Thursday, July 31, 2014

Customer Service in times of Digital Media

Customer is king!!! Customer is God!!! Customer comes first!!! and so on & so forth. We see these neatly displayed at retail outlets & restaurants, in shopping malls and hotels etc etc. However in our country customer service is really not understood by most big companies / brands OR does not matter to them. In this age and time where an individual customer can email the CEO or tweet to the Marketing head or just hash tag the brand and or company name and post on all social media we would think that companies and brands would take Customer Service more seriously and really DO something about it. But the truth in most cases is the opposite. The more easy it is to reach out to the customer/customer, the more the media and the immediacy, the worse the service to most customers. Some who are able to reach that one important top boss or make a ruckus on social media, get heard, and the rest continue to suffer.

So what's wrong? Well the first is that companies and brands fail to understand that with Digital media, each presence of the brand or company in the digital space is a touch point for the customer. So if they have a website or a Facebook page or a Twitter handle, or a LinkedIn page, these, are all now customer touch points.  So the first thing to do would be to make sure these touch points are customer friendly, and made for the customer and not for the marketing heads or CEO of the company, or, just made because one fine day in a meeting of the top brass they decided  - "Oh We need a Customer facing website and a FB page and a Twitter Handle so get an agency and get it done."

Now when I say make the touch points customer friendly all I am saying is make them for the customer. So that the customer can find what s/he wants quickly and do what they have to do easily and quickly. What happens instead is that the sites are heavy to load, the navigation sucks, finding anything is difficult and transacting or buying or renewing is the worst experience ever. It's as if the site was made with one motto. Just to have a website. Who cares what the customer's experience is like.

And that is true even for the large brands in Telecom or DTH. They are new age businesses so one would expect them to be leading the way. But Oh! they suck the most. Try renewing your yearly subscription for Tata Sky on their website or log in to Vodafone or Tata DoCoMo to manage your account or pay your bill, and you will get what I am saying. So my Tata DoCoMo experience was so frustrating - I could only pay the bills on explorer and never on Chrome, that too after multiple attempts, and writing them mails didn't work as they had some system in which you needed to mention some detail in the subject line for your mail to be delivered but even then my mails bounced every time etc etc...that I finally gave up our data Card. And that turned out to be a harrowing experience in itself as they took their own sweet time and kept on pestering me with calls to Not discontinue but not once did anyone try and figure out why or try to correct the same. They could not have anyways, because each time someone from a different department spoke to me and none knew what to do about the website.

I have been using a Vodafone connection since my first cell phone and so when I wanted a SIM card for my Tablet I took a Vodafone card. I am a registered user on the website but could not find how to add another card to my account and manage both numbers from one account. Then they launched an app to manage your account and services, bills etc and I downloaded it on my phone. Next tried to download it on my Tablet and I find Oh! They don't have one for tablets as yet. Really?? And these are Telecom Companies. I have named a few companies and brands here but they are not the only ones. My experience with Airtel Service & their Customer service was so bad that if I hear from anybody that they are considering Airtel I actually try my best to dissuade them.

TataSky has something called as for subscribers to check and renew their packages online. Last time I had to renew my subscription I logged on and after multiple attempts to try and figure out how to renew what I currently had with NO changes was finally able to do so. Instead of showing me what package I was subscribed to and offering me a choice to change or just renew by one click, they actually made me choose all the packages again and finally I paid the money online  as the package selection detailed and renewed the subscription for a year. Or So I thought!

A few days later I get a call from them saying "Oh you have renewed for a year but the money you paid is short" You have to pay 'x' amount more. When I persisted that I had paid as per the amount that was mentioned on the website the reply was - "Oh you must have logged on to mytatasky and renewed it from there and the revised package rates may not have been updated there'. He then went on to advice that I should have first checked the rates on tatasky and then logged in to mytatasky and paid as per the rates on tatasky and not as on mytatasky. I refused to budge and said I wanted to speak to someone senior. Senior was busy so I was told they would call back. He did call back after a day and all the Senior had to say was - I don't know what you saw on which website and paid. The rates have been revised and if it wasn't updated on the website I cannot do anything. Your amount is less so we cannot renew it for a year unless you pay the balance amount and that is that.

