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Posts Tagged ‘Zappos’

5 Reasons that Startups & SmallBiz Must Engage Their Customers

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

For some reason, recently I have talked to a number of people that have said the same thing to me.  They basically say that their startup, small business and even enterprise company is too busy to actually engage their customers.  Or they say that engaging and talking to your customers just is not a priority.  My response boils down to this:  Are you for real? Really, your business does not have time to talk to our customers or you think talking to customers isn’t really scalable so lets just not do it? That is garbage.

So I say stop right there.  Stop spending all your time on powerpoints, writing long blog posts that no one reads, trying to figure out ways to increase prices on your customers,  writing requirements for products your customers don’t want or chasing yet other pointless task.  As entrepreneur Mark Cuban said earlier this week:  YOUR CUSTOMERS OWN YOU Without your customers your business is WORTHLESS.  Why do so many people fail to understand that basic concept?

So here are 5 reasons (and a bonus one!) why your startup or small business needs make it a priority to talk to your customers as often as possible:

1. Stop being nameless and faceless to your customers. Your customers have lots of options. They use lots of products in their daily life.  So many of these products are from companies that customers think of as people in a far away skyscraper in New York or office park in the suburbs next to Red Lobster and Taco Bell.  So be different.  Put a name to a face for your business to your customers.  When a customer uses your product they can identify with a real person instead of some random brand name.  Human nature dictates that we all crave connections and if you can make that personal connection with a customer that will immediately distinguishes your business from all the noise that is out there.

2. Start creating deeper customer relationships out of the value you provide to your customers – Your customers have decided to do business with you.  They have taken the step to pick YOU!  So what should you do?  Close the loop and show them how much it means that your customer picked your business from everyone out there.  Then build on that value you are creating for your customer in their daily life and add some deeper bonds to that relationship by seeing (or listening) first hand how customers use your product, what are their other pain points for their own business.  Actually showing that you care about your customers will go a long way because no one else really does take the steps to show that they care.  Be different by showing that you give a hoot! It is that simple.

3. Get real feedback from your customers you can act on – Building on #2, take the opportunity to use your engagement with your customers to get tangible feedback about your product, the market, your competitors and your overall customer makeup.  There is no better market research then actually talking to customers and hearing first hand what they are saying.  I know people say it takes time to do this – to get the feedback and then to act on it.  My suggestion, start small.  One interaction a day, maybe two.  The snowball effect of the feedback will help your business because you will get to see your business and product directly through the eyes of your customers!  That is just invaluable. Here is an earlier post of ours on tools to help your business get feedback.

4. Gain credibility, loyalty and capital with customers – So you are getting feedback, showing that you care and are not nameless and faceless anymore.  What does this do in the totality for your customers?  Your business starts to create brand capital by building up credibility with your customers. This begins to set yourself apart from the crowd.  That credibility with your customer then begins to be translated into a hugely valuable asset and that is customer loyalty.  The reason why – because the customer sees that you are different than the others – you actually are paying attention to them. Back to high school and what happens when the cute guy/girl is paying attention to you – you notice!  So your customers begin to notice and start to conclude your business is different than the others because you care about your customers.  Sad, but that is a rare trait these days.

5. Time devoted to these relationships will help you in tough times & customers will not be so easy to turn their back on you – This all leads up to a major punchline.  And it is this basic.  Inevitably a customer will have a negative experience with your business.  With no customer engagement, no credibility, no loyalty that has been built by your engagement efforts, you will lose that customer during that bad experience.  On the other hand, if you have taken the time to engage your customers, that customer who is having a negative experience is much more likely to give you another chance.  Also if they complain to the community, the crowd of customers that you have also engaged can step in and have your back.  None of this happens without making customer engagement a central priority and following through.

6. (Bonus) Arming your customers with reasons to talk about your businesses – This is a no brainer.  The more you engage your customers and follow up with “wow” moments – the more opportunities you give them to be your best salesperson.  More stories mean more opportunities for your customers to spread the word about your business.  What better way for you to get you more business through your brand evangelists that tell the stories of you wowing your customers.

