Every business has dreams of a customer base so devoted that they literally become an army of mini salesmen sweeping the land and driving out the competition. Achieving this goal will not require a large investment of time, money, and an exhausting amount of energy…I will show you how effortlessly a Viral Customer can be created and walk you through the basics of branding and marketing you or your business built on three strong pillars.
Before we get started it is vital that we first understand what a Viral Customer is. They are the type of customer that always seems to be taking the opportunity to tell others about you and your business. Another description for these types of customers are called Evangelists – who spread the word about what you do and how well it is executed (your brand). The best thing about Viral Customers is that they are infectious and become very powerful instant marketing platforms that supercharge your business growth.
Word-of-Mouth Marketing is still the single most effective way to rapidly spread the word about a company or product. To ignore this force will most certainly cause you to lose out on the amount of time it will take to grow your business and achieve your goals. Although basic in concept, pulling it off is another thing entirely. In the next three installments I will walk you through everything you need to know about fast tracking your business by utilizing the power of just one Viral Customer.
Pillar One: Communication
One of the most valuable assets of any business is a loyal customer – even better is a Viral Customer. Unfortunately for most contractors or small service companies finding and keeping these customer types are much like catching a Unicorn. The reason why businesses aren’t actively pursuing the “Holy Grail” of customers is likely because it seems overwhelming and time consuming (the two things contractors hate most). I mean, how can contractors effectively concentrate on CMS (Customer Management Systems) when every day is filled with doing quotes and then executing the endless project details? If you’re a one-man operation, you are juggling a lot of responsibilities – like: marketing, sales, quality control, getting materials, doing the labor, project management, customer relations, complaint department, accounting…who has time for creating the perfect customer!
So, what I’m about to share with you is what I discovered by being a General Contractor and running a home remodeling business for well over 30 years. During those years in business I tried every marketing tactic under the sun and yet always seemed to come up empty. Yes, newspaper & magazine ads, radio ads, flyers, door hangers, discounts, business cards, yard signs, and specials all seemed to have an instant benefit. But I quickly found that I had to keep chasing the next thing in order to keep the momentum going. I thought “wouldn’t be nice if you could run marketing for a small business like mine on auto-pilot?” – and spend more time growing the business to the dream you had when you first started. I discovered that using some tried and true business practices mixed with modern technology produced a marketing model that resulted in rapid growth and created customers for life. I eventually stopped throwing my money away on traditional advertising techniques (even business cards) and laser focused on what was working – Relationship.
The first step in creating a Viral Customer is maintaining a good relationship by building trust and taking on the One Client Mindset. Remember the old saying “the customer is always right”? That’s one of those tried and true business practices that I mentioned before. Successful companies today are spending more and more time catering to the customer experience (CX) and treating their clients like they’re the only one being served. The goal is to give an impression to the customer so that it almost feels like the whole company has put on the brakes just to address their concerns. Maybe you’ve already experienced this in a recent transaction with a company that created a customer experience so pleasant and personal, it caused you to tell at least one other person about it (you just went viral).
Connecting with customers in a timely manner and on a personal level gives value to the relationship. And, when someone feels valued in any relationship, they become loyal. When loyalty is nurtured and even rewarded the contagion is born and they spontaneously start spreading the word about their experience.
Here is an example: I placed my business in the NextDoor app (free) and received a request for a quote. I returned the call within an hour and turned in the quote within 24hrs. I followed up with an email asking if there were any questions and in a couple of days got the job (immediately sending a thank-you email). I communicated in a similar fashion about scheduling, project details and gave daily text updates. I responded to any questions or concerns asap and made sure they were happy with the end results before the final transaction was completed. Another thank-you email, followed up by a satisfaction rating request, a few more peppered emails about referring us to friends & family, asking for a review on Google, a six month check in, a few newsletters, some specials and discounts, etc. Most emails were automated and required very little time out of my busy schedule. The customer is sending me referrals to this day all because I gave them the impression that they were the only client I was concerned about at the time. This process repeated with all my customers has allowed me to eliminate all other forms of traditional marketing and strictly work off of referrals from happy customers.
Bots a lot!
