Monday, January 17, 2011

Use the Internet to Surprise Your Customers

Taking the extra step to "wow" a customer is made especially effective and easy when done online. The additional effort can be something simple, such as putting a picture of the results of your work for them on a calendar, coffee mug, t-shirt, or even a teddy bear. If you work in home remodeling, painting, landscaping, pool installations, or anything else with a visual impact, this sort of gift will be a real treat for your customer. Online services like CafĂ© Press ( will put your digital photo on a wide variety of merchandise for just a few dollars. There aren’t any setup charges and you can order a piece at a time, too. All it takes is a photo and a few minutes online.

While you’re cruising the web with marketing on your mind, look for websites, groups, or other online material your customer might find interesting. Then drop him or her an email with a link to the site you’ve found. If your customer is a Corvette owner, for example, send him a link to the nearest Corvette club’s website. Even if he already belongs, he’ll appreciate the fact that you were thinking of him. Just about every special interest group you can imagine is on the Internet someplace. It doesn’t have to be anything exotic, either. If you know your customer is into music, send her a link to an up-and-coming band’s MySpace site. It should go without saying that you need to know your customer to carry out this tactic.

The key factor is to make your surprise something with a personal connection to the individual customer. If your nursery sends a generic link to all the flower shows in your area to all your customers, that’s fine, but you’ve lost that personal touch that makes the surprise such a potent marketing tool. Never forget, you’re in the retail business, where you succeed by selling one customer at a time.

Speaking of websites, what’s on yours? It’s fine to have pages extolling the virtues of your experience, the value of your merchandise, and the expertise of your technicians, but you’re missing a bet if you don’t have a section devoted to your customers. For a mechanic, putting a picture of your customer’s car on the web is like taping their kid’s picture to the refrigerator door. It makes you both feel good. Just don’t post any identifying information about the customer on the web: a caption describing the car and perhaps the work you did on it is enough. And never, ever, post a picture of the customer’s kid on the Internet—with or without permission.

Once the picture is up, surprise him with the link in an email. These days, you don’t even have to pay for a website. The social networks like Facebook or MySpace, photo sharing sites like Flickr, Shutterfly, and or even blog services such as Google’s Blogger, are all free and can allow you to communicate with—and surprise—your customers online.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

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