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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Are Your Invoices Good 'Customer Ambassadors'?

What does your management think of when it comes to managing the customer experience? Their NPS score? Customer service? Tech support? Providing good value for the money?  How often do you think billing enters their minds?

Expand Your Thinking About Your Customers' Experience

If we accept that there are really a potentially large number of touchpoints that compose the total customer experience and together drive customer retention, customer loyalty, and the quality and quantity of word of mouth, then we also need to admit that our billing processes and instruments should be considered.  Done right billing may not win you loyalty, but done poorly it can surely weaken if not destroy relationships with existing customers.
A recent article on, by John Rampton, highlighted what he referred to as “Invoicing Etiquette”. It was addressed to small businesses, but the article offers a good reminder for all. We see too many organizations that fall victim to looking at things through an internal view - often historically derived.  This perspective causes them to lose sight of the fact that consciously and subconsciously every act and product of their organization will impact the financial future of their brand; either positively or negatively.  Acts and products far exceed those traditionally connected to customer satisfaction.  They range from how customer-facing staff is dressed, to how well they communicate their messages.  From the quality of packaging to the music or lack thereof played to calls on hold; all of these stimuli bombard the customer as s/he formulates an experiential 'picture' of your organization.  They're all part of the total customer experience you’re delivering to your customers and thereby potentially have positive or negative impact on the financial outcome for your brand.

Seven Rules to Strengthen Your Invoices' Customer-Winning Abilities

Rampton presents a creative view on how invoicing - when recognized as a valid component of the customer experience can be tailored to benefit the brand.  He offers a number of key points in handling invoicing/billing which we see as a way to make any customer experience more positive, so we build upon his framework below.

  1. Set terms up front and clearly list the services you offer - Of course your customers should know in advance what your service(s) will cost (at least approximately), and agree in advance to the process and timing for payment. Be sure to eliminate any 'surprises'. Those are the basics. But also be sure to list all the goods or services that you provided, as well as a reminder of any guarantees or warranties you may offer.  Manage evidence of the value you’re providing. 
  2. Create and stick to your policies - Once you set payment terms and timing, be consistent.  Don’t surprise your clients with things like fluctuating due dates or adding tax to one invoice but no tax to another.  If for some reason you must make a change, then inform them before sending the invoice. Even though it’s totally a financial action treat customers as professionally and considerately as you would like to be treated yourself
  3. Provide contact information - Don’t make anybody go searching for your contact information (address, email address or phone number). If there is a question or follow-up desired (or if the customer wants to buy something else), make sure it’s as easy as possible. Even a long-time customer may, on occasion, appreciate a reminder or need basic contact information.
  4. Make paying convenient - Every customer doesn’t do business the same way that you do. As much as possible offer multiple payment processes. Your accounting team may need a reminder that they are part of the customer experience. They’ll probably never come to the top of the list of key drivers of customer satisfaction or NPS. But your accounting/billing department will likely interact with customers and influence retention and word of mouth.
  5. Say “please” and “thank you” - Of course, your mom taught you that.  But how many times have you been told that billing is “just business, nothing personal” as common courtesies are disregarded. We look at it as part of a positive customer experience, but Rampton tells us it can have immediate bottom-line impact as well.  He reports that “a simple ‘please pay your invoice within’ or ‘thank you for your business’ can increase the percentage of invoices that are paid by more than five percent!”  Routine courtesy pays dividends.
  6. Politely follow-up - In Rampton’s words, “when a client doesn’t pay your invoice it’s your responsibility to follow-up with them immediately. While most invoicing software will send automatic payment reminders, there will be times when you’ll have to contact the client personally".  Invoice follow-up is probably no one's favorite activity, but the longer it goes in time, the tougher the interaction gets.  ”Instead of threatening or screaming at the top of your lungs, be professional and keep your composure". And, unless you decide it’s a customer you don’t want to retain in the future, remember even payment reminders and collection calls are still part to your total customer experience.
  7. Deliver invoices digitally, in-person and by mail - Customers, and accounts payable departments, still come in all shapes and sizes. Some customers prefer to receive and pay everything electronically and barely know how to handle paper documents nowadays. Yet, in the right circumstance, even a personally delivered bill might be viewed positively. If you are trying to improve your customer experience then the key is to listen to your customers’ preferences, and try to make bill-paying as convenient for them as possible. You may have to remind your financial folks that it’s the customer who ultimately pays their salary and their actions are influencing the likelihood of future business.
8:47 am est          Comments

