Dealing With Customers During Covid-19

I had not intended to write any Covid-19 specific posts here, but an incident my teenage son had at a local convenience store changed my mind.

He was at right off of the freeway in my lovely town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. My son went into pay at a chain gas station and convenience store and inadvertently left his face mask in his car. Upon entry to the store the store clerk yells “Get the hell out of here without a mask”. He sheepishly went to his car, genuinely feeling bad for forgetting the mask, but also upset at the clerk screaming at him, causing the other customers to stare him down, as well.

Here’s where you can call me “Karen”. Rather than go down and chat with him, which my son would have not approved of, I called the store manager, and simply asked her to brief her front line on compassionately dealing with that situation, a situation which is repeating itself all over the country. It was a positive chat, ending with her assurance she would discuss the issue with all of her staff, and not just the clerk in question. I DO NOT want the guy in any trouble. I am not one of those people. I deal with “Karen” every day at the adventure park I work for. I understand we are all at a very high stress level right now, but that kindness is more important than ever. 

Is your business still serving customers? If this is the case, my hat is off to you and your staff. It is a very stressful time. How is it going with your staff? It is certainly a time for you all to be on edge. But it is not the time to lose focus on humanity. You have an opportunity to show your customers you are confidently dealing with the situation, and part of that is KINDLY telling them to wear a mask before they enter your business. It is not something that has to have a negative connotation at all. You merely explain to them that you are protecting them, your staff, and virtually everyone else by wearing one. Explain to them why social distancing rules in your business are for them, as well as everyone else. If you do it with confidence and love most will receive it well. Those who do not get it do not get to come in. Explain to your front line that they can present it as a customer benefit, rather than making it sound like another “rule”. As I have written here before, and will again, there is a way to say everything.

For those of you who are closed, my heart truly goes out to you. What can you do between filling out government paperwork and being on hold with the IRS? You can find unique ways to stay in touch with your customers, clients, and guests. Hopefully you make some effort to keep track of them, and if not, will change that. Reach out in some way to remind them you are thinking of them. Messages of support through social and traditional media go a long way. You don’t have to be selling them anything. You can merely stay on the top of their mind by communicating with them in some way during your closure.

The road ahead is an uncharted one, but if you are to stay in business, communicating honestly, kindly, and effectively with your customers whether at your business or not, will make all the difference.

What Do You Want To Tell Your Customers Right Now?

Are you sitting and thinking of all the things you want to say to your clients when things return to “Normal”? If you had not already told them how important they are, not just to you, but the world, how are you going to do that when they come back? For those businesses financially solvent enough to even make t through this, how are you going to do things differently if and when those customers, guests, and clients are ready to return to society.

Go back and read previous posts and remember the reasons people spend money.  Say it with me. “To feel good about themselves”.  How do you think they feel right now, stuck in their homes with their lives and livelihoods in jeopardy?  When they do return, their need for validation, love, and acceptance will be stronger than ever, and you can be ready to fulfill that need by taking inventory of how you treat your customers. You may be a rally nice person, who, for the most part, has no trouble interacting positively with customers. This not about that. This is about taking a step back and asking yourself what you want when you return to daily life. That’s exactly what your customers want.

Now, I realize one could argue not everyone wants the same things. They obviously don’t. But when it comes to the desire to fulfill emotional needs, we all do need basically the same things. How we achieve them is what separates us.  Now is the time to map out a plan to your front line, illustrating the principals learned here at Dealing With Humans, to give them what they need when they return.

If you are fortunate enough to have mailing lists or other access to your customers, communicating with them now, if you can, is a really good idea. It may be a newsletter. or an advertisement. Or a column in your local paper.  Depending on your customer relationships and the nature of your business, if you can call them individually and check up on them with no other motive, that will mean a lot. Stay in touch with them so they know you care even when they can’t give you their money.

The need for security and comfort will be greater than ever for your clients. Do they already know you are there for them? If so, outstanding. If not, decide what you can do to change that TODAY. Just make it sincere. Do not overthink what you want to say. Usually a first draft tends to be from the heart, so keep that in mind when overthinking it. Then decide the best way to disseminate that information and get it out.

As stated in the last post, have always believed there would bean eventual return to brick and mortar, face to face business, and I think this crisis may accelerate that time line. It is important your front line is ready for that, because it you are ready when they return to have their needs, both conscious and unconscious, met, they will win and so will you.

Customer service can change the world.

Connecting In The “Post Virus” Economy

For quite some time now, I have believed that eventually, after growing weary of the faceless void that is online shopping and, we will return to a time where face to face business will once again thrive. When that time comes, I also believe that social media will lose some of its luster and people would get around to coexisting in person.

