Competitive Advantage

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THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO TURN YOUR HOBBY INTO A BUSINESS

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More and more, we see a phenomenon expanding in the economy: skilled workers opting to stay at home and choosing to do contractual jobs over the internet. They take on employers based on task-specific contracts, going through several employees one after another. Sometimes, they even juggle several employees at once. They hand in excellent work, the arrangement expires, and they go on to the next contract.

This is the gig economy.

If making, hacking, and creating on the side isn’t enough for you, you may be thinking of taking your hobby legit. However, turning a hobby into a business isn’t just a matter of scaling up. Whether you’re selling creations, ideas, or services, here are three things you need to cut it in the business world.

A Platform
It doesn’t matter how awesome your products or services are if you don’t have a way to sell them. To monetize your hobby, you need a way to get the word out.

One option is selling through established marketplaces, including Etsy and Tindie. These platforms offer the benefit of already existing, so all you have to do is upload your information and list your items. However, with so many makers, crafters and DIYers using these marketplaces, it can be hard to stand out and find customers.

If you’re serious about your business, create an e-commerce website to list your wares. You can drive traffic and gain customers by marketing your business through social media, attending Maker Faires, and networking with your local maker community. Traditional marketing channels not doing it for you? Read Neil Patel’s guide to growth hacking for creative ways to expand your business.

Collaboration
Working from home has its limits. While a home office is great for focusing and cranking out work, it’s not the most creative environment. For exposure to new technologies and fresh ideas, seek a workspace you share with other makers.

Not only does co-working offices and maker spaces provide a place to work, but also these collaborative workspaces host events where you can learn, socialize and hear from leaders in the field. Make the right connection at a networking event and you can land yourself a partner for your newest project or an investor with a passion for your work. Collaborative workspaces expand your social capital and provide access to tools and technology that you might not be able to afford on your own.

To find a maker space in your area, check out the directory at Make.

Financial Savvy
The difference between a hobby and a business isn’t in how much time you commit to the pursuit. Rather, it’s all about how you handle the finances.

If you’re considered a business by the IRS, your business expenses are fully deductible. However, businesses have to check a few boxes, such as keeping financial records, paying estimated taxes and generating profit. You can learn more about the business-hobby distinction at The Simple Dollar.

You’ll need to keep financial records such as business expenses and income, receipts, invoices and inventory logs. How you maintain these records is up to you. While many small-business owners turn to software solutions like QuickBooks, when you’re first starting out, basic spreadsheets may be sufficient. However, some tech solutions are worth the effort.

Two apps that every new freelancer, side-gigger, or small-business owner should have in their pocket are a receipt-tracking app, and an invoicing app. A receipt app collects receipts in one place using pictures, so you’re not sorting through stacks of faded, crumpled receipts at tax time. An invoice app lets you send invoices right from your phone, so you can keep your business running on the go. More importantly, it makes it easy to see which invoices are outstanding so you don’t forget to get paid!

Turning a hobby into a successful enterprise is every maker’s dream. However, running a successful business requires more than passion and a great idea. If you want to see your dreams come to fruition, you need to pay just as much attention to these behind-the-scenes details as you do to the main attraction.

Article by Lucy Reed, lucy_reed@gigmine.co>The Gig Mine, http://gigmine.co/.

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Three ways to Build Your Relationships, One Customer at a Time

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Wellness Center

Wellness Center

The world has changed more than we know. I went to my favorite supermarket and saw this sign in front. More businesses are wearing “new hats” so they can compete. Hannaford also has a wellness center that is part of CHPHP and the YMCA in East Greenbush. I still think that’s a slam dunk. I met someone involved in this association, and she said this brings exercise and wellness to people who might not be able to afford the gym. It’s free, and the programs can compete with any of the gyms in town.  They’re trying to build relationships with their customers.

It’s time to think creatively. Many of you are holding events in your stores to bring in customers. Your business should be considered your home and having an event says, “Welcome. “I hear people saying but we didn’t do any business, and we didn’t have many people show up. This is not about doing business, but it’s about building relationships. If you didn’t get many people that you don’t know how to throw a party. If you want people to come you’ve got to tell them why they should come, tell them again, and then go pick them up! I know you’re saying it’s too much work, but building relationships is work. It means showing an interest in someone else and putting your own agenda on the “back burner” as they say.

