Tag Archives: customer service

The Art of Sparking Emotions: Building Desire for Your Brand

By James D. Roumeliotis

Couple in Love

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Whether offering products or services, a business is expected to create connections and engage in conversations with its prospective clients ─ but equally important, with its existing clienteles. While these connections might come in the form of attractive print ads, or utilizing social media/digital platforms, or even face-to-face interactions at various touch points, they should all be tailored to initiate meaningful conversations between brand and consumer. Conversations that can achieve sales targets along with obsessive fan followings which ultimately boost the popularity of the brand.

Customer engagement: the essentials

More than 20 years ago, a popular method for companies to obtain sales was to utilize a sales force and apply pressure tactics. Some companies used the telephone as their tool of choice for cold calling. This was a typical marketing and sales approach. Sales staff where trained in persuasion and closing techniques including answering the most popular objections. This is what is known as a “push” strategy. Today, customer engagement works in reverse. It is the customer, whether an end-user or a business, who decides if and when to communicate with a company. The typical contemporary consumer has the power of the internet and word of mouth in determining great deals and which brands they should be transacting with. Moreover, on the consumer side, there are countries with strict national regulations concerning telephone solicitation. This has had companies scrambling to stay relevant with the times and is considered a “pull” strategy. There is also a refined marketing method known as Permission Marketing” (opposite of interruption marketing) which was coined by marketing maven Seth Godin. As a result, marketers have been adjusting their strategies and integrating them with online and offline marketing activities, along with a laser focused approach with their specific audience. This has resulted in deep customer engagement.

Customer engagement is not a single outcome ─ it is an ongoing dialogue. They have come to expect more personalized interaction, customized solutions, timely results and most certainly a “bang for their buck.” This requires brands to be customer centric ─ with everyone in the organization on-board, in addition to being well versed in the digital age. This includes blogging, Twittering, Instagram posting and viral marketing among others. One other notable trend is towards widespread audio and video production and communication. From podcasting to mobile video, audio and video is predominating in our digital world.

Push vs. Pull marketing

Push marketing and pull marketing are different yet complementary marketing methods for promoting a business – most notably online.

Push marketing is more traditional methods of advertising – essentially, you are pushing your message to your audience, regardless of whether they want to receive your message or not. Push marketing focuses on product features and awaits the audience to respond. Examples of push marketing include email marketing, website advertising, and cold calling.

Pull marketing is more proactive, pulling the customers toward your brand/product with targeted messages they care about. Pull marketing is all about brand building. Examples of pull marketing include media interviews, public speaking, and word of mouth advertising.

The holistic approach

Consumers today are more brand conscience, better informed and with more options. Despite this, there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the five human senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

The five senses, when applied toward the customer, are regarded as follows:

  • Visual – lighting, decor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile – textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory – fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Storytelling along with the total customer experience

Standard products and mundane user experiences don’t offer compelling reasons for consumers to do business with certain brands. If a business can’t articulate its USP (unique selling proposition) ‒ as to why anyone should do business with your brand, your product and/or service merely becomes a “commodity” whose price will be the sole determinant in any transaction.  Being formidable and considered top of mind in your B2C sector requires a philosophy – a certain culture which will develop a following by consumers who share your values.

Quality materials, assembly and final product look increase a company’s competitiveness. The quality of a product may be defined as “its ability to fulfil the customer’s needs and expectations”. If the characteristics and specifications of a brand’s product line are equal or superior to its competitors, along with a fair price-value equation, the brand will turn out to be a preferred choice.

Storytelling, on the other hand, builds relationships by the stories that are well told. Stories add personality and authenticity to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands tend to boast their pedigree since their discerning clientele desire a deeper level of involvement and understanding of the history and heritage of the brand when it comes to their luxury purchase. This is referred to as “experiential luxury.”

It is essential that the sales professional be product proficient and adept at assisting and guiding the client to the purchase making use of flattery, romance and showmanship. To illustrate, when selling a niche automobile such as a Porsche, the sales consultant can talk about racetracks, describe road-holding capabilities, build-up a fascinating story – after which time he/she can bring-up reliability and the technical details which confirm to the discerning client what he/she is already aware of.

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with it. They become brand loyalists and advocates – purchasing the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.

In the end

With a plethora of marketing noise, differentiation in the delivery of non-evasive communication, personalized service and focus in niche markets will be the determining core value equation for success in attracting and retaining clients.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

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The Post-Sale Customer Service Conundrum: Lip Service or Genuine Care?

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Customer service - white gloves and tray

Delirious, confused and frustrated are merely three terms which best describe what clients typically experience when dealing with many customer support representatives. Excellent customer service is a crucial component of your business image and philosophy. Regardless of how good your products and prices are, if you can’t offer a positive experience for your customers, they will likely not return. Moreover, you can be certain they will spread negative word-of-mouth. With social media so prevalent, a brand’s reputation can eventually take a nose dive. Today, customers are more demanding than ever. They want to know their issues are genuinely acknowledged and demand timely results. Simply apologizing to them does not suffice.

Do head honchos get it?

Much is touted by companies about customer satisfaction but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. Prominent brands are not immune either. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy. Inadequate staff training amongst other factors further aggravates the problem.  Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies, for example, can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. People love to hate the phone tree experience where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

The executives who are is in charge of finance and operations respectively (consider the CFO and COO) are mainly focusing on costs and productivity even to the detriment of the average customer. Consequently, they will measure the calls answered per minute – regardless of the outcome. In contrast, a customer focused executive will reward those who take their time to listen, engage and solve customer issues.

Deliberate bad customer experience

Sadly, some brands have a built-in mechanism to test their systems with some clients in the hopes they will give in which in the short term will not entail refunds or product returns which can hurt bottom lines. However, this approach is quite short sighted with long term negative consequences. Those companies use their seemingly discounted prices to lure customers but their real business model seems to be in tricking customers with inaccurate payment information and then charging extra for any delayed payment amongst other inconveniences and unpleasant surprises along the way. Many gym memberships and website hosting service organizations are notorious for such trickery. Their hope is that through a lack of awareness, or constant frustration an average customer will simply cave in. This ultimately backfires with constant negative consumer publicity and an unusually excessive business turnover. Most modern consumers are too sophisticated to relinquish their rights to fair treatment. Companies may ignore this syndrome claiming it’s a ‘numbers game’, as well as a cost of doing business. Though, in the process, they also corrupt their front line staff who have to address an abnormal rate of legitimate grievances.

Marketing maven and best-selling author, Seth Godin rationalizes it this way:

Unfortunately, just about all big customer service organizations do this precisely backward. They don’t escalate to a supervisor or roll out the kindness carpet until after someone has gone to Defcon 4. They decide that it’s too expensive to be flexible, to listen or to treat people fairly, and they wait until the costs to both sides are really high, and then they give an empowered person a chance to solve the problem. There’s huge waste here, as the problem costs more to solve at this point, and the unseen challenge is that they’ve established a cycle in which umbrage is the rewarded behavior.”

The customer centric organization: solving issues before they occur

Going above and beyond customer expectations is focusing on customer centricity. It begins by developing, implementing and continuously delivering a total positive customer experience at every touch point and beyond. The costs and benefits of this practice are equally beneficial for the customers and the business. A University of Michigan study revealed that companies which received high scores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) consistently outperform the S&P 500. Those companies include Walt Disney and Amazon, amongst others. Those are most certainly organizations that focus on quality over quantity and measure what truly make them remarkable.

The after sales service department should be designed with an efficient infrastructure in place so as to make the entire experience an effortless task for both the customers and employees who are assigned with the responsibility. It should be easy for the client to reach a customer service agent and/or online agent to chat with. Moreover, the client should not have to be placed on hold for more than 5 minutes. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, there should be an option to offer a simple way to be called back. The organization’s mindset should be to constantly think of ways to release tensions and give solutions to the client promptly.

Since many of the inbound calls normally concern frequently asked questions, why not have them prominently displayed on the website and/or printed on the product insert. Having them recorded as an option on your phone line, in a clear English voice (and second or even third most popular language relevant to the region’s business demographics), can eliminate unnecessary calls and waiting times with a live person.

Staff tasked with customer service should:

  • Possess a positive attitude under duress;
  • Be initially trained and occasionally re-trained,
  • Treated with respect, and
  • Be empowered to make timely customer satisfaction decisions on their own.

There is no better example to illustrate this than online shoe retailer Zappos.

What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
– 24/7 1-800 number on every page
– Free shipping
– Free return shipping
– 365-day return policy

What customers will experience:
– Fast, accurate fulfillment
– Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
– Creating a “WOW” factor
– Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
– Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites

What’s done behind the scenes?
– No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
– The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
– Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
– Five weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
– A Culture Book
– Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Putting it all together

Within every organization, decision making drives performance. Every day, employees at work make decisions that impact performance. These decisions, at every level of the organization, including customer service policies and tactics, define the corporate culture and drive performance.

It’s important to keep in consideration that measuring customer satisfaction is a way to assess its effectiveness, and refine what’s necessary along the way. This is performed by evaluating communication at your help desk or and/or call centers, as well as conducting surveys or sending out brief questionnaires soon after a call has been consummated. How satisfied were your customers with the level of service they received and will they do business with you again in addition to recommending you to others?

Customers are not concerned about your operational problems, your costs and margins, your lead times, your staff shortages, and much more. They are only interested in themselves and the benefits they may be able to obtain from your business instead of the one down the street, or the other ones found over the internet.

Thus, a priority need for every (selfish) customer or prospective buyer is timely and personal service.

Bill Marriot said it succinctly with “Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of the customer—and the customer will come back.”

This management philosophy isn’t common but it is shared by both Southwest and Costco. When using either company you can experience it as employees are generally in a great mood, and in turn, happy to help.

Customer centricity should be everyone’s job in an organization. It’s to be embedded in the internal culture. It begins with the top leadership and permeates through the entire organization. Implementation of new and refined strategies and tactics equate to daily and long-term success in building profitable customer relationships. Been helpful with your customers, even if there’s no immediate profit in it, is simply a good business practice with pragmatic thinking for the long-haul.

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Customer Devotion: Sweep them off their feet – indefinitely

by James D. Roumeliotis

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We constantly hear remarks and stories of deplorable customer service. I would think that brands would be more attentive and proactive. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You would have thought that they would make “devotion” a coherent strategy.

It should begin with the “trust” factor. Seth Godin, the much regarded marketer, asserts, “Institutions and relationships don’t work without trust. It’s not an accident that a gold standard in business is being able to do business on a handshake. Today, though, it’s easier than ever to build a facade of trust but not actually deliver. “Read the fine print,” the financial institutions, cruise ship operators and business partners tell us after they’ve failed to honor what we thought they promised.”

“Devotion” on the other hand, is instinctive – an emotional connection to you, your brand, your company, and your products. It’s what your customers (new, existing or former) are saying about you on Twitter, Facebook and other online social networks.

Customer experience as the key competitive differentiator

Your best defense and your competitive differentiator is your ability to create great experiences for your customers. It goes without much thought that loyal customers come back and purchase more because they get their needs served and/or problems solved.

Marty Neumeier puts it clearly in his book, “The Brand Gap: The brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Talking to prospects and customers is paramount to get a sense of what they’re thinking. What values are your customers receiving from your business along with its products or services? How does that experience compare with what other similar providers you may know deliver? Then how does what the consumers have said about the brand experience line up with what the company believes it delivers?

If we compare the customer experiences of say, Best Buy vs. Amazon, the differences are quite evident as to who is doing a proper job making their customers content and devoted. When a client mistakenly purchases the wrong DVD at Best Buy – one he already had and returns the next day to exchange it for the correct one and all he hears from the customer service staff member is, “Sorry, DVDs are “software” and can’t be returned or exchanged once sold – no exceptions!”, it makes you think how aggravating it is to do business with that big box retailer. Amazon, on the other hand, not only allows easy return or exchange for DVDs without restrictions; the company will even buy back ones you’re finished with. Moreover, even if the customer is outside the return window or is otherwise technically not entitled to do what he’s/she’s asking to do, the company will go out of its way to bend its policies in the interest of happy customers and the enduring customer relationship. The difference? Amazon does what customers want – it completely crafts its business practices, its systems, and its people to support it, whereas, Best Buy does what would be most convenient for the company for consumers to want but don’t, then hope for the best. That’s not a consumer driven strategy by any stretch of the imagination.

Customer loyalty in the luxury domain

Over in the luxury sector, sought after by discerning clientele, the product itself does not suffice. Hermès has impeccable products, the top-tier of luxury goods,” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute, New York. “In terms of what customers want, they have the top design, quality and craftsmanship. What Hermès may need, however, is a refresher course in customer experience.”

“Consumers tell us in research and anecdotally Hermès is the pinnacle of product delivery, but they could become far better in customer experience,” Mr. Pedraza said.

Automobile manufacturer Audi focuses relentlessly on being the number one premium car brand, and number one for customer satisfaction among competing brands. This approach is firmly rooted in building satisfaction and loyalty among existing customers so when it’s time to replace their car they buy another Audi. In developing a clear differentiation from its competitors, they don’t solely emphasize the quality of their cars – they add the pizzazz of customer experience and service. Achieving this relies in part on two key factors defined by the executives at Audi: delivering excellent customer satisfaction, and making Audi the best place to work in order to attract the best quality people, who will deliver that customer experience.

What can those on the front lines do to enhance the customer experience?

There are companies which spend a significant amount of money in marketing to entice prospects into a paying customer. However, once the prospect is at the stage of dealing with a company’s staff, the outcome lies in the hands of those employees who many are not adequately trained, if at all, to offer a positive experience. This type of “human marketing” undoubtedly moves beyond the marketing department. It’s about every employee and manager in the company delivering on the promise made to the new customer and giving them additional reasons to purchase repeatedly from the same outfit and receive recommendations too. In essence, this requires all employees and managers to be on the same page and understand that their job is to retain happy customers. The name of the game is to build a lasting, profitable relationship with them, and turn them loyal and devoted, thus, repeat customers who become passionate and recommend/refer your company to their friends, family and business associates.

Whether it’s B2C or B2B, sales and marketing people should co-exist, as well as the people in finance who are normally not considered marketing oriented but rather analytical. Equally trained to be customer centric is the receptionist, delivery people, and in the manufacturing industry, the product development division should be well versed with their target consumers’ requirements.

Founded in 1997 in the UK, YO! Sushi brought the concept of a Japanese “kaiten” sushi bar that delivers food to customers via a conveyor belt traveling 8cm (about 3 inches) per second. It has become the original and most famous sushi brand in the UK. The experience is fun and exciting, whilst the food is considered, by many of its patrons, revolutionary and made lovingly. Simon Woodroffe, its visionary entrepreneur and founder, built his business beyond the “buy”. For him the profit is in the “buy again.” He doesn’t want you to just come and eat at his restaurant once, he wants you to become a customer for life and repeat buy from his establishment, so that his marketing spend on initially attracting you to his restaurant in the first place can be recovered. By the time you are on your second and third visit, he has recovered his marketing investment in getting you as a customer, and you are now becoming a profitable, loyal and devoted repeat customer.

All employees should be considered as an entire marketing team. As such, they must be placed at the center of the business and continually developed, inspired, trained and given the tools to perform at the highest level. There is no such thing as an ideal time to do so – regardless of the economic downturn as all companies must work harder to attract and retain customers.

Take into account that:
– In a progressive customer driven entity, training and developing the human assets should be an ongoing process;
– Companies should be an enemy of the “status quo”;
– Mystery shopping (in person and/or by phone, as well as online) should be frequently conducted to get a sense of what an actual customer experiences – then taking action to rectify and improve the experience.

Case Study: Zappos

The following is the Zappos business mantra which should serve as inspiration for customer driven enterprises.

What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
o 24/7 1-800 number on every page
o Free shipping
o Free return shipping
o 365-day return policy
What customers will experience:
o Fast, accurate fulfillment
o Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
o Creating a “WOW” factor
o Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
o Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites
What’s done behind the scenes?
o No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
o The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
o Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
o 5 weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
o A Culture Book
o Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

All employees should be marketers

• What are you and your team presently doing to make certain that your active customers don’t belong to your competitors tomorrow?

• How is the present customer experience perceived with your organization, product and/or service? How would you describe your internal culture, core values, and customer service policies/procedures?

• Finally: Are your customers devoted, loyal, or simply bored doing business with your organization?

Devotion should be considered a walking and talking advertisement – a potent word-of-mouth. Consequently, customer devotion should be the ultimate goal of every business leader and sales professional.

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The Customer Experience: Building a Customer-Centric Organization

by James D. Roumeliotis

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It doesn’t take a genius to realize how few companies these days actually “Walk the talk”. What does this mean, you ask? I refer to “the total customer experience”.

Richard Owen, vice president of Dell online worldwide, says: “It’s the sum total of the interactions that a customer has with a company’s products, people, and processes. It goes from the moment when customers see an advert to the moment when they accept delivery of a product and beyond.

Sure, we want people to think that our computers are great. However, what matters is the totality of customers’ experiences with us: talking with our call-center representatives, visiting our Web site, buying a PC, and owning a PC. The customer experience reflects all of those interactions.”

You can claim that Richard Owen would say this considering the customer centric position of Dell and the nature of their business. However, his poignant statement is applicable to any business of any size. Having a vitally active and dynamic Customer Relations Policy is should be crucial to your business.

If your staff is inadequately trained, this lack of insight into CRM only aggravates the problem. When we act as clients ourselves, we can clearly see this process in action. Just pick up the telephone and call a company, which does not value CRM. It can be an exasperating experience.

People love to hate the phone tree where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human. To make matters worse, there are companies that outsource their call center offshore to a country where employees have a peculiar accent and pronunciation not well understood by the average North American or European – and who simply follow a script they can’t deviate from.

Common intelligence tells us that it shouldn’t be this way. How a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

Out of 362 leading companies surveyed, 80% believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree, states Bain & Company, a leading management consultancy firm. Moreover, the larger the market share of the firm in question, the greater the risk that this firm will take its customer base for granted.

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A Philosophy Named CUSTOMER SERVICE – How to Refine it and Maintain It

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Much is touted by companies about CUSTOMER SERVICE but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy. Inadequate staff training amongst other factors further aggravates the problem.  Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies, for example, can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. People love to hate the phone tree experience where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. It shouldn’t have to be that way.  How a customer is dealt with is a reflection of the brand – the image of the company in the consumers’ mind.

“Customer service is a philosophy that starts with how a company or individual demonstrates their behavior in service and product,” says Marvin Sadovsky, founder of Leadership Strategy LLC and author of Selling the Way Your Customer Buys.

The organization may call its division “customer relations”, “customer experience”, or other fancy designation.  No matter what’s decided to label it, its focus will be primarily on serving the customer. Yet, it won’t make a difference if its executives/owners all the way down to those directly involved with clients, are not on the same wavelength. They all ought to be committed. This applies for business-to-consumer, as well as business-to-business markets, product or service industries.

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