A Bit of Goodwill for Everyone

August 21, 2013

Today I’m guest lecturing as part of a Retail Customer Service class at Goodwill.  I’d like to say I do it for purely altruistic reasons, but in fact, I enjoy the opportunity to tell job seekers all the things I could NEVER say if they were in my office interviewing for a job.  Every manager who has been responsible for hiring knows exactly what I mean and is right now emailing me “Tell them THIS!”

Some of you may have – or may even be – a recent grad looking for work. Have a student still in school?  Share this with them NOW so they can start thinking and planning for their job search.   Perhaps you have decided to make a career change yourself.  Here is SOME of what I will share with the newest participants in Goodwill‘s training program.

SeattlePremiumOutletTo start I will ask each person to name the store where they want to work.  This is step one to finding not just a JOB, but a job you will LOVE.   That sounds like it’s a job search tip rather than the opening for a class on Retail Customer Service but that’s because I approach Customer Service from a different perspective.  You see, I believe Customer Service is a reflection of how we FEEL – about ourselves,  the people we work with and the company where we work.  If you are excited to come to work because you love where you work, you naturally will deliver better customer service.

So “Anywhere.” is NEVER an acceptable answer to the question “Where would you most like to work?”  It’s okay to have a few at first, but , much like finding a mate – you can date several people but in the end, you marry ONE.  In this case, your “dating” is both on line, networking and in person.

Is there a branch of your chosen employer nearby?  You need to go visit.  Walk all the aisles.  Look at the merchandise they carry,StoreInterior the way it is displayed, announcements that are made while you’re “shopping”.  Can you see yourself working there?  Filling those shelves?  Making those announcements?  Do team members approach you and ask to help you?  Do they even greet you or make eye contact as they cross your path?  Did you ever see anyone on the sales floor?  How are they dressed?  Do they share any common characteristics?  This should be the first of MANY visits you make as you prepare to go to work for them – even if they don’t yet know it!

bordersSpend some time on line researching the company you selected.  News such as mergers, store closings, new locations being announced all will have an impact – positive or negative – on your career.  Set a Google Alert for your new company so you get links to news in your email.  Also sign up to receive the emails the company itself sends.  You can always unsubscribe later.



GJI had asked you to observe the existing employees in terms of dress, characteristics and approach while in the store.   “Characteristics” include facial hair, excessive piercing, gauged earrings, visible tattoos, unusual hair coloring (pink, green).  What do they wear?  Khaki pants or skirts and a red polo shirt (Target)?  Black collared shirts and tan pants(Game Crazy)?  All black with an accent color(Gene Juarez)?  Most retails chains have a dress code.  Sometimes it’s specific such as those mentioned – other times it’s just a “look”.  Observe;  Short or long sleeved tops, jeans or skirts/slacks, footwear – tennis shoes or dress shoes, accessories such as ties, earrings and jewelry.  The more you can look like you are already a member of the team – the closer you are to being one!

Once you’ve begun to model the appearance of your new team – start asking everyone you know if they know anyone who works there.  Get introduced and pick their brains about what it’s like to work there.  Be sure you already have adopted their “look” before you meet in person.  You want them to leave thinking “This person should work with us” so they will help by recommending you.

Yes, I know that much of that sounds like good job search advice but again – it’s important to LOVE where you work.  When you do, no one has to tell you to answer the phone promptly, speak warmly, make eye contact or treat customers well – it comes naturally!

Social Media Marketing

August 14, 2013

Everyone says “Use social media for marketing.”  Most business people ask “How?”.  Here’s a great “case study” to help you see both the power of social media marketing AND how to tap into it.

My friend, Anthony is known as “Sunshine” at the 6th & Union Starbucks in downtown Seattle where he is a regular.   He was delighted to stop in one morning in June and see he was the “customer of the week”.  He took a picture of the chalkboard and posted it on Facebook.

Sunshine Starbucks 2

Most recently, he posted a photo and a thank you shout out to Sarah at the same Starbucks for the custom drink carrier she had made for him.  Of course that was proudly shown around his office – the largest hotel in downtown Seattle!   No one at the Starbucks knew that though.  Nor did they know it would make the rounds on Facebook and be featured in my business blog.

Custom Drink Carrier

Did I mention that “Sunshine” has over 600 Facebook friends?  When you start doing the math exponentially of all the friends friends, well, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that some mega word-of-mouth advertising.

So how do YOU tap into this sort of social media promotion for your business?  First, you have to WOW the customer.   Making a personalized drink carrier certainly qualifies.  But so does giving recognition to regular customers in the form of the “Customer of the Week” chalkboard.  Such a tool encourages team members to get to know customers well enough to feature them.  Any time you can make a customer feel “special” they will tell their friends.  In today’s world, that usually includes social media.

I don’t expect that all my readers will be able to cut and paste this case study instantly into their businesses.  My goal in sharing it though is to get you thinking about ways you can WOW your customers and encourage natural social media sharing.  

New HaircutCan you take pictures of customers in their new cars,  post them on your dealership’s Facebook business page and send them the link to share?  What about in front of the new home you just sold them?  The garden you just planted at their home?  The new haircut you just gave them?

Are you getting some ideas?  Great!  Now get busy creating some buzz!

To Tell or Not to Tell

August 7, 2013

That is the question we are sometimes forced to answer.  It is not usually easy to speak up when you see something that is not right, but to remain silent is to condone bad behavior.  Accessory after the fact if you will.

On Friday I stopped in at a casino to kill some time while my husband shutterstock_45972664was playing golf with a friend at a nearby course.  It was late afternoon and a delivery driver for a major company came to play at the same blackjack table.  How did I know he was a delivery driver for this company? Simple, he was IN UNIFORM.  I checked my watch, perhaps he had just gotten off work.  No, he had his big mobile communication and delivery tablet with him on his belt.  I was pretty sure they left those at work when they turned in the truck at the end of their shift.  To blackjackremove all doubt, he got up from the table and checked it once.  He sat back down and said “I just got a call for a pick up.  I’m still on the clock.”  Yes, he was gambling in uniform while admittedly “on the clock”.

The entrepreneur in me just groaned.  A friend of mine just retired from an executive position with this same company.  I asked myself, “Would I want to know if this were one of my employees?”  When I answered “Yes” I began to discreetly gather more information about this wayward employee.  Armed with a description, date and time of incident, office he works out of and territory he covers, I was confident a manager would be able to determine who the person was even without a name.  And yes, I felt compelled to pass the information along to management even though it’s not my company, my coworker or my employee.

What would you have done?  I would hope you would have done the same.  Employees who abuse the trust of an employer in this manner don’t deserve a good paying job with benefits.  There are plenty of Americans out of work who would gladly deliver an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.   This is stealing as surely as if he were taking merchandise home with him rather than delivering it to the intended recipient.

Several friends work in hospitality.  They “mystery shop” – both positive and negative feedback to upper management when they visit sister properties.  Anyone who takes pride in their company should do the same.  It’s not tattling – it’s being a responsible adult and holding everyone to the high standards expected of all of us.

No, I don’t think you should run to your boss every time a team member takes a person phone call, is 10 minutes late to work or other minor issues.  Use good judgement. osha-employees-must-handsHowever, if there are items customers would (and do) notice or serious policy violations, you should say something.  When tables go uncleaned in a restaurant for over an hour, a food service worker doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom or someone pockets cash from the till – take a manager aside and have the courage to speak up.

If you get in trouble for your integrity – you work for the wrong company or at least the wrong manager!  Report the incident – and the reaction to being informed about the situation to top management or ownership on your way out the door!

When we are hired, an employer has placed the reputation of their business in our hands.  I for one, do not take that trust – or responsibility lightly.  I hope you won’t either.

Delivering Smiles

July 31, 2013

Consider this my open love letter to Amazon.com.

How did I ever live without you?  With a simple internet connection, you put the world at my fingertips.  My favorite brand of suntan lotion that I used the last of in Aruba was on my doorstep when we arrived home.  I don’t know a traditional retailer that carries it – or my pen/stylus “finger” I’m so attached to.  A couple of personal care items I used to drive all over town to find arrived yesterday.  Ditto for a cute pair of Kate Spade shoes (they own Zappos).

Anything I need, any time of the day or night, I can find and order there.  No more wasting time driving all over town.  Saving money on gas too.   With the mobile app I can order items on my shopping list while getting a pedicure.  Yes, I have done that!  As a Prime member, we get free 2 day shipping – what’s not to love?  Hassle-free returns too (in case the shoes don’t work with my outfit).

white-collar-posterAlso as a Prime Member, we can stream more free videos than we could ever possibly watch.  We got hooked on Downton Abbey and Sherlock for free using this service.  We weren’t even home.   We hooked the laptop to the TV and watched them while in Utah. We downloaded a season of White Collar to our new “anniversary tablet” and had our own in flight entertainment on the way home from Aruba.   This portability fits our lifestyle.

John uses the reviews to help him make purchasing decisions.  He goes immediately to the negative reviews to learn what others found lacking in a product to insure what he buys will meet his needs.

The option to create a “wish list” makes it easier to shop for those who have everything. Instant delivery of gift cards let’s us send timely gifts to family and friends.

As a former retailer, some may find my love of on line shopping to be sacrilegious. I still love to shop, but I look to retailers to introduce me to new things, to spark my creativity and imagination. I’ll buy the first 2 pairs of beach towel clips from the brick and mortar store where I first saw them but I’ll buy 2 more sets on Amazon where I can find the full line of patterns and colors.

Thank you Amazon.com for saving me time, gas and money.  For continuing to expand, adding more jobs to our market and for delivering smiles to our door, one box at a time!

Beach Bound

July 24, 2013

If you own your own business, do you know what it’s worth?  Who would buy it?  If you wanted to retire and travel, could you?  If not, what would you need to do to make that possible?

These are questions most small business people never ask, I know I certainly didn’t.  However my brother-in-law would routinely ask probing questions at holiday gatherings prompting me to consider these “succession” issues.  As the world welcomes the continuation of the monarchy in Great Britain, perhaps this is a good time to consider the future of your kingdom as well.

What, if anything, do you have to sell?  If you have been self-employed – providing a service to a list of clients, you may not have anything to sell.  Example:  a graphic artist, writer or editor who does free lance work may do very well for themselves but its not something you could sell to someone else.  A meeting with a financial planner would be a good idea so they can help you understand how to best prepare for retirement.  The earlier you have that meeting, the better!

What if you do have something to sell?  My friend had a sign company with expensive printing equipment, a building she owned, delivery van, employees and contracts with many major companies.  I had a chain of retail stores, delivery trucks, employees and significant brand awareness and market share.   Both were successfully sold within a year of each other. 

There’s no one perfect way to sell a business but there are likely things you can begin to do today to make your business more attractive to a prospective buyer. The Entrepreneur website has several good guides to help you get started.

Even if you don’t plan to sell anytime soon, the more you know the better you can plan.

Ask people who have sold a business how they knew it was time and how they went about it.  Did they bring in a partner who bought them out over several years or did they sell it outright?

Ask your attorney and outside accountant what you would need to do to make your business saleable.  They may know others who are willing to let you buy them coffee or lunch and pick their brains.

Find a trusted advisor who can answer questions and offer guidance and no, my brother-in-law is not available for hire.

In my case, I needed an in house CFO and audited financials for a period of time to attract the right buyer.  Done and done.  Now I’m in Aruba for 10 days with my hubby.


What can you do to get beach bound?  Something to think about.

The Keyboard is Mightier Than the Sword!

July 17, 2013

Dr.JulieToday’s guest post is by author and speaker, Dr. Julie Miller.  Learn more about Dr. Miller at the end of the post.

How many emails leave your employees’ mailboxes on a daily basis? The average per day stands at 71.51 (Source: yedda.com). Do the math. Multiply that number by the number of people you employ. The total should give you pause, as each email has the potential to build or to implode your business.

Now, no one is asking you to inspect each and every message leaving your employees’ inbox. Naturally, you expect everyone in your employ to use common sense and courtesy when communicating with the public, whether they are customers or colleagues. Or do they? Consider these real life stories.

Damaged: A Fortune 1000 company fatally damaged its relationship with a significant Japanese firm based on an email from the accounting department. In response to a query, the company’s account representative answered with a two-word lower case message. The result? The Asian company went elsewhere for its purchases. How many emails leave without your review?
Resolution: Do a communication audit. Just think—what if you really ticked off a client and he or she forwarded back to you all your sent emails? Take a random sampling of employees’ emails and see what it reveals. From there, begin a dialogue, offer training and develop some parameters around acceptable messaging.

Fired: “I am a very busy person. I’m just too slammed to follow any writing rules,” said the Human Resource director of an international consulting firm. She continued, “I just let it rip – no punctuation, spelling or capitalization – those rules are for amateurs.” The result? Fired. Why? Disrespect for her colleagues and a truculent attitude. Obviously, she does not play well with others. Can you just imagine how she treated the firm’s clients? How many emails leave without your review?

eMailResolution: Craft an email style guide as email now extends your company’s brand. First, facilitate a discussion among your teams about how they will treat clients and peers through the written word. Topics might include greetings and closings, signature block content, time allowed before returning email messages. Then, determine what the standards you can all agree to regarding writing style and tone. This guide will reflect your expectations around the care and treatment of all.

Sued: An employee sued her employer, a large national bank. Her suit was for sexual harassment, racism and damaged reputation. The back-story: An employee emailed her instead of a male colleague and invited her to attend a strip club with all the trimmings—graphically described in the email. The result? She was awarded one million dollars. How many emails leave without your review?

Resolution: Decide what will never be put in an email. Everyone in your organization must follow this to the letter. Some companies have been burned. A mid-West construction company of the very wealthy prohibits any customer problem from being sent via the airwaves. The rule? Walk down the hall. Pick up the phone. Do not put it in writing.

These stories should drive home the point that managing your risk is paramount. With email now the single most important communication vehicle today, you must mitigate the damage of destructive messages that destroy careers, opportunities and reputations.

Call centerA call center decided to do just that. They chose ten employees to monitor. Because their software program could actually see what they were doing and writing between calls—eight of the ten were fired. Why? For writing inappropriate emails, downloading porn and participating in online gambling. This occurred even though they had received warnings, possessed a HR notebook with the policies, and attended training.

An old saying goes like this: inspect what is expected. Do you know what your employees are writing? Do you know how much money you are losing each year by ineffective, inappropriate or illegal messages?

Follow these four steps for cleaning up your communication:

  1. Assess the current state of affairs in regards to writing.
  2. Audit selective missives to determine tone, style, content.
  3. Develop an action plan for improving the above through training and coaching.
  4. Publish a style guide along with an email protocol.

Writing remains the costliest of all workplace activities. What is it worth to you to get right?

About the Author

Dr. Julie Miller, founder of Business Writing That Counts!, is a national consultant and trainer who helps professionals reduce their writing time and produce powerful documents. She and her team of certified trainers work with executives who want to hone their writing skills and professionals who want to advance their careers.  Learn more about Dr. Julie Miller.

If Only I had Known

July 10, 2013

If you are in business, there is simply no excuse for not addressing negative comments posted on the internet regarding your products, services or company.  When I recently said this in a speech I was giving to a professional group it prompted the question:  “How are we supposed to know the negative feedback was posted?” and “Who has time to monitor all the possible sites where feedback can be posted?”

ImageBoth very good questions I answered there and am answering here for those who weren’t in the audience.  

There is a simple tool called a “Google Alert”.  When set, it will notify you in your email that the words you entered appear in a blog, article or feedback forum.  There is also a link so you can click right through to read the comment in full and reply as necessary.

First visit the Google Alerts Home Page.  Then in the “Search Query” field, enter your business name, your personal name, key products you sell – whatever you want to be notified of .  Next is “Result Type”.  Select “Everything” using the drop down menu.  Then “How Often” – Once a day is probably sufficient.  “How Many” is the next question.  I select “All results”.   Lastly, designate the email address you want the alerts to be sent to.  If it is a Gmail account, you won’t have to “verify” the address.  If it’s another address, look in your inbox to confirm your email address as valid.  You will need to set multiple alerts – one for each key word or name you want to monitor.


This is the same “home page” you would go to to adjust alerts, add a new one, delete one or change the settings.

In the beginning, I think the senior person should receive and monitor these alerts to get a sense of what is being said about your business on line.  Later, if there is a person you want to be tasked with replying on behalf of the company, you can put their email address on the alert.

Should you reply to all negative feedback?  YES!!!!  Even if all you say is “I’m sorry for your experience and we will strive to do better in the future.”  Negatives reviews left unanswered imply not only are you providing less than stellar service, but that you don’t care!  If you missed the recent guest blog I posted on this topic, you can read it here.

Beyond the name of my business,  why would I set an alert for anything else?  Your personal name should have an alert along with any key employees.  Products you sell or represent would also be useful.  Perhaps even a competitor…

If you are not a manager or business owner, you still should set an alert for your personal name.  If you are in sales, knowing what is being said on line about products you offer and even your competition, could prove advantageous.

You may also find that all that is posted is not negative!  You may find positive articles about your products, companies you represent or even your own company.  These gems can then be linked to your company’s website, Facebook business page or just used in conversation with customers and potential customers.

Word of mouth is still the single greatest form of advertising and on line reviews have become an extension of this valuable asset. With such an easy to use tool at your disposal – and a FREE one at that, there is simply NO REASON to NOT know what is being said about your business on line.     

Made in America

July 3, 2013

Tomorrow is the 4th of July.  I hope you will pause for a few momentsFireworks Seattle between the barbecue and the fireworks to reflect on how great it is to live in America.  Those who know me will tell you I am unabashedly a proud American.  There are countless reasons why this is true but none more significant than my own personal American success story.

Sunny Kobe CookNo where else in the world would my story have been possible.  A female high school graduate from a working class family in Kansas becomes successful entrepreneur and retires at age 42. 

Recently I saw the documentary Girl Rising with several women friends.  To see what girls in other parts of the world are subjected to just for seeking a basic education should make every American woman grateful.  We squander and ignore more opportunities than most women in the rest of the world will ever have.

The other part of my personal story that should inspire pride as we celebrate our Nation’s independence is my outcome is not unique.  Far from an anomaly, this country has success stories from sea to shining sea.

People sometimes ask when they hear me speak at a business eventSunny Kobe Cook “Aren’t you glad you aren’t in business today?”. The misconception is that the business climate is not as friendly today.  While that may be true by degrees, it is never easy to start, build and grow a successful business.  It is always risky.  It always requires innovation and more hours than you believed you could possibly work.

American FlagSo if you have a dream, get busy doing the work necessary to make it a reality.  You are blessed to live here, in the United States of America.  While far from perfect, there simply is not – and has not ever been – a land of such opportunity for all.  God bless America!

“Not Long Enough”

June 26, 2013

On a recent trip to Hawaii, we visited Kualoa Ranch.  The tour guide/vehicle driver for our “Jungle Expedition” was Brandon.  No, this isn’t a post intended for my Travel Queen blog, this is really for all my business readers.  I typically chat with the staff at most places we visit.  My most common questions are the two I asked Brandon which inspired this blog.

Sunny:  “So Brandon, how long have you lived in Oahu?”
Brandon:  “All my life.”
Sunny:  “How long have you worked here at Kualoa Ranch?”
Brandon:  “Not long enough.”

Wow.  If I asked that second question of YOUR staff, what would the answer be?  Sure, some people would say the length of time whether it was a few months or many years.   Often long term employees will state the years with a tone of appropriate pride.  Sometimes the answer – in words or tone – is simply, “Too long”.


Sure, you might think it’s easy to love a job that lets you drive around in a cool, rugged vehicle through the rugged terrain or past famous movie sites.  You might say “I’d love any job that let me live in Hawaii” but in truth, that’s just not the case.

Too many employees don’t love their jobs or don’t love the companies where they work. These apathetic workers – even worse, disgruntled workers – cost us business every day.  Even if they are never asked point blank as I asked Brandon, customers can tell when employees are unhappy or even just disengaged.

So how do you get more Brandons on your team?  Of course, it starts with hiring people who display a genuine enthusiasm for the work and your company.  Did the applicant do any homework on your business before applying for a position or are they doing the “shotgun application process”?  Ask why they want to work specifically for your company.  If they can’t give you a good, thoughtful answer, look for someone who can.

With your existing team, you can do a lot to build morale by providing frequent, appropriate recognition.  Giving team members an opportunity to contribute in terms of feedback will help foster a sense of ownership even among hourly workers.  Lastly, make a regular habit of saying out loud to your team when you have group meetings that well beyond the tasks each carries out, they serve a much greater role in the organization.  That is the role of “Good Will Ambassador” for your business both with customers and in the community at large.

When you hire someone, you have put the reputation of your business in their hands.  Make sure both you – and they – take that responsibility seriously.  In the case of Brandon and Kualoa Ranch – job well done on every front!

Help for Yelp

June 19, 2013

MatthewToday’s guest post is by Matthew Mikulsky.  He can be reached at chattercreative.com or on Facebook using this link.  Thanks Matt for your great advice on a very important topic for ALL business people!

YelpLogo1On online review forums like Yelp, one bad review can taint overwhelmingly positive customer feedback. So it’s important to learn what, if anything, can be done to manage your online reviews and build goodwill among current and prospective clients. Here are some tips:

Open an account.
Before you begin responding to customers, you must first open a Yelp account of your own. Yelp requires business account users to upload a photo before messaging customers to make the experience more personal. Fill in as much as you can about your business but take care to not use the forum as a way to promote special offers or improve your search engine ranking with key words. If Yelp comes across either of these no-nos, they will remove your listing.

A great way to showcase your company is to upload a short video about your business. Yelp frowns on any negative imagery, so keep it short, clever and family-friendly. Also-don’t use it to advertise an incentive or to solicit reviews.

Reply all.
It’s important for businesses to respond to each and every post-good and bad. No response means that no one is listening and that’s not the impression you want to give.

Inhale. Exhale. (Repeat as needed.) Reply.
Responding to a negative review can be tough. Take a deep breath and let the user know that you thank him or her for the feedback and will look into the matter. Asking for another chance never hurts. Responding publicly allows other users to see you care. If you believe the feedback is false, you can always contact the user in a private message first. But always remember to stay positive.

Reward good, not bad, behavior (or reviews).
Avoid rewarding those who write a bad review with a free giveaway; it may encourage others to give similar feedback in order to receive free mea-culpa offerings on their next visits. Rewarding great posts with a simple “thank you” is a better strategy. You want those loyal customers to keep coming back-and hopefully bring friends.

If it’s not legit, flag it.
Yelp will allow businesses to flag negative reviews if they don’t appear to be legitimate or if they don’t follow general rules of conduct-swearing and slander can both get a review removed, for example. Stating why you believe the review should be removed is very important. However, don’t flag every bad review. That will get your business flagged. Make sure you approach every situation with honesty.

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