Friday, November 30, 2012

Non-Mystery Shoppers (Group Therapy)

I was asked recently for my take on the Mystery Shopper program - hiring anonymous people to be shoppers in stores and rate those stores on their appearance, helpfulness, and all other aspects of retail.

The idea behind these is that often what a shopkeeper thinks is great customer service is not perceived that way by the customer. This is true. As Roy H. Williams has often said, it is hard to read the label from inside the bottle. It is hard for a shopkeeper to be objective about the customer service his shop offers.

What I see as inherently tough about the Mystery Shopper program is getting the buy-in from the retailer.

Because of the aforementioned problem, many of the retailers who could benefit from a Mystery Shopper program won't partake because they don't believe anything is wrong. Denial is a river in Egypt.

Other retailers, those not on the river, will be afraid to partake because they don't want to be judged. We know we have faults. We don't need someone else to expose them. Those retailers fear the results more than they fear the lost customers from not improving.

Still other retailers will sign up, be shopped, and then explain away all the criticism. We were short-handed. They got our newest employee who was still in training. The store got really swamped. The shopper didn't know what she was doing. The shopper wasn't fair. No one does it that way...

So although a Mystery Shopper program might have value, at the end of the day, few retailers will take advantage of that value and fewer still will make significant changes.

What if there was another way?


I am working on a different way for local independent retailers to help improve customer service - Group Therapy.

The concept is simple... A group of other shop owners goes together into a local business who has signed up for this critique. Using a simple checklist worksheet, the group of owners critiques the store from the front door on. For instance, they may be instructed to...

Look at the front door. What catches your eye? Are the hours clearly posted? Does the front door/window/signage tell the potential customer what to expect on the inside?

Walk through the door. Note the odors. Note the lighting. Is it appropriate for the type of store? Note what catches the eye first. How deep can you see into the store?

Walk around the store. How easy is it to navigate? How good is the signage? How easy is it to find an employee if you have a question? How logical is the arrangement? How tidy are the displays? How enticing are the displays?

By having a group of peers doing this, they will be better able to communicate any criticism in a way the business owner will be more receptive to hearing. And by knowing that the business owner will get his turn to critique, he will be less defensive and more open to discuss ways to improve the overall shopping experience.

What do you think? Would you allow your store to be critiqued by a group of your peers? Would you trust what they have to say more or less than a Mystery Shopper? If you were given the opportunity to critique, would you be able to be constructive? Would it be helpful if there was a checklist of things customers might notice that you could use to do your own self-evaluation?

I plan to have the checklist finished by the end of January. I will let you know when it is posted.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS If you don't want to wait until the end of January, I can tell you right now that the checklist would follow many of the same concepts or thoughts found in my free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW. You can use that as a way to see where you can make improvements right away.

PPS Some of you may have already noticed the other benefits of Group Therapy. Think of the camaraderie that will be built by a group of shop owners working together like this. It will become the start of a great referral program better than any networking event might offer. Plus, you will all become invested in each other's success.

PPPS Thanks, Travis, for asking the question about Mystery Shopper programs. It helped me clarify my own thoughts and was just the push I needed to pursue this idea.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Get in the Paper or On the Air

Rarely does a month go by that I don't have my store mentioned in the local newspaper, on local radio, or local TV. Heck, rarely does a week go by, especially during the holidays, that I don't get some complimentary coverage for something we are doing.

I don't think it is because I am more newsworthy than anyone else. I think it is because I do a few things most retailers don't.

Here are my top three secrets for getting into your local media.

  1. Make friends with the reporters
  2. Help them out for free
  3. Show them why/how what you're doing is newsworthy to everyone else

Make Friends

You can find local reporters at business meetings, at city council meetings, or simply by reading the bylines of your local paper. Those of you who still have print papers will find that those reporters list their email with every story.

Make it a point to attend those meetings and sit next to the reporters. Ask them questions. Find out their take and their opinion on the topics at hand. Listen. Strike up conversations every single time you see them, whether at a meeting or not. Call them by their first name. Comment positively on things they have written.

When you become their friend, they will learn to trust you as an easy source for information when they are on a tight deadline.

Help Them Out

Read all of what they write. Send them an email with your thoughts. If you agree with them, tell them so. If you don't agree with them, give them facts and sources for information why you might politely disagree. In fact, help them out. Send them information related to articles they have already written - information that has nothing to do with your business. Send them links to articles you have read and liked. Give them content totally unrelated to your store but in the same vein as what they typically report.

Most importantly, expect nothing in return.

If you think of the reporter as a friend, you are just trying to help your friend do a better job. Do this enough and they will help you in return when the time is right.

Show Why/How it is Newsworthy

The editor gets the final say as to what stories get run. The number one thing an editor wants to know is, why is this important to my readers? If the answer to that is because it will make you money, they will tell you to buy an ad. If it is only important to you and your business and your customers, it isn't newsworthy. You have to find the angle that makes it newsworthy to everyone.

When you finally get around to sending your press releases to all your friends in the media, you need to find that angle or your friends won't get it past the editor.

I had a chance to interview a local newspaper editor a few years ago about this topic. She gave a classic example. Having the president of Rotary International coming to your next Rotary Club meeting is only important to you. Having five hundred people drive from up to four hours away and stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants to hear him speak is newsworthy to everyone.

Find the slant in your story that is newsworthy to everyone including people who would never be a customer of yours. That is the story to tell. (If you don't have one, tweak your event until you do have a newsworthy angle.)

Yes, all of this takes time. That time, however, pays off quite well. You are in this for the long run, aren't you?

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It might seem like I am only talking about newspapers (print & online). The same applies to bloggers - flattery and complimenting information gets you far. The same applies to TV and radio - find out who the program directors and news directors are. They are your ticket in. The same works with networking - get to know the movers and shakers without expecting anything in return. Take the time. It is well worth your investment.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Take a Stand For Something

Want to get some FREE publicity? Take a stand for something. Draw your line in the sand and make it known on which side you stand. The press loves stories like that.

Want to get some Word-of-Mouth publicity? Take a stand for something. Be adamant about what you will, and sometimes more importantly, what you won't do. Customers love to share that kind of information.

Want to grow your brand faster and get better known? Take a stand for something. Share your strong point of view with the world, knowing that some will hate it and some will love it, and soon you will be known for it.

I know what you're thinking right now. The weasel or lizard in your brain is saying, but won't I alienate some of my customers? 

Yes, you will. The stronger your stand, the more you will alienate part of the potential customer base. But the same is true of those you ignite. The more powerful your stance, the more you fan the flames of passion in those who share your point of view, and the more loyal they become.

I know another thing you're thinking right now. I can't afford to anger any customers. I need them all.

Hate to burst your bubble but you don't have them all. At best you have one in ten. More likely you have one in twenty - five percent of your market. Nineteen people have decided not to shop with you. Why? Either because they already know you or they don't already know you. Those are the only two reasons. Well, there is a third reason, kinda. They think they know you.

When you take a stand you eliminate all doubt as to who you are. You may convert a few people who thought they knew you. More likely, though, you'll get a better chance at converting the large percentage of customers who don't know you.

How? Through the media, through word-of-mouth, through building a reputation.

Don't be wishy washy. Be yourself, be yourself openly, be yourself all the way. Pretty soon you will own your corner of the market.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Don't know really who you are (in a business sense)? Follow the directions on this worksheet. It will help.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Perception or Reality?

Another toy store owner was interviewed recently for a local news story on shopping local. The interview was great. The store looked great. The troubling part was a simple comment made by the anchor after the interview was done.

She said, "The mom and pop stores, sometimes they don't have flexible return policies should something not work out..."


Or is it?

Perception is reality for most people. If a news anchor feels that this is true enough to actually say it on the air, then enough people must think this is true. The general perception, therefore, is that mom & pop stores have strict, non-flexible return policies.

First, if you do have a strict return policy, go read this blog I posted about why that is a bad idea.

Second, if you have a liberal and customer-friendly return policy (and you should), make sure you have it posted prominently. Don't leave it up to chance or your customers might think and believe otherwise.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I also cover Return Policies in the free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Coolest Store in Town

I was walking out of the grocery store a couple nights ago and caught my reflection in the window. I had on my Toy House jacket and saw our distinctive logo staring back. At that moment it dawned on me.

I own the coolest store in Jackson.

Oh sure, there may be a few people who would argue that point. But there would be just as many who would argue for us. Of course, we have some distinct advantages.

First, we sell toys. Second, we've been in business a long time so there is a lot of nostalgia built up. Third, we have a lot of inclusive fun here. And fourth, we're fairly unique to the toy industry. There just aren't a lot of stores quite like us around the country.

But that got me thinking...

Are you the coolest store in your town?
Are you even in the discussion?
What can you do if you don't have toys or time on your side?

There is an easy way to get into the discussion. Treat your customers better than even they expect to be treated. That's cool enough to get you a seat at the table. Then do some truly unique things that no one else has even considered doing. You'll be the coolest store in your town to everyone who knows you.

Best of all, they'll tell everyone else.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Want some ideas on how to do the unexpected? Download my free eBook Customer Service: From Weak to WOW.

PPS Want more ideas? Sign up for the 2-day Shareworthy Customer Service class I'm helping teach at Wizard Academy. You'll know about how to exceed customer expectations because Tim Miles and I are going to exceed yours.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fair and Square

My wife is frustrated (and thankfully, it is not my fault). She used to love going to JC Penney. Well, love might be a strong word for someone who finds shopping a chore. But now she finds that JCP rarely makes it on her list. And she is not alone. JC Penney just reported that same-store sales fell a whopping 26.1%!

Many are blaming their new Fair and Square pricing policy.

My wife is one of them.

She says it is neither Fair nor Square. As she pointed out to me last night, our prices are Fair and Square. They are clearly marked on every package. There are no misleading header cards on the racks. There are no surprises at the register. There are no gimmicks, exclusions, mark-it-up-to-mark-it-down contrived sales. There are no hidden fees, add-ons, hoops or loopholes. The price you see is the price you pay.

That is what JC Penney promised us when they launched this new pricing policy at the beginning of the year. The problem isn't in the policy. The problem is they failed to deliver what they promised.

Many pundits will wrongly claim that customers want sales and deals and JCP's failure is because they aren't offering enough deals. I will argue that their failure is because they didn't actually make their prices Fair and Square. Every time my wife went in, the prices were not clearly marked, some items had no price at all!  The header cards rarely matched the price on the product and even less the price at the register. The prices seemed to fluctuate faster than the stock market.

Before you listen to the pundits try to tell you that customers only want sales and discounts, understand that many retailers are quite successful offering pricing that is fair, clearly marked, and not jumping all over the place. JC Penney promised us that back in January. Empty promises lead to empty stores.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There is a Fair and Square pricing policy that keeps your customers happy and your margins strong enough to be profitable. Download the free eBook Pricing for Profit here.