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The Heart of Customer Service is the Heart

I did a presentation for the City of Mason this morning. Not their businesses, their employees—DPW, Police, Fire & Safety, Bill Payment Desk, Clerk’s Office. Debi Stuart, the City Manager, hired me to talk about Customer Service. Debi recognizes that even a city office and government employees need to be constantly working on offering better services and better service. She is transforming their government into a model that every city should follow.

My usual Customer Service presentation is to take a look at every interaction a customer has with your business through the eyes of the customer to see what she expects, what you’re actually doing, and how you can raise the bar. Unfortunately with five departments, three distinct customers for each department, and several different types of interactions per department, we didn’t have the time to explore each of those interactions.

(Yes, I did say three distinct customers—the Citizens, the Business Owners, and the other Departments within government. Make sure you are identifying all the different customers you have for your business.)

Because of the time limitation, instead we focused on feelings and emotions with goal of getting the “customer” from Grumpy Cat to Happy Cat.

When you stop and think about the average citizen’s interactions with the different facets of government, more often than not, the citizen’s default mode is Grumpy Cat. If I tell you that you have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (or SOS office here in Michigan), you instantly go Grumpy Cat.

If you are pulled over by the police, have to call for a firetruck or DPW, or have to go in to pay a bill, you are a far distance from Happy Cat. The goal of customer service in most of these situations is to change the customer’s feelings. (Okay, maybe you won’t change their feelings for the better if you have to arrest them or write them a ticket, but there are still better ways to handle those interactions.)

This approach is no different than it is for a retail or service-based business.

Your goal is to make the customer happier than they were when they first entered your business.

And you have to do this while making them part with their money.

George Whalin was the first to teach me that a sale only happens when the customer decides she wants the product more than she wants the money. The customer only gets there, however, when she feels that her life will be better with the product. That is an emotional response.

The heart of Customer Service is your ability to touch her heart and make her feel better. Products are simply the means we use to make our customers feel better. We weren’t in the business to sell toys. We were in the business to make people happier (“We’re here to make you smile.”)

  • If you sell shoes, you’re doing it to make people feel better about their appearance and/or their health.
  • If you sell jewelry, you’re doing it to connect people to each other, to build lifetime memories and moments of nostalgia.
  • If you sell pet supplies, you’re doing it to bring joy and comfort to people.
  • If you sell cameras, you’re doing it to spark creativity, preserve memories, and bring joy.

This morning we looked at the emotions of the typical customers each department interacts with the most. Then we looked at how to change those feelings from Grumpy Cat to Happy Cat. I could already tell that this was going to be an easy transition for the employees of Mason based on the answers they were giving me.

Wanna live in a small community where the government really does care about the citizens and shows it through their interactions with you? I’d recommend you look at the City of Mason, MI.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It was an interesting exercise looking at the emotions of the different customers for each department. For instance, some people who interact with the police are Angry while others are Relieved. Identifying the emotions and looking at each one differently, however, gives you the chance to explore how to make that particular customer feel better. Have a discussion with your team about emotions and what it takes to make people happier. When you get into the mode of looking at the customer’s emotions, you will find yourself adapting to their needs more quickly and easily, which will help you change their hearts. We had Listen, Show Empathy, and Treat Them as People (because they are) as our responses quite often today.

Two Ears and One Mouth

George Whalin was the last guy you wanted sitting next to you on an airplane. George was a retail consultant and public speaker (and one of my inspirations). George loved retail. A vacation to him meant a trip to The Grand Bazaar in Turkey followed by a trip to their local mall to contrast the old with the new.

Retail Superstars Book

When George sat next to you on an airplane, he peppered you with questions. “What’s your favorite place to shop and why?”

That was the question he asked every flight into Michigan that got Bronner’s and Toy House included in his book Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America. When he heard the same answers over and over he knew those places must be special.

“The questions you ask are more important than the things you could ever say.” -Tom Freese

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” -Naguib Mahfouz

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” -Anthony Robbins

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” -Stephen R. Covey

One of the most important lessons George taught me was that every customer has a different need to fill. Every customer comes through the door for a reason uniquely their own. Our job as salespeople is simply to find out that reason. You don’t do that by talking. You do that by listening.

