Are You Surveying Your Customers?

Filed Under (OP News & Views, OP Sales Training) by Don on 09-07-2010

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This is a busy time of year for me as I’m busy planning our marketing strategies, catalogs and flyers for 2011.   I typically use my past experience(s), seek the input/opinions of my field reps, and listen to suggestions from our first call wholesaler regarding any new programs they offer plus my various research throughout the year to create my plan.  While I’m comfortable with these procedures I decided this year to do things a little differently.  I normally survey our customers via email survey at least once per year and this has always been very revealing and provided much feedback.  This year I decided that I would visit some customers and ask them what kinds, or types,  of marketing materials (catalogs, flyers, emails, etc.) they prefer.  The results were most interesting.  Let me explain.

I’ve been in this industry since 1985 therefore it is easy to guess my age.  Age is important because most people our ages do not shop and make purchases the same way many of our customers do.  Since I’m a bit of a computer/technology geek I don’t necessarily fit this description.  If you’re out in the market you soon realize that buyers of business products are getting younger and the age group is usually between 25 and 40 years of age with the majority of orders being placed by someone in the front office or the receptionist.  This age group grew up with computers and the internet, this is their comfort zone.  Have you noticed that most, if not all, cell phone advertising is directed toward the 18-30 age group?  Does it not stand to reason that if this is the age group placing orders for the products you sell, then it makes sense to target that age group in a form and fashion they prefer?  Absolutely!  So, I went into the field and talked at length to customers and asked them specifically how they shopped; do they look at catalogs, do they prefer to shop online or in a book, what catalogs they liked or preferred, and how did they want to place their orders?

This line of questioning was the basis of my visit and obviously there were more questions directed at their responses but in the interest of time I’ll make the results brief.  Many of the replies were expected, and suspected, but they made valid much of my previous research.  Here are the responses:

95%, preferred only a single (yearly) list-priced full line reference catalog.  98% preferred a monthly sales flyer over a quarterly flyer.  86% preferred to place orders online.  94% preferred to shop and/or search prices online.  82% found the mail-in rebates in flyers created a desire to purchase the product to receive the “Free” item.  When specifically pointing out a mail-in rebate for a toner cartridge that required the buyer to purchase two cartridges to qualify for the free offer, 97% chose to buy two just to receive the free offer and 99% of those who send in for the free offer take the offer home for their personal use.  98% said they wanted to recieve at least one email sales flyer per month while at the same time noting that our big-box competitors email them weekly.

On a final note I also showed many of the 25-35 age buyers my catalog cover choices for 2011 because I wanted to see what they specifically found attractive.  100% said they didn’t like covers with ‘people’ on them.  100% didn’t like covers with a cartoon because they said the cartoon is only funny once.  95% didn’t like covers with animals/pets because they didn’t think it was professional.  One cover selection I personally liked (and was my #1 choice) because it looked like a magazine cover was turned down by 99% of those polled.  Why, I asked.  Their reply?  We don’t read magazines and it looks like a magazine. I was disappointed, but enlightened.

There were other questions and replies of which I made many notes and I’ve made some changes to my plans for next year based on these replies.  I’m still hedging on the social media stuff like Twitter and Facebook but I’m busy studying up on how these channels can improve our business.  The point is to actively engage your customers in whatever means appeals to them.  Not one single customer refused to talk to me and all of them were delighted to be a part of the process.  I took the time to explain what I was doing and why and I encouraged them to speak their mind, there was no right or wrong answer.  I found the time to be well spent and extremely valuable.  I encourage you to do the same, to actively engage in surveys and polls to your customers and I can assure you that it will be a learning experience. 

The last word: “Life’s up’s and downs provide windows of opportunity to determine your values and goals.  Think of using all obstacles as stepping stones to build the life you want” -Marsha Sinetar

Customer Service is Not a Department

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 14-04-2008

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It’s an ATTITUDE! A customer centered attitude that takes humility, tact, passion, kindness, understanding and empathy.  I always loved the phrase “customer care” because it depicts the “care” that is required to sincerely understand the wants and needs of the customer.  To truly have good customer service and support you must genuinely care about people and you must have a subservient attitude.  Look at it this way, do you go to the doctor for “service”? No, you go for “care”.  Your car gets serviced but people get care.  When you call an company with a product or service issue you hope that you get someone on the phone who will care about you and solve your problem. 

I’m sure you remember the “Golden Rule” of your childhood.  Some people say it sould be re-written to reflect our culture.  That’s a load of bull-bleep.  It says what it says for a good reason. You treat others with the same care and respect that you want in return, plain and simple.  But don’t make the mistake of disconnecting your customer care people with your managements goals and principals.  To often we read and hear advertising about how much a company’s people care about their customers but when you shop in their store you discover that their people are rude, they ignore calls for assistance and often have a lack of product knowledge.

Use your CRM system to it’s fullest capacity.  A great CRM package lets you log as much information about the customer as your fingers are willing to type.  It’s more than just a contact database, it’s a customer care database.  An effectively managed CRM system gives you insight to the customers needs.  But the system is only as valuable as the information you enter into it.  The Goldmine product integrates very well into many of the backend systems that independent dealers use but to fully recognize the true value of this product it needs information.  This information pipeline is a valuable tool for sales and customer service people and when used to its fullest can become a valuable marketing/sales tool.  But the need to use this product or anything else has to be a culture and directive that comes from upper management.  Staples has been very successful using their CRM system and recognized early on the value of CRM.  So can you!

Customer care comes from customer champions like you and I. If we don’t care about the customer, who will? And when the rude customer calls with more issues and problems that Webster’s has words just remember to “kill” them with kindness. A little love goes a long way.

The last word, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” -Colossians 3:23