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Category: Word of Mouth

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.

Sleds, Stories, and Certain Death

My favorite sled is heading into its nineteenth year of service. I got it the year Parker was born. It is an ugly orange plastic sled with no fancy features. It isn’t eye-catching or sleek in design. It isn’t decked out with racing stripes or shiny vinyl that makes you think it will fly down the hill at supersonic speeds. There is nothing about this sled that would make you choose it over all the other fancy ones on the shelves.

Yet it still remains my favorite because it is still the fastest sled on the hill. It still travels farther faster than any of those other sleds. Oh, and it will hold me and two boys with ease (even now in their teenage years!)

When the boys were just five and two I took them to Michigan’s number one rated sledding hill—The Cascades. There are two sides to the hill. The north side is steeper and dominated by the older kids. The south side is gentler—as long as you take the long path toward the playground equipment. Take a left turn toward the east and you hit some bumps and trees and have a shorter trip toward the road.

Most sleds don’t have to worry about the road. It is too far away.

The fastest, ugliest sled on Michigan’s best sledding hill!

My sled is not most sleds.

Have you ever watched a trainwreck about to happen, knowing there was nothing you could do to stop it? The whole world slows, just like in the movies. I had that happen this fateful day.

I put both boys in the sled and gave them a push toward the playground. Then I watched with horror as the sled veered left toward the trees. It was just then I realized the boys were too young and inexperienced to know to flip the sled over and bail out before you hit a tree. They were also moving too fast for me to be able to yell anything they could hear. I momentarily thought about running after them. That was fruitless. They were already entering the bumps and careening toward the pines.

I took my first breath as they missed the opening row of trees. I held my breath as they zoomed past those pines on their way to the road.

The road at the bottom of the hill makes a curve, sweeping around a concrete embankment. Although the posted speed limit is 20 mph, many cars take that blind corner at 30 or 35. I could only pray no cars were coming as the boys hurtled onward across the small parking lot toward the road. No one would see that ugly orange sled with two young kids until it was too late.

My stomach dropped another foot. My heart leapt up into my throat. Time … Stood … Still …

I was already trying to figure out what I would say to their mom about how I killed our boys.

The sled finally lost momentum just as they reached the curb. The snow plows had made a small embankment on the curve, and I watched terrified as the boys went up that embankment and teetered on the edge for eternity before sliding safely backwards away from the road.

I let out the breath I had been holding and dropped to my knees. The boys came rushing back up the hill. “Do it again! Do it again!”

It is the ugliest sled on the hill, and just as expensive as its more sleek rivals. I’ve been using that exact same sled for 19 years and wouldn’t change it for the world.

You would never pick this sled off the shelf amongst its prettier rivals. But when you want the fastest, farthest ride on Michigan’s top-rated sledding hill, there are none that will beat it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This post is about Word-of-Mouth. We’ve been talking about WOM all week. You have heard that Stories Sell. Stories sell for several reasons.

  • Stories are interesting and get people engaged.
  • Stories are emotional
  • Stories are memorable
  • Stories are shareworthy

When you tell stories about your products, people remember and relate to those products—whether they need the product or not. That last part is the key. They remember that product when they run into someone else who needs that product. Then they tell that person about the product for you. I could have told you about how the plastic on this sled is twice as thick as the other sleds of its type making it more rigid, which gives it speed, and makes it more durable. But you might not remember that. You will, however, remember the story of the two young boys hurtling to their death because the sled was too fast.

I told this story on Facebook years ago for Toy House back when I had about 1500 fans. The story got shared a dozen times and reached over 5000 people. When you tell shareworthy stories, your fans spread the word for you. You have stories to tell about your products, your vendors, your founding. Share the funny, scary, and touching stories and you will see your word-of-mouth advertising go up dramatically.

PPS This is what Facebook, Instagram, and other social media are best suited for. Go tell your stories.

What is Your $800 Dress?

Sandy was a friend of my parents. He ran a dress store in Jackson for several years. I was an impressionable teenager when he spoke these words, but they have stuck with me for over three decades.

“If you want to sell a $500 dress, you have to show an $800 dress.” -Sandy Pelham

32,000-piece Jigsaw Puzzle!

In my 24 years full time at Toy House I always tried to have an $800 dress somewhere on the floor. We once had a $1,500 round crib with canopy at a time when the average cribs we were selling were about $250 each. More recently we had a 32,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that was over six feet tall and 18 feet wide when finished. It came in a giant box that weighed 42 pounds and even had its own handcart!

We never expected to sell these items. We used them in the same way Sandy did to sell lesser items. It worked! It always works because it works on many different levels.

