It's been said: ``What you are shouts so loud, I can't hear what you are saying.'' The point being: Your people are a reflection of you. You may expect that employees come to you trained to serve your customers, but most often they follow your lead to please you so they can keep their jobs.
But pleasing the boss is not what makes a business successful. Success is measured by how much and by how often customers do business with you, as well as by how many new customers they bring in.
How does a business know if it is improving, dying or standing still? Most of us look at the bottom line and measure in dollars the change (or lack thereof) from period to period.
Essentially we ask our accountant to tell us something we should be asking our customers. Their perceptions are the ones that count and that strongly impact the bottom line-today and tomorrow.
Let me put it another way. Many of us have cut costs to improve margins. We labored at this so we could beat the other guy's price.
As a result of this cost cutting, we may have lost some good people, forcing a reduction in services or even hours of operation. We also may have reduced the benefits for remaining employees making them unsure of the company's future.
As a result, we also have reduced the business' income.
Think about it. If we cut ``costs'' to the point that income suffers, the business will decline and ultimately may be forced to close.
There is a time-tested answer to improving business. Change the focus from cost-reduction to income-building.
In retail, income means customers. Customers shop where they feel important and appreciated. It's not what you sell, but how you sell it that develops your company's image and reputation.
``How you sell'' is determined by the ultimate relationship between the seller and buyer. The customer's perception of this event is much more important than how you perceive it.
If a relationship of trust can be developed between the seller and the buyer, you not only sell for today but you build future sales.
The mission, then, is to create a trust whereby the customer will buy only from you and insist others do the same.
There are three essential elements of what I call buyer building, which when recognized and developed will create that trust. They are: the buyer, the buyer builder and the process.
Buyers want to find someone to build a relationship with so the next time they need help they know whom to turn to.
They want to be treated as more important than what they are buying. They want to feel understood. They want someone to listen and show concern and interest in their problem and work with them to reach a solution. They want to trust you!
You, as the buyer builder, have a positive attitude and are well versed in interpersonal skills. You feel a responsibility to the buyer and are a team player.
You are an entrepreneur, filled with the spirit of ownership. You know how to listen. You know your product and related services from top to bottom and continually strive to learn more about them and the people who buy them.
You recognize the challenge and rewards of developing your customers so they return each time they need your services.
And because you are developing friendships that will last for years, you feel good about what you are doing and thoroughly enjoy it.
Buyer building is not easy, but it is rewarding.
At this point the process should be obvious. It takes all the acquired skills of the buyer builder and applies them to developing a strong, trusting and lasting relationship with the customer.
The process begins with making the buyer feel welcome, comfortable and important. Get the buyer's name early and use it often. Determine the buyer's needs by asking the right questions and listening without interruption or distraction.
Listen so you understand the buyer's needs and wants. The gap between the two is a window of opportunity to exceed the buyer's expectations, thereby creating an event about which they will tell their friends.
A good rule of thumb is: Listen 70 percent of the time; talk 30 percent.
Confirm in your own words what the buyer has just said. The buyer should feel he or she led you to your product or service recommendation. Buyers are the ones who must feel important-not you.
Invite them back as you would a visiting friend. And follow up with a phone call within a few days. It's a great marketing tool and shows you really care.
If a buyer indicates even the slightest dissatisfaction, find out why and correct the situation immediately.
Whether the buyer's experience was good or bad, this follow-up call could make a customer for life, or at least save one. Not calling could lose that customer.
Finally, ask customers for feedback on how you're doing. They're the ones you must please to stay in business. So listen to them and refine this process using their suggestions.