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Category: Customer Expectations

The Power of the Smile Story

Every staff meeting started with “Smile Stories”, moments since the last meeting when we did what we set out to do and made the customer smile. Some of my staff wrote notes to themselves to remember all the stories. Others wrote notes to each other to remind them of their stories. At some meetings we spent three or four minutes sharing stories. At other meetings we spent ten or fifteen minutes. I never capped the time on this part of the meeting. It was too important.

Toy House Character Diamond and Core Values
The Toy House Character Diamond – our Core Values that drove our business.

The Smile Stories served multiple purposes.

First, they kicked off the meeting on a positive note. When you open a meeting with good news, it makes the people in attendance more open to listening and sharing. When you open with bad news you put people on defense and they clam up. So always start your meetings with something to celebrate.

Second, the Smile Stories got everyone into a sharing mood. If your meeting is simply for the purpose of telling people something, don’t meet. Send out a memo or an email. The reason you bring people together to meet is to allow for give and take, back and forth, engagement with your audience. Our Smile Stories got the staff engaged and talking early on, which always led to more engagement when we got into the training segment of the meeting.

Third, the Smile Stories reinforced our purpose. Our stated purpose for Toy House was, “We’re here to make you smile.” When we celebrated Smile Stories, it was clear to the staff why we were there and what we were supposed to do.

Fourth, the Smile Stories reinforced the training the staff had already received. When we shared stories of how we made customers smile, we were using concrete examples from which others could learn. Often the staff would even mention how a technique we discussed at a previous meeting worked well for them. Often within a story I would find a teachable moment that I could use to strengthen what we were already learning.

The first step for making your meetings with your team better is to figure out your “Smile Stories”. Find that and you will see your meetings, training, and productivity start to rise.

I’ll be covering this and a whole bunch of other tools for making your meetings something your staff looks forward to attending at the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop on April 26th. Looking forward to seeing you there.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Stories are more memorable than facts and figures. My new book coming out later this spring cites numerous studies that show how we remember the feelings we get from stories as if we lived them ourselves. Stories are also better teachers. It is no surprise Jesus spoke in parables. We learn best by example. Stories are concrete examples of abstract principles and ideas. We’ll also be covering the power of the story in this workshop.

 

Flying the Friendly(?) Skies

By now you’ve seen the video of Chicago Aviation Police physically yanking an unwilling passenger off a United Airlines flight, knocking him unconscious, and dragging him down the aisle like they were taking out the trash. Likely you have also read United’s lame apologies. If we want to become experts. we need to see what we can learn from this incident.

 

I prefer to look at customer service from the customer’s point of view.

Great Customer Service = Meeting the Customer’s Expectations.

What are the expectations of a passenger sitting on an airplane? He bought a ticket. He is seated on the plane. At this point the only way he is getting off the plane is if one of three things happen.

First, everyone is asked to deplane. Maybe there is a mechanical failure. Maybe there is a weather delay and since they are still at the gate, the decision is made to get the passengers off for comfort and safety. He won’t be happy about it, but he knows this is a possibility.

Second, volunteers choose to deplane. The incentive offered by the airline is great enough for the volunteers to consciously offer up their seats for the rewards offered. This process had already started, but the incentives were not great enough for this passenger to give up his seat.

Third, someone is a danger to themselves or others.

That’s it. That’s the complete list from the customer’s point of view. Never in his wildest dreams did this gentleman think there was a fourth option of being forced off the plane. Physically manhandled and forced off the plane. Dragged down the aisle. Requiring a visit to the hospital. Maybe that was buried in some fine print somewhere. Maybe United had the right to do what they did. Regardless of their rights, United offered the worst possible customer service to this gentleman, and everyone on the airplane saw it (and many recorded it).

If United Airlines was a customer-centric airline that believed in meeting and exceeding their customers’ expectations, there wouldn’t ever be an option #4. In the scenario above they would be stuck at option #2 offering incentives after incentives, upping the ante as often as necessary until they got the volunteers they needed.

A free flight doesn’t work? Offer a free flight and a hotel. A free flight and a hotel doesn’t work? Throw in a rental car. Keep going until you find the sweet spot that gets you a volunteer happy to leave the airplane. And then, to exceed expectations, give that same offer to the other people who volunteered to get off the plane for less. 

If United Airlines had done that, there would be four people tweeting and singing their praises. There would be four people telling us how awesome United Airlines is and how they will always fly the friendly skies. There would be four people that might end up costing United Airlines an extra $5000 total. That’s a mere pittance to what this debacle is going to cost them.

I figure the aftermath of this event will likely cost the airline millions of dollars, and no one will be tweeting anything friendly. They are going to lose customers. They are going to have legal bills. They are going to have to spend millions in PR and advertising. They are going to have to do something grand just to take care of the passenger they manhandled.

Here is the lesson… They could have bought word-of-mouth advertising by upping the ante on the incentives needed to get people to volunteer to leave the plane. It would have been the best $5000 advertising money they spent all year. Instead they chose to put their company’s needs over their customers’ needs and it will cost them millions of dollars.

You have that same choice every single day. you can figure out what your customer expects, then meet and exceed those expectations and have your customer sing your praises, or you can put yourself above your customer and pay through the nose.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS United Airlines still has one chance to make this right. It will be way more costly than upping the incentives, but they need to make some grand public gesture such as giving this passenger free domestic flights for life, while also admitting that their policy was completely wrong and will be changed. Anything short of that will likely continue to cost them far more in the short and long run.

Only One Out of Fourteen Said Hello

Over the last few weeks I’ve visited some big malls. Call it field research. These malls have been busy, packed with customers. These malls are also packed with stores you’ve read about that are struggling and closing locations around the country. I saw a fair amount of Going Out of Business signs. One mall is losing its Macy’s. Another has a Sears and a JC Penney as anchors. I’m sure the leasing agents are nervous.

In my last two trips I visited fourteen stores in those malls.

Only one greeted me with a sincere hello.

Only one made me feel welcome and tried to connect with me instead of bombard me with sales pitches. Only one asked me a question that wasn’t a version of “Can I help you?” or “What brings you in?”. Heck, some of them never interacted with me at all.

The traffic was there in the mall. The mall owner had done his job. The food court and the Starbucks seemed to be making sales. But there were a lot of other sales being left on the table by the untrained sales teams.

Here is a quick recap of the experience…

Six of the stores never greeted me at all. I entered the store. Looked around. Touched a couple items. Walked out. No one said hello or hi or welcome or thanks for coming in. It wasn’t that these stores were necessarily busy. Maybe they were a bit understaffed, but there are still ways to teach your staff to greet new customers even when engaged with someone. Maybe they couldn’t afford enough staff because they weren’t training their staff how to sell. Either way, I left feeling neglected.

Five of the stores greeted me with some form of,  “Can I help you?” or “What brings you in?” In all five cases I responded with the two words you never want a customer to say – Just Looking. I verbalized out loud that I was NOT there to buy. I told everyone including myself I was only browsing.

One store shoved a coupon in my hand for 20% off their already 40% off discounted prices. I guess they don’t value their merchandise very highly. Or maybe they could see I was a transactional customer and needed that little push to get me to pull the trigger? Oh wait. How could they know that considering they hadn’t asked me a single question? I will give this store credit in that every single person on their team approached me at least once during my walk through their store. They had a willingness and desire to sell, if not the actual training on how to do it properly. As misguided as it was, at least it was better than the indifference other stores had shown.

Only one store, however, greeted me with a sincere hello. This gal greeted me as if I had just entered her house. She was in the process of straightening up a display. She stopped, greeted me with enthusiasm, and started a conversation. Pretty soon we were sharing stories of trips to Florida and Phoenix and anywhere warmer than Detroit. Shortly after that I was asking her questions about product that wasn’t just, “Do you have this size in back?” We were engaged in conversation. We were engaged in getting to know each other. When she offered to show me something new she was excited about, I immediately said Yes!  I learned about a product I never would have known otherwise, never would have searched for online, never would have considered if she hadn’t first made a connection.

That is the “shopping experience” customers visiting malls and shopping centers and downtowns are craving. That is the shopping experience that gets people to come back and bring their friends. That is the shopping experience that makes your cash registers ring. Everything else is just a transaction, more easily done on a computer.

The traffic is there. You just need to connect.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you were counting, there was one store I didn’t mention. Actually it was a food kiosk. If you run a food kiosk that regularly has a line of customers, can you please make it obvious where the line starts and how it should form? Please? Don’t make me guess where to stand. Don’t make me guess where to place the order. Don’t make me stand where people have to keep cutting through me to get past me.

How to Teach a Class in Your Store

You know why you need to teach classes in your store. Here are the six steps you take to create a class that draws traffic, builds excitement, gains you followers, sets you up as the expert, and makes people want to buy from you.

  1. Determine which product(s) you sell that takes the longest to explain or takes the most trips before the customer pulls the trigger. These are the items to build your class around because these are the items that require an expert. The more questions a customer asks about a product, the more likely you’ll find people wanting to attend a class to learn more.
  2. Write down all the questions a customer typically asks about the product. Then add in two more questions you think they should be asking. This will become the outline of your presentation. (You can brainstorm this list with your sales staff.)
  3. List all the benefits of the products (remember, a feature is what the product does, a benefit is why that helps the user).
  4. List all the downsides of the product. Everything has a downside. If you don’t tell your customer up front, she will think you’re hiding something. Being honest about the downsides wins you trust.
  5. Get the customer to visualize using the product in her home or in her life. Ask questions like, “How would you use this?” Where would you use this?” “Do you see yourself using this?” “How would this affect your life right now?” This moves the customer from being in analytical mode to being in ownership mode. We only do in real life what we have already visualized in our minds. Get your customer to visualize owning the product and you will be more likely to win the sale.
  6. List all the reasons why someone should buy this product from you. If you offer services like layaway or financing or delivery or assembly, this is when you share that information. If you truly have answered all the most important questions including the ones they forgot to ask, and you have helped them visualize owning and using the product, then you have their permission to sell them. Just remember that you aren’t selling a product, you are selling a solution.

That’s the class. It is no different than selling to one person while a bunch of other people sit in and listen. You can decorate with comfortable seating, snacks & prizes (ask your vendors for giveaways), cool signs, etc. Just make sure you follow the steps above so that you offer a true benefit to your customers. They’ll thank you for the effort with their pocketbooks.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t worry about attendance. You might get 30 people, you might get 3. Make them feel special. Go above and beyond what they expect. Not only will you get the sale, you’ll get the referral, which is often a more powerful sales tool than the class, itself.

PPS Just a reminder that it doesn’t have to be that expensive to advertise. Social media, email, your website, some in-store signage, and a few online community calendars will draw a crowd. Make it worth their while and they’ll help you draw the next crowd.

Hinkley Donuts, Or How to Go Above and Beyond

I had a Hinkley Donut this morning. My favorite is chocolate frosted cinnamon, but I could eat any of about a dozen of their different donuts with equal pleasure. Those of you in Jackson know what I mean. In a statewide competition Hinkley’s Bakery won Best Donuts in Michigan (if they hadn’t there might have been an uproar – or at least a road trip to see if it was true that there existed something better).

When I eat Hinkley Donuts I often think about Ernie.

Hinkley’s Donuts – Best in Michigan!

Ernie sells chairs. Not just any chairs, but fully customizable, fits everyone, incredibly comfortable, office chairs. I put Ernie in the hot seat and asked him about his sales process. He led me through the cold calls, the visits, the dog-and-pony shows, the follow-ups, the closing of the sale and the delivery.

At each point of contact I asked Ernie what his staff was instructed to do. Then I stopped him, and everyone else in the class, and asked, “What does the customer expect out of you at this point?”

This was an eye-opener for everyone in the class. We know what we do, but we rarely stop to think about what our customers actually expect and want. Yet, that is the secret to great customer service – meet your customer’s expectations. In fact, that is critical in today’s connected world where if you fail to meet their expectation, all 962 of their friends on Facebook will know by tonight, and visitors to Yelp and Google will read about it for years.

If you aren’t doing this exercise, you might be missing a critical problem in what you thought was your awesome customer service that has been holding you back.

Once we established the customer’s expectations I asked Ernie a second question. “What would it look like to exceed your customer’s expectations?” If you want to take your customer service to the level where it generates Word-of-Mouth, you have to exceed your customer’s expectations. 

Ernie’s sales team did early morning or early afternoon visits to show off his chairs. We wondered what would happen if the sales people showed up with Hinkley Donuts (well, okay, the equivalent in that town) for morning meetings or Klavon’s Pizza for afternoon meetings. All it would take is a simple call to the local Chamber of Commerce to find out which local bakery or pizza joint is best known in town. A good salesman could probably find a way to get that info in a conversation. I told Ernie, don’t announce you’re bringing the yummies. Make it a surprise. As Roy H. Williams says, “Surprise is the foundation of delight.” It was a simple change, an inexpensive change, but one that would pay high dividends.

By the time Ernie was out of the hot seat he had several ideas of how to meet and exceed what his customers expected. I’m pretty sure he’s been doing that ever since.

When you go above and beyond what your customer expects, you will delight her and win her as a customer. No matter what competition you face, no matter what technology disrupts your future, that will always be true.

That’s what I think about when I eat a Hinkley Donut.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I can be bought with food. But it isn’t so much the food itself as it is the gesture. You went above and beyond because you found the local source and made the effort to ply me with something unique, not generic or mass-produced. That’s a powerful statement that earns a lot of trust.

Anticipating Your Customers’ Needs

I had the slot right after lunch. A lot of speakers hate that slot. People are tired after lunch, or they got an email that morning that required them to spend their lunch hour putting out a fire, or they have so much swirling around their brains from the morning sessions they can’t stay focused. You know what I mean. Siesta time.

The host took the microphone to introduce me, and as she had for the morning speakers, started with her obligatory blah blah blah, turn-off-your-phones, surveys-are-on-the-table, housekeeping announcement.

I could see heads already starting to nod off.

I switched on my microphone, put up my first slide of me in a super hero costume and said,

“Thank you, Margaret. Yes, I am Phil Wrzesinski and I am going to be your Super Hero today. First, since I know you just finished lunch, I am passing out dessert. Chocolates. Dark chocolates to be exact. The healthy kind. Full of antioxidants to get you going. Second, I have some housekeeping of my own. Go ahead and turn your phones back on. If I can’t keep your attention for the next hour, then frankly, I am not doing my job. And today I feel up to it. You’re going to learn some things today that you’ll want to share. Please do. Finally, go ahead and grab those surveys. Under the section about handouts go ahead and mark that a 5. I have complete notes of this workshop available for everyone right after I’m done. You might as well mark that first question a 5, too. We’re going to have fun. You ready?”

Do you see what I was doing? I was anticipating my audience’s needs before I even got on stage. I knew they would be a little groggy. I knew they needed something to pick them up. The chocolates served multiple purposes. It got them engaged right off the bat. They were opening packages, opening candies, passing them from table to table, doing something active. It woke them up, both from the small sugar fix and more importantly from the here-is-something-you-don’t-see-every-day-maybe-I-better-pay-attention opening of my talk.

The bravado in my speech was to transfer confidence to them that what I had to say was worthwhile. It also was a bet. I just bet them I could keep their attention enough to keep them off their phones. They were paying closer attention just to see if I could make good on that bet.

I knew the crowd would be restless, sluggish and unfocused. I anticipated that. Then I took steps specifically to help them change their mood to the mood I needed to sell my product. You can’t sell the unwilling. You also can’t sell the unprepared-to-buy. You have to get them in the right mood first. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling toys, pet supplies, floor tiling or ideas. If you don’t anticipate your customers’ needs and take care of those needs, you cannot build the relationship necessary to make the sale.

Here is a simple exercise for you and your staff to do. Answer the question, “What does my customer need the moment she walks through the door to get in the right mood for shopping?”

If it is cold and snowy, she made need a place to take off her coat and boots. If you are off the beaten path and you get customers from a long drive, she may need to use the bathroom. If you are downtown or in a mall where she has been shopping other stores, she may need a place to put her packages. If it is early morning, she may need a shot of caffeine. (Heck, that could work late in the afternoon, too.) Solve that need and your customers will be ready to buy what you’re selling.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Getting my audience to fill out the survey in advance, while bribing them with dark chocolates, not only got me a higher score on the survey, but more importantly gave them more time after the talk to come up to me to do the real buying. I was speaking to group of downtown development directors. None of them were there looking for speakers, but out of the 60 groups represented I got a dozen opportunities to speak because I made them more open to buy.

PPS Sure your product has to be good.  At the end of the day it is always about the product. But no matter how good your product, if you don’t get people in the mood to buy, they won’t be buyers.

Get the Simple Things Right

I made three trips to a local service provider today. First, I checked their website for their hours. They had a beautiful, informative website. But no hours anywhere I could find. I know of other service providers in their category who open early, so after dropping my son off at school at 7:20am, I headed over.

They weren’t there.

No hours posted anywhere. There was a sign on the door saying they would be back at 8:00am, but I couldn’t make it back this morning. I swung by at 1:00pm while running other errands.

They weren’t there.

The sign on the door now said they would be back at 2:15pm. It didn’t say how long they would be there. Fortunately, my schedule for the afternoon was more flexible. I got there at 2:15pm, ran in, got what I needed, and was out the door in just over a minute.

Three trips for a 78-second transaction. A lot of wasted gas. A lot of frustration. No hours on the website. No hours on the door. Not a happy camper.

If you can’t get the simple things right, your customers will wonder what else you can’t do right. 

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I understand certain service providers will close their offices for lunch. I’m okay with that – as long as I know it is going to happen. That’s why you need to post hours on your door and website.

Retailers take note. Don’t assume customers know what days and times you’ll be open. Make sure you have it on your website, on your Facebook site, on Google, and on your door. I have a twenty year history with this service provider, but I have no room in my brain for memorizing their quirky hours.

Don’t Build Your Own Obstacles (Part II)

If you’re a BBQ lover in the Detroit area, you recognize this door. Behind it is the tantalizing flavors of smoked meats, refreshing liquids from the Great Beer State, and an aroma that pleasantly stays in your nostrils for hours. You know it as Slow’s BBQ. In fact, you take pride in knowing those natural-colored thin planks stacked tightly together is the actual door of entry, not the door to the right going upstairs, nor the door ten feet left of the picture covered with stickers and locked, nor the locked door leading to the patio another fifteen feet to the left and directly beneath the sign on the building telling you that you’ve arrived.

Those were the three doors I tried first before finding the actual opening.

If there hadn’t been a sign on the building telling me where I was, this would be a different post. It would be about Over-the-Top Design and Sharing Secrets. It would be about how you felt like an insider because you knew the red and black building without a sign and with a hidden doorway was home to some killer ‘cue. You only knew because someone told you, making it (and you) feel even more special.

Instead, I felt like an idiot. I felt like I was made to feel stupid before I ever set foot in the joint. That’s a big obstacle to overcome. If the food or the service had not been stellar, just average, I’d probably never go back. It would be a nagging feeling just below the surface.

As I was leaving, there was a guy outside having the same struggles I had. Apparently the design of the door wasn’t over-the-top enough to get people to talk about it, only about the food. Their fancy, hard-to-find door didn’t generate word-of-mouth, only frustration. You never want your customers walking into your establishment frustrated. Make sure they know how to get in the front door.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The other alternative would be to remove the sign on the building altogether. Sure, it would make it harder and even more frustrating for some people to find the joint, but since most of these places get their new business from word-of-mouth, it would ratchet up the need for people to talk about the design elements and ratchet up the feeling of knowing something others don’t. It would have changed my feelings of frustration to feelings of discovery and being in-the-know.

