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To Sell is Human Summary and Review

This year, we decided to give copies of To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel H. Pink (signed by the author himself) to all of our employees at A Small Orange as part of our holiday gift package. As a very service-centric company, we wanted to illustrate the fact that sales isn’t what it used to be and isn’t all about conning people into making a buying decision they otherwise would be against. We believe that sales should be consultative and should focus on helping customers choose the right combination of products and services and we wanted this book to help explain that.

Here’s a quick summary of some key points that I prepared to help capture my full understanding of the book. I hope it’s helpful, though keep in mind I was a casual reader and my understanding of some of the key points may vary:

Part one: Rebirth of a salesman

  • Sales used to be defined as a certain profession, like the Fuller Man who went door to door to sell cleaning supplies and such. Today, more than 15 million people work in sales (more than manufacturing and only less than office and administration works).
  • Through a survey, the author determined that people (who don’t work in sales in the traditional sense) still spend 40% of their time engaged in non-sales selling such as persuading, influencing, and convincing others that don’t involve a purchase. The question was “What percentage of your work involves convincing or persuading people to give up something they value for something you have?”
  • Small business owners (i. e. 0-3 employees) and entrepreneurs spend much of their time selling, whether that’s dealing with customers, enticing partners, negotiating with sellers, or motivating employees.
  • Some companies don’t have traditional sales people. Pink cited enterprise software company Atlassian and Palantir as examples. Atlassian has no formal sales people (therefore requiring everyone to pitch in) and Palantir puts engineers in sales roles (called “forward-deployed engineers”).
  • Educators and medical professionals also have to convince people to part with things (time, energy, habits, etc.).
  • People largely hate sales people in the traditional sense. Used car salesman comes to mind when most people are asked what they think about sales people.
  • Today’s world makes high pressure sales less effective because of reduced information asymmetry. In other words, the world of sales is switching from caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) to caveat venditor (let the seller beware).

Part two: How to be 

  • Instead of “Always be closing,” Pink suggests that the new ABCs of sales are “Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity”.
  • Attunement is about looking at things from the other person’s perspective. It starts with increasing power by reducing it – essentially a lesson in having the humility to put your assumptions aside and listen to others and their concerns. It also requires understanding what others are thinking (such as understanding any biases or preferences) in addition to just what that they are feeling. Strategic mimicry in a non-obvious manner can also be effective.
  • Ambiverts tend to be more successful at sales than extraverts or introverts.
  • The first step in buoyancy is interrogative self-talk, which is asking if you have the ability to do something. Research shows it’s more effective to question rather than just pump of confidence.
  • Sales people need a good ratio of positivity and negativity to flourish. The research ideal is between 3:1 and 11:1 (positive:negative). Appropriate negativity helps keep people motivated and egos in check. Too much negativity is wearing.
  • Sales people with “optimistic explanatory styles,” or their thought process of explaining negative events to themselves do better than sales people with negative explanatory styles. Those with optimistic explanatory styles tend to explain negative events as specific, temporary, or external.
  • Finding the right problems to solve is important. It’s about being a partner with the buyer and thinking of the right solution instead of just trying to close a deal. This is commonly called consultative selling.
  • Frames of reference are important. Think about the question, “compared to what?” Potential frames of reference are more/less, experiences, labels, blemishes, and potential.
  • Providing clarity on how to act (an off ramp) is important. A lot of sales focuses on trying to improve clarity of thinking while ignoring clarity of acting, which is just as or more important.

Part three: What to do

  • There are six main pitches types: the one word pitch, the question pitch, the rhyming pitch (helps increase retention), the subject line pitch, the Twitter pitch, and the Pixar pitch (story like).
  • Improv can teach a lot about sales. Hearing offers, saying “Yes and”, and making your partner look good are all improv lessons that apply to sales.
  • In service (and sales), personalizing things (demonstrating an account is a person) and adding purpose (illustrating doing something has a meaningful impact on someone besides the seller) are applicable to both sales and services. Emotionally intelligent signage and language helps too.

The Review: To Sell is Human is a great book to help you and your employees reframe your thinking of sales. It’s a simple enough read where it’d be appropriate for just about anyone, but still has enough examples and references to various social science studies to be useful for more experienced and senior professionals. The book is not a sales manual, but it will serve as a frame of reference as you think about how best to sell as an individual or an organization.

Pros: The book is a quick and easy read and is well written. There are a number of actionable exercises after each chapter and frequent references to academic studies that provide additional context for those who are interested in finding them.

Cons: Some may find the points mentioned somewhat obvious the arguments simplistic. However, the book is not supposed to be an in depth sales manual or a treatise on how sales has changed as a profession.

Interested: To Sell is Human is available on Amazon in a variety of formats (including the Kindle and in audio formats), starting at $9.99.

Book Review: The Customer Service Survival Kit

9780814431832_p0_v1_s260x420The Customer Service Survival Kit was written by Richard S. Gallagher, a practicing psychotherapist and the author of many customer service books who has trained over 20,000 people on how to handle the most daunting situations with customers while improving their confidence and an organization’s customer relations.

The Customer Service Survival Kit helps us to diffuse even the worst emotional and intentional customer complaints, and step by step helps the customer service representative diffuse the anger and angst of those stressful situations in a calm, reflective manner.  Whereas customer service is and has always been all about communication, Mr. Gallagher’s book provides us with a few of the skills used in hostage negotiations, crisis counseling, and police work in order to handle the worst situations calmly and professionally. These skills of “leaning into criticism” can affect the rest of our lives and the way we communicate with our business, our children, and even our life partners.

Chapter One begins with the “uh-oh” moment; one most of us in any service oriented business has encountered. It’s that extreme situation when one can almost see the smoke emanating out of the customer’s ears because they are so angry, and until we are taught how to handle those serious conflicts, most customer service representatives will operate out of the defensive mode which most likely irritates customers even more. Even though the representative may be smart, nice, and respectful, we are lost when faced with a most egregious situation, and the standard reaction is to act in self defense. So what are the ways to defuse angry customers? Be trained, be prepared, and know how to handle a crisis if and when it presents itself by:

  • Asking open ended questions to assess a person’s needs
  • Listening to the person and then paraphrasing what the customer told you
  • Using appropriate questions to focus on the problem
  • Never saying “no” and responding in what can be done terms
  • Letting people know their feelings and the way they think counts

The books recreates some interesting examples of customer angst in different situations and then asks how any of us might handle the situation. Often we take the defensive position. Let’s try the “leaning into criticism” method by first listening to the customer’s complaint, paraphrasing in our own words his complaint, and instead of saying phrases like, “please calm down,”  or “it could have been worse,” which only tends to poke the bear more, why not use “WOW” language – that preemptive strike  and mirror the customer’s feelings as if how you would have felt if in the same situation? And then as the author points out, it is time to “steal a customer’s good lines.” At this point you have already agreed with them.  Taking a defensive position too soon is ineffective – remember angry customers don’t want to hear your side of the story; they want to be heard and they want you to listen. For instance, if their shipment is delayed and in turn their customers are complaining, what will be accomplished by a sales representative saying “it’s not my fault.” It would be better if that same representative began with, “that’s really terrible, I can see why you’re so angry.”

Chapters 3 through 6 give us practical ideas and examples to ponder and some of those trigger phrases which the author states gives a customer a “distorted sense of who is serving whom.”  Try to avoid the negative; rather turn your choice of phrases to the positive which encourages customers to nod their heads instead of the vigorous “no” shake. Strive for the phrase, “here is what we can do.”

Chapters 7 through 10 teach us how to understand the angry customer and how we can diffuse that person in the “red zone.” We get to put our learning into practice and the importance of good closings. As Mr. Gallagher states, in the perfect world we would all get handshakes and hugs from our now happy customers, but that always doesn’t happen, however future business is often predicated on the way the transaction ended. When we are able to normalize a situation, do a recap of what has happened, and express sincere thank yous, apologies, and solutions, it means everyone walks away from a bad situation calmly, and hopefully it has brought an amenable solution to the problem.

Part III of the book helps us to understand more about calmly handling extreme reactions using the new vocabulary and the new perspectives of the previous chapters about “leaning into criticism.” And in the world of social media which includes Facebook, Twitter, and blogs devoted to our organization, here is what we can do when a negative comment shows up on Facebook complaining about a product or delivery delay. A firestorm of negative comments can take a life of their own on social media, and phrases such as “we are investigating your complaint,” only make people shake their head while a comment such as ” that sounds really frustrating, and we want to make this right for you,” posted immediately already connects you personally – thus giving an organization that personal touch all of us want when spending our hard earned money. Of course, then it is necessary to reach out to that person. An organization that has continually demonstrated excellent customer service will often find past customers defending them. No organization will ever be exempt from all negative comments, but there is no need to take offense at everything. Companies that are proactive and show concern for their customers continue to be successful.

The book uses practical scenarios and dialogue throughout to help customer service representatives learn specific problem solving techniques during critical times. Mr. Gallagher continues to reinforce that sometimes irresistible urge not to defend ourselves initially when a severe situation presents itself. The phrase all of us practiced from the time we learned to speak, “it’s not my fault” doesn’t do much to solve customer conflicts.

Bottomline: The book is an excellent resource for diffusing the worst case customer service problems, and once we learn the art of peaceful and practical negotiation, all of our personal and professional dealings can benefit. I found Chapter 17 on Anger Management’s techniques of validation and identification as discussed in Chapter 3 and methods to respond to angry outbursts extremely helpful.

Pros: This is a well-written and logically planned book. It is quite different from other customer service books because it deals with some extreme cases. While it is true that most customer service complaints are practical and relatively easy to handle because of guarantees, company policies, and a knowledgeable staff, having the insight into the psychology of hostage negotiation and crisis counseling equips all of us with that extra knowledge to please our customers even more and in the most dire situations.

Buy: The Customer Service Survival Kit is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Book Review: Roadmap to Revenue

I just finished reading Roadmap to Revenue: How To Sell The Way Your Customers Want To Buy (Amazon.com link). The book was written by Kristin Zhivago, a Revenue Coach and worldwide speaker who helps CEOs and entrepreneurs understand what customers really want and how they want to buy.

In a nutshell, Roadmap to Revenue helps us understand the customer-centric instead of the common company-centric mindset. In other words, the most successful organizations work on selling the way customers want to buy while making it easy for buyers to find you. From the moment a reader opens the book, a whimsical roadmap appears on the front inside cover which begins with an “awakening point” and concludes with “revenue city.” Following the correct route, the organization arrives at the ultimate reward of success. The author guides the reader through:

  • Discover – The “awakening  point” to help figure out what makes customers buy and how to help the customer benefit from a product or service
  • Debate –  The “resolution junction” identifying customers, how they want to buy and  strengths and weaknesses as applicable to the sales process
  • Deploy –  The “action plan” in the buying process that satisfies the customer-centric experience and thus increases revenue

The book creates an interesting customer experience strategy and follows a logical sequence of explanations and examples to help the reader understand the behavior of customers and what they want. In the very beginning of the book we find out there is no “silver bullet” solution to make customers come to you. In fact many businesses sabotage and impede their own efforts. Fortunately the solutions to success don’t require major restructuring, but knowing how and when to appeal to customers to set you apart from your competition. Buyers don’t always know what they want even though they may approach a particular product or service with interest, but if the buyer doesn’t follow through to the purchase, there arises the question of what happened and what did not occur that interfered with the sale.

From Chapters 2 to Chapter 5, the reader discovers the mindset of the purchaser and what to do. In the technological age where any purchaser can Google 80 percent of  their questions prior to purchasing a product or service, the onus to answer the specific 20 percent of questions remaining in their minds can lead to disappointment on the part of the customer if the agent for an organization doesn’t have specific answers. Sales personnel and customer service personnel need to be documenting customer questions and making all data available to everyone in the company as well as on websites. The more specific the information pertaining to what a buyer wants, the more a buyer will be attracted to what you have to sell. As you continue to learn what your customers are thinking, you will be able to meet their needs, even as the market changes. Sometimes you just need to make changes to a product -most times by learning through extensive interviews and reports.

From Chapters 6 through 12, the reader finds out how to understand the customer. Of four levels of buyer scrutiny, we discover how customers want to buy from us and how to avoid making expensive mistakes.  The Scrutiny chapters address each level; Light, Medium, Heavy, and Intense which depends upon particular products or services.

The book uses real examples about marketing and selling channels in order to reach customers and answer questions. As social media hype continues to increase, businesses still need to be guided by the vital information from their customers and knowing what is important to them and what specifically appeals to them. For instance, how you handle a buyer who has just researched a product and landed on your website is paramount.  The potential buyer is theoretically knocking at your door, so be sure your website is chock full of answers, integrity, and efficiency. On-going relationships, repeat business, and endorsements continue to lead  organizations along the road to financial rewards and future success.

Bottomline: The book is a good read and is aimed towards retail and consumer service providers. As a real estate sales agent I found many of the chapters particularly focused towards creating a customer service culture using data to build a knowledge base of what customers are looking for and how to interview potential customers to encourage them to buy from me and ultimately make a sale.

Pros: Well-written and logically planned. The book reminds us to put customers first and how to think like a customer helping us to create that ever important customer experience strategy to set all of us apart from our competition.

Interested: Those interested in the book can buy it on Amazon.com.

Book Review: The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business

I recently finished reading The Welcomer Edge: Unlocking the Secrets to Repeat Business by Richard R. Shapiro who is the founder and President of The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR). Mr. Shapiro’s organization provides research, training, and consulting services to Fortune 500 corporations on how to improve customer service.

The book begins with a lighthearted description of four distinct categories of customer service personnel any organization is likely to have on their payroll:

  • We begin with the Welcomer or “Doctor of First Impressions.” These are the customer service representatives we all want; these are the people who enjoy their jobs, enjoy working with customers, and these are the employees who should be appreciated and valued. Most likely these are the people who volunteer in our own communities and love working towards the welfare of others. These are the people who make a difference.
  • Robots are the next classification and encompass the largest proportion of sales associates and representatives. Although they value and appreciate their positions in one’s company, they most likely view their jobs as exactly what is written in the employee manual and rarely step out of the box to do anything else than the obligatory customer interaction needed to get through the work day.
  • Moving on to the indifferent sales and customer service representative, these are the employees likely to be chatting on their cell phones or those who scarcely acknowledge a customer as she walks through the door and begins to shop.
  • And the final category are those we rarely encounter, however somewhere in our lifetime, we meet the hostile employee we hope never to meet again. That hostile employee can be rude and nasty and make you wonder why he even has a job.

The Welcomer Edge is divided into personal experiences and real business examples describing many of the author’s real world experiences applicable to either small or large organizations. The author presents examples in each chapter in order to highlight the advantages of nurturing customer relationships. Customers are not just seen as customers; skilled salesmen see customers as people first and remind all of us that good will, meaningful conversation, honesty and smiles go a long way when developing customer loyalty.

Good customer service is good for today. Having a welcomer provide good customer service wil make you return tomorrow. That’s a big difference.

So what makes a great welcomer? According to Mr. Shapiro, these are the people who are of course helpful, but in addition these are the people who show customers they care. A question is never just answered with a “yes” or “no” answer even though that one word would be correct for the circumstance, but these are the very people who understand that it’s not just “selling” a service or a commodity – it’s helping someone to find what they need or want. It’s what makes the difference in businesses like Zappos or the Ritz Carlton – it’s the attitude that some people have developed to make that initial contact with a customer the reason for that customer to want to come back.

Each of the eleven chapters of the book provides practical suggestions, specific examples, and addresses how business owners can connect the dots to better customer service. At the end of each chapter, “power points worth repeating” sum up the power of welcomers and how each missed chance can ultimately mean a missed opportunity in business.

Bottomline: Having a welcomer, or “Doctor of First Impressions,” are those employees who make customers feel important. From the moment a customer walks into a store the customer feels appreciated. By the time they get to the check-out experience, a connection should already have been made, and that lasting impression is what will keep that customer coming back again. The little things an organization does are the very elements that make the big difference in the ultimate customer service experience.

Pros: Mr. Shapiro’s book was well-written. He presents his experiences in a variety of different venues. The reader can’t help but smile at some of his personal experiences; many of them most of us can probably relate to at one time or another.

Cons: A few of the author’s examples might be a bit drawn out and not realistic for many people reading this book. For instance, I’m not sure how much time a business person would want to listen to his server’s vacation experiences or personal stories when often time is of the essence. That just might be all about one’s perspective though.

Interested in purchasing a copy? You can get it from Amazon.com ($11.90 in paperback) by clicking here.

Book Review: Four Seasons – The Story of a Business Philosophy

I just read Four Seasons  The Story of a Business Philosophy by Isadore Sharp, founder, chairman, and CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. The recurring theme in  the book centers around the Golden Rule; if you treat people well and the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same.

Sharp begins the book with his personal story. He came from a modest, unpretentious family with a background in construction. His first motor hotel (motel) opened in Toronto in 1961, and what made it different was his service oriented philosophy. By 1963, his second hotel opened called Toronto’s Inn on the Park, and its resort style setting with its gym claimed instant success. By 1976, the opening of the Four Seasons in San Francisco which entered into a management contract for The Clift already defined true luxury.

When the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C. on Pennsylvania Avenue opened, the phenomenal service transformed the hotel owner-operator to a hugely successful management company synonymous with quality and the worldwide reputation of luxury travel. “One way to characterize Four Seasons – exchange of mutual respect performed with an attitude of kindness,” states Sharp, and that same promise remains  today as the Four Seasons continue to have the highest rated 140 luxury hotels in more than 40 countries.