Yes, the obvious level is that the really expensive item makes everything else look more affordable.

The more important level, however, is the talk value of the item.

A $1,5000 crib isn’t necessarily that special. A $1,500 round crib with a canopy and $1,200 worth of fancy bedding is something you have to drag your friends over to see. A $300 jigsaw puzzle isn’t that impressive. A jigsaw puzzle that comes with its own handcart to move the forty-two pound box up to the register is something you have to drag you friends over to see.

Years ago I was doing a workshop in a small, tourist town along Lake Michigan. I met a jewelry store owner there who was concerned how her traffic had fallen off. She used to be the “it” store on their little downtown strip. People would stop by in droves to see the $34,000 diamond ring she inherited when she bought the store. She had a special chair where women could sit to try on that ring. Thirty-four thousand dollars might not seem like a lot if you live in a big city, but in this sleepy little lake town, that was worth dragging your friends over to see.

Much to the store owner’s delight, she sold the ring one afternoon. I asked her if she had replaced the ring.

“No”

“When did your traffic and sales start to decline?”

“After we sold the ring.”

“Do you see the connection?”

The ring, like our round cribs and ginormous jigsaw puzzle, was the attraction, was the draw, was the WOW factor that people had to drag their friends over to see. The ring was her $800 dress. I told her that her advertising budget for the year better be around $34,000 (well, okay, maybe a little less taking into account her markup, but you get the idea.)

Do you have a product in your store people are dragging their friends over to see? If not, you should get one. Not only will you eventually sell it (we sold 12 of those round cribs and 3 puzzles), it will pay for itself in word-of-mouth advertising and drawing traffic many times over.

What is your $800 dress?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you can sell. We once had a giant Tripp Trapp chair scaled to make an adult feel like he was two years old. People dragged their friends over to see it and it helped us sell hundreds of the regular Tripp Trapp chairs. It just has to have that WOW factor that makes people want to show their friends. My favorite thing I loved to overhear in the store was, “Come over here. You have to see this!”

PPS The one downside people often worry about when putting something incredibly expensive on the sales floor is the “image” it might give customers that your store is the expensive store. Get over yourself. First, customers already believe you are the expensive store because your store isn’t named Walmart, so don’t disappoint them. Second, it is more likely they will think of you as the fun store because you know how to surprise and delight them with products they couldn’t even imagine. Put it in your advertising budget instead of COGS if you want to justify the expense. Just make sure it has the WOW factor for your market.

That One Memorable Thing

I was in Orlando for a trade show a few years back. I met up with some friends and the five of us headed to a steakhouse for dinner. It was one of those meals you talk about forever.

I could start with the off-menu ordering of a 20oz Filet Mignon so tender you could almost cut it with a fork. I could mention that three of us foolishly decided to add lobster tails to our entree. I say foolishly because that lobster was as good as if I had been transported to Maine. You couldn’t stop eating it, even after finishing off a perfectly grilled steak.

But the biggest, most pleasant mistake of the evening was ordering dessert. We shouldn’t have. We were all stuffed beyond belief. But someone had told us to make sure we ordered the chocolate fudge cake. At any other meal the five of us might have ordered a couple desserts to split among the table if we ordered dessert at all, but we were already pleasantly full and even considered passing on dessert. On this night we only ordered one. It was the best and worst move of the night.

Image result for charley's steak house chocolate cake
Charley’s Steak House Chocolate Fudge Cake

The slice of cake arrived and it stood almost a foot tall! It was taller than it was wide, three scrumptious layers of the richest, most moist chocolate cake I have ever eaten, with a hint of orange and a chocolate fudge frosting I could have taken a bath in. Thank God we only ordered one because, like the rest of the meal, we couldn’t stop eating it despite how much we had already eaten. I wish, however, that we had ordered a second one to go. I have dreamed about that cake several times since.

You have a meal like that in your memory.

We all have that memory of an experience that went far above and beyond what we expected. The details are burned into our minds, especially that one detail of the most unexpected moment, like when that towering slice of cake arrived. They didn’t have to make that cake that tall. It was so good that an average sized slice would have still been shareworthy. You could argue that they were probably losing money on that cake. I will argue back that they were buying advertising with that cake.

If you ever go to Charley’s Steak House in Orlando, I will tell you that you HAVE to order the cake. So will any others who have done so before. It is hard to order that cake when you’ve just eaten such a huge, wonderful meal, but you will because I told you to. You will because of word-of-mouth of someone who went before you, just as we did because of someone that went before us. Heck, you probably weren’t even planning a trip to Charley’s until I told you to go get the cake.