PPS Of course, at the end of the day, if you’re a restaurant, you better have over-the-top food first and foremost. Slows brought it. I saw a few items on trays passing by that will get me back. They overcame the obstacle. Not many stores and restaurants do.

Don’t Build Your Own Obstacles

We’ve all heard the phrase KISS – keep it simple, stupid. We’ve also been exposed to Occam’s Razor – the simpler explanation is most likely the better one. But still, as business owners, we forget that and build our own man-made obstacles to make our lives harder.

For example, I went to a restaurant in Phoenix call The Arrogant Butcher. By the name you would guess they were likely a steak house or possibly a BBQ joint. That was my expectation as I entered. Sure enough, the menu had a couple steaks and some ribs, but was dominated by seafood dishes. I asked my waitress what they were known for. She said the seafood. Their oysters were flown in fresh from California daily.

Image result for the arrogant butcher

I was already mentally halfway out the door, but decided to stick it out and give it a try.

Much to my delight, the seafood was delicious. The staff was friendly. The dessert was awesome.

But because of the name, if anything wasn’t up to par, the night would have been a huge disappointment. Because of the name, my expectations were completely different to the experience, and almost a deal killer. Because of the name, everything had to be surprisingly delightful.

I sat at the chef’s table and watched the cooks at work. None seemed arrogant. None looked like a butcher. I didn’t see a lot of steaks or ribs, but the oyster shucker never stopped shucking.

At the end of the night, I am happy to say they overcame my original disappointment. But they had to be perfect to do so, all because of the obstacle they put up all on their own.

Retail is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it harder on yourself. KISS.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I understand that good, fun, unique names are catchy and stand out. I drank beer and played guitar at a pub with Poison in the name. But when your name screams a certain expectation, you have to be exceptionally excellent at what you do if your actual brand doesn’t match that expectation. Few businesses pull that off consistently.

You’re Not Perfect

You’re not perfect. Far from it. Me, too. You will make mistakes. You will ruin someone’s Christmas. You will cause someone gray hairs. You will make someone miss an appointment because they had to deal with your carelessness.

You will have some problems that aren’t even your fault. Maybe your vendor screwed up or the customer had a completely unrealistic expectation even after you explained it for the third time. Maybe you get the good spouse, bad spouse routine.

No matter what type of retail, you are going to have the unhappy customer.

I believe two of my favorite companies – Ritz-Carlton and Zingerman’s Deli have it right.

(source unknown)

They both empower their entire staff to be able to take care of a customer’s problem. Everyone from the assistant bottle washer to the garden boy to the valet have authorization to take a customer’s wrongs and make them right.

It does beg the question… Would you leave the fate of your customer service reputation in the hands of your lowest paid employee?

Yes! If you train them right.

Here is the easy format for handling about 98.7% of your unhappy customers.

  1. Apologize. It doesn’t matter who is at fault. They are angry. They perceive you have slighted them in some way. Apologize to them. “I am really sorry that this happened.”
  2. Ask. Ask for a complete description of what happened and what went wrong from their perspective. Don’t interrupt. Let them say what is on their mind. Don’t assume you know what happened. Let them tell the whole story. Apologize again, if necessary.
  3. Amend. Make it right. The best way to make it right in their eyes is to ask, “What would you like us to do?” Most of the time, especially if you have done steps 1 and 2, they will ask for far less than what you are prepared to do. Do what they asked, and then a little more. Yes, even if you’re giving away the farm (figuratively, of course).
  4. Learn. Let your staff make the customer happy. Then have them report back to you what they did. As long as they made the customer happy, tell your staff, “Well done!” Then show them a better way to handle it the next time if necessary.

You have to train your staff to do this. It won’t happen overnight. You have to role play it at meetings. You have to spell it out in writing. You have to remind them that the store’s first and foremost goal is to have happy customers and their job is to make those customers happy. Your job is to teach them how.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Unhappy customers are people, too. Treat them with respect and dignity (apologize and listen fully to their complaints) and they become a lot less unhappy in very short time. In fact, they often become your best ambassadors.