Opinion Jungle
A Cup of Customer Experience

August 17, 2014 BY MJ PENCE

For a person that blogs on the topic of customer experience and is a consumer that’s passionate about the customer experience, to participate in a full feedback loop is pure enjoyment - good or bad. For me it is an opportunity to be part of an actual unanticipated case study.

And this time the customer feedback provided received immediate attention.

Even the best companies with high standards for customer service and tons of accolades from its loyal customers, succumb to the mistakes of a single employee or two. Even a company as great as Starbucks can be that company.

The details of the challenge at a particular Starbucks cafe are not the focus here but rather how Starbucks responded to the feedback. Like many big companies, consumer feedback is welcomed and feedback can be provided via the corporate website. For my issue, I utilized Starbucks online feedback form. Within 24 hours I received a personalized response. Within another 24 hours I received a response to my reply to the first response and notification that a district manager would be calling me the following day. And as promised the manager indeed called.

The manager expressed sincere concern and offered to meet with me to understand my issue further. We met and for thirty minutes the manager sought to understand every detail of my disappointing experience and often-great experiences too.  An interesting thing happened as a result. I truly feel like Starbuck’s cares about ME personally and is going to do everything they can to address the issue. It is as if the manager is my long-time friend and my customer experience will go straight to the top of the company. I left feeling like I am Starbucks most important customer in the entire world.  So what will happen in regards to my loyalty to Starbucks?

Let me explain the ‘why’ first…

Starbucks’ resolution process is clearly defined. The website form is easy to complete and not time consuming. And what I should expect from the process was clear. Starbucks immediately acknowledged my customer experience and made it clear that they understood the issue at the center of my feedback. The manager that called me gave me the perception that she was sincere, knowledgeable and empowered. The action was quick and precise. There was no doubt after our meeting that I felt a resolution would come swiftly. Starbucks was grateful for the feedback, good and bad.

By this collective action Starbucks garnered an even greater achievement. The entire process will improve the customer experience and ultimately The Company without any cost.

So the answer to the loyalty question is embedded in the following fact proven time and time again. If the customer feedback process or what I like to call ‘feedback loop’ is efficient, quick, and sincere, a once loyal customer turned dissatisfied can ultimately be an even more loyal customer after a great customer feedback experience. And if this does happen, a customer may be less likely to jump ship to a competitor simply based on price. Why leave a company for a few cents or dollars difference when I know the current company really and truly cares about its customers and ME. I have no idea how the competitor handles its customer feedback let alone their customer experience.

So with a smiling face, I now return to Starbucks far more often than before. And this my friends equates to more sales and happier patrons, one customer at a time, ME included.

Some Things Never Change, or Are They?

June 16, 2014 BY MJ PENCE

Isn’t it a wonder that those yellow pages still show up on doorsteps each year? I cannot remember the last time I opened the yellow book and ‘let my fingers do the walking.’ Nowadays for me, the pages go straight from porch to recycle bin. And yet they still come every year.

It may come as a shock to learn that small businesses invest $2 billion a year in YP Real Yellow Pages, and the company’s digital advertising business had seven times online review site Yelp’s revenue in 2012. To put that in perspective, in the second quarter 2013 Yelp’s (Yelp.com) revenue exceeded expectations at $55 million, yet unlike YP, Yelp has yet to turn a profit.

No matter the case for each, one thing is clear; consumers remain desperate for quick answers when they need a dentist, dry cleaner, lawyer, or the best pizza place. Is it any wonder that many people still roll the dice and flip through the yellow pages lured by the largest ad or visit reviews sites like Yelp.com and depend on complete strangers for advice and guidance. Each seems a gamble when it comes to spending hard earned money. Is this really a problem? Let’s consider the following first.

According to researchers at Columbia the average American knows about 600 people. And according to the Columbia team and a researcher at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, they estimate that most Americans know 10–25 people well enough to trust them. If you really think about it, truly trusting 10-25 people is a lot. And if each of those people trusts at least 10 people on average that becomes a pretty big network of trusted individuals.  Say you trust Bob and Bob trusts Sarah, would you trust Sarah’s recommendation over a complete stranger? That is a great question and certainly thought provoking. Personally it is an emphatic yes for most.

