There always comes a point at any party when you realise numbers are thinning out. Various people, friends that perhaps you haven’t had a chance to talk to yet, seem to have gone — just walked out of the door without a by-your-leave or a thanks-for-having-me.
In Poland, according to a good friend of mine, they call this an English exit! I’m not sure whether this says more about our lack of manners or our inability to let our hair down.
But when you think about it, it’s what we do all the time as customers — we quietly slip away.
Hosting a party is a bit like running a business — there’s tons to do and you can’t be everywhere at once. But keeping your guests happy is vital — you can’t just conjure up a new bunch of friends just like that. And nor can you easily drum up new customers either.
So how do you keep them satisfied? Here are some lessons that you can apply to parties and your small business:
Guests arrive. You greet them effusively and lead them to the food and drink. You promise faithfully to catch up with them later. And then you forget all about them.
A PR chap I used to know would greet everyone like a long lost friend while at the same time looking over their shoulder to see who else had arrived. Give everyone your full attention, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Don’t stand there with a glazed look on your face while you mentally tot up how long the booze is going to last.
Why did so-and-so leave early? Was it the food? Was it something I said? Did they go on to another party? Don’t get paranoid — get in touch, say thanks for coming and review the night with them.
One of your friends never showed. Perhaps they texted with a lame excuse. Perhaps they hate parties. Don’t be bitter. Suck it up and call them. Tell them they were missed, ask how they are, fix up a time to meet and look for other ways to connect with them.
You can’t force people to stay. But don’t give them a reason to head for the door either — keep the food, drink and conversation flowing. Reward your friends’ loyalty. And check the exits!
Rachel Miller is the editor of Marketing Donut.
How do you talk to your customers? The choices are many — by email, by letter, on the phone, by text, via Twitter, Facebook or any number of social media sites — or even, shock horror — in person.
What works best for you? If you are like one in four British adults, you may avoid picking up the phone at all costs — preferring to text rather than actually speak to someone (Daisy Group survey).
Perhaps you prefer emailing. Or are you one of the 6% of people that have totally lost control of their inboxes? (research by Varonis).
If you like your communication informal and online, you may prefer building relationships on social media sites.
But enough about your needs — the real question is, how do your customers like be approached? Let’s face it. You might be mad about Twitter but if your target market doesn’t tweet, you need to find a way to reach them that works on their terms.
New research by Ofcom could help you to understand your target market a little better, thanks to its investigations into the different communication habits of British people.
It has highlighted five types, from the “always on” to the “detached”. Now this may seem simplistic but if your marketing is totally excluding one or more of these groups, you could be missing out on a lot of business.
What it makes clear is that in a multi-channel world, everyone has their favourite ways to keep in touch — and no business can afford to take a one-size-fits-all approach.
Here are the five groups:
Always on (22% of adults)
Enlightened (19% of adults)
Middle-of-the-road (22% of adults)
Conventional (21% of adults)
Detached (16% of adults)
Isn’t it time you found out more about the communication preferences of your customers?
You have worked hard all year, hit your targets and enjoyed the office party. But while your staff take a break, you face a bleak time minding the office phones in case any of those last minute orders go astray.
Alternatively, you could sneak off, put on your slippers and sit by the fire with your family, safe in the knowledge that all your calls are taken care of, even with no one on the premises.
How? By being in your virtual office. A virtual office is a modern day solution to this age-old problem, allowing you to have a Christmas break and a business. Even when small businesses are growing too fast to meet demand, it’s so easy to create a professional, established image by using virtual office or receptionist tools.
Small companies now have an advantage; unlike larger companies, they don’t need expensive fixed phone lines or the premises to house them in. Using mobile and virtual office technology they can respond quickly and cost-effectively to customer queries — no matter where they are in the world.
Service with a smile
By creating a virtual office with an e-receptionist to answer calls, smart businesses are gaining all the benefits of a real life receptionist (or an expensive PBX system) at a fraction of the cost. There’s no hardware or software to be installed or support. All you need is an existing phone line and that includes the mobile in your pocket.
Using a virtual landline number (a real number but without needing a fixed line) you get the benefits of the professional image that a landline number brings to your business as well as a welcome greeting and caller menu bespoke to your business.
You can also choose a local landline number — anywhere in the UK — as customers often choose local numbers for that first call. Or you can bring your business to national attention and get calls from all over the country with a non-geographic or freephone number.
Calls can be forwarded to any location, whether to your home, mobile, hotel room or even to your mum and dad’s house! And adjusting your call routing can all be done online.
Finally, with a cloud provider managing your business calls, you’ll get all the quality of regular business phone line - without some of the dropped calls or quality issues that users sometimes find with VoIP.
All in all, having a service like this allows you to enjoy your Christmas break, safe in the knowledge that you’re not missing out on business just because you’re away from your desk.
Exceptional customer service is a badge that everyone wants to wear, but few people get right. In my opinion, it isn’t difficult to provide a service that customers find exceptional. The answer is easy — put your customers at the heart of everything you do.
Satisfied customers are the Holy Grail for any business. With high levels of support, customer churn is minimised and existing customers not only buy more from you, they recommend you to others.
The service we provide (gritting and snow clearance) is critical as it keeps organisations operating in the worst weather but, by its nature, is delivered in the toughest conditions. Yet, last winter, our annual end-of-season survey of clients revealed 99.2% satisfaction with the service they received.
This satisfaction led to us being listed as the 37th fastest growing business in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 in December 2011, on the back of an 83% increase in sales.
The secret is simple — build your business around your customers’ requirements and continually listen to them so you understand the challenges they face and can respond with innovative ideas to help them.
After happy customers, your second biggest asset is your staff. Having motivated and passionate people representing your business will mean they’re always doing the best job they can for you and your customers and they’ll often go the extra mile.
The importance of ASK
We select everyone we work with based on their attitude, skills and knowledge (ASK) — in that order. Having a can do attitude is essential for us. We believe it’s easier to teach people the skills needed for the job, than it is to change a person’s work ethic and the team continually prove to us that this is the best approach.
Our staff go above and beyond the call of duty for our customers. Last winter, one of our guys was clearing snow from walkways in the middle of a freezing night and noticed that someone had piled snow up against a fire escape door as a prank, preventing it from being opened. It wasn’t part of the contract to clear snow from that part of the site but his conscience couldn’t let him leave it as it was, so he spent additional time clearing it, much to the customer’s delight.
It’s not just customer-facing staff who should be relied on to react to customers’ needs, everyone in the business should be focused on it. There needs to be an internal culture that promotes and rewards innovative thinking.
No more computer says “no”
It’s also vital to have robust systems and processes in place, which enable every member of the team to do the best job whilst being as flexible as possible with customer needs. As technology improves, the possibilities become endless – so never again should staff need to say “computer says no”.
We are extremely proud of the partnership we have with our customers and it’s all down to putting them at the centre of everything we do. And of course it’s not all about the bottom line; there is nothing more satisfying for you and your staff than a customer being delighted with the work you’ve done.
With the recession leaving a legacy of consumers and businesses demanding more value for their money, customer service has never been more important. Those who will thrive will not just make customer service one of the things they do, they will ensure their service delivery is based entirely around the customer.
Alastair Kight is managing director of GRITIT, winter risk management specialists.
After reading and commenting on this article, Competing on price? Ten steps to success, on Marketing Donut I was asked to write this blog post on the topic.
We’re a retailer; more specifically we sell army surplus. Much, not all, of our stock has been used and some people still see shops like ours as second hand clothes shops, a place to find a real bargain.
It may surprise you that we are actually more expensive than some of our competition. In fact, there are a couple of websites that are selling a few lines for less then we can buy them in for…
Whether you know this or not; your suppliers are retailing and who can blame them?
If they can get a better margin on their items by selling direct to the customer then they’re hardly going to pass on that opportunity. No matter how important you are as a customer to them, they need to make money just like the rest of us.
There are some companies that will be honest about it and others that stammer on the end of a phone when you ask them about this new website that popped up. So how can you compete?
Customers can get our products elsewhere cheaper, so why do they buy from us?
Firstly, we’ve been in business for 24 years, so we have a good reputation. We rank very well for certain search terms, which means our website pages are consistently on the front page of Google.
To back that up we have a bricks and mortar shop, which reassures buyers that if anything does go wrong there is a physical location they can show up at.
In all honesty, it’s the simple things that count though:
Selling is about abating fear and our competition doesn’t have the time or the inclination to get to know their products like we do.
Periodically, we’ll have a look at feedback left for the competition and this is what we see:
Without a good reputation, backed up by a good service, your price is bordering on irrelevant, because the customers you upset will be shopping somewhere else tomorrow.
That is why soldiers drive 300 mile round trips to pick up kit from us, why we sold a job lot of parachute bags that are going to be used in the new Batman film and why so many Australians buy £7 thermal gloves from us and pay nearly the same again in postage (to be honest I still can’t get my head around that).
More than 90% of consumers listen to their friends and the people they trust when they are making a purchase decision. That is why every encounter of a customer with your store, brand or product is critical. Every time someone asks about your brand or product or a competitor’s product, a customer’s answer will be based on that one encounter.
The surest way to make your testimonial material believable and credible is if it is true. Like any other advertising material, you need to start your advertising with the quality of your product and/or service. No poetry, no artistry, no amount of Hollywood-level acting can ever convince the market to support your business if you treat customers like crap.
One shining example is Zappos, an online store in the US. In their early years, they decided they would have zero marketing budget and would pour their resources into customer services. This is how they were able to afford setting up a 365-day return policy with free shipping.
They also don’t put a time limit on the duration of their customer sales calls. The instruction is to keep the customer on the phone for as long as the customer wants to talk. What is important is to make sure the customer is happy when they put down the phone. Their customer representatives are accommodating, patient and will do anything they need to do to make the consumer happy even if it means actually referring customer to their competitor.
And where has it brought them? In their 10th year they were worth $1.2bn, with 90% of their sales coming from customer referrals.
When they were bought by Amazon, Zappos came up with their first TV ad. The advertising agency didn’t just settle on the traditional testimonial of other people telling stories about how great the company is. They decided to really demonstrate it by putting the customer representatives to the test. They asked several people to call Zappos with the most outrageous requests to test the patience of the customer representatives. The result is the best testimonial-based campaign of any company yet. Zappos didn’t just prove they make their customers happy, they proved that they are happy to do it, too.
Not all customer service programmes have to be as extensive as this. But businesses of all sizes could learn a lot from Zappos.
Lucy Gould works for KPI, an SEO specialist.
• Bolt Insurance has produced a great infographic on customer service here: