Category Archives: Customer Service & Relationship Building

Landmark Books to Inspire Your Leadership, Marketing & Planning for the Future

While I am an avid reader of a number of leadership, marketing and social media blogs, many of which are listed in my blog roll on my www.lisadanielpour.com home page, I also squeeze in time to read the latest books that I think will be pivotal to informing my thinking about the future. These are three recent reads that inspired my business planning and marketing strategy that I wanted to share.

Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype by Jay Baer
youtility-bookThis short book is a must read for re-thinking how you market and communicate with your current and potential customers, members, or constituents. The reality is we live in a very crowded marketplace with thousands of brands and organizations swamping our favorite social media sites, email in boxes, and every other route possible to our eyes and ears. Whether you are a company marketing a product or service, a consultant or other professional seeking clients, or a nonprofit trying to engage potential donors and volunteers, how do you stand out from all that noise?

Youtility gives you that path through providing absolutely usefulness and value to whatever kind of consumer you want to attract, reflecting your understanding of their wants and needs and ability to deliver solutions to their problems. As Jay Baer puts it best, “Youtility is marketing that’s wanted by customers. Youtility is massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers.”

I found Baer’s book invaluable in taking the concept of content marketing to the next level to thinking about how can I best help the audiences I am trying to reach so that the content and information I provide is compelling and really meets their needs. This is what sets you apart from the crowd. What will make the difference for your customers, so that you are truly helping them while reinforcing your brand and messages? Throughout the book, Baer provides creative, pragmatic examples of how different kinds of organizations from small to large are using Youtility to engage and help their audiences and what their process and results have been.

“If you sell something, you make a customer today; if you help someone, you make a customer for life.” -Jay Baer

He walks you through a six-step process he recommends for building Youtility into your business after examining three key traditional approaches to building awareness for organizations and how the marketplace is completely changing. I highly recommend this quick read for anyone concerned about marketing or branding your organization or products/services for the future. Jay Baer is a marketing and social media expert and author of the popular Convince & Convert blog which I also recommend reading regularly.

 

Impact EquationThe Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

If you are planning to launch a new business, product, or service, this book is a great guide to help you map out your vision and pragmatic path to success. Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, successful entrepreneurs and social business leaders, share their experiences and formula for success based on the acronym IMPACT = C x (R + E+ A + T + E). The CREATE acronym stands for the attributes needed to create your impact that the authors walks you through step by step: Contrast, Reach, Exposure, Articulation, Trust, and Echo.

The Impact Equation provides the wisdom and insights Brogan and Smith have gleaned from their successes and working with their many clients. The attributes are grouped into four sections that give you guiding principles – goals, ideas, platform, and human element. The authors weave in many examples of how different entrepreneurs and organizations use these techniques and aspects to literally “create” their success.

While you’re reading the book it might prove useful to set up a simple chart or spreadsheet listing the attributes and jot notes about how you currently are or might plan to handle each aspect for your business, product or service. I read it right before launching my startup Gooseling’s first children’s app Cavity Dragons and found it very useful for checking whether we’d thought sufficiently through our vision and plan for both our business and the app.

Both Chris Brogan and Julien Smith have blogs and email newsletters (you can sign up for their newsletters on their respective web sites) that are great reads as well.

Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg by Ekaterina Walter
ThinkLikeZuck-bookThis book justifiably received a great deal of business buzz for delving thoughtfully into what made facebook and in particular Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership style so successful. But this quick read also explores other renowned business success stories in the framework of the five principles author Ekaterina Walter identifies as key to that success – passion, purpose, people, product, and partnerships. I’ve followed and admired Ekaterina Walter for several years, she was a social media leader at Intel until co-founding the branding/marketing firm Branderati.

“Passion + Action = Results” – Ekaterina Walter

Walter offers an intriguing inside look at the launch and evolution of facebook as a business as well as its impact on our lives and how Mark Zuckerberg’s strengths and challenges played a role in each stage of development. While Walter discusses the ingenuity and success stories of a variety of entrepreneurs (e.g. TOMS, CollegeHumor, Threadless, and Dyson), she also explores the vital role intrapreneurs play in organizations and shares examples. David Armano, Executive Vice President of Edelman Digital, defined intrapreneurs as “someone who has an entrepreneurial streak in his or her DNA, but chooses to align his or her talents with a large organization in place of creating his or her own.”

As Walter says, “Organizations small and large need intrapreneurs. In an era of constant change, not one single company can afford complacency. True disruption happens when entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well within an organization. And that spirit is cultivated and spread by intrapreneurs–those on the forefront of change, those passionate enough to activate the principles discussed in this book within their own organization.”

Ekaterina Walter also has a must-read blog and writes regularly for Forbes, Fast Company, Huffington Post, and Entrepreneur.

