Happy Friday!

It’s been a productive week for me! Here’s a few articles I came across that I thought would make nice weekend reading material:

On building relationships vs. cold calling: A Cautionary Tale

Hate getting sniped on eBay? Become the sniper! via ERE blog: Gixen

Are women their own worst enemy? via The Huffington Post, The Trouble With Bright Girls

On new social media uses, via Forbes: Will Aviation Go Social?

Like the links? Follow me on Twitter for links and posts everyday!

Lessons from the Bahama Mama

My husband and I enjoyed a vacation to the Bahamas recently, and we were both struck by the people on this island. I’ve posted before about how to sell to Americans, based on my experience in the Dominican Republic. I would say the Bahamians have mastered this art far superior to their Dominican counterparts. The biggest difference?

Education. This was by far the biggest difference I found when thinking about why the Bahamian residents did so well selling to Americans. First, the cab drivers were extremely knowledgeable. They’d make “idle” chatter with their fares about the history of the island, American pop stars, commerce and economics, and entertainment recommendations based on the length of stay on the island. Our driver from the airport pointed out an excellent place to get chicken wings for a snack, and told us all about the New Year’s Eve festivities. Another cab driver told us that the government created a program to educate everyone in the tourism industry about how to make sure tourists had a great experience. They made everyone take the same state-approved course, from the hotel owner, to the waiters and cab drivers. Even the residents of the island, who were seemingly uninvolved with tourists, learned that tourism is a major contribution to the Bahamian economy, and they would regularly welcome us to the island as we passed on the street. The Bahamians understood that good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster, so taking preemptive action to ensure satisfied customers was in their best interest.

The soft sell. As I mentioned in my post about the Dominican Republic, hard-selling became a huge nuisance on the trip. Conversely, the Bahamian people have perfected the art of the soft sell. For example, the cab drivers use their education and knowledge of the history of the island to soft sell a guided tour later in the week. This is genius! They can collect not only an additional fare, but a premium for the “guided tour”, using their conversation to show that they have interesting information that you might want to pay for. Further, all of the “recommendations” from each of the service providers are soft sells. We ended up getting chicken wings from the stand recommended by the cab driver twice during our stay, without feeling like we were “sold” to. This particular driver also got another fare from us by offering to set an appointment to pick us up on our return trip to the airport. He offered us the convenience of the guaranteed fare with on-time, curbside pick-up. We didn’t feel that he “sold” us on choosing to ride with him, but rather that he had provided a valuable service to us. No one badgered us, and they were willing to leave us alone with a simple, “No thank you.” We weren’t afraid to roam around the market, wondering how many people would hound us about a purchase.

Presentation is everything. We noticed that the cab drivers and waiters were really well-dressed, and one cab driver mentioned that this was part of the requirements in the industry. Waiters wore, at minimum, khakis and a polo shirt, maids in several hotels wore dress uniforms, and cab drivers wore neckties. The city in general was very clean and well-lit, making us feel safe enough to make a 2 mile exploration walk from downtown to Paradise Island. And, these people know how to celebrate the New Year! Their fireworks display on the water was AMAZING, rivaling any display I’ve seen stateside on July 4th, and the entire city erupted with horns and music at midnight. They put on an elaborate parade called Junkanoo, with intricate costumes and floats. Aside from the extravagant nature of the parade participants, it goes on for a staggering 9 hours! They put up bleachers and block off the entire downtown main street to accommodate spectators, and there are plenty of cops for crowd control. When you visit the island, you feel relaxed, catered to, and safe, because they have made a concerted effort to create a flawless presentation.

You can go anywhere for sandy beaches and blue waters, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find people like the Bahamians. The people of this island made our trip memorable and enjoyable, and I think the top-down education plays a huge part in creating their successful tourist haven.

Gillete is Genius!

I came across an article on Forbes about the latest men’s razor from Proctor and Gamble’s Gillete brand. The Gillete Guard goes back to the basics to offer the closest shave. Gillete has been a leader in the razor category for years, and they’re always looking to out-innovate themselves and their competition. So, why is THIS razor so genius?

They went straight to their target market. Gillete decided to move into the Indian market with the Guard, and they spent hours researching the habits, preferences, and conditions in which men in India shave. This is a different approach than they previously used, which involved surveying young Indian students at MIT. Going straight to the source helped them glean powerful information that was missed in their first attempt to take a razor to the Indian market. Their research showed that men in India tend to shave less, making the hair longer at each shave. Also, they don’t have as much warm water as their US counterparts, making it difficult to properly rinse the smaller blades in Gillete’s traditional razor. Finally, they usually hold a hand mirror instead of using a wall-mounted mirror, which significantly alters how they hold and manipulate the razor. These key insights changed the design of the razor, bringing it back to a single blade razor with a handle that was more suitable to their target market. Had they refused to go straight to the source for their information, the design flaws in the concept would have crippled the product in their target market in India.

