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

Partner 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.

How Today’s Distribution Partners Add Value (667 Words)

The supply chain has changed. Early in my sales career I learned the stock joke about sales people; they did the least and got the most. The same joke was told about the middleman wholesale distributor. Through the 1970s distributors were rewarded for whom they knew, for getting placement. This was because distributors could do the job (product placement and fulfillment) better than most manufacturers. Times were good; distributors were getting fat and happy.

During the 1980s the hint of change rustled through the distribution channel. Manufacturers started asking themselves, “Do we really need XYZ Distribution?” Most answered, “Yes.” But, some started making different decisions and went direct. I still remember when B&L went direct on the company for which I was a rep. I hated the >*#@%^*s. Times were changing and our country was becoming more national than regional. As the big box category busters came to life, distribution started to change. Distribution sacred cows went to the slaughterhouses because both manufacturers and users realized they had more choice than ever before.

As competition form offshore sources, global alliances and local partnering became apparent, many distributors were figuratively caught with their pants down. Many “fat and happy” distributors were enjoying the life, but not reinvesting in their business. Manufacturers were looking at world class manufacturing techniques but few distributors were doing the same in their area of the distribution channel. What does my little history lesson have to do with your life? Plenty!

Invest in Your Business

Over the last half decade I’ve researched and delivered alliance seminars to many distribution industry niches. The common thread I have seen is a general reluctance of distributors to invest in their own business. There are several reasons but it really doesn’t matter. In the end, if you can’t do it better than the manufacturer, who needs you? I know, you say, “What about loyalty?” Well, your manufacturers have been saying, “XYZ Distribution is not keeping up, we must not be important to them any more.” I realize I’m over simplifying a complex issue, and It’s not as complex as many want to make it.

Today, we are in the information age. I no longer have to get in my car and drive to the local library to get information.  Now, I simply do a few magic clicks of my computer mouse and more information is available on my computer screen than is in hard copy at my library. I still need information, but I no longer need the library. Users still need what you sell, but do they need you? Think hard before you answer the question. If you are not adding value, they really do not need you.

My primary market as a keynote speaker is trade and professional associations. For associations wishing to survive, I continually tell them that they better deliver value. They must deliver more perceived value to each member than the members are spending on their membership. People have more choices than ever before. People will migrate to where they believe they are getting the best value for their money. As a distributor you must be clear on this idea.

Value in Your Eyes, or Theirs?

What are you doing to deliver value? Really now? Are you sure those services deliver value? How do you know they deliver value? Who have you asked? Have you discussed value with your manufacturers? How about with your customers? In “Developing Strategic Alliances” I included a value update form. If you have not yet had time to read the book, here is the basic idea: Write down on separate sheets of paper the value you are getting from the relationship with each of your manufacturers and then the value you think they are receiving from working with you. Have them do the same thing, then switch. What an eye opener. Use the same idea with each of your customers. Now you will get a glimpse of what your manufacturers and customers consider as valuable. Now you can really do something about adding value to your distribution channel.

eCommerce–Are You Ready? (615 Words)

Procurement through the Internet has many industries running for cover. Companies that seek quicker procurement solutions, especially on basic consumables, are now looking toward the Internet. E-procurement is essentially changing the buying method. E-procurement allows your employees to order and receive supplies and services while never leaving their workstation. E-procurement streamlines the traditional purchasing process through the use of Web-technology. The result both cost savings and improved responsiveness from your strategic partnering alliance suppliers.

An issue of Inter@ctiveWeek reported both Ford Motor and General Motors had moved their $80 billion each purchasing online. Ford is Partnering with Oracle and GM with Commerce One to build their systems. “This is the only way we’re going to do business going forward,” says Harold Kutner, vice president of worldwide purchasing at GM. “It’s not going to be an option [for GM’s suppliers]; it will be a requirement.”

In EC World it was stated that, “Enterprise-wide electronic procure-to-pay solutions truly deliver on the promise of the Internet to provide streamlined solutions for business.” “Early adopters of online ordering primarily opt for employees to shop in virtural megastores such as Office Max or Staples.”

Listed below are five types of suppliers that can effectively participate with you in E-procurement, regardless of their size.

1. Companies currently conducting e-commerce with transactional Web sites.

2. Suppliers with Web sites for marketing purposes but not for taking orders.

3. Suppliers without Web sites who can still support EDI and/or CD-Rom catalogs.

4. Merchants without Web sites.

5. Internal suppliers from within your own company.

ECWorld talked about Los Angeles County taking the plunge into Internet purchasing. Chrys Varnes, director of electrical commerce for Los Angeles County’s Internal Services Department said, “Lead times were too long, agreement prices were often too high, and the agreements themselves were too hard to find and use.”

