Posted on September 22, 2011
Filed Under (CRM, General Business) by jennifer

When it comes to software that can help track and manage customer queries that come in via phone, email, web forms, and social media sites (Facebook and Twitter), small and mid-sized businesses have many good choices. And while not every solution may be the best or right one for your business, in a recent informal survey of business managers and IT professionals, Zendesk, Kayako, Assistly, UserVoice, Zoho Support and Freshdesk all received top marks. To find out which one is right for your customer support needs, check out my article, “Six Helpful Customer Support Software Solutions,” where I provide a summary of each tool’s top features, as well as a link to the company website, where you can see a demo and sign up for a free trial (and find out about pricing).

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Posted on August 1, 2011
Filed Under (CRM, General Business) by jennifer

Research shows that it is less expensive and more profitable for businesses to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones. And one of the simplest ways to do that is by providing great customer service. Following are 12 easy ways to improve customer relations — and thereby increase sales — provided by business owners, CRM experts and marketers.

Note: For a full explanation of each tip, read my article, “A Dozen Simple Ways to Improve Customer Relations.”

  1. Take responsibility for problems.
  2. Embrace the complaints.
  3. Respond quickly to customer queries.
  4. Use social media.
  5. Add live chat and collaboration tools to your website.
  6. Reward good customers.
  7. Follow up with customers.
  8. Don’t over-automate.
  9. Be flexible.
  10. Have consistent CRM processes – and monitor what’s working and what’s not.
  11. Personalize the online customer experience.
  12. Say “thank you.”
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Posted on December 17, 2010
Filed Under (Advice, CRM, General Business, Marketing, Social Media) by jennifer

More and more businesses of all sizes are using social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare, as a way to better engage customers and increase sales. However, just having a Facebook page or a Twitter account is no guarantee of success. So to find out how small businesses (and larger ones) can successfully use social media to enhance their customer relationship management (CRM) and improve sales, I spoke with two social media CRM (or social CRM) experts, Pamela O’Hara, the co-founder and president of BatchBlue, the maker of BatchBook social CRM software, and Margaret Donnelly, the vice president of marketing and business development at JitterJam Social CRM.

Below is a truncated version of O’Hara and Donnelly’s top 10 ways small business owners can use social media to improve CRM and generate more sales. You can find the expanded version of the list in my article for eCRM Guide“Ten Ways Social Media Is Changing Sales and CRM.”

Top 10 Ways to Use Social Media to Improve CRM and Generate More Sales

1. Use information gathered from social media sites and your CRM system to help you target your marketing to key segments.

2. Monitor sites like Facebook and Twitter and Yelp to uncover potential customers and find out which customers are influencers.

3. Similarly, monitor leading social media sites, as well as forums that are pertinent to your business or industry, to learn what customers are saying about your brand and your products (for better or worse).

4. Think of your company blog and your Facebook page (as well as sites like TripAdvisor, if you are in the hospitality business) as customer service tools — especially for countering negative comments.

5. Think of your Facebook and Twitter followers as a free focus group, for trying out new product ideas.

6. Use social media sites and your company blog to build community — and seek out new opportunities.

7. Use sites like Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter to offer friends, fans, and followers exclusive promotions and discounts.

8. Use social media sites, as well as blogs and forums your customers are likely to visit, to establish yourself as an expert people want to buy from.

9. Use your Facebook page, as well as photo sharing site Flickr, to let customers get to know the people behind your business, as well as other customers. (People tend to buy — and buy more from — businesses they feel they have a connection to or know.)

10. Use YouTube to educate your customers, by posting helpful how-to videos about your product(s).

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These days, if you really want to know what your customers are thinking (and where they are shopping), you need to connect with them online, on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Indeed, in today’s social media-driven world, having a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile, and a blog where you can interact with customers and, more importantly, they can interact with you are an essential part of customer relationship management (CRM).

To help you get the most out of the leading social media tools, I asked business owners and social media experts to share their most successful tips for using social media to help improve CRM the top 10 of which appear below.

Use free tools like HootSuite or TweetDeck to monitor what customers are saying about you on Twitter. “I provide community management for 10 to 15 clients at the same time on a regular basis. [And] responding to my clients’ customers in a timely manner and getting good content out on a regular basis is critical to great customer service,” said Lisa Loeffler, Principal, Genuine Media. That’s why Loeffler uses HootSuite and TweetDeck, “to help manage all my clients in one place, so I can respond on the fly to their clients’ needs.”

