A wise man with whom I worked during my earlier years once came up with a profound New Year’s resolution at our annual marketing support meeting. The entire group laughed out loud when he said his resolution was to never say “it should work” again.
There does seem to be a resurgence of people not thinking through the answers to questions that are asked. Responses like this are pointless:
“It should have been there by now.” or “That should have worked.”
Normally, a long explanation about how the process is supposed to work follows comments like these. All kidding aside, it almost seems like an assumption has been made that I wouldn’t have done something simple, like checking my spam folder or reading instructions. As the support person drones on about how their process works, I’m thinking, “If your system worked the way you’ve described it, I wouldn’t have picked up the phone to find out what was wrong.”
Communicating is such a critical component of business. Whether it is written or verbal, our phrasing has a lot to do with how the other side of the conversation receives our responses. We need to empathize with the caller and, above all, treat them professionally. Without our customers, we have no business. This applies to ALL business models … assuming the business is legitimate.
Even though this may sound cliché, there really is no such thing as a dumb question. Entrepreneurs who are operating a truly customer-facing business must learn how to respond appropriately to their customer’s questions. Here are some suggestions for improving your customer communications:
- Smile before picking up the phone.
- Establish set time frames during work days for taking calls to ensure minimal disruption..
- Draft agenda topics for scheduled meetings and allocate time limits to the topics. Distribute the agenda to all invitees in advance of the meeting. Be flexible to requests to alter or rearrange the agenda and time frames.
- Don’t make customers wait more than 24-hours for a response to their email or voicemail.
- Set “office hours” so your customers are respectful of your personal boundaries. Inform active customers of your vacation plans. If you have a dedicated business line, update your announcement to reflect any extended time away from your office so potential new business doesn’t think you are non-responsive.
- Ensure that you understand your customer’s problem statement before suggesting a solution. They’ve been immersed in it long enough to determine it is a problem. Sometimes you must back them up to the beginning so you can be of better assistance to them.
- Remain calm and be empathetic. Understand that your customer may have struggled for hours before calling you and that they could be tense as a result.
- Set expectations properly if your customer’s issue cannot be handled during the call.
- Publish an FAQ page on your website and refer people to it first. Whether you have a product or service, if you’ve been in business a while you know what questions are most frequent.
- If your product is digital, prepare documentation that assumes the least amount of knowledge while making it complete enough for advanced users.
Most of this blog’s readers are aware that I have a service business and that one of my services is WordPress Website Development. Many of my clients are unfamiliar with the software and part of my service fees include one-on-one training. I welcome client calls because I love teaching people things that will make them feel more self-sufficient and confident with the products and services they have purchased from me. Because I also enjoy the clients with whom I work as people, I have to monitor the gab time with some of them because we have so much fun just talking.
Email marketing is a proven method of developing a relationship with your customers and, if that relationship is properly developed and nurtured, a way to generate affiliate cash flow when you need it. All that is well and good, but when your opt-out doesn’t result in being opted out, email marketing campaigns can result in driving business away.
One of the inboxes that I own began receiving email from Elizabeth Jackson. Since I used to know an Elizabeth Jackson, I was enthused to see her name. It was disappointing to find an advertisement for Work At Home jobs when I opened the email.
I used the option to unsubscribe, more than a dozen times during the past 3 months, and I continued to get email from Elizabeth Jackson from different email addresses. Each time, I opted out again. Further research today helped me deduce that Elizabeth Jackson is a fictitious name used to “protect the affiliates” who are promoting a certain CPA campaign offered by Clickbooth, to get income. Clickbooth advertises themselves as the “exclusive CPA Network” who is ranked #1 by Website Magazine.
Ok, that is all legal but my question today is, who is protecting me, or others who didn’t invite these CPA email offers?
SPAM and the Consumer
Prior to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, I was forced to close a business email account that was being overwhelmed by no less than 50+ messages an hour in a language I couldn’t even read! Things have gotten better, for sure, but it is possible to be in compliance of that act and still be doing nothing other than irritating customers or prospects. Case in Point: Elizabeth Jackson.
Here are some CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 cliff notes:
- It is an opt-out law and, for most purposes, permission of the e-mail recipient is not required. If a recipient wants to unsubscribe or opt-out, however, you’d better stop sending e-mails you are at risk of being subject to severe civil and criminal penalties.
- Fraudulent or deceptive subjects, headers, return addresses, etc., are prohibited.
- Sending sexually explicit email without clear markings is a criminal act.
- Email marketers must have a functional opt-out system that is easy for consumers to use and is operational for at least 30-days following each mailing.
- Email messages should include a physical address of the company in the email.
- Spammers AND those who procure their services are culpable and both can be prosecuted.
