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What Impression is Your Email Address Giving and More Questions for September

Get a real email address, eyeexpert@hotmail.com.

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How do I drive more word-of-mouth marketing?

Personal recommendations have always been the lifeblood of small business, but in the era of Facebook, Yelp and Google reviews, word of mouth (WOM) has taken on a different meaning and is now even more important to attract new customers and patients (studies show prospective customers attach as much credibility to an anonymous star rating as to a friend’s suggestion). It also requires a new, more tech-savvy response. Start by looking into an online review platform like Podium, Yotpo or Grade.us that centralizes the process and reaches out to customers via text messages to encourage them to leave reviews (search the phrase “online reputation management”). Of course, a larger megaphone won’t do you much good if the message is less than complimentary, so there’s still no getting away from the bedrock of WOM — excellent service. You can juice people’s experiences with your brand via community events, customer appreciation events, personal follow-ups, handwritten thank yous, and other random acts of generosity and goodwill that create delight and referrals. Keep in mind that WOM is so fluid it requires constant testing and experimenting: What stories to tell people about your store, what offers, what inside incentives will work? For example, a “Thank you for the referral” card that includes a voucher for $25 off the next purchase might work in one market. In another, giving an existing customer the opportunity to pass on the discount to a friend — or share it — may yield better results. Keep testing!

I’ve used my free email address for years and don’t really want to change it but I worry it looks unprofessional. Thoughts?

True, a lot of people don’t care, but a not insignificant portion of your customers will make a judgment of some sort. And these aren’t completely unfounded. Numerous marketing studies have found Gmail users to be predominantly younger city dwellers with more liberal views. Hotmail and AOL users are more likely to be found in the suburbs, while rural inhabitants are more likely to use Yahoo! Recently, The Times newspaper in Britain reported that a major insurer, Admiral, was quoting a higher rate to car owners who provided a Hotmail address. The firm argued some domain names were “associated with more accidents” than others, raising applicants’ risk profile. Given the way people make irrational assessments, and how important it is for an ECP to be viewed as professional and trustworthy, we’d recommend you make the change. It doesn’t cost much. For $3 a month, Gmail, for example, allows you to upgrade your account to get your own domain name.

I carry two competing sports frame brands. Now one is implying I should drop the other slightly less popular brand or it will cut off supply? Is this legal?

There are some instances when you could take such a case to court — such as when an unreasonable restraint of trade or similar antitrust violation can be established, or when a store’s ability to conduct business is damaged. But these are exceptions; the law allows a miffed vendor to cut you off cold. “In general, companies in the U.S. are free to decide when to do business and when to stop doing business with another company,” says attorney Barbara Mandell, a member of Dykema Gossett PLLC, which focuses on antitrust law.

If an employee is consistently late (usually 30 minutes), can I dock his pay? Are there legal ramifications?

From a legal standpoint, it depends on whether he is a salaried or hourly employee. If the latter, he should be punching a clock, which will automatically deduct his time. If he is salaried, you have to pay him, late or not, says Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions, adding that you should have the issue — and the consequences — covered in your employee manual. “You may need to make some tough and important decisions,” DeVries says. “It is never a good idea to let an employee get away with such behavior. It sets a bad example for those who are always on time.”

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Ask INVISION

When to Let That Questionable New Employee Go and More Questions for October

Plus its all fun and games until someone gets drunk at the company holiday party … how to protect your business from potential trouble.

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How do you know when a new employee can’t be saved? How much time should you give someone?

When you have coached someone carefully and repeatedly, invested large amounts of energy and they show no signs of improvement, that’s a solid signal you probably need to act. The clincher comes when their co-workers start showing their frustration and stop trying to help the person. This is often at about the three- or four-month mark. A lot of bosses will let it drag on past that, but it’s really in everyone’s interest for both parties to pursue new opportunities.

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I’m planning an end-of-year company party, but one concern is that somebody could get drunk, have a car accident, and I might get sued. Got any advice on protecting myself?

These days, the Grinch must be a lawyer. Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant, or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar — or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

I haven’t got around to writing a will yet. What would happen to my business if I died unexpectedly?

When there’s no will, state law (“interstate succession” statutes) usually takes charge of your estate. “Each state has precise laws about who gets what when there is no will, and there are differences among the states,” says Norman M. Boone, MBA, CFP, a nationally renowned financial adviser. “In California, for example, the spouse inherits all the deceased spouse’s community property, but the separate property is shared with the children. In New Jersey, your spouse gets the first $50,000 of your estate and one-half of the rest; your children get everything else. If the children are minors in either state, then the court appoints someone to manage their property (including your business), and then supervises their activities, which involves more intrusion and more expense. The children receive their inheritance at age 18. For singles, the assets are parceled out to relatives in an order determined by state law. Usually, children, parents and then siblings are first in line. Friends, lovers (even domestic partners) or charities are left out.” Without a will, there is always a chance the estate will be fought over by the above claimants, a process which can drag out and potentially ruin a business. Don’t like those prospects? What are you waiting for? Write that will!

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Ask INVISION

How to Get a Staff Member to Close a Sale and More Questions for September

And your return policy may not be as ironclad as you think when it comes to minors.

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I got really angry at a customer the other day and left a nasty message on their voicemail. So, OK, I’ve lost that client. But how can I keep this from happening again?

We fully recommend business author Tony Schwartz’s Golden Rule of Triggers, which is “Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t.” Instead, he says, take a deep breath, and “feel your feet” — a distraction tactic that allows you to pull your head out of the red mist.

I have a no-return stipulation on all my eyewear. But somebody told me that if a minor buys, for example, a pair of fancy sunglasses from me, they have the right to return it for a full refund and I can’t do anything about it. Is this true?

It is, in most states. And it’s something many merchants are unaware of. Basically, it comes down to what the law regards as “capacity to contract,” something minors are considered to lack but which is an essential element of any valid commercial agreement. The law doesn’t state, however, you must return the money immediately. You can insist Mom or Dad enforce the big-spending youngster’s right to disaffirmance in a court of law. Faced with such a prospect, the child or his parents are likely to come to an arrangement.

My store is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Am I leaving sales on the table by not being open?

Not necessarily. In fact, you may actually be improving business by giving your team some regular time off. Roger Beahm, professor of marketing at Wake Forest University School of Business, told radio station WFDD that you should first consider the “personal values” of your business. “We know that there’s a lot of businesses, for personal reasons, that like to keep their doors closed on Sunday, give their employees a day off for family, to go to church, and those kinds of things.” Employee happiness can translate into “efficiency, a high-quality product, and a loyal customer who keeps coming back.” Beahm says that work/life balance should lead to profit. “While they may be leaving money on the table in the short run, it’s probably assured that in the long run, they’re continuing to generate revenue because of the satisfaction level of both their employees and their customers.”

I’ve got a woman on staff who adores eyewear and never fails to engage a customer in a lively discussion, but for the life of me I can’t teach her how to close the sale! Help!

Failure to close is most often a combination of lack of basic skill and fear of being ‘pushy,’” says Kate Peterson of retail consultancy Performance Concepts. You can’t effectively teach ‘closing’ as a separate and disassociated thing, she says, but if your associate is good at engaging the customer, focus on teaching her how to make emotional connections between what they want and what the merchandise provides and to listen for signals that indicate it’s time to close. When it comes to more expensive fashion wear, remind her that most customers are often looking for permission to buy. “Providing good service means giving it to them by asking for the sale,” says Peterson. Finally, consider your commission structures. A motivated staff will use their time in the store as efficiently as they can, because it’s in their interest to make as many sales as possible.

When people look in your window displays, how do you approach them without scaring them off?

Open the conversation by asking their opinion on the display itself, says selling expert Dave Richardson. From there, you should be able to find out what they are specifically looking at and extend an invitation for them to come in and see it more closely (as well as a business card). Such boldness is well worth your effort, says Richardson. “Best-case scenario, you make a sale … worst-case scenario, someone new has your card.”

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Ask INVISION

The Art of Closing the Sale and More Questions for July and August

Don’t miss: How to set attainable goals and offload older merchandise.

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I keep hearing contradictory advice: Set goals or don’t set them. What’s your take?

There are three main arguments against setting goals: One, they lead people to focus on the wrong things or cut ethical corners; two, they demotivate when it appears they can’t be reached; and three, they emphasize the future at the expense of the present. The secret is to set goals in a way that addresses these problem areas. That means:

1. Set challenging goals but don’t make a big deal of it if you fall short.
2. Set goals that focus on behaviors, so your people are learning and improving rather than wildly chasing a financial goal.
3. Be specific. Setting vague goals can produce higher rates of success with motivated staff, but if your employees are normal human beings, being specific will prevent procrastination.
4. Make the first couple of milestones easy so that people can build momentum toward the major goal.
5. It’s not a death march; make it fun.

Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?
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Podcast: What Exactly Does it Take to Become America’s Finest Optical Retailer?

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Podcast: Why Optical (and Especially Optical Retail) Is Lagging Behind Other Industries

Podcast: What the Heck is Marketing? And What Should ECPs Focus on to Attract New Clients?
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How can I get my salespeople to sell the older merchandise in the store?

Start by appealing to their belief in the possible, something all good salespeople should possess. And remind them there’s no accounting for taste. “Remember that somebody at the manufacturer was inspired enough by the idea of the product to create it. And somebody else in your company liked it enough to buy it,” says sales trainer Harry Friedman. That makes at least two professionals who believe in this particular product, he says. It also means that even though this piece may make them shake their heads, there’s a reasonable chance there’s a customer out there who will like it too. If that doesn’t do the trick, opt for an aggressive commission, says David Geller. “The commission many stores pay usually isn’t enough to get people excited,” he says. “If you normally pay a salary plus 3 percent, pay 9 percent on old items. It won’t cost that much, relatively speaking!”

What’s the best way to tell a customer you’d rather not take their AMEX?

There are reasons to wish they just would leave home without it. AMEX’s extra charges and reputation for slow payment are annoying but once you make it clear through store signage that you accept all major cards you don’t have much choice. “Don’t ever, ever, ever, ask ‘Oh, do you have another card?’ In terms of customer service, that’s just plain lame,” says Rick Segel, author of Customer Service For Dummies. Remember, your customer might be saving up points for a reward, or be close to their limit on their other card, and your hesitancy to take their AMEX puts them in an awkward position, he says. Try to take comfort in the fact that American Express targets a wealthier clientele.

What’s an appropriate policy for funeral leave?

A funeral leave policy should cover which employees are entitled to it, which family relationships qualify, how much time is permitted, and what provisions exist for extending time, with or without pay, says Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions Inc. She suggests these guidelines: full-time employees should be entitled to at least three days’ absence with pay in the event of death in the immediate family (spouse, children, parents and siblings). For part-time employees, leave should be based on scheduled workdays, while funeral leave pay should not be granted to employees attending a funeral during periods when they are not at work for other reasons, such as vacation or illness. According to Devries, leaves to attend funerals of other relatives or friends should be granted at the discretion of the employee’s supervisor, and this condition should be stated in the handbook. You can also state that supervisors may ask for proof of a death, i.e., a funeral card or a death notice. This is rarely necessary, but including it will keep your policy from being abused. “Be sure to send a card and flowers, and express condolences,” says Devries. “These gestures assure employees of the good will your policy has put in place, and their loyalty is worth your effort.”

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