Feel the love–Carlo’s part 2

karaandbuddyFollowing up on last week’s post, Fran the man, my two-hour wait at Carlo’s Bakery was rife with examples of good business. If you’ll indulge me one more time, I promise this will be my last Carlo’s story.

This is a tale of customer service.

When my kids and I first arrived at Carlo’s, we saw a long line in front of a CVS on the other side of the cross street. The line in front of Carlos’s itself, however, looked fairly reasonable. Given that there were about half a block of open space and a cross street between the two lines, I shrugged off the disconnected tail and hopped into the part in front of the bakery itself.

My kids and I stood quietly for a few minutes and snapped a few pictures before we started talking to the people in front of us. That’s when we learned that we needed to go to the end of the other part of the line, the part that wasn’t disconnected after all. We made our way unfazed down the block; we figured it had been too good to be true.

Once we settled into our rightful spot at the back of the line, we learned how it worked. Periodically, a Carlo’s employee would make his way down the line, handing numbered tickets to each person or group who would be purchasing something. (For example, I received one ticket for my kids and me, since the pocketbook was mine-all-mine. We would have gotten individual tickets if they had intended to make separate purchases. Fat chance of that.) We couldn’t get into the store without these tickets, and we had to wait our turn until our number appeared on the “Now Serving” message board.

Besides keeping things orderly, what this really accomplished was to eliminate line jumpers. If we had stayed in our original location, we wouldn’t have gotten into the store anyway. No ticket, no entry. Once we understood how it worked, I could let down my hyper vigilant sense of righteousness and not worry about people getting in front of me; it wouldn’t do them any good.

The guys who handed out the tickets were very pleasant and especially patient. They tirelessly answered the same questions over and over again. They never stopped smiling, and their enthusiasm seemed genuine. They knew that our collective desire to wait in line, crowd into the store, and make outrageous purchases of pastries meant job security for them.

So did the people behind the counter. Questions such as, How often does Buddy come in? Is Buddy here? Where are the sisters? Is it always this busy? pummeled them from open to close. They answered every one and never seemed to melt in frustration. They clearly understood that they were there because we were there. The small bake shop may have been crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people, but the overall mood was good, perhaps because we all felt appreciated and valued.

I found some outstanding object lessons here: make customers comfortable, address their concerns, answer their questions, act happy to see them. WIthout their Cake Boss fans, Carlo’s becomes just another local bakery.

In any business, we NEED our customers. Spending more time making them comfortable, addressing their concerns, answering their questions, and acting happy to see them shows that we appreciate them–and helps keep them as customers. What strikes me as odd is that intuitive as this seems, I’m always amazed when it actually happens. That tells me it doesn’t happen enough.

Fran the man

cake bossLast week was spring break, and despite my daughter’s protests that “it didn’t sound exotic enough” (that’s a quote), I took my kids to New York City to get a taste of the Big Apple. My son, a huge fan of the TLC show Cake Boss, immediately recognized the city’s proximity to New Jersey and campaigned for a jaunt to Hoboken as part of our adventure. Two trains and a short walk later, we stood in front of Carlo’s Bakery, home of Buddy Valastro the Cake Boss.

A few hundred other people stood in front of Carlo’s, too. Enough to make for a two-hour wait on the sidewalk. Even so, my kids enthusiastically confirmed that they indeed wanted to wait for the chance to get inside the shop; seeing it from the street wasn’t good enough. Thankfully, the weather was good and the people around us were pleasant, so we settled in to wait.

Not long into our confectionery odyssey, I looked up to see a man methodically working his way down the line, group by group. When he got to us, he explained that he worked for Fran’s Italian Deli, a local establishment that offered great sandwiches on the world’s best homemade Italian bread, cold drinks, and free delivery. In fact, he said as he handed us a menu on which he had written his cell number, he would be happy to deliver to us in line. As incentive, he added a discount code to the menu. I thanked him and told him I appreciated his inventiveness, and he moved to the next group of people.

Shortly after he left, I saw this man come back, this time with food. As the line progressed–the wait really was two hours long–I saw him several more times, passing out menus and delivering snacks, sandwiches, and cold drinks to my fellow Carlo’s groupies.

I loved it.

Here was a guy who didn’t bemoan a long line of people waiting to go to somewhere else. He didn’t begrudge the success of a fellow businessman and grumble, Why can’t this be me? Instead, he saw an opportunity, and he capitalized on it. He got creative, and instead of bringing people to his business, he brought his business to them. He assessed their needs and figured out how to address them in a way that meant success for everyone. It gave the people in line something to do, satisfied hungry bellies and thirsty mouths without forcing people to lose their places in line, and it gave the cash coffers of Fran’s Italian Deli an upward bump.

Now contrast this scene with a couple of the other storefronts along the same sidewalk. Employees from those businesses periodically came outside to shoo us waiters away from their doors to accommodate customers who might want to come in. Instead of seeing a potential audience, they saw a definite nuisance. What a missed opportunity.

As the guy from Fran’s realized, opportunities abound. Go out and get them.

Intern-al combustion

070622-N-6410J-037It’s intern season in the corporate world, the time of year when college students scramble to find summer employment meaningful to their area of study. Candidates seem to be crawling out of the woodwork; I’ve been approached by more people this year than in the past five years combined. Good for me–I get to be choosy.

Somewhere during this process, I realized that many of these kids (ahem, young adults) need some guidance. Big time. Then a colleague and fellow blogger inspired me. He just started a Things I wish they knew series regarding his area of expertise, and I’ve decided to adapt that idea here–for all the intern candidates out there.

So, potential interns, here’s a list of the top three things I wish you knew. Take a gander; they just might help you get better.

  1. Professionalism counts. Even if I already know you, or know someone who knows you, we’re talking about establishing a professional relationship, not a personal one. Our communications–particularly in written form–should reflect not only mutual respect, but also your ability to communicate on a business level. Even in email, grammar, punctuation, and spelling all count, as well as your tone. This stuff goes into your file, whether you’re hired or not. Consider how you want others to see you.
  2. This is a real job. You may be a college student and this job may be temporary, but you still need to take it seriously. You’re laying the foundation not only for your own work habits, but also your future network of supporters. Besides that, this is job isn’t temporary for me. The things I’m paying you to do count and are very real in my world.
  3. The real lessons aren’t in the work itself. If you’re going to intern for me as, say, a graphic designer, you may or may not get cool design projects. Chances are, you’ll get tons of opportunity to design things in your courses. On the other hand, you probably won’t be taught how to make that stuff actually happen. Tasks such as prepping for production, proofreading, spec’ing materials within a budget, archiving files for future use, conforming to brand standards, and making logistics arrangements aren’t glamor jobs, but they still need to be done–and they rarely teach you those things in school. There’s also a lot to learn about the “real world” simply by operating in an office setting. You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and it won’t be what you expected.

I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more of these over time, but these are the most important. I hope you’ll take them to heart; they can make a big difference.

And for those of you who already have this mastered–thanks.

Little bites

I know a guy who is really, really good at what he does. He maintains a terrific big picture view while still understanding the details which can make or break the success of his projects. He’s a deep thinker, and when I ask him a question about his realm of influence, I know I’m going to get a thorough and thoughtful answer. Everyone needs a guy like this on her team.

Sometimes, though, this guy becomes his own biggest obstacle. When he has an idea, his mind is off and running. He has gone through steps J, K, and L before most people get beyond A, B, and C. He’s busy solving problems that haven’t yet occurred and probably won’t occur until somewhere down the timeline–by which point a lot of variables could change. He often hesitates to pull the trigger on a project until he can work out the answers to those problems.

Many times, that’s exactly the right approach–but many times it’s not.

Not every project is an all-or-nothing proposition. We don’t have to go from A to Z in a single step. We can launch our project or product and service before we get to Z if

  • The new solution is better than what came before it, i.e. it makes people happy.
  • Each step is a (fairly) natural progression, not a complete rework of the one before it.
  • Showing continued improvements or making updates signals progress/activity/forward motion.

Think of a website, for example. Little improvements over time can actually be a positive thing. It keeps your audience feeling as though your work is fresh, the content is dynamic, and there’s always a new reason to visit. That’s not a place where you want to publish a TA-DA! product and sit back. Yeah, I know, building the infrastructure requires a fairly specific vision for the future, but once the infrastructure is in place, you can always make improvements along the way. The trick is understanding when to forge ahead and when to wait.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Persistence vs. perseverance

perseverance2“Mom, isn’t there some rule of salesperson etiquette that says when a customer tells you ‘no’ three times, you stop trying to sell him something?”

My son asked me that question last night as we left a store. We had just purchased a mirror for his room, and the sales clerk wanted to partially bag it to offer some protection from the freezing rain outside. She asked us every way possible, and we politely declined each time. We finally capitulated when we realized that the scene would go on forever otherwise. That woman just wouldn’t quit.

One the surface, I totally agree with my son. She kept pushing; we kept saying no. She eventually got her way, but we left feeling mildly annoyed. Annoying your customers doesn’t seem like an effective long-term sales practice. Somewhere there’s a line a salesperson just doesn’t cross–and it’s called respect.

On the other hand, the world is filled with stories of people who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, people whose perseverance eventually earned them wild success.

So what’s the right path?

Actually, I don’t think the answer is that complicated; I think an effective salesperson (and we’re all selling something, right?) does both. When a customer says no, particularly when he says it repeatedly, a salesperson has to honor that. Continuing to push is not only inappropriate, it’s also disrespectful. And it’s lazy.

That’s where the two strategies converge. Instead of pushing, pushing, pushing, a salesperson should back off and reevaluate. Something about his pitch isn’t working. When it becomes clear that it doesn’t appeal to the customer, the salesperson should look at the issue from the customer’s view and make sure he’s speaking the customer’s language–and in ways that are meaningful to the customer. The salesperson needs to find a new strategy, and that takes work.

The key is that we’re trying to capture the customer, not the sale. When we look at it that way, we should be willing to take a few NOs in the short term to get to the bigger YES in the long term. It’s the difference between being persistent and being perseverant.

Have it your way

burger kingYesterday must have been one of those days. I don’t know what got into me, but I took it upon myself to provide Burger King some feedback at the corporate level.

I was trying to be nutritionally responsible and plan my lunch, so I looked up the stats on the salad I wanted. Unfortunately, BK had listed the composite totals for the salad, with no breakout for each ingredient. Since I always leave off the blue cheese and only use half the dressing–both of which have a significant impact on the nutritional values of the salad–it was important to me to know how those broke down. Other fast food sites do this, so I knew it wasn’t a far-out idea.

Feeling like Holly Helpful, I decided to pass my suggestion along to BK. After all, their “Have it your way” motto has been stuck in my head for years; I was sure this would make sense to them. Besides that, their competition was doing it. I massaged all of this into the maximum 500-word limit and submitted it via BK’s online contact form. I had done my good deed for the day, end of story. Or so I thought.

A few hours later, an email from BK guest relations dropped into my inbox. A bit surprised but pleased they had responded, I opened the message. It read:

Dear Tammy Davis,

Thank you for taking the time to contact BURGER KING restaurants Guest
Relations with your inquiry.

All of our nutritional and allergen information can be found at the website below:

http://www.bk.com/en/us/menu-nutrition/index.html

We value your patronage and look forward to serving you in the near
future.

Sincerely,
BURGER KING restaurants Guest Relations

What a bummer. Clearly they hadn’t really read my message. I told them I had reviewed exactly the site they referenced and had found it lacking. Pointing me back to it only told me they didn’t get it. Instead, I wish they had responded with, Thanks for your suggestion. We’ll look into whether it makes sense for us at this time. In fact, NO response would have been better in this case.

These days marketers talk about customer interaction, responsiveness, and online conversations. What we often forget, however, is that interaction is not enough in itself; it must be meaningful interaction to be valuable. Don’t just send me an answer. Send me an answer that makes sense and addresses my question–or don’t send one at all.

Carpe diem

DSC_5635Some scary stuff has been happening in my town. Someone has been lying in wait at apartment complexes and attacking residents as they come and go. As part of its reporting on the story, a local news program decided to include a segment on self-defense, including a demonstration of technique. Out of the blue, my brother got a call to lead that demonstration.

My brother is an expert in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. He operates a dojo in his hometown, where he offers instruction, hosts seminars, and provides a gathering place for fellow students of the art. He’s still trying to get some traction for his business, as it’s not yet widely recognized in the area. He was thrilled to get the call from the TV station, but he was also pretty surprised.

The filming went off without a hitch, and the segment looked great. (Watch it HERE. Tell me he’s not awesome!)

During the course of the filming, curiosity got the better of my brother. Before the crew left, he asked the reporter why she had selected him over anyone else. Her answer offered an immediate object lesson:

You were the first person to call me back.

No one will argue that hard work and a good product are essential to success. Others would extol the necessity of good marketing, the right price point, and brand building. And I agree wholeheartedly. What I learned in that TV reporter’s answer, however, was the importance of seizing the moment. I have to be ready to jump on opportunity–which means I must also be alert and watchful for any potential.

My brother’s business wouldn’t have suffered if someone else had returned that call first. He would have kept doing what he’s doing, working hard to bring students into his dojo and share his passion. In fact, he’ll keep doing that anyway. Since he did call back, though, he’s certainly better for it. A few more people know about him, he has a terrific video segment to boost his credibility, and his confidence got a shot in the arm.

When opportunity knocks, make sure you’re listening–and then open the door.

Note: Visit YourLivingArts.com to learn more about my brother’s dojo. Please excuse my shameless promotion; I’m a proud sis.