Archive for the 'Customer Care' Category

Small business lessons from big business mistakes

Here is a true story from which several business lessons can be learned.

A while back, I needed to reach a friend who worked in the local office of a national company. Searching online, and yes, even the phone book, I found only a toll-free number that connected to an answering system for the entire company. That’s right – this business didn’t publish a number for the local office. And incredibly, the automated system did not offer an option to connect to any local branch or person. I’m not making this up!

Lesson 1: Don’t create barriers to customers. Even if you think you don’t have barriers, look anyway, because you might. Ask employees and customers to help you find them.

Undaunted, I finally acquired the local number (yes, they had one), but the person who answered said my friend, who was in sales, had been laid off. It turns out, this publicly-traded corporation was losing money, so in order for the CEO to impress Wall Street analysts, who influence the stock price, almost 2,000 employees across the company were told to hit the bricks. Never mind how valuable these employees were or if those cuts would hurt the company’s long-term performance; the quickest way to increase profits was to cut payroll.

Lesson 2: Performance goals are important for planning, but customers don’t always buy on your schedule. Don’t let short-term expense pressures cost you sales, and worse, long-term customer relationships.

I learned that my friend had been a top producer, but since he was the last one hired he was the first to go. He’s no longer a payroll drain on his former employer, but one of their competitors quickly snapped up this winner.

Lesson 3: In the 21st century, seniority doesn’t trump performance.

So what if this big business CEO had simply installed a phone system that made sure customers could connect to his local offices? The answer is that my friend and several hundred others may not have been fired. And who knows? By simply eliminating one customer barrier, this company might actually have needed to hire more salespeople to handle all the business that would not have gone elsewhere.

Lesson 4: How you run your business – including people, systems, technology and policies – is not more important than the fast-evolving expectations of prospects and customers.

By the way, that big business that taught us these valuable lessons is no longer in business. Big surprise.

Write this on a rock … Think you don’t have customer barriers? Neither did that big business CEO.

Relevance is the Customer’s new prime expectation

When describing what influences the behavior of individuals as they pursue their lives, you would likely include concepts associated with goals, plans, passion, desire, ego, personality, etc. In matters of human interaction as we meet, love, and work together, there is often an abiding struggle between my passion and your ego, for example, or your goals and my plans. Indeed, successful long-term personal relationships are based more on my tolerance of you today and your forbearance of me tomorrow. Give and take.
But in the marketplace, affection and sentiment give way to performance and contracts, because tolerance and forbearance are usually subjective, often inefficient, and sometimes even unproductive. Consequently, a very powerful concept has developed over the millennia that is the nucleus of how marketplace participants minimize conflict and find common ground. In classically efficient marketplace style, I’ve reduced this concept to one word: expectations.
For example, the most important thing for you to know about someone with whom you’re negotiating a contract is that party’s expectations-especially that one, true, uncompromising expectation, beyond which they won’t go. But nowhere has the quest for expectation clarity been more in evidence than between Seller and Customer. Because the quicker a Customer’s expectations about value and values can be determined, the quicker the Seller can find a way to fulfill those expectations and make the sale.
For 10,000 years, during the Age of the Seller, Customer expectations were driven by consumption created by innovation. And all of this was around products and services produced and delivered by Sellers to Customers who essentially became passive recipients of the next innovation. Think of all of the new things Customers have acquired for the first time in the past century: cars, kitchen appliances, radios, televisions, personal computers, and iPods, just to name a few.
But now, in The Age of the Customer, expectations are less about new things and more about new empowerment. Rather than anticipating a brand new product, Customers are more likely to get excited about a new smartphone app that helps them find, review, compare, pay for, and take delivery. And increasingly, Customers are eliminating Sellers at this level of relevance, which is often before they know about competitiveness.
A Seller’s acquisition and retention of Customers is now more about being relevant to their influence and control over the acquisition process, and less about what’s being acquired. Let me say that another way: Customer expectations become less about what you sell and more about how you make a transaction handy, convenient, time-saving, on-demand, pre-appraised, on multiple platforms, in multimedia, etc. This is a big part of the definition of relevance, and it’s the new prime expectation of Customers.
An expectation of relevance is the new coin of the realm. Disregard this Age of the Customer truth at your own peril.
Write this on a rock … The original prime expectation was competitiveness. The new one is relevance.

The oldest profession is not what you think

Contrary to what you’ve heard, selling is the oldest profession in the world, because “In the beginning,” the serpent sold Eve the apple. You might say she bought wholesale and then sold the apple retail to Adam. And as we now know, that was one expensive transaction.

One characteristic that clearly separates humans from the other animals identified in Genesis is ego. And while ego can be a beneficial motivator in selling professionally, in order to sell successfully, we must do something that’s in direct conflict with our ego — we have to let someone else talk.

Imagine you’re on a sales call. What are you doing? Are you telling the prospect about your products, pricing, etc.? If that’s what comes to mind, your selling career could be doomed.

Of course, it’s important to deliver your company’s message. But if you talk about your stuff before you know what the customer wants, you’ve put the cart dangerously before the horse.

So, if the gold we seek is in the head of our prospect, why do so many salespeople spend so much time in front of so many prospects running their mouths? It’s that conflict thing again. Sadly, the mouth — not the ear — is the ego’s tool of choice.

The Blasingame Mint has once again struck a new axiom and a handy acronym to go with it: Shut Up - Listen - Sell! SULS. Tattoo those four letters on the palm of your hand, because that’s your first job.

Here are four important steps to remember when practicing SULS.

1. Keep Them Talking.

Even prospects who aren’t egomaniacs like to talk about themselves, their businesses and their pain. Remember, the gold you seek is in your prospect’s head. You need time to mine that gold, which can only happen when the prospect is talking – not when you’re talking.

2. Maintain Eye Contact.

The most valuable thing your prospect can do for you is talk about what’s on his mind. Nothing stops this flow of golden information quicker than when it appears you’re not listening. And here’s a gender tip: Women prospects have a keener inattention antenna than men.

3. Concentrate.

Concentrate on your prospect’s every word and expression. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next. (The next tip will make this easier.).

4. Wait Three Seconds.

While the prospect is talking, train yourself to wait three seconds after you think the prospect is finished talking before you say anything. Waiting three seconds will help you concentrate on what is being said instead of what you’re going to say, you’ll still have time to think of your next question, and you’ll never commit one of the cardinal sins of selling: interrupting the prospect.

Successful professional selling happens when the prospect does most of the talking.

Write this on a rock … Selling is as simple as SULS.

Jim Blasingame is author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

Entrepreneurial Telekenesis

Have you ever seen someone who moved objects with their mind, or bent a spoon by merely concentrating on it?  Telekinesis, as defined by Webster, is the power to move an object by psychic force alone. Mind over matter.

The idea of telekinesis has fascinated humans for millennia, including this human. Like me, you probably have a healthy level of skepticism about such claims. But what would you say if I said you are capable of telekinesis?

If you have ever done any physical training, you know that your body constantly sends messages to your brain that it’s ready to shut down. When that first dissenting word from your leg muscles hit your brain did you obey, or did you send back a message that those muscles would just have to tough it out? Sometimes one side of your brain, the side focused on your goal, has to have a word with the other side, the one that is a close friend with comfort.

At some time in our lives, most of us ran, jumped, cycled, lifted, swam, etc., at performance levels beyond which seemed possible to us in the early stages of training.We learned that building strength and endurance requires our body’s comfort to become subordinate to attaining a goal we had set. What is that if not mind over matter?

As small business owners, we perform a kind of entrepreneurial telekinesis every day. We accomplish things that marketplace pedestrians would say are impossible. And if you think I’m using the term telekinesis too loosely, what else would you call it when a small business owner defies the marketplace, the competition, and conventional thought by not only surviving, but actually thriving? Your entrepreneurial mind has the potential to defy the odds, the gravity of the marketplace, and matter, as we know it.

Will is an intangible force created by another intangible, desire. As you desire to move your business forward, whenever the matter is weak, you compensate with will. Mind over matter.

But don’t try this on spoons.

Thanks for being part of my community. I’ll see you on the radio and the Internet.

Blasingame’s Law of Social Media for Small Business

Celebrate your customers this week

This week is National Customer Service Week.  It’s always the first full week of October, which this year is October 6 - 10. Started by the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) in 1988, it has become a national event as proclaimed by the U.S. Congress.
Photo courtesy of Lifecare-EdinburghAccording to the ICSA, the purpose of National Customer Service Week is “to create a positive message that lasts all year long and to provide a productive opportunity to generate an even stronger commitment to customer service excellence.”
This week, I challenge all small businesses — including my own — to rededicate our businesses, our thinking, our training, and especially the execution of our business activity, to focusing on delivering customer service excellence.
As we strive for this noble goal, let’s not forget that you and I don’t get to be the judges of how effective we are at customer service excellence. Only our customers can have that role.
And if your customers aren’t telling you that you’re doing an excellent job, either you aren’t, or you aren’t asking. If this is the case, perhaps we’ve just identified a good place to start in your quest for customer service excellence.



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