Monday, 31 October 2011

A Simple Trick in Speaking Confidently

When you operate a small business, you will often find yourself in situations where you must show confidence. Sometimes true confidence isn't really there but you know that your client wants to see confidence in you before they give you their trust. 

Appearing confident is a benefit in any situation where you need someone to trust your words. Sadly, it is usually the way something that is said that convinces people rather than the actual words being spoken.

There are several ways to show confidence but recently I have noticed one trend which needs to be corrected for many business owners, managers and sales people.

Often I hear people ending sentences with words that turn a statement into a question. What this communicates is a lack of confidence in the speaker. It asks for approval from the listener and basically gives them permission to doubt what you are saying.

"Let's get this meeting started, ok?"
"We need to make a decison today, alright?"
" you can see that is a great product for your situation right?"

These should be confident statements, not questions that ask for the listeners approval. Read them again without the question attached:
"Let's get this meeting started."
"We need to make a decision today."
" you can see that is a great product for your situation."

These statements become much more authoritative just by dropping that last word.They leave less room for negotiation and they do not seek approval from the listener.

if you run or represent a small business, people make judgement calls based on how you present yourself. If you do not seem confident in yourself, why would they want to place their confidence in you? If you appear confident in what you do, they will feel free to trust you and do business with you in you.

Speak in statements, show confidence.


Friday, 28 October 2011

Unique Experiences Create Customer Loyalty

I was in an Italian restaurant about a week ago. It was a small place, not flashy at all, you could even say it looked dated. However, this place is very well known throughout the city and has become a real destination.

My expectation was that the food must be wonderful to make so many people speak so well of the place. I was wrong. Don't misunderstand, the food was very good, but that is not what has made the establishment famous. Instead it was the feeling you have when you eat at this place.

When I first walked in, it looked like chaos. It was very loud with servers dashing about and full tables everywhere. As I came in the door I noticed there was no greeting area for a host/hostess to meet customers. Instead I hear a booming voice from across the room yell, "Come in! Come in my friend!" I yelled back that I had a reservation and said my name. He boomed back, "Yeeeessss! Of  course!" as he walked over to me. When he reached me he patted me on the shoulder and gestured to an empty table, "Right this way sir."

That is when he had me.

 That pat on the shoulder summed up the whole experience. I felt like a member of this man's family that just walked in for Thanksgiving dinner. As the evening went on, I realized that I had no specific server, but each one would check in on me from time to time. If I wanted something, I could ask any of them.  They would joke with each customer as if they were long time friends, they would call each person by name if they had heard it mentioned. As I left, each server called out a goodbye of some sort before the door closed behind me. Absolutely, masterfully, wonderfully amazing!

As a business it is always important to provide a quality product at a reasonable price if you want to succeed. However, that will not make you stand out. Every successful business in the world does those two things. If you can find a way to provide an experience to your customers while they buy your product, you will win their loyalty.

Step into your customers' shoes. What do they feel as they purchase your products or services. Do they get the same experience as they would get with your competition? What would they like to feel when doing business with you? How could you create that feeling?

Depending on what type of business you run, the answer may be very different. The restaurant I was at did it through providing a genuinely welcoming and friendly atmosphere. Find the experience your customers want, create it and have business for life.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Happy Employees = More Customers

Who is more important to growing your business, customers or employees? The answer is BOTH!

Customers want quality services and products for their money. If they find it at your establishment they will stay. If they don't they will move on. Your employees are a huge part of what determines that. If you treat your employees right, it will naturally bring in more business.

Let's take an auto repair shop for example. It is obvious that the staff at the front desk should be polite, dressed well and knowledgeable. The reception area should be clean and organized. That is where customers first interact with your business, it is your "packaging" and it makes your first impression. (Look here for an article on packaging your service based business) But what about the actual garage area?

If you have a dingy, dark and dirty pit of a garage, how will your mechanics feel? You will likely hear them complaining about the time they spend there. If they are complaining, do you think they are putting 110% effort into the job they are doing on your customers' cars? Not likely. They are probably doing the minimum just to ride out the time until they punch out.

Instead, provide a clean, bright garage with all of the modern tools needed. Then, the mechanics will be in an environment that allows them to enjoy their job. They probably got into it because they like cars, now they can work on the cars they love in a place that is comfortable for them. Then guess what happens ... The quality of their work improves because they are enjoying it! Skilled mechanics are attracted to your garage because they hear that it is a great environment to work in! Customers tell their friends how great of a job was done on their car! More business comes through the doors.

You rely on your employees to represent your company in every sense. Pay them fairly and provide a positive environment for them to work in. You will reap the rewards in more customers and a growing business.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Empower Employees to Retain Customers

There is nothing more frustrating, when you have a complaint with a company, than to be making that complaint to someone who doesn't have any power to correct the situation.

As a customer, it is extremely frustrating to feel like you are getting no where as you try desperately to control your temper. It is also frustrating for the employee who is taking the complaint. They have to deal with an upset person while knowing that they have no real way to solve the problem.

If you manage front end staff, it would be wonderful to be able to have both the employee and the customer feeling good about that situation. It would help with both customer retention and staff  loyalty.

The key is empowering the front end staff. Don't just use them as a shield between you and an unhappy customer. Give them tools that they can use when dealing with customer complaints.

Some examples of this might be:

  • Give them authority to accept exchanges and returns on the spot.
  • Allow them to give out coupons or vouchers as peacemaking items.    
  • Have a product that they can give away. (Perhaps a new product you hope to promote)
  • Give them the power to sincerely apologize if your company or staff has made a mistake.
  • Reward your front end staff for retaining a customer who complained.
  • Be quickly available to your staff if it is something bigger than they can handle.

Basically, the employee needs to know that they can talk to the customer, admit mistakes and offer an incentive to stay without having to "talk to the manager". The employee will feel empowered and have a sense of control in the situation. The customer will feel relieved that they didn't have to fight through a horde of front end staff to reach a manager who could correct the situation. You, as a manager or owner, will be relieved that you are retaining clients and not having to deal with as many unhappy customers.

Your front end staff is there to serve your customers. Give them the power to do it properly and everyone benefits.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Know What A Customer is Really Worth

Every customer is worth something to your business. Knowing that number will really help when it comes to handling customer service issues.

Recently, I worked with a house cleaning service. In looking how they did things I noticed 2 policies that needed to be changed. One is that they would charge for an in home quote for new clients. The second was that if a cleaner had to work and extra half hour in a home because of a special circumstance (like an extra messy kitchen due to a party) , they would bill for it. Their belief was that any time a cleaner was in a home, the client should be charged.

Of course, clients wanted an accurate quote before they committed to having the company clean their home. And no one likes being nickled and dimed by their service provider. So I told the manager that they should provide the free quotes and let those over time instances slide, provided it is just a one time thing. She didn't like that idea...until...I got her to calculate what a client is worth.

She took her average clients hourly rate, multiplied it by the number of hours spent in that client's home in a single cleaning, then multiplied that by the number of cleanings in a year. It worked out to about $3000 per year for the average client.

That is when she realized that every time they refused to provide a free in home quote, they probably threw away $3000. Also, every time they billed that extra half hour, they lost some of the loyalty they had with the client and risked throwing away the $3000. These actions also limited the possibility of referral business, which could bring them other clients worth $3000 every year.

They were thinking small scale, "Let's bill every minute we can to make more money." When they should have been thinking on the larger scale, "Let's make our customers love us to create more business."

By tailoring their services to make the clients happier in those areas, they ensured the loyalty of their current clients and created more possibilities for referrals.

Know what a client is worth to your business in the grand scheme of things, then make decisions about your customer service policies accordingly. The happier they are, the more they come back and the more friends they send.

Change to Attract New Business

When wanting to expand your business there are ultimately 2 things that can be adjusted to stimulate that change.  One is your service or product, the other is your target audience. All shifts in what market segments you capture must come from an adjustment to one or both of them.

For example: Lets say a garage does the majority of their business through selling and installing tires. Their current clientele is made mostly of neighborhood people buying average tires for average cars. They want to grow their business by attracting more tire buyers. They basically have two options:

1. Change the Audience - Advertise heavily outside of their normal geographic area to attract drivers from other areas. They would likely have to provide an incentive to convince those drivers or have very effective advertising to be successful with this.

2. Change the Product or Service - Start stocking specialty tires of some sort. An example could be high performance tires. This would attract the auto enthusiasts that normally wouldn't have come there looking for tires.

This is a very simple example, but the point is clear. If you want to attract a segment of the market that you have not attracted yet, you must make a change to get their attention. In the end, those changes will be either to the service or product you offer, or who you offer it to.  Evaluate both, compare possible changes to what your strengths are and what the competition offers. Then do it!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Packaging Your Service to Sell

In retail it is very obvious, products with more impressive packaging will sell better and for more money than similar products with bland or out of context packaging. How do you incorporate this into your own business if you provide a service rather than a product? 

The packaging on a product is what creates a first impression with the consumer. The colors, words and designs used will create a certain emotion for a prospective buyer and lead them to wanting to pick up the product. As a service provider, your first impression must create that same desire in the prospective client. Your "packaging" is the total of all the things that your client sees before you start describing your business. 

Obviously, your packaging must speak to the type of client you are dealing with. For example, if you consult on oil drilling solutions, you don't want to show up on a rig in a 3 piece suit.  On the other side, if you are an accountant you should not show up to meet a client in shorts and a t-shirt. Your client wouldn't take you seriously. Dress in a way that speaks to the situation. 

Here are some examples of what clients may see and make first impressions on (depending on your business, some of these may not apply). Find a way to make each one speak positively to the type of client you deal with.

Hair style
Business card

Try to imagine through your customers eyes. If this was your first meeting with you, what would you see? What would you want to see? What would make you trust you and want to do business with you? 

Great packaging sells. Know your target, package accordingly and sell!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Your Business Should Reflect Your Motivation

Earlier this month I spoke with 2 real estate agents. They had two very different philosophies of doing business. This lead to two very different life styles but netted them the same income in the end. I found it very interesting as both of them were very happy with the outcome. It was due to their differing priorities and goals for their business.

The first markets her business through high profile advertising. Billboards, radio spots and high quality brochures to several neighborhoods is her norm. She employs a full time assistant and a buyers agent to follow up extra leads. A normal month would see 8 to 10 deals being done. She has office walls decorated with awards and is recognized like a minor celebrity in the neighborhoods she works.

The second markets only through word of mouth and social networking. Coffee and lunch meetings, personal cards and phone calls to past clients is his was of bringing in business. He employs a virtual assistant and handles all his clients personally. A normal month sees 2-3 deals being done. There are very few awards on his office wall.

The first works several more hours per week than the second and shows a much higher production level for it. In the end, after expenses, they net about the same income.

Who has the better business plan? Both and neither! These are two people that have very different motivations and have created businesses that fulfill them in different ways.

The first feels fulfilled by knowing that she is a top producer in her industry. She enjoys what she does very much and wants to be at the top of her field. She accomplishes it and feels happy.

The second values free time and the ability to control his schedule. Awards don't matter to him but free time does. He accomplishes that and is happy.

When you start a business, examine your motivation. What do you want as a person from your business? Is it about recognition? Is it about money? Is it about flexible time? Is it about contribution to society? There is no wrong answer. You need to know your motivation and be comfortable with it. Then you can build a business that provides that very thing to you.