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Phone Calls That Lose Customers

Earlier this year I joined the many throngs of people who gave up their land line. No “home phone” for me. The one true regret I have is that I hate filling out all those forms where they ask for home, business, and cell numbers. Since I use my cellphone as my home phone and for business, which line should I fill out?

What I don’t miss is the extra bill for the land line, or having to check two voice mails each day.

Image result for on holdThe cellphone has one handy feature that I almost dread using. It tells me how long I have been on the phone, especially how long I have been on hold.

It is amazing to me that in this day and age any phone call would be put on hold for as long as some of my calls have been. I do understand that some tech support places just get a much higher volume of calls than they can find English speakers (and I use that term loosely) to answer the phones.

What I really don’t understand is how long I have been put on hold at retail stores. Not that I won’t shop online, but whenever possible I want to do my shopping in brick & mortar stores. I like going to really cool stores. I like seeing how others operate. I love when local stores are knocking it out of the park. I get some of my best post ideas from shopping trips.

I spend more time on my computer and cellphone looking up phone numbers of stores than looking up products. I know I’m not alone, either.

But yesterday I felt the kind of frustration that drives people to the Internet to do their shopping. I called a store with a simple request to see if they had an item in stock. I even had an item number for them.

First, I had to wade through a lengthy menu that met none of my needs, before I could push zero to talk to a real person.

Then the person who answered was either busy doing something else, in a hurry to do something else, or had just finished her thirteenth cup of coffee. She blurted out her scripted greeting so fast and brusque that I wasn’t even sure I had called the right place. I made my request. Twice, because she was too preoccupied with whatever was on her side of the line to listen to me the first time.

I said, “I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“What did you say?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock.”

“Okay, you need to hold.”

(silence)

I looked at my phone, browsed a little Facebook on my computer, looked back at my phone, and then decided to put it on speaker so that I could set it down.

At the 7:32 mark the hurried voice came back on. “What did you need?”

“I am calling to see if you have an item in stock?”

“A what?”

“I have an item number.”

“What is it?”

I won’t bore you with the four times I had to read the number until she got it right. You can probably guess that script.

She put me back on hold. At the 16:42 mark, she came back on the phone. “What is the item?”

I gave her a description only to find out they didn’t have any. Seventeen minutes. I wonder if she went out for one more cup of coffee. I know I drank a Diet Mountain Dew (my “green tea” as I like to call it) during that time.

My best guess is that the person answering the phone in this store isn’t a trained phone operator or call center person. I am also guessing that this person doesn’t have a computer for looking things up near the phone she answered. I am further guessing that she is a manager of some sort and got called to put out several fires during my two lengthy holds. Or if not, she is a sales clerk who was taught (correctly) that the customer in front of you is more important than the customer on the phone. She just wasn’t taught what to do when you have both a customer in front of you and a customer on the phone.

If you find yourself, because of tight staffing or a busy moment in the store, in that latter situation here are some suggestions that would make callers like me less frustrated.

  1. Don’t answer the phone if you don’t have the time to be polite and get a customer’s information from them. It is always better for the call to go to a voice mail than for you to be hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone. If you are hurried, rude, or dismissive on the phone, I will assume you are that way all the time.
  2. When you answer the phone, if you know you cannot solve my problem in less than a minute or two, get all the info you can, including my phone number, and promise to call me back. Make sure you or someone else does call me back ASAP (ten minutes or less is ideal). The customer in front of you will be patient enough if they hear you getting the info you need to get off the phone as quickly as possible.
  3. If you have to put me on hold, explain why and how long it might take.
  4. If you can talk to me, stay on the line. Don’t put me on hold while your really slow Windows 95 computer with dial-up looks something up. You put me at ease by staying on the line because the time goes faster, and I can’t look at the clock on my phone telling me how much time I’ve used.

Phone etiquette doesn’t have to be hard, but it does have to be taught. In a world where finding new customers is more expensive and difficult than ever, it can make all the difference to your bottom line when you know how to answer your phone.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Our phones had a built-in timer that started beeping as soon as a hold had lasted longer than a minute. It was an annoying beep, too, so there was extra incentive for my staff to get back to that customer ASAP.

Team Building Essentials Proven by Google

In 1990 I wrote a description of Team Building practices to help my facilitators understand the process when working with our groups. My program at YMCA Storer Camps utilized low and high ropes course initiatives and rock climbing to foster team building. The goal of every group was to get to a new level of Trust among the members. Sometimes we got there, sometimes we didn’t.

That’s me leading a rock climbing expedition to Rattlesnake Point in the summer of 1991.

The process, however, was the key. Even the groups who never got to a level of fully trusting each other did learn to communicate better, did learn to cooperate better, and saw the power of coordinated effort. Those are often seen as the Three C’s of Team Building.

I want to add a fourth C to that list, one that I think is most important …

Caring.

That was the differentiating characteristic between groups that made it to Trust and groups that did not. Only when a group started to put the needs of others ahead of their own did they show they cared. Only when a group looked at everyone’s emotional and physical safety as being the top concern did they show they cared.

Caring was the stepping stone to Trust.

You don’t get to Caring easily. It takes a whole bunch of other C’s. You have to first become Comfortable with each other. Then you have to learn to Communicate effectively. Then you have to learn how to Coordinate your efforts and Cooperate with each other. Even then, Caring is not a certainty.

When I was training my facilitators we often talked about the Transformation. Caring happened when the focus of the group shifted from “getting to the end of the task” to “getting everyone to the end of the task. Caring happened when inclusiveness was more important than successfully completing a task, even though inclusiveness was often the best way to complete a task

There are several ways to complete any task. The first is to have a powerful, talented individual who gets the group to the end line through sheer brute force of their abilities and/or leadership. The second is to have every member included, every member supported, and every member working together. The former disappears as soon as the individual leader is gone. The latter stays around and becomes the culture that continues success even as the parts change.

That’s why our true goal of every team building activity was to cross over the bridge from Cooperating to Caring. That leap was where the transformation occurred and changed the culture of the team. The step from Caring to Trust was much shorter and easier.

Of course, this was all theory from my own practices and observations in Team Building, until Google went about proving it.

Google did research of their teams to see if they could figure out why some teams were more successful than others. They found “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart”. Those five key dynamics in order of importance are:

  1. Psychological safety
  2. Dependability
  3. Structure and clarity
  4. Meaning
  5. Impact

Psychological Safety is Caring. It is making the group and the individuals within the group feel supported. A group of individuals who are feeling supported are more willing to think out of the box and take better risks, which leads to better performance in the long run. This was the most important dynamic for successful teams.

Dependability is Trust. In team building terms, we get to Trust after we get to Caring. But once we get there, we have the two most important dynamics found in Google’s study.

The other three items on the list match up nicely with Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive and his three keys to motivation. Pink says your team needs:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Structure and Clarity is the same as Autonomy in that you have given your team the guidelines to do what they need to do and have left them to do it within those guidelines. Micromanaging takes away that structure and clarity because everyone is second-guessing the rules, waiting for you to change them on the fly.

Meaning and Impact are the Purpose of what you are doing. Make sure your team always knows Why you do what you do and how that affects the customers and the company.

Google’s research is fascinating because it confirms exactly what I started teaching 27 years ago, and validates everything Daniel H. Pink wrote in his book about motivation.

So how do you get that kind of a team?

First, hire individuals who care about others, who show empathy. Caring is a tough character trait to teach, so look for it in your applicants.

Second, train them. Team building doesn’t have to be a corporate-retreat-three-day-weekend-activity. Team building can happen over the long run, fostered by the other C’s of being Comfortable, Communicating, Cooperating, and Coordinating. Work on those skills in your training. The better your team learns to communicate and cooperate, the more likely the leadership of those who care will take the team to the next level. You’ll see the transformation when it happens.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I still do Team Building for groups when you want to kickstart the process. I also do training for Managers, teaching them the basics of Team Building and how to foster short-term and long-term growth in their team. The cool thing is Google just confirmed that what I have been teaching creates the most effective, successful teams.

PPS What should you do about your team members who don’t care about others? Unless you have a job where they work completely on their own with no interaction with the team or the customers, fire them and start over. Seriously. They’ll never serve your customers the way your customers want to be served. They’ll never let the team get to its highest level of productivity. They’ll never grow your business. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Google.

Connecting the Dots to Make Your Hiring Better

We sold a ton of dot-to-dot books over the years. I bought them by the number count – 10, 20, 50, 75, even 100-count dot-to-dots. I loved dot-to-dots as a child. My favorite was to try to guess the picture before putting pencil to paper, seeing the image in my mind. A few years ago there were some dot-to-dots designed for adults with up to 1000 dots in a single picture. (Yes, you needed a magnifying glass and a super thin mechanical pencil to do some of the more complex pictures.)

Today I want to connect a few dots for you in the hiring process.

If you have read my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, you know that to find the best employees you need to find the right character traits for the job. For instance, if you are hiring a sales person, you want someone friendly, engaging, and able to solve problems. If you are hiring a bookkeeper you want someone organized, detail-oriented, and task-driven. The best person for the job has to bring those traits to the position. You can’t train those.

Yet, the first thing I do when I work with a client to help them write a job description and list of the traits they need to hire for a specific position is talk to the client about his or her personal Core Values. If you are the boss, the owner, the final decision maker, your Core Values become your company’s Core Values. What is important to you personally will be what is important to you professionally. It is where you will spend your most time, energy, and focus. Roy H. Williams and David Freeman taught me that.

It is not just enough that the people you hire possess the traits necessary to be successful on the job. To truly become an asset on your team, they need to share some of the same values you and your business share.

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

For example, my core values are Having Fun, Helpful, Educational and Nostalgic. While it isn’t important that you match those values perfectly, the more you match, the better we will get along.

Fortunately for me, a toy store attracted mostly people who like to Have Fun. I also hired specifically for the trait of being Helpful. My office manager had traits I will never have of being ultra-organized and detail-oriented. But she also was amazinglyHelpful. On top of that, she celebrated the seasons and holidays even more than I did. My key jack-of-all-trades guy had a level of Curiosity that surpassed my own. My event planner took Nostalgia to new levels and was always trying to Teach others. One of the most common phrases I heard her say was, “You can do that. Here, let me show you.”

When your staff doesn’t share your values, you get frustrated. You feel as if they don’t get you or what you are trying to do. Oh, they get you. They just don’t put as much value on the things most important to you. They may have all the other traits perfect for the job and may even be performing to a high level based on those traits, but if you don’t value the same things, you’ll always feel disappointed by them.

Connect the dots.

I saw a snippet of a training my good buddy Tim Miles did for business leaders managing their people. The slide had three words. “Walk the talk.” Tim goes on to tell you that you have to be consistent in what you say to your team and what you do personally. We all know that hypocrisy causes distrust. The do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do style of leadership doesn’t last very long. The strongest organizations are those where the leaders walk the talk. Your Core Values come into play here, as well.

When you let your Core Values guide you, you will always walk the talk, because you are starting and ending with the very essence of your being. Your consistency will never be questioned because even in moments of stress, your Core Values will guide everything you do. Your staff will know exactly where you stand at all times.

When Tim mentions that you should walk the talk, he isn’t saying that you have to have done every single thing you ask your staff to do. He is asking that you lead through consistency, that your actions match your words. I don’t like filing papers away. I hired a bookkeeper who loves filing papers away. What we both share is a deep desire for being helpful. It isn’t as important that I know how to file as it is that I show her I will be helpful to her and ask that she be helpful to me in return. Her way of helping me is by doing the stuff I cannot or don’t want to do. It just so happens that she has the traits of being organized, detail-oriented, and task-driven to go along with the value of being Helpful.

Connect the dots.

Daniel H. Pink, in his book Drive, says that to get the best out of your employees you need to offer them three things—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Autonomy allows them to do the job their way without the feeling of being micro-managed. Mastery means they are getting the opportunity to gain skills, learn, and become proficient at the task. Purpose means they understand why they are doing what they are doing.

Your Core Values come into play here as well. Of the three motivational elements, Mastery and Purpose are easy. Give them training and experience and feedback and they’ll become masters. Purpose is simply understanding your Core Values and what greater goal you’re trying to accomplish. Autonomy is the hardest of the three.

For you to be the kind of boss who checks in with your employees rather than checking on your employees, you have to develop a level of trust. It is far easier to develop that trust with people who share your Core Values than it is without. You know at the end of the day that their inner voice speaks to them in a similar language as your inner voice, so you trust that their decision process, while maybe not as experienced as yours, will be similar enough to meet the goals of the organization. Autonomy is tough when you don’t trust the employee. Without it, you won’t get the highest level of productivity. As a side note, if you are quick to trust, but your values don’t meet, you might get the wrong kind of productivity.

Connect the dots and you will see how your Core Values come into play in creating your own Dream Team.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Go back and look at all the best teams you’ve ever been a part of. I can promise that you’ll find the individual members of the team shared many of the same core values. It took me a while to notice that in my own life, but in hindsight it is as easy to see as the arrow in the FedEx logo.

PPS When I say shared values, they don’t always have to be a perfect match. My jack-of-all-trades guy had the value of Curiosity. Not exactly the same as my value of Education, but close enough to be the kind of fit that made our team rock.

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.

Learning From the Mistakes of Others

As I was putting my resume together, I was thinking back on some of the Team Building activities I have created over the years. My favorite one was the Drainage Ditch Determination. That was 26 years ago. I wish I still had the original notes. I know we didn’t call it by that name but I cannot remember exactly what we called it. I do remember the activity and the lessons. I can take you back there in a heartbeat.

(Thump-thump)

That’s me holding the ropes on a rock climbing trip back in 1991

After a day of basic team building activities, the group was given a new challenge. A handful of canoes needed to be transported at dusk from one location to another. The only map available showed a lake and a drainage ditch that led from their current location to the destination (approx 2 miles). The map also showed hiking trails leading to the destination (approx 2 miles) but had the disclaimer that although the trails were well-defined, they were unmarked (and crisscrossed the region.)

The group was then split into four subsets.

  • Leadership. They got the final decision on what the group did.
  • Logistics and Planning. They were responsible for determining the options, presenting them to the Leadership group, and making sure everyone had what they needed to complete the task.
  • Communication. One of the rules of the activity is that there was no verbal communication on open water. This group had to plan out all communication and how it would be implemented including internally and externally.
  • Safety. They had veto power over all the other groups if ever they felt an activity was unsafe. They also had to set the parameters for safety such as wearing life jackets in the canoes, etc.

The challenge itself was fairly straightforward. The most obvious choice based on the information given was to paddle the canoes as far as possible and carry them the 40-50 yards necessary to the final destination. What the map didn’t make clear was the difficulties traversing the drainage ditch because it didn’t show the barbed wire fence or culvert obstacles to be overcome. What made it even more interesting is that the activity began at dusk. By the time the group reached the drainage ditch, it was fairly dark and only one flashlight was permitted.

You can probably see where this activity went. The first issue usually arose on the lake when members of the group realized some of them didn’t know how to paddle a canoe (and they had no verbal communication for giving on-the-spot instruction.) We had eye-opening conversations about the importance of making sure everyone has the basic skills necessary to complete a task and whether that was a leadership problem or a logistics problem.

Once in the drainage ditch, issues of safety, logistics, and decision making all came into play. On top of that, there was the issue of perseverance.

One group I facilitated got within ten feet of a split rail fence. Their destination was just on the other side of that fence, but because of major breakdowns in communication, concerns for safety (emotional and physical), and low morale, Leadership threw in the towel. We had a powerful talk about what to do when morale falters, and the importance of emotional safety. (Note: it was the right decision for them to quit when they did. In Team Building, completing the task is always secondary to safety and never necessary to learn the lessons.)

Even the groups that successfully completed the task had breakdowns along the way. It was in the failures that the best learning occurred.

We had discussions about how the division of powers, while fine on paper, tended to be fallacy in practice. Everyone had to be on board for safety. Everyone had to be on board with the logistics and plans. Everyone had to be on board with the communication. Leadership simply had to make sure everyone was on board. If someone didn’t understand or didn’t want to go along with the group, completing the activity was in jeopardy.

We had discussions about the importance of Leadership listening as much as leading. When Leadership didn’t listen to Safety or Logistics, that group was doomed to failure.

We had discussions about the importance of being able to stay calm and solve problems when unforeseen obstacles got in their way. Climbing out of a canoe in a drainage ditch to avoid a barbed wire fence in the dark was a challenge most people had never faced. One group mapped out a new policy for unforeseen obstacles for the next time they faced one on their real job (they were a group of Resident Advisors for a college dormitory.)

Back in 1991 my boss and I facilitated several groups through this activity that ranged from high school groups to the corporate leaders at Domino’s Pizza (including Tom Monaghan himself). I doubt the insurance companies would allow such activities any more.

Good thing you and I can still learn the lessons from the groups lucky enough to slog through that ditch.

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” -Eleanor Roosevelt/Groucho Marx/Sam Levinson (depending which quote site you prefer)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One thing I have always found head-scratching in business is the knee-jerk reaction to immediately fire someone who screws up. Screw-ups happen. Wouldn’t it be better to keep the person who has already learned the lesson the hard way rather than hire a new person who hasn’t yet learned that same lesson? Just some food for thought.

PPS You might recognize the subset groups better by their corporate names

  • Leadership = Management
  • Logistics and Planning = Sales and HR
  • Communication = Marketing
  • Safety = Legal

Go back and plug those words into the post and see how those lessons become even more apparent.

I’m Looking For Work

Since closing up Toy House last December I have been writing, speaking, coaching, sailing, selling, and singing for my supper. It has been an interesting adjustment from the steady paycheck of selling toys. It has been filled with highs and lows and stimulating conversations when people ask me how I’m enjoying “retirement.” I’m a few decades away from that word. I need to work.

The past few days I have thrown my hat into the ring for some full-time job openings in southern Michigan.

Yes, I am looking for work. 

This is me. Always smiling. Always ready to help.

Here is my resume: (Please excuse my bragging—that’s what resumes are for, right?)

27 years as a Team Builder: Developed, Organized and Led Team Building Activities utilizing Low and High Ropes Courses, Wilderness & Experiential Activities, and designated tasks to promote better communication, cooperation and trust for groups ranging from adolescents to corporate America. Led and Facilitated Training Programs to teach others to be Team Builders. Wrote and published blogs and articles on Team Building.

24 years as a Purchasing Agent: Created and Managed Open-to-Buy programs for multi-million dollar retail store. Negotiated Terms with Vendors. Made Purchasing Decisions for millions of dollars of inventory. Designed Merchandising Displays including Revamping 16,000 square feet of display space. Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Inventory Management, Pricing, and Financials,

22 years as a Marketing & Advertising Director: Developed and Managed Advertising Budgets between $20,000 and $120,000 annually. Made Advertising Purchases and Created Content for TV, Radio, Newsprint, Billboard, Direct Mail, Email, Facebook, In-Store Signage, Business Flyers, and Press Releases. Conceived, Organized and Hosted several public and private Marketing Events. Made Public Appearances at Networking Events, on Radio, and TV. Built websites for www.ToyHouseOnline.com and www.PhilsForum.com (among others). Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations. Wrote book on Advertising called Most Ads Suck (But Yours Won’t).

21 years as an HR Director: Hired, Trained, Scheduled and Managed a team of 12 to 30 employees. Created an Employment Manual and Training Program. Planned, Organized and Led monthly Staff Trainings and Meetings. Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Hiring & Training and Customer Service. Wrote and Published a Book on Hiring and Training called Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art. 

27 years as a Speaker/Teacher: I have given over 100 seminars to other businesses, led over 100 training workshops for staff development, facilitated over 100 team building events, conducted over 100 presentations on shopping to customers, and taught over 100 classes for new, expectant fathers at our local hospital.

9 years as a Writer: I have written four books, dozens of magazine articles, hundreds of different advertising content, and 788 blog posts (counting this one.)

I am looking for work.

You can hire me to do Private Coaching, one-on-one, in the area you need the most help. (For a lot of people that has been hiring and training.)

You can hire me to do Presentations and Workshops. My Customer Service presentation takes a unique approach by helping you define each point of contact a customer has with your business and measures your performance at every step along the way. Like my Hiring & Training presentation, this works with any type or size of business. In fact, it was a manufacturer who paid me the highest compliment telling me I had given him the “million-dollar idea” he needed to take his business to the next level (as he flew away on his private jet.)

You can hire me to help you revamp your Marketing & Advertising. Whether temporary as a coach/consultant and/or to help you create new content, or full-time as a Manager or Director, I will bring insights and skills that will move the needle for your business.

You can hire me to Write. My specialty in writing is to teach and persuade. I’m sure you can figure out how to use that in your business.

I’m not a perfect candidate. Most people look at my resume and get hung up on the fact I have Bachelor of Science in Geological Oceanography from the University of Michigan. That was 28 years ago. I barely remember that child (but I still know more about shoreline erosion than anyone really needs to know.)

Or they want to discount the above experiences because I didn’t do it in corporate America. I can see that. Of course, I did all those jobs simultaneously (plus twelve years as CEO and CFO) for a store that in 2009 was named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America!” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. That’s not corporate America, but it does speak to my ability to learn and my ability to stay organized and focused while juggling a lot of responsibilities in a fast-paced environment.

I’d be happy to discuss these and any other reservations during the interview.

I am looking for work. Do you know anyone who can use a guy like me?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I apologize if this post sounds too much like bragging. I really do need more work. I want you to know I’m not just a blogger who thinks he knows something about business. I have walked the walk. I have made many mistakes and learned from them. I don’t have the business degree, but I did have the toughest teacher ever—real life! You get the exam first and then you get the lesson. Please share this post with anyone you know who could use a guy like me.

PPS You know my Core Values are Having Fun, Helping Others, Education and Nostalgia. My ideal job is teaching and helping others. It is what I do best and I enjoy it thoroughly. My second passion is marketing & advertising, finding new ways to drive traffic. That and Free Cell are my two favorite puzzles to solve. If the right opportunity comes along, however, I’m game for just about anything that lines up with my values.

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.

Working “On” Part 3 – Hiring a Manager

I’ve only been flown in for an interview once in my life. I went to the Catskills in New York to interview for a position running an experiential education and wilderness trip program. I was a perfect candidate for the job. Not only did I have the experience running a similar program in Michigan, this program also had a strong bike program and owned a fleet of several dozen bikes they had to maintain. I had spent my teenage years assembling and fixing bikes at Toy House. It was a perfect match!

I figured I had the inside track on this job. They flew me in so they must have thought quite highly of me. I had the perfect skill set. I also knew the other two candidates. Both were currently working in the program where I was interviewing. Both had previously worked for me. Neither had the experience in a managerial role I had.

Although I thought I interviewed well, I didn’t get the job.

Only later did I find out the guy doing the hiring had always and only promoted from within. He flew me in only because his boss demanded he interview someone outside the company. I didn’t have a chance. I never had a chance.

Hiring from within makes sense on the surface. You’re hiring a known quantity. You’re hiring someone who already knows your culture (and likely fits in). You’re hiring someone who already knows your procedures. You’re hiring someone who is already loyal to you. The risks seem low.

Laurence J. Peters published a management theory in 1969 about the promotion and hiring from within now called the Peter Principle. According to Wikipedia, the concept is “that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and ‘managers rise to the level of their incompetence.’ “

The risks may seem low, but the downside to the Peter Principle is that you end up with incompetent people at every level of the organization because you elevate people until they are no longer competent. Does that sound like a good plan?

You need to hire your manager the same way you hire anyone at your company. Make a list of all the traits and skills necessary for a person to be successful on the job. Then figure out what you can teach your new manager and what that person needs to bring to the table.

When you make a list for a sales associate you get different traits than your list for a store manager. A perfect salesperson is great at selling. A perfect manager is great at teaching and motivating. Yes, one person can be good at both. But if you are promoting your best salesperson to manager just because they are your best salesperson, you might have made two positions on your team worse off.

Your manager is most important hire you will make. Your manager is the person who gives you the most time to work on your business instead of in it.

Here are concrete steps you can use to find a great manager.

  • Make a list of the skills needed to be a great manager. That list better include the ability to teach, the ability to motivate, and empathy. You probably need to throw trustworthy onto that list, too, and the ability to learn.
  • Make a list of questions you can use to identify those skills in your candidates. Here are some on ability to teach and trustworthiness. Tell me about a time where you had to teach someone else a new skill. How well did it go? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? Tell me about a time when you weren’t able to keep your word. How did you rectify that situation later?
  • Talk to your current staff, especially the high performers who are great in their current role, but not necessarily skilled for the next role. Many people feel the need to want to move up the ranks. Your best salespeople might feel resentment if you pass them over. Talk to them about the importance of their current role and why you need them in that position. If it about money, give them a raise. If they are truly your best salespeople, they are worth it. If it is about power, give them responsibilities that fit with their skill set. They feel better, you feel better, and you haven’t promoted anyone to the level of incompetence.
  • Move “industry knowledge” lower down your list. Sure it helps if someone is as enthusiastic about your niche in the market as you are. But it isn’t nearly as important as the ability to learn, the ability to teach, and the ability to motivate other people. Given the choice between hiring someone who can step in and lead the team while they learn the products or someone who knows the products but is still learning how to lead, you know the smarter choice.

Your goal is to get the most competent people into every position possible. The manager role is the most important of all those positions.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have seen the Peter Principle in almost every place I have worked. I have even been guilty of it a few times myself. It never seems to end well. The easiest way to prevent it from happening in your business is to look at each role as being a separate position requiring separate skills, not a benefit or reward for time served or a promotion for those who do best in their current role.

PPS My son wrote a college entrance essay on “Leadership”. He identified empathy as being the most important character trait of a great leader. I couldn’t argue with his premise at all. Hopefully he still has that essay saved somewhere so that I can use it in a future post.

Get the State of Michigan to Pay

Hey Michigan peeps!

What if I told you that the State of Michigan would pay for you and your store manager to enroll in a Jackson Retail Success Academy™ style program in your area? Rather than you driving all the way here to take the class on your dime, I would do it in your neck of the woods for you and your friends, and the State would pay most* of the bill.

The Skilled Trades Training Fund in Michigan exists for that purpose.

Here’s the thing …

You need to get your local Michigan Works! office to submit the grant for it to happen (have them contact me for details.)

Send this to your DDA Director, Chamber Director, and Economic Development Director, too. Tell them you believe a Retail Management Training Program (especially the JRSA™ program) will help save jobs and boost the local economy.

Tell them all to contact your Michigan Works! office and help you push this through.

The State of Michigan wants you and your team to have the right training to be successful. They are willing to pay for it. You should let them.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS *I say most of the bill because I don’t know all the details of the program. In the cursory explanation I received there is still a small amount you might have to pay depending on the circumstances of the class and what gets approved for the grant. For instance, you may have to pay employee wages while they take the class. But if you get your local economic development people on board, those costs might be even further minimized.

PPS Don’t put this on the back-burner. They are taking submissions right now for 2018. Call your Michigan Works! office this week!

Retail is More Like Football

I am a Detroit Lions fan. There, I said it. That’s the first step to healing, right? I got to watch my Lions play yesterday. Owning a toy store was probably the best thing for this Detroit Lions fan. I never got too invested in their season because I knew I’d be too busy on Sundays in November and December to pay attention to the team. The let down each year wasn’t as bad because of that.

Related imageLast year’s record-setting eight come-from-behind-in-the-fourth-quarter victories was quite exciting, followed by another season-ending debacle all too familiar to die-hard Lions fans. Lots of people want to blame the coach. Others want to blame the now highest paid player in the league, quarterback Matthew Stafford. Some want to blame the organization as a whole. I’m in the latter category.

Although teamwork is important in all of the major team sports, it is at its highest in football. A great goalie in hockey or a mega-star in basketball can change the tide in those respective sports. Baseball is a team sport built almost exclusively around individual actions and talent. But football is truly about eleven guys doing their prescribed job in sync with each other. And even that isn’t enough.

Success in football only happens when the entire organization is in sync and performing at peak. Success happens when the front office brings in the right kind of talent and personality to fit the values of the coaching staff. Success happens when the scouts figure out the best schemes to combat the opponent’s tendencies that also fit with the talent available. Success happens when the coaches are able to teach the players the right schemes and the players are able to execute those schemes.

Individual talent is important, but not the only thing. The Lions had Barry Sanders, arguably the best running back in the history of the game, and still managed to miss the playoffs almost every year.

Retail is far closer to football than the other sports. To be successful you have to have a game plan that not only fits the talent on your team, but also takes into account the talent and tendencies of your competitors. To be successful you need more than just a mega-star, you need a team working together. You might have the best salesperson on the planet, but all her hard work can be undone by an unskilled cashier or dirty restroom. She might not even get to use her skills if your website fails to deliver or the person answering your phones hasn’t been trained.

You can limp through retail with a bunch of mediocre 8-8 seasons, and even earn a living doing it. For some, that is enough. For those of you reading this blog, that isn’t enough. You want to taste the champagne.

So let me ask you …

  • Are you putting in the same kind of effort a football team puts into the scouting of new talent?
  • Are you studying your competition to help you create game plans for how you will beat them?
  • Are you hiring coaches (managers) who can teach your game plan to your team?
  • Are you evaluating your game plan on a regular basis?
  • Are you evaluating your talent and their ability to execute your game plan on a regular basis?

All football teams do this. The ones that do it best win divisions, win playoff games, win Super Bowls. Your competitors are doing this. When people talk about working “on” your business instead of “in” your business, those bullet points are the place for you to start.

Huddle up. Your season is upon you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In the coming weeks I will give you concrete actions you can do for all five of those bullet points. In the meantime, start figuring out what you need to do to give you more time on than in. You’re going to need it (and it will definitely pay off).