Dr. Stanley Pearle: The Original Customer Relationship Builder

Dr. Stanley Pearle

Dr. Stanley Pearle

This week one of my business heroes passed away, Dr. Stanley Pearle. Dr. Pearle was the founder and original owner and lifetime inspiration for the optical retail chain: Pearle Vision.

I started to work for Pearle Vision in 1987 when the only optical discount was in August for “Family Eyecare Month.” We didn’t have computers in the store and one hour glasses were just on the horizon. In fact, in the next couple years people would come into Pearle and say “don’t make my glasses in an hour…I want them right.”

Over the years when I would mention Dr. Pearle people would be surprised “You mean there really IS a Dr. Pearle?”  Yep and I was lucky enough to be his “date” at many company events towards the end of my career with Pearle. The company would change hands and so did leadership over the almost 20 years that I worked for the company but he and I never changed and I was lucky enough to get to “hang” with him at the annual meetings and pick his business brain.

When he first founded the company in the 60s he brought a new approach to a previously viewed medical product. He was the first to start the breakage guarantee.  Industry leaders thought he was crazy but he knew better. He knew that you needed to understand your customers and give them something of value.

I will never forget my first year with the company. I was hired as a manager for the Colerain Ave, Cincinnati location and as a sales person, was to manage a medical location in a licensed state without any optical background. It was unheard of. My peers openly criticized the fact that I wasn’t ABO certified but rather brought a customer focused approach to sales. The mere fact that I referred to the patients as customers was outrageous. (By the way – I doubled sales that first year and was promoted to regional manager – who says a customer-first approach doesn’t work?)

I attended training in Dallas – our headquarters at the time – and met Dr. Pearle for the first time. We had a brief conversation and I was suitably awed by his presence. Three months later at a regional meeting I met Dr. Pearle again and he remembered my name.

I was blown away. We had hundreds of locations and he remembered me and my background and my location. He was all about building relationships, making people feel valued and treating them as he wanted to be treated. Years later he visited my New England territory and I took him to visit five locations. People lined up to meet him, shake his hand and have him autograph the life-sized, cardboard cutout of him in their store lobby.

Dr. Pearle understood just how important the people in a company are; executives, hourly employees, franchise owners, lab workers, he greeted them all with warmth and a sincere desire to hear their perspective on the industry. He listened and engaged people. Where ever he went, he built relationships.

I will miss him greatly. And all that he stood for. He put the customer first, whether the customer was the end user, a corporate employee, franchise owner or vendor. Thank you, Dr. Pearle, for all you taught me.  Thank you for everything.

For the complete news story of Dr. Pearle passing, click here.

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Four Principles to a Customer Focused Business

Hangers Cleaners in Kansas City was featured on Cool Runnings for taking a different approach to a pretty boring business segment – dry cleaners.

Joe Runyon, the owner of Hangers Cleaners shares his thoughts on making a business successful. And in his case – being successful in an industry that is declining.  Watch the video, but here are the four main ideas:

  1. Define a powerful competitive advantage. In Joe’s case it was using an ecologically friendly solution to cleaning clothes.
  2. Be convenient for your customer. Again, Joe determined that pick up and delivery service, as a complement to his brick and mortar, was a convenient and welcome solution.
  3. Save customers time. He also developed a computer tag for clothes of regular customers which includes their cleaning preferences so that the customer doesn’t have to continually repeat their starching requests. This leads to better quality and higher satisfaction.
  4. Let your brand reflect your personality. He is a little quirky and that shows – in a good way. Employees wear shirts that say “sniff me” and the hangers have a message that inform customers that hangers can also be a spare car key.  Let your personality shine in your business and customers will gravate to you.
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Thought for the Day Makes a Difference

In my search for customer relationship tips to help businesses go from great to exceptional, I found this video that tells the story of Johnny the bagger at a grocery store.

 

The message is simple – think of a little something different you can do to make a difference in the lives of those you encounter throughout the day. Johnny’s “thought for the day” is simple and yet look at the impact. How many of you that Twitter send out quotes as your opening tweet of the day? How many have an RSS feed that brings leadership quotes or comedy quotes or thought provoking quotes into your email each morning. It is simple but what a difference.

I love the idea of using the left over flowers to brighten the day of an unsuspecting customer. Think Panera. At the end of the day they pack up their leftover pastries to donate to a local kitchen. It takes little effort and yet think of the difference it makes.

What is something little you and your employees can do today and everyday that will make a difference in the lives of your customers?

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Let Us Count Our Blessings

red crossAre you watching the news? Of course you are – how could you not? It is at times like this when we witness the devastation through no fault of anyone and the subsequent death, injury and homelessness that we should stop and count our blessings.

We have a chance to make a difference – you can use your cell phone to make a donation to the efforts supporting Japan, you can give blood, donate through your church and even add those involved in this recent natural disaster to your prayers. Every little bit helps.  I wanted to make it easy for my readers to help and so if you click on the Red Cross logo it will take you to their donation page.  This  isn’t an affiliate – I don’t get a kick back or commission – it is just an easy reminder to be thankful for your life and all of the many blessings you have and, if you are so inclined, to give you a simple, quick way to give back.

Soon this post will be buried on the page, but the widget on the right will remain as a simple way to make donations in the future.

Take care!

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AllWrite Ink Celebrates Six Years – 25 Business Lessons

AllWriteInk web size

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 🙂
  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 – just a few things I have learned in the last six years.  Help add to the list – leave a comment with what business has taught you over the years.

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Melody Practically Sings Her Menu

Had a business lunch at the Crooked River Grill on Thursday. Melody was our waitress and she greeted us with warmth and enthusiasm. She engaged us in conversation and her interpretation of the menu was nothing short of epic!

I had to stop her half way through her explanation of the menu that she’d interpretated as “really hungry” food and “not so hungry” food – I had to stop just to tell her how much I adored her. Anyone who can embrace their role with that kind of passion truly loves her work. She’s selling salads and burgers – not diamonds and furs and yet she made the experience fun and energetic and we left sated, happy and  smiling!

Here’s the gig – the place was hopping and she was the only waitress. She greeted everyone that way. What a difference! What an example of how you can take a regular day-to-day job and make it fun for your customers and yourself. She surely sets herself apart.

Great experience – the littlest effort set her apart but what an impression she made! I wish I approached every day like Melody – with a song in her name and in her heart.

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Judge Patricia Cosgrove Understands Her Audience

cosgrove

This past week I did my civic duty by serving on a jury trial in Judge Cosgrove’s courtroom. I’m not here to talk about the case – but rather want to talk about the culture Judge Cosgrove has developed in her courtroom. As part of the case (a wrongful death suit in which a medical practice – a nurse practitioner was being held up to a standard of care determination) one of the attorneys asked a physician witness if it was possible for two doctors or two nurses to approach a similar case with different plans of actions. The answer – yes.

I thought about business. Isn’t that the case everyday? We all face customers each day and don’t we often meet the needs of the customer or provide the customer with a different experience than that our competitors? In fact, isn’t that what sets us apart? Do you have an opinion? I’m not asking your opinion, I merely want to know if you HAVE an opinion. (Just a little inside joke from me to the defense attorney, Mr. Humphries).

Anyway, the answer is yes – businesses do things differently in similar circumstances than their competitors every day. The same is true in Judge Cosgrove’s courtroom. I had the pleasure and yes, I said pleasure, of being in her courtroom, listening to the trial unfold and getting to know her staff – the bailiff (hey, Paula!) and court reporter (hope your dog is better, Terry) all week long. My fellow jurors (David and Ray, Marty and Cindy, Sam, John our Foreman and Tom and alternate Michael) became great companions. Is this normal? I don’t think so.

Let me just let you know a few ways that Judge Cosgrove sets herself apart (aside from being knowledgeable and fair and attentive and just):

  • She put herself in her jurors shoes – using a comfortable manner and humor, she set us at ease from the beginning (Judge, your facial expressions were priceless!)
  • She understood how hard those wooden chairs could be and often would invite us to stand and stretch
  • She explained what would happen in an easy to understand manner so that there was never a time when we felt the need to ask a dumb question – she anticipated them and answered them in advance
  • She helped us with our fact gathering by being the only courtroom in Summit County that provides note paper with each witness’s photo to help us keep things straight. Interestingly enough, the one witness that was on a video conference and didn’t have a photo – the jurors had all hand drawn a picture because she’d conditioned us to that note paper with a photo – we compared our drawings during deliberation). These note pages with photos may sound simple and silly but when it came time to view and refer to our notes – they were priceless!
  • She remembered personal information from the Voir Dire and would engage us in non-case related conversation during breaks – remembering our names and thanking us on multiple occasions

These may seem like simple, no-brainer things to you, but then why hasn’t every Judge fostered a culture like Judge Cosgrove? I have been in several courtrooms from my corporate working days and let me tell you – Judge Cosgrove had the friendliest most comfortable and engaging courtroom I’d ever experienced. I’m not alone. Every other juror felt the same with several volunteering to come back and hear another case in her courtroom next week. One even said if he could be in her courtroom and if being a jury was a career – he’d gladly give us his job to be a full time juror. High praise.

Judge Patricia Cosgrove is making a difference one case at a time and I was honored to have served my jury duty under her gavel. I have learned a lot about customer service and building customer relationships and understanding your customer from my experience on jury duty last week. And now I need to scramble to make up for all of the business time I lost.

So I have to ask – if you have served on a jury – what was your experience? Did you have a similar experience? Please share.

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Making it Easy to Do Business

Are You Easy to Do Business With? Are You Sure?

Today the mirror was held up to my business and the reflection wasn’t pretty. It has nothing to do with the oral surgery from yesterday and my swollen chipmunk cheek or the red nose from a wicked bad cold….nope, a potential customer showed me that I wasn’t that easy to do business with.

In this month’s newsletter, I mention that one thing I recommend we do this year is write an e-book – a showcase of our knowledge and expertise.  Someone emailed me and asked if I already had e-books for sale.

Yes, I replied. I then proceeded to give him five different website addresses where he could find information about the different books. Now, when I wrote the books, they each had a different niche and audience and so I created different landing pages and opportunities to purchase but it wasn’t until he sent me this response that I realized how difficult I made things for my customer:

I had trouble finding each of these.  Could you provide direct links?  For example, I found your Business Basics book, but I did not see an option to choose either a hard copy or an e-book copy. . .  
I was making him work harder than he needed to and I had made it confusing. Wow!  I had truly missed the mark. So thanks to his persistence and communication, I have created a single page with all of my e-books.
Lesson learned:  we may know in our head the right thing to do, but if we look at our business from the customer’s perspective – have we really followed through?  I hadn’t and I thank this person so much for bringing that to my attention!
Do you make it easy to do business with?  Are you sure? 
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How Did He Learn to Do This?

car mechanicHave you ever experienced such extraordinary customer service from an associate that you wonder about the training they’ve had? Are some people just born with the skills necessary to build customer relationships or can it be learned?

Here is a story recently shared about just such an experience:

Last week I had the best customer experience I can remember in years.

 It was at a muffler shop. Mike’s Muffler Hanger, 1253 Wooster Road, Barberton, OH 44203, 330.825.7375

 It started when he was talking with a customer and I arrived and waited about 1 minute.  He completed his customer conversation and immediately apologized for keeping me waiting – for all of 1 minute – and during that time he was having an extraordinarily supportive conversation with a customer 6 feet from me.  I smiled and thought “I like him already.”  Thank you to the mechanic who referred him to me.

 I could list ten more things that he did to offer me, and everyone on the phone, and even his employees the most incredible experience.  My entire week-end was improved and significantly more upbeat because I could not get his excellent customer service out of my head.  I found myself trying to pay back his kindness by being extra thoughtful of those around me for the rest of the day.

 He was not trying to just do a good job.  He was building the most incredible customer relationship I have ever seen in a small operation.  I took cards with me to give to everyone.  I have told numerous people about this unbelievable experience.

I had lunch with Norma a couple days later and she proceeded to tell me some of the little details – the way he incorporated the use of the customer’s name, how he juggled in person customers with those over the phone. The eye contact – the smile – his genuine nature.

Is this possible to teach or just something that we find once in a blue moon? How did he instinctively know the right words?

I do believe you can teach associates how to engage in conversation with customers – but it takes practice and as managers, it also takes follow up, encouragement and support.

How would you like a customer to leave and be so thrilled with the experience that they practically “gush” to all they encounter? Pretty amazing, right?

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Customer Service Still Number One

I love customersThe monthly report from E-zine Articles just arrived in my email.  Once again – the number one article for the month is one I wrote a few years ago entitled How Do You Define Customer Service.

I wrote the article before the economy took a turn for the interesting, when companies were still staffed and customers mattered. But in the last two years, there has been a horrible change in the customer service environment.  With job loss, company mergers, and profitability losses, companies have lost their customer focus. Customer Service has become one of those “nice to haves” something you may now find associates saying is “not my job.”

My new definition of customer service?

My new customer service definition is the name of the department destined to tick off customers.

Every new report and survey available shows the customer more savvy and more connected then ever before – more verbal thanks to social media and still focused on being treated as valuable. Go figure. 

We seek out ways to offer better customer service, we even Google articles that help to define excellent customer service and yet what changes are we making?

Yesterday I met a woman who asked to be put on my newsletter mailing list. She said:

“I’m not in charge of the customer service programs in our company but the person who is just doesn’t get it. So I thought maybe I would get your newsletter and then slip a few of the ideas past him once and awhile.”

Wow.  Sad. As we enter this super busy shopping time of the year when associates become order fillers rather than relationship builders we once again miss out on a chance to make a difference and be memorable in the lives of our customers.

Today I went to my local bank and the teller – one I hadn’t met before – helped me with finding out the value of savings bonds I had accumulated for my son (he’s getting them for Christmas – don’t tell) and as she worked, she started asking me about him. How old, what high school, what was his college major, what did he hope to do?  It was just casual filler conversation but as I started to answer it turned out she knew him which led to more conversation until eventually she was showing me pictures of her new born daughter.  Which led to the teller next to her showing a picture of her one year old daughter.

It didn’t take any longer. I got what I came for. I would have gotten what I came for without the conversation – but it was the conversation that made the experience memorable.

It is SO SIMPLE.  Why don’t we get it?

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