So why is it given all of the personal contacts, especially the trusted 10-25 people, do many still rely on the YP or Yelp for finding a business. Let’s take it further and offline in a manner of speaking. Why do many rely on complete strangers for advice when choosing a business or professional? When was the last time you walked up to a complete stranger on the street or at the mall and asked them for the name of a great doctor or the best place to get an authentic meal? When we are seeking the most trusted professionals and truly great businesses we tend to throw caution to the wind and gamble with an alphabetical list of paid advertisements or hundreds of reviews by people we do not know. In fact when it comes to online reviews consumers and their advocates continue to complain of “inappropriate” or “fraudulent” reviews by “unknown” members or “paid-for-followers”.

If we all know 10–25 people we trust, shouldn’t we be asking them and collaborating with each other to find the best businesses and professionals? There really isn’t a need for us to gamble with guidance or risk getting biased advice from strangers. We often ask for referrals from friends and family offline.  It begs the question, ‘why not online too?’

Maybe the challenge is a lack of focus for existing review and social media sites. By moving offline word-of-mouth conversations between friends and family to the online world, consumers and businesses could find what they are looking for amid the ever increasing printed and online clutter.

For now people’s preferred method for finding and saving information from the web hasn’t evolved much over the years. An astonishing 90 percent of the market share is still pasting into an email to share or word document to save. And social media can generally be an impressive way to reach out to a large number of people, but not necessarily the best place to ask for advice or seek guidance. Text is also a popular alternative but still remains disruptive and requires immediate action by both parties. 

What if we could get the advice and guidance from trusted sources without even asking? What if businesses could automate the referral process without asking customers? Now that is something we could all use tomorrow.

It is time for a change don’t you think…

All in a Day’s Dream

December 09, 2013 BY MJ PENCE

It starts with a dream. Then it becomes a vision. Next follows the roaring passion deep inside to solve some big problem. And without hesitation the synapses in your brain fires and the idea of a start-up is born.

Believe it or not this happens to many. I have always believed that the difference between a person with a great idea and an entrepreneur is action. The action, which is not necessarily the execution of a plan, but rather the willingness to dive off the high dive with nothing more than a passionate vision of the water that should be below.  Few are willing to take on such a dive and as a result many great ideas simply remain on the side as great ideas. The entrepreneur on the other hand, makes the dive and believes all the way down that his or her idea can change the world and make a huge splash. 

What’s interesting is that many take this dive well knowing that the probability of a successful splash is stacked against them. In fact the probability of success is somewhere around 12 percent. Yet we do it anyway. It’s not because we want to be billionaires or be on the front page of Wired magazine or Forbes. It’s because we truly and passionately believe we can change how something is done and actually improve the lives of people around us.

And unfortunately, being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. Unless you’re in Silicon Valley, so I have read, most people will look at you with pity in their eyes and the skeptics and naysayers will abound. Don’t expect your friends and sometimes even family to cheer you on as you gamble your life savings on an idea that will soon change the world.  And yes, friends will listen then laugh, family will provide words of encouragement with doubt in their eyes, and even your own conscious will begin to wonder if everyone else is right and you are actually the crazy one in the room. All of this will make it certainly easy to give up and become like everyone else along the way.  It will take a tremendous amount of drive, ambition and passion to forge ahead. I know first hand that it is not easy.  Not a day goes by that I don’t wake up repeating one simple phrase to myself…

‘Never never never give up.’

Many entrepreneurs know that running a start-up is in fact probably one of the hardest things any person can attempt in life. There are so many working parts that have to be in sync while the world continues to change as innovation miraculously occurs rapidly and simultaneously.  The mere act of initially forming a super team and maintaining team cohesiveness and motivation is often insurmountable in itself.  

It is enough to make the sanest person a bit loony and the strongest teams collapse. It is an ability to morph from sane to loony and back again without team members killing each other that leads to triumph. While most people would simply curl up in a fetal position and give up, a true entrepreneur never gives up. They may pivot but not give up. And they certainly know when to check their egos at the front door and how to swallow gallons of pride.

It takes an undying willingness to remain passionate about an idea in a world of adversity.  You must push forward while keeping the world at bay and the passion alive as a single collective working toward a world changing, life altering, common goal.

