Driving Customer Loyalty

We all know that customer loyalty is a good thing. After all, you spent money to acquire that customer somewhere in the past, and you’d like to keep him or her. Or, another customer referred said customer to you, and you’d still like to keep him or her.

Of all people, Comcast, the cable provider, wrote an article on driving customer loyalty that’s pretty good: one is tempted remark that they should take their own medicine, but that’s another story.

But the points of the Comcast article are pretty good, and struck me as something that you don’t see every day.

1. Use the Cloud as an Accelerator. By this they mean that one should use the cloud to tell customer stories to tie the customer to the provider. The examples are retail, but we’ve observed that this approach can work in B2B as well: blogs, Linked In, maybe Facebook and Twitter, all can help in customer loyalty.

2. Gather Feedback for Fine Turing. Use online channels for direct customer feedback, whether retail or b2b. Monitoring the same channels as item #1 can help. And, the next point is what to do about the feedback.

3. Offer ‘Instantaneous Information. To us, this means engaging on the web with useful content, and engaging with customers through their feedback. It’s timecosuming, and probably will need a lot of marketing time, but if customer retention is improved, it’s probably worth it. Try it and find out, and hope your people give you good feedback.

4. How Bandwidth Powers Your Presence. All this requires bandwidth, which is a not-too subtle ad for Comcast and their online solutions, but their point is valid. You can’t run programs like the ones above in the digital age on dial-up. How much bandwidth you need is a good question, since you generally take what one of the providers offers. Faster is better.

So, above are four things to consider in building customer loyalty through online means. Let us know how it works.

 

 

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Tweet Them Right

A question was asked Ted Rubin, one of the Entrepreneur columnists about using Twitter to boost customer loyalty using Twitter, and it bears reposting here:

1. Engage. Don’t just produce content, start a conversation with your customers. Look for what people are talking about. Rubin thinks the best content is a conversation.

2. Respond. When a follower asks a question, even one disapproving of your company, answer it publicly. And don’t be self serving (our add). Take the criticism personally, and make sure that it’s handled in a positive way. Companies learn from this process.

3. Add value. Rubin cites the example of Duane Reade, a chain of drugstores, that apparently does a lot of events that don’t directly have anything to do with Duane Reade. Community events, sponsor some kids at a math camp, etc.

I think these are good things to do, regardless of whether you sell wholesale or retail. Try it out.

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Obamacare for Business

Well, it appears that we’re stuck with this albatross for 18 months or so; I’m sure it will be at the top of the ‘repeal and replace’ agenda.

But, as businessmen, we have a couple of observations:

1. It appears, since there are still 30 million uninsured people, at least some of whom are probably working, that the mandate to get insurance was ignored by many.

2. As businesspeople, it’s the right thing to do to provide your employees health insurance; it probably aids in retention. What mix of coverage and deductibles you provide should be up to you.

3. However, if you reduced staff and/or put some people on 30-hour max workweeks, to avoid Obamacare,  it appears that you might not have to worry about whether you get hauled before the healthcare police, since a lot of people are still uninsured, and no one is going after them.

4.  You can rest assured though, that since the subsidies are the law of the land, and are pretty substantial, that your part time workers could, on their own, get healthcare insurance.

5. Down the road, we’ll go back to the way we were: some employers will provide health insurance, some won’t, depending on each company’s circumstances. It would be good if there were state exchanges on insurance, to check whether you as a business or individual are getting the best deal for what you want.

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Alibaba

I happen to like Alibaba, and I like that they’re trying to get more American businesses to list their products (it doesn’t appear that services are allowed) on alibaba.com.

But, there’s a big problem, $1395 big. Alibaba has stopped their FREE membership on their site, which would appeal to more businesses that would like to get their products listed.

We have made an inquiry to Alibaba on behalf of our school, American School of Entrepreneurship, because we’d like to list our top four courses, which have had Chinese enrollment, but only because they found us on the internet, US version. And we know the Chinese government restricts who can see us.

However, we don’t want to pay $1395 up front to list the courses. Getting back to breakeven on this promotion cost, with our course costs,  would be a long haul.

We’d rather see something like $100 up front and a percentage of our revenues to Alibaba based on how many courses we sell through them.

So, Alibaba, what do you think? Let’s not get greedy on the front end.

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Immigration

Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Enterprises had a good political post in the Wall Street Journal this morning on the need for the Republicans to get going on immigration, and we couldn’t agree more. Mr. Puzder probably has good reason to support immigration; his company owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardees, probably two fairly major immigrant employers.

However, there are business needs in expanding immigration besides the usual suspects in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

1. In this era of terrorists coming across a borders, we need to find out more about the immigrants: who they are, where they are coming from, where they’re going, and what they plan to do when they get to where they’re going. Put it all in a database.

2. Yes, they should all get in line, and those who arrived illegally should pay a nominal fine, say $1,000, for having not previously registered. Yes, we should deport the criminals, but only on evidence of a crime.

3. Dispense with the quotas. Let ‘em all in. In addition to the STEM preerences, we should give precedence to those who have a trade, such as plumbing, machining (especially tool and die workers). The market is self-correcting; once we get enough folks, they’ll stop coming or be reduced in numbers.

4. If they do it the right way, give them a provisional green card, maybe the real thing with a half-tone “P” on it.

So, politicians, let’s get on with it. The Dems already support immigration, although there’s no reason to do it through illegal executive orders. Let Co

 

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Diversity?

There have been quite a few articles about hiring a diverse workforce lately, but the articles have overlooked one salient fact: quality people may or may not be diverse. Minorities may not have the educational background you need.

As a business person, you want to hire quality people at rates you can afford, and this might not be the most diverse workforce. Usually, you take the first person who fits the criteria you’ve set up and ranked, right?

We even have a course to develop the rankings in our School, www.theasoe.com, based on successful people in a job.

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Bimbo Boo-boos

No, this isn’t mistakes by ladies of the night.

Bimbo Bread, which used to be based in Mexico, has been quietly buying up a lot of old line bakery names, such as Orowheat, Thomas (English muffins), Boboli (pizza flats), Enteman’s (pastries) and even Sara Lee. These are all much-loved brand names in their segments.

The biggest problem I’d forsee is that Bimbo has too many brands at this point, and doesn’t have distinct brand identities for them.

Another major problem is, I think they’re destroying the brand equity that they bought in all those well loved brands. They’re not even using Bimbo bread as their low price leader, which it used to be in Mexico.

Case in point: Orowheat, which goes back to the 1930s in San Francisco and has earned an excellent reputation for high quality, if pricey, bread. $4.99 a loaf here in Arizona.

The problem is, in addition to lack of quality control (poor wrapping), a major change in the recipe (took out the sugar and a few other things they’re not talking about), thereby changing the taste and texture,  and tinkering with the distribution.

We can’t even find Orowheat Honey Wheat Berry in Maricopa County, which is the fifth most populous county in the US. Bimbo admits that it withdrew HWB, which makes no sense. How they can justify this in this market is odd. It’s been hard to find anywhere around here, close to being sold out when you do find it.

Now, if Bimbo wants to contact us, I’ve had private bakers who have been marketing clients, and I’m sure they’d love to bake the bread under contract, on the old recipe.

Our advice to Bimbo is to go back to the old recipe, fire the QC people in charge of Orowheat, and do a relaunch in our area. They could probably even get major grocery chains to foot part of the bill.

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Half a Loaf Buffet

Warren Buffet’s got an interesting op ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning about using the earned income tax credit to lift folks out of poverty.

But, he went only part way.

Businesses will normally pay whatever they think an employee is worth to secure his or her services. That might not be a living wage if there’s a family of four.

The minimum wage is a Democratic concoction that would guarantee an entry level wage to everyone who wants to work. Some one’s got to hire you, though. A livable wage is a lot different in Omaha Nebraska than it is in New York or Chicago.

