I’m a massive believer in the power of personal service. When a staff member interacts with a customer, that’s where the action is. When we’re relating as people, it’s a chance for me to really understand your needs as a customer and to help you on a person-to-person basis. In order to deliver the best personal service, I also need to understand how you like to be served. This is where EQ comes in — emotional intelligence.
The best customer service professionals have great people skills; they can quickly understand what kind of a person someone is, and how to relate to them.
Here are some of the character types you might encounter:
- The No-Nonsense Customer. This person knows exactly what they want and they simply want you to help them get it. Ascertain their needs and deliver, quickly and efficiently.
- The Browser. This person has a vague idea what they want, but they’re interested in finding out what you offer. They want advice and are keen to discuss their options. Understand what they’re looking for and then advise.
- The People Person. This customer simply has to socialise with everyone they meet. They will smile, greet, enquire after someone’s health and generally have a pleasant chat before getting around to discussing what kind of help they require. Here there’s no rush. Just chill and chat, until your customer remembers, “Oh, ja! Here’s what you can help me with!”
- The Shrinking Violet. Someone with almost no social skills, and incredibly shy to boot. This customer would rather not have to deal with people, but out of necessity they are forced to. You might have to draw them out a little, but just put them at ease and make the process as painless as possible for them.
Related: Does Your Customer Service Care?
Recognising your customer’s personality type and needs is just the beginning though. You now need to speak to them in their language.
Phatic language is the linguistic term for words used to facilitate the flow of conversation. In themselves they are quite meaningless. They’re just social lubrication to help an interaction along.
Phatic language is useful, but it is not real conversation. That happens around it. If you’re going to make a real, person-to-person connection with your customer, you need to get past the phatic conversation as quickly as possible. You need to really connect.
When we connect, we form a human bond that is deeper than a brief encounter, or even a business transaction. So use language that encourages this. Don’t just say, “Need any help?” That’s phatic language. The answer will be a reflexive, “No, thanks, just browsing.” And you haven’t made any connection at all.
Try to ask questions that reveal the customer’s real needs and explain more about why they find themselves dealing with you. “How can I help you?” is a start. But why not think of an opening question more closely related to your business. Let’s say you run the Party City party supplies store. How about opening the conversation with, “What kind of party are we having?” That will propel you right into your customer’s world. They’ll explain how they’re throwing a farewell party for their boss, who’s retiring and they were thinking perhaps something with a New Orleans theme, as he’s a big fan of jazz music.
Pretty soon, you’ll be discussing what kind of guy he is, how many guests there’ll be and throwing around ideas about what kind of an event they’re going to be having. You’ll be connecting.
Get the big picture and sell more
This speaks directly to another golden rule linking customer service to sales: If you get the big picture, you’ll be able to sell more.
Let’s say you run a PostNet branch. It’s a media business. A client comes in asking about the cost of couriering a document to Cape Town from Centurion. You could look up the rate in your book and say ‘98 bucks for counter-to-counter.’ Then go back to your smartphone.
But you won’t do that, because you’re delivering exceptional service. You’re going to ask, “Do you mind if I ask what you need our courier services for?”
The young lady might say that she’s applying for a design job, so she wants to courier her portfolio to Cape Town for a job application. Now that you know her requirements, you can better serve her needs.
You might be able to help her print out her design portfolio on a high-quality printer, bind the pages professionally into an attractive book, and then courier the package safely to her prospective employer in
This is a type of cross-selling — you are selling the customer extra services. But you’re doing it to help realise her goals. You’re delivering exceptional service, by supplying exactly what she needs.
You can also do a bit of up-selling (selling add-ons or more valuable services) by encouraging her to use overnight door-to-door courier service. That way, her documents will be at the front desk of her next employer by the time they get into work.
You’ll have sold more, but you’ve also added value to your customer, and delivered a superior service.
Own the project
We’re trying to deliver exceptional customer service, to satisfy the customer’s needs. The best way to do that is to personally take ownership of a project.
When we make contact with a customer, we should methodically work through their project, becoming their representative in the process of fulfilling their requirements.
That would work something like this:
- Make a connection. Smile, greet them, enquire after their health. Welcome them to your company.
- If the customer is uncertain how best to meet their own needs, give them the benefit of your knowledge. Recommend a dish, explain your product offering, describe how the system works.
- Agree on a plan of attack. Once the customer knows their options and has chosen one on your advice, agree on what you’re going to do.
- Establish their needs. What is the project they are engaged in?
- That means you ensure that the job is done. Even if you hand them over to another department, you still monitor the project and ensure it is carried out to the best of your company’s ability. This could mean delivering a hi-fi, taking out an insurance policy or financing a C-class Mercedes.
