evil-lurksApparently I’ve been under a rock this last week. I just learned that on October 5, 2009 the FTC has new guidelines for advertising, blog endorsements, and testimonials.

The biggest target of these new guidelines is going to be faux viral marketing efforts in my opinion. An example would be when a company recruits bloggers/3rd parties of any sort (even celebrities) to talk about their products/services in exchange for a free product, cash, or other service.

Most viral marketing efforts online are done using social media. It has been growing rapidly. Social Media spending has reached $1.35 Billion in 2007 and is expected to reach $3.7 Billion by 2011 according to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

The big social media platforms look like they are going to be monitored. Look for FTC agents to “friend” you on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter (LOL).

I believe though, these new guidelines are going to also affect those advertisement website (web page really) whose scrolling down never ends, with countless of fake testimonials from individuals that are not really credential. And at the end, they have a ridiculous price, or no price at all until you click on payment to get you to sign up. I mean, it’s just a single webpage, but yet people still signup and fall for it every time. Usually the main products they are selling are e-books, or SEO Expert tools of some sort.

Actually, now that I think about it, every industry, every niche, online and offline is going to be affected. In the guidelines it also specifies that “extraordinary results” can no longer be used, but only on average results/testimonials; so no more “results may vary”, or “these results are not common” practice.

In a nutshell a blogger or celebrity must now disclose their endorsement properly and also the payments that where made to them in detail (cash, goods, freebies, etc.)

Read the full FTC guideline.

I believe this will eliminate a lot of bad apples online, but only in the United States. So, it comes down to bloggers/celebrities around the world can say whatever they want, but not in the USA. The real problem here is that the FTC doesn’t really have control over the Internet. It’s not in “US territory”. The Internet is worldwide, and there is really no “Internet Police”.

The Internet is still like the Wild Wild West, and its evolution will continue. These bad apples can simply “move” to another country, and start making the claims again. There will always be scammers that slip through the cracks, and now policing the whole internet, and attempt to make sure no one lies seems too big of a task for even the FTC. What has happened in the past will continue to happen, the bad apples will continue pushing the limit, and the FTC will step in on the major ones they can find, but catching them all? It’s impossible.

One thing I am thankful for is that companies who are doing the right thing and not attempting to sneak around with deceptive practices will slightly have a better chance of getting their voices heard over the would be scammers.

Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what do you think about the FTC new guidelines, and some of the gray areas that have been left for interpretation? Do you think that the FTC can police the Internet? Successfully?

It’s All About Data – SEO Expert Advice

On October 9, 2009, in Expert Advice, by Adelard

data-seo-expertData, data, data, all the answers lay within the data. Today I learned quite a number of things looking over all the data of all my clients. It’s game time for many of my clients going into the holiday season, and understanding what current rankings they hold and have achieve in the last week gave me profound awakening about most businesses.

Being a new business owner I find there are not enough hours in the day to simply get the major work done for the core business to help it grow. There can never be enough marketing, enough data analysis, or enough creative ideas. I sometimes wish I could spend whole weeks just analysis data streams with my team because the answers to all marketing campaigns lie there.

Search Engine Optimization has evolved a lot in the last several years, but it’s still not mainstream. SEO Experts and Gurus all agree the power that search engines have can literally bankrupt or make a shooting star out of a website. Search engines know this, and every website dominating a particular niche knows this.

One thing a lot of lower ranking “SEO 7 optimum” companies offering $99 SEO realize though is the power of the data they have.

I’m a firm believe in data analysis, at Karma Snack we have a dedicated team of data analysts on staff just to discover new keywords, trends, and shifts in client’s industries. Their job it to find the information, quickly process it, and at the end of the day have a working marketing campaign that is geared towards the new mini-strategy. I love them, especially the ones that are up till 4 o’clock in the morning with me instant messaging me back and forth about why this new marketing campaign will or will not work.

What I realized though is that most businesses simply do not have people sitting around analyzing data. I mean the big companies like Humana, American Express, etc. do, and some will say “Well they can afford to”. I believe that any expert in their field, whether it is Internet marketing for my company, or selling uniforms for a client, or international commercial loans for another client, needs to sit down one a week or once a month to really look at the data. Can you really afford not do? Who are you best customers, who are worst customers, what initiative this month/week have you done to promote your company? What promotions are working, and what aren’t and why? What is all the data telling you?

Lucky for my clients they have my team of expert analysts and me, and lucky for me we have tracking analytics tools installed, heat-maps, custom visitor behavior models, customized in-house SEO tools, and really top of the line business metrics available to us.

But even if you have a simply website with Google Analytics or Awstats, oh yeah I remember those days, looking and finding trends can be easy. Analyze where you where a month ago, 3 months ago, 1 year ago in terms of data, and compare it to the industry. Are you doing better or worst than every one else?

Strange things you find in the data can be either a gold mine waiting to be discovered or can alert you of future potential problems.

In my business I always have clients telling me they want to rank for this or that keyword, with no data to back it up on why. They just want to rank so they can be number one. Usually it’s an obscure keyword that I can get rankings for within a week. So I end up doing 30 minutes or so of work on this particular keyword, and get them the rankings in a week or so. The client is happy at first, but then realize the keyword is not bringing enough traffic because it is not popular or it’s bring in the wrong traffic, cause it’s not targeted. This is where I have to then go back and explain about data and why understanding the data is important. Data is so important, you should look at your stats at least once a week, if not every day.

A perfect example is today I found about a minimum of 20 new keywords for each clients that they where not ranking a week ago for before, and we where not targeted. These keywords have already started to bring in good traffic, but most important GREAT sales. So now come tomorrow morning, my staff and me are going to be at work getting rankings for these as well. Keywords I would have not discover until maybe Monday, if I hadn’t decided to randomly check all the stats on a Friday afternoon. That equates to an extra 2 days worth of sales, and in this economy every sale counts, and I believe my clients appreciate it.

One thing I will always love about data is it is never wrong.

If you are ever in South Beach Miami and want to talk give me a ring. Till next time, see on the beach!

10 Ways to Better Customer Support

On October 8, 2009, in Online Branding, by Adelard

customer-supportSometimes I really dread calling customer support for some companies. I am starting to think several companies add annoying obstacles just so they don’t have to bother with us customer. I wonder if they forget that us customers are the reason they are in business. After dealing with some major companies like Sprint, ATT, Chase, and Wachovia to name a few I’ve come up with some suggestions on how to improve customer support for business that actually want to stay in business (I’m pissed since I had to spent over 40 minutes on hold with ATT/Bellsouth just to cancel my phone service, and they still tried to upgrade me).

Here are 10 rules I use to make sure clients get the proper attention they deserve and are happy with our services.

1. Offer Multiply Support Options
Offering a customer the opportunity to contact you on multiply levels gives them piece of mind from my experience. Not only do all my clients have access to the cell phone numbers of their account reps, but also project managers, marketing, the development team, the CEO, and me.

They also can get quick contact to us through our website through email, through a contact directory on our website, and as well as our project management system. What is a project management system; check out Basecamp, they know what they are doing.

Worst case scenario, if they lose their phone, or are not at their own computer, they can get in contact with us easily by visiting our website and looking up who and what department they want. Make communicating with clients easy for them.

2. Offer A 24/7 Emergency Line of Communication
Emergencies happen. Customer needs to communicate with you sometimes in the middle of the night. Lucky for me, I’m usually up at that time, but for other business owners allow customers quick access to an emergency number that does a round-robin connection to an “emergency team” will a better client experience. Nextiva is a service that offers such a way for cheap. (I’m not an affiliate).

3. Remove the Fax Process
Okay, serious there seem to be still companies that require a fax for certain documents. It might make sense, for example having a signed copy, but recently I need to reduce the overdraft to zero on a Wachovia account, and they only accept fax request of this one particular thing. Maybe it’s because the major banks are literally banking off of people overdrafting and know that by requesting my overdraft to be set to zero, there is no chance of me every overdrafting and them charging me $35 each time, they put a 1001 hurdles in front of me.

But seriously if I can open up an ING Direct account over the Internet, why do I need a Fax machine to make a change to my current account with Wachovia? I don’t even have a Fax machine. So now I gotta “figure this out”. Please business owners, making it easier for customers to handle their account will only keep them. In regards to Wachovia, yes, I am in the search for a new bank of course; I don’t have time to play around or figure out the ancient art of facsimile.

4. Metrics & Measure Performance
If you are running a business, especially a growing business, bottlenecks are going to happen. Having metric programs and measuring tools in place to monitor what is going on with customer support is essential. Even if you are a 2 person operation, there are programs that allow business owners to measure phone call times, time it takes to respond to email inquiries, message, project management, and other communication. Measure and understand where the bottlenecks are happening; then reduce or eliminate them!

5. Reduce Phone Waiting Time
I was really pissed at ATT, so I decided to cancel my phone service. Guess what?? I can only cancel my service by calling between certain business hours. I can’t cancel through the web or email, just by calling. 2 days later I remembered to call during business hours, and guess what, I was on hold for over 40 minutes. Seriously, 40 minutes of business day waiting on hold to cancel a crappy phone and Internet service. Am I to believe that ATT doesn’t have data analysts that see and say “Hey during business time, people are on hold for 40 minutes, maybe we should get more people to answer the phones?”

I mean ATT, you’re the freaking phone company, how come I can analyze my sales teams and support phone calls, and know how many minutes each of them have been on the phone, and you can’t? ATT you fail. Don’t leave clients on hold for over 3 minutes in my opinion, 3 minutes and I am outta there.

6. Allow Call Back Numbers
Allowing customers to leave a call back numbers in my opinion is the best thing compared to leaving them on hold for 40 minute, ATT… The first time I encounter this was with Sprint, I called support, which for some reason is available 24/7 unlike ATT, and they gave the option to press 1, I think it was 1, to have a Sprint Rep call me back when they are available. 15 minutes later I get a call back, from someone waiting to help me out. Kudos Sprint. The technology exists, I don’t know where but if you can’t get it, simply stating on your voicemail to leave a call back number will give customers better piece of mind. Also in your voicemail, let them know about other opportunities to contact you like visiting your website, or your email address.

7. Lead Management
This one is more for sales that customer support. Lead management is critically to streamlining the sales process. If I fill out a form on your website at 9am on Monday, I should not have to wait till Thursday to get a phone call back about my inquiry. We have a lead management system in place at Karma Snack that once we get an inquiry we have email and text alerts going out and someone is calling the lead back within 5 to 20 minutes of them filling out the form, no matter WHAT TIME it is. If they filled it out at midnight, hey they are probably in the mood to talk at midnight, so we contact them (unless they specify a time to call them of course). A proper lead manage also eliminates the chance of losing deals/sales/potential clients. Know what stage a prospect is in, and the notes about conversations that were talked about. Lead management, it’s important for any business that has potential clients.

8. Ticket Support System
A ticket support system is also a great tool to help you communicate better with clients. A ticket support system allows support and clients the opportunity for back and forth online, and saves the conversation for later references. I’ve seen mostly software and online technology companies using them, but they can be a great replacement for simply emails for customers.

9. Don’t Outsource Support
Yeah, outsourcing is great for a business to reduce costs, but in the long run you are hurting your business, in my opinion. If a customer or client is calling you for support they have a problem, and are anxious or antsy to solve the problem. Now a days they get either an automated system or someone that is in a foreign land that is not even a part of the company that they are calling with the problem about.

It can really go down hill from there if a person has a heavy accent and is hard to understand. Remember they are calling because they have a problem, now they have to talk to someone who is not a part of the company in which they have a problem with, and now have a new problem of understanding what this current person is saying.

Or the person, who they are talking to, doesn’t even have the power to solve their problem, so the customer is just wasting their time talking and now have to re-explain their problem to a supervisor. In my opinion, if a customer has a problem, you as a business owner better fix the problem before they even realize they have a problem; it’s your business. Making the customer jump through hurdles doesn’t help your business in the long run, so the couple of dollars you saved outsourcing your support, probably costs you hundred of thousands in lost future sales.

I am trying to stress quality in this article. Giving your customer better quality support will keep your customer happy in the long run.

10. Listen To Customers
The saying goes, “Customers are always right”, right? I feel customers want to be loyal to a product/services they bought. In communicating with your customers you may find that several customers are suggesting certain things that can help you improve your business, company, or product. Listen to them. Enhance your product/services, and be glad that you are getting feedback.

If you don’t listen to them what will happen is that a competitor might listen and improve upon your product/services and steal your customers. A prime example is Chase, somehow I became a customer since WAMU was bought by them, and now there are ridiculous fees up my “you know what”. Chase is known for its fees, so I simply got tired and switched to ING Direct, No freaking fees on anything. All banking is online, I can get a great interest rate on savings and checking accounts, and did I mention, no fees? Listen to customers, otherwise they won’t customers for long.

Conclusion
Well that’s all for my ranting about improving customer support. I hope that anyone with a business can come out with a couple of great new ideas to better their interaction with customers. Contact me if you want more of my personal suggestions about any of items I talked about or to simply pick my brain! Adelard [at] KarmaSnack.com is my email.