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Make Your Clients’ Dream Come True with a Wish List!

A "wish list" will help you know today what's most important to your client.

A “wish list” will help you know today what’s most important to your client.

Gathering client or customer information is standard procedure in many industries: chiropractors, veterinarians, interior design, heck – even business coaches! Contact information is tedious to write and collect and, for me, a bit annoying in this age of technology. I’ve found a way for many of my clients to turn it from a chore to an incredibly valuable tool for the business owner and the customer or client:

Ditch your “Client Information Sheet”

And instead, ask for a “Wishlist”.

Beyond the basics, ask customers or clients for a wish list of items and to rank them in order from #1, their Biggest Wish, sequentially to #2, #3, and so on. For example, an eye doctor’s patients might wish for using only one pair of glasses, rather than switching back and forth to reading glasses. The wish of an interior designer’s client might be to create a gathering spot for her family to play games. Understanding a customer or client’s wishes allows you to:

1.) use their language when communicating with them, and

2.) get to the heart of how you can best help them immediately, which in turn often results in sales and a more satisfied customer.

When you speak in their terms, your customer feels understood and their concerns and ideas valued. Further, having a customer wish list gives you insight into your market’s future, it gives you marketing language and tactics, it gives you a sales’ forecast, and, if used properly, an ongoing revenue stream.

Beyond products and specific services, a wish list can tell you what your customer’s current frustrations are with product/service delivery. A financial service industry client of mine learned that face-to-face account reviews was a frustration for some, from clients who wished for “Account reviews via phone or Skype”. Another client, a high-end custom product provider, learned that the wait between their custom order and delivery was frustration. This set the company to shaving unnecessary time out of the process and to providing customers with product completion updates. Customers received photos of their products in production, which kept them excited and the provider in their mind. Customers tend to show those pictures to friends who then investigate the company. Happy, regularly informed customers became referral engines for the custom product provider.

Turning your Client Information Sheet into a Wish List is fairly simple to do (30 minutes or less!) and provides you market research, sales forecast data, and incredibly satisfied customers. That’s a wish I’d like granted to every business owner out there!

The Art of Cold Calling: How to Connect Instead of Sell

Cold calling prospects, or even warm calls to referrals, stops many business professionals in their tracks. The other day a client telephonesaid to me “I fought in Afghanistan, I’ve been shot at as a police officer, but I’m afraid to make phone calls! What gives?” Adrenalin played a part in those scenarios, but beneath that, she felt the same emotion that she does when trying to call prospects: fear. Fear of being rejected, fear of saying the “right” words, the fear of not knowing what to say, period, all prevent us from making calls even when we know it could help our business. I’ve heard more than a couple business professionals say that they’re just giving up on calls, but there is an alternative.

Chances are, especially if you’ve been struggling with making calls, you’ve read that you need to be confident in what you have to offer and then you’ll “easily” make the calls. I consider confidence as Step 1; Step 2 is understanding your objective in calling beyond making a sale or scheduling an appointment. What feeling do you want as a result of the call? What emotion do you want to evoke in the person you’re calling?

When my client and I walked through these questions we discovered that she loved to connect with people – to hear their stories, to find a connection between herself and the person on the other end of the call. That’s really what each of us wants – to connect with another human being – whether it’s by phone, at a networking event, or by e-mail. We worry about the words we will say when calling someone, yet connecting is more about listening than talking.

To increase the effectiveness of your phone calls, choose your words deliberately and carefully to share your offer (remember it’s about the benefits not the features!) but most of all, listen and connect. Let that other person know that you care; even if you get a “no thanks” you’ll feel better about the call and they will remember you as that person who listened.

What are Your Incentive Plans REALLY Doing?

Last week, Comcast won the award for worst customer service. The recording of a Comcast customer trying to cancel his service – onlyreward image to be harassed for over 8 minutes by a Comcast agent – went viral, and needless to say Comcast has experienced a pretty tough week. While at first it seemed like an agent gone bad, Comcast has since confirmed that agents are financially incented to retain customers. While this agent certainly didn’t show much compassion, he was trying to do what his company rewarded him to do.

In my corporate days, I probably prepared more than 50 incentive plans, and while that doesn’t make me an expert, it certainly provides me with some lessons. This Comcast snafu reminded me of the most important lesson I learned from creating, then adjusting, scrapping, re-creating incentive plans:

Whenever you incent a person to do something, you are also dis-incenting them to do something else.

Here are a couple examples from my experience:

  1. A newly launched product was moving more slowly than we wanted. We created a short-term high-impact incentive to encourage our sales team to sell that new product. While sales of the new product increased, the sales team lost focus on the company’s bread-and-butter products and sales dropped drastically.
  2. Another incentive encouraged our team to sell longer-term service contracts over shorter-term contracts. Seemed logical. What we didn’t plan on was a longer approval cycle which delayed any service contract revenue coming in – short or long term.

As you can see, I most often stumbled by incenting sales of one product or service, or even a product line, at a different rate than others. If a sales rep knows they will earn $25 every time they sell product A, and $50 every time they sell product B, they will try for product  B every time. Who wouldn’t? If any of your staff’s pay is performance-based, here are some pointers:

  • The decision to award an incentive payment upon the sale or upon collection is often debated, and rightly so. Define your sales team’s role clearly; sales only? Do they have credit granting authority? Or, are they responsible all the way through collection?
  • Be careful that your incentive structure does not put one employee against another. Having a maximum incentive pool can cause this; define the split to guard against too much competition.
  • The most important question to ask with every incentive payment is this, and you must ask it every time: By encouraging a particular behavior by my employees, what might I discourage them from doing? You must think like an employee on this one or you will be caught off-guard again and again (trust me, I learned that the hard way).

I love incentive and performance pay, but just be sure that you are comfortable with not only what you are encouraging your staff to do, but also with the behavior you are discouraging. If you don’t believe me, just ask Comcast.

Are You Guilty of Astroturfing? Boost Your Business With Customer Reviews

Amazon received some bad press recently when an online editor suggested that a book about the telecom industry was the victim of “astroturfing”, receiving fictitious bad reviews on Amazon (See it here). Large sites that depend on customer reviews, such as TripAdvisor,  employ systems to crack down on these overly glowing reviews from seemingly “real” customers. Algorithms flag suspicious reviews which are customer reviewsthen reviewed by real live human beings.

Small business owners understand the importance of positive on-line customer reviews but it can be pretty scary to ask for them. Over and over I’ve heard owners say “I’m going to have my sister/neighbor/best friend write a review for me!” They are so excited about this brilliant idea, their run-around of the task; I just hope that they don’t hear me groan.

I get that it’s scary to ask clients and customers to write a review about your business: what if they say no? What if they write something bad? But what if they say something wonderful? It’s like that saying “you’ll fail 100% of the time that you don’t try (ask)”.  To make it easier, try these techniques:

  • Ask for reviews on your invoices or customer receipts; many national stores do this now – often coupled with an incentive, which you should NOT do.
  • Ask “Were you happy with your service today?” that reminds them that they were happy with you.
  • Ask every customer to write a review. Asking needs to become a habit for you and your staff. Put yourself in the position of wondering “was this customer happy enough that I should ask them for a review?” and you’ll find yourself distracted from attending to the customer in front of you. If every Target check-out clerk can ask on behalf of their behemoth employer, don’t you think you can ask for your own business?
  • Yes, you will get some poor reviews and some “eh” reviews. When I see a poor or mid-level review mixed with glowing reviews, I tend to think that reviewer is probably never happy and it makes the reviews in general more believable.
  • Respond to reviews. Thank customers, say something about their visit, or let customers know that you’ve mended your ways, if necessary. Be authentic in your responses and true to your brand.
  • Google+Local is the review site of choice, but don’t discourage customers from writing a review on other sites such as Yahoo, Yelp!, or Facebook. Whatever site is easiest for them to use is the site for them to write their review.
  • Automate the process by sending every customer a follow-up email with step-by-step instructions on creating a review.  www.DemandForce.com is a great tool for this and gives you the opportunity for another customer touch.

It may seem easier to ask your best friend for an online review but in the long run, your business will be stronger by asking everyone for a review. Simplify the process and you will grow, in every sense of the word. No astroturfing necessary.

Front-Line Failures; Improving Customer Service

Rushed service; errors; and long sighs. Could this be your customers’ experience with your business?

Over the weekend I visited my hair salon, and this is the customer service I experienced. My 20-minute appointment started 20 minutes late. The esthetician was obviously rushed and forgot a couple of things until I reminded her, which led her to sigh. I was irritated and frustrated. I took a deep breath, relaxed, and said “you seem stressed” and waited to see how she responded.

She told me how her employer wasn’t giving her enough time with each client to give the level of service she wanted to provide. She felt like she was short-changing customers, and she was frustrated because her work was not meeting her standards, and a level of service she thought she was hired to provide. She felt pretty confident that the salon would not earn the business of two bridal party consultations because the salon’s service, touted as high end and “something different”, was in fact no different than any other salon yet at a steeper price. I no longer felt irritated with my service, and encouraged her to ask for a meeting with the salon owner to sort it out.

On-going, two-way conversations with employees can prevent lost customers, improve customer service and further business growth. Not sure how to go about it? Here are some questions to get started:

  • Do you have what you need (time, resources, tools, education) to do your job as well as you would like? What further tools would help?
  • Have you noticed other services or products that our customers are asking for or would like?
  • How can I help you do your job better?
  • What can we do as an organization to make our customers’ lives better?

Your employees are likely at the front line with your customers.  Once your staff understands that you want to hear from them, your employees will pay more attention to the customers’ experience and get better at listening to customers. Ask your employees regularly for their input; it shows you have faith in your employees and makes conversations easier. Set the stage early with every new employee; ask for their input after the first week while they still have a fresh perspective. Let them know that you will regularly be asking for their input and want to hear from them.

I’m interested to visit the salon again and to see if anything has changed; I hope that service will be better. If not, this customer-focused employee will most likely have left out of frustration and that amounts to wasted time and energy on the business owner’s part. Open conversations with each of your employees on a regular basis will prevent you from losing customers and from losing talented staff.

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.