Purpose

Two Ways…

FUDGE, verb
: to fake, falsify; to dodge; to cheat; to hedge

[Or The Kid’s definition: “I know what fudge means… that’s ‘to make something up as you go along,’ right?”  Right, Kid.]

 

1.

So, there was this package I was expecting last Friday. Expecting, not because I’d particularly arranged for it to be there on Friday, but expecting, because I checked the U.S. Post Office website and the package said, “Out for delivery” on Friday morning. Super luck! I was hoping to have it in my hands before the weekend, and it was on the truck, on its way to me.

The guy who delivers our mail was right on time, 12:30 as usual. He handed me a bunch of mail, but I stood waiting impatiently for the package, and he didn’t hand anything else to me.

“Do you have a package there for me as well?”

I explained that the website said out for delivery, it’s rather important, etc. He shrugged.

Asked again, in case I wasn’t being clear, Could he have left it on the truck? He said, “Nope. Sorry, that’s weird,” and left.

All day, I had a sneaking suspicion he’d be back with a grin and a “Sorry, it was in a dark corner” or some such. He’s pretty new, at least to our area, and he comes around to deliver mail a second time, in just that way, fairly frequently. Plus… now it had gone from I wish I’d have it before the weekend, to the Post Office promised me I’d have it.

Such are the unintended consequences of convenience-features like package tracking.

Well, he never did come back. Instead, I checked the website at 4:30, and it still said “Out for delivery.” Then at 4:40, before shutting my computer down for the afternoon, I hit the refresh button.

Delivered at 12:35pm with Delivery Confirmation.

Whaaaa?

I checked around the door to see if he’d been too embarrassed, maybe, and left it outside, or if he was on his way back into the building now, and perhaps their site was referring to 12:35 in California or something. No package, no returning letter carrier, and I had signed for exactly nothing. What kind of confirmation is that?

I gave it another few minutes, then called the P.O. to report the problem, starting from the beginning. I got the standard, “You must be mistaken,” that they give to all us dummies, their paying customers, so we feel small instead of them, then she checked the tracking number and saw that it said exactly what I claimed it said.

“You’ll have to file a claim.”

“The letter carrier should still be around, it’s still business hours—can’t someone just ask him or something?”

“You’ll hear from us within two business days,” she said, after getting my particulars.

 

Today, the guy who delivers our mail was right on time, 12:30 as usual. Only I was on my way out when he was coming in. “Hi! Remember how I was telling you about that package I was expecting Friday, that it said on the website out for delivery, etc. The weirdest thing happened—later on it said it had been delivered.”

“When?”

“At 12:30. With delivery confirm. And you were here at 12:30 of course, but you didn’t have it.”

“Yeah. I remember. Hey, that’s weird,” he said, as if he’d made quite a discovery.

“Yeah, weird. Maybe you have the package on the truck now?”

“Nope. Just something for the doctor’s office over there.”

“Okay. Thanks anyway,” I said.

I sat in the drive and fiddled with my cell phone for a few minutes to listen to a hard-to-hear message before driving off. Less than two minutes later I popped back in because I’d forgotten to take something I needed.

The package was waiting for me.

 

2.

A friend of mine, has a client at work.

(This is not the news.)

Once, a while back… maybe two years ago now, this client dropped in for a meeting, and brought brownies. Oh, not just any brownies… I may cry as I describe them, because I was lucky enough to pop in just after her client had left, and I got to taste these still-warm morsels of Heaven… the most miraculous dag-nab brownies that have ever been bitten into. (And I have bitten into a lot of brownies, so I feel qualified to say this. No, your own/ your girlfriend’s/ your mom’s are not better. Mine aren’t better, either. *sigh*)

My friend told her she should be doing this for a living. And she was (almost) right, because I kid you not, I wanted to run after her and pay her for more.

The next time that client came, she also brought brownies. My friend gave me one later, and even when the halo of the oven had floated off, they were still the most unbelievable brownies ever. Heavenly + sinful. Mmmmm.

The next time my friend mentioned her name, in passing, I realized that even though I know the names of none of her other clients, that name is burned into my head… and makes me hungry. Oh, dear. I resisted asking how dare she mention the name without a brownie in hand, though.

Several months have passed since then. This morning, I had an urge for a brownie.

Any ol’ brownie, really… I think I’ll get one when I’m done with this work…

And my friend’s client’s name popped into my head.

So a bit later I called my friend and said that she’d trained me like Pavlov’s dog, and that I was pretty embarrassed to have made neural connections in my brain between her client and brownies, but that I guess she could pass the compliment along the next time she sees her.

“I told her, everyone loves them, and she should be doing it for a living,” she said.

I know. You told her that a while back, right?

“Well, I told her again. They’re like nothing I’ve ever tasted. And you know what she said?”

No…

“She said, ‘Everyone who’s ever tasted them has said that to me—but a business is a lot more than a miraculous brownie.’”

 

Moral of the story:

Some people are fudging it, and even though I promised you two ways… some people are not.

A business is a lot more than a product (or a service). Sometimes this means you’ve got to up your game; sometimes, it means you’ve got to know that business is not the game for you. (Both take guts and wisdom.) If you’re going to run a business that grows and succeeds, you don’t get to fudge.

 

Now, has anybody got a brownie?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

What are you selling?

I liked the school. I wanted to enroll in their classes. But after fifteen minutes, I realized they were too busy telling me how wonderful the place was, and I’d wasted a quarter-hour clicking through pages without being able to figure out what classes they have.

My friend was talking about summer college programs, but this is a problem I’ve seen on hotel websites, restaurant sites, and many others lately.

Maybe yours?

While I hope you’ve done plenty of research to figure out what the Ideal Customer comes to your website for—and designed the user experience with that Ideal Customer’s needs in mind—don’t forget that people come to your website at different stages in the buying process.

Too many sites seem to be very busy telling someone who’s new to the site why they should love the company—so busy that they’ve forgotten to tell someone who’s already sold, how to buy.

Sure, sometimes, you are selling the company to new visitors.

But sometimes, you’re just selling your darned stuff.

Don’t frustrate “pre-sold” customers with all the fluffy copy so much that they run away.

(And yes, my friend did enroll in the classes he needed at another university. One with a website that let him get right to the point.)

Are you selling what your customers are buying, at whatever point they’re at in the buying process? Or trying to force them to buy at your predetermined (and to the customer, arbitrary) pace?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

P.S. re: Debugging—Hopefully the problems this site has been experiencing for the past couple of weeks with the footer floating in odd locations, and particularly in the past week with categories going screwy, posts being occasionally unavailable, and the site randomly crashing (!), are settled now. Thanks for your patience.

P.P.S. re: Debugging—I rarely get all techy on you here, but if you’re thinking of upgrading to WordPress 3.1, give them a little time. To sort out the bugs. So you don’t have to tear all your hair out (as happened here at MCE). (And that’s as “all techy” as I’ll go.)

Tell me your secrets…or maybe don’t

I recently clicked through from an email I’d received, in order to read a “revelation” from an author I’m interested in.

C’mon, who doesn’t want to know about deep secrets?

You probably guessed it—there weren’t any. It was a minimally confessional story designed to elicit me-too empathy and rah-rah let-me-buy-from-someone-who-understands-me sales. Ho-hum.

I was pulled in by an email intended to get me to click through, with a not-very-fresh story behind it, that probably got exactly the reaction he was going for in folks who haven’t seen it dozens of times as I have.

Now the cold truth is, good business writing can be designed to do exactly what the email did—get me to click in a hurry!—so I exactly can’t fault him for it. (But I’m about to…)

And it’s worth remembering that nobody twisted my arm. I was voluntarily suckered in, interested in reading his supposedly shocking news (which wasn’t shocking, and wasn’t news). He lost my respect with the ploy, but I was following this person as a fellow businessperson to learn from, not a potential customer of his, so my Experience isn’t the one he’s worried about.

What did I learn from him?

We love dirt. Even those of us who pretend we’re above such things…. Well, I’ll just speak for myself. The only shocking news to me was how easily the prospect of seeing someone else’s freak flag flying got me to click on a link.

If we write to that too-human instinct, we should do so only sparingly, and doggone it, we’d better follow through. All the way. So save it ‘til you’ve really got to confess.

And maybe, as responsible businesspeople, maybe we shouldn’t do it at all. It’s one thing to admit flaws, difficulties, or problems we’ve had to show solidarity, to shine light on larger issues, or to suggest solutions people can try in their own lives or businesses. I have seen it done beautifully in the past.

It’s another thing entirely to play on (potentially vulnerable, potentially gullible) people’s sympathies in order to pry their dollars away from them.

Last—

I must apologize, dear reader, as I know this would be much juicier with a bit of detail regarding who sent this email and what on Earth he revealed.

To confess about someone else’s confessions? That’s just not my style.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

With apologies to Mr. C. Dickens, and thanks to Mr. S. Claus

My computer was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

That computer was as dead as a door-nail.

(Oops, that’s A Christmas Carol… well, my holiday mood is still with me. It’s all good.)

Anyway, it was dead. And me, on vacation, far from civilization.

I borrowed someone else’s computer to look up the symptoms and heard dire terms like “logic board” and “hard drive.” Sounds like no diagnosis could be worse…

== A note right here: I thanked my lucky stars that I had done a complete backup of every byte only two days earlier. Phew! If you haven’t done that lately, STOP READING! and go back up your computer’s data. (I’ll wait.) Back so soon? Then let’s return to our tale… ==

I tried all the wild remedies mentioned on the www. Zapping PRAM (no, I don’t know what that is), unplugging for ten seconds (this apparently disturbs voodoo?), starting in safe mode… well, starting is an exaggeration. The computer did power up at first, for a few minutes or a couple of hours, but then, within a day, bizarre behaviors—the flickering power cord, the disc drive spinning and choking, and worst of all,

nothing.

At last the computer flashed to the happy Apple logo (or just a black screen), and with each try, it died before my MacBook Pro could wish me a chiming Hello.

There is no doubt that it was dead. This must be distinctly understood… (ahem! Dickens again. I forget myself).

I could only try to find a zen place from which to contemplate beginning the new year with the purchase of a new Mac.

And new programs when the old ones won’t behave on a three-years-newer system.

And a new printer when the old one has no idea what a new MacBook is.

You can probably guess that I didn’t find a very zen place within me. Instead I either cursed it, ignored it, or mostly, tried to avoid completely agonizing over it in some middle place. Happy Holidays to me? Oh, ouch.

I’m going to wait until I’m back in civilization… to face The Genius Bar.

And the drive to the Apple Store just to get to the Genius Bar.

And the fatal diagnosis.

And the lines at the Apple Store.

As I bemoaned my fate (rattling more chains than Jacob Marley himself?), a friend asked whether I’d considered another option.

“When you get home, take it to the Geek Squad. If it’s dead they can tell you that as easily as the Apple people and for you, they’re a lot closer.”

Like, 5 minutes from where I live. I had no idea they deal in Macs. Apparently this is new(ish) waters for them and no one even told me! Hm.

I know they may not have the same Mac-pertise as the folks at the Genius Bar at an Apple Store, but my friend was right. Dead is dead, and it doesn’t take a lot of expertise to pronounce those words. So before I trekked to the Apple Store, I headed around the bend to Best Buy.

Geek Squad car in the snow

Image of Geek Squad car by Michael Simmons (msimmons on flickr).

(For those of you not familiar with them, Best Buy is a retail tech and appliance superstore based in the U.S., and the Geek Squad is their in-store, and mobile, tech support and repair department. They aim to put a little fun into the scary business of tech help and repairs with their distinctive look [see their Squad car, above] and energetic “Agents.”)

When the day arrived, my dead Mac and I waited in a small, fast-moving line. Within minutes I was next.

“Can I help you?” The man in the short-sleeved white shirt and skinny black tie was more hopeful-sounding than I was.

“Well, probably not… I read it’s the logic board, or the hard drive. This is what’s been happening….” I listed off everything I could remember.

“Flickering power cord?” the Geek Squad guy asked.

“Yeah… like, if I wiggle it, it stays green, usually all day, but if I take the computer someplace else and forget to wiggle it…”

“Only green? Not orange? Hang on a second.”

