Great customer service positively communicates a good deal about a brand. In fact, great customer service is likely one of the most sought after brand attributes.
Not long ago I was at a local Starbucks. I stop in there from time to time because it's conveniently within walking distance of my office. Now, I've noticed, at this particular store location often the employees seem back on their heels as if they're short staffed or just a bit unorganized. As a result their customer service is a bit less than adequate compared to any one of the several other locations I've been at around town. Regardless, there are good people that work there, so I don't let it bother me.
However, the other day I observed something great at this Starbucks location. A smart, quick-thinking young man working the drive-thru came through with some great customer service.
I walked in and took my place in line to order - there happened to be two other people ahead of me in line. It appeared that Starbucks had run out of fresh coffee and the employees were scurrying to make some more, and coffee just happened to be what the customer at the front of the line had ordered. The customer was told it would take a few minutes then the barista, who took the customer's order, proceeded to tend to the fresh pot of coffee she had begun brewing.
The few minutes the coffee was taking to brew seemed to take longer than usual. Sensing the customer's frustration, the young man who was working to fulfill drive-thru orders had a brief lull in traffic and popped over to the register as his fellow barista was still tending to the brewing coffee. With the espresso machine freely available. The young man asked the customer if he might be interested in trying an Americano drink. The young man behind the register explained that the drink is similar tasting to coffee, but it's made with espresso and hot water. Plus, he told the customer that he could have it ready before the coffee he had ordered was finished brewing. Furthermore, the employee charged the customer for the Americano at the same price as the coffee he had originally ordered - normally an Americano would be more expensive than a coffee.
As an observer, I thought the young man made a great savvy customer service move as he saw the customer growing impatient with the wait for his coffee, and took action to stabilize the situation.
It's that kind of quick-thinking customer service that can make the difference in a customer's mind about whether they perceive your brand favorably or unfavorably. That situation could have been handled in several worse ways which would have provoked the customer to be upset, but instead the customer left with a smile on his face and perhaps found a new drink of choice.
How does your brand communicate great customer service? Recommended Reading: Drive, by Daniel H. Pink
Posted by: Nick Venturella
Annie Cat, made in Brushes app on iPhone
So here’s another iPhone Brushes painting I did (on New Year’s Eve, actually). This Brushes painting is of one of my cats.
What do these little iPhone paintings teach us about being creative entrepreneurs? To me, it’s a larger sense of enthusiasm, creativity, innovation and connectedness made possible by people using various tools to create and distribute their messages to specific audiences at a regular clip with little barriers to production and distribution - all with the idea of communicating toward building relationships.
My point is, if you’re a creative entrepreneur, or really are in any sort of business, I think it’s wise to take full advantage of the available tools to create and distribute your messages to groups and individuals with whom you wish to connect. Forget muddying it up by calling it social media or being intimidated by the technology of it all – these are simply tools to help communicate your messages to build (at least in this day and age) farther reaching relationships that you would not otherwise be able to engage in without such tools.
What's your favorite tool to communicate toward building relationships?
Posted by: Nick Venturella
Winter tree at night by Nick Venturella, created on the iPhone
So I'm getting a jump on the 3 words I've chosen to help carry me and my various pursuits through 2011. I wrote about this in Nick Venturella Media 2011 plans.
Part of the reason I'm jumping the gun (not waiting until 2011 actually begins to start this) is because I'm excited about the new tool I got over the holidays - an iPhone 4.
Create is one of my 3 words, so I'm making an effort to create more artistic stuff - music, art, writing - as often as I can.
I'm excited to discover what I can do with the iPhone as a creative as well as communications tool. In my experience it's best to roll with that excitement and enthusiasm, that's when spontaneous creativity tends to happen.
Being a visual artist (among other things), the first app I purchased was Brushes, which allows you to use your finger as a paintbrush on the iPhone screen. It's great for creating small impressionistic-like little paintings, like the one shown in this post. I plan to share more artistic creations throughout 2011.
So why is this important? In business, and in life, it's important to stretch your creative abilities. Sometimes fun creative activities - even those that sometimes feel like they have nothing to do with business - can actually help foster your business creativity, clearing your mind enough to allow it to be open to innovative ideas and solutions that you may not have otherwise thought of. Being inspired breeds inspiration.
Be sure to take some time to have fun creating something on a regular basis. Creativity is a muscle that needs exercise to stay in shape.
posted by Nick Venturella
I’m a big fan of the holidays, and I hope everyone has had a good holiday season so far.
It can be stressful trying to prepare for family visits, whether you’re traveling or hosting. Essentially, everyone wants to get there in one piece--and in a timely fashion--and those hosting want everything just so to ensure all have a good holiday experience.
That idea of meticulous preparation is not unlike being in business--you create your plan and hope those you interact with make to where you want them to go in one piece and you want to ensure that all involved have a good experience.
Like the holidays, the most fulfilling part of business is the company you keep and the relationships you build. Customers you’ve spent a time with end up becoming friends and colleagues--extensions of your business “family.” This includes employees and vendors, too.
Regardless, of whether it’s the holidays or not, it’s all about communication and relationships. If you haven’t reached out with an email, a phone call, or even a written letter to a friend, relative, customer, employee, vendor or whomever, make an effort. The little things make a big impact at any time of year.
Posted by: Nick Venturella
Here's a bit from my LinkedIn profile summary:
'All human interactions--in business, or otherwise--boil down to communication and relationships. I have spent my professional career building on that philosophy because I believe it is one that continually invites success.
I am always interested in meeting new people and embarking on new opportunities that challenge me to learn and grow. I'm a creative thinker and doer who is resourceful and innovative. I believe, all that we create communicates something distinct and builds specific relationships.'
I truly believe that everything can be boiled down to communication and relationships. Communication is the tool or vehicle that can get you from point A to point B with another person. Communication is a way to create mutual understanding--getting on the same page, if you will. When that connection begins to take place relationships form. From there bigger things can be achieved by both parties together than either can achieve individually, and so on.
Your brand is similar. It's a communication vehicle to drive relationships with your prospects, customers, vendors, industry colleagues, etc.
Is your brand a communication vehicle driving your company toward the ideal relationships you'd like to build?
Posted by: Nick Venturella
So, I’ve been working on what Nick Venturella Media (NVM) will look like and try to achieve in 2011. Based on experiences this past year, and how I’ve been evolving my business endeavors NVM will be changing, slightly.
You may not notice the change too much, but I certainly will. Ultimately, the end result is to be able to help you more, and provide you with value that you can use to help your own endeavors grow and flourish.
In fact, the word grow is one of three words that will become my mantra for 2011 (I took this idea from Chris Brogan--he may have gotten it from somewhere else, but I got it from him).
The three words on which I’ve chosen to base my 2011 goals and activities: Grow, Create, Community.
I want to grow NVM, as well as all my endeavors--Nick Venturella Music and The Local Music Journey--in directions that can help you be better equipped to make your own business/endeavors successful, thus adding to my own success.
(I just launched a Facebook Page, Nick Venturella Endeavors, as a one-stop landing page for all things Nick Venturella. Feel free to check it out, but I’ll be fleshing this out more in the coming days before Christmas).
Create: I’m truly an artist. I craft ideas into innovative pieces of art, music and writing. Some of it can benefit others’ businesses, some of it can benefit others’ emotions and state of mind, and some of it can inspire motivation within oneself to create something of their own that can benefit others.
One way I’m going to achieve this is that I’m scheduling time to create, even if it’s to create something small. I’m also taking guitar lessons again (thanks to my wife who surprised me with this early Christmas gift). I’ve been playing professionally since 1994. I probably haven’t had a guitar lesson in more than 12 years. However, there are always things I want to learn about that instrument and my musical craft, and having some instruction can promote expedient progress, not to mention the fact that such activities always seem to motivate my inspiration helping me create more. That bit about having some instruction, or a mentor, leads right into my last goal...
Community: For me, I’m a solopreneur, well, for the most part--not everything I do is on my own. However, a goal I have is to team up more with others on projects as well as simply expanding my sphere of colleagues in a similar boat. One area I feel that I’ve lacked often is having the benefit of an ideal mentor. I've been influenced an helped out by many and am grateful for such help, but I continually seek a mentor, or mentors, who have been, at least in relative terms, where I’m going, or have ventured on a similar journey to where we could share ideas, best practices, etc.
I know that I have a lot that I would like to share, which is why I pursue the endeavors I do--I want to be the mentor for others that I myself am constantly seeking. So one of my goals this year is to expand my community of friends and colleagues to build a support network of folks who genuinely want to see each other succeed, and are willing to offer thoughts and ideas across the board about how to do that.
I plan to offer more specifics about my 2011 goals and how they relate to each of my endeavors, and how those endeavors can benefit you in forthcoming posts, on this site, Nick Venturella Music and The Local Music Journey's Resourceful Musician Blog. Stay tuned.
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If you’ve ever read the book Made to Stick (amazon affiliate) you know that one of the elements of “sticky messages”--that is messages that end up being memorable and easy to recall--is being concrete.
What the authors of Made to Stick were talking about was using commonly recognized imagery and ideas in the language used to communicate your message. In the book they give the example of Aesop’s fable about The Fox and the Grapes, which is where the term, “sour grapes,” comes from.
The fox story is concrete in that it talks about how the fox couldn’t eat the grapes hanging on the vine above him, just out of his reach. In the fox’s defeat the fox proclaims the grapes were likely sour anyway. The lesson learned was that it’s easy to despise that which we cannot obtain.
My point (really the point of the authors of Made to Stick), is to the extent you’re able try to be concrete in the way you talk about your company’s brand, in the way you display imagery regarding your company’s brand (logo, identity design, etc), in every way you outline the benefits of your products/services, etc.
Give folks clear imagery that is common enough for them to wrap their imagination around. This is extremely important in service companies that don’t necessarily have a tangible product to sell.
This video from HubSpot is humorous, but useful in that it displays the difference between inbound and outbound (or pull vs. push) marketing efforts.
By utilizing a company blog, social media, email marketing and other such efforts to distribute valuable content to a targeted audience (your ideal customers) you will be better positioned to be found online and create online conversions whereby you're capturing valuable prospect information in return for offering valuable content to that prospect. Thus, you're building a pipeline of prospects that you can continue to nurture with valuable content until they're ready to buy.
For the purposes of our video, let me ask, when was the last time you looked something up in the phone book vs. Googling it?
Essentially, that's how inbound marketing works--create content, boosting SEO, get found online, create conversions, nurture prospects until they buy, improve the process and start again.
So I was at the grocery store the other day buying a bag of potato chips (I know, a healthy snack). I was looking for potato chips with ridges or waves, whatever you want to call--wrinkles.
I found two brands Ruffles Potato Chips and Lays Wavy Potato Chips. To me, they’re the same chip--the quality is the same, the flavor is the same--for all intense and purposes they might as well be the exact same chip. So, because, in my mind, the product is the same and either will adequately satisfy my potato chip craving I look less at which brand I choose and focus on price--which one is cheaper?
In this case the Ruffles were about $0.40 more than the Lays, so I went with the Lays. The idea of differentiating on price alone for a product that is in demand is essentially a commodity.
Perception is often reality, to the customer
My potato chip story illustrates the consumer mindset when purchasing a product or service--the consumer perception of your product is the only perception that really matters, not yours. But, what’s interesting is with the way you communicate your brand messaging and position your brand, products and services you can help guide customers toward the perception you would like them to have. The way you communicate your brand and educate consumers about your products and services can have the effect of justifying the pricing you set, even if it’s higher than your competitor’s. This is possible when your customers no longer see your products or services as a commodity that they could get elsewhere with the same amount of satisfaction for less.
In the potato chip story, had Ruffles provided more compelling messaging that raised its value in my perception of their brand and product, I may have shelled out the extra $0.40 for their chips.
Think about your own business
Do you offer products/services that can adequately satisfy a customer’s needs just as easily as your competition? Is price really the only difference between your product and your competitor’s in the eyes of your target customer? If so, you need to think about building more value into your offering and communicate that value to your potential customers so you can line up what you want their perception to be with what their actual perception is.
How do build more value?
One way, is to write out a list of features and benefits of your product/service compared to the features and benefits of your top competitor’s. From there, look for similarities and differences. Highlight the differences. If the differences are positive, giving you an advantage over your competition, find a way to emphasize that in your marketing messages. It’s also a good idea to cross reference your list with a poll from your current customers asking them why they chose to do business with you over the competition. By completing those two exercises you should be able to uncover a few differences that can be competitive advantages for you/your business.it.
It seems that the internet boils services, and most business models, down to three simple areas of value (as described by Seth Godin’s recent blog post, The one who isn’t easily replaced): “...be better, be different or be cheaper. And the last is no fun.”
That last one will drive you out of business, so I would suggest avoiding it. The other two are where the largest opportunities are. Godin’s blog post was referring to the fact that with the internet, musicians, freelancers, solopreneurs and small businesses are better equipped, and connected, to be able to handle more of their own stunts--so to speak--to bring their products or services to market.
Thus, to stand out you, and/or your company, must be better than the competition. Perhaps you offer a better product, more efficient service, an easier-to-use service, maybe you save customers time, etc. Or, maybe you’re different. Maybe your product/service fulfills a common need in an uncommon way, or your product/service saves a business X amount of money compared to competition as proven by market research, etc. Now, if you do compete on price you’ll really want to justify offering a lower price than competitors. A lower price is not always equated to a quality product/service. Plus, if you compete by offering a lower price than competitors you’ll want to make certain you’re making up ground on volume or some additional revenue stream because that’s a difficult business model to maintain without being swallowed by a company willing to give away more for less (or free).
Probably the best advice is to be both better and different allowing you to justify higher prices than competitors, which will further the perception that you’re better. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad...besides the third option is likely to sink you before you get out of the gate...just a few thoughts to consider.