand, members of the Drink Tank focused on authenticity, alignment, clear narrative and the value of a strong corporate culture.

With very little advertising, Odwalla differentiated its brand by extolling the benefits of drinking and supporting a “juice with a conscience.” As a result, people cared and followed and bought. By focusing on what Odwalla’s products can do for them and the world around them, the product’s message and benefits spread widely enough to bring Odwalla into the mainstream.

Too many companies and entrepreneurs leave it up to their prospects to figure out the benefits of their products or services. When you try to sell them on features alone, you’re asking the customer to do all the work.

Bottom line: It’s in your best interest to draw a crystal clear picture of a product’s or service’s benefits for a prospective buyer.

3. Go Viral!

A viral message is an idea, notion, or practice that’s transmitted from person to person through speech, gestures, the Internet, e-mail or other media.

It ignites and motivates people to move the message. Most viral marketing programs give away products or services to attract attention – free benefits, information, software programs or downloads. It’s essential that you do everything possible to make it easier for people to access information or material that may go viral.

The Australian Government promoted what they described simply as “the best job in the world” with a creative and extremely successful Internet campaign. The position they were advertising was a six-month contract to be caretaker of a series of islands in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s eastern coast. The pay was $100,000, and the person selected for the position would broadcast weekly video blogs that promoted the area.

The government released the story through traditional media (Reuters) and then sustained the buzz over an array of online networks including YouTube, Ning, Twitter and Facebook.

The contest’s Web site received one million hits the day after its launch when the campaign’s goal had been to receive just 400,000 hits over the course of the year. Furthermore, the program attracted more than 34,000 applicants and generated more than $70 million worth of global publicity.

At my company, Red Zone Marketing, we decided to use free benefits to initiate a viral marketing message. We began offering free downloads of products such as workbooks, books and guides we had previously sold.

We could see the risk was paying off when my book The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life was released last year.

Because of our free offerings, we had access to countless people who were already familiar with our materials. Upon its release, the book began selling fast in bookstores and online. We had already built some level of trust with potential readers and were able to capitalize on the viral travel of some of our free products to sell the newest tool we had available.

Prove your worth. Earn followers. Continue to provide value that people come back for again and again.

4. Leverage Your Business Network for Incremental Growth.

It takes a plan, but using your business and social networks can be the miracle alternative to the typical grind of cold calls and prospecting for customers.

A productive business network is filled with respected, well-connected influential people who share your target market and have a complementary rather than a competing service or product. You can capitalize on these connections by creating strategic alliances or by simply sharing your networks and making referrals.

Veteran Realtor Jean Newell had an idea for her fellow real estate agents. She invented a personal utility pouch, a multi-zippered mini-pack designed to carry all the technical tools, keys, contracts and more that a real estate agent needs. Judging by the initial reaction she received, she knew she was on to something that people wanted.

Her next objective was to get on QVC, but she was turned down by gatekeepers again and again. So she decided to reach out to her network, which consisted of the people she met and e-mailed in her years as a real estate agent, including other agents, buyers, sellers, etc. and asked for help.

She sent e-mails requesting help to find a contact person at QVC for her new product and received an overwhelming response. Within a few days, she had 40 e-mails from people providing contacts at QVC.

“Some of the e-mails had been forwarded, forwarded, and forwarded to people far beyond my original network,” Newell says.

Once she had the right contact names, she created a quick video to show how she would promote the bag and sent it off to QVC. Within two weeks, she was accepted.

Since her initial appearance on QVC, Newell has become a sales superstar and media darling. She’s been featured in countless newspapers and has even enjoyed an appearance on NBC’s Today show.

Don’t forget that your clients are probably the best source of leveraging in your business. When customers are truly delighted about their experience with your product or service, they can become outspoken promoters for your company.

This group of satisfied believers can be your most powerful marketing force to gain sales and increase your exposure and influence, and can serve as an entire force of unofficial, unpaid salespeople.”

5. Execute Your Game Plan.

In today’s fast-moving, completely networked world, superior execution is clearly driving success for business.

Small business owners are great at adopting many new marketing ideas. What they are not so great at is finishing. The best marketing strategy is the one you can pull off completely.

If a business chooses one particular approach, for instance, setting up a referral campaign, and carries out that one strategy until it’s executed fully and with precision, it is implementing the best marketing strategy. It is not the strategy as much as its execution that achieves results.

Many businesses give up too early on a particular approach when they don’t see immediate results. They then begin the long process of employing another strategy, followed by another and so on. The real problem here occurs when companies try to execute a game plan that is focused on implementing outdated or poorly considered strategies.

More than ever before people want to do business with those they feel they can trust. They are attracted to businesses they feel will go out of their way to provide them the absolute best products or services available. And the absolute best way to elicit that trust in prospects is by having clients who cheer you on at every turn.

10 Reasons to Deliver Amazing Customer Service

1. Amazing customer service builds credibility, trust and confidence, which can lead to customer loyalty.

2. It can help the marketing and sales budget.  It costs less to keep existing customers than it does to create new ones.

3. Delivering amazing service creates a buzz, word-of-mouth marketing and referrals, again helping the marketing budget.

4. When you deliver amazing customer service it can lead to existing customers buying more.

5. It saves money.  When you do it right the first time, you don’t have to fix it the next time.

6. Customer service can give your company a competitive advantage.

7. Amazing customer service can help make price less relevant.

8. Customer service focused companies are usually employee focused companies, thereby creating a better place to work.  That means lower turnover, which could mean savings in hiring, training and more.

9. Customer service superstar companies are usually more profitable than the ones that aren’t.

10. Customer service helps get and keep customers, and… without customers, you don’t have a business.

– Shep Hyken of Shepard Presentations LLC

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Editor’s note: This article appears in the December 2010 print edition.