May
19
Posted on May 19, 2008
Filed Under (General) by jennifer

I have written about the importance of customer service, particularly for small online businesses (notably e-tailers), a few times, but today I wanted to share with you two recent personal experiences and companies that deserve to be highlighted — and applauded. The first involves Zappos.com, an online shoe seller; the second, LabelDaddy.com, a small online seller of (wait for it) labels.

First, Zappos.com. I was about to depart on a trip where I knew I would be doing a lot of walking, but I didn’t want to have to pack many pairs of shoes. I had a pair of casual/walking shoes I loved, but they were pretty beaten up, so I figured it was time to get a new pair — heck, I’d just get a new version of the same pair! (It was a well-known brand and I remembered the woman who sold them to me telling me they never went out of style. Ha!)

So I went in search of my shoes, only to find out, two weeks later, and just days before my trip, that the model I craved had been discontinued (so much for staying in style — or in stock). And, of course, I couldn’t find anything else that I liked nearly as well or that fit. So I decided to hunt online.

My spouse recommended Zappos.com, where he had bought shoes many times, in part because of its enormous selection and in part because of its excellent customer service.

Sure enough, I found a pair of shoes I liked (which had received good as well as helpful reviews), but would they arrive in time for my trip?  I couldn’t tell from the shipping options which one to choose. Fortunately, Zappos.com provided a customer service number, so I decided to pick up the phone and call. I had very low expectations.

But lo and behold, my call was quickly answered, by a cheerful-sounding, fluently English-speaking woman who did not seem annoyed by my call. (Shocking, I know.) I believe her name was Mary. In any case, she was a saint.

Mary was extremely knowledgeable, answered all my questions, and then told me, upon sensing my anxiety about getting the shoes in time for my trip, that Zappos.com would ship me my shoes overnight, for free. And, she continued, if I was in any way dissatisfied, I could return them for free (parcel post), too.

There’s a word for that, and it is “Wow.”

Sure enough, the next day my shoes arrived, as promised. (Wow again.) Unfortunately, though, they did not fit, even when I inserted pads (though that was not Zappos.com’s fault). Two weeks later, after returning from my trip (with my old, beat-up shoes) and trying the Zappos.com shoes on a second time, I sadly acknowledged that they really did not fit. So I contacted Zappos.com about returning them. No problem, they said. Just ship them back, using the label they provided, and Zappos.com would refund my credit card. And you know what? They did. Quickly, too.

Zappos.com may not have the lowest prices online but their superior selection, customer service, and free shipping have made the site my — and a lot of other folks’s — number one place to shop for shoes online.

But you don’t have to be a great big company to offer great customer service. Just look at LabelDaddy.com.

Like many other children, my daughter is going to sleepaway camp for the first time this summer, and I needed labels to sew or iron into her clothing. Like most moms, I asked friends and family who had children who had attended sleepaway camps where they got their labels. Unfortunately, they weren’t that helpful — and told me just to look online. So I did.

After spending hours (and I mean HOURS) checking out dozens of places and doing my own comparison shopping, I found LabelDaddy.com, a California-based business created and run by two daddies who “were inspired to create Label Daddy soon after becoming parents themselves.”

The labels LabelDaddy.com sold were ADORABLE, the cutest ones I had seen online (and boy, had I seen a lot). They also required no ironing or sewing (amazing). And I loved the “Daddy” story (on the Our Company page). So I decided to order some.

One of the nice things about LabelDaddy.com labels is you can choose the font, the font color, the background color, and the icon that goes on your label, which is exactly what I did.

About a week later, my order arrived — with the wrong icon on the label. I think it was a Saturday, so instead of calling the company, I sent an email to customer service.

Maybe an hour later, I received an email from “Greg,” profusely apologizing for the error and offering to immediately fix it and send out the new order, free of charge, Monday. Boy, was I impressed! There was no accusing me of somehow screwing up the order; no mention of charging me for the corrected order or taking weeks to get it to me. Nope. Just sorry; we’ll fix it right away, no charge, and get it out to you, pronto. He even offered to send me an extra set of labels, no charge. (I declined, partly because I really didn’t need more labels and partly because as a small business owner myself, I didn’t want to hurt his bottom line.)

Turns out, Greg is one of the Daddies, and, big surprise, wants his customers to be 100% satisfied — and recommend the service to their friends and family. Which I am and I just did. (Of course, if I have a problem with the labels, I will let all of you, and the folks at LabelDaddy.com, know.)

The moral of this story: No matter what size your business is, if you want to inspire customer loyalty and generate positive word of mouth (you know, advertising you just can’t buy and which pays you back a thousand fold), you need to treat your customers well (instead of like an annoying part of doing business). That means providing a customer service email address and phone number; making sure you have knowledgeable customer service reps (or someone) to respond to queries, in a timely fashion; and making customers feel comfortable about reporting problems or asking questions.

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May
15
Posted on May 15, 2008
Filed Under (Advice, Marketing) by jennifer

E-mail marketing has become so easy and relatively inexpensive that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can create a campaign. But not all e-mail campaigns are created equal or are equally successful.

To find out what small business owners can do to increase the open and click-through rates of their emails and email campaigns, I spoke with Suzanne Norman, the director of community relations at Emma, the Web-based email marketing and communications service that helps users create customized email marketing campaigns.

Per Norman, a successful email creates “a one-on-one conversation that engages readers and builds trust.” It also needs to be relevant, which means knowing what your subscribers are interested in, and it has to strike the right balance between content and image, and not overwhelm readers or their e-mail servers.

To read Norman and Emma’s top tips for creating click-worthy emails and email campaigns, read my article “Eight Tips for a Clickable E-Mail Marketing Campaign.”

Got your own tips? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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May
13

This may seem obvious, but I cannot tell you the number of times that both professionally and personally I have run into a situation where I responded to an email offer or press release, almost immediately, only to a) not get a response to my response; b) be told the thing being offered was no longer available; or c) that I would have to wait several days or weeks for the item or service or person in question.

 Not good business.

 And you can be sure that unless forced to, I will not soon do business with that company or person again.

As a general rule of thumb, I advise my clients not to send out a press release or offer/teaser email to customers or prospective customers unless they know they have the goods — and the people — to back up what they promise. Similarly, I make it a habit to not take on work (i.e., agree to do a project or job) unless I know I can meet the project deadlines and provide the skills or expertise the client is looking for.

Do you like when people/companies don’t keep their word? Well, your customers don’t like it either. And when you offer a product or service or make a commitment you cannot deliver upon, you risk alienating your customers/clients, which is never good for business.

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