Many years ago, while working at another hotel, there was this sweet little old lady that would constantly crash the cocktail hours for the business events.
My property hosted many groups that, after their day-long meeting, would have a 1 hour farewell cocktail hour for the attendees.
They would network with their fellow associates and anyone else that was invited. To prevent gate crashers, they organizers would even have a separate registration table where the attendees would need to submit their business card to be allowed to enter.
Guess what this sweet little old granny would do?
She apparently had an unlimited supply of “official-looking” business cards of various professions that she would hand to the registration desk staff and then be allowed in.
She’d work the room – but instead of networking with the other people – she was “food-working” with a pair of tongs and the plastic bag she kept in her oversized pocketbook.
In went some bacon-wrapped scallops, mini beef wellington and even tuna tartar. Then I saw her grab a handfull of bev-naps from the bar and wrap 3 pieces of cheesecake and shove them in her “thief-bag”. I was waiting for her to ask “Where’s the “cheesy-poofs”. Did she have a colostomy bag hiding under her coat to pour the fruit punch into? Probably… Anyway, what was I supposed to do, throw her out? My soft side got the best of me and I allowed her to continue raiding the buffet until she was so weighed-down she had to leave or she would explode. Does this fall under the heading of customer service? Well, what do you think?
I once read that if you can’t learn something new each day then it doesn’t make sense to even get out of bed. Well that may be a little harsh but there is something to this statement.
In all our interactions with others, with all the snippets of information we have gathered from books or television and with all we have learned through trial and error, we hold a plethora of valuable information that can readily be transferred to another business, hobby or endeavor. This is true in my case as well.
Prior to my foray into the fabulous world of hospitality, I spent a stretch as a plumber and heating/air conditioning mechanic.
Not a very glamorous job but one where I learned more about a customer’s expectations than I have from all the information crammed into the dozens of business books I have read since.
A customer doesn’t enter into a transaction before they are assured that the product or service you provide is not only something that can benefit them but is of the highest quality and value.
Why else would they buy from you over someone else?
But during the evaluation process prior to their purchase I have learned 3 valuable things that can be used in almost any business.
►Keep Your Pipes Straight
Now, most businesses don’t have to deal with pipes but as a plumber I was knee deep in them. I had the opportunity to briefly work with a man with 50+ years of plumbing experience. Bob was a fountain of knowledge with every conceivable method and trick in the book on how to get the job done.
The one thing I will always remember from him is that a customer will always think one plumber is better than another just by how much attention is paid to the way his pipes are straight and level. Bob would say “Who would you rather deal with, someone that has a hodgepodge of crooked pipes or someone that has made a piece of art with his work? Seems like an easy answer.
But how does this relate to your business?
Just as a customer will initially judge your plumbing work on a photo or visual inspection of how it looks, and of course operates, so too does a customer as he/she enters your business.
Are your clothes arranged neatly and straight on their racks? Are all the products on your shelves constantly reset, moved to the front and in easy reach for your customers? Do you provide an organized and easy-to-navigate flow throughout your “store” or website or are your customers forced to wander around looking for help just to find an item?
Remember, the layout or “look” of your business is the first impression your potential customer receives. Make sure your “pipes are straight”!
►Customers Buy From People They Like
As I entered each home or business of a prospective customer I always remembered that I was just another blue-collared guy trying to make a living. But what could I do to separate myself from my competition?
Sure I could spend a small fortune in advertizing to get more customers, but I understood that my best tactic was just to be me.
I found that by being honest and explaining exactly what steps I would take to fix their problem went a long way to put my customers at ease. They realized that I had their best interests at heart and put much thought into how I would do the job.
Never use industry slang or jargon, never speak with the customer as if they are an amateur or have no idea of what was involved in the work. Take their concerns and ideas and find a way to incorporate it into the process. Make them a part of the effort.
At the end of each hard day of work I would send a thank you card to my customers with a hand written note of appreciation. One day I paid a repeat visit to an old customer and noticed my thank you card on their kitchen table.
“Wow, I’m surprised you still have my thank you card”, I said. “You kidding”, she answered. “I was so amazed that I got a card from a plumber that I leave it here and tell all my girlfriends about you when they come over”.
That really is a WOW for both of us!
I received many recommendations and Christmas cards from my customers, many times there was hot coffee and bagels when I visited my repeat customers and always I was welcomed with a warm smile and greeting. What more can you expect from your customers?
How do you endear yourself to your customers? What sets YOU apart?
►Leave the Place Cleaner Than it Was Before You Got There
Whether it was the quick repair of a faucet or an all day installation of a boiler, my job was not to just fix what was broken but to make my customer glad that I was the one doing the work. I learned this the hard way.
Once, during the middle of a very hot summer, I was replacing the fan motor on a small window air conditioner and was happy that I was able to get the unit back the very next day. But I never expected the response I got from my customer. Instead of being grateful at my quick service he was upset that the unit was returned with the same caked-on dust and with dried leaves still stuck inside.
I was just focused on the task at hand and didn’t realize that the customer’s expectation was different than mine. He expected the unit to be returned clean. I felt foolish and that I let him down.
