Posted by: Chris | October 13, 2008

Friday Favorites: Oct. 6-10

A little late this week–I was away from my desk last Thursday and Friday.

Wake Up People–Customers Demand Great Service– Awesome post by Mila D’Antonio of  the 1to1 Blog. Let me just throw a few quotes out there (but you’ll want to be sure to read the entire post!):

With the rise of social media, people have even more outlets at their disposal to share their stories. […a recent customer experience study by RightNow Technologies and Harris Interactive] shows that consumers are also more likely than last year to tell someone about their negative experience.

The survey also showed that more than half (58 percent) of consumers often pay more for a better customer experience during a down economy. (emphasis added)

…the bottom line is that organizations that provide a positive customer experience will not only see brand loyalty and return on their investment, they’ll likely weather this economic storm.

I recently blogged about social media as a valuable implement in a company’s services marketing toolbox, as well as the need for branded service during these challenging economic times, and I thought that what Mila had to say about these specific aspects of services marketing was very wise.

3 Tips on Employee Engagement During a Recession– Empowered employees are engaged employees and engaged employees are empowered employees. Check out these  three tips on employee engagement during tough economic times from Anna Farmery at The Engaging Brand.

When you go the extra mile– Great real-life example of an effective service marketing initiative at Hertz, posted by Andy Sernovitz at Damn! I Wish I’d Thought of That! Original post at A Human Voice.

Posted by: Chris | October 7, 2008

Social Media and Services Marketing

Front-line service employees at some service-oriented companies are quite visible. At restaurants, the hostesses, servers, bartenders, counter-workers, and managers are (usually) highly accessible and are the actual “media” through which transactions take place. The same holds true with walk-in banking, brick-and-mortar retail sales, medical services, etc. But what about those companies that rarely require face-to-face contact with clients? Call centers, customer service lines, and online sales, while providing clearly necessary services, sometimes fall short on offering relationship-building opportunities that keep clients loyal.

The fact that most of the service provision coming from these companies comes from a maze of cubicles hidden away behind brick walls does not negate the fact that many of the employees within these companies are indeed front-line service employees, requiring a clearly defined, brand-oriented service marketing plan.

One way these hidden FLSE’s can take part in branded service provision is through social media. Corporately sponsored blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed, etc., etc., put a face on the otherwise anonymous service provider on the other end of the line. Regular postings about the events of the day, high-volume issues, impending problems, or maintenance can not only warm up an exchange (in a good way), but can actually help to cut down on the number of calls received. Not only that, but social media initiatives also allow other employees and managers to observe some of the interaction between clients and FLSE’s.

Obviously, social media should make up only one aspect of a robust services marketing program, but for those cube-bound providers, it can be key in providing a strong, brand-building identity.

Posted by: Chris | October 3, 2008

Friday Favorites: Sept. 29-Oct. 3

Do you know your company’s story?– Great post by Drew McLellan at Drew’s Marketing Minute about an often overlooked yet founational aspect of services marketing: knowing your company’s story. I wonder how many companies have completely lost their stories over time (and size). Too bad, considering the essential tie between story and brand.

Good Branding Requires Great Business Etiquette– Wow! Two great service marketing posts on a Monday morning! Sounds like a promising week. This post at Small Business Branding uses blog-poster Christine Buske’s personal experience to drive home the point that integrity in customer service explicitly contributes to positioning and branding. I love her concluding comment: “Although you may think customer service is not part of your brand, it actually should be.” Exactly!

Which 50% of your marketing dollars are working?– Just as I was getting to the bottom of my blogroll Monday morning, I was happily surprised to see a blog highlighted that I have not seen highlighted for quite some time: What’s Your Brand Mantra? by Jennifer Rice. Her reemergent offering does not disappoint. A white paper about marketing effectiveness, this post maintains the same depth and insight of Rice’s previous posts. Highly practical, appropriately technical. Just good, intelligent marketing best-practices.

Choose Your Words Carefully– Great post by Drew McLellan on Small Business Branding this week. (That’s two for Drew this week!) Drew notes that the minor, recurring gaffes in service provision (such as sighing whenever asked to do work) are more than isolated customer service issues—they are company culture issues, and they impact and reinforce the company’s perceived brand and position every time they occur. I like Drew’s ridiculously simple and free tweak.

