Monday, October 05, 2009

Make Sure Seasonal Information season

On Friday, my son brought home a Weekly Reader (remember those?) with apples on the cover. I glanced at it, thought of our planned weekend trip to go apple picking—a New England tradition—and something clicked. I finally understood why the Weekly Reader had apples on the cover: In New England, apples ripen in the fall. Period.

As a kid Texas where I grew up, apples start ripening in early to mid-June and taper off by October. To put an apple on a Weekly Reader and expect most Texas kids to equate it with fall makes no sense. The only way we think of apples in the fall is on a stick covered with caramel. I'm sure somewhere in Texas, you can pick an apple in October, but not everywhere. Actually, most of the apples produced in the United States come from approximately 5 states—none of which is Texas.

When I saw my son's Weekly Reader, I felt for the first time that we were in the right place—that life converged for a change. I didn’t have to imagine crisp fall days, windbreakers, or crunchy colorful leaves. I could go outside and breathe it all in. In Texas, the leaves turn brown in August and fall off the trees. No range of color. No tourists leaf-peeping. Just finally cooler weather to take the bite out of the summer heat.

How do you handle communication with your customers? Do you provide your customers information that makes them feel like they are in the right place at the right time, like I felt when I saw the Weekly Reader this year? Do you provide them with information that serves their needs right now?

If you want to improve your customer communication, you might try these tips to make that happen:
  • Make sure any information on display in your business fits the needs of your clients in their situations. Don’t display “free” informational pamphlets from vendors if the pamphlets aren’t a match. On some level, it’s confusing.
  • Offer your clients a checklist that pertains to the needs of your client. One great (but over-the-top) example is the “new baby” and “wedding” checklists that most department stores offer. Of course, no one “needs” every single thing on those lists, so you could help your clients by paring down those lists to the truly essentials, and make sure you have in stock those essentials.
  • Offer a calendar that fits the seasons in your area. If you own a garden center, tell your clients when to plant bulbs, when to mulch, when to go after grubs. Tell them how. Don’t trust those “free” vendor pamphlets to do the job in your area. A local children’s museum sends out an email calendar every month of its events.
  • If you write a newsletter, make it your own newsletter. Use a newsletter as marketing tool that pertains to your business. Don’t fill it with “canned” content from the national repository of canned content.
  • If you are giving a talk, speak to your audience even if you have to change your focus on the spot. I once witnessed a talk about the perils of caffeine given to a room mostly full of men. The speaker started with the effects of caffeine on women’s reproductive systems. At the first mention of the word ovary, about half the room pulled out cell phones to check scores and the other half ran for the lobby—where, I might add, the free coffee was set up.
  • If you don’t have any ideas about what to communicate to your clients, but wish you could say something, say thank you. Use a well-designed square business card that has a note of thanks pre-printed on it.

Customers want to feel like your business fits their needs where their lives are now. They don’t need advice about how to mow the lawn when it’s really time for snow blower maintenance. Keep your clients coming back with a timely word of advice or the always-appreciated thank you.

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