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If a company wants to thrive, it’s important to understand what their customers want. After all, giving a customer just what they want is among the best ways to create loyalty, trust and effortless word-of-mouth marketing. This is also a great way to encourage repeat customers to increase their spend over time.

And the best way to give a customer what they want is to understand their motivations and how they truly feel. If you empathize with the customer, it’s much easier to know their wants and needs. An athlete, or someone who can truly empathize with athletes, is going to be better at creating an improved running shoe than most. A gamer knows the kind of features needed to make a new video game system a big hit. Continue Reading »

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The big things – like fulfilling a brand’s promise – is the main item that needs to be accomplished for a company to keep customers coming back. If a brand promises the customer a seamless experience, for example, and it doesn’t, then why should they come back?

But there’s also no doubt that little things can mean the difference between a customer coming back and one that will go to a competitor. Sometimes, its so small that your customers won’t realize its being done until it isn’t. Sometimes, it’s so basic and is just common sense, so customers don’t think about it. And often, these little things don’t cost money, or cost very little, yet provide the customer another reason to come back.

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There are lots of national chains that people think of to go first when they need something. Need a coffee, and Starbucks or Dunkin might come to the top of your mind. How about a quick and cheap lunch? You might think of McDonalds or Subway first. And what if you need a new hard drive? You might run to Best Buy. While these brands are certainly popular and have a place in our society, there’s a reason local businesses are thriving.

There can certainly be good reasons to go to a chain. For one, you know that wherever you are, they will probably be there. And there is usually consistency in their offerings. If you need a widget, no matter where you are, Wal Mart will probably have it. It’s likely to even be in the same part of the store as your local Wal Mart, and if price is your utmost concern, you know it’s the place to go.

At one point, the prevailing opinion was that the chains like Wal Mart would force local stores out of business. And while I’m sure there has been some effect, local businesses still thrive, because they offer things that no national chain can.

Take a local coffee shop here in Cincinnati, The Coffee Emporium. Continue Reading »

UnitedYou may remember earlier this summer, I wrote a blog post about United Airlines, and their handling of a situation involving damaged luggage. The post focused on the initial and subsequent responses by the airline, and how their response moved in the right direction after the passenger posted a YouTube video.

The story goes like this: musician Dave Carroll was going on tour with his band, Sons of Maxwell. As he settled onto his connecting United flight, he watched as baggage handlers threw luggage on the tarmac, including his customized Taylor guitar, which was damaged. United didn’t initially provide compensation (Carroll waited too long to report the issue), and so he pledged to write a series of three songs and videos about the affair.

The first one, “United Breaks Guitars,” now has over 5 million hits on YouTube. A few days after posting the video, the airline called him to offer compensation. But Carroll was no longer interested, asking the airline instead to donate it to charity. And that’s what they did – giving $3000 on his behalf to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Now that the issue seems to be resolved, he produced video number two. Continue Reading »

I like to think that we all, whether an individual or a corporation, learn from our mistakes. With companies, most consumers understand that mistakes happen. And providing the mistake isn’t too extreme, it is the way that it’s handled that is important. A proper apology and appropriate actions, including those to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again, goes a long way. This reaction can be the difference between a customer remaining loyal or abandoning the brand for a competitor.

In the airline industry, apparently these lessons remain unlearned. And the case of Continental Express flight 2816, operated by ExpressJet Airlines, proves it. Last Friday night, what was supposed to be a routine two and a half hour flight from Houston to Minneapolis turned into a 13 and a half hour ordeal.

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By the press coverage in New York and elsewhere 3 weeks ago, you might have thought the Canadian Mounties were about to try and take over New York City. Of course, our friendly northern neighbors wouldn’t try something like that. We’re only talking here about a doughnut and coffee shop that happens to be Canada’s largest quick service restaurant (QSR) chain, Tim Hortons. They have about 3,000 Canadian locations, and an almost fanatical brand following by many Canadians.

TimHortons_Logo NYCThe company, which according to this press release, serves seven out of every 10 cups of coffee sold in QSRs in Canada, opened 12 stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn on July 13th. The press it got was quite something, including an article in BusinessWeek and several in The New York Times like this one, announcing the openings. Further articles described the openings, and comparisons between Tim Horton’s and Dunkin Donuts offerings, but mostly focused on the donuts. Taste tests were done by The New York Daily News, and on several local blogs, including Urbanite, The Feed and Diner’s Journal. It even made it to the New York Times’ Week in Review section.

Timmies (as Canadians affectionately refer to the brand) even got in the heat of competition before the openings, as the brand’s first dozen locations were Dunkin locations only 3 days earlier. Continue Reading »

In most industries, there are a mix of competitors, some of which people love and others that people hate. But in others, it seems that no matter which company you talk about, they are universally disliked. The airline industry is one – you know an industry is not in good shape when customer service rankings are consistently below those of the IRS.

Perhaps above airlines, but still very disliked, are the cell phone providers. Most people love to hate their carrier. And there are good reasons why. Mandatory contracts, poor customer service and high pricing are among them.

In his column this week for the New York Times, David Pogue lists many of those reasons. Among the items Pogue mentions are text messaging fees, double billing (being charged for both outgoing and incoming calls), subsidy payback through contracts, and the long set of instructions you’re forced to listen to before leaving a message. And it comes as a Senate committee is holding a hearing on handset exclusivity that is bringing out both the benefits and disadvantages of the practice.

However, the reason most people dislike their provider is because the industry markets their services exactly the opposite as they should. Continue Reading »