Home » Staff Training

Category: Staff Training

Are You Managing or Leading?

It dawned on me yesterday as I was writing the post on when to bend the rules, that you first need to be able to teach the rules and why the rules exist. It is that “why” that makes all the difference. It is that “why” that allows your staff to know when the “why” doesn’t apply.

If you go to Google Images and type in “leader versus manager” you’ll get dozens of graphics that all say similar things. One of those things they say is …

“Managers do things the right way. Leaders do the right things.”

I will tell you that not only do you want to be a leader, you want to lead your team to be leaders. You want everyone to do the right things by your customers all the time—even if that means bending the rules.

Especially when that means bending the rules!

Related imageTo do that, you need to do three things.

First, empower them to make decisions on the floor. Give them authority to bend rules as they see fit. Give them the ability to make the call so that they don’t have to constantly go “ask a manager.” Let them say Yes to the customer’s request and then figure out how to do it.

Second, train them to be able to make those decisions. Everyone on your team needs to know the rules, but also the purpose behind the rule and situations when the rule doesn’t apply (because it no longer serves the purpose). If you hire sheep, they’ll follow all the rules and could even be “manager material”, but if you hire compassionate problem solvers who love to help other people, they’ll be leaders once you arm them with the knowledge to know when and how to serve.

Third, encourage them every time they step out and lead. The first time your employee bends a rule to surprise and delight a customer she will be scared. Did she do the right thing? Was that what you wanted? Is she going to get yelled at? Those are normal reactions. How you react makes the difference between whether she bends another rule ever again.

Here is where your leadership comes into play. Chances are pretty good that her first bending of the rules won’t be perfect in your eyes. It won’t be how you would have handled the situation. But if you lead with, “That’s not how I would have done it,” I can promise you she won’t bend any more rules in the future. If, however, you lead with, “That was great to see you making that call! You made a difference for that customer. I might have done it a little different. The next time you do that, keep in mind …”

That second approach not only encourages her to do more, it green lights her to do more because you said, “The next time you do that …” She’ll be so excited, she’ll be looking for the next chance to surprise and delight a customer.

Remember, when it comes to rules …

  • Bend the rules when it will surprise and delight the customer
  • Break the rules if they aren’t customer-centric in the first place.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Most retail chain stores no longer do any serious training for their employees. Oh, they have a sixteen-page manual for how to do things right (especially when it comes to sexual harassment or anything else that might embarrass the company), but nothing about how to surprise and delight a customer. Just because they do it that way doesn’t make it right. If you want to be better than your competition you have to do things differently than the competition. Lead your team and turn even your part-time sales clerks into leaders. Don’t manage them into managers. Not only will your team perform better, you’ll make the world a better place.

PPS The big question is always, “But what happens if I spend all that time training them and they leave?” The better question is, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

When to Bend the Rules, When to Break Them

When I was writing my new book Most Ads Suck I had a long internal debate about the word “Rules” versus the word “Principles.” There are six elements that the great ads incorporate to make them more effective. You don’t have to incorporate all six, but the more you use, the more powerful your ad can be. My question was whether to call these six elements “rules” or “principles” to follow.

I chose the word “principle” for the book because of one phrase. “Rules are made to be broken.”

If I had called them “rules” some of you rebels would have broken them just on principle alone (you know who you are.) Others would have believed you need to follow all six to be effective. You also know who you are. Principles are guides to help you be better. Rules are made to be broken.

Image result for rules made to be brokenIn this world there are the Rule-Followers and the Rule-Breakers. We need a third category. We also need Rule-Benders. These are the people who are smart enough to know when a rule just doesn’t apply to a specific situation, and are willing to make exceptions to the rule without throwing the rule completely out the window.

Here is an example …

I was in Athens, GA last weekend. We had a party of five and called a local restaurant on Saturday mid-day to see about getting a reservation for that evening. The hostess said, “I’m sorry. We don’t make same-day reservations. You have to call in advance to make a reservation.” (The Rule)

Then the hostess said, “But it’s the summer and with the students gone, we aren’t very busy, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting a table.”

“… we aren’t very busy …”

If you aren’t very busy, wouldn’t you want to make all the reservations you could to get more business?

With a reservation, we tell everyone in our party, “The reservation is at 6pm. See you then.” Without a reservation, someone in our party might say, “Hey, maybe we should try that other restaurant down the street.”

I don’t know enough about restaurants to know why they have such a rule in the first place. Maybe it was designed to show off their exclusiveness? Maybe it was designed to encourage people to plan earlier? Maybe it was designed because the hostess isn’t trained for fitting new reservations into the grid of existing reservations? If you take both reservations and walk-in traffic, it seems like a rule that needs to be broken and even eliminated. But I will give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt that the rule exists for valid reason.

With that said, I do know that if your hostess is saying, “We aren’t very busy,” she needs more training. The proper response would have been, “We’d love to see you tonight! What time would you like your reservation?” That would be a bending of the rule that would greatly benefit both the restaurant and our party of five.

In every type of retail there are rules in place. Usually those rules are created by the owner or manager to make it easier to train and set boundaries for employees. While I understand how this makes life simpler for the employee and manager, it also robs the employee of being able to do what you hired her to do—to surprise and delight your customers. if your rules are for these purposes, empower your employees to bend those rules when the opportunity arises to make a difference for a customer.

And when they do bend the rules, always applaud them for doing so, even if they bent the rules more than you would have liked. Otherwise you’ll stifle their desire to bend rules in the future. (Say, “Great job!! Now, next time…”)

Sometimes those rules are set to protect the business from the unscrupulous customers who might try to take advantage of the retailer, or simply to give the business control over the customer. If you have rules like that, those need to be broken.

  • Bend the rules when it will surprise and delight the customer
  • Break the rules if they aren’t customer-centric in the first place.

Got it?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you hire people who are compassionate problem-solvers, you’ll have some rule-benders on your team already. Explain to them why the rule exists and they’ll know when to bend them to make a difference.

“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.

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.

Teaching Your Staff Product Knowledge

One of my favorite activities when I was a camp counselor was something we called a Dutch Auction. For the Dutch Auction, each kid in our cabin would take his pillow case and put ten items in that pillow case. With our collection of items we would head to the Auction. At the Auction the support staff played judge. One person would call off an item to be “auctioned” such as a purple toothbrush. Your cabin would have to look through your collection of stuff to see if you had a purple toothbrush.

Image result for purple toothbrushIf you did have a purple toothbrush, you showed the judge and your team got a point. If you didn’t, you tried to come up with creative alternatives that the the judges might agree was a “purple toothbrush.” For instance, if you had anything purple, you would take it up to the judges and begin “brushing” your teeth with it. The more creative you were, the more likely the judge would give you a point.

I loved this activity because of the creativity and imagination required to get a point. I loved this activity because it got the kids in the cabin working together, especially when they called for the “longest shoelace” and everyone started pulling out their shoelaces to tie them together into one long lace. I loved this activity because there was always laughter and always out-of-the-box thinking. I loved this activity even though I almost lost my first camp counselor job my very first week when my senior counselor and I taught our sixth-grade boys an inappropriate chant (we still got a point and we made the whole dining hall roar with laughter, so it couldn’t have been that bad??).

Are you surprised I adapted the Dutch Auction into a staff training?

We’ve all heard the mantra of selling Features and Benefits. What happens, however, is that we spend our whole time training on the features of an item, without really exploring the benefits. Yet it is the benefits that actually sell the item.

Let’s define those terms:

  • Features = what a product does
  • Benefits = how using that feature makes your life better

Features are just facts and data.

Benefits are the visualization of the product solving the problem you’re trying to solve.

Benefits are the results you get because of the features. Benefits are emotions and feelings. Knowing the features is only half the battle. You have to know what results and feelings those features give you.

So, I held a Dutch Auction with my staff. I broke them into teams and sent them out to get three new products each from the shelves. Then I started calling off the items I wanted to see.

Show me an item that …

  • Helps a parent save time
  • Helps a child become more coordinated
  • Fosters a better relationship between siblings
  • Makes bedtime easier
  • Teaches better manners
  • Teaches compassion
  • Increases planning and organizational skills
  • Fosters increased cooperation

You won’t find any of these outcomes on the packaging of any of the toys we sold, but those were real benefits our customers were hoping to achieve.

By playing this game, my staff began to look at the new products with a different mindset. They began imagining the benefits of each item, thinking about the product from the end result point of view.They went beyond what the item did to how the item made your life better.

We followed up this exercise with another one, a fill-in-the-blank I called It does/So that.

This product does (feature) _____________, so that you (benefit) ___________________ .

Everyone grabbed three new items and shared three It does/So that statements. By the time we were done, we knew the benefits of 36 new items.

Not only are Dutch Auction and It does/So that powerful ways to get your staff thinking more about benefits than features, they are fun, too. Plus, they get your staff thinking outside the box and working together. Win-win-win.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Another way to put it … Features are about the product. Benefits are about the customer. It is always about the customer. Always.

PPS Want to make your merchandising stand out? When you make a sign for a new product or category, make it about the benefits to the customer instead of the features of the product. You’ll win far more hearts faster than ever before.

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.

Protecting Yourself From Your Biggest Threat

I’m in a precarious position. My job is to help you succeed by teaching you the stuff you need to learn. My job is to know what you don’t know, be the expert you can trust, and help you see things from a perspective you haven’t seen before.

My other job is to protect myself from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. (DKE)

According to Wikipedia, “the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability have illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.”

People who suffer from this cognitive bias don’t know what they don’t know. They believe they have all the answers. They come across as arrogant, pushy, know-it-alls that annoy the heck out of true experts in that field.

As an author, business coach, and public speaker, I’m supposed to have all the answers. I’m supposed to know it all. Yet, how do I prevent myself from getting caught in the trap of illusory superiority?

Image result for stacks of booksThe simple answer is Read. 

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” -Mark Twain

“Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow …” -Lawrence Clark Powell

I subscribe to blogs and read books regularly, looking for new answers. Sometimes what I read challenges what I believe. I worry about my cognitive bias, wondering if the author knows something I don’t. Reading keeps me on my toes by presenting new ideas and opening me up to new worlds of thought.

The next best thing to do is Question everything you believe.

  • Why do I believe what I believe?
  • Where is my evidence?
  • Do I have the most up-to-date information on this topic?
  • Have I tested it?
  • Is my information relevant to today?
  • Are my sources up-to-date and staying current?

If all I ever did was give you information based off my own experiences running Toy House, then I might suffer from DKE. If all I ever did at Toy House was try to learn from my own mistakes without looking outside myself for help, then I most definitely suffered.

Yet isn’t that what so many business owners do? Especially the veterans who have been running their stores for years? They use their own experiences as the basis for everything and never try to learn from others.

“It is hard to read the label from inside the bottle.” -Roy H. Williams

Your biggest threat isn’t Amazon or the economy or the weather. It is in thinking you know all the answers and cannot be taught something new.

I fear this in myself. I have the confidence (arrogance?) to believe I have answers to pretty much any question about running an independent retailer. I guard myself against DKE, however, by reading and questioning everything I think I know. I did the same running Toy House. Didn’t know how to market and advertise? I turned to Seth Godin and Roy H. Williams. Didn’t know how to merchandise? I turned to Paco Underhill. I learned from them, tested it against what I thought I knew, and grew from the experience.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here. You’re out there reading and learning from others (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading my posts). Sometimes, however, we need that reminder to keep vigilant and protect ourselves from our own DKE.

Sometimes we also need permission to go out there and remind our fellow retailers there is a world of information available, and the strength of your individual business will rely on how much of that information you acquire and use.

(Yes, that is a request that you share this blog and the other stuff you read with others.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS One other way to keep DKE at bay is to be in a constant state of learning. Some people believe “training” only happens to new staff. Teach them what they need at first and let them go from there. Some people instead create a culture of learning not only for themselves but for their staff. One way I fostered that culture at Toy House was to give each of my staff a $150 budget each year for taking a class or attending a workshop. It didn’t have to be retail-related. It only had to keep them in a mindset of learning new things.

So You Got a Bad Review?

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

If you don’t already have a negative review online about your business, either you’re still too new to have any reviews or you just haven’t found where they posted it. No matter how nice you are, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much training you do, someone somewhere is going to have a beef with you and post it online for the whole world to see.

Image result for hundred dollar billThe big chains get them daily by the hundreds. If I told you those soulless corporations didn’t care, you’d believe me. They do care, but not nearly as much as you do when someone writes something bad about you.

To you, a negative review is like a kick in the gut. It is a dagger to the heart. You read it over and over, fretting about what you could have done differently. You worry about it, lose sleep over it, and turn a few more hairs gray. You’re ready to fire staff members and change everything you’ve done. At the very least you’ve gone out back behind the building where no one can hear you and let a few choice words fly.

Before you start drinking heavily and contemplating a mass firing of your team while writing a nasty reply to the reviewer, STOP!

Bad reviews are part of the game of being a retailer. How you respond to them is part of your brand image and marketing. Before flying off the handle with a criticism of the reviewer, stop and take a deep breath. In fact, the best thing you can do with a bad review is not respond right away while you’re still emotional. Instead take a moment to review the review.

Ask these questions internally …

  • Was it an attack on an employee and what he or she did? If so, talk to the employee and make sure they know the right thing to do. (Don’t accuse them of doing the wrong thing, just focus on doing the right thing in the future.)
  • Was it an attack on a policy you have and how it was enforced? Take a look at the policy and see whether it needs changing, it needs flexibility, or it just is what it is and there is nothing you can do.
  • Was it a misunderstanding between the reviewer and what your staff meant to say/do? See how you can eliminate this misunderstanding in the future.
  • Was it a legitimate complaint that needs a follow-up? See if you can contact the reviewer individually and settle the problem.
  • Was it just completely unfounded and patently false? (See below)

Be honest in your answers to these questions. Often a negative review is a legitimate complaint about a policy you have that might be more business-friendly and less customer-friendly. It might also be exactly what you needed so that you knew what your staff was doing behind your back, and how certain team members were treating your customers when you weren’t around.

If you respond to a negative review (and that is a huge IF), you should only do so for one reason—to thank the person for their review and apologize for their experience.

People are going to read your bad reviews. More importantly, they are going to read how you responded to those reviews. If all you do is get defensive and try to combat the reviewer, everyone else will believe that you’re hostile and not open to suggestions. If all you do is stoop to the level of the reviewer, you’re no better than them.

Instead say something like, “Thank you for making us aware of [the situation.] I am sorry that you had such an experience. The staff and I have discussed this at length to make sure we don’t have this problem again. We hope that you will give us the opportunity to serve you in the future.”

You don’t have to admit there was a problem. (Most often, negative reviews are based on misunderstandings.) You only have to own up to the fact that a customer, whether by her own actions or yours, had a bad experience in your store. “I’m sorry,” goes a long way to healing that experience and making others believe you are a caring company.

Most importantly, when you respond like this, the other people reading the review will see that you responded and apologized and took steps to correct the problem. That not only reassures them that they won’t have the same problem if they visit your store, but also that you are willing to listen to customers and put their needs first. That perception is what wins hearts and loyalty.

THE OUTRAGEOUS NEGATIVE REVIEW

You’ll get a bad review from time to time that has no basis in reality. It is simply bashing you for no reason or a made-up reason. Those don’t deserve a response. Leave them alone. The people that write these kinds of reviews probably won’t respond, even if you do try to engage. If they do respond, someone willing to write something that false will continue to write BS so you’ll never win. Either report them, block them, or ignore them. Don’t ever try to engage with them.

Most people who read reviews online will do like the judges in certain sporting events. They’ll throw out the best and worst reviews and read all the ones in-between.

There is only one response to those completely unfounded, totally false, negative reviews. Simply say, “Thank you for this review. We will look into it.” The other readers will see that you take all reviews seriously, and that is far more important than getting into a shouting match, being defensive, or calling someone out for being a loon.

“You are not a one hundred dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you.” -Meg Cabot

Negative reviews, like credit card fees, are part of the cost of doing business. Don’t take them personally. Don’t attack the reviewer. Don’t go on the defensive. Do answer a few questions internally and see if there are steps you can take to reduce these types of reviews in the future.

If you make your policies customer-friendly, your staff highly trained, and your store an experience of wonder and delight, those negative reviews will be heavily outweighed by the positive ones.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sometimes your policy is the way it is for reasons beyond your control. We got a negative review for not taking back a used breast pump. Because of bodily fluids, we weren’t allowed to take it back. Occasionally you’ll have something like that. A short, simple, it-is-out-of-our-control explanation is okay in a situation like that. Otherwise, take the high road Every. Single. Time. Period. Period. Period. Other people are more concerned with your response than with the actual review, and what they think is all that matters.

PPS If someone has a legitimate complaint, see if you can solve it offline. Once solved, go back to the review (if they haven’t taken it down) and thank them for the opportunity to work with them to solve the problem. To the people reading the reviews, this is sometimes more powerful than having zero negative reviews. The average person knows you aren’t a one hundred dollar bill, too.

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.