Are You Connecting with Your Customer?

As a speaker, I work to understand and know my audience. What are their commonalities? What are there needs? What don’t they need/want to hear? If I am going to connect with an audience, it is important for me to focus my talk on the audience I’m working to engage with.

In terms of marketing, sales, and/or service, are you creating content and promotions that make sense to you (primarily) or on your customers and potential customers? When selling your product/service, are you focusing on what you have vs what they need? Are you answering the questions they are asking? When providing a service, do you and your teams assume your service is what the customer wants?

Chest high Boar's Head display cooler. | Boars head, Head display, Blue  ridge

Yesterday, I stopped by the deli counter at my local Kroger grocery store. I wanted to pick up some Boar’s Head deli meat. I asked for a pound of Bourbon Smoked Ham (you’ve got to get this!). The lady behind the counter flatly said, “You don’t want that. If you don’t like bourbon, you’ll not like this. I don’t like bourbon. I don’t like this ham.” I replied, “You sold me. I’ll only take a half pound of it.”

“Anything else?” she asked after she reluctantly bagged the ham she just sliced. “I’ll take a pound of the teriyaki chicken breast.” “Oh, you don’t want that. It’s too salty.” I bought it anyway.

I walked away chuckling. While the lady did what I asked and executed her slicing duties with skill, her “sales” skills were horrible. I could have simply walked away and purchased nothing. But I’m a fan of Boar’s Head products, and I was not about to leave without it. I, the customer, had to overcome the “sales” person’s incompetence to get the product I wanted.

My point here is this: listen to your customers. Whether you are communicating with them face-to-face, phone-to-phone, Zoom-to-Zoom, email, etc., listen. And then present your services in a way that makes sense to your customer. Speak their language. Answer their questions (even the unasked ones). Provide feedback to learn more about them. If they reach out or want more, follow up and follow through.

Speak the language of your customers and potential customers. Be clear. If your message about your company, products, services doesn’t resonate with your customers and potential customers, you’ll end up spinning your wheels or simply be ignored. The best marketing, sales, and service efforts keep the end in mind – the needs and desires of your customers. If you do this, your company will be viewed as relevant and you will add value and create loyalty.

Sell the bourbon smoke ham and then cross-sell me the mesquite smoked turkey. Don’t tell me I won’t like it. I already do. Speak my language and make the sale. I’ll come back!

Connecting to Customers

Entrepreneurs on Fire with John Lee Dumas | Daily Business Podcast  Interviews

Earlier this morning, I was listening to John Lee Dumas’s podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire. Do you know this one?

JLD offers up a new podcast EVERY SINGLE DAY where he interviews entrepreneurs around the world. And he’s been doing this for years!

The episode I listened to this morning featured Jeffrey Madoff. According to the podcast bio on Jeffrey, his “careers span fashion design, film production, teaching, author, and playwright. His book, Creative Careers, was an Amazon bestseller.”

This is a great conversation to listen to if you are in the business of attracting customers, retaining customers, and/or bringing ideas and innovation to market. What follows are some questions I heard on the podcast that I am asking myself as well as asking you as we grow our businesses.

When it comes to ideas that we are working with…

Are our customers (and potential customers) in love with your idea?

  • How can you “test” your idea with customers before a grand rollout?
  • How is the love you feel for your idea stuck in the vacuum of limited perspective exposure?

How can we innovate and bring ideas to the market that will make an impact? Here are some things that came up in this podcast:

Be sure your ideas are serving the interests of your customer/potential customer. Are you trying to sell your service/product from the perspective of your customer? Are you speaking their language during the promotion of your innovative idea?

Understand the customer’s needs/wants. Here is a point that Jeffrey made: how are we making ourselves necessary to our customers? You may sell them on an initial, gateway idea that gets them in your door. But how are you retaining this customer? How are you adding value beyond this initial offering? How are you making your company necessary so the customer is not tempted to look elsewhere for similar services?

Constantly build relationship bridges to your customer. Following up and following through with your customers will build loyalty. We all know that people buy from people they know and like. Building relationships goes far beyond the sale. This is the place where you truly understand what your customer wants and needs and then delivering on that. This is the place where your ideas can be tweaked to better serve your customers. This is the place where you can build a cadence of partnership, trust, and relevancy.

Take 24 minutes and listen to this podcast. You can find John’s podcast everywhere. You can also find it here: Jeffrey Madoff interview by John Lee Dumas.

Creating Meaningful Customer Experiences

What sets you and your team apart in your company? What sets your company apart when competing with the competition? I conducted a simple survey on LinkedIn the other day. The majority of the respondents said the primary differentiator was customer service.

I’m guessing you are not surprised by this. I would be willing to bet that your teams would not be surprised. But how do our teams create a meaningful customer experience that leads to results? Do they just know or should they be trained on how to do this?

