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Most companies are indeed confused about what is customer loyalty. Most metrics regarding loyalty are simply tracking behavior and not intent.

For instance, you can be a “captive” customer because there are limited options, yet data describes you as a loyal customer.  As noted in the linked article, many companies buy a more frequent customer through discounting. As soon as the deals stop, so does the buying from this particular customer.

Any definition of customer loyalty has to include attitudinal issues. “Will they buy when there is direct competition?”  “Will they buy without some sort of deal in   place?” “Do they sway their friends to visit your business versus the competition across the street?” “Do they actively want to learn more about your business?”

Harvard Business Review has noted that the most profitable brands have the highest concentration of customer referrals. “How are you measuring that?”

Check out this article  http://www.reveries.com/profitable-loyalists

Of course, every reader will not read your ad.  And, its not likely any reader will respond directly to you.  Then, consider having 500,000 followers – at no media cost.  And, they can respond directly to your communications.   Check out why one company has 50o,000 followers on Twitter.   It’s not why you think it is …

Did you know that JetBlue has over 507,000 followers on Twitter? (as of 13 May, 2009). Yes, that’s more than half a million “fans” of the brand who choose to be exposed to the airline’s 140 character-long short messages. And this is almost 20 times greater than the second most followed airline, Southwest, which has just over 27,000 followers. But why? What is it that JetBlue does that makes it such a loved brand on Twitter?

Here are some stats for those of you who like numbers. Of the last 62 messages JetBlue sent out,
42 were replies to others (68%)
33 contained external links (53%)
12 were free tips, like how to overcome jetlag (20%)
10 answered customer service  queries (16%)
9 had sales offers/promotions of some sort (14%)
6 were Re-tweets (including one from SimpliFlying!) (10%)

It’s NOT just about selling on Twitter.

The numbers tell a story. Do you realize that the overwhelming majority of messages were interacting with individuals, as they were replies. And there were less than 10 messages that were trying to drive sales. The key – JetBlue adds value to their “followers” through interaction, and doesn’t only see Twitter as a medium for additional sales.

I’ve seen airlines pop-up on Twitter recently that have only been releasing deals! Well, if they really want to do that, then have they should set the expectations right, like @delloutlet, which only sends out special special offers.
From:  Shashank Nigam, Simpliflying.com  an aviation blog

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

Companies with a limited marketing staff or one that has fewer than 100 employees simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to internally execute social media effectively.

So, what are the characteristics one should look for?  This may be surprising, but knowledge of the medium is less important than the following:  understanding your brand; what messages will invite conversation; who are the posters/readers; the experience/knowledge to respond on the fly.   Ford Motor Company is an excellent example of how to respond and engage readers.

Sage advice:  Resist the temptation to hand all of the social networking duties to that one young hipster in your office who appears to “get it.” Otherwise you risk losing control of your brand message and turning a meager publicity effort into a public embarrassment.

If you’re going to start a Facebook or Twitter account for your company, give the responsibility to someone with poise, maturity, and tact, and then give them the freedom to do it their own way and figure it out for themselves. Ignore the “rules,” avoid the “gurus,” and let common social courtesy be your guide.

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

Think about it – if one of your friends kept interrupting your conversations with advertising talk, he/she wouldn’t be your friend very long.  That is the reality of social media.   It is the media built by consumers.  They, not programmers, editors or advertisers ultimately control the content of the medium.

Some quick facts:
•    Consumers do want to see companies engaged in social media, but in a dialog format, versus pitches of products
•    Permission marketing is even more critical than email – in social media, readers can respond back to everyone
•    Whether your company chooses to participate or not, your company is likely being talked about by someone in one or more mediums
•    It’s a great way to “road test” concepts, ideas or engage your best customers
•    It’s a great way to put a human face to a company

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

In my experience, and from grumblings I’ve heard elsewhere, customer service is not the biggest thing Comcast has going for them from a business standpoint.

There are times when marketing is marketing, sales is sales, and operations is operations. But, from a brand standpoint – the customer experience crosses all platforms and thus businesses are forced to integrate, communicate and work together to ensure the experience is both consistent and pleasant.

There are also times when this is challenging for businesses, to instantly align all departments for a consistent brand experience. For this reason, we applaud Comcast at taking action at making the customer service experience just a little bit better and more personal for their customers.

While 800#’s are jammed with customer complaints and questions, Comcast decided to take their service arm online @ComcastCares via Twitter to, as Frank the Director of Digital Care for Comcast says, “meet Customers where they are, listen and assist when we can.”

The customer service Comcast provides through Twitter is personal, immediate, informative and credible. And, as Frank points out, it is delivered in a manner that the customer chooses, through a medium they are already using.

