Customer service comes in all shapes and sizes . . . from a cashier who smiles genuinely to a service tech that goes the extra mile to make sure everything is working for you just as intended to a clever little card enclosed with your purchase. Enter Anker, a Chinese electronics company, and my new portable charger. While I was sufficiently pleased with the charger, I was taken with their customer service insert. A small business card in size that was folded in half . . .
Compact, concise, thoughtful, and thorough. I was impressed enough to snap a few pictures and jot down a few words . . . to remember my dose of inspiration and perhaps extend the feeling to others. Establish your objective, however ordinary, and challenge your thinking to be somewhat extraordinary in your path to achieve it.
You can work to provide the best customer experience imaginable – sealing a rainbow and a hug with your perfect product in its perfect packaging – and you will still have the occasional unhappy customer. Sometimes, the issue is simply bad timing . . . a perfect storm in your customer’s life that culminates with your product underperforming in some perceived way (that’s more often a result of the person’s current frame of mind than actual underperformance). Sometimes, the fit isn’t a good one; the product or service isn’t what the individual expected (possibly even because he or she didn’t pay enough attention to the sales pitch or product specs prior to purchase). Regardless, one day you will be on the receiving end of bad publicity from an unhappy customer, and you’ll want to know the best way to handle the situation. Below are some different approaches with the selection of the right one dependent upon the specific circumstances of the bad press.
Sometimes, no response is the best response.
I have had a really hard time with this one in the past. It’s just so against my nature to not share my point of view. However, this approach can be the right choice when . . .
The customer discredits themself in the process . . . either by sounding a little crazy, exhibiting below average intelligence, or complaining about something that clearly isn’t the product’s fault. In other words, if your average person would read the quote, review, or feedback from the individual and not be convinced (for whatever reason) that your product was at fault, then just walk away. Your work is done. No input needed.
You have the potential to do more harm than good. Whenever you receive bad publicity, take a step back and try to look at the big picture. Does this negative press have the potential to negatively affect sales? If so, by how much? For how long? If the potential fallout is minimal, walk away. Count your losses and call it a day. Another important variable . . . how angry does this customer seem to be? When helping my son with his science homework recently, I was reminded by Newton that all actions have an equal and opposite reaction. If you counter your opposition, the chance always exists that they will find another way to strike back (especially if you’re dealing with one of those customers in the midst of that perfect storm in their life).
Turn an unhappy customer into a happy one.
This route is my favorite. When you see a problem that has a solution, strive for resolution. Regardless of whether you saw the complaint on facebook, on yelp, or in your local newspaper, the approach is largely the same. Reach out to the customer, let the person know you saw their issue, apologize for the misunderstanding (usually one exists in these situations), and try to remedy the problem. Upon reaching happy conclusion, I never ask for the individual to undo their negative press. Simply apologize, fix the problem, and thank the person for giving you the opportunity to do so. The majority of the time, the person will not only undo the negative, he or she will rave about your customer service. However, do be prepared for the small minority of people who have had their issue resolved and do not undo their bad publicity. In those cases, you then need to decide whether the potential fallout is bad enough that you need to take further action. If so, read on.
Mitigate the damage.
Sometimes, your customer’s problem is unsolvable (or he/she is unmoved by your solution) AND the associated publicity does have the potential to substantially impact your business. In those cases, you need to act, BUT always approach these situations with great caution. If you choose to respond by providing a quote to the reporter doing the story or as a direct response in a public venue (facebook, yelp or other review web site, your product web page, etc.), be sure to do the following:
First and foremost, be respectful. Do not speak at all negatively about the person or situation. If you do, readers will empathize with the customer. They will picture buying your product, having a problem, and being spoken to in that same negative manner.
Apologize . . . carefully. Despite whether you feel you’re at fault, your customer feels he or she has been wronged in some way. You have a public victim. That said, you’re probably not looking to claim full culpability either, so choose your words carefully. Apologize: for the misunderstanding, for the terrible experience that’s been endured, etc. Don’t say, “I apologize that my product was the cause of a terrible experience for you.” The difference is subtle but important.
Address the situation directly. This is the time to share your side of things. Nicely explain the issue from your perspective. Your goal is for a potential customer to hear both sides and agree with you . . . or at least feel your fault is limited enough that they would still patronize your business. I dug up two examples for you of 1-star reviews I’ve received that I felt warranted a response.
Focus on increasing your positive publicity. Work to counteract the negative message that was conveyed. For example, if a customer’s complaint of faulty workmanship on her home got media attention, try to get press coverage on all the beautiful work your company has done. That could mean applying for some recognition in your field (annual awards, etc.), which could then be promoted. Another route would be to introduce a new guarantee on your workmanship, which could be publicized. If you’ve done a job that was unique or special in some way, you could try to pitch the story to a reporter as a feature. In my line of work, when a product gets a negative review that needs to be addressed, I send messages to other customers who have purchased the same product, asking if they would be willing to share their experience. During this pandemic (while sales were at their worst for me), I needed to take this step. Here was my message:
Hi there. I would like to personally thank you once again for your purchase. During these hard times in particular, the fact that you are purchasing products from small businesses means so much — to me and my family. So please accept my sincerest thanks.
