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Lisbiz strategies: Incivility can lead to a hostile environment

June 11/18, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 26

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

While a training program on workplace manners and courtesy may seem like overkill, the reality is this: Rudeness is an epidemic costing industries millions a year. For nearly two decades, Christine Porath, acclaimed business professor at Georgetown University, has studied and observed a sharp rise in rudeness, emotional harassment, bullying and other toxic behaviors that can cost companies financially and employees their health and well-being.

Civility represents social norms and rules that must be followed to positively and productively relate to others. More than ever before, people are feeling disrespected at work. Employees feel they’re working in a toxic culture with insensitive managers and being treated disrespectfully based on gender, race or religion.

Oftentimes, this incivility leads to more serious forms of harassment. All incidents of harassment require employers or managers to respond quickly and appropriately. If issues are left unaddressed, a hostile work environment can develop, which can expose employers to further complaints and lawsuits. What society seems to be gaining in terms of both knowledge and technological advancement, it’s losing out on basic social values that directly impact the bottom line.

To address the growing problem of incivility, a company must make it a top priority. Everyone must understand the concept of civility, its importance to a company as well as its typical causes and effects.

Skills needed to effectively practice civil behavior, as well as different ways organizations can systematize civility in the workplace, need to be discussed. The benefits to civility in the workplace are countless and will pay off immensely in every aspect.

When Porath asked people in one survey why they were uncivil, more than 25% blamed their organization for not providing them with the basic skills they needed, such as listening and giving feedback. If your employees aren’t behaving well, and you’ve already gone through the trouble of hammering home the organization’s civility message, ask yourself, “Have I also equipped them to succeed?”

Don’t assume everyone instinctively knows how to be civil. When coaching employees, focus on helping them learn to listen, give and receive feedback, work across differences and deal with difficult people. Don’t just impart information; be explicit about your organization’s values.

Make civility a part of your mission statement, posting it somewhere visible. Engage your team in a dialogue about what your norms should be, then make it clear to your employees they need to hold their managers and colleagues accountable for living up to your norms of civility. Be explicit about your organization’s values.

One great reason to practice civility, you’ve heard this before—no man is an island. No matter how talented or indispensable you are to your business, you need to rely on suppliers and other people to get things done.

It’s worth noting—civility goes beyond good manners.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Lisbiz strategies: Build relationships, get the sale

May 28/June 4, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 25

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Last week a retailer emailed me with a problem: “Some members of my sales team are losing sales at the last moment. I’ve been in business 20 years, and nothing ticks me off more than when I watch a salesperson lose what appears to be an easy sale. In my head, it’s a slam dunk. What’s up with these people? Have they forgotten how to close?”

I give this retailer a lot of credit for not jumping into the middle of the sale; it must have taken a lot of discipline. If it were me, I would have been on my feet, selling and yelling, in hopes I could save the sale. If the sale seems imminent, ready to close and then vanishes, it sounds like there’s a failure to ask for the sale.

Salespeople are often obsessed with closing a sale. They push features and benefits in hopes that they will make it happen. By presenting features and benefits, we are also assuming that buying decisions are all logical. Research tells us that not engaging the emotional part of the brain is a huge mistake. For example, think about the last time you bought a car. You were interested in the car, gas mileage or service schedule, etc., but it’s likely when you got in the car you were more engaged with the new car’s look and smell.

With today’s consumer, the key is to open the sale with conversation not a sales pitch. Customers have plenty of information from the Internet. If they are in your store, they are looking more for a patient friend than an aggressive salesperson. There’s no need to rush the customer. It’s important to be where the customer is, not where you want them to be.

Savvy salespeople know that closing the sale relies on a series of sales conversations with the customer. Closing doesn’t happen by itself and its doubtful the customer will say, “I’ll take it,” as soon as you show her the flooring she asks for. Everything the salesperson says on the front end of the sale is in preparation for the closing. The Internet has changed the salesperson’s role in the sale, but if the customer is in the store, he needs help from the salesperson.

Successful salespeople work to develop a trusting relationship with their customers. Without one, the customer is not going to buy no matter what. The goal is to connect with the customer on a personal level. You may have friends in common, kids who attend the same school or you might like the same sports team.

