Go The Extra Mile to Ensure Your Customers Have A Great Experience

As a customer, I just might be your worst nightmare.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not malicious and I am fairly easy to please. When I encounter poor customer service, I’m unlikely to stage a hissy fit. I go away quietly, never to return, and never to refer future customers.

Customer complaints are gifts. Smart business owners will always prefer an unhappy customer’s feedback over their silence. Customers that go away to tell others about a negative experience can be a business owner’s worst nightmare.

Not long ago, I went into a store to look for an item. I was motivated to make a purchase, had looked through several other stores and not found what I was searching for. The lady minding the store was camped behind the counter reading a book. I explained what I wanted and she pointed to the back of the store where she thought I might find it, and cheerfully went back to reading her book.

I wandered around the store for a while, searching. The clerk was oblivious to me. I finally found what I needed within arms length of where she sat. I bought the item and left. I didn’t complain, there was no yelling, not a single deletable expletive. I paid, smiled, and left without a hint of discontent – the business owner’s worst nightmare.

She didn’t insult me, didn’t do anything overtly wrong. I just didn’t feel welcomed or valued. It was such a small thing really, hardly worth any fuss. But what a high cost to the owner of the business.

Even the sleepiest of folks would have to agree that the term “customer service” probably has something to do with making customers happy. So, why would one ever fall short of doing everything in their power to satisfy each customer that graces their path? My hunch is that those who give any less than top customer service do not understand the high cost of getting first-time customers in the door or the enduring collateral damage an unhappy customer can generate over time.

Here are a few simple ways to make customers happy:

1.Welcome every customer with a smile.

2.Be friendly, polite, and respectful.

3.Show the customer that you care.

4.Make each customer your top priority and provide your best service.

5.Go the extra mile to ensure they are served, do more than you’re paid for.

6.Make each customer experience special.

The strangest thing about customer satisfaction is that it’s less about the money; it’s more about the time. Well, more specifically it’s about helping the customer feel good about the time it took to earn the money as well as the time invested in spending it.

Customers work hard to earn the money they spend. After investing time to earn money, a customer then takes a bit more time to spend the money. Money comes and goes, but time is precious and irreplaceable. Once time has been invested, it’s gone; you can’t get it back.

Customers get to choose where they spend their money and time, and are more likely to do so with businesses and people who provide the best and friendliest service. Perhaps even more importantly, customers are more likely to frequent places where they can feel good about themselves.

The way to avoid having customers become your worst nightmare is easy enough. Simply do everything in your power to ensure each customer feels good about the time they spend in your business. To borrow from a wise phrase by Dr. Dennis Waitley, do everything in your power to “make her glad she talked to you today.”

Top 10 Business Killers: Know ‘Em, Avoid ‘Em

It’s disturbing to have to reject a business plan, but sometimes it’s the best choice for all stakeholders. As a volunteer for a lending committee, I wish we could approve every loan application that hit our table; unfortunately it’s not possible. The committee meets as-needed to review business plans and decide whether or not to finance the applicants. We deal with mostly very small businesses seeking small loans, usually under $250,000. Lending to inexperienced, new business owners is one of the riskiest arenas for a lending agency. In spite of this fact, we manage to keep our loss rate to a minimum. Over a period of more than a dozen years, I have observed certain challenges surfacing again and again. The amazing thing about these business plan killers is that they rarely travel alone – they almost always appear in clusters. Here are the top ten business plan killers and what you can do to avoid or fix them: Continue reading Top 10 Business Killers: Know ‘Em, Avoid ‘Em

Everything Starts With a Dream

DayDreamingEverything starts with a dream!

Whenever I got in trouble in elementary school, it usually had something to do with dreaming. Apparently I spent too much time daydreaming, gazing out the window, cruising somewhere out there, light-years from the topics our instructors were diligently trying to teach.

I managed to get myself into enough hot water that I eventually came to view dreaming as a waste of valuable time and a negative thing. The culture I was born into insisted that I adopt a more mechanical, left-brained approach to life. And it appears that this was all facilitated with my best interests at heart. By the time I reached adulthood, I had buried my dreams deep inside.

I was in my late thirties when I found myself ensconced in a workshop participating in an activity that required me to write a list of my dreams. I was stumped! I looked around in amazement while others vigorously scribbled out their lengthy lists. I drew a blank. Continue reading Everything Starts With a Dream

Twelve Tips For Business Planners

Pencil_Tips1. Tidy up your personal finances before applying for a business loan.

