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HARDBOUND

Booming businesses
Shut Up and Listen! offers practical, hard-earned wisdom for entrepreneurs ready to reach the next level of success

Think about that. As a business owner or entrepreneur, does it cost you anything to be courteous to each and every customer? Of course not! Being nice costs you nothing. But, by the same token, remember: it can cost you a hell of a lot to be rude.

Sometimes it's not the easiest thing in the world to be nice, no matter how much sense it may make from a business standpoint. Maybe your spouse or significant other said something that upset you right before you left for work. Maybe something else is going on in your life that makes it awfully difficult to be nice and cheery with each and every customer you deal with.

To which I have a simple answer: be plappy.

By that I mean “play happy." No matter how upset or worried you may be about other things in your life at the moment, do everything within your power to project a happy mood when you're on the job.

That's an ever-present rule of thumb at all of my businesses. When you step foot inside one of my businesses and you work for me, be plappy if you have to. One reason is that, as I said earlier, no one cares that your dog chewed up a $300 pair of shoes or that you have to meet with your kid's principal after work. That's reality.

The other reason that rule always stays in place in my businesses is that the customer experience is all that matters. We're in the hospitality business, so we have to be sure to be hospitable all the time.

And no matter the specifics of what you do, you're in the hospitality business as well.

Follow-through is another aspect of hospitality. For example, if you say you're going to deliver the product on the thirteenth at three o'clock, deliver it exactly at that time. Don't call minutes before it is due and say it's going to be three days later than you had planned. Even worse, don't call after the product was due to be delivered and say it's going to be even later. (Your customer already knows that, by the way.)

Just as important, don't offer up an excuse to explain the delay. Nobody cares that your driver's kid got sick and he had to pick him up early from school. Not to sound mean or heartless, but somebody who orders something from you doesn't care that your mother-in-law died.

I'm sorry your child got sick. My condolences for your mother-in-law's passing. But if I'm a customer who was told that a product I ordered would arrive on such and such a date and at such and such a time, all I'm focused on is the fact that something I was expecting-maybe something very important to me—isn't going to arrive as planned.

We all have kids who get sick. Relatives and loved ones pass away. Personal problems crop up daily. You know that, and so do I. But a promise to a customer should be treated as something that shouldn't be affected by the sorts of problems and unexpected events we all deal with constantly. Business would be a whole lot easier if life never got in the way, but it does.

There's a simple way to address this problem. Try building in a few what-ifs. When you make a promise to a customer, take into account that something may go wrong or get in the way of keeping your commitment. Assume a worst-case scenario. Tack on a few extra hours or even days to give yourself a little cushion.

One way I do this is by being very careful about how I schedule my time. I generally avoid making commitments too far in advance. For me, I never build a schedule that's longer than a couple of weeks or a month out. That way, if something comes up during that time frame, I've given myself enough time to find a work-around. You're focused
but also flexible.

That sets you up for a win-win. Either you deliver the product as planned or, even better, you call your customer and say the product came in earlier than expected.

If you offer a due date that the customer feels is too far away, now is the time to explain why it has to be that way. It's not an excuse; it's an explanation. And from the customer's standpoint, an explanation of why something is going to take as long as it will to arrive is easier to accept than some sort of excuse later regarding its slow delivery. When you make an excuse, you're basically asking a customer for forgiveness because you didn't deliver as promised.

The overall goal is to make certain a customer feels special. And a customer who feels special will bring you more business and tell all of her friends how much she loves your service.

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