Paying it Forward: An Old Fisherman Exemplifies What Marketers Should Know

fishermanDo you ever counter certain types of people in life that give you a new perspective on something – whether it be a lifestyle, attitude, opinion, etc.? Yesterday, I had a very unique encounter with an older man who appeared homeless and fishing on one of the Charles River docks in Boston.

It was about 5pm and I had only sat down by the dock to enjoy the evening sunlight on the river for about ten minutes when this man walked up to me. Naturally, when a stranger walks up to me I tend to tense up, not knowing their intentions. However, this man was looking for something very unique.

I found out afterwards that he spoke only Russian so he could not communicate with me. This man walked up to me, handing me two plastic cups and making a water-scooping motion to me with his hands. After a second, I understood he wanted me to fill these cups with river water for him because he could not bend down to do so himself. He nodded to me and went back to his fishing area. I watched and saw him take out some bread rolls, break them up into smaller pieces, and soak them in the cup of water. I then realized he was using this wet bread as bait for his fishing pole.

Not even five minutes after he first approached me, he came back over. In his hand were three candies. He was giving me candy in return for assisting him with getting water. All he could communicate to me was “Russian candy”. Sure enough, when I looked at them, the wrapper had Russian wording on it. I thanked him, he nodded, and went back to his area.

At that point I thought to myself, “Wow, just by me doing something so seemingly minuscule for this man, he was courteous enough to pay it forward by giving me a treat.”

This made me think.

You never know what others need in life, and how much a small act like filling up water means to them. I started to think about how this relates to marketing and customer service. During our busy everyday lives, we do and receive small acts of kindness, not really thinking twice about it. Other times, we are treated rudely and/or ignored – many times by bad customer representatives. On multiple occasions, I’ve experienced this with both a bank and cable company (not naming names – it’s beyond the point).

However, what if more encounters with businesses, clients, partners, etc. were as genuine as my prior encounter? What if everyone paid it forward? Small acts of appreciation can mean the world to someone.

Some business example of paying it forward are:

  • Sending a personal thank-you email or even a gift card to a valued customer that has either been a good reference, blogged favorably about you, or has stayed loyal through ups and downs in the company’s lifetime. While they may just be great customers because they truly enjoy your product or service, it never hurts to show them it matters to you.
  • Creating a special product feature that a specific customer requests. While it may gain you little to no revenue, if it is a fairly simple and quick feature to roll out, it will mean a lot to that customer. It (1.) Shows you truly care about the needs of your customers and (2.) Demonstrates that you take in customer feedback. If a business went out of their way to do this for me and the feature simplified my daily life, I would probably be a forever-loyal customer.
  • Giving a valued customer some press exposure. I first was impressed by the idea of doing this when talking with a friend who spoke to a reporter regarding an awesome customer’s business. My friend was speaking to them not for the intent to get his business exposure, but to highlight a customer. Since the customer was running a small business, this press exposure was huge for them. I’ve since spoken to many other people who do the same thing and I have done it myself as well.
You get the point. There are so many ways you can be a truly genuine marketer, sales person, customer service representative, etc. Just by taking a step back, recognizing what is simple and meaningful in life, and acting on it can go miles towards making others happy, rewarding them, and being a genuine business person and business.
Now it’s your turn. What are some ways you can pay it forward in your everyday life? Are there any instances where you’ve already done so or others have done this for you? Please share!

AT&T Represents The Worst Of Customer Experience

I have never had enough fuel to write a post that criticizes a company, but my experience with AT&T has been so terrible I feel that it needs to be discussed.

Quick Background:

I have been a customer of AT&T for over eight years on my family’s plan. Last year my contract was up so I renewed it with an iPhone. The service was decent for awhile, but as of the past three months it went downhill fast.

The Issue:

Every single call I had, whether a three minute conversation with a friend, an hour long call to home, or a half hour long conference call, would drop for no reason. It is not the location that was the issue; I made calls in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and San Francisco and had the same problem.

I brought my iPhone to Apple first because I love their customer service and assistance. They graciously replaced the phone for free TWICE for the same problem, but highly recommended that I go to AT&T to get help with my service issues.

Soon after getting my second replacement phone, I found out I could be put on my company’s Verizon plan so they would cover the monthly costs since we all use our cell phones for work calls. Between not wanting to deal with AT&T to fix my service problem (I know their customer service is not helpful from past experiences) and wanting to be on my company’s plan, I decided that I was going to leave AT&T.

When I signed up for AT&T I signed the contract and agreed to the $125 cancellation fee if I left before the two years were up; I was not expecting to leave this early. However, since my service was so terrible, I felt I had a strong case to fight the cost.

I called AT&T and explained that all calls, work and personal, dropped every time no matter where I was. This was unacceptable for a service we pay good money for. I then told them I was planning on leaving. The woman on the phone immediately copped an attitude to me and refused to understand my problem and would not waive the fee.

I said I understood that I signed a contract which included the cancellation fee, but then I asked, “Doesn’t the contract say that AT&T will give you service that works?” Their commercials even boast that they have the highest coverage nationwide of all services. The woman replied with, “Well we don’t guarantee complete service. Sorry you didn’t receive good service.” (in a very cold tone nonetheless).

Frustrated, I said I disagreed with their reasoning of not letting me get out without paying the fee, and ended the conversation. Since I was under my mother’s account, she proceeded to call them the next day. The man she spoke with was VERY rude to her, and eventually told her, “What, do you want us to put up a cell tower right next to her house?!” (Not to mention this guy was the manager as she escalated the issue to upper management). I live in Boston, there should be great service in a big city.

