Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Customer Loyalty Story - Once Upon a Time There Was a Grocery Store

How much do you love and adore your favorite grocery store?  I love mine very much, and I have, on many occasions, bragged on that store and complimented employees. I have always received great service and positive experiences there. Today must have been during a full moon because I had the craziest thing happen. This is a story about customer loyalty.

I went to the grocery store this afternoon specifically to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, convincing myself that I would eat nothing but healthy food for a few days. As recommended by health experts, I shopped only the outer walls of the store, avoiding processed foods such as crackers, cookies, cereal, soft drinks, etc.  As I happily proceeded to the produce section, I was already patting myself on the back for the quest that was upon me.

I approached the navel oranges and glanced around for the nearest bag dispenser. I had recently noticed that the bag dispensers had either been relocated or there were fewer of them. But, in this case, all the dispensers were empty. I walked each aisle to be sure. No bags to be found.

A young employee was in the process of slowly opening a box. I asked him where I could find some produce bags. The young man replied, "Our bags were recalled, so we don't have any." I said, "What should I use to bag my produce?" He responded, "We may have some in tomorrow." Tomorrow? Tomorrow? I'm here today.

There were no other employees around so I walked all the way to the front customer service counter, and explained that the produce section was out of bags. The lady working behind that counter said, "I'm so sorry." That was it. So, I decided to try again by saying, "I need to purchase produce today, and there are no bags. Can you get some grocery bags, and I will be glad to take some back to the produce section." She walked from behind the customer service counter to a checkout line, asking me how many bags I needed as she pulled out four bags. "I'm not sure as I just began shopping, but those four you have will be fine."

This employee never once offered extra bags to take to the produce section, nor did she offer to take any there for the use of other customers.  By this time I was pretty irritated. I went back to produce with my four bags and began bagging some navel oranges. I saw the supervisor of produce walk by. I stopped him and relayed the problem to him. He said, "Our bags were recalled, so we are out." I replied, "As you can see there are a lot of customers looking around for produce bags, so, can you bring some back here?"  He did not answer, he walked straight over to the balloons and began filling balloons with helium.You can't make this stuff up. I need to add here that I had been very polite throughout these conversations, but my temperature was rising.

The store is very busy. There are eight other shoppers in produce, and they are all looking around for bags. Two more employees walked through the section and never once offered to help anyone.  I gave one of my bags to someone and let a few people know they could get more bags at the front. Since I was the only one there with bags, it was as if I had found the mystical fountain.

Then, I decided to mutate back into my old manager self. I approached the first young man I had asked for help. He was still working on opening boxes.  Me: "Josh, (not his real name) here's what you need to do right now. Go to the front of the store and bring back a large supply of bags for customers to use for produce until more bags come in. " He promptly left his cartons and did as I said.

Now, what was so hard about that and why, oh why, did a customer have to handle this situation? And, why was it necessary? This is a large, national grocery store chain with an excellent reputation. I'm quite sure they conduct customer service training for employees or I would not usually shop there.

I tell this story because it's a good example of how a business can damage customer loyalty and turn that customer into a "former customer". So, IF there had been just one employee who wanted to help, what could that person have done to make everything alright and assure the customer would remain loyal to the brand? This is it. Get ready. Here it comes.

"Ma'am, I am so sorry. Our bags were recalled just this afternoon, and we are restocking for your convenience right now. I'll have some bags ready in a few minutes. Thanks so much for your patience, May I bring you a courtesy coffee or soft drink?"

I'm still in love! I hear birds chirping, harps playing, and the sweet song of customer service! I've never been so happy to bag up oranges, cabbage, and bananas in my life. I tell all my friends there is nowhere in the world I'd rather buy groceries than this store. I'll be back tomorrow!

Spread the word. It's not too hard to create customer loyalty and raving fans. All you have to do is treat people the way you would like to be treated. Every single time.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Take Tiny Steps to a Big Brand Identity

It's easy to find information on branding. A quick web search will pull up hundreds of posts, full of guidance, opinions and helpful information. Because of that, I hesitated to write about the topic. However, every week I hear people say things that tell me there is still a need in the small business world for owners and decision makers to have a better grasp on branding and the impact a brand identity can have on the business.

Businesses are started by people who a) have a passion for something they know how to do, or b) see a problem and provide a solution. Once the business of running the business kicks in, it can be hard to keep one's head above water and get some sleep, much less have any creative thoughts on the brand identity. That's where the problems start.

Knowing your business brand can separate your business from the rest of the pack. Years ago before the new age of marketing, a brand was seen simply as just the company logo, stationary and business cards. Marketing in a nutshell. In today's highly innovative world of business marketing, that definition is very old school and is so much bigger. 

Your logo is indeed critical because it should fully represent what you want the world to understand about your business. The work you do to get that logo exactly right should be the first step in a process that will deliver your brand through all your business decisions and image. The day you begin to flow the brand story through every single action, promotion, press release, product, and employee is the day you feel a weight lifted from your shoulders because you know it's being done the right way.

Your brand identity can be defined as your business's promise, the essence of your story shown through your company's behavior, integrity, products, image, and values. Everything happens with a first step, which can be a baby step. I can't state too strongly that getting the brand identity down pat in your mind and heart will be some of the most important work you will ever do.  

It looks so easy when you see the world's huge, popular brands, such as Coca Cola, Amazon, Google, and Disney. There's one major difference between your small business and those guys. They have marketing divisions and departments with large budgets.  But, there's also one thing you have in common with those huge brands: they started with baby steps too. 

Here are five steps to take to begin to nail down your business brand identity:

  1. Host a brand-storming session. Pull together a small group of key thinkers within the business who will help you work through the brand identity process. If you haven't yet started the business, pull together people who have business or marketing experience and are good contributors and listeners.
  2. Invite an experienced outside facilitator to run the brand-storming session to guide the process and keep the purpose of the session on target. The right facilitator can be key to the outcome and success of the session and will have a plan for the session.
  3. Describe your business vision to the group, taking questions, and answering them in the most heartfelt way possible.
  4. Explore topics such as your story, the product or service, the message you want conveyed in every transaction, why you do what you do, the problem you're solving, competitors, and describe your perfect customer.
  5. Be able to answer the question, "What do you do?" in less than 30 seconds, preferably in just three sentences.
This is just a start, and it will help propel your thinking to a new level, beyond your product or service and more focused on speaking your values and vision through everything you do. It takes time, focus, and commitment. But, you can create a brand identity that will be lasting. Get started now! 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Three Magic Words To Guarantee Buy-in for Strategic Planning

Does the thought of strategic planning almost send you over the edge? Or are you on the flip side of the coin and begging someone in the organization to please, please have a strategic planning retreat before you completely lose your mind?

There's no doubt that in any business there are multiple points of view on which direction to take next, how long before the next sharp curve, where is the next sharp curve, and when do we start? Is the business or team being led by someone who makes decisions on the fly or doesn't make decisions at all? I am a big fan of quick decision-making, and I also like it to be done with confidence and not guesswork. The challenges arise when there has been no long-term planning that maps out the road that will make the vision and mission of the organization more than a dream.

Every business needs to be able to turn on a dime when the opportunity presents itself for new direction that can affect revenues, employees, or the internal culture. Unfortunately, many times decision makers wait until the milk is spilled before putting the cap on the milk carton. The process of strategic planning helps participating key leaders think through the existing and potential challenges and opportunities facing the organization. 

That critical thinking element, effectively facilitated, is what can prepare an organization for the coming years of growth and market leadership. If the business strategy and tactics are not well developed, it will take more resources and time later to understand and fix the consequences of making decisions by the seat of your pants.

Now, I promised three magic words that will make everyone in your business jump on board for strategic planning.  

  1. "Retreat". Strategic Planning Retreat. Who doesn't want to go on a retreat? It's like R & R, a short vacation, and there's food and drink there. And, no suits and ties.
  2. "Away". Strategic Planning Retreats must be held away from the office. No one can retreat at the office. You need a clear head and no interruptions. Away can be a few blocks away or in another state. Away. That's all.
  3. "Facilitated". The retreat will be facilitated by an expert who will make sure everyone is heard, all the bases are covered, the agenda stays on track and on topic, and guarantees you leave on time with a plan in hand.
If strategic planning is in the cards, it's time to pull the trigger and get it on everyone's schedule. Start now by using the three magic words!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Maybe this is weird, but I love......old cemeteries.

source: Panoramio

If you're interested in historic places, in particular cemeteries with Confederate graves, here's one way down in south Georgia you may have missed. Read on to the end where you can pick up a great idea to help with restoration.

Last Saturday was a work day for cleanup at the historic West End Cemetery in Quitman, GA. I helped for the first time, and I was so glad I did. This cemetery is a special place to people who grew up in Quitman and attended the schools there as I did. Unfortunately, it has not been well maintained and is in need of restoration and sustainability.

Every year around Memorial Day young students would walk from school to the cemetery carrying flowers brought from home. The children could choose which grave to adorn with their flowers. I always chose the grave of a soldier who shared my birthday. Nearly every person I have a conversation with about the cemetery can tell me about placing those flowers.

The UDC holds a ceremony there each year, and students who are essay winners are recognized. I remember winning one year, then my daughter won when she was growing up. Many others have fond memories of West End Cemetery.

The West End Cemetery was established in 1859 when the Georgia Legislature granted the request to create Quitman as the county seat of Brooks. Many of the town's founders are buried here as well as fourteen unknown Confederate soldiers and veterans of the Civil War.

The cemetery is within the Quitman Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and sits directly on Highway 84/Screven Street. So, if you've ever been through Quitman on that highway, you've driven past this beautiful cemetery.

The cemetery grounds and damaged graves are presently under restoration. There are 463 graves, 135 of which are unmarked. There are 56 Confederate graves.

Surrounded by beautiful, antique wrought iron fencing and gates, West End Cemetery has many Live Oaks, some believed to be several hundred years old, towering as sentry over the graves.

Many local citizens are working on the restoration project. A map is being created by Walter Romine, research by Danny Taylor and John Romine has uncovered interesting stories, and volunteers from the Museum & Cultural Center and citizens are working to clean up the landscape. You may know some of them: Charlotte Jones, Jean Logan, Susan Radford, Charlie and Sandra Ramsey, Betty Harrison, Cindy Dooly, the Boy Scouts and others. And, more help is needed.

One piece of interesting cemetery trivia: Jesse Wade, born in 1794, was buried at West End in 1872. He was a close friend of David Crockett, with whom he frequently hunted in Tennessee. So, as more stories are revealed, West End Cemetery may be a late bloomer for tourism.

The Brooks County Museum and Cultural Center has taken the lead in the restoration project. Make a thoughtful donation to the West End Cemetery Restoration Project. 

To donate, please send your check to:
 Brooks County M&CC, 121 N. Culpepper St., Quitman, GA 31643

Find more pictures on ExploreGeorgia:
Historic West End Cemetery