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So, You Want To Beat The Competition

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So, you want to beat the competition then …

Start creating connections and building your community like you mean it.

It starts with engagement. And by that, I mean rather than throwing the word around, actually start to engage in a way that truly serves, who you are serving. 

I’ve cut to the chase, and yet I can’t let it go just yet – first a slight detour as to why this declaration will reveal the hidden treasure that you already have the map to. All you need to do is follow it.

But first …

As a glaring observation, this pandemic not only had us freaked out, understandably, it paralyzed our thinking and had us spewing and expelling our fears and frustration onto the very people that we serve.

This pandemic seemed to create a role reversal where business owners and service providers felt as if they were doing us a favor when we walked through the doors or connected on the phone. Granted no one really wanted to work in the throes of this pandemic, and yet we know that we’re not out of the woods, so we might as well start to think differently.

My theory is that with the addition of mask wearing it gave us a kind of ‘social media like’ persona where our behaviour and actions no longer mattered. We’re incognito.

When did this happen? Well in actuality it’s been going on ever since the phone and cable companies realized that we needed them. You know the drill – it starts when we’re put on hold for just long enough for us to want to hang up (problem diverted). Then they make everything so complicated with ironclad contracts and impossible out clauses – not to mention rates constantly going up once a contract ends. You’re made to feel that the customer service reps on the other end of the line have no intention of serving customers at all. At the very least to our benefit.

Lately, however, there’s been a supply and demand thing happening, where prices soared for toilet paper, paper towels, and hand sanitizer – where trusted neighbourhood markets decided to take advantage of their loyal customers and charge $30 for a can of disinfectant (normally priced at $5.99). Where essential stores and businesses were kept open when everything else was closed during self-isolation, and decided to treat customers as if we were a pain in the arse for coming in. What they were really saying was; “Go Home.” I get it. No one wanted us anywhere.

Greeters were no longer greeting us; they barely raised the corners of their mouths to smile as they pushed hand sanitized and made sure that we read a list of rules before entering. Again, I get it, but come on, there are ways in which to do things better, a lot better. Because, this too shall pass and we will remember that if you were rude and uninviting during these difficult times, then gee, we may not feel like giving you our money during better times. And if staff felt like they got the short end of the stick by having to come in and work during a pandemic, then they were the wrong people to have come in.

What makes things even more confusing is that most businesses are struggling so wouldn’t you want to turn up the love and ‘win friends and influence people’ as Dale Carnegie wrote? Rather than have us, the consumer, feeling as if we we’re doing you a favour by staying open?

Ever since I can remember my dad taught me that everything starts with a conversation. A conversation with empathy and understanding. Where different perspectives were taken into consideration.

The reality is, we’re all on edge – owners, employees, patrons, customers, clients, all of us as human beings, which means our fear is showing. Where on front store doors owners feel compelled to write a journal on basically asking us NOT to come in. Noting that we MUST do this and that before entering; that we CANNOT enter if there are more than x # of people. Yes, these are news rules laid out by government, and yet there are much better ways to share this information. What happened to making a bad situation more tolerable. Or a bad situation more welcoming to customers?

So many stories, and too many to write in this article, so I digress and offer you this …

here’s your OPPORTUNITY to beat your competition. To shine. To win friends and influence people. 

Today, maybe for the first time in decades, you have a captive audience. A captive audience that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Here’s your chance to engage and win us over.

There are so many opportunities to win back the confidence of your customers, and it starts with reaching out. When has there ever been a better opportunity to gather your community and connect?

So, I offer you a few ideas. Here goes:

  1. Share what it means to you to have consumers like us. Rather than just say thanks – walk the walk – get back to having welcoming staff, weekly specials, surprise giveaways, monthly customer appreciation days, you get where I’m going with this.
  2. Connect your brand with your customer. There tends to be a number of similarities. Connect your shoppers with your staff. Put a face to a name so when we go back to your store, we’ll see faces that are familiar; have you ever watched the tv series CHEERS, you know; “where everybody knows your name …” That’s powerful.
  3. When you send out e-newsletters rather than talk about how great your business is and constantly trying to sell us stuff, talk about your customers – in general terms if people don’t want to be highlighted. 
  • Create a community forum on your website and introduce your customers to one another. Just like virtual community workout classes, create the same thing for example:
  • Restaurants; create a foodies’ community. You could even create an on-line membership where for a monthly fee gives customers a number of perks.
  • Drug stores; create a wellness community and mental resiliency series (especially during this pandemic),
  • Bookstores; start a virtual book club offer a discount on the book of the month,
  • Grocery Stores; create a healthy living section and ask customers to post their favourite recipes,
  • Bars; start an on-line community and teach us all about specialty beers, or wine tasting (at home) – suggest 5 bottles of wine for tasting and discussion,
  • Coffee Shops; same thing, teach us about coffee and connect us to your coffee community (Starbucks could actually create a dating service from the patrons that meet up there),
  • Clothing stores; have on-line stylist to help us pull together the looks that would be great from your collections. Reach out from your email lists and connect with each customer. Get a sense as to their style and needs.
     

Bottom line: We want to connect with you, so make it easier for us. You will rarely if ever understand why your customers left you unless you really want to know. You lose us for so many reasons and yet you seem baffled when your sales numbers have dropped. 

You need us. You need customers. So, engage with us.

One thing is for sure. You’re relying on your staff to create a better experience for us. It’s not working if they don’t enjoy their work. You must engage your staff first. You must create an environment where your staff want to smile and engage with us, your customers. 

What this pandemic has taught me is that I don’t need much. I can do without the extra pair of shoes, outfit, going to restaurants, especially when there has been a massive decline in customer service. I don’t need it, and I bet others don’t either. I’ve even rethought the grocery stores I’ve been going to. It’s not enough to receive a “hello dear friend” email from the owner of a large grocery chain knowing that on the ground the service isn’t good.

Don’t get me wrong I’m a big supporter of family run businesses. I’m happy to give them my money because they typically deliver great service. We could learn a lot from these businesses IF they maintain their inviting approach and interest in customer engagement.

Today. Right here. Right now. You have a real opportunity to get it together, step up, show up and truly thrive. 

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