Is Live Chat a good option?

15 Oct

As technology changes, the way we interact with customers also changes. More consumers are skipping traditional forms of customer service like phone and email, and opting for channels like Live Chat due to the faster, more personalized nature of the communication.

Live Chat is software that sits on your website, allowing you to have an online conversation similar to Instant Messenger with anyone who is on your site.

While Live Chat can often be a wonderful addition for businesses, it can cause its own Live Chatproblems and complications, both technical and otherwise.

Here are the pros and cons of Live Chat.

Pros

You are immediately accessible to your customer.

Being online when your customer is online means a chat can happen instantaneously. With most Live Chat software, there will be a clear indication to your site’s visitor that you are currently online and are available to interact with them.

You can start the conversation.

Many Live Chat programs allow you to see who is visiting your site, and you can choose to invite them into a conversation via a targeted pop-up message.

This means you are not being passive and waiting for people to come to you.  If you see that someone has been navigating around your website for a period of time, this is the perfect tool to use to engage with them and help secure business.

It shows you are a modern, dynamic, and proactive company.

Having Live Chat functionality on your site signifies that you are a progressive organization that uses advanced online techniques to build business.

It reduces the amount of back and forth of email.

Conversing in real time circumvents the usual ping-pong exchange of e-mails that often results when both parties are trying to get a clearer understanding of the product or service.

It is personal and accessible.

Live Chat enables companies to be personal and accessible by having real-time conversations with customers. Furthermore, being easily available to your customers is a great way to be more transparent. The personal tone and ease of use that Live Chat gives your company can go a long way to make your company likable.

Live Chat reduces an overload on other forms of communication.

Having Live Chat available leaves other forms of customer service such as phone and email open for larger issues. People will be less likely to call or email about small questions and concerns if they have live chat as an outlet. Additionally, Live Chat fits the digital world which means many of your customers, especially younger customers, will feel more comfortable and familiar with live chat than other sources of communication.

In addition, here are some other advantages to Live Chat:

• Help more people at the same time: chat agents are usually able to serve three or more people simultaneously;

• Solves the problems of strange accents or bad phone lines;

• No extra costs for website visitors, even when they are from another country;

• Convenient: Support can easily send helpful links to the customer through the chat interface and help with the spelling of complicated names by entering them into the chat box;

• Analytics: use live analytics to find the most relevant visitors to your site;

• You can switch off chat when you are away —  just go offline and transform the chat bar into a contact form; and

• Customer service quality can easily be reviewed by checking the log files.

Cons

It can create an impression that your business is 24/7.

We no longer live in a world where customers live nearby or work on a 9 to 5 schedule. As a result, it is often not enough to be available only during those hours. Try to split up the duty of answering chats to cover as much of the day as possible. When Live Chat is not staffed, have other forms of communication available, such as a Contact Us form.

Live Chat requires staffing.

To make the most of Live Chat software, it has to be staffed. Staffing is a cost to your business that needs to be covered. This is why Live Chat software is more broadly embraced by larger companies with a dedicated customer support team.

It interrupts other work.

If you are running Live Chat in the background while performing other tasks, you run the risk of having your thoughts disrupted when messages comes through. This can ultimately mean that it takes longer to do the work you were originally doing.

It can present communication difficulties.

It can be difficult to convey emotions and tone over chat. Currently, the only solution is to use emoticons, which are taboo in the professional world. You need to be careful with your phrasing to ensure your words are not misinterpreted.

Other disadvantages of Live Chat support:

• Not all users will like it.  You should always offer at least email or phone support in addition to chat support;

• Not all users will know how to use it;

• Not great on mobile platforms: Not all mobile devices are able to support Live Chat applications;

• Prank chats: You will get some not-so-serious chats. If this happens frequently from one person, you can block the person; and

• It can slow down your website.

Those are the arguments for and against Live Chat. Although it has a lot of advantages, it isn’t for everyone. Give these pros and cons some thought before deciding whether Live Chat is right for your business.

2015 Holiday Shipping Dates to Know

8 Oct

Are you ready for the Holiday shipping season? It will be here sooner than you think.

Last year’s information shows that while over 50 percent of holiday purchases are made Holiday Shippingearly, many consumers continue to purchase and ship holiday gifts right up until the last moment. If you ship products to your customers, or are in the fulfillment business where you ship to your customers’ customers, here are some dates you need to know.

