More Gratitude Please (apparently this is the month for it)

With Thanksgiving in the U.S. coming up in a few weeks, everyone’s talking about gratitude this month. Welcome to the conversation Zen Rabbit’s been having all year. Ha Ha! I am reminded of a discussion I had with mentor Paul Martinelli several years ago. I was starting Zen Rabbit and while my business was all about saying thank you to customers, Paul didn’t think I was feeling enough gratitude myself. Kind of ironic, right? He suggested I read Chapter VII on Gratitude in Wallace D. Wattle’s classic 1910 book “The Science of Getting Rich” every day, morning and evening, for 30 days.

It’s not a long chapter, three pages in the printed version of the book I have. Here are a few choice lines:

“Many people who order their lives rightly in all other ways are kept in poverty by their lack of gratitude.”

“You cannot exercise much power without gratitude; for it is gratitude that keeps you connected to Power.”

“But the value of gratitude does not consist solely in getting you more blessings in the future. Without gratitude you cannot long keep from dissatisfied thought regarding things as they are.”

“Faith is born of gratitude. The grateful mind continually expects good things, and expectation becomes faith.”

In reading over it again now to write this article, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be beneficial to repeat that twice a day exercise again this month. Hmmm. Who wants to join me in this endeavor?

I also saw a link on Facebook today, via my friends Sherri Sokolowski and Debbie Phillips, to Carrie Saba’s blog post where she also proposes a gratitude challenge. I don’t know Carrie however I’m now grateful for finding her article. She’s sharing several fantastic ideas for focusing on gratitude, one of which is finding a gratitude buddy and emailing each other what you’re grateful for every day. Having trouble coming up with anything? She’s got some gratitude themes you can use as kindling.

Her post also brings to mind the project I mentioned back in 2010  after reading John Kralik’s book “365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life,” whereby I wrote one thank you note a day to someone who has impacted my life and done something for which I am thankful.

So here’s to improved efforts on recognizing all that you have to be grateful for. It starts with acknowledging privately to yourself and moves to outward expressions through thank you notes and gifts shared with those for whom you are thankful.

PS: If you’ve not read “The Science of Getting Rich,” I highly recommend you do. It’s in the public domain now, which means you can find it for free. An ebook version is available herehttp://tinyurl.com/a5pkpox . The Kindle version is only $.99 or you can find an inexpensive printed copy.

The Cyclical Nature of Life, the Economy & Customer Retention

As Election Day in the U.S. draws closer, I feel the need to address a perspective that I’ve not seen anywhere. People in this country, and indeed the world, have been conditioned to 1. Want everything to be “good” all the time and 2. Delivered quickly. Thanks a lot Apple and Amazon and Zappos. (Hey, I enjoy next day delivery as much as the next person, but not everything in life can be delivered that quickly!)

Unfortunately for those who expect that kind of life experience, frustration and disappointment are inevitable. Let’s take the economy. Yes, let’s delicately go there without getting into which party or candidate has the best plan. The expectation that the economy should always be growing, the stock market always going up and wealth always increasing is absurd.

OceanWavesOnBeachIn nature, everything is cyclical. Ocean waves come in AND go out. While breathing, you must inhale AND exhale. Trees grow leaves in the spring and shed them in the fall. These are not things that need thought or study, they just happen. This is how nature works. Everything is cyclical. Furthermore, everything has a gestation period. On average, human babies take nine months to develop before they are born. Carrots take approximately 12 weeks for full maturity. The Grand Canyon formed over a period of 18 million years. Development takes as long as it takes!

So it seems odd that everyone is freaking out about the down cycle of the economy, its length and severity. I am not insensitive to the people who’ve been affected; I get it, it’s very uncomfortable and a lot of people are in a lot of pain. What I’m saying though, is this experience is part of nature’s cyclical system. Humans have attempted to change and manipulate nature to better suit their needs for thousands of years. Sure, we can make vegetables and animals grow faster (hormone injected and genetically modified foods anyone?). It seems to work out much better when we work WITH the environment instead of fighting against.

Of course in many cases nature can be helped along by such things as pesticides, technology, the Federal Reserve System or such. Again, these aides (experiments?) work better when helping the organism or system do what it does naturally as opposed to working against the “evil” that threatens it.

Customer acquisition and retention are cyclical too. Clients will always be signing on for your service or leaving your practice. It’s part of the natural Cycle Imagecycle of business. Recognize and accept that and then take the measures that you can, use the tools available to you, to extend that cycle by saying thank you to clients for business.

Although it would never happen, what if a candidate came out and said, hey, this uncomfortable downturn we’ve been experiencing is natural. Life and the economy are not always going to be happy, pain-free and comfortable. Real growth and innovation are what happen when things are UNcomfortable. Some cycles in life take more than a few minutes or even a few years to turn around. Situations are not resolved as quickly as they are in a two-hour movie. Know for sure though that they absolutely WILL turn around. And they will, no matter who is in office because nature has laws that are not breakable.

I welcome your thoughts and commentary on this concept, but I absolutely will not tolerate any political rants or accusations.

The Anguish of Gift Giving (to family or customers)

Today is my husband’s birthday. Not only is it his birthday, it is the anniversary of our first date. Yes, I took him out for his birthday after he gave me some sad story at the gym that evening about how all his friends abandoned him because he wanted to work out first before going for dinner. On top of it, today marks our having been together for half of my life. Kind of weird.

Enough sappiness, onto my challenge. Am I the only one, or are there others out there, who have a hard time finding a good gift for the significant other? The thing is, if there’s something he wants, he pretty much goes and buys it himself. I hear my family thinks it’s hard to buy gifts for me too, although personally I think I am the easiest person in the world to buy for. And still we are committed to this practice of giving gifts.

He’s a runner, so for a while he got everything running related – shorts, socks, cold weather tights, etc. But there’s only so much gear you can fit in the dresser drawers. He’s always been an avid photographer, so for a long time I could always fall back on getting something photography related. Even then, purchases required explicit details on exactly which lens or filter or bag to order. But then he became a professional and any such purchases were no longer gifts, they were business expenses.

No worries. Who needs more stuff anyway? Experiences are better. I shelicopter rides as thank you to customers?pent time browsing sites like http://www.excitations.com for ideas. One year I wanted to give him a certificate for sailing lessons at a local marina. Nah, I don’t have time, he said. Another year some of my Twitter friends suggested a helicopter ride. How cool is that? Don’t you know I’ll get motion sickness, he admonished. I guess skydiving, where I get to push you out of the plane, ready or not, is out of the question too then. Arg!

This is the same kind of anguish many busy professionals go through in thinking about how to say thank you to clients. Finding customer gifts takes up too much mental energy and time, so it gets put on the back burner and rarely gets completed, which ends up costing them money in the long run. You don’t perform your own heart surgery or sew all your own clothes. Certainly allowing an expert to manage a client appreciation program is a better allocation of your resources than doing it yourself.  Ironically, it’s actually fun for me to find and send gestures of customer appreciation on behalf of my business clients. Maybe when you remove yourself from the thick of it, and take a step back, finding the right thing becomes easier.

PS: Any fantastic birthday gift suggestions welcome!

Properly Setting Customer Expectations

Last weekend I spent two and half days at Sandi Krakowski’s Social Media Smartphone GPS event at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort. I love hotel experiences because they offer so many opportunities to observe customer service practices. This one was no exception.

Upon arrival, the lobby smelled inviting and pretty. I know, those aren’t actual fragrances, but it’s the best way to describe it. It just smelled GOOD. Staff was friendly and accommodating at check-in. Since I was a speaker at the event, my room had been upgraded to Executive Level. These occurrences, along with the architecture, set my expectations fairly high and I looked forward to a great stay.

It’s interesting how just one or two employees can taint a guest’s, or client’s, overall experience. Boxes I had shipped ahead to the hotel were to be delivered to my room and when I inquired about them, I was assured they were in my room. But I’d just come from my room and unless they’d been stored under the bed, the boxes were not there. Oops, they’d put them in the wrong room. Mistakes happen. I get it. No worries.

Later I asked the concierge for a recommendation of an off-property place to eat. He insisted that the kind of place I was looking for was no less than 20 minutes away. But after getting our bearings (we’d both been to the area before, but not recently) my friend and I found several such places much closer. Seems like someone in that position should know the area better.

And now to the one experience that never ceases to amaze me. At hotels and conference centers that host events all the time, it astounds me that so many of them are so ill-prepared to efficiently serve the attendees lunch and/or dinner in their restaurants.  This hotel is not alone in its struggle to manage such a task. But when you have a facility regularly holding events that give attendees an hour for meals, one would expect you have the experience, staff and systems to handle it well.

In our particular case, we weren’t served any water or other beverages until we’d asked at least five times and were just about finished with our meals. I saw a manager and mentioned our frustration. To his credit, he comped lunch for everyone at my table, but giving away meals doesn’t make up for decent service.

I’m just finishing up the book “Setting the Table,” by restaurateur Danny Meyer. In it, he talks about all the components that must be in place to provide what he calls “enlightened hospitality.” The takeaway I’m getting is that it all comes down to people (employees), systems and your sense of purpose. The lessons are not just applicable to restaurants; they apply to every business. Look for my full review of this book within the next week or so. Right now, suffice it to say that you are in control of setting a customer’s expectations. Once you do that, you are then obligated to fulfill them or you risk losing that customer as well as any referrals that person may have sent your way.

Understandably, not all hotels can provide the level of service you find at a Ritz-Carlton. But I would argue that each does need to live up to the expectation it puts out there at the outset. In order to thrive, your business, regardless of industry, needs to do the same. Take an honest look at the experience you’re providing your clients to make sure it’s consistent with the bar you’ve set.

Saying Thank You to Customers in October

October is another great time to say thank you to customers. Unlike in December and even November, your clients are not inundated with cards, gift baskets and goodies this month. That means your kind gesture will make you look like a rock star stand out. And who doesn’t want that?!

There are plenty of special occasions to share your appreciation and show your thanks to customers this month. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. You could go with a dog-themed gift or make a donation to a local shelter. It’s Apple Month; send a jar of delicious, organic apple butter. It’s Eat Better, Eat Together Month, which means you could put together baskets of simple and healthy dinner ingredients, such as whole wheat pasta and sauce or wild rice and lentils. October is National Book Month, so buy a case of your favorite book and share it with everyone. It’s National Caramel and National Popcorn Poppin’ Month; you could easily tie those two together in a yummy snack. In honor of Pizza Month, send a pizza making kit. To make this one even more interactive, ask your clients to then send you pictures of their pizza creation, or post them on your Facebook page.

Also in October:
National Food Bank Week, 14-20. Create a promotion that encourages your clients to donate canned goods to their local food bank.

World Vegetarian Day – share a veggie or bean soup mix or recipe.

Balloons Around the World Day – how fun to have a bouquet of balloons delivered to special clients.

National Chess Day – share chess sets or the more edible chess cookies.

International Top Spinning Day – send out those old-fashioned wooden tops and I guarantee your recipients will play with them all week.

World Pasta Day – again with the pasta, choose a package of funky shapes for extra attention.

Plush Animal Day – find your favorite animal and send a few out with a note tied around its neck, or attached to its paw. Better yet, make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund and you can choose which animal you want to “adopt.” Then they’ll send one of those plush animals to you or your recipient.

National Candy Corn Day – no one eats this stuff any other time of the year. Fill up some decorative bags and send one to everyone.

And of course there’s Halloween at the end of the month, giving you a great opportunity to send caramel or candy apple kits or an assortment of your favorite candies. Non-food items like masks or witch fingers are fun too!

You’ve got no excuse not to implement one of these creative ideas for reaching out and strengthening those client relationships this month.

You can debate the statistic of whether the cost of acquiring a new customer is five, seven or nine times greater than the cost of keeping current ones. What’s not up for debate is the fact that it’s much more cost effective to keep the ones you have, which is why customer thank yous seem like a worthwhile investment to me.

Need help coming up with creative gift ideas to reward loyal customers? Reach me at lori @ zenrabbit.com and let’s brainstorm.

Perseverance and a Sense of Urgency

It’s another beautiful autumn day in the Washington, DC area – blue skies and crisp temperatures. As I thought about topics for today’s post, my mind returned to a day similar to this one back in 2006. I had recently been introduced to the person who would become my first contract baker, the first person to whom I would entrust with the job of producing The Gratitude Cookie for me.

At the time, I was living in south Florida and after exhausting options for finding a baker anywhere in that state, a mutual contact recommended I connect with Harvey Christie, legendarily known by all in Virginia and West Virginia as Chef Harv.

It was on a day like today that he met me at BWI airport and we headed to Baltimore to meet up with Irwin, a broker from whom I would end up buying the cookie machine that would automate the process of making the cookies. Chef Harv and I hit it off right away. I felt really comfortable working with him and optimistic about growth potential.

The cookie machine was manufactured in Germany, so we had to wait weeks for its delivery. Once it arrived, the die that shaped the cookies wasn’t exactly right. So we had to wait longer to have that corrected. I kept pushing Irwin to call the German company and get them to expedite matters; it was getting closer and closer to the busy holiday season. Irwin was an elderly gentleman and he basically suggested I chill out and not get so worked up about this, else I die young.

Chef Harv and the unexpected
I’ve always had a strong sense of urgency, so pushing Irwin to get that cookie die delivered didn’t seem out of character or particularly prescient. When it finally arrived, I went back up to West Virginia and Chef Harv, his crew and I figured out how to run this machine (it did not come with a detailed instruction manual).

We hadn’t actually signed a contract yet when he ran the first “real” batch of 5,000 cookies the week of Thanksgiving. (And thinking about this point now, I’m reminded of how I clearly did not learn my lesson on this topic, but that is another blog post.)

And then on the morning of December 1st, Chef Harv was killed in a car accident. It still brings tears to my eyes to think about how even though I’d known him only a few months, I felt that I’d lost an amazing friend. The fear over what would happen to my business came second.

To the credit of Chef Harv’s team, they pulled off the incredible feat of carrying on, fulfilling all of Zen Rabbit’s holiday orders that season. My clients had no idea what was going on behind the scenes as all their thank you and holiday gifts for customers were shipped and delivered on time.

Postscript
In the end, Chef Harv’s wife decided to continue the business and we did end up signing a contract. I’ve since moved on to a much better baking partner arrangement, however I’ll always be grateful for this overall experience because of the lessons it taught. For all the business owners reading this, keep on, keep the faith. At some point or another, we all face challenges that seem insurmountable. Prove to yourself and everyone that you DO want and deserve success. And eventually it starts to come to you.

Saying Thank You to Customers in September

September is a great time to say thank you to customers. Unlike in December and even November, you clients are not inundated with cards, gift baskets and goodies this month. That means your goodwill gesture will stand out, make a bigger impression and create more buzz.

There are plenty of special holidays or reasons to show appreciation and say thanks for business this month. September is Apple Month, Fall Hat Month, Honey Month, Self Improvement Month, Skin Care Awareness Month, Guide Dog Month, National Preparedness Month.

Teddy BearAlso in September:

  • Cheese Pizza Day – send a gift certificate for a local pizza place
  • Read a Book Day – share a copy of your favorite business or inspirational book
  • Teddy Bear Day – who doesn’t love a cute Teddy Bear?
  • Chocolate Milkshake Day – a gift card is probably the way to go here
  • Play Doh Day – send a mini jar of this childhood favorite. Who’s not going to play with it?!
  • Talk Like a Pirate Day – find a translation guide to send
  • Elephant Appreciation Day – write a note on a card with a picture of an elephant
  • Comic Book Day – get really creative and make your own
  • Pancake Day – pancake mix and a bottle of syrup
  • Chewing Gum Day – easy enough to mail or drop off a pack of gum
  • Most appropriately, September 27 is National Thank You Day.

Pick one of these fun holidays and use it as a reason to send your customers a note or gift. Remember, if you improve your customer retention rate by just 5%, you can expect to see an increase in profits of 25-100%. Seems like a worthwhile investment to me.

Need help coming up with creative gift ideas to reward loyal customers? Reach me at lori @ zenrabbit.com and let’s brainstorm.

Invitation to Connect & Building Strong Relationships

Yet again I have received a LinkedIn invitation to connect from someone who did not bother to include a personal note. Does this oversight drive you crazy or is it just my own personal issue? If the purpose of connecting on a social networking site is to build relationships (which it IS), then why on EARTH would you not do the most important thing for building relationships and TALK to the other person?!

Start a conversation. No matter if you think the person knows who you are, you need to include a short note with your connection request. “It was nice meeting you at the breakfast yesterday…” Everyone is busy and meets lots of people every day. Maybe you are so extraordinarily memorable or maybe you just think you are. Even if I’m sending a request to someone I’ve known for a while, I’ll send a note such as, “how are we not connected here after all these months of phone calls and collaboration…”

Don’t even get me started on the requests that come from random people you don’t recall ever meeting and who aren’t even in a common group with you. Why? Why do you want to connect with me? Tell me. Where are your manners, like shaking hands with someone you meet in person? You would never just walk up to someone, say nothing, hand him your business card and walk away. You don’t “win” by having the most connections if those relationships are meaningless or non-existent. No one needs a giant database full of names of people they don’t know and don’t have anything in common with unless they are up to no good, also known as spamming.

Being successful is about building strong relationships. Relationships require communication. Therefore it only makes sense to start or continue a conversation here. Do I really need to remind you what happens when you assume?

Yes, this note serves the purpose of jogging someone’s memory of how you know each other. It also acknowledges her as an individual. It shows you are reaching out to connect with someone personally, as opposed to giving her reason to think you’re simply sending mass emails to reach a goal of having 7,500 connections. The personal touch here is just as important as the concept of customer thank you notes or thank you gifts; it makes someone feel good about their relationship with you.

When someone feels good about his relationship with you, he’s far more likely to think of ways to help you, work with you or send you referrals. In my social media world, it’s about developing advocate relationships. If that’s not what you’re doing, please, don’t send me a request to connect.

Most People Don’t Matter

It’s a funny thing about people. They say they want x, y or z, but are completely unwilling to commit to getting it. You’ve heard the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Most people pay that lip service. They “believe” it, but when it comes down to brass tacks, it’s easier for them give up than to figure out the way, and so they do.

Seth Godin’s blog post today is titled “Most People.” Read it. Has this been your experience? Maybe it describes people you know. The part I take out of it and find relevant to what we’re doing here in regards to increasing customer retention and loyalty is that “most people aren’t going to buy what you’re selling” but that’s okay because your best customers are not “most people.”

Look around. Most people either do not care about customer service or don’t know how to deliver it – that much is quite evident in many customer experiences you’ll have this week. But the ones who do are the ones whose businesses are thriving, regardless of what’s happening in the economy.* They are not deterred by the idea that most people aren’t their customers. They are driven to find the ones who are and start conversations with them. Realize that it may take some persistence until those best customers recognize how you are not most people. Don’t be discouraged, like most people would be. YOU are okay with staying on track and weeding through most people to get to your best customers.

You are not doing what you’re doing for most people. Whatever your industry or profession, YOU are offering something very special and it’s only for your best customers. Understand your best customers are different from someone else’s best customers. This is why the idea of competition as a market force is on its way out.

Now once you connect with those best customers, it behooves you to continue treating them as valuable. Taking the actions necessary to make sure they know you appreciation their business is imperative. Consistently saying thank you to your loyal clients is an investment of resources most people won’t make. Good thing we’ve already established that you’re not most people.

*If you deliver fantastic customer service and your business is not thriving, it’s simply because not enough people in your target market know about you. That’s easily fixed through better marketing. Need help coming up with creative ideas for getting the attention of your ideal clients? Let’s set up a short, complimentary call to see if you can benefit from a full-out 2-hour strategy session.

Pop-By Gifts for Realtors & Other Business Professionals

While developing a special gratitude program to help real estate agents say thank you to their clients, I learned that the most successful agents use pop-by gifts to strengthen relationships. These are little “thinking of how much I appreciate you” or “reminding you I still exist” kinds of gifts, usually tied into the month or season. So for example, an ice cream scoopIce Cream Scoop, thermal bag for keeping foods cool or some sunscreen in the summer. Or a snow scraper, umbrella or a pair of gloves in the winter. The gifts are paired with a cute gift note that ties into the theme, such as “don’t get burned by working with someone who’s less than professional” to go with the sunscreen.

Such appealing reminders keep you top of mind and generate referral business. Realtors are certainly not the only professionals who need to consistently stay in touch with past and current clients. This pop-by gift idea is awesome for almost any business, including those in financial services, internet marketing, and sales training. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to implement regular appreciation marketing, nor do you need to drop off the gifts in person. And think about how much of an impact a small, unexpected thank you gift would have on a customer’s day.

It’s back to school season. Seeing all the sale flyers in the Sunday paper this weekend, one idea I came up with is to send mini dry-erase boards with the note “I appreciate working with you” written on it in dry erase crayon. Clients will get a kick out of the sentiment and creative delivery and then can reuse the board around their office.

You can tie your gift idea into a time or event in your industry, such as a tax file folder sent out in January from accounting professionals, or use a more general concept like sharing a box of note cards in November so your recipients will have them to use for holiday gift thank yous.

I love the creativity involved here and while coming up with memorable client gift ideas and messages is fun for me, not everyone has an easy time with this task. If it’s not easy or fun for you, don’t do it! Get in touch with me and let’s put together a customized done-for-you program. Saying thank you and consistently staying in touch with your customers is imperative to your success. Why are you waiting?