Saturday, April 18, 2009

Watch What You Say

1:06 pm Saturday, April 18th, phone in my right hand listening to the ring tone. Calling a downtown restaurant known for good lunches in the sleepy city of Jackson where on a Saturday half of downtown shutters the doors before the sun hits it's zenith. They answer...

"Hello, {Restaurant Name}"

"Hi, how late are you open?"

"One o'clock..." (big pause)

"Oh, you just closed?"

(Exasperated) "No, one o'clock AM!"

Geez, sorry for asking...

First impressions go a long way. Unfortunately many first impressions are made by wrong assumptions. The person on the other end of the line assumed that everyone knew they were open at night and therefore assumed that "one o'clock" could only mean "one am".

Imagine if I had called at 12:30 pm. I might have assumed that "one o'clock" meant "in thirty minutes". And they would have lost any chance at my business that night.

Simple little misunderstandings caused by assumptions that lead to lousy first impressions. If you want to make an assumption, assume that every caller is a first time caller to your business and knows little to nothing about you. How would you treat that caller differently?

Exactly! You'd give them more precise and useful information and avoid embarrassing and potentially costly misunderstandings.

Put a little time into your next staff training to evaluate faulty assumptions you might make when you answer the phone. Use this story to illustrate the point. It may be the least expensive best training you'll use this year.


PS Full disclosure: It was my mom who made the call. She almost hung up at hearing "one-o'clock". Although she and her friends are going there tonight, her first impression will be a lasting one, and they're going to have to work really hard to overcome one seemingly innocuous answer and win her over.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What to Change, What to Keep the Same

Johnny's Toys, a fixture of the Cincinnati toy market for decades is dropping out of the toy business. Their flagship store in Covington, KY, just across the river from Cinci is converting the sales floor into more space for birthday parties and events that they host in the back of their store, an area called Otterville. They're keeping their electric train business, but cutting out the toys and baby products.

I had a chance to visit Johnny's a few years ago. Johnny's has been one of few remaining giant independents like us carrying a wide variety of toys, hobby & baby products. In the electric train world Johnny's is legendary. While we have a nice train display, ours is only one fourth the size of theirs. A full 24x8 feet of trains, track, bridges, crossings, landscape and wide-eyed children.

It was awesome!

I just wish the rest of the store had been as exciting.

Talking to a sales rep, together we lamented their getting out of toys. But then he added, "Phil, you've been far more proactive in your business, staying current on products, marketing, etc. I'm not really surprised they're doing this."

Proactive? Staying Current? Aren't those minimums for running a business? I mean, we're not talking advanced retail. Shouldn't every business be staying current? Unfortunately, it is too easy to fall into the trap of believing that what worked before will work again.

The real skill in retailing is figuring out what to keep the same and what to change. Isn't that the real skill in all business?

What do you hold fast, what do you let go? What do you never change, what do you constantly change? Where do you stay old-fashioned, where do you modernize? Principle questions being asked by businesses of all shapes and sizes all across the world.

I have an answer to those questions and I think the answer applies to every type of business.

What do you keep the same? Your Core Values! The principles that guided you when you began your business. The traits that define you and your business. David Freeman calls this your Character Diamond. It is the three to five traits that consistently identify you and guide every decision you make. Because these traits are inherent in both you and your business, they never change. In fact, they should be the rock upon which everything else is built.

What do you change? Everything else!

The key is to know what are your Core Values, to know your Character Diamond. Once you identify these traits, change becomes easy. Just ask yourself if the change you are looking to make is consistent with your Character. If yes, make the change. And make changes, you should.

You need to be current on products and trends, changing to meet the needs of your customer base. You need to know marketing and accounting principles and the changes happening in those worlds so that you perform at your best in both categories. You need to be on top of the best hiring and training practices so that your staff regularly exceeds your customers' changing expectations. Yes, you need to change everything else. But you already know that.

Do you know your Character Diamond? Join me on Wednesday, May 20th at Jackson Coffee Company for the Midtown Morning Breakfast and I'll help you identify the Core Values that are the foundation of your path to greatness. We'll get started at 7:30am with a free continental breakfast and some of the most valuable information you'll learn all year.

And as a bonus, I'll show you how to use your Character Diamond to attract new customers and new business in ways you never imagined.

It will take a little over an hour of your time, but I promise it will be worth every minute.


PS The May 20th event is actually Part 2 of my How Ads Work presentation. I'm doing Part 1 on Wed., April 15th same time same place. Hopefully you'll join me for both.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More on Word of Mouth

It's pretty much a universally accepted truth. Word-of-Mouth is the best form of advertising. And most people add... "and best of all, it's free!"


If you remember from an earlier post, Roy Williams said that word-of-mouth (WOM) comes from 3 things:

  • Over-the-top Design
  • Over-the-top Performance
  • Over-the-top Generosity
These all cost money. You either spent money on the design, on the hiring & training a superior staff, or on the stuff you gave away.

One thing that surprised me was that Roy didn't mention the WOM you can get from Over-the-top Advertising. Last August I ran a radio ad that said:

I couldn't believe it. they were taking customers into the men's bathroom. Yes, my staff was taking men and women young and old into our men's bathroom. And they were coming out laughing and giggling. Oh yeah, and buying, too. I guess when you have a product this cool you just have to show it of whenever and wherever you can. The men's bathroom... gotta love it. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We're here to make you smile. (Listen to the ad)

The ad aired for one month and hasn't been on the airwaves since. But when it first came out the response was incredible. One local DJ discussed it on the air with the local newspaper rep, wondering just what the product might be. Everywhere I went someone asked what was in the men's bathroom. People even came up to my wife asking about the ad. And earlier today - seven months after the ad was off the air - we had a customer ask about what was in the men's bathroom. She said she and her family had discussed it over Christmas speculating on what the product might be. She was wrong, but delighted, because she liked what it was well enough to buy one.

Yes, you can create WOM with your ads. Here's another example I just love.

One of the sponsors of Greg O'Conner's "The Nooner" sports talk show is a store called Bras That Fit. Yes, a store that sells bras to women is a sponsor of a daily sports talk show primarily listened to by men. Some old-school marketers are rolling in their graves. Those who lived (and died) by the mantra that you have to reach the right people must think this store owner is out of her mind. You can't sell bras on a men's sports talk show. Or can you?

Her message is quite simple...

"Hey guys, are you tired of hearing your wife complain about her bra? Send her to Bras That Fit..."

So let me ask you a question. Which would be more effective, a woman hearing a radio ad or a woman complaining about her bra, to which her husband replies, "Hey, why don't you go to this store I heard about on Greenwood?"

Reaching the Right People is just one of the myths I'm going to bust at an upcoming workshop on How Ads Work. Part 1 takes place Wednesday, April 15th at 7:30am at Jackson Coffee Co., with Part 2 on May 20th. Best of all, it's absolutely free!

And while you're there, I'll teach you how to design ads that get people talking about your business. Think of this as my Over-the-top Generosity to the business community. Spread the word and I'll see you there.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Flowers For My Lady

Another man gave flowers to my wife. Should I be angry? Jealous? Should I hunt him down? Threaten him?

I wanted to send him a thank you note.

The perp who gave my wife flowers runs the body shop across the street. Al Mackey of Mackey's Body Shop. And no, he's not a perp. He's a smart businessman. He knows something about customer service.

Body shop work is not high on the list of things on which we want to spend our money. No one thinks to themselves, "Wow, maybe Thursday I'll go body shop shopping." Nope, a trip to the body shop means something or someone caused a dent or scratch in your car and you've got to shell out money to get it fixed or make a claim on your insurance which means you'll still be paying for it over the next three years in higher premiums.

Al knows this. Al knows that no one is really happy to see him, especially when the bill is due. And he knows that a little kindness and a little TLC goes a long way in easing the pain. My wife handed him a check for $2350 and he handed her a bouquet of flowers. Guess what she was talking about all day?

For the price of a bouquet of flowers, a mere pittance in a $2000 plus transaction, Al bought my wife's loyalty, or at least a huge chunk of word-of-mouth and positive feelings.

And for that I applaud him as a master of Customer Service and Marketing. He identified a way to win a customer's heart in an uncomfortable transaction and earn some word-of-mouth advertising on the side.

Thanks Al! It's a great lesson for every business. Make the most uncomfortable transactions pleasantly memorable. Do that and I can guarantee it will get people talking about you.

By the way, did anyone notice how Customer Service and Marketing are so closely linked? Me, too.