Stephen Mutch, a business management, operations and client services professional from Napa, California says this about great customer service: “At the most basic element, great customer service  is (all about) fulfilling promises.  Failure to do that leads to loss of credibility and trust in your company and organizations which have fatal and long-term ramifications.”

Marketing and promotions can be accomplished in many forms and from a number of different mediums.  Some strategies are designed to reach a great number of people, while others focus on targeting and reaching a specific customer demographic.

Regardless, fostering great relationships with your customers are of utmost importance.  It’s often a  challenging task as consumer needs are constantly evolving and must be frequently monitored so as to make the necessary adjustments.  This is why a number of companies are employing “reputation managers” who constantly monitor blogs, social networks and other information sources on the internet to keep up with what people are saying about their brands.

It’s been said here many times before, but the best way to get the information you need to be successful is to establish many contact points with your customers.  And how else to do this effectively, inexpensively and efficiently but through social media!

So this week’s tip:  Take charge of your customer service!

Seattle-based Decho group, a technology development firm, doesn’t wait for customers to contact them with questions, comments or concerns – they seek them out directly by using social media tools.

ITBusiness.ca reports on their strategy: “‘Increasingly, they are choosing to reach out to the online community and ask questions about our products, rather than contact us directly,’ said Dave Robinson, vice-president of marketing at Decho.”

Amazon.com demonstrates pure mastery on this front.  They were featured on the cover of Business Week Magazine earlier this month because of their ability to turn potentially bad publicity into an opportunity to brand themselves as a caring company.  Here’s an exerpt from the article:

“For the most part, Amazon has earned a reputation for strong service by letting customers get what they want without ever talking to an employee. Sales clerks are nonexistent. Orders ship with a few mouse clicks. Packages arrive on doorsteps quickly. It all happens with monotonous regularity even as the number of customers has doubled in the past five years to 88 million. But when things go wrong at Amazon—and they occasionally do—the company’s employees get involved. That may be where Amazon stands out most markedly from other companies, and helps explain how the company earned the No. 1 spot on Business Week’s customer service ranking this year.”

When a business reaches out to their customers and does everything in their power to make them happy, they remember it, sign the company’s praises in their blogs, and tell all their friends.  A gesture which may cost $20 to fix could result in $2000 worth of business from valuable viral word of mouth.  A failure to pony up that same $20 in the event of a mistake could cost $2000 the other way.

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Bet the Farm

March 24, 2009

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It’s a paradox of sorts, but as the world gets bigger and bigger, it really has begun to shrink.

Consumers have grown weary of suspicious ingredients in their food, ambiguous claims on packaging, and misleading statements in advertising.  People just want some organic goat cheese (thanks Cha-Cha, pictured above) containing ingredients no longer than four syllables.  This doesn’t have to be an expensive burden on restaurants and food manufacturers, who might be tempted to secure cheaper “natural” products from a large-scale manufacturer with cozy rolling hills on its labels.

As we grow, the world begins to partition off into small sects which must be self-sustaining in case oil someday rises to $200 a barrel and hiring that truck from South Carolina will no longer make financial sense.  But the few extra pennies we spend now supporting our local farmers and food producers will not only create strong and fair local economies, but also serves as a fantastic opportunity to market with these hard-working individuals.  The consumer wants local, organic, farm-produced food, and though they may not be as willing to spend a whole lot extra for it now, this trend will increasingly become the norm.

The marketing tip is for restaurants and suppliers:  Bet the Farm!

Restaurateurs, start making connections with local farmers and suppliers, and craft feature menu items around their products.  Have a daily menu item, or a special evening that features locally-sourced products.  Studies show that customers are interested in the back-story of these individuals, so include a write-up about one or more of them or their products and slip it into the evening menu.  Increasing your support for these businesses will probably result in better deals for you (especially if you offer the exposure), and it’s a win-win for the local economy.

Remember: 2% of the world grows food for the other 98%, and with arable land shrinking, it’s best to plan to be locally sustainable now.  Your customers will love the novelty.

Don’t Forget the Kids!

