Finding yes and earning a Sixth Star

  • By Doug Fleener
  • 16 Feb, 2016
Sixth Star Yes No

One night at a client dinner I asked the waiter if the restaurant carried Pellegrino sparkling water. Much to my surprise he said simply, "No." I said that any brand of sparkling water would do. To which I got another flat “No.” (Not a sparkling no, either.)

 A few minutes he came back and told me that they did carry club soda. Okay, now we were getting somewhere, since even though sparking water and club soda is not the same thing, most people will substitute one for the other.

(In case you’re wondering what the difference is, club soda contains additives such as table salt, sodium bicarbonate, or potassium bicarbonate to add a slightly salty flavor. But I digress.)

Are you wondering why he didn't offer club soda from the beginning? I did, until I realized I knew the answer.

He was answering a question instead of focused on exceeding my expectations. Or what we call earning a customer’s Sixth Star.

I see the same thing take place in stores, too.

Just the other day I saw a customer come in and ask for a particular brand. The store employee said they didn't carry it. The customer thanked the associate and walked out.

The employee answered the question, but she missed a chance to meet or exceed the customer’s expectations resulting in a sale. Instead some other company met or exceeded the customer’s expectations and got the sale. 

Little kids aren't the only ones that dislike the word no. We all like yes a lot more!

Instead of simply saying no, try to gather more information so you can offer an alternative that meets or exceeds a customer's expectations.

For example, my waiter could have found out what other non-alcoholic drink I enjoy with dinner. Or he could have said, "I'm sorry, we don't have Pellegrino but I can offer you club soda."

The store associate could have taken a moment to find out exactly why the shopper was looking for that particular brand. She may have been able to offer an alternative. It may or may not have resulted in a sale, but you never have a chance to make a sale when the answer is no.

So let me ask, do you gather additional information before you say no to a customer’s question? There’s a good chance you have an alternative that meets – and perhaps exceeds – the customer’s expectations earning the customer’s Sixth Star. That, in turn, becomes a customer’s yes. A word we all love to hear!  

Doug Fleener's The Experience Difference Blog

By Doug Fleener 09 Apr, 2017

As a leader, one of your most important jobs is to develop your managers. Most of us are pretty good at doing that with newly promoted person, but we often slow down or stop developing them once they attain a certain amount of experience and competency.

Here are three ways you may or may not have put into action with your more seasoned management team.

1. Delegate improving a particular metric or category sales over a 60-90 day period. This could be a particular category or brand, increasing ADS or conversion/transactions, or any other area of performance that can be improved.

This is not about being in charge of a department. This is taking full responsibility for analyzing current performance and approach, coming up with a plan to improve, and following through and working the plan. Taking something like this on for two or three months is an incredible opportunity for your assistant to develop, and for you to coach her.

2. The phantom sabbatical. What would happen if today you decided to take a six-month sabbatical? (Besides buying that new bathing suit and/or golf clubs you'd want to take with you!) Would your leadership team be ready to step in and run the store? Would they know how to do everything?

Usually when I ask that I question the response is something like, "Yes, for the most part, but I would need to show or teach this or that." Bingo! What is your leadership team's this or that? That's a great area to focus development.

3. Coaching the coach in person. It is important to give your managers feedback on how well they coach the staff, and the only way to do this effectively is to observe them while they're coaching. 

At least once a month, if not more, tell the staff that one of your managers is in charge for the day. They should see you as just another associate. Observe the manager and give her/him feedback at a couple points during the day. Don't wait until the end of the day, or the person will miss the opportunity to immediately apply the feedback.

Other coaching the coach opportunities include having managers lead staff meetings, join in on Take Fives, and even have them lead one-on-one discussions with associates.

So let me ask, how consistently are you developing your seasoned managers? Which of these tips might you apply, or is there something else you’ve been considering that you could move forward with?

By Doug Fleener 09 Apr, 2017

When talking with employees, especially when giving them feedback, the words we use can put them on their heels or on their toes.

Sometimes managers unintentionally choose words that put their employees on the defensive, or what I call on their heels. This is usually the result of starting feedback with what is perceived by the employee as an accusatory statement.

"Why didn't you bother to tell that customer about the GWP?"

"I don't think you care about your sales results."

"How come you didn’t offer the customer desert?"

"You had plenty of time to get that order out."

Anytime a person is back on their heels they're less likely to hear the message and apply the feedback. They’re going to spend all of their energy defending themselves.

The goal is to choose words that inspire people to listen, or put them on their toes leaning in, if you will.

" I have a few ideas of ways you can engage your customers with the GWP."

"I see your sales been lagging over the past few days. Let's sit down and discuss it."

"I noticed that you didn’t offer that last table desert. Here’s why it is so important that every customer gets to experience our delicious deserts.”

"Before you go, let's spend two minutes and talk about how your day went."

It's clear which statements the employee is more likely to listen to and apply the feedback.

The same holds true with customers. The words we choose either put them on their heels or toes.

"Do you have any questions?" and "How may I help you?" can put some customers on their heels.

"Let me show you..." and "Welcome. Let me tell you about...." will put more customers on their toes.

I encourage you to listen carefully to the words you use with your staff and customers, and determine if it is putting them on their heels or on their toes.

So let me ask, are you more likely to put someone on their heels or their toes?

By Doug Fleener 21 Mar, 2017

One day I was catching up with two friends over coffee when the conversation turned to how bad the traffic had been recently.

One friend told us how it was killing his productivity. He's an outside rep and the traffic kept him from seeing all of the accounts he planned to see.

The other friend is also a rep, but in a different field. The traffic also kept him from seeing all of his clients, but in the end he had a terrific sales week.

He had decided that he would use the time sitting in traffic to phone accounts he doesn't normally get to call on. As a result, he picked up a couple of additional orders he wouldn't have gotten without sitting in traffic.

Two people. Same traffic. Different results.

One person had better results because he had a different perspective. Instead of seeing the traffic only as an impediment, he took advantage of the challenge.

Here are three traffic perspectives store leaders will do well to remember.

1. Maximize every customer opportunity. I once had a store outside of Chicago that had to deal with terrible traffic but still produced amazing results. Their center simply didn't attract much attention, so the store leadership and staff quickly learned that every customer mattered. You don't have to be a slow store to apply that lesson.

2. No labeling customers. One word I never allowed my staff to use was "looker." The minute we label a customer a looker, we're really saying they aren't going to buy anything. It's funny how that is proven over and over.

One manager who recently took my coaching class had her staff stop using the word. Guess what? Yep, conversion went up. Our perspective has a huge impact on our results.

3. Own it. If you’ve heard me speak you’ve heard me say that when you own something, you have the power to change it. One of my coffee friends owned the bad traffic last week. He didn't sit in his car and fume or complain. He took action. 

Traffic is a real challenge for most stores. No way to sugarcoat it. At the same time we have no alternative but to own it. We have to take responsibility for driving existing clients and new customers into the store.

Make sure the entire staff is using downtime to reach out to customers. Plan small events. Set appointments for your top customers to come in and see the newest products. Refuse to let lack of traffic keep you from obtaining your goals. Own it!

Got too much traffic? First, thank your lucky stars. Then, have the staff practice working with multiple customers and group selling. Whatever your traffic... own it!

So let me ask, how is your traffic perspective?

How to use this article

Discuss your leadership group's traffic perspective with your managers. Which perspectives could benefit from a change?  Identify three actions they’ll take to get an even better perspective.

By Doug Fleener 09 Mar, 2017

  I used to assume that if someone was struggling to do something, it was because they needed more training. Sometimes that was the case, but sometimes what she/he really needed was to successfully apply the skills and knowledge the person had already learned. 

How do you know the difference? Here’s a simple but effective way to look at it.

1. People first need to know WHY we do, or need to know, something. If people don't know why you're asking them to do it, they rarely do it. Or at the least they're much less likely to do it especially well.

Why should I learn three things about my customer?

Why should I show an additional item without asking? I

It is also important that your team know if these actions are required or optional. 

2. Next, each person needs to learn HOW and/or WHAT.

How do I engage customers in a conversation to ask questions in an authentic way?

How do I show an additional item without being perceived as pushy?

How is this product made?

What makes these products unique and different?

Never assume your staff know the HOW or WHAT. You’d be surprised how often leaders assume the staff knows this but they don’t. They know it’s supposed to be done, but nobody has worked closely with them to learn and practice the skill.

3. Now, people need to DO it. If something is an expectation of the position, people need to meet that expectation. This is where the biggest breakdown happens.

People don't do what's expected of them and the manager/owner assumes the person can't do it and needs more training.

In fact, most often the person doesn't need more training. What he/she needs is observation and coaching so they can do whatever it is they need to do, and do it well. 

After that, they need to do it or be held accountable for drifting from it. That’s why accountability is such a key element to leading and coaching a team.

If your staff is struggling in a particular area, walk though these three steps.

1. Do they know WHY?  

2. Do they how know HOW or WHAT?

3. Are you requiring them to DO it, and to keep doing it?

So let me ask, does your staff need more training, coaching and accountability, or a combination of them?

How to use this article

Think about two particular service/selling actions you'd like to see your staff do better. Then apply the three questions. This will help you determine if they need additional training, or you need to be working with them to do it.

By Doug Fleener 03 Mar, 2017

I like to think that as leaders we only have one priority: Our customers, and their service and purchase experience. Everything else we do supports that priority.

Some of what we do to support that priority is more important than other parts of our job. First, being an OutFront frontline leader. Making sure the customer priority stays the priority.

Second, coaching and developing the staff to deliver the best possible service and sales experience. The more we help our employees be even better, the better the customer’s experience. Perfect since that’s our priority!

Here are three leadership tips/reminders to help you accomplish this goal.

1. See YOUR day as a series of choices. As a young manager I often felt like my day ran me, as though I had no control over what was going on. At the end of the day I was exhausted and had accomplished hardly anything I planned to do.

Nothing changed until I realized that I always had a choice about what I did. I could delegate. I could put something off. I could knock something off my list quickly. Most important, I learned to challenge myself by asking, "Is this the best use of my time at this moment?"

When a leader has a choice, they’re able to keep the customer and his/her experience as the priority.

2. See your actions as words. It was Gandhi who said that action expresses priorities. Your staff won't always follow what you say, but they'll do what you do. Your actions tell your staff what is most important each and every day.

It's not the memo. It's not the training video. It's what you, as a leader, do day in and day out that communicates what's important. Many leaders do not communicate a customer priority in what they’re doing. 

Of course you have many other things to get done in addition to working with customers. Leadership is choosing the right time to do them. Frequently reminding your staff to interrupt you when they get busy.

Making sure your staff knows that customers come before any other tasks and activities you've asked them to do.

3. Make time every day to coach and lead on the floor. Again, when we develop our people, we improve the experience. Following through on our priority.

Most people work from a to-do list. I believe leaders should start that list by blocking out the time they're going to be coaching and leading their team. Everything else works around that. This isn't when you're "working the floor" or “hanging out in a cube” but when you're coaching and leading. There's a big difference.   

So let me ask, how well are you leading a customer priority?

How to use this article

Discuss with your leadership team how well they communicate and act a customer priority, and in which of these areas they can improve. Take a moment also to brainstorm two or three more things they might do to improve their prioritization.

By Doug Fleener 03 Mar, 2017

Staff enthusiasm is a key element of a great customer experience. Enthusiasm creates a more energetic, engaging location, and thus more interest and excitement for the customer. That leads to higher sales, and customer loyalty and pro-active advocacy.

A colleague of mine once said that enthusiasm can make a bologna sandwich seem like filet mignon. That may be a bit of a stretch, but enthusiasm will definitely make one store's bologna sandwich more appealing than another's.

Enthusiasm doesn't just happen. It is the result of leadership. Charles Schwab, the well-known businessman, once said that his ability to arouse enthusiasm was his greatest asset.

Here are three ways to create an even more enthusiastic staff and customer experience:

1. Demonstrate your appreciation. People are more enthusiastic about their work and their customers when they feel appreciated by their employer. As a leader, you need to make sure you're truly demonstrating your appreciation, not just thinking it.

Challenge yourself to do one or more things each day to demonstrate your appreciation. Consider writing them down at the end of day for an entire month. You might be pleasantly surprised how much you do, or you might learn you’re thinking it more than showing it.

2. Purposeful cheering. Encouraging your team is important to developing enthusiasm. Focusing your encouragement makes sure your team is enthusiastic about what matters to customers, and helps create the desired results. You can never go wrong when you cheer an employee's actions as they relate to the customer's experience.

3. Keep the employee experience fresh. Imagine if every time a customer came into the store nothing had changed from the previous visit. Same products. Same offers. Same everything. It wouldn't be long before that customer got bored and started doing business elsewhere.

The same thing can happen to your staff. Sure, products and offers change, but what is new and different for the people? Do you create new and exciting ways to grow and develop? Do you change up your Take Fives (staff huddles) and meetings to make them fun and different? (Or worse, have you drifted away from doing them?)

Norman Vincent Peale said, "There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment." Ultimately, a staff's enthusiasm level and accomplishments are a measurement of the leadership team's effectiveness.

So let me ask, how would you score yours?

How to use this article

Discuss with your management how the enthusiasm level is in your company/location. What do you see and hear associates do that demonstrates their enthusiasm? Where do you see opportunities for them to be even more enthusiastic?

By Doug Fleener 18 Feb, 2017

When most managers think they are coaching in the moment, they are really doing one of three things with an employee.

Yelling - Okay, most leaders aren't usually yellers (at least I hope not), but the leader's focus on what the employee did wrong is often interpreted as being yelled at.

Telling - Telling is much better than yelling. In this approach, the leader tells the employee why he/she is being coached. 

Teaching - Teaching is far superior to telling. When leaders teach, they take time to connect someone's behaviors and actions to customers, colleagues, and results. Teaching drives behavior changing much faster.

Here's an example

While working the floor with Courtney, you observe that she was so focused on putting out an order out she didn't notice a customer walking into the store.

Here are three ways you can address it:

Yell - "Courtney, you missed greeting that customer who came in." Remember, it is often a perceived yell whether you raise your voice or not.

Tell - "Courtney, I saw you miss greeting that customer. You’re expected to welcome every customer within five seconds."

Teach - "Courtney, I noticed you were so busy with the order that you missed welcoming the customer. It's important that we welcome within five seconds so our customers see that they are our priority. They also know we know they're here, and that we're ready to assist them."

Yes, teaching takes more time than telling and yelling. Imagine, though, what Courtney may think or say after each approach:

Yell: "Okay okay. I was just trying hard to get the order out as soon as possible like you asked."

Tell: "I know. She slipped in so quietly."

Teaching: "That makes sense. I'll try to be more aware."

It's obvious which approach is going to have the most impact.

Successful coaching recognizes what the employee is doing well so they continue to do so, and teaches what they can do to be even better. Something we emphasis and practice in my EveryDay Coaching and Leadership class.

So let me ask, are you more likely to yell, tell, or teach your staff?


How to use this article

Talk with your management team about the three different approaches, and what each person can do to increase the amount of teaching they do with the staff.

By Doug Fleener 08 Feb, 2017

If you want to make a great big leap forward in your business, you have to make a great big leap forward in what you believe you and your team can accomplish. You must believe there's more opportunity and growth out there just waiting to be tapped.

Think of it like taking a high performance car for a test drive. You're flying down the highway very, very fast. Faster than you've ever gone before. The car salesman tells you you're only going half as fast as the car can go. You push down on the accelerator, the car leaps forward, and you speed off down the highway.

What if you and your team are like that high performance car? What if you can push the accelerator down and speed towards your goals faster? I believe you can!

Here are three ways to find and make a huge leap forward in your business.

1. Constantly champion, "We can. Let's figure out how." Some of the most successful leaders I see live the saying, "Where there is a will, there is a way." The way may not be easy, and it may not always be easily defined, but the way is there as long as you own the obstacles and results.

When you believe and champion that you and your team can do just about anything you set out to do, it's amazing what can be accomplished. It requires the right attitude, drive, and focus on figuring out how. We achieve what we believe.

2. Identify and address any governor . A governor is a device used to regulate speed. They are sometimes used in high performance cars to keep the speed down. 

In most stores and service teams, a governor is someone or something that drags down the overall performance of the team. This can be someone whose attitude is negatively impacting the team, or whose performance is pulling down the group's overall results. I estimate that probably half of the leaders I talk with struggle with some sort of governor. Most of the time, they're looking for an easier fix than addressing the governor. 

3. Expect a giant leap forward from yourself. Change and growth starts with you. Identify three things you believe hold you back. Choose one of them to work on, and resolve to make a great big leap forward by March 1 at the latest. Remember, you can. Just figure out how.

Into action: Even though Leap Day only comes around once every four years, any day can be the day you lead your team in a great big leap forward. What better day than today? 

So let me ask, what is your huge performance leap forward?

By Doug Fleener 08 Feb, 2017

Not long ago I had a conversation with a manager who is struggling in his job. The company is unhappy with both his performance and his attitude.

During our discussion I could see there were three key issues creating the performance gap between where he currently was, and where the company wanted him to be.

1. Lack of clarity on HOW to close the gap. This is common; I see all too often. A manager will sit down and tell someone where he/she is falling short, and where he or she needs to be to close the gap. What's often lacking is any idea of how to get from the current place to the goal.

Most managers aren't even aware of this. They assume the employee knows how to get where he/she needs to be, or that they covered it in the meeting. You might ask why the employee doesn't tell the manager they don't know how to do what they're being asked. Well, often they too assume they know how, or they don't want to show any weakness when they're already struggling.

Here's a simple test. Your employee should be able to tell you exactly what he/she is going to start doing, or stop doing, or do differently, and it is something you should be able to see or hear them do. That last part is critical.

2. Lack of a specific plan to close the gap . It makes no difference if you're trying to help an employee grow her average sale by $4, or she is on final probation. As a leader, your role is to partner with your employee in creating a specific plan to close the gap.

It should not only include the "how", but also specific day/dates of when you or another resource will be assisting them. If can be something as simple as: We'll meet every Tuesday morning for four weeks to practice and roleplay.  

3. A poor attitude is usually born out of frustration. Most employees want to do a good job. They get frustrated when there is a performance gap, and as a result they get a "bad attitude."

More often than not, if you focus on the first two factors you'll almost always take care of the attitude. If not, you can address that after the person is demonstrating the required behaviors and actions.

As a leader, your role is to help every employee deliver the best performance possible. That often includes helping someone close a performance gap. 

So let me ask, who on your staff might need some help closing his/her performance gap?

How to use this article

As a group, discuss what you might do differently to do a better job of leading and coaching your staff through current or future gaps.  

By Doug Fleener 27 Jan, 2017

A good friend of mine is a super smart guy. He's a walking and talking encyclopedia, but many people never guessed he's so smart.

You see, he had this habit of saying "umm" or "uhh" when he spoke. So much so that he came across as being very insecure in his thinking. He was unaware of this habit until I pointed it out to him, and the impact it had on how people perceived him.

In addition to "umm" and "uhh" there are two other words I hear people use with customers that negatively impact sales and the customer's service experience

"Can I ...." Two seemingly innocent words, but when you start a question with "Can I" you're starting by asking permission. And chances are, whatever you're asking permission for is something you should be doing for your customer without asking.

"Can I get the door for you?"

"Can I show you something else?"

"Can I get you something to drink?"

"Can I carry that to your car?"

Let's turn those requests for permission into statements, just by replacing "Can I" with "Let me."

"Let me get the door for you."

"Let me show you...."

"Let me get you something to drink."

"Let me carry that to your car."

The customer can always decline your offer, but most of the time he/she will be delighted that you're proactively offering your help.

By the way, my friend was able to break the "umm" and "uhh" habit by asking his friends and colleagues to point out whenever he did it. The change didn't happen right away, but with the help of others he no longer does it. I'm excited, because now everyone else gets to experience the guy I know.

So let me ask, is asking “Can I” getting in the way of you delivering an even better customer experience?

How to use this article

As a group, listen to what each of you say to your customers, and point out afterwards if the person used "Can I" when "Let me" would have resulted in a better service experience.

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