The core of every successful business starts from the small actions you do. By putting energy into the little things, you are actually creating a big impact on customer service. Entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and author of the great book called The 10¢ Decision, Laurie Guest, is the go-to resource for customer service excellence. In this episode, Laurie joins host John Livesay to talk about the power of not saying “no” and replacing that with the word “actually,” as well as the impact of doing small things and matching your energy zone with people to create loyal customers.
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The 10 Cent Decision With Laurie Guest
Our guest is Laurie Guest, who is an entrepreneur, keynote speaker and author. She is a go-to resource for customer service excellence. For more than two decades, she has shared her practical point of view on customer service and staff development with audiences and companies across the country. Blending real-life examples and proven action steps for improvement. Her book, which I’ve read and loved, is The 10¢ Decision: How Small Change Pays Off Big. Laurie, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
It’s so clever that you’re in the customer service world and your last name is Guest.
We should marry what we seek to be. If I wanted to be a guest speaker, I had to find a man named Tom Guest. I’ve often told people I should’ve been looking for Tom Skinny. That would have made all my problems go away.
That’s an illusion that we all have. People often ask me if I’ve changed my last name or was I born Livesay and became a speaker. I said, “That’s my name.”
You’re living up to it.
Let’s talk about your own story of origin before you were Laurie Guest and married to Tom. You can go back as far as childhood, high school or wherever you want to start. Tell us a little bit about your own experiences. Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? How did that come about?
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before and that’s interesting. I have been an entrepreneur since I was five. I was born wanting to invent businesses. I started out selling sweet corn on the corner in Somonauk, Illinois at a 1,300-person community, about 60 miles West of Chicago. My mom and dad were great with people. They taught me early on how you’re supposed to treat a customer. I sold more sweet corn than any other stand in town. That’s how I became an entrepreneur. Each idea I came up with was appropriate to my age level.
I kept doing stuff and building, selling and learning something and moving on one way or the other. Eventually, my trail took me as a young adult into healthcare. The core of my professional life prior to owning my own business was actually ophthalmology, the eye business. I was a trained technician and I would measure eyes for intraocular lens implants and schedule people for surgery. Our doctor was fabulous at customer service. Not only were they great surgeons but they knew how to train us to treat our patients.
That’s where all my wisdom came from early on. Other industries started calling and saying, “Could you come and share the secrets of your customer service and how you have such a thriving business?” My doctor looked around and he went, “Laurie, you like to talk. You go.” I jumped on that. I was born that way and I did that for quite a few years for him. One day, it dawned on me that there was actually a business I could have all on my own to be a customer service speaker and trainer. With his blessing, I left the firm and started out on my own. That was years ago. Here I am still owning my own business and I love it. Sales and entrepreneurship, we are the same kind of breed.
I want to double click on something that you intrigued us with. What was this doctor doing that maybe people can apply to their own business or life that made it so special and separated them from other people? Was it remembering birthdays?
We could talk all night long on what I learned there. Here are the big ones that came to mind. He had a mantra. He believed that a doctor should do only what a doctor must do. Examine, diagnose and treat and everybody else should do the rest of the stuff. What that means is you do what you do best. Whether there’s a guy reading this that owns a shoe store or a woman who owns a boutique, whatever it is, you should be doing only what you have to do. That means you have to hire great people, create a culture that they understand how you want your customers treated, empower them and the hard part is you’ve got to enforce these rules that you’ve made and the boundary that you’ve set. That’s where the problem comes. It’s easy to set the rules but it’s sure a lot harder to discipline and enforce them. It’s like parenting.Click To Tweet
The more you reinforced those boundaries, the more people realize they’re real and you can’t negotiate your way around them. This concept of culture, even in a small company practice or business is so important that a lot of people don’t even take the time to define what the culture is. It influences everything. Not only who you hire and if it’s a fit culturally, regardless of their background and skill fit, but how you treat clients. I want to learn more about your thoughts on how defining culture impacts customer service?
It’s important that when people define a culture, they don’t confuse it with that special mission statement with all the perfect words and punctuation that has been matted, framed and hangs by the front door of your business. Most of your employees cannot recite that mission statement unless you force them to do it. I want to make sure that we define with people what we mean by culture. I’ll define it and you tell me if you agree. Culture is what we all agree to be true here. In this organization, we all agree that we’re going to and it’s X, Y, Z. It can be different for different places. In general, it’s going to be things like, “Treat the customer right and deliver the best product and service.” It becomes this bullet list that everybody has.
What differentiates our culture from your culture? It’s the delivery from the people who put it out there. Let’s say you and I both own a pizza place. You want a culture that you want good food served hot on time at a fair price. It sounds like my same list. Why would your pizza place be busting at the seams and people are waiting in line to get your pizza, assuming that mine is an equally good product, we’re not comparing pizzas here. We’re comparing service. Why do I have open tables and people are waiting to get in to see you. The only difference can be the delivery of the culture. The delivery of what we believe to be our values.
What’s so fascinating about that is, Domino’s has this mobile app that personalizes your whole experience. It’s like, “Billy placed your pizza in the oven and now Susie is wrapping it up. George is on his way and you can track it.”
It’s absolutely brilliant.
People are like, “I’m involved in the process and I never knew I needed to know the name of the person packing my pizza, but now I do.” It’s that level of extra care that comes along with it.
Before you go on, have you heard the new thing that Domino’s is doing about requesting?
My college-aged daughter has left for college. She told me one summer she wanted pizza and she was insisting we order from Domino’s. We don’t normally use that vendor. I said, “Why?” She goes, “Go to the special request square, when you order it online, tell them that you want them to draw something inside of your pizza box and people do it.” I said, “You’re kidding me.” She types in something about, “Draw my dog named Lucky.” That’s all it says or something that. We don’t even have a dog named Lucky or something like that.
What happened was, when the doorbell rang with the pizza, she gets off the couch, came running like a 50-yard dash to the front door. She whipped open the door, she grabbed the pizza from the guy, I’m left to pay him. She runs into the kitchen, she opens the lid and sure enough, there’s a stick figure of a dog and he’s got a little collar on and it says Lucky. Somebody somewhere in my town drew what she asked for. That’s what I call a 10¢ decision. It cost them nothing to do that and she’s running to the door to get her pizza.
It’s customized and the fact that there’s a human being, especially with artificial intelligence taking over a lot of customer service. Press one, if you want this, and two, if you want that. This experience is the opposite of that. I have a King Charles dog and I get his food from this place called The Farmer’s Dog. They specialize in healthy food for your dog. I was emailing back and forth scheduling stuff with their customer service person. He ended the email with, “Give a belly rub to Pepe for me.” They knew the name of the dog from the order and he took the time to throw that in. That personalization of everyone who works there loves the dogs.
It’s where it’s at. Have you heard about Chewy that’s an online store?Match your energy zone to the moment. Click To Tweet
Here’s that culture. I love this. I have not experienced this but I’ve read about this. There was somebody that I know of that wanted to return two bags of dog food they had bought. They wrote and they said, “Our dog has passed away. We have these two bags of unopened dog food.” Chewy writes back to them with the condolences and said, “Please donate that food to your local shelter and you have our heartfelt sympathies.” It was something like that. It was genuine. A day later, fresh flowers arrived on the doorstep from Chewy at the house.
That unexpected extra that the person will never forget. That story gets passed on and on.
They’re going to have another pet. Most of us who own pets are not one and done. You’re always going to have another one and that’s where they’re going to be ordering their food, plus the story gets told.
That’s what I love and it’s unexpected. My favorite definition of luxury was doing something before somebody knows they need it. When I was working with Banana Republic, they wanted to up their game and they tested it in their flagship stores where you could charge your phone while you’re shopping. “It’s an unexpected luxury that I didn’t know I needed, but how great.” They were doing it to be unexpected. It turns out the sales went up because people kept waiting for the phone to fully charged and kept shopping. You hinted at what The 10¢ Decision is and I want to go back to that. It’s such a great title and easy to remember. The small changes that people can do, whether it’s writing something on a pizza box, sending flowers as condolence over, above and beyond and anticipating something like, “You might want to charge your phone when you’re shopping.” Things like that give us this little extra oomph. You have your own 10¢ story that you’ve talked about.
I do have my own 10¢ story. The way it came about is, as a speaker, I’m a frequent traveler and one time I checked into an expensive hotel. It must’ve been $350 or $400 a night. When I got to my room, as with all hotels, there were two bottles of room temperature water waiting for me with a tag on it that said $7. I thought, “I gave you $350 or whatever it was and now you want $7 more.” You and I both know why they’re doing that. It’s a brand standard. If I stay in that chain of hotel, it’s always going to be that water in that position. We also know that they could bring in a semi load of that water for about 10¢ a bottle if they wanted to, but they choose not to.
They don’t make a 10¢ decision that makes a big impact. The next hotel that I went to, I get to my room, and this is a boutique hotel, it’s not a chain so they have the ability to make any decision they want. I get to my room and there’s a black mini-fridge. In the fridge, there are two ice-cold bottles of Ice Mountain, my third favorite water and sign on top of it that say, “Dear valued guest.” First of all, I love it when they take the time to put my last name on the sign. It said, “Dear valued guest, complimentary bottled water is found in the refrigerator. Please enjoy.” They spent almost nothing. It’s a 10¢ decision for my perceived value to be incredibly high. In the speech, I go on to explain the third stop which I won’t take the time to do in this interview, but at the third stop, there was a dramatic bottle of water waiting for me. It was a Bling bottle of water.
It was also free on a pedestal and an ice bucket. It had a brass plaque next to it that said, “Enjoy. Additional bottles may be purchased in the gift shop for $25.” Now, I have value. My point in this entire thing is we can either have a brand standard that says, “Not only are we going to take your $350 but we’re going to charge you $7 for a 10¢ bottle of water. We’re going to be the place that gives it to you for free or we’re going to be the place that goes, “We’ve got something spectacular for you and we’re going to make sure it has a value.”
The three levels is fantastic. You’ve got to pay, we’re going to give it to you for free and we’re going to give it a wow factor with the surprise. I’ve even had an experience where I’ve checked into a hotel and they offer me free water at the desk, “You must be thirsty after your trip.” I don’t even have to wait in my room to see if it’s free or I have to pay. I love that.
Here’s another interesting question. I rented a car from a well-known chain but I won’t name them. When I was waiting for my car, they handed me an ice-cold bottle of water. It was nice of them to do. When I got in the car for some reason, the only way you could charge your phone was with one of that cigarette lighter chargers of which there wasn’t one in the car. I didn’t have one with me and I usually use the USB port, but this car didn’t have it. It must have been older. I go back to the counter to get one of those cigarette lighter things for $16 and I’m thinking, “The 10¢ decision here is to have one of these in every car with their logo on it and with encouragement that you take it with you.” Every time I pulled that thing out of a cigarette lighter and it would have that brand caught on it and that would cost them probably about the same as the bottle of water if they wanted to make that choice. Isn’t that fascinating?
It is. For anyone stealing it or keeping it by mistake, we have to mark it up and all that stuff. Even when you go to Europe and they go, “If you want to have an adapter for to charge, you’ve got to pay us this.” The thing you talk about that I love in your 10¢ Decision book is matching the E-Zone of your buyer. The E-Zone is the energy that people bring to work every day. I could talk about energy all day long because when I initially got picked and it was between me and two other speakers, the speaking agent emailed me and said, “Congratulations. They picked you to be their next speaker at their annual meeting.”
We always go on three packs. You won the three-pack war.We should marry what we seek to be. Click To Tweet
I did. We’re going to talk about that too. They said, “They liked your energy.”
You do have good energy.
Thanks but people realize, “They’re going to hire me or I’m going to sell this product or whatever it is I’m selling if I have the best price, information or whatever it is.” People don’t realize the value of your energy that people want to be around. Especially if you’re a speaker, you and I are. If you can make people feel good during the interview, they go, “I feel inspired after talking to him or to her. Maybe the audience will too.” Let’s talk about the E-Zone and how should I keep it up if you’re doing something that is your own customer service that might be a little rote or you’re having a bad day. You have this concept of the Big Seven of Service and my favorite one of there is where you talk about real greetings and not robotic acknowledgments.
