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Category: Customer Expectations

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.

Ask Your Customers What They Want

The one “service” my biggest competitor had that I didn’t was a Birthday Club. I wanted one for my customers. I already knew one thing I would do differently. That was the big Birthday Bell you got to ring when you came in to celebrate your birthday. What you probably don’t know was that I actually wanted a bigger bell than the 32-pound brass bell we ended up getting.

Phil holding the Birthday Bell

I wanted to run a hole through the ceiling and put a little steeple on top of the store with bronze church bell inside. That way, when you rang the bell, not only would everyone in the store know you were celebrating your birthday, so would everyone outside the store.

Unfortunately that would be a potential violation of the noise ordinance, so we went with the indoor bell.

The two parts of the Birthday Club I wasn’t sure about were the offer and the age limit. So I asked my fans on Facebook.

I first asked what people got from other birthday clubs for kids. Most birthday clubs offered a small coupon good on a larger purchase with a limited time frame to redeem. The general sentiment was that $2 and $3 coupons, especially when they came with strings attached such as a limited window to redeem and a minimum purchase, were of little interest to the child and often not enough to even garner a visit to the store. That was useful information. I knew I had to go big or go home.

With this knowledge, I sent out a postcard that was a $10 gift certificate—no strings attached. Well, okay, we had one string attached. It could only be used by the birthday person. Period. How that person used it was up to the individual. The postcard never expired. The postcard didn’t have to be used with anything else. There was no minimum purchase (although you didn’t get change back if the purchase was less than $10).

A lot of people gave us the postcard and 59 cents for their birthday purchase ($9.99 plus 60 cents for MI sales tax).

A lot of people spent way more.

Our average ticket for the birthday postcard was just under $30, which meant we made a profit (albeit a small one) on those transactions. More importantly, the postcards drove traffic. Over the last couple years we averaged over 300 postcards a month. That’s over 10 per day. Imagine ten happy customers ringing a bell and having fun spending their free money. Not only did it create excitement in the store and drive traffic, it drove word-of-mouth advertising. Everyone took pictures and video of their kids ringing the birthday bell that they posted on social media. On top of that, it created lifelong memories. I have had several customers come up to me since we closed saying that was the one thing they miss the most!

I had one more question to ask … “How long should the Birthday Club last?” Some stores aged you out at 10 years old, some at 12 years old. I wondered what my customers thought.

When I asked that question of my fans on Facebook one mom answered, “40?”

I didn’t need any more answers (although I got several that echoed her sentiment). I knew right then and there our Birthday Club would have no age limit. Sure, some of the parents and grandparents used their postcards to buy gifts for the little ones. Some, however, bought stuff for themselves. One young lady celebrated her 96th birthday by ringing the bell and buying two new decks of cards.

Without asking my customers, I might have structured the Birthday Club quite differently and it wouldn’t have been the successful program it was.

Toy House Birthday Bell

Find out what your customers want. Give them that and a little more.

We only had the Birthday Club and the Birthday Bell in the last decade of our operations, but it quickly became the highlight and focal point of a visit to Toy House. The bell was engraved and now rests in the capable hands of Ella Sharp Museum where they pull it out for special displays of Jackson’s history.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The Birthday Club worked on a variety of different levels. The ringing of the larger-than-life, 32-pound brass bell was about creating memories and spreading the word through social media posts. Rarely a day went by that we weren’t tagged in a photo or video somewhere. The $10 gift certificate was an act of generosity that outshone our competitors and positioned us as being more customer-centric than they were with all the strings attached. The no expiration on the postcard allowed customers flexibility for using it whenever it worked best for them. One family saved them all up and made a family trip in for everyone to spend their cards on one special day. One family was always traveling around their daughter’s birthday so they appreciated not having to “use-it-or-lose-it.” Another family held it for their son to celebrate his December birthday in July. Any time you can delight your customers, you should.

PPS If Goodyear had asked its dealers (its customers), I’m sure they could have helped create an even better system that would surprise and delight the end-users more than the frustrations they caused yesterday.

