Skip navigation

Sales & Marketing

November 2019 Previous month Next month

Call a major company, and you’d be surprised if a real person answered the phone. It’s more likely that you’ll first be told which button to press based on your question. Pressing that button opens a new menu of options, which leads to another branch, and so on.


christiann-koepke-dQyS2pMYtok-unsplash (1).jpg

For customers, the process can be frustrating but as you’re pushing your keypad, the company’s computer system is collecting information about you. By the time you finally get to speak to a customer service rep, you’ve already answered most of the questions that she would have needed to ask. She can read your selections then focus on the task that the computer can’t accomplish: identifying the details of the issue and solving your problem.


This process describes customer service automation in one of its most common and simple forms, and the benefit to the company is clear: the less time staff spend asking routine questions, the more time they’ll have for the more difficult problems. The company will become more efficient.


Call automation is just one part of a growing trend in both sales and customer service. That trend includes asking customers to select answers from a website FAQ instead of sending an email. It includes autoresponders whose content and sales recommendations are based on contact lists segmented by purchase, demographics or registration. It includes algorithms that make special offers based on previous choices. It even includes chatbots that turn up in the corners of websites and use text and natural language processing to create the illusion that the customer is talking to a real customer service rep.


All this artificial intelligence can be very effective.


When Smyths Toys, a toy company in the U.K. and Ireland, increased its online marketing, it found that it also generated significant volumes of abandoned shopping carts and customer service tickets. The company turned to an automation software firm to solve these problems. According to the software firm’s case study, the toy company focused first on tracking the customer journey on the website, and in particular on the checkout form. When customers contacted a customer care representative, that rep could see where the customer had been and precisely where they had got stuck. That quickly improved the response rate. When a customer used a promo code that expired before the transaction was complete, for example, the rep was able to quickly identify the problem and honor the discount.


The software was then able to use the data it collected to reach out to customers using chat, SMS, or voice based on their on-site experience. Because it was able to predict customer needs, a simple form of artificial intelligence, nearly two-thirds of the customers offered live chat messaging responded positively, reducing the number of support tickets.


It’s no wonder that a 2018 survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit found that 90 percent of respondents expected AI to improve growth, and 27 percent had already incorporated AI into key processes and services. Nearly half had at least one AI pilot project already under way.


Many of the automation systems made by firms like HubSpot, Salesforce and Genesys (which powered Smyth’s Toys’ software) are aimed at medium to large businesses. Service organizations generally use them to gather information, to automate routine customer issues such as resetting passwords and tracking orders, to route cases to the right agents, and to pre-fill fields for both agents and customers.


But complete systems aren’t cheap and their implementation requires re-training staff and making new technical demands.


Even small firms though can begin automating their processes themselves:


  • A FAQ page that predicts and answers common questions can be bought off the shelf.
  • Phone call branching software might irritate customers but its automated data collection improves efficiency and is easily available.
  • Customer tracking through website cookies can reveal bottlenecks, allowing the business to deliver better options and build a smoother path from recommendation through selection to checkout.
  • Contact list segmentation is a staple of email marketing and doesn’t require powerful, state-of-the-art technology to use. It just demands an understanding of customer demographics and a marketing team that can produce targeted content and track the results.


Even small firms have plenty of options to implement simple automation and AI-powered sales and customer service processes. But small firms also have an advantage: they can talk to customers directly. Automation works best when it improves a personal connection, not when it replaces it.


There still needs to be a friendly voice at the end of the phone.


About Joel Comm


Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 9.16.44 AM.png

As an Internet pioneer, Joel has been creating profitable websites, software, products and helping entrepreneurs succeed since 1995. He has been at the frontlines of live video online since 2008 and has a deep expertise in using tools such as Facebook Live, Periscope, Instagram or Snapchat to broadcast a clearly defined message to a receptive audience or leveraging the power of webinar and meeting technologies.


Joel is a New York Times best-selling author of 15 books, including “The AdSense Code,” “Click Here to Order: Stories from the World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs,” “KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays and Twitter Power 3.0.” He is Co-Host of The Bad Crypto Podcast one of the top crypto-related shows in the world and has spoken before thousands of people around the world and seeks to inspire, equip and entertain.


Web: or Twitter: @JoelComm

Read more from Joel Comm


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Joel Comm to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Joel Comm is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Joel Comm. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.

Holiday spending in 2019 is projected to increase 4.9% from 2018, according to The Holiday Shopping Intentions Survey, with the average U.S. adult spending $683 on holiday-related purchases.



A whopping 90% of those shoppers plan to visit physical stores to make purchases. How can you ensure they visit your store? Experiential marketing is the key.


What Is Experiential Marketing?


Unlike traditional advertising, such as print ads or TV commercials customers simply look at, experiential marketing invites them to experience and engage with your business in a memorable way. The goal is to make the customer feel part of your brand so they promote it to others and keep coming back to your store.


Experiential marketing has become a buzzword, with some retailers believing it requires immersive experiences like virtual reality technology. But that’s not true. In fact, in today’s increasingly tech-obsessed world, the way to stand out can be to offer a more hands-on experience.


The good news for small retailers: That means experiential marketing is something you can do, too.


Holiday Experiential Marketing Ideas


The easiest way to create experiential marketing during the holidays is the way retailers have always done it: Appeal to your customers’ five senses. Play holiday music, go crazy with holiday décor, use evocative scents and serve tasty treats like cookies or apple cider. Use touchable displays and fabrics to encourage customers to explore the merchandise.


Make your holiday experience unique and relevant to your brand; if you own a surf shop, play holiday surf music instead of classic carols, or plant a Christmas tree in the middle of a sand dune.


Here are some other experiential marketing ideas to get you started.


  • Give away samples: Nothing gets customers to engage with your products like letting them try the merchandise. You can hand out samples outside your store to attract a crowd. Include special offers for discounts if they buy the product.
  • Do a popup shop: A short-term or popup shop generates lots of excitement at any time of year and is a great experiential marketing tactic for the holidays. You could host a popup shop inside a complementary retail store or have a complementary business do the same in your store. Get more tips on how to run a popup shop.
  • Hold in-store events: When customers take the trouble to visit a physical store instead of doing their holiday shopping online, they want to have fun. In-store events such as live music, author book signings, art openings or fashion shows are memorable experiences that will get customers talking.
  • Offer educational classes: Give customers new ideas on how to use your products or make the most of your offerings. Art supply stores can hold painting classes, pet stores can teach customers dog grooming tips, housewares stores can host cooking classes—the ideas are endless.
  • Make it shareable: Unique and memorable events will spark social sharing. You can help it along by creating Instagrammable settings for customers to take pictures or fun moments they’ll want to remember.
  • Give it local flavor: Drawing on the local environment is one way to design an experience. For example, a camping supply store in the Pacific Northwest could use a rough-hewn, cabin-like interior, pine scents and cozy furnishings to craft a fitting setting for its wares.
  • Mix it up: Consumers are hungry for new experiences, so be sure to change your store’s experiential marketing on a regular basis. You can tie these changes to the season, to new product lines or to current events.


Whatever experiential marketing tactic you choose, be sure to promote it in advance, both in-store and online. Create a hashtag for your store and for any special event you’re holding. Use social media posts, email marketing and your website to build excitement about what’s going on at your store.


By making your in-store experience memorable and fun, you’ll boost your holiday sales, too.


About Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky Headshot.png

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.


Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.


Web: or Twitter: @Rieva

You can read more articles from Rieva Lesonsky by clicking here


Bank of America, N.A. engages with Rieva Lesonsky to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Rieva Lesonsky is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Rieva Lesonsky. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.


Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. ©2019 Bank of America Corporation

Filter Article

By tag: