10 tips for a Common sense approach to CRM for small companies.

Over the years, I have often been bemused by the attitudes of many running “small” companies. Whilst some behave like major corporates, others behave as if they simply do not care about winning or retaining your business.

It is well known that most new businesses fail within 3 years. Therefore, how can CRM help your company to not only stay afloat but actually grow and turn into the company you wish it to be?

Now I hear some of you saying “Ah, but how can a small company afford a CRM?”

You are assuming that by CRM, I mean software that can automate aspects of your Sales, Marketing or Customer Service processes. I am a big advocate of these systems but only when deployed properly and with appropriate, balanced consideration of the people and process transformations that need to go hand in hand with such an initiative.

In this article, I suggest 10 tips that will not cost a cent. Technology can help but the examples I will give you point to applying common sense rather than a stash of cash in delivering great customer experiences to acquire and retain customers.

  1. Look after your customers whether they are purchasing or not.

About 7 years ago, I sought some investment advice from a Financial Broker. Had he just accepted my proposal, he would have made a tidy income that day. Instead, he got to know me and talked about who I was, what I wanted out of life and my financial priorities. It was so conversational that I didn’t realise he was profiling me to see whether my proposal made sense. It didn’t and he advised against it. In fact, in the space of the next two weeks, he invested at least 8 hours of his time to persuade me against buying anything from him at that time. I was puzzled. How could he waste his time without remuneration? Nevertheless, I followed his counsel and did nothing for 6 months. My circumstances then changed so I went back to him for further advice. Same outcome. Sound advice but no cost and no purchase.

To cut a long story short, I remain a loyal customer of his and I have made decisions over the years which benefit him financially. He invested in me as a long term customer, recognising that the lifetime value of our relationship was far greater than a quick buck. He looks after me just like Tom Cruises character in the movie “Jerry Macguire” although I do not shout “Show me the money”.

Be loyal, honest and respectful to your customers so that you might expect the same in return

2. Be reliable, punctual and communicative 

One of my pet hates is unreliability. Unfortunately, it often goes hand in hand with small businesses. I cannot tell you how many times I have emailed, phoned or written to small companies yet without reply. Being late falls into this category. I don’t mind appointments being late, so long as I’m told in advance.

I recently had a great experience with a small company who I had found via Google. I rang a mobile number and got an answering service that made it clear that they were not available that day (they were updating the message on a daily basis) but promised to return all calls the next day. Sure enough, my phone rang at 9am next day where a lady clearly explained who she was and apologised for not being able to take my call the previous day. I wanted a quote which would require a site visit. Instead of overpromising, she set my expectation by saying that because demand for their service was so great, they set aside dedicated times for new quotes so that it did not interfere with completing ongoing projects. That made sense to me as I’ve often felt small business are so keen to find their next job that the existing job gets distracted. I made an appointment at their convenience and was told that they would ring me the day before to check that I was still available.

The odd thing is that once I was off the phone, I realised that I had done everything on their terms but had not minded as their professionalism was so good that I felt their service would be good too. That’s not a bad way to win new customers.  Of course, there is more to it than just that but I am impressed at their attitude which leads to my next point:

3. Act like a big business with the agility of a small business

The dichotomy of business growth is that the larger you get, the more the need for standardised processes which can often introduce more paperwork, bureaucracy and stifle innovation and agility. A good indicator of the ability to retain a small business feel is your connectivity to your customers and the subsequent brand advocacy.

Brand Advocacy occurs when your customers feel like an extension of your company and will defend/promote your company as passionately as you would. Do not confuse Brand Advocacy with big brands that people buy for a status kick. This is often only as deep as the fashion itself but true brand advocacy is where there is genuine connectivity between a company and its clients creating loyalty and referred business. The growing trend in recruiting Chief Customer Officers is an attempt to establish that customer intimacy and advocacy. For more on this, I recommend following the excellent blogs by Jeanne Bliss.

As a small business, you should be your own Chief Customer Officer and at every decision point, ask yourself what would your customers want. If you don’t know, you are not close enough to them.

