Customer Service

What about our players?

robertofirmino-cropped_1j1xi88fi7g7q1egfqv7ds173r.jpg

The most important often get forgotten

This week the English Premier League (EPL) will begin its new season. This is a twenty-team competition where each team will play 38 matches. One of the title contenders, Liverpool, will not only battle it out to win the EPL – they will be competing for seven different trophies. This includes all sorts of world and inter-national cups as well as local ones. The schedule for most teams will be hectic.

In isolation, asking overpaid professionals to run around after a ball for 40-odd weeks does not seem a big deal. It is when we understand that these guys also play World Cups and Continental International Competitions during their summer break that we start to understand that a lot of the players only get a week or two break every year. 

With such an intense schedule injury, mental fatigue, and performance-drop-off are all more probable. A recent FIFPro report said the health of top players is at risk without “mandatory four week off-season breaks”.

I feel that this is seen in a lot of workplaces. The people that are central to making a business tick are often overloaded with extra responsibility, tasks, and deadlines. It breeds a terrible mentality of ‘don’t do things too well, otherwise they’ll get you to do more of it!’

Or, in the thirst to please clients, we can find ourselves promising extra value with little consideration for the people that will need to push to deliver on such promises.

Richard-Branson-If-you-look-after-your-staff-they-ll-look-after-76-94-95.jpg

In football (or soccer), it is clear that the players are the product. They are the equity that all other stakeholders rely on. Too often, the players are forgotten in key decisions, and it will hurt the whole product and commercial partnerships in the end.

This inspired me to ask; do we forget about our players? Are we listening to them? Is anyone overloaded and about to break? And what will the consequence be if they disengage, or worse – get hurt?

Richard Branson famously said, “if you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple”.

The elite staff, the hardest working team players, the quiet achieving middle managers, and the reliable workhorses. Let’s be sure not to forget them. Check in with them. Review their workflows. Find support for them where we can. Because they are our stars.

They are most important.

Learn more at paulfarina.com.au

5 Tips to Pull Customers in with Visual Merchandising

The common perception is that visual merchandising (VM) is about making your products and your store look nice, but I assure you that there is a lot more to it than this. It is healthy to view your VM as a hub that links directly to all of your other main business departments. These usually include Stock Control, Marketing, Customer Service, Human Resources & Professional Development, Housekeeping, and of course Sales. Understanding that VM directly links with other functions within your business starts to open up new levels of creativity for you while making it easier to justify further resources on your VM and in-store animation.

VM is also a key way to pull customers over the threshold into your store and assist you to deliver a high customer service level with resulting sales increases. Here are my top five tips to bring this to fruition:

1. Promotional Displays

Visualise your store as you walk in the main entrance, and ask yourself what the first thing is that your eyes are drawn to? In retail, we want the first attention grabber in our store to be the promotional product or range of the week/month/season. It is critical that we have an engaging promotional display front-and-centre as a shopper enter our space. This not only creates interest for a shopper to stop walking and turn into your store, but it also excites the shopper – no matter if they are new to the store or a returning customer. The golden rules are to use a New Product, a Seasonal Product, a Topical Product, or a Hero Product from your range. To ensure freshness change this display regularly. This promotional display should also link to the display in your window.

2. Prime Shelf Real Estate

There are Hot and Cold Zones in our stores, with a Hot Zone representing an area of high foot traffic. You may know why people gravitate to this area, or it may be a mystery. Either way, be sure to recognise your Hot Zone, and the shelving units within this zone. This zone is generally the first-place shoppers will look and want to browse after they have enjoyed your promotional display at the entrance of your store. You may designate a shelf at eye level, or an entire bay as your Prime Shelf Real Estate. Whatever amount of space that you choose, be sure to fill it with product that matches your promotional display mentioned above. The key to this is to make it is clear that people can shop from this area. I say this as a promotional display can often be left by shoppers as they do not feel that they are allowed to shop from this area. By using the sequence of your window display, that matches your promotional display, that matches your Shelf Prime Real Estate, we have now built a slick easy to use path-to-purchase.

3. Pricing

The way that we communicate individualised pricing is a critical part of VM. Pricing needs to visually be aligned with our branding, be sized appropriately to the products, and be easy and clear to understand. Depending on your type of retail you may use hanging tags, pricing stickers, branded labels, or shelf talkers. Whatever the pricing display is that you use be sure to take a good deal of care with careful attention to detail. Make sure pricing labels are consistent throughout the store, and to make pricing easy to read and easy to find. Let’s face it, the first question most consumers have is “how much is it?”

Premium Retail will usually not display prices, and certain retail will have pricing on lists or in menus, but no matter what pricing is relevant for your business be sure that it is brand aligned and that it is correct! There is nothing worse than getting pricing wrong and costing your business money, credibility, and resulting in a negative customer experience.

4. Negative Space

In large discount retailers and super markets, you will see products jammed in and stacked as high as possible. This signals to the consumer that the products are of a low value. In a majority of retail environments, we want to increase the value proposition of our products using VM. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use Negative Space. Negative Space is the use of gaps, or space between products. This is a clever technique that draws a shopper’s eyes to the individual products allowing the shopper to browse without working so hard while creating more interest in the shopper’s mind. Negative Space also signals to the consumer that the products are important enough to command such a generous use of space. This is where the perceived value of a product is enhanced. This technique in your layout will enhance your overall branding, and will be noticeable from the exterior of the store as consumers look in through the entrance. It can also be used in window displays.

5. Clean All Day, Every Day

This is my favourite as it is so so important. No matter how much a consumer is paying for an individual product, if it is not clean then it is not attractive to buy. The retail environment out there is ultra-competitive, so if a store is not clean and tidy, then the consumer will simply go somewhere else. Cleanliness underpins all of your VM. You may have the latest technology, the biggest screens, the flashiest lights, or the most on trend animation, but if your window and shelves are dusty, sticky, grimy, or dirty in anyway then your whole VM is undermined. My golden rules are that we clean at the beginning and end of every day, and then throughout the day constantly. Other than education and product knowledge, re-stocking the shelves and cleaning is the number one task that we all need to commit to when we have down time in-store. It is critical that everyone in the store team is contributing to this too, and that there are no exemptions. It is a team game with sales to be lost if someone is excusing themselves from cleaning. Keeping your store and products clean can be made harder if your store has an Open-Door Policy (ie. Your front doors are left wide open during trading hours). This is always a great best practice as it invites customers into your space (take that as an extra free tip!) but it will encourage dust to accumulate quicker so be aware of this in regard to directing your team to clean.

Observations of a Frustration

In the world of industrial design the process of forming an idea for a possible new product always starts at the same place – The problem. Every new product (defined as the “solution”) must have a well-defined problem to solve, and the solution must be a unique one. In designing the new solution a designer must go through a process, and one of the key elements of the process is to observe the failings of current solutions available to the user.  It is amazing how much can be gained through the power of observation. Observing the user through a re-occurring irritation or frustration can tell us a lot about how to find the right solution.

In a customer service environment, we need the experience of our customers to be unique, memorable, and enjoyable. We spend considerable resources on analytical tools, our CRM systems, and survey mechanisms. They all have their place with many insights being given. However, I have recently been spending time with a design business and watching their process has been fascinating. They do not get straight onto their CAD System (design software), or go straight to the workshop. They get in front of the user, but they don’t start pounding them with questions. They take a comfortable seat out of the way and they observe. Then they get involved themselves – they get into the shoes of the user. Once they have done this, they once again take a seat out of sight and observe once more. They do this for as long as it takes. It could be an hour, a day, a week, a few weeks. Whatever the time, they are looking for that key area of the experience that causes the user frustration. For the retailer, this relates to the points of frustration for the customer within the customer journey – on or off-line.

Focusing on the customer, is more than asking your staff to drop tasks to approach someone when entering the store. It is to strategically take the time out to understand where your customer experience has friction. Where are the pain points in regard to servicing customers? In terms of layout, we may observe bottle necks. In terms of e-commerce, it may be the extra click that is not necessary. Whatever your form of retail, it is critical to track the customer experience visually in real time, and to experience it yourself.

Observing customer frustration can be done for busy times of the day, week, or year. It can be done for the slower times when skeleton staff are on. You could observe customer frustration at the changeroom, POS, or even within the shopping centre your business resides – the customer’s frustration may be that they are not able to find your store! There are multiple areas to observe, and there are multiple experiences to understand. Once there is a clear understanding of the problem to be solved, it is only then that we are in a position to work on a solution. Like a good designer be sure to start by being present and seeing things for yourself, and understand the customer frustration before hitting the workshop! When I was the manager of a large flagship, I would often set my team up during busy periods and float through the store. On occasion, I would take a seat next to the plant boxes out of the way. I became invisible for ten minutes, and would watch the whole process as customers entered all the way through to checking out. It was some of the best time I ever spent as it gave me insight into customer frustrations, as well as frustrations my team were suffering from, and where our internal processes may be falling down. In our world of retail, utilising such time wisely will save huge sums of resource. The retail industry is moving at such a high speed, so spending critical time on the wrong solution can be catastrophic.

Invest in being present and observing customer frustrations with your own eyes. By feeling it yourself the motivation for improvements will be stronger and the results for your customers will be ultra-focused and effective.

Starting Out? 5 ways to build a client base using the Freebie Exchange

You may be a school leaver. You may be a cubicle-escapee. You may be starting the very post-trend “side hustle”, or a freelancing venture. Whatever your situation, it’s all very exciting with a large element of fear and anxiety. Recently I heard an interview with a business owner who’s venture is turning over in excess of $60m a year, and another that has over 20 000 users. Independently they both admitted that in the face of these achievements they still had times of doubt, and “weren’t sure if this thing was going to work”. There is no doubt – business is tough, and holds up a mirror to our fears. No matter how well we are doing, there are always dry spells and doubters ready to give their unwelcomed opinions at many-a-turn. So, what about when we are starting out. How do we break through and start gaining traction with no track record? You could use the Freebie Exchange – it will leave you with more than what you think.

The Freebie Exchange

What!?! You want me to give stuff away!?! At the most vulnerable time in my business, with no resources and no income you want me to just hand over my blood, sweat, and tears!?!

Yes. Yes, I do. And, I’ll show you how you will be getting extraordinary value out of the Freebie Exchange, and much much more value than the test clients you will be engaging with.

The key here is that this is an exchange. Every transaction is an exchange. For an exchange to be successful, both parties must gain good value. The value for the consumer in this case is obvious. They will receive a free product (or service) which meets their needs. But what about for you? The value for you is actually multi-tiered. Here are your 5 ways to use the Freebie Exchange to catapult your business forward from the starting blocks:

  1. Pick the right customers. You will pick a limited amount of people which can vary in number depending on the nature of your business, but 10 is a good solid number to use for most small businesses. It is all about the quality of these 10 that is critical. They must fit into the description of your perfect customer. That means they share the same values as you, they have a need that suits your product to the letter, and they are a pleasure to deal with. Please don’t underestimate the value of this last point – servicing the right clientele will heavily influence the profile of your future clientele and it will be a big influencer on your happiness and health within your business down the line.
  2. You will gain feedback which will help you make the product better. These initial customers will need to provide you with key feedback. Consider these people your test bunnies. They will help you smooth out the product design, delivery, effectiveness, and you may end up doing some drastic changes to your product after going through this process. Then you will be ready to launch to the masses with confidence that you have your product spot on.
  3. You will gain research that will help you with your marketing. During the feedback process with these initial customers you will gain insights into the customer expectations, needs, experience, and overall perspective. The insight will be invaluable. There will be certain phrases and comments from these test bunnies that will end up being pure gold. This is where inspiration strikes and game changers appear.
  4. Word of mouth. Yere, yere, all businesses rely on word of mouth. I know this one… Well, the one thing that annoys me about business owners that say they get most of their clients from word of mouth is that they hardly do anything to accelerate the rate of client acquisition through this avenue. Your initial clients are getting the freebie. One of the exchanges is that if they are happy with what they get out of the product, they must tell the world about it. This could be a casual thing, but I highly recommend that you set up a link, or a coupon, or an offer that is easy for the test client to distribute to everyone they know that could benefit from your product. On top of this, be sure to let the test client know the market value of your product, and that they are in line for further freebies based on how many clients you gain through their recommendations.
  5. Re-sell through reciprocation. It is the worst kept secret in small business. Give value and attention to someone (without having a desperate air about your offer!) and they will feel indebted to you. So much so, that when you re-sell to them at the market price, there is a part of them that will buy because they feel that they owe you their loyalty. And, if they have gained good results through using your product, then why shouldn’t they? I have test clients of my own, that to this day are on-going loyal users of my service because we have built a great relationship, and they gain great results from my service. This is the ultimate reward from the Freebie exchange, and speaks volumes of what you’re doing and how you are delivering.

A key addition to this, is that you can discount instead of giving your product away whole. I mean, there is no harm in gaining a few bucks from your test clients… is there? Well, usually there is not, but be very careful to ensure your product is not devalued. A one-off freebie can instill value in a product more than a discount. Either way, it comes back to point number one – pick your test clients carefully. And be sure to communicate your offer and expectations to them clearly and specifically. Once you have agreement, you are on your way to building your empire.

