A Marketing Tool That's Obvious, Overlooked and Cheap

Use superior service as a thrifty and effective in-house marketing mechanism.

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By Pattie Simone

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Marketing and cats appear to have one thing in common: There's more than one way to skin them both. Marketing isn't just creating a brand and pursuing advertising campaigns; it's about delivering value. So while many entrepreneurs are scrambling to attract new business, some have discovered one of the easiest (and least expensive) tools to keep their sales engines humming: holding on to current patrons through superb customer service.

When you weight the cost of attracting new clients vs. the cost of keeping the ones you have, superior customer service will beat most any ad campaign on ROI.

Manny and Clara Gonzales, owners of Tiger Lily in Charleston, S.C., built their business on delivering exceptional customer service. By using a business model that delivers the best service on all fronts, the husband-and-wife team turned a struggling small business with two part-time employees into a nationally recognized industry leader employing 30 floral professionals.

"Real service is such a rare commodity out there--it's really a desert of mediocrity," Manny Gonzales says. He says his fortune started to change when he broke some of the cardinal rules of the floral business. (He doesn't advertise in the Yellow Pages or use floral wire services.)

Gonzales says companies that offer a quality product and superior service have little competition. There's a whole population that wants to spend money on excellence, he says, adding that because of its reputation, his business attracts a higher caliber of employees who want to work someplace that's focused on excellence.

Marjorie Geiser, president of Running Springs, Calif.-based MEG Enterprises, a coaching and publishing company for health and fitness professionals, teaches her clients to go beyond traditional e-mail or phone conversations. Sending hand-written holiday, birthday and motivational "you're doing a great job" cards affirms clients, so they will come back to you again and again.

"People love being heard and feeling that someone cares," Geiser says.

Within 27 days of opening her virtual assistant shop, Cynthia Clark, owner of Cynthia's Virtual Solutions of Kaufman, Texas, had five clients on retainer. She focused on an area of administrative support that a lot of other VAs shy away from--cold calling.

"I love what I do," Clark says. "I know (great phone support) is a process--that it takes skill and a specific kind of individual to make people comfortable."

Clark packages her services to be cost-sensitive to her clients, charging by the hour, not per call. Because of this entrepreneur's niche and service-focused approach, Clark takes on a limited number of accounts and has companies waiting to be her client.

To start your own successful service-based sales engine, implement the following tips:

  1. Rate your performance. Lots of companies claim to give superior service, but if you take an informal poll, most people find it lacking in just about every sector. The first step toward fixing things is an honest evaluation of your firm's performance across all interaction platforms.
  2. Review and fix your processes. After you have a handle on what's wrong, put together appropriate solutions. Efficient processes, the right technology, proper instruction and communication with your employees, independent contractors and vendors can help fix previous shortcomings.
  3. Anticipate client need. It's not about you; it's all about your clients' and prospects' expectations. The winners in the new millennium will test and use the best vehicles (technology, software, social networking platforms) to their benefit. They will intrinsically get that people do business with companies they like, companies that understand their unique needs. Entrepreneurs who take the time to thoroughly understand their clients and create environments in tune with clients' unique needs and expectations will flourish.
  4. Shut up + listening + open dialogue = success. Bestselling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin has great insight on several customer-focused trends, which he believes will be enough to (positively) change your business. They include:
  • Direct communication between the person who uses the thing and the person who makes the thing
  • Speedy response--the faster, the better
  • A mind-set that embraces commitment before success
    An interaction platform that gets out of the way of the conversations that people (your consumers or prospects) want to have

Start profiting from a service-sensitive mentality. By adding superior client service to your marketing toolkit, you'll be positioned to beat the competition and boost your sales.

Pattie Simone

Digital Adventurer, Profit Alchemist, Entrepreneur

As president of Pomona, N.Y.-based marketing-advantage and founder of WomenCentric, Pattie Simone empowers ambitious companies, individuals and entrepreneurs, helping them to develop strategic, integrated, well-branded communications that engage diverse audiences and fuel sales.

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