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Al's column: Learning to better serve your customers

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 16

By Brian Gracon


There’s likely a huge gap between how you see your business and how your customers see it. Eighty percent of businesses think they provide great customer experiences, but only 8% of customers agree. Maybe we just don’t know what our customers really want, which can be a big problem.

When your customers are not happy—even if they are being unreasonable—they now have the power to share their views with millions of people in an instant. Many won’t tell you they are unhappy, but nearly half of all adults share their experiences on social media, and 77% have shared a bad one.

Over 82% of customers check online reviews, and 54% say they pay more attention to negative reviews than positive ones. Whether or not you think a complaining customer is crazy, you must step up your customer experience game.

As humans, we all have a “fight or flight” instinct, so our natural reaction to criticism will be either: No. 1, fight and get defensive. However, customers also have a fight response, so they’ll probably fight back; in the end no one will be happy. Or No. 2, flight, which involves burying your head in the sand and pretending it didn’t happen. In today’s social media era, ignoring problems just makes them bigger.

Remember, the point is not to try to prove who’s right. It is to calm things down and find a solution both sides can live with. It is also to find out what went wrong so you can prevent it from happening again. Even if you did nothing “wrong” per se, the communication with the customer wasn’t good enough and is something you can improve.

To minimize the risk of complaints and negative reviews, focus on the 3Ps of profit: promise, people and process.

Promise. Your promise is a short, actionable and inspirational statement of what you do, why and who you do it for. Your promise gets communicated through your marketing messages. It also creates expectations for the customer experience. If you market quality but your store is a mess, the customer will run away and tell everyone else. If you market expertise but don’t train your staff or hire properly, customers will be reluctant to buy from you.

People. All business boils down to human relationships, both in and outside your company. Grumpy employees won’t create happy customers. Make sure you hire people with the right attitude and train them so they understand what your customers want based on customer buying habits and the expectations you created through your marketing. Be sure you have good relationships with suppliers and distributors to ensure consistent service.

Process. Most customer complaints come from process problems. To improve processes start by asking current and past customers what they like but also what they find frustrating in dealing with you. Then line up their pain points with your processes and work to improve them. Wouldn’t it be great to understand what customers want and how to leverage that understanding across your promise, people and process strategies? Research indicates customers want to enhance their self-images, be entertained and pampered. These strategies can help you better serve your customers and increase profits.

Learn more about these ideas and how to use them by attending “How to Turn People into Your Secret Weapon” at TISE 2018, session MN25, Monday, Jan. 29, 3:30 p.m.


Brian Gracon is author of “Meconomics 101: 16 Ways to Improve Your Marketing, Selling and Business Management for Today’s Customers.” Tema Frank, author of “People Shock: The Path to Profits When Customers Rule,” contributed to this article.

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Al’s Column: Satisfying the ‘me’ in customer

September 12/19, 2016: Volume 31, Number 7

By Brian Gracon

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.49.34 PMYou know there’s no “I” in “team,” but there is a “me” in “customer.” Customers buy based on “What’s in it for me?” but what are they looking for these days when making their buying decisions?

From luxury cars to gourmet coffee shops, many companies were recession proof and are strong today. These companies used growth strategies based on the new consumer buying habits you can leverage in your business.

Extensive research revealed three strategies fueling much of this growth: 1) help a customer define or reinforce her self image; 2) provide entertainment through your products, services or shopping experience; and/or 3) pamper the customer to make her feel special. By using these same strategies, you can also tap into these new buying habits.

Let’s explore these three strategies in areas where your business influences your customers: marketing, selling and staffing.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-3-58-12-pmFocus on your customer’s emotional wants and needs. Instead of asking customers to “think hard” about physical features and warranties, invite them to “think soft” about personal and emotional benefits in your marketing efforts.

Check your marketing for an appeal to your target customer’s self image. Make sure you understand which self images those are.

Convey how your offering or customer experience will be fun or easy.