So lets bring it back to the main argument you hear against doing all of this. Bottom line: Too few resources is a lame excuse for not engaging your customers!  Try it by starting small. Everyone on your team needs to begin every morning engaging 1-2 customers and then build from there. Send a customer a short email or catch them on Twitter.  Even a one person startup can even do this form of limited engagement.  Still dont think this is worth your time? Zappos was founded on this customer engagement philosophy and I think it worked out pretty well for them.  And oh by the way, Zappos started with this philosophy from the very earliest days when their founders responded to every customer’s email!

We would love to hear your stories of customer engagement.  Feel free to leave them in the comments section.

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Posts Tagged ‘Zappos’

5 Ways to Develop a Killer Brand for Your Small Business and Startup

Monday, January 24th, 2011

As a small business or startup there is a constant challenge of developing a brand for your business.  Unlike large companies like Coke and Apple, small businesses and startups do not have the resources to invest the time, money and effort to build a brand through advertising.  So these businesses are left to rely on my scrappy tactics to develop and grow their brand.  Of course with all of the large, medium and small competitors, it can be difficult to elevate your small business above the noise that is out there.   Here are a few tips that can help your small business build your brand and show that you can be trusted to deliver for your customers:

1. Give Each Customers an Experience: Think about the great brand experiences that are out there today.  There are product experiences like Apple and Zappos.  Then there are city experiences like Las Vegas.  All evoke a certain type of experience when you interact with those brands (yes, I am calling Las Vegas a brand!). So when your business interacts with your customers, treat them to an experience.  What type of experience you may ask?  How about “white glove” treatment from beginning until end where you make every effort to anticipate your customer’s wants, needs and desires.  This is not an easy thing to accomplish, but just making this type of effort will ensure you try to create a good customer experience for your customers.

2. Every Interaction Should Make an Impression:  So this is taking point #1 above and breaking it down.  Think about your customer’s touch points for your business.  Now think about how you interact with your customers at every touch point.  Is it the first time they reach your website? The first time they call your office?  An email inquiry about your product or a meeting at a trade show?  A conversation over Twitter? Now try to aim to make every experience with your customers one that they will remember.  I am not advocating something over the top. I am merely advocating taking special care of the customers at every interaction with your business.  For example, talk to your customer, listen to them, and take the time to say that you value them as a customer. Always remember find a way to go the extra mile to help your customers life a little easier or happier.  That is why every email should be thought out, every entry point to your website considered so you can get into the mind of a customer and make a good impression at every point with them.

3. Help Your Customers & They Will Talk About Your Business: Building on points #1 and #2, if you make an impression and give customers a great experience, you will give your customers reasons to talk about your business, service or product.  What better way to build your brand by having your customers be your brand messengers to potential customers and leads that are out in the community.  That is why the more you go out of your way to build up credibility and trust with your customers by repeatedly beating their expectations, the easier it is for those customers to tell the world about buying from your small business.

4. Promote Your Customer’s Successes:   We have found at Kikscore one of the best ways to help ourselves and our brand is by promoting our own customers.  We have done that by finding every opportunity to promote our customers through various avenues like our blog, on Twitter and by supporting them at every opportunity.  One of ways we have done that is by giving our customers a forum on our own blog to tell their own small business success stories.  What can you do?  Take your customers’ successes and help them tell the world.  If your product, service or company was involved with that success, that is even better for you.

Bottom line: Sell yourself by promoting your own customers!

5. Always Aim for a Consistent Message & Customer Experience: One of the biggest enemies of a strong band is an inconsistent message and uneven customer experience.  Do you treat customers differently?  Is your product simple to use, but your marketing copy and help materials complex and too wordy?  How about your customer service – is it very responsive over the phone, but slow or non-existent on Twitter and Facebook?  The key is to make sure that the way that your customers interact with your business and startup is in a consistent manner across all channels.  This consistency is critical to ensure a brand that does not create mixed messages with customers.  A cohesive and consistent brand is hard to create, but it is imperative to achieve to build a great brand.

While small businesses may not have the same resources as large companies, they do still have the ability to build a strong band without paying a huge sum of money.  But the monetary investment is replaced with a huge human investment in time, effort, messaging and customer service.  That human investment if deployed carefully and deliberately across all parts of a small business or startup can pay major dividends. The trick is studying your business, your customers and the touch points and then developing a branding plan and executing on it.

