Private Schools – Handling Professional Enquiries: Are You Failing At The Follow Up?

Across the UK, a huge percentage of private schools are failing to retain the interest of potential clients for one simple and easily amendable reason: neglecting the ‘follow-up’. Failing to ‘follow-up’ on an enquiry or visit means that your school is bypassing a vital ‘conversion window’, during which clients are most amenable to negotiation, and therefore more likely to be converted from a potential client into the parent of one of your students. Ignoring the client in this window could be perceived as a lack of interest and more crucially, an indifference towards the individual needs of the client and his or her child. So, what is the ‘follow-up’ rule, and where are you going wrong?

insight6 partners a number of independent schools, sending a team of our Researchers to assess the standards of customer service. Looking at a sample of reviews from schools prior to working with insight6 there was a lack of aftercare for potential clients, which may well have contributed to their disinclination to pursue business with the school. Once an initial enquiry has been made, it is vital that the client be contacted shortly afterward to resolve any outstanding concerns, and to lay the first stepping-stones towards securing their business. If a client is left to pursue the school of their own accord, your school risks their interest waning, or shifting towards other establishments with better customer service structures in place; there will be plenty of competitors poised to take the initiative where you did not. A ‘follow-up’ conversation is paramount to retaining your potential client’s attention, and should be thought of as part of the natural flow between handling a preliminary enquiry and enrolling a new student.

To ensure a successful school-client ‘courtship’, the ‘follow-up’ should be implemented in two stages: after the client’s initial enquiry, and then after their visit to the school. According to our Customer Experience Reviews (CX Reviews), the treatment received during these stages was lacking in a variety of ways, but most significantly during the immediate aftermath of correspondence. Whilst school’s often put effort into strengthening their front of house department to ensure that preliminary enquiries are handled with professionalism, it is crucial to note that a high standard of customer service needs to extend beyond a cheerful greeting and a pleasant phone attitude, and into the ‘follow-up’ phase.

A primary interaction with a possible client does not stop once the web or phone enquiry has ended. The ‘follow-up’ should be thought of as an additional step to this interaction, and a vital part of it. By implementing a set waiting period of 3 – 5 days, after which a ‘follow-up’ will be made if the client has not gotten back in touch, your school will stand out amongst others, and increase your prospects of gaining the client’s trust.

According to the sample insight6 looked at, only 41% of potential clients received a ‘follow-up’ call after their initial phone conversation, prior to working with insight6, meaning that over half (59%) of those that make an enquiry are not pursued by the school, despite indications that they may want to book a visit or learn more about what the school has to offer. Without a clear indication that their custom is wanted, clients may feel that their child is not being given precedence, which can be a deterrent from further attempts to form a relationship with the school.

In the initial stages of forming a relationship with your client, it is of the utmost importance that they are made to feel as though their needs are being prioritised. A ‘follow-up’ phone call to provide updates, and to remind the client of the school’s assets, is a small but enormously effective tool in eliminating any doubts about their importance to you.

Whilst it may seem obvious, an often neglected but important step to remember when dealing with any new client is to ensure their contact information is collected. According to our sample, less than half of potential clients had their details taken at the first point of contact. Not only does this lack of foresight immediately cancel out any chance of a ‘follow-up’, the message sent to clients is one of unprofessionalism and disinterest. The significance of making a record of even a small enquiry cannot be overlooked, as the ‘follow-up’ that will stem from this record could be the key.

Another step is to set an appropriate time for the ‘follow-up’ call with the prospective client where possible. This way, he or she immediately knows that they are being taken seriously, and that their child’s potential enrolment is important enough to the school to be pursued at a later date.

Your school is in its most advantageous position to convince a client to enrol their child just after a tour of the school has been given. Tours of the establishment are proven to be an effective way of attracting business. This is why it is once again vital to ensure a ‘follow-up’ takes place in the small window of time between the visit ending and the client having the chance to explore alternatives. Your staff will have worked hard to create a vibrant impression of the offer on the tour but the longer the ‘follow-up’ is left, the duller the impression of the visit becomes.in your client’s mind. The advantages of your establishment, however strongly impressed, can be diluted by the indifference of the school afterwards; the hard work your team put in to gain a rapport with the client or child may well be undone. Establishing a clear time and date for a follow-up call with your client is a simple but extremely effective tool to use to prevent this from happening. Just by reaching out to remind the client of your interest in them, and to thank them for their visit, you could distinguish yourself as a more personalised, caring establishment than your competitors.