KISS. We’ve all heard, “Keep It Simple Stupid”, but Gillete took this mantra to heart to achieve market success. Sometimes as marketers, we feel the need to make some grand alteration, or have some enlightening plan for success. But sometimes a good, solid, old-fashioned marketing plan is what is needed. When Gillete decided to “innovate”, they took their insights to meet their customers’ needs. And, in this case, their customers needed an older, simpler design. THAT is the real innovation: finding new ways to meet your customers’ needs, better, faster, and cheaper than the competition. Gillete’s simple, single blade razor sells cheaper and works better than their competition’s offering, thus making their KISS strategy successful.

Adjusted their distribution model. Proctor and Gamble realized that they might need change their distribution to make their product successful. They’ve decided to manufacture and distribute the product in India, versus manufacturing elsewhere and importing the product. Sometimes companies are unwilling to adjust their standard distribution model, and great products fail to go to market with success because of this. P & G realized the market success depends not only on the product itself, but maximizing the manufacturing and logistical opportunities associated with getting the product into consumers’ hands.

Proctor and Gamble showcased their genius with the Gillete Guard. The simple design, inexpensive cost, and new distribution model helped make the Guard a success. So, what innovations are you working on? What possibilities exist for your “innovation” to really be a simple solution?

The Cowboys Experience

I was privileged to attend a pre-season Cowboys game in the new stadium last night… AND watch from an event-level suite with reserved parking. It was a treat to say the least, but as a non-football fan, I spent most of my time watching the people behind the scenes and pondering the many facets of marketing and business at the game. Football fan or not, you can’t help but enjoy the experience.  So let’s recap some of the most prominent features of the evening!

First, private suite and reserved parking are a HUGE revenue stream for the stadium, as patrons sign 10 year deals to the tune of several hundred-thousand dollars per year, yielding a couple million bucks for the life the deal. Not too shabby straight out of the gates. Event-level suites come equipped with a personal attendant, theater viewing seats about 30 ft. from the end zone, 3 flat-screen TVs, and a fridge stocked with your choice of beverages and food. The entire suite boasts expensive, high-end items, from logo-bearing bathroom “paper towels” that are more like cloth than paper, to granite counter tops and mahogany cabinets in the mini-kitchen. This particular suite also ranked important enough to warrant having at least 3 account executives or PR people drop by to make sure everything was perfect. It also warranted a visit from several of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders for an impromptu photo op, with a free online viewing and printing gallery for the suite attendees. I was also intrigued and dismayed to realize that Pepsi landed the stadium beverage contract, not Coke. I’m a Coke fan all the way, so I was a little frustrated that my favorite soft drink was not available in the suite.

All of these aspects are put together by people in different marketing, sales, customer service, and business disciplines to create a seamless, fun-filled experience. But digging further reveals a pretty complex web of business savvy and creativity. Everything is perfectly choreographed and scheduled, with subtly that most would not notice. When you join the Cowboys team, your life is no longer your own, which leads me to also ponder the corporate culture.  I would love to get a look at the inner-workings of the Dallas Cowboys experience. Here’s a few areas where these business people excelled:

Knowing the customer: The account executive are assigned a small number of suites, so they know the owners by name. We were guests of the owner last night, and the account executive recognized that the person in charge last night was not actually the owner of the suite. She did, however, recognize that person as the person who normally sends her the check for the suite bill. This woman knows all the key players in the organization of the suite owner, and makes sure that every person feels important. She’s on a first-name basis with some of the wealthiest people in the US, and knowing your name is just the beginning of the level of care these people take to find out and meet your needs.

Providing a quality product: Everything in the suite was the best of the best, ensuring that clients feel like they’re getting what they paid for. But it’s not just about the quality of the tangible items, it’s about the overall quality of the experience. If you pay to feel like a VIP, the Cowboys team will treat you like a VIP from the moment you arrive at the parking gate. Private elevators and security personal outside the entrance of the suite help owners feel that their exclusive tickets really ARE exclusive. They want to feel like they’re sitting directly in the action, and with seats right on the field, you can’t get much closer without putting on a helmet. The consistently high-quality product keeps clients coming back for more, by purchasing additional suites and services for future seasons.

