Every Santa Needs a Break! Put a Bench in Your Store

Every Santa Needs a Break!

Have you considered available seating as an integral part of customer service?

The weary, bag laden, and soon impatient non-shopper leaves to shop elsewhere or coaxes the rest of the groups to leave. It’s a lose-lose for you and your shoppers. So, why encourage the non-shopper to become grumpy and negatively influence your happy shoppers?

The most overlooked fixture for your store could be a simple bench.

A bench (or seating of any type) is an important facet of good customer service and therefore, an item with a deceptively good ROI. For mostly unjustified reasons, small shop owners often have a negative mindset toward extra seating in a store.

Rethink. During the holidays, gift shoppers are often in groups – family, visiting relatives, vacationing couples. And they get weary. And since not every member of the group wants to shop in your particular store, there is that awkward, and often uncomfortable, situation of waiting for others to shop. Big deal, you say? You’re not in the business of providing seating?

Everyone stays!

Small business brick and mortar is typically limited in floor space, but there is always place for a strategically positioned chair or bench. Isn’t it better if no one leaves until the active shoppers are done shopping your establishment? You may even leave a positive visual imprint for the next shopping visit. They’ll remember, “They have a place where I can sit.”

And because of certain health issues, seating may be a requirement during long shopping days. Do you want anyone to avoid your establishment due to lack of seating for Aunt Sally with her arthritic knees?

Do be mindful of positioning seating in a positive manner. Find a spot that creates a sense of belonging rather than of being placed in a cramped corner. And if you are a clothing store, place seating near the dressing room to enable “show and tell.” Shoppers are more likely to buy when they can get that “second opinion.”

Seating means comfort

Ask other shop owners who DO have seating in their store. What benefits are they reaping?

They’ll likely tell you potentially grumpy and impatient non-shoppers are relieved to find a place to sit. Their mood shifts more positively and the begin to observe the surroundings. They soon notice the inviting displays and consider shopping with you, too (because you have invested time and good marketing principles in your merchandising and displays, right?).

Create a sense of welcome

You absolutely must train your staff to take a moment to engage with the seated! The power of interaction is immeasurable for positive reinforcement. Keep bottles of water and snacks on hand. It all goes together.

QR codes – a Marketing Opportunity not to be ignored

You can easily create QR code and signage to enable seated visitors (and everyone else):

  • to go to your website
  • to read your blog
  • to subscribe to your newsletter
  • to become a follower on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and all your other Social Media sites
  • to leave a review on sites like Yelp and more!

Give the seated an excuse to post or tweet about their experience waiting for their friends!

No money in the budget for a sturdy bench or chairs?

Buy used. Craigslist, Ebay, your local consignment store, used office furniture stores (very sturdy furniture), garage sales, … even your house!

Seating really is so simple and yet frequently dismissed. Don’t overlook it – especially through the holidays.

Boomer SMB Owners Tell Me S/He Can’t Do Social Media…

MS-DOS Command line
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-DOS

Nothing, and I mean nothing, including social media, is as hard to master as MS-DOS was. . .

Since my business demographic is primarily boomers, I know better. I’m a boomer, too. And I know full well that we boomers had to conquer and endure the pioneering stages of modern technology. Nothing, and I mean nothing, today is as hard to master as MS-DOS was. Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials don’t have a clue what a nightmare it was to work on a black screen with green letters and no graphics, no mouse. They never had to learn commands or have ever seen “A:” , or had to save content on multiple floppy disks, and most never sat in front of a v e r y  s l o w CRT that emitted unhealthy rays!

So, Back to the Boomers

So when these boomers who cut their computer teeth on difficult, dinosaur technology are telling me that social media is just too hard to take the time to learn  – –  sorry, but I’m not biting!

What I think happened to these otherwise savvy entrepreneurs, is when they began their businesses, technology was in an ever-changing mode. Obsolescence was the norm, and many were hesitant to invest in expensive technology that would most likely be outdated before it collected dust. Starting a new business means watching every nickel; technology avoidance and frugality became almost a badge of honor.