Finally, the ‘follow-up’ call in itself should be representative of the high standards set by your school; your staff should understand the goal of the conversation – whether this is to answer any previous queries, to provide further information, or to schedule a visit to the school.  Data from our sample shows that in only 33% of cases did the school follow up with the client within that ideal 3 – 5 day window prior to working with insight6. Moreover, none of our Researchers reported any enthusiasm whatsoever from the staff member they were speaking within the ‘follow-up’ call, and no indication that the school had been doing anything to resolve their concerns.

A school’s reputation for professionalism is at risk in these small errors – as for example in not knowing the client’s name or being unable to recall previous conversations – and in this period, when a client is still forming their opinion of the school, you cannot afford oversights. The client is the priority, and needs to be treated as such by all of your team, including those that handle the customer service department.

Following on from this, your staff should be aware that professional conduct extends to every possible outcome of a client enquiry, even if that is an eventual decision to abandon the pursuit if it is not right for them. Your customer service department is the voice of your school, and represents the way you handle all matters, including disappointment. Leaving a negative impression here is undoubtedly a reputational risk, which is easily avoided through appropriate staff training and guidance.

Here at insight6, we are dedicated to identifying the weaker areas in your customer service department, but also to provide the tools with which to improve. Our thorough training and development sessions are a simple and effective way to teach your staff the importance of the ‘follow-up’, along with other strategies that will guarantee a more successful rate of attracting and keeping business.

Our sessions are tailored to your school’s needs, and provide interesting, interactive, fun methods of helping your staff to reach their highest potential as customer experience providers. During these stringent economic times, it is not an option for your school to be anything less than airtight in all departments, so that clients showing interest cannot be left to slip through the cracks. Paying attention to the small but significant details, making your client feel cared for and important and offering a truly personalised service are sure-fire ways to distinguish yourself amongst the sea of indifference that our research suggests can flow from many establishments.

The ‘follow-up’ is an easily implemented, inexpensive and incredibly effective tool; try making it front and centre stage of your business strategy and see where that takes you!

 

The One Thing

In our newsletter, blog posts and articles on LinkedIn, we have written about a vast range of topics over the past few years, incorporating a variety of contributors and sometimes experimenting with different styles and formats.

We work with hundreds of UK businesses in a diverse range of sectors including opticians, attractions, legal firms, independent schools, farm shops and care homes. Despite a fickle UK customer service attitude, in all its breadth and depth, and irrespective of a fluctuating economic marketplace, Shopper Anonymous has succeeded over a period of almost two decades. Why? Because one thing never changes. People like great customer service.

With so much involvement in so many different businesses, we have thought carefully about the ‘one thing’ you need to do in 2018 to drive your business to the next level. After much thought and discussion, our top tip for increasing your customer base would be content marketing.

Seth Godin, American author and former dot com business executive once said that “content marketing is the only marketing left.” Seth made a point of emphasising that marketers should be creating content that their audience cares about — not just re-purposed advertisements.

Content creation is not always easy. You cannot simply pick up a pen, or keyboard, and write a few lines about why your customer needs your services or products in their life. Nor can you go in for the hard sell and try to convince your customer why they MUST engage in a relationship with you. Content marketing requires a firm understanding of your audience and a vision which links your business goals to the nature and topic of your content.

If you are to launch into January determined to reap the benefits of a successful content marketing campaign you will need:

  • a documented strategy,
  • a clear understanding of your audience,
  • creativity (or assistance from people who are creative!)
  • meaningful goals and metrics,
  • a willingness to experiment, and most importantly,

Creating A Great Content Strategy In Seven Successful Steps

There is an abundance of research about what makes great content and there are many courses and training modules on the science behind successful content marketing.

Rather than go into the intricacies, we have developed seven simple steps to get you started on, or to re-inspire, your content marketing strategy.

  1. Your message

What is your message? What would you like to offer your audience? Will your content be educational, informative, humorous, casual, friendly or professional? Do you wish to become a thought leader in your area of expertise? What can you offer your customer that will make them remember your name and want to look out for your next post or article?

  1. Consider your audience.

You might think that your content is gold dust, capable of changing lives, but it will fall flat if you are targeting the wrong audience.

  1. Focus on quality not quantity.

Your content may not make an impact if your reader is tuned out by the second paragraph. Google considers 200 words to be thin content and research points to the theory that 1200 words results in better leads. Whatever length your blog posts or articles are, make every word count.

  1. Deliver content that is different from your competitors.

Be original. Subscribe to many different blogs and newsletters, get a feel for the common themes, honour the relevance of seasonal, political, social or economic issues but be creative and be different.

  1. Deliver content consistently.

Two fantastic articles per year are not enough. Content marketing is a slow burn; you must deliver regular content over time so your customers learn to expect your newsletters or blogs and begin to value them.