It is certainly not meant for all. But if you dare, take the dive sooner than later. It may be a complete belly flop or a beautiful swan dive into an empty pool or it could be an Olympic qualifying dive into a wonderful pool of success surrounded by people cheering you on. Either way, you will be one of just a few that has experienced the right of passage that all entrepreneurs have undergone.

For me personally, since that day I decided to jump, I have learned more than any Ivy League MBA program could provide, met some truly amazing people, and yes, even with all the naysayers, our team still to this day believes there is water below. We remain a proud solid team of entrepreneurs and new life long friends that can hardly wait to make the splash.

That alone is worth taking the plunge. 

Pre-historic Advertising
July 18, 2012 BY MJ PENCE
Today it seems like more and more people are plugged-in yet so many feel less and less connected to each other. Yet for hundreds if not thousands of years, people have been sharing great experiences with each other. The idea of passing along experiences to another person is certainly not a technological break-through of the 21st century.
In fact a quick glance at history and you will discover that the sharing of experiences was around long before The Internet and social networks.  Some thirty to forty thousand years ago in The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France and as seen in the ‘Panel of Hands’ cave art in the El Castillo cave in Spain, early humans were sharing their experiences and expressions for others to see. It seems that all that was missing were words but yet the drawings were exquisite examples of human symbolic behavior or what many anthropologists believe, makes us human. It certainly didn’t take long however once language developed. As an evolutionary advantage, humans harnessed the real power of sharing experiences.
Whether it was for sheer survival, the need for food or clean water, or the desire to simply make things easier and get something done, when early societies developed it was the process of sharing by words that made it possible. It is how early communities were able to develop and even expand. And as society developed, so did the marketplace. It was the basic conversations between neighbors, friends, relatives, and those most trusted that pointed our brethren to the best hunting grounds, safe passage, the best bread maker, the best produce farmer, and most importantly the best beer maker. And ultimately as markets become plush with makers of every sort, service became the new measurement for choice. All were simply a result from the evolutionary advancement of language.
What I find surprising is that many businesses today still realize the power of word-of-mouth yet seem to depend more on traditional and online advertising. For the most part, be it billboards on the side of the road or banner ads online, I believe both suck. Yes there are lots of people driving by, surfing by, and even a few viewing, but where is the relevance and how do these attempts integrate into our personal lives? The simple truth is that there is not a cheaper, more powerful form of advertising than word-of-mouth. And the richest form of new business is a referral for any business, investor, or professional. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems the most daunting and often the most neglected. 
Thinking back, in ancient times our ancestors were sharing their experiences by creating the first prehistoric type billboards and banner ads in caves. But as time passed, what spread the news of the often colorful experiences was the interaction between tribal members and the relevance of the shared experiences depicted on the walls of caves. Whether it was tips on where to find food and shelter or simply the best way to survive, it was the personal pre-linguistic interactions among our primate ancestors that led them to cave walls and the inside tips they needed to be successful.

Fast forward to today and given society’s advanced forms of communication and our ability to create technology that can resonate our experiences and even voice, it seems only natural for us to once again utilize shared experiences to help our tribe be successful. Only this time, instead of looking for the best hunting ground or where to avoid the saber tooth tiger, the leaders, business owners, and members of society today should not rely on modern cave drawings we call advertisements for guidance or direction from unknown sources, but rather use our evolutionary advancement and linguistic ability coupled with technology to harness an ancient power: the unmatched power of word-of-mouth

Don’t Pay to Play

April 30, 2012 BY MJ PENCE

Let’s first be clear. I am not referring to an old sports analogy or the amount of hard work and training that one must do in order to become a top athlete. The ‘Pay-To- Play’ that I am referring to is a threat to the Internet and how we as consumers make decisions.  It is quite simply, unethical and creates a conflict of interest.  Pay-To-Play schemes are not a new phenomenon. This structure has probably existed since the creation of a monetary system, yet a constant remains: financial influence is potentially harmful and misleading to consumers.

