Archive for Business

Going for Advancement

Meet Evaluation, Meet AdvancementAdvancement only comes with habitually doing more than you are asked. ~Gary Ryan Blair

Advancement, if this is one of your personal values for your career, your job is to understand how you are evaluated, then exceed it.

The criteria on which you are evaluated are the criteria by which your company defines career advancement. These criteria may or may not match your values, working toward your values and ignoring evaluation criteria is not the path to advancement. Your job is to decide if you can work where you feel conflicted, or if you can still maintain your values while still exceeding their criteria.

Many companies fail to recognize disconnects between what they say they want for a culture and what they actually evaluate. What gets evaluated is what they build. If a company seeks collaborative and innovative – then what they measure needs to match those criteria.

For a company to say they want a fun and invigorating culture, but only measure margins and ignore behaviour and intangibles is equal to a brain wanting weight loss and going straight for the double-double chocolate cake. One does not equal the other.

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Patti Blackstaffe works with people and organizations in implementing sustainable change in a rapid changing world. Her key areas of focus are change management solutions both at the project level and the organizational level. She has over 10 years of experience in change management, has worked on projects that impact 50-30,000 people in both large and small organizations. Patti brings experiential design thinking into all her projects ensuring solutions are relevant, simplified and the implementation makes sense.

You can reach Patti at 1-855-968-5323

Contact us here to work with us.

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Need Strategic Sense for your business? – hire us for Leadership Development of individuals, teams, group training and company strategy. Happy Workplaces Succeed, take the path to get there. (403) 201-8512

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Lead Yourself…but not for free.

There appears to be a common misconception about entrepreneurs that has me fascinated. It is that they are free to be with, do for and make time available that “working people” do not have.

In the last few years I have promoted that one cannot lead well until they have learned first to lead themselves. This is exceptionally true of an entrepreneur, for if they cannot lead themselves their business suffers. Good business means income, and for an entrepreneur, time is money.

Every minute of every working day must be led and managed effectively to ensure a steady income. They are doing business, just like anyone in a typical “job”. The difference between the misconception and reality is this:

They are flexible, not available

Between the hours of 8am – 5pm they are still working, in fact, they are usually working between the hours of 5pm – 10pm just not as one would typically define “work”. To best lead self, an entrepreneur will need to be very selective in the activities they agree to take part. Why?

Because every hour they spend being with, doing for and making themselves available may be an hour they are not busy generating income for their business.

A casual coffee is much like taking an hour-long leave of absence without pay.

Entrepreneurs, to lead yourself well, decide if the activity in which you are being asked to take part will in some way lead to building a better business for you, or if it is precious time you are giving freely as a gift to another. How many gifts are you able to give, and to whom?

Patti is a strategic adviser in Leadership Development, Customer Service and Culture through Mergers and Acquisition. You can book her to speak at her Speakers Page.

Need Strategic Sense for your business? – hire us for Leadership Development of individuals & teams, group training and company strategy. Happy Workplaces Succeed, take the path to get there. 403-201-8512

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Staples Inc. Shows It Can Be Done

There are some terrific examples of Customer Service out there, some we have come to expect, Zappos for one – a large organization built on providing WOW for their customer. When I am listing examples for my clients, one company would never spring to mind and that is Staples. They are the largest supplier of office products nation-wide and a business I have tried to avoid using, until now.

Previous experiences were…

  • Lack of care or concern for my copy center needs, several times miscounting or getting it wrong then refusing to correct it.
  • Waiting for up to 20 minutes for someone to help or assist me, if they noticed at all.
  • Allowing me to leave the store either disappointed or angry at their lack of concern for my solution.

In fact, last summer I had decided to obtain most of my office products from elsewhere. As a result, I thought I’d try one of the other Staples locations and came to the conclusion this problem was much larger than a local manager who didn’t ‘get it’ because I received the same experience at other locations.

All that has changed! Staples is a key supplier for several things I need for my business, and in the last month felt forced to shop there – was I ever pleasantly surprised.

Yesterday I tracked down a manager/supervisor and asked if the management had changed since last summer. He indicated it had not, and wanted to know why I asked. I mentioned my work in the areas of Leadership and Customer Service and told him I was seeing a marked improvement in their store, he was happy to hear it.

Apparently Staples rolled out a nation-wide customer engagement plan to all their stores. I now intend on being a more frequent customer to observe its sustainability and its reach. From what I witnessed in my last two visits, they do appear to understand that customers are the reason for their job, rather than an interruption.

  • I had at least 3 employees in different departments ask if there was anything I needed help finding or if I had any questions. Score tally 1
  • Managers and supervisors were watching closely to see if anyone looked stranded or lost and directing employees accordingly. Score tally 2

I do hope their customer engagement rollout includes building on that engagement, extending that new customer service goal to include customer experiences as they increase their customer base; they have an incredible opportunity to do so.
Kudos to Staples!

Patti is a strategic advisor in Leadership, Customer Service and Small business. You can book her to speak at her Speakers Page.

Need Strategic Sense for your business? – hire us if you prefer to rise above the status-quo, care deeply about employee and customer experiences and truly believe in living and performing with excellence.

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Just Get Out Of The Way!

There are a lot of different descriptions of what a tool-kit really is, and it’s different for everyone.

Plumbers have a varied tool-kit to Electricians. Teens will need a different tool-kit than toddlers for getting through the learning curve that is teen life. Equally, leaders will benefit by understanding the tool-kits needed by their team members so they can do their jobs!

So what exactly makes up a tool-kit? It’s anything utilized by an employee to enable and enhance their ability to perform and exceed their expected role as an employee. You wouldn’t ask a software developer to write code on paper – you’d provide him with a computer, the right software, the ability to properly test it and (very important tools) the support to take as many roadblocks out of their way in order for them to do the job. That could include providing them with space to focus, limiting meetings and interruptions, fighting for the budgetary means to allow them to continue. It also means getting out of their way!

Leaders forget sometimes they are no longer the hands-on specialist. Often, they find themselves wanting to dig in and work with, rather than guide, employees. We’ve been hearing from a number of our clients that sometimes all they want is time to get the job done. Frustration over a manager who is keen to take part can provide the following impressions:

  • The Leader is micromanaging
  • The Leader is not confident in their employee’s abilities
  • The Leader doesn’t trust the employee to do the job ‘right’.

Often the case is simply an enthusiasm and keen desire to be part of something they have left behind.

So what is today’s message? Provide employees with what they need and then please get out of their way! Offer them the chance to shine, to improve and to make a difference on the team. We don’t suggest you abandon them, by any means; you are there to support and provide a tool-kit for them in order to enable them to shine. Avoid hindering them!

Patti is a strategic advisor in Leadership, Customer Service and Small business. You can book her to speak at her Speakers Page.

Need Strategic Sense for your business? – hire us if you prefer to rise above the status-quo, care deeply about employee and customer experiences and truly believe in living and performing with excellence.

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My CEO Cleans My Car

It is in modelling character that employees learn what kind of a culture they are working within. And the CEO is always the best model for defining a culture.

In a phone call with a friend this morning, he shared a story from his new job. The first thing he said was, “You know how you build expectations around a leader, the executive and the people with whom you work prior to entering a new role? Often, once you are in the role reality doesn’t meet with expectation. This one is completely different. The flavour of the culture is such that I was excited to work for these folks, and now that I am experiencing the reality – it’s even better than I expected.”

Wow, we don’t hear that very often.

He works for a family owned business, but not a small business by any stretch of the imagination. They have over 450 employees and the two folks at the top are the founder and his son. The following story embodies the cultural flavour of their company and why his experience is even better than anticipated.

Snow had fallen during the day and my friend took a glance out the window from his new office. There in the parking lot was the CEO and his son, second in command, walking out of the building carrying brooms and scrapers. The two of them began brushing off and scraping the windows of each and every car in the parking lot. There are 450+ employees! When my friend questioned another employee about it, he was told they do it every time it snows.

What a gift! I must admit the anticipation of having to clean off and scrape a single car after a long hard day at work is not appealing – but to come out and have it done for me would be a beautiful act of kindness I would not soon forget.

My friend finished his story by saying he believes each and every executive would ‘take a bullet’ for the CEO. I would imagine that kind of trust, respect and consideration is strongly felt by each one of the employees. What a leader – taking the role of model and lead so seriously that giving time and action to his employees equals the importance of managing the business itself.

Are they a successful business? Indeed they are, and for good reason – the CEO cares to trust and believe in the people he is privileged to lead and he understands there is a two way street, giving as well as receiving.

People follow a leader based on their actions, not their words.

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Customer Response and Resolution? You Decide.

Due to a busy couple of weeks I’ve neglected the blog, but feel it imperative I offer a follow-up to the Rogers cell phone story. I’d like to say my own behaviour with Rogers was of the utmost grace and decorum, but the truth is by the time I spoke with someone in authority I was pure ‘ticked off’. What really struck a chord is the fact it took a public blog before any attention at all was called to this very frustrated customer.

Timeline of Events:

  • 5 Customer Service Representatives who never once clued -in that escalation would be a good idea. When I asked if there was nothing more I could do, they ALL said ‘yes’.
  • Initial tweets were not picked up by social media ‘watchers’ on Twitter before I posted a blog.
  • The Blog drew an enormous amount of attention- many similar negative stories and offers of help from Roger’s competitors.
  • I purchased a phone privately from Kijiji –Rogers “sent it to them for free at their upgrade time but that they did not need it.” (I found that fascinating.)
  • Unfortunately because I had a smart phone I only had a data plan, not a Blackberry plan. I then spent another entire morning with customer service reps 6 & 7 finding out that I needed to change my plan before the phone woud be operable.
  • I was still on hold with customer service when Rogers finally called in response to the blog (Toronto office).

Talk about your “Shaggy Dog” story – it just seemed to go on forever. I’ll stick with the phone story and try and avoid going into the ‘lost revenue and business time” saga! (I consult by the hour – can’t get that client time back)

What Worked:

  • When I finally spoke with someone who could help, they recognized the change in data plan would cost me additional funds (more even than a new phone already cost me). A discount of 5.00/mo was given for the additional cost.
  • I got to vent a bit about how this is customer clean-up NOT customer service based on the fact I needed to go public before I EVER got attention.

