All I Really Want

Al DiGuido

Updated · Nov 20, 2001

“Santa's not a mind reader,” my mom would say to all us kids a few weeks before Thanksgiving.

She would pester us to write letters to the great “red and white one,” detailing everything we wanted under the tree. I remember paging through the Sears Wish Book for hours, having minor anxiety attacks about what I wanted. Most times, I would walk away from these shopping sessions bewildered and confused.

Mom was Santa's agent during my times of distress. She would sit me down at the kitchen table and ask me all kinds of questions. She would turn pages with me and suggest a truck or car, baseball equipment, or a new sled.

Moms seem to know exactly what to say — maternal instincts can unveil our deepest thoughts and desires. Over the years, we build inseparable relationships with our moms. They know us so well, and still the questions continue: What size are the kids? What do they like? How are they doing in college? What's their favorite music group? All are attempts to retain a relationship with a “customer.” There were times Mom would seem to know my next need as if she had a sixth sense. In fact, she had an elaborate database in her brain containing quantities of information on her children and grandchildren. When the appropriate time to send us a message or help us out arrived, she applied this knowledge.

As we move into the holiday season, there's more sensitivity to the quality of relationships. Recent tragic events have drawn families and loved ones closer together. There is greater understanding of the fragility of the human condition. Communication between people around the world is at a new high. We are in search of meaning and understanding in every relationship we conduct.

The way in which marketers communicate with customers evolves on an almost-daily basis. With the economy limping along, marketing, promotion, and communications budgets are under intense pressure to demonstrate cost-effective achievement of aggressive sales and profit goals. The calculation of return on investment (ROI) has become an even greater focus for companies large and small. There's a growing realization of the relative costs of acquiring and retaining customers.

How do you create an effective retention strategy? What are the steps in the process? How do you communicate with your customers? How do you protect your customers from the onslaught of competitors' acquisition efforts? Have you really built a relationship with your customers? Do they even want to have a relationship with you? Have you thought about asking them these questions? If Santa's not a mind reader, no one expects you to be one, either. Here are a couple of ideas to help answer these questions and better understand your customer relationships:

  • Ask them. Customers who give permission to receive email from you also provide you with permission to create a dialogue with them. If your messaging is one-way, the relationship will be shallow. If you send a sales message and the customer isn't interested, the relationship could end with little or no information. Try engaging customers in a dialogue. “With the holiday season upon us, would you be interested in receiving special holiday bargain alerts?” Be bold. If the answer is yes, provide an assortment of product category alerts that will give you a better idea of what they need and want.
  • Be an observer. We all receive newsletters. In scanning the contents, we search for information that is useful and relevant. If you are a publisher, you are (hopefully) tracking the clicks each content element receives. The hope is that you will analyze the information and create content even more useful to the reader in future newsletters. When the reader finds the material more useful, the relationship can be made stronger.
  • Make suggestions. Interact with your customers, and understand their purchase patterns. Offer suggestions on products and services that can be of value to them. Consumers seek out vendors that provide a level of comfort, understanding, and help in making their lives simpler — especially in these turbulent times. Remember when a store clerk gave you advice on just the right gift for a friend or relative? Your customers will appreciate this added help.
  • Use alerts. With sensitivity surrounding snail mail, marketers are using email to extend and support relationships created offline. Use an email alert to tell your customers about a new catalog, shipment, or promotional package due to arrive by mail. This will identify the package and differentiate your mailing from the rest of the clutter. If you mail a print catalog, make the email relevant by referring to a product or page that would be attractive to the individual recipient.
  • Say thanks. No one wants to be taken for granted. Too often, in our rush to create a transaction, we neglect to say thank you. Confirmation emails are an e-commerce staple. Take time to say thank you post-sale. It could be a coupon for a future purchase or personal thanks from the company's CEO. Even Santa likes thank-you notes.

If you haven't taken the time to ask your customers what they want, it will be harder to reach your goals and build relationships over time. Be creative and find ways to ask questions that can help you and your customers. You will create a level of communication that can assure you both get what you want this holiday season. It certainly helped improve the “relationship” between Santa and me. (Thanks, Mom).

Al DiGuido is Chief Executive Officer of Bigfoot Interactive, a provider of strategic, ROI-focused email marketing services and technology. Previously, he served as CEO of Expression Engines, Executive Vice President at Ziff-Davis, and Publisher of Computer Shopper, where he launched, a groundbreaking direct-to-consumer e-commerce engine. Prior to Ziff-Davis, he was Vice President/Advertising Director for Sports Inc.

Reprinted from ClickZ.

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