It Starts at the Top

I was recently at a convenience store attempting to purchase my weakness: Coke Zero and a Twix.  I had just finished pumping some gas outside and was ready to get back on the road after presenting a class on customer service.  I might have made it through the checkout process a lot faster if it weren’t for the fact that the clerk was engaged in casual conversation about his new SUV with custom rims.  But it wasn’t his buddies or a girl he was trying to impress with his bragging.It was his boss and store owner.  And the boss was fully into the conversation.

Are you kidding me?  Here’s a buying customer, cash money in hand, waiting patiently (yet aggravated) at the register for the conversation to break just long enough for the transation to happen.  I literally waited for over a minute.  And it’s not like I’m a little dude who would be hard to notice in a crowd.  They both knew I was there and did nothing to put the customer first over a conversation that should not have been happening in the first place with buying in customers in line.

I confess to being a bit taken aback by the whole situation.  Had that been myself or any of the other business owners I know, the conversation would have been shut down until the clerk had completed the sales that were right there in front of him.  I probably would have rolled up my own sleeves to help move the line myself.  But that’s just me.  All I could think of was I should be inviting the guy and his whole staff to attend my next customer service training in that area.  They clearly needed it.

Managers, it begins with you.  What kind of customer service culture are you fostering and promoting in your business?  Are you there to talk about an employee’s car…or are you there to help that guy earn his salary to put gas in the car, pay his other bills, and build a living?  I see it time and again amongst employees, and it aggravates the tar out of me every time.  To see it come from the manager/owner is an even greater sin.  Go ahead and neglect the customer…next time you’ll see him get his Coke Zero and Twix across the street.  Those $3 sales add up.

QUESTION:  How do you foster a customer service culture in your company?

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You Gotta Represent

Branding.

That seems to be the “in” word right now among business and marketing circles.  I used to have a fairly negative view of the word, what with how trendy it seems to have become and my simply not wanting to hop onto that bandwagon.  But the more and more I think about it and its implications, the more I’m convinced that every professional needs to be mindful of branding.

Move over, Sally.  There’s a new passenger on the wagon.

But when it comes to branding, there’s so much more than the brand of “Me” or the brand of “You.”  When I’m teaching my sales and customer service classes, I like to remind my students that they are really representing not one but TWO different brands:

1.) The brand of “Me”

2.) The brand of “We” ( the company/product they represent)

When I’m out trying to make deals and create sales opportunities, my client isn’t just buying the product or service (though that is what it shows on the invoice) and everything that brand represents.  He’s also buying the brand of “Me”….and everything my brand represents.  Because, after all, if I want to generate repeat business I have to not only provide a superior product with superior value, but I also have to provide superior service to keep that customer happy and loyal and coming back for more.  The level of service and excellence I provide all goes into the brand of “Me.”

When you’re out selling and servicing, you really are representing two different brands.  And the reality is, the power of the brand of “Me” carries a lot more weight that the brand of the product or service you’re selling, because as a sales professional it’s going to be you who makes or breaks the deal.  Always.  They might be able to get a lower price down the street on the same product, but because “Me” provides the most superior service anywhere, chances are you’re going to be able to service them into a sale and build a loyal customer for life.

It’s a huge responsibility being in sales and service.  You’re representing your own personal brand as well as the company brand.  Be excellent with both angles and watch your sales and revenue continue driving upward.

QUESTION:  What does it mean to you to represent your personal brand?  Share with us below in a comment.

The Assassin

There are lots of ways to take out an enemy.  The deadliest member of any military isn’t the one pushing the button on the biggest bomb (though they can certainly do the most damage in one action), nor is it the guy driving the tank or flying the jet.  The most lethal soldier out there is generally the one with a single smaller weapon, positioned in hiding, and takes out one marked target at a time at just the right time.An assassin.

An assassin takes out one target at a time.  If gone unchecked, the damage done can be immeasurable.  To compare the concept to customer service, there is a deadly assassin on the loose in our companies.  Some companies have their defenses up and know how to stop him.  Others, though, are left struggling to keep him contained and, as a result, see their employees’ and businesses’ performance being taken out one by one.  That assassin has the same name, no matter where he’s found.

Apathy.

Apathy can do a number on any business when it sets in, affecting one or multiple employees.  The results can be staggering:

–  Robs employees of their enthusiasm for the business and the desire to make a solid contribution.

–  Begins to kill customer service when employees care about neither their jobs or the impact they’re having on their customers.

–  Ultimately destroys the business completely when customers who receive negative customer service experiences begin taking their business (translation – “their money”) elsewhere.

Apathy exists in many forms, ranging from employees not tending to customers to a total lack of excellence and pride in their work.  Rather than a lengthy treatise on the development of apathy, I want to share some ways to take out the assassin called apathy in your company:

1.)  Share the company’s vision and mission with the employees.  Most times people get into their jobs for the paycheck and not the payoff; the fulfillment.  By sharing the company’s vision and mission statements, and helping them to see that they’re part of the company’s success, employees can begin to see a bigger picture of why the doors to the business are open in the first place.

2.)  Catch your employees doing something right.  We have a tendency to be on the lookout for what people are doing wrong and to find where they need correction.  But by pointing out when an employee is performing with excellence and professionalism, you begin to condition them to work in that same manner.  as the old saying goes, you get more bees with honey than you do with, errr, bug bombs.

3.)  Make customer service the king of the business, not the cash register.  The bottom line will always be a factor in the health of any business.  This goes without saying.  However, without positive customer service experiences, the bottom line will grow more and more red as the customer service experience continues to dwindle and fail.  Under-committing and over-delivering on customer service and product will just about always yield return business.  Putting a premium on positive customer service will do you better than a pricey advertising campaign or a slick showroom.

4.)  Reward your team for outstanding service contributions.  Just as catching your employees doing something right is important, rewarding them for going over and above the “job description” creates an atmosphere for excellence.  The recognition doesn’t have to be extravagant; something along the lines of a mention at a team meeting or in the company newsletter, or even a little gift card could go a very long way in motivating employees to roll out the red carpet for the customer.

Those four action items can do wonders in eliminating the apathy assassin in your company before it can take out your employees’ productivity and morale.  Give them a try, let me know how they work.

QUESTION: How else can you eliminate apathy in your business?

Back to the (Customer Service) Basics

Is there something on my face?  Do I have bad breath?  Missing a tooth that I’ve been previously unaware of?

All of those thoughts and more cross my mind every single time I visit the drive-through and the individual sitting in that window virtually refuses to look me in the eye when taking my money or handing me my order.  If I weren’t for the fact that I’m composed of something (albeit slightly) stronger than sticks and stones, the lack of eye contact might begin to hurt me.  But I think that, perhaps, it really has less to do with me than it does a lack of training or a big picture perspective.

“But Scott, this is not the job I want.  I don’t really want to be here.  This is only a stepping stone.  I’m only doing this because everybody starts out serving up a Number Three Combo with a large Coke Zero, no ice.”  Speaking of, sounds kind of like one of my fast food orders.  Starting to get hungry now.

But I digress.

Yes, I understand that you might not have imagined as a youth that you’d one day be wearing a name tag at Burger Heaven and dropping the fries into the fryer.  I’ve been there myself, I get that sentiment.  You are, however, currently employed there.  And as an employee of the company, positive customer service is your responsibility for 100% of your encounters with each and every customer – both internal and external.  Even though your management might have taken you through the scripted and packaged company line on customer service, it can be challenging to maintain that expectation throughout your shift, whether you’re at Burger Heaven or Al’s Mart of Stuff.

Customer service isn’t rocket science, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in our work that we forget what our job really is – positive customer service experiences.  We (presumably) want to stay employed?  For that to happen, customers need to come back for repeat experiences.  And if they’re not receiving the experience they expect and deserve, they’ll find somewhere else to spend their money.  It’s a process that has caused many companies to close their doors.  Don’t take care of your customer, then somebody else will.

So maybe what we need is to get back to basics.  If you feel like your or your company’s customer service needs to get back on-track, I offer up the following tips:

1.)  Smile!!  That’s right, it’s as simple as that.  When you smile at your customer, you’re showing them that it’s your pleasure to be serving them (a lesson we can all learn from our friends at Chik-fil-A).  It also breaks your own stress cycle and helps improve your mood.  Try it, you may be surprised.  For better or for worse, wear that smile.  Plus it takes fewer muscles to smile as it does to frown.  I’ve never personally counted, but I’ll take their word for it.

2.)  Don’t just tell them – show them.“Well yes sir, the Prune-o-Matic machines are over on aisle 13.”  Awesome, now where exactly is aisle 13?  Where on aisle 13?  I don’t seem them IN aisle 13, now where did that twerp go??  Yeah, we’ve all been there.  It’s aggravating and not very professional.  If a customer is looking for something specific, don’t tell her where to go find it…take her there and make sure she connects with that product.

