Posted by: Chris | August 30, 2010

Remind them that you provide branded service

Zappos Services MarketingJust received my first email promotion from Zappos as a “Zappos VIP member.” (Translation: free overnight shipping, and I’m on their email list.) I followed a link to a page that provided not only an outfit idea that pretty accurately aligned with my taste and preferences but also a reminder of one of Zappos’ differentiating value propositions. It’s tough to see in the small image to the right, but if you click on the screenshot of the webpage, you’ll see one of 10 “Zappos Family Core Values” clearly listed at the bottom (circled in yellow).

While it’s usually not tough to recognize branded service initiatives anecdotally, sometimes customers and clients may wonder if the positive initiative just witnessed was actually intentional. Assure them that it was with a line and a link, like Zappos does.

How else have you seen companies draw attention to differentiating value propositions? Do you think it’s worth using valuable page space for (seemingly) non-commercial promotion?

Posted by: Chris | August 4, 2010

Five Keys to Online Services Marketing

Online Services MarketingOne area of services marketing that is, I believe, neglected, is that of online services marketing. A little concerning considering the massive presence professional services currently hold in the online realm. (A discussion for another post.)

Just as human professional services must be branded, so should online professional services. And at this point, I must mention the fact that we’re not just talking good customer service here. We’re talking about service provision that explicitly reinforces a company’s brand.

Here are 5 items I feel will help in accomplishing this very thing:

1. Align your online service provision process with your human service provision process.

Have you ever received perfectly branded service, beginning to end, at a dry cleaner, convenience store, independent medical facility, or legal firm, only to get home, bring up their website, and realize that it must merely have been an afterthought? A token? Kind of deflates the compelling nature of the otherwise perfectly branded service, doesn’t it? Avoid this. Be sure that brand-building initiatives that have become a part of your personal service over time are also applied to your online service.

2. Brand every step of the service provision.

Do your account confirmation emails contain links to your site aside from the confirmation link? Do they promote all areas of your site/service? Are your transaction screens branded? Even if you’re using a third-party checkout process, be sure that your company’s website template has been i-framed in, or at very least, the third-party site contains your logo and a link to your home page. Be sure that every step of your online service includes not just logos and links, but also unique processes and “motifs” that pertain explicitly to your brand.

3. Provide an easy way out of the transaction process that points directly back to you.

Think about the last time you were performing an online transaction and you forgot your wallet, ID#, purchase login, etc. Perhaps you simply forgot a detail found elsewhere on the website that was necessary in order to continue with the transaction. Whatever the situation may be, you probably had to exit the transaction process temporarily.

Some sites kill all “distracting” links (a.k.a. “exits”) within the transaction process in order to make it challenging for a client to discontinue a transaction. (Amazon.com is a perfect example.) Not a good idea. While I can appreciate the fact that companies want for clients to complete the transactions they started (or invest in shares of stock or request legal services or order a pizza), clients should not be made to feel like they are locked in a one-way path through a sewer well. This only frustrates the client, and because there is no readily-accessible, local, branded escape, the client often simply enters a new URL in the address bar.

4. Have life-rafts available.

One of the beauties of online service provision is that of comparatively low overhead. One server can take care of service provision for hundreds, thousands, or millions of clients online. But what happens when a client has questions? What happens when a client has a truly unique situation? What happens when one of the trademarks of your human service provision is that of a unique experience for every client? (I hope it is!) While it is common for a website to dynamically create user-specific content page after page, there are times when a client simply needs to have a discussion…with a human being. Don’t seek low overhead at the exclusion of humans altogether. Provide a 24-hour 800-number, a chat option, or at a bare minimum, a branded customer service email address with an auto-response that contains helpful information.

5. Brand your site construction.

Smashing Magazine covers this issue in great detail here with 9 ways to handle 404 errors on your website.

Have you observed memorable online professional services marketing (good or bad)? Good customer service aside, what methods of online services branding have you witnessed to be most effective?

Posted by: Chris | July 29, 2010

Is Your Service Mac or PC?

Services marketing-Mac or PC?I am a PC man.

