Subscription Service Smarts

Last week I shared about some confusing communications I’d received recently, this week I wanted to follow up with a discussion on something that many businesses, especially non-profits, rely on: recurring orders/donations. These are a fantastic way of having a consistent source of funds coming into your business that you can rely on as long as you’re offering what they’re buying or they need what you’re offering. These recurring orders can be simply items that people need on a consistent basis (i.e. paper towels and pasta), or a recurring package each month/week of items to try (i.e. beauty or dog items), or a regular subscription like meal kits or clothing outfits. It can also be a consistent monthly donation that goes into a particular fund or supports a particular individual.

If you want to improve the sign-ups and keep people signed up there are several things you can do, some that apply to some types of subscriptions and some that apply to others. One is to keep a good balance of new and top favorites as part of the subscription. Another is to make sure you’ve sufficiently tested the new items you’re sending out. Another is to send updates by email and/or mail so people know what’s going on with their donations or they could add to their order.

One of the biggest keys to keeping subscription customers is the ease of updating their information and their order(s), including what they’re ordering and any delivery information as well as their payment methods/options. The more challenging it is and the harder you make for them to find where and how to update the information, the more likely they’ll just cancel it all. Even worse, if they really struggle with changes, they may leave a nasty review about it online or suggest to friends/family who ask not to order from that company. Out of the 8 organizations that I had to update my credit card information with 3 were easy (at least one of which took quite a bit of navigating and effort to change the information), 4 required a phone call (something that shouldn’t be necessary if you can donate online), and for one the site refused to update the donation so I canceled the subscription and just made a one time donation (and will try again next month). Clearly there’s a lot of progress yet to be made with these organizations, and that’s just a small slice of all the organizations that you can do a subscription/donation with.

What about you? If you offer a subscription program do you make it easy for your subscribers to update their information and stay up to date about what’s going on and their options?

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Confusing Communications

One of the biggest aspects to running a successful business is being able to get paid.  Whether you’re running a for-profit or non-profit business your people have to be able to contribute to your work or purchase from you if you want to stay in business.  Technology has made it easier than ever to connect people (and their money) with things and organizations around the world, which enables businesses to have more potential customers than ever before and gives customers more options than ever.

Recently the inevitable happened and one of my credit cards came up to the expiration date, and that’s where the confusion began. I got an email from the credit card company notifying me that the card was going to expire soon (in about 2-3 months), then I got a second email letting me know that a new card would be coming soon (again with almost 2 months to go before it expired), then I got an email from a non-profit that I have a monthly recurring donation with from a personal email account at the company saying that I needed to update my card information (about a month before the card would expire), then I got a text message that the card was mailed, and then I got an email reminding me to activate my card. Are you feeling as stressed and confused as I am by all that?

I’m all for keeping people in the loop but some of these messages were excessive, some were concerning and some were confusing. The biggest of concern were the text message, the email from the non-profit, and the email about activating my card. I don’t have my account signed up for text messages, so to send me a text message was abnormal and concerning. The email from the non-profit was sent in a regular email message (no logos or recognizable templates) from someone I’d never heard of or talked to. The email about activating my card made it sound like the card arrived weeks ago and I was being blamed for not activating it.

The thing about all of these messages is that the issues are very simple to fix and there’s reason to make the investment in working on them. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be sent with recognizable email templates. They’re all able to be crafted in a way that doesn’t sound like the writing was rushed and they can be edited by many team members before being sent since they’re emails that is going to be sent frequently to people and the message doesn’t change from person to person (so it makes sense to give the extra time and effort to crafting them). The third thing to take into account is whether or not the emails have been opened, and if they have been there’s no need for repetition, if anything more information should be given in the initial notification including the whole timeline rather than sending many messages so that the buyer has more confidence and understanding of the projected timeline and when any concerns should be raised. Finally, more attention can be easily given to the timeline of the messages being sent, especially the message about activating the card, which should only have been sent after the estimated time of delivery plus adding in some extra days for any delivery issues like hurricanes or being on vacation.

Doing one or preferably all of these things would have alleviated a lot of stress and concern on my part, especially for something that is a fairly predictable, anticipated and easy process. It certainly was one of the more painful experiences I’ve had with the payment aspect of business. Next week we’ll talk about one of the things I mentioned here, updating recurring orders or donations, and I’ll give you some feedback and suggestions based on what I’ve experienced recently.

What are your thoughts on making time-sensitive communications easier and clearer?

Back to Business

With schools around the country back in session today I thought we’d talk about some of the basics that will help you be successful today and in the future in your business.

