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Flying the Friendly(?) Skies

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


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

Great Customer Service = Meeting the Customer’s Expectations.

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

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

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

Third, someone is a danger to themselves or others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski

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

Why You Should Teach What You Know

Here’s a myth worth busting… “Thanks to the Internet, the customers know more about the products than the sales people.” If you believe that, you’ve given up. Might as well close up now and avoid further losses.

First, not all customers do the research. There is a big group of people who don’t want all that knowledge. They are looking for someone who already has that knowledge that they can trust.

Second, there is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. As the quote we’ve all seen says, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. wisdom is knowing not to include it in a fruit salad.” You have wisdom. You know what your product does and why that is important.

You need to teach.

Phil Wrzesinski Teaching Shopping for Baby 101 Class

I know your first objection. If I teach it, they’ll just take what they learn and go buy it somewhere else cheaper. Guess what? That person was going to go buy it somewhere else cheaper anyway. Period. Without the class, you would never have seen them in the store in the first place and had the chance to turn them into a customer. I would rather they got the knowledge from me so that they got the right product. Even if they didn’t buy it from me, they will know I steered them right. That may be just enough to get their business next time.

I know your other objection. It takes too much time and energy (and money) to put together a presentation, draw a crowd, and share your proprietary information with others. Oh, but that time and energy is well worth it when you look at the benefits.

When you teach a class on your products, you attract customers to your store who are actively in the market for the products you sell. No one else is coming to your class. Think of it as the most direct of direct marketing. The class brings you exactly the customers already in the market for what you are selling.

When you teach a class you send a message out to everyone that you are the expert on the subject. For some people, just finding an expert is good enough for them. They trust you because you are willing to put your name and reputation on the line with this class. The press is also paying attention and looking for the expert they can interview when the time arises.

When you teach a class you get to control the wisdom and make it relevant and important. You make sure the audience understands why one product might be desirable over another. You get to answer the questions they often forget to ask. You get to answer the questions they didn’t know to ask, which only helps to cement the thought of you as the expert in their minds.

When you teach a class you gain followers and fans. People will look up to you as the leader in this category.

When you teach a class you create excitement in your store. Your parking lot will be more full. Your store will be more full. Your walk-in customers will wonder at the all the buzz.

When you teach a class in your store you will get asked to teach that class to groups outside of your store. That’s the icing on this cake. That’s the outreach that helps you find new markets of customers.

Not the teacher type? The next post will show you HOW to teach that class. It isn’t as hard as you think.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It doesn’t have to be that expensive, either. You don’t need a big space. Move a few fixtures and do it in your store. You don’t need a lot of advertising. Social media, email, your website, some in-store signage, and a few online community calendars will draw a crowd. Make it worth their while and they’ll help you draw the next crowd.

PPS Schedule your best staff to work the floor while you teach and make it mandatory that any staff not working the floor during the class is attending the class. You can kill two birds with one stone by teaching your customers and your staff at the same time. Win-win!!

How Often Should You Send Your Email Newsletter?

Google the question, “How often should you send your email newsletter?” and you’ll get a plethora of answers. According to my inbox, Lands End seems to think the answer is several times a day. For others it is daily. One report that actually surveyed US adults is suggesting weekly or monthly. In that survey the number one reason people who opted into your mailing list still mark you as spam is because you emailed too frequently.

On the other hand, send out your email too infrequently and they’ll forget about you.

The true answer to How Often is, “Whenever you have something new and interesting to say.”

Every week you should have something new to say…

A new product…
A new story…
A new display…
A new event…

Just make sure you say something new… and interesting.

Don’t tell me about your new product. Tell me why you bought it and why you think I need it and how it will benefit me. Don’t tell me about your new event. Tell me why you are doing the event, why I should come, and how it will benefit me.

Rick Seigel, a retail consultant, used to include a joke at the bottom of each email. He knew the joke made people more likely to open the email and scroll all the way to the bottom, whether they read the rest of the email or not. It was new, fun, and interesting.

You have to say something new and say something interesting. Do those two things and you’ll never be accused of sending out too many emails. (Well, okay, there is always one in every crowd. Ignore him.)

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS What is black and white and red all over? An ugly blog template. (More bad blog jokes here.)

PPS Add your media contacts to your email list. Keep them in the loop of what is new with you. You never know when they need a new story that dovetails nicely with what you’re doing.

PPPS Yes, make sure you always share your newsletter on your social media platforms. I regularly got more comments and interaction on Facebook than I did from the actual email.

Friends With Benefits

Align yourself with charity. Pick one or two local organizations (or more if you’re up to it) that you feel strongly about. Do something special for them. Help them out. Be their friend and ally.

You’ll both benefit from the friendship.

Santa Paws 2015 #1

This is a picture of the Cascades Humane Society doing their annual Santa Paws event – pictures of your pet with Santa Claus. They called me a few weeks ago looking for a space to take the pictures. I have a stage. I love dogs – especially rescued dogs. I said yes.

They coordinate getting Santa here. They hire the photographer. They set up the backdrop. They sign up and schedule the photo shoots. They work the tables. They get the profits.

We get the traffic. We get the goodwill. We get the customers telling us how nice it is that we are doing this for them. We get the social media exposure. We get exposed to everyone on their mailing list. We get our name mentioned in their press releases (and non-profit press releases get picked up far more often than for-profit press releases).

Our friendship with them brings benefits to both of us.

When you partner with a charity, you expand your reach. You get exposure to a crowd of generous people who love to give to charitable causes (can you think of a better demographic for the independent retailer?). You get touchy feely goodwill because you are helping out. You don’t just look like a greedy merchant. You strengthen your community (the better the non-profits do, the better everyone does).

Make friends with a charity or two. You’ll reap the benefits.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Your charity doesn’t have to be aligned with what you sell. We don’t sell pet toys or pet food. Pick charities based on a few different factors such as…

  • Do they have an active base of followers?
  • Do they want to “partner” with you (or simply have you do all the work)?
  • Do they align with your own personal core values?
  • Are they well-respected in the community?

Those are all good reasons for making friends.

Lose the Battle to Win the War

We all have those unreasonable customers. Ones that want to bring an item back months after they bought it, not in resell-able condition. Ones that demand money back without a receipt or they will flame you on Yelp. Ones that want you to do something that your stated policies say you don’t clearly do.

You could take a page from Best Buy and fire those customers. You could be like the Soup Nazi on The Seinfeld Show – no soup for you!!

Here is another approach I want you to consider.

Kill ’em with kindness. Break your policy and do what they ask. Bend the rules and give them what they want. Do it with a HUGE smile on your face, sincerity in your heart, and genuine concern for their needs.

“I’m really sorry that item didn’t work out for you. Yes, I can see why your husband would cut it in half. We’d be happy to take it back. Would you like to pick something else out? Maybe I can offer a couple suggestions of items that might work better? No? Okay, here is a refund. Let me know if there is anything we can do to help you out in the future.”

It might sting a little bit. You might lose some money on that particular transaction. But don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

When you kill these customers with kindness, a few things could happen.

They might not notice and continue to be a thorn in your side.
But your other customers noticed. They didn’t get the whole story of what was going on with the customer. They didn’t see how unreasonable she was. But they did see how you reacted. They saw how you took incredible care of the customer. They saw how you had the customer’s back. They noticed how you were calm and friendly and respectful and helpful and caring.

They might become one of your best customers ever. 
I could regale you with many tales of unhappy customers we have turned into mega profit machines because we bent the rules a little. Heck, you can regale me with many of the same stories. In fact, retail is the only place I have actually seen true alchemy – turning lead weight into gold.

At a time when we are all screaming about how to draw more traffic, maybe firing our current customers isn’t always the best tactic.

As one anonymously brilliant person said… Your customers will get better when you do.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Never let short-term profits get in the way of your long-term goals. This strategy may “lose” you a battle or two, but you’ll win the war. Yes, it requires patience. Yes, it requires eating a little crow (but crow sprinkled with a helping of cold hard cash can be rather tasty sometimes). Yes, there will be customers who make you duck into your office for a few minutes. Yes, they got more than they deserved. Isn’t than the hallmark of incredible over-the-top customer service?

Can You Call in Favors?

Could you call a media person right now and cash in a favor?

Maybe ask a reporter or photographer to cover an event you’re hosting?

Maybe get a little live air-time with the local morning-drive DJ?

Maybe get a quote in the paper?

Maybe get an article on the op-ed page?

Maybe get some air-time on the morning news show?

Maybe guest-host a local TV show?


You have to give to receive. Start giving now. You never know when you might want to ask for that favor.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS What to give? Your time. Your expertise. Your praise. Your support. Your money. Your information. Spend a little time getting to know your local reporters, your local DJ’s, and your local news anchors. Praise them for the work they do. Offer them information that makes them look good/smart (and doesn’t promote you). Build trust by being reliable. Give them scoops. Do it without expectation of anything in return. You’ll cash in later.

Go BIG or Go Home – A Lesson in PR

Your store just isn’t that important. You aren’t creating hundreds/thousands of jobs at one time. You aren’t attracting tens of thousands of people into town all at once. You aren’t creating multi-millions of dollars of economic impact. You aren’t raising tens of thousands of dollars for charity.

The news media isn’t going to cover you just because you’re nice and you’re local.

There are really only two ways for indie retailers to get into the media spotlight.


Set yourself up as the expert in your field by following this plan:

  1. Get the contact info for every reporter out there – print, online, radio and TV. 
  2. Follow their stories – all of them – to find out who is most likely to write about something in your field.
  3. Every time they write anything close to your industry, send them a note of praise for the article.
  4. When possible, send them a link to another source of info (not you, but a third party) for more information about the topics on which they have written.
  5. Continue until they begin to trust you as a reliable source of info.
  6. Wait for them to start asking your opinion.
  7. Give it freely, clearly, in sound bites, and backed up with reliable, checkable facts.


Set yourself up in the spotlight by following this plan:

  1. Attend events where media coverage is already present. 
  2. Do something within the framework of the event that absolutely HAS to get noticed.
  3. Be larger than life. Take it to the extreme!

I just participated in our Fitness Council’s Smart Commute High Heel Bike Ride. The event includes people biking in heels and a fashion show where they crown the King & Queen. This is what I wore…

Yeah, I was voted King (or queen, I forget). Yeah, we’re getting a lot of coverage for it. Yeah, people are smiling. “We’re here to make you smile!” 

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS When you  get your chance to shine in the spotlight, remember that you have to be over-the-top if you want to generate word of mouth. People may think you’re crazy, but in a cunning way. Make sure, however, that what you do is within the framework of the event or they will just think you’re plain crazy.

For the Win – Best Customer Service Stories!

You’ve heard me talk about Over-the-Top Customer Service. See it in action in this article from Mental Floss.


-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Bring a tissue. A couple are real heart-string tuggers.

PPS If you aren’t willing to bend over backwards like these companies did, don’t go complaining that no one ever brags about your “great” customer service, because it isn’t all that good.

Getting Customers to Walk Those Last 20 Feet

“At the end of the day you’ll get nothing for nothing.” -Les Miserables

I’m on the planning committee for a new street festival that will happen this summer in downtown Jackson. It’s a big one. Artists, Musicians, Restaurateurs, Local Brewers and Wineries, a Color Run and more.

Some of the merchants on the streets that will be closed are concerned. I hear comments like…
“These events never draw me any traffic.”
“All these events do is close me down to my regular traffic.”
“Too many street closures and I’ll have to close, too.”

Five thousand people walking past your shop and you can’t do any business?!?

When you ask those who are complaining what they did to get those people the last 20 feet from street through door, the usual response is a blank stare.

Street closures for construction suck! Street closures for fairs and events can be a windfall… if you recognize that it is your job to get the customers from the street through your door.

If you do nothing, you’ll get nothing.

You have to do something.
You have to do something special.
You have to do something that will move the needle for someone who came down to look at classic cars or taste local cuisine or peruse amazing art.
You have to do something that gets their attention, makes them notice you, be interested in you, desire your products and services, and make the purchase.

You can’t reach them through radio or TV or email. They are 20 feet away. Right here right now. You have to go out and get them. You have to do something so amazingly wonderful that they drag their friends through the door with them.

That last statement could apply any time of the year. If you’re not getting the traffic you think you should be getting, whatever you’re doing to try to attract customers is pretty close to nothing in their minds. Time to up your game.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One simple clue into what not to do to get them that last 20 feet… People at street fairs – especially ones involving art and food – spend like drunken sailors. You won’t win them over with a sale or special price or discount nearly as much as you will by offering them something that matches their world view. They are already over-paying for food and drinks at these events. Entice them with something impulsive and fun and in line with their (your) Core Values. They are ready to overspend. Don’t disappoint them.

Teach What You Can Teach Part 2

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post, today I taught two high school classes. They were Child Development classes and I taught about the importance of Play for child development and how to find the right toys (tools) for Play. I’ve now taught this class to high schoolers, new parents, mom’s groups, and even a grandparents group.

For thirteen years I taught expectant parents and grandparents how to choose baby products at a class we did right in the store.

I do another talk called The Family that Plays Together, Stays Together that highlights how play and fun and laughter make you healthier and happier and strengthen the bonds of your family.

That’s just three classes based on the knowledge I gained running my store.

I’m pretty sure a good shoe store owner could teach about the importance of posture and good walking habits.
I’m pretty sure a good jeweler could teach about how to care for precious stones or the best way to polish gold and silver and brass.
I’m pretty sure a good grocer (especially one who specializes in locally produced goods) could talk about GMO’s and artificial sweeteners.
I’m pretty sure a good clothing store owner could talk about current fashions and trends in the clothing industry.
I’m pretty sure a good craft store owner could teach how to make something out of next-to-nothing.
I’m pretty sure a good health food store owner could teach about the difference in quality of certain vitamins and supplements.
I’m pretty sure a good bike shop owner could teach how to change your inner tube on your bike and other simple maintenance.
I’m pretty sure a good furniture store could teach the proper way to fix mars and scratches in a wood surface or how to get stains out of upholstery.
I’m pretty sure a good appliance store owner could teach about how to save energy while using appliances.
I’m quite certain a good hardware store owner could teach how to use tools safely and properly.

You’re a great retailer. What can you teach?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS When you decide to teach, the next thing you need is an audience. I get some of my talks because I put it on my website. I get others because I put it on brochures in the store. I get the rest because I make it so much fun that people in those classes tell others about it. (Yeah, that thing we call word-of-mouth).