Category: Marketing

The Positive Side of Outsourcing

I received an interesting comment from Steve Hamrin regarding my previous post about the alleged horrors of Comcast’s outsourced call center. Steve wrote:

"Outsourcers need to find a better sales story and commit themselves to
selling a better product. We should be showing customers the way to
improve customer satisfaction and improve results, and still reap some
savings along the way. As long as the whole process is slanted strictly
towards cost and not towards real customer satisfaction, process
improvement and value, we’ll keep hearing these sorry tales."

Some Outsource call centers do have a positive story to tell, if they will do the homework and share it. Our group was recently asked to perform an audit of service quality for a company who outsources most of their calls while maintaining an in-house call center. The outsource company utilized two different centers along with at-home agents. We provided a side-by-side comparison of service quality delivered by the outsourced centers and the companies in-house call center.

The results of the audit revealed that there was a measurable difference in service across the centers. However, at least one of the outsourced call centers actually performed better than the companies in-house call center.

This particular outsource company does have a positive story to tell. Perhaps more reputable outsource call centers will do objective audits of their service delivery in order to market service quality as a selling point along with high call volumes and low cost-per-call.

Business Hotels Could Differentiate With Good Coffee

I’m a business traveler and I usually stay at any one of several hotels chains that are economical and cater to business travelers. I’m not particularly loyal to one hotel brand, though at present my preferences are (in order):

Hilton Garden Inn
Springhill Suites by Marriott
Courtyard by Marriott
Comfort Inn and Suites
Holiday Inn Express
Country Inn and Suites
Hampton Inn

Most of the hotels are relatively the same. They have clean comfortable rooms, decent service, and decent amenities. What NONE of them have is good coffee. No matter which hotel chain I choose – they have some form of crappy coffee. The Comfort Inn and Suites in Greensboro, NC has "brown water" coming out of a spicket in the wall. Holiday Inn Express has attempted to pass off their "branded" in house coffee as upscale – but it’s weak and they serve it in small styrofoam cups that better fit an espresso. The Courtyard I’m staying in has really bad Maxwell House coming out of one of those auto dispensers.

The result? Everywhere I go I have to scour the locale for a Starbucks and leave my hotel to get it.

If one of these chains invested in providing GREAT coffee – that chain would immediately go to the top of my list and I would consciously try to stay there!

The things that differentiate your business from the pack are usually small things that matter to your customer which are done consistently and done well. I wonder if any of these chains are listening.

Customer Service Should Be Marketing’s Key Ally

Robert McIntosh wrote an incredible post on the Canadian Marketing Blog. What Robert gets – and what many marketing departments don’t get – is that Customer Service can be your most valuable asset when it comes to gathering intelligence regarding what is working and not working on a marketing campaign.

Robert’s suggestions are:

1. Consider the Customer Service Team (CST) a key stakeholder with
any project you take to market – they’ll anticipate issues you hadn’t
thought of and highlight lessons learned from the past.

2. Keep the team updated on changes to launch timing – they may be staffing up based on your program and need to adjust levels accordingly.

3. Always give the CST the ‘macro’ view of the project
and not just the components relating to them – it’s amazing how
motivated people become when they understand the bigger picture and
relate how their work contributes to the overall success of an

4.Act upon customer feedback as quickly as possible
don’t delay when responding to an irate customer. And circulate the
resolution to all teams as history can repeat itself pretty quickly.

5. Give the CST a copy of every marketing piece – even
something as innocuous as a letter sent to a few hundred customers –
having it handy to review helps reps prepare and be responsive.

6. Use customer feedback to build “Frequently asked Questions” or “Rude Q&As”

7. If you’re running a contest, make sure the team is familiar with the rules and regulations – the less they have to put a customer on hold to clarify a point reduces your overall cost per call.

8.Spend at least one hour a month (more if you’re launching a new product) listening in on calls
I guarantee you’ll be amazed what you hear. In one example we moved the
location of an 800 number in a direct mail piece for the next wave of
activity because customers had difficulty finding it on the layout.

which can also be used on your website – especially if a flaw has been
uncovered in the program and there is a need to blanket message.

Having listened to and analyzed countless numbers of our client’s Customer Service calls over the years, I can tell you that it’s quite common for the customer to reference a marketing piece, special offer, or initiative only to have the CSR respond with an ignorant and dumbfounded, "Huh?! I don’t know anything about that."

Robert, on behalf of CSRs everywhere – thank you for "getting it" and spreading the word. I hope your marketing colleagues will take note!

Apple Gets Closer to Winning Me Over

I had my first experience with Apple back in January. I bought an iPod and generally had a great experience in their store at the Jordan Creek Mall in Des Moines. The employees were friendly, empathetic and attentive. The iPod exceeded my expectations in almost every respect. I’m beginning to get it. For years I’ve put off even looking at a Mac because the "whole world" uses Windows. After my wife’s recent forced "upgrade" to Vista and all the software headaches that went along with it – I’m starting not to care.

When Apple opened their retail stores, the predictions of a quick demise were numerous. Gateway couldn’t do it. Dell wouldn’t even try it. What made Apple think they could pull it off? It turns out that the naysayers have, thus far, been wrong. Sales are up 34 percent from a year ago.

Apple has always had its rabid fan-base. But how to turn complacent Windows lemmings into customers?
The New York Times recently published an article by Randall Stross, in which he cites one of the keys to Apple’s retail success:

The stores were born fully formed and have not required any fundamental
changes. The best innovation was present on Day One: the “Genius Bar,”
with a staff of diagnostic wizards whose expertise is available in
one-on-one consultations — free. Pure genius. More than half of the
retail store’s staff is assigned to post-sales service

A quality product, fair price, convenient location, and exceptional service. By putting the Apple products and experience in a place where the Windows-users of the world can drop in and touch, feel, play, talk, experience and get service from a live human being – they have put themselves in the best position to convert consumers to a Mac.

Marketing & Service Secret: Serve the Bag Man

My wife and I took our 16 year-old daughter shopping for a prom dress this past Saturday. Being the father of two teen daughters and the only male in the house, I’m a veteran when it comes to doing "the girl thing". I’ve had sixteen years complete with Disney Princesses, endless giggling sleepover nights, strange emotional mood swings, and late night runs to the store for "female things". I’ve also had sixteen years of being the "bag man" on many a shopping trip. My job – as the dad – is to tag along and bring out the credit card at appropriate moments.

At the first store we visited on Saturday, I encountered two other bag men. The store was filled with teen-age girls and mothers running frantically from dress rack to dress rack. Being a hardened veteran, I ducked my head and entered the fray – only to be pleasantly surprised when it took a mere ten minutes for my wife and daugther to decide there wasn’t a reasonably priced dress in the store in the style my daughter wanted. As we exited the shop, I saw the two other bag men. They stood anxiously by the door with deer-in-the-headlight stares and hands in their pockets (holding credit cards with an iron grip, no doubt). I could only give them a nod of sympathy as I made my escape.

I don’t understand why women’s stores haven’t figured out how to cater – just a little – to the "bag man". How about a couple of chairs, a few old copies of Sports Illustrated, and a small television tuned to March Madness? Keep the bag man distracted and content – and you just might keep the females in the shop longer. The longer the girls stay the more you might sell. The happier the bag man is – the more likely he will be to loosen the purse strings at checkout time.

Great Customer Service (and marketing) includes catering to the bag-man.

Here’s a a short list of female-centered stores where this bag-man has longed for a small chair, a portable television, and an issue of ESPN the magazine:

American Girl Place
The Limited
New York & Company

Anyone listening?