The Bigger They Are...


It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really.

The local Blockbuster shut down last week. Online rental, video streaming, and movie on demand dominate the brick and mortar video industry. And, although I’m sure all of these in-home options played a part in the demise of our local Blockbuster, there was another factor involved here. In our little central Texas town “going out to rent a movie” is considered “Entertainment.” So I think what really took this big boy down was the little kiosk called Redbox. It’s convenient, it’s cheap, and you still get to leave the house to choose your movie. Never mind the fact that browsing takes place on a video screen. Hey, I told you it’s a small town. We’re easily entertained.

Twelve years earlier Blockbuster moved into our town and ran almost all of the mom-and-pop video rental stores out of business. Ironic that this giant was brought down by a little red kiosk with a footprint the size of a phone booth.

Did Blockbuster see Redbox coming? Or were they scanning the horizon for a bigger predator competitor? What about your business? It’s not always the big-boxes and the mega-retailers you have to worry about. Sometimes competition comes in a small package.

Just ask Goliath.

No Stone Unturned in Search for Customer Service

Stones_in_sink_2 Why are rocks in the bottom of this lavatory? Do they serve a purpose? Or, do they just look “kind a’ cool”? And what do they have to do with customer service?

Our daughter got married last Saturday at Fellowship Church in Dallas. When I went to the men’s restroom to cry my head off one more time before the wedding, I noticed these smooth, gray stones in the bottom of all the sinks. At first I thought they were there for aesthetics. But, later that evening we were at a restaurant and when I went to the men’s room to wash my hands, it hit me - literally. There were no rocks in the bottom of this sink, and when I gently lifted up the handle to turn on the faucet, the water shot out with such force – the phrase “like trying to fill a teacup with a fire hose” came to mind – that it splashed out the opposite side of the sink and drenched the front of my khaki slacks.

Yes, it looked like I’d wet myself.

Despite the discomforting thought of having to reenter the restaurant with wet pants, I made a connection to the church’s restroom: The water crashes over the rocks and disperses into bubbling rivulets that disappear down the crevices no matter how fast you turn on the faucet.

This is an example of when an element of the customer experience goes largely unnoticed. That’s the downside; there’s no payoff. No one is going to run and tell their friends, “Hey, you’ve got to go to this church and see the rocks in the sink.” But, then, no one has to worry about walking into the church service with wet pants, either.

It’s like providing so-called "great customer service." Few customers notice, because they expect great service. However, they do notice poor service. And they notice when the sink in your bathroom causes them to wet their pants.

Of course, going to the trouble to find a way to keep water from splashing out of the sink, reflects something larger - the church’s attitude towards its visitors and members. Obviously, if the church leaders search for subtle ways to make a guest’s visit as pleasant as possible, they look for the big ways, too – like multiple services, educational programs, innovative presentations, and a huge floor-to-ceiling glassed-in “crying room” (obviously, designed for the father of the bride). As you might guess, Fellowship Church is one of the “mega-churches” that draws thousands of worshippers every week.

Building a better experience for our customers doesn’t always involve spending a lot of money to dazzle them. Search the buying environment you’ve created and look for subtle ways to ensure your customer’s comfort and enjoyment. Remove potential obstacles and make it easy for customers to do business with you. Often a small change can make a big difference. And don’t be disappointed, if no one seems to notice.

P.S. On May 13th - May 14th, I'll be teaching a 2 day workshop with Tom Wanek at the beautiful campus of the Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas. Be one of the first twelve to register for our course, "Fight the Big Boys and Win" and you'll stay at the Engelbrecht House for free!

Yours truly,

Mike D

Refresh the Experience

Istock_000000995158xsmall It was one-of-a-kind, at least in our little central Texas town. There was a playground for the kids. Fresh baked cookies inside. Two of those pump-it-yourself thermal canisters filled with flavored coffees and another with decaf, a flat screen TV hanging on the wall and for the workaholic who can’t stop long enough for an oil change, WiFi, still a big deal when this oil change station opened a year ago. The owners had managed to infuse charm into a business that's usually anything but charming.

I brought my car in a for an oil change just yesterday morning. What a difference a year makes. Absent were the coffee canisters (at 9:30 in the morning), a plate with yesterday’s broken cookie sat on a dirty counter top, the TV was silent and dark. I looked outside toward the playground. A sign hung from  the chain link fence. "Closed for Repairs."

It’s a natural fact. Paint fades along with enthusiasm.

It starts slowly. One day you come in and there are a couple of customers waiting for you to open. No time to make the cookies now. The early birds are the first prophetic signs of a busy morning. The action doesn’t stop. You look up.  It’s 10:30. Haven’t even made coffee. And you know this because a few customers grumbled about it on their way out – in a good-natured way, of course. The next morning, the phone is ringing when you walk in the door. One thing leads to another, but no thing leads to cookies and coffee. After a while, it becomes part of the routine – no coffee – no playground - no extras. Business is good. Why spend the money? No one seems to notice. I mean, none of our competitors do it.

And gradually, suddenly, it’s not a one-of-a-kind business any more. It’s just an ordinary, average lube station.

Or supply house. Or retailer. Or office. Or restaurant. Or hotel. Or "fill in the blank."

Most people understand the idea behind the Personal Experience Factor (PEF) – that customers will gauge their emotional connection to anyone with whom they do business and the deeper the emotional connection, the deeper the loyalty to the business. Business owners intuitively know this and they start out doing their best to surpass their customers’ expectations, to raise the needle on the PEF meter. But, over time, they get busy and forget. And before long, they begin to take their customers for granted.

Sure, you're busy now.

Remember when K-Mart was busy?

What's that?

Who's K-Mart?

Do what you have to do to remember this: Work as hard to keep your customers as you did to acquire your customers and you will always have your  customers.

Mark it on a calendar. Make it a seasonal maintenance item. Whatever it takes. To keep a high PEF score in the eyes of your customers, the experience has to stay polished and shiny. All the little extras you did in the beginning, you need to keep doing. Things have to be renewed, repainted, replaced.


Refresh the experience.

More Signs

No_shoes_sign_2 Remember those “No food or drink allowed in this store” signs. Someone must have figured out that seeing the word “No” upon entering the store wasn’t exactly an invitation to buy. Those signs, located mostly at the entrance to the anchor stores of malls – where the customers bought the food and drink in the first place – seemed to disappear overnight. I like what retail consultant Donna Geary has to say on the topic. The message behind these signs almost “screams at the customer, ‘Go away!””

   We may not have signs with the word “No” posted, but we can unintentionally deliver the same message. How about this one: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” (Do you really have to post a sign to reserve that right?) Or, this one, taped to the front of the register: “ALL SALES FINAL.” That one always makes me re-think my decision to buy. Here's one seems to be a favorite in the wholesale industry. I've seen it behind more than one sales counter at eye level so the customer can't miss it. "Failure to plan on your part, doesn't constitute an emergency on our part." I know, I know - it's supposed to be funny. But it's really no joke -it's how the distributor feels.

    Geary suggests business owners take this test. Monday morning, or after you’ve been away from your business for a day or two, pretend you are a customer entering your store for the first time. Walk through the main entrance and pause as you look around the store. Slowly, count to seven and then close your eyes. That’s how long it takes to make a first impression. What are the images that remain in your mind’s eye after those seven critical seconds? What are the signs you remember seeing? The colors, the products, the displays? A sense of order and continuity or disarray and ambiguity? Either is fine as long as that’s the message you’re intending to send.

    My WOA partner and clever friend Michele Miller elaborates extensively on the importance of those first seven seconds in a marvelous blog, WonderBranding posting titled, "Opening Gestures." You'll want to read it, but I'll paraphrase from her last remarks and offer you a new sign. Consider posting it where you can see it every morning, "Improve the impression you make in those first 7 seconds and you'll improve your bottom line."

They Call Me, Mister Potatohead


                                  Restless and bored.

                       Standing in line.

   Waiting for parts.

Electricians, maintenance workers, and DIY’ers were at the sales counter expecting to quickly get their material and get back to their job-sites. We had only one full-time counter person. The rest of us filled in where we could, but it wasn’t enough. Customers vocally expressed their anger at how long they’d had to wait for us to fill their orders. That was my first day as the branch manager of an electrical supply house in central Texas. I promised the second day would be better.

The next day I brought to work...

Continue reading "They Call Me, Mister Potatohead" »

The Excellence of Being First - Part 2

Fishingcoversmall Engineering a unique buying experience for your customers is one way you can ensure that your name comes up first when it’s time to buy your product or service. One of my favorite articles about “Share of Mind” is from my friend and “Wizard Partner,” Chuck McKay. For more marketing insights from Chuck, visit his blog, Fishing for Customers.

Please enjoy: “Coffee, The Moon Landing, And A Game Of Poker” by Chuck McKay.

I don’t play often, but I appreciate a good game of poker. Poker makes a pretty good analogy for marketing, and for business.

Poker players know what they hold in their hands, they carefully watch what everyone else appears to be doing. They make educated guesses as to the cards the other players hold. Poker players hoard their resources until they know they hold a winner, then they confidently apply all of their resources to winning that particular hand.

At the end of the game, the winner takes the whole pot. The loser loses everything. The other players pick up a few bucks now and then and manage to stay in the game.

In real life marketing the winning hand is held by the company with the greatest share of mind. Let me give you an example.

Name the first brand of coffee you think of. Now name another. Can you name a third?

Chances are that you named your first coffee brand rather quickly.

The second came almost as quickly.

Most people take slightly longer to name the third brand.

Most people also purchase the first brand that comes to mind.

Would you like to see how 3,000 other people* answered that question?
Chart30_1  People remembered these brands in roughly the same proportion they buy them.

Conclusion #1: Share of mind predicts share of market.
Conclusion #2: The first name that shoppers think of is the one they buy.

How does a company become the first name on the customer’s mental list, and thus hold the face cards in the marketing poker game?

The easiest way is to actually be first.

Who was the first man to fly solo across the
Atlantic? The second? How about the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic?** Charles Lindberg and Amelia Earhart won those hands. You can’t even name the losers.

You might remember the second man to set foot on the surface of the moon, but can you name the third? Can you name the third expedition to the North Pole? The third Pope? The third signature on the US Declaration of Independence? (How about the third amendment to the Constitution)?

In share of mind, share of market, and poker, third position is a loser. Winners come in first. Second place sometimes makes a few bucks. Beyond that, money gets very tight.

“But wait a minute, Chuck” (I can hear you saying), “I have a small business in a small town. I’m not the first at anything.”

Ah. This is where marketing makes a difference.

Charles and Frank Duryea built the first gasoline-powered automobile in 1893 – a full ten years before Henry Ford got into the business.*** Henry made the automobile affordable to every household, creating phenomenal word of mouth on the Model T. Henry held the winning poker hand, and became the most famous automobile manufacturer of all time. How many of the losing hands can you even remember?

The best selling MP3 player of all time is the iPod, but Apple didn’t invent the device.

Rio did, in 1998, nearly three years before the iPod hit the market.

Rio built an expensive toy for people who loved technology. Apple created a toy for people who love music. Apple wins that poker hand. (And, tell the truth, until I mentioned the name, you didn’t even remember the Rio player, did you)?

Your objective is to make your company the one that people automatically think of when they need what you sell. When you’re first on that list, they don’t even think about buying elsewhere. You see, the first company to make a claim has an 85% chance of being remembered for that claim. The second company has about a 15% chance. The third company less than 5%. Ford and Apple simply out promoted Duryea and Rio, respectively. Neither was first in the market. Each became first in the minds of their prospective customers.

Can you be first at something? Absolutely. In fact, it’s essential.

To be remembered, to hold top position in share of mind, to hold the winning hand in marketing your business, you must be first at something.

I’d suggest that you choose to be first in the reason your existing customers do business with you now.

Find out what your current customers believe you provide that they can’t get anywhere else. Then, start promoting that. Promote it to the point that you’re now playing in a whole new game, and in this game, you hold the winning cards.

* BRANDPOLL survey of coffee brands, January-March 2001.

** Charles Lindberg,
May 20, 1927

; Amelia Earhart, May 20, 1932on the fifth anniversary of Lindberg’s crossing.

*** Nicholas Joseph Cugnot designed the first steam powered self-propelled vehicle in 1769. The device was so heavy that it had to run on roadways of steel, and evolved into the modern locomotive. Etienne Lenoir patented the first practical gas engine (coal gas) and drove a car powered with one from
Paris to Joinville in 1862.

Sweating the Small Stuff

Cookie_monster_1Improve the PEF and you'll improve the bottom line.

Thirty years had passed since I was fired from my last job in retail, so I thought it was time to see if I'd learned anything. Frances invited me to work with her
  at Brickwood Antiques and Interiors, a collectibles and gift shop. Well, she worked and I watched her work, would be more like it.