Things I would never say to a customer:

  • “We go to great expense to provide those free phones up front, we cannot give everything away” – hmm, then you should not be in business, because good business people build their costs into a package.
  • “Our customer service people have to deal with 10 more people just like you once you hang up” – last time I checked, customer service was about caring about the customer you are serving at the moment, especially if they are frustrated.
  • “If you go to our website you will find our escalation policy and could have done that before posting a blog” – That is going to take a LOT of training to get the entire Canadian public to understand how to best escalate an issue. I wonder if a company might be better off limiting that training to the customer service representatives and offer them clues as to when THEY can escalate an issue. I struggled to connect with the right CSR multiple times, my expectation was they would indicate a process and simply ask, would you like this to be escalated? I had no idea it was MY job to find out their escalation policy.

No answers or conversations seemed to focus on the real point. I bought a data plan with Rogers. The LCD on my data phone stopped functioning correctly. At no point during my plan was I told my data phone would be obsolete and I would be forced to upgrade to a $4-600.00 BlackBerry and a different plan if my phone was broken. Nor was I informed that even though I HAD a data plan, the only phones available to me would be non-data phones. I’d like to think if I worked at the company, I would recognize the real issue.

If you offer a service/product (in this case a smart phone data plan) and within that contract your lost or broken program cannot provide the same service or product as agreed to in the beginning, you as a company should be liable to take the lead in finding a solution. Rogers did not provide any smartphones for my data plan at this point in my contract. BUT according to Rogers, the problem is all mine. I am stuck with THEIR provision of this service (even though they can no longer provide what they agreed to in the beginning) and any solution is a new phone at full (or close to full) cost at my own expense or to downgrade to a non-data phone but still pay the data fee as per the contract. If I try removing myself from the contract I pay a hefty penalty – but they hold no such accountability.

I am still with Rogers only because I did not wish to pay that penalty and throw my money in the trash. The loss of time, money and patience is now history – but serves as a great model of what NOT to do in my own company and with my own clients. Will I renew with Rogers? Time will tell, I will definitely ask many more questions of any provider next time I agree to a contract. Do they need a better customer service solution – indeed I think they do.

In this case, a free phone was only a ‘hook’ to gaining an initial contract – certainly discounted phones are not used as a solution to maintaining service and keeping a customer who likes to be loyal to the companies with whom she has chosen to spend her money.

(Update: August 31, 2009 – Call from “Office of the President” at Roger’s with additional discount to account to say sorry for the experience. This individual was polite, considerate, wants to use these posts as an example for continued front-line training and apologized quite a few times. It is clear that they are doing what they can in the aftermath of this particular situation. I hope his optimistic description of the changes they wish to make on the front-lines does materialize for the benefit of other customers so they can avoid an experience like this altogether.)

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Getting Too Big For Your Britches?

poolIt’s a tough road out there in business, one must work incredibly hard to “get somewhere” and once one arrives it can be hard to maintain the momentum it takes to remain at the top.

One of the risks a company faces as they find themselves at “the top” is client demand of the entrepreneur increases. As that client base increases visibility strengthens and larger clients begin to emerge. It is pretty damn exciting to find yourself sipping champagne and celebrating large contracts and a new focus. But what of the clients who got you there, the small folks who took a risk and used your products or services sight-unseen?

Last week as I visited my folks, I learned they’d sprung a leak in their pool house. I don’t know anything about pools but my thought is leak=bad. For 3 days my father had been calling the pool company who services their pool and finally got an answer the morning I arrived. “We can come in 5 days” was the answer.

EXCUSE ME?

It seems they were the only pool shop in town for a number of years and folks in town truly supported the company growth. The municipality have now signed maintenance contracts with the pool company and so business has changed from a shop where you can walk in off the street and call at anytime to an organization with closed access, no street presence and clearly choosing not to answer the phone if the caller ID suggests it is not someone to whom they care to respond.

OUCH! The pool company gave no notice to the existing clients with “new rules of the game” and no other options were provided. They have become too big for their britches.

My folks are truly great people. They love to support local businesses and while that’s honorable they sometimes do so at the expense of the customer service for which they are paying. Success for this company is always something to celebrate, especially in times like this, but the company has not done their homework in understanding how to deal with the loyal customers who brought them that success.

Leadership does not mean treating ‘old’ customers as a nuisance just because you’ve changed your business direction.

The bonus here is another small start-up pool business now exists in town, finally. Five minutes after calling the first company, my dad called the new pool company. Voila! “Sir, I will have someone there this morning to take a look” was the cheerful response. Within 3 hours the problem was solved.

If you were the first company, how might you have managed your loyal customers upon changing your company direction?

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A Bad Day At The Office

Do you ever feel like your job is too chaotic to manage? Here is a video that will offer a little perspective and give you purposeful thought about keeping your calm when you least have the patience to do it.

In fact, I have worked in the past with a few folks I might suggest having a link to this video on your desktop so on chaotic days you remember how to maintain your cool!

Great Leaders maintain calm in Chaos!

Strategic Sense is a Leadership Development, Customer Service, Plans of Action and Facilitation organization who’s mission is to change the world for the better for leaders and their employees everywhere. We believe each individual comes with their own unique talents and skills that can be enhanced and utilized to help them become the very best leaders only they can be while providing exceptional service to their customers.

Contact: So many options… we’re happy to hear from you!

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And The Customer Service Winner Is…Surviving the Recession

zellersSecret to surviving this recession!

Some folks, on really busy days, will dip into a place where they least expect to be granted GREAT customer service. One of those days for me was Saturday. My Fiance and I had a function to go to that required cowboy boots (Calgary Stampede time) and I needed to pick up a pair at the shoe maker’s that had just been re-soled.

In my rush with the many errands of the day I stopped at Zellers, a store owned by Hbc Canada’s largest diversified general merchandise retailer with over 600 retail locations and nearly 60,000 associates located in every province in Canada. HBC’s four banners are the Bay, Zellers, Home Outfitters and Fields.

The neat thing about every Zeller’s in which I’ve shopped is how they keep costs down and still deliver quality product, the other unique thing is they all seem to have a restaurant. Often frequented by Senior Citizens and moms with small children, these restaurants are typical diner décor and not wrapped in anything but department store “ambience”. They are handy, have a typical home-style menu and offer a family-like atmosphere.

I needed breakfast, I’d left the house at 7:30am and hadn’t stopped to think about food until almost 11:00am, I was hungry. So in I go, with my O magazine and PDA in hand to grab a bite to eat, read an article or two and get on with the rest of my errands. What a great surprise I discovered in the staff at Zellers.

Friendly

The entire staff smiled, the girl at the front welcomed me into the restaurant (visibly open to the rest of the store) with cheery conversation and all were getting work done. In many restaurants such as this you might see staff gathering during quiet moments to visit or chat about others – not here, they were all about the customers! How refreshing to see a staff paying attention to the folks spending money in their establishment, rather than on themselves. Every interaction with the staff was friendly and smiles were offered freely!

Efficient

WOW, I got water without asking, do any of you remember when you could sit in a restaurant and get a glass of water just for walking in? Not only did I have water put in front of me with a menu and silverware, the wonderful server set down a cup and asked if I would like coffee – Okay, I am in heaven now! One trip, one question and I have EVERYTHING I need. Not 3 trips, no laborious wait in hopes of chasing a server down, not at Zellers, I got all I could wish for in the first 5 minutes.

For those of you who own eating establishments, here is an important tip for you:

People don’t care as much about what the place looks like as what they feel like by being there. What you feed them and what they pay are totally connected to how they feel, they want to feel like they’re the best thing that happened to your day because of walking into your establishment.

Business owners, you get that down-pat and you’ll have customers for life!

Just as soon as I appeared to set down my menu, the server returned to see if I was ready to order – when I asked about a menu item she was happy to inform me if it wasn’t just as I would wish, they could certainly provide it for me – MY WAY! WHAT? Now I think I have died and been reincarnated to a time when restaurants cared more about the customer and their needs rather than just filling seats with coupons!

The icing on the cake was that not only the server assigned my table brought me coffee, but any server with a coffee pot in hand came to see if I needed a refill AND they watched to see if I still had cream! No competition, no “That’s not my table” kind of talk, just pure and true customer service with a smile.

Store-Wide Attitude

Here is where it gets clear that the management really does care about their employees. Two tables away, a manager (not sure if he is head store manager or one of the dept. managers) was sitting with a non-restaurant employee and having a chat. I won’t repeat the actual conversation I over-heard, because it’s not my place to share a confidential conversation I never meant to hear. But the nature of the interaction was that of mutual respect and dignity. This manager had it going on and knew how to reach the BEST part of his employee. He offered a strength-based approach and allowed the employee to tell their story. He listened and they laughed and smiled; then went on with their day.

My only regret is I didn’t have any Customer Service Score Cards to leave them and let them know what a fabulous experience I’d received. I’ve been in a lot of places for breakfast here in Calgary and most of them can be good experiences, but I rarely witness breakfast places which are THIS customer centric! I can tell you right now, I will choose the diner at the Zellers restaurant over the fancy menu, the high-priced chefs, the expensive décor of any other establishment for one reason and one reason only – they tapped into what every single consumer really wants when they spend their money An emotionally positive experience.

To All Business Owners Regardless of Your Industry:

If your customers are not getting an emotionally positive experience from your organization, then you are probably struggling in this economy! Make it personal, make it about the customer and stop putting focus on cost cutting. I will return to Zellers not just because of the price-point (although it is good), I will return because of the service! When clients hire Strategic Sense to provide a “secret customer” and complete a Customer-Service Score Card, it’s because they care to make their customers happy –people who understand that he customer experience is directly tied to sales and growth will survive the recession in ways no-one else can even imagine!

Strategic Sense is a Leadership Development, Customer Service, Plans of Action and Facilitation organization who’s mission is to change the world for the better for leaders and their employees everywhere. We believe each individual comes with their own unique talents and skills that can be enhanced and utilized to help them become the very best leaders only they can be while providing exceptional service to their customers.

Contact: So many options… we’re happy to hear from you!

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Your "Attention Radar" – Choosing Your Focus

RASHave you ever taken training or coaching where someone was working hard to gift you with gems of wisdom or a different way of looking at things? Do you know if you were truly open to the information being given?

One of the most difficult situations is when a coach or mentor is trying hard to move you forward and your door is closed!

A great way to tell if you’re being receptive is to listen to your own response. The next time someone – a coach, boss, trainer, or mentor – is making a concerted effort to encourage change, try to acknowledge that they have a different view you might not be seeing. Then ask yourself if you are actually leaving the door open enough to receive the gems of wisdom they offer.

  1. Are you taking time to hear what they are saying and turning it into a lesson to be utilized in your own life?
  2. Do you respond by defending the behaviours that keep you from moving forward?
  3. Do you use expressions such as “I DO that, but it never works.” Or “I try, but….” or “I AM…”
  4. Do you leap to conclusions about what others think of you, even though it’s not actuallywhat they were saying?
  5. Do you hold tightly to beliefs that are clearly holding you back?

If so, then you might very well be trapped in a cyclical thought pattern based on buried beliefs and while you think the doors are open to hearing and recognizing opportunity and growth, they may very well be closed.

So, what’s really going on here?

Neuroscience has performed studies on an area in the brain called the Reticular Activating System or RAS. The RAS acts as a sort-of connector between your conscious and unconscious mind and filters information by “listening out for” things that are relevant to your conscious thoughts and focus. Basically, it controls our ability to pay attention. For example, when you are walking down the street there are literally hundreds of thousands of noises. You might hear a vibration or hum of noise in the background but you do not hear each and every individual sound, only those for which your focus is attuned, but it has it’s limits. Your brain is programmed to take in approx 5-9 individual items at a time and you hone in on those items because focus on them has been programmed by your conscious mind providing the “attention radar” for your unconscious mind.

A car horn signalling danger; familiar music coming from a store; your name being called from the other side of the street; all of these are items your subconscious will listen to because they are out of the ordinary in a typical walk and your conscious mind has made them a relevant focus in your life. Equally so, inadequecy or feelings of being persecuted or judged will fly into the face of a discussion if your belief system has been built under the experience of having to continually defend yourself. Basically you are ‘looking for it’ and so you will find it.

What great information for all of us –the beautiful thing neuroscience teaches us here is that the Reticular Activating System can be reprogrammed, or you can change what you are ‘looking for’. This is why setting goals, saying affirmations and visualizing ìn the conscious are the beginning of the journey to realizing our dreams because they speak to our unconscious mind, the place-holder for our belief systems.

Learning how to listen and embrace information with an open heart and mind can be done with practice and by learning strategies and techniques for reprogramming your RAS. The first step is in recognizing if you are listening openly, take a few minutes to evaluate your recent conversations against the above list – are you truly open? If not, then you will benefit from learning strategies for discovering and challenging belief systems that hold you back and practicing techniques to reprogram your RAS thus putting the “attention radar” on that which will help you grow and move forward.

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What? You Mean It’s About The Customer?

ShoppingDo you ever feel like an interruption when you enter a business? Ever stand there wondering why you’re being ignored or otherwise treated like you’ve ruined their day rather than staff being excited to know their pay checks continue to arrive so long as more people like you walk in the door?

Perhaps we’ve had such a long running boom-time that businesses have become process heavy or laden with doing the “work of the biz” and forgotten about the customer. When money is flowing in good times, there’s less need to search for leads or seek to figure out how to bring people through the doors. Customers are ready and willing to spend, spend, spend, without concern because times are good.

The environment has changed significantly in the last 10 months and all businesses large and small are affected as shown by special offers, deals and coupons never heard of before from both large and small companies everywhere. Marketing efforts have been evaluated, budgets altered, staffing and salaries re-evaluated, costs cut, and benefits pulled in tighter. I ask, have the companies focused on what brings in the dollars, the customer?

Re-evaluating how staff is treating, dealing with and keeping customers is the front-line focus that will make or break a lot of businesses in this environment. Here are a few tips to help small and large businesses give their customers a reason to choose to spend money on their products or services.

  1. If a consumer has entered your business, the hardest part of gaining their interest has already been achieved. You have their attention and they’re ready to spend. Give them staff time. Customers wandering around asking 3-4 people if someone could help them is not the way to get sales. I spent almost 2 hours in a Walmart recently listening to page after page of “ALL associates” being called to manage a company process, but a minimum of 4 customers in that section were wondering if anyone worked there at all. At least two of these customers were so frustrated they left the store to shop elsewhere.
  2. If you are a restaurant, hair salon, golf course or other business serving customers in a specialized niche, your best bet is to remember, they spend at your place of business because they want an experience. Focus on WHO your customer is and how to make their experience stand out against your competitor. What makes you unique that a consumer will select your business over another? How have you trained your staff to make customers feel like they are truly justified in spending their money with you rather than the competitor down the street? I was in a local restaurant the other day where employees were so busy catching up on their antics the night before they missed my walking in and let me sit for over 20 minutes before offering me a menu. I will never return.
  3. If you are a large corporation you have no doubt been given the difficult task of cutting costs. Time, energy, and money have all been applied to that very tough job. How much time and money has been spent securing the current customer base and kicking up your customer service efforts while building stronger client relationships? If you say you don’t have a strategic plan for making the customer feel like their relationship with you is worthwhile in both service and customer attention, you have left out the most important plan in down times. Evaluate your customer base and your prospective customer leads, choose to get creative in how staff pays careful attention to understanding, serving, building relationships and valuing customers. You care about the bottom-line for shareholders, right? Contributions to that dollar figure come directly from customers and how staff works with them!
  4. Training and motivating the staff with a vision of how to best serve the customer is a priority right now. Think about the experience YOU would like to have when you walk in the door and make certain each and every customer or potential customer is treated with respect, dignity, great service, and top-quality products. Teach staff to provide an experience that is second to none by creating internal campaigns for employees to follow. “At ABC Company, no customer waits longer than 5 minutes for exceptional service.” Post these reminders where employees can see them, mention it at staff meetings, get staff involved, and give them a reason to understand the value of your customers.

The long and short of it is that if your staff attitude consists of; “This would be a great job if it weren’t for those pesky customers!” Then your customers will feel it! In this year of lessoned sales, dipping margins, and short cash-flow, give your company a reason to thrive!

Strategic Sense is a Leadership Development, Customer Service, Plans of Action and Facilitation organization who’s mission is to change the world for the better for leaders and their employees everywhere. We believe each individual comes with their own unique talents and skills that can be enhanced and utilized to help them become the very best leaders only they can be while providing exceptional service to their customers.

Contact: So many options… we’re happy to hear from you!

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Does Your Business Need a Weed Whacker?

Weeds

Do you ever walk around your neighbourhood and wonder about the people living there? I do. I, like most, will gather a first impression about someone by how they take care of their yard. Some people have immaculate yards, some nicely maintain a yard and others, well, they might want to think about living in a condo! The next time you walk through your neighbourhood, contemplate the conclusions you develop about the home owners in your neighbourhood. We all do it!

In his book “Blink”, Malcolm Gladwell writes about ‘rapid cognition, thinking that happens in the blink of an eye’. He says that in the first two seconds your mind jumps to a series of conclusions about something. You don’t have 30 seconds or 15 seconds; you have 2 seconds before conclusions are drawn from a person’s first impression. That’s a pretty powerful piece of information.

No one gets to choose a neighbour; they come and go based on influences outside of our control. We do, however, have to live with them, (so to speak). People care for their own little piece of land and convey an impression based on what they wish to put forth revealing what they hope the world to know or believe about them. Others don’t think it matters.

Conclusions are immediately drawn by immaculate yard owners about messy yard owners and it doesn’t matter if the untidy owners are Nobel Peace Prize winners, our immaculate yard owner will have them painted with a sour and even angry brush.

What do yards have to do with Leadership and Customer Service?

The first impression you or your company offers is astoundingly important.

Great sales people know this and present themselves appropriately to the customer based on customer values. Companies with large marketing departments know this and present a consistent Brand or Image while spending thousands on learning more about their customers.
Small businesses who serve an exclusive clientele are exceptional at it and con-artists could teach courses in it.

Making a great first impression!

That first impression is the key to building a longer relationship with prospective customers. Even more importantly, companies who are good at it know their market enough to “dress” to the market. They know what the customer values and expects and successful businesses meet that expectation.

In business, some leaders begin to lose sight of what’s there, much like a teenager won’t notice the dust in a home or will walk over something in their way without picking it up; business owners will forget to LOOK at their business with the keen eye of a new prospective customer. A restaurant will forget to dust the three-hundred dollar hand blown light fixtures; another business owner doesn’t notice their sign has 2 unlit letters.

First impressions are about the details and a customer can see and capture hundreds of details in a split second. Customers look at an exclusive price on a menu and wonder where the money is going, dust on the lights, a broken glass panel, bathroom is dated, etc. Then they draw a 2 second conclusion: “This restaurant is not worth the money I am paying.”, and they choose not to return, even if the food is exceptional.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing your product or service is the only reason your customer is there.

Consumers come wanting some personal ‘feel good’ about having spent money with you, especially in difficult times. Consumers are watching their pennies and want to make sure they have a decent experience for their dollar. You are feeding their emotions as much as you are supplying them with goods or services. Offering an exceptional experience along with goods and services will make a huge difference in both gaining that prospective customer and keeping them.

When cutting costs, be aware of what first impressions you make with a potential client and what kind of an experience you are providing your existing customer. Take away the experience, and you risk losing them. Check out your competition, or even the area in which your business is located, does your store-front, building, awning or reception area provide a better first impression than other businesses or are you the neighbour who doesn’t think it matters?

What if that messy, weed-filled and overgrown yard is owned by a Nobel Peace Prize winner and she lives next to you? Do you care about her brain or are you frustratingly wishing she would clean up her act so all the weeds don’t spread to your side of the yard? Are you wanting to invite her over for a BBQ and laude her intelligence or do you just wish she would move?

Leaders, how about you, does your business need a weed whacker?

Strategic Sense is a Leadership Development, Customer Service, Plans of Action and Facilitation organization who’s mission is to change the world for the better for leaders and their employees everywhere. We believe each individual comes with their own unique talents and skills that can be enhanced and utilized to help them become the very best leaders only they can be while providing exceptional service to their customers.

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Great Leadership & Corporate Garden Centers

PansiesI was shopping the other day for some bedding-out plants. It’s that time of year when we find ways to beautify our yards and take full advantage of the short growing season in our area. Bedding-out plants have been started in the greenhouse earlier so you have a chance for “instant” life in the garden otherwise many things would not grow fast enough from seed to mature during our short season! (Have trust, this is about leadership.)

My plan was to visit two places. Both places are large box stores and only carry these plants seasonally. I chose these two places because of the types of plants they typically bring in.

There is one significant difference between the plant sections within the two stores I visited and it’s quite remarkable.

Store A is managed and run by a large corporate organization, I have no idea who the venders are, and I am sure there are many. With luck, some of the vendors are local suppliers.

Store B is located at a large corporate organization but, in contrast, it’s run by a smaller green house renting the space from the large corporate organization. They hire local people who have passion and knowledge about plants. It’s a great partnership because payment and location are seamless to the customers, and it’s still supporting a green house owned by a smaller business.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Visiting Store A was a huge disappointment. The workers were young teens or students assigned to the task and working part time jobs. They knew nothing at all about plants or gardening. They’d most recently received some deliveries, all standing in racks on wheels at the opening of the garden section, and those plants were almost dead, bone-dry, and drooping! The Manger was actually attempting to train the employees during one of the busiest plant-shopping weekends of the Canadian year, mid-day. Prices were not readily available. With 4 staff in “training” customers were left to wait for the scanned pricing at the till. The teller kept telling people (who were waiting for their transactions to finish completing) that “It always printed the receipt best if she walked away from the till”. It was hectic, frustrating and there was no one who could help me more than myself.

Visiting Store B was a complete contrast to the first store. The one single staff member there was running around like crazy making certain each and every individual had exactly what they needed. She was watering plants, knew the plants by name, was giving personalized service, was helping customers pick “better looking” selections. She dug hard to find the healthiest plants (and all of the plants looked great) for each and every sale. She ran the till, folded cardboard into boxes to hold the plants, would direct you to a choice with a more reasonable price and all the while laughed and joked and informed. She was amazing. I think I would hire her in a second if I had the chance!

Store A has all the money, the power and the clout to create an atmosphere that delivers great customer service, but for some reason that store did not do it’s homework. I can understand when you as a leader are at the mercy of corporate time-lines and setup. I am guessing the garden section was neither setup nor received it’s merchandise in time to properly train staff in preparation for the May long weekend – a weekend that unofficially heralds spring with more plant and garden sales than any other time of the year in Canada. Somehow something fell short which caused the leader of this store to be forced into doing training amidst hectic shoppers – perhaps corporate time management and preparation were not in place in time, perhaps the leader has poor management skills themselves. Who knows, that’s all just guess-work on my part. What is very clear is this:

The obvious priority for Store A was bottom-line dollars/sales and not the customer.

Store B, in contrast, was obviously wildly aware of the importance of sales over the May long weekend. They were both set-up and prepared for the customer. The plants were well-cared for indicating they had done all the right preparation with the right timing to reduce inventory loss and they had made concerted efforts to put the RIGHT people into place. All of this was accomplished without the strong corporate backing and clout that Store A holds. Store B provided me with an experience.

The obvious priority for Store B was customer service.

As a customer I like to be treated as though the dollars I spend are worth something to the business. How does that happen? By providing me with the sales person’s interest, concern, helpfulness, courtesy, and great service. Will I shop with Store B more frequently? Darn certain I will.

Here is the hidden gem, or dare I say brilliance of the Corporation (Store B) who partnered with a smaller green house and it makes me smile. They offer an expected service to the customer but are well-aware garden centers are not their forte in retail delivery. They create a seamless approach allowing the customer to use the credit and reward cards of the main store. They know without a doubt the expected service is better run by a group who know how to make it work best for both the corporation and the customer. THAT folks is Great leadership!

An Aside: Happy Birthday to Kathie Madden of Kathie Madden Events in Vancouver – hope it is a fabulous day!

Strategic Sense is a Leadership Development, Plans of Action and Facilitation organization who’s mission is to change the world for the better for leaders and their employees everywhere. We believe each individual comes with their own unique talents and skills that can be enhanced and utilized to help them become the very best leaders only they can be. Are you recently out of work and don’t know how to begin looking? Contact us to help with the new path forward.

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Leadership Lessons From Mom!

