While in the waiting room of a doctor's office, I noticed a couple of framed posters on the wall that caught my attention. With an emphasis on sports medicine, this particular office is well known for their expertise in treating both athletes and those who enjoy moderate sports activities.

As I approached the large posters, I was immediately struck by the testimonials each one projected. The first was an image of former swimmer Amy Van Dyken. Beneath her picture, the text read "4 time Olympic Gold Medalist". However, that had been modified when Amy autographed the poster. Next to her signature, Amy had marked through the number 4 and written 6! But, here's where the eye-opener comes in - - next to that, she wrote "thanks to you". The endorsement now stated "6 time Olympic Gold Medalist - Thanks to You"; directly attributing her success to the sports medicine doctor.
 
The second poster was one of former Major League Baseball player, Jeff Bagwell, when he played for the Houston Astros. Next to his autograph, he wrote "Thank you for helping me make it to the World Series." Wow! That's the type endorsement you just don't see every day.
 
Your business really isn't that different from this sports medicine doctor. Granted, you may not have access to the same "star power" of a celebrity endorsement, but if you're doing a good job for your customers, surely someone will want to boast about that on your behalf.
 
Endorsements are powerful and can be used in many ways such as your website, in newsletters, brochures, etc. All it takes is a simple quote, a comment or something similar that states your business delivers what you promise and your customer receives the expected result - maybe even more!

This was too good to pass up on branding and who actually represents the brand - a blog post by marketing guru, Seth Godin. It is a near perfect follow-up to our recent posting on Billy Mays and the brands he represented. In that post, we asked the question as to whether or not the brands he pitched could survive without him since he was arguably, the brand!

In the case of Seth Godin's posting, look at the reverse situation. It's a sad reality that there are employees out there working for supposedly reputable brands, yet taking no responsibility to uphold the integrity of the company, business, product or services because...drum roll...it's just a job...all I do is work here!

Seth nails it: when you are employed by the company, then you represent EVERYTHING about that business and thus, the brand. And, that means the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly (thank you Mr. Eastwood).

Thankfully, there are companies out there who have instilled a culture within their organizations where employees 'get it'. Go to a Chik-fil-A sometime and you'll see it from every single employee. You'll never hear one of them proclaim 'I just work here'.

As if the Super Bowl wasn't enough, Denny's stepped up to the plate and smacked one right out of the park...or was it through the uprights?! Through their :30 second advertising spot during the Super Bowl, Denny's promoted their free Grand Slam breakfast at all US restaurants from 6AM till 2PM on the Tuesday following super Sunday.

Great idea? Youbet. During this economy? Brilliant.

Sure, Super Bowl ads are ultra expensive, but when you consider the nearly immediate call to action that Denny's promoted, the pay-off was sure to follow. And that's what happened. People came, a lot of them waited patiently in long lines, they ate, were satisfied...and then what? Well, the real ROI for Denny's is the bet that these people will come back and become loyal patrons to the restaurant.

That's one of the keys to this campaign. Denny's advertising message was put in front of millions of people - mass communication. But, they hit a hot button with the viewing audience - free. Who can beat that these days? A free meal, sure. More than that, they drew people into their restaurants - perhaps some for the first time. Once they came, Denny's had to deliver. Service had to be spot-on. The food quality had to be tops. The customer experience had to be superb.

Well, based on the reviews, it looks like the free Grand Slam was a winner. When Denny's statistically measures their spike in meals served over the coming weeks, they should see increased revenues. The key will be keeping these customers and converting them into loyal patrons. Otherwise, they risk the short-term enjoyment of a sharp revenue increase that could easily drop back down to previous levels.

Back in August, we posted a story about poor customer service called 'Customer Service - Not This Way'. That was 'the bad and ugly'.

How about the good? In that same post, we mentioned a company located in the Isle of Palms, South Carolina called Island Realty. When my May vacation accommodations didn't quite stack up to normal standards, I let the Island Realty folks know about it in a post-vacation survey. The motivation wasn't to smack them between the eyes; rather, the intention was to give them honest feedback on my experience. And that's what I did. Too many times we're just too nice or want to be gracious in our expressions of poor experiences. In most cases, nothing is said at all. That's actually a disservice to companies who will never know what happened. By telling them about your situation and giving details, there is a much better opportunity for improvement. Sadly, statistics show that a large majority never make a direct complaint or share feedback with the company. Instead, they tell others - - and it snowballs into negative word of mouth.

When my friends at Island Realty received my survey feedback, they took the high road and responded right away. No excuses, no shifting of blame. They didn't even give me the opportunity to start complaining to my network of friends. Instead, they acknowledged the situation, even apologized and offered a free week back at the beach as their way of addressing the issue. I was stunned. This was completely unexpected. Immediately, I took note of this action and told them how much I appreciated what they were doing.

That's a great example of extraordinary customer service. And you know what? That's probably the way it should always be with any business. Of course, I'm not suggesting you have to do what they did, but the point is that they took action and quickly addressed the situation proactively. Isn't this a great step toward building favorable customer relations and loyalty? Absolutely.

When companies invest in marketing to an audience, then they should take great care to ensure the customer's experience is a wonderful one. It isn't that difficult, but it does take some thought, strategy and effort. Getting a sale or a new client is only half the equation. Developing them into loyal patrons is the other half. Then they become your advocates!

By the way, we enjoyed a great stay back at the beach. And, as I absorbed the sun, waves and sand, I couldn't help but think it was only possible because of what Island Realty did. I'm a satisfied customer who is telling others about my experience. Great job guys.

Recent experiences have motivated me to address customer service over a few posts. It never ceases to amaze me how companies will claim that customers are the most important aspect of their business and that they'll do anything to ensure their satisfaction. Some actually do this while most do not.

For example, take Deltacom - a large provider of communication and technology solutions. On the Deltacom web site, they state "Deltacom has earned a strong reputation built on customer satisfaction." That's nice, but there isn't any proof. In fact, my experience and that of several others I know is the exact opposite.

About a year ago, some slick sales guys came by the business claiming Deltacom was THE answer to our telecom issues. No more high prices, low services and poor quality for us. And, no need to worry about customer service issues. No, sir, Deltacom takes care of their customers.

Um. No. The short part of the story is that customer service appears to be the biggest gap in their company. Countless times we've experienced downtime due to disconnections, service drops, etc. When it happens, we go through the same routine - call them, give them our account number and then listen as a customer service rep reads off the party line statement about services being restored as soon as possible, you may hear from us, etc. That's it.

Guess what happens? Nothing. Sometimes service is immediately restored while most of the time it seems to take forever. We never hear from them on status, updates, when it is actually back up and running, etc. Never. Never. Never.

They are the absolute worst customer service organization I've ever encountered (with Charter a close second). And, it's pointless. How hard is it to ensure you have satisfied customers and those that sing your praises? It isn't - hear me loud and clear Deltacom - "It's not that hard!"

Obviously I'll never recommend them; instead, I'm doing the opposite. Oh, the power of word of mouth. And, the power of negative PR. Shame on Deltacom. Bad Deltacom.

Stay tuned for better customer service news - - an experience of how it should be courtesy of my friends at Island Realty on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina. They get it and they definitely understand the power that well-serviced customers can be for their business.

What does it mean to be loyal? Many definitions use words such as allegiance, steadfastness, faithfulness and committed. This is especially true for many in our military forces who have a defined 'commitment' to defend our country and ensure the freedom we all enjoy.

This isn't always the case in sports. Many people will lay claim to their favorite team only when that team is winning. These are the fair weather fans. As soon as the team starts to lose or experiences a dip, these fans disappear into thin air.

What about customers in your business? Would you describe them as being faithful or having an allegiance toward your products, services or solutions? If not, then determine why and create the programs that will ensure your company is where they will turn every time they have a need that you can solve.

Consider the cost of obtaining a new customer. Then, consider the investment it takes to keep them. It's nearly a no-brainer to find ways to keep them when you look at the numbers involved.

Having loyal customers is of great value. Making sure you consistently deliver what they need, when they need it and in a way that provides a benefit to them is key. If you falter in delivering value, then you risk having fair weather customers.

In recent weeks, I've had several encounters with various businesses where each time I was the buyer - the customer. My point isn't to blast anyone, rather to demonstrate where the road to loyalty begins or where it never starts. That's a choice every business makes. Here are the highlights of my experiences.

In June, we purchased a pre-owned vehicle from our local Toyota dealer - Toyota of Greenville. Since it had been more than 11 years since my last automobile purchase, I wasn't looking forward to the experience. To my surprise, it was actually a delight thanks to Tom Jones, our sales representative. He applied no pressure, was honest, straight-forward and made the experience one that I said I would share with others - so I am.

At that same time, I visited our local Department of Motor Vehicles to renew my driver's license. Again, cringing at the thought of wasting my entire afternoon waiting in line, I headed to the DMV. Another delightful experience - I was in and out in 20 minutes. No hassles, no nothing - just the service that I've ALWAYS wanted from the DMV.

Then, a couple of weeks later, we decided to pick up lunch one Saturday at Wendy's. I confidently approached the counter, placed my order and then it all broke loose. All I wanted was three burgers - each fixed slightly different from the other. I even had it written down. No matter how many times the MANAGER started over with my order, he never gave me the confidence it was right. Well, that proved to be the case when I arrived home and NONE of the burgers were right. That was perhaps the worst fast-food experience I've had. Ironically, check out the statement on the Wendy's home page at the bottom: "At Wendy's®, we're unrivaled in our passion for giving people what they want — and uncompromising in giving people what they deserve.." I received neither. Guess what fast-food restaurant is now off my list?

Finally, I bought another car recently. This time it was a new one. After all the negotiating and time spent in the dealership, it was time to take delivery of my new car. While waiting on the sales rep to finish up some paperwork, I noticed he hadn't reversed my tires like I had asked and as we had agreed. In an effort to make it right, we both entered the sales manager's office to explain the situation. A rather cool greeting was extended to me by this sales manager who proceeded to cry about only making $65 profit on the car AND THEN barking about losing $10 if they fulfilled their promise to me because of a service fee they would incur. I couldn't believe my ears. Was this MY money they were worrying about or THEIRS? What a joke. Another ironic twist to a story - the same day this occurred, our local newspaper, The Greenville News, had published my marketing article that discussed how to build customer loyalty by treating the customer properly and with respect.

And that's really the entire point of these stories. In two situations, the companies and organizations were well trained and kept their eye on the ball - the customer. In the other two, they didn't seem to care as their interests were more important than the person with the check book.

Granted, we all have bad days, but a single bad day that results in losing a customer can have a negative snowball effect on your business. Stay poised and treat those well who have entrusted you with their wallets. Doing so means you both will win.

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