Monday, May 24, 2010

Reconnecting the Disconnected

I recently visited San Diego to speak at a conference.

San Diego is a charming and dynamic city. Perched by the Pacific Ocean, it is a delightful patchwork of old neighborhoods, with homes and offices surrounded by parks, ocean waters, clear skies and consistently perfect weather. From most locations, it’s a quick ride west to the seashore where you can enjoy some of the best views in America.

With all this beauty surrounding us I was struck by how many people stayed inside the convention center, typing on keypads, mostly oblivious to their surroundings. During one of my sessions I asked, via show of hands, how many attendees had ventured beyond the hotels to explore the neighborhoods, restaurants or public parks.

About a dozen people, out of a crowd of 80, raised their hands.

Later, I scanned some of the conference materials. “The outsourcing revolution is here!” one piece proclaimed. Other sessions would “explore new options for alternate service delivery options” and one promised to show attendees how to “educate remote vendors to deliver high-touch customer service to customers back home.”

These people aren’t just outsourcing labor, they are outsourcing their childrens' futures.

Attendees unwilling to connect with a host city, even for a few days, while learning how to help organizations move services further from the communities they aim to serve, strikes me as both absurd and ironic.

Just wondering…

Is this way of life in our best long-term interests as a society?

How connected are you to your customer’s experience? Have you outsourced it?

How connected is your leadership? Have you outsourced that too?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Engaged Customers Buy Experiences… and then buy again

Selling products effectively involves learning about customers, learning background information on the products, and then putting that information together to educate customers. What the staff says -- through words, tone of voice, body language and overall energy -- speaks volumes to the customer.

Let's start selling the experience, instead of just selling the products.

Selling The Moment, Tip No. 1: Prepare for Customer Challenges

To be an effective salesperson, pretend you are the customer. What challenges am I facing today? What items will I find in this store? What items will I avoid because I don't know how to use them? What items will I not find, and when are more expected to arrive? Have at least two specific products in mind when you're helping a customer who's looking for recommendations.

Selling The Moment, Tip No. 2: Engage your Customer

I follow Ritz Carlton's advice:
"Always offer a warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest's name, if and when possible." In other words, extend yourself, ask questions. Get customers talking, and then actively listening to what they say. Hint: the opening line, "Can I help you?" almost always engenders the reply, "No, I'm just looking,"It's always much better is to ask open-ended questions. In addition to the words that come out of your mouth, you need to engage the customer with action. Come out from behind the case and stand facing with the guest so that you can look at products together.

Selling The Moment, Tip No. 3: Taste Drive Performances

Samples, low-risk demonstrations and hands-on workshops let a customer buy the experience, not the product. "I see you're here looking at olive oils. Would you like to try a slice of our olive loaf made with this very oil? Now, what questions can I answer for you about olive oils?" At worst, you've educated the customer about a product. At best, you've introduced them to a new favorite. When making suggestions, keep your tone of voice helpful and always follow the customer's lead. If they are responding positively to your suggestions, and want to play along, let them! If not, take a step back and ask more questions.

Selling The Moment, Tip No. 4: Be a Champion

Customers want confirmation that they made a good purchase (especially if it's a gift). One of the best ways to validate product selections by giving short but meaningful "testimonials." Stories and factoids provided during the initial interaction significantly increases the chances that they will purchase the product. "Mmmm. Pecan raisin bread. Did you know there's over half a pound of pecans and raisins in every loaf?" or "We import this olive oil direct from Italy, so it's an exclusive."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

More Like a Guild, Less Like a Factory

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend yesterday. Jim’s organization has a well-deserved reputation as one of the leading design firms in the Southeast.

Businesses that rely on construction were especially hard hit during the recession. His firm was no exception, yet they managed to maintain most of their clients as a result of superior quality work. During our chat he remarked on a disturbing trend I had heard from other business leaders.

Some prospective clients informed him they should be able to purchase his services at rock-bottom prices (below cost). His firm provides a custom service, not a product or commodity. His prospects’ reasoning went something like this: “Since you need this work, and probably don’t have enough business right now, you should be happy with what I am willing to pay.”

He conceded that, barring any other work his firm might consider that kind of offer before declining it outright. But he and his team know from experience that as the economy picks up, those low-bid clients will require just as much attention (or more), absorb their workers in work that affords little or no profit margin, distract them from better-paying clients and create “low-quality service experiences”.

Like Jim, I would place my confidence in his ability to stabilize and grow his business by creating better ‘experience’ opportunities, rather than better pricing strategies. Why?

Psychological research suggests that, in the long run, “experiences” make people happier than possessions. Think of “possession” as the end product, service or deliverable, in Jim’s case, an architectural design. Even more significantly, these customer experiences have the ability to make other people (future clients) happy, as well.

A client will remember his team and the experience, long after they have moved in, lived in and/or sold the property Jim’s team designed. Jim’s team will remember working with a great client and take pride in their work.

Likewise, you will remember how the manager treated you with respect long after the fresh plastic smell has faded inside your new car. You will remember the exceptional flight attendant and the way he or she treated you long after that (hopefully) unremarkable flight.

Our lives have the potential to change when we deliver or receive one of these great experiences… Wow! That’s an amazing concept and scientific fact. Given the choice, I’d prefer to work for an organization that strives to create those experiences. Wouldn’t you?

Jim was smart. He and his team sat down and clearly defined their challenge – ways to express their passion for design and how to deliver it affordably– with customer feedback and input driving most agreement.

Based on his client feedback, Jim began a program to connect clients with suppliers in real-time virtual meetings, with team members acting as facilitators. They also began to explore innovative ways to collaborate with clients, such as design contests that include local students and virtual tours of buildings around the globe. Finally, they are making sure that each one of their employees submits ideas for regional competitions, with opportunities to champion their ideas.

Essentially, everyone serves a customer. The trick lies with understanding your customers and their needs, respecting their values, and delivering memorable experiences as part of every transaction.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

10 Questions to Ask Your Learners

Creating a great learning experience begins with a systems approach to course design - looking for ways to structure the total learning experience (before, during and after an interaction).

Ask your audience these basic questions to quickly spot some opportunities:

1. How did you hear about this training? What were your expectations?

2. In general, how do you feel about this course?

3. Were you able to demonstrate your skills before this class?

4. What else do you need to learn about ___?

5. Are there opportunities to learn (resources) outside our training curriculum that you would like to include?

6. How could we create more informal and social learning?

7. Would it improve your experience if we invited customers to assess your performance?

8. Can you see yourself having to address any of the scenarios or customer-driven situations we offered?

9. How could we create even more meaningful challenges for future students?

10. Do you think our leaders support the learning through their behavior?