I remember when we had an event in our store for contractors. Our biggest contractor said he didn’t want to drive the 40 miles to come to the party—I didn’t blame him. I said a car just left and would be there to pick him up at six! He said he was so embarrassed, but he showed up.

Sometimes it just means paying attention. Today in Pilate’s class a woman came up to me to talk about the class. She was very out of shape and said she wanted to talk with me about a weight-loss program I had mentioned. I knew the class would be hard for her, but I suggested her not worry and do what she could. I told the instructor about her who was kind enough to give her a little extra attention without embarrassing her. She felt special and signed up for the weight-loss program after class. I was so glad I took the time to talk with her; I knew she was serious.

  • Show that you care about others. Instead of waiting for people to talk with you, reach out. What do you have to lose?
  • Be genuinely helpful to others. That doesn’t mean doing it for them, it means noticing when someone needs you.
  • Just listen to someone. Sometimes just listening, without providing a solution can be very comforting.

 

Summer is around the corner; what’s next?

 

Lisbeth had been helping businesses build relationships with their customers for the last 20 years. Need some new ideas?

Lisbeth can be contacted at Lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Nike Offers Personal Training in Store

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Run, Train, Live

Run, Train, Live

I just read this article and thought I should share it with you. Why has it taken  so long for Nike, or anyone else, to add this concept. “It’s called, try it and buy it.” Notice the new slogan: Run, Train, Live.

I know everyone thought JC Penney was crazy when the offered Yoga in their stores but the concept was solid. It was the execution that was a little off base. This article is from Chain Store Age and thought it was worth the space on my blog.

New YorkFitness buffs can shop and also get in a workout at Nike’s new women’s store at Fashion Island, in Newport Beach, California. The 6,000-sq-ft. plus space combines the best of the company’s women’s products with an in-store fitness studio. The glass- and wood-paneled studio, the first for Nike in a U.S. retail location, features free group or personal fitness training sessions. It also enable customers to try out training and running footwear and apparel. The store offers an array of specialized services, weekly programming and special events. In-store services include run analysis, bra fitting, footwear trials and pant hemming. Programming includes the Nike+ Run Club, Nike+ Training Club and yoga classes. “Our women’s business has never been stronger and this new store is the ultimate expression of our commitment to women who run, train and live the look of sport and fitness throughout their day,” stated Amy Montagne, VP, general manager of Nike Women. I suggest that businesses hold monthly events for their customers but few rarely do. What better way then to show your customer you care then sharing something special with them? Nike is building communities with their customers.

February Heart Month

February Heart Month

February is Heart Month which offers so many ways to engage your customers. It’s about building a competitive advantage PAST your products. It takes more than products to build a competitive advantage. Products are everywhere; the  key is to present your products in an atmosphere that makes them interesting. This is what Nike is doing. Here are three  ideas:

  1. Ask yourself, how many times in my customer’s lifetime will they need my products? If you’re selling homes, it may be very few. Maybe that’s the reason why realtors forget who you are after the sale. If you’re good at what you do, why wouldn’t your customer refer you to someone else? 90% of your business is now referrals; it’s up from 80% two years ago!
  2. Talk with your customers,  what charities do they support and ask if you can help with a fund raiser. This is a great opportunity to bring in other vendors and access their data bases. If your vendors can bring in new customers to see your business, you’ve won the game. Raising money for a charity will also help you be remembered.
  3. This is the age of transparency: don’t worry about how silly or ridiculous your event is. Who knows it might turn into a reality show!
  4. If you need information on how to run and event; let me know and I’ll send you a copy of my book, “50 Events you can Hold to Bring in More Customers.”

I  would  love you to tell me about your event. Lisbeth Calandrino has been a Coach-sultant for the past 20 years helping businesses engage their employees and building strategies to impact their bottom line. Lisbeth lives in Historic Hudson Park in Albany, New York with her cat Rainyday. When not training, she can be found at the gym. Reach her at Lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.   

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Want to Get Noticed? Get a Job in Target

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Whether you’re in the market to sell yourself or your business you will have to build your brand. Your brand is what makes you unique—it’s what makes you.

