Standing out does not have to be expensive
Ask 100 small business owners to create a list of how their business is different from a box store, mass merchant. There is a strong chance that “great customer service” will be at or near the top of that list. Today we ask what qualifies any of our businesses to make such a claim.
It cannot be that they have been “lucky” to find quality staff that demonstrates both sales skills and technical knowledge. Even if the business has only three employees, could they be “lucky” in each of these hirings? Perhaps they made a point to hire quality people away from the competition. But that can be an expensive proposition. In this situation the competition has spent sizable dollars to educate their staff. Now by means of higher hourly wages, we will pay for that schooling that the competition has done for us.
If you find that paying the highest hourly wages is not something that you want to be doing there is another way of getting our business to the point where “great customer service” has substance to it. The answer begins with making a commitment to an educational process. Surely every business has had an occasional situation where all of the staff is gathered together to discuss a new product, an opportunity or to resolve a problem.
It is at this time you can announce and outline the new plans for your business. From our experience, holding a staff meeting every other week represents a compromise between meeting too often and meeting so infrequently that you get very little accomplished. Meeting with your staff after the business has closed for the day usually works best.
Attendance for the staff meetings should be a requirement of each of your employees. As this can be a hard sell to your more experienced employees, a more palatable way of presenting it is to ask the seasoned employees to help you educate the newer employees. Explain that their input is invaluable, and by their helping they will soon find that the less knowledgeable employees will not be bothering them as much as their product knowledge and sales skills grow.
Your staff meeting should consist of several components. You will want to talk about any problems or challenges that you are having as well as reviewing with your staff the components of any advertising you will be doing between now and your next staff meeting. We found that walking everyone around the business and pointing out the location of each advertised item was a good way to make sure that everyone knew what was going on.
This is an appropriate time to point out items that would make excellent add on sales as well as higher priced items that you would like your staff to expose your customers to. While you are pointing out items, take a few minutes to practice selling items to each other. You can easily increase sales by pointing out subtle ways of working with customers. For example, sales increase when the customer touches the product. And when the customer has selected an item to purchase, you can often gain an additional sale by asking, “Is one enough or would two be better?”
Often businesses state that having staff educational events is too much of an investment. However, if these exercises result in only a two percent increase in sales, you have recovered your investment. And as improved sales skills are retained, your investment continues to pay dividends.
Learning about new products, reviewing the opportunities and challenges that customers face should be a part of your staff meetings. As you are sure to see positive results from these efforts, there are other components that you can include with future staff meetings.
Creating job descriptions and job specifications during these sessions can give you a sense of accomplishment and your staff a feeling of inclusion. From our experience, those that were doing the particular tasks best created their own job descriptions. Of course, our input was necessary so that the direction we wanted our business to go in was maintained. We found that job descriptions containing basic statements and sequenced in the order of importance worked best.
Job specifications, the details of how to perform certain tasks, were also best created by those doing those duties. We were amazed that staff members were very talented at organizing how duties could be completed properly and consistently.
As you will find this making your life easier as an owner or manager, there is one more part of your staff meetings that you will want to include. Written policies and procedures are the guidelines that allow the business to operate efficiently whether or not you are in the building.
Written with the help of your staff, policies become the rules of your business. You will probably want one that explains how your staff will dress for work. By discussing what looks professional, you and your staff will be able to decide how you want to appear before your customers. You will probably create policies that deal with absences, personal telephone usage, disciplinary issues and many of the tasks that have previously been only spoken rules.
Procedures will be the written directions for performing tasks such as writing special orders, opening and closing the store, and even how to stock the shelves. Your policies and procedures become tools that allow you to acclimate a new employee to your business much quicker. You will also see that the consistency you want with your staff and the way your business operates will be easier to maintain.
Does this plan work? Absolutely! From the years of experience of this writer in the family business, this is the least expensive way to make a difference.