“No man ever listened himself out of a job.” -Calvin Coolidge

“Most people think ‘selling’ is the same as ‘talking.’ But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of your job.” -Roy Bartell

George got to the top of his craft not because of what he said, but because of what he learned and the relationships he made. He knew how to ask the right questions and listen to the answers. He was fascinated by you. If you ever did sit next to George on an airplane, you probably still would consider him a friend.

“You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them than you can in two years by making them interested in you.” -Dale Carnegie

Ask and listen. Your customers want to tell you why they are here.

-Phil Wrzesinski

Image result for fired up! selling bookPS I got all of the quotes for today’s post from a new book called Fired Up! Selling. It is the best quote book I have ever seen. (Disclaimer, I was one of over 1000 judges that got to help select the quotes for the book so I might be biased, but with that many business people choosing the quotes, you know the quotes are going to resonate. No, that is not an affiliate link. Just me telling you this book is cool and will make a great gift for someone you know. Shop local.)

Who’s Pulling You Up?

There is a wall between you and your goals. You need to get over that wall.

Your peers can help you by pushing you and propping you up. But they can only get you to the point where you can reach the top of the wall. (And if your wall is really tall, they might not even get you that close.)

From there you are on your own. To reach your goal you have to do the rest by yourself.

Unless you have someone on top of the wall ready to pull you up. Someone who has been there and done that. Someone who has already conquered the wall. Someone who already knows what you need to learn.

Have you identified that person (or persons) yet?

Anyone can set goals. Anyone can get their peers to cheer them on and support them in their quest, to push from the bottom. But without a hand from above, most of those people get stuck.

Who’s pulling you up?

Here are some of the people pulling me up…

Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads – I have read his books, attended his classes and followed his teachings. Much of my best work is because of what he has taught me about advertising and business in general. The starting point is the Monday Morning Memo and his books The Wizard of Ads Trilogy. (these are not affiliated links – just the best darn business books I have ever read)

George Whalin – George taught me so much about managing a business, about hiring & training employees, and about dreaming big. He has been a wonderful resource for all things retail.

Philip H. Conley – My grandfather and the founder of Toy House, Inc. His mantra is simple, “Plan for Success.” It has worked for him and I am making it work for me. I meet with him regularly for advice and always get exactly what I need. He did it first, he did it well, and what he did still works today. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.

There are others, too. Many more than I can mention in one post. I am always on the hunt for the people above me that might be willing to lend a hand.

You need both; your peers and supporters pushing from the bottom, and those who can help you from above. Find them and you’ll scale every wall between you and your goals.


I’m Sharing My Biggest Secrets

But not right here… (at least not yet:-)

Thursday, Feb. 25 from 8:30am to 11:30am I am doing a 3-hour workshop with the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce to share the biggest secret behind the incredible success of Toy House and Baby Too.

(Success? Besides growing and remaining profitable while in a shrinking industry and shrinking population, Toy House and Baby Too was recently named one of The 25 Best Independent Stores in America in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin.)

The class is:

“Accelerated Branding: Taking Your Advertising and Your Business to a New Level”.

All the best stuff I learned from two incredible people; Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads and David Freeman, the best screenwriting master you’ve never heard of.

In three short hours you will learn more about how advertising works (and doesn’t work) than most marketing professionals. And you’ll be able to harness that knowledge to accelerate your business no matter what the economy is doing.

I’m going to show you how to make your advertising work better (without spending a penny more) so that you attract more customers, get them to spend more, make them more loyal, and empower them to bring you even more business.

The cool thing is that there are no gimmicks, no radical changing of the way you currently run your business, no unethical or impractical practices. I’m just going to show you how to unlock the potential that already exists in your business and teach you how to harness that energy so that it works for you.

It will be a hands-on workshop in which you’ll create a simple blueprint that will guide all of your advertising (and business) decisions along with a number of examples how to put your plan into action.

  • It will be fun. (Hey, I play with toys for a living – If I’m doing a workshop, it’s gotta be fun)
  • It will be eye-opening (The downside is that you won’t ever look at advertisements the same after this class.)
  • It will be well worth your time (3 hours? $25? I’m kinda surprised the Chamber is giving away this program so cheaply – I paid many thousands for this same info and charge many hundreds to give it out individually as a consultant.)

Contact Mary at the Chamber (517) 782-8221 to enroll. But be warned. There is pre-class and post-class homework (not to mention in-class work, too). If you’re not willing to do the work, don’t bother calling. We’ll give your seat to someone who wants to grow their business leaps and bounds.

See you Thursday!


PS If you’re one of my out-of-town followers, you’re welcome, too. The price is $40 for non-Chamber, non-Midtown, non-Jackson Local First members. That, and a little travel will be some of the best money you spend all year. If it isn’t, I’ll pay you back the $40 fee and take you to the best lunch you’ve ever had right after the class.

Being a Successful Retailer

If you’ve been following this blog regularly, you probably know everything I’m going to say here. Some of it is in my Bio, and some is on my new website www.PhilsForum.com.

For those who are just starting to follow, I’d like to give you a little background about who I am and what I want to accomplish with this blog.

I am a retailer. I run a toy store so I know a lot about seasonal business. I also sell baby products so I know a lot about working on deadlines (nine months might seem like a long time, but it sneaks up on a lot of couples).

And most people consider my business to be quite successful. We were named by George Whalin as one of the 25 Best Independent Stores in America. So we must be doing something right.

In a couple weeks I’m going to tell the city of Jackson how to be successful in a market with 15% unemployment, a shrinking blue-collar workforce, and a struggling government & economy.

I can sum it up in two words – Keep Learning.

When I realized that our advertising wasn’t working, I took classes, read books and studied until I fully understood branding and how ads work. I give a lot of credit to Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads for what I learned.

When I realized that I was lousy at hiring, I evaluated the problem until I understood where I went wrong and developed a system to improve the quality of people I was bringing in. (I’m publishing a book about it later this fall.)

When I took over 50% of the buying responsibilities for the largest selection of toys under one roof, I studied open-to-buy systems and adapted them to fit our situation and needs.

As an Independent Retailer, there are always fires to put out, always challenges to face, always new obstacles to overcome. I believe the successful businesses are the ones who are always learning, always expanding their knowledge & understanding of four key areas:

  • Customer Service
  • Inventory Control/Merchandising
  • Financials
  • Advertising/Marketing

I have found that the more I study, the more prepared I am to meet the new challenges and turn them into opportunities. As my high school swim coach used to always say, Luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity.

How do I do it? I devour business books. I am reading Trust Agents by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith right now. It will be the 12th non-fiction book I’ve read this year. One of my favorite books was Seth Godin’s Tribes. It’s no wonder that I follow both Seth’s and Chris’s blogs.

Which brings me to the goal of this blog… I want to share with you what I’ve been learning so that we all can be successful.

Your feedback is welcome. The more you comment and tell me what’s on your mind, the more I can tweak this to give you what you need. If there are topics you’d like to see addressed, let me know. If there ideas you want to share, by all means share them.

We’re in this together. At least that’s my way of thinking.

Your thoughts?


Tooting Your Own Horn

My son plays trumpet in the 5th grade band. He’s been tooting his horn since October and has improved greatly. The school pointed us in the direction of an online program called Smart Music that has helped his practice time immensely.

In fact, he has even taught himself how to play Happy Birthday and Hail to the Victors. He loves to toot his own horn both literally and figuratively, willing to show off his talent for anyone within earshot.

Sometimes it makes my wife and I uncomfortable the way he brags and boasts about his accomplishments. Which begs the question… When is it okay to toot your own horn? When does it cross the line from importance to arrogance?

There is a new book coming out this Thursday by national retail consultant and best-selling author George Whalin titled, Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America. Toy House and Baby Too is one of the 25 best.

Is it bragging and boasting for me to highlight this accomplishment? Is it arrogance to shout to the world about being in this book? Believe me, we are humbled to be included. But at the same time, I have an opportunity with this book to make some noise.

If my son doesn’t blow his horn, it makes no noise. No one is going to blow it for him. Likewise, as a business owner, when presented with a trumpet like this book, I need to toot loud and clear. My son will play for any audience anywhere. Shouldn’t businesses do the same? Especially when you get a chance to reach a new audience.

No one remembers the seventh trumpet in the back row quietly playing along with the rest of the band. We remember the soloist who stands up and plays loud and proud.

Yet too many of us are afraid of the spotlight, afraid of what some might say about us. Every soloist has his critics. But far many more praise his talents and enjoy his music.

Should you toot your own horn? Of course you should! Play it loud and proud. You’ll gain far more fans than critics.

But don’t forget to practice.