Now Is Not the Time to Hide– Practical marketing response to the current economic situation by Lewis Green at MarketingProfs Daily Fix. The key: a strong service marketing program. It’s cheap/free to the company and offers a greater value-added product to money-conscious consumers. (Shameless self promotion ahead) Check out my post over the topic from yesterday: Services Marketing During an Economic Downturn.

Posted by: Chris | October 2, 2008

Services Marketing During an Economic Downturn

(I promised myself that I wasn’t going to jump on the “blog about the economy” bandwagon, but after reading the post Wall Street, David Blaine, and You by Jeremy Nedelka at The 1 to 1 Blog, I was simply inspired.)

If you haven’t been providing explicitly branded service yet, start now while the economy is suffering.

One benefit to building a strong branded service culture within your organization is that doing so costs your company very little when compared to other marketing initiatives such as adding new products, line extensions, massive promotions, etc. Save your company money during these down times by investing in customer service improvement, customer connecting, employee empowerment, services blueprinting and analysis, garnering feedback, etc. These moves cost little to nothing!

Another benefit to working on service marketing initiatives during a rumored recession is that customers and clients who are feeling the financial pinch right now are looking for value-added, differentiated service; that is, they are looking for a service provider who will provide a robust customer experience without charging extra for it. By providing such service in a way that exemplifies or complements your company’s brand, you might even end up earning yourself some new customer evangelists.

Has your company modified any aspect of service provision as a result of the recent economic duress? If so, how?

Typically, when we think of services marketing, we think of branded customer service, empowered front line service employees, personal attention…you know, stuff that involves the presence of human workers.

Not to get into some sort of existential “tree falls and no one’s around to hear it…” discussion, but what happens to branded service when human workers are not around? Does services marketing cease to exist? Not at Chipotle. See the image up there? That’s a fax menu. I know that Chipotle is far from the first to come up with the idea of a fax menu, but I do believe that they did an especially good job with theirs. They make it easy on customers to spend money at their restaurant by providing them with a heavily branded tool that even a monkey could use—no employee necessary. They enable the customer in the absence of an enabled employee.

What other ways have you observed creative, branded service in the absence of a company’s employees?

Posted by: Chris | September 26, 2008

Friday Favorites: Sept. 22-26

12 questions to ask about your email marketing– Challenging post by Mark Brownlow at No man is an iland. No additional commentary necessary!

Interactive Intelligence Outrageous InteractionsInteractive Intelligence decided to award the most stalwart of Front Line Service Employees from one of the most iconic service providing venues: the call center. While the contest is over (the winner received a 5-day trip to the Hawaiian island of her choice!), the top ten most outrageous call center exchanges are still posted at the site, and II is still looking for more. Hat tip to Ginger Conlon at The 1-to-1 Blog for calling our attention to this contest.

Posted by: Chris | September 24, 2008

Absence Makes the FLSE Grow Ill-Prepared

Yep, pretty much hacked up that adage. But the principle still remains. Sticking close to those on the front lines in a service provision environment is not optional. Sure, it’s easy to go back into that tiny office—you know, the one that’s floored with brown, grease-resistant tile and black, oily grout, and walled with that mind-numbing-white textured composite used to make up the exterior of walk-in refrigerators—to squint again through the dim fluorescent lighting at the penciled entries in the latest, greasy-fingerprint-covered stock-on-hand chart (that will be in the stained trash can tomorrow), which sits atop that unfinished wood shelf that was screwed into the wall by a former, nameless, frustrated manager. But wouldn’t you rather go out front and build relationships with your company’s #1 most valuable marketing asset: its front-line service employees? You might even chat with a customer or two while you’re out there!

Truly, you (like your FLSE’s) must be your company’s brand. You are a representative (might I even say, ambassador?) of your company’s brand, both to your customers, and to those you lead.

So my initial question is, what kind of branding impression are you making on your FLSE’s? This leads to a scarier question: are you making an impression on your FLSE’s? If not, how is it that they are being regularly infused with your company’s brand? How are they being motivated to modify their POS behavior (and that’s “point of sale” behavior, just to clarify) to reflect differentiating aspects of your company’s identity? I’m not (necessarily) advocating a cheerleading, chanting, goofy, ranting pep rally (unless it works). Perhaps you could just start with a simple conversation?

