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Case Study: Taking Care of the Customer Science Safari Style

My buddy, Sean, owns a toy store in Cary, North Carolina called Science Safari. I am sharing his story as he posted it on FB …

Image result for science safari north carolina“Weird occurrence… It’s happened twice in the last week. I certainly don’t mind, but I’ve never seen it in 30 years of retail nor ever thought of doing it as a parent…

“I had two people print up their own (unauthorized/counterfeit) Science Safari Gift Certificates and give them to their child. One for a class and one for $10 from the Tooth Fairy (side note, what kind of Tooth Fairy hands out $10 notes?!?). 

“The parents made good on them, giving me the money on the sly.

“Strange, but I’ll take your money.”

Yes, two different parents had the idea to print up unauthorized gift certificates to his store and give them to their kids. What would your first thought be if a customer handed you an unauthorized gift certificate?

Then the parents paid him on the sly for those “gift certificates” and the kids got to use them in the store.

Three thoughts come to mind.

First, Sean should be honored that parents, when trying to come up with a cool last-minute gift, thought of his store first. That’s when you know you’re already playing the customer service game right.

Second, here are a couple of parents who need to work on their planning ahead skills.

Third, and most importantly, as strange as this occurrence was, Sean and his team didn’t hesitate one second to allow it to happen. “Strange, but I’ll take your money.” Sean served those customers the way they wanted to be served. Sean made those last-second-forgot-to-plan-ahead customers look like heroes to their kids. Sean said, “Yeah, we’ll take care of you.”

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.”

That, my friends, is what winning the customer service game looks like.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Making your customers feel like, look like, or be the hero is always the right thing to do. Always.

PPS If you live anywhere near Cary, NC, put Science Safari on your radar. It is definitely a store worth visiting.

They Thought They Had Helped

I went into a sporting goods store looking for a walking stick. Unlike most guys, I’m not afraid to ask for help in a retail store. I approached the first clerk I saw and asked, “Do you have any walking sticks?”

“I don’t know. Let me ask someone …
She doesn’t know, either. If we did they would be in camping.”

Then the clerk walked away, thinking she had been incredibly helpful.

Fortunately for me, I had been in this store before and knew where the camping section was. Unfortunately for me, I was looking for a tall, skinny item, not thinking that walking sticks telescope down to almost nothing. A quick walk down the camping aisle proved fruitless, so I asked another clerk in the area about walking sticks.

“Did you see any in the camping aisle?”

“No.”

“Then we must be sold out. Sorry.”

Then the clerk walked away thinking he had been helpful.

Both clerks engaged with me. Both answered my questions. Both walked away thinking they had given me good customer service. I was about to walk out empty-handed, but on my return trip down the camping aisle, I happened to notice a small, skinny box down in the corner. Upon closer inspection, they had three different types of walking sticks in stock on their shelves, just not in the packaging I was expecting.

I got my walking stick, no help from the clerks who thought they were helping me.

I tell you this as a cautionary tale. If your staff training consists of teaching your staff to engage with customers and answer their questions, you are likely losing sales. The two clerks both did that for me, but neither solved my problem. If instead of answering questions, they were taught to solve my problem, the interaction would have been different.

“She doesn’t know either. If we had any, they would be in camping. Let me walk you over to camping and help you look.”
“She doesn’t know either. Let me look it up on the computer and see what it says.”
“She doesn’t know either. Let me ask the buyer for camping.”
“She doesn’t know either. Let me call another store to see if they have any.”

Notice that neither of the clerks asked me any questions to clarify what I wanted or why I wanted it. Neither offered to walk over and look with me. Neither offered to take my name and call me when they got more walking sticks in. Neither suggested another store where I might find the item I needed. Neither offered to look in their system to see if they even sold walking sticks. Yet they both engaged with me and answered my questions. They walked away thinking they had helped.

Don’t assume your customers know what they are looking for. Don’t assume your customers know where to look. Don’t assume just because you answered a question, you’ve offered any level of service. It isn’t great customer service until the customer’s reason for coming in has been fully resolved.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We kept an Internet-wired computer up front because sometimes customers would ask for items by a different name than we knew or a different version of a product we carried. A quick search on Google showed us what the customer wanted and helped us either find it or offer an alternative solution.

PPS Every customer that walks through your door did so for a reason. Your staff’s job is to connect and engage with that customer well enough that they tell you their reason and ask for assistance. When you take on the mindset of solving their problems, resolving their issues, then you are on your way to great customer service.

The Sweetest Sound is Your Name

Have you ever had that “Cheers!” moment where you walked into a place and everyone shouted your name? I’ve been blessed to have it happen to me several times. It never gets old. Never. In fact, it is one of the better feelings on this planet. I know when I hear my name shouted like that, I’m among friends. I know when I hear my name shouted like that, I’m where I am wanted and where I belong. It is one of the sweetest sounds you’ll ever hear.

Heck, just being greeted by name by a single voice when I walk through a door is pretty darn good. As I mentioned in a previous post, we are creatures of habit and familiarity. If you know me by name, then we’ve reached a certain level of comfort and familiarity.

The same can be said of your customers.

Image result for name tagThere are many consultants out there with data-mining programs to find out as much information about your customers as possible so that you can fulfill their every need. While all that info is valuable, the one piece of info with the greatest amount of value is her name.

Without her name, you can’t create the kind of relationship that turns her from a customer into an evangelist for the store. Without her name, you can’t build the level of trust that turns her into a lifelong fan of your store. All the other data is useless if you don’t first know her name. (All the other data is useless if you can’t make an emotional connection with her, but that’s a post for another day.)

There are many ways to learn a customer’s name. You can sign her up for your email list. You can look at her credit card when she is paying (which you should be doing anyway). You can simply ask her.

The best way is through conversation. Here is a simple structure you can teach to your staff if they struggle to get conversations going with customers.

  • Compliment her.
  • Ask her questions related to the compliment.
  • Get her to talk about herself or her kids (her favorite subjects).
  • Share a little about yourself that relates to what she said.
  • Introduce yourself – more often than not she will reciprocate.
  • Use her name repeatedly throughout the rest of your interaction to help you remember it.

Not only do you get her name, you get her talking. You start building the relationship that leads to familiarity and trust. The best sales people do this instinctively. Fortunately, it can be taught to everyone else. Teach your staff and have them practice on each other. The other benefit is that as your staff gets better at learning names, their own confidence grows and they get better at serving your customers, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It might seem a little phony at first. Not everyone is a natural conversationalist. But if you want to be a good salesperson, it is a skill you need to learn. Plus, it isn’t as phony as you think. You’re trying to build a relationship in a short window of time. This is just speed dating in a retail setting.

Some Things Change, Some Things Shouldn’t

I saved one item from the Toy House when we closed. One item that had endured the entire 67 years of our existence. One item that had served one single purpose, unchanging, for the store’s entire life. It was the metal box we used to hold our layaway cards. If you ever had a layaway at Toy House, your name was on a card in that box.

The cards changed over the years. We updated them with different logos. We went to duplicate paper when our printers changed. We added services to our layaway program. We even made a major point-of-sale software provider change the way their programming did layaway so that it matched our level of service.

The layaway program changed, but the box remained the same.

Any business that has been around ten or more years knows how drastically business can change. For most retailers, your product changes every year, sometimes several times a year. Your marketing changes as your market changes. Employees come and go. Customers come and go.

But change is scary. That is why we cling to the known. We hold onto what we remember. We defend the status quo. We use marketing that worked before even if it isn’t working now. We sell products long past their peak. We hold onto employees long past their usefulness.

The layaway box reminds me of one simple truth. When something you are doing is no longer productive, you need to change it. The box did its job quietly, efficiently, and unassuming. The layaway program, however, went through many changes to accommodate the needs of the customers.

Here is your summary of what should change in your store …

Never Change: Your Core Values, Putting Your Customer First

Don’t Change Now: Anything that is productive and efficient

Change Now: Everything else

Change doesn’t have to be major. Sometimes you just need a little tweak here or there to raise the productivity and efficiency of a program or policy or employee. Paint a wall. Try a new product line. Change the terms of a policy. Move a display or two. Upgrade the phone system. Reprint signs. Reword your phone message. Add a new training program.

Notice also that I didn’t say eliminate. Just like you, your customers like what is familiar and comfortable. Make your changes simple, customer-centric, and obviously better for everyone. It will still feel familiar and comfortable, only better and more productive. As credit cards became more common, our layaway program became less used. We tweaked it to fit the needs of those who still loved it, without getting rid of it entirely.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The accompanying photo was taken in 1957 at the original store on First Street. That is my grandfather, Phil Conley, who founded Toy House. The layaway box is in the foreground and pretty full. Grandpa taught me a lot about Core Values and Putting Your Customer First.

PPS I don’t know what I am going to do with that box quite yet. I’m open to suggestions.

Give Them What They Want

Tonight I’m doing a repeat performance of last week’s Campfire Sing-Along at The Poison Frog Brewery. Last week I brought songbooks with the lyrics to forty-three songs from the likes of John Denver, The Eagles, Dobie Gray, Indigo Girls, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Beatles, Garth Brooks, and more. The evening went like this … Pick a song you want to sing and I’ll play it while we all sing it. Seemed simple enough, right?

June 23, 2017 behind The Poison Frog Brewery

Immediately people started asking for songs not on the list. They weren’t bad requests. I love Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. But they weren’t songs on the list or in the songbook with all the words. Still, people asked.

You know me. I’m all about making the customer happy. I’ve added a few of those requested songs to the list for tonight. I’ve added a few more songs as well.

What does that have to do with retail?

Every single retailer in America thinks they have a great selection of products just as much as I thought I had a great selection of songs. But there are products your customers come in asking for by name that you don’t have. There could be a good reason why you don’t have those products. Maybe you can’t get them. Maybe you don’t like the profit margins. Maybe you consider those products inferior to what you carry.

Keep in mind, however, if a customer stops in and asks if you have something, that means the customer thought of you as a place that would sell that product.

If your customers are constantly asking for certain items, maybe you need to reconsider carrying them. Or at the very least have a far better answer than either, “No,” or “We can’t get them.” If you keep saying, “No,” they will stop coming in and asking.

If it is something you either can’t get or simply don’t want to get because there is a better alternative, you could say, “No we don’t but can I show you something similar (better)?”

If it something you don’t carry and have never really thought about carrying, you could reply, “No we don’t. I’ll have to look into carrying that. Thanks for the suggestion.”

If a customer is asking, the customer thinks of you as a place that would have it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could say, “Yes we do,” more often than, “No we don’t,”?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My stock reply to requests not in the songbook is simply, “I’ll have to learn that for next time.” Usually I’m looking it up the very next day. If they think I can play it, I don’t want to disappoint them. Any time you can avoid saying “No” is a good time.

Death by Typo

My buddy was at a conference recently and the presenter for his breakout session had a major typo in big bold letters at the top of one of his opening slides. My buddy couldn’t resist. He took a photo of this typo—and I’m talking not just a single letter but a major butchering—and posted it with the comment, “Why am I listening to this guy for advice?”

After we all agreed the comment was a bit snarky and we all agreed the speaker probably had some good content, I couldn’t quite let this speaker off the hook. After all, even PowerPoint has spellcheck.

The real problem was that a major blunder like this on something so easily proofread and corrected meant two things …

  1. The guy wasn’t prepared. He hadn’t given his presentation enough time to check for errors which sent the signal that the rest of his presentation was hastily slapped together, too.
  2. My buddy was so turned off and distracted by one little misstep, that he missed the message.

Your business sends similar signals to customers all the time. When you have typos or grammar mistakes in your signs and posters and emails and social media posts, you send the signal to many of your customers that you hastily slapped things together. You distract them with these errors and keep them from seeing what you want them to see.

It doesn’t have to be typos either. It can be a staff that is ill-prepared for an event or special offering. It can be contradicting terms from two different sales people. It can be trash by the front door. It can be poorly merchandised areas of your store. It can be dust. It can be a messy bathroom. It can be an answering machine with the wrong hours because the seasons have changed. It can be a website with the wrong hours. It can be a funny smell coming from the backroom staff area. It can be an old, faded, worn-out, been there since the 90’s sign that has a corner missing. It can be footprints of mud leading back to the model section from the work boots of one of your best customers. It can be disheveled clothing on your staff. It can be music that is too loud or too harsh for your shopping environment. It can be window and door glass with smudged finger and hand-prints. It can be products not matching the shelf signs.

It doesn’t have to be much to distract your customers from your awesome staff and fabulous product selection. That little typo can do more damage to your branding than the thousands of dollars you spend on advertising can do good. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

The band Van Halen used to put a clause in their contracts asking for M&M’s with all of a certain color removed. A lot of people thought they must be divas because of that. I was part of that crowd until I heard an interview with David Lee Roth, the acrobatic lead singer who used to fly around the stage. He said they had very intricate, detailed instructions for how to assemble the stage for his safety. If the show organizers were detailed enough to do the M&M’s right (something small and trivial in the grand scheme of things), he had more confidence the stage would be built right. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

You have a fabulous staff and wonderful products. Don’t do anything that signals the customer otherwise. Don’t do anything that distracts the customer from the prize. Yes, those little things mean a lot.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There was another lesson from that presentation about bullet points, but I’ll save that for another day. You have enough to do looking for all those little distractions that mean a lot.