FedEx Shipping Deadline Within the U.S.

  • Dec. 12: Last day to ship via FedEx SmartPost
  • Dec. 17: Last day to ship via FedEx Home Delivery and FedEx Ground
  • Dec. 20: Last day to ship via FedEx Express Saver
  • Dec. 22: Last day to ship via FedEx 2Day and FedEx 2Day A.M.
  • Dec. 23: Last day to ship via FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, and FedEx First Overnight
  • Dec. 25: Last day to ship via FedEx SameDay

Shipping deadlines for packages headed to Puerto Rico, Canada, Mexico and other international destinations vary. See FedEx’s Last Days to Ship site for more information.

UPS Shipping Deadlines Within the U.S.

  • Dec. 22: Last day to ship via UPS 2nd Day Air
  • Dec. 23: Last day to ship via UPS Next Day Air

For international shipping deadlines and other holiday-related information, click here.

U.S. Postal Service Deadlines Within the U.S.

  • Dec. 15: Last day to send packages via standard parcel post
  • Dec. 20: Last day to send packages via First Class Mail & Priority Mail
  • Dec. 23: Last day to send packages via Priority Express Mail

The deadline for shipping packages internationally varies based on the destination. In some cases, the deadlines are as soon as Dec. 2.

Don’t take a chance on disappointing your customers. Let them know now about critical shipping dates. Keep in mind, too, that those people in the part of the country lucky enough to experience winter in the form of snow and ice should build extra days into shipping schedules. Winter storms can create havoc with even the most dedicated of shippers.

6 Tips Towards Writing Excellent Marketing Material

2 Oct

No one writes perfectly all of the time. Writing well takes skill, but writing great marketing copy requires an even higher level of skill plus knowledge of your audience, brand, and marketing voice. Here are five tips to help you produce great content every time.

1) Audience

The biggest mistake marketing writers make is to write for themselves and not for their marketing copyaudience. To write great copy, you need to convince readers that your products or services meet their needs. As callous as it sound, readers don’t care what something means to you; they are only interested in what it will do for them. The goal of marketing copy is to convince the reader that your products or services will meet their needs.

Different audiences have different needs and respond to different messages. Understand who you are marketing to and what their needs are. The more you understand your audience, the more relevant your copy will be.

2) Brand

To be effective, all of your content needs to have the same “voice.” The message is as much about how you say something as what you say. Be consistent in your choice of words and phrases, and make sure you are writing content that is appropriate for your target audience. Your voice is part of your brand, and should be consistent across all marketing channels.

3) Focus

What is your objective for this marketing piece? Rather than cramming several competing messages into one piece, identify one thing you hope to accomplish and write content towards achieving that goal. A clear, focused message will elicit a better response.

4) Call to Action

You’ve provided your readers with a clear message demonstrating not only what your product or service will do for them, but a feel for your company. Now what do you want them to do with that information? Provide a call to action to make it easy for them to respond to your message. Invite them to call, register, or buy, and make it easy for them to do so! Make sure to provide phone numbers, online forms, shopping carts and other forms of customer engagement.

5) Punctuation, Grammar, Spelling, Sentence Structure

Although this should go without saying, don’t underestimate the importance of the mechanics of writing. Not only will good grammar and spelling help your audience understand your message, but well-constructed pieces will reflect positively on you and your company. Spelling mistakes and poor grammar scream sloppiness and poor quality, and no one wants to work with a company which doesn’t care about quality.

6) Editing

Proofread, proofread, proofread.

Spell-check is a great tool, but it doesn’t catch everything.

I once worked for a state-wide legal printing division. The word “public” was often used in court documents. Although spell-check accepts the word “public” without the “l,” the resulting word, pubic, caused more than one embarrassing misprint.

An old proofreading trick is to read your content out loud. Does the content flow well? Are there extra words which don’t belong? Are you missing words?

Another trick is to have someone else read your copy. He or she will often catch things you miss.

To recap, the value of quality writing for your marketing materials should not be downplayed. Poor writing is expensive both in terms of time and money. If your audience doesn’t understand the message or, worse, is turned off by poor grammar and sentence structure, you won’t see the desired return on your investment. And if something is wrong, you may need to do a costly reprint.

 

 

Is Your Credit Card Terminal Ready for EMV?

23 Sep

Do you work with credit cards? Are you ready for the October 1 credit card fraud liability shift? That’s the date merchants who have not upgraded to EMV chip-enabled equipment on their terminals could become liable for the financial consequences of fraudulent credit card transactions. With credit card fraud now well over $7 billion annually in the United States, missing this equipment upgrade deadline will pose a major risk for many businesses.

What is EMV?

Banks in the United States are switching up the insides of our credit cards. They’re EMVadding something called EMV technology, which stands for “Europay, MasterCard, and Visa.” This means credit cards are created with a super-small computer chip that’s extremely hard to counterfeit. If you’ve gotten a card recently, chances are it has this technology.

Why the changeover? Here’s a crazy statistic: Almost half of the world’s credit card fraud now happens in the United States—even though only a quarter of all credit card transactions happen here. The banks want to rein this in by moving away from magnetic-stripe cards, which are much easier to counterfeit. The recent high-profile security breaches at some of the country’s largest retailers have added motivation to make the switch quickly.

So how exactly will this affect your business? For starters, you’ll need a new processing device to read the information in the chip cards. And come October 1, 2015, businesses that don’t have an EMV processing device could be on the hook for fraudulent chip card transactions.

Is this completely new technology?

No. Most of the world, including Europe, has been using chip cards for years. The United States is actually the last major market still using magnetic-stripe-only cards.

Will chip cards be swiped the same way as magnetic-stripe cards?

No. It’s a new process some people call the “chip-and-dip.” Chip cards are inserted, or “dipped,” into the payment device and left in place for the entire transaction as the reader and card talk back and forth.

What do I need to know about my terminal?

Credit card companies have been issuing the new “chip cards” for some time now, but many merchants have been reluctant to upgrade their point-of-sale terminals to accommodate the shift from a simple card swipe to the “chip and dip” action. If your existing credit card terminal is older and doesn’t have an EMV slot on the front, you will need a new terminal to process the chip-enabled cards. And even if your terminal does have the EMV slot in the front, you need to know that there have been several upgrades to the processing technology that may have already made your upgraded device obsolete. This latter issue applies to many units installed more than six months ago.

Every Door Direct Mail

16 Sep

Lately, we’ve been focusing our articles on personalized direct mail pieces (variable data). As great as variable data printing is, it isn’t always the best answer for all situations.

Let’s say you are opening a new pizza place and you’re hoping to draw in people from the neighborhood. You could obtain a mailing list with names and addresses, and with that information, you could send out personalized pieces. However, another less expensive option is to saturate the neighborhood using a United States Postal Service (USPS) feature called Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM).

What Is Every Door Direct Mail?

Every Door Direct Mail service is an easy, cost-effective way to reach EDDMpotential customers near your business. Just create your mail pieces however you like, then work with your printer or mail services provider to select postal routes and pay for postage. The USPS will deliver to every household on your chosen routes and because the piece is automatically delivered to every household in those routes, addressing is not needed.

Map Your Delivery Area

Focus on up to a five-mile radius of your business or search for routes by city and state or ZIP Code. You can use demographic data including age range and average household income and size to choose which routes to include.

Send Mailings Big or Small

The Every Door Direct Mail-Retail service is a good option for local businesses sending up to 5,000 mail pieces a day per ZIP Code. For larger mailings, use the Every Door Direct Mail service with a mailing permit. It’s great for announcing store openings, sales, or events.

Focus Marketing Efforts and Cut Costs

With Every Door Direct Mail service, there’s no need to buy addresses or mailing lists. Instead, you can focus your marketing efforts on targeting potential customers within a specific radius of your business.

As always, the quality of the mail piece affects the outcome. Consider using the money saved by not buying a mailing list towards developing a distinctive printed piece advertising a neighborhood pizza party and watch your business grow.

Benefits of Variable Data Printing

10 Sep
Over the last several weeks, we have talked about Variable Data Printing (VDP). We have looked at list usage, types of VDP, and how VDP impacts marketing. Now it is time to wrap it all up and examine the benefits of VDP.upward trend
In short, VDP allows you to customize and personalize your direct mail marketing campaigns. Using VDP means you can create more attention-grabbing direct mail pieces that appeal to your target market. Here are some benefits to using variable data printing with your direct mail marketing campaign.

