This coming Monday we celebrate Memorial Day 2017.  It is the American holiday, observed on the last Monday in May set aside to honor men and women who died serving in the U.S. military. Originating in the years following the Civil War the day became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Many things come to mind when we think of Memorial Day – parades, family gatherings, cemetery or memorial visits, a three-day weekend, a holiday sale. For some, it even means the unofficial beginning of summer. That’s all great but it’s also a time to remember; remember and honor the sacrifice of those who did not return from defending our liberties in battle, those who are currently serving to preserve those liberties; remember family and friends no longer with us and cherish the ones that are; appreciate what we have and renew our hopes for the future.

In the words of John F. Kennedy, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them.”

Happy Memorial Day!

Nice to meet you

Next week I will be attending the International Parking Institute (IPI) Conference and Expo in New Orleans. It’s a chance to meet with colleagues and customers face-to-face; shake hands, look them straight in the eye and have a conversation. What a concept, huh? I know I’ve talked about this before, but even though trade shows can be a grind, there’s something to be said about the up close and personal opportunity they provide.

Sharing stories by text or email doesn’t even compare to the experience of sharing them over a cup of coffee or dinner. Putting a name to a face makes a real connection. In this high tech, push a button, let it fly era, that’s a good thing. It’s too easy to make excuses not to take the time to meet with people. An event like this makes it happen. I’m looking forward to it.

So, for anyone attending the show next week, stop by Booth 1116 and say hello. Look forward to meeting you.

Posted by MJ Thomas

What do you mean it’s not there?

That was my first thought when the call came in to tell me that my shipping crate on its way back from a trade show was missing in action. Great. That’s a fine way to start the morning; especially since I have another show and materials to ship out this week; materials that are in the missing crate. What’s a person to do? Well, I could yell, scream and run around the office like my hair is on fire, but that won’t magically make the crate materialize. Though, that behavior would certainly provide some amusement for my co-workers. I could lament my situation; poor me, this always happens to me. Again, no good coming out of that line of thinking. Or I could calmly call on the power of Plan B. Focus on what can be done, not what can’t be done. Have a back-up plan. Sometimes stuff happens.

Plan B is basically “a set of actions for doing or achieving something that you can use when your original plan fails.” It’s a way of re-focusing, changing your approach, being prepared for the unexpected and never giving up. Having a Plan B could make the difference between success and failure; both in business situations and in your personal life. It’s being prepared, not missing a beat and keeping things moving in the right direction. It’s being able to adapt when you’re thrown a curve, not panicking in the face of adversity and controlling your own destiny. It’s about giving you confidence in knowing that all your bases are covered. It's the “never let them see you sweat” antidote that keeps things from getting of control. Guess what? Sometimes you may even need Plan C, D and E!

In this case, I won’t have to use Plan B. The missing crate has been found and is arriving here in enough time for me to turn it around and ship it back out. The point is that Plan B was available.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Posted by MJ Thomas

It’s all about the experience

The customer experience that is. If you’re in business, you had better hope that the experience is a great one. Why? Because you can bet that if it’s not, word will spread like wildfire – face-to-face, person-to-person, on Twitter, Facebook and any other outlet available.

Customer expectations are higher than ever. Exceeding their expectations is the goal. It doesn’t matter if customers are shopping in a retail store, by phone, on the Internet or anywhere else, the quality of the experience – which includes the entire journey before, during and after the purchase – is key. There are too many options for them to go elsewhere. One statistic shows that about 47 percent will drop you like a hot potato because of poor customer experience. On the other side of the coin, 73 percent of customers satisfied with their experience will recommend your brand to others.

Just what is customer experience? It’s about the relationship a customer has with a business; it’s the sum total of all the interactions over the duration of the relationship; it’ s the customer journey. There’s many touchpoints along the journey and that leaves a lot of places where things can go wrong. So how do you ensure that your customers’ experiences with your company will exceed expectations?

First, know your customers; walk a mile in their shoes; know their pain points; their challenges; their needs and wants. Anticipate. Be ready to answer their questions and provide solutions. It’s not about you, it’s about them and what matters to them. Listen.

Be consistent. All communications channels – word-of-mouth, face-to-face, website, blog, social media – should all be on the same page with the same message and the same story. It builds trust. Make it easy for customers to get the information they need. Don’t make them go through page after page on your website or be transferred a dozen times on the phone before they get where they need to be. You will lose them – plain and simple.

Connect with them. Another interesting statistic I found states that a business that optimizes for an emotional connection outperforms the competition by 85 percent in sales growth. Show them that you value them. Actions speak louder than words.

Keep tabs on how you are doing; monitor each touchpoint to make sure the journey is a smooth one; ask customers for feedback.

Creating a great customer experience is a process, not a one-and-done. Nobody said it would be easy which is a good thing because it’s not. But, the rewards are ten-fold and will keep them coming back for more.

Posted by MJ Thomas