How The Tire Shop Lost a Customer, Me!

It was a busy day, yes it was, but isn’t this what every business longs for?
If not for the busy days, the doors would shut, windows would be boarded-up and the suppliers clamoring for payment.  So how can we complain for days like this?  We’ll see.
I had a flat tire on my snow blower that needed to be repaired.  The storm was coming, at least that’s what the television weather people said, so I made a few calls to see which of the local tire sales & repair shops would fix a small tire on my blower.  Yes, it’s not a big job but one that must be done.
One of the first shops I called at 9:30am told me “Sure, we can fix that, bring it right over”.  Great news to start my day, I rejoiced.
By 10:15am I was already in the shop with my machine.  Well, not actually IN the shop, more like waiting outside the door at the back of the line.  It was a busy day and it seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was looking to get new tires for their car.  Remember, the storm was coming?
But the line moved fast and I neared the counter.  “How can I help you?” said one counter man.  “I called a little while ago about repairing the flat tire on my snow blower”, I said.  “Sure we can fix that but it’s a busy day today” was his reply.  “That’s fine”, I said, I can leave it here and you can get to it whenever you want, as long as it’s done by the end of today”.  “Ok, we close at 6pm” he finished.  I parked the blower right outside the shop window, left my name and cell phone number and was on my way.
As the day wore on and doing my daily chores I lost track of time.  I glanced at my watch saw it was a little after 5pm and no phone call from the tire shop.  I guess they just forgot to call me; it must be fixed by now, so I headed over to the shop.
The snow blower was still in the same spot as when I left it over 6 hours ago.  This is not a good sign.
As I entered the now quiet shop, only a few customers took up the waiting room chairs, I said “I’m here to pick up my snow blower”.  “I don’t think we got to it yet”, said the counterman.  After looking around he said “You’re next”.  “I’m next”, I said, “You have had the machine for over 6 hours and never fixed it, but NOW I’m next”?  “We’ve been very busy today” was his reply.
Not wanting to make a bigger deal of this I patiently waited 25 minutes for the mechanic to repair the tire on my machine, paid my bill, and was on my way home.
Why do some businesses lose sight of the big picture when it comes to their customers? 
We all want the big sale and prioritize the customers as they come in our doors but shouldn’t they realize that a small customer, this time in my case, can lead to a larger customer, increased business and more customers down the road?
We all have a circle of family and friends and are more than willing to recommend the goods and services of a business we like and one that has taken care of our needs.  My sale was not a large one, especially compared to the replacement of 4 tires for many of the other customers, and I understand the shop not getting to the repair right away.  But to forget about it and not make the repair at all?  This is why I left the machine and gave them over 6 hours for the repair.  I am still a new customer for them with potential business for the future.  Apparently that was not important for them.
Some studies have shown that almost 80% of small business customers make their choice on trusted referrals from friends and family.
Do you think that I would refer this business to others based on my experience?  Probably not.  I would have more respect for the business and its management, if I was told earlier that they expected to be very busy and would not be able to fix my machine today.  That would have been fine since I would just go somewhere else for the repair.  But their short-sightedness came into play and they now lost the opportunity for my future business.
By the way, the snow storm never came…

