Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Insiders who are Willing

There was a time, a few months back, when I was ready to give up on the whole customer service industry. I was starting to loose faith in the ability of the Customer Service Representative (CSR) to actually help the customers. I was tired of CSRs telling me they didn’t have stock (when they didn’t check), talking on their phone (instead of helping the next person in line) and never being around when you need them.

I started to think, as we move forward into the 21st century, companies (in the sales industry) are working toward becoming more efficient about how they run their business. The first place management often looks to improve is their front lines. These are the people who orchestrate their sales and often spend most of the time doing nothing.

Therefore, to achieve the highest possible number of sales, why not eliminate the CSR altogether? Turn the whole CSR industry into something that no longer requires a middleman – get rid of the people.

The way I see it, I know exactly what I am looking for. The real question I need to ask myself is, “Where is it?” For example, last week I went shopping for a book at my local bookstore. Of course, since it was the week before Christmas, the whole store was filled with people. I began looking for an available kiosk to search for my book, and to my dismay they were all full. I walked back and forth waiting for one of the three I was hovering around to open up when a young CSR asked if she could help me out.

Something inside of me wanted to tell her no, but I was in no mood to refuse a helping hand. I didn’t think she would know what book I was looking for (she didn’t), but what she did know was invaluable – she knew where the unused computers were. I followed her through the twists and turns of the aisles and eventually we came to a quiet little corner where an open kiosk awaited our arrival. It didn’t take her long to type in the book I was looking for, and before I knew it I was out the door with book in-hand.

As I left the store I thought – I could have done that. There isn’t any special mystery behind finding where a book is on a computer. What I realized was, this young CSR, who was willing to help, had something I didn’t, the added knowledge about the store.

I overlooked the fact that not everyone is capable of guiding him or herself through a retail outlet. There is a whole set of people who require the “expertise” of a CSR to purchase what they are looking for. I love to use the Apple Store as a perfect example. This is a store that truly understands the power of good customer service. You walk in and the number of employees is almost equal to that of the number of customers. Someone is always available to help you. When you purchase something, all they do is bring up the items online and scroll you through their stock. Is this something you could do on your own? Of course. Is everyone capable of ordering stock online? Of course not. With a ratio of almost 1:1 customers are in and out in record time – completely satisfied.

For the time being, I suppose CSRs still serve a purpose. The next question is, how do we keep them performing at a high level to ensure customer satisfaction? When customers can’t help themselves, they need to be willing to go to the next level to ensure satisfaction. Whether or not this is possible, is a whole other post altogether.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Boxing Day Knock Outs

It’s December 22 and I can’t stop worrying about the things I still need to pick up before Christmas. Interestingly enough, at work today I was asked if I knew what I was going to buy on Boxing Day. “Boxing Day!” I replied, “I hardly know what I am going to bring to the Pot Luck tomorrow.” As we began talking about possible ideas I asked why Boxing Day was on his mind. “It’s my six year old,” he said, “She knows about the deals and she has been asking me about what we are going to buy.”

I can hardly imagine what I would do if I had kids. Six years old and she already knows the day after Christmas is associated with lower prices – a young consumer.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized his six-year-old daughter wasn’t the only one thinking about Boxing Day deals. A few nights ago I went to visit some friends and one of them was on their laptop looking at flyers for electronic stores. I won’t go into any details as to what companies he was interested in, but as the conversation continued I realized that “deal hunting” was a real skill. “The fliers are in the store, but customers can’t get a hold of them yet. So, I decided to search for them online,” he told me with a growing enthusiasm, “See, this company hasn’t updated their flyer, but this other one has and I like what I see.”

All this talk got me thinking about what types of industry would issue discounts on Boxing Day. First and foremost, there is electronics. Everyone wants them and with the product turnover rate it just makes sense to sell something at a “cheaper” price before the actual price of the product drops one month after Boxing Day. Grocery stores might also have some really good options on Boxing Day. Think about it, they bought a large variety of stock to supply the needs of Christmas and one day later they have an abundance of items that didn’t sell. What do you do? Lets have a sale. I was asked, “Why don’t car dealerships ever offer sales?” If you think about it, people will still want to buy cars even after Christmas and Boxing Day have come and gone. The car market is structured differently and new models aren’t made available on January 1st they have different release dates.

At the end of the day, listening to my friend with the six-year-old daughter made me feel like a juror hearing the final testimony from the defendant, “Boxing Day is a fun day where people rush around looking for deals – it’s contagious.”