He came back with a funny-looking plug (new model), stuck it into my Mac, and voila! For the first time in a week, the computer came up and did not immediately crash.

“It’s on!” I exclaimed (too loudly for the post-holiday crowd, I’m afraid).

“Yep. If it wasn’t going orange for some time, it wasn’t ever charging the computer’s battery, and then in the later stages, everything else going on was only symptoms of the real problem. The cord had died totally.”

He pointed out the aisle where new Apple cords are. And though he’d diagnosed and solved my problem, he’d didn’t write out a ticket or charge me the hundred-or-so dollar diagnostic fee. And he apologized to me: “Sorry,” he said, “the new cord isn’t cheap.”

True. My funny-looking new plug just cost me 80 bucks. And instead of saying ouch, I could only smile.

In Miracle on 34th Street, Macy’s Santa Claus is caught sending shoppers to stores where they can find what they want, instead of pushing what Macy’s wants to unload. Will Mr. Macy be upset? Not when he realizes it’s making loyal customers for life out of once-a-year looky-lous.

Now, even if I’d paid the diagnostic fee I’d be happy to get out with only that and the price of the new cord, since I expected to need something between a new hard drive and a whole new computer.

But later, I might have felt funny about 30 seconds of sticking a functioning cord into my Mac costing so much. I’d still be satisfied, but not very happy about the experience.

To meet expectations will make me happy for a minute, and will keep me, your customer, satisfied. Not a very high bar, particularly in the world of stressed-out folks facing possibly-huge repair bills.

To exceed expectations—in this case, sending me to the department where I can get what I really need instead of selling me (getting away with) what you can—

—is to keep me loyal, and keep me spreading the word.

A friend suggested I give Best Buy a shot because she’d really enjoyed the Geek Squad and their new Mac-geekiness. Now it’s my turn to recommend them when folks around here (who know me as a huge Machead) ask me what to do about their own problems.

And that is a Miracle of Maximum Customer Experience on 34th or any street—one that’s rarely seen in big retail chains anymore.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

If I needed to scratch my head…

Dear Reader,

A snapshot.

 

Personalized recommendations

Of the “personalized” recommendations sent to me via email by my mega-bookstore of choice, hours after using their rewards card to buy two videos.

Bravo?

The two movies were My Fair Lady and The Greatest Game Ever Played. Non-film-buffs, please feel free to use the links provided to get the full har-har effect.

Or is that, the full what-the-heck effect?*

If you, dear reader, are rewarding loyal customers…

make sure your rewards make some darned sense.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*In case you’re wondering if they were reaching back in my ordering history, I can assure you that the most violent thing I own in my video collection is Olivier’s Hamlet and the scariest thing on my bookshelf is probably about child rearing. Um, no.

You’d like to Go Where Your VisionPoints… if you knew where that was…

You had one when you went into business. A point. Here at MCE we often like to call it your Vision—you know it both as my personal mantra and my business’ name. Helping you to Go Where Your VisionPoints is the point for me.

What if you’re not sure what your “point” is—or whether you ever knew it?

I’ve interviewed quite a few business owners who swear they had no Vision, even when they began in business, and I have to say, respectfully, that I never buy that. While they may not have been as interested in making a formal deal of it as I’ve been with VisionPoints, if they got started, they got started for some reason. Or, to use another of my favorite terms here at Maximum Customer Experience, for a Purpose.

If they truly did fall into it, it couldn’t have been more than a nanosecond before a reason to keep going appeared. Sorry, I just can’t believe in the “pointless business.”

Maybe it’s the worry that their Purpose wasn’t lofty enough that makes some business owners insist there was no point to their beginnings. We’ll revisit this idea in tomorrow’s post.

For today, look at the sentences below and see how many you can complete.

Finish the sentences below to start to home in on your point. The answers can be as long as you like:

Before I got into this business, people used to ask me all the time when I was going to start selling/ why didn’t I sell __________________________________________.

I thought they were nuts, until __________________________________________.

I’ve always had a genius for/ crazy liking for __________________________________________.

