Nice is not a substitute for good

I had to rent a car the other day and experienced a common dilemma that many of us face when purchasing a service. The employee that is VERY nice but not very good. But what do you do in a situation like this?

I found myself at the car rental place for over 30 minutes…and I was the only customer in the place. But the girl was so nice that I didn’t have the heart to sound even slightly irritated for fear of crushing her fragile, yet extremely friendly and courteous spirit. So I sat…and stood…and leaned…and waited…while she sorted through paperwork and clicked away on the computer. She clearly wasn’t sure what she was doing and was being overly nice to compensate for it. I didn’t mind at first but soon decided I would have rather had someone who was rude and knew what was going on.

Nice is NOT a substitute for good. Don’t let it be with your service either.

Who’s the stupid one?

More than once I have heard colleagues complain when a client goes with a competitor.

“What are they, stupid?” seems to be the comment I’ve heard often, “that company is horrible.”

In fact, I think I myself have uttered these words more times than I care to admit.

But is it really the client who is stupid? Probably not. The fact is, they went with the service that they perceived as having the best value. And if it wasn’t yours, who’s fault is that?

Its probably yours.

Relationships with your clients must be built over time. But never forget that the most important thing is for your clients to know the value of your service and what makes your service different from your competitors so next time they have a decision to make it will be the right one.

Angie’s List, yelp, etc.

The explosion of user generated content on the web has created an entirely new way to market a service. Sites like Angies List and yelp allow joe or jane public to post their experience for virtually any service they have utilized. Laundromat, contractor, doctor, restaurant, dog walker, etc. If the service exists, its probably been rated by everyday customers like yours on one of these sites.

So how can you leverage this? A few ways.

The first step is to check to see if your company already appears on any of these sites. There is a good chance someone has already written something about you. If so, respond to it. And do it in writing on the site if allowed. Thank those that say good things about you and see what you can do to make those that criticize you happy. Customers don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to fix something that isn’t right.

Second, encourage happy customers to go to these sites and post their experience with your service. And make sure you thank them if they do. Also, if there are customers that made negative comments about you and you in turn did something to make them happy customers again, ask them to post their experience so other customers can see how you respond to problems. This is invaluable.

Third, once your reviews on these sites are under control (you’ve thanked those that like your service and fixed problems for those that don’t), encourage potential customers to look at what has been said about you. Mention it somewhere on your website, maybe mention it in a conversation.

One last thing, never argue with someone on one of these sites. It will only get ugly. Approach it like you are having a conversation in front of a million potential customers. Which you are. Stay professional and fair no matter what is posted about you.

The future of advertising your service

I attended a panel discussion last week called “The Future of Online Advertising.” The panel consisted of Jennifer Reynolds: Director, Worldwide Advertising/Campaign Expression at Adobe, Brian Axe: Director of Product Management for AdSense at Google, Jed Nahum: Business Integration Director, AdECN at Microsoft and Amir Ashkenazi: CEO and Co-Founder at adap.tv. The panel was moderated by Emanual Rosen, author of The Anatomy of Buzz: How to create word of mouth marketing. The discussion was quite good, but the common theme that was continually reiterated throughout the evening was relevance and value.

Advertising, no matter what the medium, MUST be relevant to the intended audience and it MUST provide value. But this is especially true online. Its so easy for a user to click ON an ad or click AWAY from an ad.

This point could not have been driven home more clearly than when Brian (the guy from Google) said, “I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but I’d like to see fewer ads out there but more relevant ads.”

I look at it this way. If you are at a party with 100 people, who are you most likely to engage with or converse with? Probably the guy that talks about things that are relevant to your interests and the one that provides conversation you find valuable. That’s the guy you want to talk to and that’s the guy you probably want to connect with on Facebook or Linkedin when you get home. The same is true of advertising online. The only difference being, its much easier to get away from an annoying ad than it is an annoying party guest.

Be relevant to your audience and provide content they will value.

Your second most important business relationship

I was talking to a friend the other day who stood to lose a big chunk of business because a competitor had come in and offered lower prices. She was pretty worried. The more I spoke with her the more it became clear that she provided a vital service to her client and charged a very fair price. It was also very apparent that the client was not clear on the entirety of the consequences resulting from a switch.

In further conversation, my friend was able to articulate very well the consequences her client would face from a switch to lower prices. So when I asked her what her client said when she explained this to them, she told me she only had contact with the users of her service and the decision had been made higher up in the company.

That’s a problem.

I told her that the decision makers probably weren’t fully aware of what she had just explained to me. If they were, they wouldn’t be switching. She needed to find a way to speak with them. Which she did.

I’m happy to report that she was able to save her business by speaking with the people who were making the decision. She not only saved her business but now has a relationship with the decision makers.

Its great to have relationships with the day-to-day users of your service. In fact its the second most important business relationship you can have. But if you don’t develop relationships with the decision makers, you will eventually find yourself in an unfavorable situation.

Never offer a discount (part 2)

Some of you may be familiar with the recent study done by Stanford University on how the human brain responds to perceived expensive wine versus perceived inexpensive wine.

In a nutshell, the subjects were given wines to taste and told they ranged in price from $5 per bottle up to $90 per bottle. The catch is that the wine was actually all the same. The results were fascinating.

As expected, most people claimed the more expensive wines tasted better. But the researchers took it a step further and monitored each subjects brain to see how the brain responded. And when people tasted what they thought was more expensive wine, there was more activity in the area of the brain that registers pleasure. It was all about perception and expectations.

This all goes back to the point of discounts. You are affecting peoples perceptions and expectations of your service when you are quick to offer discounts. You are telling them that you don’t value your service so why should they. And truthfully, you don’t value your service if you are quick to offer discounts. But that’s another issue for another time.

Remember, discounts are a short term fix that can create long term problems.

And in case you were wondering, here’s part 1 of Never Offer a Discount.