Think back on your favorite meal in a restaurant. What stands out? You will find that one unexpected surprise, that one detail that you build your entire story around when you tell your friends.

Now ask yourself …

What experience does a customer have in your store that is so unexpected and surprisingly delightful that they will have to tell their friends about it?

That’s how you generate word-of-mouth. You have to have that One. Memorable. Thing. It isn’t something you advertise, it is simply something you do so over-the-top that people have to share it with their friends.

Bonnie Raitt said it best. “Let’s give them something to talk about.”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When you do what everyone else does, you don’t get talked about. You just fade into the landscape. Do something different. Do something no other business in your market would even think of doing. If it costs you a little money, think of it as an advertising expense. It pays in the long run. Just think how many times Charley got to add a piece of cake to the bill, not because he advertised it, but because he made it so memorable that I advertised it for him.

This is How You Get Word of Mouth Pro-Level

If you’ve ever been to my Suggested Topics page, you will notice that my Breakout Session about Word-of-Mouth says I will teach you “four simple, yet effective ways to generate word-of-mouth and get people to brag about your business to others.”

If you have ever been to one of these presentations, you know that I give you a fifth bonus way to get people to talk about your business. That bonus way is through your advertising. When you create ads that people want to see and hear, they talk about them. That’s the goal at every Super Bowl. All these advertisers want is for you to be talking about their ad Monday morning.

There is more to it than that, though. To truly generate word-of-mouth that helps your business, the talk has to be about how great your business is, or how important it is for people to visit you, not just about how creative or funny you are.

We got that kind of word-of-mouth with our Men’s Bathroom Ad.

The script was this …

I couldn’t believe it. They were taking customers into the men’s bathroom. Yes, my staff was taking men and women, young and old, into our men’s bathroom. And they were coming out laughing, smiling, oh yeah, and buying, too. I guess when you have a product this good, you just have to show it off however… and wherever… you can. The men’s bathroom… Gotta love it! Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.

I ran this ad twice a day Monday-Friday for the month of August in 2008. The day it began the deejays starting talking about it on the air wondering what was going on in the men’s bathroom. By day two the deejays on the stations where the ad WASN’T airing were talking about it. By day three the local TV station was talking about it. Everyone was speculating about what was in the men’s bathroom and people were coming in droves to ask about it, see the product, oh yeah, and buy it, too. In March 2009—seven months after the ad had aired!—I had a customer walk into the store asking about the men’s bathroom because it was what dominated conversation at Christmas dinner at the adult table.

Image result for morris jenkins bobby
Bobby from the Morris-Jenkins TV Ad Campaign

Here is another example of how an ad can generate powerful word-of-mouth courtesy of Roy H. Williams. Roy designed an ad campaign for a heating & cooling company featuring Mr. Jenkins, the owner, and Bobby, one of his drivers. The ad campaign has run for 6 years. “Bobby” has become a Charlotte, NC icon. But the actor who plays Bobby in the commercials is moving to California. The company ran one last ad featuring Bobby where Mr. Jenkins gives Bobby $100,000 to go pursue his dream in Hollywood.

The local TV news ran a story on that ad. Let me repeat that … The local TV news in a major market ran a story about a fictional character in an advertisement for a local heating and cooling company. You cannot buy that kind of advertising.

(Or maybe you can, if you have the guts to first run amazing ad campaigns that people want to see and hear.)

First read Roy’s MondayMorningMemo about the ad campaign and why it worked so well.

Then watch the news story. (Get your tissues out.)

Are your ads getting this kind of love?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We watch television and movies for the characters first and then the storyline. If the characters are interesting, we’ll forgive a weak storyline. David Freeman explains that the difference between interesting characters and boring ones is in their Core Values. When they have three to five character traits or values that are consistent throughout the movie, we relate to them. If they have less, we are bored. If they aren’t consistent, we don’t connect. The same is true with your brand. Your brand is the three to five core values you have as a business. The more consistently you show those values—including in your advertising—the more people will relate with you.

Services That Set You Apart

I was thumbing through some boxes of Toy House memorabilia in my basement and came across samples of some of the flyers and brochures we handed out in the store. They were all tri-fold flyers and they all had one panel that was exactly the same on each of them. It was the panel that listed all of the “other” services we offered besides just selling stuff.

The list, in case you cannot read/see the picture, included:

  • Free Giftwrapping
  • Layaway
  • Delivery & Assembly
  • UPS Shipping
  • Flag Raising Ceremonies
  • Birthday Club
  • Baby Gift Registry
  • Bike Repair
  • Car Seat Installation
  • Hands-on Displays
  • Special Orders
  • Teacher Loaner Program
  • Friendly Knowledgeable Staff

Somehow I forgot to have on there Game Nights, Story Times, In-Store Events, In-Store Classes, and Personalized Shopping. If I asked my staff, they probably could add a few more things like refreshments during the Christmas season, no-hassle returns, and carry-outs.

I’m sure there are some really special things you do for your customers, too, that set you apart from your competition. In fact, if you really want to do something wild and crazy, start thinking up new things you could do for your customers this holiday season such as:

  • Coat Check
  • Valet Parking
  • Call-Ahead Shopping
  • Event Planning (especially if you sell items used at events)
  • Food and Beverage Service
  • Customizing Product

Brainstorm this with your team. Let them be crazy and off the wall with their ideas. If you ever find yourself saying, “No retailer does that sort of thing,” then your next thought should be, “But what if we did?” Just because no one else does it doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. In fact, those are the best ideas because those are the Services that set you apart from everyone else.

If your shop is in a downtown location where parking is a premium, hire some kids to do valet parking for you on your busy Fridays and Saturdays. Your customers will love it! If you are in a colder part of the country, set aside some space for a coat check. Your customers will shop longer and have more hands free for shopping if they aren’t wearing or lugging around a winter coat.

Customer Service is about meeting and exceeding your customer’s expectations. The more Services you offer, especially the Services “no one does,” the more likely you will exceed her expectations.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Every industry is different. Look at your list of Services. Then think about what Services a customer would expect you to offer. If you don’t offer it, you’re missing out. You need to add it ASAP. Then start brainstorming the fun, unexpected stuff and see what else you can do.

PPS When you get your list, don’t advertise everything on it. Make sure people know that you do the stuff they expect. You can even throw a few fun, unexpected items on your public list. But keep some stuff off your brochures and website so that you can surprise and delight your customers when you do it. This is how you generate Word of Mouth. (Then again, that’s a whole topic all to its own.)

This is What Winning Looks Like

I was in Macy’s flagship store in New York City back in 1995. Seven floors of department store Nirvana. Everything you could ever imagine under one roof. I thumbed through sport coats of all sizes. Found several even bigger than the 50-Long I was wearing. They had everything … except a shirt that would fit me. My problem is that along with my wide shoulders I have long arms and a long torso. I need shirts that are sized “tall”. Even though they had at least a dozen jackets that would be too big for me, they only had one shirt my size in the entire 2.2 million square feet (a Ralph Lauren Pink Oxford for $110), and no shirts for those guys who would be wearing the bigger blazers.

But I’m not writing this to tell you about a store that failed me. I want to show you what “winning” looks like.

Along with the struggle of finding quality shirts that fit, I have run into a new problem. I am now allergic to a dye called Disperse Blue. It is found primarily in dark colored polyester fabrics. All those microfiber, dri-weave, quick-dry, ultra-soft, wicking fabrics I love are all off the plate in dark colors like navy or black or charcoal. This, after wearing a navy shirt almost every day for the last two decades!

Image result for dxl storeIn search of a new wardrobe, I walked into DXL in Ann Arbor. They specialize in big & tall sizes from brand names like Reebok, Adidas, Nike and Ralph Lauren. They also apparently specialize in customer service.

I was greeted pleasantly at the door by a couple of sales people. I told them my problem with Disperse Blue dyes and what I needed. While one salesperson led me around the store, the other got on the Internet and started researching the dyes used in her clothing brands. Not finding the info there, she called corporate offices. She didn’t get any answers (the corporate office was closed), but before I tried on my first item, she handed me a phone number to call that would be the most likely place to find out which shirts used Disperse Blue dyes and which did not.

I didn’t ask her to do any research. I was planning on buying light colors and/or 100% cotton to avoid the issue in the first place. But she went way above and beyond my expectations, looking up websites and making phone calls to help me out.

This isn’t typical sales clerk behavior. I know. I’ve been shopping chain stores for a long time looking for shirts that fit. She surprised and delighted me. I bought a Ralph Lauren shirt among other items and will definitely be back to buy more. More importantly, I’m telling you about my wonderful shopping experience. About 300+ people read this blog each day. That’s pretty decent word of mouth wouldn’t you say? I’ll probably tell another dozen people or more.

This salesperson listened to my problem and then did more than I ever expected to try to solve my problem. That’s what “winning” looks like. Do you have that culture in your store?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Let’s break down the key steps. The first thing that happened is that the salesperson listened. Then she acknowledged she didn’t know about Disperse Blue dyes. She asked more questions. Then, while another salesperson showed me around the store, she got online and on the phone to try to solve my problem. Either she is trained incredibly well, or she is just an incredibly helpful person (or a little bit of both). If there is a skill your sales team needs, you need to either hire it or train it (or both). I can help you either way.

PPS Word-of-Mouth is the most powerful form of advertising. Here’s the key. It comes from your customer service budget, not your advertising budget. We’ll discuss the four tried-and-true ways to consistently get people to talk about your business in the SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING & ADVERTISING CLASS taking place Tuesday, June 20th. Are you in?

Spotlight on Marketing & Advertising Class Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Here is your chance to learn the equivalent of a degree in advertising in just one night. As one MBA professor told me after sampling the material, “No one is teaching this stuff even at our level, and it needs to be learned!”

If you are a small business owner, you should take this class.
If you are an entrepreneur, you should take this class.
If you are a student studying business at any level, you should take this class.

SPOTLIGHT ON MARKETING & ADVERTISING 

Next Class: Tuesday, June 20, 2017 – 6pm to 10pm

Tuition: $250 (Half-price for any businesses that are JRSA™ Alumni)

Famed retailer John Wanamaker said it best, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The problem is, I don’t know which half.” Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on advertising every year. Most of it poorly.

This Spotlight covers everything from how different types of advertising work to the best ways to use social media to marketing on a shoestring budget to learning the secrets to getting the press to talk about you. You will learn best practices for marketing your business whether your ad budget is $500 or $50,000. You will learn how to create memorable messages that move customers toward your business and you toward your goals. You will learn how to get far more out of your advertising dollars than any of your competitors.

When you take this class you will get…

  • Better, Smarter, More Effective Advertising – You’ll learn secrets that only a handful of businesses know that get greater results per dollar than any of your competitors.
  • One full year of Advertising Support including help finding your message, creating a campaign and buying ad packages
  • A Network of current and previous JRSA™ graduates for support and encouragement
  • Half-Price Tuition for any future JRSA™ programs

Click here to sign up for the class.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, this will include the material from my new book MOST ADS SUCK. That will only make up about 25% of the material covered. If you have a business to market, this will be the best money you’ve spent on “advertising” ever.

“Are You Happy?”

“Are you happy now?” she asked.

“Yes, most definitely,” I replied.

“Are we good?”

“Absolutely!”

Image result for delta airlines logoIn the wake of all the stories about passengers being hassled by the airlines including the latest about a family getting booted from a JetBlue flight over a birthday cake, I wanted to share with you an incident that happened last week on my Delta flight home from Las Vegas.

As the drink cart worked its way down the aisle I removed my headphones, lowered my tray, and waited my turn. For reasons unknown, the flight attendant offered drinks to the A, B, C seats but skipped over us in D, E, and F. No problem. I’ll just hit the call button.

“What can I do for you?” asked the flight attendant.

“You missed our row for drinks,” I said.

“Oh, I’m very sorry. That wasn’t on purpose. What would you like to drink?”

“Diet Coke, please.”

As she handed down my Diet Coke and a Ginger Ale for the gentleman on my right, she asked, “Are we okay?”

“Yes we are.”

“Would you be happier with a bottle of rum for that Diet Coke?”

“Yes I would.”

The flight attendant returned a moment later with a bottle of rum and started the conversation at the beginning of this post. Apparently not satisfied with my answer, she stopped by three more times before we landed to check on my “happy” status. A fist bump finally convinced her I wasn’t going to slam her online.

This flight attendant knew she made a mistake. It was a tiny one in the grand scheme of things, a definite first-world problem of the utmost degree. But that wasn’t going to stop her from going over-the-top to make sure she made it right.

Here is the lesson … Over-the-Top

I would have been perfectly happy with a quick apology and a Diet Coke. That was my expectation. She went far above and beyond my expectations to my surprise and delight. An apology and a Diet Coke would not have garnered a blog post and the extra word-of-mouth. An unexpected bottle of rum and three more courtesy checks on my happiness have me telling you about the wonderful attitude of the flight attendants on Delta.

When you make a mistake, do what you have to do to fix it. Then do a little more. It pays off far more than it costs you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Word-of-Mouth may be considered a form of Advertising, but in reality it is mostly a by-product of your Customer Service. Get that right and the only viral videos of your company will be positive ones. Two presentationsGet Your Customers to Talk About You and Raising the Bar to Go Viral – will change the way customers experience your business and what they say about you afterword. When you’re ready to start generating positive word-of-mouth, give me a call.

Flying the Friendly(?) Skies

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

 

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

Great Customer Service = Meeting the Customer’s Expectations.

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

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

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

Third, someone is a danger to themselves or others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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