Category Archives: Business

Customer Service: So much more than a pretty face

To your left is the international symbol for customer service: Smiling, good-looking person with telephone headset.

Now, slap yourself or slam your hand in the car door or whatever it takes, and come back to reality.

When customers say, “I just really like talking to a real person,” they’re not saying, “Wow, I really like those nice people at XYZ, Inc.”

What they’re really saying (and some will come right out and say it) is that they like talking to a real person who knows what the heck they’re talking about and works with them diligently through resolution of their problem.

It’s also helpful when the person treats the customer as if their beef, issue or difficulty is credible and important. Now that you’ve heard the Spoon’s experience, here are some facts:

  • Most people have no trouble walking out of a store if they’re receiving bad service; even if the store has exactly what they’re looking for.*
  • Most people are less likely to visit other locations if they have a bad experience at a particular store.*
  • Most people want proactive solutions to problems before they happen, but only a few are willing to pay for them.*

As marketers, we must continue to extend the marketing conduit from the top of the value chain-procurement-to the front of the chain-sales and customer service. Marketing is as much customer service’s business as customer service is ours. We must demand, even more loudly than our customers, that complaints are handled expeditiously and problems are anticipated. At the same time, marketing must hear the customers voice when sales and customer service raise concerns of their own.

Is it any coincidence that great brands like L.L. Bean, Lexus, Trader Joe’s, Starbuck’s, Publix, Southwest Airlines, Apple and Chick-Fil-A are perennially found on the lists of customer service champions like this year’s BusinessWeek list?

We think not.

*YankelovichMONITOR

Attention, manufacturers and distributors: How to sell to restaurateurs

Starting Monday, we will feature excerpts from our interview with Janet Rine, owner of Caffe Moderne.

Our discussion centers on what it takes to earn the trust of an independent owner/operator.

Whether you sell meat, beverages, spices or mixes, you won’t want to miss it.

For now, we leave you for the weekend with a quote from Danny Meyer, the brains behind wildly successful restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Union Square Cafe. From his book, Setting the Table:

“Be the best you can be within a reasonably tight product focus. That will help you to improve yourself and help your customers to know how and when to buy your product.”

What’s good enough for Miller High Life is good enough for you

Miller High Life has always made a living at the nexus of quality and the down-to-earth mindset.

The brand went to the next level with ads that feature a determined delivery guy who refuses to allow the beer to be sold in establishments who have lost their sense and no longer live the High Life brand values.

At the time of the annual two-million-dollar-a-pop ad fest during the big game in January, Miller featured Windell on a rant (see video above) about the lack of common sense he sees as apparent in commercials with dancing lizards and flavored water. “If I want flavored water, I’ll just suck on a lollipop,” he says.

Obviously, not every brand needs to own the unpretentious, down-to-earth, common-sense essence of Miller High Life. But it is simply brilliant how the ads for this brand make it more appealing and credible as they pitch the idea of uncompromising ideals.

It’s also refreshing to see a brand with men as its primary target that puts forth the idea of being true to one’s values, not just being “hard” and “manly.”

Windell is a hero for the post-modern man and a shining example of integrity for brand managers.

Information Does Not Equal Insight

Information is not the same thing as knowledge. Information is just a step up from data, which has no value until you are able to formulate, test and learn from a hypothesis about said data.

Then it becomes knowledge.

Knowledge is not actionable until it becomes insight. This is a transformation brought about by experience and an innate/learned ability to analyze and dissect said knowledge within a broad or specific context. In other words, all knowledge must be plugged into a sort of “mental regression equation” to bounce the dependent variable off a number of independent variables in various scenarios in order to arrive at some sort of worthwhile observation.

This is an insight.

It takes a little bit of the scientific method and a lot of reading between the lines to get to an insight. THEN you might be ready to take action.

We believe insight is essential for profitable decisions in the marketplace. We believe insight is what sets us apart from our peers and competitors.

You can take it from us or from the thousands of new products and small businesses that start and fail each year based on data and information masquerading as an insightful new way to approach the market:

Information does not an insight make.

