Customer Service – FAIL!

Yep, it’s time to talk about Customer Service.


How do people selling merchandise behind a counter expect people to come back when they can’t be bothered to offer just basic courtesy and manners?

Yes, this post is going to be a rant.  My next post will highlight a company/restaurant who has managed to empower their employees to provide an exceptional experience for their patrons, so if that’s what you’re looking for…it will post in a day or two.

Today, I just have to get this off my chest. We’ve all had retail experience, whether we’re behind the counter or we are a customer in a store wanting to buy something.

This past weekend we were shopping at a camera supply store. Most of their clientele are professional photographers/photography geeks. I get that. And yet, some of their merchandise includes a few basic “point and shoot” cameras. Not what a professional would use, but still good name cameras. I believe this one was a Nikon. The woman asked the man behind the counter a few questions and his disdain for her as a customer was absolutely palpable. He barely answered her questions, could hardly wait to get the camera out of her hands so he could call the next number (yes, we all had to take numbers in this place) and help someone who might provide him with a better commission.

How do I know he works on commission?

He actually had the nerve to say to the departing woman, “If you decide to come back and buy that camera, I would appreciate you mentioning my name. We work on commission, you know.”

My jaw dropped.

I thought there was a rule book somewhere that specifically addressed this kind of statement. Why should your customer care if you work on commission?

YOU, the clerk, need to provide the very best shopping experience for every single customer if you want to get a good commission. And not everyone will buy. That’s the name of the game. But you don’t know who that customer might be related to. They might be friends with a really famous photographer who sent them to your store hoping you’d treat his friends well. But you didn’t!

Now what? You most certainly lost that immediate sale, but you could lose even more future sales by that kind of behavior.

Before you determine that I’m being too critical, let me continue because my story isn’t done.

He called the next number…the very one I was holding in my hand.

Yep, we were his next customer.

And he saw that we were buying professional equipment for photo shoots and his demeanor changed immediately. He was Mr. Smiles and Helpfulness. He found us a better backdrop rigging system than we were going to buy originally and took time to chat us up, finding out what we like to do with the equipment.

Our experience with this man and that of the poor woman in front of us was as different as night and day.

And there is NO EXCUSE for that!

Yes, we bought the equipment, because we needed it right away.  If we didn’t, I think we would have gone elsewhere, or come back when he wasn’t working and give someone else that commission.

Folks, don’t be that obvious. You don’t have to love all your customers, but if you intend to stay in biz, make sure everyone is treated as a guest, with courtesy and a gracious attitude.  You can grumble about things at home over dinner with your family. Do NOT take it out on customers on the floor.


Should You Write a Newsletter for Your Business? Part I

I started using a newsletter in our business about eight years ago.  Initially, it was just a bit of a lark, it seemed like a fun thing to do to stay in touch with our clients and customers.  I had been looking through a newsletter that came as a result of my daughter’s involvement in the local symphony.  It was a fun read, some great articles, and I sensed that it was accomplishing something that we were lacking in our business.

It was a way to develop community.

If you have a business where you have a lot of clients and customers who come in, but not always in a really regular basis, using a newsletter can help to accomplish two things:

  1. It will keep you at the “top of their mind”.
  2. It will make you appear friendlier and more approachable.

Here is an example of a four-page newsletter we created a couple of years ago…because this was for our gift shop, we chose a style that was in keeping with our image:

This is the front page of the newsletter:

    • As you can see, it has a title,
    • The name of the business,
    • A table of contents,
    • A letter from the owner,
    • and a picture.
People LOVE to know who they’re doing business with.

Most businesses think they are in business to sell things.

Actually, you’re really in the relationship business!

Because our demographics for this business include 95% female, we always include a fun, original recipe for them to try out at home.

Sometimes we would incorporate something we sold at the shop, but most of the time, we did absolutely, positively  NO ADVERTISING on the FRONT PAGE!!!

This is really important. I can already hear some of you saying, “WOW! A 4-page newsletter, can you imagine all the ads I can put in that thing????!!!!”

Hold on. A newsletter is to be of service to your clients.  This means you have to give them something meaningful, something they can use in their lives.  You want them to say, “This is really great!  I NEEDED to know that right now!”

What business are you in?

Do you think you can’t use a newsletter to help your clients and customers be better informed?

I write newsletters for a LOT of businesses, and there isn’t a single one who hasn’t benefited from writing a helpful newsletter.  Why? Because it made their clients and customers feel like they were special.

Once we started our newsletter, people would come into the shop and rave about the newsletter.  They said it made them feel so special and they loved the articles and recipes, and timely/helpful tips and hints that we always tried to include.

The next post will show you the inside of this four page newsletter, providing more examples of the type of things you may wish to include in your newsletter.

Until then…think about your clientele.  What do they want from you?  How can you help them best?  Is your competitor doing anything that you’re not? How can you change that? What do you wish all your clients knew?

Writing a Newsletter for Your Business

Did you know that for every month you are NOT in contact with your clients and customers, you lose about 10% of the value of your relationship with them?

How often are you in touch with your clients and customers?

A monthly newsletter is an ideal way to stay in touch with clients and customers, it is inexpensive, and really is not that hard to do.

Remember, it is much more cost-effective to do whatever it takes to keep your current clients and customers than it is to try to woo new ones.  Your current clientele is like gold! Even if they only buy a one-time item from you, don’t forget that they are excellent sources of diversified marketing strategies or for referrals.  Referrals are not to be discounted.  Without referrals, your business influence is severely limited.

A newsletter should consist of five major components:

  1. A personal touch from you, the owner of the business.  Some people write a quick note to their readers.  Others place editorial comments throughout the newsletter with their name after the comment.
  2. Educate your clients and customers. This is a great place to let people know how best to use your products and services.  You might even consider highlighting other clients and customers and how they are using your goods and services.  While you can’t be everything to everyone, you can certainly let them know what you do well!
  3. Inspirational articles that give people something to think about and feel good about themselves.  The better people feel after reading your newsletter, the better the impression they will have of you and your business.  Remember, you want them to associate a “feel great” mentality to you! You might include inspirational quotations, or articles about ways to improve their performance, health, or attitude.
  4. Testimonials that reinforce the idea that you are the best person to be doing business with. This is a huge point.  People like to be part of the “in crowd”, and testimonials further cement the idea that doing business with you is the right thing to do.
  5. Use your newsletter as a direct response opportunity.  While your newsletter should not be filled with ads and information about you and your company, you should not be shy about asking for referrals, providing special offers to people who refer other customers to you is just good business.  Go into partnership with another small business.  Combine your efforts.  Is there a restaurant nearby?  Can you purchase discounted gift certificates from them, and give them to customers who refer paying customers to you? Get creative.  Unite with other small businesses and make it worthwhile for clients and customers to do business with all of you.

Start off with a page or two…the important thing is to just get started today! You can pretty things up later, consider it to be a “work in progress”.  The next several postings will cover newsletter creation ideas in a lot more detail.

Stay Tuned!

Shopkeepers are Friendly!!!

I followed my own advice last night.  My husband and I decided to do some Christmas shopping in the old town Glendale shopping district, specifically Catlin Court Historic District.  Our first stop was at Cameo Candles, Bath & Gifts run by Bernie and Cindie Boyle.  Their young son greeted us as we entered the shop and asked us if we had ever been there before.  We told him that it was our first visit, and he promptly told us that all their candles are soy candles made on the premises by his dad (who you can see working in the back room if you’re lucky).  His mom makes all the bath products and holiday decorations that are available.  We were encouraged to visit each room of their little shop, which we did.

Isn’t it fantastic to meet the person who has actually created the things that you purchased?  What a wonderful feeling to know that you’re contributing to the upbringing of Bernie and Cindie’s young son?  I do regret not getting his name, but I will the next time I visit.

Our next visit was to Bears and More, which has so many adorable gifts for young children, as well as a few unusual things for adults.  My husband managed to find a needle felting kit for me ( I know, I’m not supposed to know what I’m getting for Christmas, but needle felting is something I’ve never done and I was encouraged into it by one of the owners, Valerie, who was as sweet and welcoming as she could possibly be).

I mentioned that I wanted to bring attention to the fact that more people need to think about shopping local and she laughed and said, “What do you need? I’ll tell you where you can get it!”

The point is that before we decide to just run to one of the big box stores, just because they’re convenient or a little less expensive, we should look to see if we can meet our needs locally.  The point is to keep more of our money inside our own local communities.

Our last stop in Catlin Court was at The Open Door and The Open Door “Too” where we met Daphne and Russ.  I mistook them for a married couple because Daphne was telling Russ where to display his items.  My mistake!  They’re actually very good friends and laughed at my assumption.  Another wonderful experience talking to shopkeepers, and people who either make the items that are for sale, or are responsible for placing them in the store.  I have been looking for an indoor fountain to help me sleep at night.  At The Open Door, I found beautiful copper fountains, each one a work of art, reasonably priced, and something that I would never find at a big box store.

The Navajo artwork was stunning.  Each piece is numbered and guaranteed to be authentic.  None of these items have the words “made in China” on them. Instead, they are made by hand, one at a time, and a tribute to the history of this part of the country.  Without these types of items, we would lose track of our heritage.

Do we want to be an identical twin of our neighbor?  I certainly don’t. I want to be an individual, and as such, I want to purchase some of the things that speak only to me.  I don’t want to be told what to buy. That is, in essence, what happens when a computer does the inventory ordering for a big box store.

In a small store, you find things that are created in a very limited number. Original works of art go for a great deal of money because there is only one of them.  Limited editions are still collectible because they are limited.  When you make 100,000 of an item with pending orders for even more, it becomes common, and not as desirable.  It makes it inexpensive…but that’s about it.

Please try to find a local business to support, and do it often.  Without recognizing that we’re bleeding our country dry we will die a slow death.  If we stop the flood of money out of our communities and pledge to keep more here, we will turn things around and make a difference.

Social Media as Advertising for Small Business

The times…they are a-changing!

It used to be that you had to market to your customers on a regular basis, reaching out to them at regular intervals with more and more messages about how and why they should do business with you.

Let me tell you my friends, things are changing!

With the advent of social media, and by that I mean…

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Blogging – WordPress, Blogger, etc.
  • LinkedIn
  • and many, many more…

…customer behavior and expectations are changing, moving from the “old way” to the new way.

When people look to shop for something these days, they don’t open a catalog, or yellow pages the way they used to.  Now, they ask their friends for advice (not so different, right?) but they do it through social media now.  They aren’t just asking their coworker or next door neighbor…they are using Twitter and Facebook to ask, “What do you think?”

And this is powerful!

If you aren’t a presence on the internet, you are MISSING OUT ON A LOT OF MONEY!

A young woman wanted a camera to take on vacation and so she asked for advice from her friends on Twitter.  A CMO (chief marketing officer) for Kodak was on Twitter, monitoring for this type of query.  He reached out to her and suggested one of Kodak’s least expensive cameras that might be a solution for her situation.

This is a 6+ billion dollar company!  And they are on Twitter, chatting with their customers about the pros and cons of an inexpensive camera.  How incredibly powerful is that?  It used to be that to get in touch with the executive of a huge corporation, you really had to have connections.  Today, if you want to stay in the running for business, you need to be using social media.

A recent article caught my attention about a local Phoenix restaurant, Z-Tejas.  One of their customers was really unhappy with a recent visit to their restaurant and tweeted about it.  Instantly, one of the owners of Z-Tejas contacted their unhappy customer and sorted out the matter.  Had they not been monitoring Twitter, they would have NEVER known how unhappy this person was, and that they were tweeting about it to anyone on their list.  I’m not as active on Twitter as a lot of other people, but my list is over 400 people.

Would you like 400 people to read about a bad experience?  Or would it be better to have 400+ people see that you appreciated how much of a problem this was for one of your guests, and you actually took steps to fix the problem? Believe me…negative advertising can cost you a LOT of money.

By monitoring Twitter, being attentive, and alert to a problem Z-Tejas was able to reach out to this unhappy customer and fix the situation.  This kind of advertising is worth its weight in gold!

Today, people Google everything. According to the February 2010 study from blog, 3 out of 5 customers all use search engines when shopping for something, and that includes when they are shopping locally.  They want to know who has what they’re looking for. Not using social media can be killing your business.

Everyone who knows me understands how important shopping locally is to me.  If you don’t let your local customers know about you, how interested you are in them, their concerns, and how you might be able to help, they will find someone else to solve their problems.

And, very often, that is money you won’t be collecting, and if it isn’t local, the entire community suffers.

To that end, I can be found on Twitter as @KathleenBirming and @SmallBizBits.  I can also be found here on Facebook as Kathleen Birmingham.  And if you want to stay up on my Small Biz Bits, please “like” my page here.

Local Biz Needs a Lift

A new report just out indicates that as a single state, Arizona has lost over 250K jobs since June 2006…but the Housing Market finally looks as though it is going to improve. (We are all holding our breath on this one…)

The news is pretty similar to everyone around the country, local biz, large and small, is suffering.

As I go out and interview small biz owners in the community here, many of them are really working to keep their people employed, but admit that it is hard to provide all the hours that their employees want or need.

Remember to shop locally.  Even when you can spend a little bit less because you don’t have to pay sales tax, those dollars spent locally can mean the difference between someone keeping or losing their job.

I’ve even managed to change the thinking of immediate family members, by talking up the “shop local” idea.  Most folks don’t understand just how difficult it is to keep our economy going, especially when we’re all trying to stretch our hard earned dollars by shopping for bargains. Some of the bargains are found in the big box stores, and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to pay a large percentage more.

Next time, try this, go to a local store owner and tell them your dilemma.  You want to shop locally, but their price for a specific item is just too high.  See if the good old “let’s make a deal” method can give you a better price than you would have gotten, and your local shop owner made a sale.

Remember, it’s our local economy we need to worry about, so keeping our money local is critical!

Persuasian – Your Customer Buys the WHOLE Package!

Sometimes we have to get back to basics.

What does your client or customer expect when they meet you to do business?  They expect someone who is an expert in their field, someone who can answer questions, has a skill set that they don’t have, and has the confidence to carry out any directives.

Recently I heard about an extreme example about first impressions, and while it might have a place in the opening pages of a novel, it has no place in a business setting.  Let’s say your first introduction to a person is meeting them while they are covered with mud, wearing boots, jeans, Stetson, etc.  All the clothing is top quality, but it is rumpled, messed, and dirty.  You’ve just met your new doctor.

What’s your impression?

Do you have confidence in this person?  Do you believe that they have the necessary skills to help you? They could be the most skilled surgeon in a five state area, but your initial impression leaves you doubting their abilities.

A very extreme example, to be sure, but don’t you see how hard it would be to take this individual seriously as a neurosurgeon?  It doesn’t matter that he may also be a rancher.  His/her first impression leaves a lot to be desired, and no matter how skilled he is, it will be an uphill battle to get you to believe it.

Wouldn’t it?

If you have ever read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, you will understand why people can sum you up in less than a second.  If you are anything less than genuine in your business dealings, they will know it.  They won’t know why they don’t trust you, but we all go with our gut feeling.

The question remains, are you doing everything you possibly can to make a good impression? I know it almost seems impertinent to point out that you need to be well dressed and well groomed, but we all tend to forget to really look at ourselves in the mirror when we get ready in the morning.  We put on the same clothes we’ve always put on (hint: this is an indicator your wardrobe needs updating).

We might style or comb our hair the way we have for years, (and it’s always worked for us, right?)

Shoes…briefcase…even your car gives an impression about you.

Is it the one you want to portray?

If not, then it’s time to make a change. If you’re not sure, pretend that you’re going to meet the President of the United States, or the Queen of England.  Would you spruce anything up?  If so, why are your customers any less important? You’re probably not going to be doing business with the President, or with the Queen, but to treat your customers with any lesser courtesy is to do both you and them a disservice.

Let’s start with you. When was the last time you had a hairstyle change? Bought a few new articles of clothing? Look at  your hands…are your nails well groomed?

Even though most people don’t look directly at everything, they will “thin-slice” you, and make a determination about you based on what they see. Make sure it is the professional look you intend for them to see. I recently talked with a woman who was worried about her husband…he had been removed from his position as a leader of a team and moved into the position as leader of another team that was perceived as less important and not really in production yet.  In order to help his self-esteem, she insisted that he get new clothes, focusing on dominant and powerful impressions.  He decided to grow a beard, and when she saw a lot of gray hair in it, she helped him to dye it strategically to present a youthful appearance, yet with the “grey-back” signature of experience on it.

Guess what happened!

The move that was to put him on the sidelines instead catapulted him to the top of his game.  The new people he was dealing with saw a confident, well-dressed, well-groomed man who had the presence, skills, and knowledge they were hoping for.  They were afraid their program was a step-child, and instead when this man appeared, they believed that they had been given a true leader.

What would have happened if this man had gone into this new position as a lackluster shadow of himself? If he’d worn his tired old clothes, once very nice, but certainly worn, grey hair, and a lack of confidence? Certainly not what is happening to him today!  The program, once thought of as the step-child by the entire corporation has taken on a life of its own. The team is coming alive with renewed vigor and inspiration.  What everyone had written off as a lost cause is now the “new and improved version of the company”.

Don’t EVER neglect to notice what your first impression is with your business. It can make or break you.  If you have to save one or two sets of good clothes for when you meet clients, then do so!  Get your hair styled and/or colored.  If you wear facial hair, is it well groomed and in the most becoming fashion?

When you are in the business of persuasion (i.e. selling), your clients and customers are buying the entire package…

…and that includes you!

Are Your Ads Working?

Let’s face it, advertising is a necessary evil of being in business…but are these ads really doing the trick?

They might not be…here’s a quick way to evaluate your ads to see if you are setting yourself apart from your competition, or merely falling into line with everyone else, giving all potential clients and customers heartburn when it comes to making a choice. Let’s be really, really honest here…if you were to take your competitor’s ad, remove their name and/or logo and replace it with yours, would your ad look pretty much the same?


ABC Sales

Come in and check out our special rates

We have flexible financing, friendly sales personnel, and are open weekends.


Are you surprised to find that you’re pretty generic…you both are making the same claims? Many people are.  They really, truly believe that they’re different from their competition, but they’ve really given their clients and customers no way of discovering that for themselves.

If you haven’t managed to set yourself apart with your advertising words, why would anyone choose you over your competitor?  Think about it, if your prospect can’t find anything to distinguish you, a way to tell you apart, the only criteria they will use at that point is who has the lowest price, or who answers the phone first.

Are you willing to let your business be subjected to such flights of fancy, or just dumb luck?  I hope not, because if you do, you’re traveling on a dead end trail. You’ll never reach the level of success you probably deserve.

Remember, people want to know about the product of service you offer.  They don’t want to know how great you are initially, they want to know if you can deliver.

If you have the product or service they need, then when they come in to your business you will be able to persuade them to believe in what you say about your quality of service, superiority, pleasure of business experience.

Not before!

Figure out what your clients want and need,

answer that in your ad,

and then make sure you deliver it.

How Do You Know You’re Playing for Keeps?

Whether we’re talking business or life in general, are you playing all out, giving everything you’ve got, or are you holding back, conserving resources for that “someday” idea you have at the back of your mind?

If you’re holding back, what’s return? When will you use your resources, whether they are cash, time, energy, knowledge, or ideas? Seriously, if not now, when?

As T.S. Eliot says:

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

I used to hold back, thinking, “I’ll just wait until the time is right to make a change.” And folks, YEARS went by before I realized that I might spend the rest of my life just waiting. I had a life-changing experience, experienced the loss of several people close to me, and a very close call with my husband.  I realized that I might not have tomorrow, or the next day, or the next.

All I have in this moment…in this life…is right now.

If I am going to make a change, make a difference, I MUST begin now. There is no time like the present, cliche, I know, but so true.  Live in the present. Stop regretting what you haven’t done in the past.  Stop worrying about you might have to do tomorrow. Focus on what you’re doing right this minute, and spend every ounce of your energy, strength, time, and ideas on what you’re doing right now.

If it’s NOT what you want to be doing, then I guess it’s time to make a change, isn’t it?

Start today.  Do something, ANYTHING!  Even if you only do one single, tiny thing, at least that is one step in the right direction. And, it’s usually not enough to alarm you!

What’s the smallest thing you can do today to prepare for your greatness tomorrow?

What can you do today that will make a difference in your business tomorrow? Are you still conserving resources? Or are you ready to play for keeps?

Matt’s Big Breakfast – Phoenix, Arizona

Matt’s Big Breakfast – One of the most amazing breakfasts I’ve ever eaten!

Recently I was on a phone call with a client back in New York, and he asked if I had ever eaten at Matt’s Big Breakfast.  Not only had I not eaten there, I’d never even heard of it.

This meant that a field trip was in order, and yesterday we waited 45 minutes in the hot Phoenix sun (actually, we were lucky enough to sit on a shaded bench) for our chance to sit down for breakfast inside this tiny little restaurant.

Yes, when I see a line, I shudder…”maybe not today”, but I thought, “If not today, then when?” and I had no answer for that. So, we waited, and met some interesting people, some of whom had never eaten at Matt’s Big Breakfast, and others who eat at Matt’s at least once a week. That was enough for me.  I wasn’t leaving until I tried it.

And it was amazing.

How do I define amazing? The food was fresh, the whole wheat toast was thickly sliced, lightly toasted and served with home-made raspberry preserves.  We ordered the two most expensive meals on the menu and our bill was slightly over $20.

The coffee (roasted in Cave Creek) was hot, strong, and not bitter. The meats were grilled perfectly, eggs cooked to perfection, hash browns were freshly shredded (no frozen stuff here), the home fries (Yukon Gold potatoes) mingled with grilled onions and rosemary made me want to weep. They use only cage-free eggs, grain-fed pork and beef, and local organic produce whenever possible.

This is not your typical “eat out” breakfast.  This was an experience!

We met Erenia, Matt’s wife, who told us they have been in biz for seven years, of which the first three she kept her corporate job, but after that she had to jump in and join the fun.  The restaurant supports about 20 families (this is the point of shopping and eating locally folks!) a fact she was very proud to share.

“Call me Ernie, or Mama,” she invited.  As busy as they were, Erenia took the time to chat with us, tell us about the organic produce they were using, how the bread is bought fresh daily, and if they run out before they close for the day how her customers get upset.  What a problem to have!

Shop Local! Eat Local!

This is how we support our community, by supporting businesses who make a significant contribution the way Matt’s BIG Breakfast has done.