Putting The "Custom" In Customer Service
When it comes to customer service, fast and friendly aren’t always enough by themselves anymore. Empowered by the Internet, today’s customers want to personalize their shopping experience; whether they’re buying candy or visiting a department store. Smart marketers like Mars and Target recognize this, which is why they’ve introduced customized M&Ms and do-it-yourself ad circulars. Carwash operators who use technology to offer customers more personalized choices are more likely to grow in the coming era when mass marketing gives way to “mass customization.”
Much like Target who recently launched do-it-yourself ad circulars, carwash operators who use computerized tools to personalize their communications with customers will be in a better position to take advantage of the growth opportunities created by this trend.
It’s “back to the future” for many businesses and their customers. Generations ago, almost all of the things that consumers purchased were custom made. Then visionaries like Henry Ford came along and applied new technologies to usher in an era of mass production, which quickly led to mass marketing. Back then, success meant formularizing a product or service so it could be produced in the largest possible volume at the lowest possible cost. Consumers accepted the mass produced goods and services because they were reliable and affordable – plus few other choices were available.
Then along came the Internet and digital technology. Consumers who could post their own videos on YouTube, host pages on Facebook and access a world of information online demanded the ability to customize their choices when they shopped. At the same time, new technology made it more practical for businesses to personalize their offerings and their marketing messages; while at the same time making it easier for consumers to browse through a myriad of customized options on websites.
Making Sure The Shoe Fits
Mars began selling customized M&Ms in 2003. The candies, which feature images of customers and specialized colors, were an instant hit. The customized M&Ms sell for 50% more per pound than the regular candy.
Mass Customization theorists like Pine aren’t suggesting that this trend will replace mass production or mass marketing. Cars, flat panel TVs and shoes will still be turned out in voluminous quantities at large factories, and supported by massive advertising campaigns; but customization will affect how even these products are sold. For example, this summer Ford Motor Company announced that it would begin using WiFi transmitters to load customized phone and entertainment features into certain vehicles. The Wall Street Journal described Ford’s move as “just the start of the customization possibilities in cars.”
Reebok provides another good example of customization in action. The athletic shoe company revitalized its brand by giving consumers the power to create their own sneakers with customized colors and personal photos. The user-friendly customization service is available on Reebok’s website or on self-serve kiosks at the company’s stores. Customers who use the service spend an average of 28 minutes on Reebok’s website and between $10 and $20 more per purchase than those buying shoes off the shelf.
As the Reebok experience illustrates, customization tends to lead to higher ticket sales. Mars began selling customized M&Ms on a dedicated website in 2003. The candies, which feature images of customers and specialized colors, were an instant hit. The customized M&Ms sell for 50% more per pound than the regular candy.
Personalize Your Options With SiteWatch
The SiteWatch Xpress Pay Terminal® (XPT®) can help you offer customers more personalized options at the self-pay station. The Transaction Flow feature in the XPT organizes the sales process in a logical fashion, making it easier and faster for customers to navigate through a wider variety of options.
Another feature in the XPT allows you to show special screens to different groups of customers, such as monthly pass holder prepaid card holders, and loyalty club members. You can personalize your offerings to these customers by showing them menu options that aren’t available to other customers.
Customer Controlled Advertising
My Target Weekly is a new program that allows customers to create their own weekly ad circulars and email alerts, focusing on the products, brands and categories that interest them, while eliminating other offerings.
Mass customization isn’t just changing the way companies offer goods and services; it’s also affecting how these businesses communicate with their customers. In an earlier era of “any-color-they-want-as-long-as-it’s-black” mass production, when consumers had few choices, the primary purpose of marketing was to persuade customers. Today, with consumers more informed and empowered than ever, the object of smart marketing is to engage customers.
Engaging rather than persuading customers doesn’t only mean offering them more customized choices, it also means personalizing your advertising and marketing message. In August of this year, Target put this theory into practice by launching My Target Weekly, a program that allows customers to create their own weekly ad circulars and email alerts, focusing on the products, brands and categories that interest them, while eliminating other offerings from the ads and alerts they receive.
Earlier this year, Sam’s Club launched eValues, a program that targets specific offers to individual customers based on their previous purchases and allows them to download customized coupons from the company’s website, in-store kiosks and their mobile phones. Early reports from the company indicate that over 20% of eligible customers are redeeming these personalized coupon offers.
Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, pioneered the concept of customizing marketing messages to individual customers. Over 90% of the coupon mailings that chain now sends out are targeted to individual customers based on their purchase histories. So someone who regularly purchases health food products receives coupon offers on items like soy milk and granola bars, rather than potato chips.
By engaging customers with messages that are meaningful to them, Kroger has seen a dramatic increase in the effectiveness of its advertising. Between 2005 and 2009, the redemption rate for manufacturer’s coupons at the chain have risen from 2% to 12%, while the rate for Kroger’s own coupons has skyrocketed from 2% to 24%. Last year, an amazing 52.6% of households that received Kroger’s targeted mailings redeemed at least one coupon.
The Digital Link
Engaging a large and diverse group of customers with personalized messages would be all but impossible to do without digital technology. Target can allow millions of customers to create their own ad circulars, only by making this option available to them through the chain’s website and Facebook page. The giant retailer would not be able to offer its customers this level of customization if it was dealing with traditional printed circulars.
The Internet not only gives Target the means of engaging customers with one-on-one marketing messages, it also makes it financially practical to deliver customized circulars to each of those customers. Even for a company of Target’s size, the cost of printing individualized circulars for 1.6 million Facebook fans would be prohibitive.
SiteWatch Website Design and Website Connect™ can put the power of the Internet to work for you in developing a customized marketing program.
SiteWatch Website Design and Website Connect™ can put the power of the Internet to work for you in developing a customized marketing program. For example, you can use your website to build email lists of different customers based on the types of services they’re interested in; so prepaid card users receive one type of eblast, monthly pass holders another, and other customers a third.
At the same time, you can also offer customers a wider choice of wash options that are available only online. This would allow customers to find wash packages that match their exact needs more precisely, yet at the same time it wouldn’t slow down the sales process at your site. Customers would simply purchase their “customized” options online using SiteWatch Website Connect, print out a barcode and have it read automatically by the built-in reader in the Xpress Pay Terminal. Of course, you can also give customers the option of purchasing prepaid cards or FastPass® Tags that are loaded with the customized packages that they purchased online.
Investing in personalizing your sales and marketing message this way should reap real dividends for your carwash in the Mass Customization age. In a survey of 400,000 US shoppers released in January, people said they were more likely to patronize a business that offered them personalized choices and communicated with them via social media.
By its very nature, customization promises to forge unique bonds between your wash and its customers. After all, most customers will compare prices and services from time to time, but personalized connections tend to be beyond the reaches of comparison shopping, making them the most powerful form of loyalty.
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