Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Who's Your Gladys?

One of the highlights of my year has been the inclusion of our spa, and our customer service philosophy, in a new business best-seller, Who's Your Gladys? (American Management Association Books)

Naturally, we're thrilled about the chapter devoted to Preston Wynne Spa. But I'd have bought the book anyhow. It's one of the most solid, meaty and actionable customer service books I've come across in years. Authors Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest have done a tremendous, and remarkably mindful job of distilling customer service wisdom from an array of different businesses and industries.

As the authors remind us, "When times are tough and customer dollars are scarce, it's the companies with exceptional customer service that weather the storm. If you want to keep customers coming back and happily recommending you to others, now is the time to ramp up your customer service to the highest possible level. Even when the economy gets back on track, those with extraordinary customer care enjoy the most profits."

It's difficult to bang this drum too much. With your company in a defensive crouch, it's hard to simultaneously create the mindset of gracious hospitality.

I'm reminded of the scene in Gone with the Wind, when Scarlet pulls down her mother's velvet drapes in the devastated mansion and has a new, fashionable dress sewn up to create the illusion of prosperity for a crucial meeting with Rhett Butler.

More than a few of us have felt a bit like Scarlet this year, projecting an aura of velvety ease and abundance to our clients while slashing expenses and biting our nails behind the scenes.

But one of the things we cannot skimp on is good staff, proper supervision and effective training.

Training is not just that moment when you sit everyone down for a formal educational session. Training can and should occur every time you interact with your team, and when they watch you interact with customers. The best supervisors identify and guide their teams through the inevitable "teachable moments" that occur on the job.

The good news is that formal training is becoming significantly less expensive and significantly more accessible, thanks to technology. Wynne Business Spa Consulting has added webinars to our educational lineup, designed for both management development and employee training. They're fast, affordable (no travel, either!) convenient, and we believe they will encourage more spas to make training part of their regular routine.

We're also partnering with Coyle Hospitality Group, the wonderful Mystery Shopping firm, for a series of employee training courses. These are based on specific "moments of truth" in a spa's service delivery cycle. We're starting with the Reservations call. Those of you who have worked with Coyle know how many "moments of truth" are documented in one short reservations call.

Guess which element of a good Reservations call is most often omitted, according to Coyle? The upsell. We prefer the term "optimizing," because far from simply being a way to extract more money from a guest, this process is a way to showcase your expertise. Optimizing a guest's services increases the possibility that a guest is going to get exactly the treatment they want and need, and the results that they desire. That increases the possibility that they'll be delighted, and return again and again.

If a guest is habitually relegated to your base sticker price, plain vanilla offering, they may not comprehend that there are other fabulous options on your menu. (Yes, you spent hours writing it, but most customers don't spend hours poring over the menu.) It's our reservation team's responsibility to guide them toward the best treatment for them. It's more than upselling, it's good customer service.

How do they "get" this? Indoctrination. Education. Demonstration. Repetition.

Hearing it done right, over and over again, is key. Does this get tedious? Um, yes. Your spa must be willing, in restauranteur Danny Meyer's words, to use "constant, gentle, pressure" to ensure that team members adhere to your service standards. And honestly, it's not hard.

You just can't be lazy.

The companies chronicled in "Who's Your Gladys?" share this commitment. It takes different forms in different companies, but maintaining high service standards is a core value and it comes from the heart. It doesn't waver because the winds of recession are howling outside. It's not about giving "just enough" to get by while things are tough, or allowing team members to slack off because you feel badly that their pay has been reduced.

It's certainly not about chopping away at the little things your customers appreciate. They'll never forgive you. The dollars I could save by not providing granola bars and tampons would be met with an "equal and opposite reaction" by our clients. (Yes, we have a few tricks--arranging fewer of these items in smaller containers, to making grabbing a handful and stuffing them in a handbag feel conspicuously greedy.)

Businesses that want to emerge on the other side of this economic swamp must give even more than they did before. Yes, some customers are raising their pitchforks and torches over the tiniest mishaps these days.

When these moments occur, remember Holly Stiel's words of wisdom: "Being Right is the Booby Prize." Smile. Dig down. Give more. It will only hurt for a minute.

See you at ISPA!

Speaking of this amazing customer care guru, don't miss Holly's amazing new presentation at ISPA, SILK: Service in Loving Kindness. It will rock your world!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Customer love can't stop now: donation strategies that work

I overheard the donation-request conversation at the front desk of our spa and introduced myself with a warm handshake. Nervously, our customer described her back to school night event, which would include 500 affluent families in our town. She was the new President and hated doing "asks." She apologized several times for the imposition.

Her idea was to have a quick drawing at the beginning of her two PTA meetings (on consecutive nights) and award a $25 gift card to one parent in the audience. Her vision, she said, was to help participants feel more "cared for" by the organization. Oprah style, the gift cards would be attached underneath chairs. She would draw one winner each night.

Her request was incredibly modest.

"We're not going to give you two $25 gift cards," I began, as she shrank back in dismay. "We're going to do something better."

First, I described our Community Investment Program which is a system we've created to both manage donation traffic, which can be very disruptive in a small business, as well as provide a new model for fund raising that conserves volunteers' valuable time.

As a non profit board member myself, supporting a terrific domestic violence agency I believe that event-driven fundraising has its place, but it's also too often a fire drill. Small businesses get fatigued by being constantly asked for donations. Volunteers, like this poor woman, get burned out. An organization can erode its base of support by demanding too many stressful "asks" of its volunteers.

The Community Investment Program enables any supporters of one of our registered non-profits to designate 3% of their spa purchases to benefit that group.

"Once you're registered, all they'll have to do is mention the Saratoga PTA as they're checking out," I explained. "We'll send you a check once a quarter."

Periodically, we offer "double rewards" and "triple rewards" for a designated period, to create some fresh excitement for our charities. We also offer the opportunity to do a "micro fundraiser" with four or more participants, and receive "quadruple rewards." (which is still just a 12% donation for the spa.)

A nearby jeweler and hair salon also participate in the Community Investment Program. The jeweler presents her checks at the non profit's meetings to make sure to drive the point home. Schools, arts organizations and social services organizations are all participants in CIP.

Back to our PTA President. She was delighted to hear about the CIP. But I wasn't done with her yet. I liked her concept, but I knew it would get lost in the shuffle of a big meeting with 250 parents each night.

"We're going to give you six $50 gift cards for your drawing," I explained. "Three for each night. That will create a little more excitement."

I thought she was going to faint.

"I shouldn't say this," she finally told me. "But I was just down the street at (Spa X). At first, the two young women at the front desk were friendly when I walked in. One was on the phone at the time."

"When I launched into my request, the one on the phone held her finger to her lips and 'shushed' me," she said in astonishment, obviously still reeling from this experience. "And the other one stopped smiling."

They sent her away empty handed.

The new, excited, President of the Saratoga Elementary PTA had just been given the bum's rush by my competitor for a request with a hard cost of about $20.

She walked through our door next. No wonder she was so apologetic!

Not only did we grant her modest wish (and then some) we provided her with a real connection. We gave her a new way to raise money, as well as exceeding her expectations. By demonstrating generosity and support, we sealed her loyalty as a passionate advocate of our business.

People who lead organizations are generally not shrinking violets. They're usually from the group that marketers call "Influencers," the 10% of the population who tells the other 90% where to shop, eat and play. The woman who is charged with leading a group of 500 parents and teachers is now in our corner.

This experience underscores several key behaviors and attitudes that are helping us survive the downturn:

1. Remain generous and supportive of your community, especially when you don't feel like it! Be careful what you cut, and the messages those cuts send. A business that relies on discretionary income and consumer confidence can't afford to send the message "times are tough." It's too easy to spook customers right now.

2. Get closer to your customers. Spend time on the operations floor. So many serendipitous connections come from having an ear open, and being in the right place at the right time. Most good spa managers and operators are out of their offices. A recession requires "all hands on deck."

3. Get closer to your staff. My presence doesn't have to be heavy; I often am "incognito" as a 'customer' having my makeup applied, or enjoying a manicure at the manicure bar. This is the perfect way to catch your staff doing things right, coaching on the best verbiage, or demonstrating the way to respond to situations like a donation request.