Driving Social Business, Championing Innovation, & Inspiring Creativity

Check-In & Unlock a New Way To Connect With Customers

Just as I do every year, I wait until the last minute to do my holiday shopping.  Each year I vow to buy everything online, yet for some reason it never seems to work out.  Tonight I found myself all over town trying to make gift selections for those dearest to me. As I fought the crowds I kept myself entertained reading the colorful tweets prior to tonights contraversal football game featuring the typical Brett Favre shenanigans, that seem to be never ending (retire already).  Blazing a trail through the newly fallen snow, I also was certain to check-in via foursquare as I visited various retailers hoping to unlock a great special or a new badge.  Mission accomplished, as I unlocked “the bookworm” badge upon my check-in at Barnes & Noble tonight!

New badge earned and in a better mood now, I carried on with the shopping bonanza and ventured across town to a favorite retailer of mine, REI. Getting out of my car and walking to the door I check-in, nothing to unlock here but at least I know i’ll enjoy the time I spend while in this store. My ten plus years in the outdoor industry has spoiled me when it comes to high end sporting goods. I enter the front door and then I see it. A very large sign encouraging customers to “check-in” on facebook places with their smart phones.  For every check-in REI was going to donate $50 to the Ice Age Trail for maintenance.

I sat there thinking to myself, now in the mobile phone industry and a social media junkie, wow this is awesome! I was so geeked that REI was using location based social media to not only bring more visibility to their business, but also to create a deeper connection with their customers! These donations for simply visiting and checking in truly go a long way in building those all important connections to the communities in which retailers do business. I proudly checked in, and am looking forward to my next hike on the Ice Age Trail, knowing that REI helped to maintain it using social media as a catalyst.

Albeit tiny in scope, this is a great example of the power of social media in action and at its best. You know darn well I tweeted about this right away with the hopes to draw even more people into REI.  It also shows a simple way location based social media applications can be used to drive increased brand awareness, connect with your target customers, increase sales, and lead to brand evangelists.

Tonight was a pretty outstanding evening for me from a social media perspective. New badge unlocked and $50 donated to a local trail, all by simply checking-in.  My passion for customer service and the social media space causes me to stop think about how retailers are doing business and connecting with their customers quite often; tonight was a good night to reflect on that.

For those of you wondering, I still didn’t finish my holiday shopping. Four days left.


Excited to Share How Twitter Has Lifted Sales & Created Customer Advocacy

From a blogging perspective I’ve been pretty quiet lately. The past couple of months has been the final push in training our teams and preparing to “Wake Up” the wireless industry with The Belief Project from U.S. Cellular®.  Although time consuming as a leader responsible for training associates for launch, the preparation was worth it as our company sought to change the way wireless companies do business.  I am extremely proud of my team for their additional commitment to learning and creating an enhanced customer experience.  Additional pride is felt in knowing I work for a company that is focused on creating an environment that gains and retains customers with forward thinking programs, and rewards for loyalty. In today’s corporate world there are not too many people that get as excited about the company they work for as U.S. Cellular® associates do.

Anyways, “shop talk” aside, back to the reason for this post today.  Today I had the day off but for the most part I felt under the weather today, the start of a cold I presume.  Unfortunate, as I would have loved to enjoy the beautiful day outside on a hike or even doing yard work; there is lots to do in the way of yard prep for winter.  Instead I spent the day indoors juggling a fussy baby (we’re sick at the same time) and trying to put together a presentation on leveraging Twitter for business.  I was recently asked to discuss how I have built a large repeat customer base and utilized Twitter to provide a heightened degree of customer service for the WCTC DECA Organization.  I was honored to have been asked, and will be speaking this Wednesday morning.

After giving some thought as to what my discussion will entail, I have decided to pull from a several resources.  For starters I am going to draw from a presentation I gave to my BNI chapter which covers an overview of what Social Media is and how it can be a low cost and highly effective tool for business.  I will also be pulling from a blog post I wrote regarding Three Themes for Success in Social Media. In addition to those items I am going to pull from the successes I have found in building a customer base and creating a high level of customer service via Twitter.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to share what I found has worked in building my personal brand, and creating loyal customers.  There is significant potential in leveraging Social Media to create an impression on people as well as build your business.  Hopefully sharing my journey on how I’ve developed new and repeat business through Twitter will allow others to find their niche as well.


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.


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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