Why EDLP Isn’t A Good Idea When Hiring a Charter

Consumer insights on charter buses

My best friend owns a charter bus company, Holiday Tours, that covers central North Carolina.

I am always amazed when he tells me about the number of “price-only” shopper queries they receive.

Anyone chartering a bus for a school group, church group, business outing or a group of friends, ought to be a little more concerned about safety.

I would provide a list of questions to ask when chartering a tour bus, but I know EDLP (every day low price) providers will not give you an honest answer to your questions.

They are typically in the business on a whim and running their business on a shoestring cutting corners everywhere they can to stave off inevitable bankruptcy that’s the result of pricing that fails to cover their cost, let alone provide a reasonable profit.

Nonetheless the following are several items you need to consider:

  • Will the driver hold a current Commercial Driver’s License with a “passenger” endorsement ?
  • Will the driver hold a valid medical certificate ?
  • Does the company have a driver drug/alcohol testing program that complies with DOT regulations ?
  • What is the maintenance schedule for the buses?
  • What is the company’s safety record?
  • How does the company ensure the safety and security of passengers?

Charter buses are a great, and environmentally friendly, way to travel with a group for business or pleasure; however, safety should come before price more so than in any other purchase you make.

What are your experiences with motor coach travel?

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Putting the Heart in Wachovia Bank

Consumer insights on emotional connections

In its prime, Wachovia Bank was in a neck and neck battle with Nations Bank, now Bank of America, and First Union for market share in North Carolina.

Wachovia was seen as the “old money” bank for wealthy North Carolinians,  Nations Bank was the aggressive bank for up and comers while First Union was the bank for the tobacco farmers, textile and furniture manufacturers and their employees.

Wachovia tracked awareness, market share, switching preference, and spending every two months.

Since Wachovia did not have the media or production budgets of Nations Bank or First Union we looked for other ways to differentiate the bank and make our bank more attractive to new comers and people who were considering switching.

We developed a series of five “head” commercials that gave very logical reasons to bank at Wachovia — typically rate or fee driven.  And, we developed five “heart” commercials that provided more emotional reasons to bank at Wachovia — the “sundown rule” and dog biscuits at drive-throughs.

We ran these commercials for more than a year.  At the end of the year, we were able to prove that the “heart” commercials drove greater awareness and switching preference than did the “head” commercials.

Making an emotional connection with the customer pays — even for banks.

How do you make an emotional connection with your customers?

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5 Questions to Ask

Consumer insights on strategic planning

Whether you’re branding yourself or your company, the following are five questions we all need to know the answers to whether we’re an owner, an employee or a prospective employee.

You can ask the following questions in your strategic planning session, in a company meeting or in an interview:

  1. Who are we?  The answer to this question should be consistent with your vision, mission and values, as well as be sufficiently differentiating.
  2. Why are we here? The answer to the question should be consistent with your vision — the desired end-state the company would like to achieve in the future.
  3. Who do we want to be?  This too is consistent with your vision and needs to be realistic, achievable and consistent with your values.
  4. Who are our customers?  Everyone should have a good idea of the demographics, psychographics and firmographics of their customers and their prospective or desired customers.
  5. What are they hiring us to do? Have a conversation with your customers to ensure you “know” the answer to this question.  Their answers may surprise you.  You’ll also learn what makes you “different and better” than your competition.

What other questions do you ask?

Do all of the members of your team provide the same answers to these questions?

If not, how do you get everyone on the same page?

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Walking the “Sustainability” Talk

Consumer insights on sustainability

I had the opportunity to meet with the founders of The Orchard at Altapass in Little Switzerland, NC yesterday.

Bill Carson, Judy Carson and Kit Carson-Truby bought the last apple orchard on the Blue Ridge Parkway saving it from developers.

The Orchard at Altapass is a non-profit foundation that needs to build an endowment to secure the future of the orchard after its founders are gone.

The Orchard at Altapass is:

  • Preserving the history, heritage and culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains
  • Protecting the underlying orchard land with its apples, wetlands, butterflies, bees and other natural features
  • Educating the public about the Appalachian experience and the history of this important area of the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Showcasing local musicians with more than 150 live performances when the orchard is open
  • Promoting education and exercise with dancing to the music provided by the local musicians
  • Promoting the foods and crafts of local artisans

If you are traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway or are interested in the protection of some of our vanishing natural and historic resources I encourage you to visit the Orchard at Altapass in person or online.

If you’ve ever been to the Orchard at Altapass, please share what it means to you and help to spread the word about this jewel on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Strike Two: Missed Chances to be Awesome

Consumer insights on being awesome

After having written a couple of blog posts on Scott Stratten’s book The Business Book of (Un)Awesome I thought I’d share how my optometrist missed a couple of chances to be awesome and consequently became unawesome.

I’ve been going to Eye Care Associates for about 10 years.  This summer I was due for a new set of glasses.  I’m old-school and prefer round frames to the more stylish rectangular frames.  All Eye Care Associates had in stock were rectangular frames.

I talked to Shaun Cotterman, the chief procurement officer, about my situation and he suggested I find what I wanted on the Internet and send them to him via e-mail.

I sent him what I wanted from FramesDirect.com.  He told me he could not get those particular frames but suggested I order them and bring them in and they’d put lenses in them.

I did so and everything worked out fine.  However, Shaun, and Eye Care Associates, missed an opportunity to be awesome, and add value to our relationship, by not taking care of this for me.

Shortly after getting new glasses, I applied for the director of marketing position at Eye Care Associates to Melissa Short, director of H.R.  I asked my optometrist to put in a good word for me.  Nothing.

After several months, I inquired about the position and learned it had been filled.  I expressed my concern that Eye Care Associates didn’t have the courtesy to respond to a customer and they explained they received more than 400 applications for the job.

How many of these applications were from customers?  How many from potential customers?  Do you think it might have been worthwhile to thank the applicants and let them know the position had been filled?

Everyone is looking for a “silver bullet” to improve customer satisfaction and enhance the user experience.  There is no “silver bullet.”  There are a lot of little opportunities to be awesome, but you have to be on the lookout for them and then execute on them.

Where are you, and your employees, missing the opportunity to be awesome?

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12 Takeaways From The Business Book of Unawesome

Consumer insights on being awesome

I enjoyed reading The Book of Business Unawesome by Scott Stratten, author of Unmarketing.  This is the other half of The Book of Business Awesome.

Following are my 12 key takeaways from Scott’s latest book:

  1. If your actions contradict your values, your values are worthless and your customers and prospects will likely see the contradiction before you will.
  2. What we do affects our brand perception more than any brochure or website ever could.
  3. Make your website mobile friendly.  Smartphones now make up more than 50% of all cell phones in the U.S. — 85% among millennials.
  4. Your mission statement is your actions.  Each person who come in contact with your brand can have a different experience.
  5. Your vision, mission and values are not what’s on a sheet of paper — it’s what you do.
  6. Customers don’t see your silos.  They see your brand as a whole.  Every time they don’t get a response or are told they are waiting in the wrong line, it hurts your brand.
  7. Be sure someone is responsible for letting customers know your brand is listening, cares about their feedback, is taking care of whatever issues that may have arisen or has passed it along to the right person who can resolve it.
  8. Anyone running a social media account for a brand should have access to answers and resources within the company, or at least a game plan, when common issues arise.
  9. User experience is critical.  Users are becoming more savvy and will tolerate less crap.
  10. Data without insights is ignorance.  Have a dialogue with customers to get real insights from data.
  11. We cannot make business decisions based on numbers alone.  People are not numbers and they cannot be expected to act the same way numbers do.
  12. Newsletters are a great way to stay in front of your market and position yourself as an expert, but only when done with respect.  Share great content and set the expectation of how often you will be in touch before the person signs up so they know what to expect.