Supplies:
From the basics like paper, pens and envelopes to wrapping and packaging to computers and online accounts there are lots of supplies that most businesses need in order to run most successfully. The choices you make at this first and most basic levels of business can be absolutely crucial as they are the tools that you use to connect with customers and your team, as well as present your business to the world.

Teachers:
Part of being successful is about what you bring to the table, but you can jump start and leap frog your success if you take time to learn from others too. Having a mentor or several someones you can turn to both personally and specifically as well as from a distance gives you the ability to grow your business into a stronger business.

Questions:
In school you’re asked to answer questions on tests and in class, and in business you’re asked not only to answer the questions, but also often to come up with the questions. Questions not only help you make sure that you’ve got your bases covered, they also help you explore different opportunities and perspectives into how you can better serve customers and how you can grow your business.

Learning:
Whether you call it a trial period, beta stage, or growing pains, if you’re building and running a successful business there will be learning. You’ll learn what your customers want, how to speak to your customers, how to better address problems, how to work with employees, and how you can bring a better product or service to market. You won’t just learn these things once though, they’re things you’re learning throughout the life of your business.

So what are the basics of your business that are keys to your success?

Labor Day Reflections

Monday here in the US is Labor Day. It’s the day that we honor and remember all the contributions that the American people have made for and towards the economy and success of our country. I think it’s important to still celebrate this day because even though we’ve made some really great strides in making work accessible and safer for all, there are still some serious issues in the work place today.

When you look at the statistics about how many people are employed vs. unemployed, they don’t take into account how many people are miserable in the job they have. It doesn’t register how many people dread going to work the next day. It doesn’t consider how many people feel threatened, frustrated or ignored by their bosses and superiors. It doesn’t take into account the number of workers who have no clue what they’re doing or why they do what they’re doing. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of improvement still needed in many workplaces.

The first step to improvement is for the leadership to remember that they’re working with people, not magicians. Most staff members won’t read minds, can’t decipher gibberish, and can only do what you’ve told them to do. So when they’re not doing what you need them to do, aren’t truly helping customers, aren’t being as productive as you want them to be or keep doing things wrong, take a step back. First look at what you’ve told them to do (do your messages/requests/instructions even make sense?  Are they detailed and specific enough?). Second, look at how you’ve trained them and if you’re continuing to give them education to improve their skills. Third look at the resources available to them (can they do the job you’re asking them to do, let alone do well?).

Once sufficient and clear communication, expectations and resources have been established, only then can things improve dramatically for both workers and businesses. Are you the reason your employees are miserable and unproductive? What can you do to be the reason that you’ve got employees who look forward to coming into work, share about job openings with your business, and are happy and capable of fully supporting your customers?

The Choice of Success or Competition?

One of the keys we consistently talk about when it comes to business is people. If you don’t have customers you can’t run a business. If you run a business that uses employees but you don’t have any (or can’t keep any) you can’t service your customers. If your suppliers or partners don’t hold up their end of the arrangement, you can’t serve your customers. Sounds simple enough, right? Yes, but there are lots of layers to just simply having customers and employees and working with suppliers/partners.

There is competition in every town, every state, and every industry, so on top of the local competition you’ve got the internet competition to face as well. It’s almost impossible to find (or create) an industry that doesn’t have competition, either direct competition (i.e. other health food stores) or competition within the same field (i.e. other supermarkets). There will always be a question of whether you’re truly offering the same thing or not, the experience you have in offering/creating that item (how do you back up the value you offer) and what the difference is with price.

I believe that there are more than enough customers for everyone, so I don’t believe that you have a right to be angry at customers or employees who choose to move on. If they choose to move on they do it for a whole variety of personal reasons including moving locations, relationship changes, or health changes. Unless you’re going to make some significant changes to your business (unlikely) there’s not much you can do about keeping their business.

But they may also choose to move on because you’re not providing what they need or want. For example, if they feel like the service isn’t up to their standards (or has recently changed), if they feel disrespected or unappreciated, if they see more growth (career and knowledge) opportunities, if they don’t feel that you’re offering a quality product (or has recently changed), or if they’re not getting properly compensated for the work they do. If any of these are true then you can’t blame the other companies out there, you can only blame yourself for pushing them away.

If this is a reality check for you and you’re realizing that you’re chasing away potential life-long customers and employees your customers have always appreciated, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate how you’re leading and running the business. Learn from what the successful businesses in your world (online and local) are doing, don’t berate or antagonize your customers and employees for patronizing them or choosing to work with them when you aren’t being the great business you could be. Most businesses can be turned around from a downward spiral if they’re willing to be open to hearing the truth and make the necessary changes.

Competition isn’t the enemy of success, competition is normal and healthy. It’s up to each business to differentiate themselves, market themselves and provide 5 star service to customers whether you’re selling inexpensive toys or pricey homes.  Are you so focused on the competition that your business, customers and employees are suffering?

Proactive Business Communications

On Monday I shared some thoughts about dealing with people who are poor communicators. While you can’t fix them (unless they ask you for help), there is something you can do if you’re the poor communicator. Unfortunately, one of the worst communicators are businesses. It’s really a shame with the advances in technology that make it so easy for anyone to create even a simple website, or have an email address to answer questions.

One of the biggest issues when it comes to communication in business is a lack thereof. It’s not really about an inability to communicate what you’re all about (but that is an issue sometimes), it’s more of an issue of not answering questions potential customers have, not speaking to them in a way they understand or making them work harder than they should to answer the simplest of questions.

If as a business you think you’re answering all of a potential customer’s questions with your marketing material, then it’s time for an outside review with someone who’s not familiar with your company at all, preferably several someones. Having success coaches, business consultants and regular people in your target market review your marketing can give you an eye-opening reveal as to whether or not you’re really setting yourself up for success.

One of the biggest challenges is getting past the ‘everyone knows that’ stage to the ‘let’s be proactive and educate our customers and show them we’re a customer service savvy organization.’ Unless you’re one of the world-wide fast food chains, world-wide beverage companies, or big box retailers that are in multiple countries, it’s not safe to assume that things are “well-known” about you, your company and/or what you’re offering. The cost of adding a few lines to a web page, answering a few emails or making a few social media posts is so incredibly negligible that it’s mind blowing that so few companies are willing to take that step.

One of the other questions that’s often raised is about being worried about revealing all of the trade secrets, which I understand. But if you don’t include enough information you won’t get people past that first step. I don’t have a problem with a little mystery, but too much isn’t healthy for businesses. Think about it this way: you probably played games like Old Maid, Clue and Monopoly as a kid (and maybe you still play now). Each of those games has some very predictable and communicable aspects, and yet the fact is that you never know who the old maid is, who the killer is or who will end up with the most money or houses. Those mysteries are OK to let stand, the mystery of what the game is all about and the key aspects (i.e. the cards, the board, the players etc.) have to be revealed in order for people to not only play, but to purchase the game in the first place.

I understand that some businesses struggle to manage the customer load they have now, but chances are really good that they/you still want more customers. If that’s the case, being proactive about communicating is one of the simplest and easiest things you can do.

Does your business communicate proactively or are you struggling to keep up?

The Business of Relationships

Today I thought we’d talk about something that some businesses are interested in but others haven’t hopped on the bandwagon yet: creating a better relationship with your customers. Some businesses are happy to just get a customer, and have designed their business to be a limited number of transactions between them and a specific customer, maybe even as few as one, or a couple with quite a few years between. That’s OK, it certainly works for some businesses, and often the case is that those products or services cost more as a result. However, in most cases businesses want to have more than one sale with a customer, and statistically it’s cheaper to sell again to one customer than to gain a new one. So let’s talk about things that impact building a relationship with a customer.

Regular communications are the first place to start. Sometimes this is necessary to gain a customer in the first place, but it’s also key to developing a relationship with a customer and getting them to come back for more sales in the future. There are several options to how you can do this, from local events to social media to an email newsletter to a print newsletter to a blog. Once you’ve chosen the method of communicating you have to consistently follow through, whether it’s daily/weekly social media posts, weekly blog/newsletters or monthly events, or whatever schedule you choose to follow that is consistent and frequent enough to keep you top-of-mind, but not too frequently that it’s overwhelming or annoying.

The other thing to consider about building a relationship is about customer experience. If customers know they only have to deal with something once they’re willing to put up with a less-than-perfect website, pushy marketing, and even possibly some rudeness or poor customer service. However, if you want to build a relationship with a customer, the website should be up to date and have colors that are easy for people to view without being overwhelming, customer service should be responsive to all questions or queries, and care should be taken to both creating products and marketing materials so there aren’t obvious spelling or grammar issues, outdated information or so little information they have no idea what’s going on.

What about your business? Are you working on building a relationship with your customers or just working to get the sale?

Speaking the Language of Success

Last week I heard about another poor decision and rant that someone made with regards to someone’s culture and/or language.  While it’s easy to say, and for some of us believe, that we should all work together and there aren’t any differences between cultures, races and sexes, there is a rather large challenge that isn’t always possible for businesses to conquer.

It’s the challenge of language.

