I love to celebrate, birthdays, holidays, sunny days, any reason to celebrate is a good reason for me. And today is my birthday, the best reason to celebrate! And in honor of the big day I'm announcing big changes at Tradewinds Learning. And I want you to celebrate with me! Are you ready? Grab your party hat and let's go!

For the last year I've been delivering the Business Owner Tide Chart Newsletter straight to your inboxes. It has been an opportunity to share some of my experiences and lessons learned working in various retail jobs. I've connected with many amazing business owners and passed along some of their tips for success. I have truly enjoyed thinking of the themes for each month and writing the newsletter. Each edition has been short and sweet. Something you can read quickly.

I know how busy you are as a business owner. Quick is good! You don't have time to spend reading pages and pages of information. But I always felt like I had more to say. I wanted to give you more actionable advice, steps you could take today to move your business forward. And if not today, a way to go back when it was the right time.

So the newsletter is going out with the tides. And coming in is the Tradewinds Blog!

I am so excited for this new way of sharing all you need to succeed in business. It provides me the chance to give you more information (but not too much, I know you're still busy and time is precious). And best of all, you can come back to the blog at anytime to find the advice and guidance you need now.

I will still feature interviews with other local businesses. We can learn so much from each other! And I will still offer freebie handouts and worksheets to guide your action. All the blog posts will be categorized so you can easily find what you're looking for.

And if you want to revisit an old newsletter post, I've uploaded all of them to the blog. Looking for that great story about Goodnight Fatty and how they train their employees? Or maybe the freebie on fun ways to celebrate with your customers. Today, celebrate with me on my birthday and the launch of the new blog!

If you want to be the first to know about new blog posts, sign up here to join the Captain's List. I have another big development coming for Tradewinds Learning and I want you to be the first to hear about it.

(originally published for the Business Owner Tide Chart newsletter - March 2020)

There was one word that kept coming up as Shanna and Aaron talked about their approach to customer service; family.  At Salem’s newest restaurant, Settler, you really do feel like family.  From the moment you walk in and Shanna’s warm welcome greets you at the door to the smiles and team approach from the staff, you feel right at home.  Every business needs a philosophy and approach to customer service.  That philosophy should answer how you want your customers to feel.  Or, as Aaron and Shanna referred to them, how you want your guests to feel.  They made a really great distinction that grounds their customer service approach.  Shanna explained that for her a guest is someone who is joining you for a period of time whereas a customer is just a transaction. 

Starting with the language they use, Settler is creating a philosophy around their experience.

The next important step is to ensure your staff feel the same way.  At Settler “we want the staff to feel like an extension of our family, but to put their own stamp on it” was how Aaron explained it.  And there are two key steps Aaron and Shanna have taken to ensure their staff feel comfortable and confident in the roles they play to offer an exceptional guest experience. Prior to opening, the staff all received a modified version of the business plan.  It gave them insight into Shanna and Aaron’s story from Washington, DC to New York City and the eventual return home to the North Shore.  It shared their vision for Settler. Having this information gives the staff an insight into the Why behind the restaurant.  Knowing the Why enables them to bring their own flavor to the guest experience while staying true to the vision Aaron and Shanna worked so hard to create.

The second key step in creating a family experience for guests is to host a family meal for the staff every day.  Settler has an intimate menu full of local ingredients and seasonal dishes.  To authentically service these dishes and answer questions from guests, the staff need to taste and experience it themselves.  Sometimes this means Aaron is making accommodations to meet the dietary restrictions of his staff. 

The effort and care he puts in for them is a window into the effort and care he will offer any guest who needs an adjustment to their order.  The staff know this and can readily answer questions guests may have about adjustments to the menu. As I left my time with Aaron and Shanna I felt like I was leaving friends.  They have truly made their space at Settler feel like home.  And the overall lesson was clear, the way you treat your staff is the way your guests will be treated.  “Happy people equals happy guests” was the sentiment shared by Shanna and Aaron.

(originally published for the Business Owner Tide Chart newsletter - March 2020)

Exceptional customer service is actually really easy.  Yes, easy.  I say this over and over again.  It’s easy to be kind.  It’s easy to offer a smile and a hello. 

Customer service is easy.

If you find yourself struggling to deliver that great experience I encourage you to look at your systems.  Every business has systems in place.  It could be your inquiry form or the way you collect orders.  It could be how you display your products or your return policy.  Think about the instances when it was hard to deliver great customer experiences, which system or process was your customer engaging in at that time?  There is a pretty good chance the challenging interaction all started with that system.  

Let’s take the return or refund policy as an example.  How a customer can return a product or refund their ticket should be simple and straight forward.  The policy should be short and specific.  And it should just be one policy.  There shouldn’t be different rules for different products.  When things get complicated and you start including policies that sound like “if they bought item A, the return policy is this but if they bought item B, something else happens…” you are going to frustrate your customers.  Frustrated customers lead to you being frustrated which, you got it, leads to difficult situations and customer service that isn’t easy. So, keep your policies and procedures simple

Share them in an obvious location on your website or in your store.  Remind your customers when they check out.  And include it again on their receipt or in a follow up e-mail.  The more often you tell them, the more likely they are to actually hear it or read it.  I bought a shirt from a large women’s clothing chain and it was a red ticketed item.  I had a vague memory of that meaning something different from previous shopping.  But there were no signs and when I checked out, no one said anything.  So when I ended up returning the item a week later I was surprised to be told I wasn’t allowed to return it.  No one had told me the red ticket meant final sale.  My receipt didn’t say anything either.  Fortunately the employee understood my concerns when I told her no one said anything.  She was kind enough to still let me return the item.

This brings me to the other key step that will make exceptional customer service easy; make decisions quickly and in the best interest of your customer.  As a small business owner you have the power to make exceptions.  So even if it goes against your policy, do what is best. When the store let me return my item despite it being final sale, I left feeling like a valued customer.  And it positively influenced my decision to return a few weeks later. 

If you have systems in place that are easy to understand, simple to follow, and speak to the best interest of your customer, it will be easy to deliver an exceptional experience every time.  What other ways can you ensure you’re delivering exceptional customer service? Join me for this month’s Facebook Live session on Monday, March 16 at 7pm where I will share some of my favorite lessons from business experts on delivering exceptional customer service.  For a sneak peek, download this month’s freebie of inspiring quotes.

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