Brush Up On Company Practices

Recently I had a Ribbon Cutting to celebrate the opening of my business. I’ve been open for more than a year; but I didn’t get to celebrate last year due to Covid.

To make it a little extra special for the people who came to support me, I decided to get some treats. Frosted sugar cookies was the plan.

I started by called a local bakery. “I’d like to order cookies for tomorrow.”

She proceeded to tell me that her computer was down and asked me to call back. 

I ended up getting busy and wasn’t able to call back until about quarter after 3. Apparently they close at 3.

So I called a local grocery store and asked for the bakery. “I’d like to order cookies for tomorrow.”

This time, the problem was much more complicated! “Oh. Well…I mean…It’s just…It’s the cake decorators that do the cookies. And one of them is sick. I don’t know if she’ll be back tomorrow. And the other one just went home. I don’t know if she’d be able to do them.” She stammered.

So, remaining calm, I said, “Do you think you could call her and see if she can?” Eventually, after much hand wringing, she agreed to call.

A little while later the cake decorator called. I explained that I just wanted frosted sugar cookies.

You would have thought I was ordering a hundred cookies autographed by Bruce Wayne! I only wanted 36 plain old frosted sugar cookies!

“Well, I don’t know what you’re looking for. We have a scallop shape that we could make, like, a sunflower. I don’t know if you like sunflowers, or we could use your company colors. Or we could make your logo into an edible image. I mean, or write the name on the cookies, or something. We have glitter. I think we just have white and gold. So I don’t know if you’d want that. I’m not sure if we have any cookies to decorate right now.

The bakers come in at 4:30, but they don’t answer the phone until 6 or 6:30. I’m not sure if they have any sugar cookie dough. There might be some frozen. How many did you want? I mean, you could call the store at 6 tomorrow morning. I don’t know if they’ll answer.”

You get the idea. All the while, I’m thinking. I just want round cookies with frosting. I don’t care what color. This isn’t that complicated.

But more than that – I shouldn’t have to be the one to solve the problem. I’m the customer!

She succeeded in convincing me, with her long diatribe, to not shop there. In the end, I went to a local Big Box store and they were able to do what I wanted right away.

But it got me thinking. During the holiday season, many people want to support small businesses. I certainly do, since I’m a small business owner myself.

So why do some small business owners make it so difficult? And, more importantly, what can YOU, small business owner, do to make sure your business is not chasing customers away?

1. Attitude. When customers walk into your store or call you on the phone, how are they greeted? Do you or your employees seem happy to see the customer? Or happy in general? No one wants to interact with someone who seems miserable.
I know of another small business whose owner is usually there. When you walk in, she seems exhausted and irritated. She never smiles or greets the customer with anything more than an exasperated, “Hi.” Nothing about the shopping experience makes me want to return in any rush.

2. Offer Solutions. If your business has employees; make a call yourself and ask to order something, or for help locating something. Is your employee friendly? Are they helpful? Do they know what to do if they don’t know the answer? Does your request seem to be a hassle for the worker? Do they volunteer to do something to figure it out (like calling the cake decorator); or do you, the customer, have to ask? 

3. Don’t Make It Complicated. Asking your customer to call back at 6am to “see if it can be done” might make sense to the worker. But to the customer, it sounds like, maybe you’ll get cookies and maybe you won’t. The cake decorator could have said, “Ok, I’ll call you back.” And then she could have called one of the bakers or the store to find out the status of the dough. 

She was calling me after her shift – which is great. But there should be a reasonable expectation -even in the midst of Covid short staffing – that someone who was on the clock would be able to help during regular daytime hours. 

4. Go above and beyond. Imagine if the first bakery I called said, “Our computers are down right now, but hold on one moment. I’ll get a pen and paper and I’ll write your order down.” She could even have said, “I’ll call you back to confirm when I add it to the computer. But either way, we’ll have these ready for you tomorrow!” Wow. I wouldn’t have had to make a single other call. 

5. Make sure you’re listening. When the cake decorator called me back, she was talking so much that she didn’t get to find out what I wanted because she didn’t pause for any input from me. When I said “frosted sugar cookies”, her brain took over with the designed cookies she puts in the display case. If she had just asked, “What kind of design?” I could have said, “No design. Just plain round sugar cookies with frosting on them.”

Things are sure to be busy this year and everyone is feeling the challenges of the lingering Covid effect. There are supply problems, staffing problems and the workers who are working are stressed. Remember that keeping calm and taking things a minute at a time is the only way to handle business these days. Doing business with cheerful, thoughtful employees will ensure that your valued customers come back to you again and again!