Automation is the secret behind the new wave of CX and is probably the most important tool to use and is made available to everyone. Email is still the most effective way of communication to and from your customers and the use of automated responses coupled with personalization’s make it so easy to implement. You can use a clunky limited version of automation in your stand-alone Gmail account or in Outlook but it’s not quite there yet. Gmail offers plugins or extensions, but you will have to pay to use them. Paying for the use of an automation tool is expected, but you should go with an email service that is uber geared up for the process. MailChimp, Constant Contact and Getresponse are the three innovators on the market and give the best overall experience. There are countless others that have limited abilities but can be more affordable if just starting out. Most all offer a free version and trial periods to get the feel for the structure. Again, the key is using an email marketing service. Once you’re set up, the process is as simple as setting up automation triggers and responses to events.
For example: someone opens your email quote and it triggers a chain of emails that can be set up to go out at specific times while responding to specific triggers (like them opening or not opening the quote). It just requires thinking ahead a little bit and crafting a response template you can use again and again. I use Getresponse because they were early on with the technology and are still the most affordable. The whole process is like mapping out a football play…if this happens, then go this way, etc.
I have even set up a form that when I put in a customer’s email, will instantly send out a specific thank-you email. I used a free app creation service (Thunkable) to create an app out of that form, and now I can pull it up on my phone as I’m walking away from a meeting with a client and immediately send it out.
There are other automation tools for platforms like texting (SMS), website contact forms, and Facebook pages. Facebook is rolling out messenger bots that are like the email triggers and give the impression that a live person is on the other end. Because it uses messenger – you can jump in on your mobile phone at any time you need to communicate live with your customer. I also use a gifting app that sends a client a gift certificate to Starbucks in a very impressive email or text. I have an E-contact card app that I can instantly send to any new potential customers that has a great digital mobile presentation (wow factor and good first impression).
I find that it’s all the little personal touches that keep the customers you already have devoted to your company and are still viral. Remember that communication is the key to any healthy relationship. Poor communication with a customer voids out any future work and will dramatically slow the growth of your business.
Pillar 2: Show up and do an excellent job.
How is your business defined? Is it what you do or how you do it? There’s a strong argument that suggests a well-balanced mix of the two topped off with a healthy dose of integrity truly defines what customers think about your business. And make no mistake that the impression your business portrays is essentially what dictates its success. All this translates into your business’s identity – or your brand. Your brand is what customers think about you when they mention you to their friends or family. Getting this right and being consistent will guarantee a very successful business that outlasts all your competition.
My favorite definition of a professional is; Someone who always does their very best even when no one is watching. There are certain elements that help define the level of professionalism your business displays. Build a reputation for being the best that you can be, and take pride in that reputation.
Integrity should be present in every area of your business, from the work that is performed to the honesty and respect you give both your customers and employees. It simply means consistently doing the right thing, never compromising and always being truthful. Trust is the natural outcome of this quality and is the most important ingredient in a customer relationship.
Over and Above
Strive to not only deliver the best results to your customers, but do a little more than they expected, surpass their expectations, and give them the “Wow Factor”. Just think about the times you ever were impressed with someone who gave great customer service, and how you almost spontaneously told another person about your experience. Wouldn’t be great if that’s how every customer of yours spoke about you and your company?
Excellent customer service is a lost quality and somewhat of an endangered species. It’s the scarcity of quality interactions and experiences within the service industry that will give you the edge when you start practicing them. Test it out with just the smallest of things and see the amazing results that are produced in the form of a new viral customer.
Setup company (or personal) standards that are the guide posts to how performance is measured. Assigned tasks and duties that are consistent and designed to give direction. Discipline is nothing more than focus, dedication, and determination. People are inclined to do their best when clear responsibilities are laid out in an expected timeline.
Ok, I know this one sounds corny, but it really is true. Having a single mindset and outcome illustrates to your customers everything listed above is genuine and sincere. No one throws anyone under the bus, and all bear the same burdens – no matter who’s fault it is. Nothing runs better than a well-oiled machine (more corn).
Be On time
Punctuality is a definite indicator of professionalism – think of it as a mirror that reflects your true integrity. Customers put a lot of weight on two things when a drawing their conclusions about a company; Being on time and communication. Some view being late as a deal-breaker and will not hire you just because it portrays a lack of respect. Try actually being just five minutes early and see the response you get from your customers.
