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16 Ways to Win Your Employees' Love Without Losing Their Respect

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It’s funny how, when you ask people what makes a good boss, they’ll probably tell you about their worst one. It’s human nature to remember every insult and injury from the insufferable jerk who made going to work a miserable experience and forget the kind, mentoring soul who quietly boosted your confidence.

Another way to look at it (especially around Valentine’s Day): Enduring a horrible boss is the workplace equivalent of having to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince or princess. When we asked the INSTORE Brain Squad to tell us about your best bosses, many of you shared tales of your worst. One person wrote:

“The boss who taught me the most was the worst boss I ever had! Actually, two of them. The first taught me how not to treat people, customers and fellow employees. He was a real snake, gloated over cheating people. The second taught me how not to run a jewelry business. I learned by their mistakes and feel that I am more successful now having worked for them.”

It’s true that toxic bosses from the past can offer useful lessons to small-business owners. As Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss says, “It is a lot easier to learn from that guy than to be that guy.” (He also quotes Eleanor Roosevelt, who said “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”) But many ineffective bosses are good people who haven’t had positive examples of how to lead and manage people. This is especially true in small retail businesses, where the owner becomes a boss by default.

The first step to being a great boss is realizing there’s always room to improve.  One great way to do it? Learn from other retailers’ experiences—check out our accompanying profiles of some especially memorable bosses—and learn from writers and thinkers who’ve studied how smart bosses inspire their teams to produce great results. Here are some of their top tips.

1. Make Time for Every Employee

As the boss, you are kind of a big deal. “That’s why an employee who wants to talk about something that seems inconsequential may just want to spend a few moments with you,” says Jeff Haden, who writes about how great bosses got that way. “When that happens, you can blow the employee off, or you can take the chance to inspire, reassure and motivate.”

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2. Let people be themselves

Bosses often get their rudest awakening when they realize employees have their own ways of doing things, says Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers To Differently. If you force people to follow your playbook, then two things happen: “They become resentful — they don’t want to do it. And they become dependent — they can’t do it. Neither of these is terribly productive.”

3. Rescue Mission

Your greatest success may come from mentoring your least promising employee, Haden adds. “Your remarkable employees don’t need a lot of your time; they’re remarkable because they already have these qualities,” he notes. “If you’re lucky, you can get a few percentage points of extra performance from them. But a struggling employee has tons of upside; rescue him and you make a tremendous difference.”

4. Steady On

A Google-commissioned study of more than 10,000 employee observations showed human interaction, not technical skills, was the best indicator of success for bosses. As Adam Bryant explained in his New York Times article, “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss,” the highest-rated managers “were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

5. Build Trust

Counterintelligence expert Robin Dreeke has co-written a book called The Code Of Trust with five rules for leadership: suspend your ego, be nonjudgmental, honor reason, validate others and be generous. Dreeke adds that it’s important for bosses to identify goals and priorities, but then let go of them and work to understand what other people value, because doing so builds trust. As Dreeke says on a Knowledge@Wharton podcast, “This is my manual on how not to be the person I was born to be. This is my manual on how to overcome that Type-A hard charger that just barrels forward and ruins relationships because they think it’s all about them.”

6. Be Memorable

In her book Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know, Jill Geisler shares three things employees never forget: a boss who apologizes when he or she is wrong (preferably in public, if that’s where the earlier criticism took place); a boss who reacts to a worker’s boneheaded errors with wisdom, knowing just how long to let people stew over their own mistakes; and bosses who respond to personal achievements and losses (big and small) with encouragement or empathy. On the flip side, she lists three things employees never forgive: a lying boss, a boss who takes credit for the staff’s work or ideas, or a boss who behaves differently around superiors than around the troops.

7. See Yourself Through Their Eyes

Stanford University professor Robert Sutton has made a career writing about how to survive difficult people in the workplace and in life. After he published his book The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace And Surviving One That Isn’t, he received tons of stories about difficult bosses, enough to fill a sequel (which eventually came out last year in The Asshole Survival Guide: How To Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt). But he heard about effective bosses, too, people who took “diverse and intertwined steps to create effective and humane workplaces.” He suggests that the best bosses pay close attention to how their employees see and hear them, from facial expressions to tone of voice.

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8. Encourage Feedback

You need to know what your employees are thinking, but they may not be willing to tell you in their employee review or even in the more casual one-to-one meetings that you’re hopefully having with them at regular intervals. Whether it’s a suggestion box in the break room or a confidential survey or focus group facilitated by a third party, give your people opportunities to suggest ways you can improve as their boss. Then let down your defenses, and take their feedback seriously.

9. Chill Out

It’s true that passion can inspire performance, but if you’re always yelling at your employees, it’s worth asking whether your emotions are helping or hurting business. “Personally, I’m going to assume that successful screamers make it in spite of the screaming, not because of it,” writes Jay Goltz on The New York Times’ “You’re the Boss” blog.

10. Put People Before Goals  

It’s good to have sales targets, but that shouldn’t be your primary focus. Without great employees, no amount of focus on goals and targets will ever pay off, says Jeff Haden. “It’s your job to provide the training, mentoring and opportunities your employees need and deserve,” he adds. “When you do, you transform the relatively boring process of reviewing results and tracking performance into something a lot more meaningful for your employees: Progress, improvement and personal achievement.”

11. Demythologize Crisis

We’re living at a time when “our institutions seem to be in serial meltdown,” says Elizabeth Samet, a professor of English at the United States Military Academy, in her introduction to Leadership: Essential Writings By Our Greatest Thinkers. “If we live in a world of crisis, we also live in a world that romanticizes crisis—that finds in it fodder for addiction to the 24-hour new cycle, multiple information streams and constant stimulation.” Sound familiar?

But humans cannot thrive in a state of constant turmoil, so do what you can to cultivate a low-drama life and workplace. Listen to music instead of the news or talk radio on your way to work. Eat well, get adequate sleep, exercise and take time to play—and help your employees do the same things. Researchers at the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic found that a workplace-based stress management program boosted employee morale and vitality, with positive changes still evident a year later.

12. Unpack Your Power Trip 

In a conversation with psychologist Ron Friedman at the Peak Work Performance Summit, author Dan Pink cited research showing that when we feel powerful, we’re less likely to see other people’s perspectives. That’s why it’s helpful to “dial down your feelings of power just a little bit” to see the world how your employees do.

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13. Admit You Don’t Know It All

You had the vision and talent to launch your small business, but that doesn’t mean you naturally have the skills to be a great boss. It’s smart to look for mentors and seek opportunities for leadership growth. Writing on Bloomberg.com, Rebecca Greenfield profiles executive coach Ben Olds, who helps bosses learn to have difficult conversations, harness their emotions and just plain listen. Few people are beyond help. For Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, “Olds would want to understand what provokes him. To find that out, he would talk through some regrettable incidents, in the hope of improving his emotional intelligence and avoiding bad behavior.”

14. Deal with the Small Stuff 

“Nothing kills team morale more quickly than problems that don’t get addressed,” says Haden. Even petty issues—squabbling employees, tardiness and negativity — are distractions that merit your action. “Small problems always fester and grow into bigger problems. Plus, when you ignore a problem, your employees immediately lose respect for you, and without respect, you can’t lead,” he says. “Never hope a problem will magically go away, or that someone else will deal with it. Deal with every issue head-on, no matter how small.”

15. No Harassment

The #MeToo movement of the past few months has made it clear there are no longer any gray areas when it comes to recognizing and dealing with workplace sexual harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website has information on how to deal with this new reality. Go to eeoc.gov and look for “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment.” Hire and promote all kinds of people who can give your company a wider lens on the world (and attract a broader range of customers, too).

16. Inspire Their Brilliance 

Buckingham suggests that managers identify and encourage their employees’ best traits and talents. In fact, he says that’s the one defining characteristic of the best managers. “Great managers know they don’t have 10 salespeople working for them,” he says. “They know they have 10 individuals working for them.” Rather than be obsessed with your employees’ weaknesses, encourage them to do things they love to do, whether that’s window displays, social media or greeting customers.

 

Few people are as influential in our lives as our bosses. We asked the INSTORE Brain Squad to tell us about their most memorable and effective mentors at work. Here are a few of your stories.

Cathy Calhoun and John Strasbaugh worked together for 15 years at his store, where she quickly had to learn the ropes after he’d had a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day. Calhoun eventually opened her own shop. He retired a year ago, and the two remain friends.

Cathy Calhoun

Calhoun Jewelers | Royersford, PA

Best boss: John Strasbaugh  
Lesson: Trust 

My answer would be my ex-boyfriend/boss. I was a banker dating a jeweler when he had a heart attack on Thanksgiving. In the emergency room, John said, “You’re going to have to go run my store.” At first, I thought, it can’t be that hard, but I had no clue.

I had a couple looking at engagement rings, and they asked why two rings of the same size were different prices. I said, “I don’t know, he must have it mismarked, so take whichever one you want for the cheaper price.” I thought since I’m a banker, I’ll go through and make them all the right prices—half carats the same price, three-quarter carats the same price, and so on.

I told John that night and of course he grabbed his chest and I’m thinking he’s going to have another heart attack. But even with that, I quickly got an education, and I was thrown in a good time at Christmas when everyone lines up to buy. So it gave me confidence, and then I became passionate about it — and through all of that, he trusted me completely.

Russell Criswell

Russell Criswell

Vulcan’s Forge | Kansas City, MO

Best boss: Bogey Nash  
Lesson: Everyone is a potential customer  

My very first boss was Bogey Nash, who owned an antique furniture refinishing store called Bogey’s Barn and Strip Joint. I started out working for him one summer for a dollar an hour when I was 13 years old. I was sanding away on some furniture, listening in on the conversation. I heard him say, “No, no, that’s not who you’re calling. Yes, this is Bogey’s Barn and Strip Joint. We do refinishing and in fact, I bet you have a piece of furniture that needs refinished.” I listened as he sold $3,000 of refinishing services to someone who dialed a wrong number!

So that was my big takeaway. I know that everybody has a piece of broken jewelry that they want fixed, and we just have to get to that. So when somebody says, “No, I don’t think I need anything today,” I say, “I’ll bet you have something sitting at home in the jewelry box that you’d love to be able to get out and wear—and we can make that happen.” When someone comes in to replace a watch battery, they’re kind of a captive audience. Not all our customers know everything we can do, so those are good conversation fillers.

Linda McEathron

Design House Jewelry | Waco, TX

Best boss: Billie Moses  
Lesson: Express appreciation  

My best-ever boss would definitely be Miss Billie Moses. I worked for her at Mastercraft Jewelry in Waco for 10 years. I started as a bench jeweler, and over time was given the freedom to learn purchasing, marketing, leadership, and last but not least, how to cook. I have recipe cards to this day that are handwritten by her.

She wanted us to treat each and every customer like family. There were times when we’d have lunches and dinners right in the store, and if a customer came in at that time, they were welcome to sit and eat with us. It was mostly to make customers feel like they were part of the store and very much appreciated.

One of my most treasured gifts was a letter she wrote me for Christmas. As they were handing out Christmas bonuses, she took me aside and said, “I’ve always wanted to tell you these things but I thought it was time to write them down.” She said how proud she was to have me and how many hats I wore in the store. I have that letter still, and I am so grateful for her confidence and encouragement.

Tom Duma joined his father, Thom, in business partly because he wanted to spend more time with him. They wound up having decades together before Thom Duma died in 2016 at age 96.

Tom Duma

Thom Duma Fine Jewelers | Warren, OH

Best boss: Thom Duma
Lesson: Let people fail  

My dad went to watchmakers’ school on the GI Bill after World War II and later owned both a jewelry store and motorcycle dealership. (I was racing professionally at the time.) After my racing career finished, he asked me if I wanted to work in the motorcycle industry or come to work with him in the jewelry business. I chose the jewelry business and he taught me everything. Getting to work with my father was such a huge blessing in my life.

I guess the biggest thing he did was allow me to fail and still support me. Fail by buying the wrong inventory or too much inventory or run a sale that didn’t work, and that taught me how to be better. But when I failed, it wasn’t “I told you so.” It was more “Let’s not do that again. Let’s keep moving forward.” He would challenge me, but he would let me do it my way. I have an employee who now works with me and is slowly getting involved in every aspect of the business, so I’m doing that with her.

Patty Hansen started working in her mom’s store as a girl, and at 98, Dorothy still spends time every day in the store she founded. Here they are at a trade show together. Patty says her mom taught her not to sweat the small stuff and to always treat customers with grace and dignity.

Patty Gallun Hansen

Dorothy Gallun Fine Jewelry | Cedarburg, WI

Best boss: Dorothy Gallun 
Lesson: It pays to be kind  

The best boss I’ve ever had was my mom. She founded Dorothy Gallun Jewelry in the 1950s, when it was pretty gutsy for a woman to own her own business. She taught me that kindness does matter, and, “treat people the way you want to be treated.”

There have been times when customers have taken advantage of that, but Mom handled it with grace and dignity. People would come in years after they bought something and it’d look like it’d been run over by a truck. My mother would always accept it back with a smile and say something humorous so they’d know that she knew it wasn’t sitting in a box all those years.

We would ask her, “Why are you doing that? No one else would do that. They obviously damaged it.” But she said all that would do is make the customer very unhappy. You swallow it and you move on. If she couldn’t help a customer, she’d refer them to another jeweler. People would come back because of it. They’d say they knew they could trust her.

Jerry and Teddie Gause are partners in business and in life. Jerry bought the business from his dad, who founded Gause & Son Jewelers in 1950.

Teddie Gause 

Gause & Son Jewelers | Ocala, FL

Best boss: Jerry F. Gause  
Lesson: Treat vendors with respect  

Jerry Gause and I had been next-door neighbors and were in the same class in high school. When my husband passed away, he sent me a note expressing his condolences and said if I needed a job to come see him at his jewelry store. Having two teenage daughters to raise, I went in for an interview and he hired me. I am proud to say he is my boss, mentor, and best friend—and now I am married to that fine gentleman.

One thing he taught me years ago was to always treat our jewelry salesmen and vendors with respect. One day a young man walked into our store around 4 p.m., looking tired. He said he’d called on six stores that day and they’d treated him rudely. I invited him to sit down in our Diamond Room, gave him water and said I would look at his line and just might buy one thing from him. He opened his case and pulled out a two-and-a-half-carat engagement ring and said he’d sell me the ring for just enough to cover his travel expenses. That ring was a bargain, so being kind and courteous paid off.

Cliff Yankovich

Chimera Design | Lowell, MI

Cliff Yankovich

Best boss: Harold Hampton 
Lesson: Under-promise and over-deliver  

Harold Hampton went through employees like socks. After four years, I was the old-timer on his staff. I was able to work for him because I worked for my own father as a kid. My dad was a tough customer and expected you to work your butt off, just like Harold.

Jewelers often tell people what they want to hear, but Harold really drilled “under-promise and over-deliver” into our heads, and that’s the most valuable lesson I took away from him—other than the fact he paid for my GIA diamond graduate training. He was a hard taskmaster, but I never would have had the confidence and the knowledge to open our store if I hadn’t worked for him.

Julie Fanselow is a writer, editor, coach, and dot-connector. She was the founding editor of SmartWork Media's magazine for eyecare professionals, INVISION.

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Cleaning House for a New Generation

At Komara Jewelers in Canfield, Ohio, Wilkerson handled all the aspects of its retirement sale just as owner Bob Komara’s children took over day-to-day operations of the business. They’d used other companies before, says Brianna Komara-Pridon, but they didn’t compare. “If we had used Wilkerson then, it would have been so much better.”

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Cover Stories

100 Things a Jewelry Salesperson Should Never Do

Don’t ask a customer their budget … and 99 more sales no-nos.

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EVERY STORE and every salesperson is different, but some aspects of the jewelry business are universal. We suspect most INSTORE readers will agree with the bulk of the suggestions on this list (especially since the bulk of them came from INSTORE readers). No single salesperson will avoid all 100 of these “don’ts” every single day, but what matters is that they give you something to strive for. So read them, post them in the break room, breathe them, live them. Your customers — not to mention your coworkers and boss — will thank you.

1. Do not take longer than 5-10 seconds to greet a customer when they enter the store.

2. Do not greet the customer with “May I help you?” They’ll say, “I’m just looking.”

3. Do not greet the customer with “Are you looking for something special today?” They are. That’s why they’re in a jewelry store. Use an open-ended question: “What brings you in here today?”; “Where would you like to get started?”

4. Never write off a customer based on how they’re dressed.

5. Never ask a customer what their budget is.

6. Do not ask if you can show them something. Just show them.

7. Do not point or say, “Over there” when a customer asks where the engagement rings/pearls/designer cufflinks are. Walk them over to the case and take something out.

8. Do not ask a customer if they’re looking for white or yellow gold. That eliminates a chunk of inventory before they’ve even seen it.

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9. Do not show them a lower-priced item first.

10. Do not ignore either half of a couple.

11. Do not treat customers differently from day to day. If you offered them coffee yesterday, offer them coffee today and tomorrow.

12. Don’t be pushy. Never give up immediately, but don’t make the customer uncomfortable either.

13. Do not go into a “selling” mode that is different from your normal personality. Have a natural conversation.

14. Never criticize a person’s taste in jewelry.

15. Never refer to a stone as “small” or of “poor” quality. You don’t know if the customer has a stone like that at home.

16. Do not interrupt a customer.

17. Do not one-up a customer’s story.

18. Never use profanity on the sales floor, regardless of the customer’s own language.

19. Don’t expect the jewelry to sell itself. Justify your existence.

20. Don’t tell a customer to “Take a look around” and leave them on their own.

21. But do not hover over a customer who has asked or signaled clearly that they wish to be left alone to browse.

22. Do not walk away from a customer you’ve started working with. Have a free coworker bring you anything you need.

23. Do not leave a piece of jewelry in the case when someone asks about it.

26. Do not start talking about a piece of jewelry and leave it in the case.

27. Do not show a piece of jewelry until you’ve learned a customer’s name and a little bit about why they’re in your store.

