Monday, 19 March 2012

Improve Your Email Marketing – Getting Back to Basics

When I receive an email from a company I am often quick to judge its content on its relevancy to me based upon my previous purchases or website usage. This ingrained behaviour is a result of having been involved with email marketing for years and in fairness could be considered a reflection of my inability to switch off when outside of work.

Over the years I have witnessed email marketing as a discipline become increasingly advanced and whilst I am all for innovation when it comes to developing strategies and campaigns, there is still a great deal of worth in getting back to basics.
There are many businesses out there which are able to exploit advanced email marketing tools and tactics, ensuring that they are utilising the latest integrated marketing technologies available. The problem with becoming transfixed with the latest technologies and tools though is that it is easy to lose sight of the basics.

Email Marketing Basics

• First and foremost assess your resources, your website and see whether they actually convert visitors and meet objectives.

• Effective email management is about the relevance of the message to the customer and the timing of the email - contacting customers early with promotions and incentives and in a timely manner, instead of bombarding them with messages.

• You must understand the customers you are reaching out to and how you plan to interact with them (Customer Insight). This requires an in depth understanding of you customers’ wants and needs, which can be achieved through effective data management and segmentation.

• Any campaign you enact must be executed in a way that is measurable. This requires the creation of a control group and using data from previous campaigns to gauge effectiveness.

• You should ensure that your main engagement points are optimised. This could involve optimising your sign up form, addressing the clarity of your unsubscribe process (giving the opportunity for alternatives to commercial messages) and also ensuring that any sends have been fully tested in a variety of inbox preview tools.

Email Marketing Pitfalls

When there is pressure to secure new leads or generate profits it can be easy to simply ramp up email marketing efforts. This is a common mistake that reveals a misunderstanding of the fundamental proposition of email marketing; communications should be focussed on the consumer’s needs and motives, not your business’.

Bombarding consumers can result in serious damage to your brand. Email marketing is based upon trust, reputation and permission, once these are lost you will see fewer opens and fewer subscribers, while getting trust, reputation and permission back can be near impossible.

Email is such a flexible and fast method of marketing that it is easy to start overestimating the value of the emails being sent out. At every stage it is vital to consider the consumers mindset and whether a particular piece of news has any relevancy to them.

Email marketing has the power to elicit a positive reaction with your consumers; equally however there is the chance that by overusing email marketing and sending irrelevant emails you could damage the reputation of your business.

Email Marketing Tips

So you understand the basics and know what to avoid, but how can you make the most of your campaigns in the future?

• Consider using subject matter other than just the hard sell. For instance you may want to offer incentives through a campaign, use it to say thank you or even provide your consumers with an entertaining email filled with games.

• Being unique is vital if your emails are going to stand out. To gain this individuality be creative with your visual and content whilst striving to give each and every email personality. Personality will help to make your emails memorable and irreplaceable, helping to differentiate you against your competitors.

• Make small changes to your email campaigns over time whilst testing and testing again. This iterative approach helps you to optimise you emails over time and makes you future campaigns more successful.

There is still significant value to be gained from email marketing IF it is performed effectively and if the basics are heeded during the creation of your campaigns. Equally if you understand that relevant messaging is paramount in every send you undertake then you are on the right path to success.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Frontline Service Employees Building Rapport – To script or not to script?

Within the consumer services industry a great deal of emphasis is placed upon the ability of operatives to build rapport with consumers. Rapport is a vital constituent of consumer service and building relationships, although equally important is to ensure consistency of communications and messaging for brand reasons. This often results in arguments both for and against the use of scripts in consumer interactions.

It is my belief that consistent and positive consumer experiences are what make a successful contact centre. I also believe that scripted conversations are unhelpful and that empowering consumer service agents to conduct operations without scripts is a priority if positive consumer experiences are to be delivered. Put simply, the robotic conversations that result from scripts should be avoided; instead natural interactions should be the mainstay of consumer communication.

Achieving this however can be a challenge. Rapport is easy enough to build in a face to face situation, over the phone it is a much more difficult proposition. Fortunately there are some techniques that can be employed to help contact centre agents to build rapport through natural conversation, not by using scripts:

• Even over the phone a smile has a huge impact upon the way we interact. It may be an old adage that “smile and the whole world smiles with you” but in consumer service this is advice worth heeding. Smiling helps to subconsciously promote friendly, approachable and familiar conversation and should be encouraged.

• Any operative worth their salt understands the importance of listening to their caller and recognising their emotional drivers. Your operatives should be tapping into their callers’ mindset, asking “Why are they calling?” “What problem can I help them solve?” to ensure helpful and productive discourse.

• Conversation goes much deeper than simply the words we use, instead interactions (particularly telephone interactions) are based upon the tone, pace, volume and inflections used. By considering, understanding and using these conversational traits effectively it is possible to show the consumer a caring, supporting and warm side that helps to build rapport.

• Rapport can also be built using ‘clean language,’ the process of using the same words as the caller during conversations. By communicating using the caller’s language it is easier to build understanding and empathy, which in turn can rapidly result in positive rapport.

Whilst I am not arguing that scripts should be done away with completely (scripts can be extremely helpful for agents when guiding callers through a step by step process) these techniques work best when operatives are freed from the constraints of scripted responses. This greater flexibility fosters conversations that flow through and around subjects, creating more natural dialogue in turn.

Understandably inbound and outbound callers have different objectives and as such the techniques may be adapted to suit these different objectives. The principles of building rapport however will remain, for example if a caller phones with a specific technical issue, an agent would follow the procedures but use language such as “let’s try and get to the bottom of this for you” appealing to the caller’s emotional driver whilst encouraging natural conversation through unscripted and positive language.

Ultimately, building rapport with consumers is essential at every interaction, whether it is inbound or outbound and whatever the subject. Key to achieving this is to choose the right language but importantly, to approach in the correct manner using tone, volume and inflection to create a bond and foster productive relationships. If this approach is maintained it is possible to have consistent and effective consumer services based upon honest, organic and amenable discourse, not a predefined script.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Managing Consumer Feedback – Listen, Understand, React

Recently I filled out a consumer survey for a company that I shop with regularly. The company in question will remain nameless; suffice to say that with my consumer hat on, I found myself getting fairly frustrated with the way in which the survey was structured and delivered.

As is frequently the case, this led me to put my professional hat back on and started me thinking why, with consumer feedback and insight being more important than ever in the current climate, would a company rollout such a substandard survey? Surely collecting and analyzing consumer feelings and opinions is critical in determining how your business is doing and how you can improve services?

Having a feedback programme is an extremely valuable asset, although embracing it and using it to its largest potential is equally important. My recent experience has shown me that having a feedback programme is not enough on its own; there must be a culture within the business that embraces it. As a consumer it is easy to spot when a company is simply paying lip service to consumer feedback, it is also clear when a company cares for the data gained from their programme and understands their consumers purchasing behaviours and attitudes.

A commitment to consumer feedback should be evident in different channels, not purely with consumer surveys. For example, social media is an excellent resource of honest consumer feedback as are face to face interviews, as long as you are aware that different channels will produce different sorts of results (typically responses gained through social are far more likely to be honest than those gained in person).

Somewhere in the middle of this scale is not responding to a disgruntled person effectively, which on Twitter is in some ways worse than not responding at all. Given the immediacy of the format, any interactions deemed to below standard can quickly proliferate around the Twitterverse, particularly if the user is well connected with a large following. Embracing feedback and being committed however is wholly different from being obsessed. Listening and reacting to feedback is appreciated by consumers, whereas a contiguous barrage of surveys is likely to be a nuisance. On a practical level, survey questions should be kept relevant and the surveys generally should be kept as short as possible or your consumers will be left as frustrated as I was during my recent surveying experience.

But where do you start? If you want to gain valuable consumer feedback and use it to improve your business, you can follow these best practises below:

1. Implement a feedback programme and commit yourself to building a culture of understanding the important of consumer feedback to the direction of your business in the future.

2. Make sure your employees are encouraging consumer feedback although they should also appreciate that their approach and manner is critical if they are to avoid annoying consumers.

3. Manage and analyze consumer feedback with systems to gain valuable insight into consumers’ needs and wants as well as buying patterns.

4. Take action with the consumer feedback information. Use your insight to correct any issues or concerns and let your consumers know when they have been corrected in order to build rapport. Never ignore your consumers’ feedback; this is will have a negative effect on your consumer loyalty.

5. Learn to share the feedback with the whole company and don’t leave valuable insight sitting in one department; the entire business should be aware of consumer service data.

6. Act promptly with all feedback however it is gained, if a consumer has a poor experience with one of your products or services and defects to a competitor there is little point in contacting that consumer 2 months later or even a month later. The opportunity has been missed and the chance of retaining that consumer has gone.

7. Decide your communication methods and the mixture of channels in order for your consumers to feedback using the medium they feel most appropriate and comfortable with i.e. Twitter, email or telephone.

The ultimate objective of consumer feedback is to create new ideas from recommendations, resolve problems and improve consumer service. The increased engagement with consumers can help form tighter purchasing relationships and build significant brand value. In turn, it will also help your business make better informed decisions based on your consumer’s behaviours, attitudes and experiences; decisions that will be more profitable in the long term.