  1. How to distribute your content?

Which platform is appropriate for you? You may be churning out outstanding masterpieces but if you are posting them all on LinkedIn and your customers don’t even have a profile, you are missing the mark. Facebook and Instagram continue to be successful channels for B2C, however LinkedIn will continue to dominate the B2B arena in 2018, especially now that it supports video.

  1. Which metrics will you use to measure the success of your content delivery?

Measuring traffic, (online or footfall), monitoring user demographics, assessing the reach of your content and the conversion rates must all be considered if you are to make accurate judgements on what works and what doesn’t.

It’s not as daunting a task as it seems. You are an expert in your field. Your customers appreciate you because of that. So simply take some time out, consider the seven steps above and write a draft. Always use a fresh pair of eyes to go over your article, then get it out there. Start small and develop as your confidence grows. Or make a commitment to using one of the thousands of content writers out there. By the end of 2018 you will have a wealth of content that could well be your most effective marketing strategy yet.

Jonathan Winchester

Can The Independent Food Retailers Survive?

The bi-annual UK Customer Satisfaction Index has just been published by the Institute of Customer Service and for the third consecutive year, Amazon tops the list. In fact, there are no real surprises in the list at all; First Direct, John Lewis, Jet2Holidays.com, Next, Subway and Aldi were all in the top ten. The bottom performers were New Look, TSB, Skoda UK and Iceland. Eight of the twenty ‘most improved’ organisations were utilities companies which is a much anticipated and welcome change and yet I can’t say I’ve had a surge of customer love from any of my utility suppliers!

According to the UKCSI July report, 28% of consumers favoured excellent customer service, even if it meant paying more, compared with 15% who were motivated by the cheapest deal.

It would appear that the statistics back up the premise that excellent customer service is worth paying for. This is good news – no news to us at Shopper Anonymous of course as most of our customer relationships are built on that very premise.

Core ingredients of excellent customer service – employee competence, attitudes and behaviour – have become even more significant differentiators,” said Ms Causon of the ICS.

“Mass marketing or a ‘one size fits all’ customer experience is delivering diminishing returns and diluting valuable customer relationships.”

So if the larger companies with huge buying power like Amazon continue to deliver excellence in customer service and a speedy delivery service, does this signal a danger bell for smaller retailers? And how much are we prepared to pay for excellent customer service?

The biggest warning bell of the decade resounded throughout the aisles of independent supermarkets and farm shops last month after Amazon finally launched its fresh grocery service in the UK.  The retail giant has begun delivering groceries in 70 north and east London postcodes and anticipates offering same-day deliveries with access to high quality local stores such as Gail’s Artisan Bakery, Daylesford Organic and chocolatier Paul A Young. With the combination of same day delivery and access to quality produce, who wouldn’t want to make Amazon a ‘Prime’ friend, particularly if they offer superb customer service.

The online grocery market is expected to nearly double in value to £17.2bn over the next 4 years, according to food and grocery research body IGD, while supermarket sales will fall by nearly 3% to £69.6bn. Businesses with an online presence only such as Amazon and Ocado are expected to benefit the most from this growth in home delivered groceries whilst the current market leader Tesco, which controls about 40% of the online grocery market, could lose out.

And if same day delivery and excellent service isn’t enough to sway the average customer, the range of products might be the game-changer. Amazon is expected to have over 130,000 products which far exceeds the other main operators; Ocado boasts about 48,000 items while Tesco has about 70,000. The average Asda or Sainsbury’s superstore carries less than 40,000.

With such an impressive and reliable ability to deliver, will shoppers continue to venture out of their homes or offices to take a physical trip to the local supermarket? Certainly, in London and other large cities with a predominance of young, urban, working families, home delivery means more time to work or socialise so there is little doubt about their shopping habits. It remains a generational habit still, with many middle to older aged shoppers preferring to use the local shops and continue with decade-old habits.

Survival techniques for the smaller retailers are many and varied with some local supermarkets near me organising day trips out and excursions to West End shows, in addition to cooking demonstrations from Celebrity Chefs. Seasonal and social occasions are being promoted as a way of enticing customers into the store and buying loyalty.

Other independent retailers offer loyalty programmes and their own home deliveries with personal touches.

Amazon may have plans to take over the world and they may have the winning formula to do so, but the independents will fight a worthy battle if they continue to value their customers on a personal level; something Amazon simply cannot do.

Jonathan Winchester, Chief Executive, Shopper Anonymous (UK) Ltd

Why Thought Leaders Are Worth Thinking About

Whatever your services or product, it is no longer enough to be a business name in the background with a catalogue of items that you hope will jump off the shelf, or the web page, into the hands of your customers. In our blog, Let’s Get Engaged, we talk about the importance of creating a relationship with your customers and of offering more than just a ‘product’ and, unfortunately, it’s a concept that some businesses are still struggling with.

