Don’t Lose Your Customer Before You Get Your Customer

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Like many of you, a lot of sales professionals reach out to me. Some drop in, hoping for a chance to introduce themselves and their product. Some call or email, with the intent of scheduling a longer phone call or face-to-face in the near future.

Regardless of how they reach out, I try to respond personally to all of them. They have a job to do and I respect that. Very recently, I had two very different experiences from two company representatives that wanted me to consider the product they offered.

In the first example, a folder with information was dropped off for me at the front desk of the hotel.  I received the folder at approximately 3:00 pm.  With a very full schedule that day, I made a note to review and respond the next morning. That evening, I received an email from a member of my front desk team.  It turns out this sales person was a guest in the hotel.  His reservation had been made about a week prior to his arrival.  He was quite upset I had not responded by end of day, made reference to me flying out to visit him at his office and then questioned the quality of the guest experience at the hotel, from the product offered to the level of service.

That same day, I received a note in the mail from Debbie, an account manager for Classic 107, a local radio station. Debbie and I had spent time together the week before. She asked me lots of questions to ensure she understood our priorities and customer demographic and provided initial suggestions on how she could help us achieve our marketing goals. Even though Debbie left without any immediate new business, she sent me a lovely, handwritten note, thanking me for my time and promising to follow up later in the year.

Debbie and I had a scheduled appointment, but my team knows to call me if someone drops in.  If I am available, I make the time to meet with the person, even if only for a few minutes.  I used to participate in sales missions, from a city and a brand perspective, so I get it.  By far the majority of our calls were planned, but sometimes along the way, we would simply drop in on the off-chance a decision maker would be immediately available to see us.  It rarely happened.  At that point, the gate keeper was our decision maker. The gate keeper’s impression of our professionalism was vital. What he or she said about us directly impacted the possibility of a response or what type of response we would receive.

Ensuring a positive pre-sale experience is important.  A 2011 Consumer Report’s survey indicated that customers who bailed on a transaction did so because of poor service. That’s potential customers who were ready to purchase but chose not to.

There are a lot of touch points in between first point of contact to signing a deal. Each of those moments can make or break a potential sale.  Be as careful of those touch points as you are about each and every one after the first sale is made.

And in case you are wondering, I did respond to the first salesperson the next morning as planned, expressing disappointment his guest experience was not the positive one our entire service team is committed to providing and extending an invitation to share his concerns with me personally. To date, there has been no response to my email.

Then I called Debbie to get her permission to mention her by name at a future date, knowing at some point a blog would be written.  She graciously agreed.  I look forward to our next conversation.

What’s Your Business Karma?

Take a moment to Google “corporate scandals”.  Examples of corporate greed and social irresponsibility are regular occurrences.   In their quest for financial success, some companies and company leaders choose to break the law and stretch the truth. They don’t value employee contribution to their company’s success and they delay implementing initiatives that will mitigate their environmental impact.

The belief in karma is ancient and widespread.  In the bible, it’s stated as “for whatever a man sows, this will he also reap.”   The Chinese proverb “Sow melon, reap melon; sow beans, reap beans” states the same thing.  Or perhaps you’re more familiar with the phrases “what goes around comes around” or “you made your bed, now lie in it”.

I am a firm believer in karma. So what does that look like from a business perspective?  To me, it means the following:

Value the contribution that your employees bring to your organization.  Provide them with the training and tools that they need in order to be successful.  Treat them with respect.  Recognize that they have a life outside of your building and don’t try to steal too much of that time for yourself.  Thank them for their efforts on your behalf.

Be honest.  Don’t cheat on your taxes. Keep your advertising truthful.  Don’t sell what you can’t deliver.  Don’t borrow others hard work.  Give credit where credit is due. Apologize and own mistakes, instead of deflecting responsibility or assigning blame.

Give back.  Support a charity.  Be a mentor.  Find a way to help others be successful.

Respect the environment.   Look for ways to reduce waste.  If you don’t have a recycling program, put one in place.  Buy green or local when possible.

I have been very fortunate to meet and get to know successful business leaders and owners who practice each of these four points on a daily basis.  And yes, the reality is that there are many successful companies that choose not to.  For that, I leave you with the following quote:

“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”  Mohandas Gandhi

What do you think?

(This is a revised version of a blog originally posted in November 2011.)

Who Do You Serve?