Create Twitter lists. “I have found creating Twitter lists helps me keep my Twitter audience organized,” said Jillian Koeneman, the founder of Freshlime Marketing. “I can scan any particular list to get a pulse on what [people] are thinking or talking about and respond if appropriate.”

Store Twitter and blog URLs as well as important tweets and comments in your CRM system.

Use LinkedIn to ramp up your networking and find new prospects. Patrick O’Malley, a social media consultant who goes by the name (617) PATRICK, is a big fan of LinkedIn for networking and generating sales and claims that this specific LinkedIn tip resulted in over $150,000 in sales (over the course of six to eight deals) for one of his clients, a company that sells insurance to other companies: “If you are going to contact a new company, see if any of your [LinkedIn] contacts knows someone there.” The way to do this, he explained, is to log onto LinkedIn and click on ‘Advanced’ in the upper right-hand corner, then put in the name of the company, and just below it, select ‘Current.’ In the search results, you’ll see names for people in that company. If someone is a first-level connection, you know them. More importantly, if someone is a second-level connection, you have a common contact. (The person will be listed as a ‘shared connection.’) “You can now use your own sales techniques to use them as a reference, or use their name to get in the door,” said O’Malley.

Give your Facebook fans and Twitter followers exclusive discounts and notify them of any specials, promotions or sales. “We use social media to improve customer relationship management [by] offering a discount code when a potential customer becomes a Facebook Fan of Rosena Sammi Jewelry,” said Rosena Sammi of Rosena Sammi Jewelry. As a result, the company has attracted many new customers who tend to be very loyal. The James Store, a 64-year-old clothing boutique located in Granville, Ohio, similarly rewards Facebook fans with discount codes. Those Facebook discount codes in turn “drive new fans to our Facebook page, which in turn drives foot traffic to the store,” said Peter Morse, the James Store’s marketing director, who also uses Twitter to alert followers to sales and specials.

Engage your customers on Facebook and Twitter by asking them thought-provoking or funny questions. “One of the best ways that I have found to gain and retain [customers] is to ask fun or funny questions … on Facebook and Twitter,” said Paul Draper, a mentalist, anthropologist and speaker who runs the website Draper says that posting questions on Facebook and Twitter elicits more responses than a normal post does and “when [people] answer, your question and your page is seen on the pages and in the feeds of all of their friends.” Moreover, when people who aren’t yet fans or followers see how much fun you are, they are likely to become fans and are more inclined to do business with you. Draper cautions that you need to carefully gauge who your audience is, so you don’t offend people with your tone.

Use Facebook and Twitter as calling cards. Long-time customers and employees of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, fondly recall how Wally Bronner, the founder, would spend hours on the sales floor personally greeting customers and chatting with them, especially during the busy Christmas season. Today, employees are keeping that tradition alive with the help of Facebook. “When I see a fan post [on our Facebook page] that he’s coming to Bronner’s, I often post an invitation for him to stop by our reception desk and ask for me so I can meet him,” said store spokeswoman Lori Libka. “That personal touch, that face-to-face, is so important in making your guests feel that they are part of your extended family and you are welcoming them home for a visit.”

Respond to your customers on Facebook, Twitter and/or your blog in a timely fashion, even if they haven’t directly asked you for help. “For example, if you are a clothing retailer and a customer of yours has commented about a stain [on a dress] on their Facebook page, offer a solution,” said Carolyn Goodwin, the president of and senior strategist at Cake Communications. “By acting as a friend and advisor more than a product or service provider, you’ll develop a more personal relationship [with your customers]” and engender trust and loyalty.

Use social media to help customers find your products. “My company, Cape Classics, is a New York-based importer of South African wine to the U.S.,” said Courtney Luick. “As we do not have a store locator on our website, we use Twitter and Facebook to inform customers where they can find specific wines, either at a restaurant or retail.” The Nauti-Dog Company, a three-year-old retail dog-apparel business that sells both direct and online, likewise uses Facebook and Twitter to alert fans, followers and friends to where they can find Nauti-Dog products as well as events, such as its dog walks and offers them free product when they use a code phrase.

Use social media to involve your customers in product decisions. Few things engender more brand loyalty than involving customers in product development decisions. So next time you are working on a new product or service or revamping an existing one, considering querying your Facebook and Twitter followers, as well as asking for suggestions and input on your blog, advised Scott Bradley, the founder of Rapid Results Marketing Group and an expert on social media. Then when the new product or service is released, “give them recognition for helping come up with it, as well as a discount [or other token of your appreciation],” said Bradley.