The Four Season’s business plan focused on quality 24 hour service. In the 1970’s, the concentration on exceptional quality set apart business travel. The introduction of hair dryers, concierge service, televisions with concealed doors, non-smoking rooms, and fitness centers provided service and luxury to the sophisticated traveler. Even today, the morning meetings remain an integral part of the four primary elements of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts property.

Every morning service, quality, and culture brand are set forward by the guest relations manager. This includes a recap of the guests staying at the hotel and discussions ranging from a guest needing a hypoallergenic pillow, gluten-free food, or even a special skin cream. The Glitch Report, which is a review of the previous day’s mistakes is a way to make it right with a sincere apology and then doing something special for a guest later on. Every department is represented in the morning meetings from housekeeping to upper management. The team effort is what makes up the cornerstone of the Four Seasons culture, and trusted employees are granted the discretion to do the right thing to make their guests happy.

Sharp’s personal tragedy and his philanthropy reveal the very human side of a vulnerable person. In November 1976, his son Chris, a strapping, six-foot-two athlete was diagnosed with deadly melanoma. On May 10, 1978 Chris lost his battle, but his spirit inspired The Marathon of Hope two years later when a local newspaper carried a story  of a young man Terry Fox who had lost a leg to cancer and was running across Canada on an artificial limb to raise money for cancer research.

Dear Terry:

The Marathon of Hope has just begun. You started it. We will not rest until your dream to find a cure for cancer is realized. I am asking every Four Seasons hotel to organize, along with the local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society, a Terry Fox Marathon of Hope Run to be held on the first Sunday in October. Beginning this year, it will become an annual fund-raising event for the Terry Fox Cancer Research Fund and we will not stop until cancer has been beaten.

Isadore Sharpe

Terry died the following year, but not before he learned his dream had come true. He raised one dollar for every person then living in Canada:$24 million.

In the last few pages of his book, Sharpe tells us who they are, and that is a company that manages the finest hotels, resorts, and residence clubs supported with a “deeply instilled ethic of personal service.” And in response to how they succeed, Sharpe concludes with;

We succeed when every decision is based on a clear understanding of and belief in what we do and when we couple this conviction with sound financial planning. Our greatest asset, and the key to our success, is our people. In all our interactions with guests, customers, business associates, and colleagues, we seek to deal with others as we would have them deal with us.

Bottomline: The book is unpretentious, inspirational, and offers excellent advice about the importance of customer service. It provides some good lessons about the value of long-term service employees and how they are role models for new hires and front end advisers for improvement. The book offers excellent advice on training to help employees realize the importance of consistently amazing customer service.

Pros: The book provides a great personal story of a man who started out with little money and no training. Rising through the years of a sharp recession makes his story more pertinent today. The personal photographs brings in the humanity and compassion of Sharp.

Cons: There were few secondary sources. I found some of the foreign stories one-sided.

Interested: You can purchase this book from Amazon.com for $19.77 in hardcover format or $19.99 in Kindle format. You can buy it here.

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).

Book Review: Exceeding Customer Expectations

I just finished reading Kirk Kazanjian’s book Exceeding Customer Expectations which follows the humble beginnings of the 50 year old Enterprise Rent-A-Car business, which has grown into the largest and most profitable rental car company in North America. Jack Taylor, the corporate patriarch began his business in the basement of a Missouri Cadillac dealership, focusing on the common sense business decision to treat customers and employees very well. That teamwork eventually evolved into a company boasting 62,000 support personnel, 7,000 branches, and 800,000 vehicles.

With a constant emphasis on customer service, Kazanjian reveals the simple philosophy of Taylor’s approach to customer service. “Take care of your customers and employees first, and the profits will follow.” The “Founding Values” which could be adopted by all companies emphasized:

– Protecting your brand
– Let it be a fun and friendly place to work
– Make sure you have teamwork
– Reward hard work
– Help your own community

    Taylor knew to be successful a business had to stand out from the crowd, and to make his business different from other car rental places, the trademark slogan was born, “Pick Enterprise. We’ll Pick You Up.”

    The book emphasizes that satisfying customers is not complicated. Regularly surveying customers, but keeping questions targeted to one specific area could evaluate the company’s progress. Three questions pertaining to customer service became staples:

    1. How satisfied were you?
    2. What could we have done to improve our service?
    3. What do you think we do especially well?

    You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to handle problems promptly and appropriately. Included in the training were steps to turn angry customers around. Taylor assumed many customers when renting cars were on vacation, and he wanted people to remember their vacations with positive experiences. Employees were taught to listen with an understanding and sympathetic attitude and record or repeat back to the customer what had gone wrong. Employees were to apologize and find out what the customer wanted to make them feel better, and propose a solution. If the customer wasn’t satisfied with the representative’s solution, there would be more follow-up and to find a solution suggested by the customer that everyone could live with, with the final objective to make sure the customer never lost face.

    The Enterprise Way has been a cautious company growing with limited risk. On some long term leases, when opening a new office, the company employs the “JCT” clause (after Jack Taylor) which allows the company to get out of its lease with 90 days notice and three additional rent payments, and although the economy has hit every business hard, Taylor’s philosophy remains timeless.

    Bottomline: The book clearly explains starting and managing a company with practical and useful advice aimed towards customer service and employee satisfaction. The author’s logical sequence keeps you interested and entertained.

    Pros: The rags to riches with a practical and humble approach is inspiring. We all enjoy reading true accounts of customer centered companies and their rise to success. The book provides practical information for customer service employees.

    Cons: The book was copyrighted in 2007, and some of what was written seems out of date now. I have noticed in my own experience that Enterprise offices have been run down with less than stellar customer service representatives.

    Interested: Exceeding Customer Expectations is available on Amazon.com for $16.47. You can buy it here.

    Book Review: The Napkin,The Melon & The Monkey

    I recently read a charming, modern day parable geared to help employees handle the stress of the chaotic customer service challenges. The book works on suggestions to eliminate stress and help the employee build a framework for an improved attitude with what the author refers to as Aha!s.

    Author Barbara Burke told me she based her suggestions of short periods of meditation and conditioning the mind in a positive way from basic Buddhist philosophy although each person can discover the book’s universal wisdom message through their own particular lens.

    The Napkin, The Melon & The Monkey: How to Be Happy and Successful at Work and in Life by Simply Challenging Your Mind follows the path of central character Olivia whose life as a customer service representative for a local power company is out of control with stress related over- eating binges, short tempered reactions to angry customers, and a strained relationship with her children and husband. She did not realize that, although our first reaction when being verbally assaulted by an angry customer would be to get defensive, or rather slip into the “fight or flight” mode, an emotional balance can be recaptured by emotionally detaching for a few moments enabling us to find inner peace.

    It was another character, Isabel, who softly led Olivia toward that quiet path to eliminate knee jerk reactions to the everyday facets of stress and to be able to step back and observe what is and become more productive.

    The acronym SODAStop, Observe, Decide, and Act is the author’s solution to help employees realize that the anger of a dissatisfied consumer isn’t personal; it’s the frustration of the situation. Olivia was eventually able to temper her anxieties when irate customers called and step back, listen, consider the situation objectively and calmly, and then respond in a positive manner.

    Barbara Burke fashioned the whimsical idea of this book from Steve Denning’s popular story – telling approach and how it is easier to tell a story with a single protagonist whose accounts have universal appeal.

    In the book, we are guided through the three main symbols along Olivia’s path to handling the daily stresses of life; both personally and professionally. At the end of the book, we are treated to a list of Olivia’s List of Aha!s reminding all of us of such basic guidelines easily incorporated into our own lives. Using such Aha!s as ” The less I talk, the more I learn,” or “There is no such thing as a difficult situation” employs easily applied tenets to help manage even the most challenging interactions professionally as well as personally.

    The book has been translated into German; the title appearing when translated back into English – When Chocolate Does Not Work Anymore.

    The author is offering a free downloadable  “Leader’s Guide” with the purchase of the book. The kit contains a PowerPoint presentation and instruction of facilitating a team meeting. The topic is “What’s Your Favorite Aha!”. The kit will be ready in early February. To be notified, send Barbara a request at: bb (at) barbaraburke (dot) com.

    Bottomline: A quick and easy read which reminds all of us we have a lot more control of our reactions. The book reminds us to stop a moment and put our lives into a more peaceful place in order to be more productive and efficient both professionally and personally.

    Pros: It is well-written and has an interesting story line applicable to anyone in the current, stressful marketplace. The book includes some basic reminders which are universally appealing and applicable.

    Cons: SODA is a great concept, however the book falls short of customer service strategies.

    Interested: You can purchase the book (published by Hay House) for about $15 from Amazon.com. The book comes out on February 1, 2010, but can be pre-ordered today.

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