Wednesday
Apr242013

Your Five Senses…..Don’t Ignore Them at Your Store

I walked into a C-store the other day where the clerk behind the counter was smoking a cigarette.  I was immediately assaulted by the smoke when I walked in.  This is not what I was expecting when going in to purchase a bottle of water and a snack, so as you can imagine, I was surprised and taken aback by what I was smelling.  Now, for me, I do not tolerate smoke very well since I am allergic.  It was very difficult for me to handle the smoke and I was having trouble breathing.  All I could think of was getting out as quickly as I possibly could.  That store lost my business because I couldn’t even stay inside long enough to select the items I wanted to purchase.  This experience made a bad impression and I will not be going back there again! 

When we are in pre-school, we learn that there are five key Senses – Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Taste.  All of these senses can be manipulated to entice your customers and make them feel welcome in your store, OR – if their experience is not good, make them not want to come back. 

When your customers walk into your store what do they -  See? - Smell? - Hear? - Touch? - Taste?

You want them to see a well laid out store that is neat and organized so they can easily find what they are looking for.  Evaluate the smells in your store; are they pleasing?  Is the store clean? A clean store will appeal to the senses of sight, smell AND touch.  All areas where your customers interact, like your fountain area, cooler handles, check-out area, etc., should be clean so when customers “touch” something, they are not sticky or dirty.  Do you have music playing or some kind of sound that is not distracting to your customers while they are shopping?  What about taste?  Do you offer treats and other goodies that the customer will enjoy?

I encourage you to take a look at your customers’ experience inside your store from a new perspective.  The next time you enter your store, allow yourself to evaluate how each of your own five senses are being affected by what is going on around you.  Are you taking advantage of all five senses to keep your customers coming back again and again?  Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to further appeal to them!

Wednesday
Apr242013

Thanks, Dale, for Making Me a More Effective (and Genuine) Professional!

9 Tips to Help YOU Become More Effective, Too.

Dale Carnegie was a smart, smart man.  Of course, I didn’t know that until I was encouraged to take a special eight-week course promoting the principles he established to help people become stronger, more confident leaders. 

Mr. Carnegie (1888-1955) was a Midwestern traveling salesman who tried his luck in acting (didn’t work out) and then taught communication classes, which later became known as the world-famous Dale Carnegie Course™.  To date, more than eight million graduates have used his course to further develop their interpersonal and professional skills.  He was also the author of two international best sellers, How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. 

What can we learn from this man who hasn’t been around for almost sixty years?  Is what he taught others just as relevant today as when he was pounding the streets trying to make a buck?  Absolutely!  In fact, in today’s business world, which is even more complicated and distracting, his fundamental principles are needed more than ever.  These simple tactics from days gone by might be just what you are looking for.

So, let’s start with some of Dale’s key concepts (based upon the “Golden Rule”) for making yourself a more friendly, effective and genuine person—so you can have more influence over what others (i.e., your friends, employees, prospects, customers) are thinking.  What tactics could you try today?

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain – Negativity is your worst enemy.  Sure, you might be able to find a couple of others who share your opinions (fellow nay-sayer’s, anyone?), but being above all that certainly shines more.  With social media and other methods of instant communication, negativity can spread like wildfire in the form of a forwarded email, a re-tweet, a share, etc., which can tarnish your image.  Take the high road instead. 

  2. Give honest, sincere appreciation Let’s face it, people like to hear that they are appreciated, and they like positive reinforcement.  Instead of saying nothing, or just saying, “Thanks” or “Good job”, try being a bit more specific with your praise.  Point out how their efforts have helped you.  No need to go overboard; just be honest. 

  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want – If you truly want people to work with you, give them a real reason to want to do it.  Focusing on the benefits of your proposal will pay off faster than promoting a self-serving agenda.

  4. Become genuinely interested in other people – In today’s fast-paced world, people tend to be more concerned with technology, overbooked schedules and what’s in it for them.  Making small talk and getting to know your prospects/customers can help you become a solution provider, friend, confidant, or partner.  There are many different personality types out there, and to some, showing interest and concern is the icing on the cake when it comes to making a decision.

  5. Smile Whether in person—or even over the phone—a smile conveys interest and appreciation.  And, a smile is truly contagious with those around you.  Try it!

  6. A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any languageI’ve mentioned in other blog posts how using your customers’ names can make all the difference in creating a bond of loyalty (How well do you really know your customers?).  

  7. Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves – Only by listening to others, without interruption, can we really learn what is important to them.  When we know that, we are able to better address their concerns and solve their problems.

  8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests – This one can be a little tricky, but think of it as identifying the key things (benefits) that matter to the other person with regard to the deal.  What is important to this person, and how can helping him obtain it affect the situation? You can only learn this by being a good listener and getting to know and understand the other person.