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Posted on June 27, 2010
Filed Under (CRM, Ecommerce, Email Marketing, General Business) by jennifer

With email marketing, you have only a few seconds to grab readers’ attention. Here’s how to make every second count so you can get readers to open, read and click on your email marketing campaigns.

1. Use a short but informative subject line. “Subject lines, more than anything else, drive views,” stated Dean Levitt, the head of customer relations and marketing at Mad Mimi, a Brooklyn, New York-based email marketing company. “It doesn’t matter if you send the email at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m., it’s only going to be opened if the subject line draws the reader in.” It also needs to tell the reader what is contained in the email, in an intriguing but clear way, and be concise — no more than 10 words, said Levitt, so it will appear in inbox previews. So, for example, if, say, you sell photography equipment and supplies, instead of titling your April Newsletter email just “April Newsletter,” try something like “Phototech’s April Newsletter: 5 Tips for Better Floral Photos” or “Phototech’s April Newsletter, Featuring Our Spring Photography Contest.”

2. Make sure your email is mobile device friendly. More and more, your target audience is likely to be reading your email on a mobile device. So make sure the email marketing service or tool you are using will make your email look good — and legible — on a PDA or smart phone. In particular, said Levitt, make sure your email is not too wide (as it’s hard to scroll left to right on many mobile devices), minimize your use of graphics/images, and do not use Flash or include videos.

3. Keep the design of your email simple. “Write a letter, not a Web page,” stated Levitt, who, like many of Mad Mimi’s customers, gets overwhelmed by emails with multiple columns, multiple colors and multiple fonts. His advice: “Don’t use multiple columns. Don’t use multiple fonts, especially within the same sentence or paragraph. And don’t use multiple colors,” though a couple, say to indicate a heading or a subheading, are okay. “If you continually send customers emails that are visually distracting, you will wind up lowering the response rate and risk people unsubscribing to your emails.” Instead, “use a uniform style and a uniform font throughout your email,” similar to a magazine or newspaper article, which the brain is wired to easily read.

4. Include pictures (if appropriate), but skip audio, videos and Flash. Levitt, like many email marketing experts, thinks it’s fine to include images in an email, as long as the image complements the text (i.e., is relevant ), is appropriately sized (so that the email isn’t rejected by the customer’s ISP and/or doesn’t take forever to download/open) and doesn’t break up the train of thought (i.e., distracts from the message you are trying to convey). Similarly, do not include audio or video or Flash in emails. Not only can email with audio or video or Flash take seemingly forever to download or display, chances are your customers will never even receive or be able to open them as many of the major email services (including Gmail, Yahoo and AOL) don’t allow them.

5. Make sure you have something to say. Don’t just send an email for the sake of sending an email. While it’s important to stay in touch with customers on a regular basis, only write to them when you feel you have something of value – advice, tips, a special promotion, sale or offer – to provide them. Customers are busy. Don’t waste their time with what appears to be or sounds like spam.

6. Get to the point quickly. Got something important to say? Don’t bury it in the third paragraph of your email or save it for the end. State it up front or near the top of your email – and then provide a link where they can get more information or purchase whatever it is you are promoting.

7. Provide value, not a sales pitch. Similarly, said Levitt, don’t hit customers over the head with a hard sell, that is, immediately try to sell them something with phrases like “Act now!” or “Buy now!” or “Hurry, limited time offer!” Instead, take a softer approach, setting yourself (or whomever is sending the email) up as an expert in the industry – someone who knows what she or he is talking about, who is providing customers with helpful, useful advice.

8. Include links, not a novel. Readers have short attention spans, so instead of sending them an essay or novella, if you have a lot to say just include a summary or short paragraph (or two) about each subject or product or service. Then provide a link for readers to click at the end of each paragraph or section where they can go to learn more (or buy whatever it is that’s on offer). “That way you are not overwhelming your readers,” said Levitt, and stand a much better chance of getting them to read the whole email or at least click on a link that takes them to your website.

9. Be consistent. Try to establish a schedule for sending out emails, whether it’s once a month, once a week, or right before holidays – whatever makes sense for your business. If once a month or once a week, try to send your email on the same day each month or week, so customers anticipate and look forward to receiving your emails, much like a regular monthly dinner date with a good friend.

10. Proofread your email before sending it to customers. Before you send any email to your opt-in list, send it to yourself (and maybe an objective friend or colleague or two) first. If you or your friends (or colleagues) don’t find it interesting enough to open or read — or can’t open or read it properly, you have just saved yourself a whole lot of embarrassment. Similarly, make sure to carefully proofread every email before you send it out, for spelling and other errors, which can reflect badly on your business.

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