The new essential: Stay in touch with customers you know. Give comfort and kindness. Be part of the new American spirit to give service to others. Here's why.
FRIENDS ARE COMFORTING
Good CRM (customer relationship management) means staying in touch to comfort customers in unsettling times. Customers are staying close to home to feel safe. If anything happens at school, parents are nearby, ready to help. This works to your benefit as a window coverings specialist who provides in-home decorating service.
Advertising messages should take a different tone. New research reveals that since September 11, people are stressed, uncertain and troubled. Any message that is considerate, reassuring, caring and tells customers you are still around is a good message. Les Finkelstein at Sunshine Drapery, St. Louis, MO, offers to repair American flags in his drapery workroom at no charge. What a great service. Right on the mark today.
The need is to refocus tried-and-true ways to communicate and to find new innovations. Traditional postal mail may not be the best way to stay in touch. Consumers are still unsettled about where their letters have been, what other letters might have come into contact with them and who has handled them. This opens new opportunities to communicate in ways customers may prefer to postal mail. Telephone and e-mail are both germ-free and safe. For sure, bulk mailings in non-unidentified envelopes will go straight to the dumper.
STAY IN TOUCH?
It's a nice idea, but is it good business? Staying in touch with customers has always been good business—now, more so than ever. In fact, if business is slow, call a list of customers. Get on the telephone and just say, "I was thinking of you . . . hope you are doing well in these difficult times. Hope the kids are well. I have nothing to sell, just getting in touch with a few favorite customers to be sure everything's OK."
You will be astonished at the results! Customers that you reach (or leave a message with) will remember for years that you took time to show that you care. They will tell friends how considerate you are. And, as a bonus, every couple of hours that you are calling, one of your past customers will likely tell you, "You know, I'm glad you called. I've been thinking about window treatments for my (bedroom, living room, family area, etc.).
HOW TO STAY IN TOUCH
Customer follow-up has never been easy. One reason is the pain-in-the-neck difficulty to pull a phone list or mailing labels. It doesn't happen without a customer database. We all know it is too much trouble to do it manually. Yet, recent surveys indicate that fewer than 10 percent of window coverings retailers have a database of customers, prospects and referral sources who can help build their business.
No database means no follow up. No follow ups means customers aren't comforted by hearing from you in stressful times. Today it is more critical than ever to get customer names, contact information and e-mail addresses. After all, e-mail is the only way to receive messages that customers know are germ-free, have never been handled and they can read without touching!
Businesses are moving to e-mail marketing as part of their media mix. Nordstrom, The Gap, Staples and many more national retail chains use e-mail. According to multiple TV news reports, even more businesses will be doing so soon. Here's a great example, edited for brevity:
Business Week, October 29: Harrah's Casino, Las Vegas, NV, took immediate action when occupancy fell 25 percent after the September 11 attacks. Harrah's fired up a special e-mail promotion to their database of customers and visitors to their Web site. The result: Harrah's filled most of their 4,000 rooms "bringing occupancy back to near 100 percent."
There are two key messages here:
1.E-mail was a "stealth" promotion for Harrah's. Regular customers paid regular prices! Only e-mail customers received special pricing to fill excess capacity.
2.This promotion would never have been possible except for Harrah's visionary strategy years ago. Who could have predicted such a need for instant e-mail response? Harrah's was ready.
INDEPENDENT BUSINESS CHALLENGE
Independent businesses lag corporate chains in use of e-mail marketing. Why? Business owners are stretched thin. It's hard to implement new ideas when you have no time. And there are hidden issues with e-mail. Many window coverings business owners don't use the Internet themselves. It's hard for these business owners to believe that their customers are getting information from the Net before they buy, and that these same customers often use e-mail to schedule appointments and to follow-up on orders.
Who are these Internet and e-mail users? Busy professional women who are co-breadwinners, often with children. Naturally, these customers have more money than time. They fit your customer profile perfectly.
Here's another challenge: Mounting a customer follow-up campaign requires a database of customers. Whether you want to telephone, send postal mail or e-mail, you first need a list. The list should include customers, prospects and referral sources. Few window coverings owners have such a database.
CUSTOMERS WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU
Peter Drucker told us there are three kinds of future. One is "a future that has already happened." America's future was changed forever on September 11. Visionary window coverings retailers know the future has already happened in the way we do business. Today, customers want to be reassured, and comforted by people and services they know. Customers appreciate it when we stay in touch. You will feel better doing it. It's part of the revival of the American spirit of giving service to others. As a business owner you will feel pride doing the right thing. Staying in touch with your customers is the right thing!
Steven C. Bursten is the retired founder of Decorating Den Interiors and author of a how-to book on new business start up, Bootstrap Entrepreneur. He is president of custEmers.com, specializing in affordable marketing tools using tried-and-true techniques, innovative ideas and Internet technology. He welcomes your questions about marketing and customer relationships. Request a free report, "Customer Relationship Marketing for a Window Coverings Business—How to Find, Close, and Keep Customers." E-mail: email@example.com.