Strong branding. As soon as you exit the highway, you start to see signs in Dallas colors with directions to the stadium. The stadium parking signs are numbered in Dallas-blue and adorned with the signature Cowboys star. The suites have logos on everything, and the color schemes match the uniform colors of the players and cheerleaders. The Dallas Cowboys infuse branding to touch every one of your senses; everything you touch, everything you hear, everything you see, reminds you that your experience is being provided by the Dallas Cowboys. You walk away feeling like you’ve made a strong connection with the brand.

I could go on about the cool experience and the complex business savvy of the people who made it all happen, but I think it’s best to encourage you to check out the new stadium if you get the chance. I hear they’re hosting the Super Bowl this year… what a “suite” experience that would be!

A Pleasant Experience

For those of you from somewhere other than the great state of Texas, you may be unfamiliar with the concept of Tollways. Tollways are these amazing privatized roads that make a commute much more bearable, as long as you have a Tolltag. Because the roads are privatized, you are required to pay for the right to drive. A little more than 5 years ago, the process of obtaining a Tolltag was pretty much a nightmare. There was only one office for the whole metroplex, and it was located in an awkward stop near a downtown area. And their hours of operation? You guessed it, 9 am to 5 pm… prime business hours. Couple that with the downtown location and horrible online service, and you’ve got a bunch of unhappy customers. When you finally received your Tolltag, it was a clunky square plate to adhere to your window using some gooey-velcro adhesive that generally didn’t hold up to the Texas heat. All of this to say, I was dreading the experience with a Tolltag purchase.

However, I must retract all the negative feelings and battering the North Texas Tolltag Association after my recent experience with them. First, they’ve added a second building in a more central location for making the initial purchase of a Tolltag, and added centers all over the metroplex for bill pay and updating your account. The website has been re-designed to offer information about new toll roads and construction, payment options, and other helpful information in an easy-to-navigate layout. The website also mentioned that the hours of operation had been extended from 7 am to 7 pm, giving business people plenty of time to make the trip. I was further impressed as I drove along looking for my destination that a branded sign pointed to the NTTA building that was by hidden trees. I appreciated the directions, as I would have passed it completely were it not for the sign. When I walked in, a sign told me exactly how to proceed, which makes everyone’s job easier. The NTTA forms and office boast a clever new Marketing slogan, “Stop throwing money out the window”. This is clever for two reasons: 1) you save money by pre-paying for a Tolltag, as the cost per entrance/exit decreases, and 2) because previously you were having to fish quarters out of your purse to toss into the meters as you drove through. It’s a great slogan, perfect for encouraging the purchase of a Tolltag by helping people understand that it saves you both time and money. I filled out my form and dealt with a very nice customer service lady who explained the new features of the tag. Then, she hands me this beautiful package with sleek branding, account information, and NTTA contact information. The package was about the size of an old-school cd case, perfect for keeping it handy in the glove box of my car. Finally, she finished by giving me a thin 3″X3″ plastic tab with adhesive all over the back, to place under my rear-view mirror. No more struggling to keep my tag adhered to the window, and no more clunky distractions out of the corner of my eye. This new design also eliminated an internal problem for NTTA. For years, people wanted to just buy one tag, and then use it among several vehicles that didn’t travel the Tollway on the same day. Now, if you remove the tag from the windshield, it automatically de-activates it. This is also nice because you don’t have to worry about your tag being lost or stolen, but still being used by someone else. I told the lady that I loved the new streamlined process, and to pass along the compliment to her managers. It was an AWESOME experience. And to top it all off? I made the whole trip in about 15 minutes, from exiting my car to re-entering my car, only 15 minutes! I was so surprised and pleased with my experience that I went home and told my brother and his friend about it… and they both said they’d had an awesome experience as well. This solidified my resolve to write a post immediately, proving that people do recognize and recommend a good customer experience, even for the most mundane tasks.

I’ve talked about good customer service on this blog before, and I must say, the complete turn around by NTTA hits the nail on the head. They really listened to what their customers wanted: more convenience in purchase locations, account management, and in using the tag. They really listened to their staff and examined internal problems to offer solutions that would not disrupt the daily operations and use of the tag. I think a lot of other businesses can learn from the tactics employed by NTTA, and we can all stop dreading the horrible experience, as it no longer exists.

REALLY Making the Customer Feel Valued

While working in a retail store, I was responsible for taking the deposit to our bank. I generally worked regular hours, so I took the deposit Monday-Friday, usually around the same time, to the exact same location. It never ceased to amaze me, but when I walked in, some “greeter” would ask if I had a cash transaction, and informed me that someone would be with me in just one moment. Now, I realize that they were trying to make me feel welcome and valued, etc. etc., but let’s look at a few reasons why I saw through their “sincere” welcome.

