Customer Service

EXPERT ADVICE

Staying on the Customer Service High Road in 2008

The new year is here and marketers are putting the finishing touches on their budgets and plans for 2008. However, before we move forward, there are some trends from 2007 that are worth continuing in the coming year. One trend that is top of many minds is the increased focus on customer relationships — after all, these relationships can make or break a marketer’s year.

In 2007, marketers used new media channels, such as social networking sites, to attract customers. We all know that finding paying customers and keeping them happy is an on-going concern for businesses.

Marketers can be hard pressed to find new channels to continue the revenue stream while still reaching new consumers. In addition to the new mediums, marketers are faced with the rapid change of online ad channels — the tide is starting to turn from pay-per-click ads on search and banner displays to more sophisticated ad targeting platforms on social networking sites and blogs.

Marketers are starting to take social media seriously and, as we move into the new year, it will be important to continue to watch these channels. It’s where our customers are gathering, but we still need to tread lightly and conduct targeted tests until we determine the best way to utilize these opportunities.

Empowered Customers

Last year was a revolutionary year for consumers — the Web has empowered them, and more and more are posting thoughts about their shopping experiences. As it is so easy to post an opinion on a product, service or business, both positive and negative, we really have had to pay attention and monitor what’s being said online about our brands.

When we do find negative comments, we need to make steps to correct the issue to maintain or better the relationship. At the end of the day, we want consumers to be happy with our products and services, which will in turn create a loyal following.

A loyal customer is especially important as we consider rising consumer acquisition costs, which continue to increase as marketing platforms expand. As marketers, we need to look closely at which streams: A) reach our target markets; and B) will deliver the most impact to our overall business. We’ve started to do this with some of the new social media platforms; in the next year, marketers will need to expand our efforts and make sure we’re providing a more personalized approach.

There is still a desire from consumers to receive a message or offer tailored just for them; it’s not easy, but tailoring messages and offers can increase a consumer’s interest and entice them to return to your Web site or retail store.

Marketers have also been increasingly concerned with protecting their customers’ information and are continuing to ensure that the data is secure. Compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard and obtaining Verisign certification tells consumers that you take privacy very seriously, and having these standards can be an added incentive for customers in doing business with your company.

As we move into 2008, we all need to continue to ensure customer privacy and to dedicate time and resources to analyze current customer behavior to better understand the needs of current and potential customers. One option is polling consumers to ensure you are really meeting their needs when they visit; you can do this easily through a variety of online polling companies, such as PollMonkey and Vizu.

Marketers also need to take an objective look at their Web site and services, as customer acquisition and providing value goes beyond just what marketing or product can provide. It’s difficult, but it needs to become a main tenet of the entire organization.

Find a Cause

Another way to create good customer relationships is to find causes that are top of mind and align your brand and company with them. It is important to note that the cause must relate back to your company, or you risk looking disingenuous by latching onto the cause of the month.

In 2007, the buzz word was “green.” It is an important cause and one that can be well served by marketers. Environmentally friendly actions are becoming increasingly important to consumers, and marketers who make them also make a big impact. In the past year, we’ve seen marketers limit their direct mail pieces, and use the Internet more widely to get their message out.

Many online retailers are also providing a way for consumers to cancel the effect of having their packages shipped by offering a way to make a charitable donation to a green charity during checkout. These types of actions show consumers that you not only care about the environment — a cause close to their hearts — but also about them individually.

A Better Bottom Line

What else can marketers do in 2008 to make sure customer relationships are intact and in good standing? Maximize the experience for all consumers — not just the first time visitor. I repeatedly hear that value is key — consumers want a valuable experience that is worth their time. In the last year, we’ve seen Web retailers offer discounts on their next purchase, which often works well.

We are also seeing traditional service providers, such as auto service garages, offer sleek waiting rooms with pastries, televisions and Internet connections for their customers while they wait for the service to finish. Little perks and added value can certainly keep consumers happy and can increase the rate of return.

All in all, 2007 was an interesting year for marketers, and I expect 2008 will be the same. By testing and implementing new tactics, marketers may be able to better manage their customer relationships, and better customer relationships should lead to a better bottom line in the new year.


Rick Fernandes is CEO and founding partner of Webloyalty. He can be reached at [email protected].


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