4. Make a note of the detail 

A local Mexican restaurant we first visited a few years ago has achieved our loyalty through being clever enough to not only listen to its customers but to turn that listening into a revenue stream. When we first went there, the waitress asked my wife whether we were married. We confirmed this and she then asked us whether we were out for our anniversary. I said No. Before we knew it she came back with a simple form asking us for our names and anniversary date. She told me that on our next anniversary, they would treat us to a free bottle of wine as their anniversary gift to us. Over the next few visits, we realised that they were gradually finding out our birthdays, children’s names and what our favourite meals/drinks were. Interestingly, every birthday, we get a voucher posted to us for a Birthday Meal on them! When we dine there, our waitress always recommends wines to meet our preferences. We also get invites when they do “specials” on our favourite meals. This intelligence has come from just getting to know us but also tailoring their “offers” to our known likes and special dates.

I must be honest and say that the food, price and service is great but not amazing. However, we find ourselves visiting there more often and spending far more at this restaurant than we might otherwise have done so. I’ve told many locals about this experience which then brings me to my next point:

5. Referrals are critical advocacy 

Since it is up to 10 times more expensive to acquire a customer than to retain one, why don’t more businesses leverage their happy customers to gain more customers. Word of mouth is not just profitable, it is extremely powerful. Of course, whilst news of a good experience can travel fast, the speed of a bad experience will outpace the good experience significantly. One of my recent clients has a great product but they sell in an industry where there is a lot of misinformation, over representation and, historically, mis-selling. However, those who do buy are generally very satisfied and churn rates are very low. The company realised that the best way to overcome the negativity in the Sales cycle is to ask their existing Members to become a Sales team. Members are encouraged and rewarded for leads and for accompanying their own leads through the sales process. This reassures the new prospects and leverages the enthusiasm and advocacy of their friend, the existing member. It is a genuine win/win/win.

The prospect gets to buy a great product reassured and accompanied by their friends.

The member is rewarded with club benefits for the referral which increases the more they refer.

The company benefits by increased sales with a lower cost of sale. It is another benefit of creating a great customer experience. Advocacy and therefore referrals become much easier.

6. Paying attention to the smaller details can create loyalty 

Melbourne, Australia is a hub for coffee lovers. There are so many outlets, from the very small to the corporate giants yet everyone seems to have their own favourite.

One day, I was introduced to a small outlet where the queue went back around the corner yet there were only two people working in what looked like a hole in the wall. I asked my colleague whether this was the best coffee in town. He didn’t agree but he did say he wouldn’t go anywhere else. When we got to the front of the queue, the Barista greeted my colleague personally instantly knowing his preferred beverage. Not only that, he asked him how his eldest son had got on at a Football Trial and whether he had been able to finish building his new garage. As we waited for our coffee, which wasn’t quick given the queue, I noticed that the Barista seemed to know everyone in the queue and showed an interest in each and every one of them. He clearly had an amazing memory but I then realised that the loyalty was being driven by our basic human need to feel important and to be connected. I quickly became a loyal customer and thought nothing of waiting 10 to 15 minutes for my coffee. It became an outlet away from work and a part of my social calendar. It really had nothing to do with whether the blend of the coffee was any better than the competitors, although it was good!

However, one day I got served the wrong coffee and I complained. The Barista not only immediately resolved the situation by fixing me the correct brew without question but he also said “next ones on us Nick” and, of course, he didn’t forget. What a great way to treat your customers. No wonder it is such an iconic coffee spot to many of the Melbourne city workers.

7. Interact to gain honest feedback as opposed to NPS

Small businesses cannot necessarily afford full blown Net Promoter (NPS) or Customer Experience Management tools but there is a better way.

Being a smaller company, why not ask your customers for feedback directly? Explain that you are continually seeking ways of improving your service and/or product and would appreciate any suggestions. This does not mean that every suggestion needs to be applied but trends will emerge. You can also extend that to customers who do not buy or customers who do not return. Your own personalised exit interview! This intelligence will help you know how to continually sharpen your competitive edge and to keep in touch with your customers needs. The trouble with a lot of NPS initiatives is that they are simply a corporate scorecard where customers are asked the wrong questions. Small businesses can gain more insight from direct interaction and open questions.

