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Are You Listening to Your Customers?

In today’s barrage of advertising, in what seems to be every medium possible, it’s easy to get lost in all the noise and commotion out there.  Today consumers are getting propositioned every time they turn on the TV, the radio, the computer, open a social networking website, visit a store, or even open a magazine.  Heck even friends and family are trying to convince you to make a purchase on something they just bought or saw somewhere. The point here is that consumers are overwhelmed as others tell them what to buy and what they need.

Ever stop to think if your customers were confused by the mixed messages and clutter in the marketplace that you are representing?  If you haven’t, you’re missing something.  Your customers just don’t want to be told what to do or what to buy. They are looking something much deeper than just the latest gadget, consumable good or traditional sales pitch. They are looking for someone to listen to them. Through listening to your customers, mixed with a few carefully crafted questions, you are able to uncover their true needs. Once you have identified what your customers true needs are you can then, and only then, confidently offer a product and or service.  If you take a second to think about it, how do we really know what would work best for a customer unless we’ve taken the time to ask questions, listen to, and understand their responses?

A listening first approach is critical to becoming more successful in sales. I prefer this approach any day to the typical approach on just selling your customers the “flavor of the day”; never once taking the time to ask questions uncovering what’s really important to them.  Once you have listened to your customers, and uncovered their needs you can then position a product or service that they not only like and will use, but one that also adds value to their life. It is this “value” piece of the equation that will reduce product returns and more importantly increase customer loyalty.

I really like the saying, “we were all born with two ears and one mouth and should be using those in that same proportion”, especially in sales. In addition to more success in the sales arena, this approach truly would be helpful in a marriage or any relationship for that matter.  I too am guilty for not listening enough at times in my marriage.  Had I followed my own advice all the time I could have avoided some unpleasant conversations (ok they were arguments) with my spouse, which for the record I did not win *laughs and shakes head*. We all have areas of opportunity we would like to improve, right?

Anyways… As I mentioned before, there is a lot of noise in the marketplace right now in just about every industry. Do everything you can to help your customers make the best choice; start by listening to them.

Jimmy John’s Wins With The Customer Experience

Over the past year or so I have gradually made a shift in my loyalty to local sandwich shop type eateries. I used to frequent Cousins, after all they have the “better bread” right? Well for me just having the “bread” doesn’t create a satisfied or a repeat customer.  For me it takes a few key items (better bread aside) to keep me coming back to your business to spend money, eat, and tell others about you.  Enter Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches. Jimmy John’s has figured out how to not only convert me to become loyal, but create a cult like following of sub sandwich  aficionados that frequent Jimmy Johns restaurants as much as their own kitchens.

I have frequented Jimmy John’s in several states.  In fact, I hold several Foursquare mayorships of Jimmy John’s locations around town where I live and work, so I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the differentiators.  So how does Jimmy John’s do it different from the other guys?  I have this narrowed down to three factors that have become very evident and solidified for me over time. After all I eat there a lot.

First and foremost is speed. Jimmy John’s pride themselves on being fast.  Not just fast but “freaky fast”. This is crystal clear when you enter the restaurant as the sense of urgency of the staff is always very high. The employees work as a team, which allows them to create your sandwich in a prompt manner, many times before the cashier is even able to ring you up. I also like that they call out what they are making for you, after you have ordered. This let’s you know they were listening, and creates less room for errors. Starbucks has also used this approach of calling out what was ordered after the customer placed it.

This is a great way to show your customers that you heard them and their order was important. Important enough to get right the first time. One more thing that Jimmy John’s has going for them that adds to the speed is the simplicity of the menu. Many competitors have added soups, salads, and other menu choices, which cause more time to be spent on preparing those items increasing customer wait times. Jimmy John’s has stuck to the basics, sandwiches, and it works. Even the longest line of customers is handled quickly.

Second, consistency is a differentiator between Jimmy John’s and the other guys. I have seen this consistency come in two distinct ways. First off food quality; keeping the menu simple helps Jimmy John’s to ensure the focus on creating highest quality sandwiches for their customers. They have even found a way to work the name “gourmet” into their name. Aside from great tasting food, the employees are also consistent between locations.  As stated before, I have frequented several Jimmy John’s and also been to some out of state, and have always seen the employees of the restaurant excited to be there.  They are happy to serve you this is evident in their attitude. I have not seen this type of attitude displayed by the employees of Cousins or Subway or insert you competitor sandwich shop of choice here, at least on a consistent basis. Jimmy John’s seems to have more than just unmotivated high school kids preparing your food.

Lastly but certainly not least, Jimmy John’s has a unique culture.  This is the most important differentiator between Jimmy John’s and their competitors.  For many fast food or chain restaurants the idea of culture is clearly not important or even understood. Let me take a minute to dive in to what I mean here. The Jimmy John’s culture is based around having fun, both as a team and with your customers. This is evident from the restaurant walls adorned with funny signs, to the upbeat music that is played, often at a high volume, in every one of their locations.    More importantly than the signs or music at Jimmy John’s, are the people.  Jimmy John’s employees all have a unique energy about them. It is entertaining to watch them work together to prepare orders, often throwing completed sandwiches through the air to the cashier so they can give you your order.

To me this resembles the famous Seattle Fish Market where workers draw a crowd as they throw fish across the market to get them to the customers at the counter.  Additionally customers are always greeted at Jimmy John’s as they enter the restaurant, many times from the entire staff, as they all yell out some form of welcoming remark as you enter.  The same is true when you leave, in that you are thanked every time for coming.  Their employees, in all locations, understand the importance of recognizing customers for their patronage.  Creating a strong culture based on fun with employees and customers is something that Jimmy John’s has mastered within their restaurants.

I know I covered a lot of ground here in this posting.  You might be asking yourself how you can pull out all of these observations and conclusions about a simple sandwich shop.  Take some time to sit back and watch the dynamics unfold the next time you eat at a Jimmy John’s.  You will clearly see the three areas discussed in this post of speed, consistency, and culture displayed for you every time. For me it is these three areas that allow Jimmy John’s to not only win in the sandwich arena, but more importantly create loyal customers by creating a best in class customer experience.

I wonder what I’ll have for lunch today.

Building Relationships Via Twitter

I have had some time over the last few days to really think about why I am present on Twitter, and what I truly enjoy most about that arena.  To be honest I could quite possibly open it up to the entire social media landscape as I am passionate about building relationships regardless of what form they might take in person or online.  For me Twitter seems to have a significant draw.  Mostly because it seems to house a significant number of local professionals, that are for the most part *bites tongue*, trying to add value to the online community in some way. More over these people actually care about others and are working to build relationships with people, in turn enhancing their personal and business lives.

Clearly there are the ever present distractions on Twitter i.e. Tweens discussing @JustinBieber or obsessing over the #Twilight movies at all hours.  Let’s not forget the constant noise of those individuals claiming to be “social media experts”, “gurus” or my favorite “ninja’s”; that won’t let you forget how awesome they are.  Meanwhile your Twitter stream seems to be overrun by these individuals selling their snake oil.  For the record, I am not impressed by your 38,000 followers, and 1,356,900 tweets.  When was the last time you actually “connected” with someone in a way that actually makes that other person feel valued?  It is clear to me that many on Twitter just don’t get it.  These “experts” cloud the internet with noise and distraction.

For me it’s different.  I’m not a social media expert by any means, nor will I ever claim to be.  How can one claim to be an expert in an arena that changes every month, every week, or every day for that matter?  For me social media is about learning.  Continuous learning.  Learning about how to better connect with people, both personally and professionally.  For me Twitter is about building trust, credibility, and relationships with real individuals.  It is these relationships that can ultimately lead to customer retention, customer loyalty, new business, or even a new friendship.

I can’t tell you enough how amazing it feels to have searched Twitter for a dissatisfied customer, a customer that has a problem or simply needs a question answered, and then been able to deliver for that customer in a way that turns around their perception of the products and or services you are selling or support.  To me this is the ultimate use and reason Twitter even exists.  Your customers need a sounding board.  A way to give you feedback, ask questions, or just plain vent.  The occasional positive praise doesn’t hurt either. There is one important lesson to take away here.  Listen to your customers.  They are taking the time to talk about and give feedback about you, your products, and services.  Use this information to make changes for the better, and build positive relationships with others in the process.

My goal is to serve as a resource in my field.  Someone others can trust and are excited about working with.  If I can help someone in some way, no matter how small, then I have added value to their life.  The ability to add value when possible is what keeps me using Twitter as a means of communication.  For me it’s all about building relationships and connecting with people.  Social media (Twitter included) is just another vehicle to get to that special place with your customers.

Creating a Positive First Impression with Your Customers

Ever walk into a retail store and wonder, is anyone working here? Are they even aware I walked in? Did this experience make you want to visit that establishment again?  I certainly have been in this situation and unfortunately it happens frequently. In this day and age, when it’s just as easy to make your purchases online, and when your competitors are chomping at the bit to steal your customers, it is critical that you acknowledge everyone that took the time to travel to your store.

Take a look at www.zappos.com for a second. You can now purchase shoes and clothing online for lower prices than you see in most stores, get free shipping, and try them on in the comfort of your home. Get an item that doesn’t fit? No problem, send it back for a full refund and shipping is free! For the record, this is not the only website that operates this way.  Now, seeing how easy it is to buy online, still think your first impression with a customer in your store is not critical to your success? Think again!

This initial customer greeting is your first date, the first dance, the infamous first impression!  Most likely your customer can buy what you’re selling from countless other stores or mediums.  You often times only get one chance at this, make it count.

In my years of retail leadership and service industry experience I have seen all extremes of what I like to call “The Greeting”; the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It’s often your first face to face interaction with your customer, it better be good and leave a solid positive impression of you and your brand.  Over time I have come to the realization that the best customer greetings have three key components.

1. Act with urgency. Your customers need to feel like you value them unconditionally.  This means acknowledge their entrance into the store within 5-10 seconds.  This should be a vocal acknowledgement such as “Welcome to *insert your business here*, how might we assist you today?”  (Some variant of this verbiage is fine). It is ever important that your customers feel as if they are being truly welcomed into your store.  Think of how you would greet visitors to your home.  This is no different.  Additionally there may be times when all of your staff is currently busy with customers.  It is still critical that someone takes a brief moment to acknowledge customers coming into the store. Letting customers know you see them, and will be available to serve them soon will go along way.

2. Have a positive attitude. This one is the most simple but the easiest to get wrong.  Attitude is everything.  If you and your team are having fun serving customers it’s easy for customers to pick this up in the atmosphere within your store.  Believe me they can tell which of your associates aren’t happy to be at work.  It is so important to greet customers with a smile; be warm, inviting, and genuine.  Attitude is contagious.  Which attitude do you want your customers to catch?

3. Follow up and check in. Often times it can take time to work through the customers you might currently have in your place of business.  Keeping a pulse on the customers that are waiting in queue will be critical to their satisfaction and add to the overall first impression.  Letting them know on a continued basis that someone will be with them shortly, and thanking them for their patience goes a long way.  This shows you did not forget about them and that they are still important to you.  Don’t miss this step, as it’s often easy to do.

In my experience using the aforementioned three components of the effective greeting will ensure that you lock up that critical first impression with your customers.  The greeting alone will not guarantee a sale, as it’s up to the rest of your sales process to close the deal.  However, a proper greeting will show your customers that you care about them and that you value the fact they took the time to choose your establishment to visit.

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