3.)  Eye contact (just not too much) – The opposite of zero eye contact is akin to starting a staring contest.  You’re not trying to reach into their soul or look like a statue.  You’re simply giving pleasant eye contact and letting the customer know they have your focus.  Even though you have fifty other things to do at that moment, that person has all of you.  When you give good eye contact and your winning smile, the impression you leave on them is priceless.

4.)  For goodness sakes, say “Thank you.”  While you’re looking at him and smiling, when you’ve concluded the encounter, just say “thank you.”  I’m not sure where the art of courtesy has disappeared (unless it’s gone with the missing socks in my dryer), but this absolutely needs to be brought back.  Saying “thank you” is very much a recognition extended to the customer for doing business with you and your company.  They are also an open door to return for more business.  Two words.  Infinite impact.

Nothing fancy or out of the ordinary.  Just simply the basics that, sadly, too many businesses are either not pushing or employees aren’t incorporating into their daily routines.  Spread the word, get back to the basics and enjoy your customers and your work again.

QUESTION:  How do you and your company deliver excellent customer service to your customers?

Why Toastmasters?

Has this ever happened to you?  You’ve been asked to give the presentation of a lifetime for your company.  You’d rather throw yourself out of an airplane with your hair set on fire.  You wonder how in the world you’re going to pull this off.  You get your research on, pulling the information needed for the presentation.  And then comes show time.  You get up in front of the group to present your findings…only to find yourself doing your best Marcel Marceau impersonation.  You can neither speak nor find the words.  Your palms get clammy, while beads of sweat starting to form on your forehead like condensation on a soda can.  And all you can think of is whether it would be better to exit the building either through the front door…or maybe the window right there would be even better.  Yeah, you’re on the third floor, but perhaps the shrubbery at the ground level will break the fall.

Perhaps.  But maybe there’s a better way of handling your extreme reaction to public speaking.  And admittedly, you might have never faced either that scenario or reaction.  But chances are very good at some point in your life you’ve been asked to make a presentation, give some kind of impromptu talk about yourself or what you do for a living, give some kind of critical feedback on somebody else’s work, or asked to serve in a leadership capacity at either your company or a social organization.  If you’ve ever had doubts as to how to go about doing any of those things and, frankly, you do find yourself getting nervous about the prospects and wish you had some resource available to you to help you build your confidence in your communications and leadership, then look no forward than Toastmasters.

Since 1924, Toastmasters has been a force for personal and professional development.  With over a quarter million members worldwide in nearly 13,000 clubs, Toastmasters offers a variety of benefits to its diverse membership.  Everybody has their own reasons for joining a Toastmasters club.  Here are my Top 7 reasons to join Toastmasters…

1.)    Because communication isn’t optional.  That’s one of the marketing mottos of the organization, and few sayings could be truer.  We live in a world that thrives on communication and we all must learn to communication in as clear a way as possible.  Toastmasters provides a regular opportunity (usually either weekly or every other week) to practice and hone your communications skills.

2.)    Recognition.  There are three types of people who like recognition: men, women and children.  Toastmasters features an education program that rewards its members for presenting speeches and serving in a variety of leadership roles within the club and its meetings.  Those levels of achievement are immediately recognizable by all members of the organization.  From attaining Competent Communicator and Leader levels to being presented the coveted Distinguished Toastmaster award, Toastmasters recognizes its members for the efforts made and the work done.

3.)    Camaraderie.  Toastmasters operates within what I call a “mutual benefit society.”  Your fellow Toastmasters want to see you succeed, improve and grow within the organization.  From that, new friendships are formed that often times result in lifelong relationships.

4.)    Competitions.  Every year, Toastmasters conducts several speech contests.  Such competitions include humorous speech, table topics (impromptu speaking), speech evaluations and the famed International Speech Contest.  The winner of the international competition is crowned the World Champion of Public Speaking and becomes part of an elite group of recognized speakers within the organization.  Most people don’t enter Toastmasters for the sake of contests and many are surprised to find how much they enjoy the contests once they get involved.  Whether at the club level or on the world stage, Toastmasters competitions give our members a vehicle for pitting their skills against others.

5.)    Leadership Development.  Most people only think of communications when it comes to Toastmasters.  Leadership, however, is the other critical component of the membership experience.  The world needs leaders.  Our communities, our organizations, our companies, and even our families need leaders.  Toastmasters provides regular opportunities to develop critical leadership skills such as listening, motivating, guiding, planning, and mentoring.  Just as communications is of extreme value in the world in which we live, so is leadership.  Toastmasters is quite possibly the finest organization in the world to develop the leader within each of its members.