True value is found in being true to your value proposition

As the author of Fresh & Easy Buzz says in a recent article about Tesco Neighborhood Market, “value is in across all grocery formats and it’s not just a fad.”

Many experts are calling the current economic climate a “perfect storm” of inflation, government debt, reduced consumer spending, weak dollar and intense foreign competition. It’s enough to make retailers reach for the red pen to start marking down prices faster than you can say, “Dollar General.”

Even the staunchest niche and aspirational retailers, including Whole Foods and Safeway, among others, are trying to find ways to fit the square peg of their specialty brands and products into the round hole of extreme price sensitivity.

Whole Foods has become known as “whole paycheck” because of the “high” prices consumers are willing to pay for the products and experience of the organic and natural foods retailer. But now the grocer is putting an extreme emphasis on its private labels, and its leadership has promised consumers it will find a way to make products less expensive.

But is this the right strategy? The right reaction?

Only time will tell. But there are certainly two retailers who will tell you that pairing another key brand attribute with low prices is a potentially profitable way to go: Target and Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has put up big numbers in the past year, going from $43 to $59. Target stock is down about 10 points from this time last year.

Target sort of pioneered “get more, pay less,” but as the economy has worsened, Wal-Mart has performed exceedingly well. That might be-and this is conjecture, of course-because Wal-Mart “owns” low prices, making it better suited to be recession-ready while injecting a bit of style as its business model allows.

Everyone else, from Whole Foods to Safeway to Tesco, would be playing catch-up to Wal-Mart’s EDLP proposition at this point.

Remember, Wal-Mart fared none too well when it tried to water down its EDLP concept with style and name-brands that strayed from its core value proposition. Today’s batch of niche and aspirational retailers would do well to remember to stay true to themselves.

That doesn’t mean they can’t graft a cost-savings aspect onto their existing strengths and points of differentiation, but it does mean they shouldn’t shift away from what makes them successful.

Furthermore, they had better be ready to do things operationally and within the supply chain to reduce costs as much as possible to fund any kinds of discounts they want to use to entice consumers. Because shoppers are happy to pay less, but they don’t want to sacrifice quality, and that money has to come from somewhere.

The Spoon is now on Facebook

We couldn’t stay away. The Spoon is now live on Facebook. Join the Marketing Spoonful Blog Network by visiting:

http://apps.new.facebook.com/blognetworks/blogpage.php?blogid=13906.

C’mon, be a fan!

In honor of Michael Phelps: A new way to think about counting calories

Today, let’s talk about a different way to think about calorie intake or “share of stomach.”

In one of our first posts, we addressed the problem of obesity in this country, trying to add a dose of sanity to counter the notion that the food industry is solely to blame for it. We pointed out that the decisions people make about diet and exercise, along with genetics, also factor into the equation. But basically, it’s calories in, calories out.

If you’ve been following the Olympics this week, you might have heard that 14-time gold-medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day to keep his engine going.

Phelps also swam about five miles a day during the Olympics. If that sounds like a lot of exercise, that’s because it is. To put it another way, conventional wisdom is that swimming five miles is like running 20 miles. Imagine running 140 miles in a week.

Unlike Phelps, most of us need far fewer than 12,000 calories to keep our motors running. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization say the average American consumes about 4,000 calories a day.

That’s still a fair amount of calories to count. And the reasons for consuming those calories are numerous and diverse:

  • To satisfy hunger
  • To experience flavors and textures
  • To soothe emotional wounds
  • To celebrate achievement

We talk a lot in our business about share of stomach. Usually, we’re talking about our share versus our competitors. We ought to be trying to learn what types of emotions and activities are responsible for what percentage of our target consumers’ caloric intake.

Make sure you’re taking a detailed account of WHY your customers are buying and consuming your brands.

At every point possible in the buying process, take advantage or opportunities to ask questions. Put questions on coupons. Offer discounts for answering questions. Put surveys on cash register receipts.

This next part will seem a little foreign to some people. Rather than asking about satsifaction with the product, ask your consumer about themselves. Ask them why they made the purchase when and where they did. People would much rather talk about themselves than you.

It’s a natural thing to ask, and the answers will tell you the language, tone of voice and venues in which to best communicate to your targets when they’re making their food choice.