Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top Viewed Blog Posts 2012

Everyone loves Top Ten Lists.

Here is my list of my Top Ten Most Viewed Blog Posts from 2012

1. Two Thing You Can Correct Right Now - Two simple things you can do that won't cost you an arm and a leg, but will make the next year better than the previous year.

2. Lessons From MLK Quotes - Five of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and how they apply to independent retailers.

3. Two Days to Take Your Customer Service to Shareworthy Levels - Announcing a class I am teaching alongside Tim Miles at Wizard Academy on January 29-30. (You really should go!)

4. What to Do About Showrooming - We all face the problem of customers walking in with smart phones, checking out our product, asking our advice, getting our knowledge, scanning the UPC codes and buying it online. You might be surprised at my answer to this ever-growing problem.

5. This Will Be a Successful Year If... - A different, better approach to the dreaded New Year's Resolution (Appropriate that this would make today's list. By the way - I accomplished three out of four!)

6. Is JC Penney Making a Mistake? - They announced their new pricing policy at the beginning of last year. I had my opinions on whether it could work or not. Go see if I was right.

7. The Goldilocks Effect - I was egged on by a friend in another online group to discuss this inventory management topic about how to stock and merchandise your store to fit the needs of your customer base better. Apparently other people liked the topic, too.

8. Tell Me About a Time When... - The absolute best interview questions you should be asking!

9. Shopping Local Benefit Salt Lake City - Mostly a link to a great article about a study done in Salt Lake City. Either I have a lot of fans in Salt Lake City or people love to read more articles about the positive impact of shopping local. (You should forward the article to everyone you know in your local and county government economic development positions.)

10. Fair and Square - Another post about the JC Penney pricing fiasco. Their idea was right. Their implementation was wrong, wrong, wrong. Don't look at their failure as a policy problem, only an implementation problem.

Definitely an interesting mix of posts, don't you think? Covers a wide gamut from Hiring to Customer Service to Inventory Management to Shop Local to Pricing to Leadership.

Thank you to all who are following publicly, lurking quietly, or just plain stumbling onto this blog by accident. If there are topics you would like me to write about more in 2013, please let me know. I get the feeling the indie retail movement is on the cusp of some serious positive growth over the next few years.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One of the reasons I believe we'll see more people Shop Local, Shop Independent is because of a sense of community that they feel at your stores. If you have not yet read the book Pendulum, you need to go get it today. "Sense of Community" will be a driving force for the next decade at least. You should be playing up that aspect of your business.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Trust is Broken

Does it frost you that people shopping online are significantly more willing to trust an anonymous customer "review" than what your well-trained sales staff might say about a particular product?

According to Nielsen, although 92% of people surveyed will trust word-of-mouth from friends and relatives, online reviews are close behind at 70%. No form of advertising from the store could even break 50%.

Yet, according to research, 10% of all online reviews are fake.

Still the customer is more willing to trust anonymous customers online than they will trust the store. And it is easy to see why.  Just look at this picture.

This was the sign outside of an Eddie Bauer store at Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor. We all know "Exclusions Apply". In fact, if the sign hadn't said that at the bottom, we all would have still thought it anyway because exclusions always seem to apply. All the claims made by stores these days are outrageous to get your attention and then filled with so many exclusions and fine print disclaimers that the original deal isn't any deal at all. Heck, every time a radio ad comes on with some special offer, almost half of the ad is filled with some guy speaking the legalese terms and conditions so fast you couldn't understand them anyway.

Even if you haven't personally done this in your store, you are the benefactor of a culture where exclusions always apply and every deal is far less than it is advertised. Nothing is what it seems and there is always some loophole hidden somewhere. In other words, you have to reap what a whole bunch of sloppy, lazy marketers have sown.

There is a way to counter this. There is a way to build back the trust that has been broken for so long.

Tell the truth.

If there is a disclaimer, don't make the claim. If there is an exception, tell it right up front.  Imagine how much more believable and how much more excitement that same sign might have generated if it said...

"150 different items marked 40% off original price!"  

The original way, you walked in already defeated, just knowing the item you wanted would be part of the exclusion. This new way you walked in with excitement wondering which one of the 150 items would be something you wanted. Two signs that basically say the same thing. One creates disillusionment, one creates excitement. Why do so many stores get it wrong? Sloppy, lazy marketers. Don't be one.

