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Jul 30, 2013

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Secrets of Small Business Success: July Part IV

 

Last week, Donna chatted with Janine Popick, founder and CEO of VerticalResponse, provider of email, social media, and event marketing services to small businesses. Janine shared her views on how to wisely manage and leverage customer databases. This week, Donna speaks with top CEOs from companies like Mavens & Moguls, ONEHOPE Wine, Modcloth, and BrandYourself on how they navigated research and development waters. Donna also shares tips on who the first person you should turn to in order to get feedback on your product or service.

 

~Enjoy!
Janet – @jzablock

 

 

Free R & D for Your Business is Only a Customer Away

By Donna Fenn, Small Business Expert

 

Smart startup entrepreneurs know that it’s unwise to strive for perfection when you’re launching a new product or service. It’s far better to get that messy early version out into the marketplace and let customer feedback help you iterate and perfect. In fact, all companies – no matter what their stage of growth – should turn to their customers for guidance because it’s very easy to assume that what you want to sell is what they want to buy, which is not always the case.

 

Be Aware of Changing Economic Tides. When the recession began in late 2008, Paige Arnof-Fenn, the CEO of the strategic marketing consulting firm, Mavens & Moguls, went on what she calls a “listening tour” among her customers and prospects.  “I heard that budgets had been scaled back, so I created smaller bite-sized ways to work with companies that accommodated the new reality,” she says. She also discovered that clients were confused about social media, so she developed a series of workshops and training sessions to help educate them.  By finding a way to accommodate customers when times were tough, Arnof-Fenn made sure that her company was top of mind when the economy improved.

 

Monitor Customer Perception. Jake Kloberdanz’s ONEHOPE Wine is a social enterprise whose product sales benefit charitable causes such as breast cancer prevention, forest preservation, and Autism research.  “Our original labels really hit you over the head with the cause,” recalls Kloberdanz. Customers liked the company’s mission but kept asking “is the wine any good?”  So Kloberdanz redesigned the label, making the cause element more subtle and using the back label to highlight the quality of the wine. The result: distributors, buyers and consumers responded positively and the customer-driven change in packaging helped increase distribution from 10,000 cases to 50,000 cases.

Give Customers a Voice. At online clothing retailer, Modcloth, customers are encouraged to be “virtual members” of the company’s buying team through its Be the Buyer program.  Customers vote on styles they’d like to see on the site. Modcloth can then order the items with the most votes and notify customers when their picks are available online. The program not only helps drive customer engagement, but also enables Modcloth to make smarter buying and inventory decisions.

 

Focus on What Customers Really Want. When it launched, BrandYourself, an online reputation management company, offered customers a variety of services, including tracking twitter followers and recommending blog posts.  “What we learned from customers is that they didn’t want any of those features,” says CEO Patrick Ambron. “They just wanted functionality that helped them look better on Google.”  So the company re-launched with a simplified product, got rid of the irrelevant features, and beefed up tools to help users optimize their appearance on Google.  The bottom line: a ten-fold increase in BrandYourself’s user base and quadrupled revenue.

 

Are you spending at least as much time listening to your customers as you are trying to sell them something? If not, you’re missing out on a whole lot of free R&D!

 

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice. When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal counsel to determine what laws and regulations may apply to your specific circumstances. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

 

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on July 30, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Feb 19, 2013

#LoveCustomers Tips for Small Business Owners: Keeping Customers Coming Back—Getting Customers to Love You

Last week, we shared tips from our Love Your Customers guide on how small business owners can attract new customers. In this week’s blog, small business expert and USA Today columnist, Rhonda Abrams, shares her secrets to continuing the courtship with your customers. 

Janet – @jzablock

Once you’ve landed a customer you certainly want to keep them. After all, it costs a whole lot more to get a customer in the first place than it does to sell repeatedly to a current customer. But, often, small businesses (and big corporations too!) spend more time courting new business than in serving the customers they worked so hard to get.

What’s the best way to keep customers coming back? To make them fall in love with your company? By offering stellar customer service. Customers value great service. Many companies are renowned for their customer service and have built entire marketing strategies around it.

Some small businesses assume they’re doing just fine by way of customer service because they don’t receive many complaints. But you can’t judge how well you’re serving your customers merely by the number of complaints you receive; the unhappy customer who doesn’t complain is almost certainly a lost customer.

Give customers little reason to complain. Train your employees in customer service. Be flexible so you can handle unusual requests. Empower employees to make certain customer service decisions on the spot. And solicit customer suggestions and feedback so you know what they’re thinking – and how you can improve.

For some small business owners—and their employees—the first step in providing great customer service may require an attitude adjustment. Approach interactions with customers as a means to nurture the relationship, not just to execute a transaction.

Four key elements to superb customer service are:

  • Be honest in all your dealings. Honesty is not only the right thing, it also directly affects your ability to make sales, retain customers, and (ultimately) stay in business. In an age when any customer can rate your company on online user-review sites, you must treat each and every customer with care, respect, and honesty.
  • Promise only what you can deliver. This has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and how you’ll be rated. It’s much better to under-promise and over-deliver than to oversell and overhype and then disappoint your customers.
  • Follow through with commitments. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Period. If you promise to be on call to customers 24/7 to fix any problems make sure you do exactly as you’ve promised.
  • Make it easy for customers to contact you. Provide an online contact form, phone number, or an email address. Or handle inquiries on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites.

Visit www.visa.com/business/loveyourcustomers to download the Love Your Customers guide and learn more!

Enjoy!
Rhonda Abrams @RhondaAbrams
USA Today Small Business Columnist and Expert

Disclaimer: Practice recommendations are intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for legal, financial, tax or other advice.  When implementing any new strategy or practice, you should consult with your legal and financial advisors. Visa makes no representations and warranties as to the information contained herein.

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Posted by: Janet Zablock, Head of Global Small Business, Visa Inc. on February 19, 2013 at 9:12 am