Frances baked homemade cookies the night before (yep – she worked, I watched) and we set them on the counter at the other end of the store. Customers would have to walk the length of the sales floor to reach them. My theory was that they would. I was wrong. When I'd say, “Fresh homemade cookies on the counter,” they would smile and say, “No, thanks.”

So, I tried taking the platter of baked goodies to the customers. All 7 of the next customers took one. The eighth did not, muttering something about a diet. I would tell the cookie eaters, if they wanted another, the plate would be on the counter. More than once, a customer would wander through the aisles and discover – wha-do-ya-know – they’re at the counter. Well, might as well have another.

Here are some observations from this informal experiment based solely on my subjective opinion and skewed judgement.

  1. In spite of all the new "Self-service" technology being forced upon customers ("for your convenience"), most people still respond more favorably to being served.
  2. Cookie-eaters wouldn’t leave the store until they finished the cookie/cookies, so they browsed longer.
  3. Cookie-eaters seemed more at ease and conversational.
  4. Presentation matters. The aesthetics of the plate, the shape of the cookies, the arrangement are micropersuaders that influence decision-making. Consider these three elements in your merchandising and presentation techniques: aesthetics, shape, and arrangement.
  5. No discernible difference in sales between the cookie and non-cookie eaters.

Was I disappointed about that last item – “no difference in sales”? Not at all. Okay, I was a little disappointed, but the main objective was for the customer to associate the enjoyable taste of the cookie with the pleasant experience of exploring the store. Overall, the sharing of food created a more welcoming and relaxed shopping environment.

Of course, for the strategy to be successful, you’d have to keep providing cookies for an extended period of time. But gradually, it would trigger word of mouth and after a short while, the resulting profits would more than pay for the cost of cookie dough. (Insert your own pun here).

The key to improving the PEF is to provide a “service that delights.” It doesn’t take much to be above average. Often, it’s the small stuff that makes the difference. Something as simple as homemade baked goods can set you far apart from your competitors.

Some other “small stuff” suggestions: buy your customer a soft drink during the summer, make a personal delivery, give away a gift certificate to a popular restaurant. Ideas are all around you. Ultimately, small stuff can make a big difference in your bottom line. So, pass me another cookie and I might buy something.


P.S. We’d love to hear your “small stuff” suggestions. Add your comment to this blog or send an email to [email protected]
p.p.s. To offer some inspiration for stimulating those creative juices, in a separate post below, I've included my wife's recipe for Brainstorm Cookies! Oh yeah! They really work!

It's About Time

Clockwork_3 It’s about time! Finally, a service company who puts their money where their mouth is. “Always on time, or you don’t pay a dime.” “If there’s any delay, it’s you we pay!”

I spent two days in Las Vegas with Clockwork Home Services, Inc. and the owners of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating, and Mr. Sparky franchises at their annual “Operation Brand Dominance” conference. These companies have a common unique selling proposition: On time service– if they’re late, your service is free or they pay you!!

Last week, I spoke to this energetic and enthusiastic group of entrepreneurs about the Personal Experience Factor. My purpose was to show them the elements for crafting a compelling customer experience. Instead, they taught me a thing or two. These sharp business women and men were already in tune with the concept of the PEF; (technicians wear shoe protectors, clean up after the job using a fragrant cleanser, follow up with cards and gift certificates, etc. – and they have a persona-based website.)

Clockwork Home Services, Inc. attended every detail to provide for their attendees a compelling PEF that was fun, entertaining, and informative: Great food, timely information, and a birthday celebration complete with an appearance by “The Punctual Plumber’s” namesake, the 300-year-old statesman himself, Benjamin Franklin. If that weren’t enough, Thursday afternoon there was a for real on-stage wedding proposal (she accepted). And in spite of all the spontaneity, the events all came together like – well – like “clockwork.”

The most impressive aspect of this company is in the way they’ve created a close-knit culture within a large organization. Though I was an "outsider," I felt welcomed by the camaraderie that all the business owners seemed to share with one another. These were men and women of integrity who bring their hearts into the business of home services.

If you need any plumbing, electrical, or AC work done, you wont find anyone more conscientious than the owners of one of these franchises. See if these companies service your zip code. If you don’t have one in your area, maybe you could be the first to own one of these fast-growing businesses in your neighborhood.

P.S. Special thanks to my WOA Partner and good friend, Stephen Sorenson, for inviting me to the Operation Brand Dominance conference.


Shut Up and Have a Nice Day!

Smilex Don’t you hate those empty bin boxes on the shelf where the product you wanted is supposed to be? Frances asked one of the staff in the orange aprons about getting someone to order the part. He said, “Sure, just take it to the front.” When she got to "the front" another friendly staff member said, “Oh, you need to get with someone in that department.”

     Frances said, “Uh-huh.Okay. How about checking with your other stores.” A few keystrokes later revealed, “There’s five at our store on Garland.” Twenty-five minutes later on Garland.“Nope, we’re out. You’ll have to get with someone in that department to order it.”

    Frances said, “Your other store showed you to have five.”

    “Oh, really? Well, they’re supposed to call first and check. You can’t go by what the computer says.” Now the tone of voice in the remark was slightly annoyed. The annoyance was intended for the other store, but my wife was the recipient. And, of course, what the other store was "supposed to do" wasn’t really her problem. At her insistence, the guy looked further and found all five of the parts. “No wonder I couldn’t find them. They didn't make a place for them on the shelf.” Again, not her problem. Whoever "they" are.

It reminded me of a time when I worked as a counter salesman for Dealers Elecric supply. A customer called me looking for his delayed delivery. I began to explain, “Oh, we’re short-handed today and our truck is overloaded - .” He cut me off. “I don’t care about your internal problems,” he barked. “I just want my order.” I never forgot what he said. Customers don’t need to know about your company’s sloppy procedures, who was to blame, or about the argument you had with your spouse this morning. They simply want to be served.

And who can blame them? After all, they want you to solve their problems, not add yours to their own. Customers want to depend on you to deliver your product or service. They want to place their faith in you that you will make everything turn out all right.

Like it or not, you have to provide them with the emotional security that you may not be getting yourself.

You’re a motivator, a friend, the confidante who understands the challenges your customer faces. You are the stress alleviator, the problem solver, and you “keep your head, when all those around are losing theirs.” You’re the one who promises, “Everything will be all right,” when it appears that everything is going all wrong. And then, you are the one who makes it happen.

Put on the smile, act enthusiastic; take the action necessary to keep the promise. Customers become cynical because of the disappointments of unmet promises. Be the one to restore their faith. When they do find someone who keeps commitments without whining, they will gladly pay with their loyalty and their cash.

Avoid using so-called problems as excuses for poor performance.

So when your coworker calls in sick, the delivery truck overheats, and the phone is ringing off the hook, remember the wisdom found in deodorant commercials, “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” Or, as my dad would say to me when I’d start whining about nothing, “Just shut up and have a nice day!”

P.S. If you have your own "worst customer service stories" please comment on this post, or email [email protected]

A Loo With a View

Loowithaview_2It started with Dave Young’s blog overheard in a men’s room. Then Sonja posted an article on her blog called The Art of the Loo. This week I got an email from my friend Ankesh Kothari. The subject – architectural delight in restrooms. And it’s pretty darned amusing. I'd recommend reading it. Apparently, enhancing the customer experience in the loo is a hot architectural trend.

 Before I spoke at a recent convention, I asked one of the regional managers if there were any specific issues he’d like me to mention in my seminar. He said, “Yeah, tell them to clean their restrooms.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“Nope. One of the biggest complaints I hear from customers.”

Now I’m not going to tell you the industry – it wasn’t food service (BTW however, it is true what they say about a restaurant with a dirty restroom. After all, they let you see the restroom.) But, I wouldn’t have thought that to be a big problem in this business. Apparently, cleaning the restroom is one of those jobs that “everybody” is sure that “somebody” will do, and as a result "nobody" does it. 

There are no boundaries to Customer Experience Architecture. Most businesses see their public restrooms as nothing more than a convenience they offer their customers, never realizing it conveys a louder message than their mechandising. Nothing is off-limits to the scrutinizing eyes of your customer. Most businesses don’t have the budget to design and build elaborate restrooms. But anybody can sweep the floor, empty the trash, and wash the sink. Maybe even feature some artwork on the walls – right, Sonja?

It only takes a little effort to have a loo with a view.

Heck, "anybody" could do it.

Special acknowledgement to my Brit friend, Jo Stephens, who was the first person to explain the word "loo" to me.  Okay, so I've lived a sheltered life.