“Things to Think About” for the Reference Professional

#crlp Is your company a co-op? Are you cooperating with your customers – both internal and external?

“Things to Think About” for the Reference Professional is a blurb to get you thinking. You can find content here on this blog or at Twitter under the hashtag for Customer Reference and Loyalty Professionals #crlp.

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I Love You, but I’m Not IN LOVE With You!

We’ve all seen the movie where the girl or guy turns to their significant other and says “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” Sometimes it’s hard to believe while other times you want to yell at the TV and say “Duh!!!!!” Shouldn’t the recipient of the news have known? You can tell when someone loves you compared to being in love with you right?! Most of the time I think it’s pretty obvious.

Companies often fall into the same situation when you change the first “love” to “satisfaction” and the second to “loyal”. Companies tend to think that satisfied customers are enough, but it’s not. You want loyal customers! Companies also tend to think that satisfaction and loyalty are the same.  They are very different!

To read more, please visit my guest blog for The Insight Advantage.

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade

The past year has been pretty crazy for social media followers. What was once a distant concept has been adapted by businesses to reach beyond the traditional marketing campaign. Companies that have a handful of employees are now using social media to reach out to prospects and multi-national and multi-million dollar companies are using social media to build customer loyalty. Some companies are even using it to develop product roadmaps.

Social media has also hit the mainstream. Take a look at these examples;

The Vatican announced last week that they are now using Facebook. You can join their 1,400 fans here.

San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, announced his running for California Governor on YouTube and the city now has its 311 Operation Center using Twitter tweeting to its 1,500 followers of what’s going on in the city by the bay.

President Obama’s team brought social media to the masses during the 2008 President campaign with LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and many other social media mediums.

I think we all remember the CNN vs. Ashton Kutcher race to have 1,000,000 followers on Twitter. (personally, I think this was all just a publicity stunt because it’s not about the number of followers you have, but the quality)

Most recently, Lance Armstrong today announced the birth of his son, Max, on Twitter.

My point with this post isn’t to say that everyone is using social media so you should too. My point is that your customers are using social media so you should be there to see what they’re saying, see what interests them and to connect with them. Your customers follow politics, watch CNN and enjoy watching professional athletes. Find the voice of your customers.

I’m signed up for sites, now what?
Although it doesn’t take long to set up a Twitter or Facebook account, it takes time to manage them and to use them strategically. Social media isn’t about putting a check next to things that have to be done this year. If you start a blog, write! If you have a YouTube channel, post things to it. Although it’s a simple concept, make sure that you have the resources to do it properly.

Social media is a chance for you to connect with your customers and prospects in a non-traditional way. When appropriate, make sure that you are letting your constituents/customers/prospects know that you’re listening to what they are posting. You don’t need to respond to every comment, but you need to be aware of every comment.

Social media is also a two way street. It’s not a tool for your customers and prospects to ask you questions and you to do nothing about. Likewise, it’s not for you to just push out information. Ask questions, get folks engaged, have a call to action. Why not post on LinkedIn your new corporate blog and have people respond to it. Ask them if they agree or if they have better solutions. Ask them if they have blog suggestions. Get folks involved. It’s not called “social” media for nothing!

I was on a Webinar yesterday hosted by Social Media Magic and they help companies create social media strategies. They are one of many companies that can help you. If you’re lost and don’t know where to start, ask. There are many companies, books and Websites that can help you get started. Also feel free to check out what other companies are doing and take note of where they are strong and what aspects of their social media campaign are weak.

Simply put, use the tools when given them. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Why You Have to Check with Customers

Have you ever used a customer for a reference and then forgotten about them? You later give their name to a prospect to find out it backfired? Or maybe the customer approved the case study or press release, you waited to post the document, the day you post it you find out the customer hasn’t been happy since they sent you the thumbs up on the document? If this hasn’t happened to you, good! If it hasn’t happened to you because you don’t communicate with your Sales team and customers – bad for you!

One of the main functions of running a reference program is to know who is happy and who’s not. It’s not good enough to talk to a customer, find out that they’re happy and then keep them in the “happy” customer category. No one is ever 100% happy all the time. Things are going to blow-up at some point in time. It might be a small blow-up, but it’ll blow-up.

It is absolutely critical for customer reference professionals to be on top of the game when it comes to customers. Know who your customers are and always check in with them before you use them as a reference where they’ll be called. It doesn’t take much time and can save you a lot of headaches. Know what your customers are thinking of you before you hand them off to others.

Who are your customers? Don’t know? Find out.

I’ve started reference programs at a few companies now and on my first day I always ask “Can I have a copy or access to the customer database?” The answer, in all the companies, has been “No – we don’t have one!” Can you believe it? Besides the standard support database and possibly an application like Salesforce.com, I have found that most companies don’t have access to a master customer list. This is shocking to me. But, the shock eventually wears off.

How do you go about finding the customers? Talk to people outside of Marketing. I’ve spoken to sales people, sales operations people, customer support, contract owners. Anyone that would have any information on a customer is valuable. Granted, sometimes that information is just a company name but at least it’s a starting point.

It’s not uncommon for me to spend the first week of a new job talking to these folks and then combining lists and lists and lists of customers – all in different formats. Spending a week or so going through 100,000 Excel lines might not seem like the best use of your time, but in the end it’s invaluable.

Although somewhat archaic, I keep my customer list in an Excel spreadsheet. Not ideal, but the companies I have worked at haven’t wanted to invest in the money for tools such as Boulder Logic or haven’t had the budget to do so and for me, Salesforce.com doesn’t have all that I’m looking for. It’s an easy tool to use and sorting generally isn’t a problem. It’s also nice to be able to send new sales guys a list of his/her customers in the area when they start – a little brown nosing goes a long way.

So take the time to find out who knows what in your company. It might be a long process but a customer list that you can work with needs to be created and then updated daily when you find out new information.