Increase Your Return on Investment

By adjusting the content (images and/or text) on your direct mail pieces based on the recipients’ interests, location, family status, or any other piece of information you have on your audience, means your direct mail piece will be more appealing and relevant to the recipient.

According to PODi and DMA data, the response rate of non-personalized mail pieces is 2%, and a personalized piece has a response rate of 6%—that’s a 300% increase.

Making it Easy for Them Makes it Easy for You

Personalize the pieces in your mailing with information pertinent to the recipient such as the address and business hours of the store or person closest to them and you will reduce the number of phone calls asking for this information. Likewise, add mapping and get clients directly to your event or store. Or, depending on the marketing campaign, change phone numbers so recipients can contact the correct people within the company.

Variable Data Printing Supports Online Marketing

There is no denying the overwhelming growth of online marketing. However, the fundamentals of a successful campaign remain the same—successful campaigns are both strategic and tactical. And to that end, a campaign that includes both online and print components will achieve maximum effectiveness.

One of the strengths of online marketing is it’s ability to deliver variable content to individuals based on their behaviors. It’s most often seen with something like Google ads—a car ad pops up after a search for an auto dealer or fitness ads magically appear when you look for “yoga.”

By using VDP, print does the same thing—with better results. Unlike online marketing, a flyer, postcard or letter is tangible and can be kept. What this means is an audience is more likely to spend some time looking at the information you send, be engaged, and respond to the call to action.  And, importantly, once engaged, they will hop over to the digital platform for more information or to place an order. It’s a multi-channel experience.

Tracking

Finally, one of the greatest advantages of using variable data printing is the opportunity to track response rates more efficiently. VDP allows for unique barcodes and coupon identification numbers to be placed on communication pieces which provides marketers with an easier and more efficient way of tracking your results.

To recap, audiences are becoming more adept at tuning out boring, old traditional marketing campaigns. In fact, 74 percent of consumers get frustrated and turn elsewhere when marketing content has nothing to do with their interests. By personalizing your material to your target audience, you can increase customer engagement and response rates and, ultimately, your ROI.

Variable Data Printing and One-to-One Marketing

1 Sep

The marketing opportunities presented by variable data printing are enormous. By personalizing communications, marketing is tailored to appeal to the interests of individuals rather than broad segments of people.

The concept of one-to-one marketing fine-tunes target marketing to the level of the individual. One-to-one marketing is the practice of communicating directly to each customer. This communication can take place via direct mail, phone calls, or e-mail sent over the internet, but is not limited to those methods. Terms such as “direct marketing” and “relationship marketing” can be interchanged with one-to-one marketing when the emphasis is on reaching individuals.

Relationship marketing has the added dimension of maintaining contact over a period of time to build a rapport with the individual customer, as opposed to making a one-time contact.

All forms of one-to-one marketing require information about the customer and can One to one marketinginvolve gathering more information about the customer after the initial contact. This knowledge of the customer and the customer’s interests is necessary to create the personalized communication that establishes a one-to-one relationship. The advertiser must target customers that would be interested in the advertised product, and then personalize the promotion in ways that are attractive to those customers.

Marketing on the customer’s terms

Personalization has been around for a very long time and has usually been associated with costly customization, such as custom-built automobiles. It has been popular because it works. Consumers want to be recognized as individuals and addressed in a personalized way. Today, even though customers might recognize that the information about them came from a database, they appreciate the extra effort that marketers have taken to get to know them and to communicate on their terms.

To varying degrees, consumers are aware that data about their activities, particularly financial transactions, are continually being gathered and shared with marketers. Sometimes, consumers deliberately share this information, as when they answer questions on a marketing survey, or when they request, or “pull,” product information. (See last week’s blog on using variable data in push and pull marketing.) At other times, records of their activities are gathered automatically in the course of their transactions. The marketer must maintain a delicate balance between collecting information and maintaining the consumer’s trust that the information will be used for the consumer’s benefit. They can do so by using the information they have assembled to add value to the consumer’s activities on the consumer’s terms.

