Perception

The Strange Relief of Borders’ Closing

A short while back, I wrote a post thinking about the closing of the U.S. bookselling giant, Borders Books. The doors are closed now. Both they and their largest competitor are (were) within a few miles of us, and interestingly, The Kid and I went to that rival, Barnes & Noble, this weekend to browse.

It was quite interesting, because we noticed they’re still as packed as ever they were, but no more packed. I had expected either fewer people, with everyone having had their fill of books for a while (I confess to having bought a few when the sale got pretty good, for myself and for The Kid—so as I walked into Barnes & Noble I did wonder why we were going), or more people, with folks who used to go down the street for their bookstore fix crowding into the last shop standing.

But it looked no different than B&N always does, and that got me thinking.

Borders and B&N both had loyalty cards, as so many retailers seem to these days, which give you a discount when you shop with them. Borders made their card free a couple of years ago, in one of their attempts to hold on (as they were sinking). Once they did that, I gave up my B&N discount card, which had an annual fee, for the free Borders card. I always made back my B&N fee in discounts (I do love books!), but FREE is hard to argue with.

The result: I nearly stopped buying books over the last two years. Yet I’d never thought about it until I stood in B&N this weekend.

So, why did I stop buying books?

Because I was a devoted Barnes & Noble customer, but I had this free card, see? So I couldn’t go to B&N and waste money (by not getting a discount) when I should go to Borders to do my book browsing and buying.

At first I tried to switch loyalties, but eventually I just stopped hanging out at either store. Borders did what every business, including yours, wants to be able to do—they changed a customer’s shopping habits—but for them it was bad, BAD.

This all hit me when I stood in B&N this weekend and felt… relief. The strangest feeling of relief that Borders was gone, that I’d be able to go to Barnes & Noble’s without feeling guilt, that I’d get my discount card again…

Yes, that card that costs an annual fee. I’ll probably get one again. I mean, who wants to pay full price for their books and mags?

Lessons:

A discount card can’t change habits if it’s all you’ve got in your bag of tricks. Borders never “felt” right to me, and without realizing it, I changed my shopping habits rather than shop there.

What about amazon.com? I hear you say. I did shop online for books when I knew what I wanted in advance and didn’t need it now-now-now. I still do. This is usually much more of a discount than retail-plus-discount-card, but it’s changed my retail bookshopping very little. Much as I love them, amazon can’t completely fill the need to see and experience the product in advance, and they have a hard time being in my face at a weak moment when I just “feel like” having something new to read. If your business is online, keep this in mind and find ways to be there at serendipitous moments; if you’re mainly an offline, bricks-and-mortar place, remember that seeing, touching, and discussing purchases in person—convincing ourselves into the purchase with your help—is still your great advantage.

And a last, unscientific musing on Borders’ passing:

If my Barnes & Noble store is typical, and if the volume of their business this weekend wasn’t just a coincidence, then why are they not (a) less packed or (b) more packed than usual?

I’d guess loyal B&N customers aren’t immune to a good sale, but that like me they didn’t spend very long at Borders’ closing sales. They bought a few things they probably didn’t “need,” but couldn’t pass up at the prices, and then went back to their normal habit, of hanging out now and again, browsing and shopping at Barnes & Noble.

Loyal Borders customers, on the other hand, don’t need a book right now, and they’ve lost their place to shop. Like me with a discount card for a place I didn’t really like, their shopping habits are disrupted, and whether they’ll ever change loyalty is, right now, anybody’s guess.

Shopping is about a lot more than what you buy.

A simple conclusion, but it should be comforting to us small business people.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Back in the soft, pillow-y saddle…

Hello, dear reader of the Maximum Customer Experience Blog! It’s not such a secret that MCE took an unplanned holiday for personal reasons recently—thanks to those of you who sent a note down into the rabbit hole to see how the MCE-bunnies were doing. With a bit of luck, only planned and announced holidays from now on.    :)

And now, back to Customer Experience!

Well, I had occasion to consider buying a new mattress recently. That’s a big chunk of change, so I did my research online, determined what I might be interested in, then found the store near me that carried the mattress and went to try it out.