And, while we’re at it, why not require everyone who is able to work to have a job if they’re on welfare? President Clinton tried it back in the nineties, and it worked well. Somewhere along the line, it got repealed. If one can’t work, say for medical reasons, then an exemption is granted, and the earned income tax credit sorts it all out.

This is the other half of the Buffet loaf: workfare, not welfare. OK if it’s not enough to live on….at least there’s the nobleness of work. This situation is where the earned income tax credit comes in, and it would seem to us that it should be adjusted for the area one lives in.

OK, Warren, what do you think?

 

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Memo to Chrysler: Better Benchmark the Chyrsler 200

I recently had a Chrysler 200 for about a week while my Lincoln was being repaired (a LOL ran into the driver side door), and here are some thoughts ( I have some expertise in the field, having been a product planner and manager for Ford (Mercury Merkur and Scorpio), plus numerous ideas to Jim Farley and Allan Mullaly. Mark Fields came up through product planning, so he’s ok.

1. The car feels larger than the competition (Fusion, Chevy something), but not as large inside as either. Can’t speak to a Chevy, but the Fusion is clearly better. The Dart appears smaller, for whatever reason, even though they’re probably the same. Seats need to be deeper for larger folks over 6-3.

2. The inside feels smaller, probably because the window sills are higher. I’m slightly claustrophobic, so I notice this stuff. Steering wheel position clearly designed by Italians, if you’ve ever driven a Fiat or Ferrari; needs a tilt/fore/aft lever on steering column. Hide those wires, too.

3. Where’s the hybrid or diesel version? In city/suburban driving. I averaged about 22 mpg. That’s below the competition. The four banger in my car sounded pretty industrial. It did rev well, though, and the tranny was  smooth, although it’s fun to know which gear you’re in.

4. The dash nav system is easy to use, but you still have to take your eyes off the road, which is a common complaint for everyone. Or wait until you’re stopped. Google Maps on IPhone is the benchmark, guys, with voice readout.

5. Suspension feeds back a lot of road noise, but then so does everyone except the Camry.

Nothing here that can’t be fixed for the 2016 model year, guys. Sergio, send me an email where to send my stock.

For everyone, if you haven’t benchmarked against your competition, you can use these ideas as starters. Call us on the 800 line if you need help.

 

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Do You Know When It’s Time to Hire Professionals?

There’s a great article on Chobani, the Greek yogurt pioneer, and it’s founder, who almost lost it all because he didn’t build a structure of competent professionals to help him manage the business.

But, the big question the article didn’t answer is a what point do you decide to upgrade your personnel? For Chobani, it appeared to hit when they built a second big plant 2,000 miles from their first plant and headquarters, and as a result, got into financial trouble, only to be rescued by a vulture capitalist, who lent them a bunch of money in return for an equity stake in the company, in addition to normal repayment terms (I’m guessing, since the article didn’t say). And, Chobani had to hire a CEO, since it’s founder had long ago run out of ability to manage a much larger company. Not too onerous, all things considered.

The professionals have apparently saved Chobani a bunch of money in logistics and purchasing, which isn’t surprising.

And, continued growth has also indicated a need for a seasoned professional CEO, to take over from the owner. We have a couple of Solutions Forum members in the same position, and one of them has got to hire a professional CEO, but is resisting. We’ve decided to let him crash and burn again (he’s stubborn).

The point of it is, you have to know when to bring in higher grade professionals. It’s hard to figure it out, too, because I have a lunch next week with one of our clients who might have done it too soon, and is drowning in added expense. On the other hand, we normally advocate hiring the right people when they’re available. The finances can be rejiggered, which is probably what we’re going to do for him.

So, at what sale ranges do you decentralize your people and upgrade? It all depends, on a lot of factors. Start at $1million, start upgrading at $5 to $10 MM, which is the part it looks like Chobani got right.

At some point though, the founder’s got to step aside and admit that he/she doesn’t have the wheelbase for expanding as rapidly as one must, but that’s hard, too.

We’d be happy to provide a sounding board to talk it over.  You can take some courses at our School, but this is a hard one.

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