Too often, our team members rush to resolve issues especially if the customer is “energized” (upset). “Stuff” is made up to quiet or calm the customer. And then the next person who encounters the customer is forced to address that “stuff” before even getting to the initial issue.

I have led teams that were customer-facing as well as “back office”. A few years ago, I crafted the following to create the most meaningful customer experiences that lead to results – customer satisfaction, sales and cross-sales, customer loyalty, customer referrals, etc. It is, in my opinion, a common sense approach. A seasoned team member will be able to navigate this process to build solid relationships with your customers. A new team member will be able to understand this and become a successful customer experience provider.

Here it is:

From my experience, many team members want to ACT first. They are anxious to take care of the customer, meet needs, etc. But when they jump to ACT too soon, they miss out on so much that the customer needs. The process above puts the customer first, leads the team member to connect with them, provides information for the team member to ACT in a way that makes sense to the customer, and then follow-up/follow-through to further connect with the customer.

This process has been used in a financial institution. It has been used at universities with college recruiters. It works. It must be managed, observed, and coached. But it works. Customers will feel this. They will respond. They will grow more loyal. You will see results.

Try it. Let me know how it goes. I love hearing stories of success! Share yours here.

Employee Engagement

How engaged are the employees at your organization?  In a Gallup survey for 2020, this is what they discovered:

Source:  https://www.gallup.com/workplace/313313/historic-drop-employee-engagement-follows-record-rise.aspx

This article makes great points.  From my experience and from talking with other leaders, employee engagement can be improved in multiple ways. 

Communication

Many surveys point to effective communication within organizations is lacking.  Top level leaders make decisions.  The expectation is that the next level down leaders will receive this communication and then share it down the line.  But that assumption is just that – an assumption.  Many times, the message is not shared with all employees.  Then a change takes place (that was to have been communicated) and the team at large ends up confused and frustrated.

Employees want to be in the know.  Communication helps connect employees to the mission.  And when that happens, engagement is more likely to happen. 

Training

Employees desire to be competent in their jobs.  Training and ongoing refresher training will help engage employees by giving them what they need – tools to do their jobs professionally and effectively.  Training should produce results to the company’s bottom line.

Training needs to be relevant.  Trainers, especially those outside of your department, need to know the current issues your team faces enabling training to become meaningful.  Trainers can and should partner with management to ensure job performance goals are in line with the training provided. Training is not an isolated event.  Training must lead to improved results.  Trainers train.  Managers measure the effectiveness of that training by observing their team executing what they learned.  Feedback should be sought out by the trainers and the managers should be providing relevant observations to make sure that the proper results are happening. 

Voice of the Employee

Employee engagement can rise when the team is given an opportunity to provide their voice within projects and company-wide initiatives. Ask for this.  Expect it.  Set the expectations on how their voices will be used.  The team can have a voice in a process even though the “vote” will be made by organization higher level leaders. 

Is a new vendor being vetted?  Involve key stakeholders in the process.  Allow them to “kick the tires”, ask questions, reach out to get references, sit in on RFP presentations.  Allow them to submit their feedback.  Then the C-suite execs can make a more informed decision.  And the team will know their voice was heard creating more engagement.

It is not realistic to think your organization will see 100% in employee engagement.  But how would your company function if you moved the engagement level from 30% to closer to 50%?   That exponential engagement will see new ideas, project involvement, diverse points of view all come to fruition.  Is there a downside to that? 

Taking a Moment to Connect

I am working near one of my groups this week. About 30 minutes ago, one of our newest team members walked up and asked if he could chat. He wanted to tell me what he was learning from a book I bought for him a month ago. He also asked what activities I had been involved with recently. I shared with him my experiences with our local Chamber of Commerce annual meeting as well as the leadership networking group I co-founded with my brother (www.firstfridaysfw.org). We talked of attending events together to get some networking experience under his belt.

Just a few moments, I was reminded of the power of staying close to your teams. I currently work in another building or at home most of the time. But this brief encounter reminded me how much touch points such as this one charges my batteries. Question: what do you do to connect with your teams?

Where Ideas Come From

Back in February, I challenged one of my teams with an initiative. I required each of them to share 1 idea or 1 area of improvement within our department and/or company. I created a OneNote folder where they would share these things every week. They had to include their name for accountability purposes.

Some took to the challenge immediately and some really great things are in motion today to bring their ideas to life. Some thought they really didn’t have any ideas. But through our 1-on-1 sessions when I got them thinking and talking, ideas flowed.

“But that’s a pretty small thing,” one team member told me after sharing an idea. And I reminded them I wasn’t looking for a cure for cancer. Just simple ideas that would help create less friction or would help others understand a necessary process better or that would create a better customer experience is what we were looking for. Small steps in the right direction compound to have a significant impact in the long run.