Let’s move that all together. People are attracted to energy like a moth to the light. Let’s say you go to a cocktail party and you don’t know anybody. You’re scanning the room for who you might want to chat with. I don’t mean somebody that you’re romantically interested in. I mean a person to talk to. You’re going to scan the room and you’re going to spot the person that’s showing some energy. They’re making eye contact with you, they look they’d be friendly and could chat about anything. You and I would walk in a room as complete strangers and find each other because we each could talk all day long about absolutely anything.
If that’s what you seek, that’s what you’re going to find. We put that energy out there in our behaviors. When I talk about the E-Zone, I see it as a cardiac monitor and that there’s a heartbeat that goes inside this certain range. There are some people that come to work outside the range. On the top side, those are our Susie Sunshines. They’re coming to work going, “Good Morning,” and their pitch is high. I don’t believe them, I don’t believe you. You’re outside the zone. Underneath are the Boring Bobs. Those are the ones dragging themselves to work without any energy at all and complaining that it isn’t Friday yet. In between those two people is the zone, the place we want to be. That starts the moment you walk in the door. It’s a head game more than anything else.
When I was sixteen, I got a job at a grocery store and had to get up at 5:00 in the morning on the weekends and go make the donuts. You might remember a commercial years ago where the guy would get up and he’s like, “I’ve got to go and make the donuts.” That’s how my mom would wake me up in the morning, “It’s time for you to go make the donuts.” I’d show up to work. By the time the customers appeared at the grocery store, I had better be ready to sprinkle and deliver and keep on going. That’s the early age when I learned the energy thing.
Inside the zone, we’ve got to match the moment and that’s where I bring the heart monitor part into it because people are disconnected. I’ll use healthcare as an example. If you’re sitting in front of me and I now need to give you a bad diagnosis or I need to perform a test on you that’s not going to be comfortable. It is a disconnect if I’m bringing my Susie Sunshine high-end like, “John, I’ve got you. This is only going to hurt a little,” and my pitch is high and I’m way off the energy zone. You’re uncomfortable with that. I need to bring the energy down and still stay in the zone but bring you that engagement that matches the severity of the situation.
Sometimes you do have to have tough decisions with people and not treat them children, which is what you’re talking about. Don’t be robotic. This needs to be authentic. That’s where empathy comes in big time. I’ve seen some people do this well in customer service when someone’s angry, they want to quit or return something. If the culture allows for that person to say, “I could see how that could make you mad. I would be mad if I was in your shoes.” That can diffuse the situation.
It can make a big difference. The whole idea of empowering people to be able to find those resolutions is an extremely big part of the culture we had. Our doctor felt that if the decision you made was the best thing for the patient and the practice, I back you on that decision rather than handcuffing us and not letting us do anything without permission. That becomes a culture choice.
We talked before about some of the clichés that people sometimes do only because they don’t know how else to ask the question. In a phone call situation versus an in-person one, they’re told, “Get the person’s name and try to use the three times within ten minutes.” They’re going, “To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with now?” Nobody talks like that in person so why because when we’re on the phone, do we talk that to each other?
You get the idea that they’re reading a script to you. A script that doesn’t even match this conversation.
Talk about not matching the moment. I role-played with somebody and I said, “Let’s pretend I work here.” I said, “My name is John, I’m from XYZ company.” They say, “I want to do this or that.” I said, “Great, let me reintroduce myself to you because many times, people don’t hear it at the beginning. My name is John and you are?” That’s what I would to do in person. Do you have other ways?We put energy out there in our behaviors. What you seek is what you're going to find. Click To Tweet
Sometimes it’s a simple question of, “May I ask your name?” How hard is that? That sounds so much better. There’s a well-known food chain that has taught its people to do this glorious greeting. They say, “It’s a great pleasure to serve you today.” When the greeting doesn’t match what we believe to be the reality, we have a disconnect. I do not believe you are that enthusiastic about giving me my chicken sandwich. We’ve got to figure out how do we give that energy and this service that you and I are both talking about in an authentic way? What’s weird about this is you would think it would be common sense, but it’s not. We have to train it. You have to teach what we want the words to be, but allow them to bring their own personality to the table.
