Shankman in Buffalo – Part Two

In yesterday’s post, I covered the first two tenets of Peter Shankman’s recent presentation in Buffalo “The Next Revolution Will Happen in Your Pocket” or “Social media is providing your customers with what they want, when and how they want it. And that is great customer service.” Today, I’ll recap numbers three and four:

3) Be Brief and Learn How to Write Well!

Easily my favorite of Shankman’s points started out with a tidbit about the attention span of the average American today – a shockingly low 2.7 seconds. Coincidentally, the same amount of time it takes to read a headline… or 140 characters. And so, Shankman encouraged us to practice brevity in order to gain our prospects’ attention.

But the real take-away from Shankman’s third point was his belief that bad writing is destroying America. I couldn’t agree more, Peter.

Shankman believes that the art of writing well is all but lost today and that businesses need to make sure that everyone in the organization is committed to improving their writing. Competition abounds and it’s difficult enough to set our companies apart; Shankman espouses the idea that great writing is hugely impactful and helps people see you as knowledgable and trustworthy. I think he’s right on target.

4) Stay “Top of Mind”

Shankman’s last tip was to make sure you’re the first option people think of when they think about what you do.

He told a great story about when Barry Diller joined Paramount Pictures as CEO in the 70s. The studio was the least successful in Hollywood but Diller was committed to turning the tide. According to Shankman, Diller went in to work every morning, pulled out his rolodex, randomly selected a few cards, and called those people just to check in. Provided you were someone of reasonable “standing” in show business, you could expect a phone call from Paramount’s CEO a couple of times a year.

So, when you had a new script you wanted read or a hot young actor you wanted to audition for a role, who would you turn to? Shankman points out that you could either hope and pray that someone at another studio would talk to you or you could simply return Barry’s call. Because Diller frequently reached out to his contacts with no motive other than to say “hi” and no sales agenda in his back pocket, he stayed top-of-mind for many in the industry and helped turn his studio around.

Shankman wants us to reach out to our customers, not just with attempts to make sales and announce new products or services, but simply to stay engaged. And he reminds us to really listen to what our customers are saying when we do check in with them.

You can check out Peter Shankman’s site and blog for more of his unique perspective on social media, marketing and PR, and customer service.

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Shankman in Buffalo – His Basic Tenets for Great Customer Service

Last Thursday, the Advertising Club of Buffalo hosted a night with marketing and PR guru Peter Shankman. Shankman, founder of Help a Reporter Out and The Geek Factory, a boutique marketing strategy firm in NYC, is also an author, keynote speaker, and consultant to both NASA and the Pentagon. Needless to say, he knows his stuff and is pretty well-respected in the marketing world; I certainly feel lucky that I got the chance to hear him speak.

Shankman’s speech was little bit rambling and more than a little bit funny. There were times the laughter in the room was so loud, I couldn’t hear what he was saying. There were also times I wondered “where’s he going with this?” But, at the end of the presentation, I knew exactly what his point was and I felt excited and empowered to bring the takeaways back here to Algonquin and put them into practice.

Shankman’s main point was a simple one: in the face of exploding social media options and instantaneous news outlets the most important thing a company can do to stay in business is provide good customer service. And he provided four basic tenets for making sure you’re staying ahead of the game; I’ll cover the first two today and visit the others tomorrow.

1) Own Your Own Stuff

Shankman argued that branding and owning everything you do – whether good or bad – is vital to the success of your business. He pointed out that, thanks to technology and social media, any good thing you produce, product or idea, can easily be snatched up and redistributed to the masses in mere moments. If it doesn’t have your name all over it, someone else can take credit and your moment of glory, and maybe even your payday, could be lost forever.

The flip side of the “owning it” coin is, of course, that you have to own your mistakes as well. Sure, you might take some heat when you admit you’ve messed up, but Shankman pointed out there’s nothing Americans love more than building up the person we were tearing down yesterday. Heck, a comeback story is always the best kind of story, right?

2) Be Relevant

Shankman rightly reminded us that the direction of a company is controlled, not by its shareholders, management, or employees but by its customers.  If we’re not giving the people want they want, they’ll find another provider and leave us for them. We have to actively ask our customers what they want (and how they want it) and then we have to give it to them. It’s the only way to guarantee continued success.

