Customer Retention: Making Sure They Feel Heard

customersCustomer retention relies heavily on customer experience, which is why it’s so important for business owners to really hone in on what will make their customers have a positive experience when interacting with their business.

Regardless of the size of your business, you can all take steps to ensure our number one asset – our customers – are happy. Here are a few key tips to help you improve that experience for your customers:

Feeling Heard
One of the most important ways to keep your customers is to keep in touch with them on a regular basis, whether that is through daily/weekly/bi-weekly calls, meetings, or emails, you need to make an effort to touch base with your clients.  These are not sales calls, but rather opportunities to hear more about recent triumphs or challenges they are having in their business.  The more you know about their business, the better able you are to serve them. When you listen, a customer feels heard.

Good As Your Word
A common complaint of customers is that business staff do not follow through on promises they make. When you tell a customer that you will email them a document by noon, for example, and they have not heard from you by the next day, they might feel that they are not a priority. Every customer wants to feel as if they are the only ones you take care of, so when you say that you will meet a deadline or deliver a report and not do so, nor call to explain why, they are left in the dark and this is when they are telling others about the poor service they are receiving from your business.

Thanking Them Differently
When a customer has purchased your product or service, particularly an expensive one, be sure to thank them in appreciation, ultimately for their choosing to work with you and not your competition. A phone call or handwritten card with the express purpose of saying thanks will be appreciated, but think of taking it to another level through a congratulatory lunch or a basket of sweets delivered to their home or business. You will be remembered, talked about favourably to your customer’s contacts, and will likely receive repeat business.

Access and Availability
If the main contact number to your company goes straight to voicemail or is automated, this could result in an unfavourable experience for your customer.  You want to always make sure they feel that their business is important. You might want to consider:

  • Forwarding the main line to one of your customer service reps or an executive assistant
  • Make sure your automated system provides a directory with your employees’ names and extensions
  • Create a company-wide policy on returning voicemails in a timely manner e.g. calls are to be returned within 24 hours

With so much business happening online today, it is important to set out clear expectations for your customers in terms of how to reach you and when. You might want to consider:

  • Making sure your website clearly states your hours of operation
  • Adding a simple contact form on your site with a specified time that a company rep will respond, or adding an online chat for immediate answers to any customer questions
  • Adding a cell number to your email signature for any immediate calls
  • Creating an email policy for your staff to ensure emails are returned to customers in a timely manner e.g. within 30 minutes

The key to customer retention is to strengthen your relationships at every contact point and to be mindful of not alienating them along the way.

 

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A Sales Responsibility Checklist

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As a business advisor, one of the top issues business owners ask for advice on is how to increase sales.  My response is always the same: sales is at the heart of every company, and every employee is responsible for it, but in different ways.

No matter what size your business is, there are several touch points in a sales process, whether that is expanding your services with an existing customer or sales to a new customer.

When you are looking at your company’s sales, don’t just look at the person or people with “sales” in their titles; there is a role for everyone. Here is my checklist for sales accountability, that once checked off, will help you get a clear picture of where your sales infrastructure might need some help, and if everyone in place will help you increase sales.

  • Owner sets the sales strategy
    A sales strategy is usually written to cover a year and might include outlining the focus of what services/products target which customer, acquisition vs. sales growth with an existing customer, and long and short-term sales goals for each, as well as determining the sales cycle and which markets you will go after. A sales strategy lays out the steps and methods necessary for customers in different stages of the sales cycle.
  • Marketing supports that strategy
    Your marketing team or agency needs to create a plan to support this with marketing activities, including promoting your website, creating digital promotions, trade show collateral, social media, phone scripts, presentations, campaigns, sell sheets, banner ads or online advertising as well as list acquisition and management.
  • Execution by the sales team
    Although each sales person has to take responsibility for the execution of the strategy, they need to first understand the strategy and their role in executing it.  You’ll need to work with your sales team or with your Director of Sales to ensure they understand your strategy, and to explain which marketing tools they have to support their efforts. They need to know techniques to handle both customer acquisition as well as customer retention opportunities.  For example, if they are to execute a call-out campaign to new customers, make sure they understand the value proposition and have support materials at hand to provide to the client.
  • Walk the Walk
    From the person who answers the phone and your customer service staff to your technicians and any front line staff, every touch point with a customer or potential customer must be positive and genuine. Each interaction with a customer is an opportunity to make a lasting impression of the value your company brings to the table.  If they are spoken to in a valued and respectful manner, it could make the difference between investing further with your current services or allowing you to speak with them about your new services/products.

Share your sales strategy with your entire team as all your employees contribute, even in a small way, to helping your business grow.  Never underestimate the power of a warm greeting – it can lead to more sales than you might think.


If Your Sales Strategy Did Not Measure Up… Look At Execution

Intersection-of-Strategy-Execution-Success-300x200It’s the end of the first quarter and many of you are looking at your sales results compared to your sales goals and if the results are poor, blaming your sales strategy. Well, the sales strategy may not be to blame.

Sometimes it’s obvious what went wrong, but sometimes it can be a few factors that contribute to the overall poor results — market predictions, understanding the skill set of your sales team, and understanding the sales cycle of your customer. I have found that the following 3 reasons are why sales strategies sometimes don’t lead to the desired results:

Execution

I have seen it time and time again, sales strategies failing at the execution level. The best-laid plans are just that – plans. The real results happen in the execution of those plans. Part of reviewing your execution includes:

Were your expectations too high?

Was your plan too ambitious? If you are ending your first quarter not having met your sales results, your plans could have been too grand. Was what you planned realistic? For example, if you planned for weekly call-out campaigns, your sales team needs to understand if they are to secure an actual sale over the phone or just generate a lead for future sales nurturing. Had you hoped that your sales team would deliver sales, or your marketing team’s campaigns would drive more leads? Adjust your expectations to a realistic level.

Did you have the right resources?

Consider the skill set of your sales team and whether they had the right training to execute the sales strategy. Providing them with a formal on boarding program for each service or product is essential to help them be successful. What about your support team – are there enough order takers or shipper-receivers in place to handle new orders, and what resources are in place to handle from lead to delivery? Every person in the sales cycle is important, but perhaps there was an area that was not covered. If so, adjust the plan to reflect that. You can’t expect great results if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to support the growth.

Who was accountable?

When you created the sales strategy did you share it with your team and hand off tasks to each of them to be accountable for? Did you hold regular meetings with your team to hear of any hurdles and get status updates? Did you hold yourself accountable for ensuring the plan was executed properly? Someone has to take responsibility for ensuring all goes according to plan.

After you’ve conducted a full review of the execution of your plan, you’ll easily see what areas and factors contributed to the failure of your sales strategy. In all likelihood, your plan was good and just needed some adjustments based around its execution. Once the adjustments are made, your sales strategy will help to grow your business.


How Well Do You Work with People?

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You would be surprised to learn how many business owners update me about their business by saying, “Business would be great – except for the people.” While some may be joking, there is some truth in some business owners’ struggles to relate, understand and manage the people they hired into their company. Every business has a mosaic of personalities, and as business owner or manager, it falls on you to facilitate the highest performance possible from each person to keep your business profitable. What do you do when you find it difficult to work with certain people or you identify conflicts between employees? Some employees may be more social or introverted; aloof or friendly; self-directed or needs direction; linear thinker or big-picture; detail-oriented or conceptual. Here’s how you keep business great while leveraging the talent of your employees.

Set expectations for the company: Implementing clear company expectations is important for you as a business-owner because it sets a standard of performance that you expect to see from everyone that has been clearly communicated and understood. Whether it is punctuality, deadlines or the completion of admin tasks, you can always refer to these expectations with employees to determine if there are any discrepancies between what you expect and their current performance.

Use assessment tools: Set aside time for your employees to utilize workplace personality or interpersonal assessment tools so that they have a chance to learn more about their traits and tendencies and how they fit into the larger business team. As a business-owner, you will have a clearer image of how your employees fit together as a team, complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If you’re unsure of which assessments are available to you, there are many free resources online, such as the Myer’s Briggs Personality Assessment (link) or True Colours (link) that can help guide your conversation.