And not only the website, their company pages and Handles on Social Media are no better either.

I have named a few brands here but they are not the only ones and most others are no better either. But while at it let me clarify. It's not that their product or service itself is bad but it's the customer experience that we are talking of here, when s/he has to connect or interact with the company or its customer interface or representatives.

The second problem is the compartmentalization within companies. So while website is handled by marketing or at times the PR department, billing is finance controlled, CRM is a separate entity, Social Media is handled by PR department or the agency, Marketing is connected to all of these or some of these but really does not know what's going on or is interested as they are focused on advertising. One of the big problems I guess with most big companies is that they tend to outsource most of their so called Noncore work. So CRM,  Social media, Website Creation and updating, etc etc are all outsourced, while the companies concentrate on their core areas. Now, I never understood how CRM or any other Customer touch point could be noncore, but that's the way it is. The companies & brands are busy acquiring new customers and upgrading their services and offerings but somehow no one seems to be bothered about the customers and their experience.

What companies and brands miss out on is that poor customer interface - in any form - be it digital or on phone or in person also means missing out on new business. My recent experience with some leading Car brands & their response to my intent on purchasing a new car is an example where some lost out on a potential customer just because they did not get back with the promised test drive or just didn't respond or did not follow up after the initial inquiry. And this in a market in which sales are doing poorly and discounts and offers abound.

Yes India as a market is still growing and the main focus is to attract as many new customers as you can but then if you can't retain them then isn't it a bigger loss in the long run? After all, a repeat customer and a referral customer is always more valuable compared to acquiring a new one. But I guess for now they are all in the same boat and hence everyone's loss is everyone's gain at this time.

Blame it on a rapid pace of growth, blame it on competition, blame it on falling ARPU, blame it on market conditions or anything but the fact remains that if you ignore your customer today you will be the loser in the long run.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Simple Communication tips for the Internet

In most of my posts to do with e-commerce, or social media, or even building websites, there are a few things I often tend to repeat. And that's on purpose. Some of them are - 'The Internet is an interactive medium', 'Keep it conversational', 'Don't just talk. Communicate', 'Write as if you are talking to the reader.'  


Well everyone likes to have a conversation and communication that leads to conversations is more fulfilling (compared to monologues) and memorable too. A person on the web, wants to read, respond, like, comment, interact. Give them that opportunity. Else there is always the print or television or radio. So if you "Communicate" you engage. Simple.

How to do that? The Verb 'communicate' means to " share or exchange information, news, or ideas" so share, ask opinions, reply to comments and opinions and people will appreciate and remember and chances are prefer you over the other. A few examples:

If you are selling on an e-commerce site write about how the product features benefits the user - "What's in it for me". If someone write a review on your product, acknowledge the same, thank them, reward them, if it's a negative review too, acknowledge and thank them - how often do you get a feedback that can help you improve? then explain or offer an alternative.

If you are a brand page on social media, ask opinions, give yours, offer specials, solicit feedback, have contests and specials, reply to comments, thank for shares and re tweets,  - again, interact, engage, invite, respond, reward.

If you have a website, instead of saying "we offer............" - maybe you can say, "You can get........" , Or instead of saying "We are xyz" maybe you can say, "You can benefit from XYZ" - something for him or her. Or just talk to them, tell them how your products or services can benefit the reader, or what problems it solves for them.

Ditto with ads. "XYZ Blockbuster in HD" is an ad one can read and keep Browsing but "Watch XYZ blockbuster in HD Now" can make him/her click on the ad and download or rent.

