Don’t Get Lazy

January 27, 2016

By Rachel Kerstetter, PR Architect, Sonnhalter

705_3550791Sonnhalter has used several services for a very long time… as in decades. I’m not sure how we started working with these services, but  I had to assume there was a reason.

However when I took over the contracts with these services, no one seemed eager to provide the most important service of all… customer service. Coming into my new role, I wanted to understand our various contracts so I reached out to the most recent person assigned to us. No answer. I reached out to the company referencing our account number. No answer.

I attended a conference and visited the service provider’s table, and immediately got attention because they thought I was a new customer. The sales person apologized up and down and said our rep would be in contact with me. He was able to look up answers to some of my questions. More than a week after the conference, I had no contact.

When it comes to your customers, it’s crucial not to become lazy. Don’t expect your relationship to maintain itself just because you’ve been with them for years. Don’t focus all of your time and attention trying to win new business that you forget your current business.

As I learned in Marketing 101 in college, it’s cheaper to maintain an existing customer relationship than to build a new one.

When you ignore, forget or don’t serve your current customers the way that you should, you are in danger of losing them.

At the conference I met with several competing service providers who would be happy to have me as a customer, what makes our current providers think we’ll stick with them if there’s someone else who isn’t lazy?

In your personal life, if you were to call your mechanic for general maintenance on your car and they never called you back to schedule an appointment, you’d probably consider finding a new mechanic, right? It’s the same in the business-to-business world.

Your customers want to be valued, whether they’ve been working with you 5 days or 50 years.


Are Your Employees Brand Ambassadors? Why Not?

April 22, 2015

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent at Sonnhalter

Osborn

Photo Courtesy of Osborn

Do your employees know where your products are used? Do they know the applications the parts they make make possible? Are they aware of the history and critical nature of your company? There are many simple, cost-effective ways to increase productivity and morale by implementing a program that lets them know.

To land new business, you’re always told to “Tell Your Story” well. It’s just as important to tell it internally. Why?

It makes employees feel like part of the plan – Let them see the big picture and where you as a company fit into it

It helps them see the long view, not just their day-to-day part in it – There’s a plan, not just a daily task

It builds internal networks – If Engineering tells their story to Customer Service, everyone sees people and faces, not silos

It allows them to be brand ambassadors – If they know the story you want told, then that’s the story that gets re-told

So how do you reach them? That’s the easiest part—the same way you reach new customers:

Host an Employee Open House – Let them show off to their kids, and see what goes on in other departments

Giving a tour of your facility? Engage employees – Don’t treat them like an extension of the machine they’re working, but have them describe what they do, and the cost savings, quality assurance or other aspect of their work

Start an internal newsletter – It’s a great place to either post external press releases, or develop case studies for outside use

Cover the Walls – Advertising blown up as posters reinforce your brand internally and when guests tour your facility

Let them hear & be heard – Have a quarterly or monthly meeting of non-managerial representatives from every department, and allow for an open exchange or ideas, complaints and stories

Highlight your company’s history whenever possible – Old ads, press clippings or photos give a sense of pride and place

Have a mission statement – And stress it internally. Print it on business cards, coffee cups in the vending machines; anywhere it will be seen regularly

You don’t need to be told that Manufacturing has gotten a bad rap. For years it’s been the butt of jokes, seen as a “dead end” and been declared all but extinct in this country by countless talking heads.

Well those people are wrong. And the house they left to get into the car they drove to the studio where they made their comments is testament to it. And it’s time your employees knew that too.

I once heard a really cool story about the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. It has a unique elevator that kind of side-steps its way up to the top of the arch. Well if you look into the arch, instead of out at the view, along the way you’ll see large welder-generators. They’ve been there since the Arch was built in the mid 60’s. Because of the way the arch was made, it was impossible to move them, so they just left them, placed another (which also got left behind) and kept building.

As a former employee of that welding manufacturer, I think that’s fascinating, and if I could ever get over my nagging fear of heights, it would be the best part of the trip up. To know that something that was made in the same building I worked in was instrumental in a project like that, it just boggles the mind. All the “ordinary” people, doing their “ordinary” job at factories all across the country added up to a modern marvel like that. Inspire that sense of awe in your employees, and they’ll help do the heavy lifting of establishing a brand.


When Was the Last Time You Actually Talked to Your Customers?

January 22, 2014

I get so frustrated sometimes, both internally and externally, with emails going back and forth a million times to answer questions or get the proper information that I could scream!

