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Stock your Customer Service Toolbox for Success

Note from Phil: What follows is a terrific guest post from Shep Hyken, a master of customer service. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with Shep at a conference I attended this summer, and I’m honored he wanted to be a guest writer here on my blog. His new book is terrific too, and I know you’ll enjoy the lessons he shares below.

Stock your Customer Service Toolbox for Success

Successful businesses understand that the key to winning customers, keeping customers and increasing sales lies in customer service.

For my latest book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time, I decided that instead of sharing examples of many companies’ strategies for success, I would select just one company to serve as a role model. The company I found that rose to the top in terms of delivering an amazing customer service experience is Ace Hardware. Think about it – Ace Hardware stores face incredible competition from big box stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, but they have successfully positioned themselves as the most helpful hardware stores on the planet. I have compiled six strategies from interviews with Ace retailers. Although they may seem simple, they are powerful tools that amaze customers.

1. A Warm Welcome – Whether in person or on the phone, offer a sincere, pleasant greeting that makes the customer feel comfortable and appreciated. A good first impression will reassure the customer that he or she has made the right decision in choosing to do business with you.

2. An Open-Ended Question – Asking the standard “Can I help you?” is generally not a productive question in terms of determining how to meet the customer’s needs. Instead, ask a question that requires the customer to offer more information. For example, “What can I help you find today?” will prompt the customer to tell you the reason he or she has come to your business and enable you to provide the appropriate product or assistance. An open-ended question calls for more than a yes or no answer, giving you the information you need to serve the customer.

3. A Follow-up “Why” Question – A powerful strategy Ace employs is to ask another question after determining the product that the customer has come to purchase. The follow-up question could be something like, “Why do you need a battery charger?” or “Are you working on a painting project?” If the customer is purchasing paint, for example, the follow-up question and resulting conversation could reveal opportunities to upsell and ensure the customer leaves with all the items he or she needs.

4. Upselling – When appropriate, suggest other merchandise that the customer may require. Using the example of the customer who has come to buy paint, you might ask if he or she needs any brushes or rollers or other items to complete a painting project. Upselling is more than just trying to increase sales – it is a valuable form of customer service. Ace understands this and teaches its associates to make sure the customer has all the necessary items for a job or project. It saves customers time since they don’t have to make multiple trips to the store, so not “upselling” when appropriate is actually a form of poor customer service.

5. One More Question – Before you conclude an interaction with a customer, ask if there is anything else you can help provide. A customer may have another item to purchase – if so, be sure to go through steps 3 and 4 again – or may simply want more information or advice. Continue the process until you are certain that you have satisfied the customer’s reasons for visiting or calling your business.

6.   A Sincere “Thank You” – At the close of every interaction, offer genuine thanks to the customer. A feeling of appreciation will leave a lasting impression. That, along with the amazing service that you have provided will resonate the next time the customer is in the market for your product or service.

Amaze Every Customer book cover 190x250 Stock your Customer Service Toolbox for SuccessShep Hyken, New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and hall-of-fame speaker is the Chief Amazement Officer at Shepard Presentations. As a customer service expert, he helps companies build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. For more information about his upcoming book, Amaze Every Customer Every Time: 52 Tools for Delivering the Most Amazing Customer Service on the Planet, go to www.AmazeEveryCustomer.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

Small Business Customer Experience Often Suffers With Growth

NOTE from Phil: Today’s article is from one of my favorite people, Jeannie Walters. She is a customer experience expert who lives not far from me in Chicago. Her insights always make me think hard about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it for my customers. This article is another example of that.

Running a small business and growing it are two separate ideas, believe it or not. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily business of running the business. Staffing, servicing clients, paying bills, invoicing, banking, scheduling and emptying the trash all require time.

Growing a business means planning ahead and setting a vision. Growing a business means understanding where you want to go first, then working at tasks to make that happen each and every day.

Easier said than done!

When an entrepreneur starts the business, the experience he or she delivers is based on WHO and not what.  Joe might sell widgets, but people buy them from his company because of Joe.  Joe’s concerned about EVERY customer when he starts, and the customers feel that.

Then size happens. You’re hiring fast. You’re growing with your customer base. And some customers are starting to notice some changes. These customers rarely tell you directly until it’s a problem. Here are a few things they might say:

“I understand they need to put in more layers, but I really liked working directly with Bob/Brenda (CEO). I miss that. We were buddies.”

“You know, our relationship with Theresa (Sales Manager/Account Manager/All-Around-Great-Gal) was so good. It’s hard to move on.”

 “I love those guys. I recommend them to everyone. But I’m worried they’re getting TOO big.”

So what do you do as you scale as an organization? First, you need to accept that the scale of cloning you isn’t realistic. Take the time to document and train to the customer experience you want to deliver. Saying “be nice” is not enough. You need to hire, to expand and to serve more customers. But you also need to keep your top people without burning them out.

There are entire books tackling this subject, but I’ll offer one tip to help during those days of growth.

Communicate your mission, vision and brand promise to every employee every day.

 I distinguish these this way:

1. Mission – What is your lofty goal as an organization? What’s your cause?

2. Vision – Where is the organization going in the next year to 5 years?

3. Brand Promise – What does your brand promise to your customers? What expectations are made?

This is what so often gets lost in growth. Suddenly, the unwritten rules about how you treat customers, how you treat colleagues, how you get things done and what promises you’re keeping need to be written down. But don’t get hung up on that. Just be sure that the top level is getting the word out to keep talking about these vitally important items. Hire according to them. Create processes around them. Don’t let go of passion for productivity.

There are lots of other things you can do to help with scale.

What would you offer?

jeannie walters 250x250 Small Business Customer Experience Often Suffers With GrowthAbout the author: Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and founder of 360Connext, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. 360Connext serves mid-market companies and larger by helping them evaluate their true customer experience. The evaluations always lead to improvements which then lead to results like increased online conversions or loyalty.

From Passion to Loyalty (A guest post by: Judi Samuels)

While I’m on vacation, I have turned over my site to some smart people to share with you their experience and business expertise!! The first of these posts comes from Judi Samuels!

judi 276x300 138x150 From Passion to Loyalty (A guest post by: Judi Samuels)Since 1999, Judi has focused on building relationships between brands and their audiences. From creating compelling destination marketing campaigns; to creating experiential marketing programs launching a gaming console in Canada; to playing an integral role on developing thought leadership for next generation loyalty programs – each role locked in on developing deep, long-lasting engagement. Judi believes that genuine audience engagement and dialogue is key to the development of emotional connections, and that it is through those connections that long term relationships and loyalty are formed. Judi has extensive experiential, social & digital marketing, communications and brand strategy experience working with brands including Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Microsoft, MuchMusic and marketing agencies: CIM Ltd. and Maritz Canada Inc. Judi holds an MBA specializing in Hospitality and Tourism from the University of Guelph, is an active member of the Canadian Marketing Association and a professional speaker on Emotional Marketing, Humanizing Business and Social Media. More about Judi and her experiences can be found on her blog: The Lemon Twist

From Passion to Loyalty…

In today’s economy, brands and businesses are reminded of the importance of consumer loyalty. The funny thing is that the notion of consumer loyalty that is being sought by companies is that of our great grandparents…

 

The idea of the local barber or pharmacist being an integral part of the community; these personalities were so ingrained in the culture of small towns that it was easy to do business with them. You trusted them; you believed them and sought out their expertise; and you felt that, by doing business with them, the community in which you lived would benefit from their business being successful.

 

Today, with the rapid adoption of social networks and the highly networked urban, suburban and rural communities worldwide, the notion of small town connections is desperately needed. Consumers around the globe feel a kinship to each other – especially as they’ve redefined the term community to reflect, not only their postal codes, but also their shared interests, values and desires. The challenge, of course, is that over 7 billion residents inhabit the planet, and there truly is no physical way possible that a single entity – whether it is an individual, a brand or a business – can cater to such a large market. Brands scramble every day to scale their relationship-building abilities, but that kind of reach seems unrealistic. The trick is to understand who, of those 7 billion people, truly make up your market. And that is where small businesses and entrepreneurs have the upper hand.

 

The majority of entrepreneurs go into business because they’ve felt a passion for something; they feel like they have a special skill or gift, one they’d like to share (and make a few bucks off of).

 

It goes without saying, of course, that if you sacrifice a stable paycheck to go after your passion, you do need to make money! No one – not even your consumer – debates the very real need for you to make money in order to survive… as a business, and as a person.

This passion, in short, immerses the entrepreneur in a community. He has discovered something he is good at. He has gotten to know the community… not just the city or neighborhood, though that is critically important too, but also the community that shares the passion!

 

Think tennis. The key grand slams are held in Australia, France, England and the United States, yet fans are global. They all cheer, they all love different players and they all come together during the season to share in the celebrations; across continents and time zones.

 

The point is that entrepreneurs know why they are in business. They know who they are trying to help. And, they know what kind of difference they can make. That is the first place where loyalty is born:

 

Know your audience. Intimately!

 

Once you know who you are going to work for, it’s time to start building relationships… or, more importantly, reinforce those relationships you already have. After all, loyalty is truly a two-way street. Loyalty is based on going deep. Think of your own personal relationships. They are not transactional. They are not based on a single moment. They are based on a series of moments, moments that matter and that demonstrate how one person understands the other. As the business owner, it is your job first to show your audience that you understand them, and can deliver uniquely to them.

 

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Stephen Covey, 1989

 

As I mentioned earlier, no one – not even your consumer – thinks you are in business to not make money. That goes without saying! But, even Henry Ford let us know: “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Local economies drive national economies (which, in turn, drive the global economies). With that said, it is imperative for a successful business loyalty endeavor to actually include a clear drive to deliver on business objectives. This leads us to the third step for loyalty development…

 

Connect your objectives to the benefits of your community.

To sum it up: a successful loyalty program for your business… for any business requires the ability to truly and intimately get to know your audience. Why? Because it is through the knowledge of the little details that make your audience tick that you will find the most relevant and valuable loyalty rewards.

 

A successful loyalty program stands on the shoulders of:

  • Functionality. Whatever your product or service promises it can do, it better do!
  • Connectivity. However your product or service connects to what the audience needs and wants, it better make sense!
  • Relevancy: Whatever you are doing to make your consumers come back to you, or evangelize you better be relevant to enhance their experience with you.
  • Longevity: Loyalty – like Rome – was not built in a day. Take time. Be consistent. Be attentive. And make it count!