There is a reason why incredibly successful companies spend a tremendous amount of time building their internal corporate culture and work feverishly hard on how customers are treated. They know that the key to long term success and sales growth is in keeping returning customers happy. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but people don’t usually remember what you said or did, but they do remember how you made them feel. As apparel decorators, we spend a lot of time processing orders; but maybe not so much time developing that experience that our customers crave. For most shops, there are only a few people that have any interaction with our customers, but if you dig a little deeper sometimes you will reveal more. All effort in your shop is directed at customer retention constantly. Here’s what matters:
Be Yourself, Be Human. The best engagements we have between people are those that genuinely reflect our sense of being human. You probably know what frustrates you when you interact with a business. Why do you tolerate that with your staff when people are in your shop? Whether someone is in your front lobby area, on the phone calling in with a question, back by the receiving area dropping something off, or in your parking lot you need to acknowledge them and treat them with respect and good humor. Be present in the moment. A smile can go a long way. Occasionally you are going to be interrupted, and yes I agree it’s a pain the butt to stop what you are doing. However, that snarky way you just answered the phone or surly look you just gave that person from across the room when you had to get up out of your chair to “see what they wanted”…that registers deep down within someone’s consciousness. Assholes aren’t good for business. Just interact with people on a human level. Treat others like you would want to be treated. Don’t tolerate anything else.
Two Ears, One Mouth. Customers tell us stuff all the time. Shutting up and paying attention to what they are saying could be a great way to keep their business. Are you a good listener? When you are on the phone or with a customer in your shop, are you taking notes on what they are telling you? Are you really connecting the dots? Active listening is a skill that not everyone possesses.
Recently I had to order something from a supplier and was speaking to a customer service rep on the phone. We had an extensive and elaborate conversation regarding something they provided and it wasn’t on their website. Because we are busy, I explained, we needed two more to make sure other staff members could use their product to work on a big project. A few days later I had to call back and request an additional part that didn’t come with the kit, but was necessary to have to use the item. Why didn’t the person state that over the phone or suggest it to me originally? Because he wasn’t listening to my needs. Clink. You can hear my opinion on that company jolt down a notch. Has that happened to your company recently?
Solve Their Problems. Customers value your business because of your expertise, skill and creativity…but it could also be because you solve a problem for them. Think about how you can add value to your relationship. One solution could be offering design services so they can gain a new customer. You have an art department. Use that as a competitive advantage during the sales process. Especially if you are locked and loaded with great talent. Not every company has a killer staff. If you got it, flaunt it.
Another could be delivering the final product to them so they don’t have to ship it or pick it up themselves. Convenience is a basis for a lot of businesses other than the decorated apparel industry. How could you apply those business principles to your market? Why is milk more expensive at the corner 7-11 than a grocery store? It’s still milk. Can you make something in your business more convenient in your process and build larger margins with your orders?
If time is an issue for your customers, what type of rush capabilities do you offer? Maybe a one day turn using direct to garment printing, or a single head embroidery machine could work for you. How would you build that idea into a business plan so it would work? Do what others can’t figure out.
None of these problem solving solutions has to be cheap or free; in fact, you could market them to have significantly higher rates. You are doing the same work, but getting paid more for it as the perceived value is much greater. Think about what solution based idea you could offer your customers.
Laugh and the Whole World Laughs with You. Or at you, if you are a clown or a politician. Or a clown politician. The point here is to not take yourself or your company so seriously all the time. Make things fun. Celebrate the big victories together with your staff. Have a Hawaiian shirt day in the middle of the frozen winter, just because. Have grill-outs at lunch on Fridays. Sponsor a costume party on Halloween. Have a shop chili cook-off contest and invite some customers to be the judges. Is your shop a place where your team loves to come to work because there is a bright, energetic and friendly atmosphere? That type of engagement will carry over to how your staff treats your customers. Warm, sincere smiles are the best decoration that your company can have. These translate well, even when speaking on the phone. Do everything you can to create this type of positive, happy workplace. That grumpy buzzkill employee that is constantly looked at sideways whenever something comes up? Invite that person to change their ways or suggest another line of work. You don’t need a boat anchor, you need another outboard engine.
Be Prepared. These days, most due to the instantaneous glory of the internet and addiction to drive-thru windows, people’s patience is at an all-time low. If you don’t have an answer a millisecond after something is asked you can be doomed. This is where shops that are organized and have thought through the most commonly asked questions will surge ahead in terms of customer service. Your job is to make others look like amateur hour chumps.
Design and print fully shop branded information pieces that you can hand over or send as a .pdf to anyone that asks a common question. Build your Customer Service Tool Kit. Being able to communicate effectively, accurately and ultra-timely will set you apart from your competition that fumbles around things like a bad Chevy Chase movie. What are your top ten or twenty things you’ve been asked? Write them up in a FAQ and post on your website. Have price lists ready. Use a shop software app, so you can quickly enter order information and get a quote or determine what day an order will be ready. At the very least always have a business card with you. The Boy Scouts have it right. Be Prepared.
Sincerely Curious. What’s the secret in making friends or meeting people? It’s always shutting up and getting the other person to talk about themselves. People love to tell you their story. Nothing is music to another person’s ears more than the sound of their own voice. They will happily tell you the backstory behind the project they are in your office quoting if you inquire. Don’t just take the order and give the price, get the in-depth history of what’s going on. Ask questions. Relate. For struggling shops out there that are facing the wave of orders migrating to big online webstores, this could be your number one defense. You are a person. That’s a big advantage over a cold, heartless webpage. Get out there and mingle and be sincerely curious about other people. You can’t just sit quietly in your office and wait for orders to stroll in. Those days are long gone. Be curious about everything and see what opportunities are out there.
Respect Their Time. People pay attention to time. That’s why we wear watches, have a clock as the leading header on our phones, and have one mounted on the dashboard of our cars. How does your shop manage time? Do orders ship on time, or are you constantly a day or two late? Are you driven to get things done early, or do you have to get an e-mail from your customer asking where their quote, art, or follow may be up before you are driven to action? If anyone reminds you to do something you are in trouble. It is a red flag, nuclear bomb alert, you better fire up the Batsignal, claxon warning, distress call for your company. Get on it.
Want to be a hero? Do things early. If you ask my son what’s my motto he will tell you “If you aren’t early, you are running late”. Promise something on Thursday? Send it off on Wednesday. Meeting starts at 11:00? Be there at 10:45. Time equals respect. When you do things early you are demonstrating that you respect someone enough to make sure it happens correctly. If you are the person that’s late for everything, you are constantly demonstrating to the world that you are self-centered and they don’t matter as much as you do. Eventually this is going to cost you. Also, don’t set your clock ahead by ten minutes or pad your ship date in the system as that never works. You’ll just mentally do the math and pretend you have a little more time. Instead, learn to manage things better by starting earlier. It is all discipline. You can do it if it matters to you enough. Plenty of other people have figured it out.
So how do you get to do things on time? Determine what’s needed and work backwards. Each step will take a finite amount of time to complete. Add those up, and that can tell you when you need to start. If you are unsure, just add a little bit more. After all, if you finish early you have achieved your goal which is to be early anyway.
Do the Job Right. This goes without saying, but how many shops put in the work to make sure they have the tools to bring about that success? Is your shop concerned about craftsmanship, or will just any ol’ thing be ok? You’ve been to the mall, right? If you are in the industry for more than a week, you can’t help but notice all the ridiculously bad printing and embroidery jobs that circle us, like vultures, anywhere we go. What shop sent those out? Somebody must have, because then we wouldn’t point and laugh so much. Want to keep your customers coming back? Don’t allow your competition to point at your work and chuckle. Take your time. Do it right.
Regardless of your skill level or size of your shop, you need to build your company culture around doing things correctly, and not being satisfied with mediocre. Pushing the limits is a good thing. If one of your managers or leaders ever says “We’ve always done it that way”, that should be code for I don’t care about my job enough to keep it. Top shops constantly search for a better, cheaper, faster way of doing anything and everything. You want your customer to hear angels singing when they open a box from you. How do you do that and still get it produced faster and with less labor? That work sets you apart from your competition.
All Employees Are In This Together – Do you have finger pointers in your shop? You know, something doesn’t go as planned (and was noticed at the mall) and the production guys blame the screen room, who then blames the art department. The art department blames customer service, who then blames the sales guy. If a problem occurs your clients aren’t blaming your printers, artists, customer service or your sales team…they are blaming your company as a whole. It’s a team effort to do it right, it’s a team effort when something goes wrong. Everyone gets to eat the crap sandwich.
Instead of blaming, try adopting the stance of paying it forward. All staff members have to be hyper-diligent about making sure every detail will go as planned. This takes a lot of training, discussions, procedures and most of all, effort. If someone notices something’s not right, they need to say something. You need a staff that tries to answer the next person’s questions before they are asked by providing more detail and information than required. Anticipate “what could go wrong with this”? Then work to make sure that scenario doesn’t play out in reality.
For example, let’s pretend you are decorating 100 hoodies on the back with a design. Do you leave it up to production to place the image? If they do it, maybe the hood will cover up the logo. Or maybe they decide to place it really far down on the back so the hood won’t cover up the logo. Which is correct?
Neither. The best choice is to have the sales or customer service team discuss placement with the customer beforehand, and then add those instructions to the order. Your art team can mock up the design, and the client can sign off on the placement before any inventory is produced. This way, you’ve anticipated a production challenge and gave your production team the customer approved answer before they could choose incorrectly. It’s like magic. This is how you avoid costly mistakes, and earn the reputation as a company that is detailed oriented and focused on quality.
Got a favorite tip that keeps your customers coming back for more? Feel brave enough to share it with the world? Leave a tip in the comments section! You know you want to!