New Year’s Revolutions

The first month of the year is barely half over. How many resolutions have you broken so far? I’m not talking about eating oatmeal instead of a donut with a mocha latte for breakfast. Let’s look at the resolutions you’ve made about customer relationships. If you keep those resolutions, you may be participating in a major revolution — the era of the customer.

The Customer Will Rule

This year has been dubbed “the year of the customer” by Nick Cohen, interviewed in InternetNews. Customer relationship management (CRM) has become one of the most highly competitive software and services markets for good reason. Customer-profiling software can tell us everything we want to know. The question is: “What’s worth knowing?” — followed rapidly by “What do we do with it once we know it?”

I leave the first question to my ClickZ colleagues and technical experts in data mining. As for the second question, the answers are pragmatic. Do more of what you’ve been doing: targeting newsletters, building trust, responding to emails rapidly, providing toll-free numbers that connect to real human beings, and educating your customers and visitors at every turn.

You know the statistics on relationship management. We focus on the two percent of site visitors who become paying customers, trusting the studies that tell us we profit most from repeat business and customer referrals. Sure, it’s less expensive to milk the cash cow in the barn than ride the range to capture wild ones.

Focus on Visitors… Efficiently

But e-customers see themselves as “free range.” All it takes is one exploratory click to seduce them into a greener pasture — and one session on a consumer community site to tell thousands of nameless confidants of their new romance. One effective way to keep these fickle folks faithful is to become indispensable. And since all addictions begin in the brain, one strong, attractive force for new visitors is education — so educate them.

At least make it easy for them to educate themselves. You can provide access to useful information on the web easily and economically. You can become the vendor with the best link library as well as a competitively priced product.

Apply some creativity to your link selection. Sure, provide “what is” and “how to” information, but get beyond that. If you sell products related to personal safety or home protection, let people know how to find where parolees and ex-convicts dwell. If you sell gardening products or seeds, help new customers learn how to start a new garden or how to clean terra-cotta pots.

Think: What concerns would my customers have beyond the borders of my products? How can I help them make their lives easier?

Easier lives! That’s a big deal. It deserves your serious attention. We’ll talk next week about tactics for making your customers’ lives easier. For now, though, a cautionary tale on tactics…

A Tale of One Tactic That Backfired

I have several pets, one of which is a peeve — a sharp-fanged, many-clawed peeve that Stephen King might have created: the false-advertising peeve. My peeve responds violently to envelopes emblazoned with “Explanation of Benefits” that turn out to contain advertisements for credit cards and magazines.

The companies that sent those solicitations thought they were implementing neatly integrated marketing campaigns, driven by their CRM data from my existing subscriptions or visits to their web sites for information. And I live in a ZIP code where residents’ HMOs explain benefits on a monthly basis. We look for those explanations because they often have refund checks attached.

One day, three such envelopes arrived, each with a postage-paid return envelope for my order of the “beneficial” product. My peeve hissed at them and then printed out mock order forms with the vendors’ return addresses positioned to show through the envelope windows. On the rest of the page was this message: “EXPLANATION OF BENEFITS: Representing your product offer as an ‘explanation of benefits’ demonstrates the essential disregard of ethics that must characterize your entire operation. That realization benefits me greatly. Thank you so very much.”

That’s about as polite as my pet peeve gets. After she put her messages into the mailbox, she licked her paws clean and pranced into the garden to dig in a pile of fertilizer — something more honest than those vendors. You never have to ask my peeve what she really thinks. Besides, she’s already telling her friends on Epinions and eComplaints.

So, please, don’t send your honored customers or members any enticements under a false flag. Your products and services are better than that. You are better than that. Your customers are better than that… and they may sic their peeve on you. That won’t make anybody’s life easier.

Recess: If it’s later than 10 a.m., you need to take a break. Amuse yourself with advertising slogans you’ll be glad you didn’t create. If you need coaching, you know where to find me.

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