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Questions to help you grow your business

Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When it comes to business, an unexamined business may be worth owning, but a little introspection can sure make it worth

Your customers don’t care if your menu options have changed

The day that I get a company phone directory that doesn’t announce, “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed” that company will poll just a hair below the

Getting personal and the Golden Rule in business

Why is it that we work so hard at the simplest things only to lose customers?  Usually it’s because we haven’t bothered to simply treat customers the way we would want

Questions to help you grow your business

Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When it comes to business, an unexamined business may be worth owning, but a little introspection can sure make it worth more. Here are a few questions to consider to grow your business. Comments are welcome.

What would you do to grow your business if you had an extra day in your week?

How can you delegate or outsource to add that extra day or could someone else accomplish that task?

What new doors could the right new employee open for your company?

Have you become satisfied with “good enough” in any area – vendors, team members, recruiting, partners and investors, even customers?

Conversely, do you fail to pause even a moment to reward good results from others and yourself?

Are you spending more time chasing the long tail than operating your core business?

Are you trying to please all the people all of the time and ending up pleasing very few?

If there was one single, small change you could implement immediately that would contribute marginally to your success, what would it be? Ask this one again tomorrow, lather, rinse, repeat.

What is one time waster in your business that costs more than it returns? What would be the consequence if you simply stopped doing it? Charged (more) for it? Outsourced it? Referred it to another professional or business?


Start with the simplest things

When it comes to improving customer experience, start with the simplest things. The common example is, of course, learning your customers names. But here’s one that’s simpler still. Two hotels took the time to learn Azleen Abdul Rahim’s name, but still managed to inspire him to write a critical article when they didn’t take the time to establish that he…is…a…he.

That’s right. Two different hotels left him wonderful, attractive welcomes involving expensive stationery addressed to “Ms. Azleen Abdul Rahim.” Think it’s not a serious mistake? It was such a big deal to Rahim that he ended his article with the bold faced statement “Again. My name is Azleen Abdul Rahim and I am a guy.”

So, before you deal with your next customer, before you spend money on expensive stationery and a great gift basket, ask yourself “What are the small things I’m missing?” and maybe, as a reminder, ask yourself at least once a day, “Am I guilty of calling Mr. Rahim ‘Ms.’?”

My name is Tom Hanna and I am The Customer Experience Guy.

Direct mail and the small business advantage

Rockstar Consulting President David J.P. Fisher shares an experience that moved chances of a return visit to a new restaurant “from a ‘maybe’ to a ‘the coupon is on the refrigerator and I’m already asking people to join us’.”

He had visited the restaurant and signed up for the mailing list when leaving, hoping that the expected coupons might save a few dollars for a potential return. He was surprised when the coupon arrived with a twist – a handwritten note from the chef on the back of the envelope.

Wow! Easy! And exactly the sort of personal touch where the small business (or the savvy local franchise manager) has a huge advantage over the impersonal, bumbling bureaucracy of the Fortune 1000.

Fisher suggested the efficiency of “having the waitstaff write a note to each of their tables at the end of the night.” Here again, the human touch can pay further dividends. The server can make a small note of something memorable, where it’s appropriate. A bit of self-deprecating humor over a minor mistake (properly fixed to everyone’s satisfaction first) from a disaster to a chance to make friends of customers and in the process customers for life.

And let’s not neglect the possibilities for connecting with some of the most important people to the business that are there every single day – the employees. Allowing employees to interact with customers in a new way and encouraging them to have appropriate fun with it empowers employees.  I’d go a step further and let the employees award a VIP special to any of the customers they feel deserve it – the guy who made them laugh, the customer who tipped a little more, the lady who took time to ask about your employee’s kids  – and consider it a great thing if that’s every customer! 

We don’t often miss opportunities for the big connect – “Thanks for sharing your 50th wedding anniversary with us!” – but simply enlisting those front line employees to gather the little bit of information necessary and actively engage with customers, in a way that empowers and benefits the employees, too, creates a chance to connect with every customer we see.

Your customers don’t care if your menu options have changed

The day that I get a company phone directory that doesn’t announce, “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed” that company will poll just a hair below the few that still have a live human answer their phone in my customer service rankings.  Does your company directory repeat this ubiquitous and meaningless waste of your customer’s time? It’s just one of many things you might want to consider changing about your phone service.

Want to improve phone service, retain current customers and maybe gain more new ones? Start by calling your own company, “Act as if you are the customer. Listen closely and experience the call process.”

Read more from Customers Deserve Better.

11 Tips for Door Hanging & Direct Mail

Two of the most cost effective methods I’ve used for generating sales in residential areas are direct mail and door hanging. These strategies both do one thing for the small business better than any other method – target your immediate neighborhood without wasting effort on people across town who will pass 10 competitors on their way to your door.

I used direct mail as part of a strategy that made me a top 1% real estate agent in my market. Even more effective, especially considering cost, I used door hanging as the linchpin of a marketing strategy that saw sales increase by double and triple digit percentages year-to-year at multiple restaurant locations.

Here are my 11 top tips for making effective use of these direct customer contact methods. I’ll start with the two tips that are specific to direct mail only.

