Finding and Leveraging External Communications Professionals

By Anne Connor

service provider

Cassandra works at a firm spearheading a park renovation project and was tasked with producing a community outreach survey in a nearby city. After hiring a copywriter who specializes in public relations to draft the text, the city indicated that the questionnaire would also need to be distributed in Spanish and Vietnamese in order to maximize participation among the neighborhood’s residents who were not proficient in English. Cassandra thought she had found the solution because she had two bilingual coworkers who could render the English text into those languages. Everything was going according to plan until the engineer manning the hotline given in the survey started receiving calls from residents she could not understand. To make matters worse, many of these same residents attended the project’s informational open house, only to find that there were no interpreters available to assist them. They not only expected to be able to communicate in the language they felt the most comfortable with, but it turns out they also had questions about the ambiguous language in the translations. The situation caused major confusion, requiring Cassandra and her colleagues to work overtime to clear things up.

Communications is a tricky business, especially when you’re dealing with foreign languages. That’s why many companies—both large and small—turn to outside experts to support their communications and language needs. Whether you’re looking to hire a freelance translator or a full-service communications firm, here are five tips for selecting the right service provider:

1.Define your needs

This first step actually starts by defining the needs of your target audience. Who are they and how do they communicate or consume content? Think about how you will communicate with them from beginning to end. For example, if your website is going to be translated into Spanish, then customers will expect a Spanish-speaking contact person to answer their questions either orally or in written form. Outline your requirements. Do you need help with advertising, content development, digital or social media, marketing, public relations, strategic communications, or all of the above? Perhaps a freelance marketing copywriter or copy editor is all you need to take your website copy up a notch. More comprehensive communications campaigns will likely require the services of a communications firm or consultant with expertise in multiple media channels. Some consultants even offer media training services for your staff to help them look and sound professional in TV commercials and radio spots.

2. Begin your search

Communications is an artform—one that can vary from industry to industry. Look for professionals with proven experience in your company’s field or with your project’s requirements. In today’s connected world, you don’t always have to hire someone local. However, before looking too far away, consider how doing so might affect your bottom line. Start with your local Chamber of Commerce for audiovisual media production companies or check out The Society for Editing (ACES) to find local copywriters and/or copyeditors. The Public Relations Society of America is a useful resource for finding a nearby PR company.

Briefing your service providers properly can often make or break your project’s success Click To Tweet

3. Be prepared

Briefing your service providers properly can often make or break your project’s success. While preparing to interview specialists or full-service consultants, gather five pieces of information needed to adequately assess, quote and execute your job. Obviously, you should expect communications professionals to do their homework, but even the most specialized firms will need your help to get to know your company, your needs, and your objectives. Make sure they understand your industry jargon—the language your target audience speaks. Take a “more-is-more” approach and in the long run you’ll save time, money, and embarrassment.

4. Ask questions

If you’ve picked out proven experts, then you’re already on the right track, but don’t make assumptions. Question the offers you have received and ask the service providers to walk you through their processes. If your project involves multiple languages, ask how the providers intend to deliver. Do they partner with professional language service providers adept at managing multilingual translation (written communications) and interpreting (oral communications)? By asking all the right questions, you’re more likely to avoid unpleasant surprises and steer clear of awkward situations—especially those that could damage your reputation.

5. Stay Engaged

Your job doesn’t stop once you’ve hired a communication professional or firm. Though it is important to let the experts get to work, make sure you follow their progress and are highly responsive to their questions every step of the way. View your relationship as a collaboration and make them feel part of your team. And once the project is over, ask for feedback and ideas. What other opportunities do they see to further your business goals? The answers just might surprise you!

Had Cassandra followed these steps and consulted with professionals throughout the process, she would have likely leveraged their expertise and avoided an embarrassing and costly situation.

Anne Connor is a Spanish- and Italian-to-English translator and language-services professional with over twenty years in the business. She holds a BBA in Business Law from Temple University in Philadelphia and is an active member of the American Translators Association. The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.

Understanding the Importance of Decision Triggers In Selling to Your Prospects

By Jill J. Johnson, MBA

Jill Johnson-decision triggers

A key component of effective target marketing involves developing deep insight into the decision-making process influencing how your customers make their purchasing choices. For organizations working with diverse customer needs, moving your prospects from, “I’m interested,” to “I’ll buy,” is a highly complex process. What is significant and how this will impact each of your prospects in their buying decision can vary.

This buying decision might involve a need to consolidate their vendor list enabling you to become their sole source or among their most trusted resource providers. Their decision may also impact how they view the value of buying additional services or other resources you offer.

Understanding how your target market makes decisions is fundamental to more effectively promoting your products and services. It is essential for you to understand your prospect’s decision-making process and what triggers their buying decisions to more quickly move your sales to a “yes.” Insight into what triggers your prospects in their decision-making process allows you to adapt your messages to highlight the unique characteristics of concern to your customers. Adapt your sales approach to their needs rather than using a “cookie cutter” approach. By tailoring your promotional strategies, you can enhance your opportunities to win the sale or deepen your relationship with your potential customer. You can use this insight to carefully craft your sales approach to meet their unique needs and concerns.

Each Prospect Has Unique Decision Triggers

Knowing what will move your prospects forward in a sale is just as important as knowing what is holding them back from saying “yes.” Decision Triggers can range from stress about the costs of your product or service and not understanding the value-add you offer, to believing they need support for the decision from a trusted member of their leadership team. In your sales approach, you need to utilize probing questions to isolate how they will make their decision about investing in buying a product or service from you. You must also uncover and understand the motives of who else is involved in making the decision.

Do the work to understand what Decision Triggers are at play with your prospective customers and with the other key stakeholders they rely on for support. Knowing how to activate or neutralize these triggers will provide you with vital insight on how to adjust your sales messaging tactics. Once you understand their Decision Triggers, you can determine what you should provide your prospect so they can move forward with their decision to buy from you.

Once you understand the Decision Triggers driving your sales prospects, then you can tie it to the rest of your promotional strategy. Click To Tweet

Navigate the Decision Continuum

As you move your prospective customers through their Decision Continuum, consider what your goals are each step of the way. If they reach out to you via your website or email, your goal is to get them to talk with you in person. If they ask you for information, determine what information they really need and what you can follow-up with if the sale is going to take longer than one interaction. Your goal is to keep them engaged with you and moving forward toward completing the sale and getting them to join your customer ranks—both now and long-term.

Understanding how to navigate a prospect along their Decision Continuum requires you to probe them carefully about what is important to them and their key stakeholders. In this process, you are identifying what their critical Decision Triggers are while gaining an understanding of how you need to incorporate this insight into your sales approach.

All too often when a company or organization has been around a long time, the manner in which sales are made to prospects becomes somewhat stagnant. Use decision insight to make sure your messaging is fresh, unique, and clearly matched to the evolving needs of your prospect. It might be time to reassess and revise your messaging to ensure you are hitting the hot buttons of your prospects and matching your approach to what they are most concerned about. This approach will get them to buy and stay with you beyond the initial sale.

Decision Triggers Drive Sales and Promotional Strategy

Listen carefully to the words your prospective customers use and how they describe their needs and concerns. This insight can help you shape your sales messaging back to them in ways that mirror their words. As you match your sales messaging to where they are on their Decision Continuum, you will have a better understanding of how to highlight key product or service features or benefits. This approach leverages the Decision Triggers to your target market to match what matters most to them. By specifically tailoring your messages to your prospect’s Decision Triggers, you can significantly increase the potential for achieving the sale. What you offer only matters if it matters to your prospective customers.

Once you understand the Decision Triggers driving your sales prospects, then you can tie it to the rest of your promotional strategy. You can incorporate your deep customer insight into all of your collateral materials, advertising, public relations stories, video clips, website and social media. These communications messages can reinforce how you want your prospective customers to respond to your sales messages. If there is a disconnect anywhere in the Decision Continuum, you are at risk of not being able to achieve the sales success you desire.

Final Thoughts

By incorporating insight about your prospective customer’s Decision Triggers, you can help your prospect gain confidence that the product or service you are trying to sell to them will truly benefit them and make a difference in their lives or businesses. They will have more confidence in buying from you because you will have tied your presentation to their concerns. As a result, your prospective customers can be reassured your products or services can and will effectively meet their needs. Leveraging your prospect’s Decision Triggers will make your sales cycle more efficient. It will result in more sales, help you build superior customer relationships, and will boost customer satisfaction when you deliver on what you promised.

Jill J. Johnson is the President and Founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than 4 billion dollars worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

Strategies for Remaining Indispensable at Work: Proving Your Value

By Michele Wierzgac, MSEd

Michele Wierzgac-brand champions

The economy is booming—great! But wait—organizations continue to focus on cutting labor costs. Why? Labor costs comprise 80 percent or more of an organization’s operating costs. This fact clearly creates another problem among the workforceprotecting your job.

How then can you remain indispensable at work? By bringing attention to the value of what you do. How do you do that? By focusing on where the organization is going rather than on the procedural or day-to-day maintenance issues of your position. Begin thinking of how you contribute to the success of the organization. Do you know what the top business issues are within your organization?

