Why gathering meaningful customer survey results can be tricky

image of customer satisfaction
Businesses supposedly use surveys to improve their service and product offerings all the time. The question is just how accurate are these surveys? For example, an international hotel chain recently asked me to complete a survey about their frequent stayer program of which I am a member. Here’s an excerpt of that email request to explain the positions I will take as we go along.

… We are conducting this research on behalf of a hotel company that identified you as a member of its loyalty program. If you qualify to take the survey, and complete it:

• You will receive 2,500 bonus points in the sponsor’s hotel loyalty program in appreciation for your time and valuable input.

• The hotel loyalty program that is sponsoring this research will be identified at the end of the survey.

The survey will take approximately 35 minutes to complete …

Initial concerns

I presume this offer is being extended to members of a certain level in the frequent stayer program. If my presumption is correct, these are folks who travel not just a few times but at least 15-20 times a year. By definition, those folks are busy and value their time; quite possibly more than monetary rewards. If all of the proceeding is close to on the mark, then 35 minutes is a lot of time.

The problem is I suspect many of their potential participants will view the incentive of “2,500 bonus points” as far too trivial to be worth their time. Honestly, I’d have been more likely to complete the survey with no incentive than one that basically insulted the value of my time. When I asked the question on Twitter: “What does it take to get you to complete customer satisfaction survey?” I got this response:

[insert image]

Like Ricky, I agree that the desire to provide feedback on a personal level can be a powerful inducement to complete a customer satisfaction survey. I am a fan of the brand in question and often complete brief surveys about my recent hotel stays. I complete these surveys with no incentive other than providing feedback that might make my next experience in that property a better one.

Gathering a meaningful cross-section

You want survey results that represent a cross section of your client or potential client base. How do you achieve that?

In the above example, it would have been quite easy. Look at the total number of frequent stay points each potential survey participant had earned in the previous 12 months. Offer them a minimum number of points to get one free hotel night or 10 percent of the points they earned. That would have gotten my attention in a different way. This post would read very differently and the survey would have been completed.

Does this suggested approach cost more? I would say, probably yes. Will the results be more meaningful and representative of a cross section of your guests? Again, I’d venture to guess yes.

Photo Credit

The 2012 Plan

Planning works. A year ago, I shared The 2011 Plan and last week I shared the success story of that plan when I wrote “How to make what you write come true.” Finding a planning method that works for you is, unfortunately, not so easy. I’ve settled on a method that combines Chris Brogan’s three words method and the visual thinking approach of Sketchnotes, which results in the drawing included with this post.

The 2012 Plan dissected

Growth – One of last year’s words was “customers” and it turned out to be the key word. We learned two important pieces of information about our customers in 2011: Who they are and where to find them online. Armed with that knowledge and the other two words in this year’s plan, significant growth of the ventures I am involved in is achievable.

Automate – Late last year, I had an “ah-ha” moment related to automation. A task worth doing manually is worth automating. If it’s not, then stop doing the task entirely. Your business is not truly systemized until most – if not all – of the business processes are automated. It takes more time to delegate and train those to whom you are delegating if the process is not automated. Automated tasks have a much higher probability of being done correctly.

Teams – It’s one thing to hire people to help you. It’s quite another to empower them to manage the team without you. This year, progress must happen without my involvement. Handing over business processes that have been automated is one way to ensure this outcome. While I can and sometimes will be a player on the teams I help create, I don’t intend to ever be the coach.

Back to growth

The strategy that came out of this planning exercise is: More and more of my time must be dedicated to tasks focused on long-term enterprise growth. Some might call this sales. I’ll be out searching for the relationships that allow us to partner our technology and knowhow with new audiences in 2012.

Here’s to an awesome 2012. Lets’ do this!

G+ Brand & Business Pages – Jim Says

For someone who had only had about 48 hours to work with Google+ pages, Shelby covered this topic well yesterday. Today I’ll focus on thoughts about the potential benefits and pitfalls of a business or brand having a Google+ Page. I’ll also share some basic getting started steps that worked for me. Also, at the end of this post you’ll find the topics for our #SheHeChat over on Twitter at 8pm CST tonight.

First, my biggest frustrations

So far I’m part of two Pages: One for “She Said, He Said” and one for ColorMetrix. The problem is I can’t help administer the “She Said, He Said” page and Shelby can’t help administer the ColorMetrix page. That’s because at the moment Google only allows the creator of the page to have the ability to edit and post to the page. Hopefully that will be fixed quickly.

There’s a lot of complaining about G+ not supporting vanity URLs yet. I’m becoming a bit worried because I had figured this would be something Google had resolved by now. Part of me wonders if they are waiting until they have some way to give legit businesses and brands first shot at their URLs. It seems easier to take your time and get this right the first time around than to have to go back and fix it later.

Reasons to have a G+ page for your business or brand now

I figure any additional information you can give Google about your business, the better. It’s kind of like having a site and not taking advantage of Google Tools for Webmasters. Why would you not do that? Typically, the more you tell Google about your site or business, the better you will show up in search results.

As for a brand that’s not quite a business yet, like “She Said, He Said,” I like that we can share posts and pictures and build a relationship with our audience which is really more of a community than an audience. Even on the ColorMetrix page I made sure some of the scrapbook pictures included people. The days of static pages “selling” anything are long gone. It’s about community and engagement now and that happens with humans not logos.

Tips to get your G+ page started

Just like any social network, the first step is to complete your profile. For the ColorMetrix page, this included steps like adding our logo as an avatar, filling in the basics and contact information and, most importantly, adding pictures to the scrapbook.

Since the beginning, I’ve liked the control G+ provides for the five scrapbook pictures you choose. You get to decide what five pictures are going to show up and even the order they show up in. As a starting point, I’ve included both product and people images. As I stated earlier, it’s important to let people know there are real humans behind the business.

Next, I’d get some posts up. I added links to interesting blog posts and a link to a video we made. Then, I started promoting the page and re-sharing content from the page on my G+ account. For now, I just want friends following us so I can ask for honest feedback about how we are doing.

Give it time

Not everything Google does is going to be a 99-yard touchdown pass. Some of it’s going to be the foundation on which they build better solutions. They’ve proven they can get it right through search results, maps, email, etc. The list goes on and on. It’s my opinion that they are committed to G+ and will keep going just as fast as they can without messing up their future vision. (Yes Shelby, I’m still a G+ fanboy at this point in the game.)

#SheHeChat Topics

Be sure to join Shelby and me over on Twitter at 8 p.m. CST for our #SheHeChat. Tonight we’ll be discussing these three topics and welcome your participation.

1. G+ Brand & Business Pages.

2. Voice-activated technology on mobile devices.

3. Adobe’s announcement killing Flash on all mobile devices.

Concentrate on the bird in your hand

The problem with building a marketing engine that works 24/7/365 is that at some point you are going to have to filter the sales leads and business opportunities that come your way. It’s not a bad problem to have but it’s one you should prepare for before it hits you. My general rule of thumb is to focus first on the best opportunities that are already in front of you.

Do the work on your desk first

As business ventures and sales cycles approach their conclusion, there is a natural tendency to start looking for the next batch of opportunities to pursue. That’s a sound and logical approach to business if you want to avoid peaks and valleys in your revenue stream. The tricky part is balancing pursuit of future opportunities with completing current ones. There is no easy formula for this task, but the old cliche about a bird in the hand being better than one in the bush is a good place to start.

Future opportunities often lie in the current ones

Depending upon how you structure your business partnerships, a great deal of the revenue could come once the project is complete in the form of ongoing support or subscription revenue. You could also identify other areas where you can help your partners or customers. Just recently, a project we have worked on for almost a year for one customer turned out to be exactly what another customer needs. We worked with the first client so we could provide that solution to the second client and save them both some development costs.

Seeing that two of our clients find this solution useful will lead to this project becoming a product. Also by having two big names already using it, we’ve added to the future street credibility of the product. These are the kind of opportunities you can miss if you’re too focused on finding new customers instead of finishing the work you have in front of you.

An example from three days at a trade show

I recently worked the trade show booth of one of our partner businesses. My job was to do two or three presentations a day related to the launch of a new joint venture product. It would have been easy to walk the show floor during the off time when I was not presenting. Instead, I decided to stay close to the area of the demos. We had spent a great deal of time and effort getting the word out that I’d be in the booth. I figured why not stay put and let those people interested enough to find me, come to me? I knew I was talking to the folks who had come looking for me or those who had enough interest in the new offering to ask questions.

I’ll close with another cliche. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence, it just looks like it is. That’s how an exciting new opportunity can look when comparing it to your existing one that seems to be slowing down. Never stop looking for future opportunities, but make sure not to do it at the expense of your existing ones.

Photo Credit

What affiliate revenue can mean to you

The picture with this post was taken just as the Milwaukee Brewers won game 5 of the National League Division Series. My wife and I were at games 1 and 2 of the series as well. With one child in college and another starting next fall, I’m 100 percent sure our budget would not have allowed for this extravagance without the affiliate revenue I earn.

Your affiliate revenue choices

I don’t earn what I consider to be a ton of affiliate revenue. In good months, it might be equivalent to what some folks have as a car payment. It’s never even come close to approaching house payment levels, but I’ve met several people who make that kind of money with affiliate sales. I’ve also met some who make an income greater than most people ever dream of making. That’s the continuum of possibilities when it comes to affiliate sales commissions.

I suggest starting small

Unless your blog/website already has massive traffic, affiliate sales are going to start slow. My initial goal was to cover the annual expenses of operating my blog. Items like hosting costs, the cost of Thesis (affiliate link) my premium WordPress theme and the subscription costs of Scribe (affiliate link), which is the SEO optimization tool I utilize.

Once you’ve grown your audience and found a product mix that makes sense for them, it’s time to take it to the next level. We’re talking hundreds of dollars a month at this point and that’s the kind of money you should give some thought to how you spread around. I’ve used those proceeds to finance trips to places like WordCamp Chicago where Shelby and I presented our She Said, He Said live event for the first time.

Most recently, I funded the purchase of tickets for 5 playoff baseball games from affiliate revenue. Depending on your financial position, that money might be better used setting up an emergency fund for when the car unexpectedly breaks down. I won’t pretend to know what your best use of the money is but you get the picture. This is now starting to be a fairly substantial amount of revenue each month.

Where do you go from here?

My plan is to never depend on the affiliate revenue. I’ve seen states like Illinois and California change laws so that companies like Amazon will no longer sign up affiliates. You also need to be concerned about your Google rankings changing. For example, I had a series of posts generating more than a $100 a month of affiliate revenue. Then my Google ranking on those key words dropped and the revenue followed suit. Another nice source of affiliate revenue recently ended their program and, just like that, the revenue dried up.

My plan is to keep writing about one affiliate-related post a week and continue to work with quality affiliate partners. As the audience on this site grows and the product mix improves, my average monthly revenue will grow as well. I know I will have months with low revenue but I will also have some that just sneak up on me and become blockbusters.

If there are things you like to do but can’t always afford, give affiliate sales a try. It’s not for everyone, but if you run it like a business and view it like a part-time job, you can generate a sustainable source of revenue. Any affiliate sales pros out there want to chime in with your experience? Comments are open, jump right in!

How partnering and giving things away for free leads to success

Recently, I signed up for the free version of TripIt. I liked the free version enough to give the Pro option a try. The first 30 days are free anyway, so my risk was zero. Then I found out that TripIt Pro is partnering with Regus Businessworld to include a year of free access at no additional cost. For $49 a year, TripIt Pro is a great value all on its own, but I’m not trying to sell you anything. Instead, I want to look at what TripIt and Regus achieved by partnering to grow both their businesses.

Step 1: Give it away for free

The free version of TripIt does more than most casual travelers will ever need. As a result, I’m guessing most people never upgrade. I probably wouldn’t have upgraded either except that it makes tracking multiple frequent traveler accounts a breeze. Once I had upgraded, I found out how useful some of the other Pro features are. For example, once you purchase an airline ticket, they monitor fares and let you know if there is a less expensive option even with rebooking fees.

You can also enable email or SMS text message updates when you are traveling. It’s nice to get an email as your plane pulls up to the gate letting you know at which gate your connecting flight will be and if it’s on time or delayed. Remember, I was able to experience all the Pro features for the first 30 days for free. Hopefully, you are starting to see a pattern here. When your product is good and useful, giving it away for a reasonable period of time can be a great sales strategy.

Step 2: Partnering to help you both grow

During the TripIt Pro sign-up process, I noticed that I could get a one-year Gold membership to Regus Businessworld at no additional cost. Instead of paying $600 for a year of access to hundreds of Businessworld centers, I can try the concept out for a year. I’ve visited a few of the centers and find them more conducive to work from than a coffee shop. I also have the ability to rent offices and conferences rooms all over the country as you need them for a hour of a day at a time.

How smart it was of Regus to give away a year membership to people signing up for TripIt Pro. Road warriors understand the value of TripIt Pro and how difficult it can be to work from coffee shops between meetings and appointments.

Step 3: Can your product or service stand up to a free trial?

First, TripIt let me try the additional Pro services for a month before committing to spend the $49. Then they sweetened the deal with a year of access to Regus Businessworld. It’s quite a one-two punch that’s hard to walk away from once you understand the full value of the offering.

