Customer Service Equals Two Letter Grades

Have you ever heard of The Keg restaurant? How about the third season of The Apprentice? They will be forever linked in my mind.

I spent last weekend in Cincinnati, where my brother-in-law is responsible for my current case of projection TV envy. His is incredible! Crisp. Detailed. Over 100 inches wide. We watched The Apprentice in high definition. I will confess that there’s something fascinating about seeing The Donald larger-than-life when he says “You’re fired!”

Seems the two teams had been assigned to fixing up and running a couple of run-down motels on the Jersey shore. The each had $20,000 for renovation, and 48 hours in which to do so.

In my opinion both teams did a less than spectacular job of making those rooms acceptable. No one bothered to clean the carpets, for instance. The judging was done by guests who had spent the night. They were asked to rate the facility and its staff on a scale of 1 – 5.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The street smart team, Net Worth, may have actually produced better looking rooms. Net Worth was judged by the guests at an average 2.92 out of 5.0. The book smart team, Magna, with no better facility, managed a rather impressive 3.96 on that same scale.

The difference? As the guests checked in, the Magna team personally invited them to come out and join a party at about 8pm. They hung around the pool, drank a few beers, and made everyone feel as if they were part of the group. This sense of belonging added a full 1.04 to their score. Another way to score it was: Magna 79.2%, Net Worth 58.4%.

Humm. So, personal attention, treating customers as if they’re important, was the difference between a low “C” and an “F.”

Our weekend in Cincinnati ended. The Lovely Mrs. McKay and I packed our bags, kissed everyone goodbye, and with one last wistful look at the brother-in-law’s TV we flew back into DFW. Early flight… long layover in Detroit… we landed hungry. Pulled off Loop 820 on the way home for a quick stop at Best Buy, and noticed “The Keg” steakhouse on the other side of the parking lot.

I knew nothing about The Keg. I’ve never seen any advertising for the place. They had NO image in my mind. My first impression of The Keg was “This is a nice place for special occasions.” It’s not a restaurant I’d have chosen when I was hungry and in a hurry to get home. But, we were already there. We were definitely hungry. We opted to “spoil” ourselves and stay for the prime rib.

As the hostess seated us she asked if we’d ever visited them before. When we said “no,” she pulled out a couple of quick forms to add us to their mailing list, and to make us eligible for a free steak and lobster dinner on our respective birthdays. Our waiter, Chad, introduced himself and took our drink orders. Then the manager on duty, Brandon, came by with huge prawns in cocktail sauce. He introduced himself, and said that Chad had informed him that it was our first visit. Would we please accept this shrimp cocktail with his complements?

The food arrived, and was wonderful. Chad had recommended a three-cheese butter for my baked potato that moved my diet from “way of life” to “fond memory.”

Now, again, this would not have normally been a place I’d have taken the Lovely Mrs. McKay for anything short of a special occasion. But then, they treated us as if we were special. She’s now occupied identifying even more special occasions so that we can justify a quick return.

The moral? The same as the Apprentice episode. Customer service can raise your grade by at least 20%. When the product is marginal, but the service is good, customers will perceive your overall value to be fair. But when the product is good, and the customer service is even better, you turn your customers into evangelists. They’ll be winning people over for you. We hadn’t even left the parking lot before the Lovely Mrs. McKay was on the cell phone making the first of two calls in which she raved about the place.

Do people not do business with you because they don’t know about you? Or is it because they do? It’s what my partner Roy Williams calls the Personal Experience Factor.

My complements to Dustin Marshall, the General Manager of the Keg Restaurant, 5760 Southwest Loop 820, Ft. Worth. I’ve never met the man, but I’ve met his staff, and together they run an excellent facility.


What makes people do the things they do? Can advertising really change how customers think and feel? The simple truth is that most advertising isn’t working like it should. But why not?


BUSINESS OWNERS – You’re invited to a free, all-day seminar to be held April 5 at the Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas, entitled, “Advertising: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why.” This seminar will answer your questions about what to expect from the marketplace this year and beyond.

For more information, call 512-295-5700 or email Coordinator@WizardAcademy.com.


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When Is Advertising Season?

Mr. McKay:

I read your book with great interest. You indicated that it takes about 13 weeks for radio ads to begin to work. Our business is remodeling, specifically decks, patio rooms, windows and doors. The phone stops ringing from about December through February. Should that influence my radio advertising? If so, how?Thank you for any recommendations.

Jim
Ashland, OH.

Hi, Jim:

Are you looking for transactional business or relational business?

You see, it’s much more work to calculate efficient advertising for a company which is attempting to attract transactional, or price-oriented customers. First, that company needs to determine when the decision to buy is made. Many times it’s not even close to the time of the actual purchase.

Consider a business I just created for the sake of this example: Fred’s Real Estate Service. Fred sells houses. Fred knows that a certain percentage of houses are going to close in July. He also knows that homes in the process of being sold spend roughly four to six weeks in escrow, and therefore the decision to purchase is being made in May. Fred should probably start his advertising in April to affect his July sales. With me so far? Fred will have to calculate the sales curve for every month of the year, and apportion his advertising budget to give him more ads when more transactional customers are very conscious of the price of a new home.

You also know from Fishing For Customers that, as a long-term strategy, I recommend most businesses ignore price-oriented customers, and instead focus on the much more profitable relational buyers. A business which targets relational buyers needs to buy ads year round. Week after week you keep giving people good reasons to call your number whenever they need your services. Do this in your peak seasons… in your off seasons… in all seasons.

Many times business owners will say “I can’t afford that.” Perhaps. Perhaps not. A lot depends on which media outlets are available. You probably will find that you can afford the Ashland or Mansfield stations. According to Radio-Locator.com, WNCO-FM (101.3) and WNCO-AM (1340) are licensed to Ashland. In Mansfield there’s WYHT-FM (105.3), WVNO-FM (106.1), and WMAN-AM (1400).

You’ll notice that I’m not mentioning the Akron or Cleveland stations. They will not be an efficient choice. Why? They’re too far away and too expensive. Radio stations base the cost of their commercials on the size of their audience. Big regional stations are frequently a bad choice for small businesses, because their total audience (reach) is too big which drives the cost too high of advertising often enough (frequency) to impact listeners.

Should you be concerned whether the station plays Country music, or Adult Contemporary, or Hot Adult Contemporary, or Nostalgia, or even plays no music and offers Talk programming? No. All of those stations have listeners who own homes. And these homeowners are interested in making their houses more “homey” through the addition of decks and patios.

How many jobs do you need in a typical month to keep your crews busy? Adjust the numbers to reflect your circumstances, but for the sake of discussion, let’s say 10. If only 2% of a radio station’s audience responded to your ads, an audience of 500 listeners would be sufficient to produce work for your crew for a month. It’s likely that each of the local stations we’re considering will have many times that arbitrary 500 listeners. And that’s good, because you’ll need to make the phone ring next month, and the month after that as well.

So you’re not looking for the biggest station(s), but rather for the most affordable station(s). You may be already doing business with one or more of them. Consider all of the rest as well. Ask what kind of discount they’ll give you for a schedule of 20-25 ads per week, year round. You’ll want those ads to run roughly 6am-7pm, but it doesn’t matter into which days of the week the ads fall. Any reasonable distribution will work.

How many of those stations can you afford to use, year-round? Revisit Chapter 8 of Fishing for Customers for guidance.

When do you start? Now. If you’re on the air by February 1, the listeners of whichever station(s) that you’re using should be quite familiar with your company by the time they’re doing their spring cleaning and are beginning to wonder what a patio would look like in their back yards this summer.

Understand one very important point, though. If you’re attempting to attract relational customers, you can never stop advertising. That means when the phone stops ringing next December, you’ll have to grit your teeth, hunker down, and get through the slow season.

Fortunately, a good relational campaign will keep working better and better the longer you use it. You’re investing today for a reasonable return tomorrow, and a handsome return ten years down the road.

Best Wishes,
Chuck McKay

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Yesterday I Noticed A Subliminal Advertising Executive… For Half A Second.

I wasn’t paying much attention to the news in 1957. I don’t think I’d have noticed when James Vicary coined the term “subliminal advertising.” But the advertising world perked up and started paying very close attention.

According to a study Vicary published that year, he had placed a tachistoscope in a theatre projection booth in New Jersey during the summer of 1957. All throughout the playing of the film Picnic, he injected one of two different messages on the screen every five seconds, each exposed for only one three thousandth of a second. The first message: “Drink Coca-Cola.” The second: “Hungry? Eat Popcorn.” According to Vicary, during the test Coca-Cola sales shot up 18.1%, and popcorn sales showed an astronomical 57.8% boost.

Radio and television stations began airing subliminal commercials in 1958 and 1959. Congress promptly proposed bills to ban the use of such manipulation. Instantly there were scholarly books written about the potency of subliminal advertising and it’s ability to persuade unaware consumers to purchase things they wouldn’t have normally bought.

It also helps to remember that Joe McCarthy had just finished finding a communist under every bed in Hollywood, and that the Rooskies had pushed Sputnik into orbit ahead of our Tellstar. Americans were convinced that there were forces shaping their destinies and they had no control over them.

Dr. Wilson B. Key published his book Subliminal Seduction in 1973, pointing out messages and secret signals in advertising, including the now-famous example of a full-page photo of a gentleman’s study. In the center of the photo was the gentleman’s leather chair and a glass of scotch on a table by that chair. When the glass was enlarged from it’s original 3/8 inch, Dr. Key was convinced the ice cubes spelled out the letters S-E-X. Acccording to him, the word “sex” (which we couldn’t make out without a magnifying glass), was a motivator to purchase the product being advertised.

The controversy over subliminal advertising had become so persistent that in January of 1974 the Federal Communications Commission threatened to pull the licenses of any broadcast stations using subliminal techniques.

But a very interesting thing had happened, largely unnoticed by the media. Dr. Henry Link, the President of the Psychological Corporation, tried to duplicate the test. He didn’t get the same results. In fact, in his test there was no difference between Coke and popcorn sales during the test as compared to sales before the test. Dr. Link challenged Vicary to re-produce the results.

Vicary finally confessed to falsifying the data.

Vicary had previously published a variety of unusual studies of female shopping habits, in which he studied the eye-blink rates of women shopping in supermarkets. He observed that “psychological spring” lasts twice as long as “psychological winter.” He won’t be remembered for any of those experiments, though. He’ll be remembered as a fraud.

So, imagine my surprise when I was browsing the web this weekend and came across a site which claimed, and I quote: “Advertising in magazines is based on the fact that under any circumstances, you store more information in a fraction of a second–and are influenced by it–than you are ever consciously aware of.” The site provides quite an education on the power of subliminal advertising… including the assumption that “they” don’t want you to know about it. Of course, this site also had links to such other sites as “Will the earth’s surface skid?”

This stuff is still around? Yes. Conspiracy theorists are convinced that subliminal advertising exists, and is being used against an unsuspecting public. And apparently there are speakers commanding stout fees for pointing out the “clues” to a fascinated unsuspecting public. They all have web sites with “proofs” of their claims. A simple search will pull up plenty of them for you to amuse yourself with all day.

But consider this: it’s hard enough to persuade people when you can manage to get their attention. Yes, it is possible for people to learn without full awareness, but there is a limit to the human brain’s ability to process data. The more we pay attention, and the more we think about what’s being said, the easier it is to remember the message later.

Advertising that we pay little or no attention to is not mysteriously powerful. It is rather amazingly weak and inefficient. Like I said, it’s hard to persuade people when you have their attention. Getting them to buy from you by NOT getting their attention? Don’t bet your advertising budget on that premise.

Besides, when I see the word “SEX” I don’t immediately think of a specific brand of scotch.


If you are interested in learning how to persuade people to buy what you have to sell, let me recommend the 12 Most Common Mistakes in Advertising DVD from Wizard Academy Press. Best-selling author (and my partner) Roy H. Williams has identified the most common mistakes that advertisers make over and over again. At the publisher’s direct price of only $19.95 (US) you’ll learn why your ads aren’t working so well, and how to get better results.

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A Customer Service Story

I promise this is not a story about making music. It’s not really a story about my guitar, either. The guitar enters into it only obliquely.

It’s a tale of a memorable customer experience.

The curtain rises on our drama one fine Saturday afternoon in Corsicana, Texas. I was there on other business, but found myself in front of a Radio Shack store with a few minutes to kill. I had been idly curious about modifying my 1972 Madeira six string. Perhaps it could use an electric pick up so that I could plug the instrument directly into an amplifier.

I owned a removable magnetic pick up that clipped into the sound hole. One of my friends had permanently installed a similar unit in his guitar. Frankly, though, I didn’t like the look of that instrument with a foreign body stuffed into its primary orifice. No, a permanent magnetic pickup was not an acceptable solution. However, I had been considering the addition of a piezoelectric element inside my guitar’s body, attached under the bridge.

Guitar stores and luthiers had such pickups, of course, but they cost in excess of $100. Being the thrifty, frugal, (OK, cheap) shopper that I am, I reasoned that there must be a much less expensive piezoelectric device that I could affix to my instrument.
Where would one find an inexpensive piezoelectric element? Why, Radio Shack. The Shack was the appropriate place to start my search.

So, there I was, that Saturday afternoon in Corsicana, Texas: a seeker of knowledge entering America’s source of small electronic parts, on a quest to find and obtain an inexpensive piezoelectric wafer that might make a good guitar pickup.

I meandered through the store back to the small parts racks, and found a couple of piezoelectric buzzers in small molded plastic cases. Humm. A buzzer… that’s a specific loudspeaker application, isn’t it? Aren’t loudspeakers are just dynamic transducers wired to the amplifier’s output rather than it’s input? Put another way, aren’t dynamic speakers merely big microphones? Logic is on my side. Perhaps this device could work, provided that I could successfully remove it from that molded plastic case without breaking it.

It was time to ask a few questions. And this is where my story becomes one of memorable customer service.

The kid behind the counter was the only employee available. I asked how I might determine the frequency response of the buzzer. “Beats me,” he said.

I queried about its expected output level. This time I got a more verbose “Your guess is as good as mine.”
Finally, I wanted to know if he had any mounting suggestions. His answer was completely truthful: “I have no idea.”
Then the phone rang, and he picked it up saying “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.”

Please don’t think I’m ragging on Radio Shack. Over the years I’ve found Radio Shack employees to be quite knowledgeable and very helpful. I’ve had great fun telling this story and pointing out how few answers I actually received, but exposing the irony of this story is only half of the point.

In Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads Roy Willams says:

The World Inside Your Door is the world of the customer’s experience: the place where you must make good on all of the bold promises you’ve made in your ads. … Regardless of whether your customer steps into a physical store or merely contacts you by phone or Internet, advertising is finished the moment that contact is made. … Don’t expect advertising to fix problems inside your door. If there’s a deficiency in the quality of your customer’s experience, fix it!”

So my question today is: does your advertising prepare people for the world inside your door? It costs you too much to get a new prospect through that door to waste the opportunity with an experience that doesn’t match his expectations.
Can you deliver in person the promises you make in your ads?


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TIME Wants Me Back

It’s true. TIME magazine wants me back.

John Reese, TIME’s Consumer Marketing Director said so in the most recent mailing I got from them. “Dear Chuck, we appreciated having you as a subscriber, so we’ve arranged a special offer to welcome back former TIME subscribers like you.”

In fact, they’ve added a bribe: a free Ultronic TM Touch-Screen Organizerwith a bunch of features. They’ll send it with my paid subscription. It has a calculator, an alarm clock, a telephone book, an e-mail address book, does currency conversion, and offers the correct time in 24 cities.

Oh, and 56 issues of TIME for only $29.95 (86% off the cover price).

And, you know, I’m seriously thinking about renewing. Especially if they offer some new applications, like time sheet calculator. Oh, not because I want the Ultronic TM Touch-Screen Organizer. I’m prepared to find it another useless trinket that will clutter up my desk until I finally junk it.

I’m considering re-subscribing because this is the sixth time they’ve contacted me about my lapsing subscription. Think about it… I used to subscribe… I found value in the publication… I let the subscription lapse… and now, for the sixth time since the magazines stopped coming two months ago, TIME has told me that they value me as a subscriber. I’m beginning to believe them.

