Success through wishful thinking

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.Strategy also...

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.

Strategy also invites other news items or column submissions for this section. Enquiries should be directed to Mark Smyka, editor, (416) 408-2300.

Part two of two. Part one was carried in the June 28 issue.

On a couple of occasions, I have recently encountered the phrase ‘people want things that make their lives the way they wish they were.’

To some extent, this phrase sounds as though a spin doctor has gone to work on the Golden Rule.

On deeper reflection, the phrase implies that development of products and services based on extensions of present circumstances will not work.

In other words, the products and services that will satisfy the customers of the ’90s must be developed from a giant leap into the land of wishful thinking and then reverse-engineered into reality.

Reverse engineering is when you take a product apart in order to build it again, only better. Hardly revolutionary. Competitors have been doing it for years.

Impossible?

Imagine knowing what your customers are wishing for, perhaps even before they know it themselves. Think it’s impossible?

Think again. In fact, it is almost as simple as remembering God gave us one mouth and two ears, so we can, theoretically, listen twice as much as we talk.

Direct marketing techniques offer a multitude of opportunities to ‘listen’ to customers and, consequently, learn what is going on in their minds.

The activity and performance can be measured through the tracking and recording of every aspect. Add the opportunity to build a database of the resulting information and you have a powerful system for constantly re-engineering your products and services.

So, what and how should you measure (listen to) so that you are ahead of the game in figuring out your customers’ wishes?

Commitment

First, you need commitment and a formalized system. It is not good enough to decide to count orders whenever somebody takes the notion.

It is only valuable information when you consistently count every single day without fail and record the information with any additional pertinent information

Not only do you have to count every last thing you possibly can, you want to hang onto the information in a formal, documented, plague-, fire- and weather-proof way.

Does that mean a sophisticated computer system? No. Lack of computer systems is no excuse for not having a tracked, measured business.

Whatever happened to the good old paper and pen (not pencil) method? Tick sheets, fill-in forms, time sheets and call records that are tallied and summarized on a regular, predictable schedule will give you just as much information (probably faster) than your computer system.

Just for starters, a basic service/quality report should include:

- the outcome of test orders placed with your company and your competitors. What better way to assess how well you are doing than to be one of your own customers?

- time it takes to process and ship each order, broken down into each step in the process

- number of incomplete orders

- delivery time to get the order to your customer

- availability of stock

- how often items are not available (back-ordered) and why

- the average time a customer waits for a back-ordered item and how often they return it because they got tired of waiting

- how quickly phone calls are answered

- length of phone calls

- how many calls go on hold and inflict pre-recorded, mindless music or bafflegab on your customers

- the professionalism, courtesy and helpfulness conveyed by your staff. Observed behavior or monitored calls should be rated on a scale such as 1 (low) to 10 (high), with 7.5 being average and satisfactory.

- the number of customer complaints and inquiries and what they are about. These can usually be categorized under several common subjects.

That is just a start.

And, if it all seems like too much trouble, remember this: according to Technical Assistance Research Programs, the average business never hears from 96% of its unhappy customers; the average customer who has a complaint will tell nine or 10 people about it; 13% of them will tell more than 20 people; of customers who complain, 50% to 70% will do business again if their complaint is resolved and 95% will return if they feel the complaint is resolved quickly.

And, wouldn’t you know, after all that effort, customers who have complained and had complaints resolved satisfactorily will only tell an average of five people.

Barbara Canning Brown, a 20-year veteran of the direct marketing industry, is a direct marketing consultant specializing in catalogues. She was named Direct Marketer of the Year in 1990.