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What Your Worst Employee Should Be Able to Do

Seth Godin talked about this in his blog today. I wrote about it back in 2009. You know this adage … A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Your chain is your staff. Your chain is the level of customer service your team can bring to the table. Your chain is only as strong as the worst employee on your team.

Stop and think about that for a second. Who is the worst person on your team? That’s the bar right there. Before you fire him and start over (always a realistic option when you have people who are not performing) here is something you can train him to do that will significantly raise your customer service up a few notches.

He needs to be able to get through the day without saying, “No.”

One of my favorite staff trainings was the Dollars on the Table Game

“No,” is a deal killer. It is the one-word sentence that will kill your business (even faster than, “Can I help you?” and, “Did you find everything?”)

It is a word that needs to be stricken from your vocabulary, or at the very least, only offered with a quick modifier. It kills all the mojo.

“Do you have this product?”

“No.” 

End of conversation. End of interaction. End of sale. End of business.

There are millions of products out there. You have 5,000 in your store. The chances are pretty good that your customers will ask you for something you do not have.

How your staff answers goes a long way towards your success. Here are some alternate answers that always work better.

You can ask why. 

“What exactly are you looking for in that product? Why do you want that product? What are hoping that product will do for you? We might have something else that will work.”

You can offer alternatives. 

“We don’t have that item but we do have this other product that I actually like better because…”

You can give explanations.

“We used to carry that product but had too many problems and switched to this other brand.”

“That brand is only mass-produced for large chain stores. Let me show you something of which you probably haven’t heard that does the job equally well.”

You can offer help in finding the item. 

“We don’t carry anything like that. Would you like me to call this other store for you to see if they carry it or anything similar?”

All of those responses are easy enough for any employee to learn. Even your newest hires and seasonal staff can learn these responses quickly and easily. They make your chain stronger because they build relationships rather than shut them down.

Work with your staff to eliminate the word No from your vocabulary. (If they can’t do that, fire them and start over.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here is a good staff meeting exercise. Think of all the questions a customer might ask to which you might say No. (Do you price match? Do you offer bundled discounts? Do you give a price break for people who pay cash?) Then come up with alternate answers you can use instead of saying No.

PPS One savvy retailer I know keeps a clipboard up front with a “No List” for every product a customer asks that they don’t have. If the same product comes up time and time again, she figures she needs to look into carrying that product because customers are thinking of her store as a place that would have it.

My Conundrum and How to Get Past It

I had a sales rep who got mad at me because I refused to display his car seats, swings, high chairs, strollers, and play pens in groupings by their fashions. He had proof that I would sell more if I sorted them by fabric pattern instead of by product type. My argument to him was that customers didn’t buy a playpen because it matched the car seat fabric. Heck, the two items would never be side-by-side after the shower anyway.

My belief was that fabric pattern was a secondary choice after product features and benefits. My belief was that grouping those items together might help his sales by getting customers to buy more of his products, but my staff was skilled enough to find the right car seat, stroller, high chair, play pen, and swing to meet the customer’s needs regardless of fashion.

I was right.

So was he.

This merchandising battle between Brand and Category played out several times throughout the store. Was it better to merchandise all one brand together or merchandise all one type of product together?

More often than not, I fell on the side of putting similar products together first. This, in my mind, served the customer better because she could more easily compare competing brands of the same product she desired. If she wanted a shape sorter, she could find all the different shape sorters from multiple vendors in one spot, making it easier for her (and my staff) to debate the benefits of each one side-by-side.

Because of the size and breadth of our store with over 500 vendors and over 30,000 items, we mostly sorted by category first, and then by brand.

But there is a lot of merit in sorting your merchandise by brand first, and then by category, especially if you have a smaller store.

Brand loyalty still exists. Many brands have spent a lot of time marketing and advertising themselves and building a relationship direct with the consumer. You have customers coming in daily asking for certain brand names. Sections merchandised by brand help foster the emotional connection customers already have with that brand. The customer also begins to associate that brand with your store, and thinks of you every time they see a brand message.

Branded sections are more visually appealing. The packaging is often the same coloring and style which helps to make a completed look. Some brands also give you posters, shelf-talkers, and signs to help you dress up the branded area. Since the goal of merchandising is to get customers to look at the product, the more visually appealing, the more likely the customer will stop and gander.

Plus, in a small store it is easy enough to compare similar products from different brands because you don’t have as far to go.

The downside? Branded sections need to be well-stocked to work. Once your inventory gets depleted, those sections look worn, tired, and uninviting. You can’t fill in with other items from other companies like you can with a category-sorted merchandising plan. You have to commit to higher inventory levels to make it work best.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this merchandising concept—even though I was already doing it with LEGO, Playmobil, and Breyer. Those companies were easy, though, because the brand only existed in one category. To fully appreciate the merits of both styles I had to ask the most important question … What serves the customer best?

When you ask the right question, the answer becomes more apparent …

Both styles of merchandising serve the customer best. One style serves the product-driven shopper best. One style serves the brand-driven shopper best.

If you have brands that drive their own customers, put those items together in one spot and keep it fully stocked and visually inviting. Everything else, sort it by category first.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you start building your branded sections, contact the company for materials. They often have free stuff they can send you. Then take it to the next level by doing your own creative work. That picture was our Groovy Girl department, designed by my staff. Our cost was about $90 in material. I had customers begging me for that canopy when we closed because of how much they loved it.

One Easy Thing Even Your Seasonal Staff Can Do

Back in 2005 I started working on a plan. Our store had two major bottlenecks for traffic that made it hard for customers to navigate the store during peak times. Those bottlenecks also made it hard for the staff to navigate, especially with a cart full of merchandise to replenish the shelves. I was reading Paco Underhill’s still-relevant book Why We Buy for the sixth time and knew it was time to revamp the layout of the store to allow for better traffic flow, better sight lines, and better organization of the store.

It took me an entire year, an entire pad of graph paper, a full ream of printer paper, and several hours with a measuring tape in my hands walking up and down aisles before I came up with a new plan. In May of 2006 we closed the store for three days and moved everything. I mean everything. Every single shelf was dismantled and moved elsewhere. The hobby and baby departments traded places. The cash registers and gift wrap counters were moved. The main aisles were widened. The departments now flowed with rhyme and reason. There was room for customers, for shopping carts, and for the staff to restock the store.

Then I went to work on training the staff how to restock and straighten the store. Every day in every aisle we had someone on the team going up and down looking for lost toys, returning them to their homes. Even on the busiest of days we made sure to get up and down each aisle straightening, dusting, and replenishing several times a day.

A new, better layout was only one piece of the puzzle. We had to keep those aisles clean and neat and organized. My grandparents and parents had taught me this one truth about merchandising …

Messy aisles cost you money.

Although messy aisles are the norm in most of your competitors, they hurt your sales both short and long-term. If you only give attention to your aisles and displays in the early morning or after you close, your store gets progressively messier as the day goes by and your on-her-way-home-from-work-got-time-for-one-quick-stop customer gets to see you at your worst. That’s not the image you want her to share with her friends. That’s not the way to WOW her with surprise and delight.

One simple thing you can do this holiday season is assign one staff person every hour for Floor Duty. That person’s job is to spend the entire hour doing the following:

  • Finding misplaced items and returning them to the proper area.
  • Straightening up messy displays
  • Picking up litter, empty boxes, empty displays, etc.
  • Fronting all the items on the shelves and pulling them forward to the front edge of the shelf
  • Filling major holes in displays with back-stocked merchandise

That’s five simple things that even a seasonal employee can learn to do.

Here are the benefits to you:

  • Helps deter shoplifting. Yes, having a staff person on the floor going up and down the aisles makes shoplifters uncomfortable.
  • Helps you find lost items. It is one thing to have software that tells you that you have one item in stock. It is another to be able to find that item quickly to please a customer.
  • Attracts a different level of customers. Transactional customers are willing to paw through messy bins and displays to find their treasures. Customers who shop based on relationships and trust are more attracted to the stores that show they care not only about the customer, but also about the products.
  • Helps your customers get the assistance they need. Customers with questions are always more comfortable asking the busy shelf-stocker than the busy cashier, the crowd of employees talking about last night’s party, or the salesperson waiting to pounce.
  • Helps you increase sales. If you only wait until tonight or tomorrow morning to replenish, you are bound to lose sales because not all customers will ask if you have any in back.
  • Helps you train your staff on the products you sell. The more time they spend on the floor stocking and straightening instead of trapped behind the cashier’s fortress, the more they get to know what you sell.

Best of all, you will definitely stand out amongst the competition. The big box stores don’t have the staff (or apparently the desire) to keep their stores clean and organized. The category killer chains typically stock late at night or early in the morning. The minimum-wage gum chewers never leave the cash-wrap.

Even if you don’t have Pottery Barn merchandising skills, this one move of keeping someone on the floor constantly straightening and cleaning all day long will raise the perceived level of merchandising in your store well above that of the competition. That’s how you win this holiday season.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, it is in your best interest to have your best salesperson out on the floor at all times. But even having a raw, green seasonal employee that knows how to get answers and solve problems is better than not having anyone out there at all. If you can, buddy up your best salespeople with your seasonal staff and let the newbies learn from the best.

The Second Worst Question to Ask

Every time I’m at the cash register I get asked the same question and it is driving me nuts! I cringe when I hear it. It is driving me to the point of almost wanting to use the self-serve registers (which I hate with an equal passion to hearing this question.)

You know the question because you have been asked this question, too. And your answer, like my answer, is always the same and matches the same answer given by 99.7% of the people asked.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Image result for grocery checkout beltOf course you say Yes. God forbid you should say No at which the cashier asks what you’re looking for and then holds up the checkout line you had already waited thirteen and a half minutes in to go find someone else to come tell you what you already knew—that they were sold out.

Or worse, you say No and nothing happens. They might offer you a feeble sorry and ask you to try back again later.

Or even worse, you’re walking out of PetSmart and the guy in front of you is asked that question as he is leaving the building! When he replied angrily that no he hadn’t found what he wanted, the clerk told him to, “Okay. Have a nice day!”

Really?

(By the way, that story was sent in by a reader. Feel free to share your good and bad experiences. We can all learn from them.)

At the cash register it is too late to ask that question. You need sales people on the floor working with customers before that question even comes up. If you can’t manage that, at least have someone there to ask that question before the customer gets in line to checkout.

Once a customer has decided to checkout, she is in a hurry to leave. The customer may have leisurely browsed every aisle of the store, but now that she’s at checkout, she’s ready to go, go, go. The only valid product question to ask at checkout is if the customer needs a specific item to complete the sale such as batteries to go with a toy, paint brushes to go with the paint, shoe polish to go with the dress shoes, etc.

A generic, “Did you find everything?” question gets a knee-jerk, reactionary, “Yes,” and no one gets served.

This question ranks up there with “Can I help you?” in the lore of worst questions to ask in retail because the answers are meaningless at best, and defeatist at worst.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. Ask 100 people and you might get one who admits to not finding an item that you actually have. Of course, the other 99 are peeved, as are the 99 people behind them in line who were also in a hurry to checkout. The ROI for asking this question during (or after a la PetSmart) the checkout is negative.

PPS Even if you are asking the question before your customer gets to checkout, there is a better question to ask before the customer gets to checkout …

“Who else is on your list?”

(I learned that question from somebody else. Since I cannot find the source, I’m giving Bob Phibbs the credit for that line. It sounds like something Bob would say.)

That One Memorable Thing

I was in Orlando for a trade show a few years back. I met up with some friends and the five of us headed to a steakhouse for dinner. It was one of those meals you talk about forever.

I could start with the off-menu ordering of a 20oz Filet Mignon so tender you could almost cut it with a fork. I could mention that three of us foolishly decided to add lobster tails to our entree. I say foolishly because that lobster was as good as if I had been transported to Maine. You couldn’t stop eating it, even after finishing off a perfectly grilled steak.

But the biggest, most pleasant mistake of the evening was ordering dessert. We shouldn’t have. We were all stuffed beyond belief. But someone had told us to make sure we ordered the chocolate fudge cake. At any other meal the five of us might have ordered a couple desserts to split among the table if we ordered dessert at all, but we were already pleasantly full and even considered passing on dessert. On this night we only ordered one. It was the best and worst move of the night.

Image result for charley's steak house chocolate cake
Charley’s Steak House Chocolate Fudge Cake

The slice of cake arrived and it stood almost a foot tall! It was taller than it was wide, three scrumptious layers of the richest, most moist chocolate cake I have ever eaten, with a hint of orange and a chocolate fudge frosting I could have taken a bath in. Thank God we only ordered one because, like the rest of the meal, we couldn’t stop eating it despite how much we had already eaten. I wish, however, that we had ordered a second one to go. I have dreamed about that cake several times since.

You have a meal like that in your memory.

We all have that memory of an experience that went far above and beyond what we expected. The details are burned into our minds, especially that one detail of the most unexpected moment, like when that towering slice of cake arrived. They didn’t have to make that cake that tall. It was so good that an average sized slice would have still been shareworthy. You could argue that they were probably losing money on that cake. I will argue back that they were buying advertising with that cake.

If you ever go to Charley’s Steak House in Orlando, I will tell you that you HAVE to order the cake. So will any others who have done so before. It is hard to order that cake when you’ve just eaten such a huge, wonderful meal, but you will because I told you to. You will because of word-of-mouth of someone who went before you, just as we did because of someone that went before us. Heck, you probably weren’t even planning a trip to Charley’s until I told you to go get the cake.

Think back on your favorite meal in a restaurant. What stands out? You will find that one unexpected surprise, that one detail that you build your entire story around when you tell your friends.

Now ask yourself …

What experience does a customer have in your store that is so unexpected and surprisingly delightful that they will have to tell their friends about it?

That’s how you generate word-of-mouth. You have to have that One. Memorable. Thing. It isn’t something you advertise, it is simply something you do so over-the-top that people have to share it with their friends.

Bonnie Raitt said it best. “Let’s give them something to talk about.”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you do what everyone else does, you don’t get talked about. You just fade into the landscape. Do something different. Do something no other business in your market would even think of doing. If it costs you a little money, think of it as an advertising expense. It pays in the long run. Just think how many times Charley got to add a piece of cake to the bill, not because he advertised it, but because he made it so memorable that I advertised it for him.

Services That Set You Apart

I was thumbing through some boxes of Toy House memorabilia in my basement and came across samples of some of the flyers and brochures we handed out in the store. They were all tri-fold flyers and they all had one panel that was exactly the same on each of them. It was the panel that listed all of the “other” services we offered besides just selling stuff.

The list, in case you cannot read/see the picture, included:

  • Free Giftwrapping
  • Layaway
  • Delivery & Assembly
  • UPS Shipping
  • Flag Raising Ceremonies
  • Birthday Club
  • Baby Gift Registry
  • Bike Repair
  • Car Seat Installation
  • Hands-on Displays
  • Special Orders
  • Teacher Loaner Program
  • Friendly Knowledgeable Staff

Somehow I forgot to have on there Game Nights, Story Times, In-Store Events, In-Store Classes, and Personalized Shopping. If I asked my staff, they probably could add a few more things like refreshments during the Christmas season, no-hassle returns, and carry-outs.

I’m sure there are some really special things you do for your customers, too, that set you apart from your competition. In fact, if you really want to do something wild and crazy, start thinking up new things you could do for your customers this holiday season such as:

  • Coat Check
  • Valet Parking
  • Call-Ahead Shopping
  • Event Planning (especially if you sell items used at events)
  • Food and Beverage Service
  • Customizing Product

Brainstorm this with your team. Let them be crazy and off the wall with their ideas. If you ever find yourself saying, “No retailer does that sort of thing,” then your next thought should be, “But what if we did?” Just because no one else does it doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. In fact, those are the best ideas because those are the Services that set you apart from everyone else.

If your shop is in a downtown location where parking is a premium, hire some kids to do valet parking for you on your busy Fridays and Saturdays. Your customers will love it! If you are in a colder part of the country, set aside some space for a coat check. Your customers will shop longer and have more hands free for shopping if they aren’t wearing or lugging around a winter coat.

Customer Service is about meeting and exceeding your customer’s expectations. The more Services you offer, especially the Services “no one does,” the more likely you will exceed her expectations.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Every industry is different. Look at your list of Services. Then think about what Services a customer would expect you to offer. If you don’t offer it, you’re missing out. You need to add it ASAP. Then start brainstorming the fun, unexpected stuff and see what else you can do.

PPS When you get your list, don’t advertise everything on it. Make sure people know that you do the stuff they expect. You can even throw a few fun, unexpected items on your public list. But keep some stuff off your brochures and website so that you can surprise and delight your customers when you do it. This is how you generate Word of Mouth. (Then again, that’s a whole topic all to its own.)

When “Experience” Counts

We didn’t have a hierarchical structure at Toy House. While my dad was still there I did have the mantle of Vice President, but that was mostly to satisfy corporate rules. We didn’t have a manager or assistant managers or department heads. The closest thing we had to any kind of structure were the “key” employees—informally named because they had the keys to the building. They had the final say when I wasn’t in the building.

In my last group of key employees, none of them were hired because of their retail experience. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds and brought interesting skills to the table, but only one of them had worked in a similar environment (and she was hired because of skills she had shown in other non-retail jobs).

Yet there they were as my confidants, the inner circle of people I trusted the most with the safety and security of my retail business. They all shared a few traits such as the ability to stay calm in stressful situations, the ability to look at problems from the vantage point of what would be best for the customer and for the store’s reputation long term, and the ability to take charge of a situation if needed.

None of those traits are taught in typical retail training programs.

You are about to hire your seasonal team to help you get through the holidays. You already feel the crunch of the busy season. You worry if you will have the time to properly train your new seasonal staff well enough to serve your customers at the level they expect. Because of your fears and worries you make the single biggest mistake most retailers make in their hiring process.

You put too much emphasis on having “retail experience.”

Your thought process is that the more retail experience they have, the less training you need to do. I found out the hard way just how wrong that thought process really is.

First, understand that most other retailers don’t have a training program in place for their front line staff. They teach you how to clock in. They teach you how to read the schedule. They teach you how to run the register (if that’s part of your job). But the rest you pretty much have to pick up on your own. Therefore someone can have years of retail experience and still be lousy at it.

Second, recognize that your customers have a higher expectation from you and your staff than they do from most other retailers. So even if a new employee did get some modicum of training, it might not be anywhere close to the level you want them to have. Therefore all that “experience” ends up being a detriment, and you spend more time breaking bad habits than you do installing good habits.

The only “experience” that counts is their experience that shows they have the character traits you need. 

  • Do you want someone to be helpful? Find someone with experience being helpful and see whether they thrived in that position, regardless of where they worked.
  • Do you want someone to be a quick learner? Find someone with experience having to learn things quickly and see how well they did. (Did they grow in position and get promoted or stay stuck in one spot?)
  • Do you want someone who can solve problems? Find someone with experience doing a job that had problems needing to be solved and see how they did.
  • Do you want someone to be able to motivate others? Find someone with experience motivating others and see how well they did.

When I finally learned the lesson to stop hiring just because they had “retail experience” and started focusing on hiring for character traits, I found that my new hires without retail experience were often my best employees. They brought fresh, new perspective to the role while having the personality to meet my customers’ needs. Plus, I spent less time breaking them of their bad habits.

I know it is counter-intuitive. Heck, I read several books on hiring that echoed the sentiment of Harvard Business Essential’s book Hiring and Keeping the Best People that said, “The number one factor is experience on the job.” 

I beg to differ.

Experience counts. But it is the quality of experience, not the location of the experience that makes the difference. In retail, in management, in jobs where people skills trump specialized training, personality traits are far more important than having done a similar job somewhere else. 

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re hiring high school and college-aged kids, they often won’t have any retail experience. Their academic and extra-curricular careers, however, tell you a lot about their personality and whether they have the traits to be successful on the job.

PPS Since I couldn’t find any books teaching what I found worked best for hiring and training, I wrote my own book—Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art. When you want your team to be considered “beautiful, useful, strong, and long-lasting” you’ll pick up this book.

The Aha Moment (Or the Simplest Business Success Formula Ever!)

I’ve been looking at different job titles and job descriptions lately. The two that seem to grab my attention the most are the Marketing & Advertising jobs and the Managing People jobs. At first glance I figured I was drawn to those because those were two of my favorite things to do at Toy House.

Another thought hit me this morning on my drive home from dropping my son off at school.

Those two different jobs are really the same thing. Stop and think about it.

  • Awesome Customer Service is about figuring out your customer’s expectations and then exceeding them with surprise and delight.
  • Top-Level Selling is about figuring out your customer’s needs and then fulfilling them better than she expected.
  • Powerful Advertising is about figuring out your customer’s desires and then offering a solution better than she expected.
  • Amazing Events are about figuring out what your customer likes and then offering her more than she expects when she attends.
  • Incredible Managing is about figuring out what tools your team needs to be successful and then giving them better tools that take them beyond what they thought was possible.

It’s all the same thing.

  1. Figure out what she desires, needs, and expects.
  2. Give her more than she desires, needs, and expects.

That is the formula for a successful retail business. That is the formula for a successful service company. That is the formula for successful manufacturer. That is the formula for a successful advertising campaign. That is the formula for successfully managing your team. That is the formula for being successful as an employee.

The first part requires research. The first part is about studying human nature, watching market trends, thinking like a customer. The first part is about asking questions, listening, and analyzing what you hear. The first part is about testing and clarifying and testing some more. You’ll get it right some times and you’ll get it wrong some times. The better you do your research, the more often you will get it right.

The second part is about having that character trait in you that wants to help others. When you hire and train your team, look specifically for that trait and you’ll find the second part of the formula becomes second nature to your company. Your team will already want to give. You just have to show them what to give.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS An employee that figures out exactly what the boss wants and then gives the boss more than she wants will always have a meaningful job. A manager that equips her team with tools to make them better than they thought possible will always find people wanting to work for her. A marketer that can figure out the true desires of the customer base and speak to those desires will always move the needle. A salesperson who can figure out the exact problem a customer is trying to solve and then offer a solution better than she envisioned will always make more sales. A manufacturer who anticipates the needs of both the end user and the middleman and sets up a business to exceed both their expectations will find growth.

PPS I answered my own question. My Core Values include Helping Others and Education. I already have that character trait of giving (that’s why I write this blog and publish all the Free Resources). The Education side of me wants to do the research to figure out what to give.

When You’re Good to Momma

On a trip to NYC for Toy Fair a few years ago I met a family that came to the city just to go to Broadway shows. That sounded like a dream trip to me. I love musical theater. I wish Netflix had more “live Broadway” shows than they currently do. In spite of what the critics say about them, I even love movies based on Broadway shows (yes, including Evita!) One of my favorites is Chicago. There are a few songs I could watch over and over.

One is Queen Latifah singing “When You’re Good to Momma” about the Law of Reciprocity.

Last night I had my own Law of Reciprocity moment. I received an act of great generosity from someone because of the generosity this person received many decades ago from my grandfather. I will have to pay it forward as she did.

That’s how it works. You do something good for me and I feel the urge to do something good for you. If I can’t do something good for you, I pay it forward.

Bob Negen gives the example of walking through a set of doors. If two guys approach at the same time and one offers to hold the door open for the other, at the next set of doors the the other guy will hold them open for the first. It is a social contract.

Liberty Mutual did a whole commercial campaign around the idea of paying it forward (here is the full video, grab your tissue.) 

It also works in reverse. If you’re rude or disrespectful to me, I may fire back in kind. We’ve certainly seen a lot of that in the past several years.

As a business owner, however, you have one choice that works long term—Generosity.

Be generous in your offerings. Be generous in your kindness, your helpfulness, and your time. Be as generous for the customer spending $2.50 as you are for the customer spending $2,500. It pays in the long run.

Generosity helps your business in many ways.

  • First, it leads to more word-of-mouth. When your generosity is genuine, unexpected, and sincere, people talk about that to their friends.
  • Second, it leads to reciprocity. Generosity more often leads to trust, which leads to more sales. Yet even if your customers are not generous directly back to you, they may pay it forward, and that helps out everyone.
  • Third, you feel better. An eye-for-an-eye leaves the whole world blind.
  • Fourth, your customers are watching and judging you by your actions. In fact, unfair as it is, they are judging all small businesses by your actions.

The little things you do that you don’t have to do are big things in your customers’ eyes.

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” -James D. Miles

You have the choice of the reciprocity you wish to receive and the reciprocity you wish to foist upon the world. Generosity is the winning formula for small businesses.

Be good to Momma.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Calling another store to see if they have something you don’t carry is generous. Carrying heavy packages out to your customer’s car is generous. Offering free valet parking in a downtown setting is generous.  Making the customer look like a hero to her family or friends is generous. Adding an unexpected gift-with-purchase is generous. Spending time to get to know the customer, talk to her kids, and be interested in her life is generous. Treating the customers “just looking” with kindness, respect, and helpfulness is generous. Ask your staff at your next meeting. I am sure they can come up with some more ideas of ways to be generous.

Could This Happen in Your Store?

You have some time to kill before your next appointment. You pull into the parking lot of one of your favorite stores at 9:17am. You know they don’t open until 9:30am. It says so right on the door. That’s okay. You’ll sit and wait.

You look up from your phone to see someone walking into the store. You check your phone. Nope, still only 9:20am. Maybe she is an employee.

Image result for broken open signYou see another person walking out of the store with shopping bags in her arms. It’s only 9:21am. Three customers later, you’re wondering what is going on. Finally at 9:30am you walk in past the sign on the door that clearly says 9:30am to 9:00pm Monday through Saturday.

Once inside, you see plenty of customers already in the store shopping, but the two center rows of lights are off. Now you are really confused. You work your way toward the back of the store down one of the lit side aisles. You finally see a staff member near the back.

“I thought you opened at 9:30am”

“Not on Saturdays. We open at 10:30am on Saturdays. We never open at 9:30.”

“That’s not what your door says.”

“You need to read it again.”

“Then why are all these people in here already?”

“We’re having a special event.”

“Why are the lights off?”

“We aren’t open yet. I told you. We don’t open until 10:30am.”

You walk away from this employee with more questions than answers. A special event? Where are the signs? What kind of event? Why are the lights off? Why does the door say 9:30am? Why was she so rude?

You work your way carefully up one of the darkened aisles. You get to the front and walk to the door. It still says Monday through Saturday 9:30am to 9:00pm. No signs about special events anywhere.

You see another employee, a manager. You ask her the same questions. She confirms that the store normally opens at 9:30am. She confirms that they opened at 8:30am for a special event (even though you still haven’t seen any signs about it.) You ask her why the lights are off. She says, “Oh, I didn’t notice.”

Ten minutes later the lights come on. You look at your phone. 10:00am on the dot.

A few minutes later you walk out of the store empty handed, shaking your head, confused. One of your favorite stores has dropped a few notches on your list. You still don’t know what the special event was. You still don’t know how the manager couldn’t notice that half the aisles were too dark to shop. You still don’t know why the one employee was so adamant they don’t keep the hours they have posted on their front door.

About the only thing you can do is call your friend who writes a blog about retail. I took that call about 12:20pm today. I’m still not sure how to file this or even what lesson to learn from it.

Tom Clancy said, “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” This story makes no sense at all. That’s how you know it is true.

Is this about holding a special event and not making a big deal about it with signage, lights, and everyone on board?

Is this about an employee not knowing basics like the store hours and not knowing how to treat a customer with respect?

Is this about a manager not observant enough to know the lights aren’t on?

Or is this simply a cautionary tale that if you aren’t taking care of the details, you just might be turning off customers who otherwise liked you?

I’ll let you decide the lesson.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The unfortunate thing is that this is becoming the norm in retail. While that helps you differentiate yourself from your competitors, it also lowers the overall bar of expectation making it easier for your competitors to meet those lower expectations. It devalues customer service as a whole, and that is not good.