Put Your Audience First

Which sentence do you prefer?

1. A good speaker should tell you all the things the speaker wants you to know.

2. A good speaker should tell you all the things you need to hear.

Those two sentences are not the same. In the margin lies the difference between a great presentation and a lousy one. I have sat through many presentations where the speaker obviously started with the question, “Hmmm … What should I say?” He’s asking the wrong question.

As I was setting up my two talks for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) for last Sunday, I had a lot of information to share. Both topics were about money. One was focused on financials, the other focused on inventory management. Lots of ground to potentially cover on both topics.

To put together my outline for each presentation I had to put myself in the shoes of the audience. I had to think like a typical store owner/manager. I had to ask the question, “What does she need to hear?” Then I followed up with, “How does she need to hear it?” and, “How will she best remember it?”

There were lots of things I wanted to say, but only when I looked at it through the lens of the person in the audience could I find what needed to be said. Just as important, when I looked at it that way, I found what to leave out. I had to put the audience’s needs ahead of my own ego and make sure the audience got what they needed from the presentation, more than just saying what I wanted to say.

It is the same principle I take with both advertising and customer service. What does the audience (customer) need to hear? This is the question you need to ask. Get it right and you will have a customer-focused business that is growing leaps and bounds. Get it wrong and people will get disinterested and leave early.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Note that I did not say what the audience “wanted” to hear. I said what they “need” to hear. There is a HUGE difference between those two words. Sometimes what they need to hear makes them uncomfortable. That’s okay. There is learning in the uncomfortable parts of life—especially when a skilled leader jumps in there with you and guides you back to safety (understanding).

PPS When you’re ready to hire a speaker that puts your audience’s needs ahead of his own, you need to give me a call.

“I Had to Argue to Get It”

My buddy Lenny and I were having a conversation last night at the industry party for the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) event in Philadelphia. Lenny sells toys, specifically one of my favorite companies — Marky Sparky. Lenny and Mark(y) were regaling the story of being at a different toy show years ago and winning a free booth space for the following year. If you’re in the retail world, you know what a big deal that is for a vendor. Big savings.

Image result for marky sparkyThe only problem was … they weren’t invited to the following year’s show.

When they got invited to a later show, you can guess what happened—no one claimed to know anything about the free booth space they had won. Eventually they got their free booth space, but as Lenny said, “I had to argue to get it.”

Do you think they are excited to go back to this particular show? I sure wouldn’t be.

Mark and Lenny are a couple of the nicest guys in the toy industry. They won’t name names and they won’t say bad things. You have to do a lot to get them upset. This got them upset enough to share the story.

You have customers that are as sweet as apple pie. It takes a lot to anger them to the point they talk about it.

Here’s the catch. It doesn’t take a lot to get them to quietly walk away.

The point? If you offer a bonus, a gift w/purchase, a freebie of some kind, or any other special deal, honor that deal. Period. Don’t ever make your customers have to argue for it. The ones who do argue for it won’t ever be happy with you. The rest will simply walk away.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I hate fine print. If you are going to offer something special, make it simple enough so that everyone understands the rules without needing fine print. Then, whenever a customer feels like there was a loophole slanted against them, make it right before they feel they have to argue to get it. Not only will you keep a customer, but she’ll go to the mat to defend you in the future.

Use Your Flaws to Your Advantage

I was born and raised in Jackson, Michigan. I have spent 44 of my 50 years living in Jackson. Back in the late 1800’s Jackson was known as “Central City” because it was the hub to all the rail lines that ran through Michigan. As the railroad died out, Jackson became known as the “Prison City” because we were home to world’s largest walled maximum security prison. My high school co-ed softball team called ourselves the Prison City Inmates.

When I headed east to Ann Arbor for five years at The University of Michigan, the conversation with the new people I met went like this …

“Where are you from?”

“Jackson.”

“Oh, the prison.”

“Yep, just got out.”

When I moved back to Jackson after a year out west and a couple months up north, it dawned on me … Jackson has been hiding from the prison city moniker as though ashamed of our status in the world. Back in the mid-90’s I started telling city leaders they need to embrace that image and play it up, not shirk from it. Be who you are, warts and all. Embrace your downside. Use your flaws to your advantage.

Image result for kingman museum
Kingman Museum, Battle Creek, MI

Over the years I have given that same advice to other businesses.

Earlier today I met with the chairperson of a really cool museum and gave her the same advice. Use the fact that your museum looks more like a musty old mausoleum to your advantage. “Shhh … don’t tell your friends what you found behind these cold concrete walls.” They could have a whole lot of fun with that. It definitely would be memorable, and it would take what people already think about the museum, its biggest flaw, and make it a positive.

I saw the chairperson’s gears in her brain start whirring. I know she is going to run with it and I can’t wait to see how it looks.

If you want some more ideas on how to turn a negative into a positive, check out this post I wrote back in 2011 about the Pig & Trebuchet Brew Pub and their “Bad Table”.

Identify the most negative aspect of your business and use it to your advantage. First, just by talking about it, you admit that A) you’re human, and B) you’re not perfect. That, alone earns you trust. Second, by bringing your negative aspects to light, you manage the expectations so that they never really seems as bad as they are painted out to be. Third, the flaws are memorable because they are flaws you own. No one else has your flaws.

If Jackson had embraced the Prison City moniker years ago, and made it a focal point of their advertising and marketing, we wouldn’t be wallowing around feeling sorry we aren’t Ann Arbor. Conventional wisdom said hide the ugly and only show the pretty. Conventional wisdom has sunk many a marketing & advertising campaign because people know you have an ugly hiding somewhere. The more you hide it, the more they will go looking for it. Embrace it and make it your calling card. Then it becomes an asset.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This is just one of the fun concepts we discuss in the SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING & ADVERTISING workshop taking place Tuesday, June 20th. Sign up today and I’ll help you turn your negatives into positives (especially that bottom line.)

This is What Winning Looks Like

I was in Macy’s flagship store in New York City back in 1995. Seven floors of department store Nirvana. Everything you could ever imagine under one roof. I thumbed through sport coats of all sizes. Found several even bigger than the 50-Long I was wearing. They had everything … except a shirt that would fit me. My problem is that along with my wide shoulders I have long arms and a long torso. I need shirts that are sized “tall”. Even though they had at least a dozen jackets that would be too big for me, they only had one shirt my size in the entire 2.2 million square feet (a Ralph Lauren Pink Oxford for $110), and no shirts for those guys who would be wearing the bigger blazers.

But I’m not writing this to tell you about a store that failed me. I want to show you what “winning” looks like.

Along with the struggle of finding quality shirts that fit, I have run into a new problem. I am now allergic to a dye called Disperse Blue. It is found primarily in dark colored polyester fabrics. All those microfiber, dri-weave, quick-dry, ultra-soft, wicking fabrics I love are all off the plate in dark colors like navy or black or charcoal. This, after wearing a navy shirt almost every day for the last two decades!

Image result for dxl storeIn search of a new wardrobe, I walked into DXL in Ann Arbor. They specialize in big & tall sizes from brand names like Reebok, Adidas, Nike and Ralph Lauren. They also apparently specialize in customer service.

I was greeted pleasantly at the door by a couple of sales people. I told them my problem with Disperse Blue dyes and what I needed. While one salesperson led me around the store, the other got on the Internet and started researching the dyes used in her clothing brands. Not finding the info there, she called corporate offices. She didn’t get any answers (the corporate office was closed), but before I tried on my first item, she handed me a phone number to call that would be the most likely place to find out which shirts used Disperse Blue dyes and which did not.

I didn’t ask her to do any research. I was planning on buying light colors and/or 100% cotton to avoid the issue in the first place. But she went way above and beyond my expectations, looking up websites and making phone calls to help me out.

This isn’t typical sales clerk behavior. I know. I’ve been shopping chain stores for a long time looking for shirts that fit. She surprised and delighted me. I bought a Ralph Lauren shirt among other items and will definitely be back to buy more. More importantly, I’m telling you about my wonderful shopping experience. About 300+ people read this blog each day. That’s pretty decent word of mouth wouldn’t you say? I’ll probably tell another dozen people or more.

This salesperson listened to my problem and then did more than I ever expected to try to solve my problem. That’s what “winning” looks like. Do you have that culture in your store?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Let’s break down the key steps. The first thing that happened is that the salesperson listened. Then she acknowledged she didn’t know about Disperse Blue dyes. She asked more questions. Then, while another salesperson showed me around the store, she got online and on the phone to try to solve my problem. Either she is trained incredibly well, or she is just an incredibly helpful person (or a little bit of both). If there is a skill your sales team needs, you need to either hire it or train it (or both). I can help you either way.

PPS Word-of-Mouth is the most powerful form of advertising. Here’s the key. It comes from your customer service budget, not your advertising budget. We’ll discuss the four tried-and-true ways to consistently get people to talk about your business in the SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING & ADVERTISING CLASS taking place Tuesday, June 20th. Are you in?