I didn’t steal a bunch of candy. Oh, I could have. I bought some over-priced M&Ms at a candy shop on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. The checkout was at the back of the store in the most awkward place. I had to walk up a ramp, stand in a line, then stand in the entry way to the nostalgic candy area near the back of the store to pay for my purchases.
I watched customer after customer walk away from the checkout with a decorative paper bag into which they could have tossed tens or even hundreds of dollars worth of loose candy from multiple displays on their way to the front of the store. I don’t think they did. I didn’t. But I could have.
Sure, the store had cameras near the front door. But with the crowd that was in that store on a Saturday afternoon, beating those cameras would have been a breeze worthy of the Windy City.
It wasn’t just the shoplifting aspect that bothered me with the layout of this particular store.
The registers were side by side, but the line to get to them was beside them, not in front of them. If someone was at the first register, by the time it was your turn, you had to scootch around them to get to the second register. If someone big, or a party of two or more was at the first register, you couldn’t even see the tiny little cashier at the open register.
The registers were also poorly placed in the doorway to a special section of nostalgic candy. You know Nostalgia is one of my Core Values. I was excited to enter that section. I was a lot less excited waiting for the gal at checkout with her stroller that was blocking my entry to the area.
I suppose if you’re in a large city like Chicago, catering to the tourist crowd, you can overcharge for your goods to offset your shrinkage and create a layout that frustrates the heck out of customers knowing that they likely won’t be back anyway.
If you’re not in this situation, you might want to plan your layout more carefully.
Put the cash-wrap where you can see everything and everyone in the store, but also close enough so that once people check out, they can easily leave. More importantly, plan the line of customers for checkout so that they don’t block other customers trying to shop. Best of all, make it easy and intuitive for customers to know where to go and what to do when they are ready to check out.
I know there is a train of thought that says you want a layout that gets people to the back of the store. Using your checkout as the lure, though, is not the best way to accomplish this, especially in a store that has a ton of traffic and sells easily-pocketed items.
This kid definitely wasn’t as enthralled with this candy shop.
PS I will give them props on the centerpiece display. The giant lollipop tree pictured here was worthy of the stop and a good example of Over-the-Top-Design. They also had several choose-your-own-flavor stands for things like Jelly Bellies, M&Ms, and other candies. But then again, the last feeling of the experience is the lasting feeling of the experience. Don’t let your customers walk out unhappy, confused, frustrated, or befuddled.
I just got back from Chicago. Fabulous trip! I was hired to do a couple presentations for the Diamond Retailer Summit hosted by Diamond Comics Distributors. I did two talks—Selling in a Showrooming World and Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget. I also got to do something new for me. I had a booth during their afternoon showcase. I have visited several booths over the years, but this was the first time I got to have a booth under the banner of Phil’s Forum.
I knew a little about having booths in big convention halls from my friends who own toy and baby product companies. I knew I wanted to have a booth I could carry in by myself, that wouldn’t take any special tools to build, and wouldn’t require electricity. We were in McCormick Place in Chicago and it wasn’t in my budget to pay for any “help.”
The McCormick Place website was helpful in giving me some basic information. I got my parking pass in advance so that I would have a guaranteed space in Lot A. I knew I was in the South Building, fourth floor, so I would have to take the sky bridge from parking to my building. All was good.
Until I got off the highway.
The signs leading to Lot A were all but nonexistent. I only saw one, vaguely over an area of road where several roads converged. I never knew if I was in the proper lane. I was about to turn around, thinking I had gone too far when the turn I made actually led me directly into the parking lot, surprise, surprise. One frustration down.
My signs for my booth weren’t heavy. A little awkward, but those fancier, lightweight, compact signs just weren’t in the budget. I made my way from the garage across the sky bridge into the South Building. It was dark. I was in the lobby of the building in front of the grand ballroom and rooms S101-S104. There were two big escalators, neither working. There were elevators at both ends of the lobby, neither working. There was a sign with a map of the different levels telling me I was in the South Building on Level 1, and showing that my room—S401—was also in the South Building on Level 4.
Nowhere on that sign did it give me any indication I needed to leave the South Building and go to the main entrance between the North & South Buildings to find a working elevator to get me to the 4th floor. Nowhere was there a sign to let me know that the 4th floor rooms were all the way in the back of the building, another quarter mile from where I was standing, lost, looking at their signs, or that I would have to either maneuver my signs up escalators or traverse a snaking path between the two buildings to get there. Nowhere was there any person at the bottom of the escalator from the sky bridge to direct traffic for people coming in from Lot A.
After finding a working elevator to get me to the fourth floor, I then hiked the snaking pathway between the North and South buildings until finally finding my way to room S401. (Did I mention my signs were not heavy, but awkward? By now they were feeling much heavier than when I started.)
Once I got to my room and stopped sweating, my day went infinitely better. The talks were home runs (at least that’s the immediate feedback I got.) The booth time was excellent. I met some fascinating people and may have some incredible new opportunities. The food was pretty yummy, too. All in all it was an awesome day!
Then I had to head back.
Not wanting to do the snaking pathway back along the fourth floor, I took the elevator at the back of the building down to the first floor. Rookie mistake. There are no signs anywhere that tell you the “first floor” at the back elevator is not the same “first floor” as the front elevator. Now I was lost deep in the bowels of the convention center. Fortunately, a friendly security guard directed me up a couple escalators that got me back to an area I recognized.
He admitted the signage was lacking greatly and what signage they did have was confusing. He assured me I wasn’t the first person who had made this mistake.
Let’s stop right there.“He assured me I wasn’t the first person who had made this mistake.”
If there is a “mistake” a customer has made interacting with your business, that’s a potential red flag for you. If it happens once, then it might be the customer’s fault. If it happens more than once, you have a problem you need to fix.
If multiple customers don’t know what to do or where to go, that’s on you, not them. Somewhere along the way, you haven’t made it clear what they need to do next.
This could be a problem on your website where the call-to-action isn’t clear on each page. This could be a problem with your checkout if people don’t know where to line up or put their merchandise. This could be a problem with your services if people don’t know how they work or what they have to do or where they have to go.
If you have this problem, might I suggest a sign or two? There should have been a clear sign at the bottom of the escalator from the sky bridge when I entered the South Building telling me where to go. If not that, there should have been a person stationed there to direct traffic. There should have been clear signage at the back elevator explaining that it did not lead to the same “first floor”.
McCormick Place opened in 1960, expanded several times, and is the largest convention center in North America. This isn’t their first rodeo. They should know better by now. The security guard knew it. He shouldn’t be apologizing for mistakes made by someone else. Maybe he has complained before, but no one listened. Maybe he never bothered to complain because he figured no one would listen.
There are things you should know better, too. Make sure you are listening and actively looking for those “mistakes” that can be easily corrected.
PS Yes, I probably missed something along the way. I’m not perfect. But I do like to think of myself as somewhat observant. If I missed it (and I was looking for it), I’m sure others did, too. Here is the thing, though. If your customers are made to feel stupid—even if it is their own mistake—they won’t come back. If your customers are made to feel comfortable, they will come back. If your customers are made to feel wonderful, they’ll bring their friends back with them.
PPS I am ready for my next visit to McCormick Place. If you’re looking for a dynamic speaker who isn’t afraid to admit he got lost in a convention center, who likes to learn from his mistakes, and is willing to use what he has learned from all his mistakes over the years to help you succeed, give me a holler.
I was in Houston a few weeks ago doing a staff training for a fellow toy store owner’s team. After the training three of us (two former toy store owners and one current toy store owner) took a nice long walk. I got to see some of the places where the floods from last summer’s hurricane had left their mark. It was mind-blowing trying to imagine just how high the water got compared to its level that day.
We also walked through a little neighborhood shopping area. I was immediately drawn to the sign that said “Free Beer”. Yeah, we went inside.
The store sold beachwear and was in between last year’s fashions that were severely depleted and this year’s fashions that had yet to come in. If their regular stock levels were the highest point of the flood, their current stock levels were below the lowest point in the water table. They barely had anything to make you think they were in business.
They did, however, have a cooler full of beer and a Tiki Toss game on the wall (you know the game—the ring on a string that you swing to try to land it on the hook on the wall). They were throwing a party inside the store to celebrate. They weren’t celebrating the clearance of the old lineup. They weren’t celebrating the arrival of the new lineup (it hadn’t yet arrived). They were simply celebrating the customers.
I walked in and got a free beer. I also got a coozie sleeve for that beer. I also played Tiki Toss, and when I got a ringer they gave me a free foam, um, hat? I don’t know what it was for sure, or what it was for, but I packed it in my luggage and brought it home.
Here are three more examples of how to give your customer more than he or she desires, needs, or expects.
DADDY/CHILD PLAY DATE
On a typical Saturday morning we will see a parent in our store with a child. They aren’t there to shop. They are just there to browse and play. Sometimes it is Saturday afternoon and they have a couple hours to kill between the wedding and the reception. Sometimes it is a dad who is looking for an inexpensive way to have some fun with his child.
Whatever it is, the expectation is that the parent is hoping to kill some time, let the child have some fun looking at all the cool toys, and maybe play with a sample toy or two.
In one instance a dad brought his daughter in to play. We had just received some new magnetic blocks. I made it a big deal to pull out the blocks and allow her to be the first kid in Jackson to play with this new toy. She squealed with excitement. No, he didn’t buy those blocks … that day. He bought them on Monday. That little girl is in college now and we got to watch her grow up.
LATE FOR BIRTHDAY PARTY
Another common Saturday visitor is on her way to a birthday party, often running late. One of my staff related this Smile Story at a staff meeting …
“She called the store, said she was on her way to a birthday party for a six-year old boy. Could we pick a LEGO set out for around $25 and have it wrapped so that she could run in and get it quickly? So I got her item, wrapped it, and then attached a blue helium balloon to it. She was so thrilled! She was the gal who came in last week with a tray of cookies. She said, ‘Not only do the kids always go for the packages wrapped in Toy House paper first, when you have a helium balloon attached, you’re the first of the first!'”
Think about that one for a moment. This customer already had a pretty high bar of expectation if she felt she could call ahead and have us pick the right gift and have it wrapped. Yet my staff still found a way to exceed that.
THREE GRANDKIDS FOR FIVE DAYS
This is one of my favorite stories. I even wrote a radio ad about it. One of our regular customers came in asking for help. She had three grandkids visiting for five days and wanted a new toy for each day of their visit. Not only did my staff pick out fifteen great toys, they wrapped each one, labeled them with the child’s name and the date to open. When she came back into the store, she said, “Phil, your staff is the best! My grandson thinks I am the best toy picker ever. He said, ‘These toys are better than if I picked them out myself!’ Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I use these stories to illustrate that you don’t need to do a whole lot to exceed your customer’s expectations. You just have to first know what those expectations are. In all three instances we didn’t give away the farm. In fact, we didn’t use discounts or deals to win the hearts of these customers. We just found out what they wanted, and gave them a little more.
PS The first step in giving your customer more than she desires, needs, or expects is to eliminate the phrase, “No, we don’t do that,” from your vocabulary. If your customer is asking if you do something, then she expects it is something you would do. If it isn’t too crazy, do it. What have you got to lose (except another customer)?
A few years ago I went to lunch with a fellow toy store owner. I had wanted to see his store, so we made plans for me to visit and then go get lunch. Since we were in his town, I left it up to him to pick a place for lunch. What he said next I still cannot believe.
“Well, my favorite lunch place is out because I went there yesterday. A couple of our city council members stopped by and took me to lunch to ask me if there was more they could be doing for my business.”
Jaw meet floor.
That kind of respect for a local independent business is a rare bird in the world of government. Instead we see communities falling all over themselves to throw money at Amazon, not realizing that even if they don’t get an Amazon HQ or DC, they are still “giving money” to Amazon as local tax revenues are lost while local independent businesses struggle to survive.
For most indie retailers, even the government is slanted against us. You pretty much have to be a chain store or opening a mega-store for government to throw you any kind of bone.
In spite of all that, local independent retailers are starting to see a surge.
In a recent article discussing the problems plaguing Walmart, the author said, “Selling products to strangers doesn’t cut it anymore. To succeed in retail today you need to start with the customer, not the product.”
The article went on to talk about how several eCommerce sites are expanding into brick & mortar to better serve the customers.
Do you know who is best-suited to take advantage of this it’s-about-the-customers-more-than-the-products era of retail? You guessed it! Local independent retailers.
Believe it or not, it hasn’t been about the products for indie retailers for over a decade. It used to be that if you invented a new product you had to pitch that product to existing vendors or go into manufacturing yourself and pitch it to a handful of indie retailers to get started. Then, after the product gained traction and had sales history, bigger vendors might take interest. Once the bigger vendors got their hands on it, the product could make its way to the masses.
That model is gone. Now if you have an idea, you crowdfund it and launch it online until the big guys swoop in and buy you out.
Local indie retailers have had to build relationships with customers and offer them curated selections of great items they’ve likely never seen before to succeed. Fortunately, that model works. According to the article, that’s the new model of retail. According to me, that’s also the old model of retail.
Fostering relationships with your customers and building loyalty through something other than a frequent purchase discount never goes out of style.
The simplest way to do that is:
Figure out what she desires, needs, and expects.
Give her more than she desires, needs, and expects.
This is how you compete in today’s retail environment. You can’t control what product fads will be hot. You can’t control what vendors will stab you in the back (pro tip: every year at least one vendor goes back on his word about a product or product line he promised to keep exclusive to the indie channel.) You can’t control what products you will actually get shipped. On top of that, you can’t control what happens to the local, state or national economy. Nor can you control Mother Nature.
But you can control the experience someone has in your store. You can control the type of people you hire and the training they receive to be able to figure out those expectations and exceed them regularly. Do that and you’ll control your destiny as well.
PS Your local government would do well to understand the formula, too. If they would create an environment where the needs and expectations of indie retailers were met (and exceeded), they would see tax revenues begin to rise. Indie retailers typically have more staff and a higher payroll per sale than the chains. Indie retailers typically use less land and less local services (police/fire etc.) than the big chains. They also create character, draw outside traffic, and give local communities their charm. Yet, in the last twenty-five years, that opening story is the only time I have heard firsthand about a government trying to exceed the expectations of their most profitable “customers”.
I had my first Chick Fil A sandwich a few years ago. We don’t have a Chick Fil A in Jackson, and until recently didn’t have any in the entire state of Michigan. I knew people that drove to Toledo, OH just to get Chick Fil A. That’s pretty high praise for a fast food sandwich.
It is deserving praise, too.
That sandwich is quite good. Every single time. Every. Single. Time.
I’m not alone in liking that sandwich. The average Chick Fil A restaurant does $4.4 million in sales. Contrast that to Kentucky Fried Chicken that does $1.1 million in sales. Four times their biggest competitor! Number one overall in sales per restaurant in the fast food industry! And they’re only open six days a week!!
It isn’t just the sandwich that makes them the true kings of Fast Food Chicken. It is the service.
“The chain consistently ranks first in restaurant customer-service surveys. In reviews, customers rave about the restaurants’ cleanliness, quick, convenient service, and hardworking employees.”
The article goes on to say …
“Chick-fil-A says its service is so consistent because it invests more than other companies in training its employees and helping them advance their careers — regardless of whether those careers are in fast food.”
Invests more in training its employees. Gee. Where have you heard that before?
I’m going to tell you one other thing that sets them apart. They do what other fast food restaurants don’t do. Look at this picture of the Chick Fil A in Athens, GA.
You don’t see that in other restaurants, period.
There are only seven fast food restaurants doing more overall business than Chick Fil A. All of them have many multiple times more stores than Chick Fil A.
Like I said before … You can either do stuff no one else is doing, or you can open up more stores than anyone else. Those are the two paths to success.
PS I went into a Kentucky Fried Chicken the other day. The menu was amazingly confusing. It didn’t even have everything on it. Worst of all, I only wanted some of their chicken strips and a drink. I was told it would be more expensive to buy chicken strips and a drink than to buy the meal which got me chicken strips, a drink, a side, and a cookie. I’m trying to watch my carb intake. I didn’t want a side or a cookie. My choices were to …
Pay less and throw away food
Pay more and not throw away food
Pay less and eat more than I wanted
This is a business plan???
Let’s just say I was surprised, but far from delighted.
PPS You could look at this as a lazy post, just using someone else’s research to make my point. I look at it as a Case Study and social proof that what I have been preaching is working for a business that believes the way I do. By the way, Case Studies are a great advertising tool, too. Don’t tell people what you do, show them.
I hope someday to be world famous. I could almost say that I already am world famous. I do have a follower in Russia. I have another in Serbia and one in Austria. I have a couple followers from the southern hemisphere. I have shipped my Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel book overseas on several occasions. I’m not exactly a household name, but getting there.
Some places claim to be world famous on even less than that. Some places truly are world famous. I talked about two of them yesterday.
Here is another worth mentioning.
Pike Place Fish Market, the retailer highlighted in the excellent training book FISH!, wasn’t world famous at one time. They were just a fish market in Seattle trying to carve out a niche in their market. Business was okay. Like every retailer on the planet, they wanted it to be more than okay. The staff and management got together and decided they wanted to be World Famous.
Deciding you want to be World Famous is powerful. Acting on that decision is the true magic.
When the team at the fish market made that decision, the first question that popped up was the one that would change their fortunes forever.
“What does a World Famous Fish Market look and act like?”
The simplest answer was that it doesn’t look and act like all the other fish markets out there. It does things differently.
A World Famous Retailer …
Offers services no other retailer in their industry offers
Treats customers better than they could ever imagine
Has hard-to-find products no one else sells
Makes an emotional connection with their customers
Makes people feel good about themselves, about their purchases, and about life in general
Is an experience, not just a shopping trip
Is prepared for crowds (heck, they are prepared for anything)
Foresees problems before they happen, and nips them in the bud
Fixes problems right away without hassle, and to a level better than the customer expected
Being World Famous is a mindset first, a recognition second, and a designation third. The path to World Famous is pretty simple. Decide you want to be world famous and do everything on that list consistently year-in-and-year-out, or open up a few thousand stores. Either way, you’ll become World Famous.
Bronner’s is a mecca for anyone who loves Christmas. It is over 90,000 square feet of all Christmas all the time. Tens of thousands of ornaments from all over the globe grace display upon display upon display. Buses stop frequently all year long bringing tourists to this amazing store. Like Toy House, Bronner’s was also named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin (Penguin 2009).
Zehnder’s is a massive restaurant with several dining rooms and a chicken dinner you drive to get. (They also have a water-park hotel, golf course, and marketplace, but the restaurant is the crown jewel.)
A typical trip to Frankenmuth requires a stop at both of these iconic businesses.
I made that trip last Saturday to get into the Christmas Spirit. It worked! The trip, however, was not without its lessons.
It was the Saturday two weeks before Christmas. I knew it would be busy. I expected it to be mobbed. I was prepared for the throngs of shoppers and diners.
Zehnder’s, apparently, was not. When we entered the restaurant there was no clear way to go. There appeared to be a line that eventually split into two lines, but then again there were people milling about on chairs in a lounge-type area. Being a guy, I looked for signs. Didn’t find any. We got into what appeared to be the back of the line, but then again, the mass of people standing everywhere made it hard to be sure we were at the back of the line, or if we were even in the right line because it now looked like there might be three separate lines.
Fortunately the people who got into line behind us confirmed we were in the right line. They had waited almost 30 minutes in the wrong line before being directed to our spot.
Another fifteen minutes passed in this line until we met the host who then informed us to go stand in another line and that we would be seated in approximately an hour and a half.
Now mind you, this was at 2:10pm in the afternoon. Can you imagine what noon and 5pm looked like? Nowhere was there a sign directing traffic. Nowhere were there ropes to guide you. There were a couple of unhappy employees (I assume they were employees because unlike everyone else, they weren’t wearing or holding jackets, but they also weren’t wearing uniforms or name-tags) directing traffic by occasionally yelling at people entering the building and telling them where to go.
Zehnder’s has been open since 1856. This isn’t their first rodeo. I doubt this crowd was that much bigger than usual. In fact I would bet they have crowds like this every year at this time, if not every Saturday all year long. You would think they would have a better system for crowd control by now. It was more the lack of crowd control that caused my party to decide not to eat there than it was the two hour wait time. We could have waited if we felt cared for, if we felt confident they knew what they were doing. But this obvious lack of control was unsettling.
Contrast that to Bronner’s.
A quick Google search tells me that Frankenmuth, MI has a population of 5,131 people (2016). Most of them must work at Bronner’s. Bronner’s website tells me they get about 50,000 visitors over Black Friday weekend. Doing the math, I would guess there were at least 5,000-10,000 of my new best friends in the store shopping with me last Saturday.
Yet as crowded as it was, it wasn’t hard to get around. The signage was spectacular and easy to see. They also had maps available to guide us to the several different departments. I was never more than twenty feet away from a red-vested employee eager to help me find what I wanted. In fact, they had several information stands staffed by at least two employees all throughout the store.
It was everything you would expect from a top-level retailer. They were prepared for a busy day and it showed. I spent two wonderful hours there, soaking up all the Christmas Joy and basking in the fun and excitement of retail done right. The store was packed with people and strollers and shopping carts. You couldn’t move fast, often having to shuffle along from one display to the next, but you never felt crowded. The eager, friendly staff and the amazing merchandising and displays made the crowds more bearable and put everyone, especially the shoppers, into a better mood.
That was the lesson right there.
Don’t meet your customer’s expectations and they walk away frustrated and disappointed. Meet and exceed your customer’s expectations and they stay and shop and have fun. I stayed and shopped and had a blast!
More important than how much a customer spent is how that customer felt about it. I’m sure many people walked away from Zehnder’s after waiting over an hour for their chicken dinner thinking, “Okay, I did that. Won’t have to do it again.” while many people walked away from Bronner’s thinking, “That was fun! I can’t wait to do it again.”
PS If you’re expecting a crowd, plan for it. Make sure your customers know exactly where to go and what to do. If you are expecting a lot of new faces, have maps and flyers telling them where to go and what to do. Act like you’ve been there and done that and that you expected to be this busy. Most of all, act like you’re having fun! Your mood affects the mood of everyone. If you act like you’re stressed, your customers will feel stressed. if you act like big crowds weren’t expected, your customers will not believe you to be all that wonderful.
PPS I am not knocking Zehnder’s at all. I am sure they are a fine restaurant and I know their chicken dinner is spectacular. But I guess because they are “world-famous” and have been around since before the Civil War I expected so much more out of them. That’s the one problem with being world-famous. The bar is set much higher. You have to be better than everyone else at everything. That’s also why advertising that you have “great customer service” is dangerous. First, it tells the customer nothing. Second, it raises the bar of expectation. Don’t tell me you have “great customer service.” Show me one really cool thing you do for me (and leave the other really cool things you do unspoken so that you’ll surprise and delight me.)
I read a fascinating article that I think every retailer should read. It is one writer’s opinion of what the Store of the Future will look like, and it’s a good opinion.
We know the store of the future will have amazing tech. This article talks about what some of that tech will look and act like.
There was one paragraph in the article, however, that stuck out to me. It was this little passage toward the end …
“In the future, the smart retailer should not care whether customers purchased an item on a given trip or not. The smart retailer should only care whether its customers had a great time and that they yearn to come back again and again.”
That doesn’t sound like the store of the future to me. That sounds like the store you should be right now. That’s the Store of Today. That’s what is winning in this retail climate.
Go read the article. You might laugh when you see who the author looks up to to provide that experience that gets customers to yearn to come back.
When everything you do today is about getting your customer to want to come back tomorrow, then you are playing the long game. Yes, even now while you are “making hay” you need to be making sure you’re making the customer have so much fun she can’t wait to return. That won yesterday, is winning today, and will win in the Store of the Future. All the tech in the world won’t change that one simple truth.
One of the phone calls I dreaded most while running Toy House would happen occasionally on my lunch hour. I’d look down at my cellphone and see “Toy House” was calling. It rarely was a “problem.” My staff knew exactly how I liked problems to be handled. The phone call I dreaded was most often this simple question …
“When will you be back? We have a customer waiting to get her car seat checked.”
I hated that call. Not because it meant cutting my lunch short. If you’ve seen me, you know I could stand to skip a few meals now and then. I hated that call because it meant a customer was not getting served properly. If you offer a service, you need to offer it every single moment you are open.
Although we started checking car seats back in the late 1990’s, we didn’t publicize it as a service until 2005 because I didn’t have enough people trained to offer that service full time until 2005. With the exception of trade show weeks and vacations, I made sure someone was scheduled to offer this service almost every single moment we were open.
I was reminded of this a few days ago when I stopped in a Meijer store early one morning. I was in this store that is open 24/7 at 7:50am to do a return. They have a Customer Service desk where you go for returns. I went there and spoke to the nice lady behind the counter. She informed me they weren’t open yet. Not open? The store is open 24/7!
“Could I take my items to a cash register lane to do the return?”
“No, you’ll have to wait until 8am.”
The store may be open 24/7 but the Customer Service desk is only open 8am to 10pm. Apparently they only offer service for 14 of those 24 hours.
It reminded me of the time I once went to a Sam’s Club. They had the item I wanted in stock, but it was “up in the steel.” Unfortunately there were no forklift drivers to get it down for me. I would have to wait until morning. Really???
I point these out because these are the kinds of stories people like to share with their friends. These are the negative stories that get passed along from person to person, growing in scope and stature with each re-telling.
That’s why I hated to get that phone call. That was one more customer who could potentially have a negative story to share about my store.
If you advertise you offer a service, you have to offer that service the entire time you are open. Period. Otherwise you open yourself up to that other kind of advertising that is extremely difficult to overcome.
PS If you have a service that is impossible to offer the entire time you are open, make sure the restrictions are known well in advance. Let people know clearly if it is by appointment only, or limited hours, or only on certain days. Control the stories people tell about your business and you’ll control the growth of your business. Oh, and always keep your cellphone on when you go to lunch.
I walked into a large chain furniture store. There was a line of salespeople waiting to pounce on anyone walking through the door. It reminded me of the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin’s character was waiting in line to use an ATM while another line of muggers waited to mug everyone after they got their money. It was almost that comical.
I wasn’t there to buy anything, just to gather information. (I’m the guy. Of course I don’t get to make final purchasing decisions on furniture. If they had been trained on personas, they might have suspected that in the first place.)
The sales lady was pleasant and helpful, finding all the information I needed. She was also trying all the closing techniques you read in all those books on sales. She definitely was trained in the Always Be Closing mindset. When it looked like I really wasn’t going to buy, she played the trump card.
“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends today?“
I thanked her for her time and kept browsing. Then, as the playbook would dictate, her manager came over to try to close the sale she couldn’t close. It wasn’t happening. He left me with this …
“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends tomorrow?“
This is why customers don’t trust us. They know we are all about the sale. We’ll say anything to get that sale.
Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities we used to earn back some trust by showing we cared about more than just the sale. We posted every year on social media that we were choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving and open at our regular time Black Friday morning. We did it so that my staff could enjoy the holiday and/or go shopping for Black Friday deals themselves. We’d have coffee ready when the shoppers visited at our normal hours.
This willingness to forego opportunities for sales paid off long term because it strengthened our reputation of caring more about people than money. Lose the battle to win the war.
Plus, that post went viral almost every single year.
Twice our local newspaper wrote about it. The radio and television news people talked about it several times.
Trust is fragile, yet it is a critical element for winning customers’ hearts and minds (and eventually their pocketbooks). When you sacrifice sales for the purpose of serving your staff, your customers, and/or your community, you build that trust up. When you say or do anything just to get the sale, you lose that trust. Your choice.
PS If you are in a mall, you have no control over your hours. If you are in a strip mall or shopping center where there is a big draw that brings in a lot of traffic, it behooves you to be open for all those customers the other store is attracting. That’s smart customer service. But if you are a stand-alone or in an area where no one else is drawing traffic, you can choose to not be open early. It won’t cost you as much in sales as you think, but it will win you a ton in trust.
PPS If you cannot control your hours, there are other things you can do and state publicly such as pay your staff overtime, grant them extra comp time, have food for them while they are working, serve coffee for staff and customers, and donate to charity. Show the public what you truly value. Those that share your values will find you.