The funeral was quiet and not many people attended. In fact, few noticed the passing. It was a tragic ending, but many had seen the danger signs long before the end came. Their dreams went up in smoke, and now all is left is empty office space and banners that read, “Going Out of Business.”
Since the holidays, I have attended many funerals. Not funerals for people, but business deaths. Many unintentionally committed suicide. Countless strip malls and office space sit empty waiting for another victim to move in.
The American dream is alive and well, but most small businesses are unprepared. Most fail to stand out from the pack, no strategy, no marketing plan, no service plan, just dreams and energy. Unfortunately the American dream and energy is not enough for today’s business landscape.
John Donne said, . . .”for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” To avoid the tolling bells, you can no longer compete strictly on price of goods and services alone. You cannot just throw up a business sign and expect customers to start throwing money at you. All those “depot’s” and big retail boxes will always have lower prices. The next several years will be a battleground with few winners. It will be a time of intense competition and the winners will be the ones who know exactly what they are doing.
According to Jill Griffin, author of the business best seller, CUSTOMER LOYALTY: How to Earn It, How to Keep It, the Internet has changed the customer’s perception of responsiveness. More and more, customers expect round-the-clock customer service. Moreover, customers now arrive at Web sites time-starved and eager to locate answers. Technology tools such as customer self-service, e-mail management, and live chat and Web callback are proving increasingly critical in addressing the demanding customer’s responsiveness needs.
Understanding how your customers define value is the critical first step to successfully driving loyalty. Most companies are completely in the dark about what drives loyalty for their customers. Is it price? Is it service? Is it a unique product? What?
Create an experience for your customers
If your prices cannot compete with your competition, you have to provide something different, otherwise your customers will go somewhere else. Don’t accept average service. Provide extras, like smiles, coffee or tea service, using customers’ first names, gift wrapping, birthday and anniversary cards. All these little things add up to big profits and loyal customers. I recently stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia. When entering the restaurant, the greeter asked for my name. After that, every server addressed me by, “Mr. Smith.” It made me feel special, so chunking out $60 for dinner did not make me feel so bad.
Multi-channel value for customers
New research confirms that customers who engage with a firm through multiple channels (web, store, call center, etc.) exhibit greater loyalty and in turn, spend more and buy more than single channel customers. But take note: this finding assumes the customer gets the same consistent service whether coming into the store, logging onto the Website or calling the service center. Sadly, for most companies, the customer service experience varies greatly by channel.
Just about everyone in the United States has an E-mail address. Provide a designated place in your business, on your forms, registers, and websites for people to give you their E-mail address. Make sure you have their permission to E-mail them information. Begin sending an E-mail notification, newsletter, or sales notice one or two times a month. I emphasize, do not E-mail people without permission, and always allow them the option to remove themselves from the list.
As a business owner it is difficult to stand out from the crowd. One way to do this is a pay-per-click ad on major search engines. Advertisers bid on keywords. The more popular the keyword, the more expensive the advertising is. Prices vary between a few cents to many dollars. For example, you can pay ten cents a click for the keyword, “pool supply store.” Using pay-per-click can insure you receive top visibility on websites driving more customers to your door. Many business owners are cutting back on classified advertising in lieu of pay-per-click. Most of the major search engines are now offering this service. My favorite is found on Google.com.
Put a shopping cart on your website
Online sales are growing at a dramatic pace. According to Jupiter Research’s forecast, the U.S holiday season expected to see about $13.2 billion in purchases online, a 17% growth rate over last year. This increase of sales is coming from people who want to save time, followed closely by avoiding the crowded stores, and the ability to shop outside of store hours. Make an audit of what services and products you can offer online.
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