What differentiates you from your competitors? Great price? Reliable service or product? Customer-focused attitudes? Possibly.

Customers are seeking more. They want a relationship, and they want to feel that you are working hard to earn their respect.

One way to elevate your business and truly engage with customers is to become a ‘thought leader’. Thought leaders are informed and knowledgeable experts in their field; the go-to people who offer reliable and current information, who seem successful and innovative and who are ready to engage customers rather than just sell.

It is possible to work on becoming a thought leader, whatever industry you are in. For example, opticians have an opportunity to become experts or thought leaders on eye health, farm shops could frequently publish about sustainable living and legal firms might become the font of knowledge for wills. The whole idea of setting yourself up as a thought leader is that your name becomes associated with a particular area of expertise. When your customer, or potential customer, needs the services or product you provide, your name is the first name they think of as they already TRUST you.

Sadly, earning the status of a thought leader doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long term goal that requires constant nurturing. So how do become a thought leader…..?

How Do You Become A Thought Leader?

Generally speaking, thought leadership means having an informed point of view and broad knowledge about your industry and the issues that affect it. Thought leaders rely on content marketing to elevate their status to ‘experts in their field’ and regularly provide content on their speciality topic through digital channels, customer communications and seminars, conventions, exhibitions, etc. Content may include blogs, published articles on LinkedIn, newsletters, workshops or vlogs.

es, increased customer loyalty as well as more initial enquiries which can be converted to sales and greater lifetime value.

Thought leadership helps your content stand out among your competitors and if you’re social media savvy, or employ someone who is, you need to publish or promote your content frequently on a variety of channels.

Becoming a thought leader will not happen overnight. Indeed, it may never happen if you don’t have the confidence or clarity to speak about your passion (your business) in an authoritative way.

How To Use Thought Leadership For Success

Our five tips on how to become, and then promote yourself as, a thought leader:

  1. Identify a topic that is closely associated with your brand. Actively present yourself as being an expert on that topic (make sure you are, of course!). Publish often, on a variety of platforms and ask for feedback.
  2. Do some research and take note of any competitors who publish content in your space. Observe their habits and ideas. Follow experts in other countries and expand your reading.
  3. Identify the questions your customers are asking. Provide answers or solutions to those questions across multiple platforms in a way that adds value to your audience. Ensure your content is relevant to your audience. Go further and identify the questions your customers aren’t asking YET!
  4. Be innovative and varied in delivering your content; use all available channels of social media and try different methods of spreading your knowledge such as seminars, workshops, downloadable booklets, etc. Use humour and be very ‘relatable’.
  5. Ask for feedback and encourage conversations or discussions on your content. Be responsive and check in regularly to update or add to any ongoing discussion. Your aim is to educate your customer but remember they won’t always see things from your perspective. Viral comedy videos might be your idea of humour, but they won’t appeal to everyone.

You cannot simply pop up as a thought leader overnight. Building credibility and trust takes time and effort. But don’t underestimate your potential as a thought leader. If you know your skill or product well, consider yourself an expert and want to engage with customers, start promoting yourself. You may reap the rewards in a year or so and find yourself elevated to a far greater soapbox than you had anticipated.

 

The Three Things You Must Do To Increase Your Profits Today

Customer engagement strategy? Or outdated marketing plan based on figures and historic patterns? Believe it or not there are still many business leaders out there who sit in their offices and ponder the best ways to launch a new product, develop a new marketing campaign or sign up new business without acknowledging the one most important factor in all of these plans; the customer.

The rapid explosion of digital technology means that your customer can rate or decimate your reputation in seconds. Customers have, in their hands at all times, access to you, your products, your reviews and their own relationship history with you. Customers want, and expect, immediate solutions, prompt resolutions and educational and/or entertaining content. Customers want relationships.

Forward thinking market leaders now recognise that customer engagement is key to maximising profit and are already placing greater emphasis on driving customer value, loyalty and retention.

If you’re not of the view that customer experience is destined to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator in the future, you are now in the minority.

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The customer of today is more informed and more in control of the experience they receive. Customers expect businesses to know their individual needs and preferences and often expect their experience to be customised for them.

Statistics now saturate most B2B marketing reports and social media platforms such as LinkedIn and the message is usually the same:

Loyal customers are 5 x as likely to repurchase, 5 x as likely to forgive, 7 x as likely to try a new offering, and 4 x as likely to refer. (Temkin Group)

The customer of today expects more than polite, friendly service. They want to feel valued, to be listened to and to feel that they matter to you. If you treat your customers with that criteria in mind you will win a lifetime supporter whose value could be worth more than a new customer.