Do you know that your team has more to contribute? Do you know they have experiences that are extremely valuable and can be leveraged? Do you believe that ideas should come from all areas of your organization, not just the executive levels?

Give your team a challenge, encourage their participation, and watch them grow. You will see collaboration. You will see people stretching beyond their comfort zone. You will hear some pretty great ideas that you’ve never considered before.

And your team member, you, and your organization will become better as a result.

How to help a New Team Member | Team quotes, Business quotes, Leadership  quote

Trust & Vulnerability

So a manager you lead approaches you to say they need time off to deal with significant family issues. You can hear the tension in their voice. What do you do?

  1. Listen to them. Hear their emotion. Accept that emotion.
  2. Ask appropriate questions. “Are you worried about work?” “What can I do to help you and your family during this time?” Connect with your team member.
  3. Feel. Feel what they are feeling. If you are not an emotional person, that’s ok. Work hard to empathize with them. They need to know you understand (even in part) what they are going through.
  4. Think. Think of actionable things YOU can do to make them feel less guilty about work, take the load off of their shoulders and place the work load on you and their team members. It’s not a forever thing, but you can communicate and demonstrate “we are here for you” during this difficult time.
  5. Act. Set up a time to meet prior to their leave of absence to plan the course of action.
  6. Follow-up/Follow-through. Keep the communication going for the entire team. Touch base with this team member.

This is a crucial time to communicate how much you value your team member. Difficult times come – that’s life. But with some intention, care and concern, as well as humanity, you help your team member navigate through their current stormy waters.

If you have built trust within your team, this is a critical time to put that to the test. Allow vulnerability. Allow tears. Encourage communication and promise it. Be human.

VULNERABILITY QUOTES [PAGE - 22] | A-Z Quotes

What I have Learned about Teams

For over 30 years, I have been privileged to lead great teams in various organizations. Together, we have pushed ourselves to continually become better. We have held each other accountable even if it became uncomfortable. We worked to have a one-mind approach to our success.

Over the years, I have learned some things about leading teams.

Care

I connected better with my teams when I got to know them better personally. I truly care about the people I serve. I have listened as they shared about their children. I have seen them worry before certain tests were going to happen that would determine long-term care for a child.

I have attended weddings, visited them in the hospital, delivered meals to their homes, and attended their funerals. Caring makes leaders vulnerable, but it is such an authentic way to connect with teams.

Coach

Team members want to be coached. They want to improve when they know they are valued. Coaching can pinpoint areas needing improvement as well as celebrating with them when they overcome an obstacle. Coaching means asking great, probing questions to get to the core of issues.

Communication

Team members do not like uncertainty. I’ve learned to be available via email, Skype, phone, or personal meetings. The team has not taken advantage of this. But they know I’m open to invest time with them in order to keep our communication lines open. I’ve learned so much from my teams by encouraging open communication.

And I have learned to model open communication.

Celebrate

My teams have accomplished great things over the years. They banded together to make what seemed to be impossible possible. They have reached out to those in need in the community in order to make someone else’s children have a dream Christmas. They’ve shattered expectations in sales and service initiatives.

And in my coaching sessions, team meetings, and on performance reviews I celebrate them. They love the retelling of their story of success.

I have been a promoter of the organizations I have served. I have liked working there. But I have loved my teams. Watching them grow and develop, advance in their careers, and triumph in personal trials has been a privilege for me.

What have you learned about teams from your experience?

Communication Tip – Email Strings

I’m sure you’ve been caught up in what seems to be an endless email string. It started off between two people and suddenly there is a host of folks chiming in. Or perhaps one of your team members forwards one to you and says something to the effect of, “see what’s going on?!”

If an issue, complaint, misunderstanding is heading down the email string path, stop it. Pick up the phone. Set up a Skype or Zoom meeting. Walk to their desk. Take them out for coffee or lunch. But stop the email string.

Communicate directly and clearly. The written word is powerful, but it all comes with inherent misunderstandings. Some read an email and pick up a certain “tone” in the words. Others read the same email and don’t. Others see an offensive approach while others don’t.

Jon Acuff in his book, Soundtracks, speaks of direct communication in a couple of ways that I have found to be helpful.

“Curiosity beats criticism.” “My predictions are positive.”

I have had team members and colleagues forward an email string. “See what they said to me?!” Curiosity can say, “Why are they communicating this way? What is the root cause of this issue? Have you talked with this person directly about this?” Encourage your team (and yourself) to lead with curiosity and not criticism. Seek to understand.

This then leads to Acuff’s other point. An email string can be wrought with assumptions. Approaching issues from the positive can begin to break down walls, cease accusations, and come to a common goal – clear communication that leads to results.

I challenge you (and me) to encourage direct communication. Far too much time and money is wasted on incendiary emails that contaminates the workplace. We’re better than that.