Culture Shock

Then, before these entrepreneurs knew what hit them, all of a sudden they were far, far behind others who had the time to keep up. In addition, any technology to be learned had to center around POS and bookkeeping. The learning curve on those was a bit time-consuming for owners, not to mention the time required to train staff. Who had time to jump into the social media craze while trying to run a business?

But now – da-da-DUM – there is no escaping social media for small business marketing. While it, too, experienced its versions of continuous obsolescence, social media has settled in as the most viable and affordable marketing vehicle for SMBs.

What I am finding is the biggest obstacle to success in social media, is that most successful entrepreneurs are classic introverts, even hermits. They live, eat, drink, and breathe their business to the point of no social life, but they like that! So of course they feel awkward trying to enter a SOCIAL medium that expects casual interaction.

So, yes, it is good to hire help, but it is also good to use that help to learn social media. WHY? Because social media is not successful unless the fans get to see what goes on behind the front doors. And if you don’t provide behind the scenes material (content, images, customer testimonials, etc.), then you are simply keeping a social media account alive with memes, quotes, product images – yawn……..

My best social media analogy?

Think of how many times you have driven by a small business and felt a tinge of apprehension about pulling in and checking it out. Why?

Because we don’t like to explore the unknown, especially when it has potential to waste our valuable time or money. Your social media fans are no different. They want some behind the scenes peeks at who you are, what you do, why you sell what you sell, what makes you different, and how will it FEEL to shop or do business with you!

Damn, you don’t have to marry these fans! Just like your customers, people just need to get to know each other! And that’s why social media works for those who do make the effort to put themselves out there for fans! Does that make sense?!

A Comedy of Customer Service Errors – a Marketing vs Sales story

Ruby Tuesday on North Carolina Highway 54 in D...
Image via Wikipedia

It is so important for Marketing and Sales to communicate. Ruby Tuesday and other chains must spend a fortune on their marketing; from print to broadcast, decor, menus, layout, everything. But if the on-the-floor experience doesn’t match the marketing, whose fault is it? Marketing or Operations – or both?

A true story. The little things really DO matter.

I was telling colleagues this story of a customer experience I had, and they all said I positively must blog about it. It’s true and not exaggerated, so I hope you enjoy this crazy little adventure of mine… To me, it is a great example of how operations and marketing must work together or both sides suffer.

Turn on the Wayback Machine

Waaaay back in 2004, I was a troubleshooting store manager at a (then) new outlet mall in a (then) fairly unsophisticated and remote location in North Georgia. Thankfully, the area has come a long way since then.

It was a tough adjustment for me, spoiled from working in major metropolitan areas with a wealth of hiring potential… “Dueling Banjos” from the movie “Deliverance” was playing in the back of my mind…

We just wanted to eat

It was time for the annual inventory, so, in anticipation of a long worknight, I planned to treat my staff to dinner and some great coffee. Simple enough – or so I thought. I forgot that this area was satisfied withcoffee that came in jars of brown powder. But I held hope for dinner… a new Ruby Tuesday had opened in the far end of the mall’s parking lot. Hooray – we can avoid Food Court heartburn!

An actual coffee bar had opened in the food court, too! I was so happy we had the option of real food and real coffee to ease the dreaded task of counting every item in the store – accurately.

Even better, Ruby’s had curb side pickup. I called ahead and ordered for everyone. They gave me my total, asked for the description of my car, and told me the order would be ready to pick up in 20 minutes. Perfect! I thought to myself, I’ll head on over while the staff closes the day’s business. How much easier could it get?

Wanted: Revolving Doors

I headed over to the Ruby Tuesday restaurant and parked in the pick-up spot in front of the curbside door near the backside of the restaurant. While watching every other waiting car get orders filled, I noticed something odd… The server did not go back in to the restaurant through the same door he exited. Instead, he walked to the front entrance… huh? He did this 4 more times, each time moving a little faster to get to that front door. Not surprisingly, my curiosity was peaking. Why didn’t he go back in the way he came out?

I was kept waiting and waiting for my order. The next time the server popped out, I waved him over and he assured me my order was on the way. Hmmmmm….  I waited a little longer and still no order. I decided I had to investigate. I left my car and now I’m annoyed for keeping my staff waiting. I walked to the curb side pick-up door and surprise! Locked. Now we all know why the server kept returning by way of the front door, but still don’t know why he couldn’t do anything about it.