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How to Stimulate 'Organic' Word of Mouth

Econsultancy ran a blog post the other day titled “Five examples of brands that succeed with word-of-mouth marketing”. They report that “58% of small business owners identify word-of-mouth marketing as the most effective way to communicate with customers”.  To reinforce this message, they review five examples of how companies large and small have driven their business growth through word of mouth. We certainly believe strongly in the power of word of mouth as a means to retain current customers and produce new ones, so we were interested.  First, their examples, then our recommendations.

Five Basic Examples of Creative Campaigns

Here are the five companies Econsultancy cites for providing outstanding examples of how to use word-of-mouth as a primary marketing tool:

  • Chipotle was recognized for its highly popular YouTube video (The Scarecrow, 2013) that happened to be a trailer for an accompanying iOS app that allowed players to earn codes for free Chipotle menu items. The video was designed to encourage sharing (5.5 million views); the app to boost viewer involvement with the brand (650,000 downloads). The sustainable-farming message of the video and app is reinforced by positive customer experiences with employees - typically jovial and friendly, and helps to foster the brand’s unique ‘food culture’. (A great example of past success though apparently not impactful enough to overcome the company’s multiple food safety scandals that have happened more recently.)
  • Netflix is acknowledged for building word of mouth by delivering the kind of original content that people naturally want to talk about. Additionally “Netflix boosts its customer experience by tapping into user data and sentiment – and delivering exactly what people want on the back of it”.  It well understood the audience’s love of binge-viewing and has scheduled the release of new series to promote such viewer behavior and the resulting 'water cooler conversations'.
  • Lush, a cosmetics retailer, largely relies on its brand values in order to raise awareness and engage consumers instead of making use of traditional advertising. “Its values are centered around social and environmental causes such as animal welfare, fair trade and ethical buying.”  The brand is committed to a zero-spend advertising budget so it relies on social networking to promote itself – largely as the sponsor of issues its target customer is passionate about
  • CrossFit, the branded fitness regimen, uses customer testimonials as the focus of its marketing strategy with “members sharing how and why Crossfit has not only transformed their bodies but multiple aspects of their lives”. Another tactic used is the workout of the day (WOD) which is posted on social media daily. People come back daily for the WOD and are encouraged to share their own results.
  • Slack, the workplace messenger application, uses a ‘freemium’ model, meaning an unlimited number of people can use it for free before deciding to pay for the upgraded package so it’s the word of mouth of the initial teams advocating the brand that are counted on to push the wider business to invest in its service.To achieve its goal Slack understands that it must provide a great customer experience and to that end is quick to point out that it has about four times as many support staff as sales staff. Slack also works to keep customers in the know about product updates, and what is going on within the company in terms of culture and progression.
OUR Recommendation; What You Can Do to Grow Word of Mouth

We’re not sure any of these examples is the best way to produce word of mouth.  Many of them feel like fairly conventional marketing with only bits of strategy focused specifically on generating more positive word of mouth through current customers. However, they are all very creative and obviously the result of thinking ‘out of the box’.  But, as you will no doubt agree, gimmicks and tricks cannot be trusted to stimulate supportive word of mouth.

To really generate strong and ongoing word of mouth we believe brands must become more active and: 

  1. Provide customers with quality products (the very most basic requirement).
  2. Give clear and trustworthy after-sales support (another basic requirement).
  3. Educate, entertain and inform those customers who are loyal so they have 'content' (stories) to share with others.  (Otherwise only customers with negative experiences will have stories to share.)
  4. Introduce customers to sites and other opportunities where they can pass along their stories, experiences, and feelings about the brand.
  5. Arm the best potential advocates (our unique approach for identifying those customers who are emotionally and behaviorally loyal and who are the best communicators) with 'props' (affinity merchandise: caps, t-shirts, etc.) that signal to others they have experience with the brand and are willing to talk about it. 
5:52 pm est          Comments

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