Have regular performance meetings: Once you have an understanding of the different strengths and weaknesses within your team, you can initiate ongoing conversations surrounding self-awareness and professional development with your employees. For example, if you have an employee who is now conscious of her tendency to dismiss others’ ideas during meetings, your coaching conversations should involve improving her open-mindedness.

Delegate with differences in mind: Having a better understanding of your employees will help you understand what tasks are best suited to which employees, which can improve motivation and job satisfaction, as people are more likely to perform better at tasks they enjoy doing. When possible, identify tasks that highlight the strengths of your employees, such as delegating a business development task to an employee who is sociable and shines in a networking setting.

Support weaknesses: It’s important not to ignore weaknesses as they surface during this process. Encourage your employees to embrace areas where they can build and learn from you and your colleagues.

Encourage team building: While understanding is a big step to managing differences on a team, making an effort to build team and encouraging relationship-building is equally important. Encourage your employees to get to know each other, either informally or through team-building activities, so that they can get a clearer picture of WHO their colleagues really are. This builds mutual empathy and an appreciation between colleagues, so that even if some elements of a person are frustrating or difficult to deal with, your employees are able to see positive elements of their colleagues as well.

Do you see a variety of differences among the people in your business? How have you leveraged strengths and weaknesses on your team? I look forward to your thoughts below!


What Kind of Networker are You?

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My last blog focused on the importance of business networking as a tool that can be used to build your business’ brand and expand your professional contacts. Finding your fit and incorporating networking into your business plan and regular schedule can greatly increase the benefits of taking part in different networking functions and platforms.

Your next step is to uncover what kind of personality you adopt when in a networking situation. Do you make the first move? Are you a card collector? Find out what your networking style is from the descriptions below.

The Observer: You often hang back in networking situations and soak up what is going on around you. You prefer one-on-one conversations, so you often engage in conversations with individuals who are seated at your table. Your professional network is small, but you are close with each individual contact. Try to find networking situations where one-on-one conversation is encouraged and focus on making solid connections with those you speak too. It’s about quality over quantity, after all. Make sure that you commit to following up with connections made.

The Reactor: You are open to making as many connections as possible, but you prefer to be approached rather than make the first move yourself. You prefer to look for some kind of connection or association with someone rather than completely cold contact. You also like to follow-up with someone about specific questions or information rather than a general or vague follow-up. Because of these tendencies, don’t worry about bothering potential contacts, because your subtle approach and specific questions do not come on too strong.

The Socializer: As a socializer, you are looking to make a friend in any situation. You are good with faces and names but not as strategic in understanding how you can create mutually beneficial business connections. Because of your social, friendly, nature, adopting more systematic follow-up after networking events will complement your strengths and make networking worth your while.

Initiator: You are an active networker, but take a balanced approach to forming professional connections with people. You seek diverse networking opportunities that fit your style and include others in conversation. You are an excellent relationship builder in that you seek to understand others’ perspective and unique selling point and contribute useful information to conversations. As an initiator, you understand the difference between selling and helping and seek to make long-term relationships with others.

Director: A director is strategic and methodical about networking. You are very present in a variety of networking circles and your name pops up a lot in different settings. Make sure that your networking efforts are focused and you approach networking as a means to relationship build versus solely trying to expand your network. When you make people feel valued, they are more willing to engage with you and your message!

Every networking personality has unique strengths – which category do you fall under? Which personality do you prefer interacting with? I look forward to your thoughts below.


What Kind of Networking is Right for You?

Business Networking

Networking is an important aspect of business, yet most business owners become wary of networking events and wonder if the time set aside to attend these functions is worth their effort. From my experience, a shift in how we look at networking is required in order to see a return on your investment by way of new business and increased professional contacts.