Whether you are a one-man operation or have several employees, your business should focus on one area of expertise and strive to be the best in your industry. Master the product or service and the process by which you execute it in such a way that your competition is left in the dirt. When your company establishes its position as an industry leader by way of being dependable – the word will spread fast, and massive growth is inevitable.
Now, at this point you may be saying to yourself “what a waste of time! This article is full of old fashion clichés and cheesy advice I could’ve gotten from my Grandfather” …and, you would be partially right. But these principles are strong and have stood the test of time. In fact, it’s helped build one of the greatest countries in the world – arguably in all history. We need to revisit all these qualities and tweak them if necessary, to meet the ever-changing atmosphere of business and customer relations. So, use them as a guide to get your business to the place you want it to be, but please don’t underestimate the power each one possesses and even more as a whole.
Pillar 3: Networking
The final step in creating a Viral Customer is to stay in touch with them indefinitely through the simple process of utilizing connections. Those connections are what keeps them viral and contagious by facilitating a partnership that stands the test of time. People like to help each other and solve problems together…just ask a question on your favorite social media site and see how many responses you receive and how quickly they are posted. Utilizing this truth for the growth of your business is the secret of Word-of-Mouth marketing.
Soon after a job is completed, and you’ve sent a moving “thank you” email to your customer, ask them how you did. Maybe in a rating questionnaire or a simple follow-up letter asking them to leave a review on Facebook, Google, Nextdoor, etc. You can help make the process easy for them by including links and instructions on how to submit one. The point is to strike while the iron is hot and ask them while they are still enjoying the experience with you or your company. Send them another “thank you” for any action on their part and make them understand that you really appreciate the extra effort. You will discover that only certain customers take the intuitive and gladly participate in the process…those are the ones that have the type of motivation you are looking for.
Now that you’ve identified that special customer that’s not only motivated but is actionable – ask them to refer you to their friends or family. Offer them an incentive to tell others about you by way of discounts, special offers and extras (be creative). Once they show an interest and have referred new customers your way, give them the tools to go even further by creating specifically designed discounts and offers that they have the power to yield. This can be achieved by way of unique discount codes, referral links, pass-it-on coupons, secret promotions, etc. (again – be creative). You are essentially creating a self-motivated sales force that doesn’t require a large commission. Have you ever been offered tickets to a game or event by another company or business associate? It feels pretty good to think that you were singled out to receive something you weren’t expecting. How about if you were the one giving the tickets? People just like helping other people is what makes a good community.
I Know A Guy
Over the course of your customer relationship journey you will be periodically touching base in various ways via emails, offers, newsletters, anniversary reminders, product updates, social media posts, and repeat business. These events are always peppered with reminders to “tell others about us” but can also be used for referring other contractors & companies back to your customers. A great representation of your companies’ values is found in the other relationships you have separate from your customers. Often the other contractors and companies you work with share the same work ethics and values as you and your company does, and in turn they might share your company with their customers. Promoting these other connections and sharing them with your customers illustrate a trust level that expands to all involved. I used to respond to my customers’ requests to recommend someone who… (insert skill I don’t have) by pulling up their number and giving it to them on a piece of paper. In realizing the power of connections and the value of a good relationship, I created a website that allows contractors to create a unique group of valued contractors who are familiar with each other and work together. The group shares one link with all their customers in a way that’s fast, easy and effective. The great thing about this is that you can add as many as you like or even remove anyone out of your group in an instant. Using this myself has already brought in countless new customer leads from sources that share a sense of trustworthiness.
Word-of-Mouth Marketing is by far the most powerful and least expensive promotional tool – made available to anyone who wants to use it. Its ability to create loyal, devoted Viral Customers is highly under rated. If you take the time to cultivate a good strong relationship at the beginning of every customer journey – you will never have to spend money on ads that hit-or-miss, pay for leads that never pan out, overspend on direct mail that just gets thrown out, or continue to lose out on all those yard missing signs. True people to people marketing is organic and dynamic in nature and will always double your ROI. I know this to be true because I tried everything else and discovered the secret to nearly effortless growth… One Viral Customer!