  9. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely – Rarely is a successful project the work of just one individual; it usually includes the knowledge, skills and effort of many people.  Therefore, everyone should feel like their personal contributions were a valuable part of the process and that they were important to the end result.

What surprised me the most when I took this class is that Mr. Carnegie’s concepts are so simple.  I literally slapped myself on the head and said, “Duh, that makes sense!  Why aren’t I doing THAT?” 

The truth is that, while these concepts seem so easy, it is much easier to stick with an approach that is most comfortable to you.  It takes discipline to purposely follow these principles on a daily basis.  I, too, am guilty—and I took the class!  Start with one or two changes and build on your success.

Therefore, I am going to use this blog post as inspiration to brush up on my skills and begin working these principles back into my daily routine.  I encourage you to try it yourself or check into the course—it’s certainly never too late to become a more effective and genuine professional!

Tuesday
Feb122013

A Problem Isn’t Going to Fix Itself

On New Year’s Eve, I visited a convenience store and noticed a nasty note scrawled on the prepay sticker of the gas pump.  Imagine my surprise when, a month and a half later, I returned to discover that the original note was still there—and a new one had been scrawled on the transaction screen window next to it! 

At that time, I was outraged that someone would deface private property to publicly berate a store for a transgression.  Yet, I was secretly delighted that a real-life scenario had presented itself regarding the importance of brand perception and what NOT to do when a problem arises at your place of business. 

Imagine how many hundreds, or even thousands, of customers saw these notes during this time period.  What impression did they leave in the minds of customers? 

Here are some conclusions I came up with in my own mind:

  • A consistent problem was obviously driving at least one customer nuts, and the store wasn’t taking proper measures to do something to fix it.
  • The store’s personnel don’t make enough trips out to the pumps to properly maintain them.  After all, the sticker with the offending message could easily be replaced.  It’s also not too difficult to check whether the paper supply is getting low on a regular basis—and replace it if it is.
  • This store doesn’t care what its customers think about them.
  • This store doesn’t understand how customer perception can affect their business. 

It’s certainly not a stretch to imagine that their customers also had some of the same ideas! 

If you operate a consumer-facing business (c-store or not), I encourage you to always fix problems when they occur, because they’re not going to fix themselves.  Ignoring them may lead to additional problems that could affect how customers perceive your brand.  And that perception could ultimately affect your sales.  Hopefully you won’t encounter an unruly customer who defaces your property to file a complaint, but if it does happen to you, you know what to do. 

I am curious to visit this store again after another period of time to see if anything has yet been done.  Somehow, I have my doubts.  After all, this location inspired another one of my posts (A Stinky Inconvenience) a couple of years ago—and it has still been hit or miss on whether their hand sanitizer dispensers have product in them.  

I’ll keep you posted on what I find! 

 

Tuesday
Jan292013

Stop, Listen, THEN Respond


Ok, so anybody can have a bad day, right?  I’m sure you may have encountered someone who’s been rude to you for some reason or another.  But, just because they’re directing their anger at you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about YOU.  This might seem like a strange statement, but when you are in the customer service business, it’s of the utmost importance.  We are always reaching above and beyond expectations when serving our customers’ wants and needs, and that includes not taking things personally.  

I am sure you’ve engaged with a customer who was difficult to deal with at one time or another.  They had some kind of complaint they wanted addressed immediately, and they directed their frustration or anger at you.  You were probably inclined to think they were mad at you, but they weren’t.   They were only expressing feelings that had nothing to do with you—and since you were the one “in front of them,” you had to bear the brunt of their frustration.  No matter the reason, it’s your job, as a customer service professional, to be as polite, generous and understanding as humanly possible.  

If you’re in this situation again, it might help to keep these three steps in mind:

  •  STOP
  • LISTEN
  • THEN RESPOND 

STOP - If you’re being approached in a way that seems unkind or rude, just STOP…if you wait before responding you have time to gather your thoughts and will avoid a “knee jerk” reaction.  Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the customer.  Try to put yourself in their shoes and be compassionate of their feelings.  Keep a cool head and try to determine what the customer really wants or needs.  If you can truly determine and satisfy their needs, you’ve done your job—it’s a win-win.  If you allow yourself to get angry or engage in an argument—it’s a lose-lose. 

LISTEN - If we allow ourselves to actually listen to what the customer is saying, we might be surprised to find out that they have a legitimate reason to be upset.  Listening gives them the opportunity to express their concerns without judgment from you.  Be sure to make eye contact and truly listen; if you’re too busy thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’ll miss important information that could help.  If your customer feels like they’ve been heard, they will likely become much more reasonable to deal with.  In some cases, the customer might realize there isn’t a solution, but knowing that you’ve listened and care about their problem might be enough to satisfy them. 

RESPOND - Waiting is hard to do, but it gives you a chance to think about your response and allows you to calm down, too, if necessary.  You’ll also have more information in front of you to formulate a knowledgeable response.  Your response should not only include whatever rules or policy that might apply, but also address the customer’s specific concerns.  If you skipped your first two steps, you won’t have all the information.  We can say all day long, “The policy says…”, but remember, that’s not what the customer wants to hear.  They want to know you’ve heard their side of the story, that you care and don’t consider them just “another number or sale”.  Does that mean you have to change your policy?  Of course not, unless it’s warranted.  It just means that you’ve heard them out – even when you stick to the policy. 

Now that you stopped and thought about the situation before reacting, and listened to what the customer had to say, you’re able to respond in a more helpful, appropriate way because you had more information in front of you.  Remember, information is knowledge and knowledge is power.  The more intelligent we are, the better we can respond with solutions and show our customers we care and understand their needs. 

Our customers, happy or not, are still our customers, and it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to provide them with the most excellent customer service possible.  Doing so makes them more likely to want to continue doing business with us.  By following these steps and providing customers with a better customer experience, we are doing our part to help create more loyal customers.

Wednesday
Jan162013

Mystery Shopping Your Competitor’s Business Isn’t Enough. “Stalk” Them Online, Too!

Any business owner knows that one of the golden mantras of success is to:  Know Your Competition. 

The most obvious method of doing this is by visiting their store and observing how they price their merchandise, how their employees look and treat customers, what they have to offer, etc.—and then comparing that with what you offer at your own place of business.  Where do you succeed, or fail, in comparison?  What can you improve upon—or begin doing—that will drive new customers your way, as well as keep your current customers coming back?  How will these efforts impact customer loyalty?

There are a lot of insights to gain from using the above method—and it’s a great start.  But, aside from shopping there yourself and observing, you’re only getting half of the story.  You need to be able to “see” their culture, learn more about how they’re promoting their brand and how they speak with their customers.  The best way to do this is to check them out online, and often, via their website and any social media networks they might belong to, and then compare them to your own.  If you do not have a presence online, this might be a good time to decide whether you might benefit from one and take appropriate action.

A note on social media:  as a business owner, you might be hesitant to “like” or “follow” a competitor, but don’t be.  Doing so allows you to see their updates more quickly than searching for their site over and over again.  You can also bet that, if you have a site of your own, they might be following you as well!

Here are some questions to ask yourself when reviewing your competition online:

Website

  • Is their website modern and up-to-date?  Does it reflect the image of their store?
  • Do they make content that changes periodically, keeping you up-to-date on changes or improvements they’ve made to their business?
  • Do they invite you to follow them via social media sites?
  • Do they feature customer or partner success stories or testimonials that support their branding message?
  • Do they support charities or participate in community outreach programs?
  • Do they make it easy to contact them with questions or for more information? 

Social Media (Facebook or Twitter)

  • Do they provide updates on a regular, consistent basis or only sporadically?
  • Do they interact with their fans?
    • Do they respond to comments, both positive and negative, or ignore them?  What is their general attitude when they do respond?  Are they helpful?
  • Does their site reflect their personality?  Does it do it even more than their website?
  • Do they post photos or videos that give fans an inside glimpse into their company’s culture?
  • Do they support charities or participate in community outreach projects?
  • Do they actively find ways to get fans talking? 

Not only can you get answers to the questions above, you can sometimes find little golden nuggets of information that YOU can use.  For example, a well-known convenience store brand recently posted a question for its fans on its Facebook page:  “What makes you loyal to us?”  Within six minutes, they had 419 responses.  Within 24 hours, there were 2,680 of them!  That’s a lot of little gems—not only for this company (learning more about their customers’ needs), but for you, too!  

For the sake of time, I took a sampling of the first 273 responses.  I created a spreadsheet and included different Attributes that might be important to a customer, such as Service, Convenience, Cleanliness, Food, Safety, Consistency, etc.  Then, I reviewed the responses and added a mark next to each attribute mentioned (note:  multiple attributes were marked, as most respondents mentioned several items).  Next, I created a percentage column and divided the grand total for each attribute by the total number of responses.  When I ranked the final results, I learned that of all the attributes, the top three factors most important to these 273 respondents were Customer Service (29.7%), Fountain (24.9%) and Cleanliness (19.8%).  Price came in at 10.6%. * 

What could you take from this information?  First, that there are more important things to customers than price alone.  Second, that you may have opportunities to meet some of these important customer needs in your own store, if you invest the time (or money) to do so—two of the top three attributes mentioned above are just the result of training, time and effort!

Knowing your competition can truly be beneficial to your businesses’ success, or failure.  Only by gathering research, both in person and online, can you better evaluate what you’re doing right, and what you might need to fix.  What do you have to lose by doing so?  Nothing!  So, start finding those ways to improve your business, increase sales—and win new customers!

 

* The results above would likely vary once all 2,680 responses were tallied; this is only an illustration of what could be done with the information.