Collaboration

Partner Selling: 8 Steps to Serve Your Customers & Be Rewarded (1363 Words)

CollaborationPartner selling is a very logical approach to selling in today’s electronically connected world. We all like to do business with people we know and trust. This simply makes a buyer more confident in their purchase. If you sell from the perspective of serving customers as a partner, rather than an opponent, your rewards will certainly follow.

Step 1—Caring

To become a trusted partner with your prospects and customers, first care enough to see their needs through their eyes. Their perception is their reality. Seeing things through their eyes will help you to position yourself as their caring and trusted partner—rather than just another vendor.

Step 2—Knowledge

Product knowledge is table stakes in the game of selling. Without product knowledge, one will be lost in the fine art of translating product features into customer benefit. The other knowledge is that of knowing customer needs, wants, and desires. This comes from direct and meaningful communication with your customers. I’ve found that a basic understanding of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), the science of how the brain learns will assist any salesperson to become substantially more effective in the sales process.

Step 3—Listening

Listen for NLP indicators. Everybody has a primary basic learning strategy: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic (feeling). People use each of the three strategies in different learning environments. Yet, most people favor one strategy. Determine your customers preferred strategy by listening to the kind of words they use. Talk with them in their NLP favored terms to build rapport more quickly. As an example, the customer who says something like, “I wonder how this will look on me?” is most likely a visual learner. Talk to that person in visual terms. Say something like, “Just picture yourself…” This is called direct or matched communication; you are mirroring your customer. Had you said, “Feel this fabric…” You would have had a communication mismatch. This communication matching is very effective in fast rapport building. The more rapport you have with the prospect/customer, the more they will tell you exactly how to sell to them.

Step 4—Questions

One learns more through asking than does one in answering. Ask and listen, is the formula for selling success. The correct questions, if answered, allow you to hear exactly how to sell to the individual, or organization. Asking about needs, wants, and desires—along with past purchases will help you to know what product features will deliver the benefits desired. In your questioning, be certain to determine preferred learning strategy quickly and use seeing, hearing, or feeling words in your efforts to question prospects and customers.

Step 5—Benefits

To this day, viewing Web Sites, sales and marketing materials, and listening people talk only about features, causes me great pain. People buy based on benefits; meaning how the product or service makes one’s life better. Features are those things built into the product or service that assist in delivering the desired benefit. Your customer is always thinking, “What’s in it for me?” If you act as a partner to your prospect or customer, you will always focus on talking about how the product or service will make their life better.

Step 6—Buying Motives

Be a partner by helping prospects and customers to solve their problems…justify their emotional decision to buy through the logic of fulfilling their buying motive(s). Listed below are the six basic buying motives—they should cover most buying situations. Understand how your products and services solve these buying motives and you can be a successful partner with your customer for life.

Different people, in different situations have one or more of the following buying motives. As an example, people generally buy insurance for fear of loss rather than for profit or gain, but play the stock market for profit or gain. Similarly, they buy aspirin and other pain killers for avoidance of pain rather than for pride and prestige. Yet pride and prestige is why most people buy an expensive luxury automobile. Sell to your prospect or customer’s buying motive and you’ll close the sale much more quickly.

  1. Profit or Gain
  2. Fear of Loss
  3. Comfort and Pleasure
  4. Avoidance of Pain
  5. Loving and Affection
  6. Pride and Prestige

Step 7—Create Urgency

Help people to understand why it is in their best interest to act now. Answer objections simply and quickly, as if your customer is asking a question—because that’s what they really are doing. Say, “That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked.” Then go into overcoming their objection by telling how a particular feature creates a benefit that makes their life better.

My favorite method in answering a prospect’s questions is the feel, felt and found method. Say, “I know how you feel, Mrs. Smith recently felt the same way. (Affirm their feelings.) She wasn’t sure the colorful fabric of a swimsuit would hold up to the chlorine of a community pool. She went ahead and took a chance. We chatted the other day, and she told me that she found the color did hold up, even better than she had expected. She thanked me for helping her to choose such beautiful swimwear.”

To create urgency, talk about the limited availability or seasonal nature of items. The herd effect is sometimes helpful to get people into action. This is when you talk about how many have already been sold today, this week, or month. Ask them, “How many times have you gone back to a store to buy something you wanted but didn’t buy and it was gone?” Don’t let this sort of thing happen to your customers. Be a partner and help them not to be disappointed.

Step 8—Close the Sale

You cannot be a successful selling partner for long, unless you turn your prospects into buying customers. You, and your company, must earn a profit. While I am distressed by the number of my live seminar attendees that have told me they came just to learn closes, I am encouraged by the number that “got” the partner selling basics. While closing is crucially important, there is so mush more to selling than the twisting of arms.

I love soft selling and an excellent soft close is silence. If you have enough confidence to remain quiet, simply review your offer, ask for the sale, and wait until your prospect speaks. For most people, silence is very uncomfortable. This is the only pressure I’d ever suggest you use.

Additional closes that I believe you will find helpful:

  1. The Assumption Close. As their “partner” act as if it was natural for all your customers to buy.
  2. The Act Now Close. If you snooze, you loose! Buy it today before it’s gone. Yes, this creates internal pressure, but you are not arm twisting.
  3. The Little Decision Close. First get prospects to commit to a style or color that they like rather than to making the purchase. Then try one of the other closes.
  4. The Premium Offer Close. Buy now and we’ll include…
  5. The Doorknob Close. As the customer is leaving the store, or as you are walking out of the prospect’s office, say, “Oh, by the way…I’m really interested in knowing what is the real reason you decided not to buy today?” At this point, they feel safe and will answer honestly. Then you ad a good partner can say, “Oh, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you about…  Let me further explain…” Then go to the feel, felt, found method of overcoming objections and when you are comfortable that you answered all questions, try a different close.
  6. The Ask for It Close: There is nothing wrong with simply asking for your prospect to buy. The three great words that will change your life are: Ask For It.  Be a bold and fearless partner, overcome rejection and doubt. Always, ask your partners for their business.

While the above suggestions are not magic and not guaranteed to work all the time; in my experience the above ideas will help you to build more meaningful relationships with your prospects and customers and to sell more of your products and services more quickly.

Teaching Your Customers to Buy Better–What Can Your Customers Do for You? (802 Words)

Yes, “What can your customers do for you?”  This was the question I posed to several manufacturers and distributors in preparation for a recent seminar titled, Dealing with Vendors.  Most had a difficult time answering.  Why?  Because the focus is generally down the distribution channel, asking what else can be done for customers.  Rarely, is it reciprocal that customers ask what they can do for their suppliers.  So much profit, or discounts, depending on your side of the negotiating table, is being squandered.

What Else?

At a certain point, when you, the manufacturer or distributor, have done all that you can for your customers; given the best discounts, the best service and they want more, it’s time to turn the paradigm around.  If you take a close look at your total offering, you might find that you’ve bundled your products and services into a single lumbering package.  If you look close enough, you might find that some ‘value-added’ things you offer do not provide the value to your customers that you expect.  And, they take it any way.  They say, “It’s free isn’t it?”  No, it’s not free, and it’s your responsibility to educate your customers!