March 17, 2009

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Restaurants have for years focused marketing campaigns towards kids, but this demographic will play an increasingly important role, especially when it comes to healthy offerings, according to a survey from the National Restaurant Association, as reported by Marketing Daily.

It’s often hard for the parents to say no when the kids are hounding them about a Happy Meal. Marketers understand that to get to the parents, it’s sometimes just as effective going through the children.

Denny’s has a well-publicized Kids Eat Free Tuesday, which has been widely successful. IHOP and numerous other establishments use the same techniques.

While this promotion may not fit well with your brand, it’s important to accommodate this important demographic in your restaurant. Used in conjunction with healthy and local eating options, this idea can score points with both young and old.

For ideas on creative promotions, visit Coupon Divas to see a listing on how some of the big names cater to the kids.

Promote your Expertise

March 9, 2009

The internet has afforded people the luxury of having a voice, and what better way to use that platform than to share your expertise with the world for the benefit of your readers and business.  Writing and posting articles on blogs, social media sites and other professional outlets is a lot cheaper and more detailed than saying what you or your business does in a 3-line newspaper or Yellow Pages advertisement.

Use any opportunity you can to promote your knowledge to the people who will respond to it the most.  Supplement your services by offering tips, strategies, and other jewels of wisdom you’ve learned and allow others to benefit from your insight and experience.  This can be done on your website, through a blog, or via collaborative efforts with colleagues.

Newsletters are a great way to disseminate this information, so don’t be shy about sharing a little insight with your loyal fan base.  It’s a great marketing technique – possibly the most effective bang for your buck.  Speaking of bucks, maybe if you give away your famous carrot cake recipe, your lawyer and accountant may return the favour.

Even if you Hate Networking…

February 26, 2009

When the Harvard Business Review speaks, it might be a good idea to listen.  Especially when they tell you Networking (with a capital N) is a good idea.  It might be painful at first, but developing an effective networking strategy is crucial to business success.  Here are some tips from our friends at Harvard (Ok, I knew a guy once) which you must start reading right away!

Manage your Online Reputation

February 26, 2009

When faced with volatile economic consitions, many businesses, especially those on shoe-string budgets, are often uncertain how and where to best invest their marketing dollars. One can’t-miss strategy is to apply your resources to managing the reputation of your business. In today’s online marketing world, your customers want you to forge relationships with them, no try to be salespeople. Combine your search engine optomization with online public relations tactics called “online reputation management” to facilitate word of mouth, enhance media coverage and improve sales efficiency.

Here are some ways to manage your online reputation:

For you to successfully manage your online reputation, research the search results for your business and monitor social media outlets for mentions of your name, brands and key people. This means looking for both positive and negative commentary.

If you find negative commentary or reviews about you posted to the web, take the opportunity to respond and appropriately deal with the situation quickly, before it takes on a life of its own. This, of course, means utilizing and maximizing your existing web presence to help you squelch bad press.

Managing online reputations also involves discovering positive commentary and recognizing “brand evangelists.” You would do well to have a proactive reputation management and monitoring program in place, which, combined with good storytelling, strong search engine optimization and link building, will set you up for success in any economic condition — good or bad.

Employ “Cause” Marketing

February 26, 2009

We all know what impact the economy is having on our businesses, but imagine the crunch being felt by charities and non-profits.  As our dollars are being stretched to the limit, these organizations are the first to feel the pull.  But there is a potential solution which could help both your business and a worthwhile cause: contribute your services to a charitable venture.

Research a cause you would like to support (community-building, social services initiative) and offer your business services in a fund-raising or other similar capacity.  This union will allow you the possibility of sharing marketing platforms (donor lists, media contacts, etc.) with your charity to fill seats at events.  Depending on the arrangements, you may receive a set fee or a percentage of the proceeds with the rest going to the nonprofit.

The opportunity to offer additional services, obtain contact information and develop relationships is the real benefits for your business.  This venture could generate more sales for your good or service, and the non-profit benefits from increased awareness and publicity.  There may also be tax advantages as well.

The community benefits from the service you provide, the organization benefits from funds and publicity, and you benefit from increased cash flow, publicity and new business relationships.  People who rely on the charity of others for food, clothing and shelter – the basic necessities we take for granted – win through your generosity.