Did it Ping or Did it Pong? The Art of Intelligent Customer Service.

Sorry for the telephone ping pong” said the receptionist.

But ping pong implies that the calls went both ways. This only pinged or it ponged, you did not return my four calls” said a very fed up, frustrated me.

Shocked, the receptionist somewhat huffily replied: “But what do you expect me to do when I don’t get an answer?”

“Manage, my expectations” I rallied, “Manage my expectations”

Exit the scene: one defensive receptionist thinking that customers just ask too much and one customer thinking of taking her not insubstantial business elsewhere.

The Devil, so I am told, is in the detail. Good customer service isn’t just about providing great services and products, but its about dealing with problems in an intelligent way. Even if the problem is an inability to deal with the customer’s request. As my twenty something son would say: “You know this”. So why do so many businesses fail to deliver? It doesn’t take much to get it right. A little intelligence, a little communication , a soupcon of understanding of our clients’ situation. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

There’s a knife-edge between getting it wrong and getting it right, but intelligent customer service requires a sensitive approach to customers and the ability to admit that either you haven’t got all the answers or that the request is just too damn difficult. We all respect that. We don’t respect non-communication and flannel!!!

Are we talking too much?

As Twitter comes under scrutiny for its position and action, or lack thereof, on Twitter ‘hate crimes’ (trolling and nasty, racist or  aggressive Tweets to either celebrities or ordinary people), I am wondering – are we talking too much?

Social media has been heralded as the greatest evolution in communication. We now have instantaneous access to people and their views on anything from revolutionary action in the Arab Spring to whether the latest deodorant is really doing its stuff. And of course, it is great to observe instantaneous thoughts and actions. However, human communication has taken thousands and thousands of years to evolve and generally, we have learnt to be careful about what we say out aloud.

Great communication is natural, but considered. Generally, we don’t tend to tell people that we dislike how they look, what we really think of their partners or whether we like the coffee they drink. We try not to bore them with how our kids are doing at school, the details of the recent flu or the latest shenanigans in the office. (Not if we want to talk to them again, at any rate). So it follows, that companies and organisations should keep communications natural, flowing, relevant and above all, interesting.

I have seen so many businesses and organisations keen to have a social media presence. They start Tweeting or Facebook messaging, without thinking what their core messages should be. Poor performers don’t tend to think about engaging their target audience or about starting conversations with relevant and interesting people in a meaningful way. So many messages are boring, lack charm, are way off brand message and are far too sales orientated.

Understanding how audiences think and how they relate to brands in a modern age is really important, as is a natural chatty style and relevant content. The latter tends to be what people want to hear, which unfortunately, isn’t always the same as what many companies tend to say!

Having witnessed so many poor social media performers, there are certainly a number of masters out there. They are inspirational and manage to capture and retain our attention over a prolonged period of time. So, just before you hit the send button next time you’re chatting to your target audience, think twice, who do you want to talk to and how do you want to converse. Make sure that your social media presence is really a two way thing.

Lessons from a car salesman – The lost art of selling

I’m currently in the market for a new car. I’ve decided what I want and I’m quite far along the decision making process. I don’t want to buy brand new, but I do want to buy from a reputable dealer and I want a car with a few thousand miles on the clock.

Simple you would think. But, I have found that good sales technique is sadly lacking.

Dealership no 1 - is the dealer very close by. I’ve bought two cars from them in the past, but I am put off because they failed to ring me back when I was looking to purchase my last car, thus missing out on a sale. I really wanted to buy a little car from them as the second family car, one which the kids could use, but I think they’d written me off as a time waster. (I’d previously looked for a car for my mother before deciding against the idea). So reluctantly on that occasion, I decided against my first choice and bought a Ford instead. This time though, I did look at them again, but they are not my preferred choice of dealer.

Dealership no 2 – the salesman looked so unimpressed to be talking to riff raff such as us, that we were quite disheartened. Not a single smile of welcome from the whole dealership. We returned a week later to test drive a car, but the sales man kept us waiting for 15 minutes. (I wouldn’t dream of handling my clients like this and I don’t think for one moment that they would put up with it!)

Dealership no 3 – had a lovely young man, only 11 days in the job, as our salesman. He was keen, enthusiastic and charming. He even persuaded us to put down a deposit on a not to be missed opportunity, which, when it materialised, was the old model of the car. A genuine mistake, we think, but we obviously got our money back.  A senior colleague suggested a good deal on a brand new car, but failed to ring us back with any figures…. So, sadly no deal!

Dealership no 4 – was based quite a long way from home. I’d done my internet searching and knew that this dealership had the model of the car I wanted in stock. No sooner had I rang to enquire if the car could be brought to a dealership only 45 minutes from me, (only?) than the young car salesman offered to bring the car directly to my house. The joy! No hassle for me and the salesmen recognised that I obviously was a hot sales lead. I was very impressed with his salesmanship and product knowledge.

