One of the most important rules of business and networking is to focus on positives and appear happy when engaging colleagues, prospects and customers.
I know that life is more complicated than that and that the real world can be harsh, but in a business setting – especially one in which people are networking or doing business – it is essential to keep things positive because happy people are more likely to spend money than unhappy people.
As an example, I had lunch with my good friend, Marty, the other day. Marty is a salesperson who has the energy to meet with and keep his clients happy on a daily basis. Every day he is in his car visiting with clients to help them make better decisions and become more profitable. His energy level is unmatched and he’s always happy.
He’s also 84 years old.
What’s his secret?
He works every moment to be happy and make the people around him happy no matter the circumstances.
Picture a scenario where you ask another person, “How are you?” and they reply, “Well, I’m kind of tired because I didn’t get any sleep last night and I’m trying to get more clients because business is slow and …”
You get the point.
That guy is a real bummer.
By any measurable standard, he’s less likely to make a sale.
If you want to push your business forward, make money and keep customers happy; then you have to be happy – at least publicly. Even when things are bad.
By maintaining a happy demeanor, you will not only encourage your customer to be pleased, but it will also improve your mood and thus your ability to think and strategize and move yourself out of your hardship.
There’s all win and no loss.
What About That Omelet?
Recently, my wife and I went to a small local coffee shop for breakfast. We had been there once before and we were satisfied enough to try it again. We walked in and sat at a table and waited to be served. There were two people working in the shop. One which we later learned was the owner, was clearly frazzled.
The menu was limited to a handful of items and nothing I saw really appealed to me. What I really wanted was a western omelet and a couple of pancakes. Pancakes were on the menu and there was a cheese omelet with ham. I asked him if he could make a western omelet given that the only thing missing from the cheese and ham omelet was peppers and onions.
This is where our experience broke down.
The owner was very nice, but he went into a speech about how business has been bad, he had laid off several employees and he was cutting costs. One of the ways was by making a smaller menu and not allowing substitutions. He raised his hands in the air and his eyes were not making contact with mine. Instead he was looking up and around and gesticulating back and forth. It was immediately clear that he was frustrated and he was venting that frustration. Not at me necessarily, just out at the world.
I was a bit stunned, so I asked the only thing I knew to; “So I can’t have that omelet with onions and peppers?”
“No,” he said. “Only what’s on the menu.”
It’s The Customers’ Fault
Let’s take a moment to address some of these errors.
The owner had taken two formerly pleased customers and converted them to hesitant customers. He also explicitly set the tone that he as was not going to give me the service that I wanted as a result of back room decisions he had made that were none of my concern. Since I wasn’t prepared to walk out in a huff, he was ahead of the game.
But he wasn’t even willing to create the perception that he was flexible. Because that, apparently, was going to cost him.
The whole affair was more hostile than hospitable. I felt like I was more of a problem than a money making opportunity.
I ordered the pancakes. Just the pancakes.
For a few seconds of onion and pepper dicing, he could have doubled his sale with me.
Then my wife ordered a grilled chicken, pepper jack cheese, jalepenos and chipotle mayo panini.
“What sides do you have?” She asked.
“We don’t have sides.” He said.
She looked down at the menu and saw that one of the other dishes came with a side of potato hash.
“Can I have the potato hash on the side?” She asked.
“We don’t do substitutions.” He said.
And that was that.
He then made it a point to give us an explanation about how his kitchen staff is organized and how he is cutting costs by reducing the amount of labor the kitchen staff has to put into making a meal.
We had officially been reduced to carbon based economic units.
After making our order, my coffee arrived.
The owner put the cup down, walked away, but came back shortly and asked if I wanted milk or cream. I said, “Milk.” He took my cup, brought it up to the front, added milk and brought it back. The coffee was darker than I would have liked, but by now I was trained and I recognized that by controlling the milk-based-supply-operations the owner was able to more tightly control his costs.
Then there was the sugar incident.
Before he left, I asked for sugar. He came back with two packets of sugar.
Exactly two packets.
It was clear that there were serious sugar formulas at play.
Give Me An Effing Western Omelet
The way I see it, the big mistake the owner made wasn’t about materials or labor. It was about experience. He had created an unhappy customer experience. One which I was surely not willing to repeat. He proactively converted a two time customer into a former customer.
The restaurant business is tough. It’s cut throat and profit margins can be razor thin. But the restaurant business is like any other business in that it relies on people to have good experiences. Read enough reviews from any restaurant site and you’ll quickly see that many reviews are based on experience and not always food quality. Mediocre food can be trumped by good experience, but good food cannot trump a bad experience.
What Is The Lesson?
The marketing lesson here is that business owners should not discuss the back office with customers in a negative light. Maybe even never.
Your labor problems.
Your inventory problems.
You cost cutting problems.
They are your problems.
You need to focus on the health of your business and decide to get into the “experience building” business.
Aside from that, it also helps to take a dose of “shut the fuck up” when it comes to customers. In any business, you are there to create an experience, not tell me your woes.
You want to talk about your troubles? Get a therapist.
What Is The Lesson? Part Deux.