Sure, I cut my computing teeth on a Mac and have used Macs regularly at two different companies, but I always find myself coming back to the sterile predictability of a PC. Nevertheless, as a result of my experience with Apple products, I have, over time, gained a respect for their iconic offerings. I am a complete Blackberry-to-iPhone convert, and I can definitely foresee the purchase of a later iteration of the iPad in my future. This change of heart has surely come (for me and and millions of others) as a result of my appreciation for the many idiosyncratic features packed into every Apple product–features that that effectively separate Apple from the rest of the personal computing pack.

For me, one of the more appealing aspects of most Jobs products is the sheer style they invoke in performing executables; that is to say, the way in which they do the things they do is cool. Icons flying in and flying out, shadows, silhouettes, fades and fancy formatting–these all make the user experience pleasant, sometimes even entertaining, and they all subtly scream “Apple!”

Consider the otherwise mundane task of moving icons on an iPhone. Sure, Apple could have put in place a series of nice, neat steps to perform this task (Edit/Icons/Move icon), but in an effort to brand this service, they instead intentionally programmed “trembling icons” as the method of choice. It’s different, it’s kind of fun, and it’s uniquely Apple.

Switch gears now to services marketing, and consider the routine “executables” your firm invokes every day, every hour. Returned calls, emails, financial transactions, making appointments, reminding of appointments, keeping appointments, canceling appointments, and rescheduling appointments. We all know that the war is won (and business is done) through the proverbial small things–the style invoked in the routine.

How is your company branding the mundane? The repetitious? The inglorious? Are your seemingly incidental executables attesting to the insight and intuitiveness of your company as a whole? Is your unique brand being reinforced in every task? How so?

server1FLSE’s can only do so much on their own. Engagement, empowerment, proper placement, and employee buy-in are not enough to carry out every daily, revenue-tied process a business requires. Companies must also ensure that the back-end  of service provision is well-taken care of. (Otherwise, their back-ends may be in big trouble!) The back-end of service provision, or “service infrastructure” includes tools and processes utilized by service providing employees, and are common across a company and have a relatively static existence regardless the individuals who fill the service provision roles that utilize them. Despite the fact that these tools and processes are inhuman, they are absolutely essential to the execution of service provision.

“Service infrastructure” refers to tools such as point-of-sale systems (what we used to call “cash registers”), coupons and discounts, security apparatus, fitting rooms, menus, even tables and chairs in a restaurant and the music that plays overhead in department stores. It includes processes such as customer review and check-out or ordering, complaint management, customer greeting and logistics (i.e. seating and waiting lines), and product returns.

In a nutshell, service infrastructure includes tools and processes utilized by service providers to draw a customer into service interaction, to keep her there, interact with her while she’s in the process of the interaction, to send her on her way after the initial interaction, and to continue interaction beyond the sale itself. This infrastructure must be thought about, maintained, updated, and revised on a regular basis. Without proper back-end support, an otherwise strong service marketing campaign withers.

Posted by: Chris | December 16, 2008

Services Marketing at the Dentist’s Office

dentistI had to go see the dentist last week. Nothing bad-just a routine check-up and cleaning. Each time I see my dentist, I leave impressed (and sometimes a little numb, but that’s beside the point). Not only does the group (Berkshire Dental) have a marketing plan in place (which is not especially common among dentists), but it actually has implemented  intentionally or not) a pretty good services marketing plan. A few of their service marketing initiatives:

1. Hygienists are well-empowered.

Hygienists initiate the check-up. Once the cleaning is complete and the dentist arrives, hygienists provide a short report to the dentist on their findings. Hygienists also educate patients over the course of the check-up, explaining things they have noticed that may deserve extra attention.

2. Staff is cross-trained and well educated about available products

Per my experience, any staff member in my dentist’s office can rattle off relevant information about crowns, whitening, or Invisalign while ringing up your bill, checking on your insurance, or helping schedule your next appointment.

3. Dentists and staff pursue continuing education in their field

My dentist has mentioned to me on multiple occasions his involvement in industry workshops and conferences. Hygienists are knowledgeable about technologies used in the dentist’s office, such as the ultra-sonic cleaning device that makes my ears hurt, and the in-office “crown-maker.”

4. The office is member of the community

My dentist’s office partakes in “Buy Broken Arrow,” a civic initiative designed to encourage locals to spend money in-town. I recently looked at the list of participating businesses, and I don’t remember seeing any other dentists.

5. The office uses a variety of contact methods

As my dental appointment approaches, I receive multiple e-mails and text messages to remind me. After the appointment, I receive a performance survey via e-mail. Very impressive. (Twitter direct messages would complete the trifecta.)

6. Service is consistent

I have seen several different hygienists at my dentist’s office, and they all follow very similar service rituals. The same holds true for their front-office staff. Quality of performance is similar across the board, which leads me to believe that the office has an internal feedback or review system in place, be it formal or informal.

7. Staff and dentists seem to maintain an internal sense of community

Dentists and hygienists clearly have a good, strong rapport with each other. They know each others’ families. I see personal photos in each check-up bay. They are friendly toward and very respectful of each other. I was speaking to my hygienist (as much as possible) during this most recent visit, and I asked her how long she had been at this particular office. Her answer: 25 years. I was extremely impressed. I asked her if she had worked at other offices previously, and what had compelled her to stay at this office for 25 years. She commented that a big difference she saw among various offices was that of the way hygienists were treated. If I may put words in her mouth (she put a bunch of crazy instruments in mine, so I feel I am entitled), the respect shown by the “higher-ups” was a key to long tenure. Interesting. Not a new concept. (What in marketing is new?) But a concept that was practiced consistently.

When that inevitable e-mail survey arrives in my inbox, I foresee good marks. Now, if they’d just get some flatscreens installed on their ceilings.

Posted by: Chris | December 11, 2008

When It Comes to Hiring, You Do Have a Choice

scalesMy daughter is two, and she is now to the point to where she can understand the concept of choosing to do the right thing in order to meet a longer-term goal. For example, she now chooses not to throw a fit at bedtime so that my wife and I “sit with her” the next night at bedtime. (“Sitting with her” involves a mere 20-second countdown during which my wife and I sit next to her crib as she settles in under her blanket. Otherwise, it’s a quick kiss and “I love you,” and time to sleep.) We “sit with her” every night following a fit-free bedtime the previous night. It’s a small reward, but my daughter seems to really miss it when we don’t “sit there.” It is now a choice she conscientiously makes.

HR plays an incredibly important role in Services Marketing, and when it comes to hiring decisions, companies also have a choice. They can choose the clearly unmotivated, disinterested, paycheck-oriented shoe-filler, or they can choose “the right person for the job.” Too many times, I have walked into a business and experienced the former. I try to avoid those places as a rule, and I don’t think I’m alone on that.

While the selection of “the right person for the job” is a multi-faceted decision that varies from business to business, there are a few universal hiring principles that should be practiced:

1. A fully integrated marketing plan must be in place.

I hope your marketing team and your HR team are meeting with some degree of regularity, spending time creating hiring filters, planning training regimens, researching the company’s history together, and sharing expectations. Yes, even in industries in which service-provision is highly commoditized (e.g. fast food, mid- to low-end retail, custodial and maintenance, etc.), marketing plans and goals must be communicated to and embraced by hiring managers and HR. Otherwise, you end up with a random group of unmotivated paycheck workers who are hired indiscriminately, and you (and your customers) become victims of their performance.

2. You must be prepared to spend time training, educating, and empowering new hires.

Ever had one of those jobs where you were hired, dropped off at your desk, and left alone to produce millions of dollars? Most company education came entirely through informal get-togethers. Maybe you were lucky enough to find one veteran to cling to and learn from. The point being, no matter how seasoned a prospect or new hire is, he or she will at least need to be educated on the ways of the company. Probably much more than that. If you want a new hire to make money, be it a cashier, a bagger, a janitor, or a CEO, he or she must be empowered to do so through orientation, education, assessment and review, remediation, and reward.

3. You might need to be prepared to pony up the dough.

This holds especially true for the commoditized service providers mentioned previously. This is not to suggest exorbidant salaries for all. It is simply to recommend that you not insult your employees with a wage that is far less valuable than the work that is expected from him or her.

These things in mind, remember that no matter what, a new hire is a choice. it is your choice. And you have to live with your choice of whom to hire, just as my daughter must live with her choice of whether or not to throw a fit. The decision is not arbitrary, nor is it without consequences. No more “taking what you can get.” Be purposeful and brand-oriented in your hiring practices, and your company will soon start harvesting a Living Brand.

Obviously, there is so much more to be said about the matter. Let’s hear your thoughts.

