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Makes Your Sales Experience Pleasant With This Advice From Basil O’Hagan

How do you make customers feel special and ensure that they come back, even if something goes wrong?

Basil O’Hagan




Vital Stats

  • Player: Basil O’Hagan
  • Companies: O’Hagan’s, The Brazen Head, Basil O’Hagan Marketing
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A customer complaint is never a fun thing to deal with. Especially as you probably know exactly what went wrong. If only you could explain to your customer why things happened that way. It’s not all your fault. You want to say something in your defence. But rather don’t.

A customer complaint is not the time for long-winded explanations or — worse — an argument about who’s right and who’s wrong. Try to follow this script:

  1. “I understand.” Make it clear that you hear what your customer is saying and that you understand the problem.
  2. “I’m sorry that happened.” Apologise and empathise with their experience. Nobody likes to find their car’s lights were left on and their battery is flat, for example.
  3. “It’s not up to our usual standards.” Acknowledge that this is not acceptable in your establishment.
  4. “Let me make it up to you.” Here is where you compensate your customer for their inconvenience by offering extra value.

This four-stage script is worth committing to memory. It is a tried-and-trusted way to manage a complaint and a recognised method of converting an unhappy customer into a satisfied one.

Related: Basil O’Hagan And The Risks Of Going Public

Be in the moment

When serving your customers, serve them totally and wholeheartedly. Be present physically and psychologically. Be mindful. Nothing annoys customers more than being served half-heartedly by someone whose mind is clearly elsewhere. It shows disrespect.

So when serving customers in person, ignore phone calls, don’t carry on a conversation with one of your colleagues and don’t be engrossed in some text banter on your phone.

That kind of behaviour says that even though this person is giving you their hard-earned money, you can’t be bothered to give them your full attention. So give respect where respect is due, give your customers your full attention.

A little while back I was in a clothing retail store. I had chosen some new pants and shirts and was ready to pay, but the cashier took a phone call while I was waiting, and proceeded to talk to the person on the other end about his personal health problems.

I was fairly anxious to pay and get to my next appointment. I am sure he could see I was agitated to conclude the transaction, but he persisted in talking to his friend. Not a good impression, and on top of that, there were other customers behind me.

The expert as salesman

There’s a well-known specialist running store in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. It’s the kind of place that sells running shoes, shorts, shirts and the like for the long-distance running fraternity. You can enter yourself for all of the local races there — it’s that well known within running circles.

But what really sets it apart is the service that it delivers. If you’re a runner, the most important purchase you make is your running shoes, so customers are naturally looking for advice about the various types of footwear available.

At this small store, in a suburban shopping centre, the staff all seem to be runners, and they are so passionate about their sport that they can’t tell you enough about the various shoes. They are actually excited about the advances in the new ranges and they will tell you at length what each particular pair offers.

They’ll enquire about your running habits and your goals, and ask you to run a few steps so they can gauge the pronation of your foot.

The staff here are so in love with the sport of road running and the products they stock, that the process of selling is secondary to them. Compare that with other shops, where the staff is obsessed with making sales.

Any query about a product attracts a rushed answer from an assistant who just wants to know your size, so he can fetch you a box of shoes and send you on your way.

Shopping at the neighbourhood running store is a far better experience, which is why so many runners go there. It employs experts who happen to be salesmen, not just expert salesmen.

Try to live this kind of passion in your business. Learn to love the process — the human interaction of selling. The sale will take care of itself.

“Have you bought from us before?”

Related: It’s Sell Or Die Because Sales Are The Lifeblood Of Every Company

There’s a difference between a regular customer and a new customer. The regular understands your systems, he might have a favourite assistant who he deals with, and he probably knows exactly what he’s looking for. He still deserves the very best service, sure, but he’s already a fan of your store. He’s making a return visit, after all.

The new customer doesn’t know how your store works, but he’s giving you a chance. He deserves the kind of extra-special treatment that will turn him into a loyal return customer.

You need to identify your new customers as quickly as possible, so you can give them that special treatment. Ask them directly: “Have you been to our store before?”

If she hasn’t, you’ll be able to give her a warm welcome, show her around, explain the little idiosyncrasies of how you do things and help her get what she’s looking for.

Then, why not give her a special ‘new customer’ discount, or some other extra-value item to make her visit even more memorable? You’ve just turned a new customer into a regular customer!


Let no customer go unnoticed

I once walked into a restaurant where the entrance was unattended. After I entered, I noticed a couple of waiters chatting at the bar, so I found myself a table. I guess they assumed someone else was helping me, because they just left me to my own devices.

I found a menu, and saw some dishes that looked interesting, but after five minutes, when no one had taken my order, I just walked out. Again, no one said a word to me.

Does this story ring any bells? Sadly, it could have happened in any South African town or city, where poor awareness of customers is all too common.

In your store there should be several pairs of eyes watching the entrance like a hawk. Any customer coming in should be — not pounced on, exactly — but immediately acknowledged and welcomed.

Being too lazy to pay attention to who’s in your store is just as bad as not acknowledging someone you have noticed. Even if you’re busy with another customer, tell the second customer: “Hi! I’ll be with you in a minute.” It’s basic respect. Quite honestly, people who don’t have the decency or the motivation to acknowledge their customers shouldn’t be working in retail.

South Africans also have a bad habit of not standing up when a customer walks into their retail outlet. This also shows a lack of respect for the customer. It’s a pretty poor show.

Remember this

Respect your customer and the sale will follow.

Basil O’Hagan is the founder of both O’Hagan’s and The Brazen Head. Today, he runs Basil O’Hagan Marketing, which serves chains, independent operations and small family businesses, pinpointing and overcoming problems through proven neighbourhood marketing solutions.


Why Your Franchise Should Adopt A Shared Value Business Model

Stay ahead of the curve in an evolving business environment and unlock business growth by addressing social issues.

Diana Albertyn




Have you heard the term ‘profit with purpose’ in your business ownership circles, but not sure how exactly it could be applied to your franchise? As a franchisor, entrenching this model into your core business strategy could see your current growth potential multiply – along with the communities that play a role in your business’ success.

“By leveraging resources, market access, scale and their capacity for innovation, businesses can advance and accelerate development while generating commercial returns.”– Serial entrepreneur Cindy Langeveld.

Considered the key to profit and progress, the shared value business model enables your franchise to go beyond just ticking the CSR box. Here’s why and how your franchise can start establishing partnerships for business growth:

Indicates your business has a conscience

Not only is a profit-first business approach is no longer viable for long-term business growth, the role of the consumer is becoming more prominent – and they are leaning towards buying from corporations that demonstrate conscientious business practices. Donating blankets to a charity is good, but how are you impacting those involved in the value chain that sustains your business?

Related: 3 Crucial Considerations For New Multi-unit Franchisees

Chicken franchise chain Nando’s, for example, creates shared value for the key players in the success of their brand – the small farmers in Southern Africa who farm their unique African Bird’s Eye Chillies used in the PERi-PERi flavour.

This farming initiative was started ten years ago in Mozambique with just six small farms. Today it includes 1400 farmers and produces in excess of 360 tonnes of chilli across Southern Africa.

Ensures your profit creates progress

nandos-peri-peri-farming-initiativeWhile implementing shared value business models helps consumers see your business in a better light, it’s important for the initiatives that stem from it have a visible, positive and measurable impact on the communities concerned.

“I’ll never forget my first impact assessment. I sat with one of our farmers and a translator who told me about the impact growing chilli crops for Nando’s was having on his life and his community” recalls Sam Hirst, Nando’s PERi-PERi Farming Initiative Manager.

Nando’s has grown and sustained its network of farmers through learning and improving on the process, despite the challenges involved. Empowering the small farmer has required unprecedented effort and working very closely with farmers every day and every step of the way to overcome challenges such as generating working capital to set up the infrastructure the farmers needed, managing unpredictable weather conditions, and high transactional costs.

Related: Why Your Franchise Brand Should Be Culturally Relevant

Creates sustainable partnerships

The purpose of implementing a shared value business model is so make a sustainable difference in both your business’ growth and that of the communities involved in your supply chain. For Nando’s the motivation was the potential impact the chilli farming could have in its communities.

The franchise has consequently invested in providing these farmers with the tools and skills for sustainable farming. Investing in technologies and various new processes has enabled Nando’s to secure prices and contracts directly with the farmers, avoiding potential negative economic impact on the farmers’ financial security.

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3 Employment Best Practices To Apply In Your Franchise

Brand new to franchising? As a first-time franchisee, you may need some guidance on managing your recruitment processes within your business.

Diana Albertyn




You’ve just hired your first few employees. Congratulations. As an owner-operator who is also new to business ownership, navigating the human resources aspect of your franchise may be daunting, especially when growth is imminent. Your franchisor offers support, but may not want to play a huge role in recruiting and managing your staff.