The other thing in customer service/support sales is to build rapport and ask people questions. People don’t feel comfortable. I’ll go, “What questions are you asking them to say?” They’ll go, “We thought we’d start with, ‘How’s your day going?’” It seems it’s so off purpose for why the person called. They’re not calling to make a friend. Even if you are meeting somebody for the first time in a networking event, you probably think of something else to say besides that.
That would be a great title in the future book you’re going to write on sales. It’s like, “They’re not calling to make a friend.” Isn’t that the truth? They’re calling for results. They want a solution and an answer. I have this in the book. I am not a fan of the phrase, “How are you?” Unless you actually care and want to hear the answer. My replacement for that is, “It’s nice to see you.” I don’t say, “How are you?” I say, “It’s nice to see you.” It starts a conversation and you’ll be amazed how often do you first start using it. People respond, “I’m pretty good, thanks and you?” It’s so robotic. They’re so used to what the answer is supposed to be.
This concept of trying to be authentic and instead of saying, in this case in real estate, “How’s your day going?” I came up with another question that’s more pertinent, “How’s the house hunting experience going for you? Is it a nightmare?”
It’s so much better.
That’s a relevant question that I’m more than happy to answer and I feel that you might actually care about my experience from that question.
As we used to say, “Get focused on the body part you care about,” so to speak, which is the same with the real estate. I worked in ophthalmology and if you’re coming to see us and I asked you, how are you feeling or how are you doing? What you’re going to do, especially as an older adult, is show me the scar from your most recent surgery. You’re going to tell me that you didn’t feel good last night. I at least got to get to the right body part. We were trained to say, “Tell me how your eyes are doing.” We’ve at least narrowed it down to what I can do something. That’s the same thing with real estate, “How’s your house-hunting going?” We’re not getting all this extra stuff. That’s a great one.
You talk about anticipating a customer’s needs and that small gestures can create loyal customers. Can you tell us what that means?
I do think that there are small things you can do to create loyal customers. The first one that comes to my mind is, a few years back, we did a remodeling at our home and we called four different contractors to come to the home to look at it and give us a bid. Two of them never showed up. One of them made the appointment and didn’t call back at all. The fourth one showed up when he said he would exactly on time every time he came. He explained things to us in a way that we would understand, not the internal lingo and if he used a lingo word, he would define it right behind it.
The biggest thing that I loved was when he explained that there are change orders, “After we go in with a quote, it’s locked in. This number will not change but if you decide you’re going to put in fancier windows, there will be a change quote and you’ll see the additional cost it’s going to be.” When the project was over, he came in at the penny of what he promised that it would. These are not dramatic things that he offered but I’ve been talking about him in the decades since we did this remodel because he was unique in his industry. You show up on time and do what you say you’re going to do.
Isn’t that amazing that that’s the new differentiator as opposed to the minimum acceptable behavior these days? That’s what it is. That’s how you can do this. You and I love words. You have a whole chapter devoted to choosing words wisely.
That’s my favorite chapter as a matter of fact.What differentiates a culture from another is the delivery from the people who put it out there. Click To Tweet
You know that I love alliterations. The way you’ve structured your writing is Words Wisely. You talked about Careful Communication. It’s two Ws and two Cs. I want to get a hats off to that. That is important. Let’s do a couple of these great examples. You have version one which is going to cost you about $259 or the fee for that service is $259. That would sound fairly close to a lot of fees versus costs. What is that?
Fee versus cost and the other thing is your personal attitude towards the cause. One of my jobs was to help eye doctors who sell you glasses help them be successful. I would go in and therefore they would refer more people to us because we didn’t do eyeglasses in our firm. My point is when I would go and watch their teamwork, if the person checking you out from the eye care place thought that $259 was a lot of money to pay for a pair of glasses, they would say things like, “That’s going to cost you about $259.” The tone in my voice is, “You don’t want to pay this, do you?” We would have to train them to say, “The fee will be $259 and we take 50% now or I’ll need 50% now.” We would give them the words to say, you need to lean into this number because if you don’t believe they should pay it, they’re certainly not going to want to pay.