Do you empower your employees to be awesome?

Do you and your employees know the difference between being awesome and unawesome?

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5 Steps for Driving Sales with Customer Insights

5 Steps for Driving Sales with Customer Insights

Thanks to Cvent for their white paper “5 Steps to Driving Sales with Customer Insights” (http://bit.ly/neiBFC).

Proven strategies to ensure the success of your voice of the customer (VOC) program: 1) identifies what matters most to customers; 2) facilitates better business decision-making; and, 3) drives revenue.

  1. Set the stage.  Start with clear goals and objectives.  Get senior management agreement on the importance of obtaining and addressing  customer insights.  Empower employees to obtain and access customer insights.  By giving employees access to VOC results, you integrate and embed insights into the organization’s culture.  We did this in my company and the kudos the sales force received, as well as the consumer insights we obtained, were invaluable.  By asking employees to provide VOC feedback, you’re telling reinforcing the importance of VOC to your employees.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask.  Many companies avoid implementing VOC programs because they want to avoid complaints.  Negative feedback is the most valuable insight.  Being told the organization is already awesome doesn’t drive innovation or change; however, it can reinforce positive behaviors like providing outstanding customer service.  Eighty percent of customers want to give feedback but less than 50% of organizations listen.  Would you rather your customers tell you about a problem or a way to improve, or tell their friends?  If customers don’t give you negative feedback, how will you know a problem needs to be addressed?
  3. Listen actively.  Integrate CRM and survey systems so you have a comprehensive look at customer satisfaction.  By integrating feedback from web-based surveys, transactional data from your CRM and case information from CSRs, a company can perform more in-depth analysis to uncover valuable consumer insights.  Create an FAQ for any question that is asked more than once to enable your customers to find answers for themselves.  By the way, the answers to these questions also make great blog topics.
  4. Measure your efforts.  Even the most eye-opening feedback means very little if it cannot be tied to financial gains.  Organizations need to link key feedback metrics to financial goals in order to have an impact on the organization’s growth and success.  We tracked our Net Promoter Score (NPS) with all of our other KPI’s.
  5. Act fast.  In today’s highly competitive global economy, organizations need to act fast, revise strategies, create timely marketing campaigns and respond quickly to changes in market trends and consumer preferences.  Monitoring feedback from VOC initiatives allows you to do this.  Real time monitoring and alerts help organizations capitalize on customer opinion shifts and stay ahead of the competition.

If VOC programs focus strictly on customer satisfaction, they can overlook insights into customers’ preferences.  We had two open-ended questions that gave respondents the opportunity to tell us what else was on their mind regarding how we could improve the products and services we’re delivering.

What are you doing to create a dialogue with your customer and obtain customer insights?

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8 Steps to Become a Better Listener

Consumer insights on listening

The following suggestions are provided by David Grossman of The Grossman Group.

Listening is a skill all of us can work on.  It’s also imperative in order to get better insights from employees and customers.


How to Listen So Your Employees, and Consumers, Talk

  1. Approach each dialogue with the goal to learn something. Think, “This person can teach me something.”

  2.  Stop talking and focus closely on the speaker. Suppress the urge to multitask or think about what you are going to say next.
  3. Open and guide the conversation with broad,open-ended questions such as “How do you envision…”or “Help me understand how you’re thinking about this.”
  4. Then, drill down to the details, where needed, by asking direct, specific questions that focus the conversation, such as “Tell me more about…,” “How would this work?”or “What challenges might we face?”
  5. Pay attention to your responses. Be aware of your body language and recognize that the way you respond to a question will facilitate further dialogue or limit what’s discussed by shutting someone down. Purposefully let someone know you’re listening and want to hear more from them through positive body or other verbal cues.  Doing so will encourage them to open up and tell you even more.
  6. Summarize what you’re hearing and ask questions to confirm your understanding, such as “Here’s what I hear you saying…” or “Let me summarize what I’m hearing…”
  7. Listen for total meaning. Recognize that, in addition to what is being said, the real message may be non-verbal; consider what’s not being said as critical to the message, too.
  8. I always like to end the conversation with a final open-ended question, “Is their anything else we may have missed that will add to or clarify our discussion?