Last but not the least - Listen. You can communicate better when you listen better. And oh yes!!! Use Images to convey what you want to say :-)

Have you tried any of the above for your product or service or page or website or ad? Has it helped? Share your experience by writing a comment below and help others benefit from your experience. Still not sure on how to really do this? Have some specific questions? Feel free to share and let's try and find a solution together.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

How to sell your products online

With the e-commerce boom in India, more and more brands, companies, and people are trying to sell their products online. A few friends of mine who make or source some products, and till now were selling in exhibitions and from home, are also starting to use the online medium to sell. And why not? The medium works, you can reach more people, increase sales and also manage your costs & inventory better. However if you have never sold online before the initial experience can be a bit daunting. And the question I get asked most often is "How do I increase sales online?".

So this post is for all those of you are selling online and/or planning to.
First select the online marketplace based on your products and where it fits better. Amazon, FlipKart, SnapDeal, and quite a few more have what is called "The Marketplace" model, which means their online stores are a marketplace where a seller can go and sell their products. Select the ones you want to work with based on who deals in the categories that your product fits, their location, the fees charged, payment terms, analytics they give you to understand your performance, the tools they offer to upload and sell, who offers warehouse and shipping facilities and the charge for the same and the overall ease of doing business with.

If you do not have storage and shipping (remember in the online space orders can come from far and very faraway places too), then it would be better to go with a marketplace that offers warehouse and shipping facilities. Even if you think you can handle shipping on your own, sometimes it may still may make sense to use their facilities instead of your own. More on this later.

So you have selected the places where you want to sell and are listing your products. Well step one, two and three, of increasing sales starts here. Let's look at this from the perspective of the buyer to make things logical. Ultimately it's him or her you are selling to and they are the reason you are in business.

Now typically when searching on a site a person first has to find your product based on the keywords they use to search or the category in which you have listed the product. Always remember "Jo Dikhta hai woh bikta hai".

So first thing is to get your products appear in search results of the site and in the right Product categories. That means Keywords, or search terms (as some sites call it) are very important. Make sure you use "all relevant" keywords for your product in the relevant section while listing. And "Relevant" is key here. Do not try to be extra smart here and also fill in "Mobile Phone" for a 'bag" as the keyword (if it's not a mobile case). Some sites have algorithms that will give your product negative ranking and show them even lower on search if your keywords are not relevant. And use "all" keywords - as much as the site allows for a product listing.

Also select the category or categories that your product belongs too. This is important as that helps in people finding your product easily.

So you have made sure the keywords are all in place and product is listed in the right category. Now remember when a person searches or goes into a particular category to search what they see is a list of items with image, Title and price (the search results page Or Listing page). What typically happens is they first see the image and then read the title and price and either click on your item to see more of just continue browsing. So next 3 most important things to remember are?

Image, Title and Price.  So let's get cracking on those now shall we?

Upload a good main image. Select your main image well and make sure it depicts the product and features well. Upload as many images as the marketplace allows showing the product features and from different angles. Remember - the first thing a viewer's eye will notice is the image. So spend some time and money on getting good images clicked.

Now write a title that best describes your product. The product - what it is, name, material and sometimes size too. Don't make it too long but make sure it's also not one or 2 words only. e.g  If You are selling Jute bags - it's better to have a Title that says something like - Ecofriendly Jute Bag with 3 Pockets & shoulder sling size w"xh"xL' , rather than just saying Jute bag.

And then the price. Well you know your selling price but will it make people buy? So keep your base minimum price in mind and first research at what price same or similar products are selling. How are you priced with respect to them. What do you offer better that a person would pay more for? Is that visible in the Image and the Title? 

Also see how long have the other people selling similar products for and what are their ratings and reviews. Who is doing the delivery in their case? Is there any extra delivery cost? Think of all these before finalizing the price. Also you may want to keep a lower price to begin with, and get some sales, and then revise the price later after you gain some sales traction.

So you have used the right keywords and categories, used impressionable images, and have an attractive pricing. You have thus increased your chances of getting your product visible on search results, got a person interested enough with your images, title and price to make them click and reach your product detail page.

Now comes description and features (specifications). These are not the same. Some sites have only description some have features and some both. So based on what the site allows make sure you put specification - Size, weight, material, technology etc in features in full detail. Again be truthful and exact. You do not want to have a product returned by a buyer because they did not get what they saw in the features or specs. Remember returns means negative ratings and rankings and is bad for business.

While writing description don't just write a small bland description. Write how the features will benefit the buyer.  A handmade eco-friendly bag can be just that or it can be a bag that makes the owner proud to be eco-sensitive as well as look smart and chic.  A bag can have 3 pockets or It can have 3 easily accessible compartments to hold essentials such as a mobile phone, a diary and cosmetics as well as purse all safe, secure and easily accessible. Get what am saying?

We have covered the basics and the most important ones to begin with. This should be good to get you started. If you have queries please feel free to comment and ask. And oh yes, if any of your friends are selling online or want to start and need help please share this with them too. 

There is a lot more that can be done to further increase sales, but then, that would be a topic by itself so - another time. Till then cheers and Happy Selling.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Does Social Media Work?

At a meeting with a client yesterday someone asked me " We have a social media account and we are posting too but getting nothing from there. Does social media really work?" Having heard similar questions before, my first response was to ask them which all social media sites they were posting on, how frequently and  why. The answer was "Oh! Facebook and we post whenever we have something new or something we want to tell people." Their answer to "why" was "because we have to be on social media".  Well no wonder the question. Simple answer - Social Media does not work. You have to make it work.

Well that's the reason for this post today.  Does social media work? The question itself is incomplete. Does CRM work? Does marketing work? Does e-commerce work? Everything works or does not depending on what business you are in, who is your target audience, how you are using CRM, or Marketing or E-Commerce or Social media, and what do you want to achieve. Get my drift?

So for now let's just talk of Social media and try and list a few essentials. First see with respect to your business - 
  •  Who is your target audience - Try and narrow down to a specific persona. The answer "Oh Everyone is my target audience is wrong. There is a primary audience, a secondary audience and the tertiary audience. So first define who is your primary audience - Try and narrow it down as much as possible Male / Female, Both Male & Female, Age group, Students/Working Professionals/Home Makers/ and anything else you may want to define.
  • Where do they frequent - Which social media sites does this TG frequent? and What do they do there? which of these then is the place where they would be most inclined to interact with your company brand. e.g for a B2B business while you may have an Facebook page your audience may actually interact with your business more on your LinkedIn company profile.
  • Next look at your marketing objectives, your audience, and the social Media site/s you have chosen and think hard about what want to achieve on each of these sites. So you may want to use LinkedIn for interacting with your suppliers and/or recruiting talent and use Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter  to talk to consumers, Pinterest for images related to your products, etc etc.

So by now you know who you want to target, where all and why. Next is what and how. While the where and why will automatically answer a large part of this, there are also some other simple things to keep in mind. Lets quickly discuss some of these.

First & foremost remember that the Internet is a one-to-one and one-to-many medium like no other. So you cater to many but it has to be like you are catering to the one who is reading right now. People follow people. People like to buy from People. People relate to People. So be human. (And No am not referring to Salman Khan Foundation's "Being Human"). Your audience should feel they know the person, the person talks to them and lives with them and they can relate to this person. Talk, communicate & hand hold, the reader. Do not preach, broadcast or just make statements. They should get a feeling they are following you - where you go, what you do, your views and that they can respond - to you.

Then, write your post with the objective of starting a Dialogue. Don't just talk. Communicate. Write as if you are talking to the reader. That makes them feel this is for me. Writing style should be your own BUT conversational and not a monologue. So ask questions, ask opinions, give opinions. Try and involve the reader. S/he should feel this is a conversation between you & him / her. Do not be afraid to be controversial. The more controversial the better (but only if it is still your opinion and true). Always include at least one image related to what you are writing - a stock photo too would do at times - a representation of what you are talking about. Remember - an image speaks a thousand words. Plus on the Internet reading is a pain compared to on paper AND even on paper image images help break monotony as well as explain the point better and also act as a visual memory tag.  Ask for comments and feedback. Be participative. Follow other people and pages, comment and interact with them. Use images, photos of your business, products, service, team wherever possible.

Last but not the least - have a cohesive strategy that integrates your social media presence with your blog and website. Use your email communication to get people to connect with your social media presence & encourage it. Use one to drive traffic to the other and vice versa.

Then give it some time. And then decide if Social Media works for you or not.

Well there is a lot more, but then this would become too long and you wouldn't want to read it :-) So that's it for this post. Was that too much? Or too difficult to follow? Or want to discuss some of this is in more detail? Put in your comment and I will definitely try.  And if Social media has worked for you then do share your views with us here so that all readers can benefit from your experience.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Simply Digital

Read a blog post today by Vikas Mehta titled "Uncomplicating Digital". When a Senior and if I may dare say - "Old Hand" of the advertising Industry writes a post on this topic and is able to really 'uncomplicate' the digital medium from the advertising perspective, I could not resist commenting on the same.  And that inspired me to write this post.

So what is it about Digital that one has to Un-complicate??? Having worked in Digital for about 17 years now (yes I know - in Digital Terms I am a Very Old hand) I personally think its pretty simple actually. It's when we start thinking of it in terms of the traditional media - Print, TV etc is when we find this complicated .
So let's list down 3 things about Digital Media that we should always keep in mind:

1) Digital is not one thing - Its many - Internet, Mobile, Apps, Social Media, E mail, Messengers, etc etc
2) Unlike other media it is constantly changing and evolving
3) It's not a Push Medium like traditional media, It's Interactive.

While there are many more points to add to the above, these 3 in my perspective, are the most important and have to be kept in mind while using Digital Media, irrespective of what or how one plans to do.

So when you think Digital think who, where, when, how, and why and then think again. Think Marketing + Advertising + Communication + CRM +++ and see what applies to who when, how and why. Start small, analyze, adapt, change, expand and then do it all over again. Ah!! Complicated you say? Well really, No. It's a lot of Commonsense and data analytic's actually. Another huge advantage of this medium is that you can track and collect data and analyze it to see what's working, when where and how and then use that information to change, adapt, target and do better.

Since the medium and audience is always changing that means you need to do this all the time. A website once made is not finished. A website is never done. Similarly an ad campaign once made and implemented can be improved upon and bettered upon. E Mail and how the audience responds to the same can be tracked and improved upon to get the desired results and more. A social media presence is not about being there but interacting and engaging. Since the interactions are live the staid pre-written templatized  responses to CRM queries do not work here. An ad, notification or SMS has to customised based on device, place and location. Etc etc....

Lots to do? Yes? Continuous? yes? Complicated ? No. If you know who your target audience is, what your product or service is and what you want to achieve then getting about implementing your strategy is a matter of using the right technology, planning , tracking, tweaking and seeing it as it happens Live.

And last but not the least - be a part of it. Who is using Facebook and what is happening there? Does email Marketing still work? Why Instagram and Pinterest are gaining in popularity? Is LinkedIn good for B2B businesses? Why use Google+ if you are doing FaceBook? How YouTube can help you spread a message ? Do QR codes really work? Do we need an app? Can we do SMS messaging but not spam? To know answers to these questions you need to part of the populace using digital media. Then it's simple because you see what people are doing there and how they use the medium and for what.

Well that's enough for today I guess. More on this later. Meanwhile please do write in your comments, suggestions, and questions and next time maybe we can go more specific or generic next time.