By Nancy Ingalls It could be as simple as designing and printing a newsletter in larger type for Seniors. August 2, 2004 -- Well, you say, this is a loaded statement. From what I can tell customers think, interacting directly with a business may be the first visible sign the business is consciously trying a personalized approach, but from the businesses perspective the crucial element that opens the door to effective communications is the word "customized". I'm here to help you get the most out of helping those corporations capitalize on the information they have on their customers. Toner Psychology 101 Behavioral Modification If customers tell a company something about how they wish to be treated and the company doesn't act on it, or worse, dismiss the information, what kind of a relationship is that? Dysfunctional, I'd say. This is Psychology 101 applied to toner and ink. Think about it, if enterprises change their behavior towards a single customer, the enterprise is in fact, personalizing and customizing the method by which they choose to communicate. It is as simple as if you want to make a relationship work, you first need to listen to what the other party wants, and to achieve a win-win situation, you give them what they want in the manner they want it. It could be a newsletter targeted towards a customer's specific interests or needs, discounts on products that need to be replenished, information regarding new product enhancements, or letting someone know how grateful you are for their business. It could be as simple as designing and printing a newsletter in larger type for Seniors. The customer experience is multifaceted Unfortunately, customization is often viewed as a "creative idea" rather than a strategy with a measurable way of building business. Now, I know most businesses already do some type of customization, at least for one or two target audiences. Lets take the automobile industry as an example for a moment. Mercedes sells their cars to customers within a specific category. They customize their services that accompany the vehicles and will often customize the actual car as well, because the economics make sense. Businesses that don't sell complex and expensive products will still often customize some aspect of the way they treat their very best, most valuable customers. The reality is that in most cases, customization is reserved for detailed services, highly priced products, or most valuable customers for a valid reason: customization is expensive. So, the questions of the day are: How can you help a company justify a one to one marketing approach without driving expenses through the roof? How can you help your customers think differently to achieve loyalty in a way that serves customers by understanding and leveraging their unique qualities? How can you manage strategies in a way that builds on a brand's character and values? How do you them customers towards methodologies that introduce more facts and more data into the process? Unfortunately, the answers to these are too often relegated to a "program" rather than a strategy, or as a "creative idea" rather than a measurable way of building business. There is no silver bullet It's not enough to have the best product or service, the lowest prices or the most privileges for "high-value" customers. It's not enough to provide the most timely information or the best unexpected surprises and delights or to have great delivery systems because there is no simple or singular solution to earning customer loyalty. Nevertheless, there are methodologies that put far greater controls into the hands of companies, giving them the advantages they seek in the hunt for customer loyalty. Some companies have rapidly adopted CRM as their silver bullet. Tools have exploded into the hands of marketers to obtain and use customer information to greatly improve the shopping and buying experience. But this is not enough. In fact, some studies suggest that less than half of the technology installations designed to improve the CRM process are considered successful. How can you help them? If you are talking to customers and find out they do not have a goal of increasing or improving customer loyalty, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Instead, seek prospects with a clear desire to develop stronger customer relationships. Look in the annual reports for signs that the company has been successful in earning customer loyalty. Read interviews with senior management to see what they are talking about. Look for words such as loyalty, customer satisfaction, repeat purchase, and retention as signs of companies that are driven to exceed customer expectations and possess strategies designed to improve loyalty. On the other hand, be suspicious of how loyalty is addressed if it resides exclusively in the form of a " Customer Loyalty Program." Too often such efforts add little real or sustainable value. Consultative value added service can help. One approach you can provide is offering a series of workshops that help customers clearly articulate their strategy to you. These can be half-day, lunch-hour or after-hours events that help customers formulate answers to some key questions: Key Questions Objectives Where are we going? Set the Vision Who's important? Identify best customers What are they worth? Value them What will I accomplish? Set goals What do I do for them? Set attributes How do I get the work out? Communicate Did it work? Evaluate This helps customers: clarify their vision identify their best customers and customer segments determine whether they are going to increase revenue or profit identified customer attributes that impact behavior and motivations With this as a foundation, you then can move onto recommending print and information-based programs they can implement to support their strategy. (Just remember, the customer experience is multifaceted and dynamic; attempts to turn them magical blend of cognitive, psychological, and sociological influences into a simple model is unrealistic.) As I was saying, your motive behind these efforts is to sell them personalized and customized print services, perhaps even extending the reach using the Internet. There are many ways a company can tailor the way it behaves with respect to an individual customer, other than customizing a physical product you could help them come up with ideas to: Create relevant offers(web based, E-mail, post cards) that bundle supplies customers would need to replenish regularly with products. Just a few examples include hiking boots with high energy power bars; pet food and pet accessories with birds, puppies or hamsters; golf clothing with golf clubs; bike helmets w/repair kits and cycling accessories; child car seats w/ small toys for travel; an in-car DVD player w/1 month free for DVD rental from local video/DVD store. Design programs targeting various economic categories of customers. This can be done without changing the physical product or service itself. Pre-configure the product to the client's specifications and provide various features or services based on the economic position of the customer or business. Here are some examples: Veterinary clinics can offer dog owners grooming or nail clipping discounts with their pet's annual visit. A spa looking to increase massages, pedicures and manicures to clientele can offer customers a free sample of lotion with massages. For pedicures and manicures, a customer could receive a complimentary glass of bubbly along with a coupon for next pedicure or manicure. A hair salon could offer a discount on shampoo with first four cuts. These methods can target many types of retail businesses, including sporting goods, food, home and garden centers, vehicles, hobbies, pharmaceutical and more. Just about any business with a little imagination. Recommend customized packaging. Seniors get large print and lighter weight products. Professionals get other information that is different than the average consumer. Look at which customers would prefer to have multi-packs and which would prefer mini packs. Similar philosophy as with child safety caps (which some seniors can't open) vs. regular snap on caps for pill bottles. Service enhancements. Many business who purchase mission-critical products or services for their operations appreciate the option of enhanced or special services. If your client offers these services, recommend periodic notifications to several levels of customers offering discounts or reminding them of the service provided. Again, you could also recommend targeting those customers most likely to upgrade to the service and offer them a promotional discount for signing on during a specific period of time. Recommending alternative mailing strategies for invoicing is an option. You may provide invoicing digitally or over the internet for your customers. Based on the target audience, are there options and other favorable process or terms you could recommend they communicate to the customers regularly in case their individual needs change? Health Care organizations or some large grocery chains may balk at putting someone's name on a mailer as the lowest level of personalization. You could recommend segmenting your customers into product buckets, find out how the customers want to be communicated with and offer several newsletters that target that segment. This way, the customer can hand it off to a friend, the customer won't feel their personal information is being violated and you are offering an additional service relevant to a specific audience. I hope these ideas have brought a little clarity to a very complex problem--and have given you some ideas to help your customers. Until next time, keep on looking for ways to help your customers be more successful and you will grow, too. As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, The great thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving."