Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Another Ode to Customer Service

Last week was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Neither mom nor dad is a fan for big parties, so my sister and I opted, instead, to give them a big gift and a small family dinner at a favorite restaurant to celebrate.

Being very particular, mom and dad have their limited list of fav restaurants. Our first choice was a seafood spot they adore. Mid-market in price, the Maine Fish Market isn't (as my dad would say) "fancy", but the seafood is among the best in Connecticut. The caveat? They don't take reservations. Being in PR and having been a business editor for more than a decade, I scoffed: for a 50th anniversary dinner in honor of loyal customers, AND a party of 10 (including my almost 103-year-old aunt), they would surely make an exception and not make us sit in the bar for 2 hours on a Friday night! So, I called. My answer: "sorry, no reservations." I explained again. The response: "Nope."

My head ready to explode, I tried mom and dad's other favorite: a fabulous Italian spot in Hartford's South End: the First and Last, an independent that has been around since the 1930s. Like the Maine Fish Market, First and Last doesn't ordinarily take reservations. However, I told their lovely employee, Emma, the situation and, voila, we had a table reserved during their busy 7 p.m. Friday-night rush. Further, First and Last has an affiliate Italian bakery, so they prepared a made-to-order cake (dubbed by my 15-year-old, food-connoisseur nephew as “Perhaps the best cake I’ve ever eaten”) at the end of the meal.

I’m not going to tell you what the bill came to, but suffice it to say: significant. The Maine Fish Market? Well, they lost that business. However, much more important than that one big dinner (because, I’m certain, the Maine Fish Market didn’t notice our absence)… is, as always, word of mouth and personal reputation. I wouldn’t just not recommend the Maine Fish Market to anyone looking for a restaurant in the Hartford, Conn., area, I would actively DISCOURAGE it. As for First and Last, well, I (and the rest of my family) are huge fans (PS: if you are in Connecticut, go... and order the Cioppino. Amazing!). I expect not only future dinners, but probably a whole lot of bakery orders, as well.

The moral? QUALITY is not enough. Especially for independent businesses (and especially in this economy): service and flexibility are key. Those are the things that keep customers coming back. An establishment like the Maine Fish Market (est. 1986) might be enjoying 2-hour waiting lists on Friday and Saturday nights now, but when they disregard customer loyalty in favor of rigid rules? Well, let’s just say I wouldn’t expect them to EVER be celebrating a 70th anniversary like the First and Last did last year.

Rules are important, but when it comes to your best customers, service is more important. If you are a travel company with a set itinerary and price, think hard before refusing to re-price without airfare for someone who regularly travels with you. A jewelry firm that doesn’t like to change a gemstone in a design? Reconsider before refusing that service to your best customer. A PR firm that has a set retainer, but is approached by an up-and-comer with fabulous potential? Be careful before you turn them away. Remember: there are a million other businesses out there who will happily take your customers by bending rigid rules to accommodate and honor loyalty. Just ask the Maine Fish Market...

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Small Biz Doing Facebook Right

I hear some interesting things in my daily journeys. And, given the nature of my business, many of those are things that business owners tell me they have been advised to do by other consultants and PR/marketing agencies regarding social media marketing and publicity. The one I find most amusing (read: aggravating), and that I've, sadly, heard again and again: "don't start a Facebook fan page for your business; market yourself via your personal Facebook profile!" I bite my tongue, except to say: interesting promotional strategy... the social media equivalent of only talking about your wares to friends, relatives, neighbors, and others you already know, then wondering why your business isn't growing.

So, rather than go on about the wrong strategy, I offer up an example of the correct one... my client, Sonia B. Designs. If you aren't familiar with designer Sonia Bitton, she's the fabulous French designer and vibrant personality behind ShopNBC's Galerie de Bijoux. She also has her own e-commerce website for her fine jewelry collection. The manufacturer behind her collection approached me several months back, curious about social media but, like many (most?) small businesses, wary of both public relations agencies and, especially, the ROI on investing in an unknown like social media. So, we started with baby steps... first: a Facebook-specific plan (with a minor Twitter effort).

