Friday, December 08, 2006

The Importance of Greeting Your Customer

Here is a question for all of you. How many of you, as a customer, have had a bad sales experience? Hmmmm. Looks like that's all of you. So think about it, if all of you have had a bad experience, that means that all of your customers have had one too.

What does this have to do with greeting your customer? Well if all of your customers have had a bad experience, then they probably consciously or unconsciously have a chip on their shoulder or a wall up. Have you ever noticed that some customers come in with an attitude? So many salespeople end up feeling defensive when their customers are on the offense. But it isn't about you. It is about the other consultant. So what can you do to remove the chip and break down the wall?

Greet them warmly and sincerely. A true warm welcome can be totally disarming. I recently went to a restaurant in Santa Fe and I was blown away by the greeting. The gentleman at the front door greeted us as long lost friends. He truly seemed grateful to have us come to his restaurant. To be honest I didn't love the food. It was good, not great, but the experience was so amazing I would go back in a heartbeat.

So what are the elements of a good greeting?
1. Immediate recognition. Don't wait even a couple of minutes to acknowledge your guest. If you are anywhere in proximity of your customer say hello. If you are with another customer you can still acknowledge them and let them know you will be with them as soon as possible. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for someone to acknowledge you.

2. Make the greeting warm and sincere. If you are not truly grateful that this person decided to walk into your establishment you need to rethink where your check is REALLY coming from.

3. Handshakes are optional. I used to recommend that EVERYONE get a handshake, but the fact is that there are many cultures that find that offensive. My best tip is to wait with your hands at your side until the customer makes the first move and then do what they do, whether it is a handshake, bow or kiss. If you would like to know more about working with different cultures I recommend the amazing book "Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands".

4. Avoid "How may I help you?" this question allows the customer (in a sales situation) to say "just looking" at which point you are already in a hole. Start off with "How are you?" or comment on something they are wearing "great glasses , where did you get them?", even a comment on the weather can help you to start building rapport. But if your customer doesn't like small talk get to the point quickly.

5. Understand them. Begin your relationship with the true goal of finding out their wants and needs and making sure that you fulfill them.

These five steps will help you start building rapport and trust. The sooner you can build rapport and trust with your customer, the sooner you can remove that chip from their shoulder or start tearing down the wall and create a "customer for life"

Even though this all sounds so basic, aren't you amazed at how often you are ignored or treated badly?

Remember you only have about five seconds to create an impression. Make sure it is a good one!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

When Should You Stop Building Value?

Yesterday I went to Wholefoods to buy some groceries. As I walked in I was immediately drawn to the flower display. The last time I was there I purchased some beautiful lilies that lasted weeks. This time they had peonies! Peonies at this time of year are unheard of. Because my mother used to raise these flowers on the side of our house, I have a special attachment to them. I picked them up and placed them in my basket.

After shopping for 45 minutes, I walked up to a cashier in a good mood. My good mood ended the minute the cashier took one look at my beautiful, prized peonies and said, "Wow! These are REALLY expensive!" I acknowledged that they were, and told her that I felt they were worth every penny, since they were rare at this time of year. She replied, "I don't know, I might spend that much for seven flowers, but certainly NOT for three." Again, I was placed in the position of defending my purchase. "I really love these flowers." I didn't go into the fact that I was approaching the anniversary of my mothers death and the flowers were a way of staying close to her. But the cashier didn't stop there. Once again she challenged my purchase by saying "I don't know, these really are EXPENSIVE!"

Now first of all, I do not come to a cashier with the hope of being criticized for my choices. Nor do I want to have to defend my purchases. Nor do I want to be made to feel foolish or as if I didn't know how to spend my money. All I want is to get out in a timely fashion.

I have no idea what her intention was with this bit of banter. Perhaps she felt she was "engaging the customer". What she did accomplish was to make her store seem like they charged too much and her customer, me, was an unsuspecting dupe.

The customers experience doesn't end with the placement of goods in the shopping cart. One could even argue it doesn't end until all of the products purchased have been used. Certainly, the check-out is a major part of the shopping experience.

Strangely enough, this was not the first time I have taken products to a cashier and was told, "WOW! This is expensive!" I would prefer to hear the equivalent of what waiters say at fine restaurants, "Excellent choice!" This allows a customer to feel smart.

The fact is, we all want our choices to be validated. Had this cashier said, "Oh what beautiful flowers, I know you are going to love them." I would have left the store feeling like I had made a wise choice. Instead I found myself rationalizing my purchase all the way home. It also left me with the feeling that Wholefoods was TOO expensive.

I am sure this tactic of critiquing the customer's purchase was not part of the training curriculum. But do you think that cashiers are trained to add value at the end? Clearly, this doesn't happen at many places.

If you have a cashier at your establishment, train them how to continue building value at the cash register. It really will help.

If you would like a white paper on the value of building value write to me at building I will send you one for free!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Policy vs. Customer Part 2…Customer loses again!

My brother wanted to buy his wife 5 dozen roses for her birthday. He is very busy and frequently out of town. He decided that the easiest method of sending her flowers was to call ProFlowers, an online florist that he has done business with in the past.

He called their 800 number and warned the customer service person that he had had bad service in the past and was giving the company one last chance. She couldn’t find his record and proceeded to take his order.

(WARNING! This next section is going to sound unbelievable but it is EXACTLY what happened!)

He said “I want you to send 5 dozen roses to my wife”
She replied “Sorry Sir, I can only sell you 1 dozen roses”
He: ”What? You won’t sell me 5 dozen roses?”
She: “Sorry, our roses only come in 1 dozen”
He: “Well your website says you have a 2 dozen bouquet”
She “Okay, I can sell you 2 dozen roses”
He: (his patience running extremely thin) “Then sell me TWO 2 dozen bouquets and ONE 1 dozen bouquet. That will add up to five dozen roses”
She: “Well, I will still have to charge you separate shipping on each of these.”

Needless to say he didn’t buy from ProFlowers. He did get a recommendation of a florist, Blossoms, in his neighborhood who was willing and able to sell a five dozen rose bouquet. Even though he ended up spending almost twice as much, he was a VERY happy customer because the experience was easy and the flowers were magnificent.

Every client I share this story with is appalled. Then, I ask them if they have a policy that is similar. The answer is almost always "yes."

Take a long hard look at your policies and get rid of the ones that make it hard to do business with you.

I believe that customers most often care more about EASY than they do about CHEAP.

How can you make it easier for your customer to do business with you?

Laurie Brown, is a professional speaker and author who helps people improve their customer service, sales and presentations skills. For more information on Laurie’s training seminars, books, articles and recordings, please call Laurie at 248.761.7510 or email her at or visit her website

Friday, October 13, 2006

Policy VS. Customer...Customer loses!

Every time receive bad customer service I think...Okay not so bad...I can at least use this story in my class or my blog. Yesterday was no exception.

I called Cingular to find out why my son's phone wasn't working in Berlin Germany. The woman, "Patty" was helpful up to a point. She suggested that I tell my son to power his phone off and on. I was IMing him while speaking to her.

At one point as I was waiting for his response she said "I can't stay on the phone while you put me on hold. It is our policy." I responded "You are not on hold. I am speaking to you. I have to wait to hear back from my son." She repeated herself and I found myself saying things like " I am a REALLY good customer. I have three phones with your company, surely you should be able to stay on the phone while I get info from my son." Apparently I was wrong and she insisted that she had to hang up. I asked to speak to her supervisor and she managed to get my call cut off. By the time I heard the click I was furious.

I called back to speak to a supervisor and the woman who answered asked if she could help. When I explained the issue she apologized and I insisted that I speak to a supervisor (once again!) This time she stayed on the phone while she tried to find one. They were all in a meeting or hiding or something. She tried to get me to their voicemail ..Surprise surprise...It didn't work.

She said that she was going to leave a message and I should hear back withing 24 to 48 hours . Pitiful!!