And I am convinced that evolution will be jumpstarted just a bit with all of this virus rigamarole (I love that word).

I believe that retail will become retro, like your kids thinking The Doors and Led Zeppelin are cool. We will, either consciously or unconsciously realize that many of our emotional needs only be satisfied through human interaction. I long for that day, but while we are waiting, how about preparing yourself for the return of humans to your business?

They WILL come back, and I think the will come back in droves. They will be looking for what they LIKE about human interaction and hoping to avoid what they do NOT like. Are you and your staff prepared for the ultimate opportunity to build your business around making people feel good about themselves? Now is the perfect time to take an inventory of your assets and liabilities from the standpoint of whether you are a “human friendly” business. Take a look at everything from the physical appearance of your space, to the way your staff has been trained to communicate with each other as well as with customers and guests. Does it feel safe? Would you feel welcome as a customer in your business?

While these are things we should practice every day, life gets in the way of that. Now is the time to take that inventory, decide what your story is, and decide how your story coincides with the stories of your clients, customers, and guests.  Your business may or may not be closed right now. If it is, stay connected to your staff so you can have a plan when the doors open again. A plan that includes making your guests feel special, validated, and welcome in your business. You may be doing a great job already, but at least take the time to evaluate yourself and your staff. 

When humans return to the streets, even the ones who are more introverted will be eager to connect in some way, and the more opportunities you create for that to happen, the more likely you will thrive in the “Post Virus” economy. Your ability to connect on a deeper level with your customers will b crucial in establishing your business from here on out.  This was evident following the economic consequences of 9/11.  People returned to businesses both weary but eager to return to normal, and human connection helped them do that. Many businesses that recognized that phenomenon are still successful today. While it sounds like a cliché, it is true. We WILL get through this together.

I would love to hear your stories of how you make your customers feel good at your business. Email me at Tell me what you are doing to recognize the importance of real human connection.

Do You Give Your Customers A Sense Of Security?

I have a question. Do you help your customers, clients, and guests feel secure?  I know. That’s a funny, yet loaded question.  I am not talking about security in the sense of keeping them safe from harm, or keeping their private data safe, although those things are very important. I am talking about a sense of security.  Remember the mantra. “People spend money to feel good about themselves”. Part of feeling good about yourself is minimizing personal insecurity, and you can play a role in minimizing that insecurity in your place of business, even if that place of business is a conference or board room. It does not have to be a hotel or store, or retail outlet. Your “space” for your customers is what you want it to be.

Right now, your “space” is probably closed, but it won’t be closed forever. When it’s open again, it will be even more important to “connect” with people.

So, when your customers are in your “space”, how do they feel about things? (No, I do not think that bump your head took on the kitchen cabinet this morning did not suddenly give you mind reading powers). I am talking about you creating a space, (see my earlier post, where customers feel comfortable in their own skin, because you have created a place where they are confident some of their emotional needs can be met, and they can be themselves in the process. 

The biggest way to achieve this at your business is by taking an inventory of how you deal with others, whether they are your customers, friends, or heaven forbid, relatives. Do you speak in a way that makes people comfortable? Nervous? At ease? Do you have conversations that bring out the best in those around you?

As a young event manager, I was often told I looked intense, and it made people feel as though I was concealing that something bad was happening. It wasn’t. I was just an intense manager, who was actually happy inside, and until it was brought to my attention, I had no idea I looked this way.  I often spoke with great urgency, as well, leading to the same assumptions by others. With a combination of working on it, and mellowing over time, I rarely have that issue any more, but still sometimes it pops up in an elevated situation, which can happen in my business, and very likely, yours.  What do you do that may make someone feel uncomfortable, even though you mean nothing by it? Maybe nothing, but it is good to inventory these behaviors once in a while to stay connected.

Another thing you can do to help others feel secure is what the entire “Dealing With Humans” lessons are based upon. Empathy.  When someone believes you sincerely appreciate their situation and needs, they are much more comfortable, and, in turn, much more likely to do business with you. When the turmoil from our COVID-19 situation abates, people will be even more insecure than normal, and it will take effort and sincerity on your part, to help them with that insecurity. Whatever you do, make it real.  Capitalizing on this pandemic in a trite way will not end well for you. Let your clients know that you are still there for them.

Let your customers know you are there for them. Be sincere, but more importantly, be present. That is how you connect with humans.

Today Is The Day

When I was young, on the night before going to Disneyland, it was far harder to find slumber than it was on Christmas eve. I wanted to sleep so badly, so the morning would come sooner. The moment my eyes opened on that long anticipated morning, I said to myself, “Today is the day”.