They refused to waive the fee for her as well. She firmly told him that she would be taking our whole family off of the account as soon as her and my brother’s contract were up since they were so unhelpuful and rude. They did not care.

What this demonstrates:

AT&T doesn’t get customer service. I am sitting here questioning why Apple was even partnering with them since Apple is the epiphany of great customer service. If you want repeat business, loyal customers and great word of mouth marketing, then treat the customers well, take time to understand their problems, don’t get rude or snappy, and act (even though you may not believe) that the customer is always right.

Isn’t that the long standing practice of customer service, that the customer is always right? If you disagree with the customer, you don’t get paid. AT&T was so adament on charging me $125 for leaving the service, but now they are losing three accounts (which pays them over $200 a MONTH!).

Think about the opportunity cost here: lose one account, leave the customer happy even though they are leaving, and continue getting paid by the remaining family members. Or, take your $125 and lose three accounts. Doesn’t it just make sense to waive the fee?! If anything, it is the disappointment of their customer service that really fires me above the actual fee.

In the end, I ended up getting rid of AT&T and having to pay the cancellation fee. AT&T, you win in that aspect, but lose huge with my family and I. Little did they know that I’m a blogger and am writing this right now. I figured it was worth it to get rid of that worthless company and pay a fee to do so and be able to move on with Verizon instead. (Although I’m still not happy that they still made me pay when they didn’t hold up on their end of the service).

Conclusion:

The customer is always right. Take time to understand the customer’s problem. They were not focused on my problem, they were focused on their immediate benefit. If you can’t foresee the wrath a decision like this can have in the future, you are not an ethical company.

A final note to AT&T:  you failed me and those that are reading this. If you chose to understand my problem and realize it is a legitimate one, I would still have left your service but would have left knowing you treated me well and understood me. Instead, you are left with an unsatisfied customer, a degrading post that I hope many read, and are losing more accounts just because you wanted your fee.

If you have AT&T, how have they treated you? Have you switched because of their poor service and support? Let me know your story below. (I hope AT&T sees this post and comment threat).

A Guide to Using a Full Set of Conversation Tools to Reach Customers

Kristin Dziadul a guide to business communication

Engage. Converse. Sell! These are three terms that a marketer and salesperson alike know all too well. However, they are easier said than done. Yes, you can develop great website content and blogs, but are you managing public relations? You can develop a great product, but are you promoting it in the appropriate communities?

There are many sales, marketing and PR activities that must be done to ensure you engage, converse, and sell correctly in order to be a successful company, but your business truly needs the full set of communication tools in order to be effective.

There are eight (you may add more) conversation tools I find very important for almost any business to employ today:

1. Product Development: The product communicates what the brand stands for and what kind of value the company will provide to its customers. This is a non-verbal aspect of a business that cannot be understated. Ensure that your mission translates into the finished product so consumers see a mirror image of the stated mission layed out in the final product. Developing the right product at the right time for the right price is critical to any business’ success, and it communicates a lot about a company’s business model and potential for success.

2. Developer Relations: Good relationships with those in your supply chain is also crucial for implementing a successful brand. If the developer and you are aligned with both mission and layout of the actual product, there is a much higher chance of success. Also, the more reputable you are with companies in the supply chain, the higher chance you will have of being a respected member of the business community.

3. Ambassador: Be a true ambassador of your product. If you cannot 110% back up your product claim and speak fluently and expertly on all of its benefits and customer values, then you are not a true brand ambassador. Potential clients and customers can see if you do not fully understand or believe in the product, so ensure that you are marketing the right product and can back it up, be enthusiastic about it, and transfer that enthusiasm to your prospects and leads!

4. Marketing: Marketing conveys the brand image and values to the public. This is the main communication tool on a mass level that will let everyone and anyone know what you stand for. Ensure that you tailor the perfect message to fit the product image, reach the appropriate target market, and convince them that your product is THE one for them.

5. Public Relations: With the emergence of social media, the lines between PR and marketing have been blurred, but the pure essence of PR cannot be forgotten. Interact with the media, talk to other businesses, deal with any issues professionally and appropriately, respond to negative feedback in a timely manner, and always keep in mind that the customer is right and the reason that the company is in business is for the customer, so keep them happy and solve their problems.

6. Customer Service: Social media can be used as a form of customer service, but ensure that you are still employing the general principles of customer service. Always try to calm them down if upset, apologize, try your best to fix their problem, emphasize the business’ 100% care for customer satisfaction, and do what you can to keep them a loyal customer. Remember, even if they had a bad experience with your product or service, you can still turn it around by giving INCREDIBLE customer service that will make them talk about your great response.

7. Community Relations: Developing a community around your product and nurturing it is critical today for enabling engagement and brand loyalty. If you can develop a ning community or place on your website or social media site where people feel like a valued member, you will dramatically increase loyalty and retention rates. Employ a community manager to execute these exact tasks by reaching out to the right people, giving them a space to talk to your company, and respond to them as a valued customer.

8. Blogger Relations: If you are in the Internet or technology industry, this is a MUST. If your customers share information a lot and there are many bloggers covering different industry topics, you must be watching those blogs and developing a positive rapport with them. This means commenting on their site, reaching out to them via social media to develop relationships, and even asking to guest blog, and vice versa. This will increase your chances of having them speak well about you on their blog or to their blog’s readers.

This list may be daunting to a small start-up or a company with limited PR, sales or marketing capabilities, but implementing them on a small scale may only take a few hours maximum a day and will be more than worth it. Making your customers feel valued and confident that their voice is heard will go miles to driving positive business and customer relations.

Please add a ninth, tenth, or even eleventh element of communication that businesses should employ if you have found one to be very effective for you.