Listening is a great way to empower your employees, as well as your consumers.

In the end, the goal is to better understand where someone is coming from, and get the information you need to take the next step and/or make a smart decision.

Which of these steps gets in your way most?

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How To Save 40% of Your Corporate ID Collateral Spend

Consumer insights on saving money

When I joined a professional services firm as their director of corporate marketing, I began collecting the business cards of the different consultants and investment bankers I met.

Something was wrong, very wrong to someone for whom brand identity is critical.  The business cards looked different — not drastically different but they didn’t make the company look very professional and all of the brand elements weren’t consistent.

It turns out the cards were printed by several different printers.  While all the printers tried to follow a template, each one was off in one way or another.

I proceeded to inventory all letterhead, envelopes, report covers and any other corporate identity materials the firm was using to promote itself or to communicate with customers and prospects.

I then determined the average amount of each piece that was used in a year and developed an RFP that I sent to seven printers.

When one of the administrative professionals in our Denver office heard what I was in the process of doing, she called to ask me if I was including Imperial Printing in my RFP.

I had never heard of Imperial Printing, they were four hours away in Charlotte.

Net, net, they came in 40% less than my next lowest bidder.  I checked references and they got rave reviews from their customers.

The best quote from a longtime customer was, “Stu has learned how to make money printing business cards.”  Boy had he.

I ended up saving my employer more than $150,000 over the course of three years.

How much are you spending on your corporate identity materials?

How would you like to save 40%?

Imperial Printing was purchased by ImageMark, they knew a good thing when they found it.

Ask for Gary Smith when you call.  He’s not a relative and he’s very responsive and reliable.

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Consumer Insights on Doing More With Your Brand

Consumer insights on doing more with your business

In Nancy Lublin’s new book “Zilch,” she suggests asking the following questions to make your brand strong, better and more authentic to customers.

Here you go:

1. If your brand were a car, what kind of car would it be? What color? Old, new, used? What price point? Would everyone in the company have a similar answer?

2. Can you describe your brand as the first, the only, faster, better or cheaper?  If not, you’re toast.

3. Who is your brand relevant to?  Describe him or her in as much detail as possible.  How old is he?  How does she spend her day?  Her nights?  Weekends?

4. Ask your office manager, your receptionist, and your cafeteria serving staff  to describe your company in one sentence.  Those people are your frontline soldiers who hear and see every department, at every level.  Really listen to how they answer the question.

5. When was the last time members of various work teams, at diverse levels of the company, spend more than two hours together just looking at data and talking about the brand — without a specific brainstorm topic on the table?

6. Who are your five most visible partners?  What do you think your target market thinks of them?

7. Do you have standards for selecting partners?  Are they based on multiple elements or just on price?  Size?  Convenience?

8. How does your mom or husband or child describe the company where you work?  Is it a more simple and accurate description than the one you’ve been instructed to recite?

9. Do you have written brand guidelines for your company?  A booklet?  A one-page memo?  An e-mail that was sent “to all” last year?  Who wrote it?  How was it put together?

10. Are there words that are nevers  for your brand?  (For example, in soccer you never use your hands unless you are the goalie.)  Do you have banned words?  Should you?

11. What does the data say?  When was the last time you asked yourself this question?

A lot of executives may see these questions as being “soft.”  I find that these executives are the same ones that either don’t understand or value the importance of differentiation.  The answers to these questions will help you differentiate your brand or understand how your customer differentiates your brand in their “considered set.”

How can you strengthen your brand?

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