Marketing From the Heart Pumps the Bottom Line

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Thanks to technology, businesses today are moving faster and more efficiently than ever. Technology has changed the way customers buy products. Many customers want and enjoy the technology, speed, cost savings and convenience that buying direct brings them.

However, today's customers also want, expect and deserve exceptional service and personalized expertise to meet their individual needs. Finding, refining and nurturing a delicate balance between hi-tech and high touch is one of the biggest challenges direct marketers face.

By the very nature of our direct business model, we minimize personal contact. Customers do business with us by telephone, e-mail or the Internet, without ever seeing a human being. Being direct allows us to maximize operating efficiencies and pass cost savings on to customers. However, in the competitive world of technology direct marketing, creating a delicate hi-tech/high-touch balance is critical. Selling complicated, sophisticated equipment requires ongoing technical support and personalized service and expertise.

In an industry where products are changing and evolving at a rapid rate, your competitive edge lies in the ability to deliver and satisfy customers with expertise and service. Products don't make the difference, people do.

To achieve this kind of customer satisfaction -- and generate repeat business -- hi-tech direct marketers must be aware of what is called the "Funnel Theory." This means a company is only as good as the service, quality and delivery of its weakest department, the narrowest part of the funnel. Employees need to be empowered to serve customers from the "heart" of a company. Here are some ways you can make it happen.

<B>Make your employees advocates for your company.<B> In the direct space, the person on the receiving end of the telephone line or e-mail becomes your company to that customer. If your employees are friendly, knowledgeable and strong advocates for your company, they create a positive impression and establish the first -- and most important -- step in building a win/win relationship.

Customers show more loyalty to a company when they have positive interaction. According to a 1998 study by the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, about 84 percent of the 5,000-plus respondents said courtesy and professionalism were most important when deciding whether to do business with the company again.

<B>Help employees be the best at what they do.<B> With technology and customer needs changing almost daily, keeping employees trained on the latest innovations is a continuous challenge. Industry knowledge is one reason customers call you over your competitors. But it's not the only reason. Knowledge of your company, from its products and services to its procedures and philosophies, helps your employees service customers from beginning to end.

<B>Give employees a reason to stay with your company.<B> Marketing from the heart starts from within. If you care about your employees, they will care about your customers and give them exceptional customer service. The current technology labor shortage means it is vital to attract and retain the best people just to survive, much less succeed. A new report from the Information Technology Association of America said there are 346,000 vacant IT positions in the United States. This shortage can create serious productivity setbacks and deteriorate the quality of work as companies are constantly ramping up new recruits.

Employee retention builds consistency and longevity, which makes a big difference in the bottom line and your company's long-term success. In fact, more than half the organizations on Fortune magazine's 1998 list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For in America" had an average annual stock value appreciation of 25 percent during the last five years, compared with the Russell Index's gain of only 19 percent. Keep your employees so they keep your customers.

<B>Bottom Line.<B> Don't make the mistake of choosing hi-tech over high touch. Market from the heart to carefully build, strengthen and nurture personal relationships to ensure future growth and success. To do this, you must begin at the heart of your organization with your employees. Put them first and they will put your customers first. Remember, there is a big difference between doing business remotely and being remote.

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