Cultivate the ‘Service’ in Customer Service

satisfaction survey showing marketing concept to improve sales

Lately I’ve seen some posts on social media sites where people are complaining about receiving poor customer service at all types of businesses. The list runs the gamut from receiving terrible food at restaurants, retailers whose sales people never make a move to help a customer out – you name it, the complaints are there for all to see.

So what’s happened to the word ‘service’ in customer service?

From the first day I went into business, I realized that if I were to make sales and achieve repeat customers, I had to first earn their trust and treat them as I liked to be treated when shopping. It doesn’t matter if you’re searching for a new vehicle or a new pair of running shoes – the basics of solid customer service is the same. And I believe that principle starts with one thing: respect.

If you can’t show respect for another person’s wishes and requests, then you shouldn’t be in sales. Most everyone I know works hard for their dollars, and if they decide they want to spend their money at your establishment, they deserve the undivided attention of your sales people.

Here are three key elements that I’ve found to be invaluable in running my business:

  1. Listen carefully to what the customer says. If Ms. ‘X’ says that she want an 8 ounce rib-eye steak, done medium rare, and charred on both sides, then be sure that’s what you serve her. If you fail to take note of the customer’s preferences and then offer them something that is totally different than what they’ve asked for, they’re not going to be happy campers. And unhappy customers are not repeat customers.
  2. Ask relevant questions. Failing to ask the right question of your client will give you incomplete information as to their expectations from you. This step also falls into the category of ‘assuming’ that you know what someone wants before they ever open their mouth to speak. Always ask the customer what they desire from your business. And if you can’t provide what they’re looking for, move on to step # 3.
  3. Be honest – always. No wants to be talked down to or made to feel as if they’re being pressured to settle for less than what they desire. If you haven’t got exactly what they want, by all means suggest an alternative, but don’t try to force something that is totally the opposite of what they want down their throat. Trust me. If the buyer wants a half-ton truck and I try to convince him to buy a two-door sedan, do you really think he’s going to make a sale with me? Nope.

It really doesn’t take much effort to offer good, solid, customer service. In fact, some businesses get by with providing the bare minimum in courtesy and haphazard goods. But wouldn’t you rather be known as the company that actually cares about their customers and goes just a little bit further in the sales process?

Cultivating loyal customers is crucial if you want to ensure that they’re repeat customers.

Here’s to You, Mrs. Karen Robinson!

KarenRobinson2016.jpegBack in 2006, shortly after opening my doors for business, I was invited to attend a networking event sponsored by the Community Business Development Corporation (CBDC) Westmorland Albert, located in Shediac, NB. The hostess of that event was their Executive Director, a vibrant lady by the name of Karen Robinson. I, being the shy and retiring type of gal I am (NOT!) struck up a conversation with her where she asked me tons of questions about what a “Virtual Assistant” was and the type of services I had to offer to the public.

I was still fine-tuning my offerings as it were, and happened to mention to her that I loved to help other entrepreneurs promote their businesses by writing articles for them to include in their newsletters/ezines, or for publication on the web. Before she walked away, she told me that she’d give me a ring in a couple of weeks as she had an idea in mind of how she’d like to promote the CBDC and thought I might be able to help her out.

Sure enough. Shortly after our first meeting, Karen called me and invited me to come out to the CBDCs office to get together with her and some of her staff to brainstorm some ideas.

And so began an almost ten year work relationship between myself, Karen, and the team of wonderful people at CBDC Westmorland Albert.

Over the years, that initial meeting between Karen and me has morphed into a combination of part business and part friendship, with healthy doses of laughter always included in our conversations and dealings. I’ve watched this dynamo of a lady work tirelessly championing causes for rural entrepreneurs, always believing in that every business owner is capable of success if they have the right tools and training.

Today, July 29th, 2016, at 4:30 pm, Karen is “hanging up her hat” as the saying goes and retiring from her position at the CBDC. I hesitated typing that word “retiring” as that is not a word anyone would associate with this lady.

I’d like to tell her to relax, read some good books at the beach, and enjoy an occasional glass of wine, but something tells me she’s not quite finished with her desire to help others. I highly doubt she’s going to quietly fade into the sunset, never to be heard from again as that’s just not her style.

I do, however, know I’m going to miss her ongoing presence in my life, as will so many others.

So….

“And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey.”*

Enjoy your “time off” Mrs. Karen. You deserve it!

*Lyrics from the song, Mrs. Robinson, copyright 1967, “Bookends” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C1BCAgu2I8

Smile… Pretty Please?

“Smile at strangers and you just might change a life.” – Steve Maraboli

Emily June20004One of the most underrated activities, but most thoroughly appreciated ones, has to be the art of giving and receiving of a smile.

One of the hot topics almost every day in the business world is poor customer service… which I think relates to smiling or the lack thereof. There are tons of posts on Facebook and other social media sites telling tales of how such and such a company ‘shafted’ someone out of money by refusing to issue a refund, or how the cashier at a local grocery store practically bit someone’s head off when they questioned whether the price of the kumquat’s they were purchasing was correct. While some of the beefs are definitely legitimate, I believe I’ve stumbled on one of the biggest flaws in providing excellent customer service. And do you know what it is? (more…)

Why Money Should Never Be Your Motivator

Yesterday I watched a short clip that a friend had posted on Facebook entitled “What If Money Was   No Object?” and it was so good that I shared it on my own wall. It made me stop and realize that for a good part of my life, money was my motivator – the driving force behind 90% of every decision I made.

For a lot of people, their life’s equation looks like this: work + money = success. Yet at what cost to human creativity? I wonder how many of us reach a certain age, stop and look back over our lives and wonder, “What if I’d done something different. How would I feel today?” Even worse, there are far too many people who lay on their deathbed and think, “I wish I’d followed my true passion of …” you fill in the blank.

Yes, money is important, to the extent that we need a certain amount of it to live a reasonably comfortable life. We all need a dry roof over our heads, clothes on our back, and food on our table. These are the basic necessities of life and in order to enjoy them, we need to earn money to pay for them doing some type of work. However, where is it written that we have to stifle our dreams and desires for doing what we truly love to do in order to be considered a success? Who, exactly, dictates that we need to work at a 9 to 5 J.O.B. that we detest simply because “That’s what everybody does!?”

I wonder if people like Monet or Rembrandt thought, “Well, I’ll never be rich and famous because I’m ‘just’ a painter” or if writers such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or so many other literary giants decided, “I’m going to write because I’ll achieve critical acclaim and be revered for my work when I die.” I suspect they, along with thousands of others who have followed their passion, did what they did because they paid attention to their innate intuition to follow what made their heart sing – to do what fulfilled them and made them want to get up in the morning, EVERY day of their life, and do it all over again.

The title of this piece is “Why Money Should Never Be Your Motivator” and here’s why I believe this statement to be true. If you base your sense of self-worth and self-esteem on the size of your bank account, you run the risk of having a zero balance – in both your wallet AND in your life. Finances have a way of ebbing and flowing, much like the tides of the ocean are governed by the moon. If your moral character is based on hard currency, then what happens if you lose all your wealth? What do you have in your ‘internal’ safety deposit box to fall back on to get you through such a hardship? Probably zilch.

I have no children of my own, but I do have nieces and one nephew whom I adore, as well as an extended family of great-nieces and great-nephews. If I were allowed to share with them only one piece of business advice, it would be this: Choose your career path by that which makes you feel happy. For if you follow your instincts and take the path that fills your soul with satisfaction, the money will eventually come. And when it does, you will most likely be more appreciative of those dollars and cents, and share your wealth (and joy) with others in the world.

Pay attention to your dreams as they will provide you with a lifetime of joy.

PS: By the way, here’s the link to the video clip should you like to watch it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siu6JYqOZ0g

The Road to Entrepreneurialism is Paved With… Vegetables?

The Old Farmhouse Barn Aug 27 12 adjI know. Strange title for a blog post but after you read the remainder of the story, you’ll know why I’ve chosen this  as the introductory line.

I suspect if you were to take a poll of 100 business owners, all of them can pinpoint the main reason why they took the plunge into entrepreneurialism. I also know that being their own ‘boss’ would most likely rank in the top 5 answers to that question. For me, my entrepreneur ideas took root when I was 8 years old, literally and figuratively.

I was born and raised in an 18 room farmhouse situated on 200 acres (more or less) of relatively fertile ground, located in a fairly remote rural area of New Brunswick, alongside the coastline of the Northumberland Strait. My father was a self-employed business man, who held down 2 demanding jobs: that of being an owner of his own front-end loader/backhoe during the day, and in all the hours before 8:00 am and after 5:00 pm, he toiled at his true love, that of farming.

As most of the people in the area did, we too, grew our own vegetables and harvested them for winter. The trouble was my Dad thought that a ½ acre of garden simply wasn’t enough to feed our huge family (including myself, there were only 4 of us children), so therefore a second ½ acre or more was ploughed, seeded and tended which grew only potatoes, turnip and cabbage. For those of you who’ve never tended gardens of that size, let me assure you that it takes a LOT of hoeing, weeding, tilling etc. to maintain something of that size.

Over the years, people from nearby towns constructed cottages along the beautiful coastline and my older brother had started what we called the ‘vegetable route’ supplying the ‘cottagers’ with fresh vegetables once they came into season.

The summer I turned 8, my brother decided he was too old to be doing this piddly work and passed the baton down to me. My father sat me down at the end of June and said, “I’ll make you a deal. If you take over the cottage route, I’ll split the money we make with you at the end of August.” Well, to an 8 year old girl, in 1965, the promise of actual dollar bills seemed like a tremendous idea, so we shook hands and a deal was struck. All the monies collected were to be deposited in an old tobacco can which sat at the back of the sideboard in the kitchen and divided just before school started in September.

I still didn’t have a bicycle yet (although I should add I’d started nagging my parents 2 years prior for one!), so twice a week I’d either walk the 2 mile route, knock on the cottager’s doors, smile and ask, “Do you need any vegetables this week?” and proceed to rattle off what offerings were available, or on the odd occasion my Mum would drive me in our family car. I’d write down their orders in a tiny coil-bound flip-top book, move on to the next cottage and repeat the process. When the last cottage was duly asked for an order, I’d walk back home and then my mother and I would tally up how many bunches of carrots, beets, radishes, pounds of peas, beans, or potatoes etc. we’d need to pick, wash, and pack to deliver later that day.

I should also mention here that a ‘bunch’ of carrots consisted of 12 firm, bright orange beauties, all nicely washed and tied with a piece of left-over baler twine, which sold for the princely sum of $.25/per bunch. (Yes, I’m that old!)

The hazy days of summer quickly passed and the garden once again yielded a wonderful crop. I cannot tell you how many trips I made down the cottager’s route; the tons of weeds I pulled from those rows of vegetables; the mosquito bites I received from pushing through the thorny raspberry bushes in search of the bigger, more tastier morsels, or how happy I was to hand a brown paper bag full of produce to the respective buyers and say, “That comes to $ 1.85 please” and run home to stash the cash into the tobacco can.

Cooler days rolled in and September 1st arrived. Dad decided that the Saturday night before Labour Day was to be the big reveal and division of funds. I could hardly wait.

With both of us sitting at the sturdy weathered farmhouse kitchen table, he dumped the contents of the tobacco can and started counting. After 20 minutes or so, we had the grand sum of… $ 60.00 (give or take a few pennies). Woo hoo! I would get $ 30.00 for working the entire summer!

And that’s when I learned my first lesson in entrepreneurship from my Dad.

He looked at me and said: “Before we split this money, the first $20.00 is mine because I paid for the seeds, fertilizer, and gas for the tractor and tiller.” “What do you mean, Dad? You’re taking more money than me!”, I defiantly said.  He smiled and replied, “Remember, little girl. Being in business costs money, and you can’t make money if you don’t spend money.”

Hmpf!

In the end I took my precious $20.00 or so and stashed it away in my empty Cherry Blossom candy bar box that served as my piggy bank from whence I carefully doled out a dime here or a quarter then which was spent on trips to the general store to buy penny candy on Saturday nights.

I continued to do the summer cottage vegetable route until I was 15 and got my first ‘real’ job washing dishes and peeling produce at a new restaurant/gas bar that had opened the summer of 1972 about a mile from my home. I then passed the vegetable route on to my youngest brother who was around 8 at the time… and HE had a bike! (Lucky kid!)

That meager paying, labor intensive summer job lit a spark deep inside me and I knew that at some point in my life I would become an entrepreneur. In April of 2006 I finally opened my existing wordsmith business.

No, I don’t keep my money in an empty candy bar box today, but I do pay my bills on time and try and put aside a smidgen for ‘rainy days.’

And I still tend to a teeny vegetable garden just because:-)

Fresh tomatoes from my garden Sept. 2012

How Are You Showing Up In Your Business?

Last week while speaking with a prospective new client, towards the end of the conversation she said something that caused me to pause in the middle of my sentence. I had been explaining to her the process of how I performed editing/ghostwriting and my general business practices when she said, “Wow! It sounds as if you’re a very honest and ethical person!”

After digesting what she’d just said, I responded, “Well… isn’t that the way that everyone should conduct business?” to which she responded, “No, unfortunately, not everyone is as upfront as you are.”

Later that afternoon as I was winding down for the day, I started reflecting on the words she’d said to me, hence the reason behind this posting.

How are YOU showing up in YOUR business?

I am a solopreneur, so I get to wear all the hats in the running of my business. Yes, I’ve contracted out the tasks that I don’t particularly like doing, like accounting, (thank goodness for my long-time buddy and number-cruncher, Sandra Drisdelle), and anything that has to do with the back-end working of my website, (Jef Keep, I am SO glad you’re my best ‘virtual’ friend), but all of the business decisions fall on my shoulders. It’s me who must take full responsibility for securing new clients, ensuring that my existing customer workload is performed on time and correct the first time round, and generally making sure that my business continues to thrive.

I only have so many hours in a day in which to activate my three working brain cells to produce stellar copy, or magnificently manipulate syllables and syntaxes in manuscripts. I really don’t have a lot of time to waste, so I tend to be ‘up front’ and ‘out loud’ as the saying goes with all my clients.

Let me explain where the honesty part comes into play with me. If a client asks me to do something that is out of my realm of expertise, I politely tell them that I’m afraid I can’t help them, but I do offer names of other qualified people who might be able to assist them. What do you think would happen to my reputation of being expedient if I said, “Sure, I’ll take care of that for you!” and then had to spend 5 hours of billable time, wasting my clients money trying to figure out how to install a widget on a whatcamacallit. Imagine the ‘sticker shock’ they’d experience at month’s end when they received my invoice. Can you say “Ouch?!” Can you also say “Goodbye client?”

Let me give you another quick example. I’m often asked to give estimates on how long it will take to edit a full manuscript. I usually ask authors to send me a sample chapter (which I edit for free) and then try to calculate how many hours it will take to whip their musings into shape. However, (here comes what I refer to as the ‘honesty +integrity cocktail’) I always tell them upfront that I cannot guarantee the number of questimated hours as chapters often differ in a book, then I offer to give them periodic progress reports so they’ll know how many hours of time I’ve used at any given time. This way there are no hidden costs, I’ve reduced my client’s level of worry about billing, and I make doubly sure I keep in constant contact with them throughout the process. A happy client equals a very happy Marlene.

So, how do you run your business? Do you make an effort to inform new clients of exactly how you operate, or do you ‘assume’ that they should feel privileged just to have you as a supplier or service provider and not question your business practices? Do you over-promise and under deliver instead of the other way around? Or are you still using the sales pitch mantra of the ‘70s’, the ‘BBB’ method? You know, the good old ‘Bulls%*t Baffles Brains’ theory? (Good luck with that!)

I’m known for not having much of a ‘filter’ between what I think and what I say, and for me that works just dandy. I definitely ‘walk my talk’ and when I make a promise, I do my utmost to keep it. I learned a long, long time ago that it’s easier, safer, and so much less stress-inducing to be upfront about what I can or cannot do for my clients.

Ask yourself this week if there are certain new practices that you can implement into YOUR business to create winning partnerships with your clients. Try adding larges doses of honesty mixed liberally with integrity into your client relationships. Perhaps, like me, some of your favorite customers just may also become a few of your absolute best friends!

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