Offer Customers a Tootsie Roll

Growing up, the corner deli was a neighborhood institution. It was more than a place to purchase groceries; DiPalma’s was where people met to catch up on life, family, and politics. A job behind the counter at DiPalma’s was reserved for those approaching rock star status. For weeks, I’d begged Louie DiPalma, the store’s patriarch, “Just give me a shot. I’ll work for next to nothing.”

Finally, he gave me a job. Mr. DiPalma said rather gruffly, “You stock shelves. Stay away from the customers. When you know where everything is in the store, then you wear an apron.” For six months, I logged the location of thousands of products in my brain, testing myself time and again, preparing for the day I’d serve customers.

It came suddenly, during the Christmas rush. All the learning prepared me, but there was one more lesson. Mr. DiPalma imparted this wisdom before I waited on my first customer: “Listen to the customer. When they ask you for something, you run and get it. Always ask, ’Is there something else that I can get for you?’ You learn your customers, and over time you’ll see them and anticipate their orders.”

Customers have predictable patterns if you study them long enough. The best DiPalma clerks suggested other products because they knew their customers so well.

He grabbed my arm as I raced to serve my first customer. “After you’ve finished bagging the order and collecting the money, grab a handful of Tootsie Rolls and dump them into each bag.” Puzzled, I asked, “What’s the charge for that?”

“No charge,” Mr. DiPalma replied.

Long before CRM was a multimillion-dollar industry, Louie DiPalma knew more about building customer relationships than anyone. Surrounded by three supermarkets that sold an identical product line, DiPalma added that fistful of Tootsie Rolls. It was the glue that kept customers coming back. DiPalma’s store weathered competitive storms for nearly 60 years. It died only when its owners grew too old.

DiPalma’s wisdom stayed with me throughout my career. I reflect on it when discussions of building customer relationships become too analytical or complex. Know your customer, build the relationship, understand the delight and surprise elements of your product or service. The Tootsie Rolls you provide are essential to weathering a marketplace’s competitive storms.

Like the clerks at DiPalma’s, you must be a student of the customer to build long-term relationships. Understand their patterns, moods, likes, and dislikes. (Thirty-four years later, I still remember Mrs. Shanker’s regular order.)

Recently, we fielded a telephone survey with NOP Research Group to provide greater context and intelligence on customer attitudes and perceptions in the areas of spam, ISP loyalty, and email communications. The results provide tremendous insight into customers of all vertical markets. Clearly, consumers establish patterns that should have a profound effect on the ways in which we market to them. Students of customer relationships must pay close attention to the evolution of customer preferences.

Some research highlights:

Even if it’s permission-based, if email’s not relevant or valued, it will be deleted or ignored. Not everyone unsubscribes:

  • 59 percent delete or ignore.
  • 7 percent unsubscribe via link.
  • 6 percent unsubscribe using the reply button.

It’s a multichannel world; email impacts the overall relationship online and off-. Following are actions taken on recently received and opened promotional email from a company responders provided their addresses to (multiple responses accepted):

  • 47 percent opened, did not click through, but purchased offline immediately or later.
  • 31 percent clicked on an offer within the email and visited the related Web site.
  • 35 percent forwarded to a friend.

Consumers value critical communications and are willing to pay for critical, relevant email communications. Thirty-six percent of respondents expressed a willingness to pay for a service that guarantees delivery of critical communications/email messages, such as billing alerts.

Despite spam, email flourishes. CTRs grow for relevant email communications that offer value across all verticals. Leading ISPs, marketers, and email service bureaus work together to preserve and grow this powerful communication channel.

At a recent email summit, AOL announced its own Tootsie Roll for reputable marketers: an enhanced whitelist program. AOL gets it and acknowledged the need to further differentiate fraudulent, pornographic, and unsolicited email senders from reputable opt-in, permission-based communications and organizations. AOL’s announcement indicates it has regular meetings with the other major ISPs to focus on building a common standard for whitelists and access across all providers.

The holiday season is a time for laser-focus on clients. Smart marketers continually study their customers’ needs and behaviors, and reap the rewards. Enhance the dialogue with your customers. Offer them a Tootsie Roll.

In Al’s last column, a direct business competitor to the writer’s company was negatively cited. ClickZ has removed the reference and apologizes for the violation of our editorial policy. –The Editors

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Strategies is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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