Pretzel Power: Building Relationships One Bite at a Time


I love pretzel rods. When I was a kid I would pretend they were cigarettes (hey it was before the Surgeon General). They are a great snack.

I recently bought a tub of pretzel rods and was reminded of how a similar tub of pretzels once made my career!

Several years ago I was a field manager with Pearle Vision in New England. I had about 50 franchise locations that I assisted. I’d been with the company about 12 years and loved my job. However, there is always that desire to be promoted and have more opportunities to make a difference. My opportunity came in 1999 when I was promoted to Director of Corporate Stores and moved to Ohio to work in the home office.

In my interview with the vice president of stores, Peggy Deal, I asked “how will you know you’ve selected the right person for the job?”

“When they start coming to you for the answers instead of me.”

I remembered that and was sad to realize that during my first few weeks, people walked past my door to her corner office. How could I get people to come to me? They didn’t know me. They didn’t trust me. They had no way of knowing if I could help them. Conversely – how would I ever develop relationships with the other associates to learn about them, if they never came in my office?

So one day while at Sam’s Club I bought the biggest tub of pretzels I could find. I put the tub on my side table and let a few people know that they were welcome to stop by for a pretzel if they needed a mid-day pick me up.

The word spread and pretty soon people were coming to my office.  People from the mail room up to and including the president, would stop by for a snack and a chat. We started to learn about each other. And soon people came to my office for a pretzel and to let me know about a new project they were working on. 

They came to vent.

They came for my opinion.

They came because they needed a sounding board.

They came for my ideas.

They came for my answers.

Sometimes they just came for a pretzel.

However, in less than six months the stream of people going to my boss’ office took a detour – allowing her to work on the bigger picture items.

All on a count of a tub of pretzel rods.

What tool have you used to help build relationships with those you work with?


Do You Convey Value?

I have been saving a torn out letter to the editor since May 26.  The letter struck a cord with me. 

This election year the local school put a levy on the ballot. They wanted the residents to vote for adding a sizable tax amount to our real estate taxes for the purpose of…..well, I don’t know that we ever knew.

I have one child in the school system and she participates in many extra activities, most of which we now pay for as we go.  I received a letter that talked about some of the programs that are available but it didn’t say what would happen if the levy didn’t pass. 

Yes, isn’t it nice that we have all of these programs.  How is that tied to the levy.

The letter to the editor from Kathleen Hooker, a friend of mine and a savvy business woman and articulate communicator had this to say, shortly after the levy didn’t pass:

“While I am disappointed thta Hudson voters defeated the school levy, I am not surprised. As someone who monitors macrotrends for a living, there is a fundamental shift occurring in society; the emergence of the “value-added buyers.” This buyer desires transparency to make better decisions against their own judgement of value, calculated as current value (e.g. property values or test scores) or future value (student job prospects, quality of life). ……The school district should tell us about its investments like corporations publish in their annual reports and we can become better investor partners in the Hudson City schools.”

Beautifully said.  Our customers want to know the “whys.”  All the more reason we need to strive to build a relationship with our customers.  As Kathleen put it – we need to make them better investor partners. 

How many of you have had to raise your prices (or perhaps you hesitate to raise them) and then have to justify the price increase to your customers?  Do you say something like – it is the economy or cost of living or do you actually take them on as partners and let them know how the price increase affects them and why you’ve come to the decision.  Perhaps your suppliers have raised prices.  Perhaps a local vendor you used went out of business and now you have shipping costs you never had before.

Full disclosure or as Kathleen says “transparency.”  If our customers see we are being up front and honest – they will trust us and remember, people buy from those they like and TRUST.

Do you convey your value? Do you invite your customers to be trusted investors in your relationship?

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It’s Not What You Say – It’s How They Feel

A friend forwarded me an email this morning that told of an interview Oprah had in April with Maya Angelou.  It was Maya’s 70+ birthday and Oprah asked her what she thought of growing older.  She said lots of thought provoking, inspirational stuff as Maya often does but the one quote that really struck me was this one:

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

How true is that?  Will customers remember the 20% discount we gave them or the fact that we were open in the evenings?  Will they remember that we offered them coffee or used their name? 

No, but it is all of those little details that add up when the customer thinks back on how the experience MADE THEM FEEL.

“Did you like shopping at the XYZ Store?” we might ask them.

“Oh yes, it was a great experience.”

“What made it so great?”

“I’m not sure, but I just felt good about my purchase.”

How do you make your customers feel?  When they leave your store do they feel like they were valued? 


Feelings – emotions – don’t come from the deal of the month but rather from the relationships we’ve built, the trust we garnered and the time spent with each customer.

So I just wonder how your customers feel today.


Why Do We Love Consumer Reports?

Do you ever read Consumer Reports?  I know that when I plan to make a large purchase, I’ll research before heading to the store (or car lot) by looking for a recent issue of Consumer Reports for the scoop.  But they don’t just research the large ticket items.

I was doing a little work at the library yesterday (enjoying a wonderful holiday flute/guitar concert) and noticed the December issue of the Consumer Reports.  The magazine includes the latest research on large ticket items you might be purchasing for the holiday like electronics and appliances but also smaller priced gifts like coffee makers and music players. 

They are IN THE HEAD OF THE CONSUMER.  They get what is important to the customer.  They did an in-depth study on PAPER TOWELS.  And just in time for New Years Eve; a comparison of condoms! (BTW – the one to avoid?  Night Lights – it may glow in the dark, but won’t necessary provide the best protection.)

Each comparison provides the reader with information on:

  • Pricing
  • Quality
  • Warranty
  • Customer Service
  • Shipping
  • Availability
  • Easy of doing business
  • and an explanation of the fine print

The table of contents even includes a financial statement:  here’s how much money you’ll save if you take our advice on which oven range to purchase!

Consumer Reports understands what is important to the customer and then they provide it in an easy to understand, reliable and consistent manner.

Their website continues the same theme of information access in a customer-friendly manner. 

So how can we copy the example Consumer Reports provides? 

  • They understand their customer
  • They have a clear understand what information will be important
  • They provide details in an easy-to-understand manner
  • Their information is consistent
  • They are readily available
  • They offer information for free – online
  • They provide background information that allows you to see how they test and what their methods of gathering information include

Great stuff.  It isn’t a magazine I curl up with on a Saturday night – pour a glass of wine and loose myself in their data – but it is a place I know will provide great value and that I TRUST before I invest my money; whether it is for a $2,000 computer purchase or a $1.69 roll of paper towels.


Be Careful of Words that Brand You

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

That may be true, but some words can alter how one person feels about another or how a customer feels about a business.

Take this little romance story:  Once upon a time there was a man and woman of a certain age who shared a deep and abiding friendship over many years.  One weekend the couple got together and spent a lovely time.  In the end the man turned to the woman, sighed and said “This is perfect.”  However, two hours later the man confessed that, perfect though it may be, “he didn’t feel the magic.”

Although the friendship spanned many years, the words branded in the woman’s brain were the disconnect between perfection and a lack of magic.  The man couldn’t help how he felt but the woman couldn’t help that all the words and actions that had gone before were erased by the “lack of magic” branded in her brain. 

Now, this story is one of emotion and you may feel has no baring on business and yet if you believe that a customer/company transaction is without emotion and is limited to dollars and cents – you would be wrong

We spend hours, days and even months perfecting our company tagline in hopes that it becomes branded in the minds of our customer.  Yet, it is the words of those most closely connected with our customers that are actually remembered.  And if there is a disconnect between what we stand for and what the customer experiences – the ultimate branding experience won’t have a happy ending.

Are the words branded in the minds of your customers the ones you desire or are they:

  • What part of “that’s not our policy” don’t you understand
  • The coupon expired yesterday – there’s nothing I can do
  • Frankly, your business isn’t that important to me
  • That’s not my job
  • I don’t care what your story is – we don’t give refunds only store credit
  • We don’t have any more, but maybe one of our other stores does – you’ll just have to go and check
  • I know it was promised today but that’s just not possible
  • That may be how we did it in the past but we don’t do it that way anymore

Relationships with customers are emotional.  They are built on trust and if our words and actions belie that trust, the brand image the customer remembers is one of disappointment, dissatisfaction and even betrayal. 

Do the words your customer hears match your tagline?  What message is branded in the mind of your customers based on their actual experiences?


Focus on Customer Outcomes

I recently read an article called Don’t Give Customers What They Think They  Want in which the writer, Steve Towers reminds us of Henry Ford’s great quote ““if we ask customers what they want they’ll ask for faster horses.”  Customers are not always able to think outside the box and articulate what they want, but they all know what they want to happen as a result of what they bought or the service they received.

I talk a lot about talking with your customer to understand what is valuable to them – what can you do or provide that will set you apart from the competition.  But Steve is right – if we ask the question wrong – i.e. expect the customer to understand what we need to do or provide to help them achieve their goals, then we could travel down a wrong path. 

I’m reminded of a great cartoon that depicts every department’s view on a customer request.  You can see what is budgeted, what is designed, what is marketed and then delivered – none of which are what the customer actually wanted. what-the-customer-actually-wanted has an article offering 20 questions to ask your customer to help gain a better understanding of what they need.

Paul Cherry wrote an article offering ways to ask some tough questions of customers considering the difficult economic times.  What is the first thing you need to do?  BUILD RAPPORT.  It’s all about building relationships.  Gee – where have I heard that before?

What ways have you separated what the customer thinks he/she wants versus what their ultimate goal is?


Selfless Act Loses Customer – Gains Respect

I heard a story the other day that makes me wonder how you would react.

A friend of mine is a writer and met with a prospect to discuss the possibility of setting up a blog.  She listened to him tell about his business and  describe what he hoped to accomplish with the blog. 

Great guy.

Great product.

As she listened she didn’t really feel like a blog was the right answer, but she couldn’t immediately think of another alternative.  Because although he wanted to connect with others on the net – he really wanted to tell his story rather than start a dialogue.  He was interested in search engine results and wondered at the length of time it would take to create a community.

He was right.  The story he has to tell is one of innovation and safety and economics but isn’t really one that will illicit back-and-forth dialogue. 

He wanted a multi-month agreement which would have brought my friend steady income and the opportunity to build a relationship with someone she was quickly growing to like and respect.

She put the proposal together and sent it to him, still not sure blogging was the right answer. 

Later in the week she learned of a new tool that was more search engine oriented.  Ron McDaniel of Employee Ambassador has created a search engine tool that looks like a blog in that it has regularly updated posts, but it works more like a search engine tool – very heavily focused on key words and target audience.  The tool has a clean, focused look which centers the readers attention on a call to action offer.  He provides key word research and monthly reporting.  A tool more in line with what my friend’s prospect described.

She talked to her prospect and assured him that she’d love to work together but she’d found another tool more in line with his needs.  By sharing this information – she instantly said goodbye to a regular contract and steady income.

What would you have done?  What HAVE you done?  Have you run across a situation where a competitor offers something more in line with your customer’s needs?  Do you hand the customer over or try to replicate what they offer, knowing you aren’t as skilled and don’t have the same tools? 

I told my friend that hopefully her prospect understands the sacrifice she’s made in the interest of what is best for him.  Ultimately, she has planted the seed of a relationship based on trust and true understanding with this prospect.  As a businessman, hopefully he has gained a new respect for my friend and will remember her in the future for other projects.

What would have you done?

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