You’ve probably been to some websites that are in a language that you don’t speak.  You’ve also probably been to some websites that offer on-site translation options so that it’s easy to switch to any number of languages and have the site translate itself into a decent representation of what’s on the original site.  Of course you can always use Google or the Chrome option to translate a page or site for you but they’re not as reliable.  As great as these options are and as smart as it is to offer a properly translated page to your potential customers, that only solves one of the two challenges when it comes to language.

The other side of the language challenge is from our end, the end of the business owner or employees.  Using myself as an example, simply put I only speak English well.  I have very minimal Spanish and French language knowledge, and nothing else.  So while I could go ahead and have my website and other materials translated into other languages or offer on-site translation options, the simple fact is that since I offer only services and no physical products if a potential client doesn’t speak English and won’t get a translator, we’re not a good match and I probably can’t help them regardless of how much I would like to.

If you really want to grow a global business you’ve got a couple of choices because translating things back and forth between you and your customers works to an extent, but once you get to a certain level of service you really need to do better for your customers.  One option is to, hire team members who speak other languages.  A second option would be to learn those languages yourself.  A final option would be to create relationships with people around the world who offer similar services or products as you do but speak languages or work in cultures that you don’t and form affiliate relationships with them.

What are your tips for making things work when you don’t speak the same language as a customer?

The Business of Christmas in July

We’re almost at the end of the month of July, and if you’ve been paying attention and love the holidays, you know that today is a special day. It’s officially 5 months to Christmas! You may have seen the movies on TV, the special offers in stores or people sharing about their Christmas in July plans. Yes, this is actually a thing, and something that those of us who enjoy Christmas and don’t think the official season lasts long enough look forward to.

I was just reminded that this theme originally started as a way for stores to clear out their merchandise that didn’t sell well in preparation for what’s coming in and new for the upcoming holiday season (which is certainly something you can do). But some companies are realizing that there’s a lot of potential to be had by participating in Christmas in July, that has nothing to do with getting rid of last year’s leftovers. Let’s talk about what your business can do with the last few days of July to bring a little holiday spirit to the summer.

First, it’s a great opportunity for winter-seasonal businesses who don’t have lots of sales (or any sales) in the summer. It’s a great opportunity to give a sneak preview of some of the things coming up, to sell some items at a lower sale price, and to offer some exclusive items that are only available now.

Second, it’s a great way to bring a bit of that cool refreshment to the warm summer. Bringing out some of the holiday flavors with a lighter summer flare, bringing back some winter treats for a limited release, and maybe even bring a bit of snow to beat the summer heat. For everyone who’s complaining about the heat you can remind them that winter isn’t as far off as it may seem.

Finally, it’s a great opportunity to do a little play on the holiday themes of Santa, reindeer, lights, and trees, and give them a distinctive summer flare. Bring Santa to the beach, have a tree decorating contest with summer themes, hang traditional holiday lights for a summer game night, and use winter Christmas cookie cutters to shape your summer flavored cookies.

Christmas is one of the most popular celebrations all year long, why not celebrate it more often? What has your business done for Christmas in July?

A Question of Leadership

This month I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. We’ve seen the continuing drama with the US president and with business, sports and other leaders, and we’ve seen play out on a very global scale the search and rescue of a soccer team of 13 people from a cave. Naturally leaders get put on a pedestal and are called to a higher standard of living. We don’t give them all the allowance that may be necessary as humans, but in some ways that’s acceptable because they (and we) are supposed to be more responsible.

Much of the discussion about the soccer team was regarding how they with their coach ended up where they did in the first place. Supposedly they were aware of how dangerous the caves could be and that the location was one that seasonally floods, and yet they entered anyway. I’m sure if they haven’t happened already, in the coming weeks there will be discussions with the coach about how things went down as they did and why he allowed the kids to go into the caves.

But from what we’ve already heard and know there are two things to take note of: first and foremost he kept the boys alive and in good spirits for more than 2 weeks. I can’t imagine how challenging that was, for himself as an individual and then to have 12 young lives to care for on top of that. And yet he did.

The second thing we know is that he’s taken responsibility for what happened. It’s been reported that the boys wanted to go exploring, together they went into the caves and when he realized that it was flooding and there was no escape he did what he had to to protect them and keep them alive.

We can’t change the past as leaders, we can only choose to accept our failures and shortcomings and move forward. I think a large part of them regrets being trapped, but in some ways their situation was a gift because so many people were able to come and work together, people from around the world and different continents. It’s a great reminder that for even as few as 13 people in a world of over 7 billion we can put aside our differences (even if they’re as small as speaking different languages) and work together for good.

This week I encourage you to take time to evaluate your leadership. Are you being the best leader you can? Are you showing your customers and employees the respect they deserve? Are you taking responsibility when things are your fault and doing your very best to resolve them? What kind of leader are you?