People always ask me what my opinion of the best marketing tool is these days, since I am an "expert." Well, you may be surprised to hear my answer. I think what people really want to know is whether they should be investing in billboards, newspapers, websites, or social media, etc... My bottom line answer is, obviously online presence and mobile devices are beginning to be more widely used, however, I really don't think that these marketing mediums are what really grows a customer base over time. Isn't that ultimately the purpose of marketing, to grow your ideal customer base over time?
So, what does matter over time? Through the years, I've come to realize as both a manager of *Kohl's, one of the leading retail stores in America and as a "professional" consumer (lol), that CUSTOMER SERVICE is the best marketing tool a business can utilize.
At Kohl's, employees are actually reprimanded if they say "no" to a customer. At Kohl's, if the customer asks, they shall receive. They implement a no hassle return policy even if the product was obviously purchased at a competitors store, was used, was broken, or had no receipt. Whatever the case may be, Kohl's will give you in-store credit for your return. When I first began working at Kohl's I didn't understand how they would make profit, considering all of the losses they were experiencing due to returns. I also saw regular returners attempting to manipulate and abuse the system. However, as I simultaneously oversaw the returns in customer service, I also managed the cash flow at the end of the day. And over the three years, I worked there, their profit margin continued to increase, despite their losses. No doubt, they were doing it correctly. Their ideal customers, who shopped regularly and rarely returned items, were grateful that they were not asked questions when they did have to return merchandise. Their ideal customers appreciated knowing that they could purchase gifts for their family and friends without worrying about them returning their items, if they weren't perfect for any reason. I believe this is why people chose to go to Kohl's over all of the other stores they have to choose from. I consider myself to be an ideal Kohl's customer, I fit the profile perfectly. A middle aged, married woman, with kids, that has a shopping addiction (lol). And any time I know I need to purchase a major item, like a vacuum cleaner or appliance, I choose Kohl's because I know they will honor my return, despite the warranty limitations, if something is wrong with the merchandise. In my opinion, this is how Kohl's stands out. In business, as in life, you don't necessarily have to be way better than your competitors. To be the "winner" you just have to be a little bit better, just a little ahead of the curve. You can win the race by just going one second faster!
So, lessons #1 and #2 are be like Kohl's and define your values and non-negotiables and clearly define and understand your ideal customers. Kohl's is determined to make their customers happy. Customers should never be told "no". It is a non-negotiable for Kohl's. If an employee does something that makes a customer unhappy at Kohl's, they are counseled. Their customer service and training reflects these values. Turn to Kohl's.com now and you will see the word "yes" throughout. Kohl's is always tuned into the needs and desires of their ideal customer. Thus creating a Rewards Program, Kohl's Cash, Email, and texted coupons daily. They keep us on their mind, so that when we remember needing a gift for a book club meeting, birthday or team member, we go to Kohl's because the coupon is on the top of our message or email and because we get points and Kohl's cash for doing it! Brilliant!
I could go on and on about what and how Kohl's stays ahead, but I want to concentrate on an area I feel they didn't do quite as well. The majority of Kohl's employees are part-time. They hire people and do not guarantee them any hours or even a particular position. If the employee shows potential after having worked a few months, the managers will begin scheduling them regularly, however they are not obligated. My frustration as a manager, was that no one was very invested in their job. Employees rarely are trained fully or well. They are not passionate about helping Kohl's succeed. They rarely understand "why" they are expected to do things they way they are told. Lesson #3, hire a team that fully supports your business and you as a person.
I firmly believe that when a team member fully supports their business owner's dream and vision, as if it were their own, they will want to provide excellent customer service. They will also naturally promote your business. They will market your business because they believe so passionately in it and you. They will want you to succeed and therefore, the whole team will profit.
The moral of the story is threefold....know your values and your non-negotiables, know your ideal customer and spend time finding, hiring and training your best team. Teach your dream team to go to great lengths to provide AWESOME customer service that aligns with your values and non-negotiables. In the long run, your team and your customer service will be vital in determining how quickly your business succeeds and how long it will be around. The word will get around. This will become your "social" proof. People talk instantaneously these days. All they have to do is push a button. If they are happy, you have nothing to worry about and you should feel proud inside. If they are unhappy, LOOK OUT!!! In the olden days, unhappy customers would slowly expose your bad customer service to their friends over a phone call or during a social event. Now, they do it publicly on social media and it reaches thousands of people at a time. So, how you handle negative and positive situations will determine whether your customers chose to bash you on a Google+ or Facebook review, or to endorse you on LinkedIn. EVERYTHING you say and do matters!!
If you would like to schedule a no cost consultation session with me to discuss a marketing plan for your business, please email me at VZFullPotential@gmail.com or call/text 512-850-7787.
*Kohl's is ranked #47 in the 2014 Top 100 Largest US Retail Based Companies on World's Largest List (http://retailindustry.about.com/od/usretailcompaniesb/fl/2014-All-Worldrsquos-Largest-US-Retail-Chains-Biggest-American-Retailers_2.htm). Only Walmart, Target and Macy's rank higher on this list and are places I would normally shop for clothes, accessories and appliances.