Treat Your Customers How You Want to Be Treated

What does excellent customer service feel like? Think about your recent experiences as a customer or member and what was most important to you.

Thank you signatureWhich moments made you feel valued and happy? Smiling to yourself did you think I need to do more business with that organization?! Which experiences made you wonder to yourself why is nothing simple anymore?

What Kind of Experience Do You Offer Customers?

When was the last time you thought about what your customer, member, or donor’s experience with your organization is like through each potential step of the process? Whether it’s to make an inquiry or a purchase, check out what it is really like anonymously. What are all the points of potential interaction someone can have with your organization and where are the potential annoyances?

Two people with talking thought bubblesCall your reception desk or call center, email from an anonymous personal email address, place an order, test your e-commerce or online donation system. What impression did you get? Where are things going smooth as clockwork? How were you treated? Were there some surprises, bumps or bruises?

Watch for potential points of frustration and think about what you need to do to ensure your customers feel appreciated.  You know what superlative customer service feels like, envisioning how to offer that same level of service is a matter of commitment  to anticipate and avoid those aggravations you wouldn’t want to experience if it were you.

Another strategy I always suggest is to ask staff to share comments and feedback they hear from customers. What are the most important trends that members, customers, or donors praise or complain about? What the pressing issues customers talk about? In so many organizations this feedback is never shared so decisions are made that ignore the reality that customers feel and express to first line staff they talk to. Social media listening, that is monitoring customers’ conversations online, is another important way to hear feedback in addition to whatever regular market research you conduct.

Not every organization has the budget to offer superlative Nordstrom level customer care but it doesn’t cost a lot to make people feel special – starting with just how they are treated. For example, the tone everyone in your organization uses with customers is free — and imperative.

What are the strategies you use to make sure your customer service builds strong relationships and leaves your customers and members smiling?

Is Solving Your Customers’ Problems the Focus of Your Products & Services?

Are you solving problems for your customers, clients, and members or focusing on your organization’s needs instead?

While it can be tempting to wax poetically about how wonderful our products, services, and organizations are, our customers, clients, and members care about what they need, not what we have to offer. What are they worrying about? What aggravates them? How can we make their lives easier? Save them time and money?

Genie's magic lampKeeping up with what your customers want and need and how your organization can solve their problems is pivotal to success. What that answer is inevitably changes over time. That’s why evolving offerings and services continuously to meet changing needs that you regularly gauge is so critical. And letting go of what isn’t resonating anymore.

Once you have found great solutions to your customers’ needs then it becomes much easier to use clear consistent messaging and engaging story telling to spread the word about the benefits of your products and services.  Which kinds of customer problems you are going to solve flows from your mission and what you hopefully have already identified as your organization’s unique competitive advantage.

No matter how zippy or eye catching our slogan or graphics, if we are not taking care of what our customers need, someone else will inevitably step in who will.  What steps are you taking to solve your customer’s problems and communicate what you are doing to help them?

 

Does What You Say Match What You Deliver?

cup with array of colored pencilsDo your messaging, mission, stories, and actual customer/member/donor experience align? It takes enormous effort, creativity, and time to deliver your mission, use effective messaging, and make it come alive through compelling stories. But it means nothing if the actual experience your customers, members, or donors have does not match the expectations your story creates.

Listening to your constituents through as many channels as possible including social media and market research offers a critical window to how your organization is really doing.

Get insights and feedback from front line staff who communicate with your customers, members, or donors on a daily basis through phone, email and your social media outlets to make sure you understand people’s perceptions, impressions, feelings, and experiences.

Does the reality people are experiencing match what your marketing is promising? If not, what do you need to do to change that?

Following Your Dreams – In Honor of Steve Jobs’ Legacy

In honor of Steve Jobs, let’s take every opportunity to pursue our dreams and focus on what it is most important to us. In the hours since his passing I have reflected on how much he not only emphasized in his words but more importantly lived his life pursuing his passion. He built his career, Apple, and Pixar on his unique vision of what was possible, impacting our world in ways we could not have imagined.

Touching tribute articles have reflected on how committed Steve Jobs was to delivering the ultimate customer experience using his keen sense of every design detail to ensure every font, bell, and whistle was just right.  He said “Design is not just what it looks like. Design is how it works.” He meticulously thought through how the devices and experiences he created would feel to people who used them.

Yet he also ensured that his vision was executed. He shipped. Regularly.

When we sense we are spending more time on meetings, emails, and other minutia of daily life that don’t help us achieve our dreams, let’s stop a minute and think about what we most want to accomplish that will really matter to us. Looking back later, what will I be glad I did? Attended another meeting? Connected with people? Launched a product, program, or company that will make a difference? What will it take to make that happen?