These are just some of the ways to develop a great brand for your small business or startup.  Let us know if you have any tips in the comment below.

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Posts Tagged ‘Zappos’

Diary of a Startup: A Few Lessons Learned For Entrepreneurs

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

On a day that I am bewildered by my Cleveland Cavaliers and their absolutely horrendous performance last night, I am a little reflective.  After all, us Cleveland fans likely have just watched Lebron James‘ last home game in Cleveland as a Cavalier.  When he officially leaves (I truly hope he doesnt but I am a Cleveland fan and we are used to such let downs), maybe I will do a post on how startups and small business can learn from the Cavs/Lebron breakup.  Until then, here is another installment in our continued feature at KikScore called Diary of a Startup.

This one is a quick summary of a few lessons learned from our experience and from other folks I have talked to about their startup experiences:

1. Bandwidth Limitations. No I am not talking about your broadband cable access.  Instead, bandwidth as in you and your team’s ability to keep iterating and making improvements while also juggling all of the operational and marketing aspects of a startup.These types of bandwidth and resource constraints are especially present in nights and weekend startups.  One of the ways we have dealt with the bandwidth issue is continually working to prioritize items/tasks/enhancements/issues as a team.  But as you prioritize do not forget about that enhancement that you talked about doing three months ago that may have been de-prioritized along the way! Also as needed, it is key that contractors, freelancers and outsourced resources get used to increase overall bandwidth for the startup. But remember these tips and tools when using offshore resources.

2. Manage Expectations – As with anything in life, it is important to manage everyone’s expectations including yourself.  The reason why?  Nearly everything you do at a start-up from getting going, getting something developed, partnership discussions, getting funding, optimizing your product and your homepage, takes longer than you think.  That does not mean you should sit back, because you still need to push and push hard.  However, you just need to prepare yourself, your team, customers etc and appropriately manage timelines and understand that sometimes things beyond your control come in that may delay things.  The trick is not to get upset, but figure out how to keep things on track and moving forward.

3. Continually Get Feedback – This is an underestimated one, but has been incredibly valuable to us.  Talk to everyone about your product, your business model and especially have customers (and potential customers) give you feedback.  This is so helpful in giving you and your team a new perspective and has also, at least with us, given us some great new ideas for channels for KikScore.  Here is a an excellent post at the Untemplater Site by Jun Loayza on a feedback plan for startups. Another related note is take the negative feedback in stride.  Frankly, some of the negative or constructive feedback is more valuable than the other feedback.  And please be careful not to just dismiss someone’s feedback, especially customer feedback because you think you know better or you say, “What does that person know?”  That is a sure ticket to failure.

4. Put That Feedback in Perspective – So you first need to get feedback, but then what do you do with it?  The trick is not to act on every piece of your feedback that you receive.  That will set you off in 1,000 different directions and be counterproductive.  Also you do not want to just dismiss feedback.  This is where it is important for the team to approach the feedback from three very basic perspectives: a) common sense; b) what will make the customer experience better; and c) what is “doable” and actionable based on resources, priorities and strategy. Here is a recent post on how we acted on customer feedback.

5. Social Media is Not the Marketing  Savior  – Don’t get me wrong, using social media is a low cost way to build brand awareness for your startup, get leads, make connections to though leaders, get great introductions to partners, manage your startup’s reputation and respond to customer issues.  Frankly doing all of this via Twitter, Facebook, a blog and other social media channels is a must these days for most startups.  BUT, doing all that does not guarantee success.  Frankly, these days doing all of things and having a social media strategy allows you just to play in the game.  In order to win and really succeed as a startup (and be a repeat MVP like Lebron James), you need to give your customers a great customer experience, make your product easy to use and help your customers solve a problem that they have.  As my friend Shashi B has told me before, no amount of marketing, social media or marketing campaigns will protect your company from a sucky product! Make your product great, make sure your customers are happy and that they evangalize your product and the marketing then comes a lot easier.  That actually will make the social media marketing easier as Zappos has demonstrated. In fact, here is a good post on the story of Zappos with an excellent and informative powerpoint deck that is worth a read.

Let us know if you have any lessons learned from your startup or small business.

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