The formula is simple... No disclaimer, no exclusions = truth and honesty = more believable = more trustworthy = more excitement = more sales.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This is just the first measure toward building trust. Be truthful and honest in your advertising and marketing. Then teach your sales staff to be truthful and honest in their presentations. You'll stand out in the crowd of exclusions and disclaimers.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Asking the Right Question

Seth Godin writes one of my favorite blogs. His post for today was so short and sweet and thought-provoking that I want to share it with you...

Question the question
The best creative solutions don't come from finding good answers to the questions that are presented.
They come from inventing new questions.
-Seth Godin

Here are my thoughts...

The question most retailers ask is...

How can I get more traffic, more customers, more sales?

Here is a new question worth considering...

How can I create an experience so incredible that people want to come back time and again and bring their friends with them?

Here is another question...

What did I not do to the best of my ability last year?

Here is yet one more question...

How can I make the customer experience not only better, but more consistently better?

I bet if you answer any one of those last three questions, you'll find the answer to the first question.

Merry Christmas!
-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Yes, I ask those questions every year for my business. Yes, I will be giving you the answers at the class Tim Miles and I are teaching at Wizard Academy January 29-30. Yes, you will learn enough to make a huge difference in your business - a double-digit difference if history is any indicator.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sometimes You Have to Tear it Down

They are tearing down the hotel across the street. We have a front-row seat for the destruction as a crane takes it down piece by piece.

This is not the first hotel to be torn down in that general vicinity. I watched the previous one be exploded and dropped to the ground. Yes, two large hotels have been built, abandoned, and torn down in the same area in my life.

I guess this blog could be about location, location, location. But you already know that story.

The lesson that struck me driving past this building this morning was how progress and change often require some deconstruction first before you can construct something new.

Too often, we feel like the only approach to growth is to tweak around the edges. Radical changes are dangerous, risky. So we make minor changes, which have minor effects. But if you need major things to happen in your business, you need to make major changes. Or as Thomas Jefferson put it...

"If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done."

That might mean tearing something down. You can tear things down physically such as a wall or a display or an office or a bathroom to make a better version. You can also tear things down metaphorically such as your  return policy, your dress code, your product selection, or your advertising.

The key is to remember that the tearing down, while messy, is necessary for progress.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS One of the biggest deconstruction/reconstruction projects can be your staff. Having the right people in the right jobs is the most important thing you can do for your business. If that means firing key people and starting over, do it! Yes, it will be messy in the short term, but the reconstruction will be better than the original.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Preferred Way

I hire a lot of new people for the Christmas season. Then I turn much of their training over to the current staff.  Every now and then we run into a problem. One staff person teaches the newbie one way, another teaches them a completely different way to do the same exact thing.

The poor newcomer isn't sure which way to turn. Do it the way she was taught or the way she was being told to do it at that instant?

In our mid-season evaluation one of my newbies asked me what to do when that situation arises.

My answer surprised her, see if it surprises you. I told her...

Do it the way the other employee is telling you right at that moment - even if it is different than how you have been taught.

The issue here is that too many times we look at policies and procedures as black & white. Do it this one way, every other way is wrong. Yet, many times there are multiple right ways to do something. For instance, you can count back change from a cash sale a number of different ways. One way is better than others, but the others still work.

Do it the way you were just told is the only correct answer because of one thing and one thing only... The customer is standing right in front of you.

If someone who seems to have authority tells a new employee how to do it, you do it that way for the sake of transferring confidence to the customer. It may not be my preferred way, but if I have trained my staff well enough, it is still an acceptable way, which for the moment is good enough. The customer is happy, confident and still trusts us.

I then told her that the next time something like that happens, come tell me which two methods you have been taught. I'll tell you which is my preferred method and why.

Two benefits from doing this... First, they rarely ever do it any way other than the preferred way after that. Second, when they are unsure of how to do something they can more often fake their way through it, keeping the customer's confidence in the process, until they find out how to do it better.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS It makes evaluations easier, too. If you lead off with everything they've done wrong, it makes them defensive. Instead tell them they did it right, but there is a better way to do it, and you will see them grow faster and stronger in skills and confidence.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How Late Are You Open?

This is our number one request from phone callers.

How late are you open?

Most people don't know our hours in the first place. Plus, they expect that we will have longer hours for the holidays.

How late are you open?

It is an easy question to answer when you are open and already answering the phone. But what about when you are not?

We have extended hours for the holidays so we post our hours on a big banner we hang on the side of the building. Easy to read for anyone who drives by.

We also have an answering machine. A simple, cheap, $20 answering machine that I bought at Radio Shack. It gets the job done for people who call when we are not open. Surprisingly, many indie retailers in my town do not have an answering machine.