From that day on I carried a full complement of cleaning products, a broom and rags. I swept up all debris from my work, placed it in MY garbage bags and carried it out to the trash cans. I would clean and polish the top of the boilers, remove my work boots on rainy days when entering a carpeted home, and do anything I could to do just a little more than what was usually expected of me.
In your business, do go one step further in your guest interactions? Do you assist your customers to their car with their heavy packages? Do you have an easy way to return a product and even include a postage-paid return label with each mail order item? Do you still offer the advertized discount even though the customer doesn’t have a coupon?
What do you do to exceed your guest’s expectations?
It wasn’t so bad being a plumber. I was able to put many traits & skills to good use in my later hospitality career. Traits that have allowed me to provide a “WOW” customer experience to many. I wonder what I would have learned if I was a cab driver?
Don’t splash puddles on the people walking on the sidewalk. Don’t make sudden stops and turns that make the backseat riders nauseous. Don’t smoke those nasty cigars before picking up a customer.
Just common sense things but ones usually don’t fall under “customer service”, or should they?
Finding a landscaper to plant some shrubs and flowers in front of your home should be an easy task. One landscaper is pretty much the same as another? Or are they?
What makes one landscaper better than another? What is the secret customer service trick?
Is it the plants that are picked or the mulch color that is chosen? Is it the size of the shovels used or the horsepower of his truck? Does the program used to design the plant arrangements matter more than the timeliness of the installation?
Well, each of these are important, with the exception of the truck horsepower, but what ONE thing can be used to “clinch-the-deal” and get the customer to say yes?
Think like the customer, of course!
I contacted multiple local landscapers in order to get estimates and ideas for some foundation plantings at my house. Gone are the days when I was able to work hour after hour in the hot sun all for my vain attempt at beautifying my home. Now it’s time to bring in the professionals. But how to choose one over the other?
For me it came down to something that should be so simple, so basic in the world of landscaping, that I wondered why they all didn’t do it. Provide me with a visual.
The company I ultimately choose had the foresight to take a clear photo of my home and superimpose images of the exact plants and shrubs that were included in the estimate and in their correct locations. Brilliant!
What more could I ask for? Now I can see my home in all its soon-to-be glory.
Why wouldn’t the other business use this tactic as well? Why were they so sure that a standard estimate coldly listing the names and quantities of plants on a sheet of paper would “WOW” me enough to get my business?
I guess it’s just them doing business the same old way. But that’s not good enough anymore!
A business that doesn’t find a way for their customers to make an easy decision, one that puts their mind at ease, will be left behind by others that do.
It’s as simple as that.
►Find out what is the ultimate reason for a purchase; it is a nice suit for an upcoming job interview, or a reliable used car that gets good gas mileage for that student going away for college or is it as basic as a homeowner wanting his home to look nicer with a few shrubs and flowers?
►Identify the reason for the purchase and provide the customer with the best method to experience the product or service prior to making the decision to purchase. That’s when it gets easy. That is what customer service is about! Fulfilling a need, but do it smartly.
A business that doesn’t find a way for their customers to make an easy decision, one that puts their mind at ease, will be left behind by others that do.
You will have removed the uncertainty for the customer and the questions of how it will happen or what will it look like. That’s when the sale is made. Before any money is exchanged. When it’s still just an idea, a want, a desire.
For me it was a photo…now I just have to get my wife to agree to the work.
So, what separates your business from the rest of the pack?
You know the type, the one guy in the office that always has his projects completed ahead of time, always has the answer to the problem, and always is looked to in time of need. A leader.
How does he do it? Well, not by luck, that’s for sure.
Knowledge, attention to detail and foresight is usually the successor to hard work, patience and an ability to look at things in a slightly different light. A willingness to do what is needed and complete a task is an everyday “chore” of this leader.
Stepping out of “the office” setting, how does the “go-to guy” succeed in the world of customer service?
He, or she, uses his knowledge to identify the needs of the customer. He designs his methods of operation to take advantage of the latest industry trends and rising market segments. What do today’s customers want? Are the needs different on the East Coast versus West Coast? Does this product or service satisfy a gap in the market?
Today’s customers are more savvy than in years past. We can thank the internet for this, amongst other things. Market research can now be done while in your pajamas sipping coffee at the kitchen table. Multiple websites are available to compare one product versus another, one hotel versus their “competitive set”, this feature over another.
He must find the available advantage(s) over the competition to be successful.
The go-to guy pays attention to all the small details the customer will expect. Are there other menu options available for a guest’s discerning palate or dietary needs? Has the product specifications and packaging needs been taken into account in order to speed-up the delivery to the customer? Remember, one size fits all doesn’t usually work.
Can you be counted on to be ready for the occasional upset customer and know all your options in order to fix any situation that may arise? Have you thought-out the steps needed to tend to the customer’s needs/wants if they don’t fit exactly as you have planned?
Foresight; the ability to plan or predict for the future, is a needed skill for the customer service professional. Instead of hoping for the best outcome, he takes steps to ensure the success of the customer experience.
“Plan for the worst, hope for the best” is a term widely used by those that are successful. One can’t expect the best outcome if all obstacles are not removed from the perspective of the guest experience.
All the above skills are only a part of the toolbox for the go-to guy. He must also be respectful of his coworkers & peers, professional in his interactions with others and determined to find the best way possible to satisfy the guest.
He can always be counted on in times of need and when leadership is thrust upon him.
We all believe that our boss appreciates the work we do, cares enough about us to realize the day-to-day challenges we face and is concerned about our quality of life. But is this true?
Let’s delve into a few untruths about business…
►My Boss Appreciates Me Your boss expects you to complete all tasks assigned to you in the manner prescribed.
He may give you the latest high-profile assignment, not because he appreciates the work you do, but because he needs the task completed now. He may say thanks for a job well done but the underlying thought process is that one task is now completed, let’s move on to another.
If you are late at completing a task he will not be concerned about your already-heavy work load or your personal problems at home. He will focus on why his directions were not followed and the task not completed. Get the work done and don’t worry about who gets the credit.
►My Boss Will Let Me Take Off on Sunday For those of you that have the pleasure to take off on most Sundays, or even Saturdays for that matter, you may have made plans to go to the beach, attend a friend’s party or relax at that bed and breakfast your wife has been talking about for months. Then you get the call…
“Steve”, your boss says on Friday, “I need this project done quick and ready for Monday’s presentation no matter what”. “Whatever your plans are for the weekend, cancel them, this must be done”. Wow, there goes my weekend.
So what do you do? Upset your wife by telling her your weekend getaway is cancelled or risk repercussions from your boss? Unfortunately the wife comes second.
“But I thought my boss cared about quality of life in this job, and wanted us to have our proper time off” you say. Well yes, that’s true…as long as his new project is completed when he wants it.
I bet he is taking the weekend off.
►I’m Next in Line for That Promotion I have heard this stated so many times and have seen enough dreams shattered to never take things for granted.
No matter how hard we work or what value we bring to a business, the boss is in control. He, or she, has the final say as to who gets the promotion. Your efforts are noticed but that is not always the driving force behind who gets the next shot at the promotion or the job.
Is it the best qualified, or the most trusted employee? Is it the one what has the most connections and can bring in that large account? Well what about the “suck-up” that is always a half step behind the boss as he walks the floor? Does he get the job?
In my early years I once had a conversation with the department head of another division I was interested in getting into. I heard through the grapevine that a position had opened up and I wanted the job. So I strolled into his office and asked about the new position and how I may go about applying.
He was very nice and sympathetic but told me that he had already promised the job to the son of his long-term neighbor. That stinks! I was much more qualified than his pimply-faced neighbor’s kid but I wasn’t in control, the boss was.
Don’t take for granted that the promotion is destined to be yours.
►I Don’t Need To Hire Another Salesperson Oh I forgot, you’re Superman. You can do it all, run the business, make the product, balance the books, take care of payroll, and you’re a “marketing master” and can do all the promo needed. Yeah sure.
There a very few business that can run with any semblance of success and profitability without having the right person for the job or hiring the additional person to get it done. Don’t be cheap, hire the help you need, don’t think you can do it all.
And frankly, even if you CAN do it all, should you? Do you want to spend time with your family? Do you want to take up that hobby you had hoped for? Can you follow doctor’s orders and reduce the stress in your life? Well, not by being a Super-businessman you can’t.
►My Childhood Friend Will Make a Great Business Partner Now we’re getting into dangerous waters. Learn this business fact: a friend is a friend, until your business ruins your friendship.
Don’t think you need a lawyer to draft a partnership agreement detailing each person’s responsibilities and the repercussions for failing to do so? Think again.
Be the one that puts all the money in to start the business while the “friend” keeps his in the bank because he is a little short on funds now? Get ready to kiss that money goodbye.
Think your friend will look out for your best interests? Well maybe, but what if his best interests get in the way, then what?
Treat any business as if entered into with a stranger. Make sure all legal business documentation is drafted ahead of time and prior to signing any outside agreements. If your childhood friend balks at signing your paperwork, you realize NOW that your friend was not the best partner to have. He may be a great friend, but not a good partner. It’s time to move on.
In conclusion The world of business is one of excitement, uncertainty and fraught with setbacks and frustrations. Never enter it wearing rosy-colored glasses or being unprepared for the inevitable setbacks. Be realistic and understand that not all bosses think the same.
Some are prepared to show appreciation and do so with ease, but many are not. This doesn’t mean that your efforts are in vain or must go ignored. It just may take a different approach on your part to get noticed.
• Write a weekly/monthly summary of your actions and completed tasks • Get customer feedback regarding your accomplishments and the service provided • Track the revenue generated or payroll dollars saved through your labors • Seek out specialists in your field to train your staff in the latest industry practices • Etc.
It’s the employees that prove their worth that are successful. Then it is much easier to get the appreciation from the boss, that Sunday off and maybe even that promotion you desire. Good Luck!
P.S. Does your boss appreciate you? Leave me a comment below and tell me how he/she shows his appreciation. With a letter of thanks, or pat on the back, does he “talk-you-up” to the big boss, take you out to lunch?