Perhaps they really do have a policy that says that they can not be put on hold. Okay. But each employee should be empowered to make exceptions. One look at my record should have given me "special status".

However EVERY customer should have "special status". Patty decided that the policy was more important than the customer.

Look at your policies...Are you doing the same thing? Are you choosing to enforce a policy simply because it is a policy? Or are you choosing your customer?

You know what my recommendation is!

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Downside of Upselling

Like all of you, I hate the idea of leaving money on the table. That is why I like the idea of "upselling". Simply put upselling is offering your customer the opportunity to add additional NEEDED items to his or her order. My guess is that you have experienced upselling in your daily life. Fast food joints are notorious upsellers, constantly asking “would you like fries with that?”

So what is the downside of upselling?

It's Boring!!! When your upsell is rote, as in "would you like fries with that", your customer not only expects it, but is most likely not even listening. Even if you have a process or script that you have to follow at your business, that doesn't mean that you can't have some fun and be creative. Even in the case of fast food franchises, where the cashier is required to ask the customer to add to their orders, the cashier could say something different like " Hey you look hungry today...would you like add our amazing crisp fries to your order?" Surprise your customer with the unexpected.

It's Impersonal!!!
My friend Peggy says "I am offended when I am 'cookie cuttered'. At least use my name, that way I know that you know who you are talking to." When you offer the same upsell to each and every customer, you lose the opportunity to make your offer personally meaningful. Everytime you offer your customer an additional item you should be sure you understand your customer well enough to give them something that has value to them.

It's Annoying!!!
When my husband goes to get his morning coffee from his favorite coffee shop he just wants his coffee. Even though he has been going in every work day for the last 2 years they still ask him if he would like a scone. Everyday for the last 2 years he has turned them down. By continually asking him the same question and getting the same answer, they have risked his good will. If you know your customer doesn’t want what you have to offer…stop asking.

It's not Done Correctly
Most of the problems with upselling comes down to this issue. Truly, good upselling is a combination of process and attitude.

What do I mean by "done correctly"? First of all it is essential that you know your customer well enough, so that your offer has value in their lives. That kind of deep understanding of your customer comes from having a process that has you asking questions and digging deeper. As Steve Waterhouse in his “Total Customer Selling Process” (TCS) states, you need to “step back” and look at who and what are influencing your customer. This global view allows you to really understand your customer.

Secondly, it needs to be done with “true caring”. Don’t offer them something they don’t need or want just to make more money. “True caring” means you genuinely want to help your customer, and you only offer that which has real value to them. That you act with integrity.

So who benefits from upselling? Both you and your customer should benefit. First of all, it allows you to make more money from your customer. Obviously that benefit alone is why upselling has become ubiquitous in most fast food franchises. But if done correctly, the true benefit is to your customer. You can help your customer become aware of additional products and services that will meet their needs and solves their problems.

If you are in the customer service business you should consider upselling as one more way of helping your customers. Your job is being a problem solver. What are your customer’s problems? And how can your products and/or services solve those problems?

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Objection Detective

Why do some salespeople hate objections? My guess is that they feel it disrupts the flow of their sales pitch. Or perhaps they believe that the objection signals to them that they have lost the sale. Neither of these are true. An objection should never be considered a disruption or a loss. Objections are simply the customers way of asking for more information.

So, I recommend that instead of doing your best to avoid objections you become an "Objection Detective." Make it your job to unearth every objection that the customer has. Have a "bring it on" attitude to objections. Because they are not the END of the sale they are the BEGINNING of the opportunity to understand your customer better and provide them with what they need to make an informed purchase.

Many salespeople think it is best to leave the objection buried. Perhaps if they ignore it it will go away. But, when you do that, it eventually will come back to haunt you. Like any infection left untreated, it will only grow and grow. Your job is to surface it, clean it and move on in the sales process. Unanswered objections lead to lost sales or the need to lower the price to keep the sale.

So, how do you go about becoming an Objection Detective? You have to listen very carefully to what the customer is telling you. Sure you need to hear the words they are saying, but it is even more important to hear what they are not saying. Customers talk to us in all sorts of ways. Their body language, facial expressions and tone of voice often provide more information than their words. Watch for the sometimes subtle (and not so subtle) changes in a customers demeanor and then ask the questions that will uncover the issue. If you see that your customer stops making eye contact or starts fidgeting or looking at his watch, it is time to slow down or back up and find out the source of their discomfort. Even a slight change can signify a serious underlying objection.

The more objections you uncover and answer, the easier the close will be. And you want an easy close don't you?

In future blogs, we will discuss the types of objections and the best way to answer them. Until then, try becoming an objection detective and see what results you get. I would love to hear from you.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Investment on Returns--Customer Service

So there I stood, feeling incredibly stupid. Having waited in line for a few minutes to return a paperback copy of Harry Potter, which I realized I already owned once I brought it home, I stood face-to-face with the cashier. I looked over his shoulder and read “Barnes and Nobles”, I looked down at the imprint on my plastic bag “Waldenbooks”. I paused , turned beet red and said “Oops, I am obviously in the wrong place”. I started to turn and leave when he gently stopped me with the words “If we carry that book we would be happy to refund it for you”. “Really???” I asked. “Sure no problem let me have a look”. He determined that he already had 24 copies in stock and was more than happy to take one more. He handed me a credit card looking store credit, had me sign a receipt and that was that.

But that was not the end of the story. I was so blown away and so grateful I decided to go buy a CD. Now the CD was about twice what my refund was so I handed the card and the money and I took my CD and left

But that was still not the end of the story. As soon as I got out of the store I called my brother and 5 of my friends to tell them about this amazing customer service. And now of course I am telling you, too.

So let’s look at this story and see what actually occurred. Barnes and Nobles made an “Investment on my Return”. What exactly was the “cost” of this investment? Perhaps there was a cost for training the employee that taught him to act in this kind and generous way. But other than that it cost them nothing. Okay maybe there was some cost for restocking. They will surely sell that other copy. But then we need to reverse this formula and see what the Return on Investment was.

Here is where the real power of this theory is seen. They not only were repaid their initial outlay of $7.99, they received an additional $7.99 that I most surely would not have spent otherwise. They received free word of mouth advertising (which is far more powerful and effective than traditional advertising) and they created a loyal, raving fan customer.

“Returns” are often emotionally charged events. Think about it. People return things that “don’t fit”, that they “don’t like” , that they “can’t afford” , “wasn’t what they expected”, that are of “inferior quality”, that” they don’t need” or “they don’t want”

For a lot of your customers returns are either embarrassing, filled with disappointment or frustration or at the very least a major inconvenience.

How you handle this touchy situation will impact your customers decision to continue doing business with you.

There are many stories going around about how Nordstrom would take anything in a return (including a car engine). Of course you don’t have to go to that extreme to make your return policy fair, easy and effective.

What does it take to create a return atmosphere that will keep your customers coming back?

Management needs to create a policy that is fair, easy and effective. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and make a decision that benefits them.

Once you have your policy make sure that your employees understand what the policy is and how to implement it.

This may be the most essential element of the process. Empower your employee to “do the right thing” to “err” in favor of the customer. Then publicly stand behind that employee even if his or her decision goes beyond your policy. Take them aside privately and discuss and modify.

Your customers need to know your policy inside out. This is especially true if your business has strict regulations. If they need to have a receipt to return the product then it is best to say to the customer as they are checking our “Remember if you need to return this we require the receipt. Would you like it in the bag or would you like to have it?” Granted this will not guarantee that the customers will remember but it does help. Also have the return policy displayed at the check out line and on the receipt.

Bend within Reason
Rules are important, but customers are more important. Even with a strict return policy you need to be customer focused. Do what you can to help that customer with their need. Remember the Investment of Return.

Truly looking out for your customers best interest is actually in your best interest. Take a long hard look at your policy. Is it serving you and your customers? If not change it NOW!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Million Dollar BAD Customer Service

I was watching the Today show this morning and heard the story of a woman who was attacked by bed bugs at a pricey Catskill resort. She was suing the resort for twenty million dollars. TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS!! Yes you read that right!

What was interesting about this suit is that some of the suit was related to the fact that she had 500 bites all over her body (yes they showed pictures), but some of the suit was based on how they treated her after she complained.

She felt that they showed a blatant lack of concern for her issue. She was offered two free nights but declined the offer.

How could this resort avoided the multi-million dollar suit? I am sure that in most cases the offer of two free nights might have been sufficient for a small problem. But this was no small problem. They should have offered her compensation that was equal to the suffering.

They should have shown empathy and concern. They should have paid all medical expenses. They should have engaged her in the solution to her problem. "What would be a fair compensation?" She may not have come up with a "fair" compensation but at least they would have the beginning of a negotiation that didn't involve high priced lawyers.

They also would have avoided probably MORE than twenty million dollars of really bad publicity.

The next time you think that the problem your customer has with your product or service is no big deal or could be handled with a band aid, remember that it could turn into a multi-million dollar problem. Fix it now, fix it fast, fix it right.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Truly EXCEPTIONAL Customer Service

I went to a local branch of LaSalle Bank today. I had to deposit a check into my business account. No big deal, but I left my checkbook at home which meant that I didn't have my account number. I searched my purse for a moment and then I gave up. I turned to my friend Karla and said " Oh I am going to have to put this in the ATM, I can't find my account number". You have to understand that I must have said those VERY same words at least a gazillion times in bank lobbies. But today was different. Today I was in Michelle Ingrao's lobby. She said "Can I help you find your account number?" "Er, ah" I stuttered "sure, thanks."

And so she did. I asked how she does that. She explained that she truly doesn't eavesdrop (ok that is a relief) but her ears are tuned into keywords. "Account number" was one of her keywords.

That was a display of really great service. When you can take care of your customer BEFORE they ask for your help you really wow them. And more importantly they talk about you to their friends.

So what are the "keywords" your customer uses? How can you listen for them so that you can be there for them? Find 3 keywords today and give it a try!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cost Control

Last night I went to a local restaurant to purchase dinner for my family. I like this place. The food is eclectic and well prepared. They had a special written on their chalk board. It sounded great, turkey meatloaf. I knew that their version would be perfect and I ordered it.

The waitress told me it came with mashed potatoes and wilted spinach. Well I am watching my carb intake and I asked if they could substitute vegetables for the mashed potatoes. She thought not, but would go in the back and ask the chef. The answer came back “NO”. I asked if I could have more spinach instead of the potatoes. She said “NO.” “Why not?” I asked. She replied “cost control, spinach costs more than potatoes.” Well, I knew that this was a small, probably struggling business and I could appreciate the need to be cost sensitive, so I offered. “No problem, I’ll pay extra for the spinach” (I’m thinking that I will get the award for most understanding and reasonable customer of the month)

But boy was I wrong! Not only did I not get the coveted most reasonable customer award, I got one more big “NO!” At this point I was frustrated at their unwillingness to meet my needs and I left without ordering anything.

So their cost control efforts created a profit control of much bigger proportions. Even though they had saved money on the vegetables that had lost my four dinner orders that evening, which didn’t seem to phase the waitperson or chef one bit.

Clearly this was not a cost control issue, this was a control issue. The chef had created a “perfect combo” and was not about to ruin his piece of art for a mere customer. He was devoted to his vision and not his customer’s needs. He forgot he only gets to create because of people like me, his customer.

Perhaps as you read this you are thinking, wow I would NEVER treat my customers that way. Maybe you wouldn’t. But if you have said “no” to your customer in the last month, you might have to rethink that idea.

Sometimes our customers are unreasonable. Sometimes they ask for outrageous things. But sometimes it is easier for us to say “no” then to find a creative solution that meets everyone needs.

The next time you are about to say “no” to your customer, stop for a moment, catch your breath and instead say “Let me see what I can do.” If nothing else the customer will feel that you are on their side and trying to help them. Then get creative and find a way to give your customer what they need.