Lessons I Learned Today 5/27/09 Refining Your Customer Message

This is a digest and recap of highlights, quotes, and comments from articles and discussions posted on this date on the Applied Entrepreneurship, LinkedIn group site.


*Behind Kayak.com & Getting Human by Scott Belsky

“Entrepreneur Paul English was tired of navigating the endless menus of options when trying to get some customer service. Whether it was an airline, utility company, or car service center, English simply wanted to talk to a human. This was the inspiration behind his “Get Human” project. What started as a blog and growing database has now become a widely publicized campaign to transcend the depersonalization of customer service.”

“Paul English is a serial entrepreneur. He co-founded kayak.com and subsequently raised $30 million dollars to grow the travel company. He has many ideas, and he has a solid process to push them forward.”

“The Get Human project is a perfect example of Paul English’s ‘start small and test’ philosophy. The whole idea for Get Human started when English was pissed off with Verizon. He couldn’t get through to customer service and found himself lost in an automatic phone tree.”

“Accountability and small, quick doses of feedback help push good ideas forward. Describe your ideas, get them out there.”

“Every creative person should have a blog. It only takes a few minutes to put one together.”

“Paul English has a bias against broad strategic career goals in favor of incremental ideas, measured risks, and lots of testing. When working with new ideas, English suggests that you ‘demonstrate something small that people love…and then get more confidence…and scale up. Don’t aim for the all-American novel, start with small hilarious essays or mini-projects…then find small successes that you can build on…’ As he explains it, ‘incremental achievements are easier and safer than grand career goals. I go against big grand plans. The original grand plans are usually wrong. Instead, I try to find a way to test ideas every day…and I remain open to new variations of ideas every day.'”

“Also, be willing to fail. If you’re afraid of failure, you’ll never leave your house. When you do fail, just be sure to move on quickly…a lot of entrepreneurship is enjoying the process of creating. Even if you don’t get the eventual prize…you’ll still gain a better mastery of the process itself.”


*Creating Your Best Competitive Advantage by Carol Aubitz

“In a recession economy, where the pool of people spending money is shrinking in size, it is more important than ever to have a competitive advantage in your market.”

“Given the choice of two companies, with comparable price, quality, and product, the buyer will always choose to do business with the one that demonstrates it values its customers. That’s a competitive advantage.”

Here are some tips that can make everyone in your business better skilled in sales and service, and therefore more effective at building your competitive advantage.

  • Learn how to listen.
  • Smile.
  • Be on time.
  • Respect their time.
  • Acknowledge people quickly.
  • Integrate sales and service functions into your Website
  • Provide little extras.
  • Know how to talk to an irate customer.

The four steps to problem solving are:

  • Listen without interrupting.
  • Apologize and show empathy by re-stating the problem.
  • Solve the problem. The first step to solving is to simply ask what the customer would like you to do.
  • Thank the customer for their business.

Getting a competitive advantage through better sales and service is a quick and low-cost way to keep your business healthy during a bad economy.


*Get the Customer to Find You by Carol Aubitz

In the first quarter of 2009, U.S. Consumer spending actually increased 2.2%. The challenge is to get consumers who are spending to spend it with you.

 the way consumers receive and relate to advertising, and the way they shop, is changing. The consumer is in control of media and is showing a skill and willingness to delete, block, filter, and ignore your outbound marketing. That’s why an important part of your marketing strategy needs to be inbound marketing.

Get found online. Websites that compile lists of companies by category and geography usually rank high. The local online Yellow Pages will also come up on the first page. Be sure you are listed on online Yellow Pages and in compiled lists for your category.

Think of ways you can provide information about your specialty that would be a benefit to the consumer. People read about things that interest them.

Look for ways to link your information to blogs and social sites. Writing a blog or posting online social content for a specific category can generate visits from people interested in your information.

Once the prospective customer finds you, it is up to you to create the relationship and provide the reasons to stay in touch. Remember that customers buy for their reasons, not yours. Continue to reinforce their reasons and customers will continue to find you.


*Think Like a Customer by Carol Aubitz

Thinking like the customer is one of the most important lessons a business can learn. There are some universal ways to please a customer.

Don’t waste their time. Let them know how your product or service will make their life better. That’s what they want to know. Make information on your Web site easy to find and the site is easy to navigate.  Be sure your process from product search to checkout and payment is seamless. Keep the process streamlined.

Research from 2007, the most recent year with facts available, shows that 60% of online purchases are abandoned. That is a staggering percentage.

12% are abandoned prior to checkout and 48% are abandoned at checkout. That 48% figure represents people who chose to buy something, but found the process too cumbersome, frustrating or confusing to complete the transaction. Think about what it means to lose 48% of sales because of the process!

If you are a destination site you need to think like a visitor who has never been to your destination before. all Web sites there is one universal need that many totally overlook – contact information beyond the site. Every site should list their physical address and phone number. It adds legitimacy to the business and reinforces that a customer can deal with a real person if necessary.