Pay down loans, clean up any bad debts, collect some business-related equipment and save some money.

2. Bring some equity to the table.

Save money, sell some toys, borrow some love money, create something for your business, or get a second or third job for a while.

3. Prove your business case to yourself and to those who will read your business plan.

Persist in your market research efforts until you become ‘the expert’ for your business. Talk to people, ask questions, search the Internet, take courses, read books, listen to tapes, and subscribe to trade publications. You will feel more confident and have an easier time convincing your readers that you know what you are doing.

4. Listen and learn.

Listen to those who agree with you AND to those who do not. Listen to all who shoot holes in your business idea, they might just be pointing you toward success. When you think you’ve heard it all, listen harder!

5. Be honest… and thorough… and accurate.

Missing information or inaccuracies definitely invite questions and send the wrong message. Putting in wrong information or conveniently leaving out some of the less obvious, non-flattering financial information (like unpaid long overdue taxes) is a sure way to turn off potential investors.

6. Answer the basic business questions.

Who? What? Where? Why? When? How? A proper business planning system will provide you with a framework in which to place the confusing array of information you will gather. Choose a system and use it.

7. Provide a professional presentation.

There is no reason in these times, for a poor presentation. Use a proper business planning system, ask a friend, or pay someone to proof. Get someone to keypunch the plan if you need to, but do a professional job on it. Demonstrating that you care will increase the odds that a lender might care also.

8. Keep your language clear, simple and to the point.

If you must use technical jargon, provide an explanation of potentially confusing terms.

9. Write in the third person.

It is important to separate your business from yourself and to think and write about it as a separate entity.

10. Use charts, graphs, pictures and bulleted lists where appropriate.

Make sure your numbers match what is being stated in the narrative part of your plan. Keep the business plan brief, 20 pages or fewer, but be sure to make pertinent information available in the Appendices.

11. Be realistic in your expectations.

No matter how lofty your financial aspirations might be, know that businesses are rarely profitable in the first few months or even years. Estimate your sales conservatively and your expenses a bit higher than you think they will be. Keep that cash flow realistic and be sure to include ALL expenses and some contingency money.

12. Get into a business about which you know something, preferably a LOT…

Does Your Business Plan Prove Your Business Case?

soldA little diligence in planning can save time, money and energy as your business grows. Unfortunately, some people back away from business planning because it appears to be a lot of work. Although it can be a demanding task, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, and the benefits can be remarkable.

In order to be of maximum value, a business plan must prove supply, demand and the financial case.

  1. Demand. Each business has a sweet spot, a certain number of customers to keep the doors open, often referred to as the break-even point. Signed contracts can be the kiss of life for some types of business. Where contracts are not possible, surveying potential customers can help to validate demand. Friends and family promising to buy your stuff forever may be a wonderful indication that people love you, but in no way should their flattering claims be interpreted as a reliable indication of demand. The purest proof of demand is sales of products or services. Regardless of the method used, an entrepreneur must be convinced that demand exists before starting a business.
  2. Supply. Once satisfied there is a demand for products, an entreprenuer will want to confirm ongoing access to the materials and talents that enable the business to serve its customers. A product producing business, such as a furniture manufacturer, needs a reliable supply of wood. A housecleaning service must be able to find and hire suitable workers. Most businesses need a combination of materials and skills. Restaurants, for example, will need a steady supply of food products, a rollicking good chef, and a team of cheerful servers to keep customers satisfied on the front end.
  3. Financial Case. Profit is probably the best measure for proving a financial case. For example, a planner will need to validate the supply costs, determine how much customer’s will pay, and project the quantities of products and services to be sold. Miscalculating any of these items can erode the forecast’s reliability. When building a financial case it’s important to forecast sales a little lower than anticipated and estimate expenses a bit higher than expected. Diligence in confirming financial items builds a reliable profit projection.

Those faced with creating a business plan usually wonder how many pages the plan should be. Paper weight isn’t much of an indication of the value of a business plan. The business information might be summarized for some audiences in a couple of pages, while a business analyst will need more detail and scads of supporting information in order to evaluate a loan request. The same amount of background research is necessary even though the plan’s thickness will vary according to the needs of the reader or audience.

The true value of a business plan arises from what it teaches the owner about her business, and the usefulness is gained from the benchmarks it provides for owners working forward. Businesses really flourish because of the actions the owner takes once the plan is done.

Your Business. Your Plan. Your Way.