What’s a free year if the person sees the value of your product after three visits? Could your product/service stand the test of giving it away for a year in hopes of folks being so impressed that they will pony up $600 a year to keep working with you?

Interestingly, we are doing something very similar with one of our ColorMetrix products and a marketing partner much larger than us. Just as TripIt gains credibility through their association with a Berkshire-Hathway company, ColorMetrix will gain credibility through association with a much larger trading partner distributing our product for a free 90-day trial.

Photo Credit

The silly and the serious

Running a business is serious but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a silly side. I’d argue that having a silly side probably makes you a better business person; especially if a big part of your day is interacting with others. Some of the most serious topics are best approached with a dose of humor.

Silly comes in a few flavors

For me. there are three kinds of silly. First, we have business-appropriate silly that works during office hours. This would include finding ways to have fun while making money, telling appropriate jokes and slipping in funny one-liners here and there. The second kind of silly is just plain craziness that can happen after business hours with friends. Sure, business associates can see this side of you too, but they should be ones who have become friends. Finally, there is that hybrid silly that comes into play at business events after hours. Do you really still want your tie tight and your language and demeanor completely buttoned up when others are letting loose a little bit?

Serious is different

There is pretty much only one kind of serious. When a situation requiring your attention involves the safety of yourself or others or significant monetary consequences, it’s time to be serious. Think about teaching a teenager to drive. When you’re riding in that passenger seat, it’s not the time to be telling jokes. Remember, your driver is in control of a several thousand pound machine capable of killing people. How about negotiating a business deal that will support your company’s fixed costs for 12 months? Yes, that’s another time to be focused and serious. These are moments that matter and require your full focus and attention to detail.

Balancing the silly and the serious

Wouldn’t it be cool if the world was black and white and there were 100 percent serious and 100 percent silly times? It would make it easier to create some rules for the above definitions. The reality is that when your kid really messes up while you are teaching them to drive, screaming at them is not the answer. That may seem like the appropriate serious response, but honestly a one-liner, like “Oh man, I remember when I did that 30 years ago while Grandma was teaching me to drive.” is just a better way to handle it. (Yes, this is a true story.) On the other hand, when you’re hanging out with friends being silly and someone crosses a line, it’s time to stop joking around and stand your ground. A quick serious statement can address a bad situation immediately rather than letting things get out of control.

The world is not a black and white place. We need to balance all sorts of behaviors like silly and serious every day. What does your strategy for dealing with the silly and serious look like?

Photo Credit

Social Media ROI – Jim Says

This week for our She Said, He Said posts we decided to tackle social media return on investment (ROI). I lead off today with my take and Shelby will follow up tomorrow. As usual tomorrow’s post will include topics for this week’s #shehechat over on Twitter at 8 p.m. CST each Thursday evening.

Yes, you do need to justify your business-related social media activities by determining an ROI. However, this is the end of the road; not the beginning. First, you need to jump in and learn social media. Only then will you know which channels are right for your business and how to utilize them.

Arm yourself with knowledge

You need to read some blogs and pick up a book or two about social media. While this is a good start, at some point you need to just jump into the social media space. Create accounts on some of the big networks like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Google+. See what the conversations look like there. Start to jump into the conversations and get a feel for how the flow really goes.

You’ll begin to see that some of the networks feel more business-like to you and others will seem more personal. Some will even feel like a hybrid of business and personal. I joined Twitter back in April of 2008 to follow our hosting provider’s downtime status messages. Over the next six months, I began to actually use and like the service. Twitter has always been a mix of business and fun for me.

When is the right time to look for ROI?

There is no exact answer to this question. If you hire a social media consultant, he or she can help you find the answer to this question. For me, it was a matter of taking time to see what the potential was for the networks. I watched what others were doing. I utilized the networks to increase traffic to my trade show booths. I landed a few customers through social media. I run a small business and I had a basic sense it was working, so I’ve never taken the time to do the math at a detailed level.

I do know that when I compare the sales month-to-month between last year and this year, it’s improved. The only significant change I made was bringing Shelby Sapusek on board to manage our marketing campaigns which included social media management. Does that mean all social media is wonderful and fantastic? No. As a matter of fact, we are thinking about abandoning our company Facebook page for now. It just hasn’t worked out well for us on any level. We are considering moving those resources and efforts over to a Linkedin company page. If that works, we’ll stick with it. If not, we’ll move on from that as well.

