What’s Your Real Image?

How much you show customers that you really value them is what they remember most about your business.

By Ken Baur

You can create a positive company image by training and rewarding employees to provide consistent, professional service. The result is that customers are happier, workers get lots of great feedback, and workdays are fun.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been running my own retail services for 27 years now, but I just can’t seem to shop anymore without being keenly aware of a business’s “attitude.” What is this attitude? It’s the little things. How quickly I’m greeted. What kind of greeting I get. What is the immediate impression the employees give me about helping me find what I need. I notice how professional they are. Do they give me their full attention or do they chat among themselves or on the phone? Are they capable of answering my questions? Do they seem to appreciate my patronage?
     This “attitude” just jumps out and grabs me almost immediately, and it has a big impact on my future with the business. Because I’m not a shopper, I’ve almost always decided to purchase what I came in to get. Therefore, the vibe I get from that visit doesn’t necessarily affect the sale that day, but it does have a dramatic impact on the likelihood of my return. 
     There is a large list of businesses I won’t revisit (something my wife hates because it includes restaurants she likes). However, I’m very loyal to companies that show me I am of value to them.
     This “attitude” is the true core of what a business really is. It’s not to be confused with the brand that businesses spend lots of time and money to cultivate. I’m referring to something much more important. It’s the attitude of the employees, the atmosphere of the space the business occupies, and the professionalism in the way the staff works with customers. These are really the lifeblood of a business, and they totally outshine even the most detailed strategy of marketing a brand. 
     Ultimately, the image customers have of your business when they actually shop there is far more important than any branded image. To turn the cliché on its head, perception is not reality. 
     This all sounds simple, but if it is simple then why are there so many bad businesses out there? I think it’s because so much is made of the importance of branding an image that too little is said about living that image. It’s far easier for a business to create something that looks good on paper than it is to perform well everyday. So businesses settle. They allow the attitudes and day-to-day mindsets of employees to set the bar at a very low level. Performing consistent, professional service isn’t as easy as saying you have it. The problem is that all that money spent on branding and image goes right down the drain if the actual experience of shopping in a store doesn’t live up to a customer’s expectations.
     Creating a culture that leads to a great image is no accident. When it’s done correctly, customers feel appreciated, satisfied, and have a desire to return. If you can build this, you will truly grow your business. This ability is especially vital to small businesses. Big boxes can often overcome poor performance with low prices, mass marketing (of the image it wishes it had), and large selection. 
     Don’t get me wrong. Small businesses also need a proper marketing brand or perceived image. But if the shopping experience isn’t consistently good, there is almost no chance of competing with the bigger stores.
     How can a good attitude become a reality? Do some businesses know more about making this happen than other businesses do?
     Those that are successful at it understand that consistent, professional service takes lots of preparation. They understand that it cannot shine though without great training, clear policies, and empowerment of team members to make the kinds of decisions that create a positive image. These companies have detailed company manuals that guide team members, provide policy, and create a consistent culture. They invest in technology that allows their team to provide a professional environment, and they make sure the environment is clean and consistent with its branded image. 
     They also realize that even all those things are not enough. Once the proper groundwork is laid, these businesses remind team members each and every day of what they need to deliver, and they never stop preaching the message. They use daily, weekly, and monthly grading systems to ingrain proper behavior, and they are quick to reward those contributing to success. They also refuse to tolerate those who fail to provide the proper attitude.
     Most importantly, these companies have leaders that walk the talk. They are examples of the professionalism and service levels that company policy dictates, and they treat their team members in the manner they want their customers treated. A good company leader knows image starts at the top and that team members will provide exactly the kind of attitude they receive from management. 
     As tedious as this image can be to create, the good news is that once all the steps are in place, it actually perpetuates itself. That happens because when customers are happy, workers get lots of great feedback and workdays are fun. When the team does a great job, management finds it easy to concentrate on growing the business—and you can bet it’s growing in an environment like that. 
     Branding and perceived image are important aspects of getting customers to your door, but the image they leave with is the one that will make or break your business. Do you have a company manual, a training manual, clear procedures, regular company meetings, and standards that are measured every day by those performing service?
     I bet your customers know.

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