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“Customer Service” is Dead

I make a living teaching businesses how to raise the bar on their Customer Service. It is one of my favorite presentations that always gets rave reviews. In fact, I have several presentations built around the concept of how and why to offer better Customer Service.

Yesterday I got an email from a toy store manager who was struggling to get her new team to connect their Customer Service Training with actually serving the customers. She was looking for ideas to help them understand and deliver the concept of Great Customer Service. It was then I realized something profound …

“Customer Service” is dead.

Not the action, just the phrase. It means nothing. It has no basis for today’s workers. It is vapid and useless and needs to go on Lake Superior State University’s list of banished words (might I also suggest adding “omnichannel?”)

The phrase is meaningless because so few retail outlets actually offer anything remotely resembling what it used to mean. Think about today’s young adults. Where are they shopping in brick & mortar? Big-box discounters like Walmart and Target? Check. Discount and close-out rack stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Home Goods? Check. Cheapie stores like Dollar General and Five Below? Check. Under-manned and under-trained department stores like Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney’s and Kohl’s? Check.

When you tell your staff to focus on offering great Customer Service, they have no point of reference to understand what you mean. Most of them have never been in a Nordstrom’s at the peak of their game. Most of them have never been in an indie store like yours that spends the time and energy you do on training your team. They have heard the phrase, but cannot connect it to anything meaningful in their experiences.

Image result for problem solvingMy response to that toy store manager was to quit training on Customer Service. Drop that word from the vocabulary and instead focus on something for which they have a frame of reference like “Problem Solving” or “Surprise and Delight.”

Problem Solving is something we all have to do in our lives, something we all have experience with doing, something to which we all can relate. Instead of telling your staff to offer better Customer Service, teach them to be better at figuring out what problem a customer has come in to solve.

It might be someone needing a birthday present, or someone changing their wardrobe, or someone just killing time. Because of all the churches downtown we often had families in nice clothes show up on a Saturday afternoon just to kill time between the wedding and the reception.

It might be someone working on a project, or someone trying to replace an heirloom, or someone who saved up their money for a big purchase. In a toy store we often got kids with allowance or baby-sitting money burning a hole in their pocket.

Whatever the problem, your team’s true goal is to figure it out and help the customer solve it. We had a dad in the store one Saturday morning with the kids. He was filling time. We showed him all the demos and displays so that he could be the hero taking his kids around the store to play. We often had customers on their way to a birthday party that started ten minutes ago. Our staff would take the item before they checked out, leave the price tag at the register, and start wrapping it just to save time (and with a nice helium balloon on top, it was the hit package at the party.)

Surprise and Delight is another frame of reference to which we can all relate. We’ve all had that moment when something really cool and unexpected happened. Work with your staff to identify those moments when you can surprise and delight customers. Maybe it is something you give out of generosity. Maybe it is saying, “Yes!” to some crazy request. Maybe it is identifying what the customer truly desires and offering not only that but a little more. Maybe it is doing something totally unexpected. On several occasions, including a few Christmas Eves, I made after-work deliveries of large, bulky toys and baby products to customers who couldn’t be home during our normal delivery hours, or who needed the items right away.

When you get your staff laser-focused on Problem Solving or finding new ways to Surprise and Delight, they can relate better and understand their role better. At the end of the day, they are raising the bar on Customer Service, whether they know it or not. You just aren’t using that phrase.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Reinforce this concept with your staff by always having them regale the tales of when they solved a problem or delighted a customer. I always started my staff meetings with Smile Stories (our tagline and my focus with my team was, “We’re here to make you smile.”) These were the moments when the staff truly made a customer happy. Not only did it reinforce our purpose, it started our meetings off on a positive, feel-good high, which made the meeting far more productive than the typical here-is-what-you-did-wrong-last-week berating that poor managers use to start their meetings.

PPS Since closing Toy House, I have abdicated the throne of being the “Largest Independent Toy Store in America.” There are some amazing contenders for that throne. One of them is The Toy Store with locations in Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas. It was one of their managers, always seeking better ways to train her staff, who reached out to me with the question above. I have full confidence her team will be solving problems and delighting customers at every turn by the time they reach the fourth quarter. If you want to see a magical toy store, check them out if you’re ever near their towns.

What Time Do You Close?

Twenty-six years ago this week I was living in California working for the Orange County Public Schools teaching Outdoor Education at Camp Edwards in the mountains above San Bernardino. It was the last week of the school year, our last group of fifth and sixth graders up at camp.

You know what that last week of school is like. There is a giddy anticipation of summer break from both the students and the teachers. The whole week feels different than any other week of the school year.

We felt it up at Camp Edwards, too. That’s why our director sat us down a couple hours before the buses arrived and made it crystal clear that we would make NO reference to this being the last week. We would do NOTHING different to celebrate the end of the school year. We would act as though this was as normal as a week in March.

Her reasoning for this was the kids that week deserved to have the same kind of experience every other student had throughout the year. Equally important was the kids from previous weeks not missing out because we made the last week special.

She wanted consistency, whether you were the first group at camp, the last group at camp, or the middle group during the January snowstorm. She wanted the highest level of standards for every single group of students under her care.

It was tough, but we got through the week without a single reference to the end of the school year.

It’s kinda like closing time at your store. If there is one thing I did completely wrong at Toy House for many years, it was closing time. When the last customer exited, we went home. We didn’t hang around to clean or stock shelves. We left. Out the door. See ya, bye bye.

That in and of itself wasn’t a problem. A lot of businesses leave right after closing and do all the other stuff the following morning before opening. The problem was how this get-out-the-door-quick mentality affected closing time and the experiences we gave our customers.

In our minds we treated last-minute customers the same as everyone else, offering to help them find what they needed, gift wrap all their packages, carry everything out to their car for them, etc. It was the subtle clues, however, that sent the strongest messages.

For many years we closed at 6pm, but we started closing around 5:30pm. At that time the staff began emptying wastebaskets, using glass cleaner to wash fingerprints off the front doors, cleaning off the counters, and even shutting down one of the three cash registers.

At 5:55pm we would turn off half the lights in the store to warn people that we were getting ready to close. (I debated the whole lights vs. PA announcement several times and never came up with a good answer for one over the other.)

We also put our “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign on the door. By that time the staff was shutting down the second of three cash registers. They were all huddled up front, waiting to checkout the last customer and get out the door.

If you were a customer and saw the lights go out before closing time, or saw the staff doing cleaning and end-of-day prep, or noticed how all the staff had left the selling area, or felt the staring eyes wondering when you were going to leave, no amount of friendliness from the staff was going to remove that initial feeling.

First and last impressions are the most powerful and most remembered. We were leaving our customers with a less-than-pleasant last impression.

It was only in the last couple years that it dawned on me what we were doing. I needed to adopt the lesson I learned from Camp Edwards and make sure we were “open” the hours we said we were open. No more pre-cleanup. No more lights out or hanging the sign before closing time. No more huddling up front, waiting to get out the door. The last customer of the day deserved the same experience as the first customer of the day and the customer who came in during the middle of the day.

We immediately switched to not starting our closing routine until the actual closing time and not a second before. (I say immediately but in reality old habits were hard to break. It took us months to get into the new routine.)

If your sign says you are open 9am to 7pm, your first customer at 9am and your last customer at 7pm deserve the exact same treatment as the customer who came in at 2:23pm. Anything less and you are hurting the relationship-building you’re trying to do.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, there are those customers who walk in at 6:55pm to start leisurely browsing the aisles, in no hurry to make a decision, expecting you to stay open thirty, forty, even sixty minutes past your closing time. Those people are rude. There are also people who rush in at 6:55pm because they got out of work late and need one quick item. Those people are worth their weight in gold. It is worth putting up with one or two rude people every now and then to make sure you are leaving a strong lasting impression on everyone else.

PPS If you aren’t open until at least 7:00pm or later, you’re likely going to have a lot of last-second customers (and equally a lot of missed customers). Retailers that close at 5pm are catering to the ever-shrinking stay-at-home crowd and the unemployed. (But I’ll leave that rant for another day.)

Some Inventory Management is a Customer Service Issue, Too

My mom shops like a man. Get in, get what you need, and get out. Her lifetime of being raised in retail, her always efficient use of time, and her preference to spend her free time playing golf, playing bridge, reading books, or doing cross-stitch needlepoint all have led her to this shopping style. Oh, she’ll browse the dozens of catalogs she gets in the mail each week, but spending a day at the mall is not her idea of a great time.

Even in a book store, her favorite form of shopping, she’s a hunter more than a browser.

Last weekend, however, she took my boys on a shopping trip, hitting several stores in the Ann Arbor area. Of course, she hit those stores the way she always does, with purpose, focus, and an eye for efficiency. At one point in Macy’s, while my older son tried on some shorts, she asked my younger son to go find a cash register that was actually open. Her keen eye had not seen any employees at any registers yet, and she had to have her exit strategy mapped out.

She’s training my boys to shop like her, much in the way she trained me. When I’m in buying mode, I go in, get what I want, and get out. If I’m in a store to browse, I’m doing it to gather information for future blog posts, researching for my clients, or spending time with friends who love to shop (while I’m doing research.)

You might think from that description that my mom and I are mostly Transactional Shoppers who know what they want and are just on a hunt to get the best price. You would be wrong. Other than my bad habit of Diet Mountain Dew (I call it my “green tea”) that I’ll buy wherever it is on sale, I have my favorite stores where I’ll go first for all my needs. My mom is the same way.

If you consistently have the stuff we want, we’ll consistently shop at your store—even if someone else is selling it slightly cheaper.

The key phrase is “consistently.” If you are often out-of-stock of the items I regularly buy, I’ll stop shopping at your store, no matter how well you treat me.

Image result for empty shelvesIn a few days I’m going to give a new presentation at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy. The title is “Profit Margin is Not Your Only Money Maker”. The premise is about how and when to sell lower-margin goods. One of those times is when you are the store people “expect” to sell that product. You don’t want to disappoint those customers and drive them away.

Not all hunters are Transactional. Some like to hunt at your store because they always know they’ll find their prey. Listening to my mom regale the tales from shopping with the boys reminded me of that important distinction.

Ask yourself …

  • What products do you sell on a regular, consistent basis, day-in-and-day-out?
  • What products do you sell at the highest turn ratio?
  • What products do people walk in asking for directly the most because they expect you’ll have it?
  • What products do you know your customers will buy online if they can’t get it at your store right now?

Those are your Must-Haves. Those are the products that keep your Relational Customers like my mom and me happy.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your buying. If you need to add to the order to reach a better deal, add some Must-Haves. Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your marketing and advertising. Being out-of-stock often is one way to get bad Word-of-Mouth circulating. Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your overall customer service. The more your staff can say, “Yes we do!” the better they feel and the better the customer feels.

Five Proven Recipes

I saw the recipe online. It was from the legendary Paul Harvey so it had to be true, right? A simple concoction for eliminating mosquitoes in your backyard. Heck, I could even hear Paul’s distinctive voice in my head reading off the formula …

“You take blue mouthwash, the minty kind. Pour it into a bucket. Mix in three cups of Epsom Salt. Be sure to stir it well. You want all that salt to dissolve. Then … pour in three stale beers. Stale, mind you. Don’t waste the good stuff on those pests. Put that into your spray bottle and you’ll enjoy a whole summer mosquito-free … I know … I’ve been doing it for twenty years. And now you know … the rest of the story.”

Image result for blue mouthwash(Note: that is not an actual quote, just how I heard it in my own mind.)

As I walked into the grocery store, scratching the mosquito bite on my elbow, on my way to buy blue minty mouthwash, Epsom Salt, and cheap beer, I quickly Googled it. Sure enough, it was legit.

I sprayed my yard three days ago. My backyard smells minty fresh and I haven’t seen a mosquito yet. As soon as I post this, I’m going to The Poison Frog and spraying their backyard by the campfire circle where I’ll be performing this Thursday night.

I’m seeing a resurgence in old home remedies like this. I’ve been using a vinegar, salt, and dish soap remedy for the weeds in my yard. Much, much cheaper and safer than the chemical solutions on the market. And nearly as effective.

Here are the recipes:

Weed Killer

  • One Gallon White Vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Dish Soap

Mosquito Killer

  • One Large Bottle Blue Minty Mouthwash
  • 3 Cups Epsom Salt
  • 3 Cheap, Stale Beers

Yes, there are more costly solutions. I used to spend a lot of money on Roundup and Ground Clear to keep the weeds at bay. I used to spend a lot of money on Cutter’s yard spray to be able to enjoy the backyard. The old recipes seem to be working just as well as the newer, more costly solutions.

I’m telling you this because you are being bombarded with a bunch of new-fangled (often costly) solutions to your business problems. There are some less-costly yet incredibly effective old recipes for success you should try cooking up. Here are three of my favorites.

Customer Service

  • Find out exactly what the customer expects.
  • Give her that and a little more.

Advertising

  • Don’t let your ads look or sound like an ad.
  • Tell a story.
  • Make it about your customer, not you.
  • Speak to the heart of your customer.
  • Speak to your tribe, the people who share your Values.
  • Make only one point.

Hiring & Training

  • Identify all the traits and skills of the perfect candidate for that particular job.
  • Hire the traits and skills you can’t teach.
  • Train the traits and skills you can teach.

Five recipes that are proven to work, don’t cost a bunch, and have stood the test of time. You’re welcome to try any of them.

Cheers!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, you can hire me to teach you how to use those last three recipes in your store, either one-on-one or in a group setting.

If You Have to Ask …

I stood up on stage in front of a crowd of retailers and said, “If you have to ask how much it costs, …”

The crowd answered in unison, “You can’t afford it!”

That quote is attributed to J.P. Morgan and is so common and pervasive that if you say the first half, almost everyone can tell you the second half. So why do so many stores put out merchandise without price tags forcing customers to ask?

Michigan was the last state in the union to get rid of its pricing rules where every product that could be priced had to be priced. The Michigan Retailers Association was against this rule because it put an undue burden on large retailers having to price out every single item.

Imagine the cost of all those price tags and the staff necessary to tag all those items. Oh the outrage! (sarcasm intended)

Frankly, as a consumer, I loved that law. I hate having to walk around the store looking for a scanner to verify if the price on the shelf is correct (if there is a price on the shelf at all!) I find it annoying when items aren’t priced. Many of your customers do, too.

Putting price tags on products is not a cost issue. It is a customer service issue.

I’ve talked before about how signs increase sales because a large percentage of the population would rather read a sign than interact with a salesperson. Price tags are the lowest hanging fruit on the sign tree.

Price tags are one half of the Value Equation (Perceived Worth versus Actual Price). Without a price, a customer cannot finish that equation and make a decision to buy on her own. Many of those customers walk away without asking an associate for help.

Image result for if you have to ask how much it costs you can't afford it“If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” J.P. Morgan

That quote popped into my mind last weekend while I was shopping in Dillard’s. They have a nice Big & Tall section that has mostly served me well since I discovered it. Several items, however, were not priced. I couldn’t help think how often I moved on to the next item that was priced rather than look for a sales associate.

I’m not your typical male shopper. I will ask for help … if it is convenient enough. Unfortunately, more and more stores are cutting back on their sales force, leaving fewer and fewer sales associates even available to help me.

This is the downward spiral of customer service that is driving customers to the Internet. Yes, pricing your items is a Customer Service thing. If you aren’t pricing every individual item that you possibly can, you aren’t offering good customer service.

If you aren’t pricing every individual item you possibly can, you’re losing sales.

In the big box stores I can take an unmarked item to a scanner somewhere on the floor. In a smaller store I may just scan the UPC with my phone and buy it online right in front of you.

I hated when Michigan finally gave up the price tag rule. It meant worse customer service for consumers in general. It meant lower costs for all those big-box competitors that didn’t care about customer service in the first place, and it drove more people to the Internet for shopping just to avoid the lousy customer service they got from the big retailers.

Yeah, it gave me a chance to outshine the competition with superior service, but for most people it lowered their overall perception of brick & mortar shopping in general. All boats sink with the tide, too.

You might think buying all those price tags and paying staff to tag all those items costs too much. I will tell you that by not properly pricing your merchandise, it is costing you far more.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The last thing you ever want a customer to think is, “I probably can’t afford it.” Yet since that J.P. Morgan quote is so pervasive, that is exactly the thought in their head every time they can’t find a price. I can’t make that quote or that thought go away, but I can encourage you to eliminate that thought in your store. Make your pricing crystal clear.

PPS One other benefit of pricing all your merchandise is Trust. If your stuff isn’t marked, it looks like you’re hiding something or playing games with your pricing. That undermines trust, which undermines relationships and loyalty.

Convenience Versus Experience (Revisited)

It was seven years ago today that I returned to work after recovering from major throat surgery. I was looking at some posts I wrote during that time and came across one I wrote while lying in bed titled Convenience Versus Experience.

The new buzzword in retail today is “experience.” Just Google “Customer Experience” and you’ll see what I mean. Heck, I’ve been saying it, too.

Here is what I said on May 26, 2011

 

Convenience Store is always located on the easiest side of the road to pull in or pull out, no-hassle driving.

An Experience Store has you drooling with anticipation as you wait at the light to pull in.

Convenience Store carries all the same merchandise you would expect to find anywhere, the most popular items, the most requested items.

An Experience Store is full of unique and wonderful treasures, amazing merchandise you haven’t seen.

Image result for convenience store signConvenience Store is open early and late, enough hours to be there exactly when you need it.

An Experience Store is open long enough for you to be able to take the time to explore all those treasures leisurely and when it fits in your schedule.

Convenience Store has a staff that knows where everything is, and can get you through checkout in a hurry.

An Experience Store has a staff that also knows what everything is and how each product fits or doesn’t fit in your lifestyle, and can also get you through checkout in a hurry (because when the shopping is done, there’s no time to waste).

Convenience Store wants your trips to be quick, painless, anonymous.

An Experience Store wants your trips to be comfortable, engaging, and relational.

Convenience Store treats the customers as transactions, maximizing speed in the process.

An Experience Store treats the customers as people, maximizing comfort in the process.

Convenience Store is measured by how little time you want to spend there.

An Experience Store is measured by how much time you want to spend there.

Convenience Store is on the way to or from a Destination Store.

An Experience Store is a Destination Store.

 

Let me clean that up for you.

An Experience Store

  • Has you drooling with anticipation as you wait at the light to pull in.
  • Is full of unique and wonderful treasures, amazing merchandise you haven’t seen.
  • Is open long enough for you to be able to take the time to explore all those treasures leisurely and when it fits in your schedule.
  • Has a staff that also knows what everything is and how each product fits or doesn’t fit in your lifestyle, and can also get you through checkout in a hurry (because when the shopping is done, there’s no time to waste).
  • Wants your trips to be comfortable, engaging, and relational.
  • Treats the customers as people, maximizing comfort in the process.
  • Is measured by how much time you want to spend there.
  • Is a Destination Store.

Notice how none of that says you have to offer some crazy, wild, event-based, theme-park-styled type of experience? Seven years ago, this was cutting edge stuff. Today it is pretty much what everyone is talking about. Now you have a list to which you can compare your store.

Are you full of unique and wonderful treasures people haven’t seen? Do you have a staff that knows what you carry, why it fits into someone’s lifestyle, and how they should best use it? Is your store comfortable? Do people want to spend time there?

Experience Stores aren’t accidental. Nor are they easy. You build them by design, staff them by design, and run them with purpose. Which store do you want to be?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If I were to add anything to the May 26, 2011 post it would be …

A Convenience Store has everything you expect.

An Experience Store has pleasant surprises and unexpected wonders of delight.

Frigidaire Made Me Say a Bad Word

I installed a dishwasher today. It only took me four trips to the hardware store. The first one I cussed all the way there. I had to crank up the music to make the people in cars next to me think I was singing. The next three were my own fault and I take full blame. (I still had the music turned up, but that was just for my listening pleasure.)

The issue was a small part that is required on all dishwashers, standard for pretty much all new models, and sold separately for every dishwasher manufacturer out there. The part cost me a whopping $6.35. It is a simple elbow (pictured) that attaches to the dishwasher, to which you hook up your water supply line. I already had the water supply line from the old dishwasher, but the elbow on the old dishwasher wasn’t the right size for today’s new dishwashers.

Why isn’t this part—that is required and now universal—included with the dishwasher? It’s like buying a car for $25,000 and then they tell you it will be another $50 to get the keys.

Why didn’t the person who sold the dishwasher tell us that the dishwasher was sold a la carte and that we’d have to buy another piece to make it work?

Why did I not have everything I needed to “complete the sale?” All I did was curse the store that sold the dishwasher and gave the rest of my business to another hardware store.

The first problem was obviously Frigidaire’s. If I was them, I would include the $6 piece with the sale of every dishwasher. I would build it into my price and then go advertise that only my products come with everything you need to complete the project. The other companies sell you an incomplete product.

The second problem was the sales clerk’s fault. After watching a YouTube video on installing dishwashers, I found out this missing part is known and expected to be missing. Since none of the dishwashers come with this part, there should be a HUGE display of them next to the dishwashers with a big sign that says, “DON’T FORGET THESE EXTRA PARTS YOU WILL NEED!!!!” At the very least, the sales person should have known to suggest the part before we got to checkout.

This is what I mean when I say “complete the sale.” It is what Bob Negen means when he talks about “the perfect sale.” It isn’t an add-on, it is a necessity of great customer service.

When your customer gets home, she should have everything from you that she possibly needs to use the main product she bought.

If she doesn’t, not only will she think poorly of you, she may very well go to another store to get the stuff you should have sold her! (That’s what I did.)

Frigidaire made me angry for not including the part. Lowe’s made me angry for not selling me the part. Hammond Hardware is my hero for not only finding me the right part, but also helping me when I found out the old supply line was no good either because it didn’t have standard fittings, nor did the pipe to which it attaches. (To John at Hammond, who helped me out, you’re a true customer service hero. To Dave, the boss, your whole crew deserves praise. I wish you guys sold the dishwashers in the first place!)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Plumbing is one area where I know I don’t suffer from Dunning-Kruger Effect. I knew I didn’t know. That’s why I went to my local store when I needed help. I didn’t trust that anyone at Lowe’s would know more than I did and I wasn’t in the mood to try to teach myself. Buying the dishwasher was transactional by default. None of the stores that sold dishwashers had won my heart. Buying the parts, however, was relational.

PPS If Lowe’s had told me I needed the part and I said no thank you, then two things would have occurred. First, I would not have blamed them for not having what I need. Second, and more importantly, my levels of trust with them would have gone up considerably. Since they didn’t say anything, my levels of trust dropped dramatically. Not good when you’re trying to build relationships with your customers.

Asking Questions, Playing Games, Laughing, and Learning

Occasionally I go back to my old blog posts to see how things have changed in retail. Sometimes I see how things have stayed the same. Here is something I wrote almost ten years ago on December 3, 2008

The best stores have a staff that listens, that repeats back what a customer says and asks questions to clarify everything so that there is no misunderstanding. We may not be the best listeners all the time, but we’re working on it. Would you be surprised to know that the last ten staff trainings were on communication?

Nine years and five months later I wrote …

Once again, a properly trained staff makes a huge difference. This team knew that by asking questions they could get to know the customer better. Getting to know the customer better allowed them to pull better pieces that more closely matched the customers’ needs.

I read that last line from the 2008 passage and immediately opened my 2008 file with the notes of all our staff meetings. (Yes, I have kept those notes all these years. You never know when you’ll need that info again.) Did I really do ten straight staff trainings on communication? Yes, indeed.

It started on January 14, 2008 with my favorite staff training activity of all time where we “raised the bar” and everyone had to go over it. On March 10th of that year we worked on how to communicate with customers “when something goes wrong”. On April 7th we focused on communication among team members so that we could pass customers to other sales people, make sure all areas of the store were covered, and have better communication between our buyers and our sellers.

When I got to October 20th, the memories hit me like a tsunami. I remember when I got the idea for this meeting. My Goal for the meeting was to help my team learn how to listen better, ask better questions, and decipher what customers were trying to say. As with all my staff meetings, it started with … This will be a successful meeting if my staff learned the importance of asking questions and understanding that even when the customer doesn’t know the name of the product, with a little work we can figure out exactly what they need.

I was awake one night flipping channels when the television show Whose Line is it Anyway? with Drew Carey came on. I knew instantly the Task that would lead us to our Goal.

The staff was split into two teams to play a series of four games.

The first game was called Questions. One person from each team squared off. They were each assigned a character and then they were given a product. The two then had to try to sell the product to the other person with two rules. First, they could only use questions. Second, they had to stay in character. The game went until one of the rules was broken.

The second game was Worst Ad Ever. Each person drew a product name out of a hat. They had to go find the product and then do the worst infomercial ever for that product. You might think this would be easy, silly, and pointless. The staff, however, found it to be a little more challenging. First, they had to know the product. You can’t act dumb about something until you are smart about it. Second, they learned more about each product that was featured. Mostly, though, they learned more about what not to say so that they would catch themselves and each other whenever they went into some Ron Popeil inspired pitch.

The third game was my favorite. I called it Santa’s Sack. Four people got up at once and drew product names out of a hat. Each person now had to pretend he or she was that product sitting in Santa’s Sack getting excited about the child who was about to receive them as a gift. They had to hold a conversation with each other about that excitement and their recipient without saying what product they were. The rest of the team had to guess the products.

Not only were they learning to talk about products based on what they did rather than what they were, they were tapping into the excitement that each item they sold was going to be a gift for someone special. They were learning to transfer that excitement onto the customer.

The last game was Toy Taboo. In the game Taboo you are given a word you need others to guess. You are also given a list of words you cannot say, words that are taboo. I created several cards with different products and related words they couldn’t say. For instance, LEGO was one word. The taboo words were Construction, Brick, Building, and Plastic. The lesson was simple, learn to describe toys in unique ways and you’ll be better at deciphering the descriptions our customers gave for toys they didn’t know the name.

We laughed a lot at that meeting. We laughed a lot at most of our meetings. We learned a lot, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’m not sure if this is a post about communication or a post about staff trainings. I’ll let you decide.

PPS If you look at this post as a Staff Training post, one added benefit of the games we played was that it got everyone up and acting. When you have to act and perform and be goofy in front of your peers, you lose your fears of interacting with strangers.

PPPS If you look at this post as being about Communication, listening, asking questions, and clarifying are three amazing tools that will help you close more sales.

“Everything Cheaper Somewhere Else”

I used to hate anonymous commenting on news articles and blog posts. It is so easy to hide behind a pseudonym and take unsubstantiated potshots at people and businesses, spread rumors, and even spread downright lies.

As a retailer, I took every negative comment and review of my business personally. Some of them hurt, especially when they weren’t true. The misunderstandings were one thing but the outright lies were the worst. They cut to the bone.

I remember one day in the infancy of online news when a fellow downtown business owner alerted me to comments posted on an online news story that attacked both my store and me personally. He warned me not to read them. I didn’t heed his warnings.

One person had taken it upon him or herself to just rip the business up one side and down the other, calling us, among other things, price-gougers who were just out to destroy the little people in town. This person claimed that he or she could find everything we sold in our store cheaper online.

I took offense to the first part. The person posting the comment had no idea what I paid myself or my staff or our profit margin or what we gave to charity or what causes we supported. I am a forgiving person, though. I will forgive them their ignorance.

The second part, however, was pretty much true. Not only could that person show you the items cheaper, I probably could, too. After all, I had Internet access. I could also show you sites and stores where just about everything we sold was more expensive than our prices. That exists, too.

In fact, if prices weren’t fluid across different channels, Retail would look a whole lot different and be a lot less fun. Everyone would pretty much do the same thing and charge the same for it. Yawn.

Image result for valueRetail is a game, and the game can be boiled down to this … Find the Value you can give the customer that will make it worthwhile for them to pay the price you wish to charge.

At the ballpark they charge you more for a single beer than you would pay for a twelve-pack at the store. You buy it because you want to drink a beer during the game. There is enough Value in enjoying that beer while watching the game that makes you pay the price. (Don’t want to pay their outrageous prices? You can eat before you go to the ballpark. Most people can handle 3-4 hours between eating. You can also drink water for free. They have to provide it to you.)

People call them price-gougers all the time. It doesn’t stop them from raising their prices and making money. They offer you the Value of being at the game and watching the action in person.

The real question you need to ask yourself as a retailer is … What Value are you adding to the equation and will that Value be enough to get people to pay your prices?

You can add Value in several ways. You can:

  • Offer services other stores don’t have (i.e. layaway, free gift-wrapping, assembly, delivery)
  • Curate the selection to help customers get only the best solutions
  • Align your business with a social cause
  • Offer follow-up services (such as the free 30-day riding tuneup that we used to offer with every bike we sold)
  • Build relationships to the point that the customer feels as much ownership in your store as you do.

Any one of those is a way to “play” the Retail Game. Play more than a few of them and you’ll never worry about how someone can find “everything cheaper somewhere else.”

Were we the lowest priced game in town? Nope. Never tried to win that race to the bottom. But in a 2007 survey of Jackson County residents about stores that sell toys in Jackson, we were rated as having the highest “Value” ahead of Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, Kmart, and Meijer (all whom love to advertise their “lowest prices”.)

What Value are you adding to the equation?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have a good friend also named Phil who also ran a toy and baby store in the other Jackson (MS) who never liked MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) because it made everyone price their goods at the same price. He said true merchants have no problem with the undercutting of prices on the Internet because they know how to offer Value and make sales at higher margins. As much as you hate to admit it, he’s right. MAP only protects you at the margin the vendor thinks you should make, not the margin you deserve for all the value you offer.

PPS As for anonymous negative comments online, if they are an attack on your character or the character of your business, ignore them completely. Your actions speak louder than your words. Use your actions to prove that person wrong. If the comments are simply something misunderstood, you can respond for clarification, but only if you can substantiate your claims without putting down the person who made the comment. More often than not, however, it is best to ignore anonymous comments, period. I’ll talk about how to respond to Reviews in a future post.

PPPS A few of those ways to play involve the skills and training you give to your front line staff. As I pointed out before, that is probably the easiest way to add the kind of Value your competitors are not adding to their equations.

Here is What Winning Looks Like – Sweetlees Boutique

Sometimes it is easy to talk about the mistakes retailers make and simply caution you to not make those same mistakes. I’d like to share with you a story of an experience that went right. A long-time Toy House customer, my boys’ piano teacher, and dear friend Jen sent this to me. In her words …

“Well, the basic story was this…. you know where it’s going right?

Image result for sweetlees boutique mason miI went to a small locally owned (in Mason, MI) women’s boutique, Sweetlees Boutique. (Because I will tell everyone about how amazing it was, and where to find them—160 E. Ash St, Mason, MI 48854.) The workers were so attentive offering to find you sizing, suggesting things they thought would look good on your body. They were fitting both my mom and I who couldn’t be more different in that department, and they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try. Amazing experience. Both my mom and I purchased something. It was our first time there and we will definitely go back again.”

Let’s unpack that to see what they did so right.

“The workers were so attentive …”

How many times have you been in a retail establishment where you couldn’t even find an employee, let alone one who seemed remotely interested in helping you? The Wall Street Journal just wrote Monday about the dearth of employees in retail stores. Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers since 2008. Think about that number when you’re looking for someone the next time you visit a department store.

Think even harder about that number when you’re making out the next schedule for your store. Are you making a schedule to minimize payroll or maximize sales? If you think of your staff as your greatest expense, you’ll do the former. If you think of your staff as your greatest asset, you’ll do the latter.

“… suggesting things they thought would look good on your body.”

At one time this was the norm in a women’s clothing store. It was the expectation. Anything less and you would be writing a different review. Today it seems new and different and special.

That’s the one good thing you need to understand. The overall bar for customer service has been lowered so far that just doing the things you’re supposed to do will make you stand out in the crowd.

A properly trained and properly motivated staff can do wonders for the way your store is viewed compared to the competition. While everyone is all worried about high-tech this and omnichannel that, going old-school will win the day more often than not.

“… they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try.”

Once again, a properly trained staff makes a huge difference. This team knew that by asking questions they could get to know the customer better. Getting to know the customer better allowed them to pull better pieces that more closely matched the customers’ needs.

Every customer that walks through your door is there to solve a problem. The problem might be as simple as killing time. It might be as complex as buying the perfect series of gifts for the hardest person on your list. You don’t know the problem until you ask. (And you won’t get the answer you need if you haven’t first made a connection.) This doesn’t come naturally to everyone. You need to train your staff by showing them how, role-playing it, and practicing it. The stores that do that best are the stores that are winning.

“Both my mom and I purchased something.”

You have a lot of hurdles to overcome to get a sale from a first-time visitor. You have to make her feel comfortable. You have to figure out the problem she is solving. You have to present her with a valid solution. You have to overcome her hesitations and objections. You have to make her want the solution more than she wants her money. All of those are actual steps in a process. One misstep and it’s a no sale.

We call it browsing because many times customers want to go into a new store just to get a feel for the place. No pressure to buy, just a scouting trip to see if they like it. Sometimes you get lucky and they fall in love with a product by accident. That isn’t selling. That’s clerking. Anyone can do that.

If your sales team is waiting for the customer to come up to you, many of them won’t and you’ll have lost out. If your sales team hasn’t made a connection, unless she falls in love with a product by accident, she won’t be back, either. That’s on you.

“… we will definitely go back again.”

That, my friends, is what winning looks like. Bravo to Sweetlees Boutique. Bravo! Thank you, Jen, for sharing that story with us all.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In the same message, Jen told me about another retail experience that didn’t end so well. I’d rather leave on a high note and save that tale for later. If you have story of someone doing it the right way, please share. Send me an email or find me on LinkedIn.