Saturday, July 31, 2010

Greener Pastures - Don't be color blind

From 1987 - 1997 I had a good job at a local state university. Thanks to a visionary leader/boss I was able to grow personally and professionally as technology progressed during this time. I was able to transform my job and create new positions morphed from the old ones.

But being a public institution, salaries and other expenditures were tied directly to tax revenues. If the college was growing and the economy was strong, funding increased for the system. If not, spending was cut, salaries were scaled back and projects were delayed. Don't get me wrong. I had a good job, good pay, good benefits and worked with some good people. But the opportunity for advancement was limited.

I decided to look elsewhere and after a short search, I found a position that would increase my salary by over 33%! We had just been married for over a year so this seemed like a fantastic opportunity! I interviewed and was offered a position with a fast growing software company all within 48 hours. I gave my current employer the opportunity to match at least part of the offer. They were not able to so I headed for greener pastures.

The new job was located in an area just north of downtown. There was no direct route to get there. It was in a new state-of-the-art facility with special locks, name badges and even its own underground parking garage. Finally, I had arrived. My talents would be exercised at their fullest potential. Two weeks of intense training on their software systems, phone capabilities and general company information and I was ready to go.

Or was I?

The job was a nightmare. Needless to say, I was in way over my head. The pay was absolutely great. That would make up for it, right? WRONG! The stress was overwhelming. I ended up doing poorly, my commute was over an hour each way, and I ended up depressed. Within 5 months of starting a dream job I was out the door with nothing lined up. The future looked pretty grim.

A few months later, a friend hired me as a retail manager. That store eventually went out of business but he lined up a job with another friend before closing the doors. That was almost 10 years ago and I haven't looked back since.

I'm telling you this story because I say it was one of the worst jobs I ever had but it turned out to be on of the best decisions I ever made. It worked out fine for me but for others, they may not be so lucky. My friend and fellow blogger, Jeff Noel, wrote on his blog the other day that "The grass isn't always greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water and fertilize it." If you are looking for greener pastures, start by looking in your immediate vicinity. You may be surprised at the amount of growth that can happen close by.

And just so you know, that fast growing software company is out of business. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Congratulations on Your New Job!

I would like to thank you for your years of service. I must inform you that your job is in a state of transformation.

I know this is not the best way to inform you of this. It is much better to do it in person rather than what seems to be an impersonal blog post. But this is a change you may or may not have seen coming.

First off, I wanted to congratulate you on your new job in marketing. I know this probably isn't what you signed up for when you accepted your current position. But, due to many factors beyond your control, you are being reassigned. Why marketing? Don't we already have a team in place that handles all of our marketing? Well, yes and no.

David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, had this to say about marketing:

"Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department."

So, starting today, you are now part of the marketing team. You are the face, the personality, the front man (or woman). You inform, educate and cultivate your customer base. It's not just a simple task of working a register or stocking shelves. When customers think of your operation, they often think of you.

Millions of dollars are spent every day on elaborate advertising in print, television ads and radio spots. Throw the internet into the mix and you have the potential for hundreds of millions of impressions a day for your product or service. But if the "face" your customers see is just like everyone else, then they will treat your product or service just like everything else they see. Soon, they will become blind to what you have to offer until they no longer know you are around.

Good luck in your new job!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Incredibly Different

A good friend, and the internet's only 5-a-day blogger, just returned from a whirlwind trip to Oregon recently and posted a very short video of his experience from that weekend. And by very short, it's only 38 seconds long.

One of the lines you hear him say to describe his surroundings in the video is that it's " . . . incredibly different from any other place on the planet I've been."

What if we took this line and applied to our business/job/line of work? What can you do to make your situation unique? How can we make our environment incredibly different?

It's a combination of what you have to offer, what you have to say and the setting in which it takes place. Make it different from anything else out there!

Friday, July 23, 2010

WOW Moments

Have you experienced a WOW moment today?

Disney believes so much in creating magical WOW moments for their guests that they held a competition a couple of years ago to see who would be their Chief Magic Official. Through a long process which included an online application, interviews, video submissions and an on-site competition, they determined who would be responsible for spreading magic and inspiration throughout the theme parks and surrounding communities. Job duties include creating magical dreams for guests from around the world. The ideal candidate must be happy, never grumpy, able to easily befriend dwarves, dogs, monsters and mice. Must have good manners but can pillage and plunder with pirates when necessary. Must have an interest in oversized teacups and flying elephants.

This wasn't something that Disney went into lightly. It was their intent to find the best person possible to, as they put it, "make dreams come true." Disney was already skilled at making "wow" moments for their guests. They wanted to kick it up a notch.

While you may not be in the dream-to-reality business, you can still create those "wow" moments for your customers. How do you do that? It's really simple. 

Exceed their expectations. 

Most businesses don't. Most businesses are . . . well . . . whelming. Sometimes over, sometimes under.

Create those moments that leave your customers saying "WOW" to their friends, family or colleagues. They will remember you for it and your repeat business will improve.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thanks for calling

Okay. So it seems that I'm on this telephone theme lately.

A regular guest came by the other day while I was at another store. We were out of his product. Our employee took down his information and told him we would call when it came in. I was able to find the product he wanted and had it sent to the store.

I gave him a courtesy call to let him know his product was in and that we would put his name on it so he could come by and pick it up whenever it was convenient for him.

Well, he came in less than an hour after the phone call. And bought a second bottle as well. As he turned to leave, he thanked me for the phone call. He said he couldn't remember when a store followed through on calling him back when they were out of a product. He even said the magic words, "You've got a customer for life."

We may not think this is anything special. But to that customer it wasn't just anything. It was everything. We took away any disappointment they may have originally felt and turned it into a very positive experience exceeding their expectations.

What are you going to do today, tomorrow, this week to make your customer know just how special they are?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Using a lifeline

I was listening to a recent Disney podcast while driving home from work. This one is known for its humor, insight and every now and then, great nuggets of wisdom that can be applied to numerous situations.

One such bit that transpired centered around how Disney appeals to all generations and that part of what they do is to attract new guests. One of the panelists was talking about taking their kids and someone else's kids to Disney. He said, "Every child today is a potential customer tomorrow."

Here's another way to look at it from a business perspective.

Today's phone call is tomorrow's customer.

Can you honestly say you have enough customers? Is your phone your lifeline?

In a follow up to an earlier post on how not to handle a personal phone call while working, this is a great approach to have each time the telephone rings. Whether it is a slow day or the busiest day of the year you should treat each telephone call as a potential sale. You don't know who is going to be on the other end of the phone line. Yes, with Caller ID being so popular you may know who it is. But you might not know what they are asking for.

Do you ignore the phone when you have a customer/guest with you? Maybe it's time you learned how to multitask efficiently. Go ahead and answer the phone. It could be the difference between success and failure.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What one degree can do

How far do you think one degree can take you? Are you thinking this?

Or maybe something like this?

But here is what I'm talking about. One degree. The difference between having hot water and boiling water. That's the difference between 211 degrees and 212 degrees. With boiling water you get steam. And steam can power a train.

I cannot do this topic justice. Plus I didn't come up with the idea. Go here to watch the video. See what going the extra mile by exceeding the customer's expectations can do.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Because it's what we SHOULD do

"It's not our fault, but it is our problem."

At the The Disney Institute, this axiom is taught as a foundation for the level of service that they offer to each guest and each Cast Member.

The perfect example came up recently with this statement in mind. A customer came in with a product that is normally non-refundable, without a receipt and pretty much expected a full refund. He didn't make up a wild story about why he had to return the product. He told us he needed the money in order to pay his light bill. Whether that was actually the case or not isn't the point. By company policy, we are under no obligation to refund this purchase. He didn't play by the rules to qualify for a refund.

Can you guess by now that I went ahead and gave him a refund? Yep. I sure did. I had other employees present and I could tell they were watching what I was doing but seemed to be more interested in WHY I did it.

Years ago, I had a job at a state university. Lots of rules, lots of procedures, lots of deadlines. In my non-supervisory role, it was my job to communicate the rules and deadlines to prospective students. Those over me had the authority to grant exceptions to the rules when necessary. And after every deadline, it was necessary. Why? Well it wasn't what we had to do. It became necessary because it was what we SHOULD do. In other words, it was the right thing to do given the individual circumstances.

Policies and procedures are in place in most organizations for a reason. They are there to maintain order and avoid chaos. I read on a friend's blog about an experience he had with his cellular telephone provider. He needed a temporary fix for a problem but they were unwilling to help him. Get it? They were not willing to offer a short term solution. Instead of being innovative and make an attempt to exceed the customer's expectations, they stood behind their policies, beat their chests and said, "We are right! You are wrong and we don't care about you!"

I am not advocating dumping all the rules and let chaos guide our decisions. It's not our fault that you can't pay your light/cell phone/water/grocery/mortgage. But it is our problem and we will do what we can to fix it. Because it's what we should do!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How high is your vision?

"The only person that can put a limit on yourself is you."
Michael Phelps
14-time Olympic Gold Medalist

When Michael Phelps was 11 years old, he had a vision. His vision, as he recently shared at the 2010 GNC Franchise Convention, was to be an Olympic Gold medalist. It wasn't enough to just be able to compete at the Olympics. It was more detailed than that. It was so specific that Michael wanted to achieve the pinnacle of perfection and reward in his sport. He surrounded himself with excellent coaches, trainers and he had a support system through his family that helped shape and mold his talent into the greatest swimmer of all time.

Do you have a vision? This can be personal or it can be part of your business environment. Either way, what do you see when you look into the future? If you see nothing, then you are well on your way to a life of ease and you should be able to coast all the way in. Do you surround yourselves with a network of success or negativity? Is it intentional? Are you always in a position where you are drug down and bad things happen to you all the time? Or are you in a position where you are lifted up, given the support of your piers, and have Lady Luck visit you so much you are on her speed dial?

Tomorrow, look at everyone around you. If they are negative, why? What benefit are they to you or your organization? If they are positive, are they having enough of an effect on you to keep you motivated and positive on the hard road ahead? Or are they dragging you down and getting in the way of success? I'm not talking about a wholesale reduction of all your friends, family and co-workers. But if you are putting yourself in a position to be around negativity all the time, what does that say about you?

Chances are you have your vision set too low or you don't have one at all. It's not that you lack a certain drive and determination. It's that you have no clue where you're going. You need some kind of map or outline. If you want to climb Mt. Everest, you gotta start walking. And do a lot of it! And take along one of those Sherpas who are skilled in mountain climbing.

Write your vision down. Break it down into manageable, meaningful targets so you can track your progress. Follow up at least on a weekly basis until you see some progress. You will not achieve it overnight. It took Michael Phelps 12 years for his vision to become a reality.

How high is your vision?

Monday, July 5, 2010

How important is that phone call?

A customer walked in to my store the other day asking what seemed to be pretty basic questions. I really didn't give any consideration to the fact that she was testing me.

After several minutes of questioning, I find out that this customer had just come from another location just a few miles away. While she was at the other store, the store employee took a phone call, a personal phone call. According to the customer, she wasn't asked to wait while she took the call. Whatever the reason, the customer's perception was that the phone call was more important. So she left and came to us.

Had the customer not told me about this incident, I would have never known. But to tell the truth I wouldn't have changed my approach. Knowing how important everyone is that comes through our door we have to balance taking care of the customer in-store and handling the occasional phone call. It's happened to you right? What do you say when the phone rings and  you are working with someone already? Do you politely excuse yourself to answer the phone? Could you take down the caller's name and number in order to call them back?

However you handle it, both customers need to know they are extremely valuable and you are willing to help them in an orderly and timely way. The saying, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression" rings true here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

VIP Treatment

How regular is your routine? Is it so regular that when you look back, the rut is so deep you are in fear of violating some OSHA code for not supporting the walls around your dig site?

Sure, we have our processes; open store, paperwork, block and face, then wait for the customers/guests to come in. Is your approach to your customers/guests an individual approach or do you tailor your interaction to the person as they come into you operation?

A good friend and mentor writes 5 blogs a day. I've told him that there are days when I feel that he writes his post just for me and not for the thousands of others who stop by and view his blogs each month. To me, he is giving me the individualized, red carpet treatment. He is treating me as a VIP, a Very Individual Person.

Part of the process of creating an individualized experience deals with understanding the types of guest that come into our stores. I have identified 4 main categories that most of our customers fall into.

1. Commando - They have their routine. They have a laser-like focus. They walk determined and are ready to get in, get out, and get on their way.

2. Information Seekers - These customers/guests come in and usually head straight for you. They may have heard of a product but have no intention of buying from you. They may just be using you for your expertise but spending their dollars elsewhere.

3. Gliders - These customers/guests wander in at a leisurely pace. They generally stop one or two steps inside the store. They may be looking around just letting the signage, colors and layout sink in. They seem to float through the store as if they were driven by prevailing winds.

4. Deny-ers - These people may have to turn sideways when coming into your operation. Why? The chip on their shoulder is so big or their ego is so huge we need to consider doubling the entry way so they can fit into your shop. They already have all the answers and they want to share their (mis) information with anyone who will listen. Nothing works because they have tried everything. 

Do these types sound familiar? How can you be prepared for each of these guests? Your body language, tone of voice, the speed and volume of your words should mimic that of your guests.

Where this won't work is with negative emotions. If your guest comes in angry, you remain calm. If your guest is frustrated, you remain reassuring. If your guest comes in doubtful, you remain confident. Adapt your style and your approach to that of the individual. 

Create and individualized approach to make your guests feel like they are walking the red carpet!