Lost time costs money

“The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words, “I did not have time.

~ Franklin Field

Whether or not to participate in social media is a dilemma for managers and owners of small companies. Active participation requires an investment of time and resources that are often unavailable in a small business. Social media doesn’t provide a clear cut cause and effect return on investment. There is a need to participate because customers and prospects are using the platform but at what cost?

Should other marketing and service activities be neglected to participate in social media? The easy answer is no but the decisions required for managing a small business are rarely that simple. Failing to respond to a negative post or comment can lead to serious financial ramifications. Reputation is a most valuable corporate asset. Not participating in social media can lead to irreparable damage.

The key to winning the social media time challenge is choosing the right level of participation.
Prioritizing activities is the first step in defining what will work best for your company. The top social media priority for every business is monitoring mentions on the Internet. There are services available that watch for any online activity that includes your company. The cost varies from (almost) free to several thousand dollars month. Start with a low cost service and expand as needed. No matter which service you choose supplement the monitoring with manual searches randomly executed. It is impossible for any automated system to be as effective as an individual with good search skills.

The second step is identifying opportunities for participation that will improve customer relations, brand awareness, and goodwill. Some sales will come from social media but starting with a revenue objective is unrealistic. While revenue may follow, there is rarely a direct line from social media to income streams. Your goal is to find opportunities to connect with customers and prospects to improve or create relationships. Those relationships will ultimately strengthen your company.

Start with these questions to find your opportunities:

Where do our customers spend their time online?

What do they do when they are online?

How can we interact with customers and prospects without being creepy or sleazy?

What do our customers and prospects need to know about our company?

How can we make our customers jobs and lives easier?

What problems do our customers and prospects need solving?

How do we attract customers now?

Why do our customers leave?

Answering these questions will give you insight into your customers’ activities and your company’s weaknesses. You will then be able to develop a plan of action that will deliver a better return on your investment. The plan needs to include what to do, when to do it, and who is responsible for execution. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you along the way:

Do create long tail content. Providing solid information that helps people solve problems is evergreen content that will bring quality traffic to your website for many years.

Don’t copy your competitors. Every post needs to reflect the uniqueness of your company, services, and products.

Do provide detailed information on how to use your products and services. This can be done in the form of a blog, FAQ (frequently asked questions), videos, or how-to pages on your website. Social media is a great service channel.

Don’t try to use trending activity or controversy to get more exposure unless it is directly related to the information you’re providing. News jacking increases traffic but it rarely brings in people from your target market.

Do respond to every mention. If it is positive, show your gratitude. If the comments are negative, try to resolve the problem while avoiding being caught in a troll trap.

Don’t encourage comments for the sole purpose of getting more comments. Measuring worth by the number of comments is ineffective. Comments often add drama without benefit.

Do use tools to automate when possible. Systematically scheduling posts saves time and resources.

Don’t go down rabbit holes. Set a timer if necessary to help you stay focused on the job at hand. Social media has many distractions that can pull you in and eat up your day.

Do measure results. Every activity in a business has to contribute to increasing revenue, serving customers, or reducing costs to be justified.

Don’t listen to naysayers. Everyone has an opinion and feels free to share it liberally. The only opinions that matter are those of your customers, prospects, team members, and shareholders. Choose wisely.

Winning the social media time challenge allows you to participate on the platforms where you will be most effective without requiring extensive allocation of resources. It requires research, planning, and focused execution. The return will be well worth the effort.

For specific information on how to create a social media strategy that doesn’t break the bank, email Debra at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

Business Success Building BlocksThe path to a successful business is never straight. There are forks in the road along the way that are often identified as challenges or problems. Every successful company has a unique path that was followed from conception to reality. Another company in the same industry trying to follow that exact path would most likely fail because the combination of corporate culture and customer dynamics is specific to an individual business.

There are some things that are universal to successful companies. They include a solid foundation, systems, processes, tools, and best practices.
The foundation for business success Prior to the Internet, business success was often achieved by being the first to market. Sometimes, first to market was accomplished with the introduction of the new product or service. Others, it was finding new markets to serve with established products or services. The Internet changed everything.

Today, every product or service is a commodity that can be found in a similar form usually at a better price. Successfully competing in a global economy with hundreds (maybe thousands) of channels or platforms requires laser focus and top-notch customer service. Any lackluster performance opens the door for competitors to grab market share.

The companies succeeding today are using systems, processes, and tools to maximize productivity and deliver consistent quality service. For these companies, marketing and service unite to create specialized customer experiences. The one objective that takes precedent over all others is continuous improvement for the benefit of the customer.

Logistics, systems, processes, and tools are rarely exciting (except for industrial systems engineers like me) but they are very effective in creating a solid business success foundation. People tend to postpone doing things that are less fun and don’t have immediate results. This gives the companies that invest in the foundation a competitive edge. Over time, the foundation lowers costs, improves service, and gives team members more time to focus on growth strategies and individualized customer care.

Now is a good time to start building that foundation. Here are a few items to get you going:

Improve your transactional emails – People open transactional emails because they want to know the status of their order. This is an excellent opportunity to provide additional information about your company, products, and services that will help build a relationship with your customer.

Invest in education – The more your employees know, the better they can serve your company and customers. The Internet is filled with opportunities to learn at little or no cost. Provide opportunities for your team to listen to webinars, read articles, and when appropriate, go to conferences.

Streamline processes – Review every process in your organization to ensure that it provides benefits. This requires validating every step along the way. Eliminating steps reduces time and cost for completion.

Reevaluate social media participation – Monitoring and responding to mentions is mandatory across all platforms. Participation is optional. Limit activity to the best platforms for connecting with your customers and prospects.

Provide more information on your website – People like self-service. Use your website to provide the information customers and prospects are seeking. It is inexpensive and effective.

Create a fun place to work – Employee turnover is expensive. Ask team members for input on how to make their work environment better. Develop and implement a plan of action to improve morale and keep employees happy.

Dig deep into your customer acquisition and retention numbers – High acquisition rates can hide a mass exodus of established customers. This has a long-term effect because the new customers tend to be less profitable than established ones. Left unchecked, costs will rise while sales drop.

Improve productivity – Look for opportunities to use systems, processes, and tools to reduce manual labor. The right solutions save money, improve service, and reduce boredom.

Once you get started building the foundation, it becomes easier. You’ll find that team members have more time to focus on important functions because they are spending less time fighting fires. Adapting a continuous improvement mentality encourages everyone in your organization to contribute to making it better. The things you do now will have a positive effect on your future.

For more information on building a strong foundation for success, Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

How do you win customers back after you’ve violated their trust with a massive security breach?

Free Shipping on Every Order*

Target seems to think free shipping on everything will do it. Last Christmas, hackers invaded the company’s security and snagged personal information from approximately 70 million customers. When you violate the trust of so many people during your peak sales period, you have to make a spectacular comeback. Offering free shipping at a time that other companies are increasing their thresholds may just do it.

People love free shipping. According to a July 2014 poll by Retention Science, shipping incentives in the form of free or discounted offers is one of the most effective customer incentives. A percentage off is the most effective discount cited by 30.9% of the US online retailers polled. Shipping incentives came in second at 21.8%. Age needs to be factored into because a separate study found that consumers under 46 prefer discounts while older ones prefer free shipping.

The studies provide some insight but what really matters is the formula that works for individual companies. A company offering exclusive products, good customer experiences, and exceptional value doesn’t need free shipping to be competitive.

The trick is finding what works best for your company.

Target’s offer made headlines because it seemed, well, special. The media firestorm it generated is a public relations dream and customer service nightmare. The takeaway provided in sound bites and on the company’s home page is “Free shipping on every order.” They fail to mention the asterisk:

Competing with Target Free Shipping

Most people will ignore the asterisk and the “view details” link. The surprise will come when they are checking out because the incentive from Target has limitations. “Free” doesn’t mean that ALL shipping is free and every order doesn’t mean EVERY order as shown on Target’s shipping & returns page:

Target Free Shipping Details

The copy shouts “GET FREE SHIPPING” followed by “right now on every order.” Except…orders that exceed standard sizes may have oversize handling fees and orders from Hawaii and Alaska are excluded. By the way, you can forget about getting free AND fast shipping because the free version only includes standard delivery of 3-5 days tacked on to the 1-2 days processing time. Surprise charges trigger cart abandonment issues. Slow delivery around the holidays creates call center nightmares.

The problem many small retailers have is a failure to correctly identify the competition. A small to midsize business cannot compete using the same benchmarks as the big-box companies. The differences between your company and large brands have to be clearly defined, communicated, and the foundation of the business. Your customers’ shopping experiences determine your company’s success.

Creating a strategy that provides excellent value and a distinct brand experience will keep the lure of free shipping and other cost prohibitive offerings at bay. Developing and implementing the strategy is part of the long game process. If your company isn’t quite there yet, here are some simple ways to effectively compete this holiday season:

Don’t panic – Your customers choose your company for a reason. If you have been taking care of them over the years, it will take more than free shipping to lure them away.

Be realistic: Target’s free shipping policy limitations makes competing with them easier. If you negotiate well with your carriers, you might be able to offer an even better deal.

