Helping People You Help Yourself

I wanted to share with you some excerpts from emails we sent to our sales force… I thought it might be useful for everyone:

How To Serve Your Customer

I was thinking this week about how to personally sell or personally sponsor and I’ll tell you the way that we do it: We sincerely try to serve our customers’ or prospects’ needs.  Often this is selfless service as we will give products or information away free and we really don’t expect much in return.  We are pleasantly surprised when we do get an order or somebody is really interested.  I am not telling you to give away the store or put yourself in the poor house to help your customers, but giving your time or helping somebody in need can ultimately help you promote your business.  People see you as somebody who really wants to help.  So here’s my exercise for the next week:

For the next week set aside your business.  Each day for the next seven, find one person to help without expecting anything in return.  Don’t promote your business unless you are specifically asked about it, just help one person each day.  Preferably it is going to be somebody you don’t know, but it could be anybody.  Just volunteer to help in some way.  Again, I am not asking you to give a large loan to somebody or give away something of value unless you would like to, just give help, advice, direction, or a little of your time to somebody in need.  See how all of this feels… That’s how it feels when you are truly serving your customers.  You find out what they need and you help them with it.  You go the extra mile when you can.

The only value we are adding as associates is the service we provide and it can truly be your competitive edge if you are willing to serve your customers to the absolute best of your ability.  Many people are not willing to do this, but that’s what this business is all about.

Helping People

I believe Zig Ziglar once said something like: You can have anything you want in life if you help enough people get what they want.  That is what this business, and really any business, is all about.  We help people.  I am reminded once again this week that there are a lot of desperate people out there that are hurting.  We have the opportunity and the responsibility to help as many people as possible rise above the situation they’re in to a better place.  We can’t and should not do it for them.  But we can show them a better way… We can teach them to fish.  It’s really up to them to put the effort in to catch the fish.

Many people do think that they are owed something, and you do have to watch out for people who want something for nothing.  But there are a lot of people out there willing to work their tail off if they can get just a little help to get going.  We should be there for these people the best we can.  Help people by having them earn their starter kit for our organization.  They can show the catalogs and bring you orders.  It doesn’t take many orders to earn the starter kit… And then you show them how to help other people like themselves for bigger income.

Make sure to also remember the people out there who just love our products or remember their grandma talking about the products, and want to order but can’t find an associate.  They are out there.  They need you to find them.  Make sure to try to get them anything they need… If they need a product you can’t find, give me a call and I’ll help you out.  Sometimes our company discontinues items but there are still places you can find them.  If not, there is usually a good substitute.  Make sure to give heroic customer service to your customers and it can lead to all kinds of good things.  I don’t know what exactly… But we have found this to be true.  As one associate said: Look for the dime behind the nickel.

Make Money By Serving Needs

In business, we make money by providing value to our customers.  Value is actually a very wide term, which can mean something as simple as helping the person lose weight by providing them with an easy way to lose weight or it could mean the service we provide to our customers; for example, finding them what they want no matter how hard it is to find.  People are willing to pay for value, but it must be value worth paying for.

Mainly, it is the way we are better than everyone else that sets us apart.  The things that give us competitive advantage.  We can offer a better product, better service, better price, or better customer service than our competitors.  Many of these are hard to do, there are so many competitors out there with great products or services, many are selling at rock-bottom prices, but one thing that many companies forget is how to truly serve the customer.  By serving, I mean putting the customers’ needs ahead of the needs of the company.  For instance, I had a customer that wanted a particular item that I could not get at wholesale, so I ordered it from drugstore.com and shipped it to them free of charge.  Why would I do such a silly thing?  Because the customer will remember it and go out of there way to buy from us in the future.

It can be a difficult concept to wrap your mind around.  Providing heroic customer service just so the customer comes back to you in the future.  There’s no guarantee by the way, it is possible that they will go elsewhere in the future, so your effort may or may not be rewarded.  You may just be giving away the store.  However, most customers recognize great service when they see it and go out of their way to use companies with great service, depending on the price.

And what about price?  If you can give your customers great service, you typically can charge a bit more than your competitors and get away with it.  If you are competitive but slightly higher, but you give far better service, customers will definitely seek you out.

It’s not always easy to give the best service.  At times it can be time consuming and costly, but if 99% of your customer interactions are fairly normal but 1% require heroics, you will make plenty of money and impress your customers.  You really do have to be perfect though.  Any problems whatsoever will tarnish your reputation.  Any mistakes should be cause for lavishing your customer with service and gifts.

Giving great service is an investment in your long-term business, so you may spend a bit more short term for great service.  But long term your investment will pay huge dividends.

What To Do About An Unhappy Customer

With unhappy customers, you can take the attitude that not everyone is going to be happy or you can do something about it.  An unhappy customer may be just somebody trying to take advantage of you or could be the symptom of a problem, and your job is to first determine which it is.

Listen and try to understand the problem

Many disgruntled customers will be hostile and you want to calm them down a bit so that they explain their problem.  Don’t get in a shouting war or get personal, just listen and try to make sense out of the customer’s problem.  When you think you have it, repeat the problem back to the customer so that they can acknowledge that you have it right.

Try to make it right with the customer

Rather than suggesting remedies for the individual customer’s problem, ask them what you can do to make it right with them.  If they are unable or unwilling to give any suggestions, make a suggestion but give them the opportunity first.  Often their suggested remedy will be reasonable and something you can easily do, as customers just want things to be even.  If you do get a pie-in-the-sky suggestion from the customer, you can tell them that you are unable to do what they are asking and make a counter offer.  Try to get an agreement to make the problem right.

You may get an indication during this step that the customer is just trying to take advantage of you.  If this is the case, you may want to stand firm.  Generally though you have to assume the customer is honest and dealing in good faith.

Ask the customer how you could have avoided the problem

See if the customer has any suggestions about how the problem could have been avoided.  If the customer has constructive ideas, make sure to take notes.

If you have employees, work with them to improve the business processes

Rather than implement process changes based on the customer’s suggestions, consult with employees or business partners about the problem and see if they have any suggestions that might help.  Often employees will have good ideas that can help and you want to get their input.  You also want them to buy in to the solution so that they will execute the changes, rather than being resentful that another stupid change was forced down their throat.

Unhappy customers are typically not caused by bad employees

Unhappy customers are typically a management problem, not an employee problem.  You may have a story of a bad employee, but most employees want to do their job well and often they are prevented by management policy from doing so.  That is why it is so important to work with employees to improve things rather than blame employees for problems.  Create policies that empower employees to do their jobs well rather than restricting them.

Above all, learn from and avoid repeating customer problems

Nothing is more agravating than having a customer problem that happens over and over again.  It wastes time and resources to deal with unhappy customers, and often loses valuable customers that you worked hard to attain.  Make sure that these problems do not happen more than once.

What Can You Do With Marketing?

Marketing is a soft discipline so many small business owners don’t understand what it is and how it can benefit them. Other areas of business are more understandable: Sales and customer service, for instance, have tasks that you can easily identify and implement. Marketing isn’t quite so strait forward and it is not always so easy to come up with the answers you want. For instance: How can we make the sales process more effective? I could sit here and give you a few answers but it really depends on the customer. You have to truly understand your customer and their needs and desires in order to provide them a solution that makes sense.

Research and strategy is what marketing is really all about. We research to find out if our market is growing or shrinking, if there are niches that make sense to pursue, if our customer fits into a certain income bracket, how the customer is best reached, and so forth. We can also do marketing research to make our accounts receivable and customer service functions more effective, as certain kinds of customers are more responsive to certain actions. So marketing really can define the activities of the whole company, and mostly should, because the customer should be the focus of every department.

Once we know enough about our customer, we can create strategies and define business processes to mold to our customers’ needs. For instance, we may find that selling kitchen mixers is a declining marketing, but selling high-end mixers is a growing market with a higher profit margin. Our company may be seen by the market as selling cheaper products so we can create a new division to sell premium housewares to the high end market. Everything about the new division should appeal to this segment. We can create business processes within the new division to cater to the particular customer: where we advertise, how we sell the product, what kind of warranty is provided, and how customer service is handled.

Marketing really is the software that defines the hardware that is our business. Marketing is not sales, operations, or customer service but marketing can help all areas of the business be more effective for the particular customer group. If you have specific questions please feel free to reply and I will do my best to answer.