You have to partner with your customers to learn what creates value for them and what does not.  If you give your customers something in your offering that costs you time or money, and your customers don’t really need it, you are throwing valuable dollars down a rat hole. And, you don’t really have to.  Here’s what I told the school equipment and supply purchasers at my seminar in Charlotte: “Ask your vendors for a better value package.”

Better Value Package

First, I suggested that the purchasers learn what they could do for their vendors.  It was a difficult concept for the purchasers as well. Things that didn’t cost the end users money but created value for their vendors could save their vendors money.  In turn, the manufacturers could pass the savings down the distribution channel.  In turn the end users could ask for a better value package.  The ‘better’ could be bigger discounts, longer warranties and quicker service, just to name a few possibilities.

Through interviewing manufacturers and distributors, I learned what would create value for them in the school supply industry.  While the below listed suggestions might not create value for you, you must ask yourself what would create value and tell your customers.  Below, are the ten money saving ideas I shared with the school supply end users.  Manufacturers, distributors or end users can profit handsomely from the following:

  1. Specifications that are more clear and specific would allow for a sharper pricing pencil.
  2. Getting orders in earlier, during the winter, would help the workflow load. Many factories are not doing much of anything during the winter and orders coming in earlier could receive better discounts.
  3. Purchasing as much as possible from one vendor. The more comprehensive a package purchased usually generates the bigger discounts.
  4. Guaranteed shipping dates can be big savings to manufacturers of large items. When an end user calls to delay the shipping date, the manufacturer has to store it somewhere and has to pay for the storage space. Factory walls are generally not made of rubber, so they can’t always be stretched to accommodate for delays and planning errors on the part of the end user.
  5. When an end user can provide a single location for shipments rather than to several satellite locations, the manufacturer saves time and money. At the least, the end user saves shipping costs.
  6. Buying in standard industry bulk packs yields bigger discounts over buying short and forcing the manufacturer to break and repack standard industry packs.
  7. Accepting first and fourth quarter shipments from many manufacturers earn better discounts.
  8. Purchasing committees are nightmares for most salespeople.Much time and energy is wasted.Many purchasers believe this gives them additional leverage. Really, it doesn’t. It just costs everybody money. Streamline the purchasing process and receive better deals.
  9. End users can partner with one another and combine shipments in geographically intelligent areas and reduce freight costs.
  10. Cooperative purchasing saves everybody money.Additionally, some end users do not realize they are covered under state contracts and can get better deals accordingly.

What Can They Do for You?

Finally, regardless of your industry, if you are an end user, partnering with your vendors can deliver a better value package.  If you are a manufacturer or distributor, partnering with your customers is productive. Teach your customers what they can do for you.  It will allow you to give them more value for their purchasing dollar.  And you’ll get more loyalty in return.  What you really want, whichever side of the table you reside is Outrageously Successful Relationships (OSRs).  Build your OSRs with care and enjoy the benefits that are sure to follow.

Long-Term Selling—The Relationship You Build, Is More Important than the Pressure Close (1857 Words)

“The bonds that unite another person to ourself exist only in our mind.” -Marcel Proust 

Do you want to sell more? Sure you do. But, the question is, “What prices are you willing to pay for your long-term success?” Are you willing to give up instant gratification? Many sales people are not. Why would you even consider delaying the gratification a sale, especially if you sell on commission? For your sustained selling success, I believe it is infinitely more valuable to your selling career to put off the slippery sale today, for a lifetime customer.

In our western culture, we all want it now. What is the price we pay for this hollow instant happiness? I’ll tell you, it’s the reputation salespeople have in North America. It’s right there next to crooked politicians, fallen clergy and dethroned CEOs. I have a better idea—build a relationship!

In my 17 years of outside sales and 15 years of inside selling, I learned after the first couple that selling is not warfare. Rather, selling is about building relationships. The larger your base of satisfied customers, the greater your annual sales results.

Notice I did not say monthly? If you only look at monthly figures, as too many sales managers and vice presidents of sales are prone to do, you are missing the point. I have worked with too many ignorant sales managers and general managers who were focused only on this week’s or this month’s sales dollars. It was because they worked for a company that was bleeding to death. If your company is healthy, the focus will be yearly and half-decade. If your company is sick, the focus will be daily.

Before I go any further, let me ask you this question: “Is your company healthy?” If not, why are you sticking around? There are plenty of healthy and prosperous businesses, why be a martyr and go down with the ship? If you are working for a healthy company, your company will place a high value on the relationships with its customer. Follow my RELATIONSHIP Model and I guarantee you will be successful in professional selling and loyal customer base. So loyal, that is, that your company will be afraid to ever let you become a victim of reengineering.

R is for Relax.

Relax and be authentic. This is first and foremost; trying to be someone you are not is the kiss of death in relationship building. Even if you think you can fool prospects, you are wrong. The first time maybe, but from then on, they have your number. If you decide to be the best possible you, understand that it is enough. Nobody likes a slippery snake oil salesman!

E is for Excitement.

Be excited about your product and the chance to serve your customers. Think about that monotone teacher you had in high school or college, the one that put you to sleep five minutes into the class. An unexcited salesperson is no different. Why in the world would I want to do business with somebody that does not believe in, and is not excited about his or her products or services? Let me add a caution here: if you act like a 110-volt light bulb hooked up to 220 volts two things will happen to you. First you’ll burn out in a glorious flash and secondly, you’ll be a counterfeit. Being your best includes excitement, but the excitement must be genuine.

L is for Look.

Look your prospects and customers in the eye and thank them for the opportunity to serve. Be happy they came to see you or allowed you to visit them. Today, we live in a fast paced society, even in small town America. People do not have enough time to do all the things the want to. And you, as a salesperson, are asking them for some time, a small piece of their life. Let your prospects and customers know that you appreciate the opportunity to serve them in solving their challenges.

A is for Ask.

Ask plenty of questions that will cause discussion about your customer’s desires and expectations. I’m sure you have heard that a professional salesperson talks only 20% of the time and listens 80%, but the kind of questions that you ask what will really enable you to help them meet their product or service needs. Knowledge is power and you need lots of knowledge to help the highly sophisticated buyer of today. Do not shortchange your prospects by talking too much. If you talk too much, you will be of little value to your customers, and they will have no desire to build a relationship with you.

T is for Talent.

Use your talent to be a showman. Prove how your products will make their life better. Now this is an important key; how it will make THEIR life better, not your life. Get the focus on your prospect and use sizzle to sell the steak, not the hamburger. If you are focused only on YOUR presentation, and how great a showman you are, you will miss the point and most likely the sale. Your customers are not buying the show. Many today, are in pain and do need the show to better help them understand how your product will solve THEIR problems.

I is for Invite.

Invite your customer to hold, touch, feel, ride, test, use or otherwise experience your products. Get them in the act. If they hear, they forget. If they see, they remember. If they experience, they internalize. You want your customers to internalize the value of owning what you sell, don’t you? How many people buy a car before the test drive? Not many! Put it in my hand and I am on the path to emotional ownership. If I emotionally own your product, it will be quite easy for you, the professional salesperson, to ALLOW me to buy it, don’t you think?

O is for Objections.

Objections are really questions. Simply answer their questions. The feel, felt, found method is usually quite effective here. Let’s review the method. When your prospect says “No,” agree with them and show your understanding. Say, “I understand how you feel. Mrs. Jones felt exactly the same way. Although, after she gave it a try, it performed better that I promised and …” Too often when your prospect is saying, “No,” they are really saying, “I need to know more.” If you understand this, you’ll do a better job of answering their questions. Now is the time when all that listening you did earlier pays off. With your knowledge of your customer’s need, you can smoke out the true roadblock to them having what they want. Then you can help them to buy. By doing so, you’ll also add another brick onto the solid long-term relationship you and your company enjoys with that customer.

N is for Now.

Now is time to learn the three great words that will change your life. “Ask for it!” Ask them to buy that which you know they want NOW. What are you afraid of? Perhaps you are afraid that they will like you less for asking? I assure you, they will think less of you, if you do NOT ask them to buy. They will tend to say, “Yes” as not to offend you. You must sell the benefits of your product or service and not rely on the many features. Salespeople that sell features and not benefits hear a lot of “Great presentation” or “You are a great salesperson” as their prospects walk away empty handed. Never ask prospects to buy before you give them several great reasons to do what you desire.

S is for Solve.

Solve unresolved problems, challenges or roadblocks that are keeping your customers from having what they want. This is crucial and usually occurs after one or two trial closes. You now realize there is still some area you did not cover completely, some area you over looked. Somewhere along my sales path, I learned what is called the “doorknob close.” This is helpful when you are at the end of your helping rope, ready to fall into oblivion, the place where lost salespeople end up.

Pack it all up; thank your prospect for their time and attention. As you grab the doorknob to leave, turn the knob. Stop, and turn around, still holding the knob. Ask, “Just for my information, Mr. Smith, why is it you didn’t buy today?” Listen closely—you are about to strike gold. Whatever it is that they say, respond with, “Oh my gosh, I forgot to cover that!” Now, let go of the knob and go back to your prospect and answer their last objection.

H is for Help.

Help them to buy it, ask again. Remember though your real goal is to build a powerful base of satisfied customers, not just make a sell today. Helping is also understanding that it’s possible your prospect may have a reason for not buying today. If you stay focused on the relationship rather than just the sell, you’ll be a long-term success rather than just another hotshot, hooked up to 220 volts, burning the brightest for a very short time.

I is for Inspire.

Inspire your customers to feel really good about their buying decision. When your customer begs you to allow them to buy, or simply says, “I’ll take it,” remember to guard against buyers’ remorse. Inspire them to feel really good about their decision to buy and doing business with you. Remind them, just one more time, what a good choice they made by reviewing all the ways the product or service will make their life better. Inspire them to take full advantage of your product support and customer service programs. Make them feel so good about doing business with you that they will want to tell all their friends about you.

P is for Partner.

Become your customer’s partner in total product/service satisfaction (TPS or TSS). Follow up regularly. Be certain of the value and enjoyment your customers have received from doing business with you and your company. Make certain they feel really good about buying from you 30, 60, 90 days later. Now that you truly have embarked on the path of building a long- term relationship, ask for referrals. Allow your satisfied customers to now help you in your career. Allow them to help their friends in enjoying the really good feelings they have enjoyed. Partners get real leads from their customers, not just the useless lists of names frequently given to pushy salespeople to get rid of them.

In making your deposits into the “Relationship Bank,” you are guaranteed to yield healthy returns. Position yourself as a partner. Be persistent in your selling efforts. Try repeatedly to help your prospects to have all that you know they want. Have patience—I’ve learned that being number two in the minds of your prospects will pay off. Your competitor will blow it someday, as you and I have, and when they do, there you are, ready to take full advantage of the relationship you’ve built. Building relationships does payoff. Not always today, but generally sooner than you think.

Value Through the Eyes of Your Customer (Word count 1098)

Do you think your customers appreciate the value of the value-added services you offer?

  • If you think so, just how valuable are they to your customers?
  • What are the real dollar amounts that are assigned, by your customers, to the value-added extra you offer?
  • Have you told your customers the real-dollar value amounts that you have assigned to the value-added services you offer?
  • Have you even assigned real-dollar amounts yet?

Recently, in dealing with the issue of value through the eyes of your customer, I challenged a group of sales agents for an international manufacturing company to answer these questions at their sales meeting.

You need to know this company has positioned itself as the “Cadillac” of their industry. I saw two problems with their positioning: First, Cadillac is no longer considered at the top of the heap, so the company is unfortunately stuck in an erroneous and old paradigm mindset. Second, since so much of what they offer is sold to state departments of transportations (DOTs), both the agents and manufacturer have resigned themselves to believing that only the low bid wins. Why be the “Cadillac” (thinking Cadillac is at the top of the heap) if you believe only low bit, commodity-selling wins?

I believe that this company yearns for customers that both understand the value of and appreciates top quality products and service. I also believe that they are just like so many others in manufacturing and distribution that cannot clearly articulate the total value of their offering.

So, they find themselves stuck on the “Commodities R Us” paradigm.

In this example, lets explore further. The DOTs do not only want the low cost, they also want the best total deal, or what I call the total value package. Any customer must look beyond the price to the total cost of procurement, or doing business with a particular supplier. And, it is the absolute responsibility of the sales person to educate the customer as to their total value package offering. What was surprising to me was that these sales agents had very, very few answers. What about you?

Would you agree that in retailing, distribution and manufacturing, there are few secrets? Meaning, that most purchasers know where to get most of the offerings of their industry—and most of your customers know it. With that being said, one can play the “Commodities R Us” game or do something else. The something else, I believe could be differentiation through your total value package. The challenge for you is to determine the true and honest dollar-value of the value-added services you offer.

An important element in offering understandable value is to first educate your customers in the fine are of buying better. You know what I mean—how they can change their buying behavior and if they do, what’s in it for them?

  • This could mean ordering using a timing method that allows more lead-time.
  • This could mean inventory management and automatic replenishment.
  • This could mean ordering less frequently, enabled through better usage projections.
  • This could mean distributor and contractor collaborative selling.
  • This could mean buying pre buying some supplies in a different season.
  • This could mean bundling multiple items from one specific manufacturer. This would be seen as the direct opposite of cherry picking.
  • This could mean…(you fill in the rest of the bullet points for yourself).

Value is all too frequently, as elusive as a leprechaun and his pot o’ gold—but it does not have to be this way. You simply have to figure out what your customers consider to be valuable, do it for them, and then tell your customers what it is that you did for them. This lesson was, by accident, drilled into my head very early in my own selling career.

I’ll never forget the day I stopped into Park Pharmacy in Paso Robles, California. It was the mid-1970s and I sold sunglasses to retail stores at the time. Yes, I said sunglasses! Well, when I walked into the store on one of my regularly scheduled service visits; I noticed some product from another vendor on my display. Being the territorial salesman that I was at the time, I went directly to the owner, Bob, and asked him about them.

He told me that a competitor had stopped in and told him that this particular style of sunglasses was currently a very hot item. Bob asked me, “Are they popular?” I answered in the affirmative. Bob went on to say, “That’s why I bought them.” I proceeded to tell Bob that this “hot” style had already been on the display for the last couple months or so from me. He said, “Oh!”

Gosh, wasn’t it Bob’s responsibility to know what was in his store? Wasn’t he supposed to trust that I’d take care of him? Wasn’t he supposed to be loyal to me?

You and I both know that the answer to the above questions is a resounding, NO! It was my responsibility to tell Bob what I was doing for him. If I didn’t tell him, how in the world was he supposed to know? This applies to you too. How in the world are your contractors to know what it is that you are doing for them if you don’t tell them?

Value added services are not perceived as being valuable if your customer doesn’t know what it is that you are doing for them.

Tell your customers what it is that you are doing for them. If you do not want to be relegated to living in the world of commodity selling, where low bid wins…

  1. Acknowledge that you are responsible to educate your customers as to how they can buy better.
  2. Acknowledge that you must ferret out what services your customers really do believe are of value to them.
  3. Acknowledge that you must help your customers to determine the real dollar value of your “value-added” offering.
  4. Acknowledge that you must, as you would do with your young children, continually remind your customers about the real-dollars you save them when they do business with you.

I believe that you can access that pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow if you know where to look. The best place to look is at where, when, and how you choose to deliver and demonstrate that extra value-added service that you give to your contractors. It is only valuable if they consider it to be of value and they know you delivered if you tell them.

Add On Sales (776 words)

There is a reason why McDonald’s enjoyed total revenues of $23.5 billion in 2008. Could it be that there are more than 31,000 McDonald’s restaurants around the world in 118 countries? That is partly the reason, however I believe the fact that they sell 9 million pounds of their delicious French fries per day is an even more important element.

What they really do well is ask, “Would you like fries with that?” McDonald’s world wide excels at add on sales. I realize that others have also gotten on the “add on sales” band wagon, yet McDonald’s consistently performs year after year.

What Would it Take?

What would it take for you to create this kind of culture in your organization? You might be finding yourself a bit resistant, thinking that the MacDonald’s employees are mindless robots; and you might be right. However, they consistently perform. What would it take for your organization to perform at the level McDonald’s expects? Could the roadblocks be ego, intellect, and perception?

The Ego Roadblock

In my experience professional service corporations and chic retailers are the worst offenders in the area of letting ego get in the way of add on sales. I’ll ask you this. ”Do you want to hold on to your costly erroneous beliefs or do you want to increase revenues? When you let your ego get in your way, revenues will decrease.

The Intellect Roadblock

“I’ll do it my way because I know better.” This is the battle cry for intellects. In solving complex problems this is fine, however it is not acceptable is selling more of your products and/or services. Intellects are infatuated with features as opposed to being conscious of benefits. Intellects love to hear themselves talk about the technical side of anything and everything. Guess what? Your customers really do not care. They just want to know how your product or service will make their lives better—and, that it is a good value.

The Perception Roadblock

The perception roadblock to add on sales is one that will definitely need a brain adjustment. Business owners and the employees that sell for them too often feel it is an imposition on their customer to offer something additional. Somehow these folks got their head screwed on cockeyed and they really do need some help. When one truly cares about their customer, client, or patient; it is incumbent on them to offer every bit of value your/their organization has to offer.

One might say that McDonald’s is making people fat and unhealthy by offering supersizing or just “fries with that.” I do not think so. McDonalds is not cramming the food down the throats of their dining patrons but simply offering more value. Customers make choices. What you need to do is to simply offer your customers more choices and more value.

Success in Simplicity

McDonald’s, I believe, is successful because of simplicity. They do not rattle off 20 additional dining options but rather one or two. If you were to adapt this idea of simplicity to your organization, it might be done by just offering one single item to every customer as an add on, or possible having just one specific and different customized add on offering for every individual product or service. Needless to say, the multi-item approach is much more difficult to implement.

Why Else Don’t They Offer?

I have found that the primary reason you and your employees do not offer add on sales is because of a lack of training. I bet you thought I was going to say laziness. In my two decades of experience in work with organizations as a consultant, I have identified lack of training as the culprit much more often than apathy or sloth.

A Simple Solution

Your simple solution to increasing add on sales in your organization is daily training. Try this for a month and see if I’m not completely correct. At the start of every day, spend two to three minutes explaining to all the persons in your organization, why a particular product or service helps your customers’ lives to be better and suggest that they suggest it to customers that day. At the end of a month you have trained your entire company, on how to offer 20 new and or different, add on products or services. And your employees have consciously participated in that training.

Yes, it will take you, the leader, a bit of pre-planning time but, my gosh—isn’t that your job anyway? Do this rigorously for one month and I guarantee you that you’ll be pleased with the results. It is the little things that make the difference.

Shipment

Oh, So You Want Me To Ship It To the Manufacturer? (822 words)

Bad Customer Service

Really?

Bad customer service serves nobody. The following is a true story. It illustrates the need for even management to be nice to their customers—for a variety of reasons.

The brothers Long started a drug store in Northern California a number of years ago. By the 1970’s they had built a respectable chain in the north and had started expanding to Southern California. For years, when I was in the sunglass business, I sold to this glowing chain. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s they grew and I sold sunglasses to most of their stores. I really appreciated the amount of business I earned from them over the years. Also, over the years, the department heads that I worked with in the early days became store managers and one, a district manager.

Because of my loyalty to this particular drug store chain, I continued doing business with the store in my community for years after I was no longer in the sunglass business. As a matter of fact, to this day, my family still uses the store in my community—the one that I personally set up their sunglass department when the store opened for business.

With all of that being said, one day in the late 1990s I visited my local Longs Drug Store (now owned by CVS) store to return a camera that I had purchased that turned out to be defective. It was an evening and I ended up getting help from the store’s assistant manager. While she did not remember me, I remembered when she was a clerk in the cosmetic department. She told me that she could not replace the camera because she did not have that EXACT one in stock. She told me to ship it to the factory and they would take care of it.

After selling sunglasses to this chain for almost two decades, I was reasonably familiar with their return policy. It was less the fact that she told me to send the camera back to the factory, but more her attitude. I knew that she had the authority to do pretty much anything she wanted to do to take care of the situation. She could have given me a refund. She could have given me the same brand camera but the next model up, which she did have in stock. But rather than to serve a customer that had been shopping at the store since it had opened, about 10 years before, she selected to have an attitude (the big A in Ego Attitude Training).

I didn’t make a fuss about her lack of customer service—instead I simply left the store with my defective camera in hand. Unfortunately for this assistant manager, she decided to (in my opinion) to screw over, a longtime customer who coincidentally knew her boss’ boss pretty darn well. In fact, I had served Ron, the district manager, as a vendor to the chain for about 20 years. She made a BIG MISTAKE!

Because my personal relationship with the chain (a number of people from clerks to executives) was much stronger than any single employee, I mailed a friendly letter to Ron explaining the situation. I told him that my relationship was with the store, and not the manufacturer. I also mentioned my thoughts on customer retention and a couple of other thoughts. I did not ask him to take action, but simply informed him about the behavior of one of his managers.

It took a few weeks, but wow! The letter of apology from this assistant manager was amazing. Not only did I receive the apology but also it came with $20 worth of store script (about the retail difference between the defective camera I wanted adjusted and the next model up). Also, in her letter was the pledge that if I brought my defective camera in the store she would personally exchange it, even if she had to upgrade it.

I never took her up on her offer to exchange the camera but instead just left her wondering if I’d ever come back. No need to in that situation, the camera was a great brand and I had sent it to the manufacturer myself the next day. Within a week, the manufacturer had mailed me a replacement. I did though use the store script—heck, why not?

Ron, the district manager, is a really great guy so I’m sure he didn’t rip the assistant manager’s head off—at least too much. But I must admit, I would have really enjoyed being a fly on the wall at that meeting. Is the moral of the story to be nice to people who know your district manager? I don’t think so. How could one ever know?

Just be wonderful to every customer—just because you should. Besides, you never know whom they know. Being crummy to any customer could prove to be a career killer—you just never know!

Having a party but not ready

Lost Opportunity, Are You Guilty? (1038 words)

Having a party but not ready

Lost Opportunity

I received a postcard from my local Infinity dealer. The card offered a set of cut crystal and a chance to win a new Infinity if I stopped in during their Grand Opening Sale. It appeared that somebody took some time to plan a classy sales event. Like you though, I generally toss this type of solicitation instantly. But for some reason I kept the card and visited the dealership.

The morning I visited the dealer, there was not a sales person to be found. Was I surprised; my expectation was to be met with open arms by a sales person expanding the virtues of the new Q45. I was wrong. Not a sales person to be found so I walked toward the back to a receptionist. Abruptly, she took my postcard and paged a parts clerk to get for me the box containing my gift. In the box were two cut crystal “bird bath” champagne glasses. That was it! What a colossal disappointment. This was not even close to world-class service. What a waist of money and energy for the dealer!

They invited me to visit their grand opening “sales party.”  When I arrived, they could have cared less that I came. Was it because I drove up in a Saab? Was it because they were busy? Who knows the source of their apathy? One thing for sure, they lost the opportunity to influence me to consider Infinity. They lost a potential sale! Why in the world invite potential buyers to a sales event and not even ask them to look at your wares? Am I crazy to expect that they might offer to me the chance to purchase a world-class luxury car? Have you ever been guilty of the same sin? Have you ever invited customers to visit your business and not been ready?

The best advertising campaign in the world will quickly be assassinated by employee lack of interest. The next time you have a special sales event, see to it that your employees’ “desire to serve” is quite high. No matter how much money you spend inviting your customers to your “party,” your employees can as easily send them home with bad feelings about your place of business and quite disgruntled. I doubt that I will ever visit my local Infinity dealer again, why in the world should I?

Let’s explore some ideas to counter the lost opportunity scenario in your business:

  • Explain the big picture to ALL your employees. Tell them how they will influence the results and how the results will influence their employment and income status.
  • Allow your team to have an ownership rather than just a buy-in on the event. This is achieved by letting them have some say about how the event will be handled. Your staff has valuable ideas to offer, all you have to do is listen.
  • Incentive is effective. The carrot is far better than the stick in any customer service situation. Try giving a bonus or spiff to EACH team member based on the total effectiveness and profitability of the event. If your people receive a commission on sales, make the spiff beyond their usual compensation. This will create more of a team effort.
  • Be ready for the party. Invite your customers and have your act together when they attend. This means higher staffing and inventories for the event. Never allow a customer to walk in with high expectations and out with a deflated bubble because you were out of stock or your people were out of energy. Exceed your customers’ expectations.
  • Partner with another local business to make the event a “double dip” for your customers. Having two activities in the same general geographical location gives them more of a reason to attend. Today people art short on time so help them out, make it worth their time and effort to visit your place of business.
  • Show by actions that you are genuinely pleased that your customers have arrived. Do more than just have an expressionless “parts clerk” hand them a gift box and walk away. If you give a gift, ring a bell or do something exciting when you hand out the goodies. This will reinforce in the mind of your customer that their decision to visit was a valuable one. While you are at it, make it fun too.

Lost opportunity, the chance you had to influence your customer and you blew it. In today’s competitive marketplace, you no longer have the convenience of unlimited chances to influence consumer-purchasing behavior. Today’s consumers have so much more choice than ever before. They are conditioned to make quick decisions. Every moment they are in your place of business is a moment of judgment. Trust me, they do judge quickly. Opportunity like time, once passed, it is gone forever. Sure, you can try again, but they may never come back.

Be aware of other opportunities that slip like sand between your fingers. I am referring to synergistic alliances. A synergistic alliance is any type of partnership, permanent or temporary, where two or more entities come together. They partner to make more happen in their businesses mutually than would have been possible singularly. In the challenge of today’s global competition, working with others simply makes good business sense. It’s simple, two companies advertising the same sales event can double the bang for their individual advertising dollar. Two companies buying from a single vendor can get a better discount or concession than one based on the increased order. Don’t be twice guilty of missing opportunity. Work with others to create the kind of synergy that allows one plus one to equal three. Why not get more?

As I travel the country lecturing to business persons on partnering ideas, I am truly amazed at how many people see the world from “the glass is half empty” point of view. There is no better time than this minute to have a paradigm shift and look at the possibilities. Sure the first half of the decade was difficult for many. Let’s get off the complaining “slow boat” to personal destruction and jump on the “Bullet Train” to Success and Prosperity. Why not, you deserve it!

Old Computer

It Doesn’t Work for You, But You Want Me To Buy It? (741 words)

Old Computer

If it doesn’t work, don’t try to sell it.

When I first launched my career as a full-time professional speaker it was 1991 and my friends told me that I needed a computer. What I was going to use it for was still a mystery to me? I visited my local technology store and made an appointment to have the manager demonstrate this retailer’s house brand computer, a Tandy.

At the time, this company that I guess once sold radios from a shack used “your technology store” in their print and broadcast advertising. It was a good positioning strategy for a national chain. Since locally, they were my “technology store” I had fully intended to buy a computer there, that day. When I arrived, the manager was still messing with the computer. It seemed that he was having trouble making the technology run correctly—that was clue # 1.

Finally, he somewhat got the technology working but we were interrupted by a customer who had come in the store to pick up her computer. Her technology (a computer similar to that which I was considering) didn’t work and the store people sent it out for repair—that was clue # 2. The manager and I were not directly interrupted because the woman was dealing with the counter clerk. In time they got louder—as the technology (computer) was not back as promised.

The store manager was trying his best to ignore the woman. Perhaps he figured why mess with an unhappy customer when he was trying to make a sale? I messed him up though, by suggesting that he handle the situation. I told the manager that I’d be happy to wait for him. He approached the counter with the store clerk and the not so happy camper, the customer.

I was blown away by the fact that he made no real effort to solve the woman’s problem. In fact, he basically told her tough luck! While sometimes I might be a slow learner that was clue # 3 for me. Was this the kind of place that I wanted to spend my money? Before the manager got back to me at the table where the Tandy computer sat, I had visions in my mind of one day being that same woman, needing help and being told, tough luck!

When the manager approached me, he now had three strikes against him in my mind. I thought, “Perhaps others liked to buy their‘technology’ from the guys that once sold radios from a shack—but, not me!” So I told him that I was late for an appointment (yes, I told a lie) and I got the hell out of there. I did not want to be an unhappy camper customer in two or three weeks. He blew a $1,600 sale that day. I have always wondered how many retail sales that manager was personally responsible for sabotaging during his employment at that particular technology store?  If he sabotaged just one sale like that each day for six months—five days a week for 26 weeks—gosh, that’s only $208,000.

What could you do with an extra $208,000 every six months?

  • Hire better employees?
  • Train your employees better?
  • Go on a much-needed vacation?
  • Pay your vendors on time?
  • Pay the IRS?
  • Buy new store fixtures?
  • Buy new technology for your store?
  • Buy advertising on your local cable TV station?
  • Put it in the bank for when you are an old fart?
  • Buy that Porsche you’ve always wanted?
  • And the list goes on and on…

When you are serving a customer, or the lack there of, you are on display. Potential customers are watching your actions. You can preach customer service, customer satisfaction and value from the highest peaks, yet your prospects are watching your actions. And, your actions speak so loudly, that most really can’t hear a word that you are saying—they are too busy watching your actions.

Additionally, anytime you are selling new or innovative technology, you had better be sure that the demo works. If a customer is just a bit hesitant about using something new, as was I in this example, a simple screw up on your part will send the prospect running as far and as fast as they can. Most people need help with technology. What is old hat to you, most likely is rocket science to your customers and prospects—treat them kindly.

Brand Construction or Brand Destruction? (2951 words)

Killing Your Brand

How NOT to win customers

How you use or lose your customer value perception opportunities tell much about your style of leadership. Every point-of-contact you or your employees have with your customers is an opportunity to increase or decrease your customers’ perceived value of doing business with you. The key idea here is perceived value. No matter how important you believe customer service to be, it is nothing more than a conduit for customer perceived value.

The crucial question to you, “Are you embracing, or squandering, your opportunities to deliver perceived value to your customers?” Too many business people today simply focus on customer service, erroneously believing that service is the end game. Further could be from the truth. Delivering customer perceived value is the end game for today’s successful businesses.

A few years ago, I delivered a full-day partnering workshop for the management team of a nationally branded downtown San Diego hotel. The lead hotel executive indicated that he wanted to increase the average room night rate by about 12 percent. He suggested that better customer service was the answer to increasing room night rates.

To the hotel executive’s amazement, I told his group that customer service was not the answer. In the hospitality industry, this is sacrilege! Customer service is simply a conduit to deliver perceived value. I continued to tell the group that their answer was to increase their customer’s perceived value of staying at their property. It’s the amplified customer perceived value that would build brand equity and give their guests a reason to pay more.

Regardless of your industry, every interaction with a customer is an opportunity for you to bolster or diminish their perceived value of you, your service or product, and your brand. The important issue upon which you should focus is the fact that one’s reality equals the conversation they have with themselves about you. What are your customers saying to themselves about you, your location and your brand? What is their reality?

Making the Point

This idea applies to any business that desires to move beyond traditional transactional business toward building long-lasting business relationships. As a professional speaker, I frequently have the opportunity to visit New Orleans. Because of the conferences, I generally stay in or around the French Quarter—frequently at the Sheraton.

A year ago, in New Orleans, I attended a convention of a group for which I’m a member.  This trip, I stayed across the street at the convention headquarter, a national brand property which I had not yet visited. Since I was there for five nights, I had sufficient interaction with the hotel staff to use this stay as example of value perception opportunities—sought or lost.

For simplicity, I’ve created a scoring system from my visit where I award a positive or negative to each of the hotel’s notable perception value opportunity areas. While my example is a hotel stay, you can easily apply this kind of scoring system to your business, no matter the industry. Apply this system idea to your business silos where your customers have contact with the people and systems of your organization.

Room Rate

The room rate the association negotiated with the hotel ended up being no less than 75% higher than rates at comparable hotels in the Quarter for that same period. While this is not the fault of the hotel, the hotel management should have been aware that many of the attendees knew they were paying much more to stay at the headquarter hotel and support the association. Many knew that they could have stayed at the Ritz Carlton no more than two blocks away, and have stayed for substantially less.

As such, management could have, and should have, made an effort to balance the value perception problem with an inexpensive gift basket in the room, drink vouchers or some other added value idea. These ideas are not expensive and would only have cost the hotel the wholesale and not the retail. Thereby offering high perceived value to guests at a low exposure to cost. If you charge more than your competition for a similar product or service, what do you do to increase your customers’ perception of your total value package? What do you do to justify in the minds of your customers the increased cost over your competition? Unfortunately, this hotel did absolutely nothing. For the first customer perceived value opportunity, I award the hotel a negative.

Guest Arrival

Upon my midday arrival at the hotel, there was not a bell person in sight to help me with my baggage so I just carried it from the taxi myself. In this value perception opportunity, even though the hotel management knew the arrival flow for the day and that many attendees were paying a much higher price than the going Internet and city special price, management selected not to schedule additional bell staff help for the arriving conference attendees.

If you know a busy or challenging time is approaching, do you plan, implement and execute for the impending situation? Or, do you take the business as usual approach? If you do not plan, implement and execute, your customers’ mental conversation they have with themselves about you will certainly be a negative. For the second customer perceived value opportunity, I award the hotel a negative.

Check-In

At the registration desk of this national brand hotel, fortunately there was plenty of help so check-in went quickly and uneventfully—as it should. Additionally, the woman that assisted me was able to accommodate my location request without a problem. For the third customer perceived value opportunity, I award the hotel a positive.

This sizing of positive value opportunities is what every business wants to hear from their customers. But, at this point the hotel has twice as many negative awards as positive. Related to this, in the world of providence, it generally takes ten Atta Boys to overcome oneAh Shucks and every negative is an Ah Shucks.

Housekeeping

The second day of my visit, after being gone all day, I had to call housekeeping in the late afternoon to get my room cleaned and prepared as this basic service had been overlooked. Later that evening, when I returned to my room, I again had to call housekeeping as the maid overlooked replacing the in-room coffee package for the next morning. When a customer requests that your organization meet their expectation of base-level service, doesn’t it make sense to be sure that it is done thoroughly? Perhaps you might even want to do just a little extra? New Orleans is the home of lanyap, meaning to give a little extra. The next day was a repeat of the previous, as I again had to call in the late afternoon to have my room cleaned.

Shouldn’t one learn from mistakes and not repeat the same mistake two value perception opportunities in a row? To add to my strong feelings of being ignored from the experience the night before, the next morning, the last morning of my stay, the maid knocks on my door (to see if I had checked out) rudely waking me up. Isn’t that why they have a computer system? Can’t the front desk communicate with housekeeping? Do you have capabilities you do not use, perhaps because it takes a little bit of time, in serving your customers? How could your technological capabilities better serve your customers and help them to have a more positive conversation with themselves about the value you deliver? For having to call two days in a row and being so rudely woken up, I award housekeeping a negative.

Bell Desk Staff

While the Bell Staff was missing upon my arrival, I see that as a scheduling issue. Most other times they seemed to be present and quite helpful. One day, during my visit, I returned to the hotel with several boxes of beads for an evening activity. The doorman was quite helpful in assisting me to my room with the boxes. Additionally, when he realized that I had several more boxes that needed to be transported to another venue that evening, he suggested that I contact the Bell Captain and request one of the hotel’s complementary cars to transport my stuff the couple blocks. I took his suggestion, the car was provided and the Bellman was very helpful. I rewarded that bellman with a $40 tip for his effort. That was a great experience! The only thing the first bellman could have done better was to arrange the car himself. But, I do not fault him for not doing this because in chatting with the bellman, I read between the lines and understood hotel politics were involved. I award the bell staff a positive.

Banquet Staff Interaction

Unfortunately, during my stay, most of my interaction with the hotel banquet staff was far less than desirable. From the arrogant behavior of a banquet supervisor to the utterly rude behavior of an event bartender, they missed the value mark completely. I could not believe my eyes when an event bartender was more concerned with chatting on his cell phone then interested in serving myself and other attendees—this is an area hugely ready for the opportunity of improvement through better staff training.

Think about it, for conferences held at hotels, attendees generally have more interaction with the banquet staff than any of the other departments. Or, in a retail situation, it’s the clerks working the sales-floor, or in distribution it’s the customer service representatives. These lower-paid front-line employees have a huge influence in how your customers perceive and then determine the value your organization delivers. While it may be unfair to the scores of servers at this nationally known brand that did an acceptable job, for this value opportunity, I award the banquet staff a negative.

Hotel Management

My early interaction with hotel management had been quite positive. Unfortunately, the last evening at the hotel was indelibly distinctive and branded in my mind forever. The sad fact of the matter is that it was easily preventable.

On this trip, I took my 18-year-old son along so he could enjoy the French Quarter of New Orleans first hand. This last evening, I happened to go up to my room to pick something up. When I arrived at the room, my son was standing outside. He could not get into the room because a hall door was locked. Having been waiting for over ten minutes, he had twice called the front desk asking for help getting this needless hall door unlocked.

Why I say this situation was easily avoidable is because the hotel had a door at the end of the hall that was be used as a single entrance door to the last two rooms as in a suite situation. But, when the rooms were sold individually, neither of the two rooms had access to unlock the outer door—which rocket scientist made that decision? The hotel management simply determined that it was best to leave that door open but not code the individual room key cards to have access. Wouldn’t you know it—the door was somehow pushed closed causing my son and I denial of entry to our room.

When my son told me of the situation, I too called the front desk requesting assistance. We waited another 10 minutes but no help had arrived. Being a solution driven person I took a new approach. I called the front desk again and explained to them that I’d be forced to sound the fire alarm if nobody cared enough to come and give me access to my room. Amazingly, that worked. A security person instantly arrived out of nowhere with an electrical unlocking devise.

Why must I resort to threats to get people to simply do their job in a timely manner? Besides not how I want to operate, the need to become aggressive basically ruined my last evening at the conference. To the credit of the security person that did unlock the outer door, he offered me dinner for my trouble. Since I was leaving the next morning, that offer created zero value for me. By this time though, his offer was just not good enough.

I asked the security guard to call the night manager up to the room. And for effect, I asked the security guard to stay, telling him that I might not be able to control myself. My, for effect strategy did not work. When the night manager arrived, he spent more time telling me that the hotel was full and that they were short of staff and that is why their service was so poor. My Gosh! Never admit to your customer that you did not care enough about them to have a reasonable complement of help for their visit. I told the night manager that I wanted an adjustment on my rate for that evening for all the grief—he passed the buck saying he’d have to get it approved by the hotel’s general manager.

If you want your employees to have an emotional ownership in the success of your enterprise, empower them to make decisions, especially in this case, as it was not a huge decision. Heck, even the newest front desk clerk at the Sheraton across the street could make that decision. This empowerment is a chain-wide policy allowing Sheraton employees to do what’s necessary in the area of guest satisfaction.

The next morning, over the telephone, I chatted with the general manager—we’ll call him Mark, since that is his name. After explaining my total dissatisfaction with my stay at his property, Mark was basically cryptic and unwilling to make an adjustment decision, saying that he would look into it and get back with me. He asked if there was anything else he could do for me that morning. I told him that there was—a late checkout would be nice. He said that he would take care of it.

A few days later, I received a letter from Mark stating, “I can assure you that the feedback from hundreds of your peers, as well as the meeting planner for the XYZ Association, has been nothing short of outstanding…” Mark basically told me that I was full of it, and rather than make the requested adjustment for the last night, he welcomed the opportunity to host me for a weekend stay as his guest—like I’d want to stay there again?

For the grand finale, a couple weeks later when my credit card bill arrived, I noticed that I was charged an extra $50 on my guest folio from the hotel. I called the hotel to inquire about the additional charge and was put on hold for five minutes (I actually timed the hold). When I finally got a person at guest relations, I was told the extra $50 was a late check out charge! Holly cow—and to add insult to injury! It took some doing, but I did get the $50 charge credited. To the management of this property I award three negatives. One negative for the lack of empowerment, one negative for the general manager effectively negating my experience as not valid and one negative for the general manager not doing what he told me he would do in reference to the late check out charge.

Let’s total my “conversation I had with myself about this property and brand”

  • Positive: 2
  • Negative: 7

Since this appalling visit, I have many times been tempted to mention the property by name at a number of meetings industry events at which I have been invited to speak. While I have not yet mentioned this visit from the platform, in private discussions with meeting planners I most certainly have. Recently, I was the closing general session speaker for an association of meeting planners at their annual meeting and had the occasion to meet a sales person from this property at that meeting. Needless to say, in a private chat with this salesperson, I didn’t hold back.

About a week after the meeting planner’s annual meeting I received another letter from Mark, the hotel’s general manager reiterating his offer in which he stated, “…and you may be assured that your next stay will be memorable for all the right reasons.”

It’s been about a year since this dreadful hotel visit and since have attended the same association meeting in a different city. The convention used the same national brand again and I had an awesome visit—a memorable visit for all the right reasons. But, as I sit at my desk finishing this yearlong article writing exercise, I can’t help thinking the visit a year ago has done permanent damage to my perception of this particular national brand. And even though I just recently had a wonderful visit at this same brand I think of Atta Boysvs. Ah Shucks in as much as it takes ten positive experiences to just equal out a negative experience.

In constructing a memorable brand, the lesson for us all is to be aware of how our actions and decisions not only affect us at the local level, but also the brand nationally. What are you doing to be sure that you and your employees are doing everything necessary to insure that you seize rather than squander the value perception opportunities given to you by your customers?

You Vote

As a final note, perhaps I’m being too hard on Mark? Please share with me your opinion by emailing your vote—which do you suggest?

  • Accept Mark’s offer of a memorable visit.
  • Start telling the story from the platform.

PS. Your Vote is No Longer Necessary

In a December 2007 meetings industry magazine there was an advertisement for this property that announced its post Katrina $38 million “wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling” renovation. And, to my excitement, Mark is no longer the general manager. As you might imagine, I’m now looking forward to my next visit at the New Orleans Marriott.

PSS. I sent a letter to the new manager over a year ago, and he has never responded. Hmmmm…

When 20 Bucks & Ego Is More Important than a Decade of Customer Loyalty (1864 words)

When 20 Bucks & Ego Is More Important than a Decade of Customer Loyalty

Customer Loyalty is Crucial for Most Businesses

When are 20 bucks and a store manager’s ego more important than a decade of customer loyalty? Never! Little things can be much more costly than one might imagine.

I recently had an experience that clearly demonstrated the crucial need for better training at all levels, from entry-level employees to management. This situation occurred at a local tire store, one that is part of a national chain—of which will go unnamed—but claims in their name to be pros with tires. The store manager made the decision that $20 in his cost on labor, and his need to be right was more important to him than a loyal 10-year customer. Customer loyalty counted for nothing.

Let’s Review the Benefit of from 10 Years of Customer Loyalty:

  • New tires (sets of four) on 3 cars—approximately 8 sets at an average of $300 per set equals a minimum of $2,400 in retail sales.
  • Satisfied customer recommendations to friends and business acquaintances—in this particular case the bare minimum is referral benefit is a fleet of 18 cars and trucks that moved their account to this particular store five years ago based on my recommendation. This referral has resulted in approximately 9 sets of car and truck tires purchased yearly by the company. At an average of $400 (truck & SUV tires are more expensive), the yearly sale to this company is $3,600.
  • The bare bones minimum value this store received from one customer’s loyalty and referrals for 10-years is $20,400.

Let’s Review What the Store Will Most Assuredly Lose in the Coming Decade from the Manager’s Seemingly Inconsequential Customer Loyalty $20 Decision:

  • Within the next 2 months, the store will lose the sales on sets of tires for both a minivan and an SUV equaling a minimum of $700.
  • Over the coming decade the store will also lose, not accounting for inflation, at the very least the same $2,400 from my 3 cars, and most likely more because employees did not value customer loyalty.
  • After telling the above-mentioned fleet manager that I had recommended to this store five years prior, the one that claims to bepros with tires, this store will most likely also lose my friend’s fleet account. The fleet account loss over the next 10 years will be at least $36,000.
  • Lost sales in the community of Thousand Oaks, CA where I live. While for a decade I had recommended these pros with tires to a number of friends, now I will, as would most people in this situation, make it a point to tell anyone that will listen how poorly I was treated by the store manager. How many dollars do you think will be lost?

National Brand Damage from Ignoring Customer Loyalty:

  • I’m sure you would agree that it is not a good idea to treat any customer poorly, but to treat a heavily published author and busy professional speaker poorly is purely lunatic, as I will now use this story about the brand that claims to be pros with tires at many of my seminars across the country.
  • Will people discontinue using this company that claims to be pros with tires just because I tell the story? I don’t think so. But, what will happen is that the next time they do business with this chain and a problem occurs, as is bound to happen, they will remember my story. Now that chain, and the particular store, has an additional strike against it—perhaps their last?

All of the above lost, and potentially lost business, because a chain store manager let’s his ego and 20 bucks get in the way of making good customer satisfaction decisions. This is a common mistake that many managers and owners make, and not exclusive to retail. Not enough consideration is given to customer loyalty.

Learning From the Situation:

  1. My teenage son took his car in to get the tires rotated and balanced—a free service from the pros with tires, for the life of one’s tires.
  2. Driving away from the store, my son noticed the car now pulled to one side.
  3. He returned to the store where they are pros with tires and asked them to fix the problem.
  4. They said they aligned the front end and charged him for the service without his approval (something that is illegal in the state of California). He did not argue the issue as it was the end of the evening and other customers were also trying to get out of the store too.
  5. Driving away again, he noticed the car still pulled.
  6. The next day I went to the store and spoke with the manager, we’ll call him Dan because that’s his name. In private, I explained to Dan my displeasure in the situation and asked him to remedy the problem. He said he would.
  7. Upon returning to pick up my son’s car, Dan personally guaranteed that the car now drove straight. And scribbled on a scrap of paper how he claimed one of the front tires wore unevenly because of the car being out of alignment.
  8. When I asked for Dan to refund the charge to my son since my son did not knowingly authorize work to be done that would incur a charge, he got in a huff and started to process a credit. Customer loyalty was not top-of-mind.
  9. While processing the credit, Dan asked what I did for a living. I told him that I help businesses to be profitable. He snidely asked if I would do work for free. I told him that up to that point, his customer service had been acceptable and cautioned him not to go further. He then told me that he did not want me to ever return to his store.
  10. Leaving the store, I noticed that the tires were rotated back to the position they were in when my son originally brought the car in for the rotation. The manager lied to me about remedying the problem. All this resulting in the car back to how it was when my son first came in and the store firing a 10-year customer.

To answer Dan’s question—I would absolutely do something for free for a 10-year loyal customer if I even had a hint that my organization or I might have even partly been responsible for a situation that made a customer unhappy. Waiting to speak to Dan that evening, I overheard a customer congratulate Dan on his promotion, I assumed to a district manager position. Just think what’s going to happen to the stores that he oversees if he takes this antagonistic attitude with customers that are rightfully, or even un-rightfully, dissatisfied with the service delivered by the pros with tires. There goes customer loyalty in his area. Receiving a promotion is not a justifiable reason to let your ego control your customer satisfaction decisions.

What Can Be Learned From Dan’s Foibles?

  1. Do what your marketing material, advertising material and sales invoices clearly state that you will do.
  2. If your business card has the picture of a doctor checking out a tire and your advertising brags that you inspect all tires when rotated, be consistent in your actions with both your branding position. This will most assuredly mean that you have to better train your employees, even the entry-level ones. Too frequently entry-level employees execute complementary services that are offered in marketing materials but are executed poorly or incompetently. If the employees of this store did their job consistent with their company’s national branding position, and there was in fact uneven tire wear, they would have told my son about the problem rather than letting him drive away believing they damaged his car.
  3. If a customer believes you caused a problem, either fix it or if you believe it was not your fault, take the time to educate and show them on the actual product what you believe to be true. This goes a long way for developing customer loyalty.
  4. Don’t take advantage of teenagers lacking the life experience of mature adults, even if it is legal to do so. Besides losing me as a customer, the pros with tires, also lost my teenage son. How many tires might he have bought from this national chain in his lifetime? I can assure you that he will never buy a tire from the pros with tires.
  5. Do the job right the first time to earn customer loyalty. In this situation they charged my son for a service they did not competently perform. Had they have correctly aligned the front the first time; my son most likely would have accepted the unauthorized charge. If they in fact executed the service properly, with the rear tire in front and a competent mechanic doing the alignment, the car would have driven straight.
  6. When a customer comes into your store and asks to speak privately they do this for two reasons. First, as not to embarrass you in front other customers. And second, because they are very seriously dissatisfied yet want to continue the relationship—hoping that you care enough about them as a customer to take care of the problem.
  7. If you truly believe you are not at fault in a situation, take the time to demonstrate on the product why you believe the problem was customer caused and still offer to cover the cost. If you explain your position convincingly, more times than not, your customer will accept accountability and not ask you to completely cover the cost.
  8. Why in the world would you want to get in a huff with a customer? One thing that Sears and Nordstrom have in common is that they have extremely liberal return policies. They know the value of keeping a customer for life. They know that the buck or two they lose here and there is nothing compared to the lifetime dollar value of a single customer.
  9. Before you fire a customer, determine how much business that customer has done with you and could potentially do with you. If it economically unintelligent to do business with a customer, by all means fire them. But why would you give up income because your ego might have been bruised a little? In my situation, Dan’s company has a computer system sophisticated enough to look up customers by last name, but unfortunately, Dan was simply too lazy to check the facts and fired a 10-year loyal customer based on his ego needs.
  10. Don’t lie to your customers as Dan lied to me. He told me he had fixed the car when he had not. His store must have been unable to properly align the car as he stated it needed to be, or why would he have put the tires back to how they were positioned when my son brought the car into the pros with tires in the first place?

It’s the little things, the seemingly inconsequential decisions, that when extrapolated out into the marketplace that can cost a local store, a national chain, or any business both huge lost sales dollars and agonizing damage to the brand.

While I’m sure you are not guilty of the above situation, it bears repeating: When are 20 bucks and a store manager’s ego more important than a decade of loyalty from a customer? Never!