Through credit-card receipts, for example, a financial services company might learn that a customer has children and shops regularly at a particular children’s clothing store. The company could use that information to build customer satisfaction and loyalty by offering money-saving discounts for children’s clothing and toys. This use of the customer’s data benefits the customer. An inappropriate use of the data would challenge the relationship and risk turning the customer away.

Focus on effectiveness and value

Compared to mass marketing, or “one-to-many,” one-to-one marketing can at first appear to be more expensive. Historically, the cost of a marketing campaign was based largely on the cost of delivery, in which case economies of scale in print production argued for the use of only one message broadcast to everyone.

In one-to-one marketing, the effectiveness of communications plays a bigger part in the equation. Research has established that personalized communication increases response rates and spending by the target customer. One-to-one communications spur relationships that result in repeat sales and customer loyalty. Generally speaking, increasing the volume of messages reduces the cost of printing but decreases the  effectiveness of the communication. The quality of the response from customers therefore can raise the return on investment in a one-to-one marketing campaign above that of mass marketing. With effectiveness as the goal, the focus of communication planning needs to shift from reducing costs to that of delivering greater value.

The competitive edge

Consumers are expecting that vendors acknowledge their personal interests and preferences. In effect, by personalizing communications, marketers give consumers what they want.

Marketers do not make the rules any more—consumers do. Smart marketers understand the value of personalized communication. Savvy marketers also realize that the cost of producing those communications is quickly shrinking thanks to technology such as variable data printing. Adopters of variable data printing have taken the risk, confident that they will gain a competitive advantage. They hope their competitors are watching them… from behind.

 

 

Variable Data and Push vs. Pull Marketing

26 Aug

Variable Data Printing (VDP) is important to marketers because it enables them to articulate a special message in a particular way to potential customers. In other words, Variable Data Printing allows marketers to drive the customer relationship.

VDP gives marketers the option of applying a push or pull strategy. Push marketing (outbound marketing) refers to pushing information out to the customer. Direct mail is one example. Push marketing is driven by the vendor.

Pull marketing (inbound marketing), in contrast, is driven by the customer. The customer pulls information about the Push Pullproducts in which he or she is interested. For example, a car dealership might have a Web site where customers can select the information they want to receive about a certain car model. The customers’ choices are entered into a database from which VDP can create a personalized brochure for mailing.

The two strategies are often used in tandem. The car dealership can obtain databases of potential customers within its geographic area (see last week’s blog on the Ins and Out of Using Mailing Lists)  and push advertising about the latest car models to them through a direct mailing. For example, the car dealership can use information in the database about the customers’ family size and advertise features most likely to be attractive to them such as SUVs and wagons for families with children, and sports cars to single males.

The value of using variable data printing with pull marketing is that it makes pull marketing far more cost-effective.

The value of push marketing lies in making potential customers aware of a vendor and in enticing them to take the next step toward purchasing products from the vendor. Push marketing is often an initial contact in which customers receive information that encourages them to take some action.  Potential customers who respond to the push marketing can be given an opportunity to pull more information, as in the example of a car dealership with a Web site. By specifying the information they want about a new car, potential customers identify themselves as likely customers who already have a sense of what they want to buy and have taken a step toward a purchase from the vendor.

The value of using VDP with pull marketing is that it is more cost-effective than push marketing. The customer has already targeted himself or herself, and the vendor prints a brochure only for a customer who is already interested in its product. The vendor provides more of what the customer is looking for and less of what they have no interest in.

Next week, we will look a little closer at this by looking at variable data printing and one-to-one marketing.

 

Ins and Outs of Using Mailing Lists

18 Aug

The key to a successful marketing campaign is getting your message to the right people. How do you expand the number of people you’re contacting or reach out to an entirely new market? One option is to use a mailing list generated by a list company.

General Mailing List Guidelines

Geographical Area: When you buy a mailing list, the first thing you want to do is to define the geographical area you wish to target. Targeted mailing lists are proven to increase response rates. Define your direct mailing list by state, county, city, SCF, zip codes, or even by radius.

Demographics: Think targeted marketing when determining which demographics to use for your mailing list. Who are your best customers? A direct mailing list performs better when you target your prospects based on the demographics of your current customers. Define your mailing list by age, income, gender, length of residence, interests, memberships, and any other attributes desirable to your campaign.