They followed a script. Almost to the letter, every greeter said the exact same thing! I came into the bank every single day of the week, so if you REALLY want to make me feel valued, quit giving me the spiel. The person who made me feel the most valued and welcomed was the teller who called me by name, asked about my weekend, and didn’t talk from a classroom assignment.

They didn’t recognize me. Clearly, if I’m in the bank every day, I know the routine. Why don’t they know the routine? I don’t need to be directed where to go, told that my wait time will be “just one moment” every 5 seconds, and asked if there’s any other services that I need. If you REALLY value me, you’ll know me, and treat me like we’re old hands at this whole make-a-deposit game. Again, the teller who made me feel most valued never had to ask about how to handle the transaction, she just remembered what she did the day before.

They were over-compensating. Apparently, the perceived wait time in banks is a huge problem, so they attempt to mitigate this problem by giving you an update about the wait time every few seconds. I understand what they’re trying to do, but I can clearly see how long the line is, how fast the tellers are moving, and when the next teller is available. You can be sincere about giving an update, but don’t over-compensate to the point that it is annoying.

Do we see a trend here? The person at the bank that I feel values me the most is the person who remembers me, and treats me like she knows me. She gets me in and out in a timely manner, and mitigates my perceptions by ACTUALLY doing her job effectively. If you really want to making the customer feel valued, REALLY value them! You can’t fake it, and you shouldn’t have to. Customers make you or break you, so find ways to make your interactions sincere.

How To Save Face

It’s happened to all of us: the rude customer service agent, the To-go order with no utensils, the long waiting times, and an all-around awful experience. Since it’s happened to all of us, it stands to reason that every business has had a hand in giving customers a bad experience. So how do companies save face, keep their integrity, and maintain customer loyalty?

The product recall: Most of us would consider a product recall to be a bad sign for a company. However, a voluntary recall can actually help the company! When companies voluntarily recall a product for safety reasons, they show that they care about their customers more than their profits. A voluntary recall also allows the company to maintain control of the situation and the communication about the situation, rather than letting customers and reporters dictate communication. Take the Tylenol recall by Johnson and Johnson in 1982. After several fatal incidents, it was found that Tylenol had been poisoned by someone from the outside. Johnson and Johnson took the product off the shelves, and re-introduced it with heavier packaging to ensure that no one could tamper with their products. This prompt and thorough reaction helped company maintain its reputation of trust, and now Tylenol is one of the most popular over-the-counter drugs on the market.

The immediate fix: Sometimes it’s unnecessary to completely recall a product, and a “quick-fix” can help a company save face. While shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond, I heard a customer trying to return an office chair at Customer Service. He stated that the chair would not maintain its height when he adjusted it. After looking at the model number, the Customer Service employee stated that the manufacturer was aware of the problem, and was offering a special part for free to fix the issues with the adjustment. She gave the part to the customer with simple instructions, and he left happy with the result. By simply taking action to resolve a problem, the manufacturer kept their customers happy in spite of a problem with the initial product. Most food establishments manage problems this way, by offering to re-make your drink, or throw your steak back on the grill for an extra minute if it is under-cooked. The immediate fix can be a face-saving and money-saving tool.

Give a genuine apology: This may sound like a given, but sometimes customers just want an apology. If there is a way to offer an immediate fix, companies should take time to make these offers to customers. However, if there’s not a quick fix, find a way to offer a genuine apology. Most customers are frustrated because they feel that companies just don’t care about them, and that because companies don’t care, problems will continue to arise. By offering a genuine apology, a timeline for corrective action, and assurance that it will not happen in the future, a company can show that it does care about its customers.

Bad experiences are going to happen, but it’s how you deal with the situation that seals the deal for customers. What are your strategies for dealing with customers who have a bad experience?

The Underlying Need

I’ve seen many examples of misinterpretation of the underlying need, and I just had to post about it. These two examples show a fundamental lack of understanding of the customer’s underlying need.

Recently, I went into Starbucks, and witnessed the following encounter: Starbucks was out of sleeves for hot cups, and the barista was asking the person at the register to double-cup the hot beverages. The person at the register said that she wouldn’t do that because it was wasteful, and that if customers wanted their beverage double-cupped, they could ask for it themselves. The barista replied that it was difficult for her because customers were asking for sleeves, then resorting to double-cups, and it was taking her time to have to go back and forth when 9 out of 10 customers were complaining that their drinks were too hot to hold.