8. Cashflow is king so reward prompt payment

Small businesses often sink or swim due to cashflow and prompt payment is of huge benefit to most small businesses. Therefore why not offer incentives for your customers to pay on time or earlier than would be normal. If you cannot afford to discount, why not add more value to your early payment offering? Being customer centric does not just mean providing service with a smile. It infers that you develop the ability to view 

9. Employ based on customer centric skills and values

If you want to develop a customer centric company, then make sure your new hires are recruited based on their alignment to these values. Build reward into their salary or compensation plans based upon customer centricity. It is easier than it sounds. You can set up an online survey for your employees to gather direct customer commendations or feedback. During interviews, ask for specific examples of them providing outstanding customer service or ask how they might resolve a customer complaint. At appraisal time, ask your customers for their feedback. As an Employee, I did this in the late 90’s and got a double promotion as a result of client feedback. It works!

10. Know your “wow” factor from a customers eyes?

Standing in the shoes of your customer might appear to be a simple task but in my experience, it is often not done or is done badly.

Your business needs a competitive “Wow” factor. It could be the Product, The Service, The Price or speed. This competitive edge is what you are proud of and when selling, it is probably the thing you are most proud of. However, is it what your customer truly needs?

Without 5pwishing to revert to the Marketing Mix basics taught at every business school, I would add that no matter what your competitive edge, you need to know what it is from a customers perspective.

I like to call this “Outside-In” thinking. You think as an outsider to apply the learnings from the perceptions internally.

Years ago, I took my family for a holiday up in the Italian Alps, north of Milan. We rented a house from an Artist who came from the village but had homes in Germany and Spain too. We loved it. We raved about it and returned frequently. One time, the owner was staying with his family in the village and came over to see us. My daughters ended up painting with him in the garden and we enjoyed a relaxing evening in his company. He apologised for the lack of garden, the clutter in his home and the lack of a parking space, promising that he would sort it all out. I asked him why he was worried about it. He replied that most guests wanted a tidy house with somewhere to park their car and relax in the garden. He saw this as very important attribute that he had neglected through not being “at home” very often. Had he stepped in our shoes, he would have seen that we loved the artistic clutter, the tiny garden afforded amazing views and that the lack of parking was more than made up for by fresh bread delivered every morning, log fires, friendly villagers and a peace and quiet that was quite unique. I’m glad he didn’t see it like that else he would have marketed it differently, charged more and we would never had been able to get a booking!!

How do your customers see your business? Nurture that wow factor as it may be something you take for granted.

Being customer centric is not necessarily about acquiring software. It is an attitude. A behaviour that is the catalyst for enlightened processes.

A painful customer experience with EasyCar

ouchWe are visiting my terminally ill Mum in the UK and hired a car through EasyCar from Manchester Airport.

We were given a little Peugeot 107 and drove off into the wind and rain currently lashing the UK. The fact that we agreed to return the car with a full tank of petrol only to find the tank empty was largely forgotten about given the circumstances of our visit. My wife drove to Dorset where we stayed with my parents. All was going well until we ventured out in the middle of a storm earlier today.

When Tina opened the boot to put groceries in the car, the wind caught the tailgate and ripped it off the car completely. Glass smashed everywhere, hitting me in the face in the process. The damage was considerable and we rang Easy Car for assistance. That is where the painful customer experience started.

damageEasyCar told us that they were just “brokers” and that we should contact their subcontractors, a company called Green Motion.

Green Motion told me that I had to contact Peugeot.

Peugeot told me it was nothing to do with them as the car was not part of their Roadside Assistance Programme. Needless to say, my patience was wearing thin. I called EasyCar again who finally called me back and told me that my only option was to get the car “patched up” and then drive the 250 miles back to Manchester to exchange it. I questioned why EasyCar could not just allow me to replace it locally and was told that it is because the car was supplied by a subcontractor, not them! This is despite me having hired the car through the EasyCar website.

Therefore, as things stand, I have a hire car that is unsafe to drive and that the hiring company will only replace if I drive it 250 miles north through the dreadful UK weather to get it replaced, all at MY cost of course.

What I am experiencing is a customer falls a long way short of my expectation. Considering that we took out additional insurances, I expected that EasyCar would organise for an immediate replacement of the vehicle. Instead, I have had nothing but hassle and am now expected to fix my own problems.

Pain can take many forms but the lesson I have learnt from my painful customer experience is never to hire a car through EasyCar again and to warn as many people as possible of doing the same.

50 Hot Tips…a treat for CX day

To deliver an exceptional and memorable customer experience is not rocket science. It is mainly common sense but then again, common sense ain’t so common. Therefore I find the research based pragmatism of Bruce Temkin very rewarding.
As a treat for Customer Experience day, here is a link to his Top 50 tips for delivering outstanding customer experiences.
Top 50 Customer Experience tips

Customer Experience Day

It’s the 1st October 2013 and it’s officially Customer Experience Day.
It is the first one and it would be nice to think that the creation of a special “day” might awaken many organisations to the philosophies and many benefits of becoming a truly customer oriented organisation.
I will be looking out for ways that Australia has “embraced” the concept of a day to celebrate.
We get a Public Holiday over here for a Horse Race so I’m ever hopeful that this thing might catch on big time!
In the meantime, here is the link to a ton of resources about the day and may this be the start of CX as a true business practice.
CX Day

I am your Customer

I am your Customer

I may also be your Supplier, your Employee, your Partner, your Student, your Stakeholder, your Consumer, your Influencer or your Citizen.

I reserve the right to voice my opinion about you, your products, your people, your services and my experience with you at any time and across any channel I want.

I reserve the right to be wrong but be treated as if I was right and reserve the right to  accuse you of being wrong, even if you were right.

I expect to be treated as if I was your only customer but I also expect to be treated as the best customer, regardless of whether I may or may not be.

I am your Customer.

However, I reserve the right to go to someone else. It is your job to stop me.

I reserve the right to shop around. It is up to you to make me loyal to your brand.

I reserve the right to expect you to get it right first time, every time even though I realise that nobody is perfect.

I reserve the right not to tell you that though.

I reserve the right to avoid telling you anything about myself although I expect you to know.

I reserve the right to expect the same “deals” as an existing customer as you would to attract new ones.

I am your customer.

I creserve the right to be difficult, annoying, irritable, demanding, irrational and a downright pain in the backside. Sometimes all at once.

However, I am YOUR customer and without me and my fellow customers, you won’t have a business. We know that and expect you to get that.

I am your customer but if you accept me on my terms, I will be your customer for life and will help you achieve your dreams.

 

 

A Banking dichotomy

A recent experience with UBank has got me wondering whether the intention to create a good customer experience has led to a bad experience?

I first want to say that I am not expressing a view in this post, merely an observation. This is in the light of a very good recent experience with UBank who are an Australian Internet bank (part of NAB- National Australia Bank) and an incident with them that may cause me to churn. Hence the dichotomy.

The Internet site is supported by an excellent 24/7 Contact Centre which appears to be very customer centric and well organised. I recently set up my Internet Banking from home using my home broadband connection which uses the only phone line coming into the house. We live in a rural location so have no mobile phone signal at home. When I went to update my personal details online, UBank sent a SMS code for me to enter onto the website to verify the change. Of course, I could not receive the SMS as I had no mobile signal. The SMS was only valid for 10 minutes.

I soon realised that UBank had set up this “security measure” for every single transaction that I would make online. Payments, Transfers, Changes in details all receive SMS verification. With most of the Australian population living in areas with decent mobile coverage, I’m sure this isn’t a common issue to the banking giants but it is to me.

I rang UBank to ask whether there was another option. I was told it is the banks policy to provide this “more secure” method to protect their customers. This is very noble but why couldn’t I receive an email notification instead? Apparently UBank and NAB do not believe this option is as secure so they have adopted the SMS as the standard verification method.

This renders the site useless to me for “home” banking and I am now about to churn. It raises an interesting point though. This initiative has been taken to attempt to protect the customer. It is done with the customer in mind. However, because I have no other options of validation, the approach means that anyone in remote areas of the country will struggle with this issue.

I therefore wonder whether this is an example of good or bad customer centricity? It is good in wanting to make my banking experience safer but bad in that it does not give me the choice in how I want to receive that experience.

I would be interested to know what others think?