When I got there, as is often the case with matters of personal preference, the one I thought I liked based on reviews online, was not the one I liked in the store. So I checked out a couple of others that were similar and found exactly what I… think I… want. Then I walked away for a couple of weeks to think about it, and went back again to see if I still liked it.

The verdict: I still haven’t decided. Buying a new mattress is a long-term commitment to a good night’s rest! Maybe I’ll stick with the one I have, maybe I’ll get a new one. But I had an experience the second time I went window-shopping that many of us could put to use in our own businesses.

Listen to what this gentle salesperson (GS) had to say:

Me: I’m not sure yet. I was here before to try them out. I do think I like this one, but I’ve had some awful back trouble and so I’m picky…

GS: Sure, it’s a big decision.

Me: They’ve almost all got these pillow-y things on top now… seems like that might be too hot! But the one I thought I would like was too soft, and the one without the squishy top is pretty hard. [Note my dazzling use of technical terms... and distinct resemblance to Goldilocks.]

GS: Some people do find the pillow-tops keep them too warm. But the one you’re considering has [name of fancy-pants fabric] which the company claims alleviates a lot of that.

Me: Does it work?

GS: I’d guess about half of the people feel like it does.

Me: Wonder which half I’d be in…

GS: [Smiles, knowing this was not a very salesy thing to say and also knowing, I suspect, that being less salesy is working on me.] Well, if it’s the one that feels best to you in the store, you can give it a try. You’ve got 30 days to do a return or a “comfort exchange.” That’s where you just call us up and say “I guess the other one would be better after all” and we come out and change your mattress out, set it up, and everything. Everything except make the bed.

Me: If you made the bed, my kid would have your guys out every week, ha ha.

GS: [Goes on to explains other salesy stuff that all places that sell mattresses have in common about delivery, very conversationally.]

Me: Just so I know how fast I should decide… How long is this sale good for?

GS: Ah, well, here’s the funny part. Up at one of the corners of the bed [I pull the pillow away from my corner and I see an odd fabric swatch sewn on]—right, that’s it— this main fabric and that one on the corner are the two covers that you may get when the mattress is delivered. See, they make your mattress to order the week you buy it. That’s nice because it doesn’t sit around in a warehouse warping or getting dusty, but also because—I’m probably not supposed to mention this, but the sale goes on for most of the year. We just switch which cover we make for you, so we’re selling something “different” on the sale. So you don’t have to hurry. Same mattress, same construction, whenever you decide.

Me: Wow, really? So the only difference will be what fabric you cover it with?

GS: Yep.

Me: Thanks. I am going to think about it a while longer, but I’ll be back when I can make a decision.

GS: And I’ll be here…

Now, I had already tried mattress-hunting a couple of weeks earlier, at this store and a couple of others, and I’ve done it in the past as well. Much of what he said was what most anyone would say… but not all salespeople understand the art of the gentle sale.

Like you, probably, I really don’t like being pushed or “convinced.” A salesperson who lets me convince myself creates a memorable experience for me, but the salespeople I’d talked with on my first expedition hadn’t understood that at all. I had expected their sales pitches—and I had ignored their sales pitches. Because it was the expected pitches in the usual style, I couldn’t remember a word anyone else had said. This gentle salesperson, I listened to.

The truth is, I haven’t bought a thing from any of them. And I can’t guarantee that (if I do make up my mind) I’ll go back at a time when GS is there. I’m not even sure that he works on commission, so I don’t know if I’d help him personally if I did come back and ask for him. But the gentle salesperson, giving away “insider secrets” to me about the sale and their manufacturing process, encouraging me to be undecided for as long as it takes, he sold me on the store. I was pretty sure I’d buy there before I talked to him, and I was certain of it afterwards. So his technique was good for everyone who works at that store… and in the end, what’s good for the store is good for all the salespeople at the store.

So for our MCE purposes:

1. Don’t be afraid to be conversational. Not to “act” conversational, but to have a real conversation with your customer. Be yourself.

2. Don’t feel like you have to make the sale today. You may just save the sale for your company by being the guy who doesn’t need to make the sale right now.

3. Don’t be afraid to tell a few trade “secrets.” Maybe even agree in advance with your staff on some little insider secrets that you don’t mind letting out to a customer who’s still undecided… things to make the conversation valuable enough, and to extend it long enough, that he or she can’t forget to come back when they’re ready.

Which “insider secrets” might your customers enjoy knowing? How can you use those secrets to make a more interesting conversation, and a more memorable experience for your customers?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

We have no green beeeeeeans, today

I’ve worked for a couple of places, in my time, where company policy was “Don’t mention what we’re out of, and maybe the customer won’t ask.”

Maybe you’ve worked for places like that, too.

I saw this sign today and I just had to write about it.

Boston Market - Current shipment of green beans does not meet our high quality standards...

For those of you who don’t have one nearby, Boston Market is a semi-fast-food restaurant serving semi-homemade foods like meatloaf, roast beef, and chicken—rather nicer than the standard in-a-hurry food—with side orders you won’t see in anyone else’s drive-through such as mashed potatoes… and, as you can see from the sign, green beans. But not today.

Here’s why this sign deserves your Maximum attention:

Fess up

“Don’t mention the problems and cross your fingers” almost always results in a darned awkward moment when a customer, inevitably, does bring up the problem. Whether it’s something you’re out of, or something that’s gone wrong, someone besides you is bound to notice. During that awkward moment, you look like you’re less-than-honest. And at that moment, you are. You don’t want that! Fessing up, up front, looks good.

Write it like you give a doggone

I’ve sometimes seen “No tomatoes/orange juice/whole wheat buns this week” signs and the like, hastily handwritten on a sheet of copier paper at the point of sale, but those have an air of “buzz off & leave us alone about it” that isn’t present here. This one has something those dashed-off signs don’t have—an official imprint and some time and care in its phrasing and layout. Sure, it’s dead-simple, but the act of using letterhead and typing out a sympathetically-phrased sentence or two makes all the difference in whose interests the company seems to have at heart—this sign makes it seem as though they’re looking out for us customers. Nice.

Sneaky advert?

It’s not one of The Big Three fast-food places, and even in our local area I’d imagine there are many folks like me who don’t go here more than a couple of times a year. This nicely worded sign on their drive-through speaker actually highlighted an item that I had no idea about—and made me think of coming back in a couple of weeks to give fresh, company-approved green-beans-to-go a try on some other crazy-busy night! I don’t advise that you have supply issues just so you can highlight an unsung product you offer, but if a problem arises and you can make it sound like a future win for customers, why not?

Make the best out of mushy produce

Stuff goes wrong. That’s all part of running your business day in and day out.

Sometimes Maximum Customer Experience is about making the best out of a lack of green beans.*

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*Unless what you’re out of is bananas… (watch to about the 40-second mark and you’ll get the gist of it…)

& no holding back

Last week, we talked about gaining traction for your business, within the right market.

This market must be full of early adopters (low resistance to change) with their ears to the ground (on the lookout for change) who have spare $$—and who are also talkative sharers.

What do those “talkative sharers” want?

Something to talk about. And that’s where you come in.

To get noticed, to gain influence with your market—to gain their ears and keep their loyal interest in your company—you’re going to need to say something noticeable.

You’re going to need to voice strong opinions.

There are a lot of people reading this right now who are fond of being “behind the scenes.” Perhaps you’re just not comfortable being the mouthpiece for your company. Maybe you know your work is awesome, and you’re sure that the world will “get it” without your calling attention to yourself.

Keep that up, and you’ll discreetly fade into the woodwork of business history.

Voice those strong opinions. Customers expect it and require it. Bland does not tell what’s unique and worth sharing about you.

Bland does not sell.

Don’t hold back on your opinions, or your knowledge in your field. Customers come to you…

(if they do come to you)

… because you’re the expert.

Other folks don’t know, and don’t care, like you do. Even your most valued customers have a more casual interest than you do, and a tiny window of time in which they’re listening to you. They’ve got their own fish to fry. Shake ‘em up while you hold their attention—even if what you have to say is unexpected or controversial. Your experience, opinions, and knowledge can lift doubt (and kick out lukewarm customers you don’t want).

An expert is allowed to be passionate about their field. Heck, if you can’t defend the merits of what you do—vigorously—why do you expect customers to talk you up vigorously?

Be controversial, even an instigator, in moderation. (Check yourself right before the words “shrill” or “close-minded” come up in a conversation about you.) Don’t shy away from a little publicity—and give ‘em a sound bite or two.

If you believe you can truly help your customer with what you sell, but you hold back on what you believe, your customers may never hear about you…

… or worse yet, they hear about you and can’t remember you long enough to talk about you.

There’s no room for sissies in your successful business plan.

Make some noise!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Welcome to Beginning Word-of-Mouth, Part 4!

We’re talking WOM at MCE, and you’ve got to have it! It began with A Line Out the Door. The result of great, viral word-of-mouth is being so busy you stand out, like a local restaurant I know of. That’s what we’re all looking for—so can you shape it, or is it a roll of the dice?

Then we peeked into the story of Craigslist—because Craig Newmark’s secret is all in the story (and in trusting his Propheteers to do what they do best).

Last time, we looked at Why you? You know the best talkers in the world don’t want to talk about a product or service with no talk-ability, so we took word-of-mouth apart to find what makes someone talk about you.

This time:

How to make talking about you easy, 3 Ways

 

1. “New” isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

If your product or service is really new, as in “I don’t have anything to compare it to,” it’s going to be harder to talk up. Because? Because I don’t have anything to compare it to! “Game-changing” is good; “totally new game” is bad. Find a way to relate what you do to something folks are familiar with, then highlight your unbearably awesome differences.

When a new shop comes along, I want to be able to say, “They’ve got stuff that belongs at Tiffany’s—but they treat you like you’re at Disneyworld.” (Okay, I don’t want to be able to say that. But you got an image in your head, right?)

When a new online service comes along, we want to be able to say, “It’s like MySpace but without all the ugly, and it’s way less spammy than emailing people all the time.” (Facebook’s not so new anymore, but this is about how it was described to me when it was new…)

Don’t tell your customers and your brand-new staff that you’re like nothing they’ve ever seen before—even if you are. Make it easier for your talkers. Find a way to make what you do relate to what they do or wish they could do, and your best talkers will talk a lot more.

 

2. Everybody pats the head of the dog with a wagging tail.

Your first, best talkers will eat, sleep, and breathe your Vision. They smile branded smiles and wag their branded tails and folks gets swept up in their joy. People want to try out a business than can so obviously deliver delight. And among the first and the best—you should be firstest and bestest.

It may sound obvious, but you need to be your number 1 fan and Propheteer. Spread the gospel of your company wherever you are. Be the enthusiastic cheerleader you’re hoping to find, when you’re hard at work but more importantly, when you’re away from your desk. Talk yourself up—people need what you’ve got, so don’t hide it! Too many small business owners forget (or fear!) this simple rule.

Who’s next? Who should be most caught up in your Vision, after you? Your staff. The people you hire are not just creating Customer Experiences that will last, they’re thinking about work… and yes, talking about work… when they’re not at work. Treat your staff like gold—pay them well, make work fun, thank them loudly and often, and let them participate in your Vision—and you will have the best real-world referral engine in the world chugging ahead (or should that be wagging their tails?) long after hours.

 

3. If you really want a line out the door, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Show what’s in it for your talkers. And reward it.

“Word-of-mouth is so hard to measure!” I hear this all the time.

But my hairdresser has no trouble—she hands me a discount card to give to friends who might be looking for someone new, and because I love being a hero to my friends (remember Part 3?), I can’t resist offering the discount when I hear about hair woes. If cards come back, she knows it’s working. And she remembers to thank me next time I’m in.

An accountant I know has been kicking other accountant’s butts for a long time by simply asking, “Do you know anyone who could use my help?” Poising his pen in case a name pops up right away. Sending a card in a week or two reminding customers that he enjoys always working with them, and that’s why he’d love to work with people they recommend. Delivering a gift card for clients (and staffers!) after they’ve sent the company new business.

An ice-cream shop nearby has a loyalty punch-card to make my workouts last longer encourage me to return. When I’m on my way out, happy as a well-fed clam, they’ll let me know that next week is double points for new customers, so if I had a good time would I please cause someone else such exquisite torture?

Word-of mouth referral growth is only hard to measure if you:

Don’t ask for it (and so can’t track what caused it)—even a friendly request may put you miles ahead of your competition; throw in insider-only new-customer discounts or other promotions to up the ante

Don’t make it easy and obvious Why. Will I be a hero, help a friend, or help myself by making a referral for you?

Don’t ask, “How did you hear about us?” You can’t measure what you aren’t tracking. Not only will you find out which word-of-mouth techniques are working, you may even find out about ways the word is spreading without your help—and with a little knowledge, you may be able to improve these hidden sources

Don’t show your thanks. When employees and customers know you’ll show your genuine appreciation for them, you bet they’ll find more opportunities to spread the word.

 

Make talking you up easy and understandable. Be your own biggest fan—during off-hours as well as when it’s expected. Ask for it, track it, reward it. Let people know that helping your company, helps them, too. As it should—your word-of-mouth Propheteers are partners in growing your business!

What do you do, to make talking ‘bout your company easy?

What’s your biggest challenge on this list?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out —

—the Brand Propheteer Interview Series here at Maximum Customer Experience, a great three-part piece digging into the heart of local small businesses (just like yours?) who are trying to make word-of-mouth referrals work harder for them, and

—the Experience Design 201 series, especially Experience Design 201, Part 2, where we talk about the customer who most enjoys talking about you.

—and please do talk it up! Use the “Share This” button right below this post to tell other folks that this post is your secret source for the best practical word-of-mouth tips. Thanks!

Beginning Word-of-Mouth, Part 3

If you gotta have it, and can’t wait to talk about it, it’s because it’s worth talking about.

Seems simple enough! Let’s go home.

Not so fast…

The 3 Best Paths to Talk-ability

  • Fun-Easy-Outrageous-Youthful-Hip-Quick-Inexpensive-Treat

(McDonald’s. An iPad. The Onion. Charlie Sheen.)

  • Expensive-Exclusive-Difficult-Super rare-Exquisite-Astonishing-Status symbol

(Hummers [in their day]. Priuses. Service at Neiman-Marcus.)

  • Cures something horrible-Saves something essential-Makes sense of URGENT legal or health or safety matters

(Your surgeon. Your lawyer. Your tax preparer.)

What do they all have in common? The person who spreads the WOM gets to be the hero for a minute to the person they’re talking with.

You probably can’t be in more than one category at a time, unless, as with the iPad or maybe the Prius, you’re seen by different customers as different things.

Shoot for one path to talkability. Find right talkers, the ones who want to be that WOM hero, and reward your heroes. (Hint—your best Propheteers are not always your best shoppers. More on talkers next week.) Make it easy for them to see how you fit into their conversations, and then stand back.

How is what you’re selling talk-able?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Are you struggling, or have you got one, too?

Night after night, the new place down the street from us has one—a line out the door.

It freaks me out a little bit, to be honest, in this era of half-empty… or wholly empty… restaurants. I really couldn’t believe it at first.

Their concept is a simple one. They’re selling nothing fancy or faddish or new. It’s nothing you haven’t seen, nothing you’d be nervous or even surprised to eat, which is why I’m not going to talk about exactly what they sell at all.

I want you to know that whatever you sell, I believe you may be able to get a little o’ what they’ve got. So never mind the menu.

This place has “gone viral,” you could say, in both an old-fashioned and a very modern way:

Though The Kid goes to school nowhere near the place, she says they’re talked about constantly at school— “Did you go last weekend?” “I’m going tomorrow night.” “Meet me there Friday?”

Because we live very near the place, I asked people I do work with about it quite a lot, especially in the beginning— “Have you seen the lines?” “What’s so special about it?” “Think it’s worth all the fuss?”

That’s the kind of (traditional) word-of-mouth all small businesses crave, and its effect blossomed very quickly from who-ever-heard-of-them to who-hasn’t?

They’ve got free wifi…. At most places, this results in a few folks hunched over their computers getting in a little work time or online socializing, but not at this place. This place is crawling with texters and Twitterers and wall-posters, talking to real people sitting with them, and posting for tons more real people to see: “I’m here, where are you? Hurry up.”

If there’s ever a lull in their evening business I haven’t seen it, but I’ve no doubt that’s because of how quickly one empty chair is filled by ten hyperconnected tushes. (*ahem* Not that the tushes are hyperconnected, just the owners of the tushes, you know…)

They’ve got word-of-mouth working for them, person to person. They’ve got online WOM working as well. And then there’s a line out the door, and the line is its own kind of endorsement—a sort of silent, visual word-of-mouth. The line itself, makes the line stretch out the door longer.

Brilliant.

Or is it just luck?

Word-of-Mouth: The Holy Grail of Customer Experience

Everyone knows what it is, but does ANYONE know how to get it?

Let’s talk about it for a few days. The good, the elements that contribute to it, and even the bad (oh, yes—there is a dark side to word-of-mouth).

Let me ask you this to start:

For all the books and websites and gurus who devote themselves to it, how do you feel about WOM for your business? Is word-of-mouth (online or off) something you believe you can help shape?

Do you find it easy to stay at the top of customers’ minds, or does it seem like something you’d best leave to the winds of fate?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

And yes, for this story names HAVE been made goofy to protect the innocent

I’ve been absent from MCE for a little while, to take care of some priorities elsewhere. Of course for your intrepid Experience Designer, every day has many moments in it that I’d love you tell you about. One, in particular, surprised me (shocked me!) recently, and I couldn’t wait to get back to write about it for you.

I needed a major piece of equipment last week. I was reluctant to plunk down the cash for a big expenditure, but it was a need, so I did my research, learned about the pros and cons of two dozen features that are common to the equipment, decided on exactly the item I wanted, found two brands that could supply it, and located the store with the very best possible price online before heading out to the store to feel the merchandise.

When I got to the store, let’s call them The Store Who Got My Money or Helpful Folks for short, I was greeted pleasantly at the front of the store. It’s a Very Large Specialty Retailer, and a lot of big stores like this have greeters, so this wasn’t a surprise. About halfway through the store, I was asked if I needed help or direction, again not too surprising. Once I was in the department I was looking for, I looked around a bit, located the two brands I was choosing between, and when a third salesperson asked if I wanted help, I explained that seeing the products had made up my mind but I’d be glad to hear any extra points he thought I might want to know.

It was a convincing, interesting, and useful conversation and all went smoothly, but I got cold feet. It was a fairly big purchase, after all, and I wondered whether I could just go along without it. (We’ve talked before about how your biggest competition is the dreaded Do Nothing—this was my moment to choose that competition.) Like many folks, I’d rather regret not purchasing than purchasing, so I walked away for a couple of days.

In the meantime, I discussed it with some friends. They told me about their own experiences and helped me talk myself back into it (and convinced me it wasn’t such a big-deal purchase). One friend even suggested that I might have missed a source, because he was pretty sure that I could get an even better price at another large specialty retailer. So, armed with more information, and now determined to finish what I’d started, I went to this second store where the prices were indeed better—let’s call them The Store I’d Never Give a Dime To, or People Who Never Even Glanced My Way for short.

I walked into this store as their Ideal Customer. I had the money, had done my research, had even gotten over my cold feet—I wanted what they sell, at their price, and I was there on word-of-mouth from a trusted friend, ready to buy. For you business owners out there, it does not get any better than this. It was almost impossible for them to blow it.

So how did they blow it?

It wasn’t the fact that their greeter was busy yakking with the cart-collector and didn’t notice me. Hey, it happens, even in the best of places. I wanted to throw my money at them, not make friends at the door, so I barely noticed that.

It wasn’t the fact that I stood in front of the item I wanted to purchase, looking interested, for a good five minutes while a salesperson went on and on to a guy who was obviously in the information-gathering stage of his potential purchase, while the man’s wife looked bored, or maybe irritated. The man was there first, after all, and you can’t treat one customer rudely just because another one looks at you urgently a couple of times… and maybe the guy’s wife doesn’t care about such purchases, hence the bored look. I realized there were plenty of other salespeople, and some add-ons I might want to drool over or be talked into, so I decided to walk around.

