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Weekly Furniture Message From Margo - Of Coffee & Furniture

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This story is about coffee, but it is also about furniture, about thinking and good customer service. Many of our employees have become non-thinkers, and even the massive amounts of caffeine they drink may not be waking them up.

I went to Barnes & Noble Café the other day for a cup of coffee. I went out of my way to go there instead of to my usual coffee house because my daughter wanted to look at a book.
I ordered my coffee (almost 4 bucks) with 1 Splenda.
“We’re out of Splenda” the clerk let me know quite boldly. I said, “Do you think you might have just one packet stashed away somewhere?” “No” I was told straight up.
“O.K., I’ll look through my purse”, I said, but with all of my vigorous purse-digging, I didn’t find a single packet, so I did the only logical thing (to me), I cancelled my coffee order. The clerk proceeded to let me know, “We ran out a couple of days ago—we forgot to order it. Everyone’s been asking for Splenda. Everyone wants Splenda, but we’re out, and we can’t serve it until we re-order, and the new shipment doesn’t come until next week.”
“Duh”, I thought, but instead I just said, “Someone COULD go to the grocery store and buy a box”.  The response was a numbing and hard-to-hear, “I’ll talk to my manager about that”. I left the café without the joy of sipping that coffee, and they watched me leave with my cash still in my pocket instead of in their register. The clerk couldn’t care less. And who knows, that could have been the loss of quite a few sales in the course of a few hours—or over the course of a week.
I wandered around the book store, and as I did, I kept thinking about that sweet little coffee mess. I thought about it in terms of running a business and in terms of customer connection. I also thought, “I could totally use some new material”, plus I HAD to have some fun (there’s just not much to do in my town), so I went into the bookstore and asked if the café’ manager was in. Lucky for me he was. I had the good fortune to chat with him about the “incident”, about blogging, and about business in general, and his in particular.
This guy (and I swear his name was Joe—but not “Java” Joe, just Joe) was fairly nice, but also completely clueless and on auto-pilot. He just did not get it, so I had a little fun with him. I challenged him that a coffee shop ALWAYS requires the sweeteners that customers are used to, and that a trip to the store could have solved his customers’ woes. He looked uncomfortable as we spoke, and he had all kinds of excuses and real important “corporate talk” about “procedure” and “sources” and the “protocol” of having to get EVERYTHING from their “special” supplier. I challenged, “So you have NEVER run out of milk at the café’ and had to go to the grocery store to get some?” Then, he tongue-stumbled around for a while before he half-way admitted that he had. “So what’s the difference if it’s Splenda or milk?” I insisted.
Again, I was just making a point and having a good time (at his expense I should be ashamed to say). Of course, we both knew that he could have just bought some Splenda. He was just being careless or lazy or just not thinking. I even went so far as to say, “You know, if it really is true that everything has to come from corporate (except the milk that you occasionally buy locally), then you could have called corporate and asked them to overnight you a small box of Slenda just to get by until the order arrives next week.” His hilarious and yet not-so-shocking reply was, “We can’t, the cost of that would be exorbitant!” Oh, and the cost of loss sales isn’t?
AUTO-PILOT! NO THINKING involved here, just non-thinking, just the system (that doesn’t work), just the way WE do it, just RIDICULOUS!
That café’ manager didn’t care enough about what the customers want to stop at the store and pick up some sweetener (or corporate didn’t care enough about the customers to let him). Hey, it’s a coffee shop for gosh sakes. They sell mostly coffee. People either use sugar, Splenda, Equal, or Sweet & Low in their coffee drinks, and most are loyal to just one of those. If you sell coffee, you MUST have those basics on hand at all times.
It may sound harsh, but to me this was an example of really lousy (and likely super inexpensive—yet quite costly) management. The manager failed to see that the Splenda supply was going low, then he failed to re-order (by the way, that stuff has a LOOOOONG shelf life, so re-ordering a little early wouldn’t have done any harm), then (o.k., we all make mistakes) when he failed to see that he failed to reorder, he failed to go to the grocery store and get some. He also failed to recognize that he is the steward of someone else’s money and profits, and he allowed the company to lose sales, all because he is likely on non-thinking auto pilot. But he is not the only one. Someone hired this guy (and if you insist it’s not his fault, then know that someone hired the guy or gal who supposedly won’t let him go to the store for Splenda).
WHY bother being in the coffee business if the customer’s experience will be flat or anything less than everything they expect? In that case, you’re just advertising (and paying to do it) that you’re not all that great—that you don’t care all that much about what your customers expect for their money.
I honestly did not care one bit when the clerk told me the shipment was coming next week (or when the manager told me his stories and fed me his excuses). All I cared about at that moment at the coffee shop was MY coffee, and that’s how we all are, at least some of the time. Your customers don’t really care about you all that much. They care about what THEY want and feel they need WHEN they feel they need it.
However, YOU MUST care about them, even when all they usually care about is themselves (sorry, but that’s how it works—don’t worry, it builds character).
Maybe you don’t sell coffee. Maybe your cup is full of furniture, design services, wellness, or personal development. Do you offer a selection of “condiments” the customers should naturally expect? Are you consistent with them? Do you think it would be o.k. to “run out” or be without any of them at any time?
It may be o.k. for you, but being without a little packet of what the customers feel they want and need is a big business mistake.
This coffee story is a small example of how we often do things day-to-day in our businesses. We get lazy in our jobs and luke-warm in our routines. It becomes about us, and not about the customers, and certainly not about profits (so DON’T kid yourself).  We quit engaging, we quit solving, we quit listening, we quit brainstorming, and we quit caring.
So, WHAT is YOUR Splenda? What are you out of that you can easily replace? What do your customers count on that you are just too “routine-ized” or lazy (gosh forbid) to get for them. What simple thing could keep you from losing sales? What could certainly make your business a lot sweeter for others?
Do yourself and your customers a favor. Get yourself and your business off AUTO-PILOT. Wake up your employees, too, and tomorrow, when you reach for that morning coffee, remember that a little packet of “pluggin-in” can lead to stimulated sales.

Have a Wildly Sweet Week,

Margarett (Margo) DeGange, M.Ed. is a Business and Design Coach in the Home Fashions Industry. She creates and delivers custom training programs for managed businesses and their sales consultants to help them communicate better with customers and increase sales and profits. Margarett is a Writer and Professional Speaker, and the President of The DeGangi Group and The DeGangi School of Interior Decoration, with both on sight and on-line courses in Interior Decorating, Marketing, and Redesign. For almost 20 years she has helped individuals and managed business owners in the interior fashions and decorating industries to earn more while fully enjoying the process.

Two of Margo’s popular products for furniture store owners and their sales professionals are The Decorating School Crash Course Power-Ed Pack (9 design lessons on video/audio with 12 hours of content), and the matching Decorating School Crash Course Learner Files to measure learning, provide added interactivity, and motivate sales consultants to own their opportunities for growth.

Visit Margo DeGange’s website at www.DecoratingForProfits.com  for more information. Send email and questions to her at Margarett@furninfo.com.

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