You cannot be all things to all people.  Your business cannot be all things to all consumers.

A company open for business to everyone, who says “yes” to all requests quickly loses:

  1. Time
  2. Focus
  3. Vision
  4. Clarity
  5. Passion

When you are busy trying to keep everyone happy, you don’t have time to focus on the customers you really want to serve; the customers you connect with, the customers that speak your language.  Vision, purpose and passion fade.  And in the end, companies that try to please everyone, that try to serve everyone, end up wowing no-one.

It takes courage to find a lane, to clearly define who you are here to serve.  It takes time to craft a finely honed message and product that speaks to a defined market instead of a generic, ambiguous message meant to attract a wide, non-descript market.  One problem with generic messages targeted to a wide, undefined market is that there are so many of those out there, yours will simply get lost in the crowd.

When you try and serve everyone, none of your customers get the best of you.

What is the best of you?  Define that and then find the customers who want that. You will both be better served in the end.

But it is a Real Job!

The tourism / hospitality industry has an image problem.  In many people’s eyes, it continues to be seen as an industry to work in until a “real” job is found.

That was exactly what I thought when I took my first job waiting on tables at Boston Pizza.  I was a year out of high school, had moved into Winnipeg from small town Manitoba and wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Rent needed to be paid and with my lack of work experience or training, I focused on landing a job in the retail sector or the hospitality industry.

Within just a few short weeks of starting work, I knew I had found my future.  I continued waiting on tables and registered into the hospitality program at Red River College.  Along the way, I transitioned from the food and beverage sector into the accommodation sector, and the rest, as they say, is history.

There will always be people who use our industry as a stepping stone to another career, and that’s ok. Without them, our industry would be facing an even bigger labour shortage than it does.   But I think that sometimes new hires are treated as temporary workers instead of potential long term industry professionals. We don’t take the time to really explain the career opportunities available to them, both in our own business and in the industry as a whole and so we lose them.

Do the people that work for you know the career opportunities the tourism/hospitality industry provides?  Not just in your own business but in the industry as a whole.  Yes, letting them know all the options and opportunities available to them may mean they leave, but if they only leave you and not the industry entirely, that is a good thing!  It reminds me of when I was part of a destination marketing partnership.  Sales team made up of industry professionals went out to sell our destination, not our individual properties. When the destination won, we all won. When our industry is seen as a viable career choice, we all benefit.

And for those people who decide our challenging, vibrant, topsy-turvy industry isn’t for them, we still need them to be aware of what is possible so that someday, when they have the opportunity to influence the career choice of a young adult, they won’t try to dissuade them from entering our industry.

What does your employee handbook say about your company?

The impression a new hire forms about your company is initially created during the hiring process.  If someone decides to take you up on your offer of employment, the assumption is that you sold your company well.  Good job.  After you’ve convinced them to join you, it’s time to officially welcome them to the team and give them an opportunity to really get to know your company.

The employee handbook is a key part of that learning curve.  It provides information on the company, the policies, the procedures, employee benefits and opportunities.  Take a look at your employee handbook from the perspective of a new hire. What type of language is used? Is the focus on the employee or on the company?  Is the list of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” statements longer than the list of employee benefits?  Some employee handbooks are written that way because that is the company culture, which, from a glass-is-half-full perspective, means they are being honest about who they are. On the other hand, some employee handbooks are written in a traditional, rather autocratic style simply because nobody has looked at them in a while or thought about the hidden message the handbook sends.

In 2009, Zappos took their employee handbook and created a document that reflects who they are and what they stand for as a company.  All the traditional information is still there, but presented in a comic book / MAD magazine format.  And instead of assigning this task to HR, they pulled employees from different areas in the company to help write it.  It is fun, it is colourful and it is true reflection of the company’s values. (More information here.)

I’m not a gamer which may explain why Valve Software’s new employee handbook, introduced in April of this year, flew under my radar. Valve’s company culture is absolutely not for everyone, but like it or not, the culture very clearly comes through in the handbook.  One thing completely unique about their handbook is the section clearly outlining what they’re not good at.  Take a look here.

Your employee handbook is an extension of your company; it should send a message consistent with your brand image and culture.  If you haven’t reviewed it lately, I encourage you to pull it off the shelf, dust it off and read it.  And if it does need updating, perhaps like the Zappos example, your team can help rewrite it with you.