I did. Walk around, that is. Nice and slowly. Gave salespeople friendly looks if they turned their heads even partly my way, which they mostly didn’t. Stopped and read sales tags, inspected items closely… even tripped once and nearly punched a hole right in one item trying not to fall on my face… and wondered what the heck someone has to do in this place to get attention.

Then I realized what you have to do.

(Gents, this is going to get ugly for a moment, and since I have enormous respect for my male readers, this may be the moment when you want to turn away.)

Dear reader, the floor of this large retailer is a very wide, flat setup, over which you can see almost every nook and cranny of the place. There were at least 25 salespeople on the floor. They were all men. (Which, because I don’t care who helps me out, I hadn’t noticed before.) There were no more than 10 customers in the store. (It was about an hour after they opened, still a bit early in the day.) The only ones being talked to—yes, at this point I actually stood and watched, for an amazingly long time—the only ones being talked to were the men.

No matter that I stood and watched for all this time, looking for just one salesperson to speak to any of the women—no matter that by then I also looked odder than any of the women because I was standing so still instead of examining the merchandise, which had done me no good earlier—no one ever spoke to me.

Not even when I was on my way out.

It’s simple. What you have to do at this store to get attention is to be a man. Otherwise, you are invisible.

Points I would not like to make:

1. I wish kind of thing did not go on for women anymore. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything this blatant, except at auto showrooms and auto parts stores. And heck, some of them are greatly improved in recent years. What century are we in?

2. Gender isn’t the only kind of invisibility. I have friends of both genders, whose skin color has often caused them to become invisible to salespeople.

Points I would like to make:

1. The other store—the Helpful Folks, selling the same stuff to the same crowd—treated every customer well. I won’t say they treated everyone “the same,” because I didn’t make a study of it, but I will say I didn’t make a study of it, because they treated me well. Both times I went in to consider this purchase…

2. And the Helpful Folks got my money. More of it than I would have had to give at the second store, too—because trying to rope someone into giving a darn was not worth the extra 20 bucks off. I value my Experience at more than 20 dollars, so I spent my dollars where the salespeople clearly valued the Experience they gave to me, as well.

3. Word-of-mouth works both ways. I had discussed the purchase with friends in advance, and friends have followed up with me, so I’ve discussed it again—including the store’s details, which I’m leaving out here at MCE. I wouldn’t want anyone else to have to go through that indignity.

Last point:

Could it have been an “off day”?

Maybe. I don’t believe an entire staff can decide to have an off day, but maybe, maybe. Maybe every other woman who’s ever gone in has been treated with respect and dignity… umm, or at least treated in any way at all. Hence I’m not mentioning their name. One thing I can say for sure is it’s not the industry way, because the Helpful Folks, in the same business, were nothing like the People Who Never Even Glanced My Way.

I know you aren’t doing this at your place of business, of course! But take a close look—you may be treating certain customers as invisible in far more subtle ways. It’s worth examining your service with a cold eye now and then to make sure every customer is treated—and treated well.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Would YOU Do This to Your Customers?

A friend has a storage issue at home. (Too much stuff. No place to store it.) So a few years ago, he rented a storage space.

(For those readers not living in the lands of all-things-in-excess, there are actually places here in the States and Canada, at least, that take the burden of having to be prudent off of us poor overconsumers—myself included!—and allow us to store our extra junk at their facilities. Sort of like renting a huge closet.)

He rented the storage space because it was near home, so he could check on his stuff frequently, and add to the space if needed. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a lot cheaper than a bigger home, which he wasn’t yet in a position to afford. So he moved in his baby’s old toys and maybe-someday clothes and extra bikes and college textbooks and all the rest, and in this way he was able to keep his small home more manageable for not too much extra dough. ‘Til the day when they went too far.

The rent had been rising every year, but so does any rent, he figured. Only this year, they raised the rent enough that he choked on it, and he decided he’d had enough. He drove out to the storage space on a Saturday, went in to the office, and demanded to know if there was anything that could be done about this before he thought real hard about moving his things out and going someplace else. After all, he’d been there for years! Surely they’d want to keep such a loyal customer.

(Always worth a try. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?)

The manager raised his eyebrows. He’d have to bend the rules… He hemmed and hawed and tapped on an old calculator. Clearly my friend had him over a barrel! He checked his computer a few times, then went back to the calculator. Finally he said he’d roll back the increase, plus give him another X% off from now on.

He didn’t feel great about the 35-ish dollars off that the manager offered, but it was something. Now he’d just go home, look on the computer to see if that offer was way better than the other two storage places he knew weren’t too far away, and maybe see if he could use this price as leverage to get an even better deal elsewhere. After all, only this morning he had been willing to move. Might as well go for it while he was making the effort.

He powered up the Internet and then thought of one last thing. He’d check the site of his current storage-space company to see how fabulous a deal he’d just gotten. He wanted to be able to rave about the manager when he got back to work—what a nice guy he’d always been, how he’d worked so hard to give him a great deal, how he told him “You have to call this in to me if you want the deal, because it’s not available through corporate,” how he looked a little concerned when he handed him the slip of paper with his final offer. The great deal you get on the weekend makes nice water-cooler talk on Monday.

On the website of his current storage-space company, he found out how “good” the deal was. It was, in fact, $60 over what someone walking in off the street would pay for the same space. Not including their move-in discount. Every year, they’d been raising his rent while he paid no attention… far, far more than they’d raised the rates for new customers. Maybe the 5-year mark, which he’d just passed with this company, is when they realize you’re truly NOT paying attention and decide to give it to you good.

When he went to the websites of the two other local companies offering storage spaces the news was worse. His company had by far… by very, very far… the worst rates around. So the rate he was paying up to this date was over 2 1/2 times what he’d pay someplace else… and the “deal” the manager was cutting him was still highway robbery.

He got in his car and drove to the other spaces to make sure there was no difference in location or safety or facilities.

No difference.

The manager at one of the other spaces explained it to my friend as “a bit of a loyalty penalty.” He said that at his space, when he notices that the automatic increases have gotten out of control for a customer, he takes it upon himself to bring the rate back down, but heaven knows when he just happens to “notice” such a thing. Doesn’t sound like a rent-control method to rely on.

The loyalty penalty.

“I’ve been had,” said my friend, “and in fact, I’ve been had for years. I feel pretty darned foolish.”

Whichever one he chooses, I don’t think he’ll ever trust his new storage-space company the way he trusted the old one. I don’t think he’ll feel comfortable recommending any of them to his friends, ever again, unless he gets to tell his cautionary tale first. (Which won’t make it much of a recommendation at all.)

Some racket. Charge your long-term customers more and more, since you know that switching companies is a pain they’d rather avoid, and hope they don’t look into it too often.

Not a game I’d want to play with my most loyal customers.

Would you?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

The best of merchandise will go back to the shelf unless handled by a conscientious, tactful salesman.
—James Cash Penney

True of “bricks-and-mortar” stores, of course… in that potentially-intimidating tech store Customer Experience I wrote about yesterday, for instance, the power cord was purchased (and purchased there, when I could have run off to the web or to another store) because of a salesperson (disguised as a tech guru) who blew me away with his conscientiousness.

It’s easy to see what J.C. Penney meant in that sense, but consider conscientiousness and tact in the online world. His comment is equally true of your website:

Your website copy tells visitors whether you value their needs or your own (conscientiousness)

Your website’s ease-of-use—the Experience Design—tells them whether you value their time (more conscientiousness)

Your ability to help customers see themselves working with you, to guide them without talking down to them (to be an expert without being a snob), and to make them feel good about their purchase, tells them whether you’re considering their urgent, possibly stressed, perspective at the time when they find your site (tact)

So whether you’re running a restaurant, teaching your servers to be guides to your cuisine; steering a small shop or service business, remembering that the customer’s viewpoint is the one that counts to build loyalty, even if you think your amazing-ness is self-evident; or re-designing your website as a beacon of positive energy for your weary web-searchers in 2011—

Handle your merchandise (show off your stuff) in the best possible light… not the way you like to show it off, but in a way that the customer will see as the best possible light.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

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