June 11, 2008
Today's article is a bit off-topic as it talks about how the little things you do can make a big difference in obtaining and keeping your search marketing clients. I've taken a page from my friend Michael Katz of Blue Penguin, who usually starts his newsletter with a personal anecdote that ends up being an analogy for his main topic. (If you don't receive Michael's newsletter, you're missing out on a treat. )
Here's the story of how a local hangout got us in and kept us coming back. It's a testament to how important good customer service is to anyone who works with customers or clients.
How They Got Us In
This little family-owned bar/restaurant is about 2 miles from our house. It's been around for longer than we've lived there (over 22 years). The owners are brothers who split the duties of running the place. When our kids were younger (like 12 to 15 years ago), we tried their inexpensive Sunday brunch, but at the time we weren't impressed. The food was okay, but back then smoking was allowed inside and the place was full of smoke. Since we were non-smokers with little kids, it didn't seem like a great place for us.
When the smoking ban came to town a few years ago, it really hurt their business – they had built up a huge clientele, most of whom were smokers. To keep them happy, the owners built a giant deck/porch outside with a built-in bar (with a roof), TVs and a large dining area with umbrella tables. It was great for the smokers, but it also brought in new customers who enjoyed being outside in nice weather. We figured it was worth another shot because we were looking for a good place to enjoy some Red Sox games outdoors with a drink in hand.
Why We Kept Coming Back
What we liked about the place from the start was, first and foremost, that their drinks are twice as strong and half as expensive as most places! In fact, they were so strong that I'd sometimes need some extra soda or juice added. Similarly, while the food is nothing fancy, it costs half as much as many places, and we always end up with leftovers for lunch. Plus, from the very beginning, even though the place was often filled with tattooed Harley riders, we were made to feel welcome in a variety of ways.
One of the first warm evenings that we were there to watch a game, the bartender (a woman a few years younger than I am) introduced herself and asked our names. She also remembered them (and our drink orders) on future visits. On various occasions, one or another of the owners would buy us a round of drinks for no apparent reason.
With the overall low drink prices and good customer service, we always tip generously. This in turn results in better service for us. For instance, if they make an extra drink or open a beer by mistake, they will often just give it to us rather than dumping it. The other night I ended up with a free Frozen Mudslide – they had just gotten a new blender that the bartender wasn't quite used to, and she ended up making too much for another customer.
We've gone there so many times over the past few years that we would definitely be considered regulars. While at first we would mostly just go during nice weather, we now go into the regular bar and don't even notice all the keno tickets on the floor, or it being fairly dark inside. None of that matters because it's a friendly home away from home.
So what's all this got to do with running a search marketing business?
Plenty. Any business that works with customers or clients can learn a lot by looking closely at all the little feel-good experiences that create a loyal following.
It's a Two-way Street
You'll notice in my story above that part of the reason we get treated so well is that we give back (in the form of tips). We're also respectful of the bartenders' time, especially when they're extremely busy and running around like crazy.
In search marketing, being a good client also reaps benefits. While we don't expect (or want) tips, being respectful of our time is certainly important. It's critical for us that you answer any questions we ask in a timely manner, and that you generally be available to us as we work on your project. A client's communication often sets the stage for how a project is likely to go.
Underpromise and Overdeliver
Personal touches that don't cost a whole lot can go a long way. At our local bar, you might assume that for the low drink price you'd get a crappy drink, but in fact it's the exact opposite. I relate this to any business in the form of underpromising and overdelivering. While I don't recommend that search marketing firms ever underprice, it's critical to overdeliver with every service you offer. At High Rankings, I personally still stress about every site audit report, always wondering if it's good enough. Yet I know by the feedback we receive that we always provide way more than the client was expecting.
Another way of underpromising and overdelivering is when clients ask by what percentage we'll increase their traffic once we get into our SEO campaign. Since every website is different, and things often depend on the client correctly implementing our recommendations, it's very difficult if not impossible to accurately predict the targeted traffic increase. Therefore, we generally start with a small number like 10–20%. In reality, for most websites that allow us to do exactly what we want to do, the increases are often in the hundreds or thousands of percentage points. Overdelivering can definitely make you a hero, while underdelivering can cause you to lose the client altogether.
So what are you doing with your customer service to get and keep your clients?
Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Company.
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