Sonia already had a personal Facebook page and, sure, she could have started talking up her jewelry to her "friends". Instead, we worked up a Facebook fan page. Elements of the page, content, strategy and outreach were strategically planned by Miamore Communications and Sonia B. Designs and executed prior to the launch. Flash forward six weeks to the present. Sonia B. Designs' Facebook fan page now has 150+ fans... Not, I should add, fans who joined because they are related to the designer, or are friends/business associates invited from Sonia's personal profile. These are true FANS (from whom the company has already derived a number of sales).

To visit her fan page is to witness:
  • Discussion among strangers (bound only by their love of Sonia's jewelry) about which hoop earrings to buy.
  • Photos posted by fans of their favorite Sonia B. Designs jewels.
  • Personal engagement between the designer and her customers. (Initially wary, Sonia now loves the interaction... and, clearly, so do her fans!)
Now (a note to those thinking their personal page is a way to promote businesses), Google search Sonia B. Designs and what do you find? Sonia's Facebook fan page comes up as the 3rd listing... inviting all the world to become fans and, ultimately, growing the designer's outreach and recognition.

There are many exciting additional features still to come on the Sonia B. Designs Facebook page, but, to those who question how a proper social media outreach works, or wonder how I work with clients to help them launch a successful campaign, I'm proud to offer up this awesome how-to example.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What Happened to Good, Old-Fashioned Communication? It Got an Upgrade...

I have a friend who is decidedly anti-social media. As a corporate lawyer, he doesn't see much use for the likes of Facebook and Twitter in his career. But, further, he's fond of saying: why does a business need these things? What ever happened to the telephone and good old-fashioned personal communication?

I understand that mentality. Little more than a year ago I was a magazine editor in an insular industry and I couldn't wrap my head around "social media", especially Twitter. How things have changed in a year... Both for myself and for the entire "social media" realm. According to August statistics for Facebook alone:

  • More than 250 million active users
  • More than 120 million users log on to Facebook at least once each day
  • More than two-thirds of Facebook users are beyond college
  • The fastest growing demographic is those 35 years old and older
  • Average user has 120 friends on the site
  • More than 5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)
  • More than 30 million users update their statuses at least once each day
  • More than 8 million users become fans of Pages each day

I am (clearly) now among the converted, as social media marketing and PR efforts have become a major focus of my business at Miamore Communications.

To answer said friend's doubts, I offer up a new Miamore client—an acquaintance from a million (or 10) years ago. We became FB friends through the natural course of social media's viral growth (more scientifically: friends of friends of friends); then she became a Miamore fan. Flash forward two months and here we are, about to start working together. Neither of us probably would have thought of each other again ever if not for social media, much less pick up the phone to reconnect.

And, that's a perfect example of what I always tell clients (especially those who don't quite understand how “social media” is valuable to their businesses): This, in essence, isn't a "new" way of reaching clients. It is the old way, with a new-fangled twist. It is, quite simply, the next generation of word of mouth (here's a great article on that topic). For B2Bs, I equate it to being able to network at an industry trade show event every single day, instead of only twice a year. No longer do you have to buy ads to reach your audience year-round (same for B2Cs), you can, instead, log on to a social network and connect with them directly (much to the chagrin of ad reps and traditional PR people).

Personally, from my own business experiences and the successes of my clients, I am completely confident in saying that social media has changed the nature of business communication forever. And, contrary to a FB post I recently saw, wondering if growing sales via social media was a "trend", I answer: notsomuch… at least not in the colloquial sense. Because as those like me with a fashion background know, things we call “trends” come and go. So, as we witness magazines and newspapers--those vehicles of traditional PR and advertising brand spin--wither and, (sadly) die in increasing numbers; marketing, public relations, brand growth and sales via social media is not so much a trend as an evolution in business. This is the future and, in my opinion, the only way businesses (especially small businesses) will survive moving forward.