- Personal emails, and perhaps non-profit emails, are not addressed by the act. It applies to all US businesses who are sending commercial email of a transactional nature.
SPAM and the Business Owner
Looking over the guidelines again, a smile came to my face. I do feel that some of the earnings claims in subject lines from a few of the internet marketing lists that I’ve joined are nothing other than deceptive, in spite of their disclaimers. This is especially true when the click through leads to a product or service that was not developed by the sender. But I am a perpetual student of marketing methods and completely understand that this is how affiliate programs work. 🙂
Email marketing is a good business strategy, especially for affiliate marketers. At Flippa, sites with lists are worth more than other sites at the time of sale. Thus, whether your motivation in launching a site is to build a Niche Empire or develop a site to later sell for profit, building an email marketing list is very important!
An apparent loophole in the CAN-SPAM Act, which is always exploited by senders of unsolicited email, allows email marketers have up to 10-days to complete an unsubscribe request. Although those business owners are adhering to the letter of the law, I find it absurd. All the autoresponders that I have ever used or recommended facilitate immediate removal from a list.
Pick Up The Phone!
In my desperation to stop getting three more months of unsolicited email from Elizabeth Jackson, whom I now know is a fake person, I was prepared to send a snail mail letter but I dug deep enough to find a phone number to call. I did allude to the CAN-SPAM act during my call, which may have inspired them to be more attentive, but that remains to be seen. Regardless, it was comforting to actually speak with someone who listened to my concerns and gathered up the email addresses that I wanted to eradicate from their lists.
The phone seems to have gone out of fashion but the truth remains that consumers sometimes need a phone number to call. Business owners might conclude that including a phone number on your primary sales page footers or within the terms and conditions page at your site is a good idea for owners of affiliate programs. After all, the program owner is equally exposed to the fines and penalties outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, and they are legally obligated to manage the affiliates who are issuing email marketing messages on their behalf.
Incoming search terms:
Most of us don’t think twice about what is involved in maintaining the platforms the Social Networking and Social Bookmarking potpourri of sites that we use each day in our online businesses. These days, the focus is mostly on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Other useful sites are LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Flickr, MySpace, and Last.fm … to name a few. Then there are he multiple free email accounts we have.
When it comes to our home computing environments, we unconsciously manage disk space every day. If we have self-hosted blogs, we look for and choose hosting vendors who permit us to have unlimited storage for our websites. Yet, we take the storage of our Tweets and posts for granted.
Every piece of content must be stored somewhere. In the early days of email, I was part of a group who studied email etiquette with interest. We discussed computing capacity issues, like storage, too. A friend of mine, who worked for EMC, wrote a fascinating white paper about the exponential growth of data storage. Her predictions have been exceeded by mounds and mounds and mounds of data. None of us foresaw the advent of micro-blogging in 1985, let alone text messaging on a cell phone! 🙂
Recent research by IDC revealed that our digital universe grew by 62% during the last year alone. The stunning amount of storage online at the time of the study was 800,000 petabytes, a measure better described at this link. In short, it is one million gigabytes. By the end of 2010, it is predicted that there will be 1.2 zettabytes online. A zettabyte, incidentally, is roughly half a million times the entire collections of all the academic libraries in the United States. Whew! And I’m worrying about a few gigabytes around here. 😀
Computers and the internet have made our lives easier, much more public and availed methods to get income online for some of us too. Pages upon pages of material sifted and listed, categorized and presented for our reading pleasure with a few keystrokes and a button click. Since our content is cached and stored online indefinitely, one begins to wonder if our content will outlive our grandchildren. Who can say?
As a former Realtor, I completely understand the importance of having a friendly image AND a good marketing message. A tagline I added to my business card, after hearing myself repeat it over and over again, became an amazing marketing tool.
That tagline was:
MY BUSINESS IS ABOUT YOU!
It was cleverly worded to fit that business but I also meant it.
Despite the fact that I no longer sell houses, nothing about my business ethics has changed. There are tons of things that I brought forward from my real estate business that assist me in present time with my internet marketing business in present time.
Internet marketing is much different than marketing beautiful homes. With the help of many generous mentors and a lot of personal dedication to expanding my own knowledge, I am learning to translate what I know about marketing to Web 2.0.
Effective marketing is much more than SPIN! You must KNOW and BELIEVE in your product. Blasting email to promote your “next best thing” is about as effective as cold calling a fish to sell them a bicycle.
Through the power of you intention, you will attract people to you and, once they respond, you MUST build a relationship with them. If you stop to think about it, this is to everyone’s advantage. It is nearly impossible to conduct business with someone you do not know, trust and respect.
How do you do this? By listening, asking questions and learning more about each other! Successful marketers listen MUCH more than they talk!