When Life Gives You Lemons: Sometimes Negative Feedback Isn’t Such a Bad Thing

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Customer ComplaintsYou know what they say: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Actually, sometimes I get pretty tired of the things “they” say. The Lemonade Way of Life is a pretty Pollyanna view to take when running a business, especially when the lemons life has handed you come in the form of negative customer feedback. It can seem difficult to turn those negatives into a positive.

Good news: There are LOTS of other things to do with lemonade beyond grabbing your pitcher and sugar bowl. Lemons are great for cleaning up kitchen messes and removing odors. It can also cure a sore throat and even create natural blond hair highlights.

All that is to say: Dealing with negative feedback actually can be a boon to your business, if you handle it correctly. But handling these situations well takes grace and nuance, and there are a few things you should keep in mind first.

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It’s July 2013. Do You Know Where Your Business Is?

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Small BusinessEvery year, you should refresh the metrics you use to evaluate how well your small business is doing.

Be honest. Do you regularly think about the state of your business, or do you catch yourself on autopilot?

The only way for these metrics to be useful is to actually USE them. So, now that we’re halfway through 2013, it’s time to ask yourself that important question: How is your business doing?

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Want to Boost Sales During the Lazy Summer Months? Try a Travel Promotion!

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shutterstock_109696760Few business owners understand the doldrums of summer better than retailers. No matter how busy your store is the rest of the year, it’s pretty much guaranteed that business will grind to a near halt when school’s out for the summer.

With many families opting to spend time together outdoors, at amusement parks, on weekend getaways and longer trips — and no major gift-giving holidays in sight beyond Father’s Day — summer slowdowns are the nature of the retail beast.

Here’s an idea: Try a travel promotion! Your customers are already entertaining their wildest feelings of wanderlust, so why not join them in the fun? We’ve got a few suggestions on how to bump yourself closer to top of mind when all your customers can think of is a summer escape.

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Know Your Customer and How to Appeal To Them

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shutterstock_121852699We live in a consumer culture where almost no one pays full price for anything anymore. Sales, reductions and promotions are the way of the world, and as small businesses in particular, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of creating a promotion around every big holiday and occasion.

It can be a great way to ride the wave of consumer consciousness and make yourself stand out in an otherwise crowded marketplace! But there’s a danger in that, too.

What if your customers aren’t actually interested in the promotion you’re offering — even if “everyone else is doing it?” Do you risk alienating other potentially loyal customers with blanket-coverage promotions? Have you really considered YOUR customers when building these special-occasion sales and promotions?

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Five Ways to Use Restaurant.com in your Mother’s Day Promo

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Mother’s Day commercials suggest that sending a generic bouquet is sufficient for the mama bear in your life.  But does something you can blindly order online really reflect the gratitude and appreciation you have for your leading lady?APR4_shutterstock_134343251

As a business, how do you attract Mother’s Day shoppers who want to do something a little different?  You extend a little nod and say, “We appreciate what you’re trying to do in order to make your Mother’s Day extra special and would like to reward your efforts in the process!”

Here are five ways Restaurant.com can help your business stand out this Mother’s Day!

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The 3 Pillars of Social Media for Small Business: Listen, Act, Evolve

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First, it’s important to establish the three attributes that make a good business great and 3pillarsofsocialmediathen we’ll apply these to our social media best practices.  Great businesses have three things in common:

1.  They know their customers.

2.  They care about their customers and act upon important customer feedback.

3.  They evolve with their customer’s needs.

Social media for small business is by definition communicating with your customers online.  The first step to a successful social media program is simple: take a step back and think about the human interactions you have with your customers every day.  Your online interactions will be no different.  You will listen to, act upon and evolve with your customer’s needs online the same way you would offline.

While social media may seem daunting and time consuming, the rules of social media mirror basic “relationship 101” skills.  They’re just disguised with names like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and blog. [Read More…]

Become Indispensable and Watch Your Business Grow

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Success depends on having a growing number of customers and in today’s world where competitors abound and choices of who to buy from are plentiful, businesses have to work harder than ever to attract and keep customers coming back.  As Entrepreneur magazine agrees, “Making your company indispensable is a vital key to marketing success.” In other words, business owners across all sectors need to make building customer loyalty and creating lasting and meaningful relationships with their best customers a top priority.  


By starting with people who’ve bought from you before, you’ve already broken the ice and identified they have a need for a service or product you provide.  The more time you invest in getting to know your customers, their buying patterns, and preferences, the more insights and tools you’ll have to help you create a meaningful and strategic reward incentive program that will bring them back, again and again.  

 

In fact, as Business Week recently reported, studies show that, “68% of customers leave a business relationship because of a perceived attitude of indifference on the part of the company.”  

 

Here are just a few examples of how you can offer special perks to entice your best customers to buy from you again:

Airlines commonly reward their frequent buyers using special customer perks or rewards such as early boarding privileges, fewer baggage limitations, and the ability to upgrade at the last minute to more premium seats. They’ve also gathered important data about their customer base which enables airlines to further distinguish not only who is buying on a regular basis but paying more than average such as business and first class ticket buyers.  This distinction earns even higher rewards such as membership into elite airport clubs and special onboard treatment.

 

Another way to endear customers to you is by providing free services or by allowing them to earn promotional “points” or incentive rewards for every purchase they make.  Designed to encourage repeat purchases, customers accumulate points that can later be cashed in for merchandise or something they value such as special status or recognition, price discounts, or other desirable products and services.

 

You can also make sure your best customers feel valued by ensuring they receive exceptional service every time they make a purchase or interact with your business.  Top service will motivate your patrons to be loyal over time – not because other options don’t exist but because they enjoy the relationship you’ve cultivated and nurtured with them better than those they have with other companies. 

 

 

By rewarding your best customers with best-in-class service and perks they value, you will ensure they feel special and have the motivation and incentive they need to return again and again.

Prioritizing Your Customer Pipeline

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No matter what size your business is today, finding new customers and replenishing your pipeline should always be a top priority.  You may have the best product on the market but if you don’t invest time and energy in drawing new customers in your direction, it’s quite possible the next register to ring, may be your competitors.


So what are the best ways to fill your pipeline and ensure continued success? 


First, clearly define who you want to attract.


Understanding who is most likely to want your product can go a long way when deciding which investments of time and money will have the greatest potential return. Once you have defined who your target consumer is, learn everything you can about them.  Consider how they spend their time, what they care about, and what they value. By putting yourself in their shoes and seeing the world through their eyes, you can easily discover new ways to break through the clutter and attract their business and loyalty.


It’s also critically important to tailor your messages, products, and services to meet the needs you’ve identified.  This level of attention and care is something customers both value and remember. A positive experience also often prompts new customers to tell others which can lead to referrals and a stronger reputation within your community and industry.


You can also enhance your pipeline by attracting customers’ attention and generating interest by featuring special incentives or promotional programs with every purchase.  In other words, give them a reason to return.  Make sure they know how your product or service can benefit them or meet a need they have today or will have in the near future.  By helping your customers connect the dots and clearly understand the value you offer, chances are they’ll buy from you.  And, the better and faster you satisfy their needs, the easier it will be for you to stand out from your competition.


Last but not least, make working with you as easy as possible.


Do your part to make your customers’ lives easier.  As the phenomenal success of Zappos illustrates, by offering a perk such as free shipping, Day One they succeeded in attracting a large and growing customer base.  By covering the cost of shipping whether buying or returning an item, they forever differentiated themselves from other shoe retailers and e-commerce entities and filled their pipeline with loyal patrons for the foreseeable future.


In the end, if you provide a well-designed product or service, have a clear vision of who it appeals to and why, and then use this information to do everything you can to simplify the purchase process and make working with you as easy as possible; you can feel confident your reputation and your customer pipeline will be full for years to come.

You Don’t Need A Holiday To Celebrate Success

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We recently celebrated Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and this week, 4th of July.  Three good examples of when we take time out of our busy schedules to express our gratitude and reflect on how each has made a significant and noteworthy difference in our lives. 


But Moms, Dads, and those in the military aren’t the only ones deserving of praise and recognition. 


In our personal and professional lives, situations that warrant a “thank you” are plentiful.  Hallmark certainly understands this and they aren’t alone.  These days, more and more companies are putting in place formal recognition and reward programs and in exchange for this investment, are enjoying higher than average employee retention, long-term loyalty, and business success.  Particularly as the market begins to rebound and hiring activity picks up, finding new and innovative ways to formally recognize outstanding performance and the contributions of key employees is becoming more critical than ever before. 


In fact, if you want to attract the best talent and keep your top employees for the long-term, be sure to let them know how much they, as individuals, mean to you. Design a rewards and recognition program that is fair, clear to all involved, and consistent across all participants.  And for added impact, take the time to tailor and align your rewards to each situation, circumstance and, if possible, the personal preferences of those involved.  By using rewards that people actually want or would choose on their own, chances are high that participation in the program and the behaviors you’re trying to motivate and encourage, will follow.


Even better, it’s typically not necessary to spend a lot of money to make your employees feel valued.  Much like the young child who delivers an original drawing to Mom or Dad to say thanks for being such a great parent, how much you spend rarely matters.  Significantly more important is how and when gratitude is expressed.  The more personal and sincere the thought or gesture, the higher its perceived value.


In the end, whether employees, parents, or members of our armed forces, all just want to know you care.  A ribbon around a tree, a flag proudly waving in the air, or a simple pat on the back or meal at a favorite restaurant can deliver the message beautifully and leave a meaningful impression that will be remembered for years to come.

A Little Gratitude Goes A Long Way

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Appreciation can take many forms but often, it’s the little things that count most.

It’s easy to see the value of a timely thank you or pat on the back but, in this hyper-speed, over-scheduled world we live in, it’s also easy to lose track of – or forget altogether – the niceties that used to be considered part of standard operating procedure.

When was the last time you took the time to sit down and write a thank you note to someone?  Not an e-mail, not an e-card, but an old fashioned handwritten note to express gratitude in your own words?  If you’re anything like my family, you probably can’t recall the last time you picked up a pen much less had to say thanks without the help of Hallmark or Blue Mountain.com.

It’s not that we’re thankless creatures or a self-absorbed culture that has banished gratitude but rather that we are so consumed with work and our schedules are packed so tight, we can barely squeeze in time to brush our teeth regularly let alone take the time to express our thanks to everyone we encounter. But there’s the rub.  According to many a study, we’d actually find that in professional circles, “employee productivity zooms when appreciation is expressed.”.  Expressing gratitude is an easy way to increase loyalty – be it customer loyalty or employee loyalty.  All human beings enjoy recognition.

In the end, we’re all quite simple beings.  As human beings, we basically want to be acknowledged for work well done.  When this validation comes, we feel fulfilled, motivated and even potentially inspired to reciprocate.  Customers are similarly motivated and are more likely to return to a store or vendor who thanks them or shows appreciation for the business they’ve provided.  In addition to being a nice thing to do, wise marketers will tell you there are other, more strategic reasons to show gratitude, too.

As author Wendy Maynard suggests, “…by showing gratitude to your prospects and customers, you’ll stand out because it’s not something that other business owners are in the habit of doing. Extending age-old courtesies now actually gives you an edge in the marketplace. It goes a long way toward cementing relationships with prospects and reinforcing customer loyalty”.

We would never suggest that expressing thanks verbally or in written format is a bad thing but, by tailoring how you thank those who support your business, you make yourself distinct, memorable and remind people what makes your business special and worth talking about.