Customer Needs: One Size Does Not Fit All

Alec’s Shoes is one of New England’s most successful independent shoe stores, offering a great selection of athletic footwear, men’s and women’s casual and dress shoes, and a wide range of accessories.

But the store is known for much more than its inventory. In fact, it’s the exceptional customer service provided by the twenty-plus staff members that satisfies patrons and keeps them coming back time after time.

While this might seem like a simple approach, the store’s high level of customer service truly stands out. The floor reps are consultative, and focus on every aspect of how each pair of shoes will be used before making recommendations. They almost always offer each customer two to three choices, and customers who ask for size suggestions get both feet measured!

“Statistically, nearly twenty percent of American adults wear shoes that are the wrong size,” store owner John Koutsos explained. “And lots of people have two feet of different sizes. By measuring each customer’s actual size, both in length and width, and by considering the variation in size between their left and right foot as well as their hosiery preferences, we’re able to give them the best possible fit for both comfort and performance.”

Regardless of what type of business we’re in, gauging our customers’ and prospects’ needs requires more than a “one-size-fits-all” approach too. Here are a few proven best practices:

  • Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. Most know considerably less than we know about the products and services we provide; and while we may each have a number of “in-the-know” regular or long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still application-related or other nuances that warrant our attention. The best practice is to always ask clarifying questions with respect to each situation, and to go the extra mile toward accurately assessing all the circumstances associated with each situation and each customer’s needs.
  • Focus on what each customer or prospect is trying to accomplish rather than on what service or product type they are “looking for” or what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that relate to each customer’s situation or how they plan to use our products and services, we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a basic or customized approach, various products, options and accessories, or possibly a specialized solution about which they were unaware.
  • Look beyond product and service needs for other hidden needs. The more we learn about our customers and prospects, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances, there are issues with respect to company policies, structure, affiliations, specialties, and buying practices that might make a difference in how we’d like to configure our offer. In other cases, there might be personal needs to consider, such as a need to satisfy a demanding boss, a special need for service response guarantees, or the need to feel secure about a supplier’s competitive position or reputation (an important issue to the buyer who has been “burned” in the past by a less-than-reputable competitor).
  • Develop a consistent method of uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Creating a standard list of items to cover, questions to ask and options/benefits to present is one good way to develop a dependable and thorough approach. Many have also found that using this type of resource allows them to pay closer attention to each customer or prospect. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the “little things” that, when addressed, result in closing the sale or in a better customer experience (CX) and long-term customer loyalty.
  • Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence at the start can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements. A few final clarifying questions can even make the difference in getting the business, as most customers like to buy from those who show their interest and professionalism.

 

Find Out What’s On Their Minds…

The following reprint of today’s “makingthenumbers.com” sales tip is a solid testimonial to the importance of probing, trial closing, and listening within the sales process…

In most states you can turn right on a red traffic signal, but the law requires you to come to a full stop before you do.

In sales, it is vital that you work with a specific detailed pre-call objective so you know exactly where you are going (or want to go). Before you get into gear, come to a full stop!

Not just a “How you doin’ today?” or “How are things?”

That’s not a full stop.

You have to ask specifically, “Is your quarter coming in on schedule?” “How is the new production manager working out?” “Is the new product launch of your competitor having any real effect on your key customer?”

Then let them say what they want to say. Let them tell you what is on their mind. They might tell you some things that you can play to when it’s your turn in the barrel. They may tell you they are having a “bad hair day,” and in that case you might decide to cut them some slack, cut short your call, and sell in a future appointment as a professional courtesy.

One way or the other, test the water before you take the plunge.

Not only the temperature, hot or cold, but the depth and what’s on the bottom as well. Give them a break. They will give you the business in return.

Grow Revenue Wtih Strategic Customer Service

There are many components to business development, and many ways to grow revenue; and strategic customer service is definitely one of the often-overlooked pieces of the puzzle

When asked, most people say they do their best to provide good customer service. However, the methods vary significantly and tend to be inconsistent. To maximize the effectiveness of your team’s customer service effort, it’s best to develop and implement a measurable, strategic approach that leverages your organization’s unique benefits and that can become both consistent and cultural.

Simple & Strategic
Creating a plan, setting goals, enhancing communication and monitoring results are the key elements of the process. Here are some specific ideas on how you might get started:

  • The first step is to learn three key things about your customers what they like, what they don’t like and how they feel about your organization
  • Next, identify your organization’s unique offerings from a products and services perspective (what you offer/do) as well as a brand or cultural perspective (how you offer/do it)
  • Note the alignment between these first two items, and then determine the things associated with your brand, culture and unique offerings that your customers value the most the real benefits
  • Develop a communication style that expresses these benefits in terms that are relevant to your customers (rather than to you and your staff), and create a proactive, systematic way of staying in contact with your customers
  • Define action steps that exemplify and reinforce your group’s brand and culture keep in mind, in most cases an organization’s most distinguishable assets are people
  • Create and implement a system in which your organization consistently executes the action steps and communicates in the style noted above Monitor and measure results… continually discuss and refine the process regularly include this topic on staff meeting and sales meeting agendas; find a tool (such as NPS) to continually gather relevant customer feedback, and make use of it when making decisions

Growing a business is not easy work, but it can become easier if we delight, engage, and retain our customers.