He also encouraged us to “embrace the concept, not the brand” and to make sure we know where our audience is. Social media changes daily and what we assume is the next big thing might not carry any weight with the people actually buying our products. If I’m tweeting away but my prospects are checking out my competition on Facebook or Pinterest, what good is Twitter doing me?

So, what do you think of Shankman’s first two customer service tenets? How does your company ensure you’re providing a great experience for your customers and prospects?

White Water and Software Support

The view from my weekend office - Lower Falls, Genesee River, Letchworth State Park

Some people may not know this but I have two jobs.  My full time job here at Algonquin Studios, as a Software Support Representative, and my part time job, as a weekend warrior guiding rafts on local white water rivers.

At first, you may think these jobs are completely different from one another.  At one I’m in an office, sitting at a desk and computer with Wi-Fi easily accessible; at the other I’m outside, sitting in an inflatable rubber raft that I could easily pop with the knife I carry, without the ability to make a phone call (even if I carried my cell phone with me).  But in reality the jobs are quite similar; it is my responsibility to make customers happy and ensure they have a good user experience.

Here at Algonquin Studios, my goal is that our clients will be smiling when they hang up the phone with me.  People call in with a problem – the problem can be as small as not knowing how to print an invoice or a bigger issue that takes my team a few days of research, to figure out exactly what happened, before we’re able to get back to customer. Whether it takes me 5 minutes to resolve the issue, or 5 days, my ultimate goal is the same – helping the client and providing quality service.

When rafting, my ultimate goal is no different – to give the guests in my boat a fun, safe trip down the river and have them smiling when we get to the “take out.”  Whether it’s 35 degree day, with snow falling, or an 85 degree day, with the sun shinning, I’m doing everything in my power to give my guests the best user experience I can.

At both jobs, I’ve got a team of individuals backing me up to help accomplish our common goal.  We work together asking and answering questions, learning from each other, and helping each other out so we we’re always getting better at what we do.  And, at Algonquin, there’s never an answer of “sorry, we don’t know the answer” or “sorry, we can’t help you,” we’ll always get back to the client, even if we don’t have an answer right away.

At the end of the day, regardless of which job I’m working, I’m fortunate enough to say that, along with my clients, I’m always smiling too.  At the end of a long day on the river, I smile when I hear the excitement in people’s voices at the end of a white water trip, as they recount every rapid and say they can’t wait to call their friends to tell them all the details. And, when I’m catching the train home after a day at Algonquin Studios, I’ve always got a smile on my face because I know that I worked hard and was able to help my clients handle the bumps in their operations and achieve their goals for a successful business day!

How Can I Help You?

Let’s say you’re in the middle of a project and you encounter a problem with one of the tools you use or services you rely on to get things done. Although it’s easy to immediately lose your temper, remember that there’s probably a team of highly-trained, friendly people waiting to help you, just a phone call away. Of course, talking to “customer service” can be painful in and of itself and so, I present you with some tips to ensure both you and your support representative are smiling when your phone call is over:

1. Remember – The Issue You’re Experiencing Is Probably Not The Fault Of The Person You’re Speaking With

This can be easy to forget when frustration abounds. It’s something everyone does – we hit our boiling point and start looking for someone to blame – but the first person to pick up the phone often unfairly takes the blunt of your rage. Take a step back – did this person personally decide to cause you any grief? Probably not. So, before losing it on the person asking “How can I help you?” keep in mind that he just offered his assistance. Which leads to my second tip…

2. Put Yourself In Their Shoes

It’s important to remember that, at the other end of the line, the person trying to deal with your current issue actually receives phone calls from frustrated, upset customers on a regular basis. Possibly all day long. Imagine for a moment that you’ve been put in his position – would you rather be speaking with a calm, patient customer or an angry, short-tempered one? It’s much less stressful for everyone involved if you can keep your cool at all times. Yelling at your support rep probably won’t move things along any quicker.

3. Give As Much Detail As Possible About The Problem You’re Experiencing

Sure, you might not know what’s causing the problem or even what the problem actually is, but you’re not doing anyone a favor by saying “It’s not working” and leaving it at that. Let the person trying to assist you know what you were doing when the difficulty began. Is this the first time you’ve tried to use the product or service? Or were you, perhaps, interacting with the product in a new or unusual way? Remember, the person on the other end of the line can’t read your mind (but rest assured, we’re working on it!), and while the odds are fairly good that the support representative you’re dealing with has resolved that issue in the past for another customer, the more clues he can get about the issue, the quicker he can help you resolve the problem and get you off the phone and on your way to success.

4. Let The Support Rep Know How You Feel

When you’re nearing the end of the call, give a hint as to how satisfied you are. Odds are,  the person you’ve been speaking to really does want you to be frustration-free so, if you’re happy and everything is looking up, tell him that you appreciate his help and that you’ll give a call back if you have any more problems. On the flip-side, if your problem hasn’t been resolved, or you feel like the support service didn’t meet your needs, make it known. It’s his job to put your mind at ease, even if it means transferring you to someone more knowledgeable.

5. Ask About Changes You’d Like To See

Most products aren’t perfect and there’s always room for improvement. If you’ve got a wonderful idea about how to make an existing product more beneficial for you and the others using it, let the support rep know. While he may not be directly responsible for approving or implementing changes, he’ll probably know who to refer you to or how to pass the message along. Companies should want to hear feedback from their end users – nobody knows how useful or effective a product is like the people who use it on a daily basis. If there are bugs or quirks that should be resolved, mention them! It’ll likely help create a better product in the long run.

The most important thing to remember is that most customer support/service reps really do love helping people. And, believe it or not, it really does make our day when a customer ends a call with “Thank you so much for your help!”

Love your support representative and they’ll love you back!

Spreading Holiday Cheer in a “Bah, Humbug” Economy

So, we’re in the midst of the holiday season. Thanksgiving may be but a memory but Chanukah’s here, Christmas, and Kwanza are right around the corner, and New Year’s Eve is close behind and, because I’m easily motivated by food, I’ve noticed that the holiday “goodies” we’re all used to getting from vendors and clients have become less and less common over the past few years. I’ll assume it has to do with the economy and I’ll be thankful that I don’t have to let out the waistband on my pants in order to accommodate yet another delicious box of chocolates, but it did get me thinking: At this time of year, when we traditionally give people presents to show how much we appreciate our relationships with them, what do we do now that budgets are slashed and fancy gift-giving isn’t the option it used to be? How do we make sure the business relationships we value are still getting a little holiday love?

Here are some ideas I’ve been kicking around this week:

Holiday Cards
The USPS is still a pretty cheap way to get your message out there and the name and logo recognition that come from sending a card can be great. Plus, holiday cards can have a particularly personal feel if you address them to each recipient individually, call out a personal detail or two about your working relationship with them, and personally sign each one. It may sound like a lot of work, but sometimes it’s the extra touch that makes a true difference in setting your business apart from your competition.

Emails
I’ve gotten some pretty great holiday-themed emails over the past few weeks. Emails with pictures of kids and pets decked out in their finest, emails with amusing infographics about the calories in a typical Thanksgiving meal and the most stressful Christmas songs, even helpful emails reminding me of shipping deadlines. But the thing that stands out to me about these emails is that none of them were explicitly trying to sell me anything, which makes me kind of happy. Opening my inbox and finding an email intended only to make me smile is a pretty nice thing.

Your Own Products
My coworker frequently gets these cool, shiny envelopes in the mail from one of our clients. Inside, they usually contain a fun example of some recent work and their holiday envelope certainly didn’t disappoint this year. Inside were two holiday-themed examples with special features – pop outs, scratch and sniffs, even an augmented reality video. The work was a lot of fun but it also served as a great reminder of the kinds of things our client is able to produce and who we should call when we need the products they offer!

Savings
If you’re a B2C organization, or even a B2B with products or services that can be discounted, offering your clients a time-sensitive promotional price can be a great way to say “thank you” while generating some end of the year business at the same time. People are always looking for sales at this time of year and everyone loves a bargain, even on business-related goods and services.

Charitable Donations
A lot of companies have a charity that holds a special place in the hearts of the founders or employees. Why not consider making a donation, in your client’s names, during the holidays? You’ll likely help someone who could use a little extra goodwill at this time of year and give your clients (and yourself) the warm and fuzzies!

Of course, the traditional corporate gift is always appreciated (at Algonquin, we’re big fans of giving (and receiving!) Fairytale Brownies, easily the yummiest work-related gift I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting) and you can be pretty sure that your clients will be happy with almost anything you send, but if you need to consider a less expensive or more purposeful option, there are a lot of good ways to break the chocolate/wine/fruit basket mold and still do something that resonates with your clients.