I have been angst-ing over a report / article that I am writing for almost two weeks. The nagging perfectionist in me (her name is Perpetua and she also has the title of Inner Critic/Judge) was on the loose giving me a run for my money. This little message is precisely what this perfectionist needed. Perpetua is now back where she belongs…taking a break from it all, probably hob-nobbing with Cruela Deville.
I also realized that this advice of emptying oneself was exactly what I did when finally embarking on the subject of this post.
Yes, there is a subject. Here’s the story:
Living the life of a peregrinator has its challenges at times. One challenge presented itself in the form of a class assignment for a post grad business coaching class I’m taking for my coaching credential. The assignment itself was a joy. I was to interview business owners who I did not know personally and include 3 specific questions in the course of the interview. I did not know where to begin. My S.O. and I had just landed in Idaho (our home base between his jobs) and I have no contacts here, yet.
I called a friend on the east coast and told her about my assignment. She just so happened to be working with a business owner/landscape architect on his web presence. She said she would ask him. I was grateful.
Soon after, it dawned on me that I might be able to get some help from one of the groups I had recently joined on LinkedIn. If the interview my friend told me she would set up came together, I would only need one more person to interview. The teacher said to interview a couple of business owners.
to the one group (out of seven groups I have joined) that I thought might be the most willing to help.
I need some willing volunteers to help me with an assignment I have for an advanced coaching class.
Those who clicked on that “headline”, read that I had a class assignment to conduct a 20-30 minute simple interview with business owners about their businesses. The group I chose was definitely the “right” group.
After such a great response, I realized what a shame it would be to interview only two people, so I decided to tweak the assignment ever so slightly for my own edification. I thought if I could interview 10 people (a nice number), I might find some interesting patterns among these entrepreneurs and at the very least, meet some successful and interesting business owners.
Due to time constraints and schedules, I ended up interviewing nine people. They ranged from people who had been their own bosses from three years to twenty-five years and the businesses were: landscape architect, resume writing/career transition counselor, etiquette school, virtual assistants, video producer, a corporate coach, a personal facilitator of women in leadership roles, contractor in the finance/banking industry and a greeting card marketing company. One of the interviewees runs two businesses simultaneously.
The interview questions I was assigned were:
1. Tell me about your business. (i.e.: How did you start? How long have you had the business?, etc.)
2. What non-financial challenges are you currently dealing with?
3. If you could hire a coach, what would you want to address?
The conversations were primarily around these three questions with some variances depending on where the conversation went and how much time each person had to give. After interviewing 2 or 3 people, it became evident to me that some business owners were the genuine article and possessed what I felt was true inner happiness …so I added this question for some of the remaining interviewees (wishing I had asked everyone).
And….after the interviews were all over I wished I had asked a 5th question:
So, I put this after-thought question #5 out on the same discussion board after the interviews were over. An interesting thing happened. I realized within hours of posting question #5 that those that I sensed were the most successful (aka: happy) were the ones who were at the ready with their very clear visions within hours of the request.
– All interviewed were curious about the class and the purpose of the interview and was excited to be of assistance.
– Most wanted to know what I would be “doing” with this information. Aside from reporting aloud to my class, I had not made any formal plans, until I got so many questions I thought it would only be right to write this for them. After all, they were kind enough to volunteer.
– More than half interviewed were very driven by wanting to help their clients be 100% successful. This was evident in their volunteering to help me as well as the responses received for question #5.
– At least half of those I had interviewed had been in the “corporate world” and each one said, unsolicited:
I will make the assumption, however, that the corporate world may have given them the foundation and wherewithal to go solo.
– Many of them said they like variety in their career and flexibility with their schedules. This did not come as a surprise to me. Many entrepreneurs have these traits/preferences in common. I remember one business owner saying that it took 18 months of working 24/7, but she has finally tailored her work life to suit her whole life and, to top it off, is happy, no thrilled, with her income. I could feel her beaming through the telephone. She is also the one who, when asked question #3: If you could hire a coach, what would you want coaching on?, responded with:
– Two were already moving their businesses into a new phase of offering the teaching of others to do what they do….teaching their methodology….passing the torch to future generations
– One was getting an MBA to broaden his/her skills base and put new systems into place so that he/she could be more of a manager/overseer vs. exclusive “doer”.
The responses to the question “what would you hire a coach for?” varied the most. After my first interview, I felt it necessary to let everyone know I was not soliciting for my coaching business. This was very important to me as I honestly was just completing an assignment and wanted the most truthful answer without anyone feeling they were being “sold” to. Here are the responses:
– Develop and implement systems for the next phase of business.
– Learn more about marketing using the latest social media to enhance the business and reach goals
– Challenge his/her assumptions
– Guide them to set milestones and keep focused
– Hold him/her accountable to the least enjoyable tasks
– Coach him/her to become more at ease with net-working and being visible, followed up with getting the jobs they want.
– The response: Build self-confidence with some “atta girl” reinforcement coaching was heart-felt and I remember thinking to myself: “atta girl” for being so honest!
– A couple of these business owners said they would not hire a coach because they are comfortable coaching themselves, have good support (peers) in place and/or utilize good reading material. If they were to hire anyone it would be an administrative assistant. Business is good!
If it isn’t obvious, the whole experience for me was positive all the way around. Per my teacher’s suggestion, I DID have fun. I was able to identify where everyone was in their stage of business, I met some wonderful people (which is a bonus in and of itself) and learned some valuable lessons.
The biggest lesson I learned is the importance of being a happy person…especially if you are going to own your own business.
I cannot end this post without bringing up the tea bag quote one more time. This zen advice was just what I needed to get my thoughts flowing. Maybe this would be helpful advice for anyone who feels “stuck”. Sounds like common sense to me.
I have more thoughts about this experience/assignment and will post them here. I invite all of those whom I interviewed to comment, ask more questions or contact me if you would like to expand on our interview (either in private or on this blog site as a guest). And if there is anyone out there who just wants to comment, feel free. Also, if you would like to be a part of any future class assignments, I have a list started.
I wasn’t going to write about my errand day last week. The thoughts that went through my mind were:
No one will find this interesting.
But I can’t get it out of my head because I realized
And this experience is not a one time only situation. It has occurred a few times in the last 3 months.
If you are a retail business that is in a mall or shopping center, your landlord has rules for you.
Rule #1: Open for business on time.
If, however you are an independent business owner who leases a space in a quaint small town, there are really no “rules” so to speak, so if you open a half hour late, it’s no big deal. Some might even find it reminds them of a boutique in Europe where the customers are always “wrong” and the hours of operation vary on a daily basis. It’s just their way.
I bring all of this up because I woke up the other morning knowing I had many errands. I had a lot on my “To Do” list and needed to get as early a start as possible. I timed everything out based on what time the stores opened. Most retail establishments open at 10:00 a.m. so I left the house at 5 minutes before 10:00 and was happy that I would be able to get in and out early. The two stores I wanted to shop in were not open at a little after 10:00. As I walked to the cafe around the corner to get a cup of coffee while I waited for the 2 shops to open, I noticed there were other stores not open. Had my watch stopped? I got to the coffee shop and verified the time. It was 10:20 a.m.
On my way back, I stopped to look in a different shop window at something that caught my eye….something that MIGHT be perfect as a gift for someone who was on my “To Do” list. I looked at my newly synchronized watch….It was 10:30 a.m. I looked further into the shop and saw some great gift ideas. I saw a woman arranging some items in the store. I feel certain she saw me looking in the window because she looked up from what she was doing when I appeared. I went for the doorknob and just before my hand touched it, I noticed the “CLOSED” sign. I saw the store hours posted on the door.
I looked at the woman, who by this time had turned her back. I left with my coffee feeling very perplexed.
If you were the owner of this store, what would you have liked to have seen happen? I know I would have been happy if I had been greeted by this woman opening up the door and inviting me in.
I most likely would have purchased a gift for my friend and not bothered to have even entered the other stores that were not open before going to get coffee.
I know what some of you may be thinking….
Why doesn’t she just go to the mall or chain store that opens on time?
I have an aversion to the homogenized McShopping Centers and Malls. I like supporting the Mom and Pop businesses whenever possible. Only it wasn’t possible on this day.
What are the messages here?
Are business owners in such a funk that they can’t see that making an effort CAN make a difference in their sales?
Are they feeling like there is no hope?
Is the shop just a hobby?
Albeit more discerning of their spending, consumers ARE still out there.
This is especially the time to shine
be open on time,
When I was a sales coach for This End Up Furniture Company, I was working with a store manager one-on-one during a two day visit to her store. She was a very bubbly, enthusiastic manager who loved the company, the product, the people, the customers….everything. As a matter of fact, she had been a very enthusiastic customer who was recruited. Her name was Diane.
Much of the first half of our day was spent in observation mode….meaning I observed Diane with with her customers. What I saw/heard was non stop bubbly and up-beat talking….90% from Diane. Every encounter ended with the customer walking out with a brochure and price list and ALL of the information about the company, the furniture they were standing near, the fabric, the accessories, etc. that Diane graciously shared like a hostess with a tray of appetizers.
To put it mildly,
she had “the gift of gab”
which needed a bit of tweaking.
As a coach, it is my job to keep the learning atmosphere as open and positive as possible.
Integrity is a value I honor.
What might have happened if I said to Diane: “You talk too much!…That customer couldn’t get a word in edgewise!” Most likely it would shut her down which would essentially slow or stop the learning process.
To keep the learning atmosphere healthy,
a good coach keeps the conversation in
a place of discovery.
What I didn’t mention at the top of this post is that Diane and I began our day talking about what we both wanted out of our two days together. From the beginning, expectations were in place….from all parties involved.
This vital step is what set us up for success.
One of the ten Shared Values at This End Up was Individual Growth. We attracted people who appreciated this unique value in a retail setting. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy….this stretching and growing business, however, everyone was in it together, by choice. We all coached each other…up the line and down the line. What a great culture!
Diane asked me to let her know what I observed and pick
to help her grow that would impact increasing her personal sales.
My coaching began:
Me: Tell me about that customer.
Diane’s responses were all based on everything she told the customers about the product and services.
Me: What did the customer tell you about their home? or What room were they working on?
Diane: They didn’t. I think they were just looking.
Me: What do you know about them as a person?
Diane: They had on a real cute dress and they were on their way to the movies in the mall.
Me: What do they know about us? (the company, furniture, etc…)
Diane: A lot! I told them how we started as a company, how the furniture is constructed, what fabrics are available, how long it takes to receive from the date the order is placed, what our hours are….
Diane stopped mid sentence and looked up at me with that unmistakable look in her eyes that indicated the A-HA! moment!
Diane: I talked too much. I didn’t give anyone a chance to talk. I don’t really know anything about the people who came in to the store this morning.
Continuing to keep the learning atmosphere open during this very important moment, I asked:
What would you have liked to have known about them?
Diane was able to list a number of productive responses. I followed up with:
What questions will lead you to all of those wonderful responses?
Again, Diane came up with some stellar questions.
It was all making sense.
A shift had begun.
Before we continued with the second part of our day, we took a break for lunch and I gently and causally asked:
What percentage of the time do you think the customers talked this morning?
She smiled and said: Hardly at all. I must have talked 100% of the time., just like I do at home. My husband and daughter can’t get a word in edgewise.
Diane looked at me again with that “A-Ha” look in her eyes and said….
“Oh my gosh. My poor family!” She laughed. I laughed. And then I asked:
Would you be up for a little assignment tonight? She agreed. I asked Diane to practice the 80/20 ratio of listening to talking with her family over dinner that evening and come back to our second day with a full report.
That means allowing her family to talk 80% while she listens. Her 20% of talking was to include as many open ended questions as was logical while she commented on whatever her family was talking about over dinner.
After lunch, we spent the afternoon practicing open ended questions to allow the customers to do a bit more of the talking. It worked and she went home energized and exhausted all at once.
The next day, I got the full report on dinner. As you might imagine, her family thought something must have been wrong with her. Was she okay? Did she feel well? Was she coming down with something? Honestly, she said her husband was delighted and asked her to thank me. While he didn’t want Diane to change from who she was, he was grateful for the shift.
And Diane was grateful for the shift in her sales.
She increased her sales that month by 40%.
blabber – blabber – blabber
chatter – chatter – chatter
If you substituted the customer in this scenario for one of the people you manage, would the same philosophy apply? (80/20?)
There’s the grocery store….and then there’s the specialty grocery store where the food is organic and healthy. I try to shop in the latter as much as possible. I believe that nourishing yourself with healthy foods is like practicing preventative medicine. It’s a worthwhile investment. (I feel the same way about massages)
Not only are the offerings good…the people seem genuinely happy. You can just feel it.
On a recent visit, I was on a mission: shopping for good tasting sauces with low to no sodium to add to stir fry vegies. When I found what I was looking for, I headed for the check out lane. I was third in line at the two register store.
Before I knew it, the second register was opened.
The gentleman in front of me with two items was ushered over.
The person who opened the second register was an employee who worked in a different department. When it was my turn in line, I had an item from my visit earlier in the week that I needed to return. I was hoping this wouldn’t be a problem.
I mentioned that I was returning the item because the sodium content was too high (34%….in noodles! Who knew?). Kathi, the “supplement manager” (it was on her name tag) smiled and asked if I would be using the same credit card today that I used to purchase the noodles. I said yes and she said….
Just as everything was put into my bag, Kathi shared that her uncle was on a strict low sodium diet and that her aunt buys a few good items that fit the bill. She offered to show them to me. I took her up on her offer. At that moment, one of the other employees came up in line and put a few items on the conveyor belt and said, “Since you’re here and finished (ringing me up), I thought you could ring these up for me.”
Kathi’s response: “I am going to show this customer a few things that I told her about first and then I’ll be back to ring you up.”
I followed Kathi and she pointed out some foods I may want to consider for other low sodium options.
All of her suggestions were good and related to my situation.
Not only did I thank her for her recommendations, I acknowledged her for putting me first.
What were this business’s messages ?
When is the last time you acknowledged your team,
in the moment,
for doing something “right”?
I like giving credit where credit is due. Thank you Kathi.
I like giving credit where credit is due, for great customer service. The organic market link is:
This was a store that had a smorgasbord of items…so many, in fact, I stayed for a good 30 to 40 minutes just trying to take it all in. The items ranged from refreshing, fun summer table linens, trays, candles and high-end clothing to colorful quilted bags. There was even a small room in the back dedicated to everything baby.
If you were claustrophobic, you might have bolted out the minute you stepped one foot in the door….but, not me.
I was pulled in, intrigued with the “chaos”
and wanted to see more.
The woman I assumed was the shop owner was behind the counter ringing up a customer. I made my way to the back of the store in turtle like fashion, looking at all the items she offered as if I was a child in a candy shop trying to decide how to spend my dollar. In fact, I was trying to deduce if she carried anything I might be able to purchase for two of my sisters who had birthdays approaching.
I was not acknowledged as I walked in and browsed.
Another customer walked in the door. The shop owner warmly greeted her with: “How are you??” What ensued was a brief conversation about the woman’s health. They knew each other. I tried not to eaves drop. However, not doing so would have been a challenge in that store. The next part of the conversation I heard (after I held up a linen dish towel to examine it closer) was the customer claiming responsibility for sending 5 to 6 people to the owner’s store to shop for a bridal shower.
I thought….Wow! How nice!
I bet the customer is a business woman herself. That is very cool that she did that.
The next thing I heard was the shop owner telling the woman that there was a baby shower for the daughter of a woman they both knew and not ONE person bought from her shop. Instead, they purchased everything from Target! The friend/woman tried to show her support of the shop owner by whispering loudly: “What a slap in the face!”
By this time, I was two-thirds of the way back through the store and and gasping at the price of of the robin’s egg blue stretch jeans ($165). At that moment, I noticed to my left there was a young woman arranging a new display of quilted colorful paisley and flowered purses and bags of all sizes and shapes.
I hadn’t noticed her when I first walked in….and she didn’t notice me.
She was busy busy busy going back and forth from the stock room to the display area.
I continued looking at the jeans and tank tops along with the “spendy” price tags.
Then I spotted the Asian style silk pajamas with the mandarin collar and contrast piping.
They were displayed showing all of the yummy colors in which they were available. Immediately, I imagined myself in either the classic navy blue or maybe the white for summer.
Just my cup of green tea!
The tag indicated: 100% silk…an important feature for me (natural fabrics). I lifted the hanger, put the PJs up to me as I looked for a mirror amidst the chaos. I looked all over for a price tag but could not find one anywhere on any of the 7 pairs of pajamas hanging on display. The young woman who was busy busy busy whisked by me as she was coming from the stock room.
I timidly asked (even though I knew the answer):
Do you work here?
She said she did and looked me in the eye and smiled, as if it was the first time she noticed me. I asked her for the price of the pajamas. She couldn’t find the price either (that made me feel a little better about my eye sight) and then she spotted it on a shelf WAY up above my line of sight, hanging from a teeny tiny tag …. $49.
$49…not as bad as I thought it would be. The words I said were: “That’s not so bad. I have two sisters who might each love a pair of these pajamas. Their birthdays are coming up. That’s a reasonable amount to spend on a birthday present, don’t you think?”
She nodded in agreement and went on to let me know the larger sizes came in the more colorful choices … went back to her display.
I wandered farther into the other pajama and night gown displays to see what else the store carried and then ventured back toward the front of the store. The shop owner was alone and had stepped out from behind the counter. As I approached her I said, “You have a very nice store….quite a smorgasbord of things!” She looked me in the eye (for the first time) and said: “Yes! That’s the perfect word for this shop!”
I then said: “I think you have what may be perfect gifts for two of my sisters who have birthdays coming up. Do you ship?”
She said: “Yes, we do! Just bring in their addresses and we’ll take care of the shipping for you.” “Okay”…. I said.
I started to walk toward the door and noticed the fun and brightly colored aprons. I commented on how pretty they were and how reasonable the price was ($12)….and followed up with:
“I am always getting something on me when I cook….do you have the aprons that tie around your neck?”
She pointed them out to me….and went back to her perch.
I walked out and went on to the next shop….
thinking about the pajamas…
We have moved to the most quaint town. It is very “walker friendly” with scenery pleasing to the eye. After waiting for the summer heat to subside in the early evening, we took a stroll in the “down town” area where the trees offer shade and breeze around the businesses.
Most all of the restaurants have their menus posted outside. We would stop and see what the fare was for the evening. We stopped outside of Darnell’s Grill. You had to go up their 3 stairs to get to the framed menu. We walked up and noticed their door was open. I noticed they had crab bisque on their menu. My friend is from the northwest and not familiar with the famous blue crabs of the Chesapeake Bay. I, on the other hand, am very familiar with the blue crabs and know what a treat they are.
Just as I was telling him how delicious crab bisque is, a smiling Clara walked to the door and greeted us. She overheard us talking about the bisque and asked where we were from. She invited us to come in and have dinner. We were not really dressed for dinner and had on our “walking clothes”, so we politely declined. Clara kept smiling and motioned for us to come in and said, “Well, at least let me give you a taste. We have shrimp and crab bisque and you have to try it!”
How could we resist?!
Clara has that kind of unassuming personality. You know the kind….a person who makes you feel like you’ve known each other for years. We felt completely comfortable following Clara. It felt like she was sneaking us into the kitchen. And who wouldn’t like that?
We felt special.
After a healthy “taste” of bisque, we promised Clara we would be back another day for a “proper” dinner. We have returned several times since we have lived here and have met every member of Darnell’s “family.”
And by the way, if you think Clara was wonderful,
you should meet Darnell.
What do you think Darnell’s business philosophy is?
How does it compare to yours?
Do you have any “Claras” on your team?
Share a positive customer service experience.
The 5 Customer (Guest) Wants:
I had to smile as I read them. They were simply common sense and the fact that they posted them was brilliant in my humble opinion. What does having this list do for the “guests” that walk in? And how about the employees? What does this say about the company?
I enjoyed a long career with a company that had their Shared Values posted in every store. This was a company that believed in empowering every member of their team to make good decisions based on the company’s values, vision and mission. As a new team member, the first day of training was just about these shared values with the thought that if you found yourself in a position where you weren’t sure what to do, you could follow the values and make the “right” decisions…every time.
It worked like a charm.
What words does your business have to live by?
What is your business’s customer service philosophy?
Would you post them?
Recently, I asked an entrepreneur what her vision was for her business.
Her reply was perfect…
and what I would term a Common Sense Mission Statement:
” I want every person who walks in to feel glad that they did! “
What is YOURS?
It is my belief that good old fashioned common sense is always the way to go with….well….life, but for the purposes of this blog site, I’ll say that common sense is a good point of reference for great customer service and entrepreneurs who want to their businesses to thrive. The challenge however, is that common sense appears to be less and less common. What happened? Where did it go? How can we get it back?
I am a sales and management consultant as well as a business & life coach. My business clients include individuals and groups who are frustrated with the status quo and would like to improve their businesses by way of exceptional customer care with a common sense approach. They have found that by focusing on customer care, their sales and repeat business are maximized, their team members thrive and every aspect of their own lives improves as a result. They have figured out how to connect the dots.
A large part of my experience (over 25 years) has been in the retail furniture sales and management world. I have been fortunate to work with companies who have had the common sense to develop, understand and act upon values such as happy customers, teamwork and honest communication, just to name an important few. These companies had the wherewithal to realize that retaining good team members wasn’t just about money. It’s about making your team feel included and engaged. Not only was it about including the staff…inclusion was also about the customers.
Makes sense to me.
This common sense approach, in fact, enabled them to thrive during difficult economic times.
You can too.
In this blog site, I include real life customer experiences giving you the scenario…just the facts … and give you the opportunity to point out where common sense was used or perhaps, the opportunities for common sense to be applied. They will be featured on the home post page under the title: Messages. Feel free to use this blog site as a complimentary interactive training/coaching tool for your business. And….feel free to let me know the challenges you may be encountering today. I’d love to look at them with you and develop a strategy that WORKS for YOU!
It was the Saturday before Mother’s Day. The weather was cooperating (after what seemed like 2 weeks of non stop rain) with a slight breeze and plenty of sunshine. The Farmers’ Markets were in full swing (I went to two!) and casually dressed folks just seemed genuinely happy to be out and about enjoying it all and each other.
I decided to drop in to some of the independently owned boutiques in the quaint small town where I just moved. I have seen these shops on my early morning walks and have been curious about them…specifically in how they are surviving during this particularly challenging economic time.
The first shop I walked into was a women’s clothing boutique. The door was fun…painted in a bright solid color and the window was decorated to show the variety of items inside from unique jewelry and dresses to fun cards that mentioned something about being more cool than your daughter thinks you are to t-shirts sporting martini or wine glasses as the design. I noticed a woman (who I assumed was the shop owner) standing behind the counter chatting with whom, I assumed, was a local customer.
There were about 5 women of ALL ages (early 20s to mid 70s) in this very hip and pricey store. I saw a variety of several items that caught my attention. I lifted them off their racks/displays and walked over to the mirror to put them up to me. I was probably in the store for 20 to 30 minutes. The shop owner did not acknowledge me. I walked out and went inside the boutique two doors down.