Strengthening Existing Client Relationships

Looking to improve your revenue this year and build a bigger business? That’s fantastic. How are you going to do it? What’s your plan? Most people answer that question with “get more customers.” And typically “get more customers” means do more marketing.

You could certainly spend time and money on chasing down new clients. OR, you could invest in the relationships you have with your current customers and strengthen them. When you do that, you’ll see existing clients buying more from you, maybe more frequently. You’ll also see an increase in referrals coming from those current clients. Business grows and you don’t have to work as hard. How great is that?

Here are a few ideas you can use to fortify those bonds.

Call them on their birthday. Everyone likes to receive happy birthday wishes on THEIR day. With the advent of Facebook, you’re probably getting a lot more than you used to, but most of them are not all that sincere. How many phone calls did you get on your birthday? Mine was last week, so I can tell you it was exactly seven – four family members, two friends and my financial adviser. Since only one was from someone with whom I do business, it stands out in my mind. I’m guessing he has a list he prints out every week and he sets aside 10 minutes a day to do those calls. Doesn’t take long and makes people happy.

Send a handwritten card or small gift on their birthday. Depending on the value of a client to you, you may choose to do something more than a phone call. One of Zen Rabbit’s clients sends a small package of Gratitude Cookies to each of his clients on their birthdays. Small gesture makes a big impression. If you are going to send a card, for gosh sakes, make it personal and don’t send something printed and signed by a computer!

Surprise them with random gifts of appreciation. These gifts don’t need to be expensive or extravagant. If you have products that are physical delivered to your customers, or you’re on site with them frequently, you can include surprises in what you send out or bring with you. One vendorGlass Teapot I know included a few lolly pops in each shipment. Otherwise you can do a special mailing. January is Hot Tea Month, so you could share your favorite tea. It’s also International Creativity Month, which begs for sharing a box of crayons or colored pens. Or how about sharing a delicious recipe or even an entire little cookbook of soup recipes for National Soup Month.

Print out or clip articles you see about your clients’ or their children’s achievements and mail them in an envelope with a note. Are you getting the drift here about delivering items in physical form via mail or other delivery service? It makes a difference! Electronic communications are fine and useful. But connecting on a more personal, tactile level is essential to human connectivity.

Going about business as usual, counting on clients to “know” you value their business is much like not changing the oil in your car when it’s time. The performance of your car isn’t affected right away. You may be able to drive for quite a while without issue. But sooner or later, that kind of neglect is going to cause major problems and will be pretty costly to fix.

Take care of your existing business connections, sincerely say thank you to customers for business, add the elements of fun and spontaneity to your client relationships and see how your business is rewarded with more.

What creative ideas have you used? Share here or come over to Zen Rabbit’s Facebook page to tell us about it.

Customer Perceptions & Going Off-Brand

Over the holidays, I bought a few things for myself, (shocking, right?!) some of which were from The Body Shop. The company was founded by activist Anita Roddick and based on “the pursuit of social and environmental change.” The Body Shop was about being ethical and green, using natural, sustainable ingredients and “reducing dependency on inappropriate and expensive modern pharmaceuticals.”

body-butter-sheaSo imagine my surprise when several days after using them I happened to read the full ingredient list and find Methylparaben and Propylparabenin in there. Parabens are used as preservatives in lots of cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. The thing is, they are somewhat controversial because they may play a role in breast cancer development so many people are making concerted efforts to avoid products that contain them.

The Body Shop carrying products that contain parabens seems way off-brand. You just don’t expect a company that is all about natural and healthy to include such ingredients. It’s like finding partially-hydrogenated oil listed on any food sold at Whole Foods or being asked to bus your own table at Spago Beverly Hills.

It’s troubling from a consumer standpoint because such a finding calls into question everything the company supposedly stands for and has spent almost 40 years building. Sure, they didn’t outright lie by advertising they don’t use parabens, but the brand and reputation they’ve created implies that they wouldn’t.

Pay attention to the brand are you consciously creating as well as the extraneous attachments your customers may logically apply to it on their own. Of course you can’t control what other people think, but you do need a level of awareness around what clients expect from your brand. For best success, you need to deliver on those expectations.

Want more examples of companies going off-brand? How about when Harley Davidson created a cake decorating kit, Hooters started a commercial airline, or Barbie-themed clothing and accessories in adult sizes. Yes, all these were attempted.

By the way, I returned the paraben-containing items to The Body Shop. They quickly shared an already prepared list of their products that don’t use parabens (so clearly they’re aware people have issues with these ingredients) and then they kindly allowed me to exchange.

Questions About the Sandy Hook Tragedy Reporting – What if Our Focus was Different?

There’s no question what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School was tragic. My question is what would the media coverage have been if someone had walked into that same school on Friday and handed out $1,000 to each of the administrators, teachers and students. How long would that story play out at holiday parties around the world?

My point is, great things happen all around us all the time. Even amidst the news of fiscal cliffs, natural disasters and horrific acts by men, the good outweighs the bad (that “good” and “bad” are perceptions is a discussion for another time). Where is the ongoing, 24-7 coverage of that? Show me the reporter sticking a mic in the face of everyone on a beach cleanup day or the person who just created a scholarship endowment to his alma mater that will benefit hundreds of students over the next decade and beyond, asking “how do you feel about what’s happened here?”

I don’t understand the media’s love for scaring people with its intense focus on every sick detail. I also don’t understand the public’s thirst to drink it all in and then seek out more.

When details or facts aren’t yet clear, news outlets will make them up or run with hearsay. Look at just a few things they got wrong in their frenzy to report Friday’s events – the name of the alleged shooter, that his mother was a teacher at the school, and so on. And people latch on to every comment as if their own children’s lives depended on their knowing this stuff. FYI, it doesn’t. Turn off the TVs and stop reading every newspaper and online article you can find.

Please don’t get the impression I think I’m so much better. Yesterday I was reading a few of the articles too, until I quickly got to a point where I thought, “WHAT am I doing?!” This information isn’t making me smarter, more enlightened, better equipped to do anything. It’s just making me want to cry.

So I stopped reading that garbage, said a few prayers and thought about what it would be like if our good deeds were covered as extensively as the horrific ones are. What would our world and our mindset be like if uplifting news dominated the headlines regularly?

Until then, I encourage you to seek out and fill your and your children’s worlds with positive stories that highlight the admirable in human nature. It’s out there in abundance, just not reported on as excitedly by the main stream news and media outlets.

PS: Let’s give gratitude for the outstanding and heroic efforts of the teachers, administrators and first responders who jumped into action on Friday and everyday.

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” ~ Anne Frank

Giving Thanks for Customers, Employees & All That is Good

In the craziness of everyday life, it’s easy to forget about the good things that are happening all around us. How often do you focus on the things you haven’t done? You think about the phone calls you didn’t get to, the orders that didn’t ship out today, the presentation you still need to finish.

And then you listen to the news, which rarely ever makes you feel better about your situation.  I know you listen because I hear your conversations around me. The housing market! Gas prices! Heidi and Seal’s children! Oh the horrors!

Take this moment, this day, this month to focus on giving THANKS for all the good that IS in your life. Pay attention to what the people around you are doing RIGHT. Look for and praise the employee who shows up on time and takes initiative. Say thank you to her. Think about all the good clients you have, the ones you enjoy talking to and working for. Let them know they’re special. Recognize the effort that your vendor makes when you absolutely, positively have to have your order shipped out today. Tell them you value their heroic effort.

I recently read an article that suggested people don’t say thank you because they’re afraid that if they do, somewhere down the line they’ll be asked to “pay up”. For example, if you recognize an employee’s efforts, you’ll have to give him a raise. But the writer went on to point out that if you think about the times when you’ve been thanked, you’ll realize you are not then mentally figuring out how much the other person owes you. That’s just not how appreciation works.

While you’re at it, take some time to show some appreciation to yourself. Maybe you didn’t get everything crossed off your list this week, but give yourself credit for what you DID accomplish. Here’s a nice pat on the back.

Creating a Consistent Customer Experience

I was lunching last week with new friend Carol, who helps organizations teach outstanding customer service to their teams, when she shared a story about her own customer service experience. She suggested it would make a good lesson for a blog post, so here it is.

She found a pair of shoes she really liked at a store in the mall, but they didn’t have her size in the color she wanted. No worries, the store clerks were very accommodating and said they could easily have them shipped to her home, no charge. [great customer service]

The shoes arrived as expected, but when she opened the box, she saw they’d not been wrapped properly; they were pretty much just thrown in a shipping box and sent off. There were a few scuffs on them and she was disappointed, but figured they’d end up looking like that after a few wearings anyway, so she didn’t make a fuss about it. [not so great customer service]

A company’s customer experience should be consistent throughout the process, no matter how many departments are involved.

A few days later Carol got an email from the company asking about her experience. She responded and told them about the condition of the shoes she’d received. She didn’t ask for any kind of compensation (although she really would have liked a discount or coupon for her next purchase); she just wanted them to know what had happened.

The woman responding from the company said she would send Carol a new pair immediately [great customer service] and apologized for the service she received in the store. [What? The store clerks were good.]

Carol emailed back some clarification on her fine experience in the store vs. the package that was shipped and received another email from the customer service department contact who admitted not reading Carol’s entire first email, hence the confusion. [customer service is taking an annoying turn.]

Nevertheless, she restated she would ship out a new pair of shoes right away and Carol could return the ones she had to the store.

Fortunately for Carol, she decided to wait to return the shoes she had until she received the second pair, as the replacement pair never showed up. Further attempts at communicating with the customer service person went unanswered. [very bad customer service]

What happened here appears to be a case of inconsistent training or lack of standards or both at this shoe company. From the outside, it looks like everyone is left to act on their own accord without any accountability for outcomes. If the salesperson is innately good at serving, the customer experience is a favorable. If the salesperson, or warehouse packager or customer service rep isn’t so adept at making sure his job is done well, or doesn’t have a clear explanation of what is expected, then the customer experience isn’t so nice.

