Let’s think about…your purpose

As 2017 begins, you’re likely to face big challenges. You could be toe-to-toe with bigger, faster competitors, or changing consumer perceptions and buying habits. Maybe you’re working to stand out among the myriad of other choices customers or talented job candidates have.

To meet the challenge, business demands that you give your consumer what they want and most people want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

That’s where your business purpose comes in.

Of course, in business we keep score with money. But a meaningful business purpose can offer that “something bigger” your customers, and your team, are looking for.

Take Ace Hardware’s business purpose as an example. Our customers know us as the helpful place. That means our business isn’t about selling hardware. It’s about serving others.

Here’s how that was demonstrated by a store in Chattanooga, TN:

When the community was hit by a massive snowstorm, Steve Kelly, Director of Store Operations made sure all his stores stayed open. In fact, Steve, his store managers and associates spent the night in the stores to be ready when people in the community needed supplies to deal with the snow clearing and power outages. As he put it, it was about “being there for the community in a time of need.

While some may argue that a servant heart is the enemy of a profitable endeavor, we’d argue it’s about being part of something bigger.

With the New Year underway, take a fresh look ask yourself “What do we stand for beyond making money?”

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Celebrate Customer Service Week with Helpful Tips

In celebration of National Customer Service Week, Oct. 3-7, we’re sharing tips that Ace Hardware associates use to start conversations, build lasting relationships and handle difficult conversations:

  1. Seize the Moment. Never switch onto autopilot when you’re working with a customer. Always ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now going to make this customer want to come back?”
  2. Ask Open-Ended Questions.Asking, “Can I help you?” often invites a “no” answer. To develop customer relationships, start a conversation with questions like “What can I help you find?” or “How can I help you?”
  3. Ask the Extra Question.Many times, an Ace customer may come in asking for a specific part. A perfect way for associates to open up dialogue is to ask, “Out of curiosity, what are you using it for?” Extra questions, that show your interest in a customer, can reveal an opportunity to help them find an alternate product that works better for them and builds trust that leads to a longer term relationship.
  4. The Customer is Not Always Right, but…even when a customer is wrong, they’re still your customer. Let them be wrong with the dignity and respect they deserve. Give them the benefit of the doubt, avoid arguing or debating and try to identify what the problem really is.
  5. Master the Art of Recovery. Problems or complaints are opportunities in disguise. Instead of arguing about who’s right or wrong, work to renew your customer’s confidence in you with four steps: Apologize; Take action with an acceptable temporary solution; Make a promise to resolve the problem; Keep your promise.

It’s really about helping your customers get what they want, instead of trying to get what you want. When your focus is on building relationships, instead of conducting transactions, you’ll win customers for life.

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Creating Happy Customers on a $5 Budget

Legendary customer service stories usually have one thing in common – an engaged employee who was empowered to deliver amazing customer service.

One great tactic is the $5 Lifeboat. The idea empowers an associate to spend up to five dollars to solve a problem without prior approval (use whatever dollar increment is reasonable in your organization).

In ‘Amaze Every Customer Every Time,’ author Shep Hyken describes how one store owner demonstrated the idea:

An Ace Hardware customer was letting a cashier know how disappointed he was that his rebate checks were taking so long to arrive. The store owner overheard, opened the register and handed the customer cash to cover the two five dollar rebates.

“If the rebate check comes in, and you want to swing by the store and give us back the ten dollars, that would be fine,” he said.

After that, the pleasantly surprised customer made a point of finding the owner and saying hello every time he came into the store. The store had a customer for life.

To create a similar policy in your workplace, think about what decisions you could empower your team to make on their own. How does the cost of those decisions compare to the value of creating lifetime customers? Set clear guidelines, and make sure your team understands the value of your customers. Then, share examples that illustrate the spirit of the policy. You’ll  empower your team to make decisions that build better relationships.

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Note to Leaders: Keep the Ideas Coming

Great leaders know, the next big idea could come from anywhere in an organization. You can support an innovative, idea-friendly working culture, but how can you be sure you’re not missing the next great idea when you can’t be everywhere in your organization? Here are three ways:

  1. Never criticize an idea in a public setting. EVER. The number of ideas your organization gets from employees depends on the way management responds to mediocre ideas.
  2. Make it easy and informal to share. Many retail stores and restaurants use a daily huddle to collect ideas, share solutions and boost morale. How would a “team huddle” or “Lunch with the Boss” event look in your organization?
  3. Don’t take credit for someone else’s breakthrough. Recognize the ideas …and where they came from.
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How To Be the Best Place to Buy

Emotionally engaged customers are the holy grail of any service-oriented organization. Our speakers have a lot to say to leaders on the topic, so we took a look at what they’ve suggested at recent keynotes and workshops and noticed a recurring bit of advice:

To be the best place to buy, be the best place to work.

Offering benefits and work perks, although very valuable, are like offering great products at a fair price. Your customers, or team members, can pretty easily find another place that offers the same thing.

To create an amazing place to work, make your team feel valued. Here are five ways:

  1. Recognize good behavior
  2. Share your vision
  3. Ask for their input
  4. Train them
  5. Trust them

Customers reward you with their business, loyalty and referrals if they feel cared for. If you want to take care of customers, make sure your team knows how important they are. It could be the one thing you offer that your competitors don’t.

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