“Employee management and HR compliance is a tricky topic, especially with the relationship between franchisors and franchisees. Depending on what HR support the franchisor can and cannot provide, the franchisee may be on their own in this all-important area.” – Dean Haller, President and founder of HRSentry

This, however, doesn’t mean you’ll have to blindly search your way through human resources practices, hoping you’ll eventually get it right. Invest a little time into learning the basics, and you’ll make the best decisions until you can afford to hire an HR specialist – and pick up some expertise along the way.

1. Equip newcomers with the tools for success

Consider the type of information, tools and training your new recruits may need to function productively in their new work environment – and ensure they get it. “Studies indicate that most new employees decide whether to stay or leave a company within the first six months, so be sure to be welcoming early on to help them feel part of your team,” advises Haller.

Related: Why Your Franchise Brand Should Be Culturally Relevant

“If you’re thoughtful of your employees’ new experience, they will become more productive and engaged, and thus, more likely to stay.”

Remember the first time you went through the manuals while familiarising yourself with the franchise concept? A new employees’ experience is similar as they have to take in a lot of new information while acquainting themselves with their new workspace, colleagues and systems. Make the on-boarding easier, by reasonably introducing each aspect during orientation and training.

2. Remain stern on performance standards

Once both parties are satisfied with the training and support offered, new staff should be made aware of expectations and receive continuous and constructive feedback on their performance based on these.

Should employees fail to meet their KPIs, it’s important you’re able to identify if your best efforts have failed and whether termination is an option. “Don’t procrastinate. Make sure all performance-related reasons are documented clearly,” says Haller. “Treat the person with dignity and respect –not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good business practice and can help you avoid any potential legal action against your business in the future.”

You can avoid this situation early on by hiring employees whose CVs not only meet your business’ operational needs, your company culture too.

Related: As Consumers’ Tastes Change Can Your Franchise Keep Up?

3. Acknowledge and reward hard work

During key periods of business growth, it’s easy to overlook good performance. And even when you acknowledge your best employees, sometimes money in the bank isn’t as meaningful as creative tokens of appreciation.

“Get creative,” says Haller. “Provide flexible work schedules, interesting assignments, or a gift certificate to a great restaurant or spa. Be mindful that it’s costly to replace a good employee, so reward your employees with some kind of benefits if you can,” he adds.

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Why Your Franchise Brand Should Be Culturally Relevant

Are you going to wait for consumer pressure to redirect your marketing efforts, or is your franchise going to make customers believe you care about what they care about?

Diana Albertyn




Do you understand how consumers feel about the ads you broadcast on the many media platforms they use every day? Research by Nielsen shows that all the marketing you’re paying so much for is least trusted by the buyers you’re aiming to hook. Why? Because how can you sell to a customer whose ideals you don’t identify with?

“Conversations are such a subtle but powerful tool. They can make or break reputations, brands and policies.” – Serge Vaezi, strategy and creative officer at Ogilvy

As an established franchisor with a loyal customer base, you want to ensure your marketing strategy isn’t talking at clients, but to them. Here’s how you can stop spending money in the wrong place and start measuring the right elements of your campaign:

Customers expect you to be ‘woke’

Whether you realise it or not, your brand is operating within its audience’s cultural context. Consumers are increasingly demanding that brands acknowledge and contribute to this cultural context.

“We are failing to measure the things that matter most for our client,” says Vaezi. “We spend most of the time measuring the things we create, while our colleagues in advertising spend their time measuring the impact of the things they create on consumers.”

Related: Are You On Your Team’s Wavelength?

Rather shift your focus to adapting your offering and message to your customers’ needs, desires and interests.

Watch and learn from your audience

“Listen to your audience, watch what they’re doing, listen to their behaviours, and understand what’s interesting and motivating for them,” advises Vaezi.

The insights gleaned from this exercise can be used as the basis for developing a brief aimed at becoming a part of their world, he says. Remember that the message you’ll be putting out will change as your customers change.

Sorbet, for example, launched a make-up range in early 2018 to complement its existing salon services arm and its skincare and nail products. The franchise partnered with Clicks to launch The Skin Tone Project aimed providing consumers with the most extensive foundation ranges in South Africa.

Your product doesn’t always come first

In the age of experience trumping actual products, you ought to consider developing a value proposition that shifts the focus from your product’s features and benefits, and “instead develop a narrative and positioning that acknowledges and contributes to the culture, or perhaps even resolves specific cultural tensions,” says Vaezi. “In other words, stand up for something that people consider meaningful and which is also aligned to the brand’s essence.”

Related: What To Know About Franchising Your Business

This is the secret sauce to producing creative, culturally relevant campaigns that connect with influencers and leaders, while leveraging cultural values and ideologies.

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