“No one lying on their death bed wishes they spent more time at the office”
And despite loving my work, I guess that’s true for me too.
Of course those of you who hate your job, and are at the office right now, are probably running for the door…
But being dedicated to your work, your craft, and the stuff that may not be so obvious to the success in all you do, might involve staying late at the office once in a while.
And until one evening in the 1980’s when I was at the office way too late, I didn’t realize that being there when no one else was there would lead to some insights that have stayed with me my entire career.
The best thing about being in the office at 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening is that if the phone rings, you have to answer it.
I’m talking about the days when we didn’t even have a nighttime automated attendant–and there was no caller ID either.
The phone would not stop ringing unless you picked it up…someone on the other end wanted something…and at that time in the evening, my experience was that what they wanted was “satisfaction” (which often included yelling at a real person).
My company, Boardroom Inc., had millions of customers (mostly subscribers to our newsletters and buyers of our books)…and at any one point in time, about a million of them were “active” with the company…currently subscribing to a newsletter–or they had bought a book fairly recently.
I didn’t know it the first time I did it but answering the phone after hours and speaking to dissatisfied customers is actually the best way for me to meet some of those millions…and it is also the best ”customer research” you can do in the trenches.
It may also be the most valuable thing you can do as a marketer.
I know that one phone call is not representative of the entire customer base…but if you do it enough times and get similar complaints, you then realize that you are smack in the middle of doing critical qualitative research (like a focus group, one-on-one).
Of course the next step might be to go deeper into those complaints you hear most often and then do some quantitative research (surveys, questionnaires etc.).
Regardless, all of the information you gather will help you with selling better up front…and retain better on the back end as well.
I’ve said this in previous posts and I will say it again here:
Customer service and fulfillment of products and services are MARKETING functions.
No matter what the problem—from missing an issue of the newsletter to annoyance that their book had not arrived yet, or to their concern that their dog ate page 17 and 18 of the special bonus that contained the most important secret regarding treatment of their Type 2 diabetes…all complaints are relevant to how you deal with your customers now…and in the future. Nothing is too small.
Listening and interacting with your customers will give you insights beyond any spreadsheet or report on the makeup of your database.
You’ve probably heard about the CEO’s who get this concept…the ones who spend time every week (or maybe once a month) listening in on customer service calls to get a real sense what the end user is feeling, needing and yes, complaining about.
I also know some insightful entrepreneurs who hire “secret shoppers” (i.e. people on the payroll but outside the company to go through every aspect of their sales and marketing operation) to find out where there might be a broken link or a hole in the operation that no one would ever see without this kind of anonymous yet monitored buying.
One brilliant entrepreneur I know had his secret shopper answer one question–and one question only–at every step of the process as they experienced the organization’s sales funnel:
“How does that make me FEEL?”
His Secret Shopper bought everything, returned a lot of stuff, complained at every turn and basically made as much trouble as possible…and then they reported on how they are dealt with at every step of the process.
And most importantly, how they felt.
It’s a great exercise for any organization.
Back to my late nights at the office:
When I picked up the phone it was usually an angry customer (or my wife asking me when I was coming home)! We’ll just talk about the former, not the latter.
I risked so much abuse, throughout my career, by intentionally staying late to answer the phone as the “last line of defense”…but it was always worth it for what I learned.
I’ve got the scars and the knowledge to show for it.
I learned the valuable lesson, first hand, that paying closer attention to the bad news you hate hearing (at least at the time) may be the key to making positive changes to your business.
When I picked up the phone and heard that angry customer, I was ready to play the game that every direct marketer must master:
“Give the customer more than they would ever expect”
Saving a cancellation was only a minor victory…and it was irrelevant financially since in most cases, I was “saving” a $39 order.
The ultimate goal: Make them a customer for life after they called to complain, cancel or curse (or all of the above).
Making that happen taught me valuable lessons about marketing that I could never read in any book.
I even came up with ideas for new products, bonuses and premiums as I loaded the complainers up with hundreds of dollars’ worth of products! I always learned stuff I didn’t know about our products and our customers.
The ideal situation was always when the person on the other end began:
“I am very unhappy and I want to return the product.”
That’s when I knew I was just getting started…and it was time to get a return on the return…
So whether it’s you, your secret shopper or a friend who happens to be a customer and tells you the truth about how they feel about your company, the key is to put yourself in situations so you can hear stuff “on the ground”—react to it—and to just keep saying YES until the customer is satisfied and you learn what holes need to be plugged.
And if your evening automated attendant doesn’t allow you to talk to real people…or if your home office number is never used by customers (i.e. all customer service is outsourced)…make it a practice to spend some time listening in to what your customers are telling the folks you have entrusted to be on your front lines.
All of this ties into one of the most important direct marketing rules of thumb.
It is always easier to keep a customer than to get a new one.
This is what links new customer acquisition to customer retention and/or renewals.
If you think everything is all just about great “front end marketing” (i.e. “getting the sale), think again.
To repeat: “Customer service and fulfillment of your product or service is a marketing function.”
The selling part is sexier but the retention part is how you stay in business for the long haul.
Gordon Grossman, the man who built the Reader’s Digest in the 1960’s and 1970’s, once told me:
“Marketers sell subscriptions; editors sell renewals”
While he was talking about magazine subscriptions here, the lesson is universal:
If you don’t truly “deliver” the product or service you sold in the initial promotion, you can re-sell until you are blue in the face and you won’t get the renewal (or repeat order).
Plus…let’s now add in customer service and fulfillment to the equation:
Even if you deliver what you said you would deliver content-wise or product-wise, I still defy you to completely satisfy a customer who didn’t get the bonus you promised or to delight them after they received your amazing product 3 weeks later than you said you would deliver it.
It’s all connected.
Bringing new customers into the fold is often more a function of our ability to persuade than to actually deliver; keeping customers for life is always about coming through in the clutch on all of the persuasiveness you used to sell them in the first place.
And of course be ready to answer the phone when they call and need something more…
P.S. There’s a secret strategy in the email above that you may have missed…and it’s one of the reasons my company was so profitable for so long.
See, we weren’t just selling one off products and living launch to launch. We sold products with built in recurring revenue.
If you’re interested in building recurring revenue into your business, keep reading.
My friend Stu McLaren is the leading expert in creating memberships that enable you to engage at the highest level with your best customers and to delight them way beyond an initial purchase.
I make ZERO dollars from this by the way. I’ve decided to build a school instead…
When I heard Stu was creating something from his years of building some of the most successful membership programs ever, I told him I wanted to tell you about it without personal compensation.
So if you decide to buy his product through my link, I will be donating 100% of what I would have made to World Teacher Aid, a non-profit Stu runs that builds schools for families in Kenya who have no access to education…it’s a game-changing organization.
Stu’s product will be the best of its kind … he is the master at creating memberships which create the most loyal customers for life….raving fans who will never want to leave you.
That’s a strategy I’ve lived by my entire career…and Stu teaches it and does it better than anyone I know.
If you do buy his product you will be helping yourself and your business in a big way and at the same time changing lives in Africa. I plan on going with Stu when he builds his next school…and I will personally contribute on top of what any of you contribute with the goal of building a classroom…and maybe even an entire school.