The Dreaded Wedding Breakfast and How to Nickel and Dime a Customer

The wonderful world of weddings. You book the event and promise the “perfect wedding”. The birds will sing, the flowers will bloom and the rainbow will shine in all its glorious colors. Well at least that’s the plan.
So the wedding night finally comes and guess what? It does indeed turn out to be the perfect wedding; rave reviews from all the guests and a packed dance floor all night. The staff does a great job; service is attentive and top notch. The kitchen cooks and presents the food so well that it should be on a magazine cover and everyone leaves at midnight as happy as a lark. A great end to the day.
All you have left to worry about is their wedding breakfast the following morning. I won’t get much sleep tonight because I need to be back the next morning at 6am but I’ve done it hundreds of times.
It’s the next morning and my sleepy staff and I are setting up the buffet breakfast for the 120 planned guests. Doors open, guests arrive and food is eaten…along with lots of coffee. As we get towards the end of the breakfast we realize that we have about 15 additional guests that were not planned for. All of them did attend the wedding but we had not anticipated them joining us for breakfast, nor I believe did the hosts of the event.
Now we have two options:
  • Charge the host for the 15 additional guests; after all its “business” right?
  • Allow these extra people to eat for free as a gesture of good will.
Let’s delve into these two options a little more:
Option #1
As a “for profit business” we are not here to provide a product or service for free. We have fixed costs such as insurance, building expenses (rent/mortgage, repair & maintenance, etc.). We also have all the variable costs like payroll, food, gas & electric, etc. We must pay the staff for working the event and if we don’t charge for these additional guests we will lose money. We can’t give food away and not charge.
Another line of thought is that each event, the wedding then the breakfast, are two separate entities and one should not be influenced by the other. Just because the group had their wedding here last night doesn’t mean that this event should be discounted or we should under charge for the guests served. “It’s business”!
Option #2
Let’s look at this from the “big picture” perspective. When we go to a store like Costco, aren’t there many stand-alone kiosks inside the store offering free samples of the food items they sell? Why do you think this is done? Is it just because they want to be nice and give you a little snack as you shop in their store? I doubt it.
When you go to the local deli or bakery, have you ever been offered free samples of their product to taste? The intent of the business is to entice you to purchase one of the items you have just tasted. Ever hear of a “loss-leader”?
Supermarkets all across this country have used this practice for decades where they offer a product at a very low price, maybe even at a monetary loss, just to get you into the store. Once inside there is a more-than-reasonable expectation that you will purchase additional items at regular full price to make up for that small loss on the one item.
This is “big picture” thinking.
Now back to the wedding breakfast…
Why would a business work so hard to “WOW” a customer and earn their trust just to have the final touch point be one that leaves an impression that we “nickel and dime” them right after they spend $30,000 on a wedding? This is not smart business.
How much potential business and favorable recommendations can we receive from this customer if we let them know that we have fed these additional guests at no charge to them? They will be extremely appreciative of our gesture. This is another way of doing the unexpected for the guest and letting them leave on a high note. They can’t help but remember our actions.
It has been a long standing practice for businesses to accept competitors discount coupons. Many stores will offer a “price match” if the customer sees the same product offered at another company.
We spend untold millions of dollars on advertizing, marketing, offering discount coupons, package deals, etc., all in the hopes of generating more business and more revenue from these methods. Doesn’t this amount to giving away future revenue in the hopes of making a happy customer today? And one that will come back tomorrow? Of course it does.
So think of the BIG picture and don’t nickel and dime your customer!

Don’t Let Your Employees Use Facebook, They Will Kill Your Business

Have you ever thought how much damage one employee can do to your business? If not, read on…
We all know the power that “social media” sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. have on the youth of America.  And we all have heard and read that every business must also have a presence on these sites for marketing, promotional and word of mouth posturing as well.
Having your business in the eyes, and on the lips, of the public is worth its weight in gold. So it’s a good thing when your employees talk about your business on Facebook, et al. correct?
But what happens when your employees post unflattering, incorrect or downright damaging messages to their friends or “followers”?  How does this affect your business, your reputation, your impact in the business world?
Here are a few examples:

Employee Number 1:
Doesn’t feel that she should have to work on a holiday since “all her friends are off from work”.  She posts a message on Facebook that her job is “forcing her” to work on a holiday and that they don’t treat their employees well.  She also states that her company doesn’t pay her enough to work a holiday and she is sick and tired of working when “we all should be off”.
Well, gone are the days when a holiday is the quietest day of the month and the streets and business are deserted.  Just ask the airline and retail industries if holidays are days that “we all should be off”. What about the police, fire and emergency medical personnel, or the utility companies; should they be off as well?  Probably not.
But the friends and followers of this employee are now left with a half-truth or jaded picture of how that business treats their employees.  They may think the employees there are forced to work, receive lower than reasonable compensation and other employees are treated poorly and share her views as well.
What follows next is that her friends will usually side with her viewpoint and will start a back and forth dialogue discussing the poor treatment she receives and what the working conditions are like at her “terrible job”.

Employee Number 2 

Was just fired from his job for excessive absences, constant tardiness, or even theft and believes that the multiple chances already given him to keep his job is not enough.   He feels that he was wronged by his termination and lashes out on Twitter when he gets home.
“They just fired me for nothing, so I came in a few times late, what’s the big deal?” he posts. “I have worked hard there for almost 1 year and this is how they treat me?”  “This company is a terrible place to work” is the next post.
Of course employee number 2 will never fully explain the facts of his termination or that he has received numerous coaching sessions and other opportunities to address his job performance that ultimately led to his dismissal.  But the negative comments stay out there forever.

Employee Number 3
Requested off from work but was not granted it due to business demands. The employee calls-out sick and doesn’t show up for work.  The next day a fellow employee noticed a photo that was posted on Facebook of her out shopping with friends and going out to an afternoon movie.  When one of her friends asked her why she wasn’t at work Employee 3 typed “Oh, my manager has no clue, he’s not on Facebook, he’ll never know”.  “Besides, I do this all the time”.
In this instance, the business is not so much affected but the manager is. He is maligned and his competence as an effective manager is damaged.
These are real-world examples of how employees can post seemingly, to them, innocuous statements on social media that can and will affect your business.  Friends and family will usually take the side of their friend and believe what they are posting to be true, to be a fact, regardless if it is or not. 

Some of the recent statistics about Facebook alone will startle you: (8/2011)
  • 1.26 Billion Users Overall
  • 155 Million Daily active users in USA
  • 1 in every 13 people on Earth is on Facebook
  • 71.2 % of all USA internet users are on Facebook
  • In 20 minutes 1,000,000 links are shared on Facebook
  • In 20 minutes 1.972 million friend requests are accepted
  • In 20 minutes 2,716,000 messages are sent
  • In 20 minutes 10.2 million comments are posted
  • In 20 minutes 1,587,000 wall posts are written
  • 48% of young Americans said they found out about news through Facebook
  • 50% of active users log on to Facebook in any given day
  • Average user has 130 friends
Do you still doubt the power of Facebook?
Do you want employees posting negative information
about your business there for all the world to see?

Here are a few questions you must pose to your staff:
“Why do some employees feel it necessary, and appropriate, to post information regarding plans, procedures or possible scheduling needs about their department on social media sites?  Is it essential that your vast amount of Facebook fans or Twitter followers associated with your “pages” be informed that a company requires, as business dictates, staff to work when there is business?  Especially for a business that is open 7 days a week? Should this even be an issue? I don’t believe so.”
“Each person within their department, as well as the management, has their own requests, desires, wants and obligations towards family and friends everyday of the week and not just on a holiday.  Each of them has their own health and personal financial issues to attend to as well.  But is this the business of anyone outside this company?  The answer is a resounding no. But it becomes their business when you spread comments, posts and information on the internet.  Then it becomes the business of all their contacts as well.”
Pretty cut and dry, no?
You might as well take an advertisement in all the local papers and TV news channels stating that Company XYZ is a terrible place to work and treats their employees poorly.  This has the same impact as thousands of friends and followers on social media sites getting the wrong impression of your business.  Is this any different than getting negative reviews on sites like Trip Advisor or Yelp?
A few negative reviews on sites like these can cost untold thousands of dollars in lost revenue, and a bad business reputation.  All it takes is a few people, sitting in their pajamas and fuzzy slippers anonymously punching in harmful comments from their kitchen table, to ruin your business.  It’s the same for your employees on Facebook.
Set clearly defined rules regarding posting information on social media websites and make sure all your employees are aware of the policy.  Without it, your next customer walking through your doors may be the undertaker…because you have killed your business!

Do You Have a Failure to Communicate?

“I didn’t know about that”, “why isn’t there enough staff working today to take care of this rush?”, “she never said anything about it” or “why didn’t they tell me to do it that way?”
How many times have you heard comments like these from your staff? Do they sound familiar? And if so, why?
What are you doing wrong in your business that prevents the sharing of necessary information to your team?
Here are two reasons why:
Changing of Policy or Procedure
Did you recently change a company or departmental policy or procedure? How was this change put into action?
  • Was it sent out in a memo? 
  • Was it told to just the department heads in a meeting?
  • Was it written on company letterhead and posted on a cork board in a hallway?
  • Was there a specific date and time for it to be put into action?

