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Book Review: The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business

I just finished reading The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business A Step-By-Step Approach to Quickly Diagnose, Treat, and Cure written by Bob Phibbs. He begins his book asking the retailer to identify what type of business owner he might be, and breaks down the four personalities to:

Driver: Extroverted, egotistical, project driven, and makes decisions based on results. An example of this “Thinker” would be Donald Trump, and the “You’re fired” line.
Analytical: Introverted, project driven, and makes decisions based on facts. An example of this “Thinker” would be Dr. Spock from Star Trek.
Expressive: Spontaneous, good negotiator,and learns by doing. An example of  this “Feeler” would be Jimmy Buffett who lives life to the fullest and is not detail driven.
Amiable: Peacemaker, introverted, loyal, and decides based on emotions. An example of this “Feeler” would be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

Throughout the book, the author describes what each personality can bring to customers, fellow employees and the sales staff; how they react as managers and what an owner can do to enhance everyone’s best talents.

The book starts out like a regular retail sales training book, but highlights some great ideas. It is divided into eight chapters beginning with the financial and physical aspects of retail stores, and honesty in on employee hiring, training, building, and coaching. The author also emphasized the importance of marketing to help create a successful business and touches upon social media including Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and of course, the company website.

In the beginning of the book, the author suggests a company start with evaluating their financial situation based on the Profit and Loss statements, which may require a company to increase prices, limit discounts, cut waste, eliminate overtime, and hand out paychecks personally in order to have a personal knowledge of one’s own company’s expenses. Interviews for new employees should be no longer than 20 minutes and some sample interview questions such as asking a candidate to describe a typical day at his/her last job, or describe when you went out of your way for a client can help to increase the 51% chance of choosing an outstanding employee.

The importance of helping employees by using written job descriptions, handbooks for the “don’ts” of the business, and training that covers the “do” procedures will ensure employees function as you want. Great employees do the right things when you aren’t there.

Mr. Phibbs used an example of an older woman coming into a store looking for carpeting. Jane’s pet had recently died and the carpeting needed replacement. The woman was retired, on a fixed income and now had a new puppy. The saleswoman found a selection Jane loved and worked up an estimate. The price was $4,200, a higher price than the woman had expected, but the salesperson offered her interest free financing for 36 months. Less expensive products were offered, but Jane kept coming back to her original choice, and just wanted to think about it.

“As I was getting out my business card, I asked Jane if there was ‘anything else’ concerning her about purchasing the carpet. She told me she didn’t think she could move the books out of her bookcase and the curios out of her cabinets, and that because her children were scattered over the United States, she didn’t have anyone to help her. I told her I would come over a week before the installation and give her a hand with moving her furniture. Jane replied by asking me, ‘How much would it cost me?’ and I answered, ‘Lunch-peanut butter or tuna fish are my favorites.’ She laughed, asked me how much of  deposit I needed and got out her checkbook. That is the essence of great retail; being of service to someone else. Help her to see that you have both the answer and the way to make her life better.”

The advice and step by step descriptions of  the six stages of training emphasizes there are no shortcuts to becoming top sales personnel, and exemplary customer service is always an integral part of the success. When the entire staff is able to work together, the business grows and the company makes more money. The author states there is no such thing as a level playing field in retail since stores like Wal-Mart will always be able to offer lower prices, Best Buy will always have more inventory, and a mall will be able to offer better parking than a downtown shopping district, but you can find unique ways to make your store more attractive and train your staff to consistently deliver exceptional results every day.

Bottomline: I enjoyed reading the book. It is chock full of logical, practical advice. The real world examples show just how training and an awareness of different personality types can make a profound difference between success and failure. In a very tough economic crisis, businesses need to be unique and figure out what truly differentiates their business from a multitude of other retailers out there selling similar products. Phibbs shows the reader a practical step by step approach.

Pros: The book gives the reader a lot of detail into the “do’s and don’ts” of building a unique retail store. There are step by step examples to jolt you into a challenging way of thinking about store design, products and staff, and most suggestions are applicable to any business.

Cons: Even though I found the descriptions of the different types of personalities interesting, it became very drawn out and confusing. Parts of the book seemed to be more of a psychological dialogue aimed toward personality quirks than a guide to building a better business.

Interested? The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business is available on Amazon.com for $13.57 (paperback) and $9.99 (Kindle).

Customer service and care builds loyalty

the viewIn business, we may love our customers and try to fulfill their every need, but the main reason we are here is to make money. In order to do that effectively, we need to acquire and nurture customers, especially those customers that spend a significant amount of money and spend often. We all have heard that 80% of our business comes from 20% of our customers.

In order to retain our customers and build new relationships, we need to give them experiences they won’t soon forget; and I mean that in a positive way. When customer loyalty is mismanaged, the outcome can be very detrimental to business. In our neighborhood, Nina was wronged by an interior decorator. The decorator promised Nina that the job redecorating the family room would be done way in advance before Nina’s children and grandchildren were due to arrive on the Fourth of July weekend. Not only didn’t the furniture arrive, but the subcontractors hired by the decorator to install the wood flooring never showed up, and to top it off, the decorator could not be reached until July 6th. What did Nina do? She canceled the decorator’s contract, and has told everyone in the area, basically blackballing the decorator. How many customers did that cost the interior decorator?

And it’s not always just about customer service. Businesses have to show they care in many different ways. I like quality and competitive prices, but it’s not always about the price either. In my area there are many seamstresses and tailors; lots of people like me who have barely the skills to sew on a button, so we line up for hems, opened seams and fittings. Unfortunately many of the tailors are rude, make you wait for an unreasonable amount of time, and on more than one occasion have had to return the garments for a botched alteration. In the back room of the local cleaners, however is an older Vietnamese lady who barely speaks English, but knows that I am always in a rush, knows how short I like my skirts hemmed, and indulges me when I have that alteration I need done in a day. She bends the rules, and I appreciate the customer service. That adds up to customer loyalty and more business.

photo credit: Spirit-Fire

Engineer a customer-centric organization

Weekend: Afton, VACustomers make their decisions based on their emotions and how they are feeling at a certain time. We want our customers to feel more comfortable spending, and we want those same people to feel so enthusiastic about our services or products, they actively endorse us and recruit new customers and clients. When we create this customer-centric organization, we have more than just brand loyalty; we have then generated a fully engaged customer who will help us reach the pinnacles leading to success.

Customer Engagement Management (CEM) helps to increase customer engagement by practical steps. It works best when used with Employee Engagement Management (EEM) which helps to create a company culture that employees feel passionate about and are enthusiastically involved with helping the company become a success.

To focus on CEM, we must work on solutions before problems even arise. You want to hear the good as well as the bad; there are valuable lessons to be learned from the negative feedback. When you identify specific focus areas, you need to contact customers after their experience with that particular area and get their feedback. You will see the trends in that particular area and will be able to view the product or service from the customer’s eyes. Be ready to make changes, and be ready to provide feedback to the participating customers. Finally, make sure the daily business runs smoothly so there is time to deliver outstanding customer service. Those very happy customers are the ones who will promote your company and encourage others to come aboard.

The second part of  the successful customer-centric organization is of course the EEM. When an employee is genuinely interested and happy, customers recognize the positive attitudes and sincere service. The management team that works regularly with their best employees to help them build quality relationships with worthwhile customers encourages employees to make independent decisions and focus on the success of the company. It’s important for the management team to act as role models in order to attract the most talented staff who can deliver exemplary services and goods to customers at decreasing costs to the organization.

There are no standard solutions for everyone; all organizations have their own special culture that make them different, but happy customers promote more happy customers, and that is what leads us to success.

photo credit: Jesse757

The competitive factor of price, value, and customer service

In the recession days of the 1980’s, customers were more concerned about price reductions and convenience rather than the quality of customer service. Now 91% of customers polled in general surveys think that customer service and the quality of that service is important.

People are more tolerant of poor customer relations in service oriented business than what they would tolerate in retail. Cable companies, cellphone companies, banks and credit cards which garner the most articles on Google about poor and frustrating customer experiences, are harder to switch services and often very time-consuming. Sometimes there are no viable alternatives in some areas to change service providers, so we moan and groan and still have to press numbers told to us by a computer to even get to customer service. Using a broad spectrum of companies that provide customer service, 1000 consumers were polled in a recent American Express survey. One-half of the customers stated they would stop doing business with a company after two bad experiences while one-quarter of those surveyed would change stores after just one bad experience.

Many customers think that companies have not done enough to improve their service in this economy. Consumers are more influenced by negative online product reviews than positive ones. A customer is likely to tell seven to ten more people about a small disappointment. On the other hand, people will spend more money at a company that offers great customer service; up to an average of 9% more according to the same American Express survey.

It’s all about giving customers what they want instead of companies thinking what a customer wants. There are just so many choices in retail, consumers don’t have to put up with bad behavior.

So how do customers want to resolve their conflicts the most? A grand majority of consumers rate talking with a “real person” the ultimate service when calling a company. After that comes e-mail correspondence because it is convenient and still personal. Customers feel they have gained something from both “real people” communication and e-mails if they get an apology, a discount, reward points or something for free. Not surprisingly no one has been content with dealing with computers and pressing numbers and following computer directions as a customer service tool. Still how many companies have that procedure in operation?

photo credit: citta-vita

Make customer service go from mediocre to marvelous

When you have a small business, your reputation is what drives people to your company. As your business grows and other people start handling your day-to-day duties as well as your customer service, you need to make sure that your employees are setting the same high standards you worked so hard and so long to establish. So what should we do to keep customer service from just being mediocre?

As the owner, you need to be enthusiastic and bring to your office and staff that same dynamic spirit that helped you succeed in the first place. You must know how to treat employees with respect, and you must be able to listen for new ideas and feedback from those representatives who now interact directly with customers and clients, but you can never completely remove yourself from your customers. Do you recognize your regular customers? Do you know them by name? Do you greet them immediately as they enter your business?

The local deli I frequently eat breakfast at before I go to my office is a place that lends special attention to their loyal customers. They have cut out articles in the local newspaper and handed them to me when my son was graduating from high school and was awarded a Pathfinder Award for business achievement. They send out birthday cards and thank you notes. At the end of the year, they often award their best customers with a complimentary breakfast. They share their vacation stories and have listened attentively to mine.

At the end of the day, the best businesses might ask you what you thought of their service or their product. They will want to know how they are doing, because that will likely make the difference when and how often you will come back as a return customer. At the deli, the owners have a short, simple survey customers can fill out. The survey asks what customers like about the place, what they would change, and what they don’t like. Personally, I have no complaints and love starting the day with good food, great coffee, and smiling faces.

photo credit: alancleaver_2000

Customer service solutions to diffuse conflicts

In order to deal with an angry customer, it is most important to acknowledge their anger, and then we can deal with the issues and feelings in order to help resolve their conflicts. A customer service agent does not have to be bullied or made the victim, and it is never necessary to make excuses for poor behavior if a customer steps over the line with comments or unacceptable behaviors.

If a customer service agent becomes aggressive and defensive, nobody wins. It’s easy to learn what phrases and words are apt to start fights, so replacing them with better phrases can accomplish a peaceful and friendly resolution. A high percentage of conflict comes from the poor choices or ineffective use of language. When someone perceives what you say to be confrontational or less than cooperative, people can react with nasty, insulting, or bullying remarks – none of which solves anything.

So what can you do or say to diffuse some of the anger you might encounter from a customer? Here are some suggestions:

  • First you need to listen. Pay special attention to your speed and loudness as you respond. When people are excited they tend to talk louder and faster which in turn can escalate the other person’s actions. As we get louder, we tend to concentrate  less on the real issues.
  • Think very carefully before you respond; you need not reply immediately, and in your head you should be asking how you can deal with the situation to abate the customer’s anger first?
  • Never get confrontational. Even if the customer gets personal and negative, it is up to you to turn the conversation into a constructive and cooperative exchange. If a person can bully you and sucker you into insults and reacting to abuse, they are in control. If someone persists in being nasty or starts to yell, you can tell them you will not be able to work with them.
  • If you figure out that you are being swept into the drama, think about taking a breather. Avoid saying something like, “I’m not going to talk about this with you anymore.” That is simply going to make the problem worse, but if you make the commitment to “discuss this tomorrow and what time is good for you?,” there is the idea that a resolution could be on the horizon, and a mutual agreement between two people is possible.
  • Never lose control, but acknowledge your feelings and be able to refocus on the issue. People need to be assertive and empathetic without being manipulative or aggressive.

photo credit: s h a r i :}

Building customer relationships part of American Express improved services

In a time when consumers have a heightened awareness of  the entire credit card industry, where there is a drop in corporate spending and where legislative regulatory changes have all made profound differences in the way credit cards are viewed, American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault looks to improve customer experiences. Using the Ritz Carlton and FedEx as models of customer service, changes in American Express service strives to create deeper emotional connections with their customers.

In their three pillar strategy, entitled Relationship Care, employees from industries with hospitality and sales backgrounds as well as the use of new technology, helps customer service employees solve problems while building relationships with customers rather than the norm of how many rings until the phone gets answered or how long a customer service representative spends on the line.

The first stage of Relationship Care concentrates on existing employees and increasing their training by 20%. Classroom instruction, live training, coaches and coaching while directly responding to customers help representatives capture the mood of the customer and be better equipped to listen and know how to respond. By helping employees understand spending behaviors and customer reasons for calling, an immediate emotional and loyalty connection can be made when a customer calls to perhaps report a change of address. If the customer is a high value consumer, a customer care professional may send out a Home Depot gift card.

During the second stage of Relationship Care, hiring new representatives takes on a very centered focus. A customer service applicant might be asked, “If you worked at American Express, how would you give a hug to a card member over the phone?” The company has been hiring representatives from the hospitality and sales industries finding their experience with customers to be a vital asset when dealing with customers who need empathy and the kind of understanding not taught in any training manuals.

Finally, the technology of American Express that can tap into the a database of customer information showing their past buying activity can prompt a representative to aim future promotions, and services pertaining to a specific card member rather than a general pitch for new products. The website is also easy to navigate, user friendly, and provides information pertinent to all card members. The company has even set up a website to help consumers keep track of all activity concerning legislative action for all credit card holders.

American Express reports their customer satisfaction statistics are on the rise, and customer satisfaction rates have climbed dramatically.

photo credit: TheTruthAbout…

Imaginative Service: What if Service Were a Treasure Hunt?

CerraduraWe had our granddaughters visit one weekend at our lake home. There is absolutely nothing more jarringly creative than a five-year-old or more innocent than a three-year old. Grandparents wonder why their grandchildren can’t stay “puppies!!”

One morning we decided to stage an elaborate backyard treasure hunt. The girls decorated their treasure boxes while we drew each a detailed map of the yard. While the two were off on a boat ride with their parents, we hid the “treasurers” – foreign coins from a business trip abroad, old costume jewelry, shells from a beach trip, etc. – and marked their locations on the respective treasure maps. We even included a few silly treasures. When the girls got back they took their decorated treasure boxes, their different treasure maps, and set out to locate the loot. It was a joy to watch them squeal with each discovery.

What could you do to make your service like a treasure hunt for your customers? How can you hide special treasures for your customers to discover?

photo credit: Oneras

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