Have YOU had Your Customers for a Sleepover Yet?

But, it’s good customer service!

Getting and keeping customers today is harder than ever. When opportunities arise to WOW! the customer, you need to jump on it immediately.
Take a look at this story of an opportunity that presented itself in what could have been a dire situation for both the customers and the employees. But the lead manager of the John Lewis department store in London made lemonade.
This inspiring story is delivered in this fun Prezi as you follow the adventure of an open-minded, risk-taking manager (Deborah), who did what was right for the customers, all 100+ of them.
Ask yourself, would you stick your neck out to do this? The last few slides say it the best: “It shows that great service isn’t a set of rules, it’s a mindset.”

Use right and left arrows at the bottom to view presentation at your pace. Some slides have sound, not all.

Listen carefully to Deborah as she describes the experience. Find the key culture characteristics that drive this behavior and how as a manager, she was totally comfortable in doing this at a cost. How does that culture become not only unquestioned, but supported by senior managers? And note the enabling, not constraining nature of the effort.

“Sharing your customers’ problem and doing all you can to help solve them.”

Share your customer service hero experience here.                          

Small Business vs. Unlimited Guarantees

“Is the customer is always right”?

In reality, is the customer always right? No, not really. Many customers have taken advantage of that adage and have started using it to get something for nothing.

This mindset has occurred as corporations  have extended warrantees for longer terms and in some instances for a lifetime. The wording of such warrantees varies as to what constitutes a guarantee-able cause. Some are unconditional.

Why have companies made these promises to repair or replace their goods with such risk? Well, they either believe their products will last that long, they are desperate to compete on something other than price or they are playing the odds that most people will not return their purchases. All of these have associated costs that you pay for upon purchase.

What has gotten customers (a minority that is growing) to this point? Why are customers willing to lie to get “free stuff”? Retail clerks tell stories of products returned way past their guarantee expiration and with elevated tones decry the failure of the products until they have talked to higher ups and gotten what they want. Are their claims legit? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. They just know that if they scream loud enough they’ll get what they want.

With online and telephone (mail order) purchasing, it gets even worse. Without face to face contact on a return, theReturns line elevation of tone, the assertiveness of conversation and the “I won’t take no for an answer” speech can become
belligerent and often does. Lacking eye contact and the emotional connection of a personal conversation, the clerk on the other end of the line seems less human. Getting your way results in a freebie. The caller goes away swinging high fives while the clerk on the other end feels diminished, defeated and demoralized. After all, this is the company he works for, the products he believes in resulting in a desire for combat pay.

Big business created this practice

Companies have that right to offer any extended warrantees they wish. The do need to live up to them. They also need to spell them out completely. If a $10 billion company makes $800 million in profits, they can afford to risk a 7-9% return rate without affecting the bottom line much. They may get added business because of their warranty which will more than make up for the return rate. Returns may be resold at discounted prices if not damaged.

How can I as a small business compete?

Small businesses that resell products can live by their product manufacturers’ warrantees. If they provide an installation of the products, they should warranty the installation as well or declare in the terms that installation is not included. Some manufacturers offer some compensation for re-installation of their products at a pre-negotiated discounted rate if failure occurs. For large failures, say an entire commercial HVAC system, a negotiation with the manufacturer should be executed in order to not put a small business under financial duress.

Are customers ‘entitled’ to warranty freebies?

  • Customers returning products claiming failure, defective performance or damaged items are entitled to a replacement or repair per the warranty terms. If cash refunds are available, they should be spelled out in the terms. Many products are replacement or repair only.
  • Returns PolicyCustomer honesty is important. If the customer is lying about the performance of the product, they damaged the product themselves or misrepresented how they received the product, the conversations become ugly. Situations such as these need to be protected under the warranty terms and conditions.
  • Don’t offer cash back unless there is proof of purchase/receipt and the time elapsed is limited.  Most people don’t read warrantees until they need to use them, so make sure you’ve covered your company.
  • Do the math. What exactly is it costing to accept, say 8%, of sold products back? In your calculations, figure the labor, postage/trucking etc. as well. What handling will be needed afterwards to re-sell, re-condition, liquidate or dispose of the item? Whatever the average cost is, include it in the sale of the product after deducting the re-sale. If the cost is high, manage your warranty terms carefully.
  • In the case of service-only businesses, call-backs are costly. Sending a technician, installer, service person back to a customer has hidden costs. Not only is the employee time lost, the transportation costs (mileage, time), that tech’s billable time is lost, parts replacements and the lost confidence in your business’ ability to do the job right the first time is now questioned. Remember that customers talk and one bad experience gets shared many times over.

