You might perceive businesses’ use of merchandise, also known as promotional gifts, to be one of two things: a desperate ploy by large corporates to con their customers into buying even more stuff they don’t need, or a tacky technique used by fledgling small businesses that don’t know any better. But although it can often be used for the wrong reasons, there is in fact a third way to use it; as a successful, targeted marketing campaign to build customer loyalty, drive more people to your website or inspire new customers to make a purchase.
Speaking to sales expert Andy Preston of Outstanding Results for a recent Small Business Update feature, I found out that some firms have ditched the cheap stationery and garish wall calendars for an altogether more thoughtful variety of merchandise. He told me about an outdoor clothing company that once produced a compass displaying its name and the words ‘helping you find your way to the best clothing supplier’. Their existing customers might already have a compass – hardy, all-weather hikers that they are - but the point is that they will feel valued by that business because it has actually presented them with something that is not only in tune with their interests but could also come in handy in the future. As the item is relevant and quirky, it is also likely to attract potential new customers to find out more about the business.
It might sound more costly, but if you sample small quantities of different types of merchandise and measure the outcome, you could be surprised by the difference in the return you get for each. Investing a bit of effort and money in an unusual gift for a smaller group of recipients is likely to give you a far better return than mass producing a luminous-coloured biro or an ugly soft toy, neither of which would add much to people’s lives or to their opinion of you.
Think about your industry and your target or current audience, and match your merchandise to the message you want to communicate and the customer’s interests or needs. It doesn’t have to be complicated - if you run a bar, printing beer mats instead of bog-standard flyers could do the trick, and if you’re a florist a packet of seeds or a flower pot might appeal. With a bit of imagination, merchandise can be a rewarding way of boosting your business, however tight your budget.
Marketing? Isn’t that a huge area to tackle? Sure, but not if you break it down into bite-size chunks. So after getting to grips with advertising, we turned our thoughts to another vital topic, customer care.
We’re all customers and know that excellent customer care is something that makes a business stand out. In fact, customer care is at the heart of all successful companies as it can help you develop a loyal customer base and improve relationships with your customers.
Easy to say — but where do you start as a small business? On the Marketing Donut we explain — without the jargon — what customer care actually is and how to get a handle on it.
We outline the different areas that make up customer service and give suggestions on how to communicate with your customers, understand them, and improve your customer service and handling their complaints. Keep communicating with them so you can respond as their needs change and reward them for their loyalty which gives you the opportunity to sell more to them.
With the help of our high-profile experts, such as Derek Williams, initiator of the WOW Awards, and Darren Young of the Customer Service Network, we provide you with sound advice and various tools to crack this vital part of running a business.
Customer care sounds easy now, doesn’t it? Find out what you’re already doing right and where you can improve on 20 April, the launch date of the Marketing Donut.
Companies lose customers because they go elsewhere. And the reason that customers go elsewhere is that the people who serve them are indifferent to their needs. Here are ten ways to keep your customers happy.
Understand what people want - You must keep asking questions of yourself: ‘What’s the unmet need...?’ ‘How are we doing...?’, ‘How can we do better…?’
Engage and interact with your customers - Treat them how you would like to be treated yourself.
Real relationships blow away the institutional hype - Consumers are fed up with mass-produced mediocrity.
Infect your customers with your enthusiasm.
Infect your staff with your enthusiasm.
Create memorable ‘wow!’ encounters that inspire customers to spread the ‘legend’ to others.
Forget about selling - Customers hate to be ‘sold at’ but they love to buy.
Make everything simple and easy to understand for your customers and for yourselves.
Create a culture where people find real pleasure in giving service to others.
What customers value most is attention, dependability, promptness and competence. Never forget it.
Normally I am happy with my bank. They provide an efficient service, whether online, on the phone or by way of weekly texts showing my balance.
This week, however, I have not been so impressed.
I was on the school run when I received a text. Since my curiosity was greater than my fear of being caught, I risked an illicit glance at the message at the next set of traffic lights. I saw a bundle of numbers, beginning with 25 and ending with DR. Mystified, I looked again. It stated I was £25,742 overdrawn. I stalled the car.
Before anyone thinks the contrary, this is not normal behaviour on my account, which rarely reaches a four figure sum. I am almost never overdrawn. Something was up.
I raced back home and went online. Sure enough, there were three huge amounts debited to my account that day. I called the bank. They calmly assured me that those debits had been marked as fraudulent and would be re-credited to me.
So, I am not out of pocket and my account is functioning in its normal, unspectacular way. But, if they knew about the fraud, why did they let the text go skimming through the ether to hit me between the eyes at the lights? Why don’t they have an automatic alert that requires someone to call and check what’s happening?
However impressive the technology is, real customer service requires the human touch.
It seems a simple concept – treat your customers with respect and they are more likely to feel good about you. And for many businesses, their relationship with their customers is integral to their success.
However, while seeking a house to rent with three friends recently, I realised that some letting agents (but not all) do not pay attention to their customer service, no doubt because house-hunting is for the majority of people a once-a-year activity at the most. Perhaps they ought to realise that although that customer is unlikely to need an estate agent again in the near future, people talk, and the people they talk to are potential new customers. By displaying some simple good manners and good ethics, therefore, they might just win another customer via word of mouth recommendation, and if they are struggling that customer might be the one they need to stop them going under.
Meanwhile, if you are selling something the customer will want or need more frequently you will probably be aware that it is crucial to convey to the customer how much you value them to ensure that they return. Small businesses are often more directly customer-facing than large companies, and you should use that personal relationship to your advantage.
It might seem trivial, but honesty, efficiency and a friendly demeanour will all help to convince them that you are the business from which they will buy the same product or service the next time they need it. If the customer sees you as trustworthy, it will be easier to sell them the benefits of what you offer and to keep them hooked.
The frosty letting agents who rudely let us down the day before signing our contract are now known in at least our four workplaces as unreliable. In contrast, the straight-talking one or two that listened closely to our requirements, tracked down suitable properties for us, stuck to their agreed fees, and did not expect us to bankrupt ourselves for the sake of a period mantelpiece, are the ones that I will recommend to friends embarking on the task of finding their own new homes.
So, whether you offer a one-sale item or service, or your business relies entirely on repeat sales, customer service is not something to be pushed aside like another stack of unwelcome paperwork. Particularly in the current environment, it pays to go that extra mile.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, US companies lose half of their customers every five years, with two-thirds of them citing inadequate customer care as their primary reason for leaving...
"If customer loyalty is increased by just five per cent, profits can increase by 25 per cent. "
I often quote the figures from Leboeuf that up to 65% of clients leave you because they feel that you just don't care - you don't make enough effort.
So, how much does it cost for you to acquire one new customer? How long do they stay with you? What is the average gross profit/contribution over the life-time of a customer?
Do a customer survey every three months - find out who is and is not happy with your service (90% of businesses have not done a survey in the last three months!)
Use a customer satisfaction/happiness form after as many customer interactions as possible
Find 10 ways to get closer to your customers right now!
How can you not want to have incredibly loyal customers right now?!