You spend millions to promote your company. At the same time, there's no shortage of complaints from customers who feel they've been strong-armed, cajoled or duped into purchasing a product.
Maybe even one of your products.
I took a little time off from researching my book, Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles and Shady Deals (Wiley) to ask marketing experts about the other side of selling â€" your side.
I wondered how you make that all-important conversion without also making customers feel as if they've been, you know -- scammed?
As it turns out, there's a lot of interesting research on the psychology of marketing, and much of it directly relates to customer service. In interviews with a cross-section of experts, one theme repeats itself: The best marketing practices inevitably lead to better service.
Make them happy. "Study customers," says Jay Rosenberg, creator of TQM, a personality-based marketing system that influences how consumers decide to buy. "Do everything possible to make them happy." Or, more to the point, make sure they stay happy by providing excellent service with the products they buy from you.
Mind the subconscious. Philip Graves, author of the book Consumer.ology, told me the unconscious mind is a powerful influencer. In order to be successful at marketing, he says, "Consider what an unconscious mind will make of your sales approach." Your customers are picking up a good vibe or a bad vibe before they've even seen a salesperson.
Drop the hyperbole. Chris Brisson, the co-founder of Call Loop, a mobile marketing product, says in an era of social media and word-of-mouth marketing you can't separate marketing from service. "Everything is social," he says. "Good or bad." His advice? Underpromise and overdeliver. Otherwise your marketing efforts will be for nothing.
Remember the basics. Retailers that create a connection not just through social media, but also promotions and contests, gain so-called "brain space" and the lure of proximity," says Kit Yarrow, who chairs Golden Gate University's psychology department. "The closer and more involved consumers feel, the more likely they are to buy."
Solve a problem. "Businesses should stop thinking about their products as products and instead think of them as need satisfiers or solutions to problems," says Dennis Rosen, a marketing professor at the University of Kansas. "What needs or problems do their customers have, and how can their products or services be presented as satisfying these needs or solving these problems?" And that extends to service, of course.
Serve a higher purpose. Connect emotionally and show how your brand will enrich customers' lives in some way, says Suzanne Kyba, Door Number 3's vice president for brand strategy. "Find out what's most important to them, reach them in a place that shows you support the same causes and share the same values, and make people feel good about your brand," she adds.
Know your customer. The best intelligence for sales always involves knowing what people are actually buying, according to Margaret King, the director for the Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis in Philadelphia, a think-tank that studies deep human behavior. "That's quite often different from what the industry or business thinks it is selling," she says. "It is difficult for business to separate their perspective from that of the buyer, but that's exactly what's required."
Do your research. Fact is, businesses who do their homework get the customers. And they also get customer service right. "The consumer drives the decision," says Michael McCall, a visiting scholar research fellow at Cornell University's hotel school. "Unfortunately, there is a current shortage of people with enough analytical sophistication to interpret this information correctly."
Aim carefully. "I believe businesses need to target very specific consumer types rather than trying to appeal to everyone," says Jeffrey Sumber, a psychotherapist and relationship counselor in New York. He likes McDonald's, which aimed campaigns at adults and young consumers very effectively. But increasingly, he says, the one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work.
Make them feel good about the purchase. That influences customers, according to Vassilis Dalakas, an associate professor of marketing at Cal State San Marcos. One cable TV company comes to mind. "They had a statement in the bill talking about how there have been rumors that the monthly payment would go up ten dollars, but that consumers should not worry because the rumors were not true and the great news was that the monthly payment would actually increase only two dollars," he says. "What a clever way to announce a two dollar increase on the monthly bill."
I'm intrigued by the connection between service and marketing. Now that I've had a chance to talk with the experts, I'm more convinced that you can't do one without the other.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.