Can I Get That in Writing?
Years ago, I worked a second job at the retail chain Pier 1 Imports, a fun boutique-like store that specializes in home furnishings, kitchenware and furniture with an international flavor. At first, I took the job to make a little side money (journalism is a calling, I tell you!), but gradually it became something I looked forward to after a day of the more cerebral pursuits of writing, editing and proofing copy.
The work was tactile and customer-facing, and it drove home the importance of customer service far better than any research I could do on this subject for an article assignment. In this hands-on environment, I learned that the stronger your connection with the customer and his or her needs, the more likely you are to increase your average order.
In such a face-to-face environment, it was easy to make an emotional connection with customers. And I found that it wasn't so hard to create a satisfied customerregardless of whether the store could solve his or her problem! I also learned that if you want to leverage this customer satisfaction, it helps to strike while the iron is hot. In other words, if my manager noticed that a customer was beaming and going on and on about how much she appreciated a store clerk's help, he didn't wait for that customer to ask for a comment card. Instead he would politely ask her to share her sentiments while she was still in this happy stage.
If she initially demurred, then he'd lightly try to sell her on the idea by offering benefits to doing so (nothing monetary, only karmic!). And nine times out of 10, people graciously complied.
In the direct response environment, the customer interaction pattern is different, with different representatives coming in contact with customers at different points in the research, evaluation, purchase and follow-up stages. But the opportunities to scoop up testimonials from happy customers occur every bit as often as they do in the retail sector; it's just that direct marketers have to work harder to solicit them.
Copywriter and consultant Lea Pierce has some great advice, based on her own experiences and those of fellow copywriters and direct marketers, to share with you this month (see "Testimonials: Selling Tools or Just More Hot Air," pages 20-21). You'll learn how much time some companies spend cultivating the perfect testimonial, as well as tips for what to do with these customer stories when you have them.
Once you make asking for and cultivating testimonials a regular process, you might be amazed at how many are out there for the gathering. In my experience, they grow like weeds; you just have to be on the lookout for the flowers among the greenery.