Communicate how you value the uniqueness of your customers and will pamper them. Affirm with customers that they are special, will be treated special and that your offering is special, too.

Audit your current marketing for the three strategies–self image, entertain and pamper. If you are having a difficult time finding any of the lenses in your marketing, that can still be good news. You’ll have many opportunities to improve your marketing and your business.

Your sales process needs to deliver on the customer expectations created by your marketing. The following companies and their sales processes teach us about selling to today’s customers using these three strategies:

  • Entertain: Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle has gained international recognition (and a lot of sales) because employees throw fish around as part of their sales process.
  • Pamper: Lexus of North Miami offers customers complimentary Club Lexus service. Customers can choose an onsite manicure, health club session, massage, pedicure or hair styling while their cars are being serviced.
  • Self image: When you enter a Moe’s Southwest Grill restaurant, every employee in the place calls out “Welcome to Moe’s.” Then they give personal service by customizing the order.

Do you hire, train and coach your staff so they have the skills necessary to provide these customer experiences? When hiring new staff, consider the typical self images of your customers and make sure your staff is comfortable working with those images.

Ask your training providers how they can incorporate these three strategies into their regimens, and make sure the instruction provides opportunities to practice these new skills.

Participate in staff training so you know what they have been trained to do. Then, develop a coaching playbook so you know what to do whether confirming or corrective feedback is needed.

The above integrated set of marketing, selling and staffing strategies can help satisfy today’s customer needs and sell as if you had multi-million dollar marketing budgets.

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Al's Column: Seven Rs critical to training

Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15

By Brian Gracon

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 12.05.45 PMWe all want to have the best skills possible as we serve our customers, but we all wonder how we can choose the right training programs to develop or improve our skills. We wonder if we can evaluate training programs before we’ve taken them. And we wonder how we can maximize the short- and long-term impacts of training.

There are ways to evaluate and optimize training programs (even before you invest time or money in them). You can discussseven critical factors—I call them the seven Rs—with the training provider when selecting programs for your business.

  • Results. What results have businesses like yours gotten from the training? After all, it’s not about the trainer’s increased sales but about your overall sales. The better the historical results, the more interested you should be in the training. If the training provider doesn’t have any results to discuss, you might want to consider a different provider (when possible).
  • Right training. What exactly will your people be able to do because of the training? Is this what you/they need? First, analyze your customer base to determine what they want and need from you. This analysis will tell you the skills your staff needs when serving these customers. Next, analyze your staff to determine their skill gaps vs. this list. You’ll have a detailed, prioritized list of your business’s training needs.
  • Real training. Is it training complete with skill development, practice and feedback or just another lecture? Business results depend on what your staff does, not just what they know. Make sure training programs include the application of new knowledge and a chance to practice what is being learned. It’s far better to practice on one another during training than to practice on customers. There’s an old training adage: “Don’t expect people to do anything after the training you haven’t seen them do during the training.”
  • Right method. Training comes in several shapes and sizes, from videos to conversations, webinars to eLearning, instructor-led sessions to manuals. The training objectives and the staff’s preferred learning styles will help you choose the best training methods.
  • Right now. Can the training be applied right now in your business? Without immediate application, training fades and won’t deliver short-term or long-term results. Therefore, a training program that relies heavily on participants doing reading assignments, developing action plans or completing assignments “someday” will probably lose a lot of its punch.
  • Reinforcement. Two types of reinforcement are needed: reinforcement for the facilitators of the training (if you have a staff member responsible for ongoing training or on-boarding of new staff), and reinforcement for managers and owners who will serve as coaches after the training. If the program doesn’t include these types of reinforcement, ask for them because they’re critical for ongoing results. (It’s also critical that managers and owners participate in the training so they know what their staffs have learned.)
  • Revisit. After the training, is there a chance to talk with the trainer to review the results from the training and compare them to expectations? You can use the first six Rs as the menu for this review. Develop plans for advanced training or correct deficiencies the next time you use this program.

You’ll be ensured better results from your training programs if you use the seven Rs.