An additional step that is very meaningful is leaving a review. IF you have the time available AND you were happy with your purchase, I would greatly appreciate you taking a few minutes to write a positive review for the product. I think people often don’t realize how important an impact their voice can have — especially for a small business.
If you didn’t end up loving your purchase, please respond to this message and let me know. I can either help you troubleshoot or I can personalize your product for you (if applicable), and I can work to improve the product for future customers.
In conclusion, I sincerely hope you never have negative press. (For a good article on proactive prevention, check out Great Customer Service is a Zero Cost Strategy by Business Management Blog.) For the unfortunate though likely day that you do encounter an unhappy (and vocal) customer, I hope this article makes you feel a little more prepared. Have any questions or comments? We’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to “Leave a Reply.”
Whether you are in the early stages of marketing, promoting, and advertising a new business or are about to reintroduce yourself to the world (a necessity that could be created by a variety of circumstances ranging from a great new product or service to a need to come back in a somewhat altered form from a national pandemic), a typical group of activities are usually considered:
Advertising via online and/or print publications
Press releases announcing your presence and/or highlighting a change
Direct mail/e-mail to existing and/or prospective customers
Social media postings to highlight important details and communicate news
To reach out to the largest possible audience in a coordinated way with a consistent message and visual component, basic branding practices are key. As you embark upon your campaign, we suggest you read the following blog entries . . . and keep checking back as we post new material on topics such as: building your own ads; properly preparing artwork for various print and online media outlets; understanding the role and use of paid search and ad words as an advertising tool; etc.
When read together, the articles shown below provide a branding tutorial relevant to marketing campaigns. (By the way, we are always interested in hearing from you and will carefully consider special requests to cover specific topics; either use the form at the bottom of this page to deliver your message or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
BEFORE YOU BEGIN YOUR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING EFFORTS, take the time to create/review a style guide that puts into writing the most basic rules that must be observed to properly build the visual elements of your new campaign.
Note: Helpful downloadable tools/templates are included.
Your marketing/advertising campaign is almost certainly going to involve a variety of multi-media components – many of which are already included on our sample Branding Activity Calendar that could also be used to coordinate the various elements you’ve incorporated into your promotional campaign. (The template we’ve provided allows you to add the specific activities associated with your effort.)
Why does branding matter when your current focus is to launch your new sales campaign? Why get distracted by the time, effort, and resources needed to make sure your advertising and marketing efforts reflect your chosen branding? This article (as well as the one below) answers that question!
These pieces discuss the content and crafting of your direct mail message (including the document to be mailed/emailed) as well as the mechanics of obtaining your list and building your database of recipients.
The following articles cover various aspects of building a social media presence – from creating profiles on platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest to strategies used to identify appropriate content. As an added bonus, we provide tools helpful in promoting your social media accounts, including templates. (Last but not least, we address tools for requesting customer reviews so you won’t forget the importance of that aspect of social media.)
Branding involves far more than just creating a few recognizable visual elements. Customer Service is always at the heart of your brand. Taking a close look at this time helps identify those branding qualities that will resonate with your audience and are, therefore, worth promoting. Then, be sure to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that your customer service systems are properly tuned to support the front end of your sales efforts. Once you are successful, remember the value of repeat customers by immediately thanking them for their business.
During the pandemic, has anyone not heard the expression . . .
For family . . . to stay in touch with members during this time of enforced isolation.
For entertainment . . . as celebrities find new ways to reach out to their audiences. (Everyone catch the cast of Hamilton performing a number with each member in a different remote location?)
What does ZOOMING have to do with brand building? Well, the app is another tool (a particularly useful one right now) for communicating with employees and customers – either singly or in groups. Much can be accomplished via video conferencing.
While the term and app ZOOM might be relatively new, various forms of desktop videoconferencing have existed for many years.
About a decade ago, I started supervising several employees who worked remotely from home – in fact, mostly from different states. Daily meetings using this kind of technology enabled us to keep in touch in a very immediate way – going over current projects, brainstorming, and planning for future tasks. The application we used (though not ZOOM) featured desktop screen sharing—allowing us to share files and make changes interactively, which eliminated one key obstacle that needed to be overcome for remote activity to be as effective as local.
Similarly, my daughter studied abroad back in the early 2000’s. Weekly Skype video calls made this period much more tolerable for us.
ZOOM has already made a huge impact upon the off-premises workplace . . . so I suspect every business owner should become somewhat familiar with the powerful potential of this tool and be able to participate in meetings as well as initiate them. By the way, getting started with ZOOM is free.
Note: While ZOOM is the app I’ve heard most commonly mentioned during these days of isolation and mandatory business closures, be aware that other programs with similar features are available. Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting, and Microsoft Teams are just a few.
This brief article is not intended be an in depth ZOOM instructional guide . . . but is designed to provide just enough information to pique your curiosity and perhaps give you enough tips to approach your first experience without trepidation.
If you are being invited to participate in a scheduled ZOOM meeting, you will get an e-mail that includes a link to click to join the meeting. Upon doing so, a page will be displayed that informs you that a download is about to begin. When prompted, click “Run”; you will enter a meeting that has been assigned a several digit meeting name.
Note: If you have already installed a free copy of ZOOM (as explained in the next section below), you will be able to bypass this download by launching ZOOM and “Joining” an existing meeting by entering the multi-digit name.
Follow the installation instructions, creating a user name and password. Once your free account has been created, you will be able to access the screen below.
From this point, you can “Join” a meeting by entering the name provided by the organizer, or you can “Schedule” a new session yourself. The process is quick and easy and accomplished by completing this form:
If you have coordinated ZOOM with your calendar, you can generate invitations directly. Otherwise, you can copy the meeting details (including the needed link) into the clipboard and paste the contents into an e-mail to send to the recipients.
When the meeting is due to begin, you’ll be prompted with a selection to start the meeting. As everyone you invited tries to access the meeting, you will want to select the “Manage” option, which will allow you to admit the requestees into the session.
By the way, ZOOM traditionally limited free account holders to 40-minute meetings. However, the creators have recognized the growing need for videoconferencing of all kinds during the pandemic and have generously waived the time limit.
And – Once Again – How Does ZOOM Relate to Your Branding Efforts?
During this time of business closures and regulated isolation (a process that seems likely to continue for some time as businesses are gradually allowed to reopen), videoconferencing plays a key role in maintaining lines of communication with your employees (assuming you have some), customers (to provide a means of face-to-face contact when such opportunities are scarce), and third-party business meetings. As we have seen in recent weeks as whole music concerts and television shows have been orchestrated this way, the uses of ZOOM are limited only by our imaginations.
If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Be safe. Be well.
Observe the guidelines implemented for our collective good!!
Why is this quality so very important . . . and the ultimate goal of all branding activity?
Once you achieve customer loyalty, consumers will:
Choose your product or service over others . . . regardless of your competitors’ behavior.
Select you without price shopping . . . and perhaps even be willing to pay a bit more.
Become repeat buyers – often for years and potentially crossing multiple generations (an impressive brand success).
Recognize your product by your logo and other branding elements without a reference to your name.
Become your best sales force – promoting your product/service through word of mouth.
Expect you to make good on brand promises – those qualities you have promoted that have resonated with your audience.
Present you with growth opportunities – in part through cross sales.
In other words, once you have achieved customer loyalty, your sales acquisition costs should decrease significantly because less marketing and sales expense should be required to generate the desired revenue.
So . . . How Do You Create Brand Loyalty . . . and Avoid Getting Lost in the Crowd?
While I’m sure you’ve heard about (and probably been pitched) loyalty/incentive programs, such tools are just one of many that are available.
Note: Loyalty programs encourage shoppers to return to stores where they frequently make purchases. Some of the incentives may include advanced access to new products, additional discounts, or sometimes free merchandise. Customers typically register their personal information with the company and are given a unique identifier, such as a numerical ID or membership card, and use that identifier when making a purchase. (Investopedia)Want to learn more? Check out these seven examples of some of the best: https://www.leadquizzes.com/blog/7-examples-of-customer-loyalty-programs/
That said . . .
Instead of focusing on those prepackaged plans, you really just need to expend your energy on building a great brand and consistently promoting your strengths via consistent implementation of the basic branding elements you’ve put into place. Specifically, you should:
Provide a customer service experience that reflects your brand.
Utilize social media to establish an online presence.
Build a visual brand identity that reflects your products/services and overall operations . . . so the message you are trying to send reflects reality and stands a chance of resonating with your audience.
Establish credibility (and trustworthiness) by making good on your brand promises.
Incorporate best practices in all that you do AND be the best.
Know your audience and make sure your products/services satisfy their needs . . . even as those needs may change.
Maintain strict consistency in your spoken, written, and visual message – enhancing recognition.
Focus on creating loyal, repeat customers who will continue to frequent your business. (Why so important . . . ?)
THE LAW OF THE VITAL FEW – The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from 20% of your current customer base, making it imperative that you focus on creating loyal, repeat customers that will continue to frequent your business. (Written by the Forbes Agency Council)
Make positive contributions to society part of your culture. (To do so can enhance the environmental, social, and governance aspects of your operations, which in turn, enhances the sustainability of your success.)
Add extra value above and beyond the basic product/service provided.
Check in with your customers regularly via surveys, conversations (research groups), calls, etc. AND really listen to them.
Don’t Be Brand X!
If your business has achieved customer loyalty, you’ve mastered one of the key measures of success – your products and services are no longer generic (. . . and interchangeable) in the eyes of you audience. You are no longer just another Brand X! You have a personality and identity; you’ve established a relationship with your customer.
As this article suggests, this goal is accomplished in many ways, including a consistent, well-developed branding program that sends a clear message to your intended audience.
Special Note: Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group. To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.