How can you be sure that all employees are aware of the changes without doing the following?
  • A written notice of policy/procedure change is given to all employees
  • A general or departmental meeting is held with all employees where the changes are described, explained and reasons for the change are given
  • Appropriate training is given to employees in order to be fully proficient in the new procedure
  • If appropriate, additional staff or management presence is on hand to monitor the staff’s compliance of new procedures and readily available to assist in order to satisfy a customer’s need or understanding of changes
You Thought Someone Else Would Take Care Of It
How many times did something “fall through the cracks” because you thought another co-worker was going to handle it?
Just as with other business tasks, there must be a clear-cut chain of responsibility as to who will complete any given assignment, especially one that is important to the success of the business.
In your absence have you identified who will send out the employee schedule?  If you will be in a last minute meeting with your boss have you assigned someone else to meet with, or reschedule, your 3pm interview?  You thought your fellow manager was going to tell the staff to come in earlier tomorrow but she never did.
These are real-world examples of how things get forgotten or overlooked only because there was not a clear channel of communication between all parties involved.  This is the easiest way to hurt your business…and also one of the easiest things to fix.

I Don’t Care if it’s Against Company Policy

Have you ever walked into a store or been a guest at a hotel and had a problem that was “out of the ordinary”?  Of course you have, it has happened to many of us.
It may be that the store “sale” was over and you wanted to return a product for credit or your room was not exactly to your liking.  Either way, something about the product or service you paid for did not live up to your expectations, or to the advertized sales literature.
So like a good customer you mention this to your salesperson or hotel front desk agent, expecting a quick resolution to your seemingly reasonable request. Your response… “It’s against company policy” for me to do that…
Well I don’t care if it’s against your company policy. I just want my issue fixed.
The policy of a store/business should never be recited to a customer.  They don’t care about your policies; they only care about their questions or concerns being answered and addressed in a timely manner.   If they ask something of you that you are not allowed to do; example: take a return of an item that is damaged and not covered within your usual return policy, then explain that you are not allowed to accept the return because of the damage.  Don’t explain why and how it’s written in your employee handbook.
It is perfectly acceptable to inform a customer that; “Sorry but I will not be able to offer you ______________, but I CAN do this”.  Maybe you can’t give a credit back on the sale item but you should be able to offer a store credit to your guest.  Or offer a discount coupon towards their next purchase.  Just as when we never want to tell a customer NO, there usually is another way to offset the needs of the guest.
In the above example, a better response would be “I’m sorry that we cannot accept this damaged item for return but I can offer you a discount coupon good toward your next purchase here” “I trust that will be a good way to show that we value your business and hope you continue to be a customer”.
In the hotel example, if a guest is unhappy with their room, maybe it doesn’t have a good view or the room has a stale odor, the best way to help the customer is to change their room and maybe even upgrade them to a larger suite, if possible.
But “company policy” states that if the room has a stale odor, you are to have someone from Housekeeping come and spray a deodorizer in the room.  That’s not the best way to address the problem; the guest knows you took the easy way out.  Better to change their room and send up a complimentary amenity as well.  This is how you “WOW” your guest.
Being in the retail or hospitality business is a challenging one to say the least.  There are countless opportunities to make a customer happy, but this also comes with the occasional upset customer with a situation that needs to be addressed.
Don’t recite company policy, don’t point to the policy listed on the poster behind the cash register (better yet, tear down that poster) and don’t let your guest walk away unhappy.
There is always another way to address a problem.  I have taught my employees to put themselves in “the shoes of the customer”.  “How would YOU feel if you had this same problem and you couldn’t get it fixed”? Does this make you want to do business with this store again?  Do you feel like you have been taken advantage of?  Do you think they really care about your satisfaction?
If you would not like to be treated in this manner then most likely your customer will not either!
Businesses that “think like the customer” are better prepared to offer solutions that make the customer feel appreciated and want to return.  That is the essence of customer service.  Not policy, but solutions.