What every dental (& other customer service) experiences should be

Let’s face it, when it comes to putting these bad boys in our mouth we really want to know who is doing it. My mom recently went to a new dentist. For the last THREE days she’s been talking about her experience and what great customer service they’ve provided.

First she dropped in on them in person. Hey, she’s retired, she’s got time. They indicated they did indeed take new patients and scheduled her for the NEXTday.

The first thing that blew her away was the phone call that evening. Joshua D.M.D himself called and asked if she had any questions about the next day’s appointment. Not a receptionist. Not even a hygienist. Her actual DENTIST called.

They had a tremendous sales package. If she purchased a plan, all her care would be discounted. Her first medical bill for her first exam and cleaning were the equivalent. So she signed up, and started saving.

At her appointment, they offered her a blanket because they know patients can get chilled.

The dentist noted a condition that she’s had for three years that could easily be addressed. She’d be asking her previous dentist, on deaf ears. The new guy discussed the overall health of all her teeth if this was done. She was so pleased she didn’t have to ask him!

At the end of her first visit they offered her a carnation. A free flower. First day.

For three days as some other thoughtful, caring act took place, she shared. What a great job of providing customer service.

When I looked up their website, they are committed to paying it forward.

Loved the customer service, how they took care of my mom and her needs. How does your dentist customer service measure up?

Earn the Right to Be Heard

A recent client for my students reminded me about the marketing adage “the right to be heard”. It’s a reference to the need to demonstrate that you know the client, so that when you pitch them an idea about how to move their business in a direction, they’re more likely to trust you. Same holds true when you’re offering clients solutions as a business owner.

And why targeting your audience is so important. How can you speak to them and motivate them to action if you don’t really know them? How you talk to your family, your co-workers, your friends, your local barista–all different approaches. Why would business be any different? It’s not.

People do business with people they know, like and trust. Sometimes they don’t really “know” you, that’s the role of public relations. Developing a connection with people you want to do business with, provide solutions for, etc. The reason television ads work so well is because you’re in people’s homes. Showing up in their social media often also in the homes, and cars, and boring meetings. Think about how to earn the right to be heard-know the people you want to talk to.

It’s so much easier for them to accept the pitch when you do.

News affects your business-are you prepared or will you sink?

Celebrity Solstice photo from Gran Caneria, in no way related to the Costa line or tragedy

Likely you’ve seen the news and know about cruise ship Costa Concordia. You know, the Italian cruise where the captain used his ship to play chicken with the coastline, abandoned ship (oops, fell into the life boat) and tragically more than 30 people are missing  or dead.This tragedy has impacted a variety of businesses.

In my Pilates class, several friends are taking advantage of the “huge discounts” all cruise ships are offering to counter cancelled trips. The cruise line industry is feeling the repercussion of one incompetent captain, creating a public relations crisis they didn’t make and have no control over.

The Washington Post blog by Melissa Bell talks about the poor timing of an American Express direct mail piece suggesting the recipient “immerse” in the Mediterranean cruise experience aboard the…you guessed it Costa Concordia. The Amex advert was offering a $50 onboard credit for the end of February/early March cruise. Talk about timing. Now Amex is dealing with a public relations crisis, again that they didn’t create.

If the travel industry is on its game they’ll be sharing blogs and social media posts, direct mail and email conversations with their patrons about the safety records of their ships and captains, and generally addressing the concerns in addition to the incentives.

American Express if its on its game will also address the situation. I couldn’t find any media statements or comments on their website or Twitter account about cruises, their safety or their recommendations. May be you can.

Small Business Saturdays–and keep it going through the holiday

Hopefully you haven’t been living under a rock and you know that today is Small Business Saturday. It’s a corporate philanthropy day suggested by American Express. You don’t need to be an American Express member to go shop at small businesses in your community. Your small businesses don’t have to accept American Express to participate. But the Amex folks know that small business is what drives our economy-it’s the 99.7 percent of all employer firms and hires half of all private sector jobs.

From a PR perspective, Amex is providing a great service. Yes, they could as a company benefit because of their small business solutions arm. They are a financing force; but they used it to get great coverage, it’s resounding with a lot of shoppers–many of whom don’t know it’s an idea sponsored by American Express.

For you the small business owner, you’ve missed the shot at Small  Business Saturday window signs and the easy set up that Amex offered on their pages. But what you can do for the rest of the holiday season is to communicate with your customers–across all platforms.

  • Tell them what deals you have and remind them of small business purchases. If it seems too bold, share about other businesses.
  • Give them ideas–like a certificate for a bookkeeping or house cleaning service, personal grooming or pet care services, local restaurants.
  • Partner up with businesses in your block. One winery I go to partners with the local restaurant next door who doesn’t charge a corkage few if you bring in a bottle from the winery.
  • Create an experience–harried shoppers want convenience, no hassle. After yesterday, they don’t want to go where they could get pepper-sprayed over a video game! Offer refreshments, maybe have a masseuse doing 15 minute stress relief moments.
  • Service, from the minute the walk in the door till two years after, counts. Knock ’em dead with the right amount of attention without hounding them to buy. It’s a balance. Offer information about bargains or special benefits.
  • Find enticements: free gift wrap (discount at another local store, perhaps), gift basket ideas, free delivery.

Get going. You still have time. But there is only about three weeks shopping left-depending on what holiday you commemorate.

The DMV and Customer Service

Who knew you could go to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and get great customer service? With state budget cuts and eliminated services the experience at the DMV could have been a nightmare. But Nevada has done some extraordinary work.

