On the playing field, little things matter

Saturday was a bit of a football day. I attended my first Griz game, watched my Razorbacks disintegrate in the fourth quarter (yes, again) and stayed up late watching a fascinating, action-filled Utah / Cal game.

It was a day full of watching highly skilled athletes do little things that have a substantial impact on their success – or fail to do them.

On the way to a great night on the field, Utah’s Devontae Booker did a little thing that many running backs don’t do. For example, when he ran up the middle and found himself stuck in a pile, he didn’t simply keep driving as if he thought he could push a pile of 10 guys somewhere – he turned and ran around them.

The Griz failed to do a few little things, one of which was managing their use of the clock near the end of the game. With less than three minutes left, they managed to use 90 seconds to run three plays and punt. Some teams drive the length of the field in 90 seconds. This time, nothing of substance was accomplished.

In each of these three games, little things contributed substantially to each team’s loss or win. All the teams involved are capable of operating at very high competency levels, yet these little things forgotten even once in some cases can nullify everything they’ve accomplished that day.

The same little things that have a transformational effect on the field are exactly the kinds of things that make or break your customer experience on a hour to hour, day to day basis. That’s your playing field.

What are YOUR little things?

If you and your staff aren’t sure or aren’t on the same page about what your little things are, make a list. Once you have a list of your own, have your staff make a list. That’s where most people stop.

To really standout, take that list and prioritize it. Once you’ve done that, share it with a few trusted clients. Ask them to prioritize the list from their perspective. Ask all of your clients on occasion what little things make them come back to you.

Once you’re there, training is essential to keep these skills sharp. Yes, it’s a skill to keep the little things top of mind and perform them well, rather than simply going through the motions.

These little things may not be obvious and your staff may not think they are a big deal until you explain WHY they are and how they bring back clients repeatedly. If you aren’t absolutely sure that your staff ties the return of clients to their job security, be explicit about it. Explain how much a lost customer costs and how many lost customers translate to a job.

Repetition and training matter – but they matter more when you give them context. Not everyone sees the big picture like you do – and some may see it differently or better, so discuss it as a team.

Too busy to deal with little things?

We all react differently to increased workload, pressure and a larger than normal number of customers (internal or otherwise) demanding our help at the same time. What often disappears from your customer experience under these circumstances are these little things. Courtesy is often one of them. We communicate less in order to get the task done and to our client, it feels like an uncaring interaction.

The costly part of these failures is that at a time when your people are stressed with how busy things are, your clients are too. How you deal with them under these circumstances is a big deal. These little things can be easy to forget when you’re in a hurry, under pressure or dealing with a lot of people at once. When your team is fully present, focused and attentive to the client in front of them and their transaction and is focused solely on that (even if the client is on the phone), the experience is memorable. When the mindset is “I must get this done quickly so I can get the next 22 people taken care of“, the customer experience will suffer.

The emphasis on these little things, along with reminders and training are critical to getting your company to the point where these things happen as a natural part of doing business without explicitly thinking about them.

Pay attention to the smallest things

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/elijahmanor/statuses/51678877961043968″]

I had an experience at our Scout meeting this past week that reminded me once again that the smallest things can really change someone’s experience or perception of your business.

A young Scout took me aside near the end of our meeting and asked me to tell one of our older boys not put his hand on the Scout’s shoulder.

The older boy wasn’t hurting the young Scout, was doing this in full view of everyone at the meeting and was just being friendly as he asked the younger boy to help with a task during a meeting. For reasons I won’t discuss here (other than to assure you that it was not sexual abuse related), the older boy’s actions bothered the young man. He assured me that the older boy didn’t hurt or scare him and that there were no other issues between them.

As I told the older boy later, you just never know what the smallest thing means to someone, or what memory it brings back, and as such he needed to make a point of not using that technique in conversation with that particular boy.

Elijah brings it home with the tweet shown above.

Think really hard about the things you introduce into your customers’ experience. You never know what you are reminding someone of.

“What is your mother’s maiden name?” could be an incredibly difficult subject for someone.

Remember The Simple Things

Jeffrey Gitomer* sums up a lot of understanding of people, sales, psychology and more when he says “People don’t like to be sold but they love to buy.

Do you make it easy for them to buy?

Really? Let’s talk about it.

Beyond impulse

Are the things you sell displayed in a manner that will make it easy for your customers to select exactly what’s best for them?

Or…are they displayed in a manner that maximizes how many things you can get on the shelf?

The question is prompted by the recent untimely and tragic death of our old TV**. I recently had the (ahem) “luxury” of shopping for a replacement HDTV after our old one finally gave up the ghost.

I had a budget in mind, so after a little browsing on the net to see what was new, what features and standards were must have (and which ones were not), my youngest son and I caroused around town to the usual suspects (minus one that was closed) to find a new box.

The brands and models were pretty much the same from store to store, for the most part.

But something was different

What differed – radically so – was the presentation.

