I wrote this post in mid-March, just as the effects of the pandemic began keeping us home. It was pretty obvious to me at that point that life for all of us was going to be very different for a while and I had an unusual thought to go with the unusual times. Originally called “Quit Selling,” this was the most-read post I wrote this past year (18% more views than #2). It’s been 9 months and I still think it’s not a bad idea. What do you think?
What the heck do you do when everything changes in a couple of weeks? I fell behind reading my daily newspapers and as I was catching up it dawned on me that nearly everything I was reading related to a world that really didn’t exist a week later. The sports sections were previewing games and events that will never take place. Forget the numbers and analysis on the financial pages. Even the front pages dealt with topics that now seem so unimportant.
People can’t travel. You can’t really go out to eat or hang out with friends. Who could ever have imagined that the bars would be closed on St. Patrick’s Day as they were here and in many other places. Those are just a few examples of the devastating impact this pandemic has caused and the businesses that can survive this will be badly damaged. Many others won’t survive at all.
So If you’re a businessperson what can you do? May I offer a radical thought?
Quit selling. I’ve received many emails from companies that are behaving as if nothing is different. They’ve not changed their tactics or messaging at all. Others have done even worse by trying to capitalize on this global tragedy. Not only do I find these messages offensive but I’m making mental notes never to buy from those businesses again.
Everyone is suffering losses of some sort. Some folks are out of work completely with no income at all. Others are trying to work from home while schooling or at least amusing their kids. My parents who are in an assisted living facility can’t leave their room. Meals are sent up and there is no socialization. I think it’s the right course of action but I feel horrible for them and the other residents. People have had to cancel vacations and weddings. Others can’t attend funerals of loved ones. Everything has changed.
So quit selling. Recognize that now isn’t the time. If you give any sort of credence to the notion that you need to love your customers, love them now by asking how you can be helpful. Ask what you can do for them and not what you can sell them. There will be plenty of time for that when things return to whatever normal will become.
Maybe it’s a radical thought but these are times that call for radical thinking, don’t you think?
Foodie Friday again, thank goodness. My friend Barry is a restaurateur. He runs a place in Georgia and their tagline is “Everything’s So Right.” There is a lot of wisdom packed into those few words (very much like Barry!) and I got a chance to see that sort of thinking first-hand this week.
I went out with a friend for a beverage. We hit one of our usual haunts and she ordered something that she’s had there before. Unfortunately, what arrived at the table wasn’t even a close approximation of what she was expecting.
We said something to our server (our usual seats at the bar wouldn’t permit social distancing so we took a table) who mentioned that the drink was made by someone our friend, the head bartender, was training. She also immediately apologized and asked what else she could bring instead. Her attitude was one of sincere regret as if she had personally disappointed instead of just delivering a badly-made beverage. She wanted to make everything right.
Making everything right is long-term thinking. The problem in this case wasn’t a bad drink. What would have become the problem would have been the server not taking immediate steps to fix the problem with a customer-friendly attitude. In business, we don’t get in trouble for the things we do. More often than not, it’s for the thing we don’t do. That might be why we visit this place at least once a week.
There’s another restaurant in town that offers the best Chinese food in the area. It’s authentic and as good as I’ve had in NYC’s Chinatown. I rarely go there because the service is unapologetically atrocious. You can wait for an hour for your food to arrive even when the place is nearly empty. It certainly doesn’t take as long to cook as it does to arrive. Does anyone seem to care about making everything right? Nope.
Screw-ups are a fact of life no matter what business you’re in. 99.9% satisfaction means that 1 person in 1,000 is going to have an issue. If you go to sleep thinking that one person is far outweighed but the 999, you’re not going to sleep very well for long. Making everything right has to be the gaol in a time when everyone has access to social platforms and review sites. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do. When people spend their hard-earned cash on your product or service, they expect you to solve whatever problem – hunger and thirst in this case-, brought them to you with a smile. If everything’s not right, you haven’t, have you?
A little reminder this Foodie Friday. I called one of my favorite taco places last night to place an order that I’d pick up. I ended up hanging up the phone without placing the order and the reason why I did so should be instructive for anyone who has customers (and what business doesn’t?).
The place we were ordering from serves very authentic tacos and other Mexican dishes. One of these is a torta – a sandwich – called a Toluquena. While there are minor variations on it depending on the place, it’s a pretty common menu item and I wanted one. I was also trying to get a plate of cheese enchiladas and a “wet” burrito. All of these things were on the restaurant’s menu.
A woman answered the phone. It took a few tries to get her to understand that I would come to pick up the food but once we had that squared away, I asked for the first item: the Toluquena. She didn’t understand. She asked if I meant a Tampiquena, which is a common steak dish but not what I wanted. “No, una torta – a sandwich.” A Tampiquena sandwich? No, a Toluquena. The next couple of minutes involved her getting the menu and pointing out to her where it was. It was sort of a sandwich “Who’s On First” routine.
We moved on to the enchiladas. Cheese enchiladas. “With chicken?” No, just cheese. “Chicken enchiladas?” Let’s try Spanish – “no, no carne, no pollo. Solamente queso.” She said she needed to go check, at which point it was time to hang up the phone. The odds of getting the food we wanted were quite long at that point and I was in no mood to eat something I didn’t order. We ended up driving to another taco place (just as good, by the way) and brought home exactly what we wanted.
The reminder is this. First, more folks are using the telephone to place orders to go these days for the obvious reasons. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the restaurant business or selling hardware or party goods. People want to call in and pick up. Next, because of this, the person or persons answering that phone need to know the products (or menu). In my case, the language wasn’t an issue – I speak enough Spanish to get by – but my guess is that the bulk of your customers speak English so your phone people should be able to as well.
This woman’s inability to handle our order didn’t just cost them last night’s business. The last time we ordered from this place we received the wrong food in our order having ordered over the phone and picked up. I love the food but I love getting the food I order even more. I probably won’t go back until I’m comfortable ordering in person (you can’t order online from this place either). When a customer service issue becomes routine, you’re in trouble.
Every customer interaction is a chance to shine. Every person who will be dealing with customers needs to have the training and resources they need to shine brightly, especially now. Make sense?