Guess which car dealership we’d be most likely to buy from? Compare and contrast this too, with a speedy email written to a lady I know who runs a leasing company. I sent her an email enquiring about the option of leasing and she replied straight away (on a Saturday too). So, the question now is Dealership no 4 or Leasing….   Easy to see how the other dealerships lost out though, wasn’t it?

Now cars don’t come cheap. It’s a highly considered purchase and you would think that in this current economy, that salesmen would be only too keen to try and offer a good sales experience and service, particularly for high value items. Apparently not. Only in the last dealership, did the salesman make any real attempt to go out of his way to sell me a car. It’s a great lesson and reminder to us all, please don’t take your potential customers for granted. Treat them with respect, go out of your way to offer a good service and hopefully, you’re sales figures will continue to grow as will your customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Don’t use that tone of voice with me, son!

tone of voice

I can just hear it, a lippy teenager giving an elder a correct reply, just said in too-smart a tone of voice. However, having the right tone of voice should not just be a distant memory of how we as rebellious youngsters used to get back at teachers, parents or other figures of authority, its very relevant in the business world.

We read so much about content in this age of digital communication, but delivering the content with the right tone of voice is just as important. Of course, this is just as true of traditional forms of promotion such as advertising, PR, brochures and even pack design as it is of social media and web.

That there is more than one way to say things is easily seen if you think about newspapers, a tabloid headline sounds significantly different compared to a broadsheet’s. The former being more familiar and to the point, the latter more formal and hopefully more eloquent!

Certain industries and sectors tend to traditionally verge on formal, conservative tones of voices. Many financial institutions forget that they are dealing with people and we receive stuffy, pompous communications. The same can be said of many public sector messages. New entrants to the market are often successful because their whole strategy is focused on communicating the same messages in a more user friendly way. Think of how dry insurance advertising used to be, compared with the more engaging, wittier approach used in the recent campaigns of Compare the Market, Go Compare and Sheila’s Wheels.

I often see highly erudite people, who are very charming and great company, falter when it comes to social media. Their Tweets and Facebook messages fail to engage, because their tone of voice is too professional, too dry and full of professional jargon; whereas, a chattier, informal tone would have yielded much more success. The key is to engage and inform through the tone of voice you might use if talking naturally to a person from a given segment.

So what are the rules?

  1. Understand your target audience, making sure that you are using the right tone of voice for each segment.
  2. If you are dealing with a complex target audience, you might need to consider several different tones of voice and utilise a segmented approach to communications. Just as we might modulate our tone if talking to children, spouses or colleagues, we might wish to adopt a different approach for the same message if dealing with different countries or sectors. What might be ‘cool’ in Australia, might be ‘too hot’ in China or UAE.
  3. Communications whether formal or informal, should always be clear and coherent.
  4. A good message, delivered through whatever medium, should sound natural and be relevant and be medium appropriate too.
  5. Avoid long stuffy, communiques.
  6. Just because everybody else in an industry sector communicates in a certain way, doesn’t mean that they have got it right!
  7. If possible test your style through research or a trial. What response are you getting.
  8. Finally, the tone of voice should always be brand appropriate too.

Listening – The Secret of Real Engagement

The marketing industry’s buzzword in recent years has been engagement. Forget all the old ways, we are told, engagement is where it’s at. I couldn’t agree more, getting your target audience interested enough to interact with your brand is essential to success. But I think successful marketing goes deeper than this. Before we get to engagement we need to understand not only the dynamics of the marketplace, but the way our customers and prospects think and behave.

It has long been The Marketing Forge’s belief that getting into the mindset of a given customer base is really important. What is important to companies providing goods and services, might not be what motivates customers. It might seem logical that a target audience might be motivated by one key factor such as say, service or reliability. It is tempting to take such logic as a given. However, the target audience might be searching for immediacy, or quality, or sustainability, or expertise or any other number of factors.

Successful marketing communication must identify not only what these factors are but we must be able to priortise key issues from the consumer’s perspective. (This is true whether dealing directly with consumers or if working in a specialist B2B market). Sure, social media is one way to help identify such factors, but real understanding comes from original research, when consumers are given a chance to articulate their decision making criteria and behaviours. For those of you who have never experienced it, there is nothing so enlightening as listening to respondents in a qualitative research setting discussing their purchase behaviour and decision making criteria. Who are the decision makers? Who are the influencers? How do their perspectives differ? How is your brand viewed in relation to competitors? Which brand is associated with the attribute that’s being searched for?

So, before you assume that your marketing is great because your use of social media is prolific, make sure that you understand the psychology of your customer base. Listening is the route to success.thinking