Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Shhh Be Very Quiet And Listen er Read Closely, A Candid Conversation About Customer Service With Pat Mcgraw

A lot of people complain that customer service has become a lost art. In a fast paced social media world people are constantly chatting about everything including customer service expectations and experiences. Companies are trying to keep up with their customers by trying just about anything they can to reach out with the message that they care. Funny thing is some clients don't want the fuzzy warm conversation, they just want to get it done.

Pat McGraw is a highly skilled marketing executive who by the way has his own company, McGraw Marketing. One of the things Pat wrote on a site called Social Media Today was that some clients DON'T want to talk to businesses. Ok Mr. McGraw welcome to Candid Conversations and what exactly did you mean when you posted the article back in December?

Pat McGraw: Cliff, thanks for the opportunity to speak with you.

Originally, I was responding to some extremely interesting research that had been reported in an article entitled "Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers" that had appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

That research made the case for letting the customer self-serve and not making the assumption that customers valued live service over self-service.

Successful sales and marketing companies know that the key to retaining customers and building referrals is consistently delivering a unique, valuable experience – and that the customer defines what is unique and valuable.

So, what I wanted to communicate through my article was the importance of thinking like the customer, the importance of never assuming you know what the customer values and how dangerous assumptions can be for your business.

Cliff T.: What is the best way for a company to gauge when to and when not to talk to a customer, is their some sort of mechanism they can use to measure the talk level of the customer?

Pat McGraw: Well, I believe that you should always talk with your customers. Sometimes the conversation is a little longer, more detailed and more focused on a specific topic – but you have to be there and ready to talk because you need to be ready whenever he customer wants to share. That's why am a huge believer in market research that's part of the culture of the business versus the more traditional 'project based' approach.

But that's a whole other topic.....

To your question, I would suggest that your business has key metrics that should be monitored and when they differ from the norm, you should consider reaching out to your customers and finding out why they are behaving in a specific manner.

For example, conversion rate for first time buyers is a key metric that might indicate there is a need to speak with prospective and new buyers. Is there a disconnect between promotional efforts and the buying experience that is causing prospective buyers to buy at a lower or higher rate?

Other key metrics would include order frequency, order size and referrals. If your customers are buying less frequently or are spending less per order – you should consider reaching out to them in order to find out why.

And if your referral rates are dropping off, it's time to find out why.

Cliff T.: I have to admit I am, in most cases, not interested in engaging a CSR. I already know what I want to do. That in mind with so much in the way of social media that is reaching out wanting people to engage in conversations. Where does a company begin to separate the need to talk to the client, at what point should a business say ok we get it you just want this do it and let the client go without the mega sales pitch?

Pat McGraw: Successful sales and marketing companies know that they need to show interest and concern, as well as to be accessible and available. From there, the conversations will happen when the customer wants them to happen.

And successful sales and marketing companies know that research is part of the culture so when a customer comes into the business, the staff knows to ask key questions and capture the responses for analysis. That can be simple questions about what brought you into the business today or what are they looking for and why.

When your staff consistently shows an interest in the customer, and they are consistently available and easily accessible, the customer is more open to the formal research projects. That's because you've developed a relationship and set expectations so the customer isn't surprised or taken by surprise by your 'sudden interest'.

Cliff T.: Working the front line myself for 15 years as a customer care agent one of the things I noted in some of my work was that there seems to be this drive to sell sell sell. I remember a number of times clients asking at the beginning of the call not to have a sales pitch tossed at them, on to hear me toss because the company required me to do so as part of the job. I am sure this does annoy customers. Is there a creative way to make a sales pitch without it sounding like a sales pitch?

Pat McGraw: The best sales pitch is no sales pitch. Early in my career, I attended a seminar hosted by Tom Hopkins and there was one nugget of gold that I walked out of the seminar with that day – and it was to shut up, listen and ask relevant questions.

Most people will, if given the chance, sell themselves. Unfortunately, too many companies and too many sales and marketing professionals seem to think that they have to talk at rather than talk with the customer. So they are too busy talking and not listening – and that means they miss obvious buying clues.

A great leading question can start a chain reaction that leads to the customer remembering that they have a need and should make a purchase. I was recently working with B2B retailer and we had the employees ask customers how their businesses were performing – and if business was going well, we asked about their supply needs because we knew that their success meant higher consumption rates of supplies.

And if the business was sluggish, we reminded them of our payment options, return policies and special they knew we offered them ways to save money and reduce expenses. That led to higher loyalty.

Cliff T.: Mr. McGraw, you mentioned that companies should make the experience easy and fun for the customer to do what needs to be done, how do companies do that?