Possibly Matthew Tashjian, a Senior VP at Merrill Lynch in Hartford, CT sums it up best as he often says, “One way to make money is to not lose any!”

CX: Realities & Piftfalls

People readily acknowledge that an organization must provide “good” customer experience (CX) in order to maintain their competitive position.

In support of this perspective, here are some interesting statistics that can help quantify the value of allocating time and resources to the customer experience and to effective customer service:

  • 80-90 percent of service problems are leadership related (Deming, Juran, and Crosby)
  • Fewer than half of US executives know who their most loyal customers are (Acxiom & Loyalty 360)
  • A 5% increase in customer retention increases a company’s profits by 25% to 95%, and a 10% increase in customer retention levels result in a 30% increase in the value of the company. (Bain & Co)
  • Consumers who have stated that they have a strong relationship with a single brand, over 64% said it was because they had a “shared value” with the brand in question (Harvard Business Review)
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.(McKinsey)
  • It is 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer. (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)
  • 55% of customers would pay extra to guarantee better service (Defaqto research)
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10% (Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy & Mark Murphy)
  • 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back (1Financial Training services)
  • 83% of consumers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase. (eConsultancy)
  • 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. (Forrester)

Common Pitfalls

Beware… while many have recognized the above-listed realities, they have also failed to make effective transitions that truly improve the customer experience or retention levels.

According to a recent McKinsey article, some of the most common pitfalls associated with ineffective customer experience transformations are:

  1. Lack of vision. “Many managers enter a transformation with no real vision for the organization’s future state,” the article explains. “Instead, they have a general desire to improve the customer experience and rush into action very quickly, before defining a more specific vision. Targets are often vague, devoid of aspiration, and lacking in specificity…”
  2. No top-level commitment. If the transformation effort doesn’t become a top priority for the CEO and the executive team, it will likely lose momentum or stall completely as other “priorities” arise, or when various stakeholders resist the “extra work,” or when general apathy materializes.
  3. Failure to quantify potential gains. Without a clear expectation of the anticipated return-on-investment, it can be difficult to secure sufficient resources or the necessary budget.
  4. Misaligned goals. Referenced as “heedlessness” by McKinsey, launching a customer-experience transformations based on assumptions about what matters most to customers can result in little-or-no gain and lots of frustration. “Some organizations set out to boil the ocean,” the article states. Similarly, and despite good intentions, trying to transform all parts of the business at once will seldom result in success.

Thought on the Value of Failure…

Thomas J. Watson built a worldwide industry during his 42 years at IBM, where he served as CEO and Chairman. He was a pioneer in the development of accounting and computing equipment used today by business, government, science and industry.

Starting out as a bookkeeper at age 18, he went on to sell sewing machines and musical instruments, and then joined National Cash Register (NCR) as a salesman.

Eventually Watson worked his way up to general sales manager at NCR, inspiring the sales force with the motto, “THINK,” which later became a widely known symbol of IBM.

Watson developed IBM’s management style and corporate culture from his training at NCR, and turned the company into a highly-effective selling organization. To the surprise of many, one of his most famous sayings was, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”

What’s Next in Communication?

Most people agree, communication is among the most frequently-used tools in today’s business world; and it is a critical component of success, whether selling, managing, marketing or just trying to get along with others.

One Simple Little Habit…
While there are obviously many facets of communication, there is one simple habit that, if well developed and consistently executed, will improve your business communication and success level in a BIG way!

It is the practice of specifically identifying and scheduling the next steps that are consequential to your communication — consequential to your discussions, your meetings, your teleconferences, your interviews, your sales calls, and so on.

The act of setting a date and time for the next step is simple, but not necessarily easy. But once you make it a habit, you’ll be able to enhance your productivity as well as the productivity of others… you’ll save countless hours of trying to connect with others to finalize plans for next steps after sales calls, meetings, or conversations, because you will have already done it!

One Hurdle to Jump…
There is one obstacle of which to beware. This hurdle is often referenced as being the “thief of time,” and it can make it difficult to accomplish this habit and many others. We refer, of course, to the bad habit of procrastination.

If this seems too simplistic, please read on…

Sales Leaders – Do You Qualify?

Just as qualifying customers and prospects is a critical step in the selling process, it is also a necessary component of prudent sales management.

Many believe sales management consists of leadership, management and a higher level of selling — that is, sales managers must often sell to the sales force.

And in so doing, so too must they continually qualify and assess members of the sales force, who, in these instances, take on the role of “internal” customers.

