Be Kind Always – 10 Ways

kindnessPeople are watching you.

Every day, we are confronted with opportunities to interact with others.  Whether ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks, dropping off your dry cleaning, checking out your groceries, booking a hotel room, greeting a receptionist, presenting to a prospect, paying a bill, etc. How we choose to present ourselves is exactly that – a choice.

Here are 10 Ways to Practice Kindness Right Now

  1. Speak gently in public.
  2. Don’t use your cell phone in a restroom of any kind.
  3. Offer your extra snacks to a fellow passenger.
  4. If the creamer sits in front of you, pass it around when coffee is served.
  5. Use your inside voice on all cell calls.
  6. Never honk your horn unless safety is at risk.
  7. Give blood.
  8. Smile first.  Don’t wait for the other guy.
  9. Do not tailgate.
  10. Send written thank you notes – to family, to business contacts and to anyone who has helped you be who you are today.

Sure, I Will Gladly Pay More

Last week I went to my neighborhood car wash, the one that offers the $4 exterior wash. As usual, I pulled up and told the attendant to give me the usual and he asked me for $5. I wasn’t unhappy to pay $5, because I always felt the $4 was an exceptionally good deal, but I mentioned that his remodel of the waiting room probably necessitated his rate increase.

First, I will mention that I never use his waiting room because I don’t spring for the full service wash. Since I drive through the system, I never leave my vehicle and don’t care they now have 4 flat screen tv’s in the waiting room I’ll probably never see.

To my comment about the rate increase covering the remodel cost, he quickly responded that much had changed in their products and services since my prior visit. They are using all new cleaning products that are better on a car finish, along with multiple staff changes to improve customer service, having dismissed the prior staff that was under delivering. Keep in mind, this was an attendant, at a car wash, pitching me on value and I hadn’t even threatened not to purchase! He was clearly a cut above any previous exposure I’d experienced at this car wash.

The result is, I now felt that the increase was well worth the additional value I received.

THE LESSON: If you win the business on price, someone will always undercut you eventually. You must deliver on value to get and keep satisfied customers.

Just Do These 3 Things

The awesomeness of parenthood is NOT discovering what we can teach our children, but rather what we learn from them. Yesterday was a rare occurrence of a teaching moment with my teenage son, which served as a lesson, in turn, for me.

We went together to run a simple errand that should have taken 15 minutes to complete. Instead, it lasted more than an hour. This is because, in the course of working with a shopkeeper, I started making idle conversation. First, only to inquire about the holiday season and if it has been a good one for his business. While chatting, I just happened to ask about his elderly father, having noticed his conspicuous absence from his usual perch at the entrance to the store.

The shopkeeper told me that his 94 year old parents had recently moved into a senior community and, while that was going ok, he wasn’t happy with the community provided in-home care. It was overpriced and the caregivers didn’t show any initiative during downtime on the job. I mentioned I knew a competent, professional, experienced and affordable caregiver and would be happy to share her contact information. The shopkeeper lit up. He asked a couple of questions about her qualifications and I simply responded, I hired her to care for my mother in her final days. Airtight testimony.

We completed our transaction and left the store. My son turned to me and said, “You know, I think he took at least 25% off our tab because of you.”

The Lesson: Be kind, be curious, be helpful. 3 Inescapable Qualities of a Seller.

Perception is Reality

Whatever the customer perceives to be true is true. If you are going to disagree with a customer’s perception, be prepared to document with hard facts.

Time and again, this fundamental rule must be followed in order to be successful. Whether you are trying to close a sale, build a relationship, ask for help, or otherwise try to get something from someone, you must accept that the way the other person sees things is the filter through which everything you say or do is perceived. Any attempts you make to ignore their perception will cost you time at the least and will disable your success at the most.

Yesterday, I met a customer for the first time. What I thought was to be a pleasant introductory visit and general informational meeting, turned out to be about as fun as a visit to the dentist. Several things were wrong before I ever started at this job. They never shared their concerns with me because they didn’t know that I would care.

I love a customer who vents. I would choose that any day over the customer who simply disappears or sulks in silence. You can’t fix what you don’t know is wrong. And I love the chance to be the hero that improves upon an inferior prior experience. If you care about doing a good job, it’s easy to please a customer who was not serviced well earlier.

At the start of the meeting I asked how everything was going. I got a blast in the face for an answer. Cool. I write fast and generally take decent notes. I care.

All this customer needed was basic service. Someone to listen to their questions and know how to provide answers.

The first thing I did was to disassociate myself from all prior history and players involved. This is a delicate conversation because, first, you never want to disparage your employer. That doesn’t further your agenda. Secondly, I work in a very small industry where everyone knows everyone and if I would say something bad about my predecessor, I could easily discover they are friends with the customer still. In fact, that was the case here, I later learned.

Negative speak never plays well to a customer. Tell me what you do right, not what they do wrong. Tell me why your service is better, not why the competition stinks. Tell me why I should trust you; don’t tell me not to trust them.

If you read this blog much, you might know that I value respect over popularity, when oftentimes one must choose between the two. Friends don’t always get the job done, but professionals do. If you focus on getting the work done, people will want to keep working with you. Fine if they grab a beer with some other guy.

Fortunately, I discovered yesterday that I’ve actually learned a thing or two at my new job. I was able to use the tools we sell to provide needed answers to their concerns. Knowledge goes a long way with a customer who’s starved for answers.

In summary, listen first. Take nothing personally. Don’t argue with perception when the assessment is subjective at best. Then share information of value. No one has extra time for useless meetings anymore. If you want back in, bring something they can’t get elsewhere.

Be Delightful – 5 Ways

Today I learned about Steve Curtin’s book, Delight Your Customers. This book addresses the inconsistencies in delivering on Job Function vs. Job Essence. He proposes that, generally speaking, people tend to consistently deliver on Job Function, but you cannot delight your customer without focus on Job Essence. Job Essence is the extra you bring to the job with your enthusiasm, your creativity and your genuine interest in the customer.

Here are some ways to go the extra mile for your customers today –

Send handwritten notes of gratitude. Make them for unexpected reasons. I’m nearing the eighth month of a new job. The past 8 months have been a steep learning curve for me and I’ve had to rely on the support of dozens, both internally and externally, to teach me how to perform. One of my top priority so far, has been to travel to each of my 19 markets to meet with each customer face to face. While I did follow up via email, I did not send handwritten thank you’s after each visit. I’m going to select a few customers that have made a difference to me, in my onboarding experience, to tell them exactly how they helped me and thank them for it.

Give public recognition internally. – Has a co-worker done something that made a difference for you, some action that made your day a little easier somewhere along the way? Taught you something you didn’t know? Is there someone you rely on as your go to person for questions you might not want to ask your boss? Did someone help you look awesome to your customer? Sending a kudo via internal email is nice, but why not post it as a LI recommendation and then they have it forever and don’t have to hunt for it?

Create a new customer training manual. This will help me also. I get asked the same questions repeatedly by new customers, many of whom have zero base line knowledge of our service. Training is not in my job description. However, it behooves me to make myself indispensible to my customers. I want to be the first person they think of when they have a need. I can always choose to delegate to someone else on a particularly busy day.

Send a customer testimonial with a meeting request. I’m continually surprised at how difficult it can be to secure a meeting with a customer. Perhaps it’s that pesky inflated sense of self getting in the way. I’m planning a trip next month and having difficulty getting any current customers to commit to a specific meeting date/time. My next step will be to send a brief excerpt (maybe 1-2 sentences) from a kudo email I received from another customer after a recent visit. Testimonials can be powerful. What better way to demonstrate the value for this customer to meet with me than to send it in another happy customer’s words?

Feed them. This is too easy not to do. I recently had a customer tell me that in his years of doing business with my employer, I was the first person to spend money on him. This was after lunch at a cafeteria! I had no idea what an impact a cheap meal would have.

That’s my 2 cents. But now I’m going to read Curtin’s book to see what he has to add.

NOW HIRING: Customer Service/Lie Detector

I recently purchased 2 necklaces from a well known provider whose primary model is home based sales reps. Because home based trunk shows don’t typically work for my schedule, I bought the pieces online, directly from their website, rather than through a rep. Their merchandise is premium priced costume jewelry, good quality and current style. 

One necklace is lovely and I wear it often. The other is a poor design, as it is forever tangled, whether I’m wearing it or it’s sitting on a hook in my closet. It was beautiful online and I’ve tried repeatedly to enjoy wearing it, but find myself constantly fussing to unravel it. The distraction is unwelcome and, frankly, I need my hands for other purposes. 

Yesterday, I contacted customer service about returning it and was told, since 30 days had passed, I’d only be entitled to a store credit, rather than the refund I wanted. I asked to be escalated to a supervisor to plead my case. 

When the supervisor called me back, he asked if there was any reason I felt that their policy should not apply to me. I told him that I wanted to be completely honest, had spent no time in the hospital nor any other condition which prevented me from pursuing this earlier.  But I did still want the refund because I felt the item was flawed and believe they’ve likely received other customer complaints on this item. This strategy failed and he just repeated the same, “why shouldn’t our policy apply to you” response back to me. 

I amped up my story just a bit, adding that I did like their merchandise and would likely return for future purchases, but I wanted to have a good first purchase experience and was giving him the opportunity to provide that to me.  Again, failure. Again, he déjà vu’d me. 

Then, in a thoroughly exasperated tone, I told him I’m a working mom, with teenagers at home, have a new job, travelling 50% and couldn’t find the time to track down the original box, receipt and customer service number to make this call any sooner. “Hold a moment please” followed by, “please check your email for refund notification and shipping label to return item for full refund.”  

I’m happy with the result, but it was a bad customer service experience that I will remember and will probably share with friends. I gave him the chance to make it easier and more pleasant and 3x he failed. I could’ve just lied upfront and  it would’ve been faster for me. 

Customer service is one of the single fastest growing job descriptions today. With the explosive rate of online commerce, that can only continue. How your front line is handling your customer complaints has everything to do with repeat business. 

Recreating the wheel is hard. Far easier to keep the ones you’ve got. So give em love when they seek it. Or at least, top notch customer service.