Two examples of the several we visited:

Store A

  • Had units scattered about in no particular order. It’s possible they were grouped very roughly by price.
  • Their display was moderately helpful for a standing customer (no seats) because half of the sets were more or less just below eye level. The rest were barely off the floor, which didn’t show off those models well.
  • Their pricey 3D sets were presented well, in a manufacturer-provided display with goggles.
  • Their sets displayed the same picture on most sets so you could compare. It was a mix of sports and scenic shots and “regular” stuff.

Store B

  • Had sets jammed so close together and displayed at differing angles above, at and well below eye level (again, no seats). The first thing I thought of was the clothing stores with racks and aisles packed so tightly that you can’t walk between the racks. They didn’t have their sets displayed in a manner that was designed to encourage you to take the time to browse, evaluate and buy. If you knew what you wanted and they had that item in stock, no problem.
  • Had models scattered all over the store with no rhyme or reason. Not grouped by size, price, features, manufacturer or any other sensible criteria. They were clearly just shoved where they’d fit, making it almost impossible to compare two closely priced or sized models.
  • 3D sets were just…where they were. It would’ve been impossible to evaluate them properly as displayed.
  • The most expensive (and amazing) set was a Sony non-3D set whose picture and specs were way over the top the best we saw all day. Yet this set was presented in the middle of a row of stacked up stuff with cardboard boxes across from it in a narrow aisle where your face was less than two feet from the massive screen. If I was the Sony rep for this store, Id be taking the manager out for a long chat. And their manager. And their manager.
  • Their sets displayed a buffet of content, with so much variety from screen to screen that was almost impossible to compare models.

Where’s the recliner?

Some audio stores figured this out before the box stores killed all but the high-end audio places: Build a room that presents your gear in its best light (or sound, as it were).

If I’m selling TVs, I want a small number of my very best selling TVs a normally lit room (like people’s homes) with a recliner, coffee table, couch, etc sitting around. I want them paired in good, better, best pairs with the 6 best selling, best quality units I have in those three price ranges. I want them to sit down and take a look. Toss em the remote and let them visualize that sucker in their own home.

All the other models, if I have to have all them, can be presented grouped by size within price range and paired so I can compare like models. Remember, you want to create an environment that makes it easy for the customer to make the best choice for their needs and budget. You don’t want them walking out frustrated because they learned nothing from shopping in your store.

The reason to make a sale is to get a customer, not the other way around. Your business is about customers, not TVs or Kitchen Aid mixers or snowblowers.

Wally

Yes, I know the mass merchandiser in you is going crazy. You may think want your store to look like Wal-Mart so that you sell them SOMETHING no matter what.

Well guess what? The best TV display for the buyer’s needs was…Wal-Mart’s. They were grouped by size within price range. No, there wasn’t a couch or a recliner. Yes, there was crazy-bright fluorescent lighting. Yes there were strollers 2 aisles over and video games beeping 20 feet away and a blue light special (whatever) announcement over the loudspeaker every 13 seconds.

Still, the layout was optimized on that wall to make it easy to choose a TV, not to make it easy to get all of them out of the box and on a shelf so we could say we did so.

Interesting that Wal-Mart would win in that department and not have the best price. Go figure.

*If you haven’t read Jeffrey, I suggest you do so. Good stuff. Start with “Customer Satisfaction is Useless“.

** Jim Rohn said “Poor people have big TVs. Rich people have big libraries.“  Meaning – educate yourself. And keep at it. Watch a little less TV, read a little more. Do better for yourself in the next year by spending time to better yourself.

Little things lend quality to a welcome

Last weekend, we took a trip to Oregon to get our youngest son registered for fall classes at Pacific U.

During the lonnnng drive (it’s about 10 hours each way) from Montana past Portland, a few things about processes brought me back to our talk about QuickBooks and my own process improvement from last week.

What kept tweaking my “slight edge” nerve during the trip was that I was reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” for the first time. If you haven’t read it, one of the constants of the book is the impact of quality in one’s life, work, thought, psyche and in fact, quality’s impact on almost everything. I found it a fascinating read and something I really hadn’t expected.

The teachings of the book aside, one thing that stood out during the trip was the difference between my admission at a large state college years ago (too many) and today’s at a small, private university.

Shake and Sign

Each student begins their stay at the U via a personal face-to-face with the University president during new student orientation just before their first semester begins. During this time, the new student shakes hands with the president and signs into a book where all prior students have signed in.

This “shake and sign” event fires psychological triggers relating to commitment, group membership, and the beginning of a process that comes with what likely feels like a personal obligation to a new mentor to complete it. When the student graduates, only then do they sign out – by that time, they’re only leaving campus. The relationship to the school is fully vested by that time.

The process of starting school is transformed. For most, it’s a group event with potentially impersonal “herding” of hundreds (or in my case, thousands) of new freshman through all the processes typical of orientation and starting college.

Turning that into something very personal to each student is simply brilliant.

Personal. Individual. Welcoming. Obligation.

It created an experience like those that Walt Disney focused on: one that you had to tell someone else about.

How do you welcome new customers?