Offer shipping alternatives – Timing is everything in the shipping business. People who wait until the last minute to order expect to pay more. Providing options for fast shipment and delivery can trump lower costs.

Provide exceptional value – Evaluate your shipping costs carefully so you can effectively offer great value to your customers. When possible, build some of the costs into the product price.

Be available – People always have more questions when they are shopping for holiday gifts. Having a responsive, friendly customer service team available to quickly answer questions via email, telephone, and social media builds trust and wins customers.

Manage inventory well – Hot items go quickly during holiday season. The “need” to acquire high demand items supersedes shipping cost concerns. Managing your inventory well can create an environment where new customers find their way to you after others are out of stock.

Improve your analytics – The free shipping incentive from Target most likely will not have an effect on your business but it pays to be sure. Monitor customer behavior and activity to insure that there are no unpleasant surprises lurking in the background.

Have fun – It’s the holidays. Make it special for everyone in your company. Your team members’ enthusiasm will spread to your customers.

There will always be companies that offer something that is not economically feasible for your business. Fortunately, most people do not choose the companies they patronize by cost alone. Other factors like convenience, ease, selection, and customer care have a much higher effect on the selection process. When you focus on the things that make your business unique, competitor activity has little effect.

For information on how to effectively compete, email Debra at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

customers like service in social

The battle lines between traditional marketing and social media were drawn in 1999 when The Cluetrain Manifesto was created. The promise of the world without advertisement and outbound marketing appealed to many, myself included. Generating revenue without expensive advertising would be a game changer for my clients. The bandwagon started traveling through marketing circles everywhere. By 2008, the slow locomotive had turned into a super train fueled by growth of Twitter and Facebook. The changes in marketing were coming so fast it was almost impossible to keep up with them all.

I read The Cluetrain Manifesto book with interest when it was posted online chapter by chapter. Our clients would benefit greatly if we could make this work for them. I monitored (some would say lurked) chat rooms, MySpace, Friendster, and other platforms searching for opportunities. In early 2007, the monitoring shifted to active testing on Facebook. Twitter testing began the next year.

The new territory called “social media” had no rules, best practices, or leaders. People started competing for leadership roles by declaring rules of engagement that loosely followed the manifesto. Testing, the backbone of direct marketing, was minimal. Business experience and acumen was not required. The ones who shouted “do as I say,” the loudest often rose to the top.

Rules Made Without Testing

No promotional content was the cardinal rule established by these people with little or no cause and effect experience. This included sales, call to actions, and anything that could be remotely considered as promotional. Coming from a direct marketing environment where everything was tested, monitored and measured, the new style of marketing seemed cavalier. Even so, hanging on to traditional marketing without testing social media would be irresponsible. If it worked as described, the cost savings would be huge.

I applied the tenets of direct marketing to test the no promotions rule for over a year by providing quality content with zero promotional information. The theory that people would read the information and gravitate into the buying cycle proved false. I wasn’t surprised but I was disappointed. Years of marketing experience had taught me that people need motivation and guidance to enter the purchase process.

When following the rules doesn’t work, the only thing left to do is break the rules. Promotional content was added to the test and things got interesting. People started finding their way into the buying cycle. It quickly became clear that the right mix of promotional and informational content could drive sales. The testing results started validating social media as a marketing channel. But then, things started to change.

Access to followers’ email address disappeared. Algorithms were modified. The ratio between resources required and results became so high, active participation in social media solely as a marketing channel is cost prohibitive for most multichannel companies. Third-party platforms control user access and manipulate content visibility making it virtually impossible to effectively plan results. Every multichannel marketer with budgetary responsibilities needs to ask, “Is participation in social media as a marketing channel fiscally responsible?” When the calculations are done, the answer is “no.”

But Wait, There’s More!

In true direct marketing form, this is where we add, “but wait, there’s more!” While social media is losing the battle for marketing dominance to traditional marketing, it remains a strong service channel. Customers and prospects are actively participating on social platforms. Maintaining a corporate presence is mandatory. Failing to manage the presence well is shortsighted and cavalier. A strong brand appearance includes the following:

  1. Informational content that shows customers and prospects how your products and services benefit them. Parts suppliers are doing this really well with how-to videos, schematics, and support staff when needed. This video from PartsSelect.com shows people how to troubleshoot dryer noises:

    The step-by-step details are followed with a clear call to action to visit partsselect.com to order the parts. The company offers a variety of videos for solving appliance problems on their YouTube channel.

    SearsPartsDirect.com offers manuals, repair help, and the opportunity to ask an expert:

    Sears Parts Direct screenshot

  2. Quick answers to questions asked. Responses to requests via social platforms need to be fast and accurate. There are two reasons for this. First, there is a distinct path that most people follow when they need answers. The first stop is a search on your website because they like the do-it-yourself option. Next stop is email or call to the customer service department. The data we monitor has an almost equal split between calls and emails depending on company and customer demographics. Social platforms tend to be the last stop for specific questions or issue resolution. If a person has tried two other options without receiving an acceptable answer, a fast response is necessary. Second, the visibility of your company’s responsiveness can influence other customers and prospects. Who wants to do business with a company that waits for days before responding?
  3. A presence on the same platforms customers and prospects use daily. There are always new platforms appearing with the promise of unseating the big boys. Trying to have a presence on every platform reduces effectiveness because resources are stretched so thin. None of the platforms is covered well. Choose three or four platforms where your customers and prospects are very active to create an active presence. Monitor customer and prospect activity to insure that they are not migrating to other platforms.
  4. Optimized activity on every active platform. Every social platform has unique characteristics and benefits. Optimize your activity so it generates maximum results in sales and/or cost savings. Focusing on a few platforms allows you to invest the resources needed to do it well. Start with a plan that includes repurposing content to get the most for your money.
  5. Measured results. Social media activity is a cost center. The resources required to maintain an active presence are rarely offset by increased sales for multichannel companies. Measuring the results helps identify best practices for your company’s activities. Doing it well provides the path for future activities.

When asked where to place social media responsibility, my answer is always the same, it should be in the marketing service department. Marketing is needed to create the promotional posts and measure the results. Service is needed to create informational posts and respond to customers. The best part of social media is that it serves to unite the two departments with one objective: creating the best experience for the customer. How well are your marketing and service departments working together?

For information on how to merge marketing and service, email Debra at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

Hard Work of Growing a Business

Contrary to popular belief, successfully growing a business requires more than social media updates and delegation. Magical thinking is replacing proven growth strategies as the path to success. Every established company began with an idea and people willing to do whatever it took to turn that idea into reality. No task was too small or dirty for the founder to do. The hard work and long hours eventually evolved into a successful company.

Things change. New technology emerges and people adapt accordingly. We may have moved into the digital age but the adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” remains true. Our digital world makes connecting with people quicker and easier than ever before. The only problem is those fast and easy connections have little value without some relationship heavy lifting. Communication methods have changed. The requirements for strong relationships have not.

Shrinking attention, response rates, and conversions are attributed to the fickleness of customers instead of the company’s failure to take care of business. Successfully growing a company requires a willingness to take care of every detail no matter how small. This means that all employees must be willing to go the extra step required for positive customer experiences. The motivation has to come from the top. Leadership by example is mandatory.

Company growth is directly tied to customer satisfaction

The battle cry for exceptional customer experiences is loud across all channels. Competition is fierce with companies trying to outdo each other with new technology, viral content, and over the top events. The winners may get kudos from bloggers and some mainstream media publicity but they miss the opportunity to really connect with their customers.

Building customer relationships requires hands on analysis, one-to-one communication, and delivering on the promise. The activities that make strong relationships possible aren’t glamorous. They include digging through volumes of data, reaching out to disgruntled customers, and creating processes that expedite service. Somewhere along the digital highway, these activities became dirty jobs that are ignored, delegated, or outsourced. It’s little wonder that growth stagnates when companies stop focusing on business fundamentals.

The companies that dominate the marketplace tomorrow will be the ones that are focusing on creating a strong customer based foundation today. That foundation has to include timely and accurate service, interactive communication, and an understanding of what people really want from the company. (Hint: it’s not friendship.) Foundations aligned with expectations create a sustainable growth environment.

Learning from the failures of others

The retail market provided a classic example of failing to meet basic customer expectations during the 2013 holiday season. Thousands of customers were left without delivery of holiday gifts due to logistical issues. The aftermath of finger pointing between delivery companies and retail operations was interesting but it didn’t solve the problem or change customer perceptions. The expectation that the package will arrive on time has to be fulfilled by the company selling the products and making the promise.

One of the best things about customer expectations is the ability for companies to establish them. The merchants created the expectation that gifts would be delivered on time. “Order by” deadlines are prominently featured on websites and print media. The delivery fiasco could have been minimized by monitoring delivery times and adjusting the “order by” date accordingly. This would have significantly reduced the number of unhappy customers.

Paying attention to the details and putting processes in place to efficiently and accurately deliver quality service positions a company for growth. Painstaking steps are required to get past perception into the reality of what customers really want. Success comes to the people willing to roll up their sleeves and work diligently until answers are found and systems are implemented. The foundation created will support the company through sustainable growth year after year.

For information on how you can improve your customer experiences, email Debra at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

Real Time Web Analytics