Understand this first before we go any further. I am extremely passionate about helping businesses and professionals that provide great service become hugely successful. I genuinely enjoy helping businesses utilize the power of word-of-mouth to expand their brand and manage their offline and online reputation. And I am equally passionate about helping consumers harness the same word-of-mouth power online to get something done and getting it done right.  Our mission is to facilitate direct interaction between consumers and businesses in a way that is mutually beneficial.  The mere thought of review sites or rating agencies using their influence to squeeze cash out of businesses and professionals in exchange for better reviews or better ratings launches me into the stratosphere, i.e. chapped, irked, crazy-mad. It threatens the very backbone of our economy, monetary, and political system.

In a post financial-crisis environment, trust and accountability are breaking down both offline and online. It seems like every few months another review site or rating agency comes under fire with claims of corporate extortion or a Pay-To-Play scheme. Is it any wonder that consumer behavior and sentiment have changed so dramatically in the past few years? I think not. In fact, I personally see consumers more defensive than ever.

Consumers not only bear the brunt of rising cost of goods today, but now face fewer places to access trusted information that can help them make better purchase decisions.  Once claims of unethical practices are brought forth against the biggest review sites and rating agencies, it cast doubt about the entire landscape of reliable consumer resources.

In the past few years, we have seen a rise in the number of claims against review sites and rating agencies. One doesn’t have to look very hard to find articles on some of the biggest names. In October 2011, a class-action lawsuit against Yelp was dismissed yet according to some, complaints are on the rise again in 2012.  And Yelp is not alone, the travel website TripAdvisor has been accused recently by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of misleading readers with reviews that might not be genuine. And even the Better Business Bureau (BBB), a privately held corporation sometimes mistakenly thought to be affiliated with federal, state, or local government and has no direct affiliation with any consumer protection government authority, was investigated by ABC News 20/20 for a ‘Pay-To-Play’ grading system in 2010.

Regardless of the outcomes to the claims, one thing is certain – thousands of people rely on third parties to help them make better purchasing decisions every day.  Neither consumers, businesses or professionals can afford to let a few companies play a game where the biggest ‘payer’ wins. 

Businesses and consumers should unite and demand that any dishonesty or lack of integrity be ejected immediately. Personally I believe that asking for money undermines the entire idea of a ‘referral’ list for consumers. In addition, this devalues the importance of a rating & review system for businesses and professionals. It’s fine for businesses to pay a company to help them promote their brand, manage their online reputation and engage customers better. It is not okay for a site or rating agency to require payment in exchange for better ratings or to manipulate customer feedback.

The key to a community driven market is trust between consumers and businesses, and eventually strangers. The reality now is we live in a world wired to share everything, including experiences.  It is up to all of us to play fair. And it is up to new and old companies alike to design and build a better field to play on. 

Build it and we will come.

I Am The Reason

March 13, 2012 BY MJ PENCE

We all know that companies these days are interested in consumer feedback. We see the requests everywhere. If not printed on our store receipts, clerks are stapling forms to receipts with instructions about where and how to take a short survey. Some companies go as far as emailing requests with links to surveys. Taking it a step further, a well-known national cellular carrier is now texting the special request to its customers. The goal is simple. Improve the customer experience and odds are overall revenue increases.

Okay, so most don’t mind providing feedback. I am personally all for a company refining and ultimately improving the customer experience. It is a win-win. What appears to be strange is the lack of response or the way companies do respond after receiving the feedback. The survey process should not feel like a one-way street.

The worse case scenario is sensing that the survey responses have somehow slipped into a corporate black hole. Companies do a great job of making customers feel important before completing the survey and then suddenly demoted to unimportant customers thereafter. In many cases, companies go to great lengths to entice customers to provide the feedback. What needs to happen with equal effort is the communication of results or action steps taken as a result of the study back to the survey responders. The point here is simple: don’t make customers feel used. Let’s face it, there is often very little or no reward for the customer who completes the survey in the first place. And due to the number of survey contests in the marketplace, customers are no doubt feeling survey fatigue. Take the time to adequately follow-up with the customers that were kind enough to make time to take the survey in the first place.

Not to say all companies don’t follow up with their customers. In fact, many do a great job at doing so. What needs work is how the responses come across to the customers. What is said or written is not always heard or interpreted as it is originally intended. Often times, corporate communication style and jargon can seem like bureaucratic mumbo jumbo or even worse, like an excuse. The last thing customers want to hear are the why nots. Don’t make excuses; just make the necessary changes to make the improvements as necessary. Be concise and to the point. Use bullet points if possible to present responses. And most of all, respond like you are talking to a real human being, a real customer, and not some participant in a marketing focus group. Many times, just communicating first, and understanding of a customer’s viewpoint or frustration can achieve consumer confidence upfront.

And without a doubt, the most important task is truly hearing the customer. It is one thing to listen to the voice of the customer. It is a completely different realm and requires a special set of skills to actually tune into their needs.

The customer must believe that the company truly cares about the customer feedback. And the company must communicate their responses and possible action steps clearly, precisely, and naturally. Refine these skills and customers will undoubtedly be willing to help every time. And for the most part, feel like they are an integral part of something greater.

It is basic human nature.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to be the reason for making something better?

Worth-Less Surveys

February 18, 2012 BY MJ PENCE

Survey requests are crazy. Recently I ventured to a well-known sunglass brand store, bought some cool shades and then received a 13-inch receipt with purchase details and a laundry list of super small print. It is bad enough I have to sign my name, which I actually don’t do anymore. It seems senseless in today’s digital and paperless world. My current signature reads ‘M. Mouse’. And not one person has ever questioned me. I digress with laughter. Now back to the 13 inches…

Normally I just file these silly pieces of paper that feel like fax paper from the 1980s in my round file on the floor. Considering the coolness factor of this store though, I decided to read the fine print. Maybe there was something I needed to know about my new shades? 

Nope. 

It’s another survey request. 

Sigh.

But wait, perhaps this so-called contest is different. I wondered what the chances were that I could actually win a pair of new shades. I mean, how long could this survey actually be? We’re just talking about sunglasses right?

To my disappointment, the instructions were lengthy to say the least. The web address alone literally took up 2-inches of line space on a 3-inch+ wide receipt and appeared to be almost written in Greek. And forget cutting and pasting the link. But wait, it gets better. The official rules were literally 5 pages printed on standard paper divided into 11 sections. After reading the first three sections, I was thoroughly freaked out by the legal jargon. It was obvious only part of the way through the official rules, that I was required to give up all kinds of personal information, sign releases, agree to an even lengthier privacy policy, indemnify the retailer/manufacturer of all liability, and follow extensive procedures just to claim a prize, if I was selected as a winner in a contest that is open to legal residents of the (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 and reached the age of majority in their state of residence as of the stated date. Sheesh! As to the prize for each winner, it would be only 1 of just 20 that would be given away in a national Sweepstakes held over a 30-day period. And do you think there was a description other than a value range for the prize? Nope. Really!

And what about the survey?

I couldn’t help but look. Well, let me get to the point quickly. In today’s age, waiting for a webpage to load on a browser even 20 seconds seems like an eternity. I just don’t have the patience, let alone the time. Do they know how many other things online I do in a day? The page did load fast but the statement ‘this survey should take approximately 15-20 minutes’ killed the deal regardless. I mean let’s be honest…what a time sink this could be! And in all likelihood, I will be a loser in the national sweepstakes. Who wants to be a loser anyway? I digress again.

When are retailers going to realize that surveys that look like emergency room questionnaires are not going to cut it? And most of all, incentives, rewards, prizes, or whatever they want to call it, have to be reasonably attainable and worth the time spent in order to entice consumers to do something or get something done. For me, I just dropped a Ben Franklin at the store and for my time and feedback; I get a legal agreement and a loss of 15-20 minutes of my time doing something I really don’t want to do.

It is what it is.

What are you going to do?

Fo-get bout it’ (dub in Jersey accent).

So take it from me. This is my advice and feedback Mr. Retailer for free. No contest. No agreements. Just the cold hard facts, right down the middle.

Forget the contest, just ask me and really listen. I am already talking about your brand, your store, and my customer experience to my friends and family. Problem is, you don’t listen very well and you don’t know where to find me most of the time. And even if you did, how do I know that my feedback actually means anything to you? Surveys just disappear into a corporate black hole right? And no, I am not on Facebook talking about customer experiences or brands between my post about last night’s party and my sister-n-law’s pictures from her nephew’s birthday party. It’s not that easy. But I am online so keep looking or come up with something new that will grab my attention.