Tips for Direct Mail


  1. Postcards. If the target has to open an envelope, it’s wasted money. Even while throwing a postcard away, they’ll notice a good deal and your name.
  2. Door hang instead. Door hanging is much more cost effective. You can contract it out at about half the cost of direct mail. If you’re in a business with low wage employees with downtime, you can send them door hanging with a pager or cell phone in case you get busy. If sales are really slow, you can even do it yourself.
Tips for Door Hanging and Direct Mail


  1. Color. You need color and a simple design to catch the customers attention in a couple of seconds while they open their door.
  2. Specials. Door hang specials, not menus or catalogs. Too much information generates distraction instead of action.
  3. Add-ons. Since you want your flyer to be simple and attention getting, you can’t list every great combination. Be prepared to offer suggestions that really add value and satisfaction for the customer.
  4. Build ticket average. The service labor and advertising cost don’t change much when the amount sold goes up. So, focus on the higher priced sale to add the most to your bottom line.
  5. Free. Don’t be afraid of the word “free.” Selling a $15 item at regular price with an equal or lower priced item free is usually much more profitable than giving half off the $15 item. (See Tip #6.)
  6. Offer repeat specials. Repeat business is more bang for you advertising buck. People who respond to specials respond to value. To get their repeat business, provide exceptional service and a different offer to bring them back again.
  7. Loyalty program. Do you have a loyalty program? You don’t need plastic cards with magnetic stripes. Ask for an email and track it on your computer. Or, just use paper punch cards. Give your loyal customers a sense of ownership in your success.
  8. Follow up. Ask for contact information and follow up with direct mail or email. An ideal approach for email is a followup survey invitation. For direct mail, in higher priced items especially, a handwritten thank you note is ideal.
  9.  Personal contact. Small business has a massive advantage in personal contact between customers and owners or top managers. Learn names, shake hands, learn birthdays. You’re more than a product on a shelf; treat your customer as more than a dollar sign.


Getting personal and the Golden Rule in business

Why is it that we work so hard at the simplest things only to lose customers?  Usually it’s because we haven’t bothered to simply treat customers the way we would want to be treated.  IBM Director of Marketing Tami Cannizzaro gives a great example:

As a consumer, you know in an instant when you’re dealing with a company that doesn’t have it together.  We’ve all been there: “Pleeeassse, don’t ask for my serial number again and the spelling of my name and my account numbers. Know me. That’s all I ask.”

via Personal ad: Marketer seeking brand advocates – Digital Age of Marketing.

As small business owners and managers we have the opportunity to get to know many of our customers on that personal level.  Of course, remembering the customers serial number is a job for a well organized system – whether it’s a computerized Customer Relationship Management system or the box of notecards that a rare bookstore owner I know uses.  But the computers, the files and the paperwork are no substitute for the smiling faces with your name on their lips and your basic needs in their head…and heart.

Whether it’s a server at the restaurant asking if you want “the usual, Jim” or the manager of the UPS Store saying, “Hi, I’ve got a package for you, Tom” when you walk in the door, that’s the personal touch that makes us loyal customers.  Deep down, we’d all love to be Norm from Cheers with a bar full of people shouting our name, our favorite spot at the bar reserved and the beer in place before we make it to our seat.

We may not be able to make every entrance a Cheers! moment for our customers, but we should all make getting to know our customers our number one priority and make sure that our employees know it’s the number one priority for them as well.

Social networking is about human contact

The Gooder Group’s Real Estate Rainmaker website recently featured  17 Survival Tips For Facebook Marketing .

Two of them really stood out:

6. Focus on engagement, not Likes.

15. Never buy bulk Likes.

On Facebook and Twitter it’s easy to get caught up in statistics such as numbers of Likes or Followers, but you can have great stats and no sales. For the small business, social networks are all about human contact. A Facebook post by a loyal customer is just the tech version of good old fashioned word of mouth. (And somebody posting negatively is probably even worse than the old version if you don’t react. But fortunately, if handled politely and appropriately may be easier to recover from since it’s easier to track.)

So, if you’re not focusing on racking up the ReTweets, what should you be focused on?  Two things:

  1. Encouraging your loyal customers to recommend you
  2. Engaging with the online opinion leaders in your market

Unless your selling social networking, who matters much more than how many.

A check in with a positive comment from someone with an established reputation paints the picture you want to paint of your business and like a picture, it’s worth a thousand Likes.

This is how you build sales

These 11 Great Customer Service Stories from Business Insider are what building long term sales and customers for life are all about. Here’s a personal favorite:

Sainsbury’s, a grocery store in the U.K., must have been pretty amused when they received a letter from a three-year-old girl named Lily.

“Why is tiger bread called tiger bread?” she asked, referring to one of their bakery items. “It should be called giraffe bread.”

Lily was just being observant – the pattern on the bread does resemble a giraffe more than a tiger. To everyone’s surprise, Chris King, a customer service manager at the chain, responded. “I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it? It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a looong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.” He enclosed a gift card, and the bread was renamed earlier this year.


I found this article by way of economist Craig Newmark who added, “…I’d think it would be worthwhile for many companies to cut a little of their mostly stupid advertising and increase expenditures on services like these. ”

He’s absolutely right. If you can devote an extra 1 to 10% to advertising or chop 5-50% off your prices, you could make your customer’s day better instead.  The bonus, aside from increased sales, is that when we handle our business this way we get to deal with happy customers and happy employees and go home feeling good about our work at the end of the day.

Social Media and Small Business Advantage #1: Personality

Think that the big corporations with the big budgets have the edge in online marketing? You should probably think again. Forbes writer T.J. McCue’s article of 19 Things Successful People Do on Social Media reads like a list of small business advantages. #7: They are genuine and  #15: Success in social media demands that you get personal describe two of the biggest reasons that customers choose the locally owned business over the corporation. Social media just magnifies the difference.

#15: Success in social media demands that you get personal.

I find it laughable that CEOs join social networks only to post about their companies. There are , no doubt, some high profile CEOs that people follow regardless, but most knowledgeable executives understand you have to get personal. That above lighthearted joke about what you had for lunch is not what I mean. “People don’t fall in love with hex colors and logos — they fall in love with people”

As a small business owner or manager, your customers want your personality in the mix, though they may not explicitly say so. So, don’t share every trip to grocery store (except on Foursquare), but do share that photo of the new pet or the Little League victory in the family.


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