I’ve been preaching for years “frequency sells,” that it’s not enough to contact a potential customer once. You need to do it again… and again… and again… Eventually, the potential customer will believe he’s getting to know you, is beginning to trust you, and may ultimately buy from you.

Is your message getting repeated enough times to help your prospective customers remember what you’re telling them? Do they know your message by heart? Perhaps the single most important thing you can do is to repeat your message. Repeat it again. Repeat it until you’re sick of hearing it.

Repeat it until those people who weren’t paying attention the first time, who didn’t quite catch what you said the second time, who started wondering what they thought of you the third time, who began to consider your message the fourth time, who started idly wondering what buying from you might be like the fifth time… yeah… those people… can recite your message from memory.

In this case, I “know” TIME magazine. I “know” that “no other magazine gives me more insight into our rapidly changing world than TIME.” I know because they’ve told me so. Told me six times now.

Humm. I may re-subscribe now that they’ve told me six times how much they value me as a subscriber. I may not. (I’m still being distracted by that Ultronic TM Touch-Screen Organizer. Frankly, it’s getting in the way of their primary message.)

I am, however, reasonably sure of one thing: If TIME contacts me a seventh time to tell me that I’m a valuable subscriber, I’m definitely going to renew.

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Getting Your Name Out There

I wish I had a buck for every time an advertiser has told me that his objective was to “Just get his name out there.”

Is there any value to another name being flung around in mass media? Perhaps. But without name associations, very little value. What’s a name association you ask? It has to do with the way people remember.

Think back to your earliest memories. Many of us have strong recollections of things that happened to us when we were as young as two, but seldom anything earlier. It’s not coincidental that our memories begin at about the time we learn to talk. Do you remember anything that pre-dates your ability to speak? You may retain a vague impression of something that you experienced before you started talking, but the strong memories all use words as anchors in our minds. We need words for our memories to work to their full ability.

I say, for instance, “tree.” You visualize a tree. You can’t help yourself. And more than likely, you don’t remember any particular tree… you have an impression of a drawing of a tree from some book you saw as a child. You may have seen hundreds of trees before that first memory, but until you had a word to equal “tree,” you didn’t plant (no pun intended) a tree in your memory.

Can you see that tree right now? It’s likely to be something resembling an oak, or perhaps a walnut. It probably won’t be a pine or fir, even if you grew up in parts of the country in which evergreens are common. Why do I say that? Because those are the representations of trees that we all saw in books when we started reading. Word associations stick with us for life.

The words themselves have the ability to trigger memories. And those memories… even those composed of fractional feelings… are what give storytelling the power to move us emotionally. If I refer to feeling the “sting of salty tears that trickled down her cheek” you have a much more vivid impression of the scene I’m describing than if I say, “she wept.” Its not more words that make the first description more vivid. It’s choosing the right words to express the exact feeling I wish to convey. When I succeed, you’ll recall not only mental pictures, but also my words will also trigger recall of the other senses associated with that memory… sound, taste, smell, touch… even over-all mood.

So let’s go back to the concept of “getting your name out there.” When people hear your name, is there anything that “sticks” in their minds? Are there memories that people can attach to your name? Or is yours just another name clamoring for attention; momentarily cluttering up someone’s consciousness before it’s dismissed as having no immediate value?

Truth is, if people can’t see themselves using what you’ve got for sale, they will never pay enough attention to your ad to develop any memories of having seen / heard / read it. If you were able to get a prospective customer’s attention with your ad, for goodness sake give them words with which to remember how they feel about your business. It is those words, and their resultant memory associations, are what give your advertising and your company some value to a prospective customer.

And when people associate those feelings with your name, you just may be on your way to actually selling something. It’s the first step to creating a brand identity. So, yes… get your name out there. But get the associations with your name out there, too. Without either one, the other has no value to your prospective customer.


If you could use some direction in your ad writing, there is probably not a better investment of your time than spending three days at the Wizard Academy in Buda, Texas, attending the Magical Worlds Communications Workshop April 27-29. Upon graduation you’ll make better sales presentations, write more convincing proposals, and create magnetic music, art and advertising.

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