We can’t make that item for ya – or anything else either

I walked to the front door and the hostess directed me to the service bar which handled curbside orders. I walked over and inquired. Someone went to check and returned apologetic. They were out of lettuce!!! They said they were waiting to know what I wanted to substitute. And they were going to ask me when?!? And what restaurant runs out of lettuce? Seriously? (only back then we weren’t saying “Seriously” so I probably said, “Really?”).

I asked about 3 other items – nope, nada, don’t have the items to make it. Finally I settled for something I hoped the staff would like and they went back into the kitchen after some more mumblings of apologies.

I didn’t trust them anymore

I decided to wait at the bar since it was hot outside, not to mention I also now had a trust issue emerging. Boy, good thing Twitter was still 2 years away… what a stream of bad customer service tweets were waiting here.

I’m still sitting there waiting… I was the only customer in the area, so I became privy to some staff chatter I probably wasn’t supposed to hear:

Why aren’t you using the curb door to come back in?

It’s locked.

Well, go get the key! 

Steve has it.

Well where’s Steve?

Nobody’s seen him for the last 20 minutes.

Ba-dum-tss….

If there had been Twitter, my feed would have been smoking! You couldn’t have scripted this better.

Then, finally, my order came out. Whew! But I was running out of time and still had to go to the “gourmet” coffee shop in the food court…

Again, what was I thinking?

So I get to the coffee place in the food court. They were still open for a few hours, so I should have no trouble here.  hahahahahahahahahaha :D

We only have regular?

I ordered a few flavored coffees. The young lady said, “We’re out of the flavored coffees, we just have regular.” I stepped back to look at the sign to make sure I was actually standing at the “Coffee bar.” Yup.  I was at the right place – at least according to the sign…

I asked her when some flavored coffee might be ready.

She said they weren’t going to make anymore.

I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt by asking if she were closing early or some such story that would make some kind of sense of her statement. She said no, that they just only make so much flavored coffee per day and so she wasn’t going to make anymore.

Wait, there’s more.

No stir sticks?

I was running out of time, so I just gave up and ordered regular coffee all around. Then I asked for cream and sugar. She wanted a specific number of creams and sugars before she would give me any.

And lastly – she was out of spoons and stir sticks! Unbelievably, I had to walk down to each of the next 3 food court stores before I could find spoons. The first one actually had some, but told me I couldn’t have any of his because I didn’t buy anything from him.

I was beginning to feel like this was some kind of customer service Twilight Zone and that surely I would wake up soon! First the food fiasco and now the food court and coffee stand fail.

Nope. It was real.

As I was walking out with my coffee and spoons, I spotted a familiar face at the courtesy desk and recounted my horrors of customer service. We agreed the hiring pool was just too dry. We wrapped up our conversation on the trials of hiring in an arena of folks that thought getting a Wal-Mart was their route to becoming akin to a big city.

Then, up walks an unshaven young guy in overalls and flip-flops asking for an application for a job. The courtesy desk host asked for which store was he applying? He said he didn’t know – what stores did they have? We all laughed and told him to turn around as he was in the middle of over 40 different stores in the food court alone.

He shrugged, we wanted to laugh.

I walked back to my store to share our regular coffee and non-lettuce bearing adjusted menu items… and went to work on our inventory.

So, corporate, listen up. What happens on the floor is what determines your ROI in marketing. You can spend all you want on marketing, but if operations aren’t up to par, your money is wasted.

SMBs, Coach Your Staff Daily for Success

City Market Tourist Info, Savannah, GADo you communicate daily with your staff?

Ever notice how the more successful restaurants have daily meetings with staff before they start their shift?

  • menu changes
  • staff issues
  • maintenance problems
  • staff division of duties and tables

It is critical in the restaurant business for the best possible diner experience to enable a profitable outcome. Management reviews these items BEFORE staff interacts with customers.

So why don’t ALL small businesses follow this practice?