Los Angeles County is the largest in the United States, overseeing 4,083 square miles, two-thirds unincorporated. The geography includes packed urban areas, sparsely populated maintain ranges, 76 miles of coastline and offshore islands. The County employees a total of 84,000 people and has buyers, working out of 36 different buying locations to serve its 9.5 million residents.

To create the County’s Acquisition Management Information System (CAMIS), they selected an Internet-based system that had browser-based access. This allows even the smallest potential supplier to participate. Commerce One emerged as the winner with their Commerce Chain Solution. The CAMIS consists a Web-based automated procurement system and an extranet application that allows real-time links between the suppliers and the county. Not only does this allow automating order processing, additionally suppliers can provide product and pricing updates to their catalogs. At writing, Los Angeles County can select from over five million items from over 5,000 suppliers. Also buyers are able to compare prices across suppliers, insuring the best price for individual items.

It cost Los Angeles County approximately $2 million to implement CAMIS, but it is only less than one third of one percent of the total purchasing dollars processed in a single year. Recently, the County’s central warehouse was closed. This represents savings of nearly $30 million over five years. As paper catalogs become obsolete no sooner than they are printed, CAMIS is constantly updating.

Now that I’ve gotten your attention, what are you doing to take advantage of this trend? If you think the graphic arts supply industry is a safe harbor in which to weather this cyberstorm, think again. We are in the midst of an incredible economic revolution. The rules are changing before your eyes. Those who can see past their nose will receive the rewards, unfortunately that will not be everybody who reads this column. Will it be you?

How Distributors Profit from the Partnering Trend (1470 Words)

distributors profit from strategic alliance relationships

Distributors Profit from the Partnering Trend

Yes, distributors profit from embracing the new era of collaboration. We need banking, but do we need banks? We need groceries but do we need supermarkets? We need services and consumables but do we need to receive these things in traditional ways? Do we need distributors?

Distributors Profit

The answer is: Only if distributors truly create value in the process of getting stuff from the source to the user. At my seminars, when I ask distributors what their product is—the usual answer is service. WRONG! Your product is logistics. WalMart has done an excellent job of disintermediating those that Sam Walton believed did not add enough value to the chain. What about your customers and suppliers? What do they say about you?

My research indicates that for you to cost effectively achieve world-class levels of logistic services, you must adapt Total Organizational Partnering. I realize partnering is a term that has been grossly abused over the last decade, none-the-less; it is what you must achieve.

Partnering Defined

Partnering is an idea that is loosely used to describe anything from teamwork to alliances to contractual partnerships. Partnering, as I define it, is the process of two or more entities coming together for the purpose of creating synergistic solutions to their mutual challenges. Again, I recommend you adopt Total Organizational Partnering as your business strategy. Today’s distributors profit through embracing this paradigm.

Partnering is not a flavor-of-the-month management strategy to be hastily adopted and then as quickly abandoned, rather a long-term strategy for success. Partnering is not instant gratification! To adopt Total Organizational Partnering, distributors will need to understand the Partnering Pentad Model. A pentad is simply the name given to a group of five. The Partnering Pentad represents the five key areas of your business. In each of the five areas you must develop outrageously successful relationship (alliance) strategies. It is the quality of these relationships that hold all the areas together. Distributors profit from Total Organizational Partnering.

External Strategic Alliances

This is the area of your business where you develop alliances with outside entities for activities where you have core competencies that complement one another. For many distributors, these include buying/marketing groups and targeted specialty alliances for software/technology development. Distributors profit from sharing core strengths, tow or more can create an environment of synergy yielding all involved more than the some total of their collective contributions. Land mines to watch out for are core values of alliance members being too different; circles of interest overlap being too little, and continual management change of one or more alliance partners.

Partnering with Suppliers

Many distributors are most concerned with this area—no supplier, certainly no customer. Just-in-time delivery (JIT) and electronic data interchange (EDI) ordering have become commonplace today. Eventually, you will have these relationships both up and down the supply chain—providing you are still in business. Frequently, what I here from suppliers about their customers is, “They’re talking marriage but acting one night stand.” Not long ago I delivered an opening keynote presentation to an association of industrial distributors. Unfortunately, upon visiting the Website of one of that industry’s major suppliers, I noticed that very few of their distributors had hyperlinks to the distributors’ own Websites. I call that incredibly stupid—missed opportunity. To successfully compete in the world of B2B e-commerce, you must adopt alliances. The biggest land mine in this area is to neglect reviewing the quality of the relationship and exploring areas for improvement. What is it that you do that your suppliers cannot? Which of your activities actually adds value to your suppliers’ efforts and desire to get their goods to the end user?

Partnering with Customers

Distributors profit from incredibly close relationships with their customers. In this area, distributors profit from being externally driven. Your customers will consider you an important vendor as long as they feel they’re receiving good value. Value-added is a term that much is being written about. Integrator, Applied Distributors, is now documenting their value-added services with their customers. Agriculture and food processing conglomerate, Cargill has moved to value-based purchasing. They measure the total value proposition of their suppliers rather than just buy on price alone. You must be value driven rather than product driven to understand what your customers want. What they perceive as value is their reality. The important land mine to watch out for is short-term thinking on your part when making customer relationship decisions.

Distributors Profit from Employee Alliances

For many distributors is, erroneously a non-issue. Meaning, they don’t. What motivated the WWII generation is different from what motivates baby boomers and is different from what motivates the GenXers, and especially the Millennials. Just because something motivates you, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will motivate those of a different generation than yours. If you want your employees to have an ownership in your business—even though they don’t have a legal ownership and to hold sacred the business as you do—you must empower your employees.  Empowering means giving them the authority and encouraging them to accept the responsibility to do the job. Then acknowledge their successes and failures in an environment of safety—one where you encourage and reward risk taking. The major land mine to watch out for is the Ego Trap, yours of course. To give power, you must be a powerful person, one who possesses personal power rather than power simply acquired from your position. Permission cards and employee recognition certificates are a great start. More on these ideas are available at: https://rigsbee.com/articles/strategic-alliance-success/

Owners or CEOs as the Optimal Partner

This is the final and in many ways the most important leg of the pentad star. Not the most important from the perspective that all revolves around the CEO, but rather distributors profit from that of having a culture of true partnering. True partnering start at the top. You must lead the charge and show by your actions, more than your words, that Total Organizational Partnering is truly your preferred and accepted business strategy. The critical land mine here is when you arrogantly believe that you are at the center of the pentad and that all the alliances should revolve around you. The coveted center of the pentad star is reserved for all the relationships that bind the separate legs.

distributors profit from total organizational partnering

Distributors Profit from Partnering

Globalization

The Partnering Alliance driver for distributors profit in this new era. Large multinational companies are building alliance relationships to gobble up market shares in every conceivable industry and location. Large families of businesses are competing against one another. As such, smaller organizations feel the pressure and the Partnering trend becomes monkeys see, monkeys do. A secondary driver is based on the fact that organizations generally adopt a new paradigm based on the recommendations of others. Change evolves through one’s witnessing the success of others. Organizations and leaders with strong reputations within an industry or economy have immense influence over their contemporaries.

While I have witnessed many companies profit handsomely from alliance relationships, I have also seen them scramble to get on the partnering bandwagon with little regard for the quality of partners they select. Admirable businesses like Timex have discovered that the wrong partner can cost millions of dollars. Creating successful Partnering Alliances that will pay off in terms of increased market share, know-how or earnings diversification is no easy chore.

Today, consolidations and roll-ups are of great concern to many distributors. In the Industrial Distribution, Bill Wade stated, “The basic premise couldn’t be any simpler. Take a highly fragmented industry—like distribution—facing technological change, customer upheaval or chronic financing difficulties. Add in a few well-healed foreign firms or, worse, a couple of previously unknown competitors from outside the business. Since the industry leaders are probably family-run businesses with limited succession strategies, the next step to protect profit and continue growth is clear: consolidate.”

A consolidation or rollup, as it’s frequently called, generally occurs when an organization or individual with deep pockets sets out to buy several small companies in a fragmented industry and rein them in under a new or collective pennant. Does this sound familiar? A while back the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors reported that 42 of the 54 industries they studied had been significantly affected by consolidation. Frequently a professional management and buying strength create economies of scale that allows the consolidator to pluck the low hanging fruit in the industry. Distributors profit form significant investment in systems to eliminate the duplication of effort and inefficiencies that exist within the industry being consolidated.

If your organization is sick and bleeding, this plan will not deliver the quick results you most likely desire. As I stated, this is not a quick fix. If you lead a healthy organization, your best strategy to remain profitable and independent is Total Organizational Partnering. To protect against being disintermediated, stable and incremental improvement in all five pentad areas will deliver the most successful long-term results. Total Organizational Partnering will assist distributors profit in becoming a world-class distributor—one that adds value to the chain and understands logistics.

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

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 coincidently 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!

Lost Opportunity, Are You Guilty? (1038 words)

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!

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

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)

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 anegative.

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!

Retailers, Show Your Customers Just How Much You Value Them—25 Ways To Do It

It was October 6, 1727 that Alexander Pope wrote in a letter to John Gray, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Does this resonate for you, with truth and reality, as to the expectations of today’s consumers? Unfortunately, it does. But today, consumers have more choice than ever before in the history of civilization as to where and how they will acquire what they want. Big boxes, walk-in specialty stores, drive-up stores and in-home purchasing—television shopping networks, mail order and internet-based electronic ordering.

Respect

For today’s specialty brick and mortar retailer, one that desires to compete with the national big boxes, the most important activity is delivering value to their customers. One of the important ways to do this is by subscribing to the philosophy: Our customer’s have earned the right to our respect simply by walking through our door!

This simple rule can mean the difference between mere existence and a success enterprise. If you personally have an emotional ownership in this simple belief, and show it in word and deed, your staff will have it too. Then, you can watch your sales increase year after year. Sure, there is more to running a successful business than that. But, with all things being equal, the merchant that follows this rule will do exceedingly better than the one that does not.

Deliver Value

The following is an example of how not to deliver value—one that you have most likely experienced yourself. You go out for a nice meal and your expectation is that of service and elegance. Do you want some smart-ass server delivering poor service, or even worse, trying to make you look bad in front of your dining partner? Of course you wouldn’t. So why in the world would you allow the same kind of situation to occur in your store, or any business for that matter?

When your customers feel really good about visiting your store they will come back repeatedly and urge that their friends do the same. This is because they believe they received the value they expected when they shopped your store. Does this sound like dollars in the register? It sure does.

In order to deliver on a greater number of your customers’ expectations consider incorporating as many of the below listed ideas into your daily offering as possible. Then, watch good things happen.

  1. Greet each customer within 30 seconds from the time they enter your store. No matter how busy or short-handed you are.
  2. Show respect by using your customer’s name. If appropriate, use their first name. If this is not appropriate or possible, then refer to them formally (Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc.). While it may sound simple, watch their facial expressions when you do this.
  3. Keep your store bright and well lighted. This gives a better feeling.
  4. Keep your store clean and orderly—make it easy for them to find reasons to give you their money.
  5. Have a water dispenser and disposable glasses.
  6. Keep freshly brewed coffee and hot water for tea available for your customers during business hours.
  7. Have donuts or cookies available in the morning for your customers. My drycleaner always has donut holes and coffee for me (and everyone else) in the morning; it’s a nice touch.
  8. Music, not acid rock or elevator music, but something in the middle, or jazz will sooth your customers’ tensions. Relaxed people buy more.
  9. Have a “new arrival” section so your customers will know what is new and it will also create interest in the new stuff.
  10. Smile, but please do not offer the slick “used car salesman” smiles, but rather the warm, sincere and friendly kind.
  11. Do things free, like the idea behind the baker’s dozen. Offer an “off the wall” service your customers value but would not generally expect your kind of store.
  12. Say, “Thank You” as often as you can.
  13. Regularly give your customers the opportunity to complete customer satisfaction surveys. Also, consider product mix/offer satisfaction surveys. (Share this information with your suppliers and ask them to consider new offerings.)
  14. Do weekly customer drawings for free stuff your manufacturers and their salespeople give you. Do you really need another coffee mug, hat or T‑shirt?
  15. Offer valet parking, hire a high school age person to be your valet, they could use the job and your customers will feel very special.
  16. Hire people to work in your store that exhibit a “can do” attitude.
  17. Select and train your help well. Generally, attractive, neat and friendly workers that have good product knowledge make customers feel special.
  18. The Value Equation: Good quality stuff, at fair prices and offered with exceptional service.
  19. Be in stock. Most people hate it when you do not have what they want—and tend to go elsewhere—giving your competition the opportunity to edge you out as the merchant of choice in the mind of that customer. Have what they need, when they need it and they’ll love you for it. (Surveys also help.)
  20. Efficiency is important. Be sure your systems are not counter-productive to allowing your customers to make their purchases in a timely manner. Customers get angered very quickly when they have to needlessly stand in line. This is especially true when there is a long check out line and “other” employees are just standing around and doing things other than serving customers.
  21. A logical store layout that allows your customers to more easily find things always makes them feel better about your store.
  22. Make your store “user friendly” in every possible sense. Consider store operating hours, layout, policies, etc.
  23. Entertainment is always a winner. Frequently, sporting goods retailers will have sports videos showing on a large screen monitor. Even many of the United States Postal Service offices have gotten into the act with television monitors visible while customers are waiting in line. Some of their programming is even interesting. What can you offer your customers in the way of entertainment?
  24. The smell of a fresh bakery is always inviting, just ask Mrs. Fields. Bake chocolate chip cookies, or something else that smells wonderful, in the store. Perhaps try using a small portable convection oven as they work quite well for this purpose.
  25. Reward customer loyalty. Introductory offers stink. They indicate to loyal customers that they do not matter to you any more. Do good things for loyal customers. Remember, you do not own them. Any time they want, they can shop somewhere else.

If you can, stretch your brain muscles daily by asking yourself, “What else can I do to make my customers feel really good about frequenting your store?” Also ask, “What else can I do to set apart my store from the Nationals?” Put your answers into action and watch your business prosper.