Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Have a Good One"?

How many times have you gone into retail/service/food establishment, conducted business, dined or shopped for what you needed, stood in line at the checkout to hand over your hard-earned cash, only to have the clerk/associate/teller/waiter hand over your receipt and say "Have a good one"? A good what for heavens sake? What kind of a lame acknowledgement of customers is that?

I'm probably going to show my age here, but I swear I remember a time when employees were consistently trained to say "thank you" after you'd paid for something. I know I didn't dream was real. So what the heck happened? When did it become okay for employees to neglect thanking customers for their business?

Now, I'm not expert on customer relations but I have a lot of experience training and managing retail service staff. More importantly, I'm a customer of a lot of businesses in town. (Yep...I SHOP!) Some establishments have obviously taken the time and care to properly train their employees to be appropriately gracious with customers. I love to do business in those places. I feel great when I leave, even if my wallet is a little lighter. A good old-fashioned "thank you" goes a really long way with me.

Conversely, I get really annoyed when I've spent money in a place and all I get from the clerk is a receipt. No smile, no "thank you for coming in", sometimes not even eye-contact from the person I handed my money to. In short, no customer service at all.

This economy is making it really hard for business to remain profitable. With consumers making fewer purchases than in years past, everyone is competing for a smaller piece of the pie. No fun. So how do you make sure that consumers will choose your business over others to patronize? By making sure your employees give the very best service available. Set the bar really high, and help your staff reach that peak level of service.

The same thing applies to the Chamber of Commerce. After all, we are a service company too, and I'm committed to making sure we are providing the very highest quality of service to our members. No negotiating on that point. High quality service is what makes the expense of your membership worth it. If we're not doing that, I really want to know.

I think this economy is a good time to get back to basics. Concentrate on your company strengths. Focus on what you do really, really well. And make absolutely sure that one of the things you do really well is customer service. That's my plan for the Chamber.

And by the way, in case we haven't said it lately, THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS. We appreciate you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Community Schmoonity"

Every time I turn around someone is waxing on about "community". Building Community. Protecting Community. Growing Community. The LOCAL Community....the GLOBAL Community..., blah, blah, blah.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of this place we call the community of Chico. I grew up here, my folks still live in the house I was raised in, my husband grew up here and our kids want to make their lives here. In short, I'm not dissing the place. I just think the word "community" tends to be overused as a touchstone.

I say that because I think there is something even more basic than community as a basis for our shared lives. For me it all boils down to relationships. Without personal relationships with those we live, work and play with, there is no community. It doesn't matter if you live in a great neighborhood near a great park in a great city that's part of the greatest country in the world. Without relationships you are not part of a community.

When I took over the job as CEO of the Chamber of Commerce I heard a lot of folks referring to 'the business community'. Historically this seems to be a label that is applied to companies that make up for-profit industry. Big mistake!

I think the term should apply to every person and every organization that helps makes this economy run. That means everyone...government, non-profits, service providers, manufacturers, sole-proprietors and publicly traded corporations. Anyone who works here has a connection to the business community in one way or another.

So how do we determine if we're really living as a business community? By thinking about the relationships we've built, or not built.

Things are different now. None of us have the luxury of sitting back and letting success roll over us. Our mere survival may very well depend on the relationships we've built and how hard we're willing to work on them. This is where the Chamber of Commerce can really shine.

I can't speak for the Chamber of the past, but today we are all about relationship building. That will be our primary objective going forward. Connecting people and building relationships. There is no higher purpose for this organization. We will define specific activities as we move forward but trust me, relationship building will be the undergirdings of every decision we make.

So from now on, even though I might say "community", I'll be thinking "relationships". Try it and see if it changes your perspective, too.