So instead of simply focusing on expanding your customer database, there are three simple things you can do to improve your profits immediately:

  • Develop strategies to retain your existing customer database
  • Improve your customer engagement
  • Maximise your customer lifetime value

1.    Develop Strategies To Retain Your Existing Customer Database

A repeat customer spends 67% more than a new one (BIA/Kelsey).

What are you doing to retain your existing customers?

  • Are you updating them on new products or services?
  • Do you offer incentives to draw them back?
  • Do you invite them to stay in touch and perhaps share their experience with others?
  • Do you offer competitions or draws to make them feel valued?
  • Do you create opportunities to ask for their feedback and views?

There are pages of statistics devoted to showing the worth of the repeat customer and the pattern is clear for obvious reasons. If a customer already has a relationship with you and likes what you offer, they will return, unless you give them a reason NOT to.

2.    Improve Your Customer Engagement

Engaging with your customer is much more than a simple ‘hello’ as they enter your premises or site. Customers want to feel loved and appreciated. They need to feel that if there is a problem, it will be handled confidently.

  • How often do you engage with your customer? If it is only during your transaction you are not really engaging your customer.
  • Do you stay in their minds by keeping in contact with them?
  • Do you have a weekly or monthly newsletter?
  • Do you have seasonal events or occasions to invite them back?
  • Is every member of your team aware of the need to make your customer feel special? It’s a culture. Spread the intent throughout the whole team.

3.    Maximise Your Customer Lifetime Value

My father only ever owned a Ford. He loved the cars and said he always received great service. His local dealer knew him, addressed him by name and always had his favorite paper in the waiting room when he took his car for a service. He was a lifetime customer and no amount of persuading would encourage him to defect.

  • Reward your longstanding customers.
  • Pay attention to the little things; that’s what makes your customer feel special.
  • Be honest and transparent at all times.
  • Effective customer engagement calls for a thorough understanding of the customer. Make sure you KNOW that your customer is a wheelchair user or works abroad.

Forward thinking businesses go to great lengths to identify their ‘typical’ customer and then attempt to create deeper parallels by matching social and ethical preferences. For example, businesses that advertise charitable work or sustainable or eco-friendly ethics publicise these values and attract like-minded customers.

Customer lifetime value is one of the most important metrics in your business toolbox.

In this age of the empowered customer, businesses must look forward to develop better customer engagement strategies. Being reactive does not work in the arena of customer relationships; it’s about being proactive, about noticing and predicting your customer intelligence and using big data to provide customer mapping. It’s about being sure your customer journey is great – in every regard and at all times.

“It’s very critical that we are honest and provide value every single day to our customers, because otherwise they won’t renew. It’s a culture of taking care of your customers, not just once a year or once a quarter when you need to sell and make your number, but increasing value to our customers throughout the entire year.” —Gabriel Szulik, Red Hat

The expectations of the 21st century customer are complex and multi-faceted. Competition is fierce and digital platforms flood your customer’s inbox or newsfeed with attractive offers every second. And yet the answer to a healthier bottom line is so simple. Love your customer. Your customer engagement strategy should be front, back and middle of any business strategy if you are to grow and create solid foundations for future profits. And the mantra again…….LOVE YOUR CUSTOMER!

Have You Got A Mayday Button?

Those of us who walk in the customer’s shoes each day of our working life are feeling pretty smug right now. The stage is well and truly set for a customer-centric world and we are, of course, embracing it with open arms.

Most decision makers in business are aware that customer experience must now be a top agenda issue, although these decision makers are often still using antiquated or ineffective tools (often in-house) to measure their customer service offering.

Fortunately, business leaders are also now recognising the urgent need to prevent poor service. The cost of poor or substandard customer service is enormous and given society’s desire to broadcast the good, the bad and the very ugly to the world via social media, the cost to any business could be fatal. The saturation of social media can mean that your business name could be spread across the world in a matter of hours if you fail spectacularly in the customer service arena. The most famous examples that spring to mind are Twitter and the ‘Bendgate’ scandal (The iPhone 6plus bending in your back pocket) and YouTube’s ‘United Breaks Guitars’ (a very disgruntled guitar owner wrote a song about United Airlines damaging his guitar in transit). Whilst large companies like Apple and United can survive such negative media, can your business? Even without social media, people talk. A bad experience encountered in your environment can mean the loss of loyalty of that customer and his seven friends, and their families and their contacts, etc.

Customers are now very firmly in control and their voice will only become louder as the marketplace responds to their demands which are often amplified to the ears of the world. Customers now expect to get results at a tap; immediate, pain free solutions are not just desired but expected. If an order, purchase or expectation doesn’t go to plan, customers expect an immediate solution.

Some businesses are now embracing social media and using a multi-channel reach to engage with customers and to show their dedication to excellence in customer service. The battle is on to provide unique and customer-pleasing services to make their customers’ lives easier:

  • Nationwide Building Society now has a dedicated social media team and has just launched a Facebook page to answer questions and promote its products.
  • In the US, Jeans Online and Lamoda now have a delivery service where the courier will wait 15 minutes whilst you try on the products then they will return unwanted items. No more printing off returns labels, trekking to the post office and often paying for the return postage.
  • The Amazon Mayday button connects Kindle Fire HDX tablet owners to an Amazon customer service representative via webcam. Among tablet owners, 75% of customer service interactions occur via the button.
  • Spotify and Apple music offer immediate, live access to any song you could think of (for a monthly membership fee); you’d be hard-pressed to find a teenager with a CD collection these days!

Those businesses who continually think like the customer, and devise solutions and gimmicks to appeal, are the businesses that will continue to delight their customers and retain loyalty. Loyalty equals repeat business – repeat business equals increased profits.

To be viable in the future marketplace, businesses must use big data to create a truthful acknowledgment of who their customer really is and be proactive in all relations with them. Embracing customer intelligence and social media will not be enough if companies hang on to the premise that it’s all about the product. Customers want more. It’s not about the product. It’s about the relationship you create with your customer and only then is it about the product.

Looking at your own business, when was the last time you focussed on ‘delighting your customer?’. Using our four examples of on-trend customer love, here are a few ideas to take your business to the next level:

  • If Nationwide has a Facebook page, it must be time you did. What is your presence on social media like? Do you know what social media platforms your customers are using? Have you asked your customers where they find their information about products or services that are relevant to them? How do you update your customer database on new developments, products, services, occasions etc.?
  • I have two teenage daughters both of whom I know would exclusively use the online jeans delivery company who waits while they try the jeans on. When the millennial generation want something they want it NOW. And they want it without complications. With this ability to ‘bring the range to you’ who wouldn’t be happy? We all have busy lives; we don’t shop as we used to. What have you done in your business to make your customers’ lives easy? Think about it from their point of view, walk in their shoes. What obstacles do they encounter and how can YOU help to overcome them?
  • A mayday button on your tablet? An immediate response at your fingertips? This technology makes Siri seem a little ‘last year’. What’s your mayday button like? How can customers contact you if they need to? Are your phone numbers correct and visible? Will your phone be ANSWERED? Are your hours limited to 9 to 5? Your customers don’t live in a 9 to 5 world – it’s a 24/7 landscape in 2015 so how will you meet your customer queries?
  • Spotify, Apple music and Amazon provide digital downloads of music, video or TV to your fingertips immediately. Digital platforms have the technology to deliver. Fingertip control makes a customer’s life easier as mobile devices become a standard part of our morning dress code. What can you do to be present on your customer’s mobile device? An App, a link to a blog or newsletter, photos of your environment, product or services sent out. Be present, be visible and be relevant.

If you haven’t prioritised your journey into the world of the customer, you may be missing the boat and missing the profits. The market place is changing so rapidly you cannot afford to dismiss Facebook or Instagram as a fad. The way information reaches our children is vastly different to our own experience. It’s not a case of being ready, it’s a case of being ready to be ready – to embrace the changes that will emerge over the next decade. Take a walk in your customer’s shoes today, then think about ways to delight, surprise and provide for them – they will reward you with their loyalty

Why Eight Out Of Ten Is Not Good Enough

This is the age of the customer. Yes, the customer is king, queen and ruler of our retail landscape. I remember decades ago when my purchases were made on one of two determiners; was the product or service that I required within actual driving distance or, was it a price I could afford?

In the 21st century marketplace of online shopping and efficient delivery systems, driving distance rarely matters. Sure, the product has to be affordable but it’s usually a choice of 20 or 200 providers. My choice as a consumer is like a web of bottomless options and vivid, ‘in-your-face’ demands for attention.

As the market shifts from a transactional to a relationship economy, it is no longer enough to just sell the product or service you offer; it’s about building a relationship, fostering a rapport and making your customer feel special. This is not news to many business leaders, particularly those savvy enough to have put the customer at the heart of their business for years.  It comes as no real surprise then that one of the key findings in the July 2015 report from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) reiterates exactly that; a long term focus on the quality of relationships with customers is critical in ensuring your business thrives in the current economy.

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The report shows a three-year trend of a very strong link between customer satisfaction, sales growth and market share. The simple fact is, those businesses with the most satisfied customers have outperformed their competitors.

The latest UK customer satisfaction report also highlights a rather frightening statistic for many businesses who assume their customer service is good. Good is not enough. Great is not enough. Outstanding is what is required if your customer service is to translate to profit.

Joanna Causon, Chief Executive of ICS, states that:

‘……..(in terms of customer satisfaction) organisations need to be aiming for a nine or ten out of ten rating if they aspire to build sustained and trusted customer relationships.’

Smart businesses now place the improvement of the customer experience at the top of their agenda. Reducing costs, increasing profits, advertising, staffing matters and the other priorities that each business faces are all dropping down the list to clear a space for the most important factor; does my customer feel special? Special enough to come back, special enough to invest more time and money with me, special enough to become a fan and rave about me to others, special enough to lock into a lifetime of loyalty?

Businesses need to understand, far more than ever before, how customers think and behave. The customer focus should permeate ALL levels of the business. Customer service is an attitude not a department. We know this, we are taught these mantras every day, but are we really offering outstanding customer service? I mean outstanding in the eyes of the customer, not outstanding in your view!

The ICS research shows that many companies are still not thinking this way yet, and therein lies your opportunity to stride ahead and reap the rewards (profits!).

What do you need to do to achieve that magical ten out of ten in customer satisfaction? When was the last time you reviewed your customer service from the customer’s perspective? Have you made the mistake of settling into last decades’ golden rule of developing good customer relationships? Good is not enough.

The five tips below should set you on the path to full marks.

Fast-Track Five Steps To Loving Your Customer.

  • Identify Who Your Customer Is

Who IS your customer and what do they really want? If you don’t know your customer, how are you going to offer them what they really want? Use exit surveys to establish how your customer felt about their experience at that very moment.

  • Involve The Customer

Ask for their views, their feedback, their ideas. Use feedback tools, hold focus groups, have customer days with free tastings, samplings, services or community based events.  At the start of May, Morrisons announced plans to roll back self-service checkouts in favour of staffed express tills after listening to their customers.

  • Have A Customer Loyalty Programme

I recently changed brands simply based on the fact that my preferred choice didn’t have a loyalty programme. Admittedly, once I’d analysed the tangible benefits of the competitors’ loyalty programme it didn’t equate to a huge saving or bonus, but it’s about how I felt. I feel special, valued and rewarded when there is a loyalty plan. I will, therefore, remain loyal to that one brand.

  • Use Social Media

You might not like it but your customers do, especially the millennials. Highly successful marketing campaigns are now run frequently on social media. Many attractions and small businesses have active social media accounts which they use to publish news, updates, new developments, products or services or offers. The top channels most big brands are leveraging for customer support are Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn. The younger market is addicted to Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp.

  • Be Impressive.

Be seen to be an effective leader in your field. Be trustworthy, be high profile, be responsible. Advertise your most loyal supporters, publish a newsletter, hold charitable events. You can’t fake credibility. You have to own it.

If you trawl the web you find millions of articles on why customer service matters. Until now every business has, periodically, reviewed their customer service to make sure it is good.  But in the savvy consumer age we now live GOOD is no longer enough and GREAT is just passable. If your customer service is to translate to real growth and profit, EXCEPTIONAL should be your goal. Ten out of ten should be your norm.

Let us know if we can help with true feedback on what your customers REALLY think.

Are You Over-Analysing And Under-Thinking Your Business?

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When Heineken was developing a US advertising campaign for their tequila-flavoured beer called Desperados last year, they experimented with two different platforms. In some states in south-eastern America, Heineken ran traditional television commercials. In other states they ran ads only on mobile phones at specific times of the day. Within three months the statistical analysis showed that Desperados had grown from zero awareness in the states where the mobile ads were run to a massive 23% awareness. This was well above the rate of awareness in the states where only television advertising was used.

Heineken’s senior media director Ron Amram, said ‘…we’re attributing the increase in brand awareness to context and personalisation. We used the right media type in front of the right person at the time when they’re most receptive.’ Heineken correctly assumed that most 20 to 30 year olds are not in front of the TV on Friday night at 9pm – they are socialising and checking their phones and social media.

What did Heineken do? Continue with a campaign for Desperados that is entirely focused on mobile devices. They’ve used statistics to change the way they advertise. In 2015, 30% of Heineken USA’s advertising budget is to be spent on digital platforms.

Whether you’re a global giant like Heineken or a single premise business in Sussex, you cannot escape the proliferation of data tools currently available. Analytics, statistics, metrics, KPIs, big data – you’ll see these terms in many, if not most, of the articles and posts you’re reading. Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and web analytics packages like KISSmetrics, all have sophisticated programmes and tools that give you metrics that matter – a true picture of your bottom line. If you’re a numbers nerd, you’ll be in your element!

Whether your marketing emphasis is through social media, email marketing or mobile marketing it is now easy to look at website traffic or click-through rates and find beautiful graphs, pie charts and neat rows of numbers shouting out the state of play. But in plain terms every graph, pie chart and display of numbers is simply revealing one truth; engagement levels.

Most businesses are becoming more and more data-centric in their decision making.

Three success metrics are pivotal to most businesses: revenue growth, return on investment and conversion rates. And with so many tools available to provide you with a very detailed analysis of who’s looking at your business you can’t ignore the appeal of looking at the artistic breakdown of facts. However, over analysing is easy. The tools are there and the picture can be clear.

But thinking is not so easy.

It’s what you do with the information that counts. How many businesses actually use the information directly to make positive changes in the business and then re-measure?

Let’s throw a figure out there. (I’m sure there is a tool that could provide me with a beautiful bar chart…..) I’m suggesting it should be a 1:5 ratio. For every one hour you spend looking at how many people have viewed your profile on LinkedIn you should spend another five hours actually improving your profile.

For every one hour you spend looking at Google’s analysis of how much traffic your website enjoyed last month, you should spend another five hours improving your website.

Many businesses have been blinded by the overuse of the ‘metrics’ term. Measurement is critical, there is no denying that. But all the spreadsheets and bar charts in the world are pointless unless you actually do something with them!

My five top tips for using metrics to make a REAL difference in your bottom line:

  1. Analyse the data and develop a three-tiered action plan; immediate changes, monthly changes and yearly changes/improvements.
  2. Make it clear who is responsible for implementing the changes.
  3. Invest in the changes – if the statistics show your website has an extremely low click through rate, employ the services of a design company which has the skills to develop a brilliant website.
  4. Follow up; set dates for future follow-ups and use metrics to hopefully show the incredible improvements!
  5. Be prepared to change direction. If you are a ‘head in the sand’ dinosaur who thinks you know what is best, don’t bother with metrics. You won’t change direction anyway. Be fully prepared to drop your own views and ideas as to what is best and FOLLOW THE DATA!

Have a great month.

Jonathan Winchester

Five Ways To Sell More …. OF ANYTHING!

I like quiet time.  It was during one of my quiet times that I started to really think about the key levers that allow businesses to sell more of what they do. Whether it be more donuts with the coffee, more legal time for your client or more rooms in your care home, what really drives your sale?

My quiet time thinking led me to five key conclusions…(oh, plus a bonus one!)….

1.     We all have to sell – get over it.  So often I hear team members telling me that they don’t sell.  They find it uncomfortable or it’s not what they were employed to do.  The plain fact is we all sell. In every action we take for our business we are selling, whether it be the brand, a service or a product. It’s just about focus.

2.     Recruitment – following on from the first point it is logical, therefore, that you recruit employees who have competent people skills and the ability to display passion and enthusiasm for the product or service you are selling. Perhaps within your interview process you could ask the prospective employee to pick up a pen and sell it to you. Encourage them to use passion and detail. How do they go about it? Do they use language that is appropriate and enthusiastic? It doesn’t matter if they stumble and hesitate. But if there is potential then you know they will be more likely to identify other sales opportunities during their working day, and encourage customers to listen to them.

3.     Goals and rewards : Great sales environments have clear and strong goals which are linked to rewards. If, at the beginning of a shift, we set a target to sell 40 desserts across 70 customers we are more likely to do it.  The challenge will be foremost in the team member’s mind. All the studies show targets are the best way to drive sales. So in the case of an accountancy firm, it may be one new client per week. Once you set the target you have the opportunity to plan how to do it.

4.     Create Incentives: The golden rule of selling is everyone likes a win. Why do people drive 40 miles to get cheaper petrol? Because they feel they have had a win. So make sure any sales offer gives the customer the win they are looking for.

5.     Learn the language: selling is not about talking its all about listening. In order to get customers to talk you need to ask them the right questions. So learn about questioning techniques. Think about the personality standing in front of you and think through which questions are going to make a real difference. Engage the customer, find out about the customer then offer the customer something specific to them. It’s all about the language.

Extra Bonus Point….(Now you feel you have won!)

Make sure you MEASURE:  You can manage nothing without measurement.  So set targets, record the result, review the effort and reward your people.

Selling is not a hard pitch or a forced sales monologue delivered by someone who is disconnected from the business. It is an integral part of every employee’s interaction with the customer. Get the five steps right and you’ll be staring at a better balance sheet within months.

Jonathan Winchester