First service oriented feature is on their website: at the top of the home page they provide a rough timeline of expected waiting periods for every town. This could help those with limited lunch hours for personal errands to plan accordingly. It’s not a perfect solution to the need for wait times, but geez I’d love to see a doctor’s office pull that off.

Once there I stood in line to get a number. Got my number and an idea of all the forms needed from the helpful staff. Waited the 40 minutes projected from the website. I was able to get caught up on social media and email while there. Brought a book, but never got to it. When I got to the counter, there was a problem with the VIN number–the insurance number didn’t match the dealer’s form. Past customer service problems would have required me to leave, go figure out my insurance and come back. Instead the staff were prepared to make my auto registration a success. The clerk gave me a fax number for me to give to the auto company. While I called them, she continued the paperwork. SHE was faster than the insurance company. We got my driver’s license renewal taken care of while waiting for the insurance. The document still hadn’t arrived but I didn’t lose my place or have to go back. The process allowed for me to sign an affidavit that I would have insurance. She gave me a form to verify that my insured status moved from pending to confirmed from the convenience of my own. Any one of these steps could have created a service nightmare, but service was actually the answer for the day.

Customer service isn’t just employing nice staff—it’s providing solutions BEFORE there’s a problem; it’s anticipating what will be convenient and mitigating what won’t. And it’s assuring staff are focused on customer needs, empowered to make decisions and have ownership in the results.

Even Alice Knows Why Matters

Many non-profits or clubs want to hold events-it’s a way to raise money. Sell tickets to something and hope enough people attend to make it net a number that’s worth the effort. People like parties, should be easy. Problem is much more than  goes into an event and why so many non-profits or clubs/organizations ultimately fail.

First to consider is what is the purpose of the event? Is it to secure new clients or prospects? Is it to generate media attention and publicity? Is it to raise money? Raising awareness? Interesting new clients to repeat business? Creating a trial stage for clients or donors? An event is not going to be all of those things for all the attendees. Prioritize.

How much time and effort does it take to conduct an event and what are the real costs associated with the event? Not just talking food, beverage and decoration here. How much staff/volunteer time goes in to logistics, media relations, marketing? Who’s doing the sales–you know actually getting people to buy tickets? How many tickets at what price will net the result you want? Many non-profits or clubs set a ticket price for what people can pay but don’t back out the costs to know what they need to net to make it worth it.

If the event is to attract new prospects, does it relate to the image you want for your company? It’s easy to sell tickets for alcohol related events (from wine tasting to all-you-can-drink vodka), but does that fit the image for a professional association for college students or for non-profits working in social justice? Might be easy money, but is it worth the image? What about students who aren’t 21 or people with families? Can they attend or have you made the event exclusionary? Might work for your club, might not. The key is to ask the questions.

Do you have a program to connect the attendees to the organization? Do you need one? If it’s prospects, what point do they know your organization is the host and you want their engagement? Is it the same 25 women who always come-are you just bilking the membership for a few dollars at a time? Wouldn’t it just be easier to forgo lunch and have them write a check monthly check for the equivalent of lunch? You’d have more money.

Here’s an important question: what are you going to do with the money? For non-profits it often offsets the operations costs that donors don’t particularly want to fund. Contributions that directly impact the lives of young girls far more exciting than paying the executive director a livable wage or buying ad time to spread the message. Many service clubs give back to the community, which is great. But the clubs often decide who gets to receive the funds–for many donors, they’d just as soon give directly to an established organization. So what are the funds for again? And why do you need them? How much do you need? Why are you doing this event?

Events done well, with the right image, the best program content and the price that meets the net goal are terrific tools for RELATIONSHIP building–wither with current clients/donors or future ones. They are a tool for connecting to people at various stages of involvement with your organization. The consume a lot of time and energy-bigger they are, the more likely they are to consume valuable resources. It can be worth it, if you know exactly why you are hosting the event and what you want to get out of it and who you market the event to. But THAT topic is a whole other blog.

Four tips to reach the 85% buying power of women

Today I moderated a panel from two experts on marketing to women. We discussed how women make 85% of the buying decisions from houses to health care, from banking to electronics. The key for women is relationship: we buy from people we know and trust. Building trust makes for relationships. A business cannot develop relationships through an ad campaign or sales force. Women don’t like to be “sold”. It takes public relations practices-strong community engagement, superb customer relations strategies, even philanthropic endeavors-all tactics that lead to building those relations which leads to trust.  The panel shared insights on the dominance women play in technology, both the purchase power online and the realm of social media for business relations.

All women are not alike, so the demographic of just “women” is far too broad.Targeting by age, region, lifestyle, marital status, parenting status all need to be considered. According to one source, women feel anywhere from 59-91% misunderstood by the marketers, depending on products from health care to financial services.

Women across generations and demographics are often offended that marketers use women, and mostly through sexual exploitation, to sell to men. Advertisers should heed this–because men aren’t buying the majority of products or services.

The best practices in marketing to women were showcased through a microcosm example of the local women’s expo which hosts more than 250 vendors and sees thousands of women come through in a few days all looking for an experience. 38% of the products and booths deal with health care, and yet women flock to the auto mechanic booth.

Whether you have a product or service, if you are trying to reach women as a market remember this:

  • Women don’t like to be “sold”; be authentic.
  • They have to trust you to do business, so listen
  • Fine tune your marketing to really find the right women-gender is insufficient to define us
  • Build a relationship–you’re better off investing in customer service with experiential elements, than seeking new clients
  • Women dominate online shopping and social media; you want our dollars? Use technology.

If you don’t know what an experience should look like or how to be authentic, then ask your women clients. They’d like to tell you and that’s a start to letting them feel listened to.