The reaction I love most from our customers is “__________________________________________.”

My favorite sale was made when __________________________________________.

The customer reaction I remember most was __________________________________________.

Did I hope to change the world? Reinvent the wheel? Help all humanity with some big issue? Nah. I hoped to __________________________________________. And we’re darned good at it, too.

If I could teach a class based on what I know now about serving our customers, I’d call it __________________________________________.

The best days are the ones when we __________________________________________.

I admit it, I’m only in it for __________________________________________.

I’m pretty sure my customers are only in it for __________________________________________. So we make sure we provide that, better than anyone else!

I knew we could do/ sell what we do better than anyone else was doing it when I heard __________________________________________.

 

When you’re done, step back (for a day or two) and look again.

Is there one that resonates with you? Is there one that could help you to connect with your customers?

Is there one that could help you connect with your own joy in doing the work that takes up the majority of your waking hours?

In the end, knowing what you’re aiming for both in terms of concrete planning and more abstract “Vision” does (as hippie as it sounds) increase your joy in your work—and bonus! it makes proving the best Customer Experience a lot easier.

Please share your answers to your favorites above in the comments below—and why do those particular ways of looking at “the point” work for you?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Slightly advanced, and all-too-often forgotten, rules for romancing your current customer

After Tuesday’s post in praise of handholding, a few more tips on how, exactly, to make your customer feel like you are their guide through the Experience of working with you:

1. Simplify. Use smaller words. Use fewer words. Use words you hear your customers using.

2. Relate it to your customer’s life. What do you do for a living, sir? Ah, yes. I hear our moustache wax is all the rage in the music department of your university. If you give it a try now, I’ll bet you’ll be the first professor in the art department to get on the bandwagon!

3. Never talk down. Your customer isn’t slow or stupid just because he or she isn’t at your level. Even if you make the sale because they need you right now, they’ll march right home to find out what their alternatives were. No matter how bad the need for your widget next time, they’ll be prepared. They’ll never buy from you again or recommend you to a friend. End of that customer’s lifetime value.

4. Write it out. Some folks will never retain all you say, no matter how friendly and helpful you are (ME!!). I wish every doctor, mechanic, attorney, garden center, plumber… heck, I wish everyone had handouts for their more complicated issues. Just write it like you explain it, and even if it’s as simple as a Word document you make into an online pdf for your website and a one-page printout for in-person customers, your buyers will be so grateful later when they’re trying to remember what you told them about the sump pump repairs you just scheduled them for.

5. Smile. New purchases are stressful. A smile from you goes a long way, and too many people forget that.  🙂

6. Change your pace. Roll along for a couple of minutes, story-style. Then explain a few things in a shorter style with plenty of pauses, visuals if possible, and questions. It helps people pay attention.

7. Involve the customer’s kids. Why? Because the parents will love you forever. Because kids sometimes have more than you know to say about the final purchase. Because most other companies don’t involve them, or worse, act like the kids are a nuisance. Because sometimes they remember a point that the parent forgot, later on. (What? I never have to ask The Kid what someone just said to me because I stopped listening after we got to the price. That never happens to me.)

8. Break it down. Whatever you do or sell, there is a way that you can break it down into steps, or segments.

Use this breakdown either to slow yourself down when explaining what you do: First, this. Any questions? Then, this. Because this. Make sense?

Or to sell to folks who aren’t sure about the whole: You don’t have to buy the whole meal or nothing, sir. Simply buy the burger if that suits you.

Like fries with that?

9. I don’t have to remind you to treat the ladies the same as the men, do I? No, not you. But pass this along, because somehow this basic point is one lots of companies STILL miss.

The advanced version of this point:

I have a mechanic who is so determined to treat me the same as the dudes, that she races through her explanation of valves blah-blah-blah with me, just the same as she does with the men. (One result, according to male friends who also go there, is that nobody fully understands her—we’re all getting a lot further away from the days of fixing our own cars.) Treating everyone with the same respect does not mean assuming everyone took shop class like you did, so back to steps 1–8 for you if you’ve been misunderstanding how to apply this handholding tip.