Returned sales cost small businesses thousands of dollars each year. If they aren’t accounted for ahead of time, they come off the bottom line. It is possible to protect yourself by planning ahead. Do the math and protect your profits.

5 Must-have Strategies to Crush Your Competition

Tired of clichés?

“It’s a win-win deal”; “To be honest with you…”; “Put lipstick on a pig”. Why not teach your employees to talk effectively instead?

You can always tell when you are having a conversation with someone trying to sell you something. The clichés come at you like the tapping of a dot matrix printer printing the bible. Why not remove the clichés from the conversation and deliver a direct hit story that applies to your customer.

Use fewer words that have more meaning. Overused clichés tend to get customers indiscriminately nodding their heads in approval but don’t mean anything. Anyone can use those clichés and deliver nothing. As a customer, don’t nod your head in approval. Instead, just keep asking “What does that mean?” until you get an answer that you can actually understand and they can put in writing. If you still don’t understand after that, walk away.

When you train your sales folks (you do train, right?), do you include communication style? What they say and how they say it is critical to the end result of a sale. Let’s look at a few different scenarios of who and how:Haystack of sewing needles.

  1. Retail store clerks – the interaction here is between a clerk (at the register or on the sales floor) and the customer. The conversation is usually short and can be initiated by either party. The clerk’s ability to answer a question without having to check with someone else is important. Add to that, the clerk’s ability to offer a solution to an out-of-stock product, direct the customer to the right location of a product or wisely give a non-cliché answer will please the customer. Stay away from acronyms, corporate jargon and answers not pertaining to the question. It’s not important to show how smart you are, it’s important to answer their question.
  2. Service Technicians – that’s right. Your technicians that service customers’ equipment are part of your sales team. They have face-to-face contact with customers and their performance is key to returning customers. They must be quick on their feet and have the freedom to go above and beyond to exceed the customers’ expectations. The same parameters that apply to the retail clerks apply to technicians.
  3. Delivery drivers – another often overlooked segment of your sales team. Again, they have contact with customers and their attitude can tumble your customer satisfaction rating into single digits. Include them in your customer communications and sales trainings. Something as simple as bringing in the empty garbage cans on trash day go a long way for a special touch.
  4. Inside and Outside sales people – obviously, these are the ones we always include in sales training. They have the most customer contact, should have the highest quality contact and the most enduring relationships. Their conversations must be team oriented supporting the people that will follow them in servicing the customer. Coach them on what and how to talk with customers. The use of product and manufacturer acronyms is strictly forbidden with retail customers (applies to many industry customers as well). They mean nothing to them.
  5. Others – receptionists, custodians, back-office people, fork-lift drivers and anyone that touches the product or meets the customers. They all need to care. Their involvement in communication may not be with the customer, but the conversations with each other affect the customer indirectly. The way they treat each other carries through to the customers and the products.

In each of these cases, training on speech and communication is imperative. Role playing is despised by most but really puts them in a responsible light to perform. Coach them on direct communication that does not sound hurtful, commanding or misleading. Speech should be in a moderate tone, confidently delivered without using “like” or “you know”. Smiles should accompany the speech and eye contact delivers authenticity.

Yes, this does mean training all your employees. The investment will turn into gains in customers who return to buy more from you.

What are your favorite clichés? Share them here and replace them with a proper statement. Best one wins a free one-page business plan.

5 Strategies on Structuring an Empowered Business – Part III

This is the 3rd of a 5 Part series on getting and keeping your business organized

See also: Part I;  Part II

Allied Partners

5 Lessons Capture


Every business has to depend on outside sources for products, services and support. The relationship you establish with them will help you serve your customers to the highest level of satisfaction. Vendors and suppliers should become business partners with your business to the point that when a problem arises, they are there to help and support you through it.

Recently, an order came through for my retail client ordering custom tables for his restaurant customer. The paint color on the furniture came in a shade different than intended. After further research, it was determined that the sample that had originally been presented by the vendor was furnished while the customer intended on a slightly lighter shade from a color swatch. When the order was placed, the customer did not notice that the color description on the purchase order was not what he chose.

Colors are typical issues when ordering of products. But the question always arises, who is responsible for the error? It could be said that either party was wrong. The end user, the customer, rarely wants to acknowledge the mistake. They remember what they said and it doesn’t matter what the purchase order had written on it. Customers also do not want to pay twice for a product they are buying (nor does the retailer or vendor).

Here is how this was resolved. The vendor offered to replace the tables at no extra cost OR give the retailer a credit that could be extended to the customer. The restaurateur chose to wait for the right color and was allowed to use the delivered tables until the new ones arrived. This is a vendor who cares about his customer’s customers. He avoided a hardship for his retailer and satisfied the customer. Allowing the customer to use the delivered tables while the new tables were being manufactured is an expensive task. He will never be able to resell those as new. But the correction is a long term investment in his retailer. The retailer gets to salvage his customer who can now tell a good story to his friends.


With vendors and suppliers, always work to establish solid partnerships. Spell out the details of how business will be handled when things go right and when they go wrong. Don’t wait for something to happen to find out. Ask them how they have handled those things in the past. Make them a part of your business and expect the same from them. Don’t do business with suppliers you don’t trust. You have to be able to trust that they are looking out for you. They will want to trust that you will help them when they need it too. That’s a partnership. When you open the lines of communication, trust ensues.

As a customer, how do you want to be treated when an order doesn’t work out? After you’ve answered that question, ask yourself, “Are you treating your customers that way?”

Tell us what you look for as a customer.


What do Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift Have in Common?

4 Strategies from Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift 

When it comes to marketing, the last advertising models you look at are celebrities. But here is why you should look at those that disrupt conventional wisdom. And yes, that would be Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. Two very different characters with similar strategies.

One completely changed attention-getting and the other followed in her footsteps and subsequently broke new ground.

It’s easy to assume that this is all about social media and, yes it is partly. But don’t stop reading here. It also required some brazen actions to set themselves apart from the business as usual celebrity music releases.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga branded herself from the start. Her name alone makes her unforgettable but then she defined her character by creating her brand. Call it weird, different, audacious or sexy. It stood out. Her attire, her hair, her clothes (or lack of them), all define her eccentricity. She picked out a successful and prominent producer, an active label and a renowned marketing agency to carry her message. She likened herself to the likes of David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Andy Warhol, all people who were eccentric and bold. [Business Strategy #1 – Create your vision, define your brand and make sure people know who you are. Be visible, loud and new! “I’m going to change the world with my lips.”]

She fed her fans (your customers) with treats that gained her a following of nearly 62 million followers on Facebook, gave them teasers with her free music videos and gained their loyalty. She usurped social media to send snippets of where she was and drew crowds in seconds. It wasn’t unusual for her to have giveaways on Facebook or Twitter. She would provoke, listen and react. [Business Strategy #2– Stay in front of your customers and give them something to rave about. Make them answer you. Connect with them on their terms.]

Lady Gaga connected herself with Elton John, DRE, Coca Cola and not only profited but tied her name to the big names. “She must be good if she’s attached to them!” She changed the way music was marketed by surrounding herself with brands that her listeners would be interested in, all within a short time of coming out as a singer. (See chart below for her success statistics). [Business Lesson #3 – Ally yourself with people who can sell you.]

Taylor SwiftThen came Taylor Swift. A totally different genre of music, squeaky clean looking and a voice that catches everyone’s ear. Swift managed to find success before she reached 20 years of age. She employed many of the same techniques that Lady Gaga did by creating a steep incline into stardom. Once you get there, you have to keep it. Swift has succeeded by branding herself as the girl next door and as she has come of age, has been a little bolder in her style. But, she still maintains a clean image with nary a scrape in tarnishing it. She too has used social media to connect her with fans but to take her brand a step further, she has protected her image by purposely buying domain names to avoid someone else trying to smudge her name. While in Hawaii, she took a picture of herself in a bikini (showing her navel) and posted it on Instagram (25 million followers), one step ahead of the tabloids. She has linked herself with big name brands netting her $33 million in revenues. It’s profitable and ties her to respectable products. [Business Strategy #4 – Keep your profile high and clean. People want to do business with honest merchants.]

 Enjoy a little Gaga

Lady Gaga 2

Click image to view video


Controlling the image of your brand is what keeps your business stability. Once you have products or people that are tarnished, you spend time and money fixing them and the sting doesn’t always go away. The message these two ladies deliver is ‘go big or go home’. They put it all out there in the beginning and then moderate to a cruise. Swift is still on her upswing at 25 years old. Gaga seems to have been in cruise control for a while, but you’ll be seeing her again soon I’m sure.

“I am an artist, and I have the ability and the free will to choose the way the world will envision me.” ~ Lady Gaga