I did it Your Way – Smart customer focus brings Monster growth

See related article and video: BI bonanza – a slam dunk for Monster Canada

With the economy in a free fall, it’s more important than ever for companies to zero in on customer needs and adjust their corporate strategy to meet these.

Often, though, that’s easier said than done.

For online career site, Monster Canada, for instance, tailoring its services to the varied needs of a broad and diverse clientele – comprising employers and job seekers – was quite a challenge.

It’s one the Montreal-based firm successfully addressed using analytics software – specifically business intelligence tools from Cary, N.C.-based SAS Institute.

Applications such as SAS Customer Intelligence and SAS Analytics helped Monster gain pertinent and valuable information about its customers, company executives say.

This data has enabled the firm to boost sales and marketing efficiency, as well as customer retention, according to Jean-Paul Isson, director of business intelligence at Monster Canada.

Isson said his company rolled out these analytics tools four years ago to better understand the composition of its customer base. A key goal was to create better sales pitches for high-value or niche customers.

The initiative uncovered some interesting data.

Monster was able to identify “high-opportunity customers” – the select group of clients who accounted for the bulk of the firm’s profits.

This intelligence has helped Monster to improve cross-selling and up-selling by 40 per cent, Isson said.

The firm, he said, has built a benchmark tool that lets employers see how their online job posting is performing online compared to a similar posting.

For instance, page views received by a posting for a marketing analyst based in Toronto would be compared to page views and applications for a similar position in the same city.

The tool assesses performance by dividing page views by the number of people who have applied for the position.

If a job posting is performing poorly, Monster will reach out to the employer and suggest tips for improving the posting. This enables customers to get the most value for their dollar, said Isson..

Predictive modeling, he said, helps Monster to gauge how a job posting might perform if certain parameters are tweaked — the text is bolded or the heading changed, for example. By looking at key performance indicators, the team can predict the quality of a posting.

Isson said Monster’s customer-service team phones clients to offer feedback on how job postings can be optimized to find the most talented people.

Such proactive initiatives have paid off and Monster Canada’s customer retention rate has increased by 15 per cent, nine months after making the changes.

Isson’s experience has convinced him of the power of analytics, especially during a downturn. “Companies can stay ahead of the game by providing their sales teams with the best business intelligence to go after existing and potential customers.”

And that’s message is also emphasized by Drew Gerber, CEO of public relations firm, Blue Kangaroo.

A focus on the customer is an essential requirement for surviving the recession and coming out on top, he said.

Customers, he said, often feel at the mercy of economic trends they can’t influence and that they lack control over their own finances.

“By asking how you can give them a better service, you help them regain some control.”   

He recalled how the fast food chain, Burger King, successfully rolled out a customer-focused marketing campaign in 1973 called: Have it your way, when the economy was much like it is today.

“Burger King knew if you give your customer what they want – instead of what you want them to have – they would keep coming back for more.”

With all the choices available today, he said, this personal touch is more important than ever.

Customer focus – an eight-point plan 

Berger says there are several non-technology-based, inexpensive strategies to enhance customer service. 

He offers eight tips for discovering what customers really want and delivering it “their way.”

1. Reconnect with old friends and clients – Talk to people in your immediate network of friends and clients and find out what they are doing to improve customer relations, Berger said.

Family members or co-workers may have already faced the same business problem, and be able to offer practical advice.  

He suggests using one’s friends as a sounding board for new ideas, and asking for feedback before making drastic changes to your customer service model.

2. Don’t forget the personal touch – Meeting with clients and customers in person – rather than online or on the phone – goes a long way towards improving the business relationship, Gerber said.

Airline prices are the lowest they’ve ever been, and it is becoming cheaper than ever to have a face-to-face meeting with potential clients or business partners, he said.

“People are hungry for the personal touch,” the Blue Kangaroo CEO said. “It’s the one thing really missing from business.”

He said we’re witnessing a shift away from impersonal Internet relationships in favour of more traditional methods such as snail mail.

Companies that build better personal relationships with customers – both online and offline – tend to be more successful, he said.

And this is evident especially in the blogging world.

Firms that provide a personal touch in their messages and allow you to get to know them on a more intimate level have the most popular social networks and blogs, noted Gerber.

3. Be direct – Never underestimate the power of asking your customers what you can do for them, Gerber said.

Create a place online to ask customers “How are we doing?” or “What would you like to see from us?” and you’ll be surprised at the answers.

4. Shut up and listen – This is one of the most important things any business owner can do, Gerber said. “Ask for feedback and then listen. It’s where the gold is.”

Many companies try to explain away negative feedback instead of changing their business strategy and fixing the issue.  

People who complain are a company’s biggest asset, he said. “They’re not a pain – they contribute by telling you where you’re off. Any way a company elicits feedback is a good strategy, either through questionnaires or surveys.”

Gerber said PitchRate.com – a Web site he recently launched that ranks media pitches – has a mechanism for providing feedback.

A press release grading tool, PitchRate.com seeks to help journalists access the best sources. It allows publicists respond to media queries with pitches on their clients, and seeks feedback from its users throughout the site.

Every page has a space for users to make comments, he said.

Feedback offered through this comment section since the site was launched last month, has helped him to improve the service, he said.

“We found a creative way to serve journalists. There is nothing else out there like this. Our technology rates the pitches and helps them get the job done much quicker. Something that is very important and needed in this economy.”

5. Be creative – Business owners can improve by letting their personality shine through. Gerber recommends trying a new or innovative way of eliciting feedback and solving  customer problems. Trying something new may attract a whole new customer base.

6. Take a chance. Companies must take risks to get ahead and stand out from competitors, Gerber said. “Follow your instincts down the road less traveled.”   

7.  Go beyond the call of duty – Customers appreciate the little things. Small extras you can offer customers won’t cost you much, but they will make you stand out from your competition. This can range from freebies to extra follow-up phone calls to ensure the customer is satisfied with their product or service.

8. Say thank-you – A business owner should thank their customers as much as possible, Gerber said. Showing gratitude will help you keep current customers and attract new ones through word of mouth. “You should treat your customer in the same way you would treat any other relationship – every human likes to feel appreciated.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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