As Steve Jobs said so eloquently in his famous Stanford commencement speech, “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” I am grateful for the amazing impact Steve Jobs made on our world that will be felt for generations to come.

Using Social Media for Customer Service, HR, Operations and the Rest of Your Organization

Social media has grown way beyond being a marketing, public relations, and communications tool. At its heart the core of social media is connecting people, an ever evolving opportunity for people to engage, discuss, and share  perspectives, opinions, and information. So by definition social media impacts most aspects of an organization including product development, customer service, HR, and crisis management.

image of the world globe against digital backgroundAre you thinking through the best ways to use social media effectively throughout your organization to meet your goals and build community? Here are just a few examples of the many applications social media has across the organization:

Customer Service. Customers and potential customers are most likely discussing your products and services online, providing a constant virtual focus group. If customers do not get the service they want or something goes wrong with a product, they will be quick to share it online. Be sure to respond quickly and helpfully, remembering your response and the customer’s are in a very public forum.The positive is when you shine, you also may get complimented in that same public space. Obviously you want the positives to go viral, not to be a negative example used by social media experts for years to come (as happened with “United Breaks Guitars“).

This is all one more reason why most organizations want to have a strong presence on primary sites like facebook and twitter to provide outstanding customer service while also supporting their branding and messaging goals. Many organizations also encourage customer reviews on their own web sites getting the opportunity to address issues as they arise and get honest feedback about their products.

New Product Development. Listening to customers’ conversations on social media can provide invaluable input and pinpoint trends to help hone current products and services and get ideas for new ones. Innovative organizations have set up special web sites to invite customers to share new product ideas and vote on favorite ideas others have submitted, for example “My Starbucks Idea.” The sites often offer incentives such as potential prizes for winning ideas.

Crisis Planning and Management. The power of social media to build community and communicate makes it a critical interactive tool in a crisis. Messages can be communicated on the fly to the public and the media. Conversation on sites like facebook and google plus about ongoing issues can keep people up-to-date and get their questions answered.

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How Well Do You Know Your Customers?

How well do you really know your most important customers, members, clients, or donors? The more you know about your key audience segments, the better you will be able to develop successful products and services that meet their needs and use the language that resonates most with them.

Can you picture your typical customers, clients, donors, or members in your mind? Do you really understand their challenges, the problems that cause them the most stress? What motivates them, worries them, makes them happy? In response, do you offer products or services that solve their problems, make a difference in their lives?

blue puzzle with red piece representing the solutionIn addition to conducting whatever regular market research you can afford, take every opportunity you can to talk with your customers, clients, and members. Ask caring questions and listen carefully – not only do people love most of all to be listened to, but their answers can be the key to your success.

Use an ongoing combination of listening and engaging through one-on-one conversations and social media  as well as market research to form the best picture possible of your most important constituents. People are probably already discussing your organization through social media sites like twitter and facebook, are you monitoring those conversations to learn and interact?

Conversations and listening can help clarify and explore further trends you learn through market research, just be sure to seek out discussions with enough people to get a complete picture and avoid basing decisions on just a couple of customers’ insights.

Reflect regularly on what you are hearing and learning and how you can help solve your constituents’ problems and make a difference in their lives. What if your goal was to see your customer’s face light up whenever someone mentions your organization’s name? Imagine what a strong force of customer evangelists you would have. What would it take to make that happen?

The More Engaged Your Members Are, The More Likely They’ll Stay

Engaging members, donors, and customers in your organization and building a thriving community ensures strong relationships that go the distance. The more engaged and involved your members are, the higher your retention rate is likely to be. While this is the lifeblood of associations and  nonprofits, it is also true of many businesses.

Building a thriving, engaged community can be key to any organization’s success. Engaged, caring customers are more likely to be loyal to your organization – highly satisfied customers have less reason to look elsewhere. Price differentials (unless they are drastic) are less likely to matter if your customers or clients feel connected and valued, get the results and quality they expect, and have a superlative customer experience with your company.

Ladder going up an arrowAssociation experts often use a pyramid or ladder as a useful representation of levels of engagement, from the most common activities at the bottom (e.g. reading your newsletter, liking your Facebook page) to moderate level (buying a publication, attending your conference or a webinar) to  the highest value involvement at the top (Board member, corporate sponsor, or member champion who recruits many new members). It is critical to thoughtfully draw a ladder or pyramid of engagement that is unique to your organization.

Member engagement can take so many different forms. What does engagement look like for your organization, from the most casual to most intense levels?

What are your goals for engagement and what do the different levels really mean to you – from generating revenue to relationships to service to the organization? What does it mean for your customer or member – what value are they getting, what needs are being fulfilled?

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