I use this all the time, “The investment to work with me is,” or “You’re getting a return on your investment when you hire me.”
We were at the dentist. We wanted to have some teeth whitening done for one of our children. It was going to be expensive under $500, but we would pay anything to help her smile. We want to do this. Multiple times, different people on the team kept going, “That’s going to be about $500. Why don’t you try the Crest white strips? Why don’t you try this?” They talked us out of it. We were begging. When I got in the car with my husband, I said, “We are begging for them to do this task. Why don’t we find another provider?” When we went to the other provider, they were all over it. They’re like, “Let us show you how we do this. It’s under $500.” It was the same fee. She called it under and had all this enthusiasm, that energy zone. We were like, “Sign us up.” The procedure has now come and gone and we’re thrilled with it. What bothers me about it is, don’t assume that I don’t want to pay the money. If I want that service or that product badly enough, I might’ve been willing to pay $1,000 for it. In fact, I was willing to.
It affects confidence and outlook. You think to yourself, “If I wanted that version of going and buying something from the drug store, I’m getting the results of that. If I want someone to take the time to match, what’s your skin tone? Your teeth should be this shade and not that shade. This is not a one size fits all. What you’re buying when you’re buying teeth whitening is how you’re going to feel. Does smiling more make you more confident? There’s research that says it elevates your mood. You know as well as I, that they tell people on the phone, “Smile,” because people can hear it your voice. If you don’t like your smile, you’re not going to smile all the time.
I want the salespeople who are reading, especially those who maybe are emerging salespeople that one of the most important things is you have got to believe in your own fees. Even if you’re not the one who said them, even if you have no control over the fees, you better believe in your product and service enough that you feel the people will be lucky to have you. It’s the same way in our business, John. We have to decide what our fee is for a certain job and if we act we’re not worth it or we’re not going to bring the value, then nobody’s going to pick you out of that three-pack. They’re going to go with somebody else. Sales to me are not about pushing you to buy something you don’t want. It’s educating you on why this is the right thing for you at the price I’ve set it at. There’s a big difference between those two.
You’re singing my song because I talk about the old way of selling is to push out a lot of information and the new way is to tell a story that pulls people in.
The story is so critical because everybody wants to hear a story. Think about when you’ve been someplace, maybe it’s a church or something where someone’s talking a lot and you’re losing interest, and they click into a story and you’re back. That’s the same way with sales. It’s powerful that you teach that.
I want to leave the readers with one of my favorite parts of your book, which is, “Replace the word no with actually.” I’m going to be the person that the answer is negative. I’m going to say, “Can I expect to receive my lawn chairs tomorrow?”
The wrong way would be, “Nope. We don’t see those coming in until next Tuesday because of the holiday.” The right way to say it is, “Actually, that delivery is due on Tuesday.”
“Okay. Tuesday it is.” It’s so great. If you took nothing else from this book and believe me, that’s the tip of the iceberg of all the incredible value in The 10¢ Decision. I highly recommend people getting it. Laurie was generous enough to offer a little discount. Laurie, how can people get that discount and follow you on social media?
To get the discount, you can go to the book website, which is TenCentDecision.com. You can either do it as 10 or spell it out. Either way, it gets you there. When you go to buy the book, there’s a place where you can apply a coupon code. Anybody reading can use the word podcast, all one word. That tells us that you heard about it on this podcast. They can get 20% off for that. I’m on Facebook, Instagram and all the regular ones. I’m happy to connect with people there as well as LinkedIn. My regular website is LaurieGuest.com and we do reply to all messages on social media. Talk to us and we will talk back.
They’ll talk back in the right energy zone. That’s for sure. Thanks, Laurie, for being such a great guest, having such great energy and giving us such great tips. I’m never going to say the word no again. Even if somebody asked me out on a date, “Actually, I’m not available.”
Actually, you should be so lucky.
There we go. Thanks again.
- The 10¢ Decision: How Small Change Pays Off Big
- The Farmer’s Dog
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