Recently, at a tourist info kiosk in Savannah, Georgia, I overheard the person coming on shift complaining to the leaving shift person: “And again, why do I know nothing about this?”  Lack of communication is always the main complaint in the workplace in a multi-shift business environment. Why? Take a look at the image of this lone kiosk worker – many small businesses have staff that work alone or come on to a shift after management goes home. All too often, changes or necessary updates go unnoticed or unaware. This causes mistakes, unhappy customers, profit loss, and more.

A “Get up to Speed” daily staff session is critical for your success. Weekly meetings are not practical in a multi-shift business. Find the means that works best to communicate regularly. Email, bulletin boards, communications notebook, dry erase board, voice mails, a Facebook Group page, Google Hangout …whatever it takes!

Yes, it takes time and preparation on you or your manager’s part, but would you rather spend that valuable time fixing problems caused by a lack of communication?

Shopping Small is Shopping Wise for Busy Entrepreneurs

Shopping Small is Shopping Wise for Busy Entrepreneurs

Are you guilty of lost time picking through discount racks to NOT find what you need?

It is a far more enjoyable shopping experience to “Shop Small.” Since Entrepreneurs are always short on time, small business shops and services can be a huge time saver once you establish a relationship with the staff. And since you entrepreneurs are always watching every dime,  shopping small keeps you out of hot water when you need your needs met. For example, your small business will educate you on extending the life of your purchases, and proper use. In addition, with your sales history, they can make suggestions for wiser future purchases to supplement what you already own.

You will get additional value if you ASK your small business:

  • Do you keep my purchases on file?
  • Will I be notified of sales or specials?
  • Will you let me know if something I expressed an interest in goes on sale or is running out?
  • Can I work with the same salesperson each time if I find a good match for me?
  • Do you have a loyalty program?
  • Is there a maintenance alert program (for home and office machines, appliances, landscapers, etc) perhaps via email or texting?

ASK, ASK, ASK! You’d be surprised what they might offer for your customer service experience if you only ask.

I know our clients are very happy when we notice items of concern or mistakes FOR them before a consumer does. And by the same token, we are very happy to have small businesses who help US with their specific goods or services so we can keep our minds focused on our clients.

Generally, small business owners LOVE what they do. Give them a chance to treat you special and you’ll save a lot of time and money – and stress!

:) Take 5 minutes to post a good review on social media or review sites (like Yelp or Google Places for Business) for the small businesses who make your daily life easier! They work hard to keep you coming back.

No One Ever Said Learning Social Media Was Intuitive

Maybe I don't engage enough on Facebook, but when I do, everyone should know about it.

Here is yet another conversation with my husband over how-to-use his Facebook business page…!

Note: I’m the spouse here . . . so, of course, what do I know!? But, believe me, I can and do coach clients very successfully on these same issues – Really! :)

Hubby: Why can’t I get my blog post to show up on my business page? I clicked SHARE!

Me: You clicked on the share link at the bottom of the post again, didn’t you?

Hubby: Well, YEEEAH. I wanted to SHARE my post.

Me: Try to think like your blog followers… They read your post, get to the bottom and want to share, so conveniently the share button FOR THEM is at the bottom of the post so they can share your post to their page.

Hubby: But, I AM SHARING.

Me: No, you want to post an update. It’s different.

Hubby: Facebook is B—S—! There’s nothing intuitive about it!

Me: I never said there was.

Hubby: (clicking over to home page) Why is the post I shared from George Takei showing up twice in the feed?

Me: Because you follow George Takei. That is the post you shared to your page, so you see his post and your post.

Hubby: But I don’t want my followers to think I’m an idiot with this showing up twice on my page.

Me: Your follower feeds differ from yours. They see the posts of those pages they follow. Let’s go over the difference between “Home” and your “Timeline.” AGAIN!

Hubby: (clicking back to his business page timeline) It’s only on this page once. What happened to the other one?

Me: (deep SIGH – remember this is my spouse I am helping)

Hubby: So I’m on my home page.

Me: No, this is your timeline. Click “Home” to go to your home page.

Hubby: (he clicks home) This is my news feed.

Me: Technically, yes, but Facebook changed the name to HOME a long while back. Think of it as your “Home Dashboard.”

Hubby: Dashboard? But that’s not where I post my stuff!

Me: You actually can post on either page. “HOME” is where you should be living when you visit Facebook.

Hubby: I don’t care about all that stuff. I just want to make sure my followers are seeing my stuff.

Me: So much for the “SOCIAL” aspect of social media . . .

Hubby: (he gives me “the look”)

Me: Let’s go back to the cocktail party analogy. Do you want to be the person everyone is running away from or the one with whom they like to ENGAGE? ENGAGEMENT is social. ENGAGEMENT is how people will notice you – not so much your posts! Yes, you need to post your updates, too, but ENGAGEMENT is SOCIAL. It’s how people get to know you. Then they can go visit your page and learn more.

Hubby: All I want to know is how to make sure that what I post shows up right!

Me: I think I’ll go find a cocktail party.

Note: I do give him credit for actually trying to learn – FINALLY :-)

So, Where the Hell are We with Social Media?

IMAGE_RANDOM_girl looking down hiway

Ahhh… so where are we now with Social Media?

Surprisingly, Google+ is coming into its own! I was a doubter, too, but if you have checked it out lately, you’ll notice a lot more activity. It’s a bit like a cross between Facebook and Twitter.

How so? Well, imho, Twitter leans toward information and Facebook leans more toward the coffee klatsch. So if you don’t necessarily want to live in one or the other, Google+ seems to have filled that space.

Of course, who knows what direction it will take. It took what seemed like forever for Google+ to get serious recognition (including from me), but I must say it is clearly now a worthy contender for our attention.

And you could even say that it is encroaching on Pinterest territory since the picture quality is on par with Pinterest.

Facebook 

Facebook is floundering a bit now because it is responsible to stockholders and didn’t exactly impress them at their public launch. The problem was they switched too dramatically to monetizing without remembering their roots of success. Yes, it surely is infuriating to have a company that consists of millions who expect everything for free. But, I think this was a company that put the cart waaaaaay before the horse. If they had recognized earlier on that “free” can’t sustain a business forever, they would have been better prepared for the real business world.

But who am I to judge? Eh, just someone who makes a living helping others learn to use their social media effectively. Yes, I do encourage small business owners to use Facebook, but I fear Facebook is becoming the modern-day Yellow Pages for business. Why? Because many Facebook users are seriously more interested in keeping in touch with fam and friends, entertainment and the latest outrage. Business pages are mostly for specials or coupons. But God Forbid you DON’t have a Facebook page – that means you must not even exist, right?

That said, if business owners don’t have a Facebook page, they can’t help but lose exposure to the competitor who does. It’s a conundrum, yes. But, I still encourage its use because we have to wait for the next evolution of social media without losing momentum on the existing.

Twitter

Still my favorite. Where else can you get in on the action LIVE! Where else can you learn the latest even before Reuters gets it to the various news media? Where else can you have a singular conversation with interested and informative participants in real-time?

Yes you converse on Facebook and Google+, but when you get on a roll or a Tweetchat with others on Twitter, no other platform can compare with the immediacy in feedback and fun! Facebook may have its games and G+ may have its hangouts, but Twitter is the most spontaneous of all. And who doesn’t like a race? Yup, it’s like a race to respond in line before another question or an answer by another. Maybe it’s best suited for us ADD’ers ;)

But for small business, it is again, a must to be included in the conversations. But, alas, most SMBs are not on Twitter, or even if they are, have no clue about optimization.

And Not to Forget Pinterest

Pinterest, I’m a little worried about. Do people really visit the people they follow or are they mostly cruising the home page for the latest or a category page? It seems like the most viable spot on Pinterest is the home feed where the latest pins are popping up. So with all this action elsewhere, are Pinterest users too distracted by the latest and not have enough time to make a concerted effort to visit the pages they have followed? I could be wrong, but it is a concern.

No I have not forgotten LinkedIn, Instagram, etc… but they have clearly defined themselves (kudos to them) and are in a safe zone for now.

At any rate, no matter which platform addiction followers have, it is important to recognize that all platforms have their followers and we would be foolish to not recognize the power of their social media attention. 

Consider online marketing’s infancy and understand that no one, and I mean no user, no “expert,” no one has a crystal ball because, again imho, social media is highly dependent on technology capabilities. So, I expect that inasmuch as we have seen amazing things around online use in these last 20 years,…

…We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet!