Customer Service, where has it gone?

Last year my wife and I bought a new couch from a major department store on a credit card promotion that was no interest no payments for 18 months, they told us it would be four to six weeks for delivery, and as I expected it was just about six weeks.  I was home alone when they delivered the couch and being a “man” I didn’t notice that it was the wrong color, but the second my wife got home she noticed.  So I called the department store and advised them of the situation, and the girl on the other end of the phone seems less than concerned, I pictured a girl with her feet on the desk, reading a magazine and chewing her gum, pretending to listen to me, with an occasional “uh huh”   to make sure I thought she was listening. She unenthusiastically said they would make us another couch which would be delivered in four to six weeks, no apology, nothing, no personality at all, just a robot going through the motions and telling me it would be four to six weeks for the couch to be built and delivered.

Just about six weeks later that our couch was delivered and  this time both my wife and I were home and we told them to not take it off the truck until we looked at it, we went down to make sure it was the right color and sure enough it was the wrong color again.  Not only was it the wrong color it was the same wrong color as last time.  So we refused delivery,  and I called them back and told them that it was again the wrong color and that I wasn’t waiting another six weeks to get the couch we ordered, we already waited three months I think that’s long enough I told them.  The woman on the other end actually suggested in a condescending tone that maybe we ordered the wrong color and that is why the same color kept being delivered.   So this is my fault? Really?  I assured her that we know what color we ordered and there was no mistake we even had the receipts given to us at the store.  So I told her we were not going to wait another six weeks to get our couch, and that what I wanted was $500 off the price of the couch and we would just keep the one that we had.  She told me that she couldn’t do that, we could just order another couch, I told her that was unacceptable and I asked to speak to her supervisor, and without so much as a single word I was put on hold and a couple of minutes later a supervisor was on the phone.  I went through the entire situation with her and told her what we wanted and I thought this was fair, she said that wasn’t fair because the couch we bought was already sold to us for less than the full price due to a store promotion.  I told her that has nothing to do with this, and that we have waited for over three months for our couch and because the company kept screwing up the order we have the wrong couch and that my wife doesn’t want to wait another six weeks so I wanted $500 off.  She told me the best she could do was $200, and that I should be happy with that because she really shouldn’t even be doing that.  Now here is where my real problem with this company is, it’s not just what is being said, but how it’s being said, she was very snide and she talked to me like she was doing me a favor and that I was wrong to even ask, I mean after all it’s not like I am the customer who just spent a couple of grand on furniture in your store on top of what we paid for the couch.

So I told her no thank you, and I went online and I started to research until I found the phone number for the executive offices of this company and I called them and I spoke to some assistant to the President of the company and I explained how we had been treated and I explained the treatment we had received from this company so far, and that I wanted $500 off the cost of this couch and I was not going to take no for an answer.  She took all of my information down and said someone would call me within the hour; and sure enough they did, a very polite gentleman from the customer relations department called me and I explained to him what had happened and I said it was bad enough that you screwed up my couch, but then to get such subpar service is inexcusable in my opinion, and he agreed, and apologized and said he would have a check to me within a week for $500, and gave me his direct contact information and said I should call him should I ever need anything in the future.

My purpose in telling you this story is because this is not an isolated instance and it should be, and I am not talking about the fact that the order was screwed up, that was human error, even the second time, it happens and anyone in business has had mistakes in the past, I know I sure have made my fair share of them, but to talk to me like I was a nuisance and to treat a customer with such disdain is inexcusable; I had to jump through hoops just to get someone to talk to me with respect and treat me like a valued customer.  It was not even about the $500 I asked for, because maybe, just maybe had the first person had just a semblance of a personality and acted like she actually cared about what I was saying and the issues we were having, maybe she could have both saved this company $500 and a customer, because even though the end result turned out ok, it is doubtful that I would ever go out of my way to shop here again.  Customer service should be one of the most important aspects of any company, your customers are your bread and butter, without them you are nothing, and you will cease to exist.  I agree that there are definitely some customers that are unreasonable or just cannot be talked to, but I have found in my experience that if you talk to someone with respect and actually show them that you are listening, it goes a long way.  I have seen irate customers call and at the end of the call, even though they did not get what they wanted due to company policy or some other situation, still left feeling good about the company, all because the customer service agent did a good job listening to them, let them vent, and then showed empathy towards their situation creating an invisible bond.  This is what customer service is all about and this is why some companies go out of their way to create a customer service experience like no other.

Customer Experience Management (CEM) is a tool to measure what makes a customer happy and what makes them unhappy; it allows you as a company to find out what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong and getting this information from the most valuable source that you have and that’s the customer themselves.  CEM can be done internally or a CEM expert can be hired to create a system of evaluating your customers.  This is done in a variety of ways, but the most common is a survey that asks predetermined questions about the service that they have received and about the employee that helped them and this can be done via email, through an automated phone system, etc.  This doesn’t and shouldn’t be a onetime evaluation it should be an ongoing evaluation allowing you to consistently take the temperature of your customers so to speak.

Customer service used to be the forefront of every transaction and interaction with a customer, and it seems some of that has gone out of style like so many fads of yesteryear and while technological advances in business has allowed us to take great steps forward some companies need to take a step backwards to embrace the values they seemingly left behind.

The Zen of Search Engine Optimization (Guest Post by Reg Charie)

Recent discussions about Search Engine Optimization have brought a lot of questions about the technical side of SEO so I asked SEO expert Reg Charie to explain the technical side to us.  You can reach Reg by going to his website at www.nbs-seo.com. All you technical junkies read on:

Not knowing the exact rules governing the algorithms used by search engines to rank our pages means the SEO practitioner must study the results on the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). One must dissect each page and meditate on the use and positions of the elements which have a potential effect on the ranking position. For instance if you Google “SEO Services”, (no quotes), the top 3 results use a form of CSS image replacement for their logos. This presents their keywords in <h1> tags to the search engines and text only readers, while the logo contains their keywords to display for the visitors. The fact that the top SEO sites use a form of h1 -> image replacement instead of an image and “alt” tags intuits that they have learned that Google “prefers” this form of display.

Google says to make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Let us meditate on what this means:

  • They don’t want you to try to manipulate their search engines
  • They want you to write your content for your users
  • Users and search engines see the content differently. Users interpret the visual, search engines the code

Ergo, you must give Google an exact code conversion of the visual. Google also says not to deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users. Be careful that your semantic markup is accurately represented in the visual interpretation.

Now we must consider how far Google goes to interpret the visual; the mainstream emergence of stylesheets (CSS) has posed new problems. It used to be that the visual display was all taken from the on-page code, now the display can be modified by the stylesheet; this means that off page code can determine the size, color, emphasis, and position of a keyword phrase or text string, and go as far as moving it to a position that displays “off-page”; this would be great for keyword stuffing if Google did not check the CSS file to see if this is being done.

Since the CSS file can directly change the visual output, and since Google *needs* to rely on the visual to determine the relevance of your presentation, we need to consider which of your CSS settings are taken into account.  We know they can and do penalize for off page displays of keyword stuffed content, perhaps they also do for any movement of content to an off page display? What would they look at in the CSS file? Modifications to h1 text is the first. Standard default settings for text in <h1> </h1> is to display at a 24 pt size, the <h2></h2> pair at 18. Font size would be looked at as it is a visual determination of importance, as long as the <h1> tag pair displays as the largest text on the page it would be accepted. Would Google care about font color? It does impart a special meaning, but we don’t know for sure. I would lean to saying yes. Aside from size and color, emphasis is looked at. You can emphasize a keyword phrase by making it into a link (Anchor text), putting it in bold or strong or using italics or the <em></em> tag pair. Google has already stated that they treat italics <i> and emphases <em> differently although they look the same visually. Using semantic elements to mark up structure; examples here: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG-TECHS/G115.html)

Example Code for em and strong:

<p>what she <em>really</em> meant to say was,

“This is not ok, it is <strong>excellent</strong>!”</p>

Would this have a different effect on Google’s interpretation? <p>What she <i>really</i> meant to say was, “This is not ok, it is <b>excellent</b>!”</p>

Visually it is identical, semantically it is different. I am betting that Google would see it the same way but ‘prefer’ it to be written as it is in the first example.

Some of you might think that assuming a set of computer instructions has preferences is a bit far out, but the Zen of SEO intuits that Google is MUCH more than that; it is an Ai or Artificial Intelligence. Look at what it can do:

  • Choose between millions of pages written on the same topic and display them according to relevance to the search term
  • Tell the difference between “fans” of a rock group and the rock group using “fans” to cool off
  • Speaks and translates many languages
  • Has a spatial understanding and can go to any point on earth (or in space apparently), from inputted co-ordinates and display what is there.
  • Absorbs the entire contents of many diverse libraries
  • Has huge interlinked computing resources with data centers in most countries

Direct intuitive insight tells me that when writing copy to treat the search engine like a person and make certain it “sees” exactly the same things as the human, even to understanding the nuances.

Reg Charie is a Search Engine Optimization expert and the creator of The Zen* of Search Engine Optimization (NBS-SEO.com) and is the author of the new book “The SEO Fast Track to Internet Profits”.

Is Search Engine Marketing Effective?

Yesterday one of my MBA students asked me if Search Engine Marketing (SEM) was absolutely needed to market a company on the web.  This is a tricky question because I am not an SEM expert, but I do have some personal experience when it comes to marketing my own brand online.   I didn’t however want to lead my student down the wrong path based on my experience so I made sure that he and the rest of the class knew that I was not an expert in this field and this is simply based on my own personal experience.

Is SEM necessary? I don’t think it always is, and let me give you a little insight based on my experiences; over the past several years I have used both Google and Yahoo (more recently Google) to market services and products.  As recently as earlier this year I have used SEM to market my company Throttle Media’s data services on Google and for those of you who don’t know how this works, I will give you a brief explanation.  You pick a keyword, let’s say that you are selling jewelry and you want to use the keyword “necklaces”, according to Google Adwords, the average Cost Per Click (CPC) for that word is around $1.83, every time someone goes to Google and types in the word necklaces, your site would come up as the first choice and everyone who clicked on that link to go to your page you would be billed $1.83.  Now the tricky part is staying in first place, because if another company wants to be in first and starts bidding higher than the cost of that keyword will keep going up and the more popular a keyword is and the more companies bidding on it, the higher the CPC.

Let me give you a real experience, my company sells data and leads, and we were using Google to generate traffic to landing pages where those prospects would fill out a form about the particular data or lead they were interested in.  The average cost for the word “Lead” was over $8 a click for us to be in the number one spot, the number two and three spot was slightly less, and of course each time we tried to be number one the company that was previously in that spot, that we knocked down to the number two spot started bidding against us because of course they also want to be in the number one spot, driving the cost up even higher.   Today if I wanted to select the same keyword “leads” the cost is $10.53 for the number one spot and that would undoubtedly go up once the bidding started.

I took a list of about 15 keywords that pertains to our business and that Google showed had daily usage each day and I gave myself a $6000 monthly budget which is $200 a day and Google estimated that I would have between 37 to 55 clicks per day with an average CPC being between $2.12 and $5.41.  Our minimum list is $300 so if we averaged one sale per day  based on this traffic we would have an ROI of $3000 at the end of the month.  Unfortunately it’s not quite that easy because in my personal experience with these very same keywords, half of the clicks to the site were what I call “Looky Loos”  they aren’t there to really purchase, they are just curious, they never filled the contact form out, so that brings us down to 18-27 clicks per day and out of those we get a lot of small mom and pop companies that cannot afford to spend $300 and there are those that were “just curious” or “I was just wondering what the cost would be” or “what could I get for $100”.  Don’t get me wrong we would get the occasional order from an actual business, but overall we spent more money that we made.

I have spoken to many companies  that have had similar experiences and are not too thrilled with using Search engine Marketing and have either turned to other ways  of marketing or are considering doing so in the near future.  Many are turning to Social Media to market their brand which is what my company has done in a limited capacity and we have already seen an increase in business, as of yesterday a 20% increase versus last year this time. According to Tech Zoom In Social Media Marketing (SMM) is getting more exposure than SEM which is losing ground quickly as networks like FaceBook and Twitter are becoming increasingly more popular and it is more effective, cheaper, and easier to use and implement.

Only time will tell where all this ends, because the Internet is still young and is going through growing pains and is constantly evolving and as the web develops it will be interesting to see what it looks like when it is all grown up.

Are Sample Leads a Worthy Test?

During a meeting this morning the subject of customers using a sample to determine whether or not they were going to purchase leads came up.   We sell leads to a lot of call centers who many times want to purchase a small sample to test the leads.  For example, they may be interested in purchasing 100,000 debt leads, but first want to purchase 200 leads to call on first to determine the quality of those leads.  I have always found this to be problematic because you cannot judge the quality of those leads in terms of conversion with only 200, that is not going to tell you anything because the results could go either way; you could get a horrible response from those 200 or you can get an outstanding response, either way that is not going to be a good analysis of how the 100,000 leads are going to perform.  The only thing 200 leads may do for you is tell you if there is a good connect rate, and even that is dubious, if you want to test leads, you are going to need to do so with a few thousand not a couple of hundred.

This is something we have tried to pound into the head of those we do business with for years, and those clients that are experienced in purchasing leads understand this, but I have found that many small call centers do not seem to grasp this concept.  I had a company last week that was interested in purchasing 10,000 leads, saying that would probably purchase 10,000 each week if they worked out well for them, and wanted a free sample of 50 to test the quality; I had two problems with this the first being I was not manufacturing these leads I was purchasing them wholesale from a supplier, and most suppliers of leads are against giving away free leads, most will tell you if you want a sample than you need to purchase that sample. See the article I wrote in mayLead Samples, to give or not to give).  But the free sample issue aside, 50 leads is not going to do a thing for you, this company that was considering purchasing 10,000 leads each month, and should have purchased 10,000 leads to serve as their test, if the leads were good than continue to purchase each week.

The other issue is that many do not seem to understand the difference between leads and data, and many want to purchase data but refer to them as leads.  If you are a seller of data and leads, it is important that you educate your customers on the difference between the two; which I talked about yesterday (Leads or Data, Whats the Difference?).

The important thing is as a business  we all want to create long term clients, not one time orders and in order to do that prospective clients need to be educated, and as their supplier that tasks often falls to you, and while many will sing the song the client wants to hear just to close the deal, a good supplier will be upfront and honest and educate the client by explaining the difference between data and leads, and will explain that a small sample is not necessarily representative of what they will be buying.  It has been my experience that by educating your clients and by managing their expectations they will appreciate the information you are giving them, and the time you have taken in explaining things to them and this is how a long term client is created.

Leads or Data? Whats the difference?

Being in business in the information age means there is a lot of data being collected, disseminated and transferred between companies.  As a media company we get various requests for different types of data.  We have clients that request investor data, debt data, mortgage data, homeowner data, you get the picture.  We also get requests for investor leads, debt leads, mortgage leads, homeowner’s leads, etc. Now you may be thinking that I am having a senior moment or that I forgot to take my meds or maybe I took too many of them because what’s the difference between leads and data and that is the question of the day.  What is the difference between a lead and data? Do you know? Many don’t. Because I get calls from people asking for leads that want data and I get calls from people asking for data that want leads.

Okay I know you are on the edge of your seat with your eyes glued to the monitor attempting the dangerous feat  of trying to read faster than your brain can compute because this is some exciting stuff were talking about. So let’s get serious for a nano second and break it down.  Data in itself is raw information. It is a collection of facts based on a variety of demographics.   I’ll give you an example, lets say you sell health insurance so you call me and say you want a list of all homeowners in Los Angeles that have a new born baby.  So no problem I go into our consumer database and I input calif, and the three digit code for L.A. into the program and I select new member – infants 6 months or less and confirmed homeowners and in a few seconds it comes back and tells me that there are 6705 records of confirmed homeowners with a new infant under 6 months old.  I give you a price and you purchase.  You just purchased data.   So now you call me back a week or so later and say you have started a new service and your company is now selling debt negotiation services and you need debt leads.  So I call one of my service providers and tell them based on my clients needs I need 50,000 leads a month and I need first name, last name, homeowner?, employed?  Debt amount? Behind in payments? Phone number and email, and I get a price for you  and I come back and tell you we can deliver every day during the business week, you ask me where are these coming from and are they fresh. I advise yes they are fresh they come in daily are from forms on various debt relief sites that are traffic driven by search engine marketing, email marketing and banner ads.  Someone goes to the site and fills in all the necessary fields and bam you got yourself a lead.

So the difference between a lead and data is data is simply collected information from various sources.  Leads are generated through marketing campaigns and information is gathered by asking questions of the person in question.  The more questions that are answered the more valuable the lead becomes.  Sometimes you can use data to create leads as well.  For example you can take the raw data of the homeowners with an infant and, send them a direct mail piece, email them, or any other type of direct contact.  The information you gather is self reported and has become a lead.