Technology 1 Customer Experience 0

When visiting a restaurant, what are your priorities as a paying customer?
I guess it depends upon the purpose of your visit but quality of food, price, ambience and service are usually near the top of most people’s priorities.
As I am working in Melbourne, VIC at the moment, I found myself in Chinatown and was enticed inside one of seemingly hundreds of competing Chinese restaurants.
The restaurant was cozy, quite busy and I was pleased with my choice.
I was shown to my table and was presented with a tablet pc.
I am fortunate enough to eat out on a fairly regular basis but I thought that giving me a PC was over stretching the hospitality somewhat until I realised that it was not a gift but rather a menu!
The waiter promptly disappeared after giving me a brief and impromptu training session showing me how to navigate the menu and place my order.
On each page of the menu, a list of meals appeared with a picture and price alongside them. I looked around and found that each table was using a tablet and the only members of staff were those delivering food.
The items I ordered arrived quickly and with a minimum amount of fuss. The food was good and my bill arrived along with my coffee. I left the restaurant and it was only when I was outside that I realised that something was missing. It was efficient and modern but had no personality. The customer experience had been diminished by removing a key part of the dining experience, the customer interaction. There had been no recommendations, no small chat, no checking to see everything was ok. There had not even been a good bye.
I sometimes find that organisations become obsessed with technology in driving transformation but overlook the important detail of the customer experience. By removing the waiters, I’m sure the restaurant increased its profitability but I also imagine its revenue may be adversely affected.
If I was the owner of that restaurant, I would employ waiters to provide the personal touch and keep the technology to help customers browse the menu and to improve the ordering process.
It does, however, beg the question of whether technology is a friend or foe of good customer experience. To me, it depends upon how the technology is used. Is it an enabler or a driver?
Excuse the pun but this provides some food for thought!

A very useful list that covers many aspects of a broad topic. Highly recommended.

CRMOutsiders

You want to learn about CRM, or you want to refine and expand your understanding, but you don’t know where to start? Well, the blogosphere’s one good place to start learning, but it’s become a crowded, confusing place, clogged with blogs of disparate quality and written by people with motives that are less than mostly pure. How do you navigate that?

Let me be your sextant and sea chart! This is the sixth year that I’ve done this list, and there’s always a bit of change – not wholesale change, as there was in the early days, when blogs came and went, but subtle and incremental change. We judge these blogs first on focus, then on quality of content, then on frequency. To make the list, you need to be at least vendor-agnostic (in other words, a vendor can sponsor the blog, but it can’t dwell primarily on that vendor’s…

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Why I have changed my view on CRM technology

For years, I have been preaching to anyone that will listen that the strategy must come before the software. People + Processes + Technology. I have used examples such as buying a car to explain my argument.

Most people would not go out and buy the car that looks best. They would first of all decide what they need a car for. They might then decide on a few criteria to narrow the search depending upon their own needs. safety, Speed, Economy, Luggage capacity, Auto, Price etc. Once this “strategy” had been reached, the search for a car could begin.

I have always believed that CRM software should underpin the business strategy and facilitate providing benefits to the organisation and its clients. However, maybe I was wrong?

Technology is now at a stage where it is providing features and capabilities that can INFORM a Strategy. In other words, a business strategy could be built around a CRM tool. Having seen some of the latest tools and capabilities from the likes of Salesforce, Sugar, Oracle, Kana etc, I am increasingly convinced that for many organisations thinking about CRM, the software could give them market leading strategies and game changing capability. There are capabilities that many companies would not have thought of which might create huge value. In the past, industry processes led the design for software. Now it seems that software design is opening new doors for business processes. Just look at how Social Media has “forced” organisations to change its internal and external processes. Does your organisation have a Social Media strategy? If so, I bet it has only been developed in the last two years.

I can imagine young or smaller enterprises could benefit from this wave of new capability. App Exchanges and Open Source platforms are driving a wealth of rich, new CRM capability that is beyond the imagination of most companies.

With immature processes and potentially tight budgets, a software led strategy can help enforce new processes (that could be leading practice for that industry) and can help cement in customer centric processes.

However, I still believe that larger organisations will need to develop strategies first and then find software that can support and extend those strategies. It will be interesting to see how the SaaS model affects uniformity and adherence to standardised processes and whether we do start to see software led customer centric transformations.

I would be very keen to hear any thoughts or experiences on this topic.