Social media is not one size fits all

Something to keep in mind is just because a company Facebook page didn’t work for us does not mean it won’t work for you. You need to get a feel for the potential of each social media network. You can do that yourself or you can hire a social media consultant to help you. Either way, you need to stay involved because a consultant usually won’t know your business or marketplace as well as you do. As a matter of fact, Shelby insisted I stay involved in the social media efforts of ColorMetrix. She manages the day-to-day interaction online, but we work out the long-term strategies together.

Remember to check back tomorrow for Shelby’s take on social media ROI.

Image Credit

Writing every day makes you a better business person

Recently, I had to prepare three letters for the bank. As a small business owner, my personal finances are judged right alongside those of the business. As we worked to refinance our home, the bank wanted to know many of the details about my business. It required writing three separate letters to answer all their questions.

Good business is about clear concise communication

The bank had requested detailed descriptions of past problems, our current situation and assurances things will stay how they are and not slide back into the past. Sure, you could fill a letter like this with BS. But guess what? Smart investors are pretty savvy people and they’d see right through that. Instead, I sat for a few minutes and gathered my thoughts.

It’s really just a blog post

I looked at each individual information request and realized the bank had provided me three blog post ideas and titles. I opened three documents and started writing notes in each. Within minutes, I had outlines for all three letters ready to go. Finally, I spent about an hour on each letter filling in the blanks and tracking down the details requested. When finished, I invested about four hours in this exercise.

Time is an investment that needs a return

Four hours of your time is not a small investment. Just think about what your clients or employer pays you for four hours. I need those four hours invested to have a return. Before I started blogging as much as I do, those letters would have each taken the better part of a day. I’d have struggled with them and tortured myself that I wasn’t doing it right.

The time I’ve invested in this blog over the last six years has many more payoffs than the few dollars of affiliate revenue and speaking fees it has generated. All this writing has made me a better business person. I organize my thoughts quicker and I communicate those thoughts and ideas more clearly and concisely.

Look for the hidden return in the things you do. That’s where you’ll find the real value in the pursuit of those activities you are passionate about lies.

Photo Credit

The small business lifestyle

I probably have an advantage in small business that you just don’t have. I grew up in a family that owned a small business. Okay, there’s nothing you can do about it anymore than I can do anything about being 5 foot 6 inches tall. I’d love to be taller but it is never going to happen. I’m just not Paul Bunyan and never will be. So if you didn’t grow up in a family that had a small business, I’ll give you some insight.

It’s a family affair

The Raffel family was in the furniture business in Milwaukee from the 1930s to the 1980s. Yes, my grandfather had the audacity to start a business during the Great Depression. This is never lost on me. There’s probably nothing I have yet or will ever face in business like the economic conditions he overcame to start and grow a business that would last more than 50 years.

Grandpa Harry worked well into his 90s and I’m not talking about the show up at the office kind of work but the meaningful keep the business going kind of work. When he was younger and just starting out, they couldn’t afford much help. He unloaded trucks, created showroom displays, sold and co-ran the business with my grandma. When my father and uncle were old enough, they helped out.

From story to reality

Those are all just stories to me. By the time I came along, my father and uncle were running the business and it had expanded to multiple locations. One of my earliest childhood memories is being at the grand opening of one of those locations. It was no small affair. There were flags and fanfare. It was a party as far as I was concerned. I spent a lot of my childhood hours in that building and often begged my father to let me tag along with him on weekends.

I helped out wherever I could and tried to stay out of the way (I’m pretty sure I failed at that more than I succeeded). By the time I was 16, I was helping on the sales floor during big events. When I was 18, I was a full-time salesperson until I went away to college. That experience allowed me to get a great-paying job selling furniture while my friends flipped burgers.

The business was everywhere

Dad worked a lot of hours. His only day off until I was a teenager was Thursday. He worked every weekend and holiday except when we went on vacation. Is it any wonder I work most weekends on blog posts and such and don’t even think twice about it? I can assure you it’s not possible for me to work in as hard and focused a fashion as my role model did. After dinner, he’d sit in his chair half watching TV and review financial statements or legal documents. Running the store is just what he did. On top of that, he managed to be very active in the chamber of commerce for the community the business was based in.

That’s what I grew up watching: a self-motivated, hard-working man taking care of his family, his business and his employees. Perhaps the small business success formula is that simple.

Over in Kitchen Table Companies we talk about the small business lifestyle all the time. Just click on the link below if you want to learn more about KTC.

Build A Small Business Plan

Photo Credit