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Category: Customer Expectations

Change Your Viewpoint to See Your Business Better

I was sitting in a conference center in Louisville, Kentucky for a presentation by Rick Segel in May 2009.

Rick asked the crowd, “Raise your hand if your product selection sucks, if you just don’t have the goods people want.” No hands went up.

Rick then said, “Raise your hand if your store has lousy customer service, if you’re treating customers poorly.” Again, no hands went up.

One more time Rick said, “Raise your hands if you are gouging the heck out of your customers with your prices.”

Since two surveys I had done showed customers already believed that about us, I raised my hand. “Ooh, me! I do!” Rick tossed me a free copy of one of his books and said thanks for being honest.

The point Rick was trying to make was …

Every business thinks they have Great Selection, Great Service, and Great Prices.

Most of us are wrong. We have either wrongly convinced ourselves of our greatness or justified away our flaws. We think, “If only more people would come through the door they would see how great we are.”

The truth is …

If you were truly Great, more people would come through your door.

Our problem is one of perception. We see the business through our own perception, from inside the bottle. Our customers have a completely different frame of reference. We compare ourselves to our mass market competitors and say, “See? We are soooo much better than them.”

Our customers compare us to every store they’ve ever visited and say with a sigh, “I wish [your store] was more like [my favorite store].”

If you want to find your blind spots, you have to look at things differently. You have to look at your business from your customers’ perspectives.

PRODUCT SELECTION

To improve your product selection, create a “No List”. This is a list of all the items customers come in asking for that you have to say, “No, I’m sorry we don’t. Can I show you an alternative?” (By the way, that or “Can I suggest a store that would have that item.” are the only two acceptable answers when you don’t have a certain product.)

If a customer walks through your doors or calls you on the phone asking for a certain product it is because the customer perceives you to be the kind of store that would carry that product. If you’re constantly saying no and not showing the alternatives you would rather carry, you’re flying directly in the face of customer perception. If there are one or two products on that No List every week, you need to look into either carrying those products or the next best alternative to those products. Otherwise your product selection will not be considered “Great” in your customers’ eyes.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

What percentage of your business is repeat business? Make an educated guess. Your repeat business is a direct reflection of your Customer Service. If your Customer Service is Great, meaning you’ve met her every expectation, she will be back.

What percentage of your business is referral business, people who have never been in your store but came in because a friend told them (or better yet, dragged them in)? This is a direct reflection of how often you did more than a customer expected.

“Surprise is the foundation of delight. If you expected something to happen and it happened, there is no delight.” -Roy H. Williams

If all you do is meet expectations (Great Customer Service), you’ll get some repeat business. To get referral business, however, you have to raise the bar even higher. If you aren’t getting a lot of repeat and referral business, then you don’t have Great Customer Service in your customers’ eyes.

One last thing to consider … If your store isn’t the store everyone points to in town for having the best customer service, your service isn’t good enough, yet. (And if it is, then the bullseye is on your back so you better be doing something to keep raising the bar.)

PRICE

This is one area where you’ll have a hard time changing perception. When we did our surveys we were regularly considered “Over-Priced” and “Expensive” compared to Walmart, Toys R Us, Meijer, and Target. All four of those stores talk about low prices and saving money in every ad they run. There is a built-in perceptual bias that all indie stores are more expensive than their mass competitors. The interesting part of the survey for me was that we also owned the word “Value.” That’s when I knew my prices were okay. Yes we were Expensive because we carried more expensive items. But the customers saw the Value in those items.

Remember, too, that not everyone shops on Price. Make your prices competitive and sharp, but more importantly, hone up on the Product Selection and Customer Service elements, and people will see the value you offer.

Every store thinks they have Great Selection, Great Service, and Great Prices. Most stores are wrong. You can’t measure whether you have Great Selection, Great Service or Great Prices from any of your spreadsheets. You can’t see it from behind your cashwrap. You have to look at it from the customers’ eyes. That’s the only point of view that counts.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You can win over some of the perceptual bias on Pricing. The blueprint is in the Free eBook Pricing for Profit. Most stores who have followed this pricing have reported back how customers perceive their pricing to be much more competitive. All of the stores who have followed this pricing have reported back increases in profit margin because of it. What do you have to lose?

PPS Even if you think your Customer Service is Great, ask yourself …

  • What would happen if your staff was better at building relationships with your customers?
  • What would happen if your staff was able to close more sales?
  • What would happen if your staff was able to increase the average sale?
  • What would happen if your staff learned to work together better as a team?

How would that change things for you?

One downside is that you would be busier. You’d have to write more orders (increasing your turn ratio and your cashflow). You’d have to look into hiring more people to handle the increased traffic. You might even have to consider a new location to expand your business. If you’re okay with those hassles, contact me to run The Ultimate Selling Workshop with your team.

Price is the Default – Change Your Settings

Do you feel beat up over price? Does the business news turn your stomach into knots as you read about department stores like Younker’s going out of business and Sears and Macy’s doing another round of closures? Does it make you cringe every time you hear that Dollar General has opened a new store? Do you want to curl up in the fetal position every time Amazon has a Prime Day?

The retail economists look at all that news and keep coming to the same conclusion …

Price drives all retail.

They are missing the true picture. Price is not the driver.

In the absence of everything else, Price is the Default.

At 3:01am EDST Apple opened up pre-orders of their new lineup of iPhones they introduced two days earlier. These phones cost more than the computer I use to write this blog. Yet the early adopters were up and ordering their new phones at full retail prices.

Apple gets what so many retailer do not. There are tons of customers out there willing to shop for some reason other than price. The reason they don’t is that too many stores have given up on giving them something else.

I just read a report that department stores, long mired in a slump, are spending more on television ads this coming fall. It also talked about their other strategies to turn their ships around that included supply chain and inventory management improvements.

Nowhere in the article did it say anything about investing in employees and employee training. Nowhere were the words (albeit overused) Customer Service, Customer Experience, or Sales Training. Nowhere was there a discussion of spending more to surprise and delight customers. The article went on to say that modest growth based on the already growing consumer spending in the US was about the best they could hope for.

Do you know why the traditional department stores are struggling? They have cut their staff and their training back so far that they are just over-priced versions of their competitors. Target, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and other stores like them now have pretty much all the same stuff with the exact same levels of non-existent service as the traditional department stores, but at lower prices.

According to the same article about their TV spending, the only department store mentioned that has a chance of truly thriving is Nordstrom’s. Yeah, the only store still focused on customer service.

There was a survey done by National Retailer Federation during the Great Recession. When asked what would drive people’s decisions where to shop, 41% said “deals and discounts” and another 12% said “everyday low pricing.” That only adds up to 53% of the population. Another 47%—almost half—said something other than price would drive them during a time where money was tight.

Today’s economy isn’t that tight. Although price has become default for more and more customers—mainly because of the lack of service out there—there are still well over 40% of the population that would choose a store for reasons other than price … if they were given that option.

That’s why I am pushing The Ultimate Selling Workshop so hard this fall. You could spend the $2,000 on advertising and maybe drive in a few more shoppers this season, especially if your prices are sharp enough. Or you could up the game of your sales staff, increase average tickets, increase loyalty (without just giving bounceback coupons or discounts), increase word-of-mouth advertising, increase repeat business, and increase referral business not only this season, but going forward into 2019.

Your holiday ads end with the holidays but Sales Training is the gift that keeps on giving.

Millennials are more open to shopping local than any generation before them. They also shop completely differently than any generation before them. Reaching them through advertising and marketing is only half the problem. You also have to know how to sell to them. You’ll learn how in The Ultimate Selling Workshop.

Don’t be a Default retailer. Change your settings to Surprise and Delight. There are a lot of customers who would choose you if given the chance. Call or email me today.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Last year over 100 million people went to Toys R Us even though Walmart had consistently lower prices and Amazon had a much larger selection. Those 100 million customers went for some other reason. If they can draw that kind of business by offering a better “experience,” you have the opportunity to draw some amazing crowds, considering I am sure you can offer an even better experience than any chain store out there. (By the way, just for clarification, Toys R Us went under because of heavy debt load caused by their greedy venture capitalist owners borrowing money for themselves against the company. They were profitable, but not profitable enough to pay the massive interest on their debt.)

PPS If you aren’t convinced yet of the Value of The Ultimate Selling Workshop, next week we’ll do the math.

Connecting Through Stories (Part 2)

For twenty years my mom and I would meet every Saturday morning for breakfast. My dad joined us for several of those years. Occasionally my boys would get up early, too, especially since they loved the French Toast and pancakes at the restaurant where we ate.

For my mom it was a chance to tell me all the things going on in her life. She’d share all her stories from the past week, usually referencing previous stories, too. Some people believe that an event didn’t happen until you share it with someone else. It certainly wasn’t memorable until you shared it. In fact, the act of sharing your stories is what makes them more memorable.

The stories also make you more personable and human. 

When you are a faceless sales clerk, customers feel they have the right to treat you like a subhuman person. When you become more human, the relationship changes.

Image result for dale carnegie you can make more friends quoteOne way you become more human is by sharing your stories. Another way is by listening to the stories of your customers.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get people interested in you.” -Dale Carnegie

The way we get to those stories is through a Point of Connection. Find one thing about a new customer through which you can connect. Find something you have in common, something you can comment on, something about which you can ask a question.

“I love your shoes! I used to have a pair just like them. Where did you find them?”

I did an exercise with my staff where I posted a series of pictures of different people and asked them to find a Point of Connection. If it was a parent with a child, the child is an easy connection. The two things we love to talk about the most are ourselves and our children.

“Oh what a cutie-pie. He reminds me of my son at that age. How old is he?”

If it is a person who has some shopping bags from another store, you can ask about her previous trip.

“I see you’ve been to Toy House. I love that store. What did you find?”

If it is someone wearing the colors of their college, you can use that as an opening.

“A Michigan fan. Go Blue! My son goes there now. Are you going to the game this weekend?”

There are several ways to find that Point of Connection and it is an easy staff training to do. In fact, you can start each meeting with a quick Point of Connection quiz by popping up some photos on the screen and having your staff blurt out the Point they see. Within a few meetings they will be doing this automatically.

Now let’s break down the actual phrases used above to see how they incorporate storytelling.

First, each greeting starts with the point of connection. I love your shoes. Oh what a cutie-pie. A Michigan fan.

Second, each greeting has a (very) short story from you. I used to have a pair just like them. He reminds me of my son at that age. I love that store. My son goes there now. Yes, those all qualify as stories.

Third, it asks a question to get to her story. What did you find? How old is he? Are you going to the game?

Those three elements in that order change your relationship from customer/clerk to customer/human. 

The first part makes the connection and gives you the opening. The second part, sharing your short story, makes you human. The third part, by asking her about her story, makes her more interested in you. The more of her story she shares, the more you will remember her, which makes her next visit even better. The more of her story she shares, the more you will know what she is trying to accomplish. The more of her story she shares, the more likely you will find the best solution for her.

Once you get her sharing, keep it going. Keep asking open-ended questions. You can share your own (very short) stories along the way as long as you end with a question about her.

By the way, this isn’t a gimmick or trick. Dale Carnegie taught us this technique decades ago. Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is a way to create relationships and friendships. (If you have children going off to college who struggle to make new friends, teach them this simple technique. It will change their world.)

When you get your customers to tell you their stories, the connection becomes real. The event happened. (And it is going to happen again and again and again.) That’s how you connect through stories.

I’ll leave you with one last quote from American Author Alfred A. Montapert … “All lasting business is built on friendship.”

Go make some friends today.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Do you know people who seem to make friends easily? Watch them. They employ this technique effortlessly, subconsciously, likely without any understanding of it and why it works so well. I am one who has to work very hard on this technique because I know I have a tendency to dominate conversations. Because of this character flaw, however, I can testify how well this technique works.

PPS The more you get your customer to talk about something not business-related, the more likely she’ll tell you her business-related problem she came in to solve, without you ever having to ask those deal-killing questions like, “Can I help you?” You’ll learn this technique plus a whole lot more in The Ultimate Selling Workshop. Sign up by the end of the month for the best price on this intensive, power-packed, hands-on presentation. It will be the most profitable three hours you spend with your team.

A Retail Lesson From 9/11

I was in the office this day seventeen years ago. My dad was there talking on the phone with my sister. It was in the morning just after 9am. She had called to wish him a happy 58th birthday. She had CNN on in the background and asked my dad if he had heard about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. No, he hadn’t.

While still on the phone, he turned and asked me if I had heard about it. No, I hadn’t.

I immediately got on my computer.

By early afternoon we had seen the last of our customers for the day. I had sent home most of the staff by then, too. I’ll never forget that day.

The next few days, however, were a blur. We had customers, but even they were somewhat in shock and not sure how to react or what to do. It took about a week before business came back to normal levels. Surprisingly, it still ended up being the second busiest September in the history of the store.

One fascinating memory I have from that month was how the relationships seemed to change. It felt like we were closer with our customers than we had been before. Whether that was a result of all of us going through a shared tragic moment, or if it was because it was our core customers who were the first to return, or simply because we put a premium on relationships after those attacks, I’ll never fully know.

It just felt different.

I felt a similar difference in 2014. My overall training goal that year was on Relationship-Building and Selling.

We started in January talking about Repeat and Referral business. Repeat business comes from giving great customer service (doing what the customer expects). Referral business comes from doing more than the customer expects, so much more that she has to tell her friends.

In February the topic was the greeting, how to say Hi and welcome the customer to the store. In March we worked on listening skills. In April we worked on how to decipher what was in our customer’s mind. What were her fears and objections? What problem was she trying to solve and how could we help her solve it? What questions should we be asking and what answers should we be listening for?

The next three months were about closing the sale including Features & Benefits, Visualization, and Assumptive Selling.

Those six months of training were the basis for the presentations I did last August and the five new eBooks posted on the Free Resources Page. Those six months of training are now an integral part of the new presentation—The Ultimate Selling Workshop.*

I think the feelings we had with our customers in the fall of 2001 were a combination of the relationships we were building naturally and the common tragedy we all had experienced. That year was the biggest year in sales in our 68-year history.

In 2014, however, the relationship-building was intentional. Even as our market was in serious decline, 2014 was our second most profitable year and one of the more rewarding years I’ve ever experienced. It was the closest we felt to our customers since 2001.

The best stores build relationships with customers all the time. It starts by hiring friendly people who love to meet and help others. If you only do that, you’ll still be doing more than most of your competitors. The true excitement, however, happens when you teach those friendly employees how to intentionally create the lasting relationships that keep your Repeat and Referral rates at all-time highs, while, more importantly, making life better for both you and them. That’s when you’re no longer compared to your competitors because you’re on a level all your own.

It is all about the relationships you build. That’s the retail lesson from this day.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

*PS The Ultimate Selling Workshop is a three-hour, hands-on session that takes the best elements from the breakout presentations The Meet-and-Greet, Closing the Sale with Assumptive Selling, and How to Push for “Yes” (Without Being Pushy) and wraps them up into one power-packed event that includes training activities for your staff, hands-on activities that drive home each point, and a map to guide you to better selling. You’ll learn how to build long-term relationships, get the most out of every transaction, and even how to attract the best, most profitable customers to your store. If you sign up now through the end of September to do this workshop this fall, you’ll get the special introductory rate of $2,000. (Call me October 1st and you might be able to talk me down to $3,000 for the same workshop—and it will still be more than worth it!)

Another Example of Winning – Chicago Style

Have you ever had a meal ruined by a kid at the next table? Half of the time you’re wondering why the parent doesn’t do something to fix the situation. The other half you’re wondering why the parent brought the child to this particular restaurant in the first place. Some kids are too young for certain restaurants. Some parents are too inexperienced to bring their kids to restaurants.

Yet we do take our kids out to eat at inappropriate places all the time. Sometimes it is the only choice we have. It might be cheaper to take the kid than get a sitter. it might be a gift certificate you have to spend before it expires. It might be that you just don’t realize what a nuisance your kids are to others because you’re used to their antics (and/or find them cute).

Whatever the case, if you are a restaurant owner, you’re going to have children in your establishment who might potentially ruin the experience for other guests. Yet, you’re the one who gets ripped on Yelp.

Unless you’re proactive and have planned for this contingency.

I was in Chicago yesterday doing presentations for the Independent Garden Center Show (#IGCShow) at Navy Pier. After my last class I headed out to meet a fellow toy store owner and dear friend for lunch. She directed me to Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market in the Lakeview area. It is both a Fish Market and a Seafood Restaurant. It is apparently run by a smart person who is either a parent or someone who has been annoyed by children in restaurants too often.

Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market, Chicago, IL

Seafood restaurants are typically the kind of restaurant you don’t take young children. They often haven’t developed the palate. While some seafood restaurants offer kiddy meals and other options, this restaurant took it to a whole new level.

You see the picture with all the cereal boxes. That’s only about 35-40% of their wall of cereal. Yes, you can quiet your children with a bowl of cereal. (You can even have one, yourself. They offer a substantial breakfast menu—not all seafood.)

I want you to look more closely at the bottom of the picture, though. Yes, those are children’s books. Books you can read to your children while you wait for your meal. Books your children can look through while you eat your meal. Books that keep kids quiet and occupied.

Kiddy meals are expected at restaurants, but a Wall of Cereal and Books to keep the kids occupied is certainly Surprise and Delight.

My hat is off to you, Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market, for taking it a step above your competitors. My guess is that the children LOVE to go to the fish market with their parents which means they are more willing to behave in the first place. Plus, it increases the average ticket for the restaurant and just might get those kids to develop a taste for seafood at a younger age.

That’s winning times four!

What can you do to take it to the next level?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

Check out their Bloody Mary!

PS The New Orleans BBQ Shrimp was fabulous! I highly recommend it!

PPS There are little things we do to appease the reluctant tag-along to our primary customer such as the “man seat” near the dressing room in a women’s clothing store. How can you take that to the next level? (Magazines? TV? Beverages?)

How to Not Frustrate Your Customer

I don’t fit in this world very well. My body wasn’t made for standard sizing. I can’t fly certain airlines without being completely miserable, cramped, and in pain. There are some cars I just don’t like to drive because not only does the seat not adjust to my size, the blindspots hit in all the wrong places. And clothing shopping, while nowhere near as crazy as it is for women, is often a struggle for a long-torsoed, long-armed, small-but-wide-footed, heavyset guy like me.

(There’s an opportunity for a women’s clothing manufacturer to start making more custom-fitted clothing instead of the archaic even-numbered-fits-no-one sizing they currently use, but that’s another post for another day.)

I currently own shirts that are XL-Tall, 2XL, 2XL-Tall, 3XL, and 3XL-Tall. Yet my pants and shorts are typically XL. My head is XL, too (I don’t think that’s what people mean when they tell me I have a big head, though.), but gloves and socks are either medium or large. I keep telling myself I will know when I’ve “made it” because I’ll be buying custom-tailored shirts.

One frustration is going to a store, finding a style I like, yet they don’t have it in stock in my size. Either that or the department is such a chaotic mess that I wasn’t going to find the one item left in my size without an army of hunters. That happens often.

Another frustration is not finding a style I like. I’m not very picky, so that only happens occasionally, but there are simple things too often missing in men’s clothing like pockets in the right ergonomic places. (I prefer function over fashion. Keep it simple, stupid.)

The third frustration is not finding someone to help me when either of the first two frustrations happen, or at the very least, not finding someone knowledgeable enough or willing enough to help me. This, more than Amazon or the Internet, is what is killing department stores these days.

Saturday I found a store free of frustration. I’ve talked about this store before because their advertising is a case study for how to advertise right. In fact, it was their advertising that got me into their store. (Sadly, there isn’t one in Jackson, so this trip took way longer than it should.)

The store was Duluth Trading Post. Their shirts have an extra 3″ in length so that they cover and prevent “cracking.” Their 2XL fit me better than any t-shirt I have tried in any size. They even had the same sized shirt in six different styles and dozens of colors.

In fact, for all of their clothing, they had several styles, all deeply stocked in several sizes. If you’re looking for casual men’s clothing, they eliminated the first two frustrations perfectly (plus, if you’ve looked at their ads, they are answering many of the style frustrations people like me who prefer function over fashion desire).

On top of that, they took pretty good care of that third frustration, too. The staff was friendly, helpful, and available. Not pushy, not bored, not preoccupied with other tasks that kept them away from helping me. They were all busy straightening and stocking, but ready to drop what they were doing to answer a question, find another size, or make a suggestion at a moment’s notice.

One major component of a successful advertising campaign is when the experience you have in the store matches the expectations set by the advertising.

In this case, they blew me away. I expected the product to be good based on the ads. I didn’t know the store would be this well staffed and trained, too.

Here is a sign I saw posted throughout the store. Even the way they advertise for help-wanted goes a step above the normal.

When I told the guy I wanted to take a picture of the sign, he said, “Oh, are you going to come work for me?” I told him I didn’t think I could help him much. The company seems to have figured out a lot of what I teach all on their own.

While it is easier to show you what not to do (because there are so many examples out there), it is fun to show you when a store gets something right. Want to do something fun with your staff? Take them on a staff-training field trip to a Duluth Trading Post (they have women’s clothing, and free coffee and water, too.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS When I say the experience should match or exceed the expectations caused by the ads, just be cautioned that you shouldn’t go out bragging about your top-notch customer service. That’s a quick recipe for raising the bar of expectation too high to be able to meet it consistently. Instead of telling me you’re great, show me examples of what you do differently. Let me make the determination of how great you are. (And if I believe you are truly great, I’ll tell everyone about you like I just did for Duluth Trading Post.) Fair enough?

You’re Killing the Sale Before it Even Starts

Next month I am unveiling some new presentations at the Independent Garden Center Show in Chicago. One of those presentations is called “10 Mistakes that Sideline the Sale – Don’t Let Them Kill Your Mojo!” The blurb for the presentation starts with …

“You know not to say, ‘Can I help you?’ but do you know the other five Deal Killer Phrases?”

Apparently, if this past week was any indication, a lot of people still don’t know not to say, “Can I help you?” I heard this phrase not once, but three times at three different retail locations I visited in the past week.

When the third person asked me that question, I almost answered, “Yes, the first thing you can do to help me is never ask me or anyone else that question ever again.”

Instead I said, “No thanks. I’m just browsing.”

I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to say something else. I wanted to break the habit, but it is so ingrained in our vernacular that I said the two worst possible things you can ever get a customer to say in your store.

I said I didn’t want any help and I said I didn’t want to buy anything.

I said it out loud. I said it for the whole world to hear including myself. I told you and myself that I wasn’t going to buy anything. Now I have to overcome that mentality to make the purchase I came in to make. Now the salesperson has to overcome that rejection to make a sale.

Yet, when the salesperson hears, “No thanks, just browsing,” they typically walk away and leave the customer alone.

You’re killing sales with those four words before they even have a chance to start. You need to work incredibly hard with your staff and yourself to eliminate that phrase (and the variations like, “HOW may I help you?”) from your vernacular and work on different greetings.

I once did an exercise with my staff to come up with different ways to greet a customer without asking them a question that turns off the sales process. We came up with thirty-one different greetings. The first four were …

  1. Say Hello
  2. Call the customer by name
  3. Ask, “How are you doing?”
  4. Say, “Thank you for coming in.”

You put those four together into one simple greeting and you have a far better opening with the customer than, “Can I help you?” Sure, asking, “How are you?” also gets a knee-jerk response, but wouldn’t you rather have a customer say “fine” than “no?”

Bob Phibbs, aka the Retail Doctor, adds one more element to that greeting. He teaches that you should walk by the customer with that greeting, preferably with a prop in your hand such as a clipboard or a product, something that signals to the customer that you are busy with something else. After thanking the customer for coming in, you add, “I’ll be back in a little bit to check on how you’re doing.”

Two parts of that approach are brilliant. First, you’ve given the customer space. Some customers, especially men and introverts (that’s 75% of the population for those of you keeping count), prefer a little space. They don’t want a salesperson to pounce on them the moment they walk through the door. Second, the fact that you’re “busy” with something else makes you more approachable. I have seen it several times on the sales floor. The customer would rather go talk to the busy person stocking shelves than the free salesperson looking to help them. The customer feels less threatened by the busy person because that person doesn’t have an agenda.

“Hey Phil, how are you doing? Thanks for coming in. I have to go put these boxes away. I’ll come back and check on you in a little bit. Okay?”

You’ll have to work hard to coax the bad habit of asking, “Can I help you?” out of your vocabulary. It is almost as knee-jerk of a reaction to say that as it is to respond, “No thanks.” But if you want to make more sales, the easiest place to start is by removing the phrases that kill the sale before it even has a chance to start.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’ve talked about another bad phrase recently, one most often said at checkout. “Did you find everything?” This one isn’t a sale-killer, but it sure is a mood-killer. After the IGC Show, I’ll tell you the other five phrases to avoid.

PPS There are five new presentations—all on the sales process—that I will be rolling out at IGC. I’ll be talking more about them after the show and how they can help your sales team.

Reaching the Unreachable

I was asked an interesting question yesterday morning at a Breakfast Business Boot Camp I’m doing in Oxford, MI. “How do you get past the moniker of this being a ‘business’ program to reach people who could use what you’re teaching but don’t see themselves as a ‘business’?”

The question was asked by a minister who saw value in the marketing & advertising series I am doing in Oxford this month. She has found great value in the first two classes but hasn’t yet convinced other churches of the value of attending these “business” classes (even though they are free and you get fed).

Image result for out of reachThat is a universal problem with all of us. How do we convince people who we know would benefit from our products but don’t identify themselves as a typical customer of our business to become customers?

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” -Benjamin Franklin

There are two ways to reach those people who don’t identify as your typical customer and convince them to shop with you.

The first is through your Core Values. When your business is transparently consistent with your Core Values through your actions, products, and services, and your website, advertising, marketing, social media, etc. reflect those values as well, people who share those values will perk up and take notice.

They still might not believe you have a product or service they need, but they will think of you first when the time arrives that they might need something you offer.

This is the backbone of all branding and relation-building advertising.

Just understand that not everyone will relate to your core values, whether they could use your services or not. That’s okay. You couldn’t service 100% of the population even if you wanted to. Your best customers will be the ones who share your values. Speak to them. Don’t worry about the rest. There are plenty of people in your market who share your values. If you can convince that crowd, you’ll have plenty of customers to keep you busy.

The second way is through Word-of-Mouth. Only when their friends tell them about your business might they even consider becoming a customer of yours.

To answer the minister’s question, first, there will always be people who need what I’m offering but won’t ever see themselves as my “customer.” Second, part of my business model (and yours, too) is to understand that you can’t reach everyone, but if you surprise and delight your current customers, they will help you reach the unreachable. Some of those unreachable will become customers. I am hoping I have done that with this minister and that she will bring some friends to next Wednesday’s presentation.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you are in the Holly, MI area and would love to get some free ideas, tips, and techniques to drive traffic through your door, into your store, onto your site, or sitting in your pews, I am doing the same presentation at noon today at the Holly Village offices (Marketing and Advertising on a Shoestring Budget) I did yesterday morning in Oxford. Next week I’ll show you how to Make Your Ads More Effective (Oxford on Wednesday at 8am, Holly on Thursday at noon.)

PPS Yes, this post is as much about Market Share and Customer Service as it is about Advertising. You got that, right?

When to Bend the Rules, When to Break Them

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

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

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

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

Here is an example …

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

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

“… we aren’t very busy …”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got it?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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

Self-Checkout – The Best, Worst Thing About Retail

I hate the self-checkout. When Kroger first introduced it in Jackson I had a couple of the most frustrating checkout experiences of my life. I swore I would never go back to Kroger again. (I already hated the narrow aisles and the not-so-intuitive location of everything in our Kroger store. This was the icing on the cake!) On top of my own frustrations with using it, the self-checkout was eliminating workers. One employee could now service six checkout lanes at once. I didn’t like that, either.

My argument against the self-checkout isn’t just because of my own incompetence at using them or the employee issue. I see them as a wasted moment in the store for an employee to surprise and delight the customer one last time. It is the last impression you make on your customer and, at best, a self-checkout station can only be neutral.

The closest a self-checkout ever came to surprise and delight for me was the first time I went through one without a hassle. Unfortunately, that instantly raised the bar of expectation, at which the self-checkout has fallen miserably below on several occasions.

I do use them—especially in big-box stores—for a couple reasons. First, when you only have a small load, they are often the only “express lane” options now, and no one wants to be stuck behind a couple full grocery carts for families of six. Second—and this is the reason so many customers actually “like” self-checkout—most stores have poorly trained, horrible service at the checkout. There is no surprise and delight because no one has taught them how to surprise and delight. Neutral beats poor every time.

THE CUSTOMER’S EXPECTATION

To understand how to surprise and delight a customer at the checkout, you first have to understand what a customer expects. Customers at checkout are far different from customers who are shopping.

Time is mostly immaterial to a shopper. She will take all the time she needs to hunt for solutions, compare options, and make a decision to buy. But once that decision is made, time is now of the essence. She wants to check out quickly, accurately, and with as little hassle as possible.

Speed, Competence, and Attitude are the three attributes you need to be great at the checkout.

Unfortunately, you rarely get all three. More often than not, you only get one of those attributes in a cashier. I have been in lines where none of the three attributes were shown. Those stores are killing their customers, driving them to the self-checkout lanes, and more importantly, driving customers away for good. Since self-checkout can never be more than neutral, it can’t make up for all the horrible encounters a customer has had with a live cashier.

I understand why the big box stores do it, though. It isn’t just the cost-savings. They know that neutral is better than their cashiers can perform on average, so they’ll take the trade-off.

For your store, however, the checkout is your chance to make a positive lasting impression and cement the trust, loyalty and word-of-mouth that comes with surprise and delight. You just need Speed, Competence, and Attitude.

SPEED

A customer at checkout doesn’t want a sloth. You put your energetic people at the register who move quickly, whether running things through a scanner, typing in numbers on a screen, or handwriting a receipt. The customer recognizes people who move slowly and that gets them feeling impatient. Evaluate your checkout process to see where you can speed it up and where your cashiers can give the impression of speed through energy and enthusiasm.

COMPETENCE

Your cashiers have to know their registers inside and out. They have to know how to handle and fix problems quickly and easily. They have to know how to handle themselves whenever a surprise does happen to show that they are completely in charge of the situation. I understand that bigger stores often don’t trust their cashiers, so they limit what problems the cashiers can solve without a manager’s authorization. You need to authorize all your cashiers to be able to fix all problems, solve all issues, and make changes at the register right away. With the size of your staff, if you don’t trust your employees that much, don’t put them on the register (or maybe you shouldn’t put them on the schedule at all). 

Nothing derails a checkout like a cashier who doesn’t know what he’s doing or constantly needs help to fix problems. If you’re going to do your cash register training on the floor, there better be a competent person standing right over the trainee’s shoulder at all times to keep the register humming.

ATTITUDE

I’ve had cashiers with speed and competency, but the attitude of a dead fish. It didn’t leave me all warm and fuzzy. Cashiers need to be happy people, especially because if someone is checking out, that means bills can get paid. Cashiers need to be engaging and friendly. They need to say Hello. They need to be observant. If the customer has just placed all their items on your cashwrap and is standing there holding her wallet, please don’t ask, “Are you ready to check out?”

I actually had a cashier at Kmart ask me that question as my items were rolling down her conveyor belt. In my best Bill Engvall Here’s Your Sign impression I said, “Nope, these items just looked bored. Thought I’d give them a ride.”

Another dangerous question to ask at checkout is, “Did you find everything?”

The typical response from a customer will be, “Yes.” First, she doesn’t want to hold up the line by saying no and having you or someone else go search for her item. Second, she is secretly afraid that if she says no, nothing will happen, which would be even worse. Third, she may not have found everything because she discovered you don’t carry something she wants, but she doesn’t want to rehash that whole conversation out a second time. So when you ask that question, you’re potentially putting your customer in the position of having to tell a little white lie. That isn’t surprise and delight.

Your cashier has to be observant. Your cashier cannot ask, “Did you find everything?” but she can ask, “Do you need (fill in the blank) to go with (something the customer already has)?” In fact, that is the one area where your cashier can stand tall is in making sure no customer leaves without having everything she needs to Complete the Sale.

Another thing your cashier can do is Praise the Purchase with phrases like, “Oh, you’re going to love using that,” and “I had one of those, it was great!” and “Those are really neat.” They must be sincere phrases (which is why you always want to encourage your employees to use the products you sell), but when used properly make your customer feel smart and confident and happy about her purchases. You’ve validated her and she will remember that. She’ll love coming to your store because it makes her feel smart.

Along with Praise, a great cashier will Give Out Tips for better usage of the product. “That’s a great stroller you’ve chosen. Did the salesperson show you how the wheels snap off easily so that you can clean them when they start to squeak? I recommend a silicone spray. It works better on the plastic.” Not only does the tip make the purchase more enjoyable, it gives the customer confidence in the purchase and eliminates one potential negative (a squeaky wheel) that might cause the customer to be disappointed in the purchase later on.

The cash register is also a place to make sure people are signed up for your email newsletters or loyalty programs or Birthday Club or any other services like that. It isn’t the most ideal place because it takes time (and speed is of the essence), but if your register process isn’t the fastest, it can be a good way to occupy the customer while you’re ringing things up.

Finally, there are two other questions your cashiers might ask …

  • “Do you need help getting those items out to your car?”
  • “Do you have more shopping to do today?”

The first question applies in certain situations, but is an easy (and under-utilized) service to offer when most of your customers are in your own parking lot. The second one is especially important for downtown shops. You can often steer customers to another local store if they have more shopping to do, or to a local eatery if food is next on their agenda. You can even offer to hold their purchases while they go next door for a sandwich (if possible). That would certainly surprise and delight a customer.

To recap, a great cashier will …

  • Complete the Sale
  • Praise the Purchase
  • Offer Tips for Better Usage
  • Sign the Customer Up
  • Help the Customer Out the Door and on with her day

A self-serve checkout cannot do any of those five. That’s why it can never be more than neutral, and often simply a convenient nuisance that saves us from something worse.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yeah, that’s a lot of training you may need to do to make your cashiers great. Then again, if you hire helpful, friendly, confident people in the first place, all you really need to teach them is how to run the register and what your products do (which you should be teaching to everyone on the team anyway). They’ll take to the rest quite easily.

PPS Attitude trumps the other two attributes. A positive, friendly, engaging attitude keeps the customer occupied so that they often don’t notice that you aren’t that fast at the checkout. Similarly, a can-do, I’m-in-charge, attitude gives customers confidence even when mistakes are made and need to be fixed. “Hold on a second, let me get this straightened out,” imparts far more confidence than, “Oh my god, oh my god, what do I do now?” Confidence breeds Trust. Trust leads to loyalty.