5 Tips to Turn Customer Complaints into Business Assets

Some people can be horrible to deal with. You are trying to be helpful, respectful, and patient but the more you try to appease them the more unpleasant they become. I once had a customer literally shout and chastise me over a staff incident for about an hour until she wore herself out and finally accepted my offer that I would investigate the incident and pass it onto senior management to be dealt with. I can see her face now, and it sends me to an energy draining place that leaves me deflated and beaten up. Have you experienced something like this?

Customer satisfaction is becoming harder and harder and to deliver. The contemporary customer has never been so empowered and informed, while the competitive climate of almost all industries has also elevated. Add in the time poor nature of many clientele, and it is pressure cooker that occasionally boils over and leaves us on the receiving end of some harsh critiques to put it politely. In my experience, this comes with the territory of running a business, no matter what your industry is. There are a few practical ways to turn such negative exchanges into a positive. Here are my top tips:

  1. Diffuse. Anger, irritation, sadness, despair… these are all strong emotions, and no matter how right or wrong you are, there is no talking to someone when they are over-ridden by these feelings. To best deal with this we need to find every bit of empathy we can muster. Seeing through the bile being spat out at you and being patient isn’t always easy, but it is an essential step to turning the situation into a positive one. Diffusing the exchange is key and using the AQUA tool is a good place to start:

A – Acknowledge – it will only elevate the problem if we dismiss the complaint.

Q – Question – showing empathy and using a few questions to get the person talking about facts is already starting to diffuse the emotion and will get the person speaking rationally.

U – Understand – show understanding by using caring body language, lots of eye contact, and simply be the authentic person you are. See yourself as a friend rather than a representative of your business. At the end of the day, you are on the same team.

A – Action – be clear and direct with what is going to happen next. Follow it up personally and instil confidence in the customer by doing what you said you would do.

 

  1. Side-by-Side. A lot of the time the real problem is forgotten and the abuse can start to be directed towards you. This is not good, nor is it productive for the customer. A great way to change the dynamic is to stand or sit next to the customer rather than directly across from them. The attention needs to be directed at the problem, both conversationally and physically. Using your notepad or the product in question, you can start to write and point to the problem and keep referring to it. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the customer is directing their energy at the problem instead of you. In fact, at times it may give you a chance to join in and direct your own emotion at the problem too! All of the sudden, everyone is working on the problem together and collaborating rather than fighting.
  2. Getting the complaint is a good thing. According to the retail professionals at the Australian Retailers Association HQ, Australian businesses lose 13% in sales per year due to customer dis-satisfaction. That is a huge number. Imagine the positive impact on our revenues if we avoided even half of these loses. How can we make an impact on these losses if people keep the problems to themselves and simply do not come back to shop with us? Seriously, what can we do? Absolutely nothing. By that stage, the horse has well and truly bolted. We must have ways of intervening before this and getting the truth from our patrons. Feedback forms, Net Promoter Score Surveys, Suggestion Boxes, Follow-up e-mails/phone calls/text messages are all methods to get this info. There are many many more, but my advice is to use the most personal process available to you. If you deliver a service that runs over an extended time, then be sure to check in as often as you can while being appropriate. Getting the complaint is a huge win. You can do something about it and turn things around.
  3. Better than getting it right in the first place. I have had a few situations as a customer where I have lodged a complaint and the way it was addressed either killed the brand off for me forever (i.e. I never went back), or it turned me into an even bigger follower than I was before. Sounds mad, but every complaint is an opportunity to create some of your best long term customers. As we discussed before, complaints are usually laden with emotion. It is all about how we feel as a valued consumer. When a complaint is received the first thought must be – how do I WOW this person? I want my complainee (is that a word!?!) to feel that they are the most valued person in the world. I want them to think that my brand is full of wonderful caring people that really do care. Now, I know, this is tough, but if you are prepared with tools, processes, and actions ready to go, then it becomes a lot easier to nail. It is also viable, because you have crunched the numbers on what resources you can afford to use over a quarter or year. No matter what, you want these customers to be raving about how special you made them feel when talking to their friends over a coffee or glass of wine.
  4. Be willing to fire clients. Some people are terrible to deal with and always will be. It’s not that they are terrible people, they are just not our sort of people. They don’t get us, and we don’t get them. This is ok. The reason why this is an asset is that we can draw the conclusion that this is now one less person to throw resources into. We can now concentrate on the customers that we love and that love us. I would always rather have 500 diehard fans than 10,000 marginally interested ones. We must sometimes understand that subtraction is better than addition for our client base. When we receive certain complaints, or repeated problems with an individual customer then this is a flag to fire them and move on with serving those that you love.