Append Telephone Numbers: In today’s world of multi-channel marketing, consider adding phone numbers to the list. You will pay more but you will have another way to reach your target audience.

Pricing & Method of Delivery: The demographics you choose usually determine your pricing. Once you make your purchase, most companies offer several methods of retrieving the mailing list: 1) a downloadable file directly from your account with the list company; 2)  a file sent via email; 3) files sent on a CD; or 4) printed labels. Pricing may vary by method chosen.

Companies providing mailing lists are a dime a dozen. What differentiates one company mailinglistfrom another? These are a few things you will want to consider when looking at mailing list sources:

Accuracy: How new is the list? Has it been recently refreshed? Does the company offer a guaranteed percentage of deliverable addresses?

Price: Pricing varies by provider. Price shouldn’t be the only consideration, however, as an old list that hasn’t been refreshed in years won’t provide good results.

Type of List: Are you looking for a residential or business list? Consumer? Educational? Companies may specialize in the type of lists they provide.

Usage: Is the list a one-time use only list, or can you use it as many times as you want within a specified time period? Make sure you understand the terms of the list usage before making your purchase.

With so many list companies to choose from, how do you know which company to use? At Mediascope, we have developed relationships with a few key providers based on their service, prices, and accuracy of mailing lists. Contact us at 507-452-5555 and we will gladly help you find the right list for your next mailing project.

Variable Data Printing Begins with your Database

13 Aug

When most people think of putting together a direct mail piece, they think of using a database consisting of  name, address, city, state and zip code.

But what else do you know, or should you know, about your customers?

What if your database of customer information included their purchases? Their birthdays? Family members’ birthdays? Interests and Hobbies?

If you have that (or other) information, you can send out direct mail pieces targeted specifically to your customers. How about sending a postcard suggesting a matching piece to something they already bought? A discount in honor of a birthday? Suggestions and/or discounts in areas of interest?

Last week, we published an article on Variable Data Printing (VDP) basics. As we said in the article, your database is the key to VDP.

VDP is limited only by your database.

Just as ink, type, and paper are components of printing, consider information fromdatabase2 databases as another — and very important — type of component found in variable data printing. A database is simply an electronic file that contains records of information organized in a particular way.

For VDP printing, the database stores text, graphics, and images much the same way a file drawer does — only electronically.

Databases are organized in two ways: 1) by records and 2) by fields for each record. Each record has a predetermined number of fields. In a database about people, each person would be a record. The information for each person would be categorized into fields. A simple database about people, for example, might have fields for each person corresponding to their first name, last name, address, and phone number. The familiar telephone directory is an example of such a database. Likewise, a car dealership might keep a database listing the cars in its inventory, along with the model, year, and features for each car.

A more complex database includes fields such as previous purchases, family information, income level, interests and hobbies, and so on.

Typically, databases store both the static and the changeable (or variable) elements used in variable data printing. A VDP printed piece can pull information from one or several databases. Variable data software pulls these elements from the databases according to predefined rules to create pages and documents that contain different images, text, and even layouts.

Information in databases is  usually manually entered. In the case of a telephone directory, someone typed in all the information. In more complex databases, such as those used by enterprises to manage customer relations, the information is gathered in different places by various computer programs that feed data into a central database. The separate programs might cover different areas of customer contact, such as from the call center, off the Web site, through field service, and from sales activity.

There are many computer programs designed to handle databases. Familiar desktop programs include Filemaker Pro and Excel. In an Excel spreadsheet, each row corresponds to a record, and each column identifies a field. One column would contain all first names, for example, and another, all last names. More powerful enterprise systems include products from Oracle, Sybase, SAP, and Siebel. These store large amounts of information and cross-reference them in many ways. The vast majority of VDP projects, however, require nothing more than a spreadsheet.

There is no such thing as too much data when it comes to customers. You can’t target specific audiences without having the right information. It’s important to periodically review what types of information you are collecting to ensure you are capturing the information you need for current and future marketing strategies.

Print providers can simplify working with databases by extracting only the information needed and putting it into a spreadsheet. Extracting the relevant information is called “data mining.”

Mediascope can help you clean up and maintain your database by removing redundant or obsolete information, or extracting relevant information. Next week, we will talk more about ways of cleaning up data and adding to your database using information from list companies.