In order to reframe your experience with building your professional network, there are a few things to remember that will help keep your perspective:

Find your Fit: Whether you participate in Boards of Trade or groups based on your industry or the size of your business, be prepared to take some time to understand what networking avenue is best for you. Networking is not “one-size-fits-all”, and what works for a B2C company may not work for your B2B enterprise. Do your homework and find the right fit for your business goals.

Commit to it: Business owners are busy. If networking is a priority for you, you need to be prepared to invest the time to commit to your networking goals. Attending an event once every couple of months may not yield the results you are looking for because successful networking requires regular contact and attendance. Make a commitment that works with your schedule and understand that the process of networking will be slower if you have less time to devote to it.

Quality vs. Quantity: When you do attend a networking event that you think is a good fit for you, avoid the impulse to talk to every person in the room and collect as many business cards as you can. In an hour or two, you are only capable of making quality connections with a handful of people. Instead, ensure you spend your time making a deeper connection with a few people, asking questions and learning about their business. By focusing on conversations with just a few people, you are building a foundation from which you can uncover how you can each benefit from the other.

Helping vs. Selling: Remembering to focus on mutual benefits cannot be overstated when it comes to networking successfully for your business. You do not want to go into a networking event with the sole purpose of trying to sell your product or service. Instead, try to uncover how you can help the people you engage with. Once you have a built a relationship, it is much easier to bring business in because your contacts will be that much more willing to work with you as a person.

Don’t discount informal networking: Networking doesn’t only occur in a formal structured setting. As a business owner you meet people in social settings and using the “helping vs. selling” approach you can develop new contacts and opportunities.

What kind of networking works for your business? How important is networking to your business, and how do you plan on including it in your schedule? I look forward to your thought below.


The CASL Countdown is On – Are you Ready?

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If you are a business-owner and have not yet heard of CASL, you have just over a month left to prepare yourself and your business.

What is CASL?

CASL stands for Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation, and it’s purpose is to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating commercial conduct that discourages the use of electric means to carry out commercial activities.

In short, the legislation attempts to ensure that all contact you initiate for your business electronically is information that your recipients want (i.e have consented) to receive.  Electronic communication, in this case, applies to email, SCS and Social Media direct messaging (LinkedIn In-mail, Twitter and Facebook messaging).

The legislation refers to messages whose purpose is to encourage participation in a commercial activity within the content of the message – offers to purchase, sell, lease a product, goods or services or the promotion of a public person as well as any advertising of these things.

According to the legislation, after July 1st, 2014 you could be penalized as an individual up to $1-million dollars, and as an organization, up to $10-million dollars!

Now, that you know what CASL is, how do you prepare yourself and your communications plan so that you are compliant with the legislation?

How Do You Comply?

  1. Proof of Consent for each email or other types of electronic communication
    1. Divide your emails into three groups: Expressed (“Yes, I want to receive this information”) Implied (those you have done prior business with, or collected business cards, but have not received Expressed Consent) and Unknown
    2. Review and change wording wherever you collect emails, ensuring that you make it clear that submitting an email address is proof of Consent to receive further information
  2.  An unsubscribe process in every digital communication
    1. Should be immediate and automated, but the legislation gives you 10 business days to remove the unsubscribed recipients from you lists
  1. Documented date and type of each consent
  1. Sending out electronic communications after July 1, 2014 should include:
    1. The name of the person sending the email or the name of the person is being sent of behalf of
    2. Contact information for the subscriber to access the organization sending the email

CASL does not have to be a frightening change in the way that you do business after July 1st, 2014. But it will take your diligent preparation to ensure that your business is ready for the change. This is a good and necessary reason to spend time with your email lists, to organize and understand them. You will need to ensure that whenever you are collecting an email to add to your list, that you have a process for your recipient to Opt-In to receive your information, in hard copy, on your website, etc.

Most importantly, use your networks and fellow business-owners to share ideas and learn new ways to tackle the roadblocks that the legislation presents.

For more information visit: http://fightspam.gc.ca/

Had you heard of CASL before reading this blog? How are you preparing for July 1st? What are you most concerned about? I look forward to your thoughts below.