1. See Their Point of View

Enhance your role as a team player by demonstrating a sincere interest in your company and looking at issues from the employer’s viewpoint. If it is the cost of labor that is forcing companies to cut back within your department, get together with your boss and figure out ways to merge systems, cut costs, negotiate spending, or merge tasks between departments. Often in companies where there are several departments duplicating efforts, redundancies can be eliminated.

2. Talk in Sound Bites

Concentrate on improving communication with your employer. Think about how your listener will receive the message. Put yourself in the listener’s shoes and anticipate how he or she might react. Learn to talk in sound bitesquick and fast. Bosses want the summary, not all the details.

Strive to be that one shining employee. Click To Tweet

3. Find a Mentor

To be the most indispensable employee you can be, get a coach. Surround yourself with mentors and coaches from inside and outside your industry. How do you get a coach? Look around your informal and formal networks and figure out who you would like to emulate. Whose skills and career path do you admire? Then just ask if he or she will mentor you. Most of the time, people are flattered that they have been asked. It does not take much time, perhaps just a 45-minute phone call once every three months. You tell them what is going on and they give you simple advice to get back on track.

5. Recruit Brand Champions

You are a brand! Who supports you? Who are the people that are always spreading the good news about you? These are your brand champions. It is critical that you update your friends, family, colleagues, parents at PTA meetings, and anyone else you know about what you are doing or what you want to do. Why? Because your networks are filled with the power and credibility to spread the word about you. To begin with you need to understand the difference between formal networks (professional organizations that you pay dues to, with regulations, meetings and guidelines) and informal networks (people you meet in the lobby of a hotel or on an airplane or through hobbies). Social networks are a hybrid of the two. Next, you need to communicate to your brand champions about your work, your talents, and changes you are thinking about. If you need a favor, ask, and reciprocate by asking what you can do for them in return. Send out regular alerts through your grapevine and share your success stories. Start a buzz and you will be amazed at what happens.

6. Safeguard Your Reputation

A brand creates an image of trust and loyalty over time. It takes years to build a name, reputation, and networksand takes a minute to lose it all. Always protect your name. See what others are saying about you. The key to leadership is listening to criticism and self-correcting. When a mentor gives you criticism about something you are perhaps not thinking about, it takes courage to change.  You must earn credibility, not expect it. Be prepared to spend years on earning credibility.

A Final Thought

Every workplace has that one employee that everyone goes to for answers to their problems. They know everyone and they know how to get things done. Strive to be that one shining employee by following these steps. Remember, being a key member of a team has the biggest benefit—job security.

Michele Wierzgac is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author of the forthcoming book, Ass Kicking Women: How They Leverage Their Informal Networks For Success. With her high energy presentations, Michele conveys sound leadership solutions and promotes audience engagement and on-your-feet participation. She promises her audience that they will leave her solution-driven keynotes and workshops with at least one passionate, life transforming leadership tool. For more information on bringing in Michele Wierzgac for your next event, please visit: https://micheleandco.com.

The Myth of Self-Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

The idea of self-service has existed in many industries for years and even decades. This includes self-serve gas pumps, checking your own groceries, buying airline tickets online, and banking.

Gas Stations

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, self-service

First, let’s consider gas stations. Unless you are a 30-something driver or younger, you probably remember the days of full-service gas stations. In fact, they were called service stations, because service was what they were all about. These service stations almost always had one mechanic—or more—on duty. For smaller stations, the mechanic was often the one who filled your car with gas.

Here’s how it worked: When you pulled into the station, a strategically placed air hose pneumatically activated a mechanical bell. This alerted the attendant that a customer had arrived, and he would scurry out to greet you.

Staying in your car, you would roll down your window and make your request, “Fill it up, please.” Often you and the attendant were on a first name basis. As he was filling your tank, he would wash your front windshield and sometimes the back. Next, he would offer to check your oil. (Unless it had just been changed or recently checked—which he remembered.) That’s not all. He would glance at your tires, and if one appeared under inflated, he would whisk a tire gauge out of his pocket and check the pressure, putting in more air if it was warranted. He would also make recommendations based on other observations, such as, “Looks like you’re ready for new front tires,” “That muffler doesn’t sound too good,” or “We better at a look at those brakes soon.”

Yes, this was a full-service operation, deftly suggesting up-sells (“Do you want to try Premium today”) and cross-sell opportunities (“When do you want your oil changed”)—though this wasn’t what it was called; it was just good customer service. Today, with self-service, we are left on our own to keep our car in good operating condition and we only see our mechanic when something is wrong.

In an apparent effort to save on labor or cut overhead, some stations began offering “self-service” pumps. In order to entice the public to pump their own fuel, the self-serve gas was priced lower. Most people weren’t too interested, at least until the price of gas jumped and the discount increased along with it. Still some people swore they would never fill their own tanks, but over time they were forced to do so as full-service pumps became scarcer. The truth is, most people didn’t want self-serve, but they reluctantly did so to save money or were forced to when it became the only option. Today, self-serve gas pumps are an expected way of life, but that merely happened because it became the only option.

There are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not. Click To Tweet

Food

Then there is the grocery store. I’ll admit that I don’t often find myself there—and when I do, it’s only to buy a couple of things—but I do gravitate towards the self-checkout. For a few items it can be faster—providing everything works correctly. Self-checkout can also be irritating, repeatedly barking out annoying instructions and getting obstinate if it thinks you did something wrong.

Given a choice between a next-in-line cashier and self-service, I will always opt for a person. I find it to be faster and less frustrating. I can’t imagine the time-consuming task of doing a large order via self-checkout. However, when the cashier lines are long, which can often be the case, I gladly duck into the self-checkout and hope for the best. In this case, self-service wins out when full-service lines (that is, queues) grow too long. It’s not that it’s preferred, but merely the least objectionable.

Travel

Nowadays, everyone books airline tickets online. It doesn’t save me time, but it does afford the opportunity to check every conceivable option, finding the ideal balance between cost and convenience. Maybe I scrutinize my options too closely, but I would gladly spend an hour researching flights, times, and airports if it will save me from a long layover, an extra night in a hotel, or a couple of hundred dollars on a fare. Still, the days of calling a travel agent, giving her my travel itinerary in a few seconds, and having tickets arrive the next day provide an appealing invitation to return to full-service.

Banking

The banking industry is full of choices. I can select from two full-service options and three self-serve options. For transactions warranting full-service, I can go to the nearest branch or phone their call center. For self-serve, I can use an ATM, bank-by-phone (using an IVR system), or access my account via the Internet. The option I select is primarily a result of what I need to accomplish, but my focus is on speed and convenience. It’s nice to have options: self-service for some things, full-service for others.

The Self-Serve Bust

The dot-com boom in the late 1990s brought the prospect of self-service to an unwise conclusion. In simplistic terms, their generic business plan (aside from burning through mass quantities of investor cash) was that they would create a scalable website, which could be quickly ramped up as demand for their product or service grew.

Customer service would not be an issue (or so they thought) as they would offer self-service options that were likewise scalable. There would be no massive call centers to build and no agents to hire. Basically there would be no people to help their customers; computers would do all that via the Internet. It didn’t work. The few dot-coms that survived did so because they realized they needed to offer more options than just self-service.

Call Centers to the Rescue

Even with this history and varying degrees of success, it doesn’t imply that self-service is the way to go, especially when responsive call centers can surpass the generally mediocre effectiveness of self-service. Yes, there are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not.

When properly implemented (which means it must be user-friendly, accessible, and reliable), people will opt for self-service only if it can increase timeliness, save money, be more effective, or is more available. If it can’t do at least one of these things, people will only do self-service if they have to—complaining about it all the while. In reality, most people don’t really prefer self-service. What they want is full-service that is friendly, accessible, and reliable. In our global economy, that often means they want a call center—a good call center.

Self-service is generally not selected because it is the superior option, but because it is the least objectionable one. So what is the ideal solution? It’s a full-service call center, not with self-service options, but with people. Think about it: who would prefer to spend an hour on the Internet, scrolling through FAQs or waiting for an automated response to an email query, if they could just pick up the phone and quickly get a response?

This means a call center done right. What does that look like? Ideally it is:

  • Calls answered quickly
  • No busy signals
  • First-call resolution
  • No transfer
  • No queue or short queue (or a creative, entertaining on-hold program with accurate traffic updates)
  • Trained, knowledgeable, personable, and polite representatives
  • Correct responses
  • Consistent experience

With that, why would anyone want self-service? Why would they ever switch to a different company? A call center, done right, will beat self-service every time.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

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The Wow Factor: The Ten Commandments of Creating Lifetime Customers

By Tra Williams

Tra Williams-your customers

Everyone has experienced this at one time or another. What you thought was going to be a simple everyday transaction for a product or service, turned out to be an experience that earned your lifetime loyalty as a customer. Sadly, it doesn’t happen very often. Which is exactly why it’s so surprising when it does happen.

Today’s consumer-driven environment is intently focused on instant availability and for good reason. More than ever customers want immediate access and lament any speed bumps between them and the conclusion of the transaction. Immediacy has become the golden calf of customer satisfaction. Customers continually worship the quickest solution with frequent patronage, but the results of that lust for instant gratification has come at a painful price. The line between optimization and true innovation has been blurred as the customer experience has been sacrificed on the altar of speed.

Escaping this cult of self-satisfaction where likes pass for loyalty, requires you to rewrite the rules of comparison. Don’t allow the value of your product or service to be determined by an outside metric. Instead, change the game and redefine what the word value means to your customer.

Here are The Ten Commandments of value creation and earning a customer for life.

The motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no 'why'. Career Development,
  1. Technology Reduction: In today’s world of technology immersion, the human touch matters more than ever. Each escalation of technology reduces human interaction. Each reduction of human interaction is a missed opportunity to earn a lifetime customer who judges the value you provide by metrics that you define…not just speed. When someone takes real time to provide personal enhancements to an individual experience—that’s impressive. You can’t cut through the white noise with more white noise. Remember, innovative technology is usually meant to optimize our lives. Therefore, you can purchase service optimization but not service innovation. Real service innovation comes from the people within an organization, which brings us to number two.
  2. Focus on front-line staff: Your front-line staff who interact directly with your customers are the most important people in your organization. Not the owner or the VP; it’s the front line employee who is friendly and patient, who smiles all the time and who remembers the customers’ names and business needs. That person will ultimately make or break a company. Make sure your culture emphasizes treating them with the time and attention they deserve and they will treat your customers the same way.
  3. Have a real relationship with your customer: Recognize that the relationship you have with your customer should not be transactional. Of course it’s important to look for opportunities to make the transaction simpler, easier and more pleasant for the customer. But it’s also imperative that you add value to their lives in ways that are unrelated to the transaction. Look for ways to be a resource not just a provider.
  4. Develop a customer-first culture: Culture is binary. You’re either in or out. It starts with a slow and methodical hiring process. The time, money and productivity lost on a hire who is inconsistent with a company’s culture is immeasurable. Take your time and hire the right people. Then focus on their development. They in turn will grow the business. Customer loyalty is built by people not in spite of them.
  5. Cultivate Reciprocity: We are hardwired to do more for those who do things for us. When it rains, Chick-fil-A has employees wearing ponchos run to people’s cars when they pull in and hold an umbrella over them while they walk inside. And then escort them back to their cars when they have finished their meal. It’s no wonder their average unit volume is three times the average of most QSRs while only being open six days a week—reciprocity.
  6. Eliminate Policies: “I’m sorry, Ma’am. That’s just our policy.”These words should never be uttered in business. They reveal to your customer that your culture values adherence to arbitrary rules more than customer satisfaction. You should have only one policy, which is—do everything within your power to exceed your customers’ expectations.
  7. Empower your team: If you’ve followed Commandment 2 and 4, then this one should be easy. Every team member should feel empowered to do what is right in each specific situation. “Let me ask my manager” tells your customer that you don’t trust your employees’ discretion or decision-making. And if you don’t trust the people you hire why should your customers trust that they will have a consistently great experience?
  8. Celebrate: Everybody loves a winner and nobody wants to be on the losing team. Customers want to feel like the money they spend is making the world a better place. Publicly celebrate your wins, your anniversaries, your employee accomplishments (both in and out of work), your growth, your community engagement, your awards and your achievements. Did one of your employees just get her Master’s? Have a baby? Compete in a triathlon? Celebrate it. This Commandment has the added advantage of developing employee loyalty as well as customer loyalty.
  9. Raise the Stakes: Service innovation inherently means that you are challenging the assumptions of traditional expectations. On the flip side of this coin is the realization that doing something new is also a new opportunity to fail. Fortunately, studies have shown that customers value your effort nearly as much as the result. As such, they are incredibly forgiving of failure so long as every effort was made to succeed. So challenge your team and yourself. Raise the stakes. Go big. Consistent yet average is still unimpressive.
  10. Have a mission: People are not motivated by what; people are motivated by why. If the goal is to make tons of money and eventually go public, then you have missed the point of this exercise entirely. Where you spend your money is a major part of your identity. Customers align themselves with organizations that mirror who they are, or at least who they’d like to be. Therefore, the motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no ‘why’.

Embrace these Commandments. Carve them into stone and bring them down from the mountain. If when you arrive you find your team obsessed with the Golden Calf of immediacy, tell them this: In today’s world of instant gratification, do not worship speed. When speed becomes the only metric by which you judge service, then true service becomes irrelevant. Instead of conjuring new ways to complete a transaction faster, make the experience so amazing that the customer will never want it to end.

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit: www.TraWilliams.com.

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