Last night my wife called a number of stores in our downtown just to get their hours. None of them had an answering machine.

If she doesn't know your hours, she cannot plan you into her shopping trips.

Even if your hours haven't changed for decades, do not assume that every customer knows them.  Unless you are open 24/7, make sure you give your potential customers every opportunity to find out when you are open.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I have a complex phone system, five lines, sixteen phones, etc. There are plenty of expensive phone answering systems out there that include phone trees and customized messages. Since I'm not a fan of phone trees and I don't have the budget for those systems, the $20 cheap-o answering machine accomplishes my main goal of telling people our hours without breaking the bank. You cannot afford to NOT have one.

PPS Wanna know how I made our message also consistent with our Character Diamond? Call us after 9pm Eastern Time (or before 9:30am Eastern time) (517) 787-4500. I promise it will make you smile.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Head Cheerleader (re-posted from Dec, 2010)

(This was first posted Monday, December 20, 2010, but worth repeating)

(Nine) shopping days until Christmas. In the home stretch. You're tired, run down and stressed, just counting the days. Your friends and family are encouraging you to "Hang in there, it's almost over." 

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you need to do more than just hang in there.

Of the hundreds (thousands) of customers who come through your door this week, many are entering your store for the first time.

Now is the time to WOW them so they become lifelong customers.

So no matter how tired you and your staff are feeling, no matter how many hours you've worked, how many sleepless nights you've had fretting about the business, you have to find that reserve inside you that makes this week the most special experience your customers have ever had!

And you need to fire up the staff, too. Your new role for the next 5 days is Head Cheerleader. Here are three things you can do to keep your staff going strong until the end.

  1. Praise them. Tell them specific things you have seen them do right in the last few days. Share their praise with everyone. 
  2. Cater lunch. Not just some sandwiches and chips but a real sit-down meal with silverware.
  3. Hire a masseuse. Give the staff 20-minute breaks to get table massages.

These next few days are not only critical to your holiday sales, they are critical to your future because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Get your store ready, get your staff ready and get busy!

You can do it. Rah rah rah, Sis boom bah!! I'm pulling for you!

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Regardless of whether your business is doing well or not, you need to adopt the attitude right now that this is the best Christmas ever. Fake it until you make it? Sure! The better your attitude now, the better your results later.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Handling Multiple Customers at Once

This is the time of year when the customers outnumber the staff. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because extra traffic means extra sales. Bad because you cannot give each customer the time they need to maximize those extra sales and you often lose a customer while you're working with another customer.

Years ago I read a tip in a book for how to handle multiple customers at once. I hated the book and have long ago forgotten the title and author, but that one tip has remained with me.

Understand that just like multi-tasking where you actually do not do two things at once, you cannot (or should not) try to sell two people at once -unless they want the same product for the same reasons. So if you have two customers who need help, an easy way to handle that is to ask the first customer permission to greet the second customer.

"Excuse me, but would you mind if I go greet that other customer and let them know that I will help them after we are done here?"

Your first customer will agree, which accomplishes two things. First, they have given you permission to talk to the other customer. Second, they have given implicit acknowledgment that they will stay until you return.

When you get to the second customer, say...

"Hello, thanks for coming in. My name is Phil. I am working with another customer at the moment. As soon as I am done, I will be right over to help you. Is that okay?"

That last question is the kicker. When customer #2 says yes, they have now given you explicit permission to go finish up with customer #1 and also acknowledged that they will stay until you are back. Sometimes, however, they will say no because they have a simple request that only takes a second or they are in a big rush. If that is the case and you believe you should serve them ahead of the first customer, simply ask their permission to go back to customer #1 to explain.

When you ask your customer's permission, you get them to commit to getting your assistance. Everyone gets helped and everyone leaves the store happy. Win-Win.

Phil Wrzesinski

PS Tips like these are easy. Setting up a culture where shareworthy customer service happens every day all the time takes a little bit more work. The payoffs for that work, however, will show up in big ways on your bottom line. Want to learn how to set up the right culture and the right systems for delighting customers enough that they brag about it to others? Come to Austin, Texas in late January.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Measuring People

"What gets measured gets done." Frances Schagen

This is not a post about Financials. You can read more about financials here.

This is not a post about Inventory or Open-to-Buy. You can read more about those topics here.

Numbers are important. Very. Important. But at the end of the day it is people who create those numbers. If you are measuring your numbers, you also need to be measuring your people. Here are some ways to measure your greatest assets.


Do you regularly observe your staff? Do you stand back and watch them interact with customers? Without their knowledge that you are watching? One way to do that is rearrange a display within earshot but not directly facing the employee. Get busy with your work. But keep an open ear for the conversations they have with customers. Another way is to grab a clipboard and start counting something.

Seem sneaky? Sure. Here is what makes it worthwhile... When you catch them doing something well and praise them immediately after it happens, two majorly good things happen:

  1. You reinforce that behavior and get it far more often.
  2. You make them more comfortable having you on the floor with them.


Have you ever sat down with an employee and interviewed them again? You would be amazed at the different answers they will give you than when you first interviewed them for a job, especially when you ask such questions like, "tell me a time when you went above and beyond the required work just to help a customer out."

We hire a lot of seasonal staff that I have to train in a short window of time. I make it a point to meet with them from time to time and let them talk. I also make it a point to interview them at the end of the season. The Exit Interview can be a valuable tool because people on the way out the door are often more willing to share the negatives.


Do you set goals? Number of interactions they should make per hour? Sales goals per day? or even a checklist of daily duties? Goals are great, but often goal-setters forget two very important elements.

After you set a goal you need to come up with tasks to meet that goal. Tasks are simply the activities used to reach the goal. For instance, if my goal is to sell 25 yo-yos by the end of the day, my task is to play with yo-yos all day until I can learn three new tricks, and also to teach at least half of the kids who come through the door how to do one trick on a yo-yo.

At the end of the day you have to be accountable to the goal. Did you reach it? Yes? Good job. No? Why not? What can you do differently next time?

For goals to be successful, you need to assign tasks and evaluate progress.

Measure your people and your numbers will be even more fun to measure.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS You might be asking yourself when will you find time to do all this measuring. Here is sometimes the hardest lesson to learn. The more often you measure, the more time you will have because your employee productivity will skyrocket.

PPS Want to learn new and better ways to measure your people? Join Tim Miles and me at Wizard Academy for our two-day workshop on Shareworthy Customer Service.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Snapshots in Time

One thing that used to drive me crazy in retail was when we had just finished with a huge rush of customers, finally got a moment to breathe, and at that exact moment my father would walk out, see us standing around and yell at us to get busy since we were obviously loafing.

Had he walked out two minutes earlier, he would have seen poetry in motion as the staff expertly handled all the customers, the giftwrapping, the phone calls, and the interruptions with grace and ease. But no, he caught us two minutes later taking a deep breath.

I made a pledge that when I was boss I would never make snap judgments on the snapshot in time.

One brush stroke does not make a masterpiece painting. One snapshot does not make a complete album.

Let's play a little math game (feel free to skip the next paragraph if you're not up to math today).

Yesterday we had a decent day serving 256 customers. I had 97 employee hours scheduled which breaks down to 2.6 customers per hour per employee.  The average actual interaction with a customer is around ten minutes of their time in the store, or 26 minutes out of each hour.  That means each employee had more non-interactive time than interactive time. The likelihood of me walking out of my office and catching them not engaged with a customer was greater than catching them engaged.

(Okay, math over)

The key for me is to walk out enough to catch them when they are engaged and observe how they handle that engagement.

There are ebbs and flows of customers in any retail business. If all you ever do is catch your employees goofing off, before you yell at them, realize that the real problem might be that you aren't leaving your office enough.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I reminded one of my new hires today that we are not just creating sales today, we are creating sales a generation from now when the kids in the store today have kids of their own.  Kinda changes the engagement when think like that, don't you think?

PPS Remember also that there is a fine line between goofing off and having fun. Since Having Fun is part of our Character Diamond, it is almost impossible for me to catch them goofing off. Such is life in a toy store:-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Why You Should Go to Austin, Part 2

Yesterday I told you my three answers to Wizard Academy Vice Chancellor Michele Miller's questions about the Shareworthy Customer Service class I am teaching with Tim Miles January 29-30.

Here are Tim's answers...

Michele: How did you two come up with the idea of teaching this class?
Tim: About a year ago, two things happened in the same week.

One – one of my clients said to me, “Tim, I’m a liar.” He was becoming aware that his employees weren’t living up the promises we were making in his ad campaign. Since then, his customer service scores (measured by the same Net Promoter Score system used by Amazon, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and countless others) have risen to twenty points higher than Apple’s.