Managers in the service industry, how do you do it?

Posted by: Chris | September 19, 2008

Friday Favorites: Sept. 15-19

Microsoft’s reframing– I appreciated this post by Ben McConnell at one of my old favorites, Church of the Customer, for three reasons. First, I have to admit, I was having a little trouble with the commercial myself. Second, anything Seinfeld-affirming must be good. And third, I genuinely appreciated the explanation of the mindset. After having worked on a Mac for the past year and consequently realizing that the perpetuation of the idea that the Mac is “intuitive” and “human” is actually just a very successful marketing campaign (and nothing more than that), I’m glad to know that Microsoft is putting some thought into their advertising beyond “let’s show them how big we are.” Chalk it up to 8 years of teaching literature, but I like the idea of plot (Seinfeldian though it may be) and theme being a part of an advertising campaign. Thanks Ben.

UPDATE: On Thursday, Susan Gunelius at BrandCurve posted news that Microsoft canned the Seinfeld/Gates ads. (Gunelius’ post here.) Too bad. I thought this 4 1/2 minute ad was hilarious. But as a Seinfeld addict and rabid PC supporter, maybe I’m biased?

UPDATE: Nice follow-up post from Church of the Customer.

Why Your Company Should Treat Employees Like Family– This post by Bronwyn Fryer at new blogroll member, HBR (Harvard Business Review) Editor’s Blog, was a no-brainer for my Friday Favorites. Embodying principles of respect that lead to employee empowerment, Ultimate Software seems to have a secure handle on services marketing. Bronwyn, did you grow up in Tulsa?

Building Effective Landing Pages– Very thorough post on Landing Page principles by Tamara Gielen at Be Relevant. Clip this in your Best Practices folder.

Posted by: Chris | September 15, 2008

Returning to Blogging…Again

My last post was July 22. Since then, I applied for, received an offer for, accepted, waited and waited for, and was finally, officially instated into a new position at work. Amazingly, it truly did take that much time. That’s my excuse.

So for my first post back, I’ll be keeping it quick and simple. When it comes to branded service, internal marketing, service marketing, or whatever term you want to use for it, the cornerstone of employee empowerment (a key component in services marketing) is simply, respect. Really, it is. There’s nothing exciting, new, or sexy about it.

A few things you might ask yourself with regard to the respect that leads to empowered employees:

  • Are your front-line service employees (FLSE’s) “in the loop” and involved?
  • Have you done your FLSE’s the service of properly educating them?
  • Are your FLSE’s held accountable for clearly defined and meaningful responsibilities?
  • Do you treat your FLSE’s as truly valuable, or as expendable turnover candidates?
  • Do you play games with your FLSE’s? (And I’m not talking about the fun games like Chinese jacks.)

Obviously, there are more. And I’d be interested to hear the things you believe to be essential in providing FLSE’s with the respect and empowerment they require in order to be the most valuable marketing tool your company possesses.

On a related note, check out at Andy Sernovitz’s review of Johnny Bunko, by Daniel Pink at Andy’s blog: Damn! I Wish I’d Thought of That! Whether I cited it in time or not Andy, I definitely plan on taking a look at it!

Posted by: Chris | July 22, 2008

Branded Service Turn-Offs

Two branded service turn-offs:

1. Tray-liner job applications

Screams volumes about how much you are valued as a potential employee. It’s worth it to be selective. You’re saying to yourself, “But we’re talking fast food restaurants!” Exactly. That’s right, thre’s a lot of work to be done.

2. Using “highly motivated” as a descriptor of desired job applicants

First I whould say, all businesses are looking for “highly motivated” employees. It’s redundant. Rhetorical issues aside, advertising for “highly motivated” job applicants puts said applicants in their place before they even walk through the door: one step away from being fired. Some may read my concern and say, “well, who wants a lazy employee?” Obviously, services marketing is not about letting employees be lazy. That’s ridiculous! But it is about an exchange of value between employer and employee. Given legs, this means the employer provides branded interviews, branded training and assessment, branded remediation, and opportunities to succeed as a branded service employee elsewhere (read about Zappos’ opportunity to succeed somewhere else).

Just random thoughts for today. More skin later.

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