If you are a retail or service business with walk-in customers, you should acknowledge them within 3 seconds. To not acknowledge them is the same as ignoring them. It is an insult and shows you don’t care.

The acquisition of a new customer is rarely an instantaneous happening. Customers need to be given time, need to be reassured, need to build trust with you. This is key to building a relationship that will create customer loyalty for you.

If customers don’t buy immediately, have a system for keeping in touch. Let them know you haven’t forgotten them and that you still care about their needs.


*Making Your Marketing Tick by Pamela Taylor

You can optimize your minimized dollars, eliminate stale marketing efforts, and expand your outreach to prospects by focusing on what can be achieved quickly and leveraging your existing marketing assets. Center your efforts on just a few key components.

Refine your messaging to pinpoint who you are and what you do. Don’t leave it to your customers to guess. It should be clearly defined and communicated over and over again by every level and division in your organization.

Figure out a way to relate directly to your customers.

Ask existing customers what is most important in their buying decisions. What are they looking for? Second, define your offerings and messaging to meet their interests. When you have the agility to adjust marketing messages and send out targeted, relevant communication, you will see good results. Third, refine your offer to draw your customers in. Finally, empower your customers with actionable information such as a simple paper to download, an interesting question or survey, or an offer or special that they can inquire about.

Incorporate social marketing and all that new technology has to offer, to develop quick and effective tactics that are very customer-centric.

Develop a campaign driven by one-to-one communication centered on personal, targeted outreach.  For example, develop personalized print materials such as a simple letter, and invest in personal emails and follow up phone calls. 


*Low-Cost Ways to Boost Cash Flow by Carol Aubitz

To fight the blight of a tight market, use stealth marketing to motivate consumers without looking like advertising as usual.

Guerrilla techniques are the unconventional, innovative and imaginative approach for reaching customers in ways and places that are unexpected – with memorable experiences and minimal resources.

Do something fun and exciting.

One of the trends in getting consumers engaged is “tryvertising.” This allows customers to get familiar with your products or services without being pressured to buy. Tryvertising can be done through sampling days, free classes and demonstrations, redemption certificates not tied to a purchase, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, games, and contests.

Create new partnerships that are mutually rewarding. Look for other businesses that complement yours or have the same type of customer you do. Do endorsement swap marketing.

Achieve the unexpected. The reason the unexpected gets results is that it generates buzz. Little unexpected actions stir emotional reactions from customers. If you sell mattresses, how do you distinguish yourself from all the competition?

As you look at stretching your marketing dollars, think about the many ways you can break away from the usual. What elements of surprise will you use?


*How Reverse Thinking Can Move You Forward by Carol Aubitz

One of the best techniques to use for changing your perspective, and looking at your challenges differently, is reverse thinking.

When used for marketing, the technique of thinking in reverse shows you outcomes that can lead you into new ways of communicating to consumers by challenging assumptions that have become ingrained into the way you think.

When you engage the process of reverse thinking in your planning and team meetings, you’ll make another fascinating discovery. You’ll start to see which people in your management team are stuck in traditional “we’ve always done it this way” thinking and which people have the ability to think out of the box to take new risks with new ideas.

The process will make you stronger and more creative.

Steve Jobs, a co-founder of Apple, said “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.” It is also the ability to think differently, to reverse the standard approach to problem solving by changing the perspective of the problem.

When you start using reverse thinking and begin to think differently, remember this warning from Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, “When you innovate, you’ve got to be prepared for everyone telling you you’re nuts!”


*If I Were Launching a New Small Biz Web Site Today by Matt McGee

Make sure:

  • the Web site is fully developed before launch. There’s no sense marketing an unfinished product.
  • The Web site is attractive and is user-friendly, and you’ve taken care of the basics of usability.
  • You have done the appropriate keyword research and your page content reflects that.
  • Your web site has good content for your target audience (and for search engine spiders).
  • You’ve done at least the basics of SEO across the site.
  • You have metrics tracking in place.
  • Create a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising account.
  • Write and Distribute a Press Release(s).
  • Buy Directory Links.
  • You look for local and niche/vertical directories that will likely be free or very inexpensive.
  • Take advantage of Local Search opportunities.
  • Add a blog to your web site. Blogs make great “spider food” (i.e., search engines love blogs) and they’re a great way to have an ongoing conversation with customers.
  • Be active in the blogger community. Create accounts at MyBlogLog and Technorati, and put their widgets on your blog. Run your feeds through FeedBurner for the community stat tracking. Use Bloglines or Google Reader to track other blogs in your industry and be active in commenting on them.
  • Join Twitter and Facebook because each offers a good opportunity to meet and network with local people who may be good contacts and/or future customers. Spend the first month or so just meeting people and listening to the wider conversations.
  •  Join your local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Investigate local offline advertising options. Sponsoring high school sports teams, Little League teams, etc., is inexpensive and gives me at least a couple months of exposure, not to mention plenty of goodwill with parents and the community.
  • Invite/pay bloggers to write about your business/product/service. Use ReviewMe or Sponsored Reviews to find bloggers in yout industry who are willing to write a paid review
  • Use Yahoo! Answers to answer questions from people asking about your industry.
  • Use Flickr. Join photo groups related to (a) your products/services, and (b) your local geographic area and upload quality photos related to your business


*Live Life to the Fullest – The Importance of Self Growth by Serena Carcasole

As our life evolves, so must we! Whether it is your personal life or work life, self growth and self improvement is an important route to helping you deal with the stress of change and instead accept the natural life alterations ahead.

Self growth is about being true to yourself and thinking about what your main priorities in life should be. It is about learning new skills, knowledge and ways to help you get ahead personally and professionally. When you invest in self growth and self improvement, you also invest in your future and gain the confidence and inner strength required to take you to the peak of success and happiness.

Learn from past choices to help you improve yourself for the future.

Take one goal or project at a time and learn from it. Once you complete one goal or project, go on to the next.

Sometimes self growth begins with the growth story of another. If you dream of opening a small business, seek the advice of someone who has.

Welcome Change with Open Arms

“When you change, you grow. It’s that simple. And when you know how to accept change and grow with change, you are well on your way to personal responsibility and success.”


What I Think

I think it is pretty easy to find a common thread in the articles posted on this date, although, once again, they were somewhat randomly selected. Lots of business owners worry about the economy and declining revenues, but, contrary to Einstein’s warning (to paraphrase – insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result) they do not always take the basic steps necessary to change the trend for their own businesses.

Serena Carcasole’s article about self-growth is a good start. It is hard to have the energy and perseverance necessary to extricate yourself and your business from the gravitational force of our current economic “black hole,” if you don’t have confidence in yourself and have a clear vision of where you want to go. Researching what others have done, as well as finding the right mentor or informal board of advisors, can make a huge difference in the trajectory of your approach to personal satisfaction.

Carol Aubitz’s article about reverse thinking is a good second step. Challenge all the assumptions. They may be partially to blame for the bad things happening to your business. See innovation as an opportunity, rather than as a threat. Test your employees and advisors, using the same challenge of “thinking outside the box.” If all you hear is reasons why things can’t be done and why things can’t change, it may be time to get some new advisors who see opportunities, rather than barriers to change.

Most of the articles posted on this date wrap themselves around methods of providing better customer service. Some of the articles detail ways to get customers to find you, from inbound communications to how you dress up your storefront windows. Others talk about personal outreach, relating to customers on a personal basis, from letters and e-mails, to the greeting at the front door of your shop.

In a similar vein, several of the articles focus on way to make sure customers have a clear vision of what you are and why your product or service is just what they need. Rather than scrapping what you are doing, incremental steps can allow you to do this with less cost and risk, while engaging your customers in the process. This engagement can engender customer loyalty and provide you with your best “consultants.”

Demonstrate something small and then ramp it up, based upon customer feedback. Taking this in small steps allows you to “course correct” as often and at as little cost as possible. Did someone say agile marketing shift?

Thinking like a customer, as one of these articles says, is a recurring theme in many of the articles posted on this site over the last few months. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers or clients and then work backward to create or refine a message in sync with what they want and need. Define what you offer in terms of customer interests, not the other way around. Way too many businesses are spending their resources on ways to push a product or service down the throat of customers, rather than figuring out what the customers want, and then facilitating the process of providing it most efficiently to them.

There are numerous ways to demonstrate why and how your product or service is better than that of the competition. Guerilla marketing techniques can cost substantially less than typical marketing campaigns, and be substantially more effective. Making your marketing fun, exciting, and different, assures customers will talk about you and what you offer. Techniques, such as “tryvertising” swap marketing, and other co-op ventures can result in low cost leveraging of marketing impact, reaching new customer segments you might not have been able to reach otherwise.

Social networking tools, and a streamlined, “no barriers” Web site can make a substantial difference in your ability to close sales. These can also be great and inexpensive platforms to demonstrate your expertise, high quality of goods and services, and opportunity for customer feedback. The feedback allows you to monitor customer satisfaction, get ideas for new products, services, improved processes, and ways to better focus your limited resources on what makes the biggest difference to your customers, and your own bottom line.


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If you enjoyed my impression of these articles, why don’t you read them for yourself and see what you and I missed or hit? Join the Applied Entrepreneurship group on LinkedIn. Membership is free and I try to post about ten articles a day there. We have some great discussions going and if you are an entrepreneur, we hope you will join us.

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Posted in Applied Entrepreneurship, business, Business interruption, crisis, etc., Business life cycle, entrepreneur, Financial security, Financing a business, Growing a business, Innovation, Perseverance, Personal happiness, Planning for a business, Recession strategies, Running a business, Selling a business, Social networking & media, Starting a business, technology, Thinking about a new business
2 comments on “Lessons I Learned Today 5/27/09 Refining Your Customer Message
  1. I have enjoy reading on these articles

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