Earning Trust

A lot of companies focus tremendous effort in finding and developing new customers.  You may use a lot of tools, advertising and various schemes to bring them into the fold, and start nurturing a relationship.  However, is that same energy and critical thinking being spend on your existing customers?  When someone does business with you do you make it easy for them, or are there a series of roadblocks that they have to navigate before they hand you their money?  Do they absolutely, with-a-doubt know that you value their business, and would like to ensure that they come back again?

In the past week, I had two experiences with my customers that boiled down to just one simple statement that I said during the conversation – “We aren’t selling t-shirt printing, we are selling trust”  Our customers trust us to get their job handled perfectly, on time, without an issue…every time.  It doesn’t matter if we ship a million orders, if just one goes wrong – that one order is all they are going to remember, as it is crucial to them.

Think about all the energy that you spend every day to ensure that each and every order is handled correctly.  Is it enough?  Do you feel that your customers trust you?  Are you in constant fear that they will go somewhere else for a nickel cheaper price?  Are you adding more value to the relationship than ever before?  Below are some ideas that may help you build better trust with your existing clients.

  1. Spend time with them.  A long time ago I heard the phrase, “People do business with their friends, not their enemies”, and that’s stuck with me all these years.  It’s crucial that you get out from behind your desk and get some face time with your customers.  Sit down and casually chat.  Let them see you and understand you.  It doesn’t have to be about business.  Instead of shipping their next order, personally deliver it.
  2. Be honest.  If you make a mistake, own up to it.  Resolve the problem quickly, eat the cost.  Don’t weasel out of it or try to blame them.
  3. Add value to the relationship.  Introduce them to new potential clients for them.  Share new ideas, books or articles.  Help them with their challenges.  Educate them on new techniques, different things to sell, or industry tricks that can benefit them somewhere down the road.
  4. Make it easy for them to do business with you.  Is your ordering process cumbersome?  Do you require a lot of sign offs and proofing?  Those are certainly necessary as part of the workflow, but is it difficult for your client to handle these?  Are they formatted correctly for your client to even open them?  Is there technology, software or something you could do to make this process simpler?
  5. Do what you say you are going to do.  Keep your promises.  If the order is supposed to ship on the 15th, make sure it does.  Better yet, have it ready to go on the 14th.  Now, multiply that by all the orders in your queue – can you repeat that forever without failing?  If not, what are you going to do about it?  If you don’t have an accurate production schedule, maybe this article will help you: http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/How-to-Build-an-Accu-1469.shtml
  6. Be realistic and know your capabilities.  Under promise and over deliver often fails, as it sets you up to project weak promises to your client to begin with.  Better, be realistic with what you are agreeing to and if you can handle it better or earlier then that’s a big bonus.  Exceeding customer expectations is fantastic, but to get a chance to over deliver you must first excite the customer with your original promise.
  7. Do it better than your competition.  Everyone can print a t-shirt or embroider a polo.  What sets you apart from them?  Chances are your competition is using similar equipment and techniques.  How is your customer service?  Your art department?  Your overall craftsmanship?  Look at your business from the outside in – what do you see?  Where are you weak?  What are you going to do about it?
  8. Listen.  Your customers talk to you all the time.  What are they saying?  What are their needs?  Seek them out on social media – what are they discussing there?  Don’t just cram your agenda or monthly super sale down their throat – maybe that’s not something they are interested in, but are ready to buy something else.
  9. Be Yourself.  Nobody likes a fake.  People admire and cling to sincerity.  Project yourself into the conversation and don’t be afraid to show yourself.  On the company front, does your firm have a company culture?  Does everyone from customer service to the shipping department interact with customers the same way?  There isn’t anything worse than to spend a lot of money marketing your company, and then at the point of customer interaction your employees fail you.  Check out this article I wrote about that – http://atkinsontshirt.blog/2013/02/02/why-customer-service-needs-to-have-a-big-dose-of-empathy/
  10. Empathize with others.  Show genuine concern and understanding of the situation.  If your client hands you something they honestly need help with – try your best to solve the problem for them.  They are coming to you for a reason.  Empathize and understand their situation, listen and comprehend what they need…and then go out and hit a home run for them.

Earning trust is usually as simple as being yourself, being honest and doing what you say you are going to do.  Extend that to your company, and that’s how you build your business.  I’d love to hear some examples of how you build trust, or how companies that you deal with have built trust with you.  Feel free to e-mail me at matkinson4804@gmail.com

Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys

There’s one thing for certain in life or business, and that’s there are only so many hours in a day.  Many forces work against us constantly, tugging at our shirt sleeves for attention and time.  I’m often asked how I manage to get so much accomplished in one day.  It’s simple really; use the motto “Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys”.  Here’s what I mean:

Eagles are your top priorities that HAVE TO get accomplished today.  No matter what.  An order has to ship; you have to call a client, send a quote, attend a meeting, write a brief, and hire a staff member, whatever.  You are dead if you don’t do it.  These are your strategic top priorities for the day.

Turkeys are time sinks.  They suck the life out of you by draining one of your most important assets…time.  Maybe you have to sort through ten pages of SKU’s, print a report, or enter pages of hand-written inventory numbers.  These may be somewhat important tasks, and they have to get accomplished too; but if you let the Turkey’s rule they will monopolize your day leaving zero time for your important Eagle tasks.

So how do you define the two and get things going?  After all, you want to be Feeding Eagles right?  Amazingly it is just as simple as writing a to-do list.  Have you ever looked back on your day and wonder “Where did all the time go?  I was supposed to get more accomplished!” Using a to-do list focuses your attention on the Eagles, and pushes the pack of gobbling Turkeys off for a bit.

There are a number of to-do list managers, methods and software that may help you with creating your list.  This article isn’t about them.  I’ve been using daily to-do lists since I was in college at Florida State University back in the early 1980’s.  It used to be a piece of scrap paper, old envelopes worked great.  That morphed into using a dedicated legal pad, and I would highlight items as I accomplished them.  These days I’m using the built in Outlook task manager, as I use that for my e-mail.  The format really doesn’t matter as long as you are consistent.  Here are some tips:

  1. Be brief.  Just a few words for each item.  This is your list.  You know what they mean.
  2. If you are creating a follow up list for items you have delegated to staff – start the line with their name.  I organize these at the top of the page and group them by staff member.
  3. Eagles rise to the top of the list.  Outlook lets you sort them by simply clicking and dragging.
  4. For Super Important Eagles, after I print the list I hand-draw a box around the item or draw a star next to the item so they stand out.
  5. Delegate the Turkeys if you can.  Give clear, concise instructions and the expectation of what you want accomplished.  Make sure you follow up.
  6. Use a calendar.  Look ahead and plan your activities.  Get them on the list with a date assigned to them.
  7. Print the list and carry it with you all day and make notes.
  8. As tasks are accomplished cross them off your list with a pen.  It is very satisfying.  You are getting things accomplished!
  9. Update your list.  Repeat.

Your Eagle tasks are your most important things that you have to do today.  Get these accomplished first.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing the work either.  They just have to be actioned first.  By “feeding” them, this means that you are dedicating time and energy into accomplishing this important goal.  You have to think strategically and prioritize what needs to be accomplished.

If you have a very large project, assign a due date on a calendar and work backwards dividing small segments of the project into chunks.  Make each chunk an Eagle task, due on a particular date.  If you are involving other staff members, make sure you discuss assignments, tasks, and most importantly due dates with them.  Be realistic.

By time “starving” the Turkeys, you make way for the Eagle items to get handled.  Once these are out of the way, you can focus on the Turkey tasks that need to be handled, but aren’t as critical.  Turkeys could be long range items, or tasks that need to be handled, but really don’t have a due date.  Updating an employee handbook, or planning on some training a month or two from now.  Important tasks granted, but not as critical as getting an order produced and shipped, or returning phone call from a client.

The key is to make it work for you. I’ve found that the best way for me is to use one list, one calendar and just update it once a day.  (the “touch it once” rule)  Ten or fifteen minutes of planning in the morning and I’m organized for the day.  Will sorting Eagles and Turkeys work for you?  It all depends on your skills with being organized and disciplined with your tasks.  Try it!

Sometimes the Word “No” is Your Friend

Quite often a lot of companies get into trouble by saying “Yes” to situations that they really should avoid.  It is harder to say “No”, as we’re wired to please, to accept a challenge, to “Get ‘Er Done”.  However, if you stop and think about the situation before you react, you might save yourself a lot of valuable time, money and effort that could be wasted on unfruitful orders.  It’s counter-intuitive, but the word “No” just could be your best friend one day.

Here are some tips to help you make a good decision:

  1. Do you have all the facts?  Quite often, by thinking about the order and writing down everything you’ll need, including a timeline of deliverables, you’ll uncover a hidden challenge that could tip your decision one way or another.  Be sure to ask thorough, detailed questions.
  2. Are you sure you have the expertise?  Accepting a job that requires a skill that you don’t possess is just asking for trouble.  Learning on the job is a great way to travel down the road to ruin at breakneck speed.  Either factor in the cost of bringing in an expert to help you with the lacking skill or just say no to the deal.
  3. Do you have an exact idea on all of your costs?  If you are the guy that just marks everything up by percentage, without understanding all of your production costs, this could mean trouble.  Sometimes extra labor, materials, or other factors are needed to complete a job and if you don’t do a good job on the estimating step you could be working extremely hard, for free.  What’s the point of that?  Use a pricing matrix or schedule (that is built on actual data based on your company) and stick to it.
  4. Do you trust your customer?  There are some clients (you know you have some) that are less than truthful with you about things.  There are just some things about them that would make a used-car salesman proud.  If that’s the case, tread lightly when accepting a deal from them, or someone like them.  Sometimes a polite “Sorry, we can’t handle that order” is better than taking an order that is going to blow up in your face.
  5. Can you fit this order into your production schedule?  Do you even have one?  Hopefully your shop is busy enough that coordinating the jobs and orders requires some planning.  When handed a challenging order request though, if you don’t have a production schedule that you can easily refer to you may be in trouble.  Salespeople are notorious for blindly taking jobs and not worrying about the repercussions.  After all, there not the ones that will have to pay the overtime.  Here’s a follow up article I authored on building a production schedule – http://impressions.issshows.com/shirt-printing-business/How-to-Build-an-Accu-1469.shtml
  6. Is there even enough time to do it?  If you know your capabilities per hour, you can deduce how long it will take to run the job.  Unless you can print the job on more than one press or bend the laws of time and physics, sometimes it’s best to pass.  This request is usually centered on a rush job.  Here’s a follow up article I authored on tackling rush orders – http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/nielsen/impressions_201302/#/46

So how do you say NO and not lose your customer or send the wrong message?  Here are some ways you can gently break the news or turn down the order:

  1. Be firm, but not overly defensive or apologetic.  Be honest about the situation, and explain that the project isn’t in your wheelhouse and you are concerned that you will let them down.
  2. If you really would like to do the project, but circumstances are preventing you from agreeing to the proposal, rephrase the challenge by saying “I can’t do this…but I can…”  Rephrase the topic into what you need to be able to accept the deal.  Maybe it will work out in the end.
  3. You can also say NO in the present state if you need more details on how the work might have to be performed.  Have some good notes or research ready and be prepared to explain what you need or what details are unfocused.  You may end up turning down the deal as offered, but your client will be impressed that you thought of an entire series of points that they haven’t contemplated.
  4. How about saying NO to only part of the project?  Maybe you could produce part of the order, and they could contract another part to another vendor.  This could be a good solution if you have some other companies that you share business with from time to time.
  5. Don’t forget that there are only so many hours in a day.  Accepting something that you know you should say NO to, may have a domino effect on other business.  Can you adjust your production schedule accordingly?  If not, explain to the client and show them that you value all of your clients and have a responsibility to them.  After all, they wouldn’t like their order to get bumped if you accepted something else…right?
  6. Another way of saying NO is giving them the cost and time estimate for you to do the work on your terms.  This way, if it does come in you will get paid for what you are worth and have the correct amount of time to produce the job.

Saying NO is hard.  As apparel decorators we are hard wired into thinking that we have to accept every job that comes along, as every company has been through some dry spells.  However, some orders just plain stink.  You can tell they are going to be problems from the moment you hear or read about them.  Sometimes that voice in your head that says DANGER! is right.