AllWrite Ink Celebrates Six Years – 25 Business Lessons

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Hard to believe it but on February 14, 2011, I celebrated six years of business.  They say that most small businesses fail within the first five years. Kind of like marriages hit that rocky point around seven. Well, as a business owner I have passed that hurdle. I thought I would take a moment and share 25 things I have learned about business:

  1. The business you think you are starting is rarely the business you have six years later
  2. The customer should dictate your business and the customer frequently changes their mind so stay in touch
  3. Be flexible – holy cow, this one is important
  4. There are always new ways of doing things- just look at the change in social media over six years
  5. Business plans are a guideline, not the be all and end all – they should be reviewed and adjusted with economy, technology and customer trends
  6. Continually seek ways to learn – the minute you think you know it all is the first day of the end of your business
  7. Network – this is important – your foundation of people you know and who knows you help in some of the most unexpected and amazing ways
  8. Have a “boardroom” a group of trusted advisors and/or people who serve the role of sounding board – you can’t do it alone
  9. Which leads to delegate – if you are a home based business of one, build your community of experts that you can farm out portions of your business, without this network it will be impossible to grow
  10. Your time is your most valuable asset – treat it as such
  11. You offer value -never doubt that!
  12. Protect your brand -your reputation – don’t treat it lightly because once lost, it is almost impossible to get back
  13. Communication is one of your most important customer traits
  14. Speaking of the customer – build the relationship – remember your customer can be your best marketing tool – treat them as you would a long time friend not just a single moment in time purchase – they just might be your best bet for growing your business
  15. Write – share your knowledge, offer your advice, tell stories but put your expertise in writing; press releases, blog posts, articles, LinkedIn discussion comments, speeches – it is a great marketing tool and will help when you prepare to teach others to do what you do so you can sit on the beach ūüôā
  16. Give back – find ways to share your knowledge, help someone else just starting out, give away your knowledge – I bet someone did it for you – it is your turn to help someone else
  17. Your competition can be one of your strongest allies – there is plenty of business to go around – know your competitors – never put them down – see what you can learn from them – follow them on Twitter!
  18. LinkedIn is a business person’s best friend
  19. Say thank you. Sometimes we get in a hurry and we forget to thank those that have been there along the way, including customers, so make sure you take the time to thank those that help you – that includes your kids and the mail carrier and the employee at the copy shop.
  20. You can compete with the big guys if you use the strength of the Internet to share your knowledge and build awareness of your brand
  21. Take time for you – when you do – you’ll have a chance to refresh and be rejuvenated so that you can tackle your business with new vigor
  22. Look at your business from your customer’s perspective – what do they need that you could be providing
  23. Niche your business offerings – if you are trying to be all to everyone – you are failing. Pick a niche and own it
  24. Listen listen listen – to customers, to employees, to vendors, to trends, to the industry, to your significant other
  25. Strive to make a difference in the lives of others – it comes back many times over!

So there you go Рjust a few things I have learned in the last six years.  Help add to the list Рleave a comment with what business has taught you over the years.

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Social Shopping – LinkedIn Connects to Save a Problem

ear2328_smallOn Friday I had the pleasure of presenting my Social Media workshop to the participants of the Stark County Board of Mental Health during their annual conference. The group was lively and engaging and I had a great time.  During my discussion about social shopping and the consumer trend to connect with businesses, one of the participants, Jill, shared this story:

I was dealing with a vendor making a purchase for our department and I was having difficulty getting the product that I ordered. I called their customer service department and was basically told that they didn’t care.¬† I decided I didn’t want to leave it at that so I went on LinkedIn and researched the company. I found that their CEO was on LinkedIn and I sent him an email explaining the situation and my dissatisfaction. I heard back almost immediately that he was traveling but as soon as he was back in the office he’d look into the situation. A few days later I heard from him and he made it right.¬†

Jill’s story is a great example of a growing trend in social media; consumers actively seeking a relationship with those they do business with and if companies are not listening or responding – consumers will take their business elsewhere.

How to get started?  Make sure you have a Google Alert set up for your company name Рand do the same on Twitter by signing up for an RSS feed at Search.Twitter with your company name and a few key word phrases.

MC Promotions offers 20 ways to listen to what is being said about you in the article Are Your Ears Burning?

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Preparing for Customer Disappointment

angry1This topic seems timely on the eve of Black Friday frenzy.¬† Retailers are expecting a record breaking volume of shoppers and sales this week . In an effort to gain the customer’s first dollars they are opening even earlier – some on Thanksgiving day!¬†

The ads, the offers, the promises being offered in pre-Thanksgiving day adverisements lead me to believe there are going to be some tired, cranky, disppointed customers when they get to the front of the line and discover that even getting in line at 2am wasn’t early enough to get the biggest gift at the best discount.

So how do you prepare for that disappointment? More importantly, how do you prepare for your employees, because they are the ones that will be dealing with customer’s frustration?

In a recent article by Andy Hanselman entitled Dealing with Customer Disappointment, he talks about companies training their employees to listen for key word phrases that might indicate a customer is less than happy.

Gee, in the optical world, we knew a customer was disappointed when they threw their glasses and said “these don’t work, I want a refund.” But perhaps some times the disappointment is a little more subtle.

Andy provides these valuable steps for preparing for customer disappointment:

  • Acknowledge it: we are going to make mistakes – customers appreciate it when we face up to that and then make it right
  • Empower for it: give your employees the tools necessary to correct the situation
  • Prepare for it: brainstorm with your staff – what things typically disappoint your customers?
  • Look for it: don’t wait for the verbal disappointment – keep your eye out for someone that is less than happy and fix it
  • Deal with it: bottom line – make it right!

I would like to add one thing and that is “step in your customer’s shoes” for just a minute. We¬† can acknowledge, empower and deal with it without really connecting with what customer is feeling. We grit our teeth, roll our eyes when our back is turned to the customer and grudgingly give them what they want.

Trust me – they can sense it.

However, if you stop for a minute and put yourself in their shoes, you will deal with the situation in a more empathetic manner. This too will be noticed by your customers. Noticed and appreciated.

In a recent study 92% of consumers said they would be willing to go back to a company after a negative experience if they received a follow up apology and/or correction.

Are you prepared for handling customer’s disppointments this holiday season? Are your employees empowered to fix the situation on the spot? Here is where we can take a page from the Ritz Carlton way of doing business.

Here is a listing of what an Employee of Ritz Carlton represents:

Service Values: I Am Proud To Be Ritz-Carlton

  1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
  2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
  3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  4. I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
  5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
  6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
  9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
  11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
  12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.
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Marketing with Honesty to Build Customer Relationships

sherre demao

Sherre DeMao

Last evening I had the opportunity to participate in a radio show – Reader’s Entertainment Radio – hosted by Sheila English.¬† Sheila interviewed myself and Sherre DeMao – founder of SLD Unlimted Marketing/PR, Inc.¬†

Sheila led us through a series of questions which uncovered our philosophies of effective marketing and communication with our prospects and customers. At the end of the day Рalthough Sherre and I had never met or talked Рwe had the same focus:  open honest communication.

The customer must come first.¬† Sherre hones in on the psycographics of the customer – “getting into the minds of their customers.”

She also talked about a strategy she employs for marketing to customers that doesn’t involve advertising – it is called C.R.I.S.P.

1.      Customer relations

2.     Referral relations

3.     Internet presence

4.     Strategic involvements

5.     Public relations

Each involve communication and connection with customers. To listen to the 30 minute radio show click on this link: Honest Communication Builds Customer Relationships.

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Sell What the Customer Wants – Not What You Want to Sell

My son has his first sales job; selling Cutco knives.   It is quite an experience.  He went through 16 hours of unpaid training and had to purchase the sales kit prior to making any money so he is invested in the process.  At least financially.

He’s too new in the sales game to have learned the trick many sales people adopt – focusing their sales efforts on the items that bring the biggest commission.¬† He’s just following the sales pitch; thrilled when anyone makes a purchase.¬†

Watching him go through this process I’m reminded of other sales training and commission structures from my past lives in which the measurement was on selling the products with the highest margin.¬† What the customer wanted was irrelevant.¬†

As a new store manager at Pearle Vision, I was familiar with that selling tactic and didn’t approve, however, I did believe in rewarding my associates.¬† So each month I created a contest – the person selling the most of the “product of the month” received dinner for two on me.¬†

The difference?¬† The “product of the month” was a mystery – sealed in an envelope in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls porch since the first of the month until the month ended and the sales results were calculated.¬† The envelope would be opened to reveal the product and who ever had sold the most BASED ON CUSTOMER’S NEEDS, won the prize.

Today I received the monthly newsletter from the local Sandler Sales franchise: The Ruby Group.  The main article is entitled How to Avoid Price Objections, but really covers several sales techniques.  Number Four caught my eye:

4. You are attempting to sell what you want to sell or what you think prospects need; not what prospects want to buy.

People buy what they want, not necessarily what they need or what you believe they need. If you enter selling situations with preconceived notions about what you are going to sell, you will miss the opportunity to sell what prospects are ready to buy. Price may be the objection voiced by prospects, but the real obstacle may well be your own rigidity. When you make sales calls, leave your preconceptions in the car.

When we put customers first Рwe take the time to listen and ask questions to determine what they want and need and then we make recommendations based on that information.  Tying our products and services back to needs the customer has shared shows that you are listening, you care and you are interested in building a customer relationship Рnot just making a sale. 

If we sell to the customer’s needs rather than to the commission structure or margin percentages, we build relationships that lead to repeat business and referrals.¬† Isn’t that what really counts at the end of the day?

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Real Time Reviews via Mobile Devices – Are You Prepared?

the-biggest-shift-social-revolutionJust saw this link on a tweet The Biggest Shift Since the Industrial Revolution.

If your customer is between the ages of 18-35 – you need to learn to master the art of social media – or at the very least – be listening real close and often to what is being said. Of all of the stats in the article, here is the most valuable one:

“80% of Twitter users tweet using their mobile device.”¬† The author goes on to say “Imagine what that means for bad customer experiences?”

Eighty percent of what, you ask? Maybe it isn’t that many people.¬† Well, here’s another stat for you – “As of this year there are an average of 30 MILLION¬† tweets a day.”¬† And 75 MILLION users.¬† That’s a big chunk of your customers.

So how do you listen on Twitter?¬† Visit Search.Twitter.¬† Click on the Advanced Search button.¬† Enter your company name, your products, your industry key words and see what is being said.¬† You’ll see that you can subscribe to the feed for those key words and be notified the next time someone mentions your company or products.¬†

Take it a step further.¬† Scroll down the Advance Search page and click the sad face and/or the “?” and see¬† the negative reviews and questions being asked within Twitter.

You may not like it – but bottom line – social media, in some form or fashion, is here to stay and we need to jump in this afternoon and get connected.

For those of you in the NE Ohio region – I’ll be conducting a new series of hands-on workshops, once a week for four weeks on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Creating a Strategy starting next week.

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Do Your Employees Hate You?

I am always focused on the customer and our relationship with them but the other key component to successfully building a reputationfor putting customers first is how your employees feel about the whole thing.¬† Happy employees equal happy customers.¬† “If mamma hate happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

In the book 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers by Bruce Katcher I found that a number of the reasons employees hate their boss has to do with communication.

  • “I’m afraid to speak up”
  • “Management doesn’t listen to us”
  • “They don’t tell me what I need to know to do my job”

I love the irony of the first two – you are afraid to speak up, but if you conquer your fears and speak up it doesn’t matter because they aren’t listening anyway.

Today’s quote in my Leadership widget that provides a quote to my iGoogle page each morning said this:

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. ~ George S. Patton

Imagine if we did four things differently:

  • Provided the whys and wherefores of the task at hand with all of the information necessary or information about who they need to go to for more clarification
  • Asked employees for their thoughts
  • Listened with interest
  • Then let them have at it!

I wonder what impact that would have on our success and on the morale of our staff?

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12 Customer Service Lessons

I recently received an email bringing my attention to an article focusing on¬†12 customer service lessons from the best customer service companies.¬†Although I don’t believe there were any huge new “ah ha” moments, the list is a good one that focuses on the importance and value of building relationships with customers.

  1. Keep it personal
  2. Don’t make the customer work
  3. Foster Relationships
  4. Go Above and Beyond
  5. Be enthusiastic
  6. Be helpful without being annoying (good one!)
  7. Even online retailers need phone support (there’s nothing worse than going to a website and having to unravel the great mystery of figuring out how to contact them beyond the FAQ list!)
  8. Out-serve competitors (don’t bash them – just be better!)
  9. Be prompt
  10. Train employees
  11. Innovate
  12. Create a desire to belong (this is a great one – it is all about building communities – taking the customer relationship to the next level)

I would add LISTEN.  Active listening should be the first key to successfully building relationships with our customers.  Ask questions and get them talking!  It is the only way to truly uncover what our customers need and how we can best help them.

Great list – thanks to Trevor Usken from Focus for bringing it to my attention.

 

If you were going to add to the list – what would you add?

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Look for the Pattern You Can’t Ignore

Have you ever lost a customer and didn’t know why?¬†

I was talking with Business Coach and Professional Speaker Leslie Ungar of Electric Impulse Communications about customers.  She shared a story with me that really helped put things in perspective.

As the economy takes its good old time recovering, the trickle down effect of lower revenues is hitting some of the smaller companies and as such, companies are cutting back some of their vendor/freelance relationships.  Each time we loose a customer we have to access the situation. 

Is there something I could have done differently? 

 Was it price? 

Was it attitude? 

 Should I have said something different? 

Should I have kissed him?

(That’s what Elizabeth Kitt – recent participant who was eliminated from ABC’s The Batchelor is asking herself today.)

Leslie used to show horses.  She told me that at the end of a competition participants could approach the judges and ask for advice on what they could do differently next time to place or win in their category.

“I was always the first in line to ask a question,” Leslie told me.¬† “I wanted to know why I didn’t win and what the judges thought I should have done differently.” Sometimes they would remember, or after refreshing their notes they might have a specific comment, but often it was a general bit of advice that they would share.¬† She listened carefully each time to what they had to say.

“If one person told me something, I would listen but I might not make a change.¬† I was listening for patterns that I couldn’t ignore.¬† If I heard the same comment from different judges or multiple times then I knew that was an area I needed to address.”

She was looking for patterns.

We need to do the same thing with our customers.  Of course that means we have to engage them in conversation Рexit interviews Рfollow up surveys or phone calls to ask about the service and experience and then listen for patterns.

Customer complaints are another great place to look for patterns.¬† Some times you just have a complainer – but often, if you listen closely enough, you’ll find out about an area of service you need to address because it impacts the customer’s experience.

Have you lost a customer lately?¬† Do you know why?¬† Has it been the first time you’ve heard the reason or has a pattern begun to emerge?¬†

 

Listen carefully to those patterns you can’t ignore and then start to make some changes!

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Do You Own the Gap?

We did a book swap at Boardroom this morning and I picked up the book 5 Minutes with the VITO Рa Sandler Sales book.  VITO stands for Very Important Top Officer and is the one person in the company that can say YES.  The prospect every sales person longs to meet and build a relationship with.

The book talks about walking and talking the same way a VITO does so that you are peers Рco-conspirators, if you will on a journey to achieve the goals the customer has set. 

Part of this sales process is understanding the “pain” the customer has.¬† Not a new concept; I often talk about understand the customer’s expectations and needs so that you can find the solutions that will make their life easier, better, faster, more profitable.

But this book divides the “pain” into three parts:

  1. The problem itself
  2. The reasons for the problem
  3. The impact of the problem

I’ve always just thought of the problem and the solution.¬† However, adding the impact allows you to attach a dollar amount to the pain.¬† Understanding the reasons behind the problem gives you an opportunity to point out different alternatives/solutions.

When you divide the problem/pain up like this what becomes clear is the GAP between what they currently have and what they long for. 

Someone in Boardroom talked about a¬†presenter who spoke at a luncheon and they referred to the entrepreneur’s sweet spot as “owning the gap.”¬† If you can understand what separates the customer’s pain from their goal – the gap – and can offer a service or product that removes that gap; you have the opportunity to be¬†the hero in the eyes of the customer.¬† Or the VITO – the person who can truly appreciate the value you bring.

So how do you identify the gap?

You have to ask questions.  You have to learn about your prospect Рtheir customer Рtheir industry Рtheir operational process so that you can uncover the opportunities (gap) and find a way to insert yourself.

Matt Alderton offers suggestions on how to gather that information in his article Finding Out what your Customer Wants.

Last month I wrote a post on understanding customer needs.

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