There are many points of contact in Carol’s entire experience and therefore many places where things could go awry. If you’re running a business with a lot of moving parts, you’d best make sure you have clear instructions for each step and everyone knows exactly what is expected of him/her. I am transitioning over Zen Rabbit’s fulfillment to a new organization this week. I know what it’s like to have to create detailed instructions for every step of every task. It’s certainly no fun to put together. BUT, once it’s done and in place, you can be reasonably confidant everyone involved is on the same page. The customer experience will be consistently good. Spend the time and effort creating touch point templates now or pay for it later.

Do More Than You Think Necessary

With Ruth Sherman at her Charisma Event

Ruth Sherman came to the DC area last week to present her “Cash in on Charisma” program. Here are three points she shared that really resonated with me and could be of value to you.

One of the big reasons why video works so well for disseminating your message and building relationships is that humans are wired to connect face to face. I’ve been saying this for a while. All this electronic technology is great, no question, but at the end of the day, people need to connect on a more human level. They need to see each other, shake hands, reach out on a physical level. That human need is why sending thank you cards and gifts to customers is so powerful. It is a tactile form of communication.

Next, Ruth implored that when preparing for live presentations, YOU’VE GOT TO PRACTICE much more than you think you do. I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of not doing that enough. I know my subject matter and can deliver well, but I know I could do much better if I spent more time practicing. When I took piano lessons as a child, I hated practicing. I must have had some natural talent because I remember playing pieces such as Debussy’s Clair de lune, Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Joplin’s The Entertainer in recitals. But I hated practicing and after a couple of years I convinced my mom to let me quit.

Public speaking ranks at the top of the list of things people are scared to death to do. But I absolutely love it! So here and now, I commit to spending more time practicing my stories and material, because I realize the people in my audience are giving me their time and attention and in return, my goal is to deliver great value for them.

The lesson for you – whether or not we’re talking about practicing presentations – is you need to do and give more than you think necessary. Start thinking what you consider good enough is probably the bare minimum you can get away with. To really build those client relationships, you need to step up the game. Communicate more. Reach out to customers and potential customers more. Engage them in conversation! If they don’t want to hear from you, they’ll tell you. In the meantime, deliver more value more consistently.

Lastly, your communications don’t need to be long. Who has the attention span anymore? While there are still places for sharing in-depth explanations and details, most of your videos (or other regular communiqués) need only be a minute or two. Just pop-in, share quickly, and step out. That means they won’t take you long to put together either. Hmmm. Now you have no excuse to not do more.

More Gratitude Please (apparently this is the month for it)

With Thanksgiving in the U.S. coming up in a few weeks, everyone’s talking about gratitude this month. Welcome to the conversation Zen Rabbit’s been having all year. Ha Ha! I am reminded of a discussion I had with mentor Paul Martinelli several years ago. I was starting Zen Rabbit and while my business was all about saying thank you to customers, Paul didn’t think I was feeling enough gratitude myself. Kind of ironic, right? He suggested I read Chapter VII on Gratitude in Wallace D. Wattle’s classic 1910 book “The Science of Getting Rich” every day, morning and evening, for 30 days.

It’s not a long chapter, three pages in the printed version of the book I have. Here are a few choice lines:

“Many people who order their lives rightly in all other ways are kept in poverty by their lack of gratitude.”

“You cannot exercise much power without gratitude; for it is gratitude that keeps you connected to Power.”

“But the value of gratitude does not consist solely in getting you more blessings in the future. Without gratitude you cannot long keep from dissatisfied thought regarding things as they are.”

“Faith is born of gratitude. The grateful mind continually expects good things, and expectation becomes faith.”

In reading over it again now to write this article, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be beneficial to repeat that twice a day exercise again this month. Hmmm. Who wants to join me in this endeavor?

I also saw a link on Facebook today, via my friends Sherri Sokolowski and Debbie Phillips, to Carrie Saba’s blog post where she also proposes a gratitude challenge. I don’t know Carrie however I’m now grateful for finding her article. She’s sharing several fantastic ideas for focusing on gratitude, one of which is finding a gratitude buddy and emailing each other what you’re grateful for every day. Having trouble coming up with anything? She’s got some gratitude themes you can use as kindling.

Her post also brings to mind the project I mentioned back in 2010  after reading John Kralik’s book “365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life,” whereby I wrote one thank you note a day to someone who has impacted my life and done something for which I am thankful.

So here’s to improved efforts on recognizing all that you have to be grateful for. It starts with acknowledging privately to yourself and moves to outward expressions through thank you notes and gifts shared with those for whom you are thankful.

PS: If you’ve not read “The Science of Getting Rich,” I highly recommend you do. It’s in the public domain now, which means you can find it for free. An ebook version is available herehttp://tinyurl.com/a5pkpox . The Kindle version is only $.99 or you can find an inexpensive printed copy.