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Author: Phil Wrzesinski

Phil Wrzesinski is a Retailer, Speaker, Author, Golfer, Singer/Songwriter, and Klutz Kid who enjoys anything to do with the water (including drinking it fermented with hops and barley), anything to do with helping local independent businesses thrive, and anything that sounds like fun.

Almost Right is Still Wrong

I was going to title this It Isn’t the Thought That Counts or maybe The Road to Retail Ruin is Paved With Good Intentions. You’ll see why momentarily.

Back in 1993 I had to do something incredibly hard. I had to put a dog down. It was our first dog, Sandy. She was a mixed-breed mutt with a little bull terrier in her. She looked a lot like Spuds McKenzie without the eye-patch. She got along great with our kitty, Shadow, but not so great with visitors. When she jumped through a plate glass window by the front door at my uncle who had stopped to visit, it was the beginning of the end.

My current pup Samantha

The last drive we took in my truck was incredibly emotional. I still get choked up thinking about it, but it was the only thing to do with a dog this aggressive and loyal only to us. To make matters worse, Clint Black was singing State of Mind on the radio.

My friend had a similar experience last week. Only in her case, it was a cat, not a dog. She’s not a big fan of dogs (understatement). She took the cat to the vet, said her goodbyes and walked out with tears.

A few days later she got a card in the mail from her veterinarian. It was a sympathy card they use for situations like this. The inside of the card had a printed message that was perfect for the situation. There was also a hand-written note from the vet expressing his sympathy.

Normally this would be one of my They-Get-It type posts where I praise the vet for going above and beyond. In fact, when she showed me the card, I got choked up inside and felt the genuine concern they were trying to share. But then again, being a dog lover, I didn’t notice the one glaring error that made it all wrong.

The front cover of the card was a collage of pictures of pets, all of them … you guessed it … dogs.

If you love dogs, you don’t notice that mistake when they send you this card for putting your cat down. When you dislike dogs, it becomes horribly offensive, like twisting the knife in a wound that still hasn’t fully healed.

I point this out not to scare you away from going the extra mile or doing something surprising and unexpected, but to show you that you have to plan those special moments out to make sure all the details are correct. Being almost right can sometimes be very wrong.

I would venture to guess that the staff at the vet office are probably all dog lovers, and were just as blind to the insensitivity of the card as I was initially. Having an impartial set of eyes might have helped. Understanding that there are more cats than dogs statistically speaking might also have helped.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you the best way to make sure you aren’t offending someone when you’re trying to go the extra mile.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Clint Black’s song talks about how a melody brings back a memory. Talk about a meta experience for me, since that is the song that brings back the memory and changes my state of mind.

Phone Calls That Lose Customers

Earlier this year I joined the many throngs of people who gave up their land line. No “home phone” for me. The one true regret I have is that I hate filling out all those forms where they ask for home, business, and cell numbers. Since I use my cellphone as my home phone and for business, which line should I fill out?

What I don’t miss is the extra bill for the land line, or having to check two voice mails each day.

Image result for on holdThe cellphone has one handy feature that I almost dread using. It tells me how long I have been on the phone, especially how long I have been on hold.

It is amazing to me that in this day and age any phone call would be put on hold for as long as some of my calls have been. I do understand that some tech support places just get a much higher volume of calls than they can find English speakers (and I use that term loosely) to answer the phones.

What I really don’t understand is how long I have been put on hold at retail stores. Not that I won’t shop online, but whenever possible I want to do my shopping in brick & mortar stores. I like going to really cool stores. I like seeing how others operate. I love when local stores are knocking it out of the park. I get some of my best post ideas from shopping trips.

I spend more time on my computer and cellphone looking up phone numbers of stores than looking up products. I know I’m not alone, either.

But yesterday I felt the kind of frustration that drives people to the Internet to do their shopping. I called a store with a simple request to see if they had an item in stock. I even had an item number for them.

First, I had to wade through a lengthy menu that met none of my needs, before I could push zero to talk to a real person.

Then the person who answered was either busy doing something else, in a hurry to do something else, or had just finished her thirteenth cup of coffee. She blurted out her scripted greeting so fast and brusque that I wasn’t even sure I had called the right place. I made my request. Twice, because she was too preoccupied with whatever was on her side of the line to listen to me the first time.

