Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Five-Minute Rule, Part 2

In the last post we talked about the little things businesses can do -- things that take less than five minutes (sometimes even less than a minute) -- which solidify their relationship with the customer. Essentially, they take that short amount of time to make the customer feel like a person not a potential sale.

If this were the old "Highlights for Children" magazine, last time we focused on Gallant -- Zingerman's -- who took just a few minutes to accommodate me even though the shop wasn't technically open yet. Zingerman's practically made a fan for life.

Now let's talk about Goofus.

I've got a lot of stories about Best Buy and heard many more. I think as many as one of them might be about some exemplary behavior they might have displayed. The rest are practically a handbook on how not to treat your customers. Remember, customer service is the company equivalent of networking. In Best Buy's case, they seem to be taking their plays from the "Limited Networker Field Guide".

This particular story starts about ten minutes after my experience with Zingerman's Bakehouse and Creamery. With my goodies sitting next to me in the front seat, I headed up the road to Best Buy to pick up some sort of electronic widget I needed at the time.

I pulled into the parking lot. The sun was out, but in February, Michigan residents know that just means that you can see your breath more clearly in the bitingly cold air. It was still ten minutes until the doors opened, so I just made myself comfortable and waited patiently. I could see at least eight or ten other customers doing the same thing.

A few minutes later, an older model car pulled up into the handicapped spot several rows over. The engine stopped and an elderly gentleman stepped out. I'm guessing he was in his eighties and moved with a little bit of a limp. He started his slow path up to the doors. Upon arriving he seemed surprised to discover that the doors wouldn't open. By this time I was about to get out of my car, but I did make a point to glance down at the clock. 9:57 -- three minutes until opening.

Standing right inside the door, I could clearly see an employee just watching this poor guy while he knocked on the door. The doors didn't open and the man finally turned and made his frigid path back to his car and left...

... and so did about half of the people who had been waiting.

Now, I'm sure this particular employee just didn't have the authority to open the doors before the actual chime of the clock -- if at all. Maybe he had to wait for the manager -- certainly a possibility. Still, for want of giving that employee just that small amount of responsibility or even having a policy of opening the doors five minutes before official opening time -- the kind of policy that treats the customer as if they were a person who might get cold -- for lack of that, Best Buy probably lost at least a few sales that morning.

They may even have lost some customers for life.

I think the lesson we have to take from these two examples is to watch out for those little five-minute tasks we can do to show we care for the members of our network. If we take the Best Buy path, we focus only on what adds to our bottom line. We only do the tasks for which we'll be paid. For every good we do, we expect one to be returned to us.

And no one is likely to want to connect with us or find ways to help us succeed.

Take the Zingerman's approach, though -- look for ways we can be aggressively helpful. Give assistance, advice, and referrals. Connect with the person and not the position or the profession. Then.

Then we will have a network which will be actively looking for ways to propel us to our own success.

Photo by Mike Souza

Friday, January 6, 2012

Five-Minute Rule, Part 1

I've been meaning to write this post for a while now, but an article I read today regarding Best Buy's uncertain future (at least in that author's view) has me feeling motivated.

I've written several times now about how good customer service is a strong component of networking when you run a business. After all, your customers can be one of your greatest sources of referrals.

This is the story of two businesses on a cold February morning.

The first business is local food purveyor, internationally known Zingerman's. Now I've written about the big Z in the past, but I am always impressed by their above-the-call customer service. On this day it wasn't anything particularly remarkable (for them), except in comparison to the experience immediately afterward at Best Buy.

In this case, I had stopped at their Bakehouse to pick up some of my wife's favorite pastries (Cosmic Cakes). As I was paying, I mentioned to the cashier that I was next going over to the Creamery to pick up some of my favorite cheese.

"Oh, sir, I'm sorry, but they won't open for fifteen minutes."
"Drat. Well, guess I'll have to skip my cheese this time." I had some other errands I needed to run and couldn't wait.
"Just a minute, sir. Let me call over and have them let you in."

She made the call and by the time I'd walked down, the Creamery clerk was waiting at the door to let me in. He apologized for not having any samples out for me to taste, but would be happy to let me try anything I wanted. All I had to do was ask. In the meantime, he hoped it would be OK if he continued to set up. I assured him that I was fine, bought my cheese, and left to take care of my errands.

I love Zingerman's.

I may have taken less than five minutes out of his morning preparations. Still, he could have fallen back on the "We're not open yet" rule and completed his pre-opening tasks without interruption. Zingerman's, however, has made it corporate culture that they will bend over backwards to accommodate their guests -- which is probably why they are internationally known.

What I particularly loved was the fact that this was no big thing for them. The Bakehouse cashier didn't even hesitate to make the call for me and the Creamery clerk greeted me as if he'd been open all morning. No muss. No fuss.

Whether it's customer service or doing some small thing for someone in our networks, sometimes it's the "five minute" activities that have the greatest impact. Answering a quick question in our areas of expertise, making a quick call to wish a happy birthday, or passing along an article of interest -- none of them take time, but all of them can do amazing things to strengthen our connections.

What sorts of things could you do if you took even only five minutes a day?

Next time I'll tell you about what happened five minutes later at Best Buy.