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!

Customer Service – Ladies’ Night Out

The very best way to get some new blood into your business is to have an event.

One of those events is to host a Ladies’ Night Out.

In our case, our customer profile is 99.9% women. But, as I have interviewed other business owners around the country, I have discovered that a few of them who run businesses that are typically male oriented have found that hosting a Ladies’ Night Out or Ladies Only type of event has been very profitable.

The idea is this:

You want to make women feel like they’re special. Every human being needs to feel special and if you host a Ladies’ Night Out, you’re going to have that opportunity to reach out to your female customers and treat them differently. You want to treat them well. Give them that chance to ask some questions that maybe they wouldn’t have asked otherwise.

Especially if you’re a predominantly male centered service, say an auto parts store, or a woodworking store (not that I am discriminating against women who are in these industries) but when you look at the client base, you are going to establish that generally speaking, most of your customers are going to be male.

By hosting a Ladies’ Night Out, you’re going to cater to a portion of the population, in your case, that you don’t typically reach. BUT, speaking as a woman, I know that I feel really good when someone extends that hand of friendship and says, “I’d like to give you the opportunity to come in and ask any question you want to ask about whatever it is you want to ask.

So, this works both for male-oriented products and shops as well as those that target women specifically. Remember, we’ve tried the Guy’s Night Out and it just didn’t work for us. We are a women’s gift shop and we even tried to host a night when the men could come in and it was men only who were shopping for the women in their life…they didn’t bite. It didn’t matter that we had football/tailgate type party snacks. Unless we were turned into a sports bar, it wasn’t going to fly! We drew in just a handful of men, and even they were very uncomfortable. This is something we’re going to have to work on.

Whenever we host a Ladies’ Night Out we had so many women respond, so this tells me that women really enjoy an invitation to something special and if you treat them like they are special, then they will come back. AND they will remember that you did this.

So, the idea is that you treat them well. Offer refreshments. Remember, because you’re going to have women, it would be nice to offer something that is not a football snack. Get things that women like. We’re talking chocolate, sweets, maybe some nice individual quiches, a bit of fruit…anything that women are going to feel that they’ve been singled out as someone important and you’re making an effort to please them.

One night we hosted a Mojitos and mashed potatoes night. The mashed potatoes were offered with anything you could visualize on them. The mojitos were served by an attractive young man (we kept the rum to a minimum) who had a lot of personality. The women loved it!

As long as you try to please the women, you’re going to reach a good number of them. For the Ladies’ Night Out you can run specials. You can hold a workshop. There is one man I know who runs an auto repair store and on several occasions he has hosted a Ladies’ Car Care Clinic where it is women only and they can ask any question they want.

By the end of the clinic, most of the women provide feedback that they were so happy to have had that opportunity to ask any question they wanted to ask and not be made to feel stupid, not to be made to feel like a fool, not to be made to feel like anything that was derogatory. Women are sensitive creatures.

When you host a Ladies’ Night Out you are going to solidify a relationship with a portion of your customer base that you probably didn’t have a very strong relationship with before.

Let me tell you. The ladies are going to remember this!

Telling vs. Selling

Many retailers make the mistake of thinking that they’re selling when all they’re doing is showing the customer an item.

Selling involves asking discovery questions of your client or customer.  What are they looking for? Why? How will it help them? Will it improve an aspect of their life?

Then you also try to discover what they are not looking for, what they do not want. If you don’t ask, you might be assuming, and we all know where that takes us!

When you take the time to discover what your customer or client wants, you can then sell them on the product by showing how it will solve their problem, make them look good, and feel that you’re doing them a favor rather than trying to sell them something they either don’t want or don’t need.

Bring Customers Inside

For any business, your customer is the life-blood of that business.

You know that you need to treat them well in order for them to return, but aside from that how do you get them to come back? In today’s economy, everyone is really watching their pennies. Let’s talk about ways to get your customer to return to the store without costing you anything but a little bit of time and creativity.

Evaluate your business and what you do to serve the needs of your customer.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my typical customer have a common problem that could easily be solved with my know-how?
  • Can I create some type of instructional material that would explain this to them?
  • Am I comfortable writing a brief instruction manual?
  • Could I talk about it, record the instructions about how to solve their problem?
  • Does it have to be seen? Can I create a short video that would help them solve their problem?

Here’s where your list is going to come in handy. Hopefully you’ve been building your customer database with not only their names and contact information, but their interests and problems that they may have that need solving.Select the group of people who have expressed an interest in solving a problem. For example, let’s say you’re a woodworking shop and you’ve sold a brand new piece of equipment to a hundred customers, but you’ve been getting a few returns and even more complaints that the equipment is too difficult to operate.

Create a short video demonstrating the proper use of that piece of equipment. Explain what the most common problems are that new users may encounter, and then show them how it is done right. This puts you head and shoulders above your competition, because what you’ll do now is email a link to this video to everyone who has purchased this piece of equipment.

Not only do you send that email, but the following week, you call each one of those customers and ask them if they received the email, and whether they viewed the video. If they haven’t, encourage them to do so and promise to call them back the following week. (Make sure you DO call them back.)

If they have received the email and viewed the video, ask them for honest feedback. Find out whether that video helped them to overcome the problems you’ve been hearing about.

By taking the initiative to anticipate the need of a group of your customers, and then fixing the problem easily and with little or no cost, you have ensured that you have a group of highly satisfied customers. These customers are the ones who will remember the extra steps you took to take care of them. The next time they need something, they’ll buy it from you.

K Birmingham