All of us have a background and history. Many of the lessons I learned about leadership were really common sense child-rearing lessons passed on from one of the most remarkable people I know, my Mother. With Mother’s Day approaching I thought I would share a few with you.

Respect Everyone: No one ever truly knows anyone, what they’ve experienced, what they’re going through now, or who they are internally. Showing respect recognizes everyone partakes in struggle and triumph and deserves respect.

If You Can’t Share it With Your Grandmother, You Shouldn’t Say it, Write it or Do it: This is especially true now, be impeccable with all communication. Words tossed in rudeness, anger, haste or without thought will always come back to bite you in the butt. In this day of high-speed internet and Social Media, it’ll bite immediately, and it could cost you your job or force you to repeat it in court!

Be a Cheerleader: No, not a pom-pom shaking acrobatic one (unless that’s what you love to do), I mean cheer on the success, efforts and opportunities of others, just like you would your own child. Being happy for others rather than resentful feeds your soul.

Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously: Sometimes life is absurd, period. People react and are reacted to in ways unexpected. Situations don’t always work out as planned and one needs to redirect. Laugh! Find the humour and the gems of wisdom within the unexpected. You will be all the healthier for it and you’ll make more friends!

Clean Your Own Room First: Before you go criticizing others, take a good look at your own life. The day you can say everything in your own life is perfect, you are exactly who you wish to be and you have no tasks left to perform, go criticize someone else. Until then, collaborate, help, take part and learn the art of allowing, influencing and encouraging others in their path! We live in the same house!

Clean Out Your Backpack: Pay attention to what you choose to hang onto. Holding onto negative emotions, old resentments, anger and frustration is no different than choosing not to take that full milk container out of your backpack, after a while it begins to stink and rot and it ruins things!

Use Your Stuff: My mom lit her candles, used her good dishes and wasn’t afraid of polishing silver or using white table cloths. The deal is, you have it so use it! You are born with and have developed many gifts, talents and strengths worth sharing. You’ll find joy in using them!

Mom taught more lessons than that and I can guarantee you, I wasn’t always a quick study! The beauty of having a mom who models great leadership is that she’s willing to be repetitive, probably to the point of frustration at times! Lucky me that she still continues to persist in providing the lessons in life that, for some, only experience will drive home. Thanks Mom, for being remarkable!

(Original Post was written May 3, 2009. Update, my mother passed away on January 22, 2014 making these lessons ever so much more precious to me now!)

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Happy Earth Day, Does Your Company Say It’s Green?

April 22 is Earth Day! What are you doing about it? Are you working within a company puffed up with the promotion of its GREEN initiatives? Are your marketing materials all telling customers and prospective customers what a fantastic sustainable programme you have going on?

Sustainability is about ACTION. It’s about making a difference for the planet and getting as many people involved as possible. If sustainability is ONLY about making a buck you’re missing the point! If you’re not taking action to support your words, you are blowing smoke and the customers will recognize that. No one likes being lied to!

I personally feel it’s sad our society must choose to pick a single day to celebrate needs that are extremely important rather than practice vital and essential action each and every day of our lives. We do, however, have to remind people who busy themselves to the point of forgetfulness that we are living on a planet suffering from over population and depletion of resources. We must remind them they live in an amazingly beautiful and remarkably spectacular environment called planet earth which was created to work perfectly were it not for human interruption.

What IF there were things we could do in our regular day, supported by the executive staff and didn’t cost anything but time to coordinate? What if YOU were waking up on Earth Day and knew you could make a difference, no matter how small, to help the planet, and you were given the opportunity to do it by the entire organization? Well, what’s stopping you?

Here are some ideas to MAKE Earth Day count for you and your company!

  • Get a group of people together at lunch and clean up the garbage around your building – a box of garbage bags and a box of latex/vinyl gloves could be donated by someone
  • Send out an email reminder to ask everyone to hold off printing anything that is not absolutely vital for hardcopy.
  • Ask all your workers to “eat in” at Tim Horton’s before work and insist on no paper products.
  • Bike or take public Transit to work
  • Take part in an Earth Day event in your area as an after-work activity.

These activities don’t cost you any MONEY and they all make a difference. At morning coffee tomorrow try to think of some different ideas and make it a great game across the company – document and take pictures, get that executive behind you by giving them an opportunity to document the things you did for Earth Day and add it to the marketing materials so they can PROVE they aren’t just blowing smoke!
Do you know what it MEANS to make a big difference by gathering collectively with small actions to change the world? Find out by trying hard to take part, it’s all up to YOU and who you bring into it!

DON’T be a leader who shows their employees that all you do is talk!

Great Leaders walk their talk! Great leaders don’t allow marketing to own all the airtime, and great leaders follow that talk with action because they CARE!

Cut the hot air and take action! Get your employees passionate about making a difference, drive it from the source – the CEO – and go to sleep tomorrow night knowing you have made a difference!

Strategic Sense is a Leadership Development, Plans of Action and Facilitation organization who’s mission is to change the world for leaders and their employees everywhere. We believe each individual comes with their own unique talents and skills that can be enhanced and utilized to help them become the very best leaders only they can be.

Contact: So many options… we’re here to accomodate you!

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