6.)    Value.  Communications, public speaking and leadership courses can run hundreds of dollars for a relatively short amount of training or conference time.  Even though you can never truly place a price tag on the ability to develop outstanding communications and leadership skills, it might be nice to find a place where one can attain these skills while not annihilating the ol’ checking account.  Between Toastmasters and club dues and fees, membership in Toastmasters typically runs less than $100 (U.S.) per year.  For the regular meetings, the resources you receive as a member (including introductory speech and leadership manuals for new members), the feedback given on your involvement and the resulting personal and professional growth, you’re never going to find a better return on your investment.  Anywhere.  Period.

7.)    The chance to pay it forward.  As my own involvement has increased, I find myself becoming more and more a (pardon the expression) Toastmasters evangelist.  My personal opinion is that how could somebody not want to become a member of Toastmasters?  For all of the reasons I listed (and a score of reasons more), joining a Toastmasters club is nothing short of a winning proposition.  And when you get immersed in the organization and your club, you want others to be a part of the fun and learning.  They’ll thank you for it and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you contributed something positive and valuable to somebody’s life.

So we come to my own reason for joining Toastmasters.  I walked into my first Toastmasters meeting in early 2009 already having a public speaking background.  I had heard about the organization over the years from teachers and in some of the books by noted sales expert Zig Ziglar.  All I knew was if it was good enough for Zig, it was good enough for me.  I wanted to become a better speaker and I knew Toastmasters would help me do it.  What I didn’t know at the time was that, nearly four years later, I would have served a term as my club’s president and Area Governor, and go on to serve as a Division Governor working with other local clubs, and participate in (and even managed win or place runner-up) a couple of speech and speech evaluation contests.  Along the way I’ve met some amazing people and made wonderful friends.  It’s been one of the best decisions of my life.  I encourage you and yours to look into the same.

You can find out more about Toastmasters at:  www.toastmasters.org .

The Fantastic Four of Sales Book

I do a lot of reading.  A lot.  I’ve been told that the more you read, the more you earn.  I’m still waiting for that paycheck to show up in the mailbox.  Out of the plethora of subjects out there (yes, I went there…a plethora of subjects), I find business reading to be among my favorites.  To whittle that list down further, I particularly enjoy reading books on sales.  Most are written by “experts,” though I’m still unsure what consititutes having that title bestowed upon an author.

But I digress.

Let’s face it, many (if not most) of today’s sales reading consists of re-hashed ideas that are simply rearranged and packaged in brighter and flashier colors.  No offense to any authors is intended, of course. (Especially considering I may one day throw my own hat into the ring.)  Unless it incorporates the concepts and useage of social media (which is now starting to suffer the same ailment of recycled ideas), there really isn’t anything new under the sales sun.

Or is there?

In my reading, I have come across four books that, for one reason or other, seem to stand out among the pantheon of sales authors and their works.  These are the “Fantastic Four” and are truly “must have” selections in your own professional library.  They are:

1.)  “Sell or Be Sold” by Grant Cardone (formerly entitled Sell to Survive, now expanded with new content).  Grant is a sales trainer par excellence whose seminar I have personally attended.  Coming from an auto sales background, Grant has branched out into television, radio, and a series of books.  This book is not typical in the way of “this is how you cold call, this is how you qualify, etc.”  Rather, I would classify this as a “sales philosophy” book as Grant feeds the fuel for being passionate about sales and seeing that sales is an essential activity in everyone’s life, no matter what their vocation, age, or station in life.  It’s hard to not find yourself getting jacked up on selling while reading this book.  Sales is a way of life and everything depends on selling.  This book shows you why.

2.) “Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar.  Zig is THE man when it comes to the practice of sales in the last several decades.  Motivational as well as extremely useful, this book contains more jewels than Buckingham Palace.  This book is great because it offers probably any and all scenarios a sales professional might be faced with, and how to handle those scenarios.  Zig also peppers in his own wit and wisdom throughout the pages.  The word I use to best describe this book is “practical.”  There is nothing crazy or over the top in his thinking…just real practical thinking and execution.  I have several of Zig’s books in my library, but this is my favorite and will always be a classic.

3.) “Little Red Book of Selling”/”Little Red Book of Sales Answers” by Jeffrey Gitomer.  Okay, so I cheated by adding two separate books in this listing.  It’s my blog though, so sue me.  Kidding.  Besides, they’re both the “red books” in his series of sales and professional reading, so it fits.  If you’ve read any of Jeffrey’s books or his weekly “Sales Caffeine” ezine, you know that he’s probably one of the most unique personalities out there.  He’s edgy.  He’s witty.  He’s also one of the few guys (like Grant Cardone) who will actually encourage you to bust up the status quo and do it with no apologies…which is very cool because why, after all, would you want to do what 95% of the sales force out there is doing (and not getting the results they truly want)?  The first of these two books is along the vein of the traditional “how to be the best” sales books, while the second gives his 99.5 answers to the most common sales questions.  The thing that separates these (and his other books) from the rest of the pack is that he presents his information in short, manageable chunks that you can read on the fly without getting bogged down with a lot of other text (which also results in a smaller-sized book that makes it easier to bring around with you).  Straight, direct, and to the point.  Like Jeffrey.

4.) “Cold Calling Techniques (That Really Work)” by Stephan Schiffman.  Best. Cold calling.  Book. Ever.  Okay, I’m not really 15 years old, but if I was that’s how I would describe this book.  When I was full-time on the phones and trying to uncover prospective clients, I would struggle for how to present myself in the best way possible in the best amount of time to get the best results.  A stroll through the Barnes and Noble business section led me to this gem a few years ago, and my cold calling was never the same.  I found my cold call – appointment conversion ratio going from around 10% to closer to an average of 50-60%.  Translation: more appointments leading to more sales leading to more cha-ching.  Most sales professionals would prefer a double root canal without the anesthesia than being asked to make a handful of cold calls each day.  If you’ve got a fever for cold calls, the only prescription is this book.  If you commit yourself to learning the techniques Stephan presents (which aren’t rocket science but are also not practiced by a great many sales people, which means you can set yourself apart as a breath of fresh air on the other end of the line), you’re going to find yourself with more sales appointments than you’ll know what to do with.  Which leads to a good problem of trying to figure out how to invest the added income you’ll be generating each month.

I realize there are a plethora (must be the word of the day, kids) of authors in this category out there, and many of those worthy of more than a quick flip through their works at the bookstore.  These are the books, though, that I have personally recommended to other sales professionals in my circle.  I now recommend them to you.  If you call yourself a salesman and want to get a step up on the competition, invest in yourself by adding these books (and others by these authors) to your personal sales library.

QUESTION:  What book(s) would YOU add to this list and why?  Let me know in a reply below.

Mediocrity…Be Gone

I don’t remember a whole lot about his class, but I remember two things about my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Langelle.  First was that his roots were from Nova Scotia, Canada.  And second, he had a saying that he shared fairly frequently in class (hence the reason it has stuck with me some ___ years later) – “Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity.”

Mediocrity by its very nature deals with the ordinary, the average, and at the very least the status quo.  Mediocrity determines that I go half-way on the effort, I go lukewarm on the intensity, and I don’t put forth my very best effort in my professional and person life.  Mediocrity is the antithesis of passion; it is the poison in today’s society that keeps people from truly excelling and achieving everything they were meant to achieve.

Some people are so driven to achieve that mediocrity is a foreign word.  But for the majority of people, mediocrity is a frequent obstacle that they’d like nothing more than to get around.  I would submit to you that there are three ways to kill mediocrity in your life:

1.) Find your passion.  There’s nothing worse than trying to hack away at something in life for which you have absolutely no desire, drive, or ambition to make happen.  Find what drives and motivates you, and pour your creative energies into it.  Mediocrity tends to arise as a result of the mundane…counter it with that which ignites your passion.

2.)  Share your passion.  Nothing keeps the fire going more than continuously adding fuel.  One way to do that is to share your vision and drive with those around you.  You have to be careful about and selective of whom you share this with – there are people who will tell you to get your head out of the clouds, get realistic, or otherwise try to extinguish your passion.  You need a support system to keep you ignited and motivated.  Find that valuable few and keep them posted.  If they have your back, they won’t let you even remotely consider mediocrity.

3.)  Cultivate and grow your passion.Once you discover what your passion is and share the vision with others, then move forward with developing yourself with that passion and seeing it through to fulfillment.  Whether it be starting a new business, completing a project, or exploring a hobby, put your heart and soul into it and see where it can grow.  Devotion equals passion.  When you’re devoted to your passion, mediocrity will have no room to take root.

If you follow these three basic concepts, mediocrity will be just a memory and passion will be the name of the game.

QUESTION:  How do  you beat back mediocrity from your own life?  Share with us in a comment below.