Mark Zuckerberg in his "hoodie."

Mark Zuckerberg in his “hoodie.”

When I mention “hoodie” who do you think of? Could it be Mark Zuckerberg? He took hoodie to another level.

Don't forget clean underwear.

Don’t forget clean underwear.

My mom used to say, “Your reputation is all you have.” In those days it means a “good” reputation. These days I’m not sure if it has to be good. You just need a reputation!

Alex from Target,  no longer unknown.

Alex from Target, no longer unknown.

Building your brand isn’t easy. There’s lots of competition and everyday there’s a new unknown who’s become famous.  Last week, Alex was a 16 year old cashier at Target, overnight he became a celebrity with 300,000 followers on Twitter. Someone snapped a photo of him, and it went viral. He says he still doesn’t ’ know what has happened but there’s the buzz that it was a PR stunt from Target. It doesn’t matter, 30 days ago he was an unknown, know he is being represented by Shahidi, who is guiding him on next steps. We now have a brand called “Alex.” Alex was wearing a red Target shirt; I don’t think it was the shirt that made him famous. It was probably his innocent good looks. Here’re some ideas for building your own brand.

No matter what you do, you need your own personal brand to be remembered. If you’re in the sales business, you need customers to remember who you are. I remember I had a salesperson that was known as “the really tall, good looking salesperson.” He was 6 feet tall and definitely good looking. It got him lots of repeat business.

Here are some ideas for building your brand.

"A ship is safe in the harbor but that's not where it belongs."

“A ship is safe in the harbor but that’s not where it belongs.”

Be bold. Take a shot, don’t be afraid to be you and stand out. Your boldness may be your clothes, your hobby or your blog. It might be your haircut. Blogs have made many people famous.

Look like yourself.

Look like yourself.

Look good. Just because you’re running to the post office doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dress up. My mom used to say, “Put on your lipstick, you never know who you’re going to meet.” This was the upgrade from my grandmother who said, “Don’t forget to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident.”

Practice random acts of kindness.

Practice random acts of kindness.

Practice “random acts of kindness.” We always remember people who are nice to others. It never hurts to be kind.

Recognize opportunities.

Recognize opportunities.

Get known for working hard and doing an excellent job. This will also make you feel good about yourself.

Have fun.

Have fun.

Be fun, don’t take everything so seriously. I was lucky enough to work with Madeline Kahn in the 50’s. We were both college students working in a hotel in the Catskills; she was a singer and I was a waitress. In the afternoons, she used to dress up as Greta Garbo; a famous vamp from the 20’s and lounged around the pool.

Madeline Kahn, "Blazing Saddles."

Madeline Kahn, “Blazing Saddles.”

One day, the owner came out and yelled at her, “His line, Madeline; you have to get serious if you’re going to be a star!”

If you’ve ever seen “Blazing Saddles” you know she was silly and became a star.

Listen up.

Listen up.

Listen to others. A good listen that isn’t critical is always remembered. You don’t have to be a social worker; you just need a kind ear.

Albert Einstein said he wasn't smart, he was curious.

Albert Einstein said he wasn’t smart, he was curious.

See yourself as entrepreneurial. Being entrepreneurial with interesting ideas will always help your brand.

Take a chance.

Take a chance.

As Dr. Seuss said, “Be who you are and way what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Lisbeth Calandrino has been a business consultant for over 20 years. To speak with her about your business or have her train your employees, reach her at Lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com. She lives in Historic Hudson Park with her cat, Rainyday.

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Don’t Let Your Customers Get Away From You And Other Bad Business Practices

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Set a better mousetrap for your customers.

Set a better mousetrap for your customers.

I was listening to an interesting discussion about the “casual dining” groups of restaurants the other day, i.e. Red Lobster and Olive Garden just to refresh your memory.  Is it surprising to learn they’re losing business?  When was the last time you couldn’t wait to go to Olive Garden?

Things have changed but it doesn’t seem like they noticed.

 It  appears that people are dining out less; they’re also dining in different places. 

The millenniums aren’t really interested in going to their “grandmother’s restaurant,” think about it. They also are eating less and are looking for what they consider “healthier food.”

Red Lobster has changed the outside of the building, added  a canopy and moved the bar closer to the entrance. Still business continues to spiral down. Of course, I hear the lines to Red Lobster in certain parts of the country, Florida, for instance, are still unbelievable. It’s still not enough business. Personally, I am appalled by the lobsters in the tank by the cash register.

Casual dining in general has been hit by the economy. It’s no longer fast and the food hasn’t changed for years.  

Where is everyone going? They’re going to “fast casual restaurants ” lead by Panera’s. The perception of Panera’s is healthy, faster and customizable food. If you don’t want potato chips, you can have an apple with your ½ sandwiches and soup or salad. You can use their WIF; we know their left-over bread, and pastries go to the food Pantry.  MyPaneras’  club lets you know when they’re holding events, having tastings and offer baking tips.  

What does this mean to your business?

If your business has been around for a long time, like our “casual restaurants” have, you should know the latest trends that might affect your business.  It’s not hard to pay attention to  your customers and the trends; you just have to ask them.  

The casual diners are jumping ship and going to places like Chipotle where the look and the place is different.  How did they miss it?  You can’t sit around and do nothing while the world is changing and expect to thrive.     

You need to check out the trends. Your next customer is the Millenniums; they think differently and want distinct things. They also want everything done fast.   You can only live on your old customers so long before they disappear. Once this happens, it may be too late to change.  

Survey your customers, the new ones.  Ask them where they’re hanging out and why, what do they think about retail and what changes would they like? I’ve mentioned before that my grocery store recently put in a “wellness center.” This is definitely something “out of the box.”

Survey the customers whom you’ve lost. The average business loses 10% of its customers yearly. If our “casual dining restaurants” had done some interviewing they would have learned interesting things for their business.

Get to know your customers.Apparently Target has built a mathematical model to predict when its female customers are going to give birth!. Maybe you don’t know your customers that well but by doing surveys and holding events for your customers you will get to know them better. Hold events in your store that will make your customer feel like they belong.

The best thing a business can do is find ways to get emotionally involved with their customers. This doesn’t mean marrying them, but almost.

Lisbeth Calandrino has been providing business coaching for businesses for the past twenty years.  Her new book, “50 Events to Drive Traffic to Your Store” will be available on Amazon in June 2014. To have Lisbeth to provide training in your store, reach her at Lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com or 518-495-5380.

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By |2017-03-03T12:06:55+00:00May 18th, 2014|Blog, Competitive Advantage|0 Comments

How Lowe’s Found A Way To Benefit From Home Depot

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Women like clean stores If you ask a business owner what they do better than their competitors, they’ll all tell you they deliver the best customer service. If you ask them to define customer service they will talk about pricing, products and all the usual things.

If you’re in the floor covering business,  having competitive pricing, a good selection,  competent installers and being nice to the customers is not customer service.

This is what’s expected in the industry; it’s the price you pay to be in business. Once you deliver the basics, you can begin to think about customer service.

In order to deliver customer service you must know your customers and your competitors. Without a clear understanding of these two, you can’t possibly begin to deliver your drop dead customer service. You can’t know too much about your competitors or your target customer.

Lowe’s Companies is a great example of the new guy on the block with a great  understanding of the competitor and their customers. With this knowledge, they’ve been able to  establish a prominent position in the market place.

Lowe’s Companies was originally opened as Lowe’s North Wilkesboro Hardware in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina in 1921 by Lucius Lowe.

Throughout the years, Lowe’s went through various formats, name changes and partners. In 1961 Robert Strickland and Leonard Herring took the company public. By 1962 Lowe’s operated 21 stores and reported annual revenues of $32 million.

In the 1980’s,  Lowe’s began to feel the pressure from the economy and the new competitor, The Home Depot. Lowe’s format was smaller stores and located in more rural settings and they were considering entry into a larger, unknown marketplace.  They probably knew if they didn’t change and become a big box store, they would be history.

Lowe’s took an interesting tact; they started opening across the street from their competitor– The Home Depot.

Many people were astounded by this move; why would you open across the street from your major competitor? Wouldn’t this be suicide?I thought so.

Despite being the new guy on the block, Lowe’s had developed a strategy that allowed them to penetrate the large markets and sit side by side with their largest competitor.

Opening across the street took a lot of moxie. Lowe’s looked like their competitor and carried most of the same products. How did they expect to thrive?

Here are things that Lowe’s understood about their competitor. The competitor had more money, had been established in these large marketplaces, and spent more on advertising. If Lowe’s could determine a competitive advantage, they would benefit from The Home Depot’s aggressive stance in the marketplace. They were bound to get customers by just being across the street.

Lowe’s also knew from the beginning,  the Depot’s primary customer was the construction trade. Early in the game, Lowe’s decided their customer was a female. This was before pink hard hats and red hammers were popular.

Did Lowe’s know they were ahead of the new female consumer trend or were they just trying to establish their presence?

The Lowe’s stores were squeaky clean. Their associates carried cell phones and the overhead paging system was gone. The stores carried household items that were not available in the Depot. They carried items such as small appliances, shower curtains and a huge quantity of window treatments and small lamps.

Customers would often complain about having to bend over to pick up something in the Home Depot and find their clothes filthy. In addition their kids were crawling under racks and coming out covered with dust bunnies.

The female customer noticed the difference between the two stores and the word was out. Lowe’s was for women and Home Depot was for men.

At one point while doing training at Lowe’s I was asked by a manager what did I think the associates should be doing when they didn’t have a customer.  I suggested they call their customers and follow-up on their installations. I was quickly told it would be better if they continued cleaning because women hate dirty stores! Wrong answer.

This is a great lesson for any business.  Can you both compete and benefit from your competitor? Most business worry about how to compete and don’t think about how to benefit from their competitor and what they’ve bought to the marketplace.

I was told by a large mall builder that if you have a new product, it’s often  better to let someone else blaze the trail. Trail blazing is expensive and doesn’t always work. If it works, it’s time for you to come and benefit from your competitor’s hard work. Just give it a new twist and the road to success will be less costly.

Looking for more on competition? Check out my blog on The Times Union, http://blog.timesunion.com/success/you-cant-deliver-great-customer-service-unless-you-talk-to-your-cusotmers/2480/

Lisbeth helps businesses build loyal relationships with their customers through customer service training and social media marketing. Her book, Red Hot Customer Service can be purchased at her web site, www.lisbethcalandrino.com.

 

 

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:02+00:00March 9th, 2013|Blog, Competitive Advantage|2 Comments

What’s Going On In Your Downtown?

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Business is closed because of "short staffed"

Living in a downtown mixed usage area is a lot different than living in the “berbs.” You’re constantly being surrounded by people; some you know and others who are transient. One thing you are constantly aware of is “what makes the downtown work?” You notice  how the buildings look, which businesses get the most amount of traffic and which ones are your favorites.

As I walk down the street one of the things I notice first is the outside appeal of the business. Is the outside of the building clean, does it need paint, is there a ton of garbage piled up against the building? I think if it’s dirty outside than it can’t be any better inside. There is a coffee shop on the block that’s over 20 years old; the displays in the window are always interesting but the entrance is absolutely appalling and looks like it’s never been cleaned. I asked the owner why he never paints the entrance to which he replies, “I don’t own the building!” Maybe that’s the sign he should hang on the door.

A friend of mine sent me an article called The Three Statistics That Every Downtown Should Live By. It’s pretty simple, but many businesses must not “do simple” because the outside of their businesses are very unappealing. Simply speaking, it’s called “curb appeal.” How many times have you walked by a business and in a second decided it wasn’t the place for you? There is a Dunkin’ Donuts on my block that is amazingly clean. It is open 24 hours a day and still the parking lot is clean and the windows are finger print free. Every couple of days they wash their delivery trucks. And the bathrooms are spotless.

This might not be new to you but us girls account for 80% of all consumer spending. A well-lit parking lot that feels safe and a spotless restroom are two important ingredients to a successful business. This link will give you some ideas about how women feel about shopping.

Another interesting statistic from the first article is that 70% of all consumer retail spending takes place after 6 p.m. One of the problems with the downtown stores is they close at 6 p.m. and then lose business to the malls. In the summer the sidewalks and streets are packed but the businesses are still closing at 6 p.m.  A well-lit parking lot becomes even more important to women. I know that women take extra precautions when dropping off their friends, such as not leaving until their friends are safely in the building.

Many nights it would be nice to just go out for a good cup of coffee after 6 p.m. but it just doesn’t happen. Maybe one of the “downtowns” will read this.

Lisbeth helps businesses build loyal relationships with their customers through sales and customer service training. She is also the co-author of CONTAGIOUS OPTIMISM!  Learn more at www.contagiousoptimism.net (publisher: Viva Editions).  

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:06+00:00May 30th, 2012|Blog, Competitive Advantage|1 Comment

Who’s Driving Your Customers Away?

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Why chase your customers away?

After my last blog  I received several inquiries about the value of interviewing customers.  Because of this I have added another post on the same subject.

There was a time, not long ago, when companies could generate new business by simply listening to and following the advice of their investors and business advisers. (If we all like it you should like it.)  To remain successful today,  companies must collaborate directly with their most important stakeholders—paying customers. 

Unfortunately many businesses still operate under the assumption that what’s good for them is good for their customers. In the early stages of a business, this may be  true because this is when a business is trying to build marketshare. But in order to continue to build market share and  maintain a  competitive advantage, they   must constantly evaluate their market position.  They forget that everything continues to change: consumer preferences, the market place  and their competitors.

 For 3 years I advised a high end kitchen retailer who refused to believe that Home Depot was taking their customers. Their show rooms were beautiful, their kitchens were beautiful and everything was beautiful (so they thought) .  My interviews told me  the  customers thought our  software was antiquated, the  kitchen salespeople had no use for the flooring salespeople nd we were often rude!  The customers couldn’t have been more right  on all three points. No longer could the owner ignore what he knew was going on and what he needed to do to improve the company.

Several people have said, customers don’t know what they want. When a customer spends her dollar with your competitor  she has told you what she wants. If she gives you the name of the competitor and how much she spent,  she is not only telling you what she wants she is shouting it!

How many times have you said they didn’t buy from me because of price? My experience leads me to believe that much of the time this is crap. Not only is it crap but it gets everyone off the hook. The only true customer who doesn’t buy because of price is the customer who doesn’t have the money-period! The rest fall into these categories:

I don’t like or trust you so I’m not interested in what you say or have to offer. This is a basic communication problem and most business don’t teach their salespeople how to communicate. Instead they teach them how to sell. (It’s like the horse before the cart as they say.)

Your product isn’t worth it. You overpaid and now you’re trying to get the customer to make up the difference. Better you get rid of it and sell your customers what they want to buy.

Your services are no different than your competitors but you fail to believe it. Instead you listen and take the advice of customers who don’t like your competitors.  Better data would come from the customers who bought from your competition! 

Your business has a basic perception problem. The outside of your store looks like a discount store and brings in the  discount customer. Why are you wondering why the better customer isn’t shopping with you?  Or the outside looks great and the right customers comes through the door but  your salespeople and your products are low end. 

The customer who says, “I’m so surprised, I didn’t think you had such nice stuff” is telling you I’m probably the wrong customer. I came in looking for junk and you don’t have it. The customer with money saw your building and went elsewhere.

If your customer says your price is too high you must find out what they mean by that statement. Unfortunately salespeople don’t usually ask the question. If I do a survey I can ask the question and 9 times out of 10 I will get an answer.

Although this may sound like a  big task , the  answers to your business success lie with your customers and most customers want to help you succeed; even the ones who went elsewhere. If you listen your customers will tell you what they like and what they don’t like. Actually you may need some help interpreting the data.

If you think your customers are valuable, you will listen. If you don’t think they’re valuable then you may be trying to sell the wrong customer. In either case you need to do a survey to determine the problem.  Once you get the answers evaluate the data and make the appropriate changes.

Look at all the businesses who have made dramatic differences in their product offerings to maintain their customers base. McDonald’s cut down the French fries and now adds an apple thus reducing calories and fat by 20%. Heinz Ketchup adds a line of organic ketchup and eliminates the high fructose corn syrup, Wal-Mart finds out that 50% of their customers don’t think their prices are that low (now Wal-Mart will change their slogan) and Dunkin’ Donuts just added a tuna fish sandwich to the menu.  It took Starbucks years to add skim milk lattes and only after Howard Shultz heard a customer says she was going elsewhere if they didn’t have skim milk. 

All of these changes were precipitated by customers.

Continuous evaluation leads to continuous improvement. Continuous improvement will maintain a profitable business.

Procedure:

Make it a priority; realize that your customer is your business partner and as in any partnership, needs to be consulted.

Consult with a firm that understands the sensitivity of this information and have them develop a a questionnaire to discuss with your target customers. The customers, the survey and the data should be confidential.  If a customer likes your company they will be open and happy to give you information that will be useful. If they don’t want to talk about your company that’s another problem.

Determine what you think makes you different and check this assumption  with your customer . Conduct a small study of 5 target customers, test out the questions and evaluate the information received. Even with 5 customers you will get plenty of useful data. The value of the data has a lot to do with the wording of the questions and the skillfulness of the interviewer.

Instead of blaming your lack of sales on the economy it would be wise to have a heart-to-heart talk with those who matter most –your customers. If you want to improve your business you must talk with your customers. Remember we don’t learn anything from experience; we learn through the evaluation of our experiences.

Lisbeth Calandrino has conducted numerous customer service studies and used this information to conduct targeted sales and customer service training. She is  author of the book, Red Hot Customer Service, 35 ways to heat up your business and ignite your sales. Lisbeth can provide speaking or customer service/ sales training using the principles of her book at your place of business or through video conferences.

 

 

 

 

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:08+00:00July 31st, 2011|Blog, Competitive Advantage|2 Comments

Does Anyone Care What Customer’s Think, Wal-Mart Better Listen

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No customer service

What's a customer to do?

What could be more fun than asking your customers what you’re doing wrong? Probably a million things.

It isn’t that much fun and that’s probably why most businesses don’t ask their customers what they think. If you have the guts and can listen you will learn amazing things about how your company is “perceived.” In fact you’ll  probably be able to create you company’s focus for the next 5 years.

Building and keeping a business is hard work; it’s not so hard if you pay attention to your customers.  You must  be able to  to stay close to your customers, seek their opinions, and be  courageous enough to change based on what they think.  

 This is the epitome of customer service.

Although companies should last for centuries few do, GE is one of those that has managed to survive. How have they done it? According to Jack Welch, by listening to their customers and changing. 

What should a business listen for? What would make them different   and how to use this differentiation to  build a  competitive advantage.

The bottom line, live  and breathe with your customers. Find out  and what turns them on and what turns them off.

I heard last week that Wal-Mart recently finished a survey with their customers. According to a recent survey by Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) analysts, 60% of consumers no longer think that prices at Walmart (NYSE:WMT) stores are lower than the competition. An amazing piece of information for a company who has built their brand on “everyday low prices.” As they say, “I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall” when that data was presented.

What do you do you do when your customer  “rocks”  the very core of your brand? You could ignore the data and chalk it up to a bunch of grouchy customers or you can begin rebuilding your company and choose a new course of action.

I have been doing studies like this for years. I find it very exciting and energizing; I feel like I’m helping  good customers become even better. My experience leads me to believe that only good businesses  conduct these studies; the rest don’t care so why bother to spend the money if you’re not going to change? 

Who should do your study? An outsider who understands your industry and can turn close lipped customers into “Chatty Cathys.”  The person should  design the questions to  make the interviewee comfortable  and then lead them to more uncomfortable questions.  The ideas is to search for a point of differentiation and use it to  build a competitive advantage. Bottom line,  to get a leg up on the competition. A study of about 50-100 customers will get you plenty of data.

Not sure if you want to invest? Start with a study of 5 customers and see what they have to say.I have never seen a disappointed business owner even with a study of only 5.

As an interviewer I’m always amazed at how much information the customer will share with a perfect stranger.

I think it goes back to customers  wanting to be heard and understood.  Isn’t this  the basis of customer service? Jack Welch talks about differentiation and how companies will live or die based on their differention and ability to compete on a world-wide level.

Today I had an interesting experience with AT&T about my cell phone coverage at my camp. Or should I say my lack of cell coverage? Prior to my visit I was investigating “things on line” to increase mycell coverage; investing in a land line or getting a Magic Jack. Bottom line, I didn’t like any of them or couldn’t find anyone to substantiate the alternatives other than a land line. I also thought about throwing my phone into the lake and getting another cell carrier.

