The Blog

Marketing with Customer Service

I had a wonderful customer service experience the other night. A friend of mine and myself decided to hit up Pita Jungle in Chandler, AZ for dinner. Now – this was a Friday night. During the dinner rush. We ordered not only our drinks and meals, but also as an appetizer, a split plate of Roasted Bell Pepper Hummus & Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus.

As we enjoyed our dinner conversation, we realized….no hummus. The waiter came by, and without our prompting – noticed we didn’t have our hummus. The next thing we know – our dinner has arrived…and still no hummus.

Now – the hummus – not a big deal. But to our waiter – it was. Again, without any comment from us  – he apologized. He explained he’d told the kitchen that it was an appetizer, and to get it done – and showed them the receipt to prove it. A few minutes later, he came back, with his manager, who also apologized, gave us the hummus at no charge, and then gave us free orders of baclawa for desert as well.

Here’s the thing. We never said a word. Never registered a complaint. Not even a funny look. Yet, they bent over backwards for us. During a dinner rush.

Both of us immediately posted Yelp, Foresquare and Facebook Places reviews – mine being “Best. Service. Ever!”.  Now – in the end, this probably cost, in terms of free product, about $10.00 to them. Yet, what did they get for that? They just turned two customers into brand evangelists. Even before leaving the restaurant, we’d posted positive reviews for them. We’ve both told friends, family – hell, just about anybody that would listen – what a great restaurant they have, how great their service is – basically just did more marketing for them than they’ve done for themselves in the last month. And…we’d do it again!

What does this mean for your business? Simple. People don’t buy brands anymore. Seth Godin recently commented that we’ve “branded ourselves to death” – and we have. It’s not about the brand. It’s about one’s association to the brand. It’s about belonging. Feeling that, as Seth put it, “part of a tribe”. When you care about your customer – you show that they belong to you. It has to be sincere. You have to mean it. And, when you do – and your customers know it – they come back. And they bring others to the tribe. It all starts with how you treat your customer.

And…it doesn’t hurt if you give them free baclawa as well. 🙂

Thoughts on Customer Perception

I just watched a commentary about GM’s exit from bankruptcy, and the struggles it will face moving forward. Specifically, that in recent customer approval ratings upon ranking issues they had with their new car purchase, the statistical difference between a Chevy product, and a Toyota product, were insignificant. Yet, the public perception of quality between these two brand is huge!

How many times have we made a choice between two brands based on our perceptions, rather than reality? And, later on, either found out we made the wrong choice, or that had we made the “other” choice, the result would have been the same?

I think about what we see & hear in the media. How that shapes our perceptions. How what our friends and family say about an experience shapes our purchasing decisions. And, from a brand management perspective, how can we re-shape and re-manage those perceptions in a social-media controlled environment.

It used to be quite simple. Do a big ad-spend over a significant amount of time, get some good PR around your product – and everything would improve. No longer. One bad experience means thousands of instant Twitter posts, Facebook status updates, and instant market share loss. What’s the solution?

Simple. Never let your guard down. Whatever you do when you interface with the customer – do more. Do it better. Your product needs to provide a better experience than it does now – and you need to keep improving it. And, ask your customers what they think! Don’t ever assume – anything. Research, learn, implemient. Rinse & repeat.

Now…the bigger question – will your accounting department and your shareholders understand this concept?

The Importance of Integrity & Reputation

Whether it’s in a business relationship, a friendship, or a marriage – the importance of integrity can not be emphasized enough. I have been forced to think about this topic quite a bit over the last few weeks – due to a friendship that at this point, looks as though it has unfortunately, and catastrophically, ended.

Without identifying the friend, nor their situation, I’ve found myself stuck in a situation that has forced me to re-evaluate the importance of staying true to one’s own values. The problem is, I see my friend making a multitude of errors in their life that has hurt many people. They have sacrificed quite a bit over the last few weeks due to this – and yet, they continue to follow a path that from my experience, will not dig them out of the hole they’ve created for themselves.

One of those sacrifices has been their integrity. The person I thought I’d known for the last few years – now, I hardly recognize. When all of this started, I promised them that as a friend, I would not tell them what they wanted to hear – but what they needed to hear. And, they said they would not want things any other way. So, about 10 days ago, I had to do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had to bring to their attention, the fact that I know the reasons behind their recent choices. And, I didn’t do this in a judgmental way. Rather, I was trying to show them how their current path could lead to more problems.

The problem is compounded by the fact that this person has been one of my best friends. They feel horribly guilty over the pain they have caused others. And, since my warning to “be careful”, they have ended all contact with me. Yet, I have no regrets over trying to warn them – since, it would be a violation of my own sense of integrity, as well as a violation of the promises I’d made to them as a friend, if I hadn’t brought this to their attention.

