Jon Schallert Blog

The Ultimate Customer Experience, Part 1

To all my blog readers:  My apologies for missing a couple of blogs these last two weeks.  You see, I’ve been speaking all over North America, but I think I have a story to tell you that will make it worth your wait.  Here’s Part 1.  Next week I’ll wrap up with Part 2.

Part 1: Welcome to the Family

One of the conferences I spoke at was in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada, for their province’s tourism association.  If you don’t know where Bathurst is, find Portland Maine on a map and move your finger about 500 miles to the northeast. It’s Canada’s one province that is officially bilingual, so my keynote speech was translated into French, while I spoke from the floor of a hockey arena!  Not many professional speakers get to say that.

Another speaker at the conference talked about Creating a Customer Experience.  The day we left Bathurst, I think we experienced the ultimate Customer Experience in two different restaurants, and here’s my story about the first one.

The day after my keynote, as we were leaving town, we stopped for breakfast at a local downtown Bathurst restaurant called the Coffee Stain.

The Coffee Stain

It’s a small restaurant with local photos, maps, Bathurst mementos, and sailing memorabilia on the walls, and a woman was cooking behind the counter at the grill. She told us to take any seat and soon she brought us menus, speaking to us in English.  As she moved to the next table, she spoke French to them.

Soon it’s apparent that the Coffee Stain is less like a restaurant and more like walking into someone’s kitchen, in the middle of a family meal, with different tables being part of the family. The owner, Olga, takes our order at the table. She brings Peg coffee and I ask her to bring me a Coke when she has a chance.  She returns to the grill, but forgets to ask us something, so she shouts it out from behind the grill where she’s cooking.  As people enter the restaurant she greets them by name, speaks to them in the language they understand, and keeps a constant flow of conversation with all the tables while she prepares all the meals.

Soon Lorne, her husband, comes bouncing in. He brings us our food that Olga’s cooked and asks us if we’d like some of his fresh strawberry preserves. You bet, we say, and as he goes to get it.  I remind him that I wanted a Coke.  Lorne yells to Olga, “Were you supposed to get him a Coke?”  Not missing a beat, Olga says, “Yes, but he said when I had time, and I haven’t had time.”  The restaurant bursts into laughter.

We’re now officially adopted into the Coffee Stain conversation. They ask us where we’re from and we tell them Colorado.  Lorne brings us bright red ceramic Coffee Stain cups for us to take back home.  As Olga and he move from behind the counter to the tables, taking orders, delivering food, running the register, and loading up the truck with a delivery, you realize that every chain restaurant you’ve ever eaten in has less personality, humor, and great food than the Coffee Stain.  And right when you think you’ve seen it all, Lorne yells to a customer as he’s headed to the bathroom: “Be careful in there.” The place erupts again.

And I started wishing we weren’t leaving Bathurst right now, so we could come back for the breakfast routine tomorrow.

We’re convinced as we walk out that it will be tough to find as warm a restaurant as the Coffee Stain as we work our way back to the United States.

But two days later, we’re surprised again.

Check out this blog next week for Part 2 of the Ultimate Customer Experience.

Thanks,

Jon Schallert

The True Foundation of Your Business

It’s so easy to get busy running your business that you forget that every customer who enters your doors has a need, and they are hoping your business will fulfill it.

Here’s a true story that a retailer in New England told me. This retailer owned a quaint floral and gift store in a busy, historic downtown. It was a store with attractively-themed merchandise filling each of its small rooms, and one could easily shop each of the rooms, as they were connected in a large loop.  Throughout the day, business workers hustled by during lunch hour, students walked by after school, and nurses and doctors from the nearby hospital walked in during their breaks.

It was during one of these busy days that the owner greeted a female shopper walking into her store. She related to me how this female shopper slowly moved through each of the smaller rooms, spending time in each one. After several minutes in the store, the owner walked over to see if there was anything she could help the customer find. The customer thanked her, said she was just looking, and that she loved her store. The owner thanked her, and left her alone. The owner remembered the customer moving slowly from room to room, like she was inspecting each piece of merchandise, eventually making her way through all the rooms, taking the full-circle route through the store without buying anything, and saying goodbye before walking out the door.

The owner then told me how the next day, this same female entered the store shortly after lunch and moved slowly through each room, carefully looking at all the products, walking the entire loop and again not purchasing anything.  It happened again, the following day, and again, the next day. This female would appear like clockwork, and take the route through the store, each day as intently looking at the merchandise as the previous days.

By the end of the week, the owner was convinced that this shopper was being sent by a competitor to snoop through her store.  She waited patiently to see if she would appear again, and decided that on this day, she would confront her about her strange behavior.

Sure enough, just after lunch, the woman entered the store again.  But this time, the owner stopped her and said, “May I ask you a question? Every day this week, you’ve come in and spent time looking at all the merchandise in every room, and you seem to really like my store, but you never purchase anything. Is there something in particular you are looking for, or something that I could help you find?”

The woman stopped and said, “Oh, I do love your store. I love what you do with flowers and all the plants and products you have are so unusual. I love how your store looks, and I love how it smells, and the music you have playing is so soothing.  But no, there really isn’t anything specific I’m looking to buy.” She paused, as if knowing that her answer wasn’t enough to explain her behavior, and then said to the owner, “You see, I’m an out-patient at the hospital around the corner, and I’m undergoing cancer treatments right now. They’re going to continue for a number of weeks more. In between the treatments, I like getting out of the hospital for a break, and your store helps me forget my troubles. I can just walk inside your doors, and I’m somewhere else.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a business receive a higher compliment!  For this customer, the store was an oasis from the problems and pains she was experiencing.

I think owners work so hard focusing on their product selection, their services, and their day-to-day operations that they forget that emotion is the foundation of every business, and if it’s lacking, you’re giving up the prime advantage every independent business has over all of its competitors.

The emotion of your business is where it all begins. It’s the first thing a customer feels coming in your doors.  It’s the final piece a customer feels when they leave. And its memory is what they’ll remember long after they forget everything else.

Until next week,

Jon Schallert

A New Attitude Beats a Positive Attitude

You’ve probably heard motivational speakers talk about the need to have a positive attitude.

With all due respect to Norman Vincent Peale, a positive attitude for independent business owners isn’t enough.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a New Attitude.

When business owners tell me they are dissatisfied with their business performance and they want more customer traffic and higher sales, I tell them this:

When you step into your business this morning, take a look around and realize that the business you occupy is entirely your own creation. Sure, maybe someone passed it down to you through the family, or you bought someone else’s business, or you’re running a franchise that has limits not of your own design, but the bottom line is:  The business that surrounds you is what you’ve built, with your money, hard work, and vision.

You, as the owner, are the only one capable of changing your business in any significant way, and it begins with singular NEW moments of vision. These moments will only happen if you are willing to question what you have in front of you, and come up with something better. Something totally NEW.

As the owner, you cannot focus on all the reasons you feel your business hasn’t succeeded. You must focus on what you can control. It might be absolutely true that your city isn’t as business friendly as somewhere else, or that your Mayor has never spent a dime in your business, or that your downtown doesn’t have the parking garage that you feel it should have.  But you must ignore these things!  You are going to focus on what you can do right now that will increase your business performance and you are going to quit focusing your energy on areas that are out of your control. Doing so is a waste of time, and when a business needs help, time is a critical commodity.

Let me take a step back for those of you reading this who don’t know me:  For the last 12 years, I’ve conducted a Destination Business BootCamp where business owners spend over two straight days with me, learning techniques to reinvent their businesses. And while the owners in that BootCamp class are as diverse a group as you’ll ever find sitting together for two days, there are two things these owners have in common:

#1: A willingness to learn, and

#2: A nagging dissatisfaction with their businesses.

And #2 is critical:  For owners to move forward, they must reach a point of discontent where they want change to happen now, not sometime in the future.

If you’re a business owner, developing a NEW attitude is easy. Just look at those concrete components of your business that make you unhappy. Your store interior.  Your front windows.  Your advertising. Your marketing message.  Your website.  Your energy-sucking, waiting-to-be-told-what-to-do employees (I’ve heard some owners have these). You name it.  Look at these tangible components and decide how you would like them to be.  See them NEW and don’t compromise with your NEW vision.  Be demanding!  Be unreasonable!  Be unrealistic!  See it in your mind like you want it to be, and don’t settle for what you have.

Notice that I said look at those concrete components that you want to change.  Don’t look at your sales growth and say, “I’m dissatisfied with my business sales and I want more revenue.” Wrong!  Sales are a function of the concrete components you’ve created that aren’t operating effectively, and a reflection of the strategy you’re using to draw customers to you.

When owners change their components and change their strategy, guess what happens? Owners start walking in their doors every morning with a positive attitude.

But seeing your business NEW is the first key and this demands you bring some creative thinking to the table, taking a step back, and not settling for the business that’s in front of you.

You brought this business into the world. If you’re unhappy with the results, reimagine it as the business you’ve always wanted.

Moving Forward and Avoiding Anchors

Normally when I get done with one of my Destination workshops, I get owners in the audience wanting to pick my brain on specific steps to make their businesses grow. They want to talk in greater detail about the 14-steps to become a Destination.

But recently in one audience, there was a small, vocal group of owners (clearly in the minority), who wanted to talk about all the things their city hadn’t done to help their businesses grow. They wanted to rehash stories of what it was like ten years ago and the mistakes the city had made. How the city didn’t have enough parking spaces, enough of a marketing budget, enough people to keep the sidewalks clean, and enough people thinking about small businesses. According to these owners, there wasn’t enough of anything.

I politely answered each question thrown at me and told this vocal minority that today, you have to be a business that is so unique, that consumers will come, regardless of your parking situation. I pointed out that if your business isn’t one-of-a-kind, you can have all the parking in the world and it’s not going to matter. I pointed out that people will avoid what they are bored of seeing, and people will not take a minute out of their day to revisit an average business. I emphasized that I was talking about Right Now, right here, today, not back then, ten years or even ten days ago.  I told these owners that we were moving forward, focusing on what they could change today, not revisiting the actions of prior groups.  I emphasized that I was giving them the opportunity to pick my brain and learn how to reinvent their businesses into Consumer Destinations, right now.

But these owners kept it up. They kept asking the same questions, and it suddenly dawned on me that most of the people in the room wanted to move on and change their community and their businesses.  Obviously, the city that had brought me in to speak wanted to move ahead. They were the ones who were forward-thinking enough to put me in front of this group.

Here’s my point in telling you this:  There are businesses located near you who will do anything they can to keep your business at the same level as their business. These owners do not want to move forward because it is easier to rehash the past, and complain about it, than it is to move ahead and face change. The future is a scary place for them. It is simpler to look backward and analyze what went wrong.

It’s important for you to understand that these owners are more content to scream about the changes that are happening, than to gear up their thinking and competitiveness and relearn what needs to be learned in order to make their businesses viable again. They scream because they are in a state of paralysis, not knowing how to change the business they have created, nor willing to fold it up and admit that they can’t compete anymore.

Most importantly, these owners are trying to pull your business down, not because they knowingly want to hurt your business, but because they sincerely believe their way is the only way. They don’t understand what you are trying to do with your business, and explaining your goal of creating your business into a Destination will be as foreign to them as learning Swahili (which I’ve heard is tough to learn). As they try to help you, they are working to keep you from pulling away from them, just like an anchor. Despite your best efforts and optimism, it’s more likely their negativity will suck the energy and enthusiasm out of you.

It is my advice that if you want to move ahead at rapid speed with your business, these types of people need to be avoided. Instead, you should seek out others who hold a similar belief in what you want to accomplish.  Find someone who is more skilled than you are, and learn from them. Understand that once you are successful, these negative neighbors of yours will not celebrate your success.  Instead, you will become a business that they will envy, and that’s a whole different kind of negativity. These owners see you in a smaller role than you imagine for yourself.  Insist on being as large as you want to dream.

You might wonder what happened with these owners during this discussion.  I agreed to disagree with them and I told them that we weren’t going to rehash the past. And with that, I focused my attention on of those who wanted to improve.

And that’s how it has to be done in your community:  When the train is pulling out of the station with most everyone on board, you never hit the brakes because a few didn’t hear the whistle.

This New Year: Back to Zero

If you’ve never watched the show “Iconoclasts” on the Sundance Channel, here’s a business tip:  Start watching it. Each episode takes two successful celebrities, usually from different fields, and has them spend time together, discussing how they rose to the top of their game. Though the celebrity might be talking about acting, music, anthropology, running a restaurant, or mountain climbing, their success lessons are applicable to any business.

My favorite episode of the series put Robert Redford with Paul Newman. The Redford/Newman episode ran in the first year of Iconoclasts and even though this episode first aired in 2005, and Paul Newman died in September, 2008, this episode is often re-run on Sundance, and can also be found on YouTube (“Redford Profiles Newman: Iconoclasts”).

This episode is amazing as you hear Redford and Newman discussing their roles as actors and entrepreneurs, and talking about what they created outside of the world of acting. Newman created Newman’s Own food products company which started with him making salad dressing for his friends. Over time, Newman’s Own grew into a multi-million dollar brand that has donated over $300 million in profits to charities.

Redford’s non-acting venture took him to Utah where he bought the Sundance ski resort, started the Sundance Film Festival which led to the Sundance retail stores and catalog. But during this part of the interview, Redford remarks that focusing on Sundance helped him grow as a person because in acting:

“You can get in danger of falling in love with your work…
It’s important to stop, and take yourself back to zero,
and rethink what you’re doing, and get a fresh look at it.”

This New Year, make it a point to take yourself back to zero. Take time to rethink what you’re doing in your business. This might mean reinventing the tired components of your business, or embarking on a new business model that generates the revenue you’ve always been wanting. Taking yourself back to zero also applies to refocusing your life goals, your fitness goals, your relationship goals, and any other aspect of your life that currently dissatisfies you. The process of taking a fresh look is critical to seeing what you really want to achieve.

For all of you: Is there a new area of your business where you’re ready to jump in and look at it anew?  If so, let me hear about it. Our company loves helping entrepreneurs embark on new adventures and achieve success.

Reminder:  Registration is now open for our March 4-6 Destination BootCamp. Spend 2½ days in Colorado reinventing your business with other passionate business owners. For more details: DestinationBootCamp.com