I said, “I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“What did you say?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“Okay, you need to hold.”

(silence)

I looked at my phone, browsed a little Facebook on my computer, looked back at my phone, and then decided to put it on speaker so that I could set it down.

At the 7:32 mark the hurried voice came back on. “What did you need?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock?”

“A what?”

“I have an item number.”

“What is it?”

I won’t bore you with the four times I had to read the number until she got it right. You can probably guess that script.

She put me back on hold. At the 16:42 mark, she came back on the phone. “What is the item?”

I gave her a description only to find out they didn’t have any. Seventeen minutes. I wonder if she went out for one more cup of coffee. I know I drank a Diet Mountain Dew (my “green tea” as I like to call it) during that time.

My best guess is that the person answering the phone in this store isn’t a trained phone operator or call center person. I am also guessing that this person doesn’t have a computer for looking things up near the phone she answered. I am further guessing that she is a manager of some sort and got called to put out several fires during my two lengthy holds. Or if not, she is a sales clerk who was taught (correctly) that the customer in front of you is more important than the customer on the phone. She just wasn’t taught what to do when you have both a customer in front of you and a customer on the phone.

If you find yourself, because of tight staffing or a busy moment in the store, in that latter situation here are some suggestions that would make callers like me less frustrated.

  1. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t have the time to be polite and get a customer’s information from them. It is always better for the call to go to a voice mail than for you to be hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone. If you are hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone, I will assume you are that way all the time.
  2. When you answer the phone, if you know you cannot solve my problem in less than a minute or two, get all the info you can, including my phone number, and promise to call me back. Make sure you or someone else does call me back ASAP (ten minutes or less is ideal). The customer in front of you will be patient enough if they hear you getting the info you need to get off the phone as quickly as possible.
  3. If you have to put me on hold, explain why and how long it might take.
  4. If you can talk to me, stay on the line. Don’t put me on hold while your really slow Windows 95 computer with dial-up looks something up. You put me at ease by staying on the line because the time goes faster, and I can’t look at the clock on my phone telling me how much time I’ve used.

Phone etiquette doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be taught. In a world where finding new customers is more expensive and difficult than ever, it can make all the difference to your bottom line when you know how to answer your phone.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Our phones had a built-in timer that started beeping as soon as a hold had lasted longer than a minute. It was an annoying beep, too, so there was extra incentive for my staff to get back to that customer ASAP.

Team Building Essentials Proven by Google

In 1990 I wrote a description of Team Building practices to help my facilitators understand the process when working with our groups. My program at YMCA Storer Camps utilized low and high ropes course initiatives and rock climbing to foster team building. The goal of every group was to get to a new level of Trust among the members. Sometimes we got there, sometimes we didn’t.

That’s me leading a rock climbing expedition to Rattlesnake Point in the summer of 1991.

The process, however, was the key. Even the groups who never got to a level of fully trusting each other did learn to communicate better, did learn to cooperate better, and saw the power of coordinated effort. Those are often seen as the Three C’s of Team Building.

I want to add a fourth C to that list, one that I think is most important …

Caring.

That was the differentiating characteristic between groups that made it to Trust and groups that did not. Only when a group started to put the needs of others ahead of their own did they show they cared. Only when a group looked at everyone’s emotional and physical safety as being the top concern did they show they cared.

Caring was the stepping stone to Trust.

You don’t get to Caring easily. It takes a whole bunch of other C’s. You have to first become Comfortable with each other. Then you have to learn to Communicate effectively. Then you have to learn how to Coordinate your efforts and Cooperate with each other. Even then, Caring is not a certainty.

When I was training my facilitators we often talked about the Transformation. Caring happened when the focus of the group shifted from “getting to the end of the task” to “getting everyone to the end of the task. Caring happened when inclusiveness was more important than successfully completing a task, even though inclusiveness was often the best way to complete a task

There are several ways to complete any task. The first is to have a powerful, talented individual who gets the group to the end line through sheer brute force of their abilities and/or leadership. The second is to have every member included, every member supported, and every member working together. The former disappears as soon as the individual leader is gone. The latter stays around and becomes the culture that continues success even as the parts change.