PICK UP THE PHONE! Sometimes we get so caught up in things that we forgot about some of the basics in selling and communicating techniques. Emails are great for getting info and normal communications, but it’s difficult to build a relationship with them. Same holds true for texting.

Those of you that are older than 40 can remember back in the day when you actually talked to customers on the phone and even went and saw them face-to-face sometimes and maybe even had lunch with them. Now I know times have changed, and I’m not trying to downplay the importance of tools like email, but don’t you agree that it’s nice now and again to actually talk to another human?

Here’s a suggestion. Take your top 10 customers and try to have a conversation with them a few times a year. Here’s a novel approach, call them up and thank them for their business and for the long-standing relationship you’ve had over the years. Ask about what keeps them up at night and if you can help resolve some of their business issues.

Don’t you think that might get more mileage than sending them an email? If nothing else, I’ll bet you’ll feel better after talking with them.

There are studies out there and I’ve seen it first hand that the under-30 crowd would rather text than talk. What happened to interpersonal relationships? How are they going to make it in the business world?

We need to keep the basic communication tools as we move down that super internet highway.


Customer Loyalty: What Are You Doing?

February 6, 2013

All too often we focus so much on getting new customers that we forget about who’s supporting us now! I believe the rule of thumb is it takes 5 times as much effort to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one.

There are several things you can do. A loyalty program, special incentives on certain products and giving them the first chance on buying a new product line before it hits the street are just a few examples. How about a simple thanks via an email or postcard. When was the last time one of your vendors thanked you for your business? Probably not many, and if they did, you’re sure to remember them.

Have you ever calculated what a customer’s worth is over time? Say you have a 30-year old contractor that usually buys $5,000 worth of your stuff a year. Doesn’t sound like much, but if you keep him happy, you probably will have him for 30 years before he retires. So assuming he doesn’t grow his business or you don’t come out with anything new for him to buy over the next 30 years, he would have spent $150,000 with you. Is he worth keeping? I’d say so. So what are you doing to keep him happy? Unless you’re selling a proprietary product, your competition is knocking on his door every chance they get. Give your customer a reason to stay.

I know many of you who follow me don’t buy shoes online, but I’d bet that if you asked your wife if she’s heard of Zappos, she’d say yes. I picked them as an example and even wrote a post on their book, Does Customer Service Deliver Happiness, where they show that by even selling name branded shoes online, they could, in many cases, outsell the brand itself  in the online arena. The way they did it was with customer service.

So here are some points for you to consider when evaluating your Customer Service department:

  • Try to keep the personal touch (human being) as the initial touch point if you can.
  • Empower your CS people to solve a problem immediately without having to go through 3 levels of supervisors.
  • Reward customers with a loyalty program as a way of saying thanks.
  • Customer surveys are a great way to get feedback, not only on how you’re doing, but for getting ideas for future products.

I’d also suggest if you haven’t done so in a while to call your customer service department and see what your experience is. If you aren’t impressed, what do you think your customers will feel like?


Are You Communicating With Clients Effectively?

December 5, 2012

No matter what business we’re in, we’re all in the communicating business. I think sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget some simple pointers.

Today we have a guest post by Ryan Franklin, a small business blogger and marketer who writes on behalf of Ordoro. He points out the obvious but sometimes we need to be reminded.

Did you know that the golden rule applies to business, too? That is, treat clients how you would like to be treated. How do you expect to be treated when you have to call into a supplier with a customer service issue? That is how firms and tradesmen expect to be treated when they contact your company. So here are a few key points to communicate with those customers effectively.

Listen to your client. You may be hearing what your customer has to say, but are you listening? Active listening is an essential part to communicating with customers effectively. There is nothing worse than getting on the phone with a service provider to explain your issue with their product or service and realizing that the rep is just not listening – causing you to repeat everything you just said! Pay attention to what your clients are saying; picking up on keywords can assist you in directing the conversation to address the problem.

Do not interrupt your client. Another step to communicating with clients effectively is to avoid interruptions. The last thing your client wants is to be cut off mid-sentence. Show them respect by letting them have a fair chance to speak, and then address the issue carefully. If a client has a complicated issue or is upset about something, it can be helpful to repeat the situation back to them to show that you understand. This is plain common courtesy and good customer service, and clients will appreciate your willingness to listen.

Smile. This may seem a bit ridiculous when you are making calls on the telephone, but this point still applies. Call center representatives across the nation are taught to smile when they speak because it conveys a friendly demeanor between the rep and the customer. How do you feel when you clearly reach a customer service representative that obviously does not want to be at work that day? Customer service agents should always smile and make the customer feel like they care. This will ensure return customers and high client satisfaction.

Make small talk. Avoid dead air even if you are researching an issue for the customer. If you must put a client on hold, be diligent in checking back with them every 60-80 seconds. Even a minute can feel like an eternity when you are placed on hold. Every customer feels like their issue is of great importance and that’s how you should make them feel. Without your clients, you don’t have a job; treat each one of them like they are the only one you have. At that moment, they are.

Again, communicating with customers can be as simple as treating them as you would want to be treated. Train your representatives to think the same way.


Customer Service: Is Your Company Obsessed With It?

August 21, 2012

Customer service. We all say we have it, but what is it? Where does it start?

Unless you are offering something you can’t get anywhere else, then you’re going to have competition from someone. So what makes your customers or potentials want to do business with you instead of them?

Assuming you have a good product then I’d say the customer experience would be the major deal sealer or breaker. Customer service starts  the moment someone from your company answers the phone through the sales process and follow-up with your customer service department if a question or problem arises.

I guess what I’m trying to say is your company’s customer service should start with every employee. Those that are on the front line(be it a CS or delivery man), they have the one-on-one contact with the customer and can sway future purchases by their actions or inactions. We all build our business around repeat sales so everyone in the company needs to be good will ambassadors. The challenge for all of us is to find the friction in our process and smooth it out.

Let me give you two examples of positive CS experiences.

1- I recently had to go to Buffalo for an association/trade show for one of our new clients. The host hotel was the Buffalo Hyatt and we stayed there. They were going through some renovations like any other hotel, but I seemed to notice that everyone who worked there had a very positive attitude that was focused on the customers and it showed. When we checked out and our car came from the valet, it was filthy dirty (it was clean when we checked in) and I come to find out from the valet that they park guest cars outside so they can retrieve them quicker for guests. Needless to say, the positive experience of the last three days was ending on a sour note. The next day (Sunday), I get the standard thank you for staying at the Hyatt, yada, yada, yada, and if there is anything that we could do to improve our service, please email me (general manager). So I did, explained my story and in less than 15 minutes had a response from him apologizing and crediting our bill for $30 to get a car wash.  The end result when/if I’m back in Buffalo, there is a better than 50/50 chance of me staying there again.

2- At that same show, I had the chance to talk to several dealers for this new client and asked them why they did business with Buyers Products. They all said it was because they made a good product, but more importantly the main reason is they did what they said they were going to do, when they said they were going to do it, and if any problems arose, they had their back with any product problems. Several told stories of how they needed product over the weekend and their salesman would actually deliver it to them before Monday morning. They are in a very competitive market and are growing at a pace that outsets the industry standards. Wonder why?

The key for us all is to follow our customers’ experience. From how they find out about you through the repeat orders. If there is friction along the line, work to smooth out the process so your customers have a positive experience.


What Are You Doing to Build Stronger Customer Relations?

May 25, 2011

I believe the rule of thumb is it takes 5 times as much effort to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. All too often we focus so much on getting new customers that we forget about who’s supporting us now!

Have you ever calculated what a customers worth is over time? Say you have a 30-year old contractor that usually buys $5,000 worth of your stuff a year. Doesn’t sound like much, but if you keep him happy, you probably will have him for 30 years before he retires. So assuming he doesn’t grow his business or you don’t come out with anything new for him to buy over the next 30 years, he would have spent $150,000 with you. Is he worth keeping? I’d say so. So what are you doing to keep him happy? Unless you’re selling a proprietary product, your competition is knocking on his door every chance they get.

I know many of you who follow me don’t buy shoes online, but I’d bet that if you asked your wife if she’s heard of Zappos, she’d say yes. I picked them as an example and even wrote a post on their book, Does Customer Service Deliver Happiness, where they show that by even selling name branded shoes online, they could, in many cases, outsell the brand itself  in the online arena. The way they did it was with customer service.

So here are some points for you to consider when evaluating your Customer Service department:

  • Try to keep the personal touch (human being) as the initial touch point if you can.
  • Empower your CS people to solve a problem immediately without having to go through 3 levels of supervisors.
  • Reward customers with a loyalty program as a way of saying thanks.
  • Customer surveys are a great way to get feedback, not only on how you’re doing, but for getting ideas for future products.

I’d also suggest if you haven’t done so in a while to call your customer service department and see what your experience is. If you aren’t impressed, what do you think your customers will feel like?

I’d also suggest reading Delivering Happiness that shows how Zappos grew to be a billion dollar company using customer service to set them apart from their competition.


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