Not too long ago, I was working with a colleague and they mentioned that one of their vendors was going through a tough time and had to go on food stamps. My colleague felt sympathetic, but felt that the vendor should not have made that information so readily available. My colleague began to wonder if the vendor was having financial difficulties in their business and if those financial difficulties were going to impact his service.
I know the person in question here and there was no way there was going to be any degradation of service, but it’s not unreasonable for my colleague to think so.
That vendor should have kept their mouth shut publicly. Now their customer continues to do business with them, but hesitantly.
What Is The Lesson? Part C.
I was approached by a prospect a few days ago. It turns out that this prospect was not a good fit for us, but he had served in Iraq and Afghanistan so I offered to give him a block of free consulting time. While I can’t discuss his business, I can discuss what I told him once we got into the details.
His service is geared towards helping veterans, but in his marketing he used videos of rocket attacks and firefights to pitch his idea.
Those are big negatives.
He was convinced that focusing on the horrors of war would compel his potential customers. However, after weeks of intensive work, he had hit less than 1% of his target.
I suggested to him that he never again discuss war. Instead focus on the fact that the business had a mission to help veterans and their families be happy and productive members of society.
Focus on the positives.
It’s too early to tell, but I’m willing to bet that his customers will be more willing to spend money now.
Bad Experience Beats Good Experience
So what happened with the coffee shop? I won’t be going back. My first experience was good, but now I know that the people who contributed to that experience are gone and the new dynamic is hostile to customers.
It’s a shame too, because I’m their ideal customer. I’d much rather spend money at a local business than at a large chain.
In your business dealings, be happy.
Focus on the positives.
Make your prospects and customers happy and feeling like a million bucks.
Happy people spend money.
When times get tough and you feel like unloading on a customer, just ask yourself: “What would Marty do?”
Have you had negative experiences that drove you away from spending money that you were willing to spend? Let me know in the comments.
Join the discussion 14 Comments
SO important not to let business problems dribble over into customer experiences. Hey, this guy sounded like he was up a creek, but if he really, really wants to get out of this spot, being flexible is a starting point.
Rules are rules. Which are meant to be broken when they are not working, and judging by this guy’s vibe, the rules are not working.
On the flip side, I show compassion to folks like these because I have been there with my online businesses in the past. But, you need to make a shift, practice expressing gratitude and see where you can better provide service to resonate with your customers and grow your business.
Thanks for sharing!
Good points. The funny thing is, I always to to shop for local products and service first (Starbucks is the big exception). I know that local businesses have been hard around here, but businesses have to entice people to “want” their product or service. It’s not good enough to offer a good service because the consumer has many good options to choose from.
Very interesting read and great examples. I once made the mistake of discussing problems with a customer that I am regretting to this very day. It was kind of accidental because I didn’t know he was customer at the place I was working. But that does not change anything. 🙁 There is no doubt that a positive attitude makes people want to associate and do business you.
Talking to your customers about your personal or business problems is like knowingly opening pandora’s box. ‘Nuff said. Cheers! Kaarina
A better approach would be to talk about politics and religion.
🙂 I’ll look forward to that next post! And as a Canadian, you can imagine how interesting that topic will be to me…you know…us “polite” Canadians and our reticence to talk about those two topics;) Can’t wait!
…by the way…politics and religion in business…
That’s my next post.
It’s about the customer. Always. There is a small general store that I pass every time I go to the big chain grocery store. I’d much rather spend my money at a local mom and pop shop. But he doesn’t take credit cards because of the fee. And since I rarely have cash, and the ATM machine is near the big store, guess where I go? Recently he put out a hand written sign that says “we need your business now. Please help.” So I stopped in and gave him some help. Told him to take credit cards and he’d have me, and probably lots more, new customers. But all I got was complaints about all the fees HE would have to pay. There is a cost of doing business and it’s not my fault he’s cheap. But the good news is, people who think really small and take it out on their customers won’t be around much longer. Hopefully the next owner of my general store and your diner are smarter.
We started taking credit cards a few years ago. Know what happened? We got paid faster. We had cash flow minus a fee instead of no cash flow. It’s a winning scenario.
My business partner recently suggest we stop taking checks for business payment and only appept ACH and credit cards. In the territory I cover their are still many (elderly) small business owners who insist on paying by “cutting a check”, they like to sign and feel where there money goes. In this an other matters, what tips could you give to keep customers happy while also moving them to a less favorable (for them) position? Tell a story, perhaps?
I’d be curious why he would be unwilling to accept checks. Is it because of a high volume of returned checks?
There have been very few returned checks, so it seems more that he wants to avoid checks “getting delayed in the mail” and the need to open envelopes, remove checks and prepare/make a bank deposit. That sort of thing.
That’s a reasonable approach. One thing to consider as part of your 2014 marketing is to perform a survey of your existing customers and ask them what their preferred method of payment is. We accept payments in a variety of forms, but the form is less important than getting paid quickly. We often offer incentives for customers that pay early and quickly. You may want to offer your customers incentives to pay online or via credit card within the constraints of the law. It’s mostly an accounting question that I’m not qualified to answer.
However, the grander point of not accepting checks comes down to two things; do your customers prefer paying by check and will not accepting checks offer your customers an incentive to pay by check to your competitors.
In the end, I feel that you should make it as easy as possible for your customers to pay you.