I work at a Wild West themed Adventure Park in Colorado, helping to manage daily operations. I think about that day every single day I am at work. As each child enters the park, I am transported back to that exciting time in my life. Back to that day that I thought would never come.

I am certain, at this point, that you are beginning to wonder what this means to your business. Stay with me.

People love to anticipate things, especially special purchases. These could include something as expensive and exotic as a vacation or new car, but it is important to remember that this level of euphoria can also accompany smaller purchases, especially from demographics where money is not growing on trees, or there is a sentimental attachment to the purchase. Regardless of the reason for the increased excitement, recognizing and accommodating these moments for your clients or guests is instrumental in creating the sanctuary I have written about in an earlier column.

After being in business for a while, it is easy to see a transaction as just that.  A transaction. We rarely contemplate the emotion that was, or still is involved with a purchase, so it’s a good idea to assume that it is. So how, you may ask, do you treat the transaction differently with this knowledge?

One thing you can do is savor the moment or purchase with them, especially if there is no one else to do so. Assure them of their decision, and revel in their “moment” with them. While this is especially important with children, adults also like to have others celebrate their little victories, and often their purchase or experience is that victory. This also gives you another method, and another reason to connect personally with the customer, which is the entire point of dealing with humans.

This comes back to helping people feel good about themselves, and sharing n the parts of their life that are important to them is such an invaluable way to show your clients and guests that you care about them as humans, and you want them to be happy. What was the last purchase or experience you anticipated, and got more excited about as the day approached? Take yourself back to that moment, and ask yourself if it lived up to the anticipation. If the answer was yes, it was most likely because you had others sharing your moment with you, whether they were friends, or someone at the place you were spending your money. If the answer was no, and the moment did not live up to your expectation, it is very likely because these elements did not end up being a part of that moment. Things often do not live up to the hype you, or others have created, but the transaction does not have to be a reason for that. If you strive to make it the part the customer or guest remembers favorably, your mission in dealing with humans will be a successful

What A Rock and Roll Concert Teaches Us about Dealing With Humans

rock and roll

In producing live music shows, you quickly learn about dealing with humans. From an audience perspective, it seems pretty simple. A bunch of people pay money, (sometimes a considerable amount) to see someone perform for them.

As a producer, it is not remotely close to that. Remember how we talk about your customers emotional needs being met? At a concert, the “customer” is not just the ticket buyer. It is the artist, the caterer, the driver, and the vendors. Everyone involved in the show has similar needs to be met.

First you have the audience member. They don’t just want to see an artist perform. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, experiencing something others are sharing with them. They fulfill the need for safety and esteem, as well as the need for love and belonging when attending a live performance.  The proof of this is the amount of money some will pay to go to a show. They want to feel good about themselves in a concentrated dose.

The artist themselves have similar needs. They may be paid an alarming amount of money to play, but they still have the same emotional needs those audience members do.  In some cases, they may even be household names, but they still need the same thing you do, like love, acceptance, safety, and esteem. We all have heard and seen stories illustrating the insecurity of many in the entertainment business, especially regarding the talent themselves. It’s mostly true, and that’s ok. We are human, and we can be insecure, especially when we are scrutinized by many people.

With that being said, a good performer makes the audience feel as though they are a part of something special, and recognize the needs the audience came with when they perform. Those are the gems, and I love working with them.  I am not going to be a name dropper, but I worked with a very famous blues man over the years who was one of the dearest, kindest people I have known. One night, a number of people assembled outside his bus, appearing to be planted there until they could meet this legend. I apologetically told him I would get rid of them, and he responded, “Let them on the bus, five at a time.”

“Excuse me, sir?”, I asked. “We will be here for two hours.”

He smiled and said, “Those people are why I am here. They came to feel special, and I want to make sure that happens.” He proceeded to meet everyone, ask their name and where they were from, give them a signed photo, and thanked them for coming. The thrill appeared at first to be for them, but I soon realized it was for him, as well. Everyone getting what they need is the best end to a transaction.

The vendors, caterers, security, and others involved in the production have those needs, as well, and the producer who understands this will go far. One of my mentors, Christopher, ran Red Rocks for the City of Denver for years. He is a kind, but assertive Texas boy who had a knack for making everyone involved in the production feel as though the show would not have happened without them. He gave them what they needed, and they would take a bullet for him.

Why am I telling you this? Reminiscing is a joy, but the point of this story is if you treat your interactions with client, guests, and customers with this in mind, you will give them what they need, every time you see them.   

Empathic customer service and Rock and Roll can save the world. Turn both of them up to “11”.

Give Them Something Extra

What little thing stands out about businesses you like to patronize? Do they make you feel special? Do they go out of their way for you?

People remember the craziest, most trivial stuff when it is associated with them feeling special. It stays with them longer than a simple, even very successful transaction.  How do you make your customer feel this way?

It is not difficult, especially if you understand those emotional needs we keep referencing.  After a while, it is second nature to know how to make a guest or customer feel like they got something more than others did.  We have seen countless examples of people PAYING to get something others did not. If this was not true, we would not have had VIP sections at every live event I ever produced. People want to feel special and relevant, and you can do it without a VIP section.  It was full of people that wanted to feel thy were part of something extraordinary and exclusive. 

I know. Not everyone needs to feel elite. Some do, though. Trust me on this. I was part of so many events in Aspen, Colorado, I know there is a part of the population that wants to be treated exclusively. However, your customers don’t need an ice sculpture or unlimited cocktail shrimp. They just need to feel a little special. They need to feel appreciated, and you can do little things to make them feel like they are apart from the rest. It’s not that hard.

It can come in the form of something complimentary. It can be an extra doughnut. Free delivery. A piece of pie. Or a free month subscription. In this department, a little goes a long way, and what you do depends on a lot of things. It is more often the gesture than the item itself, and a customer will NEVER forget getting something free. Never. And if surprise them once in a while, they will keep coming back.

You don’t have to give material things away. You can:

  1.  Give advice, tips, and professional insight to a customer that has them leaving feeling like an “insider” in your business.
  2. Making your interaction with the guest a little longer than you customarily do can help to let them know you truly care about them as a human, and not just a customer.
  3. You can invite them to a pre-sale event before the general public has the opportunity to see your new inventory or business.
  4. Let them in some background information about a product or service, or take them “behind the scenes”.
  5. Offer them something from another business you may have influence at, or trade with.
  6. Simply be there for them.

If you choose one special way to connect with each of your clients or guests, after a short time, this becomes a part of the way you deal with humans. And that is when the magic happens. When it becomes a part of the way you deal with every human you encounter, in or out of your business, customer service can save the world with. It can be done. It is not just a tag line.

Customer service can save the world.

What the Luxury Market Has Always Known

Luxury market

I have a friend that loves to get her hair done at a place where they give her a glass of wine and remember her name and things about her.  I have another friend that loves a hotel because thy put a note in his room welcoming him, and invite him to a social hour.

The luxury market has known for a long time that making that making the customer feel important was essential to getting their business.  Businesses selling higher end products and services know that their clients want to be treated respectfully, with enthusiasm, and like they are relevant.

Um…..don’t we all? Why should that be limited to the luxury market? There seems to be a belief that only people with money have those kind of wants and expectations from a purchase or experience.  We ALL want to feel relevant and important. So why the heck can’t we? 

Here’s a little secret. That kind of treatment costs little, and in some cases, nothing. Perhaps a front desk clerk at a nice hotel you frequent remembers your name, or a store has your product ready for you when they see you. These things don’t cost any more money. None. Maybe some training, but little more is needed than the desire to treat a human like they have relevance and importance, because they do.

The department stores in the large cities in the early to mid-1900’s that had their employees dress formally, treated the customers like they were the most important people there were, and catered to their egos and needs.  At some point, those methods either became criticized for being to contrived, or fell by the wayside and got lost somewhere in the changing generations and culture. It seems that these days, only the high-end products employ this service culture, a culture that can, and should be enjoyed by all customers, regardless of what they buy, or where they buy it.

Serving someone is not a bad thing. It is not something that makes you a “Servant”. You are merely a person who can make someone feel relevant and happy with their interaction with you. Why wouldn’t you want to have opportunities to make people feel better about themselves. That stuff goes a long way, in the big picture, long after they walk out the door of your business.

For some of us, especially empaths, taking care of people comes quite naturally. But for those for whom it does not, it can be learned, and eventually become second nature. What makes you give return business to someone? Take a moment and write some of those things down, and read them back to yourself. These are the things your customers also want, so if you don’t already, give it to them. It does not have to cost more, but little things that don’t cost that much are received as having a high value in the total customer experience. That glass of wine that brought my friend back to the salon was two bucks at best, but it meant much more to her than what it cost them.

Do what the high-end market has done for decades. Individually treat your guests as though you couldn’t survive without them.

Because you can’t.

What Amazon Does Not Give Your Customers

Give your customers something Amazon cannot.

I have used Amazon three times. It is not that I am against it. I just prefer dealing with humans. I want my emotional needs met with human interaction. If you ask someone why they use Amazon, thy will tell you they love it because of price and convenience.

