While attending a recent business marketing conference, two things really struck me. First, direct mail not only lives, but thrives. Indeed, how do you drive Web traffic? Snail mail! Who wants a print catalog? Web browsers!
Second, what do customers do when they want to order? They pick up the phone and call.
My point isn’t that they use the phone, but rather what occurs—or at least, should occur—during the call. And it isn’t some idealized version of customer relationship management. Rather, they want simple, old fashioned customer service.
Let me illustrate with an example from my own catalog-shopping experience. There’s a reason I use a specific office supply cataloger. Every time I call the cataloger’s toll-free number, I test the customer service reps (CSRs) in slightly different ways. The last time I ordered, I told the CSR I couldn’t remember the type of toner cartridge my printer takes. By keying in my last name and ZIP code, the rep had my full record in less than 10 seconds. By the time I hung up, I had spent money and was smiling.
Even Government Buyers Want Customer Service
In my consulting practice, I work with clients who want to sell to the federal government. Everyone thinks selling to government officials is all about price. I don’t want to dispel that notion, because margins are somewhat tighter in the public sector. But in a recent survey by Market Connections, customer service ranked No. 1 for the second consecutive year. Price ranked eighth.
Why is customer satisfaction so important even when you’re selling to government officials? Because it’s about customer satisfaction—regardless of the market. While I was at the earlier-mentioned conference, I participated in Michael Brown’s telemarketing panel in which we offered attendees 50 marketing tips. My first idea: Hire nice people. You can teach nice people to sell; you can’t teach rude sellers to be nice. All around the room heads were nodding in agreement.
Everyone should read the book “Building Customer Loyalty,” written by Joanna Brandi. It deals directly with what we all know: 80 percent of your business comes from about 20 percent of your client base. Brandi outlines how you should treat that 20 percent of your customers differently to keep them coming back.
“Building Customer Loyalty” is a how-to book with 21 action points, or “essential elements in action.” These are especially helpful because the author accompanies each element with real-world examples. If these truths were self-evident, more company executives might be doing them—except it takes a corporate culture that fosters such behavior. This is where many companies fall short.
I was giving a session for the senior management team at a major government contractor a while back, and to illustrate a point, I made two calls on the speakerphone in the conference room. I previously had bought products from the contractor, so I had a customer ID number. I called the toll-free number, and after more than 90 seconds of waiting and listening to inane commercials, I hung up.
Then I called my favorite office supply cataloger. I got a live operator on the third ring. I intentionally didn’t give my customer ID number, but with my last name and ZIP code, I was able to place an order and get off the phone in less than two minutes. The last question my cataloger asked before I hung up was: “Do you need it today, or is tomorrow OK?”
This was an enlightening experience for the executives in my seminar. At that time they didn’t have, and still don’t have, the corporate culture to rival my cataloger. By acting on some of these simple ideas you may, in time, watch your customer retention rates increase.
Mark Amtower is a partner at Amtower & Co., a government marketing consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.