When you wake up the morning of December 26th I want you to turn on your TV and find your local News channel and tell me if they are covering a story about people lining up in front of a store to get an awesome deal. You’ll probably even see an on the scene reporter who stops people on their way out to ask if they can check out what people purchased. It creates a spending frenzy. If this person on the news is getting a “great deal” why aren’t I? Before you know it you’ve hopped in your car and started making your way to the closest shopping centre.

At the end of the day, you really need to ask yourself, “Is there really a deal?” I remember when I used to work in retail. Boxing day was one of the busiest days of the year. We would often have people lining up out the store, but why? There wasn’t a deal – customers just assumed there was. Maybe there is a deal for the first 50 purchases or while quantity lasts, but at the end of the day – prices stay the same.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Who Eats Chicken Wings?

It’s cold; you’re hungry and looking for a place to go eat. You drum through the list of regular places: Italian? Pizza? Asian? None of these options are very appeasing. But, then it hits you! You remember a tip your best friend shared with you earlier in the week, “If you’re hungry, you should check out _____________ they have the best chicken wings in town.” You’ve made up your mind – you want wings.

Am I right when I say that the best places to eat are often hidden in the smallest of corners? You pull up to where you have been told to go and in a small corner of a small plaza you see a small sign that reads, “Best Wings in town! Don’t forget to try our Fat Girl sauce.” You sit down and a waitress brings you a menu. You don’t need to look at it because you already know exactly what you’re going to have.

As you sit there waiting you begin to wonder… What kind of person goes to a restaurant to eat chicken wings?

You start to look around and begin to notice details you hadn’t before. There are an assortment of TVs scattered throughout the room that are all tuned in to the same sporting event. The tables are all filled with a collection of people who all appear to be good friends. You begin to wonder would this be a good place for a first date? You look around and spot a few couples sitting at different tables and you begin to assess how long they have been dating for. The male is in track pants, a hooded sweater and is wearing a toque. His female counterpart has her hair tied back, is wearing glasses and a pair of old worn out jeans. Nothing about this couple says “first-date.”

As you look around, you notice that no one else is looking around. No one is hiding the mountain of napkins on their table or is embarrassed about the number of times they need to ask for a refill on their water because of their hot sauce. You don’t need to look too closely to realize eating chicken wings is not for the self-conscious.

Would we eat more chicken wings if we weren’t worried about how they made us look when we eat them? A large majority of us really enjoy eating wings, but they can be awkward to hold onto and make us look really messy.

At the end of the day, like any good thing in life, the timing has to be just right. It makes it easier to go and grab wings when we know the game is on, all our trusted friends will be there and the napkins are in ample supply.

Who eats chicken wings at a restaurant? We all do.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Having a Good One

When I was a young child, I would sit and listen to my parents and hang on their every word. I can remember asking, “What does that word mean?” or, “Why does it have to happen like that?” I can only imagine my parent’s thought process, as they were forced to find an answer that would suffice. A parent thinks carefully in these situations, knowing that their response will be carried with their child from that point forward.

As I grow older, I begin to find myself in the same conversational dilemma. As I work with students who are learning how to speak and write English, I am asked similar questions, “What does that word mean?” or, “Why do we say this like that?”

I am a big fan of teaching through conversation and like anything in life it is best to start at the beginning. We go over phrases like, “Good morning. How are you? What did you do last night?” It’s an ongoing process, but we steadily work our way through it.

At first, they are unsure about what to say, but over time, they become comfortable with the phrases and you can see the pride on their face as we talk with one another. I try my best to consciously think about what I say because I know if I say something out of the ordinary I will be asked to explain what I just said.

Of course you can’t be “on” forever and eventually I find myself in a situation where further explanation is required. To be honest, one of the best questions I was ever asked came from one of my students who is undergoing college preparation and already knows English.

We were finishing another day of classes when I said, “Have a good one.” I was received with a sideways glance and was asked, “Have a good one? What’s that?” I had never thought about it before. “It must be a Canadian thing,” she said as we went our separate ways. I began doing a little research and asked if anyone had heard the phrase before. Of course, a lot of them agreed that they have heard the phrase prior to me asking, but never really thought about the meaning behind it.

Having a good one. It’s obviously a good will statement. I guess the real question is, what does the one refer to? In true Canadian fashion, I believe we have found a way to wish someone well without having to refer to anything in specific. It’s a good-natured send off with a twist of modern day ease. It says, “I may not know everything about your day, but I want you to have a good one.”

The next time you say goodbye to someone – stop and think. You may not realize it, but this phrase may already be part of your spoken vernacular. As for me, I need to re-think my approach to spoken dialect. I am going to take things to another level. It’s all about encouraging social “positivism” – Be sure to have yourself a good TWO.