What they won’t tell you, because they may not even consciously know it, is that there was a litany of needs that DID NOT get met with that purchase. Did they give up trying to fulfill those needs in exchange for cheap prices?

 I don’t think they did.

I simply think we gave up the other needs being met, and settled for value and convenience.

Let’s recall Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs:

How many do you think an Amazon purchase fulfills? 

You could argue that a physiological need is met, especially with the purchase of something your body needs.  Safety needs may arguably be met, especially for someone unable or unwilling to physically take themselves to a place to purchase something they need or want. But beyond that, how many of these important needs are met with a digital purchase. The answer is, not very many.

Now, consider the needs that CAN be met when that customer goes to a business that understands their role in humanity and gives them what they need! Nearly ALL of the needs listed above can be met with a positive connection with another human at a place of commerce, even self-actualization.

Look at this chart often to remind yourself of how you can fulfill as many of your customer’s emotional needs that is realistically possible.  Pretty exciting, eh?

I ordered a dryer part that I would never have found in a mountain town store, and a couple of Lego sets my son wanted. I am not, however, “Anti-Amazon”.  I do find, however, that automation kind of ruined the customer service experience, but others would argue that is a fabulous addition to modern society.  Are you aware that since Amazon, thousands of online “stores” have sprung up that are doing nothing more than reselling stuff on Amazon for a little piece of the action? Millions and millions of dollars are being spent trying to find that digital business, with software, click funnels, seminars, and online courses promising to teach you how to get in on that “action”. I would much rather see business learn to connect with customers as an answer to increasing their business versus buying software to fish data and try to do something with it. All the CRMS (Customer Relationship Management Software) in the world is not going to really connect humans. It’s going to connect machines, which does nothing for the emotional needs of human beings.

I optimistically see a retail revolution on the horizon. A day where people come back to brick and mortar, in search of something more than a transaction that fills their immediate physiological need. I think retail will become “Retro”, and businesses will return to finding innovative and exciting ways to attract and retain customers, while creating real human connections that serve us all in to the future.

An Amazon purchase will never be a purchase a person looks back on fondly, at least not the transaction itself. No human connection was made. None. Humans remember the way you treat them, so what do you want them to remember?  How will your next customer interaction go?

I think it will go swimmingly

Don’t Take It Personally

How did the holidays go for your business and your front line?  Chances are, you had your challenges with difficult customers. When a guest or customer is angry, or even rude, it can be difficult to NOT take things personally.  Today ‘we’re going to talk about why and how you can stop allowing that to happen to you when dealing with humans.

There are a number of reasons a guest is rude to you, or treats you poorly as a fellow human. Perhaps they have even questioned yours, or your company’s ability to take care of them. When this happens, remember a few important things.

Chances are, you, or your front line do not know this person beyond the customer relationship that has  been established. Why would you take something personally from someone who you do not even know? If it’s a friend, family member, or acquaintance, it’s one thing. I can understand taking something personally from them. But it’s not. It’s a guy named Frank from Waukeegan, and he is not happy with something so he’s yelling at you, not because he does not like you, but because you represent the organization he has some sort of beef with.  He is yelling at the logo on your name tag, not you.

Please do not think I am defending poor behavior, but when a customer gets mad at you for properly performing your job, they are not mad at you. Their mad at their next door neighbors barking dog. They are mad at their huge phone bill. They are mad their bossy supervisor at work, or annoyed at their in-laws.  Maybe even mad at themselves, and they direct this negative energy towards you. But there is no need to take it personally or get defensive. As long as you are kind, and communicate to the best of your ability, you have NOTHING to take personally.

Now if the guest or customer lashes out at you personally, perhaps making an unkind comment about your appearance, performance, or something personal, before you do what most humans would and react, remind yourself that this is about them, and not you. You don’t know them. Why on earth would you take anything personally from a stranger?

As difficult as it may be to remind yourself that compassion is EXACTLY what this angry customer needs right now, that is precisely what you should give them. I will, however, say it again. There is a point of bad behavior where something other than compassion, like police or a manager, is necessary. Until this point, though, realize you are still in control and can give the customer or guest what they need, and move on with your day. 

I truly believe that regardless of the emotions of that difficult customer, they will remember how you treated them, even if only on a subconscious level. They will come back, and they may even surprise you with their behavior on their next visit.

You will find out very soon, that I am a big optimist. I believe in the best in people, and all of us who deal with human for a living can set the bar for how we all treat each other everywhere, all the time.

I can dream, can’t I? So can all of you.

Carry on.

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