Why Free Stuff is the Key to Customer Satisfaction

Mike Essex is the author of Free Stuff Everyday, a guide on how customers can get free stuff, and a search specialist at Digital Marketing Agency, Impact Media. In the following guest post, he talks about how brands can improve their customer satisfaction simply by giving their products away.

Whether you are working on a new product, or have been in the market for years, it’s possible get a real insight in to the mindset of customers simply by giving away free stuff. They can help build new customer relationships via brand advocates, or repair broken relationships. This article examines how you can integrate freebies throughout the product life cycle and the improved customer satisfaction that will occur as a result.

Initial Research

To ensure your customers are happy with your product when it is released it’s important to start at the very beginning of the new product process. Gather together a collection of your target audience and invite them in for focus groups on your new product. Involve everyone from bloggers in your niche, to past customers of your other products. Make sure everyone signs an NDA, and you’ll ensure all ideas discussed are protected. In return offer them an exclusive preview, and the final product for free.

By doing this you’ll understand product flaws early on, and will have an idea of whether the final product will satisfy customers. Better yet, when you give the product away at the end of the process you’ll have a group of customers who can help spread the word on your product. If you’ve been able to integrate their ideas in to the finished product, then you will have a good set of satisfied customers and brand advocates.

Product Testing

We’re not ready to launch just yet and as with the initial research it’s just as important to test the finished product on another sample group. The same process applies, promise an exclusive look, and let them keep the product when they’re finished.

In addition ask everyone to provide you with a quote on their experience with the product. Gather these quotes in multiple formats (audio, video, text) and when you come to market the product you have a set of satisfied customer opinions that can be used to encourage people to make a purchase. For new customers, seeing other satisfied customers leads to improved sales, and psychologically improves the likelihood the purchaser will be satisfied as they have seen other people who enjoyed the product.

Product Launch

When you are ready to launch in addition to using the previous quotes, you should then provide free
products to key customers in your niche. This includes:

  • People using similar products on video sites
  • Bloggers
  • Industry Experts
  • Your most vocal social media fans
  • Writers in your niche
  • Journalists

This is very much a numbers game. If your product is expensive then you won’t be able to hit every possible source, so choose the customers who are most likely to be satisfied by your product. If your product is very expensive then offer a 30 day free trial, or a product loan as a freebie alternate. Should your product be digital, or have low creation costs, then you should still hold back slightly – as you don’t want you entire customer base to be given a free product.

When products have been sent out, ask for reviews or coverage in return. The more satisfied these customers are the better coverage you will get. Likewise the better a freebie you can provide will help this satisfaction grow.

Encouraging Loyalty

Follow the product launch by searching across social media to find people who have said positive things about your product. Visit review websites, search Twitter and Google for your product name to seek out these positive customer experiences. Each time you find one, add this customer to a spreadsheet and then try to find their email contact details and other contact methods they have listed online.

You can then encourage further loyalty by giving them something for free. As they already own the product this could be – another sample for a friend, merchandise you have, random things from the office or a visit to your office/factory. Even spending time to follow these customers on social media and engage with them can help grow the relationship. You can even use these customers in helping plan your next product, repeating the process again.

Negative Customer Feedback

If a customer simply isn’t satisfied there’s no reason to ignore them, and free stuff can be used as a means of getting them back on your side. If a customer had a bad experience with your product, then offer them a replacement or similar goods. A refund is a great way to apologise, and can lead to their original bad comments being removed, as their satisfaction and trust in your brand is restored.

Summary

By giving something away in return you can get vital customer feedback throughout your entire product process. Customers know what they want, and the more opinions you can gather on your product the better. A stronger overall product will lead to improved satisfaction. From positive customers, to negative experiences there are very few scenarios that can’t be improved with a freebie.

You can learn more about Mike Essex on his website or on Twitter @Impact_Mike. He is more than happy to receive emails from businesses or customers who want to learn more about free stuff.

Enough with the Surveys!

In the past year, it seems that customer surveys have been a trend that has spread to almost every retailer. Almost every store seems to be soliciting a survey on their receipt with an offer for a dollar off your next purchase or a chance to win $10,000. In fact, I think it has become so ubiquitous that customers have learned to tune it out. When was the last time you called a 1-800 number listed on the back of a receipt to spend your valuable time to give feedback to a company for a dollar coupon. Rating different aspects of service on a scale of 1-5, gives very little information on how to make the experience better. All it tells the company is if they are doing well or poorly, but not why.

If a company wants to find out how they are doing on customer service, superficial surveys are not going to give a very accurate picture. They are usually flawed because they are not a random sample if they have any type of incentive to participate. A much better way to find out how you are doing is to monitor the web to see what people are saying about you or even placing a suggestion box in a visible location. Tools like Twitter and blogs greatly amplify the power of word of mouth and it is very easy for companies to monitor what is being said to gather feedback on what can be changed or improved. What if you established a company blog that focused on solving customer issues, thus creating a conversation with customers about your products. Customer service surveys are obsolete and worthless when compared to other ways of learning about your customers.

Photo by Robyn Gallagher

The Employee Motivation Dilemma

Have you ever walked into a store near closing time and experienced poor customer service because the staff just wanted to go home? Or have you ever had an encounter with a store representative who clearly didn’t care about providing a good experience. This is what I call the “employee motivation dilemma”. In many retail organizations there is a conflict of interest between the company and the front line employees. The main goal of the company in to maximize profits while the main goal of the employee, especially front line retail employees, is to collect a paycheck and get through work so they can do the things they enjoy. Most customer service rep’s compensation is based on hours worked and not on the performance of the store so they are not invested in building brand value through positive interactions with customers. This is a problem because the interaction customers have with the front line employees can make or break a relationship with a brand. A rude receptionist can erase all the good will created by the most brilliant ad campaigns.

I think the solution is a new approach to managing front line retail employees. Starbucks and Nordstrom’s do a really good job at training their employees to execute a brand strategy of superior customer service, but I think it should be taken a step further. Why not engage front line employees to be involved with the performance of the business. That means being transparent with the sales and expenses with all your employees. It means if a single store exceeds profit goals, reward the employees with bonuses accordingly. Think up creative and fun contests to encourage positive competition. Encourage employees to lead projects to improve customer service and empower them to execute creative ideas to bring in new business or build relationships with the most profitable customers. Invite front line workers to be present and contribute to management meetings. Recognize, recognize, and recognize, employees for exceptional service. Schedule 1 on 1 reviews between managers and employees to regularly to review performance and encourage personal development through teaching and mentoring. The customer service rep is a valuable asset to a firm’s marketing team, and by involving, engaging, training, and empowering, you can create a culture that inspires front line employees to do more than just be there to pick up a paycheck.

Related Post: In Customer Service, You’re Always on Stage Customers Rock! 

Image Courtesy of Heather R

My Red Rings of Death

My once beloved X-box 360 recently experienced the “Red Rings of Death“, three red flashing lights experienced by millions of unfortunate victims of Microsoft’s first to market strategy. Although my repairs are covered, I came out of the phone conversation no longer enchanted with the X-box brand.

I don’t blame the customer service reps for negative interactions, I blame the companies for lack of marketing acumen and leadership. Someone smart said “Every problem is a opportunity in disguise”. Every customer support call is an opportunity to create good will and a positive experience with a brand. And yet often these brand interactions are outsourced or lack a strong strategy, resulting in loss of many valuable customers who take their life time value elsewhere.

Although some people say “Customer Service is Dead“(Tom Asaker), I don’t believe customer service is extinct. Nordstrom and Southwest shows us it is possible and not expensive. Customer service can be one of the greatest marketing tools in retaining loyal and evangelizing customers. It takes leaders who are willing to invest in service and develop a well conceived strategy, and that just may make the world a little bit better.