I also noticed this same issue when I went out with a co-worker to pick up some donuts for the office. The donut shop only accepts cash, and he only had a debit card. He decided to go to the convenience store next door to see if they offered cash-back. He asked the attendant if they offered cash-back, and was told that they did not. However, the attendant failed to mention that they had an ATM machine in the back of the store!

So what gives? Why aren’t these people willing to help out their customers? The issue is not an unwillingness to help, but rather, missing the problem. In the first example, the person at the register incorrectly assumed that customers wanted sleeves for their cups. In fact, the customers wanted to keep their hands from burning on their hot beverages. Because heat was the underlying problem, any solution to mitigating the heat was acceptable. In the second example, the attendant failed to realize that my co-worker needed a way to get cash, and that an ATM was a perfect solution for his underlying need. The ability to recognize and meet the underlying need provides an unparalleled opportunity to Marketers.

Consider this: what if you can make your product or service become the underlying need? The “Hungry? Grab a Snickers” campaign is an excellent example of a Marketer making their product the underlying need. On the surface, they acknowledge that the person is hungry, and they are looking to satisfy their hunger. By saying, “Grab a Snickers” they are encouraging the person to associate Snickers as the only solution to hunger. Snickers hopes that the next time a person needs a snack, they will feel that they NEED a Snickers. All companies do this, from car manufacturers, to soda makers. Car makers don’t want people to think, “I need to get from point A to point B, how can I do that?” Rather, they want you thinking, “I NEED a Lexus.” Coke wants you to crave a Coke, and attain satisfaction only after you’ve enjoyed a Coke. They don’t want you to think, “I’m thirsty, I need a drink,” but rather, “I NEED a Coke”. By understanding the underlying need, you can make your product or service become the underlying need. And when your product or service is what a customer NEEDS, you’ll see your sales increase.

You gotta know your customers!

I’ve been thinking a lot about market research lately, and how important it is to know your customers. Some companies are flying blind when it comes to offering and advertising their products or services. Here’s a few tips on why and how to get to know your customers!

Meet their needs and solve their problems. It may seem obvious, but how are you going to meet their needs if you have no idea what their needs are? Some companies think that because they sell a certain product, they don’t need to find out about their customers’ needs. But just because you fill a niche, you’re not off the hook! Take Zippo for example. I just saw an article about Zippo changing their marketing strategy, as their sales have been falling. They have focused on pocket lighters for the majority of their existence, but have recently started moving into female-friendly and outdoor-friendly products. By recognizing that their products were being used in different ways, they were able to gain more market share and expand their business. Talk to your customers and find out what they need.

How do I talk to my customers? There are many ways to speak to your customers, but the biggest point is to listen to what they’re saying. Don’t go into research trying to prove a hypothesis about what customers like and dislike, just be open.

–          Focus Groups: Focus groups involve speaking with a small group of the target demographic, usually in a moderated session. The moderator asks guiding questions to open up the discussion, and keeps the conversation flowing. Taping these sessions gives companies the opportunity to view facial reactions and other body language, and to accurately record spoken responses. Maiden Form used a focus group when their sales were falling, and found out that their target demographic of young females viewed them as a brand their mom would use! They quickly re-worked their strategy and sales started rising.

–          Surveys: Surveys are great because you can reach a large number of people to ensure a strong sampling of the target demographic. Once you receive the responses, you can use statistical analysis to figure out the most important problems your customers face. You can also use surveys to determine ways to improve your solutions to those problems. ConstantContact and Survey Monkey are two services that make it easy for you to set up online surveys.

–          Usability studies: There are two ways to view this: Is my solution useful? Is my solution usable? Let’s take a look at the first question. You need to make sure that your product or service uniquely solves a customer’s problem. Coming into an established market is difficult, so you need to make sure that you have a unique value proposition. You also need to make sure your solution is easy to use. My favorite example of this is the label, “some assembly required.” I know dads around the world shudder at this phrase, as it usually indicates hours of work with obscure tools. Instructions and usage should be customer-friendly, and you need to do testing to figure this out. Focus groups can act as a moderated testing situation, where participants are given product examples and asked to rate them on different aspects. For software and other technology, a Beta version usually reveals bugs in the product. UserTesting.com offers a low-cost remote usability service that is perfect for website owners. There are many ways to figure out if your product is useful and usable, and these must be included in market research.

Market research is not a one-time endeavor, but rather a continual process of understanding your customers’ needs. So, how does your company stack up in the market research category?