The only place where a relationship may be unwanted is at The Dollar Store or any other off-price store. In these places, the salesperson’s main job is making sure the merchandise is on the shelves.

Building a solid relationship is the key to the sales process. Closing a sale is natural—providing you have done the right preparation. During the sale, it’s smart to check in with the customer, ask if she is getting the information she needs and how you’re doing. When the customer is satisfied, and you are confident, ask for the sale.

Enjoy your time with the customer. There’s no need to increase the pressure, in fact, that method can backfire big-time. Be yourself and engage her. You want the customer to have a positive feeling about you—she will be your connection to your next customer.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Lisbiz strategies: Improving the customer experience is job No. 1

May 14/21, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 24

By Lisbeth Calandrino

I was recently at my yearly cardiologist visit and noticed that everyone was so friendly, funny and helpful. This is in contrast to my primary care physician’s office where everyone is aloof and looks down at the patients.

It’s a very interesting contrast. I love my cardiologist and dislike my primary care physician. I’ve researched both practices, and everyone loves the CEO of the cardiology department—the love is “not so much” at my primary care physician.

Changing the customer experience can be costly and time consuming, but it ultimately starts at the top. The CEO sets the tone for the entire company.

If the CEO rages when things go wrong, he/she is setting the tone for the company’s culture. This tone trickles down to the employees, who treat the customers the same way they’re being treated. Unless the CEO makes the customer experience a priority, the customer experience will not improve.

Think about what is at the top of your customer’s list: saving time and personalization. Amazon Prime has taught us that at the click of a mouse, our order will be delivered the next day. Need food? Blue Apron and Hello Fresh will have delicious, pre-measured ingredients and simple, chef-made recipes delivered to your door.

If you aren’t interested in saving the customer precious time, someone else will. While Macy’s is dying a slow death, Stich Fix—an online retailer that offers personalized styling services—had a powerful IPO this year. Let’s face it, Macy’s comes from a model that would be described as “old retail.” Paring down sales staff and closing stores to become more efficient will not help them with customers who want something different. What happened to the “wow” factor? Can’t a department store be fun and entertaining? They should look outside their own box and take an idea or two from the Mall of America, which has invested in becoming a destination.

These days, personalization is more demanding. In the 1980s, my friend Ruth worked for a department store that catered to high-end customers. She knew what her customers wore, and she would pick out clothes for them four times a year and just ship them. It was pretty simple.

Sephora has also done a great job of creating personalized experiences for customers by marrying online and offline engagement strategies. All of this takes augmented reality and other tools that many retailers are not ready for. Sephora’s technology allows customers to try on different looks via their phone.

So why aren’t we there? By 2020, it’s estimated we’ll produce 44 zettabytes every day. That’s equal to 44 trillion gigabytes. That’s a lot of data—and most companies cannot process fast enough to keep up with it. Frontline employees are generally operating with data that’s “too little, too late.”

No, we can’t taste food over the phone yet. Online is still not the same as connecting with a real person—yet. However, some brands are making it possible for customers to shop a clothing store and virtually try on items.

The solutions to growing a better customer experience are becoming more sophisticated. It’s obvious that technology will be improving the customer experience, but first we have to take it seriously. The store culture has to make the experience a priority. Maybe your artificial intelligence isn’t there yet, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are willing to change when the tools are available.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Al's column: Urgency helps boost close rates

April 30/May 7, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 23

By Lisbeth Calandrino

The other day I was helping a friend clean out her closet. She would pull out an article of clothing and declare it was on its way to the Goodwill. A couple of times I commented on the clothing’s great quality. It seemed that when I did this, the piece went back into the closet. I noticed if I liked it before she took it out of the closet, it never made it to the Goodwill bag.

I started going through the Goodwill bag and trying things on. Immediately, she decided to keep those things. My interest in the items seemed to give them more value. She suddenly wanted the pieces when she couldn’t have them.

Retail works the same way. My friend sells expensive cars. The dealer doesn’t stock many vehicles and salespeople are always complaining. At first this bothered my friend who felt it worked against him until a customer said, “There’s probably a great demand for these cars.” Most customers believe cars fly out of the door and that if you want it, you better buy it now. This is an example of scarcity appeal, which is often used in marketing to induce purchases.

An experiment that used wristwatch ads as stimuli exposed participants to one of two product descriptions: “Exclusive limited edition, hurry, limited stock” or “New edition with many items in stock.” They then had to indicate how much they would be willing to pay for the product. The average consumer agreed to pay an additional 50% if the watch was advertised as scarce.

Recent research also proposes we are often inadequate when it comes to our ability to make good decisions when we believe we have less time. Many people say they work better under pressure. However, when we have less time than we need, we frequently make bad decisions. Consider the Tenerife air disaster of 1977, in which a veteran pilot commenced takeoff without clearance and crashed into another airplane on the runway, killing 583 people.

In reviewing the tragedy, analysts pointed to a variety of time pressures. A few months earlier, a new duty-time regulation restricted the number of hours pilots could fly each month. Anyone who logged too many hours could be subject to harsh penalties.

So what does all this mean to your business? When you help customers set deadlines for their purchases, you are actually helping them buy. Setting deadlines for your employees is also beneficial. Give them artificial deadlines before the “drop-dead ones” so their proposals can be reviewed. You will find it results in fewer mistakes.

It’s also important to set up your showroom so customers believe the store is busy and feel it’s wise to buy right away. If your salespeople tell customers the merchandise is limited, they will have to prove it. This doesn’t mean you should turn your showroom into a circus, but at one point your customer must feel some internal pressure to make a decision.

RSAs should be asking, “What’s the occasion for the new flooring?” This helps create a deadline for purchase. You could also have someone call the showroom and ask you to put some merchandise on hold or even put a sold ticket on certain items. My realtor friend says when you tell the client there are other offers coming in, the customer starts getting serious.

This is what human behavior is about. Remember, without a goal everything is just a dream. If you want to turn your customer’s dreams into reality, you will have to set a deadline.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Lisbiz strategies: Managers should be trained to ‘coach’

April 16/23, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 22

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Every team looks to hire superstars. However, extremely talented people are hard to find and recruit—and did I mention expensive? Just look at major league sports teams and what they spend to bring in superstars. If you really want great talent, why not coach the ones you already have? Take those Clark Kents and turn them into supermen and superwomen.

If you aren’t already building superstars, consider the idea that your managers may just be managing and not coaching. Those who don’t coach aren’t necessarily bad managers, but if they don’t coach they are overlooking an important tool to develop talent. A good manager can kick your butt when it’s needed and help you focus on what you’ve been avoiding.

The coaching statistics are pretty impressive. According to a recent study by Knowledge Tree, sales representatives receiving at least three hours of coaching per month exceed their selling goals by 7%, increase revenue by 25% and improve closing rates by 70%. Who wouldn’t want those statistics?

Teams are how things get done in most businesses. Think about your own company—what jobs do you have that don’t depend on several people to get it done right? We usually don’t think about how we can coach individual members to make them even better. For example, if you owned a major league franchise, you would try to figure out how to get your investment to pay off.

Interestingly, you actually have a major league franchise and have a lot invested in the people who work for you. Think about how much you have invested in your showroom to keep it looking clean and up to date as well as your trucks and vans.

Things are good, you say, why change anything? This is often called the complacency of success and could be the beginning of the end. The more we want things to stay the same the quicker they are changing in the real world. They say hindsight is 20/20; it can also bite you in a place you can’t reach. You may be wasting a whole lot of time and money not doing anything. Here are somethings a coach can do for you:

Make your team more functional. You know those stupid jokes your employees play on each other when there’s nothing to do? Once they start building goals and questioning their values, they will have plenty to do. They will also begin to understand their team members and start working together. Tasks will get executed more efficiently when there’s something in it for everyone.

Help the team adjust to any changes. A good coach can act as a consultant and teach the team skills that will help them adjust. The coach can also teach problem-solving skills.

Help you see employee patterns. Good coaches look at nonverbal cues, the language people use when they speak about themselves and others. Do they say they feel powerful and then use “wimpy” or tentative language, such as “maybe” or “I should do that” instead of “I will?” These things take away from their power. Do they see themselves as team players but always use “I” instead of “we” when talking about how a task got done? Do they sit with their arms crossed while leaning back in their chairs? A coach can pay attention to these telling cues.

To learn more about coaching, join me at The Remodeling Show in Baltimore, Oct. 9-11, at the Baltimore Convention Center, where I will be speaking on, “The Coaching Edge, Building a Successful Team.” You can also call me at 518.495.5380.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Marketing online: Fearing social media—a thing of the past

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Lindsay Baillie

 

With all of the resources available today, social media should no longer evoke fear of the unknown. However, despite the large shift in favor of social media sites, there are still retailers with lingering fears of how to create, maintain and drive traffic to their social sites.

FCNews spoke with several digital marketing experts to find solutions to some of the common fears associated with using social media platforms.

Understanding each social platform. Before using any social media, sites experts suggest conducting a brief Internet search to learn more about each platform. As Katrina Olson, freelance writer and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications, explained, “A quick search will yield tons of free articles and educational downloads about the strengths of each platform, how to use it and how to build a following.”

When deciding which platforms to use, it is important to recognize the differences among each site. “Facebook users are great at commenting and sharing,” Olson said. “Twitter is good for quick notifications. YouTube is great for demonstrating or explaining a solution or process. LinkedIn can connect you with vendors, suppliers and possibly customers. And blogs can educate while interjecting your company’s brand personality.”

While it might be overwhelming in choosing which platforms to join, social media experts suggest starting with one or two sites and then adding as necessary. “Most residential retailers should use Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Houzz,” said Paul Friederichsen, marketing expert and owner of BrandBiz, a marketing and branding consultancy. “If dealers are also selling a substantial share of Main Street commercial, they should add LinkedIn and Twitter to their list.”

Finding someone to run each site. Oftentimes, dealers either run their social sites themselves or have younger people, who are more familiar with social sites, run their social media accounts. However, most experts warn against these practices.

“It’s not that the younger people don’t understand how to use social media, it’s that they probably don’t have a marketing background,” said Lisbeth Calandrino, FCNews columnist and retail industry consultant. “I suggest dealers hire an industry person with retail experience—industry people understand the customer as well as the flooring industry. Companies need someone who knows how to follow the customers, connect with them and understand how to build relationships.”

If an industry person is not available, experts recommend finding or recruiting a freelancer or social agency to run the social sites with the business owner’s involvement. “You (or the employee you designate as responsible) must be involved in reviewing schedules, content and monitoring,” Friederichsen said. “You cannot put your social campaign on autopilot and be unaware of the face of your brand on the various platforms.”

Allocating time to post and interact. Finding time to participate on social media is a major concern for some floor covering dealers. Yet, the solution is quite simple, according to experts. “Devote at least half an hour every other day in the beginning and also be willing to invest some of your ad budget into boosting your select posts—a little goes a long way,” Friederichsen said.

Another way to think of this is by breaking it into small and regular chunks and making it part of the day-to-day processes. “Spend a short amount of time consistently paying attention to what is going on in the network and you can observe and lurk, or you can participate,” said Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier, Simple Marketing Now. “By having these time limits it means you’re not going to get overwhelmed and spend too much time.”

What kind of content to post. When thinking of what content to post, it is important to give people what they want to see relevant to a store’s product offerings. “If I am considering wood floors, I want to know how to clean and maintain them, and which finish will best meet my needs,” Olson explained. “If I’m considering installing wood floors, I’m interested in strength and durability, and the differences between species. If you give me information I want, I’ll keep coming back; but if you just try to push products and services, I’ll get annoyed.”

Another key point to remember is that it is important to empathize with the audience. “Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another—it is the basis for all relationships,” Calandrino explained. “When people talk about their pet, they want more than a ‘like.’ A like doesn’t build relationships—one needs to post comments. We should treat online conversations as if they were face-to-face discussions.”

There are also a plethora of sites available to help dealers who are having trouble creating new content. BuzzSumo is an idea generator for new topics and articles to share. MeetEdgar is a subscription-based site that gives fun content for social media. Hootsuite and Sprout Social are other sites that will link social accounts together to help monitor and post.

In addition to using these services, dealers should also be aware of what their competitors are doing on their social accounts. Find out what they are posting, what times they are posting and how many reactions—likes, comments, shares, etc.—they are getting on those posts.

How to monitor a site’s effectiveness. Before retailers can accurately determine the effectiveness of posting on a social site, they must clearly define their goals. “If you’ve set goals, you can attach metrics and measure the results,” Olson explained. “After testing a few different types of content or tactics over time, you may find some platforms perform better than others. Be sure to do your research and realize that a number of factors can impact success.”

When monitoring social media sites, it is important to look at analytics and not focus on just getting “likes.” In fact, some social media experts equate these sites to office picnics, parades on Main Street, and other social gatherings where communication of thoughts and ideas are necessary. “These are places where people socialize,” Whittemore explained. “You meet people on these sites and that’s great, but it doesn’t mean they’ll be customers. If you have goals, you can monitor the sites and stay focused in your activity. Then step back and evaluate whether being on those sites is time well spent.”

How to promote the business more effectively. Promoting a business on social media can be tricky, experts say, because a dealer does not want to come across as being too self-promotional. The key is to use creative content to remain top of mind for consumers regardless of where they are in their purchasing journey.

“The goal is to build relationships that will eventually lead to sales,” Olson said. “You want to engage with followers and fans by giving them information they want, not by simply trying to sell them. We all have the friend who talks about herself all the time. We also have the friend who listens, cares and wants to help us. Who would you want to spend more time with?”

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Al’s column: Turning browsers into buyers

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Lisbeth Calandrino

In this modern age of digital marketing, it’s critical retailers move beyond the traditional means of targeting consumers. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting dealers completely abandon tried-and-true methods of marketing to new and existing customers. Rather, they should seize all available opportunities—along with the host of online marketing tools available—to turn browsers into buyers.

According to Salesforce Marketing Cloud, a provider of digital marketing automation and analytics software and services, 70% of people say they always open emails from their favorite companies. MarketingSherpa, a firm specializing in tracking what works in all aspects of marketing, reported 61% of shoppers say they like to receive promotional emails weekly; meanwhile, 29% said they want to receive them more frequently.

If you are unsure how to employ online marketing tools in your business, the following are a few tips to get the ball rolling.

Develop a plan of attack. Most businesses only focus on their advertising efforts when they have something special to promote. However, an email marketing campaign should be about more than just promotions. It should give your customers useful information they can use throughout the year. It’s also a good idea to build email campaigns around holidays, special occasions and important events.

Know your customer. This might sound rudimentary, but do you really know “who’s who” in your database? Your customers may include property managers, builders, architects and homeowners. Should they all receive the same email message? Certainly not. According to the Lyris Annual Email Optimizer Report, companies using email list segmentation saw 39% higher open rates and 28% lower unsubscribe rates. Put another way, if you met 50 people at a networking group you wouldn’t say the same things to each person, would you?

Devise compelling subject lines. You don’t have to be a wordsmith to excel in this area; just think creatively. For instance, if you want your customer to know something, tell her what it is in the subject line and then give her the full story in the email body. Oftentimes the content has nothing to do with the subject line. A great subject line can spark interest, but if the content isn’t relevant, the customer will stop opening your emails.

All customers are not created equal. When you create your campaign, you need to segment your customers. The customer who has bought from you is different from the one who hasn’t yet made a purchase. Don’t treat them the same. Target each group and send them relevant messages.

Let’s say you meet 40 new people at a networking event and put them in with the rest of the people in your database. Since you don’t know these customers, you don’t want to treat them as if you do. Rather, know that this is a special group that you want to get to know so they will see your information as useful and want to keep hearing from you. Once you gain their trust and they recognize your brand, you can begin to send them offers.

The trick is not to get overwhelmed or overthink things. Think about emails, alerts and messages you receive from some of the places you shop, and try to emulate the ones that inspire you or compel you to act. And if you’re not comfortable in tackling this yourself, by all means assign someone on your staff—maybe a millennial? —who’s more familiar with the technology and various media.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Al's column: Turning browsers into buyers

April 2/9, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 21

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

In this modern age of digital marketing, it’s critical retailers move beyond the traditional means of targeting consumers. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting dealers completely abandon tried-and-true methods of marketing to new and existing customers. Rather, they should seize all available opportunities—along with the host of online marketing tools available—to turn browsers into buyers.

According to Salesforce Marketing Cloud, a provider of digital marketing automation and analytics software and services, 70% of people say they always open emails from their favorite companies. MarketingSherpa, a firm specializing in tracking what works in all aspects of marketing, reported 61% of shoppers say they like to receive promotional emails weekly; meanwhile, 29% said they want to receive them more frequently.

If you are unsure how to employ online marketing tools in your business, the following are a few tips to get the ball rolling.

Develop a plan of attack. Most businesses only focus on their advertising efforts when they have something special to promote. However, an email marketing campaign should be about more than just promotions. It should give your customers useful information they can use throughout the year. It’s also a good idea to build email campaigns around holidays, special occasions and important events.

Know your customer. This might sound rudimentary, but do you really know “who’s who” in your database? Your customers may include property managers, builders, architects and homeowners. Should they all receive the same email message? Certainly not. According to the Lyris Annual Email Optimizer Report, companies using email list segmentation saw 39% higher open rates and 28% lower unsubscribe rates. Put another way, if you met 50 people at a networking group you wouldn’t say the same things to each person, would you?

Devise compelling subject lines. You don’t have to be a wordsmith to excel in this area; just think creatively. For instance, if you want your customer to know something, tell her what it is in the subject line and then give her the full story in the email body. Oftentimes the content has nothing to do with the subject line. A great subject line can spark interest, but if the content isn’t relevant, the customer will stop opening your emails.

All customers are not created equal. When you create your campaign, you need to segment your customers. The customer who has bought from you is different from the one who hasn’t yet made a purchase. Don’t treat them the same. Target each group and send them relevant messages.

Let’s say you meet 40 new people at a networking event and put them in with the rest of the people in your database. Since you don’t know these customers, you don’t want to treat them as if you do. Rather, know that this is a special group that you want to get to know so they will see your information as useful and want to keep hearing from you. Once you gain their trust and they recognize your brand, you can begin to send them offers.

The trick is not to get overwhelmed or overthink things. Think about emails, alerts and messages you receive from some of the places you shop, and try to emulate the ones that inspire you or compel you to act. And if you’re not comfortable in tackling this yourself, by all means assign someone on your staff—maybe a millennial? —who’s more familiar with the technology and various media.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Lisbiz strategies: Complacency is the enemy of business

March 19/26, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 20

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

When things are good, we have a tendency to sit back. However, complacency is the silent killer and it can attack both big and small businesses. It reminds me of a memorable quote from Roger Babson, entrepreneur and founder of Babson College: “Neither success nor failure is ever final.”

This quote made me think of Howard Brodsky, cofounder and co-CEO of CCA Global Partners (the parent company of Carpet One). During a recent conversation, I asked him what he made of all the closings of old retail favorites such as Macy’s, JC Penney’s, Sears, etc., and what the implications are for the flooring industry.

“Retailers are just complacent and think they can thrive by sitting back and resting on their past successes,” he told me. “Being great just isn’t enough these days. When I was in retail it was easier to differentiate and to stand out from the pack. There were fewer competing choices for consumers. Today, being great is the price you pay for being in an industry; the key is to be great and outstanding.”

He went on to explain that everyone expects a personalized experience, and it is up to the retailer to make it happen. Customers want to be treated as if they are at the finest hotel, and every member of your team must be trained to deliver that service.

Another major problem is the U.S. is overbuilt, Brodsky noted. The U.S. has 40 square feet of retail space per person, which is 10 times the amount in Europe.

I also asked Brodsky for his opinion as to why Amazon would buy Whole Foods and if the retail giant actually needs a brick and mortar store. “Amazon amazed the world by its purchase, but it makes perfect sense,” he replied. “Amazon was interested in the grocery business and needed a physical presence. Whole Foods has more than 400 locations, which gives Amazon a place to try out their online super service and personalization with Whole Foods. Think about the special services Amazon Prime members receive.”

Consumers still love the personalized, intimate experience and contact they receive in a retail store—something not replicable online, Brodsky explained. In fact, businesses can tap into these consumer demands and emotions by having a combination of online and brick/mortar. While it used to be enough to know how to buy at the right price and then be a good marketer, now a retail store must be exciting and full of amazing experiences.

“The thing to remember is although the times may be unsettling, it’s exciting—retail isn’t going away; it’s time for a radical change,” Brodsky said. “The key is a culture that delivers memorable, distinguishable service both online and in the store.”

I then returned to complacency and Brodsky’s statements about personalization and asked if he had any suggestions for flooring retailers. He explained when things are going our way we have a tendency to want to “ride the wave.” However, the perfect time to experiment is when we don’t have a lot of pressure and stress. In fact, without tension we tend to make better decisions.

“You want to develop legendary stories that others will tell for you,” Brodsky noted. “You must anticipate the customers’ needs and deliver memorable experiences that meet those needs.”

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Technology: Embracing artificial intelligence is a smart move

March 5/12, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 19

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Mention the term “artificial intelligence” (more commonly referred to as AI) and most people think of science-fiction movies. But the reality is this emerging technology stands to reinvent business as we know it today.

So, what is AI exactly? In essence, AI entails software, machines, etc., designed and programmed in such a manner they think like humans—all while learning in the process. Truth be told, we have only just begun to see how AI is already improving our lives. Some examples include: Apple’s Siri, Google’s self-driving cars and Facebook’s image recognition software, to name a few. Personally, I don’t know how these things happen; I just know they enhance my experiences and interactions with the world.

In that same vein, more businesses and brands are expected to use AI to customize the user experience by analyzing data, consumer-buying trends and browsing history. In the world of tomorrow, you won’t have to ask for the customer’s name, email and contact information; it will all be available through AI.

But the biggest impact of AI, industry experts say, will involve social media. We will continue to see a rise in real-time personalized content targeting with the aim of creating increased sales opportunities, mainly because AI can make use of effective behavioral targeting methodologies. There are other benefits for business as well. For instance, the capabilities of AI-powered fraud detection tools are available to help companies protect against fraud schemes. Speech and face recognition as well as chip readers are also common AI technologies that provide consumer protections. Interestingly, some people hesitate to embrace AI. Skeptics often ask, ‘Will they outthink us?’ or ‘Aren’t we smart enough?’ In truth, AI tries to understand our patterns of behavior and how we think. From that we can build “smarter systems” and better understand how to expand and understand our concept of intelligence.

AI has actually been around for some time. In 1950, English mathematician Alan Turing published a paper titled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which opened the doors to the field that would be called AI. (Siri, for instance, is an intelligent personal assistant included in Apple’s iOS, watch, Mac and TV operating systems.)

I started thinking seriously about AI while listening to an interview with Eric Yuan, the CEO of Zoom on Masters of Scale, a podcast program hosted by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn. This is my favorite podcast because the interviews are with the new business leaders in our country.

There are many video conferencing and webinar platforms out there, but Zoom is beta testing AI technology designed to help businesses by testing matching voices to facial recognition. How it works: Once you match a voice to a face, you will be able to know who is talking and who is listening. Yuan calls this an engagement score. The meeting, which will be recorded and transcribed, reveals helpful information about the participants. For instance, if the transcripts show you’re talking 80% of the time and only listening 20% of the time, what are you learning? Probably not much. Imagine if your managers have this information and can explain what it means to employees; this feedback can be used to help employees improve their listening behavior.

Retail businesses could use AI to determine if a customer is willing to purchase the product, seeking support or switching to another provider even before she actually approaches the store. AI might also collect essential data on the customer for the purpose of improving the overall shopping experience. How many businesses have an in-house person that can collect and decipher this invaluable information?

AI should be embraced, not feared. The technology is being used in ways to make our world more secure and allow us to immediately know what is going on around the globe.