You have to make it simple too and less formal. It needs to feel less like a survey contest and more natural. Nobody wins playing those silly contests anyway right? I know, of course someone does, but like the Lotto, nobody loves the Lotto until they are the winner. At least with the Lotto, there isn’t a lengthy questionnaire before you buy the ticket. So please, look somewhere else for my feedback and most of all, if you find me and truly want my feedback, give me something in return for my time. I at least did my part. I bought something from you. It is the least you could do for my invaluable customer feedback and me.

Now that is worth something.

Just (do) Sell It.

February 02, 2012 BY MJ PENCE

Sell an Idea. Grow your brand. 

Business owners and professionals, I have news for you: You are in sales.

In a traditional sense, the mere thought of being in sales or labeled a salesperson can mortify even the brightest entrepreneurs or professionals. Cold calling, pitching a product, public speaking or overcoming objections can weaken the knees of most. It is one thing to have a great idea, but another to bring it to fruition. This becomes convincing others that your idea, product, or service is something a prospect needs. Why should someone fork over his or her hard earned dollars in exchange for what you are offering? This is the million dollar question.

Even Steve Jobs had a hard time convincing others in the late 70s and eventually John Sculley in 1983. Fortunately for Mr. Sculley, Steve Jobs gave one of the most compelling sales pitches of all time and John Sculley became the new CEO of Apple Computers.

I never crossed paths with the great Steve Jobs, but I have met many successful business owners and I believe for the most part, the majority are great sales people too. If you think about it, to be an entrepreneur, you have to be somewhat of a visionary, a go-getter, even slightly self-confident and most of all, a wee bit crazy. Not surprisingly, these are also characteristics of super salespeople.

I often wonder how many people thought Steve Jobs was crazy when he talked about the future of computers in the late 70s and Apple’s potential as a viable business.

The right mix of ingredients is often found in many great salespeople of our time. Consider some of the other greats like Mary Kay Ash, Zig Ziglar, David Ogilvy, or even Ron Popeil that used infomercials to convince us that his new appliances were a must have for every kitchen. If you read each of their stories, you will no doubt find commonalities. Often we hear adjectives like focused, high energy, confident, great listener, knows people, passionate, enthusiastic, and even committed. Personally, the last one is my favorite. Anyone that has been in sales full time would agree you have to be committed or possibly even a candidate to be committed to succeed.

And it is that commitment in my view that makes the biggest impact. To be in business for yourself as a business owner and/or professional, you initially need to mine your own prospects. Hanging a sign or participating in a few social networks may catch wandering eyes, but true success will happen when you put thoughts into actions. Believe first, and be proactive.

No matter if you are service related, driven by Internet sales, or you just created the next coolest product on the planet, don’t wait for the crowds to come. “Build it and they will come” is for Hollywood, not the real world. Use every tool at your disposal. Most of all, do something yourself. Spread the word, and tell others why you or what you are offering is exactly what they need. Believe in what you have. Have conviction and believe most in yourself. Be a salesperson for your business, for you. Shout out to the world. No one will scream louder at the start-up or believe in you more.

And before you know it, you will be the first member of your very own Top Salesperson of the Year club.

Congratulations!

Proactively Golden

November 07, 2011 BY MJ PENCE

The golden rule in business has been claimed to be many things. Presented as one phrase, sentence, or even an idea that business leaders use as a beacon in everything they do. Many famous business leaders lay claim to their own golden rule of business. The rules can be as diverse and profound as many of the leaders that state them. The most highly acclaimed rules typically advise surrounding yourself with people smarter than you and treating customers like they own you. Some can even appear humorous but shouldn’t be taken lightly. One in particular is Elliot Spitzer’s, former New York state attorney general, who stated: “Never write when you can talk. Never talk when you can nod. And never put anything in an e-mail.”

With so many variations, is there an ultimate Golden Rule of Business? Is there a more important common thread that is interwoven among various rules of business? Most definitely.

Business leaders and business owners will all agree that without customers, business will simply not happen. You can make the best product or deliver the best service in the world but if no one buys your product or utilizes your service, you won’t be in business very long. It simply boils down to sales. And in sales this translates to “always ask for the business”.  

So when it comes to social media, why do many business leaders suddenly become reactive rather thanproactive? Now before you fire back, keep in mind, placing a Facebook or Twitter logo on a corporate homepage or a Yelp sticker on the front door of a business is not necessarily proactive. Simply creating a social presence for a brand or company is not the definition of being ‘proactive’. These social sites exist with or without you and so do their members. And their members are talking about you regardless of your willingness to adopt social media pages, logos, or stickers. It’s these events that have set your social media agenda in motion not the other way around. Creating a social presence among these social players is only part of the process.  To truly be proactive, business leaders must fully engage customers socially before and after sales, offline and online. It is a two way process.  

When a customer buys your product or service, it is highly probable that the customer likes or thinks, he/she likes your business. And if they are a repeat customer, then it is even more probable that the customer can be an advocate for your business and recommend you. Keep in mind, it is a natural process for people to want to share a great experience and sometimes not so great, with others.  Hoping or waiting for customers to talk about your business is simply too risky.  The more you engage your customers, the more you can get to know them, and the more you will understand as a business.  

Be proactive and engage customers upfront.  Do not let events set your agenda nor the time and place. By engaging the customer first you can react ahead of time. Doing so is really the definition of being proactive.  

To be able to meet customer needs despite potential changes, good or bad, is what being proactive in business is all about. It certainly makes asking for the business much easier and that in itself, is truly golden in its own right.

Business is Who You Are, First.

October 22, 2011 BY MJ PENCE

I have stopped counting the number of businesses that have some sort of feedback survey-1.800-number or giveusfeedback.com website. I think it is great that businesses want the feedback. But I wonder though where the feedback goes? And do I as a customer truly understand what the company is about or is striving to be? Does it even matter? Is this a marketing-as-usual strategy or a sincere attempt to connect with customers? With me?

Fact is, customers talk about companies all the time. I for one, am no exception. 

A large national retailer I tend to visit on the weekends is a great example.  Over the past 9-months I have encountered many variations at their attempt to get my feedback. It began with the verbal notice and instructions about the survey request on my receipt and the possibility that I could be a lucky winner. Oh boy! All I had to do was I take the time to call the number or visit the feedback website and take a survey. Uhg, boring…but I added it to my list of to-do list with the knowledge that I never win anything.    Sigh. 

Next came the photo copied hand-cut small-squared neon colored paper notice. Believe it or not this caught my attention but not as you might think. The colors are great but I actually was more intrigued as to why the nice lady at the register was madly searching for a stapler with my receipt in hand. Had I done something wrong? Finally it was clear. A visual reminder for the verbal reminder about the survey request on my receipt and the possibility that I could be a lucky winner. Oh boy! All I had to do was take the time to call the number or visit the website and take a survey. Uhg…boring, but I added it to my to-do list, again, with the knowledge that I never win anything. Sigh. 

Well, this went on for a while.  All the while still wondering where the feedback would go, if I ever got around to actually doing the survey.  And even better I now wondered who was actually the person that was assigned to cutting all those small colored square pieces of photocopied paper.  

My last visit entailed the same receipt, same survey request, but now absent of the colored paper squares. Instead I got a big red circle drawn around the request on the receipt as if I was getting the wrong answer on my second grade quiz again. This time, no to-do list, no survey for sure. 

Humorous as it might be, this happens all too often and it is not unique to this particular company. I hear similar stories all the time from friends. So what’s the issue. I think the time drag of actually doing a survey plays a role and so does the fact that most people really don’t like to do anything unless there is some sort of incentive or payback for doing so. But given these valid obstacles, I believe the real issue lies within how companies position themselves. What are they trying to be? How will the feedback help them get there? Clarity is the key. The clearer these points, the more insightful the feedback. Customers must understand who your are as a company and the purpose of their feedback.  Once a company is positioned correctly, it can then turn its focus to figuring out how to connect to thousands if not millions of real customers for feedback. Until then, the all to common survey request is just another item on a long to-do list that never seems to get done. And big red scary pens certainly don’t help…