April 29, 2012

Becoming A Master of Change

Which is more important: efficiency or customer service? Stop and think about it because the answer isn’t as obvious as you might think at first.

I spent a good portion of my adult life working in the industrial sector managing logistics people and processes. One of my primary functions was to manage a balance between the ‘ideal’ goals of peak operational efficiency and exceptional customer service. Too often, one had to be achieved at the expense of the other. Many times, tough trade-offs were made.

Now as a small business owner I find myself facing some of these same issues. As I strive for operational efficiency, I have to be ever mindful of the impact of my initiatives on my clients.

As I’ve been building my business, I’ve been carefully constructing a clear set of expectations with each client and colleague about such things as how we work together, our expectations of each other, and what happens when things go wrong. I’ve created a comfortable status quo – and that’s not a bad thing.

Conversely, growing my company will require change, in fact lots of change. Change means risk, and risk means uncertainty. Uncertainty kicks established expectations out the window. It’s harder than starting fresh because first I have to undo in order to redo differently.

The challenge is that there are two conflicting goals – efficiency and customer service – and it’s easy to take sides. I have to remember this: if I start my thinking on one side of the equation, I have to make sure to end my thinking on the other side, so that I fully assess the potential impact of my ‘improvements’.

One little change can ratchet up the uncertainty factor disproportionately. For example, a small change in my invoicing process might leave my clients wondering what else is coming. Suddenly that carefully established status quo is a little shaky. I have to consider even minor changes carefully for their potential impact on my customers’ experiences – AND I must manage the change as it happens.

We small business owners need to become masters of change management.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on April 26, 2012

Up the Value of Your Redirect Pages

Many of the people connecting with you online are arriving at one of your redirect pages at some point. A redirect page is the 'thank you for signing up' page you send them to when they sign up for your newsletter, or the event registration page you send them to when they sign up for your events.

Often, these pages contain minimal, basic information. A thank you message in the case of the newsletter or confirmation of event details (location, time, date, etc) in the case of event registration. But why stop there?

For one moment, you have managed to connect with that person. You have them at your website and they have already let you know they are interested in what you are doing by signing up for your newsletter or registering for your event.

Why not think about what value you can offer them while they are there? How can you expand on that connection?

With both your target market and your marketing strategy in mind, take a fresh look at your redirect pages and consider adding links to:
  • your newsletter archive
  • your blog or a short blog roll list
  • your social media accounts
  • upcoming events or a short event list
  • other resources you have online

Think about why they arrived at your redirect page and what other resources they may be interested in based on that.

Be careful you don't overwhelm them and lose your message in the volume. What is the most important message you want to communicate to them at this time? Focus on that.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on April 26, 2012

April 21, 2012

Trying to Unsubscribe

We often talk about the importance of making it easy to unsubscribe. I thought I would share with you my recent experience demonstrating the frustration that can occur when it is not.

I decided to unsubscribe from Air Canada's onAir newsletter several issues ago. When my issue arrived, I clicked to unsubscribe and landed on a 'No Update' error page. No big deal, the internet can be glitchy, I would just do it the next issue. This went on for 4 or 5 issues at which point, I started to feel like they were sending me to the error page on purpose. I was getting a little hot under the collar.

Last week, on a bad day for me, the current issue arrived and I landed on the same error page. I then went back to the newsletter and clicked the "contact us" link which took me to a form on their website called 'Let Us Know'. It was a lengthy form and the first section was my contact information in which I had to fill out my address, email, phone number and name. When I reached the third section, it was passenger information. Since I was not a passenger with any flight complaint, I skipped that and entered my message in the box below that, asking them to please unsubscribe me as the unsubscribe link was consistently not working. Submit. Ooops, error! Passenger information is required. Hmmmmmm. Back to the newsletter to find a phone number.

Finally on track, I get a real, live person. I explain my problem and she says, "Well, just email us". Ummm, OK, but what is the email address? She sends me to another link on their webpage which takes me to the same 'Let Us Know' form. When I tell her this is the same form and it requires passenger information. She tells me to just fill that out. I tell her, I am not a passenger, I have no flight information. She advises that only first and last name are required in that section so I should just fill that out. I suggest that it seems misleading enough to confuse me out of unsubscribing and that Air Canada should have a better system than this. They have obviously invested money. Their newsletter looks great. Unsubscribe is simple. Why make me jump through confusing hoops with their form?

In frustration, she responded, "Well you are a past passenger so you are a customer!"

