You have spent time, energy and resources to win a new customer, now you have to manage them.
The process from lead to winning the customer will have involved a group of people responsible for budgets, influencing and decision making. It’s highly likely that now a new group of characters will emerge, these may include production control, cost centre managers and product/service users.
Not having been involved in the negotiations, this new group will include people who know very little about your company, product or service benefits and will need educating. There will, therefore, be a need for relationship building activities to be developed if you are to secure customer loyalty and retention.
Many organisations see this ongoing management as a responsibility of the sales team but is this really the best use of their talents?
The goal of sales is to increase customer revenue. If they are split between revenue building and customer loyalty building you will be losing on both counts. By using marketing to develop a communication programme that delivers relevant, value based messages to the various individuals you will increase retention. Loyalty is a very personal emotion and the key motive of this strategy is to communicate and create the feeling of a real reationship with your company and not with a sales person who may leave over time.
You gain in two key areas. Your sales team are free to develop new opportunities both within the customer organisation and outside and you benefit from increased customer satisfaction. Not only are customer staff receiving relevant information but those who don’t need to are not being required to see sales people unless they wish to.
How often do you buy from yourself?
twice a year, once a year or never? I suspect that for many small business owners the answer would be never. Let’s face it, you are probably too busy keeping things afloat and moving in the right direction. Besides, everyone knows what they are doing – don’t they?
The experience your customer gets during the whole purchasing process will determine whether they finally make that purchase or, even more importantly, decide to come back in future. You can make as many assumptions as you like about how your customers are handled but unless you experience it yourself or through an independent ‘secret customer’ that’s all they are, assumptions. You can never know whether the processes you have in place are actually working or not.
It’s Friday, and like the majority of employees you should be looking forward to a couple of days having fun with family and friends. You’re not like the majority of employees though are you? You run your own business and while others are out in the park, at the cinema or favourite Italian you have your expenses to sort out, the bookkeeping to catch up on, that presentation won’t do itself and don’t forget you have to sort the paperwork for the German exhibition.
It doesn’t have to be that way
Entrepreneurs can use virtual assistants for everything from making sales or customer service calls to sending out thank you cards to prospective clients. Consider a virtual assistant as a member of your team who happens to work remotely.
Here are 9 ways that using a virtual pa could give you enough time to start putting the fun back into your weekends.
Finance: Keeping tabs on bills and other bookkeeping matters is probably one of the easiest things to outsource to a virtual assistant, says Kathy Colaiacovo, marketing director for the International Virtual Assistants Association. Many small businesses choose to share their bookkeeping systems with their virtual assistants who can then follow up on tasks such as outstanding invoices or unpaid bills.
Research: No excuse for not knowing the competitors or potential customers. You can easily farm out Internet research to virtual assistants. Common requests include finding information on corporate websites, exploring new products and vetting potential employees or business contacts. Using the right Virtual PA you can even get them to conduct targeted market research on your behalf.
Database entries: Whether you have collected a number of new business cards picked up at a trade exhibition or updated information for existing contacts, keeping databases current is a suitable task for virtual assistants who can provide the important and necessary follow up.
Presentations: Turning raw data into a clear PowerPoint presentations or summarising research findings in a Word document can be a real timesaver.
Transcription: If you are in a business where you are on the road a great deal or have to take numerous notes you probably have to use a recording device which then has to be replayed or downloaded and typed up. Wouldn’t it make sense to hand it over to experts while you get on with more important tasks?
Social tasks: Virtual assistants can handle time consuming tasks such as networking follow ups or sending thank you notes. This leaves you free to concentrate on what you do best – running and developing your business.
Travel: Virtual assistants are a great resource for finding hotels, booking airfares and mapping out travel itineraries both for business and pleasure. They can also deal with the time consuming hassle of navigating time zones when booking or researching international travel options by phone.
Meetings: The scheduling tools that are available online mean that a virtual assistant can manage the calendars of many clients. These include dealing with meeting invitations from others, scheduling appointments with clients and helping to plan events, booking venues, minute taking and distribution.
Industry knowledge: A small business can use a virtual assistant to help them keep up speed with developments in the industry. Their input will enable you to update your Twitter feed or write about interesting developments in conversation with customers and prospects
All the individual items listed here can have an important effect on the time you can spend on your business. They are all tasks that need doing but do they need to be done by you personally when a little planning and well prepared briefs can free up your time to spend with the family and friends.
Social networking and the speed of complaining
Our ability to communicate instantly through the use of social media can very quickly damage the reputation of any organisation whatever the size. Ever since my first visit to the States in 2000 I have been critical of customer service we generally receive in the UK. Americans seem to realise that the experience provided by staff determines what you as a customer will feel and say to others and is in fact a marketing tool. There has never been a time when I have approached a pay point only to be ignored by two assistants talking about their personal life.
Organisations are aware of the growing importance of social media as a sales tool but have they considered its relevance as a customer service tool.
Social networking is only going to increase over the coming years as the growth in mobile interaction platforms increases. For the first time an immediate emotional response to a situation is available. You know the feeling when you have had a poor customer experience, no longer do you have to wait to send a letter or email to the company, instead you are able to vent your feelings immediately to the hundreds of other potential customers who follow your profile. Already search mechanisms are being launched that will find these conversations thereby extending the reach of the complaint.
In a recent study by CPP Group, they looked at what was considered poor customer service and how quick costomers are in telling their friends and family about their experiences. In this study they saw a growing trend toward using social networking to share frustrations rather than telephoning or writing to the company directly. The statistics included:
“…. young adults under the age of 35 could do the most damage to an organisation’s reputation as they are most likely to talk about poor customer service online. Nearly three in ten (28.6%) of 16-24 year olds and two in ten (19.2%) 25-34 year olds would specifically use Facebook, versus only 2.7% of consumers aged 45-54 years old; highlighting the persuasive influence of this single website”.
Source: CPP Group Plc survey (CPP White paper on Customer Service)
The above shows that customer service must become a key part of the marketing mix and can no longer be treated as a ‘lip service’ department dealing with the odd query and fielding occasional complaints.
In face to face situations remember that the assistant behind the counter represents your brand, your product, your quality. If they get it wrong research suggests you could pay dearly.
The next time you send out salary slips put a note inside saying ‘this money has come from the customer’. Whatever business you are in, whether small owner managed or a large corporation, whether private or public sector, the money used to cover salaries ultimately comes from the customer. Not the owner, or the manager but the customer. By buying your product or service, the customer funds pay increases, pension benefits, promotions and other employee benefits. Organisations who take marketing seriously never forget that their success depends on the customer and neither should their employees.
David has worked in advertising and marketing services for 30 years both client and agency side. Having worked with local, national and muliti-national clients, he set up DLH Marketing to help small organisations, owner managed businesses and those organisations without in-house marketing.