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Ditch Coupons Before Customers Ditch You

By Paul Johnson

714 Words. Abstract:  Sales promotions are with us to stay, but you might do better if you make coupons go away. Learn about the right and wrong ways to promote your business through coupons and special pricing offers.

Every shopper wants to feel like they’re getting a good deal. Merchants often attempt to capitalize on this desire through coupon offers, rebates, and “special discounts.” Coupons have become the promotional drug of choice to woo more business from new and old customers alike. Unfortunately, coupons can destroy customer relationships almost as fast as they are made.

The worst coupon abusers are merchants who set a relatively high list price compared to the competition, and then use coupons or other incentive plans to discount it so buyers feel like they’re getting a good deal. I had a fabulous customer service experience derailed by such a pricing blunder.

A Hitch in the Pitch
I was looking for a new dry cleaner and discovered FC Cleaners (not their real name). When I walked in, they discovered I was a new customer, handed me a “Passport” book, and explained to me that I would routinely receive a significant discount whenever I presented the book with incoming dry cleaning orders.

I wasn’t impressed until I picked up my order. All of my shirts now had bar code labels. The computer-printed labels attached to the neatly hangered and bagged clothes described each article in detail, right down to my neck size. They truly knew how to use technology to manage a relationship! I also knew I could go to any FC Cleaners in Atlanta and be instantly identified by my bar code labels.

Soon I returned to have more cleaning done. I dropped off the clothes, and then remembered I had forgotten my Passport. Oh well, I’ll just bring it with me when I pick them up. As planned, I returned in a few days with my Passport. My enthusiasm for our relationship disappeared when they explained, “Sorry, you’ll have to pay stupid people prices since you failed to present your passport when you dropped off your order.”

Of course, they didn’t explain it that way. They cordially explained that their “policy” prevented them from giving me a discount. As Dr. Martha Rogers of Peppers and Rogers Group says, “Policies treat everybody like nobody”, and that’s exactly how I felt. When I dropped off the clothes, their computer could tell them who I was, where I lived, the details of all my garments, and my complete transaction history. But it couldn’t — or is it wouldn’t? — tell them that I was a Passport discount buyer. As a result, I was forced to pay retail and fork over an extra ten spot. From a goodwill perspective, they would have been much better off without a list price discounting program.

Bait and Snitch
Sometimes I’ll be in line at a store when the person ahead of me presents a coupon to the cashier and immediately gets a discount. I have no such coupon. It looks like I’ll be paying stupid-people prices again.

On occasion a friendly cashier has offered to give me a coupon on-the-spot. Very thoughtful — but maybe not.

  • Does this mean their merchandise is really overpriced?
  • Do they really have a consistent pricing policy?
  • Does this store have any integrity?

My assumption is that, for some reason, I don’t look like a sucker today.

Switch to Enrich
If you want to use coupons for promotion, consider making them an integral part of your pricing strategy. I recommend to my clients that they only offer discounts, including coupons, for one-time irregular (preferably non-repeating) events. Examples might be first-time orders, year-end closeout of a particular model, or cleaning off shelves in preparation for inventory. A new product launch would qualify. However, end of the month discounts don’t hold water, nor does the lame excuse, “I need another deal to make quota.”

Coupons are useful to get people in the door and give you a try, but you need to have a way to track repeat buyers. Don’t train customers to never show up without a coupon. I won’t buy a pizza without one. Instead, honor them with a “frequent buyer” program that rewards them with lower prices or — better yet — additional services when they come back time and again. Show them you know they’re not stupid, and they’ll know how smart you are. The goodwill you generate will result in good business for you.

© 2005, 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:

Paul Johnson of Shortcuts to Results LLC collects business shortcuts and shows people how to find and apply them for performance improvement at http://ShortcutsToResults.com. Learn how to become a niche marketing expert at http://NicheExpert.com.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When has a coupon been a costly experience for you?

Posted: under Creating Curiosity (Marketing).
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Comments (0) Aug 01 2009

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When to Encourage Deviant Behavior at Work

By Paul Johnson

621 words. Abstract: When employees don’t follow the rules, what can you do? Considering their color can give you the answer.

Policies and procedures, processes and standards. Every company has rules to be followed to ensure that expectations are met and disappointment is avoided. But when is it OK for employees to deviate from these rules, if ever?

After we were married, I learned that my wife has rules.

  • Toothpaste tubes are squeezed from the end only.
  • Clothes go on hangers facing the left.
  • When the toilet is not in use, the seat must be DOWN.

While these rules seemed somewhat arbitrary, I was eager to adopt these new standards of behavior because I didn’t want to disappoint her. She had expectations for me, and I am willing to follow these rules to keep her happy — still.

She soon discovered I had a few rules of my own. These, of course, were much more logical and well thought-out, or so they seemed to me.

  • Turn your wheels when you park on a hill.
  • Get a copy of anything you sign.
  • Never discard my beer bottles that aren’t COMPLETELY empty.

Decades later, we still get along fine.

Confusion Rules
In business, rules help us avoid costly mistakes. They enable us to fulfill the expectations of our customers and co-workers. Rules allow us to replace confusion and disappointment with consistency, stability and satisfaction. If rules are so wonderful, why would we ever want to deviate from the norm and break a rule?

We can observe that rules are logical, plainly needed and completely obvious to the person who makes them, but not necessarily to everybody else. All rules have an underlying reason — and sometimes many reasons — for their existence. Sometimes these reasons are simple and other times they are complex and even arcane. Problems occur when all rules are treated as black-and-white. Performance at your company will improve when leadership makes it clear which rules are made to be broken.

Red Looks Black-and-White
Steve Cohn, a customer experience expert at People to People Learning, points out the difference between Red Rules and Blue Rules. “Red Rules are those that cannot be broken under any circumstances ever. They usually have to do with safety, health and legal. Blue Rules are everything else. You can bend them if it means making the customer happy and it doesn’t cost the company an enormous amount of money.”

The Red Rules are those black-and-white rules where deviation can’t be tolerated. Blue Rules reflect preferred standards that should be strived for. But if Blue Rules are meant to be broken on occasion, it’s critical that these rules come with additional information; specifically, the intent behind the rule.

  • What greater good is the rule intended to achieve?
  • What expectations does the rule attempt to ensure?
  • What will disappointment cost us as a company?

Once employees are clear on the proper ways to interpret and apply Blue Rules, they are then qualified to deviate from the letter of the rule when conditions warrant.

Rule Intent
Rules are important to the success of both business and personal relationships, but don’t get sucked into believing that, “A rule is a rule.” Some rules should be held firm, and others need to bend. Make it clear which are the Red Rules, the rules that must be adhered to with no exceptions. After all, when you hear your wife splashing around in the dark, it’s too late to put the seat down. The rest of the rules then become bendable rules, the Blue Rules that carry implied flexibility.  Make sure everyone who must apply a Blue Rule understands the intent behind the rule. When that happens, employees feel empowered to always do the right thing, and deviant behavior won’t be so unwelcome after all.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

Paul Johnson is the keynote speaker who describes his approach to transformational leadership at http://TroubleBreaker.com. His company, Shortcuts to Results LLC, collects business shortcuts and shows clients how to find and apply them for performance improvement at http://ShortcutsToResults.com.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: What rule do you routinely bend, and why?

Posted: under Managing Change (Leadership).
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Comments (0) Jun 01 2009

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Teach Your Website to Master One Trick

By Paul Johnson

1,111 words. Abstract: Creating the perfect website can be tricky. Fortunately, you can teach a website one trick that will enable you to reach your goals quicker and easier than ever before.

Your website should do one thing really well. Do you know what that is?

Perhaps you own a Swiss Army knife. A marvel of engineering, this clever device packs an array of indispensable tools into a compact and convenient shape that can easily be carried in a pocket. In addition to a sharp and sturdy knife, it’s comforting to know we can also access a screwdriver, corkscrew or can opener at a moment’s notice.

Then why don’t you have several dozen lining the silverware drawers in your kitchen? Instead, your drawers are probably filled like mine with tools suited for specialty jobs. Butter knives, steak knives, the bread knife. Soup spoons, slotted spoons and a ladle. I admit, I’m pretty much a one-fork — the dinner fork — kind of guy, but my wife makes us keep dessert forks in the drawer for when company comes over.

Flexible Failures
Our kitchens are proof that we endorse the notion of having the right tool for each job. However, we tend to view our website as the Swiss Army knife. After all, websites are incredibly flexible. We can easily add pages and adjust navigation links to create a boundless array that can accommodate anything. Got a white paper? Put it on the website. Need to take a survey? Use the Web site. Did you just distribute a press release? Post that to the website, too.

Perhaps the users of your website — your potential customers — aren’t as impressed with it as you are. When you fail to quickly give visitors what they need from your website, you fail to establish valuable relationships with potential customers.

Goal Focus
Your company may be capable of solving many problems for your customers, and that’s a good thing. However, when a person initiates a web search, they only have one problem on their mind. It’s possible they even have a solution in mind, with some idea of which attributes that solution should have. If their problem is they don’t have a carving knife for the holiday turkey, they don’t want to wade past your corkscrews and can openers to find that. Confused customers don’t buy.

The value in the Swiss Army knife’s flexibility is negated by its lack of focus. While we marvel at the ingenuity of the combination tool, the reality is that we as users prefer the “one-trick ponies” and keep carving knives, can openers and #2 Phillips screwdrivers handy to help us get the real work done.

Suicide Gag
I’m in a convenience store watching a youngster at the soda station fill his glass by putting in small amounts from eight different spigots. I ask him, “What have you got there?” He says, “It’s called a Suicide.” I grab a glass, thinking I’ll give it try. One taste and I understand why it’s called a Suicide. I nearly gag.

You may think your Suicide Website is refreshing and satisfying while your customers may be gagging on it. Consider specializing with several “single-flavor” websites.

Confusion Solution
When you look at your website through your visitors’ eyes and see confusion and frustration, perhaps it’s time to consider multiple One-Trick Websites. Using multiple websites gives you an opportunity to trade-in flexibility for focus. Each website can now focus on one pain/solution set based on a common goal or topic that your visitors desire. Sticking with one topic per website allows you to quickly establish:
•    Relevance
•    Understanding of the visitor’s problem
•    Credibility
•    Expertise
•    Focused specialization
•    Experience

These One-Trick Websites benefit your visitors by allowing them to accomplish what they came for without distraction. Bob Scheinfeld of Ultimate Lifestyle Academy calls these TOT sites; TOT stands for The One Thing. You’re focused message makes it easier for prospects to decide to engage with you because we all feel more comfortable using specialists.

If a doctor buddy told you he did Lasik surgery, performed a nose job and did a knee replacement yesterday, you would wonder how good the results would be. Even if he did the three procedures perfectly, we would prefer to believe three specialists could have done them better.

One-Trick Training
To get started with a One-Trick Website, consider the elements of this three-step strategy:

1.  What’s their problem? Get a clear understanding of what pain your customer is trying to eliminate, and what solutions they may already have in mind. Use tools like Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery, and Google’s External Keyword Tool to get an idea of what customers are already searching for on the Web. Better yet, talk to some customers and conduct a survey to discover how people with this problem talk about and describe it so you can use their words in your marketing copy.

2.  What’s your goal? When visitors come to your website, what can you reasonably expect them to do? You may want to design the site to include multiple selling paths to support visitors dealing with different stages of the problem. For instance, for those doing preliminary research your goal may be to get them to download a helpful white paper and give you their email address. For those that have a more pressing need, your selling path may lead them to an on-line transaction via your shopping cart.

3.  What is relevant? Content on your site is a good thing as long as it’s relevant to the topic of the problem your visitor came to solve. For instance, if they came for dress shoes, then laces and polish may also be relevant. Guitars need strings and straps. In addition, your content might include pages for things such as:
•    Credibility
•    Support channels
•    Options
•    Policies and promises
•    Relevant resources, such as how-to guides and manuals

You do want a deep site as long as you stay true to a common problem or topic.

Finders Keepers
Another advantage to creating a One-Trick Website with a single pain/solution set is that it’s easier to rank well in the search engines for relevant terms. If your website is all about carving knives, it’s relatively easy to rank well for turkey carving equipment, turkey carving supplies and turkey carving techniques.

While your corporate website may be your Swiss Army knife for customers who already know you and love you, you’ll likely benefit from having additional One-Trick Websites where each website does one thing really well. Never forget that flexibility can dilute effectiveness. Decide what each of your One-Trick Websites should enable your customers to do, and then help them do that and nothing else. When you help customers cut to the chase, you’ll quickly master the trick of developing valuable new customer relationships.

© 2009 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson of Shortcuts to Results LLC collects business shortcuts and shows people how to find and apply them for performance improvement at http://ShortcutsToResults.com. Learn how to become a niche marketing expert at http://NicheExpert.com.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: How has a website you’ve visited confused and frustrated you?

Posted: under Creating Curiosity (Marketing).
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Comments (0) May 01 2009