I told my story to the woman at AT&T and she told me at AT&T I could purchase a micro cell!

“What are you talking about?” I asked.  For about $200.00 I can make a one time purchase, have my own micro cell and take it with me. How many of you have complained about coverage and been told you can purchase a micro cell? I’m a cronic complainer but have never been given this alternative. I asked the salesperson why they don’t advertise this solution and she said, “I don’t know why–we tell them that customers are always complaining about  “dead” areas. A lost opportunity for differentiation/competitive advantage and a really happy customer. Not listening to the customer? Maybe listening but not hearing.

With globalization and more competition,  listening to your customer is even more important. Listen through surveys at the end of the sale and listen through  a third party.

Ikea, the world’s largest furniture store has been listening to its customers. Thirty years ago, Kamprad set out the philosophy: ‘We have decided once and for all to side with the many. What is good for our customers is also, in the long run, good for us. He wanted to “create a better everyday life for the majority of people.”

Maybe more companies should adopt this philosophy. Why don’t they? It can be scary and it takes guts to change. 

Lisbeth Calandrino is an award winning author, trainer and blogger. She is  author of the book, Red Hot Customer Service, 35 ways to heat up your business and ignite your sales. Lisbeth can provide speaking or customer service/ sales training using the principles of her book at your place of business or through video conferences.

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:08+00:00July 26th, 2011|Blog, Competitive Advantage|7 Comments

Part Two:When Change is in the Wind–Change! John Gifford

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John Fifford, publisher of "Indy Smallbiz"

When change happens, change.

This is a continuation of my  interview with John Gifford, publisher of “Indy Smallbiz.Indy.” John purchased a newspaper in 2008 and almost immediately realized that the present newspaper format was not where he wanted to be. With that in mind, John moved on to creating his “tribe” of people and what he calls  his “Boutique Marketing.” 

John you really had to take a leap,  how did you know what to do?

I didn’t know what to do but if you want to know what to do just ask your customers.  Unfortunately if the customer wants something different, no one wants to listen. We talk about customer service but it really begins when you start to listen to what customer’s want and then develop a model to make it happen. I was also looking for something that was exhilarating and I really liked. So my strategy was to rule out what I hated and focused on what I liked and what I felt I could do.

I started  Simon Sinek’s  model from his book, “Start with Why.” All organizations and careers function on 3 levels. What you do, how you do it and why you do it.  The problem is, most don’t even know that “Why” exists. In other words, ask yourself, what drives you? This is the impetus that will get you going in the right direction. 

Wilbur Wright was looking for a way for man to fly. He broke it into parts solving one problem and then on to the next. I identify with Wilbur Wright’s motivation: I like to solve problems. The problem I am solving now is how to use a publishing site as an “attractor,” both for readers, as well as authors. By helping  the authors to share their expertise online, readers will be drawn to their expert skills for meeting their business needs. Add a cross-promotional approach in which the authors promote each others’ articles via social media and email lists and you add a targeted increase in readers – readers that count, those who are already customers of other authors’ businesses. Deepen the connection with Radio indysmallbiz.com programs hosted by the online authors and you are talking about a tightened bond through another means of communication, one that can provide immediate interaction between listener and host (otherwise known as author on the online publishing site).

See what is driving you; what really motivates you. I invented a new shoestring at age  5 , later on in my varied and checkered career I went on to work out a complex delivery model that needed to be solved for social services, and have been solving problems ever since, but until a little under a year ago I didn’t clearly identify to myself what was really driving me and motivating me.

Life is all about finding solutions. It sounds like the next phase will be very exciting and I’m glad to be a recipient of John’s problem solving mind and ideas for the future.

Lisbeth Calandrino is an award winning author, trainer and blogger. She is  author of the book, Red Hot Customer Service, 35 ways to heat up your business and ignite your sales. Lisbeth can provide customer service/ sales training using the principles of her book at your place of business or through video conferences.

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By |2017-03-03T12:07:08+00:00July 10th, 2011|Blog, Competitive Advantage|0 Comments