Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Do You Want? An Expert.

My son Sam has gorgeous, flaming red hair.  It is also thick and unruly, which results in a variety of bed-head that would be award-winning if there was such a contest. He likes it longer, and so do I.  

A few years back, when his hair became overly shaggy and I was having a difficult time deciphering him and the dog, I took him in to my local chain haircutting salon to fix. 

The woman put him in the chair, threw a cape on him, looked at me, and said, 
“What do you want?” 

“A haircut,” I replied.  

“No, do you want a 2, a 3, what do you want?”

“I’m not sure what you are saying.  I want it a little longer, but it needs to be a bit shorter than it is right now.”

“Then you want a 3.” 

“I don’t know.  What’s a 3?”

“Number 3 clippers. Is that what you want?”  

“I don’t know if I want that.  I want it longer in the back. It seems to work better when it is a little longer.”

“Then you want a scissors cut?”  

“I guess.  I am not a hair stylist so I am not sure I am understanding you.  I don’t want it shaved, if that’s what you mean.” 

“So you want a scissors cut.”  

“OK.  That means you don’t use a clippers?”

“Yeah.  Is that what you want?”

“I think so.”  

Wha, wha what?!!

What did I want?  

I wanted her to tell me what to do.  
I wanted her, as the expert, to help me manage his unruly head of hair.  I wanted her to tell me the best cut for him, and make suggestions that would enhance his look. I wanted her to help me figure it out. 

I wanted my son to walk out of the salon with a great haircut that fit his unique personality. 

I wanted her to enjoy her job, and make the mundane sort of fun.

I wanted her to care, and take the burden off me.  I wanted her to own the challenge.

That’s not what I got.

I assume this person was trained to be a hair stylist.  She is supposed to be the expert.  Why didn’t she ask me questions, and based on my answers, make an expert suggestion?  All I got, was “What do you want?”  Was she simply being lazy, or did she really expect me to know what a number 3 is?

Here’s the thing, it is so easy to make assumptions about individuals and assume they know more than they do.  You know it, so they should to.  For example,

We assume people know how to be good residents, and chastise them when they aren’t, but we never teach them what it means to be a good neighbor, or provide them with tools that help them become good residents. 

We assume people enter our offices and have done research on floorplans and know exactly what they want, based on their limited understanding of the product.  Instead of helping them discover, based on expertise, floorplans that will fit their lifestyle, we leave it up to them.  

The next time you are tempted to throw a challenge back at a client, and make the assumption all your training and expertise doesn’t really matter, think about your true role and responsibility.  As an expert,

  • Listen, ask questions about lifestyle and needs and then, based on what you learn,  make an expert suggestion that solves the client’s lifestyle problem. 
  • Have some fun and be confident in your role as expert. 
  • Be an expert.  Take the time to prepare and make sure you know more than your competitors do. 
  • Remember, when a client walks through your door and presents a problem, whether that be a stopped-up sink or an apartment need, that’s all they should have to do.  You own it from there.  You are the expert.  You are competent and confident and you love helping people get what they need and want.  

Last, but certainly not least, deliver, and remember how much you add to overall value perception and satisfaction.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanks, Zig

Zig Ziglar passed away today.

The year was 1987. I had taken my first “real” job selling radio advertising for WCKK radio - The Music of Your Life! in Oshkosh Wisconsin. While enthusiastic at the opportunity, I knew absolutely nothing about outside sales, and was not at all prepared for the rejection, distrust and disinterest I was paid in trying to sell my product.  

In those days, selling, for most salespeople meant to manipulate or convince someone to buy your goods or services, and I was taught, and expected to use, every popular technique of the time.  Somehow, I knew in my heart it just wasn’t how I wanted to sell, and yet I didn’t know any other way, and persevered, while trying to convince myself I could be good at sales, even though nothing seemed to be working.

With each rejection, I detested my job a little more, and soon was complaining about my client list and product to my husband, friends and anyone else who would listen. I had the worst list because I was the newest.  My client list contained no businesses that could even afford my product, much less sell their wares on an AM big band radio station. Nobody was listening anyway.  If I could get a job at a better station, I could actually make some money.  I started wasting time and avoiding cold calls.  My attitude was deplorable. 

And then, someone suggested Zig Ziglar.  I bought a cassette tape and listened as I drove around making calls.  Who was this folksy guy sharing stories about his own failures in the sales department, and letting me know he’d “See me at the top!”? Each time I listened, a message resonated that I could relate to.  It was just the elixir needed. Zig taught technique, but also taught other, far more important things that shaped not just my sales career, but how I chose to live my life.

He taught me that sales was about helping others.

“If you can dream it, you can achieve it.  You will get all in life you want if you help enough people get what they want.”

That my attitude largely determines my success.

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”

That I could be my own worst enemy.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”

That nothing comes from nothing. Preparation is key, and effort pays off.