And most importantly, taking a chunk of the operations and service arms of their business in this manner has led to Zealotry actions amidst consumers. Word-of-mouth, people are talking about their Twitter customer service in a positive manner. Referral – people are recommending others contact them via Twitter. And Comcast is turning potentially negative customer experiences into positive ones, turning detractors into supporters, even more, into potential Zealots for the Comcast brand.

Go ahead & follow them @ComcastCares. And follow us too while you’re at it @FindingZealots.

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

When looking for and growing the Zealots for your own brand, don’t look to far. Start first by looking at the employees of your company, those that are representing and living the brand each and every day. Zealotry should start here.

From a feature by Cool News it is easy to see the Four Seasons gets this concept.

“Workers, he says, are vital assets who should be treated accordingly. At most hotel companies, he notes, housekeepers, cooks, bell staff, waiters and clerks are often the lowest paid and ‘the least motivated people.’ But at the Four Seasons, those who might otherwise be considered the most expendable ‘had to come first,’ because they were the ones ‘who could make or break a five-star service reputation’.”

Involving and engaging your employees in your brand – from the lowest to the highest ranks – will ensure without a doubt they are spreading the good word to their peers. Constantly educating, from brand history to the latest news and developments, will empower your people to tell your story both to current guests and to potential guests as well.

Are your employees Zealots? How have you engaged your staff?

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots

Companies looking to save costs would do well to pay attention to these stats:  the cost of a live customer service agent averages $7.50 per call.  Outsourcing those calls overseas will drop the cost dramatically to $2.35 per call.  Install an automated phone response system and each call averages just around 32 cents per contact.  This is according to author Emily Yellin of Your Call Is Not That Important To Us.

Of course, if you can build a customer relationship for $7.50 per contact, you might look at this equation differently.  And, if you can turn a negative situation into a positive one, you may just have a potential Zealot on your hands. The word-of-mouth conversations quickly go from dissatisfaction to “listen to what company X did for me” and referral.

Anyone ever claim a better experience because they punched through an automated system?   We do have a friend who has become quite attracted to the Garmin automated voice.  The author says trust, respect, empathy, caring and a little fun are keys to call center success.  Well, maybe the Garmin voice has something going …

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Guest Relations Marketing
“Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots”

chartThe most innovative, no, the most most successful companies integrate customer experience into every facet of the business. This recent white paper from Hub Magazine features a short, but excellent take on breaking down silos to build strong innovation.

Customers do not think in silos – they are not responsible for “pricing” and ignore quality control.  It all matters to a customer.  But what drives referral?  What drives a customer to emotionally embrace and willingly tell others about their experience?  Processes are good.   But, most fail to take into account the non-rational elements that drive distinctive experiences.

United Airlines announced they will be closing their phone line with an India-based call center which handles their customer complaint line. What they may not realize, is that they are missing out on potential opportunities for finding Zealots among the customers of their brand.

A customer complaint situation is an opportunity for any company, hotel or airline alike, to take advantage of turning a guest from a detractor into a true supporter of the brand. If a guest is upset enough to complain, the opportunity exists to take the complaint and turn it into a home run for your brand. And even moreso, Zealots for the brand are highly engaged in the brand and highly believe it in. They are potentially among those who are more likely to complain because they are so familiar with it, they know how things are supposed to be, and when things go wrong they are sure to take notice.

Customers don’t want an Indian call center “logging” their issue, they want to feel as if their voice is being heard, with both understanding and sympathy and to have the situation rectified to their liking.  They want the experience to be personal and they want to feel as though a change is being made as a result of their speaking up, that they have helped in some way in the success of the brand.

Brands should make the  process as easy and hassle-free for their guests as possible to provide feedback, both positive and negative, and should always take a proactive and responsive action to such feedback. Perhaps this is an opportunity for United to tackle the competition and refine their customer feedback process; to do it and do it well. And the shocking thing is, a phone conversation gives you a two-way conversation and the ability to ask questions about the experience, rather than a one-sided encounter on paper. Why would you want to only go to a less-effective way of handling guest relations?

In celebration of Valentines Day, a special note today to remember to “love thy customers.”  Like any relationship, this is one you should continue to nurture from beginning to end. Remember them, appreciate them and continue to let them know how much they mean to you and your business.

A special thanks to Mike at The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur for featuring Guest Relations Marketing in his post today “23 Ways How to Show a Customer You Love Them.”  We came in at #11 with the following tip …

11. You Can Show Love Every Time You Speak With Your Customer

Show Your Customer Some Love: It is as simple as knowing who your first time customers (”give us a try”) are versus your returning customers (”great to see you again Mike”).  Just remembering the stage of your relationship and having a personal context works wonders.

Click to view the other 22 ways you can show your customer love – and be sure to vote for us by leaving a comment for #11! What are other tips you have for showing your customers love?

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