- Follow up, follow through. Check that the customer is happy. Liaise with colleagues on the project. Take up and personally resolve any problems. Check whether things could have been done better.
These are all ways of taking ownership of a customer’s project, whether it’s finding a dress for their three-year-old’s birthday party, a 32G SD card or working out how many Vitality points they have.
Dull Service in Dullstroom
Just recently I gave a talk to a group of franchisees at a venue in Dullstroom. I took my wife Ann along because we wanted to stay an extra night. This was the procedure we encountered at the hotel. It was anything but effortless.
I talk about anticipating your customers’ needs. This establishment showed none of that anticipation. It was like they wanted to make it as hard as possible for a guest to extend their stay.
I phoned the hotel but they couldn’t take the booking directly for the extra night as ‘it had to go through head office’.
So I phoned head office and they said that it’s fine, they can accommodate us but only if I could tell them my room number. I didn’t have my room number as I’d not yet checked in. I asked if there was not a way that they could get hold of reception at the hotel and find out the room number for us. No, the lady at head office told me I had to phone the hotel back (this would have been the third call) and then phone her back at head office (fourth call) mentioning the room number and then she could confirm the booking.
Can you believe it? Again, all but effortless service and quite frankly, Ann and I decided not to stay the extra night because if that was our first contact, imagine the rest.
Suffice to say, the rest was not up to standard. When we arrived at reception, there was no one there, not even a bell to ring for service. I had to walk around the hotel to try and find someone. Somebody eventually came along to help, but the damage had been done.
We went from a potentially loyal customer who would recommend this hotel to our friends and colleagues, to unsatisfied customers who would do the exact opposite.
6 Top Tips For Reading Management Accounts
There is a golden key that reveals the secret of whether your business will survive and thrive. It is keeping tabs on the figures that summarise the strength of your business – your monthly management accounts.
There is a golden key that reveals the secret of whether your business will survive and thrive. It is not the brilliance of your business concept. It is not your talent for talking clients to sign on the dotted line. It is keeping tabs on the figures that summarise the strength of your business – your monthly management accounts.
Many entrepreneurs are usually more interested in operations and find product development or sales much more enjoyable than catching up on accounts. I sympathise – I’m one of them! So if you feel the same way, my top tip is always to make sure that you partner with or employ someone who can oversee the finances for you.
But that does not mean you can let the figure boffins and the finances take care of themselves. To function properly in your business, you need to know the outcome of your sales and development strategies – and the story of that is told in your management accounts.
If you never look at your management accounts, it is like blinding yourself in one eye. It means you risk being literally blindsided by a big surprise, whether it is heading for a significant loss or being confronted by an unexpected provisional tax payment.
Here is how Engela van Loggerenberg, our Group Financial Manager, puts management accounts in perspective for our new franchisees. She urges them to focus on six key areas:
- Priorities: Management accounts can help you pinpoint areas that you need to prioritise, whether to capitalise on growth or because they are not performing as well as you hoped.
- Strength: All businesses aim to grow their assets over time and the balance sheet in your management accounts will reflect whether and how you are achieving that.
- Control: A strong balance sheet is one that shows you have your business liabilities well controlled. The key marker here is your current liquidity ratio, which results from dividing your current assets by your current liabilities. To keep your business healthy, always aim to keep this ratio at least 2:1.
- Revenue: Ideally, you want to see your revenue grow month by month. Check your income statement both for the trend in actual revenue and also for actual against budgeted revenue to check how well your strategies are delivering results.
- Profitability: Of course, revenue is not the same as profitability. You need to know your gross profit – the basic figure of your sales less the cost of those goods – and net profit, which also deducts a range of other expenses including taxes. Track the percentage of these two profit figures as well as the actual cash amount they represent to keep a check on whether your costs are creeping up too high.
- Finance: Most businesses at some point want to finance their growth by borrowing from a bank. A set of well-regulated management accounts is a prerequisite to obtaining finance.
Your management accounts do not have to be particularly complicated to give you these vital pointers – and if you are figure-shy, the more straightforward the better.
The important thing, though, is that you do not allow yourself to be too scared to ask if there is something which is not clear to you. That is the way to keep control of this key to your business fortunes and to keep building your business from strength to strength.
A Three-Pronged Approach To Franchise Success
Danie Nel, head of business development for Cash Crusaders franchising, says the brand’s success over the past 22 years is attributed to the sentiment that “a profitable franchisee is a happy franchisee.”
What is your current footprint?
220 Stores. We’re looking to increase that number by another 20 stores for the 2018 financial year, which will then bring us to a total of 240 stores. Depending on the economy, we’re looking to grow our footprint even more to around 300 to 350 stores nationwide in the near future.
What are some of your brand’s biggest achievements that other franchises can learn from?
Our ability to read the retail market and innovate to stay ahead of times. We have recently launched an online platform where customers can sell their goods or borrow money — all online. This was a first for online retailing. One other achievement that I would wish to highlight is the launch of our mobile phone range, Doogee, exclusive to Cash Crusaders. Personally, having the honour of opening our 200th store was a tremendous achievement.
Franchisor involvement has also played a big role in the success of the organisation. Our CEO Sean Stegmann and other senior managers are as much involved in the business as any other operations manager or operator.
There is simply no ‘ivory tower’ management in our business and it makes a huge difference.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered and how have you overcome these?
Some of our daily challenges include securing a premises at a favourable rental and securing a franchisee with sufficient unencumbered capital, who is credit- worthy. Once the store is open, cash flow management and stock procurement is key.
In addition to this, it’s a challenge to achieve profitability immediately and to meet franchisee expectations. It’s also vital to ensure superb customer service and to retain those customers in the current retail and economic climate. I would say that our single biggest challenge is to retain and to build our customer base.
What attracts franchisees to Cash Crusaders?
Our unique retail model that allows for multiple streams of income through one business. These three profit centres include: New goods (variety of imported quality goods), second-hand goods (which we buy directly from the public, either through customers coming directly to our stores, or via our house-buy system offered by some of our stores) and secured lending (a financial service where customers can borrow money against valuables, determined at store level, and the loan is repaid within 30 days — or the contract is renewed for another 30 days with interest and service fees charged).
Why is it important for successful franchises such as yours to have a strong banking partner and how does it benefit both the franchisor and the franchisee?
Gone are the days where you just got a deposit book or cheque book and a little business loan from your bank. Banking has become more sophisticated and the technology that the bank offers is as important as its service, making life for both the franchisee and the franchisor easier on a day-to-day basis.
5 S-Words Make Your Store Site Pay For Itself
Richard Mukheibir, CEO of Cash Converters recently addressed delegates at the FASA (Franchise Association of SA) conference on the topic of choosing the best location for their business. He spoke about the 5-S technique to assist business owners with deciding which premises is best suited for their business.
The combination of continuing trading uncertainty in South Africa and the new financial year for many businesses can add up to carefully reviewing costs – including leases on premises. Choosing a site to set up or relocate your business can be just as stressful as deciding where to buy a house – and just as fundamental to its health, finances and sustainability, says Richard Mukheibir, CEO of Cash Converters.
This is not the time to snap up the property with the cheapest rental as that might turn out to be something you regret in the long run. Nor is it the time to be dazzled by the swankiest premises you can find. The potential for bragging rights could turn out to be poor value for money.
“This is a time for your head to rule your heart regardless of the industry you trade in.” he says.
The real-estate mantra of “location, location, location” works just as effectively in commercial as it does in private property but you will often be looking for rather different factors. Mukheibir shares his 5-S technique to help you begin narrowing down the areas where you will consider locating your business – first at the macro level, focus in further to the meso level, then look more closely at the micro level before you start weighing up specific sites.
Remind yourself of the medium and long-term strategies you have developed for your business. Keep your understanding of your business’s customers, purpose and growth prospects top of mind when you are selecting the areas where you will start looking for sites.
Within those areas, redline any sections where you feel the competition from other businesses will detract from your potential to grow your market. Greenline areas where there are good synergies between the people who live or work there and the demographic that you have identified as your target market.
Make sure there is clearly a good pool of potential customers for you – size definitely matters when it comes to ensuring that there are plenty of customers available to you. Look specifically for facilities that cater for the kind of customers you want to attract. Sports stores benefit from being close to schools and tertiary colleges, for example.
Although many businesses now have an online element, most still benefit from attracting customers to walk through the door. For your premises to be a good fit for your business, you should be located in plain sight and ensure that your ability to market yourself locally through signage and lamp-post posters is not restricted by local bylaws.
You will attract and retain good customers and staff if they feel they’re secure in the area. This perception includes factors such as easy, safe parking and a welcoming environment.
“Making a success of your business is not just about the product or your branding,” says Mukheibir. “It can be as fundamental as finding a site that ends up paying for itself. To do this, it must offer you a well-calculated gap in the market where the strong demand for the product or service that your business offers ensures sales and profit. If you have considered all these steps carefully, you will never worry about making rent and wages payment again.”
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