That’s why our true goal of every team building activity was to cross over the bridge from Cooperating to Caring. That leap was where the transformation occurred and changed the culture of the team. The step from Caring to Trust was much shorter and easier.

Of course, this was all theory from my own practices and observations in Team Building, until Google went about proving it.

Google did research of their teams to see if they could figure out why some teams were more successful than others. They found “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart”. Those five key dynamics in order of importance are:

  1. Psychological safety
  2. Dependability
  3. Structure and clarity
  4. Meaning
  5. Impact

Psychological Safety is Caring. It is making the group and the individuals within the group feel supported. A group of individuals who are feeling supported are more willing to think out of the box and take better risks, which leads to better performance in the long run. This was the most important dynamic for successful teams.

Dependability is Trust. In team building terms, we get to Trust after we get to Caring. But once we get there, we have the two most important dynamics found in Google’s study.

The other three items on the list match up nicely with Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive and his three keys to motivation. Pink says your team needs:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Structure and Clarity is the same as Autonomy in that you have given your team the guidelines to do what they need to do and have left them to do it within those guidelines. Micromanaging takes away that structure and clarity because everyone is second-guessing the rules, waiting for you to change them on the fly.

Meaning and Impact are the Purpose of what you are doing. Make sure your team always knows Why you do what you do and how that affects the customers and the company.

Google’s research is fascinating because it confirms exactly what I started teaching 27 years ago, and validates everything Daniel H. Pink wrote in his book about motivation.

So how do you get that kind of a team?

First, hire individuals who care about others, who show empathy. Caring is a tough character trait to teach, so look for it in your applicants.

Second, train them. Team building doesn’t have to be a corporate-retreat-three-day-weekend-activity. Team building can happen over the long run, fostered by the other C’s of being Comfortable, Communicating, Cooperating, and Coordinating. Work on those skills in your training. The better your team learns to communicate and cooperate, the more likely the leadership of those who care will take the team to the next level. You’ll see the transformation when it happens.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I still do Team Building for groups when you want to kickstart the process. I also do training for Managers, teaching them the basics of Team Building and how to foster short-term and long-term growth in their team. The cool thing is Google just confirmed that what I have been teaching creates the most effective, successful teams.

PPS What should you do about your team members who don’t care about others? Unless you have a job where they work completely on their own with no interaction with the team or the customers, fire them and start over. Seriously. They’ll never serve your customers the way your customers want to be served. They’ll never let the team get to its highest level of productivity. They’ll never grow your business. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Google.

Three Pictures, Three Smiles

It is soooo easy to bash stores and their poor customer service. I am almost afraid to go out any more because every encounter ends up becoming a post about what not to do.

For instance, I could tell you about tonight’s dinner when the waitress brought the check and then disappeared for ten minutes before returning to take my money.

Or I could talk about the manager who totally dressed down a cashier in front of me for doing something that the cashier never did.

Fortunately there have been positive stories like the clerk at Walmart who helped a new mom who had brought her toddler in to get his meds, only to have the little boy vomit all over himself, his mom, and everywhere. This clerk not only helped clean him up, she helped get mom and the boy into the restroom so that mom could clean up, and even went and picked out a new sleeper for the poor little kid so that he could have fresh clothes to go home in.

It not only reminded me that good people will rise above their surroundings*, it also reminded me that you can’t train “caring”, but you darn well better hire for it.

For today’s post I leave you with three pictures that made me smile.

Creative Display or Prank Customer?

Towel Display I found while shopping

It is highly likely that a customer having a little fun probably did this. But it stopped me dead in my tracks and made me actually laugh out loud. What would have been better is if they had Scrabbled the letters so that they spelled words both across and down. Here is the thing … You can do this yourself. You may or may not have the guts to spell out Bad Ass, but if you’re clever enough, you will surprise and delight at least a few observant folk.

When you do little things like this purposefully, these little attentions to detail remind customers that you pay attention to everything.

That builds trust. Trust creates loyalty.

Signs Sell!

Game Department Signage at Hall of Toys

It might be too small to read here, but this sign I found in the game department of Hall of Toys in Battle Creek, Michigan was quite clever. The sign reads …

Empire Building
Build, protect, and rule over a civilization,
agricultural empire, or business venture to
crush the competition and win.