To point out a few parallels, consider that successful sales people qualify and assess their customers and prospects during the early stages of the selling process. While the qualification can cover a wide range of issues, key areas involve:

  • Confirming interest, motivation and urgency levels, and that the overall needs are real; this step might also involve determining if the buyer is giving us serious consideration
  • Identifying priorities or special needs, such as quick delivery or modified payment terms, that can often make or break the sale
  • Confirming that each customer or prospect has the budget and wherewithal to acquire the products or services
  • Confirming the basis on which decisions will be made and how the evaluation process will work. This includes identifying decision makers as well as other stakeholders who might influence the process.
  • Assessing each buyer’s knowledge level with respect to product and service offerings and his or her ability to properly evaluate proposed solutions

Now let’s look at the similarities that exist in a sales management scenario.

Prior to setting sales strategies or assessing a sales person’s portfolio of pending business, a sales manager must qualify the overall situation.

The first step will involve a discussion on how thoroughly the sales person has qualified his or her customers / prospects.

Next, regardless of a sales person’s tenure, he or she must be motivated; and self-motivation can only go so far. The prudent sales manager always checks motivation levels, and is ready to provide the necessary incentive, guidance, or inspiration.

Of course people’s attitudes and motivational needs fluctuate on a regular basis; so as part of the ongoing qualification process, sales managers must also determine the best motivational strategy for each situation.

And speaking of attitude, does the sales person have confidence in our solution? Does he or she have the proper sense of urgency? Do we have their buy-in on company policies and procedures? The company mission?

It’s also important for sales managers to confirm the actual steps that have been taken to facilitate the sales process. Have our strategies been properly implemented? Similarly, sales managers must continually assess the team’s knowledge level. Do we have the skills to carry out sales plans? Are selling skills consistently applied?

Do we need additional product or systems training? Are we focused on benefits and solutions or do our presentations simply tout features?

Do we know how to qualify and assess our customers and prospects? How about qualifying and assessing our sales people on an ongoing basis too?

Try, Try Again

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Like most of us, you’re probably familiar with this phrase… but if you’re wondering about the validity of the statement, or about the value of persistence, then read on.

Babe Ruth was the home run king with 714 home runs to his credit. What few people know is that during that same time period he also held the record for striking out at bat more than anyone else with 1,330 failures.

R.H. Macy failed seven times, before his store in New York caught on.

Author J.K. Rowling had her Harry Potter manuscript rejected time after time. Today, after successful books, movies, toys, clothing, etc., she is one of the world’s richest authors with a net worth of $1.0 billion dollars and 400 millions books published.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. His coach justified the cut by pointing out that Michael had little or no potential.

Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

The Take-away?
So, what’s the point of these lesser-known examples of perseverence? I suppose it is to realize the absolute importance of persistence… the value of staying the course; of not giving up too soon.

In our previous newsletter we referenced data indicating that, on average, it takes five-to-twelve contacts to make a sale; yet 80% of sales people make three-or-fewer attempts and then give up. Thus, the vast majority of opportunities are siezed by just 20% of the sellers.

The persistent ones.

Evolution?
Let’s also think about the buyers and how they may have evolved. Based on the statistics above, most sellers make one or two attempts to reach a potential buyer, and then they move on (give up!).

So, has the potential buyer “evolved” to somehow realize that by simply ignoring the first couple of queries from a seller, there is an eighty-percent chance that seller will simply go away?

Hmmm… food for thought?

If you’d like a few more surprising examples of the importance of persistence, consult this list of 50 well known successful people who didn’t start off quite so well.

The Cost of Disengagement?

Employee engagement has been the topic of several posts, including our previous one; and according to recent data, is on the priority list for most organizational leaders.

But it is less common to hear people speak in specific terms about the real, often hidden, costs associated with disengagement.

In a recent blog post, Conway Management Company shared data indicating that “disengaged employees create a negative and expensive ripple effect throughout an organization, and drive-up costs in five specific ways.”

  1. Higher turnover
  2. Lower productivity and profitability
  3. Little or no process improvement
  4. Higher pay
  5. Lost opportunities

Read the full article…

10 Things Engaged Workers Tend to Say

Data presented by Gallup during a recent event was very compelling, and might well give organizational leadership some clear targets for better-engaging their workforce.

Based on the research shared, here are ten things that engaged workers tend to say:

  1. I’ve been recognized for my work in the past 7 days
  2. My supervisor seems to care about me
  3. Someone at work encourages my development
  4. My opinions seem to count at work
  5. In the past 6 months someone has talked about my development
  6. I know what’s expected of me at work
  7. I have the opportunity to learn at work
  8. I have the opportunity to use my strengths at work
  9. The company’s mission, values and goals make me feel that my work is important
  10. I have a best friend at work

Based on this list, a few questions we might ask ourselves include… How many of our team members might say some or all of these things?

Might there be a plan for promoting such thoughts or feelings?

Can specific activities on the part of our leaders at all levels be targeted to implement such a plan?

The opportunities for improvement are significant!

"Helping people sell more & communicate better"