Alumni have always been one of the most visible faces of an educational institution. However, most institutions, with a few exceptions, do not leverage this brand in a consistent manner. At a time when institutions are competing for resources and attenti0n at a global level, this is a trick that most of them are missing.
Companies like McKinsey do a fantastic job of reaching out to their alumni through their alumni portal. These alumni are often on to the next big thing. By associating with them, companies are able to leverage them, even if implicitly, as brand ambassadors and potential clients in the future.
Educational institutions can draw some lessons from their corporate counterparts in this regard – how to reach out to their large alumni network in a manner that makes the alumni want to associate with their alma mater. This relationship building, like brand building, is a process and cannot be achieved overnight or through advertisement alone. It takes time and effort, but the results, when they come, can be extremely rewarding for the institutions.
Over the last fourteen years of being mostly a marketer and occassionally a sales fella, I have run through my gamut of enteprise and entrepreneurial CRM software. The only one I came to nearly loving was the original (free) Seibel Personal Edition, which we used in our first startup, Impulsesoft. Despite the lack of multi-user support in Siebel PE, we made do. Alas just as we were hitting our stride, they discontinued it—I suspect, when they found out that I was actually able to get my job done with it.
With the virulence of a jilted lover I ran back into the arms of that rule-lined temptress Microsoft Excel. I’ll admit I flirted with ACT, had a drunken evening with GoldMine and actually paid $29.95 for Iambic‘s SalesWarrior on my Palm powered Kyocera phone (circa 2000). Yet I always returned to Excel. By the time Salesforce.com began its meteoric rise, I had become a bureaucrat. So I watched from the sidelines – a C-level executive who no longer used anything other than Excel.
Starting again on our own, and boot-strapping Zebu meant I was back to donning the sales hat, working the phone, pressing palms and mailing my heart out. So we were back to looking for CRM software! Of course with the world having moved on, we never bothered looking for a PC client, and decided to go Web 2.0 – the bulk of my evaluation time was spent with HighRise, ZohoCRM and BatchBook. While I briefly spent time playing with PipelineDeals and Oprius, I was already too far along, with the others, for these to ever be serious contenders.
For those of you looking for the Quick & Dirty summary version here it is:
BatchBook – we picked this finally because of
its simplicity – unbelievable simplicity
the fiendish power of superTags
its incredible support
and while we have become paying customers of BatchBook now, when we started its pricing (which began with a free offer for three users) tipped us over!
For those of you who want more, check out the presentation that was made internally to share why BatchBook.
HighRise We began with unabashed admiration for 37Signals. We found ourselves reading, watching and discussing DHH & JF.
we started as (paying) BaseCamp users and struggled with use of separate tool for contacts
we also stumbled initially because their free version did not support three users(our team size then)
they’ve arguably led the simplicity (less is more) movement; But we kept running into things, we wished were there in HighRise, and did not get the feeling of being listened to.
pricing was a niggling more than BatchBook, but was not a deal killer
One of the mysteries I never figured out was, I got going using HighRise, but could not never get the other members of our team rolling – maybe ‘coz they were moonlighting then or for some other reason. But by the time we got to evaluating BatchBook, my partners got active and BB edged out HR! Once we got rolling with BatchBook, while we did find many things missing in BatchBook as well, that we’d have liked to have, superTags almost always gave us workarounds.
ZohoCRM is almost the antithesis of BatchBook or HighRise – every feature imaginable is available
Even a highly motivated user, as I think of myself, needs a one or more unit college course to use it
alas – the near poetry of Zoho Writer or more recently Folders is totally lacking in the ZohoCRM UI design – the sheer complexity resulted in loss of ease of use and the UI left much to be desired. Seems like someone not yet steeped in the ways of early Zoho products designed it. Deal killer!
This might explain why, despite Zoho’s 3 user free license, I could not get any of my partners to use Zoho CRM.
Now that we have been ardent, paying customers of BatchBook, key areas we are hoping to influence include:
[a] more extensive reports (of anything v anything in the database, ala Quicken, my all time favorite)
[b] better sales deals/opportunity tracking without losing the ease of use, nor contorting too much with superTags
[c] even stronger API support, so that can extend reports and synch with other apps.
According to a survey conducted in Australia in 2008, 42 percent of respondents said their suppliers could not adequately solve their problems, while another 20 percent had issues with inexperienced staff manning their calls. The survey reported that six out of 10 consumers had changed supplier in the past year. I am not surprised – service providers in my country seem to be equally bad when it comes to customer service.
I have the same service provider for my fixed line (yes, I do use a fixed line at home ) and mobile phone. For some time now it has been impossible to call my mobile phone from my fixed line. Dutifully I lodged a complaint with the service provider. Within a couple of days I got a call from their customer service.
“Your problem has been fixed, sir. Can I close the ticket ? ” asked a polite voice from the other end. “As far I know the problem has not been fixed, and no please do not close the ticket,” was my response. Whereupon customer rep tried to convince me why the problem was with my mobile phone. “How do you know ?” I asked him. “I had to call your mobile number multiple times, from our land line, before I could get through,” promptly came the response.
This is a classic case of a vendor or customer service department being concerned about their statistics and not about the customer. Even though the customer service rep himself had experienced the problem that I had reported, he felt it was best to identify a “new” problem and treat the earlier problem as “addressed.” It did not concern him that my —the customer’s— problem had not been addressed at all.
Of course in this case, the fixed line and the mobile service business are two separate business units of the company. By fixing the blame on the mobile phone, the fixed line business was essentially making its problem someone else’s. The customer was the victim again! And this from the customer service department of the telecom company! Talk about how not to build a relationship with your customers! In an attempt to not let this drag me down, I have attempted to draw some lessons for all of us in customer facing roles.
Lesson#1 Processes and statistics are a means to improve our business operations. They should not become our end business goals.
Lesson #2 Customers are smart. They can usually see through our tricks. When that happens our businesses might have to pay a very heavy price. It is best that we try and avoid such incidences.
As for my service provider, I am making sure that I share this (less than satisfactory) experience with everyone I know.
“Did you know that the camera retail store at the corner offers a price much better than what I got from the online store !” My friend was in the midst of one of her frequent bouts of post purchase dissonance — that general feeling of anxiety after buying a product that all of us have experienced one time or the other. A feeling that the decision to buy the product was not right – possibly because it was overpriced, it did not work quite the way the sales person had promised it would or she just did not need the product.
One way to reduce this anxiety is to constantly reassure the customer. It could be an advertisement that shows how peoples’ lives improve significantly after purchasing the product or it could be a follow up call from customer care asking about satisfaction levels with the product. It could even be a training session organized for new customers. The same friend was thrilled after she attended a baking class organized by the company that had sold her a state-of-the-art microwave oven a few years ago.
This is a good marketing practice, but quite often companies forget to do it. Even companies that do practice it during good times tend to ignore it during crises, when customers need to be reassured the most.
I bank with at least 5 banks, who had been somewhat prompt in following up with me during the first few days of my relationship with them. But not one of them of them has reached out to me, during these tough times, to reassure me at a personal level why I should not be worried, or even if I should be worried, why I am in good hands to tide through the crisis. Today, all my opinions (and fears) about the sustainability of banks that I bank with are based on reports in the media which should set the alarm bells ringing for them. In fact, I have now stopped making new deposits with any of the banks.
In case you have not had a reason or chance to reach out to your customer in a while, this might be the time to get in touch with them. Reassure them, tell them all the good things that you have been doing for them, and of course, about the not so good things happening around us and why they should be cautious but not worried!
I subscribe to a large number of newsletters and am subject to a whole lot of unsolicited mail as well. As a marketer, unless something is outright offensive or from someone who has ticked me off in the past, I tend to read okay, maybe not read, but glance quickly through, mails from known commercial sources. Which brings me to the topic of this post.
Earlier this morning I received an unsolicited email from you, with the subject “Get complementary domestic return tickets when you buy Overseas return tickets.” I have been your customer for eight or nine years now. And it is only recently that you have begun emailing me — what I can best term as — flyers. In essence, you have re-purposed the flyer you produced for snail mail (which I received along with my monthly bill in hardcopy) into an ALL image email. Of course my mail client blocks the image, and what I see is this.
Notice, the creative folks at your agency have divided the image into four segments for faster loading, however no one seems to have bothered defining any ALT text, so there’s no way for me to know what this email is about, or whether I want to open it. Unless of course they felt that the subject is so compelling that I’d bother loading the image or clicking through “If you are unable to view this email please click here.” I will admit, I did load the images to view your email to me, but was not happy about it.
Last week it was a health insurance pitch and today it was this promotion with Air India. The kicker that drove me write this open letter was at the very bottom of your email, almost an afterthought which read,
Firstly I can’t unsubscribe, by just clicking a link that says Unsubscribe! I actually have to email you with REMOVE as my subject – guess I can do that. But you will take approximately two to three weeks to unsubscribe me! I had to read this thrice to make sure that I had read this right. If the whole point of emailing me is to leverage the power of this medium, clearly that doesn’t run all the way back to your database and unsubscribing me immediately!
Sender’s name was recognizable “American Express” &
Subject told me something about what the mail was about
What didn’t work
- Using physical mailer as an all-image email content
- no ALT text usage
- non-intuitive & slow unsubscribe option
One of my friends recently received a direct mailer from a large insurance company. The e-mail read something like -
In today’s fast paced lifestyle a term plan should be a part of your investment portfolio. This is a low premium, pure risk coverage plan that takes care of all your financial commitments towards your dependants, in case of an unfortunate situation.
Presenting a term plan that provides you with a life cover up to 75 years of age.
My friend was quite upset and justifiably so. He was an existing customer of the company – he had purchased two very high premium policies with the company a couple of years ago. During this period, the company had never bothered to get in touch with my friend until they wanted to sell him something again. My friend has resolved never to recommend the company to anyone he knows.
There are lessons in this anecdote for all businesses.
Lesson #1 Be very careful about what you send out to customers. They can tell if you really value their relationship with you. Sending out the same standard e-mailer to everyone, including your high worth customers, gives away the fact that you do not really perceive them differently. This tempts customers to take their business to someone who makes them feel different.
Nurture existing relationships irrespective of whether you have to sell something new or not. Research has shown buyers tend to buy from people they trust even if all things are not equal. You can let your customers know that you value the relationship by being in regular touch with them. Even better, you can get customers to value the relationship by providing them with useful information every time you get in touch with them.
So next time when you reach out to your existing customers for a sale, ask yourself the question, “Have I nurtured the relationship enough to ask for a repeat sale?”
Welcome to the Zebu Group blog! The title of this post, is the raison d’etre of the Zebu Group – so we tell ourselves and prospective customers. Relationships, as all of us married folks can vouch for, requires constant nurturing. And the surest way to do this is through sustained communications. So it is only fitting that we practice what we preach. This blog, we hope, will help us communicate our thoughts, learnings and at times, yearnings with our customers, partners and the wider business world. We hope to listen, at least as much as we speak, if not more, in these pages — your active participation is what will enable us to do that.
Join us in this journey – drop us a note, send us your favorite links or just a cool story you want to share or better yet a rant on anything that bugs you. Meanwhile, we will keep you posted, as we get our act together and bring you all the new stuff we pick up, as we set out to bring the use of plain English in business, back in vogue. Until next time, pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while or drop them an email or take your spouse out to dinner. Lets get rolling on renewing the relationships we already have before building new ones.