Out of the Mouths of Babes

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Customer service is sometimes the part of the job that we dread due to the range of customer complaints that ensue. However, if we look at customer service as an opportunity, we can create a lot of positive energy from it. While not all stories are as entertaining as this one, the fact that the customer service response became a boon for the company is evident.

Giraffe Bread

Lily Robinson, 3 and 1/2 years old, wanted to know why the Tiger Bread from Sainsbury’s (a British convenience store) wasn’t called Giraffe Bread. After all, it looked like giraffe skin. She wrote a letter to Sainsbury’s and her mother mailed it to their customer service department. (https://www.helpscout.net/10-customer-service-stories/)

In an incredible customer service response, Chris King, 27 and 1/3 years old, responded to Lily with another letter and a gift card. That response in itself would have been an incredible customer service moment, but the story continues.

Sainsbury’s decided to change the name of the bread to Giraffe Bread and created signage explaining the story. Lily’s mom was so impressed that she wrote about the story on her blog. (https://jamandgiraffes.com/2011/06/15/our-careline/) The story then got picked up by BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-16812545) and became a marketing tale that has returned goodwill to Sainsbury’s many times more than what the first gesture from Chris King cost them. While this return doesn’t happen every time you offer excellent customer service, your actions and response to customer complaints are opportunities to cement relationships with customers. Often, it is the customer service assistance that creates the most indelible mark in a customer’s memory.

Customer Service as an Opportunity

There are many similar instances that companies never find out about that affect their bottom line. Not every customer calls or writes to a company because of a good or bad customer service experience. However, they may tell all of their friends about it. Positive or negative, word of mouth goes far and can create a bundle of good or bad press for a company.

Because most of us are dealing with automated phone systems and customer service reps that speak other languages and barely know English, a lot us have become numb to the massive amount of poor customer service. When we do come across good customer service, sometimes it is a shock to our system. We crave good customer service, and most people will return and refer others to any company that treats them well.

Examples of good customer service opportunities abound:

*The mechanic that takes the time to explain what is wrong and why it needs to be fixed, but won’t fix anything that is unnecessary.
*The patio furniture sales person who brings out a ladder to get the last display model from the ceiling-high display shelf.
*The jeweler who walks the customer through the options of repair for their cherished, but cheap, pearl necklace.

These types of customer service experiences are appreciated by the customer and remembered.

By treating every customer service issue as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with a customer, you can build the loyalty that every business needs. Loyal customers are your bread and butter, the customers who pay your monthly bills month in and month out.
Being a small business can give you more of these opportunities because you know your customers personally, so use these moments as a chance to shine.

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Know When to Hold ’em and When to Fold ’em

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“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” This iconic hook from the song “The Gambler” is about more than just playing cards. It’s also a metaphor for many circumstances that we encounter in life and business. Knowing when to end a dead-end job or a toxic relationship is critical to maintaining a happy life.

Likewise, understanding when it’s time to quit a product you love, but that is not providing you with the gains you want, can mean the difference between success and failure, or even fulfillment and frustration.

In 1976, 23-year-old Don Schlitz wrote “The Gambler.” After pushing it around for a few years, eventually, it was picked up by Bobby Bare and later, Johnny Cash. Despite the talent behind the lyrics and performers, the song never really took off. That is until Kenny Rogers picked it up and launched it to the top of the charts. Schlitz knew he had a song worth pushing and didn’t give up. That perseverance paid off in spades (pun intended).

Knowing when to keep going with a product or service is not always so straight-forward, though. It’s a difficult decision to give up on your “business baby” that you created and nurtured, especially when revenues are “ok.” Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to give up an “ok” thing to make room for an extraordinary thing. So, hear from some of the top founders in the country about how they know when to hold em’ and when to fold em’.

Is It Profitable?

This question is probably the easiest to answer when you take into account: (1) revenue, (2) time and money investment, (3) emotional investment and (4) company goals. For Elisa Doucett, Founder of CraftYourContent, it’s a no-brainer – “if it costs more fiscally and mentally to maintain than it makes, then it is no bueno.”

For Matthew Newton, Founder of TourismTiger, his approach is similar – “if the return on time or money invested isn’t worth it and you can’t find a clear solution, it’s time to kill the product.”

Is It Providing Value?

Just creating a product because you want to make money or achieve a personal goal may not be the best for your product’s success. Likewise, if your product is too similar to your competition or doesn’t add more value than a competing product, it’s time to move on to something else.

Micheal Ericsson, Founder of Search Scientists, looks to the founder’s mindset in determining when to kill a product: “Everyone I know with a truly successful product…[is] not creating a product to create a product, they’re moving forward with the goal to change a piece of the world.”

Is It Feeding Your Passion?

While passion may not be the best reason for creating a product, it certainly should be a factor in keeping it going. According to Brandon King, Founder of SmartInternChina, “You should kill a product when it is killing you. If you go through an extended period of time working on a product you hate…that drains your energy, that is a good sign that it is time to move on.”

Continually working on a product that you hate will erode your ability to put your best efforts into it. Nobody wants to put their name on a mediocre product.

Phil Ivey, (a.k.a. Gambler) always quits for the night when he’s no longer at his best. The same holds true for running a business.

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Taking Over: Tips for Becoming a Team Leader for an Already Established Group

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Building a team is an inherently personal proposition, regardless of the industry in which you’re operating. These are people that you’ve hand-selected based on their unique strengths to come together to form a complete whole. When everyone is firing on all cylinders, a well-designed team is more than just a tool – it’s a reflection of yourself, of the type of work you do, and of the quality of the product you’re about to deliver.

So what happens when you didn’t form the team, but you’re still being asked to lead them?

Things change in business all the time and at some point, you may be invited to take the reigns of a project that had already existed long before you got there – inheriting the project’s team at the same time. Jumping into a team as the newly deemed leader can be a difficult situation to find yourself in, but it doesn’t have to be provided you keep a few key things in mind.

Trust – The Most Important Element of All

When you take over as the team leader for an already established group, one thing will become clear: you probably wouldn’t have made the same decisions had you been there from the beginning. It’s a bit like a Hollywood feature film when one director takes over for another – a movie is still going to get made, but can that new director still put his or her own stamp on what is about to happen?

The answer is “yes,” provided you take advantage of your most valuable asset of all: the team itself. Remember, the people in that group were selected for a reason, and the most important thing you can do right now is to trust them to guide you just as they’re trusting you to guide them. Remember that they WERE there from the beginning. They have experience in this context that you do not, and their experience is incredibly valuable. Don’t come in barking orders, changing this or that just so that the project is more “yours” than anybody else’s. Listen to what they have to say. Talk to them about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Instead of changing them to fit your needs, do what you can to make yourself malleable to address theirs.

You’ve Been Tasked With Filling a Void, So Fill It

If you’re coming in to lead an already established group, the chances are high that what you’re being asked to do is fill a void. Why the previous team leader was replaced no longer matters – the people in front of you were prepared to follow that person, and now that person is gone. What you need to do is throw any pre-conceived strategies you may have had out the window and learn the score, so to speak. Find out what challenges were present under the previous leadership and learn what you can do to correct them. Find out how you can provide your personal value in a situation that already existed before you got there. Take the time to learn precisely what type of leader these people need and do whatever you have to do to become it. In this situation, you need to be willing to become a collaborator almost more than you would if you had built the team in the first place.

These are just a few of the ways that you can successfully become a team leader for an already established group. Make no mistake – it’s an awkward position to be in, but above all else, the quality of the work can’t suffer due to an unfortunate identity crisis. By trusting these people who have already come together and by being willing to become a real collaborator in every sense of the word, you’ll be able to make this team your own over time – all without tearing down what was old to build something new in the process.

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Sharing the Challenge Means Sharing the Victory: The Two-Way Street of Team Leadership

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Many people work their entire lives to achieve a leadership role within an organization. They’ve put in their time, tirelessly working their way up through the ranks and then, it finally happens: they’re trusted enough to be given the responsibility of bringing a team together for the benefit of a business’s long-term goals. And yet, unfortunately, far too many people tend to veer off course with this almost immediately by assuming that respect is a given (which we’ve talked in detail about before), and by looking at “the team” as one thing and the “team leader” as something separate. They’re not separate, and they never were. The sooner this is understood, the sooner you’ll be generating the types of results you were after.

There IS an “I” in Team – It’s Just Silent

An old saying has told us for years that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team'”, meaning that in order to become a successful, respected leader, you have to put aside your own needs and look at yourself as just one part of a larger whole. While this is certainly true, from the perspective of a leader there actually IS a pretty important “I” in team. It’s just that most people use it incorrectly.

As a leader, you don’t lead by delegating authority or even by simply demanding excellence from those around you. You lead by example. You always have (whether you realize it or not) and you always will. You set the tone for everything that happens. Think about it – if you like to joke around throughout the work day, your team members will probably joke around a bit, too. If you like to keep things a bit more on the serious side, the mood of your team members will reflect that.

This is a clear-cut example of the two-way street of team leadership, and it is one you NEED to know how to use to your advantage. Never, under any circumstances, should you ask something of your employees that you would be unwilling to do yourself. Don’t say to your new graphic designer, Timothy, “Hey, we’re a bit behind on this upcoming project and I need you to come in on the weekend.” Instead, say, “Hey, so that we can get caught up, I’m going to be coming in on the weekend and I would really appreciate it if you could find the time to as well.” This goes above and beyond just showing your team members that they’re appreciated. It lets them know that you’re not JUST the team leader, you’re a part of the team as well. Of course, you might not always be able to come in on the weekend yourself, but showing your willingness is more of the idea here.

Pay attention to the way this idea plays out in visual cues, as well. If you want your employees to dress more professionally in the office, don’t call them together and reprimand them for their current appearance while you’re wearing beach shorts and flip-flops. Doing so will end in slowly chipping away at that high-functioning team you worked so hard to build in the first place. If you show up every day at the office dressed in a suit and tie, just watch how your employees will rise to meet your dress code.

A Team Shares EVERYTHING

This idea also plays out in how you celebrate your accomplishments or lack thereof. By making yourself a more ingrained part of the team and sharing the challenges, it means that you truly get to share in the victories as well. Remember – you don’t work in a vacuum. When a project finishes successfully, people may want to give you the credit because “you told the right people to do the right things.” You didn’t. Never forget that you’re just one small part of a larger whole. If you were willing to share the challenges, you have to share the victories as well – this means that any success is the TEAM’S success, not yours.

In the end, the phrase “team leader” is actually something of a misnomer. People tend to think of it as immediately positive – you’re in a position of authority and that is something to be celebrated. While this may be true, it’s also something that can be far too easily abused – even unintentionally – if you’re not careful. If a chain (or team) is only as strong as its weakest link, you need to understand that the weakest link will ALWAYS be the team leader by default. Your number one priority is making sure that the entire team is moving forward through the way you treat your team members, the way you behave, and the way you show them that you’re all in this together.

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As a Leader, Helping Your Employees Grow is One of Your Most Important Jobs

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As a leader within your organization, it’s understandable to feel like the list of things you have to look over gets longer and longer all the time. While you’re being pulled in so many different directions, it can be easy to forget about one of your most important jobs of all: doing everything in your power to make sure that your employees are getting better and stronger with each passing day. Make no mistake: this is absolutely something you’ll want to spend time thinking about every day for a number of compelling reasons.

Helping Your Employees, One Step at a Time

One of the most important ways that you can help your employees grow is by encouraging them to take an active role in their own professional development. One of the major reasons that you became the leader you are today is because you were not content to “spin your wheels” as far as your career was concerned. Help your employees understand that the status quo is never something they should be satisfied with and provide them with guidance in the form of mentorship opportunities along the way.

Another one of the most important ways that you can help your employees grow involves showing that you trust them by constantly pushing them outside of their comfort zones. One of the ways that we get better in our professional lives involves stepping outside the box we normally live in and doing something that makes us fear what might happen. By constantly challenging your employees, you not only help them move forward – you help show how valuable they are to both you and your organization by establishing a bond of trust that is very difficult to break.

An Investment in Your Employees is an Investment in Your Future

Another reason why helping your employees grow is one of your most important jobs has to do with the positive effect it can have on your company as a whole. Think about things from a hiring perspective – you aren’t just looking for someone to fulfill certain job duties. Anybody can do that. You’re looking for someone who can regularly surprise you and exceed your expectations on a daily basis. If you’re having a hard time finding or attracting these candidates in the interviewing process, the next best thing is to essentially build them yourself by investing in their development over time.

This not only presents you with a workforce capable of doing higher quality work on a daily basis, but it also helps cement your business’s reputation in your industry and with your own clients as an entity that can be trusted and relied on. Yes, it’s true that this will also make your employees more marketable. But with benefits like these, this is one risk that you should be more than willing to take.

At the end of the day, outward success in the world of business begins from within. By looking at your employees as what they are – a solid foundation from which to build the business you’ve always dreamed of – you can then begin strengthening that foundation brick by brick through employee growth and development initiatives. Not only will your employees themselves thank you, but your clients and ultimately your bottom line will thank you, as well.

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