“You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win and expect to win.”

That I had to have goals.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

And finally,

To help others find their passion.

“The greatest good we can do for others is not just to share our riches with them, but to reveal theirs.” 

25 years later, I can honestly say, I would not be doing what I am doing now, had it not been for Ol’ Zig. 

Look him up.  Get his books.  Watch him on YouTube...and soon you’ll be saying..."I’ll see you...at the top!"

Thanks, Zig.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Ultimate Goal in Service

Just got my “fresh off the presses” copy of Richard Branson’s new book, Like a Virgin, and found myself yelling, “I concur!” so often, I just had to share.

Here’s a little segment from the chapter titled, “The Customer is Always Right...except when he’s wrong” -  

The key to providing great customer service is for your management team to recognize the true worth of your front-line staff, the most talented of whom are expert negotiators with deep understanding of interpersonal relationships. Make sure that they have the tools they need to exercise those skills-that they have the information they need and they can work with real autonomy to find fair resolution to the issues that come up. (No scripts!)  

Sir Richard then goes on to say,  

If your business proposition is innovative, your ultimate goal has to be, ‘The customer always thinks that we are right.’

Wow. Read that last line again.

Translated, hire smart people that have a talent for communication and negotiation, and then give them the tools and autonomy to do the job they know they can do.

Teach communication skills, but don’t give them verbatim what to say.

Finally, and most profound, listen very carefully to what the consumer says they want, then take it up a notch and give them something just a little different and better. That’s how to deliver true anticipatory service.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Say Whatt?!!

The other day, I overheard an apartment manager say, “Have you read your lease?” in answer to what, apparently, was a ridiculous request, and I thought, “This is not going to end well for the resident.  Manager wins.”

Then I thought of some of the other impulsive, condescending and “shut-em down” statements routinely used to keep residents in line and get them to go away.

“Your lease clearly states…”
“It’s not our policy.”
And my favorite…
“If I did it for you, I would have to do it for everyone, or I would be violating Fair Housing.” (Admit it, you joined me in reciting that one as you read it, didn’t you?)

What?  Violating Fair Housing?  Really?

I cannot think of one way any of these statements could leave a positive impact or increase resident value perception.  Please, if anyone does, do not hesitate to share. 

But wait, there’s more.

“I’m sorry but,”  (you know something bad is coming the minute they say, “but”).
“If it were up to me, I would do it, but I could lose my job.”

And a maintenance favorite…
“Yeah, they’re all like that, and I told them we needed to replace them but it wasn’t in the budget.”

When your words and tone can be translated to, “You should know better,” or “I’m really not sorry, I’m just saying that to soften what I am about to tell you” or “This place sucks and it isn’t run well because the company is too cheap to fix things”, or “I am afraid to make a decision, so I am going to hide behind the Fair Housing poster now”, understand it will likely not end positively. 

Why do we do say these things?  I have a couple of theories.

1.     It’s easy, and humans are inherently lazy.  It takes effort to really listen and try to understand another’s perspective. Easier to prove them wrong and send them away.
2.     We don’t know any better.  You heard your manager say it, so you say it too.
3.     We don’t know what else to say, because we believe the only way to end the discussion is to have won.
4.     Solving problems is hard and we are afraid we might indeed violate Fair Housing if we make an allowance.
5.     Jaded Pessimism.  Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile.
6.     Black or white is the only way.  There is no gray, or meeting halfway.

At this point you may be thinking, “Lori, I get the answers aren’t the best, so give me a better line.”

Here’s the problem.  There is no “pat” answer, no wonderful line that will shut people down and leave them with a smile on their face.

But there are things you can do.

Let’s say you have a resident who thinks pet fees are unfair and he shouldn’t have to pay them.

1. See their perspective and agree, at least partially.

"I can see why this doesn't seem right to you.  You are a responsible dog owner."

2. Offer an alternative perspective. (This is where the homework comes in).

Ask yourself, why?  Why do you have pet fees in the first place?  Well, we know that pets leave waste, some damage apartments, they leave dander which could affect other potential residents and they cause additional challenges to residents in the form of barking, etc .  We also know some people simply don't like pets and don't want anything to do with them.

Remember, we do not place this answer to the resident in this context, nor do we give the standard spiel that doesn't really answer the objection.

3. Re-context.  Keep it truthful and sincere.  This is a dialogue and you are not in-it-to-win-it. This is about having a conversation with the individual.

So, it might go something like this:

"I can see why this doesn't seem right to you.  You are a responsible dog owner."

"Please understand, we choose to be pet friendly community even though many owners are not as responsible.  Pets do cause wear and tear in the form of waste, dander, damage and, sometimes, as a nuisance to other neighbors who don't have pets.  For this reason, we charge pet owners a pet fee, as it simply wouldn't be right or fair to pass on those costs to residents who choose not to have them."

Then they will likely say, "My pet never bothers anyone."

To which you might say, "Likely not, but have you thought about something as simple as your dog barking in the morning to wake you?  I'm not saying yours does, but lots of dogs do.  If the dog wakes you by barking, it might very well wake the guy above you every single day.  That's something they tolerate, and they may choose not to stay at the end of their lease term if it's bad enough. Of course, that is a hypothetical situation, but pets do impact the overall community, and while we are proud to say we are pet friendly, we have to ensure those that don't like pets never have to step in waste, or have allergies act up from an apartment that had pets in it.  All of that comes at a cost.   That's why we charge a pet fee."

To which he may say, "Well I still don't think it’s fair.  My pet never does anything wrong."

"Understandable. And you do have choices.  I will tell you that our pet fees are on the low end of the spectrum in comparison to our competitors, and we work hard to ensure we stay competitive in the market.  It's hard, because we love our pets, but they sure can be a bit costly.  I hope I have provided you a better understanding as to why we charge the fee.  If you would like, you are more than welcome to pay your pet fees for the year all at once, then you don't have to hassle with it for the rest of the year.  Is this something you would like to consider?"

Last, if you believe your pet fees are completely outrageous…find another way.  Perhaps you can raise rent or bundle it.  Maybe after a certain length of residency with no issues, the pet fee is reduced. Do a competitive analysis.  Don't just assume because it’s been the policy, it has to forever be the policy.  Find a way to change it up and make it more consumer-friendly.

Look to find solutions and know there is no standard answer  - it’s all about preparation, knowing your market, understanding why, and then delivering that message sincerely and truthfully.  Get with your team this week and practice this exercise with a request or objection you find yourself giving a “half baked” answer to.  Think about the words you say, and what they convey.  Look to find a better way. 

Every word counts.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Get Ready. Get Set.

I was asked to write a guest blog for The Apartment All Stars this week on the power of preparation. You can find it here.

Also, I am conducting a Webinar Wednesday, March 21st in conjunction with Multifamily Insiders and The Apartment All Stars.

Before you Say Hello, Get Prepared and Lease More Apartments is a must for any leasing professional that wants to take their game to the next level.

You can register here...

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beat the Clock

I read with interest an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning concerning people’s perceived wait times in the retail environment. It seems guru Paco Underhill timed shoppers in line with a stopwatch to determine how real wait times compared with how long shoppers felt they had waited.

Up to about two to three minutes, the perception of the wait was pretty accurate, but after three minutes, the perceived wait time multiplied with each passing minute. In other words, if a person actually waited 5 minutes, their perception was they had waited 10. Interesting.

Though we technically don’t make people wait in line, many times, they do have to wait. Based on this research, the longer they wait, the even greater time they will have perceived they waited. Heck, I have witnessed clients not even be greeted in 3 minutes.

What’s a savvy leasing professional to do?

First, understand that while lease paperwork needs to be finished, every second you spend focusing on that, rather than the customer waiting in the lobby, negatively impacts perception.

The paperwork will wait. You are paid to converse with people and lease apartments. Get to it.

Second, reality dictates no matter how good you are, sometimes people will have to wait. Provide something for them to do. Show a movie in your clubhouse, have current newspapers and periodicals available, (make sure there is something for every interest), and give your clients an indication of exactly how long the wait will be. Make it their choice by making them feel comfortable, but also offering an alternative appointment time. They will let you know which they prefer. Offer a beverage, or better yet, provide a Starbucks card and send them off for coffee, assuring you will be ready for them when they get back.

Most important, (this one is for managers and bookkeepers and individuals that do not perceive themselves as leasing professionals), never ever ever pass off a client with the, “The leasing professional is out right now, have a seat and she will be with you in a moment” line. When is the last time you were OK with being “passed off”. The people in front of you are most important and there isn’t a faster way to turn somebody off than to throw that line at them and return to your desk to do the really important work.

Three minutes. After that, the perceived wait doubles with every minute. Don’t make them wait.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back Up the Train

I'm back. No excuses, just an explanation. Basically, I had nothing to say that I felt mattered. And my cardinal rule is...no crap. So, I didn't write for almost 2 months. Nothing at all. I found it refreshing. Then, today, I found something that needed to be said.

As is my routine, I was reading my Brains on Fire blog, (best blog ever), and came across Eric Dodd's post that essentially took all the concepts going on in my head and summarized them in less than 55 words -

It was a good reminder that there are an increasing number of amazing tools at our disposal, and an increased responsibility for us to learn to use them, but that tools will never fully replace sitting down with a customer and asking them how your company can make a positive difference in their life.

Exactly. It's time to back up the train, people. Have we become so enamored with the tools and the toys, (and the process, rather than the outcome), that we've forgotten the impact of simply talking to a resident, face-to-face?

Let me tell you, our people working on site with the residents haven't. But they feel obligated to the process, and that is impacting the outcome.