The tough thing about living a life of integrity – is it’s not an easy path. Whether it’s a friend, a spouse, a business associate, or a customer – taking the path of least resistance may seem at the time to be the best approach. It avoids confrontation at the moment. It allows you to avoid the pain and discomfort of having to face someone that is offended. And, there’s always the excuse that “I can just avoid this now and deal with this later”.

Unfortunately, unless dealt with immediately, the longer you go without dealing with the issue, gives the person that you’ve offended that much more time to question your integrity. And may damage the relationship to the point that you loose that customer permanently. Or the spouse. Or business associate. Or…as in this case…possibly a friend.

Reputation research has verified what you were taught as a kid –  reputations are hard to earn and easy to damage. We filter the behavior we experience through the lens of its reputation. Behavior consistent with the reputation is accepted at face value while events inconsistent with the reputation are discounted.  And, once a reputation begins to move in a positive or negative direction, its momentum is extremely difficult to reverse.

From a business perspective, studies have shown that even a small positive increase in a company’s reputation results in a significant increase in business value, while a negative drop in reputation results in a decrease in business value. For example, a +1% improvement in the reputation of a company is accompanied by significant increases in that company’s value. Unanticipated, however were the strength of the impacts of negative changes in company reputation. A minor decrease in reputation (-1%) has 34 times the impact than an equally minor increase in reputation (+1%)!

Looking at the current economic crisis is a perfect example. A strong positive business reputation attracts customers, investors and employees. This has great benefits for a company because it will book more business, have an easier time raising money and recruiting employees. One of the great gains of a positive reputation is the loyalty it generates in customers and employees. Loyalty will cause customers and employees to stick with a company through tough times. A good reputation also makes a customer more likely to give a company the “benefit of the doubt”. This will make a customer more likely to tolerate a huge mistake and to not resort to the courts to settle a dispute. And, may give that company a competitive advantage over other, less reputable companies

It’s also important that when we end up in a situation where our trust is broken, that we let our own sense of integrity derive the path we should take with that person, company, or organization. Many times, there may be underlying reasons that were out of their control that caused the fault to occur. So, giving them “the benefit of the doubt” is never a bad thing. But at the same time – once should never compromise their own integrity in that process. To do so – may cause others around you to question your integrity just like you’re questioning the integrity of the  person or company that broke your trust.

How do you know if you’re a person of integrity? Simple. There is a wonderful quote from Thomas B. Macaulay. “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out”. As well as another one from Martin Luther King Jr. – “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”. And, finally, one from Thomas Jefferson – “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock”.

PS. In the event that my friend reads this (which is doubtful) – I would hope they would call me – as a matter of principle, I don’t abandon my friends – especially when I know they are feeling bad. ☺

A Great Idea for Letting People Know About Your Business

I just found this video for Fitness4Home Superstore here in Tempe – showing how to use a treadmill. When it comes to leveraging the power of social media, how many businesses could go and take a video with a Flip camera, and upload videos to YouTube? Just a great way to give out information without seeming “sales-y”, while promoting your business.

Why PayPal SUCKS!!

I realize there are a huge number of people out there, that are looking to do nothing more than separate you from your money – and give you nothing in return. What really irritates me – is when companies that talk about how they are out to protect you – allow you to get screwed!

My example – I sold a camera on eBay three weeks ago. The buyer did an instant purchase via PayPal. Now, I always thought PayPal was the safe way to deal with stuff like this.  So, after I got notification that the buyer’s payment had hit my account, I then shipped the camera. Sweet – I just sold my camera for about $500, and got instant payment. I then checked, and got confirmation from UPS that early last week, the buyer received the product. Life is good.

Or…not. Tonight, I get a notification from PayPal that the charge had been reversed. This means that some dude in Virginia has a $500 camera…and I now have nothing. I login to my PayPal account – and sure enough, it shows the $500 payment, a $500 reversal, and a charge for the reversal! The reversal then has a link for “Details”. Which brings me to a screen that again, tells me the charge was reversed – and nothing more. Now, I’m irritated.

But, I figure – I’ll call PayPal and find out what happened. First, the dude that answers spouts all the platitudes that every customer service person is trained to say when dealing with someone that might be a bit pissed. Fine…dude is just doing his job. Here’s where I got pissed. He tells me that he’s not sure why the charge was reversed. That I need to contact the buyer, and have him contact PayPal, as PayPal might have put a hold on the account, not allowing him to submit a payment in that large an amount. WTF??!!!  And, if I don’t get a response from him, then I can file a dispute.

So…let me get this straight. PayPal will allow any body wanting to buy something on eBay (or, actually, any PayPal transaction) – to send money, get product, then take the money back? And the person then that has to do all the work…is the person who just got royally screwed? I can see if there was no proof of shipment – but the dude at PayPal could look at the UPS transaction I did through PayPal for shipment and see that delivery had been verified! But NOOOOOOO!!!  PayPal, without warning me, or giving me an explanation, just gave this dude his money back, I’m out a $500 camera…and I get to bust my ass to more than likely, get nothing for it.

This is crap!