Pat McGraw: Keep it human. Keep it real. Be concerned and compassionate. Be accessible. Be honest. And remember that your goal is a lifelong relationship with the customer – so sometimes you need to do what's best for the long-term rather than the short-term.

My favorite example is a retailer that would invite customers to a special evening event – and the customer could invite a friend to attend as well. The event highlighted the new season's fashions and provided food and drink in addition to door prizes. They turned shopping into a party – an exclusive party.

Cliff T.: In your article you mentioned that business leaders overestimate the customers need to talk with the company. How are they doing that and how do they tone it down?

Pat McGraw: Actually the research found that business leaders thought customers wanted and valued live service more than self-service. So they were focusing more on customer service staff rather than ways to help the customer get more accomplished on their own.

For example, I was working with a multi-channel retailer a number of years ago. They took great pride in their ability to process and ship orders within 24 hours and they had a great internal system for tracking the progress of the order so that the staff could make sure the orders stayed on track.

We asked how we could make that same information available to the customer so they could also follow along – and that simple solution made a huge, positive impact on the relationship between this business and their customers.

Cliff T.: Mr McGraw, do you think that it is a good idea for companies to ask customers how they want to be approached?

Pat McGraw: Conversation is always a wonderful, valuable thing. Too many companies lose sight of this – they get focused on 'getting the job done' and they forget to keep it real and keep the human element in the experience.

Yes, I think it's a fantastic idea to stop, take the time, show the interest and ask the customer how they are doing and how you can make their life better.

Cliff T.: How important is simplicity when it comes to talking or not talking to a customer?

Pat McGraw: Keeping it simple is the best. Last week, I got a call from the CEO of a business. He wanted to know how my business was doing and how he might be able to help me grow my business.

A simple 5 minute call. Or it could have been a huge production number in terms of a research firm calling to ask me 20-25 questions that may or may not have been important to me.

Sometimes a quick call from someone that can make a decision right then and there – that's all it takes.

Cliff T.: As a marketing executive how do you approach a client who is being over zealous in their desire to talk to customer, what would you tell them is the first thing they need to do to dial it down?

Pat McGraw: This happens all the time – mainly because the company hasn't spoken with the customer in some time and now, suddenly, there is a desire to do it all at once.

My role is to keep them focused on the primary objective so that the effort is successful.

Typically, what starts off as a very large research project turns into a series of smaller, more focused efforts over time. The end result is much more positive because the customer sees this as an on-going discussion rather than a one-time inconvenience.

Cliff T.: From what I can see on your website, you deliver a suite of services to help clients develop their space in the market. With so many voices out there calling for attention has become harder to get a message through to the customer or is it more of a case of info overload?

Pat McGraw: The key to success is relevancy. Are you saying the right thing to the right people at the right time in order to motivate the right response?

Successful sales and marketing companies know that a qualified buyer is not always ready to buy – sometimes they are gathering information in order to make a future purchase. So the message and offer needs to be relevant, valuable for that buyer at that point in time.

Now, the noise in the marketplace is a lot of ineffective sales and marketing companies screaming “Buy now and Save $$$” - and for 80% of the market, that's the wrong message because they're not ready to buy now. So that message gets ignored and fails to help the company attract and engage qualified buyers so the company is better positioned to help that buyer when they are ready to buy.

Successful sales and marketing firms are segmenting the audience and delivering relevant messages to those segments. For example, for those qualified buyers in the “Interest” stage of the buying process, they receive information that answers questions and helps the buyer identify potential solutions.

Then there are more action oriented messages for buyers that are ready to buy.

Saying something isn't enough – it's about relevancy.

Cliff T.: From the gist of it, what I am sensing is that your suggesting that companies tweet and Facebook less and let the customer pick the mode they want to communicate or not communicate in, would that be an accurate assumption?

Pat McGraw: Again, it depends on where the individual is in the buying process. For those that are early in the process and just starting to search for a solution provider, Twitter and Facebook are great channels for attracting their attention and providing them with the information they need to identify solutions and solution providers.

But as the buyer moves further into the buying process – when they want and need specific information for their own unique requirements – there are more effective and direct channels for communicating with the buyer. And that's a sales person asking and answering specific questions in a timely, accurate manner.

Cliff T.: Well it sounds like marketing today has become a real challenge. I thank you for taking time to speak with me.

Pat McGraw: Cliff, thank you for providing me with this opportunity to take a deeper dive on this topic. I look forward to the questions and comments your readers will add to this post!

Pat McGraw of McGraw Marketing is a an Executive Marketing specialist. His company helps clients in a variety of ways including brand management, market researching and customer relationship management. You can learn more about what he does by visiting his website at

Mr. McGraw wrote to Candid Conversations from his offices in Baltimore MD