by Gavin Moffat
Keeping tabs of all your customers and prospects is a tough task – it’s hard enough simply to identity them all and build up an accurate database of their contact details. But talking to customers in a personalised manner using the right communication channels and mechanisms is critical to the success of any business that wants to grow and retain its customer base.
So how do you go about it? To put it simply, you need to be out there in the real and virtual worlds talking to your customers wherever they are. I highlighted one example of this in my column last month – setting up a Web site. But there are other basics to cover – setting up a Google Maps listing, ensuring that your business is listed in all relevant online and local directories, perhaps even advertising online.
The right place to start, perhaps, is to figure out where your customers are and what communications tools and media they’re using every day. Before throwing your time at setting up and maintaining a Facebook page, ask your customers if they use Facebook and whether they’d value your presence there. For example, set up a poll on your Web site, ask customers in-store or send an email survey out.
This being South Africa, just about everyone has a cellphone, and that will probably apply to your customers. Why not ask them for permission to interact with them using SMS messaging? They would probably be happy to hear from you from time to time, provided that you don’t abuse the privilege – only send your messages to people who have given you permission to do so.
Perhaps most importantly, make sure that your messages of your value to the customer – for example, SMS is a perfect way to let customers know that a long-awaited item is in stock again or that you’re having a clearance sale with some great bargains on offer.
Keeping in touch with your customers via SMS is both easy and relatively inexpensive. There are a number of platforms to use and companies that offer services. I have used www.bulksms.co.za for a while now and find their application to be very useful for sending reminders to customers and media before events.
These communications are still fairly one-sided – you are pushing information to your customers in the hope that they will get it, consume it, and take an action that benefits your business. But SMS does offer you a flexible, immediate and reliable way of talking to many people.So my big tip for the day is ‘use SMS’? Well, yes and no. SMS is great communications tool for South African businesses, but like Facebook, email and all the other channels at your disposal, it is just a tool.
The message matters as much as the medium. You need to look at your customers, understand them, and then talk to them in their language in the right place and at the right time. Then you’ll find that talking to your customers will help you forge closer relationships with them that result in better business results for you.
By Gavin Moffat
As a small to medium sized business, your technology budget is precious. You can’t afford to squander money on solutions that don’t deliver real business benefit – and in the middle of protracted downturn, you’re probably more careful than ever about how you spend your money.
Yet there is a wealth of solutions that could enhance your business. So how does one go about choosing them? By remembering that technology is only truly useful to your business if it allows you to increase your revenues or decrease your costs. The worth of any technology to your business should be benchmarked against those goals.
No longer should you be seduced into buying a solution just because it’s new or to keep up with the Joneses – any solution you acquire must be measured against a clear business objective. Smaller businesses should probably take care not to buy into technologies too early in the hype cycle, but wait for them to offer tangible benefit. At the same time, you shouldn’t be left behind by technologies that could make a difference for your business. Keeping that in mind, what are the trends to watch for in 2010?
One element of your business that you should certainly be looking at is your online presence. According to the latest statistics from respected research firm World Wide Worx, more than 10% of South Africans are now online (some 5 million) and the number of connected people can be expected to double over the next five years.
Falling data costs (a gigabyte of ADSL data costs far less than it did just a year ago) means that your customers will do more online in the year to come and that you can do more online as well.
You don’t necessarily need to be setting up a major electronic commerce portal – that depends on the business you’re in – but you should be looking at what people are saying about your business using social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook and on customer service sites like HelloPeter. It’s an easy way to keep tabs on what your customers are saying and to respond to them, and the only cost is a little time.
In addition, you should also try to set up a web site if you don’t already have one and ensure that it’s up to date if you do. Thanks to innovations like Google AdWords, the online world also offers you some economical options for advertising.
Another important technology for the year ahead is mobile communications. Smartphones are finally at a point where they are easy to use and offer decent battery life; what’s more, data costs have fallen to a point where they are affordable. There is no reason for your managers and salespeople not to have email and calendar access wherever they go – this is a big potential money-saver since your employees can all use your time more efficiently.
They don’t need to come to the office to check email between appointments, for example. Receiving an email in a timely manner while you’re away from the office could sometimes spell the difference between closing a deal or not. It’s the sort of technology that is ideal for an SME – cheap and practical.
The world of technology is constantly changing and evolving, but the basic business principles remain the same. Choose technologies that are simple, affordable and have provable business benefits and you’ll reap a real return on investment from them without breaking the bank.