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Frigidaire Made Me Say a Bad Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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.

Policies for the Minority Hurt the Majority

The date for your annual family picnic has been set. You’re bringing your famous corn casserole. Your mom knows you’re bringing your famous corn casserole. She looks through the coupons from the local and Detroit Sunday papers and finds they both have the same coupon for your number one ingredient. She clips them for you. You also clip both coupons from your copies of the Sunday papers and head out to the store.

You get to the checkout line with your four identical coupons from the newspaper only to be told you can’t use them. The store has a new policy limiting you to only two identical coupons per transaction. You feel like they’re looking at you out of the corner of your eye because you’re trying to cheat them out of an extra fifty cents on a can of corn.

Heck, the time it took you to cut those two fifty-cent coupons probably wasn’t worth it, but now you’re walking out feeling judged, and just a little ticked off that the store has such a ridiculously strict policy for something that seems so innocuous. The cashier, feeling your pain, tried to use the third coupon, but it shut down the register completely and needed a manager’s override which only added to your feelings of shame as you could feel the eyes of everyone else in line behind you judging you as the criminal you appear to be.

Does that sound far-fetched?

That is what has happened at a large, Midwest grocery store chain. Apparently to cut down on extreme-couponers and people printing multiple coupons off the Internet, this large chain has reprogrammed their registers to only allow two of any identical coupon per transaction. Use a third one and the register shuts down. Your only choices in the above scenario is to either cause the people behind you to wait even longer while you make the cashier ring up two cans of corn separately or forego the extra dollar in legitimate savings.

Either way, you feel like crap and are probably thinking you’ll avoid that store the next time you have coupons.

Plus, the store really didn’t change anything. The extreme-couponers are still going where the best deals can be made. If that means they stand in the self-checkout line and ring up thirty seven transactions, then they’ll stand in that line. The money they believe they are saving is worth their extra time (and they don’t care about the people behind them in line.)

The store doesn’t save any money or make their business any better, either. In fact, they slow down the checkout as people with three or more coupons have the cashier do multiple transactions. And unless the coupon is provided by the store itself, the store isn’t saving any money. Jolly Green Giant reimburses them for every coupon plus a little extra for handling.

Most importantly, the store sends a loud and strong message to its customers. We don’t trust you!

Here is where the retailer went wrong …

The retailer saw a tiny percentage of customers taking advantage of a loophole or doing something they just didn’t like. The retailer then enacted a restrictive, me-first policy that negatively affected all of their customers, including the ones who never had any intention of “taking advantage” of the retailer. Those customers were just doing what most would call common sense, using the system in place to save a little money.

As retailers we do that often. We create rules to stop the minority by inconveniencing the majority.

We do it with restrictive return policies. I saw one store that had a 30-day return policy. Period. No exceptions. Remind me not to go Christmas Shopping there before Thanksgiving.

We do it with limits for credit card transactions. (See my recent post on that here.)

We do it with rules. I used to have a rule of certain items we wouldn’t giftwrap for free. When we realized the rule was me-first, we changed it to only restrict items around which the wrapping paper wouldn’t stay (like an assembled tricycle). 

The funny thing is that these restrictive rules never really stop the behavior we intend them to stop.

People who exploit loopholes will exploit loopholes. If you close one, they’ll look for another. Fortunately these people are the exception, not the rule. So treat them like an exception, not the rule.

Set your policies up to be customer-first.

Make your return policy as liberal as possible. If you have one person taking advantage of the situation, deal with that one person. I had a customer bring back fourteen puzzles one year, all because they were missing a piece. As it turns out, I only had fourteen puzzles returned that year. Those fourteen pieces were the only ones out of a million pieces we sold that were “missing.” I pulled the customer aside, explained this fact to her politely and respectfully, and told her she was no longer allowed to return any puzzles.

You may be surprised to know, she continued buying jigsaw puzzles from us.

Make all your rules less restrictive than your competitors. First, very few people will take advantage of you. Second, most of them are still making you money because they are shopping in your store. Third, no one walks out feeling shamed in any way.

Part of the goal of every transaction is to win the right for another transaction. Piss off your good customers and all you’ll have left are those trying to find another loophole to exploit.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, LL Bean just changed their incredibly liberal no-questions-asked-we’ll-take-it-back return policy because of people trying to exploit it. But if you look at it, the new policy is still far more liberal than any of their competitors, still fits their quality-first guarantee, and doesn’t hurt any honest customers in the process.

PPS I’m still trying to understand why this grocer created this new coupon policy. If the coupons were from the brands, the grocer would get reimbursed, so no harm there. If it was because of online coupons being printed multiple times, there are many ways to avoid that issue with today’s technology, or even by going old-school with a really strong legal disclaimer. Either of those would be preferable to being stuck in line behind someone trying to buy seven cans of corn and not understanding why the coupons his sister gave him won’t work.

Yes You Can Buy Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Celebrity endorsements don’t work like they used to. Sure, some fanboys will buy a particular brand because their favorite star told them, but the general public knows these actors, athletes, and entertainers only promote the stuff they get paid to promote. We see right through the pay-to-say ploy and aren’t convinced to buy.

The idea behind celebrity endorsements, however, was a sound investment at one time because Word-of-Mouth advertising was and still is the best, most powerful form of advertising. You are far more likely to try a new brand or a new store or a new product because someone you know and trust told you than you are because that brand or store told you.

The majority of Americans see advertising as the hype that it is. According to an omnichannel retail study done by Euclid, only 53% of Baby Boomers are inspired by traditional advertising to try something new. Generation X is even more skeptical at 40%, and the Millennials are under 33%.

After spending the last two weeks trying to tell you how to use traditional advertising more effectively, I’ve just linked you to a study that says the majority of shoppers won’t believe your ads anyway. (Note: the real reason behind those paltry numbers is because Most Ads Suck and violate the six principles of effective advertising, but that’s a post for another day.)

As the trustworthiness of traditional advertising declines, shoppers are looking more to their friends and family for advice where to shop and what to buy. Word-of-Mouth.

The good news for you is that you can still buy Word-of-Mouth. That’s what celebrity endorsements really are—a company paying someone trusted and known to talk about their products. But I’m not advocating you buy that kind of Word-of-Mouth. The way you buy Word-of-Mouth effectively today can be done four ways:

  • By spending money on the design of your store to make it so fabulous and unexpected that people have to talk about it.
  • By spending money training your staff to the point that they exceed your customer’s expectations to the point your customer has to tell someone just to validate that it really happened.
  • By being so generous giving away the unexpected to your customers, that they have to brag to their friends..
  • By showing off products in your store so outrageous that people have to tell their friends what they saw.
32,000-piece Jigsaw Puzzle!

We sold jigsaw puzzles, over a million pieces worth of jigsaw puzzles a year. (I did the math once.) Mostly we sold 1,000-piece puzzles and 300-piece puzzles, but we showed on the shelf a 32,000-piece puzzle. The box alone weighed forty-two pounds and came with its own little handcart for hauling it away. The finished puzzle was over 17 feet long and over 6 feet tall. I spent $160 to put that puzzle on my shelf. I never expected to sell it. I never really wanted to sell it. In fact, I sold it three times and immediately ordered another one.

Why?

Because every week someone would take a selfie with that puzzle and post it on social media with #toyhouse. It was worth more to me for advertising than the profit from selling one every couple years.

 

I spent $200/board for three chalkboards on the outside of our building where customers could write their own answers to the questions posed on each board.

Why?

Because every time a scavenger hunt took place in the city of Jackson, one of the stops was to write something on that board.

 

I spent another few hundred dollars to create the mileage signpost outside our store.

Why?

Rarely a day went buy that someone didn’t take a picture of that sign with our logo conspicuously in the background. Those pictures invariably made their way onto social media.

I spent about a thousand dollars a year giving away helium balloons free to children of all ages. No questions asked. No purchase necessary.

Why?

Not only did it help with crying children who didn’t want to leave the store, it made it more likely that parents would bring their kids in the store, knowing they could get out the door with a free balloon (and on Saturdays with free popcorn). Many customers told me that was what they bragged to their friends when asked why they shopped at my store.

You can get your customers to talk about you to their friends and family. You just have to do something worth talking about. Spend the money to be fabulous, outrageous, unexpected, and over-the-top and then let your customers do all the advertising for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You can read even more by downloading from the Free Resources section of my website the pdf Generating Word-of-Mouth.

PPS In 2009 Toy House was featured as “One of the 25 best independent stores in America” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. Every single business in that book got there because of Word-of-Mouth. Whenever George traveled he asked everyone he met about their favorite places to shop. The stores he heard the most made it into the book. In other words, it was worth it for us to spend so much time and money trying to buy Word-of-Mouth. Oh yeah, and it worked, too!

PPPS Here are the links to the posts on the other forms of advertising … Television, Radio, Billboards, Newsprint, Magazines, Websites, Email, Direct Mail, Social Media

Two Lessons From Selling a House

I’m typing this while surrounded by boxes, some full, some waiting to be filled. I’ve told you many times I’m not the most organized guy. I fear that most of the contents of my home office are just going to get dumped into whatever open containers are left, to be sorted (if at all) at some later date.

Yes, my house sold. It took seventeen months from listing to closing.

It took seventeen months, a dozen gallons of paint, a new stove, two dozen borrowed items for staging, fifteen open houses, four prices changes (the last one upward), and three written descriptions of the house before the sale happened.

I want to talk about those last two.

For the first year, we started with the house listed at $249,900, hoping to get $230,000 plus. We listed in late July 2016 so we missed the window for the families who wanted to move over the summer and be in the new place before school started. Although we had some traffic early on, most people complained about the old, dated kitchen.

Our old, dated kitchen

To their credit, the kitchen was old. And dated. And included four different types of wood (light maple pergo floors, dark cherry cabinets, dark oak trim around a tile counter, and medium oak trim around the light fixtures, oh and wood paneling—yuck!) But it was also functional and efficient and filled with good, usable storage.

No offers.

We lowered the price to $245,000 and then to $239,900 hoping to refresh the listing (by the way, the comparable values put it in the $250,000 range.) The rest of the first year was all the same. Plenty of traffic. Everyone had the same comments. Loved the location. Loved the spacious rooms. But the kitchen was dated. A few commented that the price was too high because of the kitchen.

No offers.

At the end of the first year I took it off the market for a month. I painted the remaining rooms that had yet to be painted, re-staged it, and put it back on the market at $259,900.

I also rewrote the listing to include the following paragraph …

The kitchen is dated—but completely functional—and will serve you well until you decide to build the kitchen of your dreams and turn this house into the home you’ve always wanted.

The higher price meant fewer lookers, but one thing changed dramatically. Not one person mentioned the kitchen as being an issue. Surprisingly, no one mentioned the price either.

Those two changes led us to the buyer we needed—someone who would see the house for the incredible value that it is, and not be scared away that the kitchen has to be redone.

Through our new price and new description we eliminated all the traffic that was pointless, and only brought the traffic that would be interested in a house like ours.

NEW PRICE

As I have been teaching for years, price is a perception game. In housing, that game has changed dramatically thanks to the Internet. Almost every house hunter goes online first. One of the first filters you use is price. You put a minimum and maximum price into the filters and your search appears. With a price of $249,900, we were at the top end of the $250,000 filter. People who put $250,000 as their top filter are not looking to buy a $249,900 house that needs a $20,000 kitchen. We needed to get out of that search mode.

Going to $259,900 put us into searches for people who put $300,000 as their upper limit. Now our $259,900 price looked like a value. Even with $30K worth of work, the buyer will have a $300,000 house for less than $300,000.

Yes, the perception of this new mode of search is that every house that pulls up in a search of houses between $200,000 and $250,000 has a maximum value of $250,000 because they put “$250,000 maximum value” in their search. Every house that pulls up between $250,000 and $300,000 is likewise a $300,000 home.

By changing our price, we changed the perceived worth of our house. Instead of being an expensive house that needed a lot of work, it went to being a value-priced house that needed a little bit of work.

NEW DESCRIPTION

My agent was good with my new description—even the part about the kitchen being dated. I heard from other people in real estate that you should never say anything negative about a house in the description. I respectfully disagree. By admitting the downside, I earned the trust that the other statements would have a better degree of accuracy.

Most of us know that keywords like “cozy” means “cramped” and “charming” means “hasn’t-been-updated-in-years.” Yet, by admitting the kitchen was dated, not only did it make the other statements feel more truthful, it eliminated any house hunters who didn’t want to remodel a kitchen.

Our traffic was down, but we got a buyer and closed the sale.

The lessons are two-fold.

First, price has a huge impact on the perception of an item. Sometimes a higher price is actually better than a lower price. You have to look at your prices through the eyes of a customer and see what she sees and reads into your prices. Do that and you can find the sweet spot that gets you the most bang for your buck.

Second—and this is something Roy H. Williams has been drilling into my head this entire century—you have to choose who to lose. Through our description and pricing we eliminated a lot of potential buyers, mainly because we knew they weren’t going to be the right buyers. Just having traffic to your website doesn’t make it good traffic. Just having traffic through your door doesn’t make it good traffic. You want to specifically attract your kind of buyers. You do that with your message. Our new message brought us the buyer we needed and got the house sold.

Time to go fill up those boxes.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Before you ask, we got $230,000. We got where we wanted, but only after attracting the right people. The housing market hasn’t changed much in our area. We didn’t get any offers with the old description and old price during the peak selling season of April to July. We got our first offer during the off-season and only after the new price and new description. (Speaking of off-season, I am currently staring at a snowstorm out my front window that has closed one of the major highways through town. This is Michigan. When they close the highway here, it’s a real storm. Fun for my son because school was closed, but not so fun for packing and moving.)

PPS I apologize for the sporadic posts the last few weeks. It will probably continue into next week as well while we make the move. Stay tuned, though. I have some fun thoughts for how we can make 2018 amazing. You might want to tell your other retailer friends to sign up for the blog here.

Earning Trust One Holiday at a Time

I walked into a large chain furniture store. There was a line of salespeople waiting to pounce on anyone walking through the door. It reminded me of the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin’s character was waiting in line to use an ATM while another line of muggers waited to mug everyone after they got their money. It was almost that comical.

I wasn’t there to buy anything, just to gather information. (I’m the guy. Of course I don’t get to make final purchasing decisions on furniture. If they had been trained on personas, they might have suspected that in the first place.)

The sales lady was pleasant and helpful, finding all the information I needed. She was also trying all the closing techniques you read in all those books on sales. She definitely was trained in the Always Be Closing mindset. When it looked like I really wasn’t going to buy, she played the trump card.

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends today?

I thanked her for her time and kept browsing. Then, as the playbook would dictate, her manager came over to try to close the sale she couldn’t close. It wasn’t happening. He left me with this …

“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends tomorrow?

For more ways to earn your customer’s trust, buy this book!

This is why customers don’t trust us. They know we are all about the sale. We’ll say anything to get that sale.

Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities we used to earn back some trust by showing we cared about more than just the sale. We posted every year on social media that we were choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving and open at our regular time Black Friday morning. We did it so that my staff could enjoy the holiday and/or go shopping for Black Friday deals themselves. We’d have coffee ready when the shoppers visited at our normal hours.

This willingness to forego opportunities for sales paid off long term because it strengthened our reputation of caring more about people than money. Lose the battle to win the war.

Plus, that post went viral almost every single year.

Twice our local newspaper wrote about it. The radio and television news people talked about it several times.

Trust is fragile, yet it is a critical element for winning customers’ hearts and minds (and eventually their pocketbooks). When you sacrifice sales for the purpose of serving your staff, your customers, and/or your community, you build that trust up. When you say or do anything just to get the sale, you lose that trust. Your choice.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you are in a mall, you have no control over your hours. If you are in a strip mall or shopping center where there is a big draw that brings in a lot of traffic, it behooves you to be open for all those customers the other store is attracting. That’s smart customer service. But if you are a stand-alone or in an area where no one else is drawing traffic, you can choose to not be open early. It won’t cost you as much in sales as you think, but it will win you a ton in trust.

PPS If you cannot control your hours, there are other things you can do and state publicly such as pay your staff overtime, grant them extra comp time, have food for them while they are working, serve coffee for staff and customers, and donate to charity. Show the public what you truly value. Those that share your values will find you.

Team Building Essentials Proven by Google

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

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

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

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

Caring.

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

Caring was the stepping stone to Trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

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

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

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

So how do you get that kind of a team?

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

Connecting the Dots to Make Your Hiring Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect the dots.

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

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

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

Connect the dots.

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

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

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.

Lessons From Toys R Us

By now you have all heard about Toys R Us (TRU) filing bankruptcy. I have been personally tagged several times on Facebook linking to articles about the bankruptcy (a couple former staff members have even hinted I should reopen Toy House now.)

Here are some things you need to know.

Image result for sad face giraffeFirst, this is a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy which is a reorganization type of bankruptcy. The giraffe isn’t going away. They aren’t closing all their stores and liquidating. That’s a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Toys R Us is banking on being able to restructure (and relieve themselves from) their debt so that they have the operating funds to continue competing in the toy and baby retail industries.

Second, David Brandon, the former Athletic Director at my beloved University of Michigan, is not the cause of their demise. (Many UM fans who hated Brandon for his poor job hiring football coaches want to scapegoat him for this, too. It’s easy, but wrong.) They were in trouble long before he got there.

Third, this is not a happy day for the toy industry. Even though Walmart surpassed Toys R Us in toy sales in 1998, TRU still does a tremendous amount of business and sells a tremendous amount of toys. There are many vendors in position to take huge losses in this ordeal. While the big guys like Mattel and Hasbro can likely afford it, many mid-tier and smaller vendors would be gone without TRU. That doesn’t help the rest of the industry.

Toys R Us is also important for new toy launches. The big-box discounters want tried and true. Without a large store willing to take chances on new products, there won’t be as many new and innovative products from existing companies.

A lot of people have opinions why Toys R Us is where they are today. Many want to blame Amazon. Still others want to blame the economy. I’ve read articles bashing their expensive new headquarters building, their lack of leadership, and the leveraged buyout by Bain, KKR, and Vornado.

One article wanted to blame TRU for spending too much on their stores and not enough on their website. Considering that TRU reported $912 million in e-commerce and $11.54 billion in total sales, that puts their online sales at almost 8%. (For comparison, Walmart only does about 3% of their total sales online, but that is skewed by grocery.) While 8% is impressive, it doesn’t justify taking money from the part of your business that generates 92% of your revenue and giving it to the part that only generates 8%. 

My opinion is that they didn’t spend the money on their stores the right way.

The real demise for Toys R Us started in 1998. That is the year Walmart surpassed them in total toy sales by dollar (McDonald’s Happy Meal beats them both in units sold.) 

Toys R Us chose at that time to take on the beast to reclaim their crown as king. They didn’t stand a chance. Walmart had more stores, deeper pockets, a larger advertising budget, better operational efficiency, and no need to make money on a category they saw as a commodity traffic-driver.

Seth Godin said it best. “The problem with racing to the bottom is that you might win. Worse, you might finish second.” Toys R Us finished second and we all lost because of it.

Toys R Us allowed Walmart to dictate to the world that toys are commodities, not the valuable educational tools every specialty toy store owner and every educator in America knows them to be. Toys R Us allowed Walmart to dictate that price was the only reason to buy toys. Once Toys R Us decided to compete on Walmart’s terms, they were done.

Hindsight being 20/20, the best move TRU could have taken back in 1998 was to reestablish their position as the “toy leader” and put their emphasis on the value of toys as educational tools, on the value of toys for promoting growth and development, and on the importance of choosing quality toys for your children.

If toys were thought of that way today, Toys R Us would have diminished the commodity role of the big box discounters and strengthened the toy industry as a whole, while firmly establishing themselves as the clear “toy experts” instead of a warehouse full of only toys competing with warehouses full of toys, hardware, clothing, housewares, and grocery. It would have been a win-win for them and the industry as a whole. They weren’t going to beat Walmart at Walmart’s game and likely never would catch Walmart in total sales (Walmart now has over five times as many stores.) But had they played to their own competitive advantage they would still be the king perceptually and the industry would be better off for it.

That is the lesson. Play to your competitive advantage. Play on your terms, not someone else’s. 

Right now the conventional wisdom is that Toys R Us owns too much real estate. Their stores are too big and costly. They need to close them down and sell off the real estate and focus online. I wonder how different the tune would be if back in 1998 they decided to make their stores more friendly and welcoming, filled with toy demos and play areas. What if they turned their stores into educational meccas offering classes on parenting, programs for preschoolers, and events that drew traffic? (According to this article, that is a little of what they are trying to do.) Instead they turned their stores into brightly lit warehouses with minimal staff and an entrance that makes you feel like a common thief just walking through the door.

Real estate is only an asset or liability depending how you use it.

There is still a chance for Toys R Us to turn the ship around. But they need to sail into different waters. I know a little about sailing. If you know David Brandon, tell him to look me up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It may sound like I’m suggesting Toys R Us be more like an independent specialty toy retailer. Umm … Yes! They have a far better chance being successful in that playground than in the big-box-treat-everything-like-a-commodity-warehouse playground they’ve been playing in. They had it right in their Time Square store and oh so wrong in the 865 other locations.