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:
Customer loyalty isn’t what it used to be.
With comparison websites and online shopping it takes seconds to find the best deal.
The world has become smaller, it’s much easier to reach customers anywhere, without having to travel, without large costs and without a large sales force.
What does this mean for the small business owner?
If your customers don’t remember you, they will call someone else.
A business that is in your marketplace right now, trying to steal them.
Who are the easiest customers to sell to? The ones you already have.
Yet, so often I see businesses that put all of their efforts into finding new customers, which is the hardest part of sales, rather than keeping in regular contact with their existing customers.
Here are four reasons why it’s so important to keep in contact with your existing customers.
Before a customer will purchase from you they need to know, like and trust you.
Existing customers have already been through that process, you’ve already gained their trust, you just need to keep it.
Keep your business in their memory.
We all live busy lives, and our customers are no different. If they don’t hear from you on a regular basis then you move out of recent memory. The longer you are out of their memory, the more work you have to get them to know, like and trust you all over again.
Walt Disney said: “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”
If you’re a solicitor specialising in property sales you won’t expect to hear from every customer every year, but what about your customer’s friends, family and colleagues?
Keeping in contact makes it easy for customers to refer you to other people, building your customer list.
Referral business is especially good because the personal recommendation from the person referring you makes the process of know, like and trust easier. A lot of the work is already done for you.
Customers respond to different messages and have different needs and issues.
Often a marketing message will be relevant for one customer and not for another.
Keeping in touch with customers gives you the opportunity to use a variety of marketing messages and topics with your customers. This increases the chance of a message being relevant and the customer wanting to purchase more of your products and services.
This is a much better small business growth plan than relying on a single message and a one-off sale.
Staying in the recent memory of your existing customers helps keep others out.
In most industries, there will be several businesses keen to steal your customers, as an old boss of mine used to say — “trying to eat your lunch”.
Don’t let them.
Make sure when your customer thinks of the types of products and services that you sell they immediately think of you.
Robert Peters is a Small Business Advisor and Director of Fresh Eyes Consultancy.
You must keep asking questions of yourself: “What's the unmet need?”, “How are we doing?”, “How can we do better?”.
Treat them how you would like to be treated yourself.
Consumers are fed up with mass-produced mediocrity. “Authenticity” — a genuine product rather than a created manifestation from the brains of the marketing department, will generate customers for life.
Inspire customers to spread the “legend” to others.
Customers hate to be “sold at” but they love to buy.
Make it easy to understand for your customers and for yourselves.
Is this really so very hard to deliver? Evidence would suggest that it is…
But think of the benefits to you if your business could deliver this way!
Consumers are becoming increasingly jaded as a result of excessive contact from businesses, especially via email. In fact, British businesses risk alienating almost 90 per cent of customers through poor communications, according to new research.
A 2012 report commissioned by Pitney Bowes, Why Some Customers are Just Not That Into You, was conducted across the UK, France, Germany and the USA. It asked more than 5,000 consumers about their preferences in communications with brands and identified the seven most intrusive and annoying communication techniques used by companies:
1. Failing to provide an opt-out of emails and texts
2. Sending customers advertising emails every week
3. Requesting that customers support your brand’s charity or ethical concerns
4. Addressing customers as though they have never been a customer before
5. Sending offers from third parties
6. Encouraging customers to interact with other consumers via an online community
7. Inviting customers to attend branded lifestyle events.
Failing to provide an opt-out of emails and texts (an illegal offence) came out as the most infuriating marketing technique, with 89 per cent of respondents claiming that this is intrusive. This was closely followed by sending customers advertising emails every week (88 per cent). Monthly emails were considered to be intrusive by 53 per cent of respondents, while just 23 per cent said they’d be annoyed to receive the same message by post.
The next most irritating techniques were: being requested to support a brand’s charity or ethical concerns (86 per cent); being addressed as though you have never been a customer before (86 per cent); being sent offers from third parties (82 per cent); being encouraged to interact with other consumers via an online community (77 per cent); and being invited to attend branded lifestyle events (76 per cent).
British businesses need to tread carefully when checking customer satisfaction levels too; those companies that call their customers risk annoying 48 per cent of them, whereas a survey form would be acceptable to three quarters (74 per cent).
When running an ecommerce store over busy periods of time, it can be extremely hard to manage a thousand things at once. However the most important factor in any business is ensuring that your customers are happy.
Facebook fan pages are the prime place for people to complain and these complaints can be the most difficult to tackle. Within an open space for everyone to see, comments will be seen by fans of the group and viral word of mouth soon develops. A common saying is that if one person has had a bad experience they will tell ten other people, however on a Facebook fan page with 6,000 likes- the amount of people hearing about this experience will increases dramatically.
In a study carried out by the CMO council of 1300 consumers and 132 senior marketers, 46% of consumers stated that they would expect a reply to their query within 24 hours.
No 1 Rule: You may have already heard this one before but it is worth repeating. Do not ignore comments on your business profile or Facebook fan page; it can be a lot worse than ignoring an email. Customers can soon feel neglected if they do not obtain a response and are left to think about what is happening next. The worst thing you can do is delete comments as this adds fuel to a fire that can soon get too hot to handle.
Think of a way you can help and respond like you would over the telephone or via email. If the comment indicates you are at fault, ‘remember your customer is always right’ and apologise before you even begin to solve the issue.
Once you have responded to a query, ensure that yourself or someone in your organisation monitors the conversation taking place on Facebook and responds on a regular basis. This reaction will reassure customers that you care and calm the situation down.
If a customer has threatened to spread bad vibes about your business or set up another Facebook group to encourage others to bad mouth you, contact this person directly via email and see if you can solve the matter out of the public eye.
If you do receive a positive response from the way you handle a customer complaint, you may find yourself receiving a worthy comment like the below:
“I had a real moan about your company yesterday - as you were unable to supply a pair of shoes that I specifically ordered. In hindsight, I can appreciate that you must have been incredibly busy over the Christmas period, and I thank you for your email of apology from ----------. I would order from you again, and apologise, once again for my bad manners.”
If other customers read this comment, they instantly become reassured that you are a company that cares and deals with complaints respectively.
The bottom line is; consumers want more experiences, more engagement, more rewards, and more reasons to connect with each other and brands through social media.