Two – Best Buy made my mom cry. Well, the CEO didn’t make her cry, but one of their Geek Squad members was so rude and condescending to my 76-year-old-non-cryer mother that I couldn’t sit idly by. I did what lots of people do: I took to the Internet and blogged about it to a couple thousand people, and I put it on all my social media outlets. Now, Best Buy’s stock is tanking. Is Trish the reason? Not specifically, but it got me wondering if something systemic was causing companies like Best Buy to miss the proverbial boat.

Michele: We see lots of workshops on creating good customer service. Your course description looks intriguing – what is one thing that sets this course apart from others out there?
Tim: Is our course different? I think so.

For one thing, it’s not just about “being nicer to people,” but rather it’s about building a system that measures and rewards customer delight. It’s about budgeting for it. It’s about where that budget comes from and how to implement it and how to build a culture of ownership among your employees.

Additionally, we went through hundreds of accounts of delightful customer experiences from the very best companies – large and small – in the world, and we deconstructed what made them great. Turns out there are only fourteen different defining characteristics to customer delight, and you can tune them to suit your business.

Michele: What is the most important thing students will walk away with?
Tim: They’ll have a customized plan to build and implement a program that’s currently working for every one of our clients that began using it this year. They’ll begin to spend less in advertising. They’ll create a culture where employees love coming to work BUT aren’t working longer hours or particularly harder while they’re working. They’ll be the one company in town where the best specialists in their business category WANT to work.

Not a bad way to spend two days, huh? Come join us in Austin.

-Phil Wrzesinski

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why You Should Go to Austin in January

You should go to Austin, Texas at the end of January. Really, you should. It will be more than worth your while.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, January 29th and 30th, I’m teaching a new class about Shareworthy Customer Service at the 21st Century Business School known as Wizard Academy with a fellow named Tim Miles. It’s a magical place in the hill country just southwest of Austin, Texas. This week, Vice Chancellor Michele Miller asked me three questions about the class so she could promote it in the newsletter that goes out to thousands of alumni. Here are my answers. (Tomorrow, I’ll share Tim’s answers.)

Michele: How did you come up with the idea of teaching this class?
Me: Tim asked me:-)

(I believe Tim asked me because Tim reads this blog, follows the work I have been doing to teach multiple aspects of customer service to retail businesses, knows that I know what Wizard Academy is all about, and because Tim's expertise, while far greater than mine, leans more heavily on service-based businesses. Remind me, and I'll ask him when we get there if this is true.)

Michele: We see lots of workshops on creating good customer service. Your course description looks intriguing – what is one thing that sets this course apart from others out there?
Phil: I see two problems with most customer service training programs...

First, there is no standard definition for what is Great Customer Service. Everyone seems to have their own opinion ranging from "slightly better than what my competitors do" at the low end to "WOW-ing my customers beyond their wildest expectations" at the upper end. And most businesses have an unrealistic idea of their own level of customer service.  Without a definition, it is hard to objectively see where you stand. Without a definition it is hard to measure results. Without a definition it is hard to create consistency. What drew me to Tim's teachings and made me want to partner with him is that he and I share the same definition of great customer service - so good, the customer has to share it with others. We both teach from that upper end and show businesses how that level of service is within their grasp once they identify it.

The second problem with most customer service training programs is that they often focus solely on the interaction between employee and customer, creating scripted interactions that eliminate the worst elements of customer service but don't really delight customers in a Shareworthy way. Although employee/customer interaction is one of the most important elements of customer service, it is not the only one. You can improve your employee/customer interactions exponentially and still be undone by a poor website, a confusing policy, a complicated form, or even a dirty restroom. Tim and I both recognize that to reach the pinnacle of customer service, it takes more than just employee/customer interactions, and it takes more than just scripted role plays. We'll address all of those elements and show businesses how to make sure everything is aimed at delighting the customer.

What sets our program apart is that we break down the whole concept of customer service - every single element - into understandable and measurable parts. We help each business create a definition by which success can be measured. Then we teach those attending how to create a culture that reaches that level of success consistently and in every aspect of their business.

Michele: What is the most important thing students will walk away with?
Me: There are so many walk-aways that it would be hard to name just one. The segments I will be teaching include four topics that stand alone on their own merit. Add in what Tim will teach and there will be more walk-aways than most people can fit in their luggage. The cool thing is that much of what the attendees will learn can be implemented right away and will start showing a return right away. Instant ROI!

At the end of the two days, what will really take place is an understanding of this whole new definition of customer service, of where the bar can and should be raised. After that, the businesses will have a tool box full of ways to consistently hit and exceed those standards.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I forgot to add... Not only will you make back your investment many times over, you'll make new friends, eat great food, and have more fun learning than you ever thought possible!