This kind of signage not only makes the department seem more fun, it gives you a better idea of the types of games you’ll find. The more creative you are with your signage, the more likely customers will stop, browse, and buy. Signs are one area where creativity wins. Be useful first, but mix in some clever and creative to surprise and delight your fans.

Displays That Draw Attention

Animal Display at CR Toys

This came from another toy store. It falls into the category of Go Big or Go Home. Connie found a fun way to highlight the variety of animal-themed toys she sells in her Kearney, Nebraska store.

What I like about this display is the height. There is something fun at every level, something surprisingly delightful everywhere you turn. If part of your customer base is children, do what Walt Disney famously did the day before Disney Land opened. Get on your knees and look at it from their perspective. You see the world at different angles. Make sure you have something interesting in your displays from all angles

That’s your feel-good for today. Keep sending me the good, the bad, and the ugly.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS *I know it was a clerk rising above her surroundings, because while she was bending over backwards to help this poor mom, I watched several other clerks simply stand by and do nothing at all. Some even left the area so they wouldn’t get tasked with having to help clean up the mess. No, she wasn’t the manager, either. I could write a whole other post on what the manager was doing while all this was going on. I’ll save that cautionary tale for later.

All Shopping Should Be Fun!

This past Saturday was Neighborhood Toy Store Day (NTSD). Locally-owned, independent toy stores all around the country celebrated being local and special by having toy demonstrations and special events in their stores. Many of their top vendors supplied them with freebies and demos and raffle items. We always tied the day in with other special events such as a yo-yo contest, puppet show, and LEGO building contest.

You know that one of my Core Values is Having Fun so it should be no surprise that NTSD was one of my favorite days of the year!

The Jackson Symphony Orchestra “Disney Quartet” at our Disney Princess Day

I am a big fan of holding events in your store as a way to stand out from the crowd, as a way to show off your expertise, and as a way to surprise and delight your customers. Events are fun for your staff, fun for your customers, and fun for your bottom line.

First, events make you different. The big chains don’t do events anymore (most never did). Your local competitors might. But that’s okay. Anything that shines a positive light on indie retailers is a good thing.

Second, events show you off to be the expert. You get to demo your products. You get to bring in guests to WOW your crowd. You get to show off how much you know about your industry. Remember that Relational Customers are looking for the “expert they can trust.” Events are a great way to establish your expertise.

Third, your vendors love events and are often willing to help you make your event special. Your vendors have marketing budgets, too. They often spend that money on product samples, giveaways, door prizes, and raffle items for their retailers. Some have kits pre-made and ready to go. Some have promotional material available for the asking. Some have special discounts for event orders. Some will send you their staff to help out.

Those freebies and door prizes and raffle items are tools you can use to surprise and delight your customers.

Sure, a toy store lends itself to fun and play, but it really isn’t that hard to come up with events for any type of retailer that will ratchet up the fun factor and lead to increased traffic and sales.

Shopping is supposed to be fun. Your job is to make it that way.

Shoe stores: Bring in an Orthotist for special case fittings. Make a “terrain board” with different types of surfaces to show how different soles grip the ground. Have a shoe box stacking competition. Bring in sports stars to promote certain brands of tennis shoes (make it a charity event). Have a shoe polishing demonstration.

Clothing Stores: Have a fashion show. Bring in a fashion expert for personal fashion tips. Have a tailor on hand for same-day alterations. Have a t-shirt wearing contest (the more shirts you put on at once, the bigger prize you can win or the more names you get entered into a drawing, etc.) Have a Dress-the-Mannequin competition with teams, charities, and a public vote. Do a fashion photo shoot.

Grocery Stores: Have a tailgate in your parking lot with a big screen TV for the game. Host a BBQ contest. Teach cooking classes. Have a pie-eating contest. Have a fear-factor type event challenging people to eat crazy food concoctions or foreign foods that seem weird.

Music Stores: Have live concerts, open mic nights, jam sessions, open group lessons, instrument repair classes, historical instrument displays, Have a one-man-band competition to see who can play the most instruments at once.

Photography Stores: Have a photo art gallery. Offer classes. Have a glamour backdrop for “celebrity” photo shoots. Set up a temporary old-school photo development lab and show people how it used to be done. Make pin-hole cameras.

There are plenty of different ways you can use events to draw a crowd, set yourself up as the expert, and surprise and delight your customers. You are only limited by your team’s imagination. Be crazy. Go crazy. Do something crazy. It pays in both the short (immediate traffic and sales) and long term (loyal customers who see you as the expert they trust and who love to talk about you to their friends).

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Go big. The bigger, more outrageously fun you make your event, the better it will be. That’s one truth that will never change.

What is Worse Than That? The Lower Bar of Customer Service

This morning my bladder woke me up about twenty minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off. (TMI?) I am not a morning person so I was not pleased.

When something like this happens, you only have a few options. Tell your bladder you’ll get up when the alarm goes off and hope you don’t wet the bed. Get up and go, then try to get another fifteen minutes of sleep before the alarm sounds. Get up and start the day twenty minutes earlier than planned. (Or in my case, try to go back to sleep and instead write a blog post in your head.)

Can you think of anything worse for a non-morning person than having their bladder (or their dog or someone honking the horn) wake them up twenty minutes before they planned to get up?

How about going through the checkout with a cart full of groceries, have everything bagged and back in your cart, and then be told the cash register is frozen and you’ll have to go to the next register, and scan it all over again because they haven’t updated their hardware or software since Y2K, and then when you get to the other register the scanner isn’t working there either so you have to cart everything one more time and try a third register?

How about going to the big department store where you have been buying the same turtleneck for the past twenty-three years, getting to the department and finding the place trashed, having to sift through tons of shirts tossed everywhere until you finally find one in your size, going up to the checkout to find there are only two cashiers in a store of 150,000 square feet, and after waiting twenty minutes in line you learn that the shirts are an extra 30% off today only (if you can find another one in that mess in your size by yourself and are willing to wait another 30 minutes to checkout)?

How about reading an ad in Sunday’s paper, seeing an item you have been wanting for a while, and it is now on sale at a price you can afford, heading to the store that afternoon only to find your store never had any in stock in the first place?

How about walking into a store about 20 minutes before closing time and being told by the greeter (and I use that term loosely), “We’re closing soon so if you have a big purchase that is going to be a hassle you need to do it right away,”?

How about holding an item in your hand that is the right size, wanting a second one, and being told by a sales clerk too lazy to look something up, “They don’t make it in that size,”?

How about trying on a shirt, asking for a new size, and when the clerk comes back with the new size, asking if they have any more styles in that size and being told, “I don’t know,” before the clerk walks away never to return?

How about ordering a food item at a fast food restaurant and being told that it is cheaper to get a bunch of other items you don’t want with that item, so that you end up wasting food just to save money?

These are just a handful of situations that cropped up for me in the past few days. I asked the audience at the MAEDA presentation if any of them gave poor customer service, just treated their customers like crap. Not one person raised their hands. Then I asked them if anyone had received poor customer service in the past two weeks. Most every hand went up.

I tell you this to point out what is happening in terms of customer service and how that will affect you and your business.

The good news is that poor customer service is so rampant that it lowers the bar of expectation and makes the service you are striving to give look amazingly good.

The bad news is that as the bar of expectation gets lowered, so does the tolerance of the general public for getting worse and worse service. If you get complacent in the service you offer, you let the other guys win. You let them set the bar. Your slightly better service will seem outdated and expensive.

If you ramp up your service to such an amazingly high level that you surprise and delight customers at every turn, then you reset the bar in your favor and expose your competitors for the non-caring companies that they are.

The minimum would be to …

  • Make sure you have ample supply of anything you advertise on sale.
  • Make sure you have proper signage on the displays of items on sale explaining the deal.
  • Make sure you keep your merchandise neat and tidy and sorted and easy to find.
  • Make sure your hardware and software is up to date and functioning properly everywhere.
  • Make sure you have enough staff to make the shopping experience fun and easy.
  • Make sure your staff are trained to never say, “No.”

If you do the minimum, you’ll get the minimum. The maximum, however, has exponential returns.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, all of those experiences happened in major chain stores, but not all big box discounters. A couple happened in a store that has had a few rounds of closures. A couple happened in stores that should know better. I would like to say that I had some surprise and delight moments, too. Unfortunately, the only surprise was that they didn’t suck as much as I expected. Not exactly reassuring.

PPS Yeah, that’s how my brain works at 5:41am.

How a Simple Coat Check Will Win the Holiday Shoppers

Whoever had the idea of hosting the International Toy Fair in New York City every February ought to be shot! Oh, sure, NYC is a FABULOUS city to visit. I love going there! But February??? Last year the temps were in the 60’s. Unfortunately I missed last year. I was there for 56-below windchill … and twelve inches of snow (three times!) … and rain … and sleet … and slush.

I rarely wear my trench coat around Jackson, but walking the streets of New York in February makes a trench coat a wonderful garment to own.

Fortunately, New York City restaurants are ready for February weather. Every single place I went for dinner in my several visits to the city had a coat check near the front door. It makes sense, too. Space is a premium. Having your coats at the table would not only be a nuisance to manage in your tight confines, it would be in the way of the wait staff and other patrons passing between the shoe-horned tables. Coat checks in a NYC restaurant are a must.

Another place where coat checks would make perfect sense is every retailer north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

My son, walking customers to their cars on a rainy Christmas Eve – another way to show your customers you care!

If your customer is wearing her heavy coat to avoid the chilly air while making her holiday rounds, when she steps into your store she has three options:

  • Continue wearing her coat and hope you have the thermostat set to 60 (which would cause your staff to revolt).
  • Take off her coat and carry it around, keeping her arms occupied and unable to pick up as many items as you would hope.
  • Leave her coat in the car and brave the chilly walk to your front door just to have the convenience of shopping coat-free.

She really has to love your store for that last one to happen, so we’ll consider that person an evangelist. But the other two options are killers for your sales. They either limit her time in the store before she overheats, or limit the amount of items she can juggle up to the register.

Your options are simple …

Either have a personal shopper for everyone that comes through your door so that she can carry her coat while you carry her stuff, or have a coat check to make her shopping more comfortable. Not everyone will take you up on it, but the ripple effect will be enormous.

First, you’re gonna stand out in the crowd. How many retailers care so much about their customers that they would even think to offer a coat check? Even the customers who don’t check their coats will be impressed and may even talk about you to their friends.

Second, you’re gonna get higher tickets. Paco Underhill and anyone who has ever studied retail knows that the longer someone stays in your store the more they are likely to buy. Both Rick Segal and Bob Negan are of the selling mindset that you “show until they say no.”

This is the season to win the hearts of your customers. You don’t do that with sales and discounts. The transactional customers are only loyal to the price. Your relational customers, however, will recognize your caring, and notice that you put their needs above your own. That wins trust. That wins the heart.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It is all about exceeding your customers’ expectations to Surprise and Delight them. Whenever you come up with an amazing idea and someone says, “but no retailer ever does that,” you need to run with it and be the first.

PPS No, we didn’t have a coat check at Toy House. We should have had one, but I didn’t get this idea until our last season. Fortunately for us, we had shopping carts and aisles wide enough to handle them. Most customers put their coats in their carts and resumed shopping. Sometimes, especially in our baby department, they would leave their coats at the desk while they studied crib sets and furniture options. Don’t wait until it is too late to take amazing care of your customers.

More Advertising vs Better Customer Service

Today I spoke to the Marshall Area Economic Development Authority (MAEDA) about Raising the Bar on Customer Service. This is one of my favorite talks because it is filled with ideas you can use right away to start making a difference for your customers and raising the level of their delight to the point that your customers start talking about you.

Isn’t that the true goal of any business—to give your customer such an amazing experience that she can’t wait to tell someone, can’t wait to come back, can’t wait to bring her friends with her?

If that isn’t your Customer Service goal, it should be. It is the only goal that is sustainable long term.

This is me helping Kingman Museum “Raise the Bar”

I spoke to this same group last May about Making Your Ads More Effective, the presentation based on my newest book coming out (soon!) That is another of my favorite topics because it shakes to the core any mistaken beliefs you might have had about advertising, and teaches you how to get people to notice your ads, remember your ads, and act on your ads.

Advertising and Customer Service are two areas where you can stand out the most compared to your competition. But when resources are limited, which should get the majority of your focus?

The dream for any retailer is to have exclusive, high-demand product that no one else sells. You have that and all you have to do is run an ad and start printing money. Unfortunately, the Internet killed that dream for the vast majority of retail. It is highly likely that you won’t have an exclusive on your merchandise ever again, and you likely won’t have the best price in town (not that you should ever want to be the lowest price in town).

The second dream for any retailer is the falsehood perpetuated by the movie Field of Dreams.

If you build it, they won’t come.

You have to build it, talk about it (advertising), and make it spectacular (customer service).

  1. Build it
  2. Talk about it
  3. Make it spectacular

That’s the order the customers see.

But for you, the order should really be …

  1. Build it
  2. Make it spectacular
  3. Talk about it

When you think in those terms, that third element—the talking about it—could be done by you, or better yet, by your customers.

  1. Build it
  2. Make it spectacular
  3. Get your customers to talk about it

Before you spend another dime on advertising, spend the next dime on training your team.

Spend the next dime on figuring out new ways to surprise and delight your customers. The best businesses are fueled by a high level of repeat and referral customers. Repeat business comes from great customer service. Referrals come from surprisingly delightful WOW customer service. Once you have that, then you can spend some money telling the world what you built. Then they will come.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes it is the slower way to build your business, but it is also the stronger way to build it because the customers you win are much more loyal than the customers you buy. Right now you have the advantage of the larger crowds of shoppers for the holiday season to win more customers. Don’t miss this opportunity. You could also think about it in reverse. What happens if you spend a lot of money to attract large crowds before you make it spectacular? They won’t be back, but your advertising money will be down the drain. You’ll have to spend more money to attract more first-timers.

PPS Yes, I do one-on-one business coaching to help you find where you can raise the bar on your customer service. Yes, I do presentations to large groups of businesses like the wonderful crowd today. Yes, I do half-day and full-day workshops that not only talk about the broader picture, but also include in-depth ways to find and train the kind of staff that can consistently offer the experiences that people talk about to their friends. Give me a call or send me an email. Scott Fleming, the MAEDA director said, “I was sad to see your last slide. I really didn’t want this presentation to end.”

What the Kids Are Learning

Last night my son wanted to read to me a paper he had written for Eleventh Grade Honors English. The paper was a review of an essay they had read. In Ian’s paper he had to show examples of the different styles of persuasion the author had used in his essay.

The more Ian read, the more interested I became. In Eleventh Grade Honors English they teach three different types of persuasive writing:

  • Emotional Connection
  • Empathy
  • Sympathy

It seems that most advertisers have forgotten what they learned in 11th grade.

Listen to the radio today. Tell me how many local businesses try to make an emotional connection with you. Heck, watch TV and tell me how many national retailers are trying to make an emotional connection with you. That first answer is probably zero, and the second answer isn’t much higher.

Instead they try to entertain you and/or give you facts, thinking that will persuade you.

Have you ever heard or seen an advertisement that made you say, “Wow, this company totally gets me!”?

Yet, what would it mean to your business if your advertising connected with people that way? Empathy is the ability to not only understand your customer, but also show that you feel the same way she feels. Do your advertisements show that? If not, they likely aren’t persuasive enough.

Even if all you can do is show that you understand how people feel and can help them get through that feeling (sympathy), you have a chance to move the needle.

Anything short of that and you won’t accomplish what advertising is supposed to do. You won’t persuade anyone. They are teaching this in 11th grade. Maybe we all need a refresher course.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Writing emotional ads that connect is not easy, nor does it feel normal—mainly because it doesn’t sound like everyone else out there. Then again, do you want to sound like everyone else out there? Do you want to persuade? This ad was our sole Christmas ad in 2005 and it lead to our best Christmas season ever. We ran it again in 2007 and smashed all previous records. (Note that it doesn’t give our hours, our location, our services, or anything really pertinent.)

He left Detroit 9am Christmas Eve.  Some store somewhere had to have the one toy his sweet little six-year old wanted.  Six stores…seven hours later, he stood, travel-weary, across the counter from me.  “I suppose you don’t have any Simon games either.”  As I handed over the last of our Simon games he smiled and said, “God Bless You!”  Believe me, He already has.  Merry Christmas from the Toy House in Downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

Here is another ad that moved the needle …

Squealing rubber, crunching metal, breaking glass. Sheila’s baby daughter, Livvy, was in the back seat. The next day she called to thank me for installing the car seat that saved Livvy’s life. This is Phil Wrzesinski from the Toy House. Since that day my staff and I have installed over two thousand car seats to keep kids like Livvy safe and give parents and grandparents peace of mind. It’s just something we believe in. I guess you can call that the Toy House Way.

Online Advertising: What They Say, What You Get

I have a bad habit. I like to play games in my iPad right before going to bed. I know I’m not supposed to have screen time before bed, but it settles me down and helps me clear my mind. My favorite game to play is Free Cell. It is a form of solitaire and extremely addicting. I’m on level 408. It takes about ten wins to get to the next level, so you can get an idea how often I play.

I’m also kinda stingy. It’s already expensive enough that I use my iPad primarily for playing Free Cell and as my alarm clock. I refuse to pay to have ad-free game play while playing Free Cell. So between every game I wait for the ad to pop up and then close it as soon as I can. Usually it is just an ad for another game they think I would like. Every now and then I get some annoying video ads—reason #1 why I keep the volume off.

Last night I got something new. I got a local ad. It was for one of our candidates for Mayor. Nice shot of him smiling at the camera and talking about something. (I had the volume off so I don’t know what he said, but I’ve seen his campaign material and known him long enough to have an idea.)

Here’s the problem …

I got his ad between every game I played last night. Every. Single. Game. I played about three-and-a-half levels. Do the math.

Please vote!

Worse yet, I don’t live in the city. I don’t get to vote for or against him regardless of how many times his video played.

I will definitely ask him how much he spent on that ad. I want to know what they told him and sold him, because I doubt he got his actual money’s worth.

Therein lies the rub with online advertising. It is a numbers game, they tell you. It is a cheap way to reach a lot of people, they tell you. It reaches all the right people, they tell you. I’ve been pitched by online advertising salespeople many times before. I know the script.

Yet here was a guy running for Mayor on a tight budget in a small city. He got that pitch and because he is a politician, not a business person, he fell for it. And for his money, he got his ad sent to one guy thirty-five times who doesn’t live in the city, can’t vote for him, and didn’t even have the volume on to hear what he had to say.

Imagine how many more people like me also were bombarded by his ad. If I would have had the volume on, I might have liked his pitch the first three or four times I heard it, but by version #35, I might have switched sides for the seventh time. Then again, I don’t get to vote tomorrow for or against him.

They tell you online advertising is cheap because it is targeted directly at the people you want to reach. False. He didn’t want to reach me.

They tell you online advertising is cheap because you can reach tons of people for a fraction of the price. False. You can’t control how many times the same person sees your ad, versus new people seeing your ad. Heck, last spring CNBC reported that 20% or $16.4 billion dollars of online advertising is wasted due to fraud, reaching fake people (probably with fake news).

They tell you online advertising is where the millennials are. False. Go ask your millennial friends how many times they have purposefully clicked an online ad. You don’t have to ask, because you already know.

Proctor & Gamble just cut $140 million from their online advertising budget because they realized how ineffective it was.

My buddy Tim Miles shared this link with me about the top ten problems with online advertising.

I’m telling you this now, because in the next few weeks you’re going to panic, just like every retailer does this time of year. You’re going to be afraid that you haven’t done enough to advertise your business. You’re going to get pitched by someone selling online advertising as cheap, targeted, and effective. You’ll be intrigued, partly because of your panic, partly because it is the shiny, new bauble in the advertising world. Then you’re going to spend like a drunk in Vegas on a gamble where the odds are not in your favor.

Think of this blog as your black coffee and aspirin to the rescue.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Want to reach a bunch of targeted people online incredibly cheaply and effectively? Take pictures or quick videos of your products and say something completely memorable and shareworthy about the products. Post those daily (at the least) on all your social media platforms and share them on your own personal pages. You won’t reach everyone, but the more shareworthy you make it, the more people will share it with their friends, which is exactly what you want to happen. Best of all, it is free! (It is all about “shares” not “likes” so you have to say things people want to pass on.)

PPS Enjoy it while you can, however. Facebook is experimenting with a separate feed for friends and for business pages, which will bury your posts completely unless you pay FB. I’m following this and will report back when I know more.