"Really? I don't FEEL like a customer and if THIS is your customer service, you have BIG problems!" My frustration was showing too. I could not see this call getting any better.

So I say something I have never said before to any company sending me a newsletter. I said, "I have been trying to unsubscribe over the last 5 or 6 issues and this is my last attempt. I am telling you, as a representative of Air Canada, that I do not want your newsletter anymore. I have noted the date, time and phone number for this call and if I receive your newsletter again, I will be forwarding it to the CRTC as a spam complaint." Harsh, I know, but by now I was livid. Nothing I hate more than being talked to like I am an inconvenience.

She tells me that she cannot unsubscribe me, that I have to do it myself online. I tell her that I have been trying that and it failed repeatedly so she will have to talk to a supervisor or something because someone at Air Canada knows how to take me off the list and I was not spending anymore of my unpaid time trying to work out their problems for them.

Five minutes later, I receive an email from Air Canada. When I open it, there is a link titled 'Danielle Carrier click here to change your email preferences'. Finally! Whooo Hooo!!! I follow the link and can clearly unsubscribe to everything, which I do and hit submit. Ooops, error! It says I must select a home airport. I go back and select my home airport, unsubscribe and submit. Ooops, error! It says my preferred destination airport cannot be the same as my home airport. I didn't even know I had a preferred destination airport. I go back to the form and pick the first airport that pops in, unsubscribe and submit. Success!! Now just to wait and see if next month's issue arrives in my mailbox.

Frustrating for sure. It is times like this that I can get 100% behind the two click unsubscribe process being contemplated in the new legislation. Although it is looking like there are issues around the definition of two click so who knows what we will end up with when all is said and done.

April 13, 2012

Out of Ideas and Still Have a Deadline?

“Write when you’re inspired,” I always suggest. But sometimes deadlines loom, we need content, and inspiration is nowhere to be found. Here is a checklist you can use to come up with quick content when you’re out of bright ideas:

Fix a problem.
You solve problems for your customers all the time. What are they interested in or anxious about? This won’t require much prep because these will be the same problems you solve every day - the stuff you know like the back of your hand. Answer a question, provide advice, or share a resource.

Express an opinion.
If you're good at what you do, you will have lots of opinions. Share your opinion about someone else's article or on a hot topic under debate in your industry.

Tell a story.
Telling a funny, strange or engaging anecdote is a great way to deepen relationships. The topic doesn’t have to be strongly related to your subject matter but it does need to resonate with your readers. You can share a success story, a customer service experience, or a lesson learned the hard way.

Share a secret.
It doesn’t have to be a big secret. A piece of information that’s in short supply can be a secret. If you treat information as special, it becomes special. Share a ‘look behind the scenes’, give early access to something new or put old information in a new context.

Use another voice.
Other opinions and perspectives add depth to your subject matter. Other styles will add variety. Use guest articles, book reviews and interviews with experts. Invite customers to share their stories.

Create a remix.
Never discard a piece of content after only one use. Repurpose old content in new ways. If you took a poll, turn the results into an info-graphic. Make a series of blog posts into an e-book.

Originally published in Work Better, Not Harder on April 11, 2012

April 7, 2012

What You Might Not Know about Starting an eNewsletter

If you're considering starting a newsletter, there are a whole lot of little details that will be important to its success. Our clients are often surprised… and glad that they don’t have to figure it all out themselves. Here are just a few of the things you’ll need to consider.

Return address:

Regulations require a physical address to be included in commercial email. This is not something you can avoid. Most bulk emailing applications will prevent you from sending even test messages without an address.

example of sign-up form
Sign-Up Form:

Most applications will produce a snippet of html code that is your sign-up form. You need to think about where you’ll put it. I recommend you put it on a web page of its own. Remember that you will be putting links to that page in your newsletter and other places. When people arrive there, don't make them hunt for your form.

Subscribe process:

When creating the code for your sign-up form, you’ll make choices about what information to collect when people subscribe. Some fields can be 'required' and some 'optional'. The more info you ask for, the less likely people will be to subscribe. Don’t ask for information that you aren’t going to use. I recommend you only ask for an email address. The more info you ask for, the less likely people will be to subscribe - it's worth repeating.

Unsubscribe process:

Regulations require commercial email to include instructions to unsubscribe. Make it really easy for people to unsubscribe. And when someone unsubscribes, you want to make sure that you don’t accidentally send them anymore of whatever they unsubscribed from. Many applications have functionality to prevent you from doing that - which is a big benefit of using those applications.