Customers don’t care if you have social media

February 26, 2010

It’s true. They don’t. What they do care about is getting the information they want, when they want, how they want. Social media is just a tool. Customers might want you to tweet/post good deals and relevant information (menus, specials, contests, etc.), but may have no desire to start a dialogue just because. They don’t really want your attempts at ‘connecting’ to ‘clutter up’ their stream/feed.

Or do they? Maybe they like seeing that there’s a real person behind a company – knowing that when they tweet a complaint or try to connect that they’ll get a prompt response from a human being not following an arcane script. Maybe they love it that you swing by just to say hello.

As a business, how do you know what your customers want? Simple. ASK. You might think you’ll look stupid, but really, people are happy to tell you what they want. I remember when a local-based, large grocery chain started tweeting, they came right out and said, “Hey we’re new to Twitter – what do you want to see from us?” At first I cringed a little – because I thought “Wait, they don’t know what they’re doing?” Then I realized – none of us do. How I use social media as a person is inherently different from how a big business might use it, which in turn might be far different from a small business would use social media. Even though there’s a real human behind each account, every person using has a different objective or viewpoint. Connect with your customers how they want – not how you think they should want.

Well the weather outside is frightful but the deal is so delightful

January 14, 2010

A “blizzard” predicted to hit on a December Wednesday morning threatened the hubs’ Christmas present – front row tickets for ‘White Christmas’ in Lansing. Being the responsible adult I am, I called and moved to Thursday. So of course, the snow hit Thursday, and we were driving in the thick of it. So much for being responsible. But a 50% off coupon in my inbox to selected Gilmore Collection restaurants made sure we still had a special date.

I’ve wanted to eat at – well, all – of the GC restaurants since we moved to GR. With about 20 restaurants to chose from, we have our pick of food type and ambiance – but no matter where we went, I heard the food and service were great. Mangiamo is an Italian restaurant in an old mansion that we’ve passed a few times and each time I’ve thought “Oh, what a cool-looking place.” Though I’ve been getting daily e-mail specials left and right, we didn’t have a chance to take advantage of them. But on that Wednesday I got an e-mail offering 50% off the food bill at about 10 of their restaurants, and Mangiamo was on the list. We still wanted to do something special and this was a great way to try a new place without a huge investment. So we went.

I’m guessing they were probably expecting a dead night because of the weather, so if this e-mail brought in a few more people, cool. But when we got to the restaurant at 7, it was almost full and didn’t slow down the entire time we were there. A small amount of effort for a huge reward – because now we know their reputation was well deserved. And we’re willing to pay full price for it.

A swing and a Christmas card miss

December 23, 2009

It’s Christmas card time again and I was excited to get an ‘e-card’ from my alma mater’s alumni office. E-cards give a bigger space to show what’s been happening on campus. In theory. In practice, at least had they mailed a printed card it would be a bright spot next to bills and junk.

The card opened with what I assume is our choir singing Silent Night. Very classic. Except the background and the font were very modern. Both things, alone, were very nice. But together, something didn’t fit.

The pictures (all very well done) flew in at lightening speed – matching the fun font but definitely not the slow music. And there were NO CAPTIONS. I know I’m a writer but…apart from the championship photos, none were self-explanatory.

The random building under the ‘accomplishments’ header? That would be the new education building, which cost millions and replaced an old, decrepit excuse for an education building. As education is one of the school’s biggest majors (it started as a teacher’s college for crying out loud), this is a huge deal. Why not at least a label telling people what this building is and a link to a story for more information?

The photos under the  ‘championship’ header are good and I understand them – again, it would be cool to link to news stories, but they are self-explanatory.

The random smiling student under ‘academics’? Turns  out she’s a scholarship recipient who has a very nice profile on the alumni site. It would be great if the card has said that instead of leaving information-hog me to scour the site looking for her.

‘Excitement.’ Another football photo. Now I understand we finally have a good football  team and let me tell you, even as someone who couldn’t care less about sports I AM excited that I can watch my alma matter kick a Big Ten team’s behind all over the field on ESPN. But you have seven photos and three are of sports teams? That’s too much. Show the marching band, the cheering crowds, a parade. Even better, find another header and showcase the theatre, the arts or a cool campus event. This is a college, where people learn. I get that they can learn outside the classroom, but when you have one ‘academics’ photo and three sports photos (two football) in a group of seven, something is off.

All that said, most of the material I get from my alma mater is top notch – well designed with interesting content. The communications office earns awards every year. I suspect they were handed the images and text and given a tight deadline. But if you are going to put the effort into creating something like this, please, for the love of the season, put more thought into it. Or send me a card through the mail. 🙂

Inspiring words from @skydiver

December 14, 2009

I had the chance to meet Peter Shankman (@skydiver) last month.  He’s probably best known for launching Help A Reporter Out (HARO) which connects journalists and sources. The West Michigan AMA hosted a talk/meet and greet at Hayworth, a furniture manufacturer in Holland. Hands down one of the best speakers I have EVER heard – funny, engaging and relevant. And because I let him pick on me for being a child, he gave me a free Poken. What a guy.

He had some great things to say, and I’ve summarized below the points that really stuck with me. (My comments are in parenthesis.)

– Social media is the ability to screw up to a much larger audience in a much shorter period of time. You hear about the screws ups, not the success stories.

(So many companies are scared of social media because they don’t want to lose control. But it’s just word-of-mouth marketing with a bigger audience. With social media, at least you can hear the problems and make it right.)

– You shouldn’t just be asking “What happens if it fails?” but also “What happens if it succeeds?” If you can’t handle a high volume, any success will turn to failure fast.

–  If you want to achieve greatness, set yourself apart. How many Honda Civics did you see today? You don’t remember – good car, but it looks like a lot of others. If you saw a Lamborghini, you’d remember. Because it’s different.

(Any business needs to stand apart from the competition. The bigger the pool, the more of a niche you need to fill. You can’t be everything to everybody – so find the somebody you want to serve.)

Four things to think about

1. Transparency. If you admit you did something wrong, customer loyalty will increase. Still try to fix it.

2. Relevance. How do you reach a fragmented audience? Ask them what they want! Sometimes it isn’t about the money you make but the money you save. A non-profit he gave to would mail all donors a 7 pound coffee table book. He lives in NYC and is single – the man has no coffee table. He called them up and said “Why didn’t you ask me? I could’ve saved you the money.” So they started asking. They’ve saved MILLIONS as a result.

3. Learn to write. The average attention span is 2.7 seconds, 140 characters – the length of a text or tweet. Embrace the concept – brevity – not the brand – Twitter.

4. Be top of mind. We talk to on average, 3% of our network. For the first time, information is flowing from the inside of our network out. Get people to do PR for you through good customer service and paying attention. He talked about a future – not too far from now – where the people we interact with most float to the top of our network – on whatever social media platform is “in.”

Final note: Thanks to the AMA and Hayworth  – this was an incredible event. The space at Hayworth is beautiful, and the President and CEO, Franco Bianchi, even took time out of his day to greet us.

Other coverage: Check out Dr4Ward’s Twitter round up of the event.

Treat every customer like they’re at a trade show

December 2, 2009

I’ve never been to a true ‘trade show’, but I realized when I went to the Grand Rapids Food and Wine Festival for the second time – that what it is. A college fair? Also a ‘trade show.’ Arts and crafts fair? ‘Trade show.’ Why? To me, a trade show is a gathering of different companies in a similar business, and allows the consumer (whether the consumer is another person or another business) to interact directly with that company – whether a college, a winery or a craft person. Marketing – at a trade show, online, in print – is about showing up, listening and answering questions. Give your customers value and they’ll always come back. Don’t believe me?

I went with my sister (strictly a sweet wine drinker – which means her options are limited) and my mom (she and I range the gamut – sweet to dry, white to red).  We went on Saturday, when most of the vineyards had representatives on hand, though the wine was poured by Ferris State students. So what made us stop? 1. A vineyard we had tried before. 2. Wine from a  region we knew we liked. But the biggest reason? If there was a rep in that booth. Here’s how much of a difference that makes.

A confession – we hate California wine. The racks and racks and racks of it that you see at the store? Breeze right past. Why? Because most California wine I see is Chardonnay, Cab Sav or Merlot – I dislike them all.  So when we went to the show, we breezed past at least two entire aisles – because they were full of California wines.

But my mom decided to take the plunge – she found a California vineyard with an actual rep in the booth, walked right up to him and said, “I hate California wine. What can you tell me?” The guy was not offended or really even ruffled. He asked what she didn’t like, she told him, and he listened – and found her a wine she actually enjoyed. She’s been converted – at least to this winery.

At another booth, my mom and I were trying dry wine. As my sister is SO not about that, she was just hanging back, listening. The rep at the booth next to ours noticed she wasn’t trying anything and struck up a conversation. Two free samples and five minutes later, my sister had at least three wines that she knew she loved from this vineyard. Since her wine taste is so narrow, she’ll buy a lot more from this vineyard then the average customer.

Now, most people aren’t as bold as my mother (or as cute as my sister). But it raises two points.

1. Are you putting your best person out there to interact with customers? Online, over the phone, in person – are they talking to someone who can really answer their questions? People will tell you what they don’t like – if they trust you can do something about it.

2. Take a second to think about why people would be pre-disposed to hate your brand? Can you address some of those issues? You might get a convert.

The easiest way to a great Web site

October 29, 2009

Are you serious about having a great Web site? Great – you should be. And I can tell you the fastest way to get there – just one step.

The easiest way to have a great Web site is to hire a Web content person.

Now stop laughing.

The easiest way to have a great Web site is to hire a Web content person.

True story.

Now, that statement may sound biased coming from me – since I was a Web content writer for almost two years. But it’s true. You need at LEAST one person on your staff dedicated to writing/developing/editing Web content.  Why?

1. Your site has no personality

If a random person here or there is writing for the site, chances are there’s no overall tone. In certain cases different parts of the site may require different tones, but there should be a reason for it – decided by the Web content person, after research.

2. Your site is old

If you don’t have a dedicated staff member reviewing your site, you have outdated content. By at least a year. I promise. Maybe an event was supposed to be annual, but it didn’t survive a second year. Or that “weekly” column hasn’t been written in six months. You need someone to know about these things and keep track of a time line.

3. You say the same thing in five different places

Redundancy is not always a bad thing. You might want a call to action on as many places a possible. You may want students to find application information in different places. But you should know not just what you’re saying more than once, but why.

4. You don’t have a plan

Parts of your site are more important than others. The home page is usually the most important part – but not always. The important parts need to be monitored the most. Having someone to set that priority – based not on politics but on hard analytic data – is essential.

5. You have too much content

Gerry McGovern said in this video (6:47) “Giving an intranet to a communicator is a bit like giving a pub to an alcoholic. Every day is Christmas.” You need someone who knows when and what to cut. Then, you need to get them the authority to make those cuts.

So, what about logistics? Titles vary: Web content writer, Web content editor, Web content creator, Web marketing manager, Web communications manager – depending the level of their oversight and expertise. And this person can do other things – marketing materials, press releases, intranet articles…but the main focus needs to be Web content. Bob Johnson’s Blog has some great examples of job descriptions. They’re focused on higher ed, but are really applicable anywhere.

I see you, thinking you can just add this duty to any random marketing/communications staffer you have. Not a good idea. I know in this economy adding a new position can seem impossible. And maybe it is – maybe you need to take an existing staffer and switch around his or her duties. A good writer with no Web experience can be taught how to write for the Web – but it needs to be a main priority. This does not fall under “other duties as assigned.”

Just fixing the problem isn’t good customer service

October 19, 2009

I recently traveled to Cancun with my friend Cammie, her mom Naomi and our friend Shalee. Cammie is a flight attendant and has a self-professed travel addiction, so we put her in charge of booking the trip. She found a deal for 5 days at an all inclusive resort, with airfare, for under $450 a person. We assumed the trip was so cheap because 1. We were sharing a room and 2. We had a layover in Miami. She booked (using Naomi’s name and information) with Orbitz because they had the best price, but a variety of carriers were within about $30 of each other.

We spend all day Saturday traveling, get to the resort about 9 p.m. and go to check in. It’s 90 degrees in the dark and we’re thrilled because we didn’t really get a summer in Michigan. But we’re hot. And hungry. Oh, and did I mention Cammie’s five months pregnant?

Except there’s a problem. Orbitz booked us as two adults and two kids. Our reservation clearly says four adults – we even have our birth dates on the reservation. The front desk says they can only direct us to call Orbitz. So Naomi gets on her phone at $.59 a minute and calls Orbitz. And talks to someone for an hour. She tries to have the front desk talk to Orbitz – the manager refuses.

You can guess what happens next – Naomi pays Orbitz another $500 for two more adults. Why? Because we’re in México, with a pregnant woman who’s starving and a plane that doesn’t leave for four days. What could we do? (The rest of the trip, thankfully, was fun and restful.)

When we returned, I complained on Twitter and the Orbitz account asked me to DM my contact info within 24 hours. I gave them Namoi’s, as the reservation was in her name. They explained that while four people can share a room, they only guarantee rooms for two people. This information was not on the Web site when we booked and was not explained to us when we called initially. (Apparently it has since been updated on the Web site.)

Orbitz never did charge her for the extra room, offered to reimburse her for the cell phone bill and gave her a $200 travel credit. They fixed the problem. And the $200 travel credit was a nice way to try to apologize for the misunderstanding.

Even so, it will be a long time before I ever travel with Orbitz again. Why? Because good customer service would have been fixing the problem WHILE we were in Mexico. Without having to spend an hour on the phone. Sure, everything is fine now, but in the future? I’d rather pay $30 more and travel with a company I know is going to take care of me – especially if I’m far away from home. Peace of mind is priceless, indeed.

When Cheaper Isn’t Better

October 13, 2009

I joined a gym last week.

I’m not much of a “fitness buff.” I ran track in 7th and 8th grade – that is the extent of my childhood sports. No pre-school t-ball, no elementary soccer, no high school cross country. I ran a 7:35 mile my freshman year of high school because gym was graded on effort, including the 5-minute morning run. My 4.0 was not getting wasted on a freaking A- in gym. My thunder thighs, unfortunately, do not provide the same motivation.

I paid to join a gym last week.

In college, I had a “free” membership to CMU’s pretty rocking Student Activity Center (you know, “free” as in the fee was included in my bill) – but I lived far enough away from it that getting there was not my first priority. I graduated, got married, got my first job…working at a college, with a free gym membership. I could go on my lunch and still eat at my desk. It was great! People aren’t just loonier than a toon when they said that exercising gives you more energy – it does. True story.

I paid A LOT to join a gym last week.

So I got a new job, in a new city, and started looking for a gym. I know I do best when someone is pushing me, so my first frugal thought was videos – but I’m on the third floor.  I could do a 24-7 gym – but all they had were machines. (They also weren’t staffed all day, and that triggered way too many horror movie plots for my taste, thanks. I like Freddy on a screen, not in the gym.) The YMCA membership plus classes was over $100 a month! Maybe that’s how they keep the beds cheap. Two places I contacted offered machines and classes – at $80 a month. I pay over $80 a month for: my rent, my car, my cell phone. No wait, my AND David’s cell phone. My cable and internet isn’t even $80 a month. But when I e-mailed and told them they were out of my price range, Mark at East Hills said, “Hey – are you a student by chance?” I start grad school in the winter – so he gave me the student rate of $56 a month starting now, in October.

He could have ignored me and moved on to someone who would pay the $80. But he took 30 seconds to try to bring me back – after all, $56 is better than $0. Maybe you call that customer service, or good policy, or just being nice. But it’s good marketing, too. His follow up was great and he’s made sure I take advantage of all the services the gym has to offer – including two free personal training sessions. I never would have paid $56 on the front end, but stacked up next to $80 with that kind of service? I was sold.

I joined the East Hills gym last week. Was it worth it? The first class I took knocked me flat for a week. Now that I can walk normally again…yes. It’s worth every penny of the $80, so the $56? It’s a bargain.

Are you promoting your product or your amenities?

September 23, 2009

When I got my new job in Grand Rapids, Mich. I was ecstatic. Now David and I could move to Grand Rapids and stop the 2 hour/120 miles a day commute we’d been doing for the better part of a year and a half. This meant we were in for some serious apartment shopping.

Our first apartment was new, had a big kitchen, a washer and dryer, cathedral ceilings, a balcony overlooking the pond … Sounds great, right? Except with the way the sun faced it was usually too hot to even have the window open, let alone sit on the balcony. And it was only 1 bedroom. I discovered in my newly marriedness that if I didn’t want to become a widow or a killer, we would need a bigger place.

The next place cut about 10 minutes off my commute. It was at the intersection of the two major highways we took to work and practically right across the street from a Meijer. And two bedrooms. But, it was old – the kitchen was small, the paint was worn and the balcony looked out onto a random backyard.

This time, we were determined to find a winner. We decided to focus on areas between our jobs because we’re both on the east side. Could we have found nicer/cheaper places farther out? Maybe. But location was more important to us.

We found two complexes. Complex A had great amenities – an outdoor pool, tree-filled grounds, a new workout room open late, and free coffee and pastries in the clubhouse. It was a two-bedroom townhouse – no upstairs or downstairs neighbors! Complex B also had lush grounds, a two-bedroom 3rd floor (bad for carrying but no one on top of you), and indoor pool and a “workout facility” – three really old machines in a tight room, open only with the office.

Guess which complex we picked? Complex B.

Complex A had a nice apartment – about 950 sq. ft. Bigger than out current place, we thought we were set – until I saw the kitchen. All apartment kitchens are small, but this was smaller than our current kitchen. I like to cook. A lot. And I have a lot of stuff. Complex B had a nice, updated kitchen that was much bigger than my current space. The whole place in general had over 1000 sq ft.

So, what does this have to do with marketing? An apartment is a place to live –before anything else, the actual apartment has to meet certain requirements that differ from person to person. Complex A may have been great for someone who needed less room, or ate a lot of takeout. For me – not so much. So when you’re promoting your product, are you busy touting all the bells and whistles to make it appeal to the masses? Take a step back and find a core group of people who will benefit from you basic service. Interact with them. Cater the extras to them. Think it won’t work? The complex we’re in has about 1-2 units open at any given time in a city with dozens of complexes.