Surprise and Delight for Sales Reps

Today is a Hinkley Donut day. Those of you who have lived in Jackson know what I mean. There are only four of these days each week. Hinkley’s Bakery is the exception to the rule of needing to be open seven days a week to be successful (although they would make waaaaaayyyyyyyy more money if they were open more, it is a quality of life issue, quality of product issue, and a choice they have made, which I respect.)

Hinkley’s Best of Michigan Donuts (I tried to take a picture of a full box but they get swooped up quickly.)

Not everyone likes Hinkley’s Donuts, but enough people do that they were the runaway winner in a poll here in Jackson of the best donuts, and the overall winner in a statewide taste test held by the food writer for MLive, a newspaper with editions in several Michigan cities.

I had sales reps who would only call on me in the morning, and only on Hinkley Donut days. I also had reps who always came at lunch time to either go to Mat’s Cafe for BBQ or Schlenker’s for a hamburger (both also placed highly in their respective categories on MLive.)

Good sales reps know one of the best ways to make connections with the retail buyers is over meals and food.

They don’t have to buy for you all the time, either. In fact, decades ago my parents would take sales reps to lunch at a private business club in downtown where you signed a bill, rather than pay cash or card for the meal. That way the reps couldn’t pay!

Once word got out on the street that Toy House was buying you a nice lunch at a cool restaurant with a birdseye view of the store, all the reps stopped in Jackson for a visit.

Surprise and Delight. We surprised the sales reps, delighted them with a free meal (when the expectation was often that they would have to pick up the tab). Guess who went to bat for us when new products were released, when shipping was tight, or when we needed information?

I was doing a presentation about Customer Service (that dead phrase) with an eclectic group of businesses, not all were retailers. Ernie had a sales force that called on other businesses to sell his product.

I asked him what the client’s expectation was when his team went on a sales call. He said the stuff you would expect like show up on time, dress appropriately, be prepared, don’t waste time, don’t get in the way of their regular business. All good stuff. All expected stuff. If you don’t do any one of those things you’ll have a hard time making the sale.

I then asked him what time of day they made these calls. Some were morning, some were afternoon.

Does your salesperson show up for a morning meeting with a box of donuts for the staff? Not any donut, mind you, but Hinkley Donuts?

Does your salesperson show up for an afternoon meeting with a Klavon’s Pizza Pie? (another Jackson-based restaurant high on the MLive list)

Imagine your sales rep shows up at your store with a box of your favorite local donuts or a pepperoni pizza from your favorite local pizza joint. Does that change the relationship? Of course it does! You’ll talk about that sales rep to all your other retailer friends. You’ll likely try to do more business with that rep, too.

Same thing is true if you, the retailer, do something unexpected like that for your reps. They’ll tell all the other reps and you’ll have a rep-utation that makes people want to do business with you.

Generosity. Word-of-Mouth. Doing the Unexpected. Surprise and Delight. It doesn’t just work with your end-users.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t for a minute think that I am telling you your reps won’t service you if you don’t feed them. Your sales reps are mostly a hard-working group of individuals that don’t get paid nearly enough for what they have to put up with. Heck, feeding them is also just a nicety that keeps them from spending too many days on the road eating fast food. What I’m talking about is another example of how doing something surprising and delightful can help your business (and another example of what surprising and delightful looks like.)

PPS How hard would it be to call the local chamber and ask what is the favorite donut shop or pizza joint in town?

“Customer Service” is Dead

I make a living teaching businesses how to raise the bar on their Customer Service. It is one of my favorite presentations that always gets rave reviews. In fact, I have several presentations built around the concept of how and why to offer better Customer Service.

Yesterday I got an email from a toy store manager who was struggling to get her new team to connect their Customer Service Training with actually serving the customers. She was looking for ideas to help them understand and deliver the concept of Great Customer Service. It was then I realized something profound …

“Customer Service” is dead.

Not the action, just the phrase. It means nothing. It has no basis for today’s workers. It is vapid and useless and needs to go on Lake Superior State University’s list of banished words (might I also suggest adding “omnichannel?”)

The phrase is meaningless because so few retail outlets actually offer anything remotely resembling what it used to mean. Think about today’s young adults. Where are they shopping in brick & mortar? Big-box discounters like Walmart and Target? Check. Discount and close-out rack stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Home Goods? Check. Cheapie stores like Dollar General and Five Below? Check. Under-manned and under-trained department stores like Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney’s and Kohl’s? Check.

When you tell your staff to focus on offering great Customer Service, they have no point of reference to understand what you mean. Most of them have never been in a Nordstrom’s at the peak of their game. Most of them have never been in an indie store like yours that spends the time and energy you do on training your team. They have heard the phrase, but cannot connect it to anything meaningful in their experiences.

Image result for problem solvingMy response to that toy store manager was to quit training on Customer Service. Drop that word from the vocabulary and instead focus on something for which they have a frame of reference like “Problem Solving” or “Surprise and Delight.”

Problem Solving is something we all have to do in our lives, something we all have experience with doing, something to which we all can relate. Instead of telling your staff to offer better Customer Service, teach them to be better at figuring out what problem a customer has come in to solve.

It might be someone needing a birthday present, or someone changing their wardrobe, or someone just killing time. Because of all the churches downtown we often had families in nice clothes show up on a Saturday afternoon just to kill time between the wedding and the reception.

It might be someone working on a project, or someone trying to replace an heirloom, or someone who saved up their money for a big purchase. In a toy store we often got kids with allowance or baby-sitting money burning a hole in their pocket.

Whatever the problem, your team’s true goal is to figure it out and help the customer solve it. We had a dad in the store one Saturday morning with the kids. He was filling time. We showed him all the demos and displays so that he could be the hero taking his kids around the store to play. We often had customers on their way to a birthday party that started ten minutes ago. Our staff would take the item before they checked out, leave the price tag at the register, and start wrapping it just to save time (and with a nice helium balloon on top, it was the hit package at the party.)

Surprise and Delight is another frame of reference to which we can all relate. We’ve all had that moment when something really cool and unexpected happened. Work with your staff to identify those moments when you can surprise and delight customers. Maybe it is something you give out of generosity. Maybe it is saying, “Yes!” to some crazy request. Maybe it is identifying what the customer truly desires and offering not only that but a little more. Maybe it is doing something totally unexpected. On several occasions, including a few Christmas Eves, I made after-work deliveries of large, bulky toys and baby products to customers who couldn’t be home during our normal delivery hours, or who needed the items right away.

When you get your staff laser-focused on Problem Solving or finding new ways to Surprise and Delight, they can relate better and understand their role better. At the end of the day, they are raising the bar on Customer Service, whether they know it or not. You just aren’t using that phrase.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Reinforce this concept with your staff by always having them regale the tales of when they solved a problem or delighted a customer. I always started my staff meetings with Smile Stories (our tagline and my focus with my team was, “We’re here to make you smile.”) These were the moments when the staff truly made a customer happy. Not only did it reinforce our purpose, it started our meetings off on a positive, feel-good high, which made the meeting far more productive than the typical here-is-what-you-did-wrong-last-week berating that poor managers use to start their meetings.

PPS Since closing Toy House, I have abdicated the throne of being the “Largest Independent Toy Store in America.” There are some amazing contenders for that throne. One of them is The Toy Store with locations in Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas. It was one of their managers, always seeking better ways to train her staff, who reached out to me with the question above. I have full confidence her team will be solving problems and delighting customers at every turn by the time they reach the fourth quarter. If you want to see a magical toy store, check them out if you’re ever near their towns.

What Time Do You Close?

Twenty-six years ago this week I was living in California working for the Orange County Public Schools teaching Outdoor Education at Camp Edwards in the mountains above San Bernardino. It was the last week of the school year, our last group of fifth and sixth graders up at camp.

You know what that last week of school is like. There is a giddy anticipation of summer break from both the students and the teachers. The whole week feels different than any other week of the school year.

We felt it up at Camp Edwards, too. That’s why our director sat us down a couple hours before the buses arrived and made it crystal clear that we would make NO reference to this being the last week. We would do NOTHING different to celebrate the end of the school year. We would act as though this was as normal as a week in March.

Her reasoning for this was the kids that week deserved to have the same kind of experience every other student had throughout the year. Equally important was the kids from previous weeks not missing out because we made the last week special.

She wanted consistency, whether you were the first group at camp, the last group at camp, or the middle group during the January snowstorm. She wanted the highest level of standards for every single group of students under her care.

It was tough, but we got through the week without a single reference to the end of the school year.

It’s kinda like closing time at your store. If there is one thing I did completely wrong at Toy House for many years, it was closing time. When the last customer exited, we went home. We didn’t hang around to clean or stock shelves. We left. Out the door. See ya, bye bye.

That in and of itself wasn’t a problem. A lot of businesses leave right after closing and do all the other stuff the following morning before opening. The problem was how this get-out-the-door-quick mentality affected closing time and the experiences we gave our customers.

In our minds we treated last-minute customers the same as everyone else, offering to help them find what they needed, gift wrap all their packages, carry everything out to their car for them, etc. It was the subtle clues, however, that sent the strongest messages.

For many years we closed at 6pm, but we started closing around 5:30pm. At that time the staff began emptying wastebaskets, using glass cleaner to wash fingerprints off the front doors, cleaning off the counters, and even shutting down one of the three cash registers.

At 5:55pm we would turn off half the lights in the store to warn people that we were getting ready to close. (I debated the whole lights vs. PA announcement several times and never came up with a good answer for one over the other.)

We also put our “Sorry, We’re Closed” sign on the door. By that time the staff was shutting down the second of three cash registers. They were all huddled up front, waiting to checkout the last customer and get out the door.

If you were a customer and saw the lights go out before closing time, or saw the staff doing cleaning and end-of-day prep, or noticed how all the staff had left the selling area, or felt the staring eyes wondering when you were going to leave, no amount of friendliness from the staff was going to remove that initial feeling.

First and last impressions are the most powerful and most remembered. We were leaving our customers with a less-than-pleasant last impression.

It was only in the last couple years that it dawned on me what we were doing. I needed to adopt the lesson I learned from Camp Edwards and make sure we were “open” the hours we said we were open. No more pre-cleanup. No more lights out or hanging the sign before closing time. No more huddling up front, waiting to get out the door. The last customer of the day deserved the same experience as the first customer of the day and the customer who came in during the middle of the day.

We immediately switched to not starting our closing routine until the actual closing time and not a second before. (I say immediately but in reality old habits were hard to break. It took us months to get into the new routine.)

If your sign says you are open 9am to 7pm, your first customer at 9am and your last customer at 7pm deserve the exact same treatment as the customer who came in at 2:23pm. Anything less and you are hurting the relationship-building you’re trying to do.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, there are those customers who walk in at 6:55pm to start leisurely browsing the aisles, in no hurry to make a decision, expecting you to stay open thirty, forty, even sixty minutes past your closing time. Those people are rude. There are also people who rush in at 6:55pm because they got out of work late and need one quick item. Those people are worth their weight in gold. It is worth putting up with one or two rude people every now and then to make sure you are leaving a strong lasting impression on everyone else.

PPS If you aren’t open until at least 7:00pm or later, you’re likely going to have a lot of last-second customers (and equally a lot of missed customers). Retailers that close at 5pm are catering to the ever-shrinking stay-at-home crowd and the unemployed. (But I’ll leave that rant for another day.)

Some Inventory Management is a Customer Service Issue, Too

My mom shops like a man. Get in, get what you need, and get out. Her lifetime of being raised in retail, her always efficient use of time, and her preference to spend her free time playing golf, playing bridge, reading books, or doing cross-stitch needlepoint all have led her to this shopping style. Oh, she’ll browse the dozens of catalogs she gets in the mail each week, but spending a day at the mall is not her idea of a great time.

Even in a book store, her favorite form of shopping, she’s a hunter more than a browser.

Last weekend, however, she took my boys on a shopping trip, hitting several stores in the Ann Arbor area. Of course, she hit those stores the way she always does, with purpose, focus, and an eye for efficiency. At one point in Macy’s, while my older son tried on some shorts, she asked my younger son to go find a cash register that was actually open. Her keen eye had not seen any employees at any registers yet, and she had to have her exit strategy mapped out.

She’s training my boys to shop like her, much in the way she trained me. When I’m in buying mode, I go in, get what I want, and get out. If I’m in a store to browse, I’m doing it to gather information for future blog posts, researching for my clients, or spending time with friends who love to shop (while I’m doing research.)

You might think from that description that my mom and I are mostly Transactional Shoppers who know what they want and are just on a hunt to get the best price. You would be wrong. Other than my bad habit of Diet Mountain Dew (I call it my “green tea”) that I’ll buy wherever it is on sale, I have my favorite stores where I’ll go first for all my needs. My mom is the same way.

If you consistently have the stuff we want, we’ll consistently shop at your store—even if someone else is selling it slightly cheaper.

The key phrase is “consistently.” If you are often out-of-stock of the items I regularly buy, I’ll stop shopping at your store, no matter how well you treat me.

Image result for empty shelvesIn a few days I’m going to give a new presentation at the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy. The title is “Profit Margin is Not Your Only Money Maker”. The premise is about how and when to sell lower-margin goods. One of those times is when you are the store people “expect” to sell that product. You don’t want to disappoint those customers and drive them away.

Not all hunters are Transactional. Some like to hunt at your store because they always know they’ll find their prey. Listening to my mom regale the tales from shopping with the boys reminded me of that important distinction.

Ask yourself …

  • What products do you sell on a regular, consistent basis, day-in-and-day-out?
  • What products do you sell at the highest turn ratio?
  • What products do people walk in asking for directly the most because they expect you’ll have it?
  • What products do you know your customers will buy online if they can’t get it at your store right now?

Those are your Must-Haves. Those are the products that keep your Relational Customers like my mom and me happy.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your buying. If you need to add to the order to reach a better deal, add some Must-Haves. Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your marketing and advertising. Being out-of-stock often is one way to get bad Word-of-Mouth circulating. Identifying the Must-Haves helps with your overall customer service. The more your staff can say, “Yes we do!” the better they feel and the better the customer feels.

Convenience Versus Experience (One More Time)

Yesterday I posted a blog titled “Convenience Versus Experience.” Today in my inbox I get an email from one of the retail news outlets I subscribe. The subject line?

“Convenience vs Experience: What matters most to shoppers?”

It was a white paper on shopping habits. Yes, I had to download it.

Oracle Bronto did a survey of shoppers’ habits by age, income, children in the house, and need, to see how frequently people shop online, in stores, or both. Excluding grocery and convenience stores, the survey covered a lot of ground and revealed some interesting stats. (You can click on the link at the beginning of the paragraph to download the full results yourself. Just beware that Oracle is going to ask for all your info and try to sell you on their Bronto email software.)

One surprising stat was that Millennials were most likely of the age groups to shop often, and they shopped equally in stores and online. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Another surprising stat was that Boomers were the group most likely to go online when they did go shopping. (They also shopped the least.)

Not surprising was that the more money you made, the more likely you would shop often.

Here is what the survey didn’t tell me …

It didn’t tell me how many times a customer went shopping in stores for Convenience versus Experience. One of the assumptions was that people shop online purely for Convenience and shop in stores purely for Experience. Unfortunately that assumption is false.

I’ll bet you know people who shop online for the experience, or at least to avoid the experience of shopping in stores. I’ll bet you also know people who shop in stores because they want the item today (convenience).

Hardware stores, for instance, were not excluded from the survey. When I go to a hardware store, it is for the convenience of getting the part I need to get the job done now (or at least within the next three trips.)

The one takeaway worthwhile is that people shop a multitude of ways by choice.

The only question you have to answer is if you are giving them enough reasons to choose you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Even though their original question of “Convenience vs. Experience?” is flawed, the results of the survey are quite fascinating. It might be worth coughing up your spam-folder-email-address for the download.