10. Ask questions. Not “Do you have any questions,” because mostly we don’t know about the thing we should be asking about. So we say No.

Instead, try, “Have you ever run into [common thing everyone calls you about three days after the sale]? Here’s how you’ll handle that…” and similar questions about how they may use your product so you can give tips on how to get the best out of it. Often, buyers only use a quarter of the features of a new purchase because they don’t know about the other 3/4! Be like an in-person FAQs.

BONUS: It’s not as personal as the rest of these handholding tips, but keep in mind that your FAQs page online should contain (gasp!) actual Frequently Asked Questions. I know the temptation is to make FAQs into one more sales page (and it should be that, in part). The relief a customer feels at 3am, when their question about their new but non-functioning whatsis is answered on your FAQs page, builds tremendous good will—and saves you the angry call a few hours later when you open for business.

This sort of handholding is great for helping to make the sale, but it’s even better (and more unexpected) after you’ve made the sale. The time to cement that lifetime customer value is during the process of working with you, or during the honeymoon phase with your product.

Got a tip to share? How do you hold your customer’s hand, and make the process of working with you seem more comfortable?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Hand holding for fun and profit

If you’ve ever bought a new car, or a house, or seen a doctor for something beyond a cold, or signed a book contract, or rolled over your 401(k) when changing jobs, or needed a lawyer, you’ll probably know this feeling:

When I get done with this I’ll be an expert, but then it’ll be too late, because I’m never doing this again.

Many times when you have to go through a rare or once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, you’re just trying to catch on to the rush of events swirling around you—in buying a house for instance, real estate agents, papers to sign, house inspections, papers to sign, a thousand steps in getting your mortgage, papers to sign, and so on.

The experts who guide you seem hurried, but in fact, they’re only practiced. (As you will be, once you’ve been through it once.) They may seem rude and dismissive, but it’s usually not malice, just the assumption that everyone knows what they know.

That’s the norm, and when we’ve got to face a big purchase, crisis, or change in our lives, we generally accept that being intimidated, going along in a fog, and only understanding it all later is How It’s Going To Be. I’ve certainly done it many times myself.

Recently I had the “opportunity” (yes, you may put that word in ironic air quotes) to go through such a rare event, involving contacts with many experts at what they do. What struck me was that two out of these many, took the time to walk me through what was going on without my having to stop them a hundred times and ask for clarifications as if we don’t speak the same language. They took the time to listen carefully to my concerns, even though I’m sure half of them were completely irrelevant to the issue at hand. They used my name. They looked me in the eye. Their pace slowed me down, and though it didn’t change the outcome at all, it made me feel differently about it.

So my thought after analyzing what these two people did right—you know the list: be courteous, listen, explain, go slower than you think you need to, say things twice, watch for signs of understanding…—my thought was this. Though most of us don’t do things as heavy as curing cancer or suing negligent manufacturers for a living, we all do something that we are the experts at, and our customers are not.

Otherwise they wouldn’t hire us!

So whether you’re a daycare owner, a furniture maker, a sales rep, or a videographer, take some extra time with your customers today.

Don’t assume that you do something so “simple” that everybody gets it. If we could do it like you can, we’d be doing it. You’re our guide.

See if you can offer a little hand-holding with your product or service.

Watch for how differently it makes your customers feel and act and buy (hey, it’s even better when being good for the customer is good for you as well).

I have a feeling that in addition to being very good professionally, for the sales of those two people who treated me to some extra hand-holding, and in addition to being good for me, it’s also good for them personally. The hand-holder gets to feel a lot better about guiding you though an experience when they’re… actually doing some guiding.

Plus hand-holders get more recommendations from their surprised and deeply satisfied customers.

Hands down.  🙂

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Is there any hope here?

“90% of the money created by users spending time online accrues to search engines.”
—Jakob Nielsen, website usability expert extraordinaire

You might want to read that sentence again. If you’re hoping to make money online, it contains a much-needed dose of reality. Making money online might not be the path to riches that you imagine it is, dear reader. But lets widen the view.