Posted by: Chris | December 10, 2008

In Services Marketing, Image is Critical

To kick off my newly determined blog posting format, I’ll share a couple of quick, personal, service marketing experiences.

Recently, I took my 2-year old daughter to Krispy Kreme. This is a special treat for her. Every time we drive down 71st past that iconic Krispy Kreme building, she yells “doughnuts!” On this particular trip, we chose to go through the drive thru. Actually, I made the decision. My daughter didn’t really have much input on the method of approach—so long as it resulted in getting a doughnut. I was OK with the longish line because generally speaking, Krispy Kreme is one company that handles drive-thru business well. Well, perhaps it was because I had a hungry, highly verbal 2-year old in the back seat, or perhaps it was because my own stomach was growling, but this wait seemed to be unusually long. As I edged up to the building, I could see two employees on the back patio taking taking a “smoke break.”

I’ll stop there (admittedly abruptly) and move on to my second anecdote.

Not too long after my Krispy Kreme experience, I found myself in another drive-thru line. This time, it was at Arvest bank—another business with a particular focus on moving drive-thru traffic quickly (as the entire baking industry has…or at least should have). Again, the amount of time in line seemed to be unusually long, and again, I noticed an employee taking a “smoke break” outside the building.

Ultimately, the employees I saw taking “smoke breaks” (yes, the continued quotes are intentional) may have had absolutely nothing to do with my progress in either line. That doesn’t matter. One of the most significant aspects of services marketing is that of perceived service provision. When a customer sees employees taking “smoke breaks” (or any other kind of break), all he or she is thinking is, “that person could be helping me get through this line/process/purchase/etc.” (Yep, we customers are selfish bastards.)

Visible “smoke breaks” in particular can be especially harmful to a company’s branded service image since a good percentage of many businesses’ customers are non-smokers who are not especially crazy about the idea that some employees who partake in a vice such as smoking are somehow entitled to take ten minutes off work every so many hours to inhale smoke. While fellow smokers may be more sympathetic, they still probably do not like the idea of being stuck in an usually long line when a perfectly good worker who could be helping out isn’t.

This is not to comment on smoking as a habit in general; it is simply to point out that no one likes to wait. Smoke breaks are perceived as a disruption to the service process, just as inept employees, outdated processes, and shoddy point-of-sale hardware are, and these visible breaks can hurt the reputation of not only an isolated branch, store, etc., but also that of the company’s brand.

Posted by: Chris | October 24, 2008

Friday Favorites: Oct. 20-24

Short list this week, as I have hardly been at my desk. Next week should be back to normal.

Are You Listening?- Insightful post about the use of online communities in customer interaction and feedback, posted by Ginger Conlon at The 1to1 Blog. You might also want to take a look at Social Media and Services Marketing.

Immersive Customer Experiences Aren’t Just for Customers- While this post shows a deployment date of Oct. 13, for whatever reason, it just came through in my Bloglines list today, so I’m including it in this week’s Favorites. Interesting post by Meghan LaBonge from one of the newest additions to my blogroll, Chief Marketer. The post focuses on the not-so-front line service employees who are still very important facets of a company’s services marketing strategy, and who are essential components in a company’s service blueprint. (Your company does have a service blueprint, right?)

Posted by: Chris | October 20, 2008

Friday Favorites: October 13-17

Who is turning off your customers?- Great illustration of how powerful the lack of branded service can be, from Drew McLellan at Drew’s Marketing Minute. Reminds me of a recent trip to McDonald’s I made. Wait, it reminds me of every trip I make to McDonald’s! No wonder I’m considering boycotting it.

A Customer “Support” Story- Another service anecdote, this one from Elizabeth Glagowski at The 1to1 Blog. Don’t forget, the exclusion of human beings from the front line (i.e. online support) does not negate the need for branded service.

The Magic of Allowing Employees to Do What They Love- What a cool post by Karl Staib at Work Happy Now! Great idea for employee empowerment and the evoking of employee creativity. I believe that 3M currently provides such time for its employees. No suprise the company comes up with so many ingenious products.

Posted by: Chris | October 13, 2008

Passing It Along: What You Need to Know About Branding

Not a post that would typically show up in my Friday Favorites (simply because it’s not specifically service marketing oriented), but a great post from Steve Tobak at the BNET blog about some essential and oft-ignored, oft-unspoken, real-life branding principles.

What You Need to Know About Branding

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