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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.

What is Worse Than That? The Lower Bar of Customer Service

This morning my bladder woke me up about twenty minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off. (TMI?) I am not a morning person so I was not pleased.

When something like this happens, you only have a few options. Tell your bladder you’ll get up when the alarm goes off and hope you don’t wet the bed. Get up and go, then try to get another fifteen minutes of sleep before the alarm sounds. Get up and start the day twenty minutes earlier than planned. (Or in my case, try to go back to sleep and instead write a blog post in your head.)

Can you think of anything worse for a non-morning person than having their bladder (or their dog or someone honking the horn) wake them up twenty minutes before they planned to get up?

How about going through the checkout with a cart full of groceries, have everything bagged and back in your cart, and then be told the cash register is frozen and you’ll have to go to the next register, and scan it all over again because they haven’t updated their hardware or software since Y2K, and then when you get to the other register the scanner isn’t working there either so you have to cart everything one more time and try a third register?

How about going to the big department store where you have been buying the same turtleneck for the past twenty-three years, getting to the department and finding the place trashed, having to sift through tons of shirts tossed everywhere until you finally find one in your size, going up to the checkout to find there are only two cashiers in a store of 150,000 square feet, and after waiting twenty minutes in line you learn that the shirts are an extra 30% off today only (if you can find another one in that mess in your size by yourself and are willing to wait another 30 minutes to checkout)?

How about reading an ad in Sunday’s paper, seeing an item you have been wanting for a while, and it is now on sale at a price you can afford, heading to the store that afternoon only to find your store never had any in stock in the first place?

How about walking into a store about 20 minutes before closing time and being told by the greeter (and I use that term loosely), “We’re closing soon so if you have a big purchase that is going to be a hassle you need to do it right away,”?

How about holding an item in your hand that is the right size, wanting a second one, and being told by a sales clerk too lazy to look something up, “They don’t make it in that size,”?

How about trying on a shirt, asking for a new size, and when the clerk comes back with the new size, asking if they have any more styles in that size and being told, “I don’t know,” before the clerk walks away never to return?

How about ordering a food item at a fast food restaurant and being told that it is cheaper to get a bunch of other items you don’t want with that item, so that you end up wasting food just to save money?

These are just a handful of situations that cropped up for me in the past few days. I asked the audience at the MAEDA presentation if any of them gave poor customer service, just treated their customers like crap. Not one person raised their hands. Then I asked them if anyone had received poor customer service in the past two weeks. Most every hand went up.

I tell you this to point out what is happening in terms of customer service and how that will affect you and your business.

The good news is that poor customer service is so rampant that it lowers the bar of expectation and makes the service you are striving to give look amazingly good.

The bad news is that as the bar of expectation gets lowered, so does the tolerance of the general public for getting worse and worse service. If you get complacent in the service you offer, you let the other guys win. You let them set the bar. Your slightly better service will seem outdated and expensive.

If you ramp up your service to such an amazingly high level that you surprise and delight customers at every turn, then you reset the bar in your favor and expose your competitors for the non-caring companies that they are.

The minimum would be to …

  • Make sure you have ample supply of anything you advertise on sale.
  • Make sure you have proper signage on the displays of items on sale explaining the deal.
  • Make sure you keep your merchandise neat and tidy and sorted and easy to find.
  • Make sure your hardware and software is up to date and functioning properly everywhere.
  • Make sure you have enough staff to make the shopping experience fun and easy.
  • Make sure your staff are trained to never say, “No.”

If you do the minimum, you’ll get the minimum. The maximum, however, has exponential returns.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, all of those experiences happened in major chain stores, but not all big box discounters. A couple happened in a store that has had a few rounds of closures. A couple happened in stores that should know better. I would like to say that I had some surprise and delight moments, too. Unfortunately, the only surprise was that they didn’t suck as much as I expected. Not exactly reassuring.

PPS Yeah, that’s how my brain works at 5:41am.

What Your Worst Employee Should Be Able to Do

Seth Godin talked about this in his blog today. I wrote about it back in 2009. You know this adage … A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Your chain is your staff. Your chain is the level of customer service your team can bring to the table. Your chain is only as strong as the worst employee on your team.

Stop and think about that for a second. Who is the worst person on your team? That’s the bar right there. Before you fire him and start over (always a realistic option when you have people who are not performing) here is something you can train him to do that will significantly raise your customer service up a few notches.

He needs to be able to get through the day without saying, “No.”

One of my favorite staff trainings was the Dollars on the Table Game

“No,” is a deal killer. It is the one-word sentence that will kill your business (even faster than, “Can I help you?” and, “Did you find everything?”)

It is a word that needs to be stricken from your vocabulary, or at the very least, only offered with a quick modifier. It kills all the mojo.

“Do you have this product?”

“No.” 

End of conversation. End of interaction. End of sale. End of business.

There are millions of products out there. You have 5,000 in your store. The chances are pretty good that your customers will ask you for something you do not have.

How your staff answers goes a long way towards your success. Here are some alternate answers that always work better.

You can ask why. 

“What exactly are you looking for in that product? Why do you want that product? What are hoping that product will do for you? We might have something else that will work.”

You can offer alternatives. 

“We don’t have that item but we do have this other product that I actually like better because…”

You can give explanations.

“We used to carry that product but had too many problems and switched to this other brand.”

“That brand is only mass-produced for large chain stores. Let me show you something of which you probably haven’t heard that does the job equally well.”

You can offer help in finding the item. 

“We don’t carry anything like that. Would you like me to call this other store for you to see if they carry it or anything similar?”

All of those responses are easy enough for any employee to learn. Even your newest hires and seasonal staff can learn these responses quickly and easily. They make your chain stronger because they build relationships rather than shut them down.

Work with your staff to eliminate the word No from your vocabulary. (If they can’t do that, fire them and start over.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Here is a good staff meeting exercise. Think of all the questions a customer might ask to which you might say No. (Do you price match? Do you offer bundled discounts? Do you give a price break for people who pay cash?) Then come up with alternate answers you can use instead of saying No.

PPS One savvy retailer I know keeps a clipboard up front with a “No List” for every product a customer asks that they don’t have. If the same product comes up time and time again, she figures she needs to look into carrying that product because customers are thinking of her store as a place that would have it.

The Second Worst Question to Ask

Every time I’m at the cash register I get asked the same question and it is driving me nuts! I cringe when I hear it. It is driving me to the point of almost wanting to use the self-serve registers (which I hate with an equal passion to hearing this question.)

You know the question because you have been asked this question, too. And your answer, like my answer, is always the same and matches the same answer given by 99.7% of the people asked.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?”

Image result for grocery checkout beltOf course you say Yes. God forbid you should say No at which the cashier asks what you’re looking for and then holds up the checkout line you had already waited thirteen and a half minutes in to go find someone else to come tell you what you already knew—that they were sold out.

Or worse, you say No and nothing happens. They might offer you a feeble sorry and ask you to try back again later.

Or even worse, you’re walking out of PetSmart and the guy in front of you is asked that question as he is leaving the building! When he replied angrily that no he hadn’t found what he wanted, the clerk told him to, “Okay. Have a nice day!”

Really?

(By the way, that story was sent in by a reader. Feel free to share your good and bad experiences. We can all learn from them.)

At the cash register it is too late to ask that question. You need sales people on the floor working with customers before that question even comes up. If you can’t manage that, at least have someone there to ask that question before the customer gets in line to checkout.

Once a customer has decided to checkout, she is in a hurry to leave. The customer may have leisurely browsed every aisle of the store, but now that she’s at checkout, she’s ready to go, go, go. The only valid product question to ask at checkout is if the customer needs a specific item to complete the sale such as batteries to go with a toy, paint brushes to go with the paint, shoe polish to go with the dress shoes, etc.

A generic, “Did you find everything?” question gets a knee-jerk, reactionary, “Yes,” and no one gets served.

This question ranks up there with “Can I help you?” in the lore of worst questions to ask in retail because the answers are meaningless at best, and defeatist at worst.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sure, there are exceptions to the rule. Ask 100 people and you might get one who admits to not finding an item that you actually have. Of course, the other 99 are peeved, as are the 99 people behind them in line who were also in a hurry to checkout. The ROI for asking this question during (or after a la PetSmart) the checkout is negative.

PPS Even if you are asking the question before your customer gets to checkout, there is a better question to ask before the customer gets to checkout …

“Who else is on your list?”

(I learned that question from somebody else. Since I cannot find the source, I’m giving Bob Phibbs the credit for that line. It sounds like something Bob would say.)

Robots Replacing Workers

I’ve been following the minimum wage hike debate for years. As a store owner, minimum wage had a direct impact on our bottom line. I never wanted to pay minimum wage to my team because I never expected minimum work. Yet, in retail, there are only so many dollars to go around. Add more to the payroll and you have to subtract from somewhere else, or grow your business enough to cover the added expense.

One of the arguments often used by those opposed to minimum wage hikes is that it would lead to more automation. I can envision that reality in big corporate chains for two reasons. The first is that many retail corporations don’t do anything to train their employees to maximum effectiveness. The second is that these same corporations also don’t value their employees or expect anything out of them. (Does anyone see the vicious downward cycle in this thought process?)

Robot scanning shelves in a Walmart pharmacy
Picture from Walmart’s blog

The reality of automation is coming to a Walmart near you. Walmart is testing robots in select stores in Arkansas, California, and Pennsylvania to help scan and stock shelves.

Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce, said that the robots were 50% more productive than their human counterparts but would not replace workers or impact worker headcount.

Are you buying that? Do you really think Walmart is going to invest in robots that are 50% more productive and still pay all the displaced workers at the same time?

Automation is coming to the big stores and it will have a huge effect on their bottom line. First, they get a tax break for investing in capital infrastructure. Second, they get to replace less-efficient employees with robots who have no restrictions on hours worked, overtime, vacation pay, healthcare, etc. That’s a win-win for them.

It can also be a win for you. The more they automate, the more you differentiate. Automation is designed to give a consistent, expected, reliable outcome. It isn’t designed to surprise and delight. (Then again, neither is an untrained team, like what the big corporations are using now.)

Our payroll at Toy House was not only a higher percentage than any of our competitors, it was higher than most independent toy stores. Why?

Amazing customer service from a well-trained staff is the best, most effective form of advertising and marketing you could ever conceive.

What’s more powerful? Me telling you on the radio to shop at Toy House or your best friend telling you why she likes shopping at Toy House? What’s more persuasive? Me on a billboard on your drive home or your co-worker saying you should visit Toy House?

You don’t have the resources to invest in robots like Walmart does. But you do have the resources to invest in training for your staff. You do have the resources to pay your staff more (and expect more out of them in return). You do have the resources to make your customers’ experiences so wonderful they have to tell their friends. Call it your advertising budget if you want. But put your money into your staff. That’s where your ROI will be highest.

Investing in your team will always beat automation and minimum wage hikes. Always.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not sure how to raise the bar on your customer service to the point that people talk? Here are two free resources from my website:

Use those as a starting point for crafting your own training program.

If you need more, I can suggest a few good people to come in and work with you and your staff, including one guy who used to run a pretty cool toy store with a huge payroll.

Sizeable Chunks, Trust, and Playing Guitar

In a couple nights I take the stage again at The Poison Frog Brewery with my guitar and harps to have a little fun. I’m playing at least once a month and having the time of my life. (I think the audience is enjoying it, too. Of course, the more you drink, the better I sound.) To keep the show fresh I try to learn a few new songs before every gig.

Some songs come easy and I pick them up right away. Others take a little time. In the back of my songbook I keep a few “works-in-progress” that I might try out toward the end of the night and see how well they work from the stage.

I was thinking about that while rehearsing last night. I have a few songs I love to play in the current set that spent a couple months in the back of the songbook. I just had to break those songs down into sizeable chunks to learn them a little bit at a time.

I learn new songs the same way I taught new skills—in sizeable chunks, one leading to another, where the whole was greater than the sum of their parts.

I was interviewing recently for a position as a Corporate Trainer and the interviewer asked me how I would facilitate teaching Trust. I told her that Trust cannot happen in a group until you first have built up Communication, Cooperation, and Caring. That is true in Team Building. It is also true in Sales.

As we have discussed, Relational Customers are looking for someone they can Trust. You garner Trust by first being able to build a relationship with the customer. You do that through communication, cooperation and caring.

I spent most of one year of staff training working primarily on Communication skills. We discussed how to approach a customer, how to create rapport, how to ask questions, and how to listen better to the answers. Each monthly meeting was a different topic on Communication.

I spent another year working more on Cooperation. We talked about how customers have needs, how our job was to discover those needs and fulfill them. We discussed how to solve problems the best way. We discussed how to meet the customer where she was at and let her guide the way as much as possible. Our job wasn’t to sell her as much as it was to serve her.

For Caring we talked about looking at the whole process through the customers eyes and making sure her needs were met first. We talked about empathy, what it was and how we show it. We talked about “completing the sale”—making sure the customer had everything she would possibly need to solve whatever problem she was solving—because if we didn’t do that, we would have failed meeting her needs. We talked about benefits of the product being more important than just the features.

Each meeting was a subset of the broader topic. Each broad topic was a stepping stone to the bigger picture of building Trust.

Trust takes time to build. You cannot just jump right in and get people to trust you. On the easy stuff, maybe (three chords and the truth), but to really develop the level of Trust that turns a customer into a lifelong fan it takes time, patience, practice, and prescribed steps to get there. It also only takes seconds for your untrained staff to destroy it.

I have two nights before my next gig. I’ll be practicing. I have two new songs that just got moved from the back of the songbook to the front, four more that were easy enough to learn quickly, and two new ones that are now in the back of the songbook. Should be a fun night.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you didn’t get that this was a post about creating a comprehensive Training Program, go back and read this again. I planned every individual training around three things, my short-term goal (learn how to listen better), my long-term goal (build up communication skills), and my ultimate goal (learn how to build trust with our customers). Rome wasn’t built in a day. Break the harder stuff down into sizeable chunks and you’ll find the training sticks better.

PPS How do I get seasonal people up to speed if my overall training takes years? Good question. With my seasonal staff I simply work on eliminating the things that destroy trust like saying, “I don’t know,” instead of “Let me find out.” Eliminate the bad stuff now and then we can replace it with more of the good stuff going forward.

When “Experience” Counts

We didn’t have a hierarchical structure at Toy House. While my dad was still there I did have the mantle of Vice President, but that was mostly to satisfy corporate rules. We didn’t have a manager or assistant managers or department heads. The closest thing we had to any kind of structure were the “key” employees—informally named because they had the keys to the building. They had the final say when I wasn’t in the building.

In my last group of key employees, none of them were hired because of their retail experience. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds and brought interesting skills to the table, but only one of them had worked in a similar environment (and she was hired because of skills she had shown in other non-retail jobs).

Yet there they were as my confidants, the inner circle of people I trusted the most with the safety and security of my retail business. They all shared a few traits such as the ability to stay calm in stressful situations, the ability to look at problems from the vantage point of what would be best for the customer and for the store’s reputation long term, and the ability to take charge of a situation if needed.

None of those traits are taught in typical retail training programs.

You are about to hire your seasonal team to help you get through the holidays. You already feel the crunch of the busy season. You worry if you will have the time to properly train your new seasonal staff well enough to serve your customers at the level they expect. Because of your fears and worries you make the single biggest mistake most retailers make in their hiring process.

You put too much emphasis on having “retail experience.”

Your thought process is that the more retail experience they have, the less training you need to do. I found out the hard way just how wrong that thought process really is.

First, understand that most other retailers don’t have a training program in place for their front line staff. They teach you how to clock in. They teach you how to read the schedule. They teach you how to run the register (if that’s part of your job). But the rest you pretty much have to pick up on your own. Therefore someone can have years of retail experience and still be lousy at it.

Second, recognize that your customers have a higher expectation from you and your staff than they do from most other retailers. So even if a new employee did get some modicum of training, it might not be anywhere close to the level you want them to have. Therefore all that “experience” ends up being a detriment, and you spend more time breaking bad habits than you do installing good habits.

The only “experience” that counts is their experience that shows they have the character traits you need. 

  • Do you want someone to be helpful? Find someone with experience being helpful and see whether they thrived in that position, regardless of where they worked.
  • Do you want someone to be a quick learner? Find someone with experience having to learn things quickly and see how well they did. (Did they grow in position and get promoted or stay stuck in one spot?)
  • Do you want someone who can solve problems? Find someone with experience doing a job that had problems needing to be solved and see how they did.
  • Do you want someone to be able to motivate others? Find someone with experience motivating others and see how well they did.

When I finally learned the lesson to stop hiring just because they had “retail experience” and started focusing on hiring for character traits, I found that my new hires without retail experience were often my best employees. They brought fresh, new perspective to the role while having the personality to meet my customers’ needs. Plus, I spent less time breaking them of their bad habits.

I know it is counter-intuitive. Heck, I read several books on hiring that echoed the sentiment of Harvard Business Essential’s book Hiring and Keeping the Best People that said, “The number one factor is experience on the job.” 

I beg to differ.

Experience counts. But it is the quality of experience, not the location of the experience that makes the difference. In retail, in management, in jobs where people skills trump specialized training, personality traits are far more important than having done a similar job somewhere else. 

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re hiring high school and college-aged kids, they often won’t have any retail experience. Their academic and extra-curricular careers, however, tell you a lot about their personality and whether they have the traits to be successful on the job.

PPS Since I couldn’t find any books teaching what I found worked best for hiring and training, I wrote my own book—Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art. When you want your team to be considered “beautiful, useful, strong, and long-lasting” you’ll pick up this book.

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.

The Best Way to Learn the Lesson

David M. Bailey, one of my favorite inspirational artists, wrote a song called The Hard Way with powerful lyrics …

They say the hard way is the only way we ever learn a thing
After everything I’ve learned I’d say they’re right
Sometimes it takes a thief to steal inside your house
Before you learn to lock your doors at night

I love the song, but will respectfully disagree with his premise that the hard way is the only way. I will grant him that the lessons do seem to stick better the hard way.

Like I said yesterday, we learn best from our failures. But even then, not everyone learns from their mistakes. Not everyone learns from their trials. Not everyone learns from their accomplishments, either. The reason we don’t learn is that most of us don’t have a process in place for turning a mistake, trial, or accomplishment into a lesson.

When I lead team building activities, I build in time for what is called “processing”—drawing out the lesson from each activity. I was taught a powerful tool decades ago for doing this, a tool I use time and time again to help me (and others) learn the lessons. The tool is three short, simple questions.

  • What?
  • So what?
  • Now what?
This guy is actually one of the smartest guys I know. His First Order of Business is one of the greatest business tools I have ever seen!

What? asks us to process exactly what happened during an activity, the concrete actions, the recap, the successes and failures, mistakes and triumphs of the activity. What happened? What went well? What didn’t? What was the outcome?

So what? is the abstract to the concrete, questions to draw out the lessons from what we did. So what did we learn from what we did? So what made the difference? So what would have made things different?

Now what? is the application of the abstract, the application of the lessons to future activities. Now what are we going to do with this information? Now what will we try to do going forward? Now what will happen when you run into this scenario again?

Here is an example from the team building activity with the canoes

What?

What happened? We got on the water and found out that some people didn’t know how to canoe.
What did you do next? Knowing we couldn’t talk, I paddled my canoe over to the other canoe and tried to show them the proper way to hold a paddle and make a stroke.
Did it work? Eventually, but they still struggled.
Why did they struggle? Because with the limited communication I couldn’t teach them how to steer.
What eventually happened? They got it together through trial and error, but it took us a lot longer than expected and set us way behind schedule.

So what? 

So what was the real problem? We didn’t check to make sure people knew how to canoe when we picked this plan.
What else? Since we made assumptions that everyone could canoe, we didn’t think about training anyone for the task.
What about the communication?  It was a lot harder to communicate without words than we thought it would be, especially trying to teach a new skill.
So what would have made this better? If we had asked everyone if they knew how to canoe before they got into the boats and on the water.
What else could you have done? We could have done training on dry land while we had full use of communication and before we had to launch.
So what would have been the outcome if you did that? We would have saved time and been more skilled at completing the task.

Now what?

Now what are you going to do going forward? Make sure everyone has the right skills to complete a task before we start.
Anything else? Include a skills assessment so that we know what skills everyone has and what skills we need to add to our training program.
How will that help you? We’ll know our strengths better and be able to plan activities that utilize the skills the team already has.
How will you apply the lesson of communication? Make sure that when we need to train, we do it when we have the time and full resources to do it properly rather than on the job when we are limited.

The hard way is a powerful teacher, but the best way to get lessons to stick no matter how hard or easy is through a solid process.

What? So what? Now what? is as solid of a process there is.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You may have noticed that all my blogs have a postscript or two. Go back and read a few and you will find they are most often the Now what? to the lesson of the post. Now what are you going to do? Practice using this technique when training your new employees, when dealing with an employee who screws up, and when recapping your staff trainings and meetings. You’ll find the lessons stick much better.

PPS The order of the questions is important. If you don’t first establish what happened (What?), you cannot pull out the lessons (So what?). If you don’t fully understand the lessons then you cannot apply them to future activities (Now what?). If your group is struggling with either the second or third step of this process, go back and reestablish the previous step.

PPPS This works with parenting as well.