Using the… Web, a user can easily visit 100 sites in a week, viewing only 1–3 pages on most of them. (For example, for one task in which B2B users visited 15 sites, they spent an average of 29 seconds per pageview.) Most sites are visited once-only, because users dredge them up in a search or stumble upon links from other sites or social media postings. Without real customer relationships, content sites have no value and 90% of the money created by users spending time online accrues to search engines.

Now, the scene just got a bit more depressing for your online business, because it’s clear that it’s awfully hard to hold even an interested visitor on your site.

And content sites have no value? Ouch. What does this mean for all the gurus shouting that content is king?

(Heck, what does it mean for your intrepid Experience Designer, slaving away over this fresh MCE-content for your benefit right now?)

It means we missed the critical point of Mr. Nielsen’s valuable research.

The only point, in fact, that can have a measurable impact on your business—one that I have been learning over and over for the past twenty years in business:

Without real customer relationships.

That’s it. Online and off, I can tell you that 50 to 75% of my business is now and has always been (even pre-Web) derived from real customer relationships. I have a relationship with many of my readers today at MCE and I’ve been fortunate to work with many of you on improving your businesses. (Perhaps you’d like to work with me as well? I’d love that.) I have relationships with other authors online and I’m very grateful that they feel free to refer business to me. I have relationships with customers, vendors, and colleagues offline, and as we track the sources of our business that is always what it comes down to. In fact if I may include relationships that happy customers have with others, the number might be closer to 90% relationship-based these days.

This is the new reality for entrepreneurs and small business owners—the same as the old reality.

No matter how world-wide the web, we must create real relationships in order to grow our sales and thrive.

There are no new rules.

Be sure to check out Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox. The excerpt in this post is from his latest article, iPad Usability: First Findings From User Testing —which contains a wealth of information that is also not new, but is fascinating when applied to the gotta-have-it tech gadget of the year, Apple’s iPad.

Are you creating real customer relationships online? How has it helped your business to grow?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

A True Story

“We’ve got problems here,” he said on the phone. “Business has been declining badly, even when other people’s business started to pick up around here. I want you to tell me how to get more customers in here. I’d really like your instant read.”

We don’t have pricing for “instant read,” but I agreed on the scope of the project with the man on the phone, and a few days later I made the drive.

When I arrived at the shop, it was an instant turn-off: a jumble of products very, very loosely held together by something that had once been a theme, but now appeared to be “whatever strikes the owner as interesting.” No wonder folks couldn’t figure out what mental drawer they should place his shop in.

The place was also dark, and slightly dirty, with a faint odor… maybe fish?… from the restaurant next door. The biggest issue was the clutter and the incomprehensible “product line,” though. In this instance, the dirt could wait.

“Well?”

He meant it when he said “instant read”; I’d only been in the place for about three minutes and he was already impatient for A Solution.

That was no problem; it had only taken me 30 seconds to come up with the answer. The other 2 minutes and 30 seconds were for finessing how to say it.

“So what do we need to do?”

“The difficulty here is, it’s hard for a customer to figure out what they can buy at your shop. What you’re the best at. When they should come here first, because you’re the guy who’s got ‘it.’ In fact, it’s hard to know, looking around here, just what it is you’ve got.”

He was waiting for more, so I put it into action terms.

“You need to define yourself. Perhaps you had more focus once and you just need to get back to that. My instant read is that your business has declined because people have found other places where they can get ‘anything.’ To want to come to you, they have to want ‘something.’ You need to know what your ‘something’ is, because they’re not going to guess for you.”

“But my customers love it,” he said bluntly.

“You hired me to get you more customers,” I said.

He thanked me for my time, paid for his instant read…

… and I suspect, went right back to doing things the way he’d always done them.

MCE Moral #1: Know what you offer, and don’t wander far without good reasons.

MCE Moral #2: In less than three minutes, a professional can present an excellent “instant read” from a 30-second evaluation. Customers are doing the same thing in the same 30 seconds. If you haven’t got enough customers, you’ve already got their instant read.

MCE Moral #3: Getting advice and taking it are not the same thing.

(Bonus Moral: Don’t smell like fish.)

Have you ever found yourself seduced by But My Customers Love It? How were you able to remind yourself to look beyond today’s customers in order to grow your business?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson