Tag Archives: community

Step Back in Time to Customer Service

By Jeff Bowman

Someone once said to me that “customer service is a timeless necessity of business”.

I was never really quite sure what they meant by timeless, especially given that today we see big box stores where knowledgeable assistants are tough to find, we have self check outs in stores, bank machines and a general malaise in the art of pleasant conversation and manners from a great number of clerks and managers.

There is little doubt that businesses are realizing that service rules, and cutbacks in service staff that have lead to lost business will give way to a more customer friendly environments in the next few years.

I took a step back in time last week and spent a couple of days following the Amish Trail near Ellicottville New York.

It is a real eye opener to view first-hand the difference between a small town customer service mentality versus the big City (especially considering the dose of friendly customer service you get crossing borders) Whether it was a supermarket, a liquor store or one of the quaint little diners, the people were friendly, conversational and eager to engage and assist you. I found it interesting that one cashier even apologized to me because she had to charge sales tax on the item I bought.  Oh if she only knew that I was from Ontario!

As impressed as I was in town with the customer service, I was blown away when we visited a few of the Amish shops. A confectionary store invited us to try various candies and fudge before making a purchase. There was no concern for lost revenue, just for my satisfaction as a customer. The young lady even drew a map for us to a local quilt shop when we inquired about other stores to visit, despite the fact that there were other customers in the store.  We weren’t rushed out to maximize sales!

At the quilt shop, we were welcomed by an Amish couple and one of their young sons. She was proud of her work and patiently rolled through many quilts describing the patterns and the colour blends.

I enjoyed a wonderful, funny conversation with the husband as he spoke about their 15 children, the Amish lifestyle and even my car computer (GPS). The Quilt and Gift Shop run by Mattie was one of the highlights of the weekend. The level of service was incredible, they were happy to see us, and seemed very pleased, not with the fact that our friends and I bought two quilts, but that we recognized the quality of workmanship and time involved in making a quilt. As I joked with them about paying by Interact, she replied that a cheque was good enough. The level of trust and relationship building skills was incredible, and that is the lesson in achieving great customer service.

As we left the shop, I saw a small dog approaching, and between his paws for every step was a small kitten. I commented that not only were the interpersonal skills of the people great, it extended to the animals as well. Business owners who want or in some cases need to see first-hand what service is about should visit a small town on any given weekend.

A valuable lesson.

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Filed under Customer Service, Jeff Bowman, Sales

The more things change…..

Rhodes croppedBy Stephen Rhodes

Re-posted from our newsletter

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In communities, or as Wikipedia says, groups of ” interacting organisms sharing an environment,” we recognize the need for people to come together, where intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common.

Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a book about these collectives called Tribes. He defines them as any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.

He says, “for millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical (think of the Deadheads). It’s our nature.”

communitiesGodin’s point is that the Internet has eliminated the barriers of geography, cost, and time. Blogs and social networking tools are building new communities of common interest where thousands, even millions of people, join forces around ideas, causes, sports team and product lines.  In Facebook alone, 250 million people are interacting.

People in small towns understand community. They get together at the local hockey game on a Friday night, or the market on a Saturday morning or church on Sunday. These communities within the community grow out of a common interest.  And within these communities an inherent trust develops between the participants.

Have you ever asked your neighbour how he likes his new Cadillac, a movie or who he uses for insurance. Are you likely to trust his opinion?

In business, formal networking provides significant opportunity for growth on the strength of the trust developed within the group. If you have personal experience with a lawyer in your networking group and a friend or associate needs a lawyer, you are likely to connect the two. But let’s say you don’t know a lawyer, but someone you trust in your group does.  The trust developed within the group provides the comfort you need to make a referral.

The Internet and community builders like Twitter, Facebook and You Tube allows you to build bigger communities faster.

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Building social capital for non-profits

By Stephen Rhodes

Non-profit organizations need to build social capital to ensure a long life.

Social capital is about creating value for your community. Moreover, the community has to agree you bring value.

sally-annMany non-profit groups work in a cocoon, where internal comfort and support provide validation. Often managed by a volunteer board, there is great personal social capital from contributing in a meaningful way to a good cause.  Too often non-profits stop there; satisfied that they have a cadre of good people doing good things for their organization, when they really need to engage the whole community in the same way.

The Salvation Army has great social capital. Typically they have strong community support because most of us  believe the Army does great things for our community, probably without really knowing what it is they do.

Some years ago the local Sally Ann contingent dared to dream about the possibility of everyone in our city  contributing a loonie to the Christmas kettle campaign, which in effect would raise $400,000. Reasoning that not everyone could contribute, they thought if half the population would “Toss a Toonie” they would meet their target.  In the first year they raised $230,000.

The community  was mobilized- service clubs, churches, the city and a brigade of volunteers. Why? Because the community at large believes the Army provides a benefit to the citizens of our city. They have social capital. They are about community.

Other not-for-profit organizations need to learn this simple lesson. Build social capital – create that feeling of reciprocity between the community and your organization and you will be successful. The community needs to know who you are and why you make a difference.

Social capital to a non-profit organization is like market share to a business. Without it, you don’t succeed.

What organizations do you believe have great social capital?

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Filed under No-for-Profit, not-for-profit, social media, Stephen Rhodes

Giving back at Twitter

twitter-badgeBy Stephen Rhodes

In the late 90s I was a daily newspaper publisher and head of new media for two other dailies in Southwestern Ontario, when new media was all the rage. Newspapers were still struggling with the notion of free content and many set up websites simply because … they didn’t really know.

Last week the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped printing the newspaper in favor of its online version. It wasn’t a strategic decision. The newspaper lost $14 million and couldn’t find a buyer.

Newspapers around the world have survived on the strength of the social capital they build within the community they serve.  Good newspapers serve their communities well and not just providing local news and  information. They are catalysts for change and reviewers of local fare. They also give back.

In September I set up a Twitter account. I had read a little about micro-blogging but remained skeptical about its business application. The idea of following thousands of people who text in 140 word bites seemed inane to me. I searched a few friends and added them to my list. Nothing happened.

In March, I read a piece on community building through Twitter. I  searched online for more information and discovered a whole world, literally, of people out there who were talking to each other in 140 word increments about emerging trends in marketing, public relations, media and social media. I found some interesting blogs and realized all of these people had Twitter accounts. I added them to my follow list. Within a few days I had 50 people who wanted to follow me.  Go figure.

I watched quietly the exchange of dialogue, discovered some tools to make my new-found voyerism easier, and learned a lot. Twitter is interesting because you can follow, for the most part, anyone you want. You can build your own community. If you don’t like someone, you can simply stop following. I started to participate.

What hooked me was a campaign called the  12for12k Challenge,  a 12for12k-banner3-1Twitter Tweetathon that raised  more than $14,500 in 12 hours to support Share our Strength, an organization that helps hungry children. 12for12k seeks to raise $12,000 per month to support a different charity each time.

It’s the brainchild of Danny Brown of Mississauga, or @dannybrown in Twitter lingo. The March campaign yesterday was organized by Toronto’s Scott Stratten at @unmarketing.

I gather this isn’t the first charitable venture on Twitter.  What is striking to me is how  this simple online tool has matured into full-blown community status. Twitter is about sharing. To be successful on Twitter, and you can define that any way you want, you need to give back.

Yesterday Danny and Scott and friends helped Twitter come of age as a community.

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Filed under Marketing, Online marketing, Stephen Rhodes, Uncategorized