Sunday, September 26, 2010

Promote Your Business

“For every sale you miss because you're too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred because you're not enthusiastic enough.” ~Zig Ziglar

Repeat customers are invaluable. Whatever your business, you must do everything you can to encourage your customers to come back after each visit, whether online or in person.

I recently took my grandson to Five Guys, a very successful franchise that has more than 625 restaurants. Though I had never tried the restaurant before, I thought my grandson might like it. Turns out, he had been to one before, and I was right, he loved it!

When you walk in, lining each wall are large signs with quotes from newspapers all across the country. Though the words differ from one sign to the next, each quote boils down to one basic message: Five Guys is a great restaurant.

Obviously, the purpose of these wall quotes is not to bring in new customers but to encourage their existing customers to return. By posting these testimonials, I believe Five Guys is sending their patrons the following message: we are a great restaurant, and you need to come back if you want to be part of the experience.

Whether the food is good or not is immaterial to this message. They are simply making the point that eating at Five Guys is a great experience. For my part, I left wanting to come back with my grandson just to feel like I was part of this group of people who loved their food.

Another form of self-promotion is the on-hold telephone message. A study showed that 70 percent of business callers are put on hold sometime during their call. To take advantage of this time with their customers, many firms use these recording to softly sell their products or services. Since the customer has to listen, it is a great opportunity to pitch your products, but again, it must be a soft sell.

Many vendors provide this service, and you can locate them simply by Googling “on-hold advertising.” Costs range from $50 to $200 or more per month. Included in this cost are periodic updates and many of the front-end production expenses. It may seem pricey, but users of on-hold advertising say that they recovered the cost almost immediately and continue to see a return on investment over time.

Both of these methods allow you to promote yourself to your existing customers in a very inexpensive way. Of course, there are many other approaches, and you just need to find the vehicle that works best for your company. The critical issue is that you must make a continuous effort to transform current customers into return customers.

Now go out and find ways to promote your businesses to your existing customers!

You can do this!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hiring Consultans

"I am a little concerned that some of the measures that are proposed may simply increase the number of consultants who are telling businesses what they already know." ~Alasdair Morgan

At one time or another, every business will need assistance from a consultant to grow, merge, improve profitability or address some other area of concern. Small businesses just cannot afford to have an IT or HR expert on staff. Consultants provide a very effective alternative, enabling small business owners to access the expertise they need without having a full-time employee dedicated to the specific area in question.

Before hiring a consultant, you must first determine what the real issue is. In many cases, this is much more difficult than it sounds. We are frequently called in to help an entrepreneur with a marketing problem only to discover that the critical issue is actually cash flow. The entrepreneur did not realize cash flow was the problem until we asked some critical questions and examined relevant data.

Some issues such as producing an employee manual are easy to match with the appropriate consultant, but most issues are not nearly as clear. Through careful evaluation, you must identify the correct problem and hire the correct consultant.

As with any expense, you should exercise due diligence when selecting a consultant. Just because one comes highly recommended by a friend or fellow entrepreneur does not mean that they are the best option for you. So much about selecting a consultant involves personal chemistry. To be successful, the consultant must have a good rapport with you and your staff. If chemistry and trust are absent, neither you nor your staff will accept the consultant’s advice.

Price or hourly rate is not the most important factor to consider when hiring a consultant. Frequently you will find that the quality of the consultant correlates with the fee they charge. That is to say, the consultant who charges the lowest fee is often the worst one you can find.

Rather than focusing on the cost, you should consider the value of their results. It is so much better to pay more and get more value than to go for the bargain basement consultant just to save a few bucks.

Another vital consideration when hiring a consultant is your willingness to accept the results. After meeting with an entrepreneur and making suggestions for improvement, we frequently find that they have received the exact same recommendations from a former consultant. When we ask why they did not follow through with the suggestions, they typically say they were too busy.

Bottom line here is if you are going to hire an expert, you must make a commitment to try the recommendations. If they do not work, jettison them, but not even trying is neither effective nor constructive.

When you find yourself in need of an expert’s services, hire a consultant that will add value to your company. Before you make a selection, however, make sure that you have identified and defined the problem that you would like them to address with some degree of specificity. Additionally, make a commitment to follow through and give their recommendations a try.

You can do this!

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Email: A Blessing or a Curse?

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” ~Jim Rohn

Of all the technologies that have emerged for communications in the last couple of decades, email is among the most revolutionary. It has completely changed the way we communicate, making it so much easier than any other method that has been available in the last 20 years.

At one time, typewriters were a critical element for communicating via U.S. Mail. It was such a slow and cumbersome process. I still remember struggling to align the paper, and making a correction was very, very difficult.

However, despite all the improvements and efficiencies email brought with it, there are a number of issues that users should be aware of. By far, the most important of these is that once you hit send, it is nearly impossible to recover or amend the message.

In light of this, proofreading is absolutely critical. And more than just checking for grammatical errors, you should be verifying that you have said exactly what you mean and are aware of how your message might be interpreted.

Additionally, email and emotion are a dangerous combination. If you are having strong feelings of any kind – positive or negative – it is best to wait until your emotions settle before hitting send. The fallout from an inappropriate email can be devastating.

I have seen managers send out an angry email to a staff member who messed up, only to realize later that they acted before they had all the facts. The damage from this kind of email can never be repaired.

Another shortcoming of email is that it is a flat form of communication. Consisting of nothing more than words, it is impossible to communicate emotion via email. People often forget this fact and send email messages that really should be delivered in person.

Sending an email to congratulate a team member on some accomplishment, for example, may fall short of the mark since you can not really express your feelings of joy. You would really want to deliver a message like this in a face-to-face meeting or in front of his or her entire team.

Most people, including me, get way too many emails, and one thing that absolutely drives me crazy is receiving a message that covers three or four different items. Sending a message like this significantly impairs the receiver’s ability to respond quickly.

When I receive emails that cover more than one topic, it automatically drops down on my priority list because I have to save the message until I have more time to respond. For this reason, it is so important to cover only one point in each message. You will find that people will respond much more quickly to one-topic emails.

Another of my email pet peeves is long narratives. Most decision makers want just the facts. Email is not a good place to practice elegant writing 101. I want an email that is no longer than one paragraph so I can quickly respond with a short answer. Most people are so limited on time that brevity must be the rule and not the exception with this medium.

The subject line is another critical element. In order to get your message read, the subject line must be both precise and accurate. One entrepreneur wrote “important” in the subject line of every single email she sent. Eventually, her staff began ignoring her messages. The more precise your subject line, the more successful the communication will be.

Lastly, email should not be used to communicate anything that is really important or personal. If you want to tell a staff member about a problem you are having with their work, email is just not appropriate.

For instance, if I have an employee that has not been meeting their sales goals, sending them an email about improving their numbers is going to do more to irritate them than accomplish anything of value. It really is best to address an issue like this in a face-to-face meeting that allows you to discuss how you can work with them to improve their sales.

Overall, email is a very effective communication tool, but it should not be your default. It is just not always going to be the appropriate choice. Now go out and make sure that you are using emails effectively in your organization.

You can do this!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Customer Service Facts

"The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls. The result of a business is a satisfied customer." ~Peter Drucker

Because customer service errors are so glaring and so easy to fix, I focus heavily on this topic in my articles. Recently however, a reader wrote to me (I respond to every email) saying that while she was a believer in the power of great customer service, her boss needed some convincing. She wanted to know what facts I could provide to persuade her boss that improving customer service would increase the company’s ROI.

Right then and there, it occurred to me that for all the time I spend writing about this topic, I have failed to give enough empirical data to support the merits of improving customer service.

A very impressive company named TARP (completely unrelated to the government bailout of banks) has been providing a great service since 1971. This company works with the most renowned firms in our country collecting data on customer service. Their website,, offers an ROI calculator that computes the ROI you can anticipate when improving customer service.

TARP reports that 68 percent of customer defection results when customers feel they have been poorly treated. In a similar situation, a friend of mine walked into a store to buy some new running shoes. His feet tend to overpronate, which means he needs shoes that have special support features built in or else he will wind up running on his ankles.

The two salesmen (the term is used very loosely here) were both 16 years old and utterly devoid of any knowledge about the shoes or my friend’s condition. They were clueless about how to help. My friend would love to shop locally, but if he can not get the customer service he needs, he will simply do his research and order his shoes online.

Lee Resources reports that for every single customer complaint you receive, there are 26 others that remain silent. From this statistic, we gather that we must investigate each and every complaint in order to ensure the problem is not more widespread. Think of a customer complaint less as a “problem” and more as a “blessing.” It gives you the chance to correct a situation before it gets out of hand.

NOP Worldwide reported that a one percent reduction in customer service issues could generate an extra $40 million in profit for a medium-sized company over five years’ time. This solitary fact was earthshaking for me because it so vividly illustrates the considerable impact customer service has on the bottom line. Customer service is not an expense. It is a profit center in its own right.

Another interesting fact reported by Lee Resources is that 70 percent of complaining customers will continue to do business with you if you resolve their complaint. Ninety-five percent will continue to do business with you if you resolve the problem immediately. Too often I see businesses ignore customer complaints rather than dealing with them. Customers really want to stay with you even if there is a problem. If you want to keep these customers, it is crucial that you to make sure you rectify the problem quickly.

Now go out and make sure your customer service experience is great, and that you recognize its true value to your business.

You can do this!