28. Do not put your fingers all over a piece of jewelry before handing it to a client.

29. Never take out more than one or two pieces at a time.

30. Do not guess a woman’s ring size. When you hand her the sizer, go a little larger than you suspect. She’ll feel better having to go down than having to go up.

31. Do not make a customer feel uncomfortable asking for the price.

33. Never steer a customer away from what they’re asking for just because you’d like to sell something else. Show them what they want to see.

34. Never inflate the price just so you can discount it later.

35. Do not rely on discounts to make sales. It’s lazy.

36. Do not offer a discount after another sales associate has already quoted a price.

38. Never let the price be the last thing you mention. Try something like: “It’s $395. Isn’t that oxidized silver such a striking look?”

39. Do not misrepresent a piece of jewelry, or exaggerate to make it sound more impressive.

40. Do not stop selling before the customer is ready to stop buying.

41. But do not keep offering suggestions when a customer has made up their mind. If they’ve found a ring they’re ready to buy, don’t keep showing more rings.

42. In the course of conversation, never bring up other, non-jewelry gift possibilities or expenses that could compete with your sale.

43. Do not talk a customer out of buying a more expensive piece of jewelry.

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44. Never assume a customer is after only what they came in for. Simple battery replacements have turned into five-digit sales because the salesperson took a shot instead of letting the client aimlessly stand around waiting.

45. Don’t give up. If nothing you have in the case is what the customer wants, bring out some catalogs or get a quote from a supplier for a special order.

46. If you really can’t get what a customer wants, don’t give up then either. If they’re set on a certain line you don’t carry, advise them on where to go, and even call that store to see if they’ve got the item. The client will remember you.

47. Don’t forget to ask for a cellphone number, email address or other contact info. Ask for it in a natural way: “Can I email you, so you’ve got my information handy in case you have questions?”

48. Do not talk too much. The customer did not come in to hear about your kids or your mom or whatever. Shut up and listen.

49. Do not ever ask, “When are you due?” unless a woman has made it clear she is pregnant.

50. Never bring up a customer’s ex, especially when you’re selling something for their new partner.

51. Never text while you’re on the sales floor. Leave your cell phone on your desk or in your coat.

52. Do not use the phone in front of a customer if the call isn’t business-related.

54. Never, ever answer the phone while you’re already waiting on someone in person. People hate that. If you’re on the phone when someone walks in, end the call within 15 seconds.

55. If you are in the middle of another task when a customer comes in, do not complete it while they stand there twiddling their thumbs.

56. Do not start an unrelated conversation with a coworker while a customer is waiting. It makes the customer feel like a third wheel.

57. Never chew gum on the sales floor. Don’t use a toothpick either. And never pick your nose (especially with a toothpick).

61. Never bad-mouth another customer.

62. Do not neglect your personal appearance. You sell luxury goods. Also remember: In this business, people look at your hands — hands and nails matter for men and women.

63. Do not wear a piece of jewelry on the sales floor if the store doesn’t carry that line. That’s like hanging up an ad for something you don’t sell.

64. Unless you already have a relationship, don’t call a customer at home or work to make a sale.

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65. Do not lean on anything. Stand up straight.

66. Do not yell across the showroom.

67. Do not refer to customers as “you guys.” Just plain “you” is sufficiently plural.

68. Never guess. If you don’t know something about a stone or metal, a store policy, or a repair, admit it. Then find out the answer.

69. Don’t get too technical when selling. Few customers are fascinated by the mechanics of jewelry design. Focus on the benefits that technical features convey.

71. Never say, “No problem.” The phrase you’re looking for is “You’re welcome.”

72. Never complain about anything. When you’re on the floor, Life is Perfect.

73. Do not tell customers that sales have been slow, even if they have.

74. Never bad-mouth a competing jeweler, even if the customer is complaining about them.

75. Do not turn a customer over to another associate just because a “better” prospect has walked in.

76. Never underestimate how long it will take to finish a job or get something in. Pad your timeline; when it comes in sooner, they’ll be thrilled.

77. Never sell jewelry as an investment. You’re making a promise you can’t keep.

78. Do not take in a repair without making clear, in writing — and with a picture if possible — exactly what is to be done. If additional charges pop up, call before proceeding.

79. Do not hand back a completed repair without looking it over in the customer’s presence. If there are still issues to address, both of you want to know before they walk out the door.

80. Do not ignore younger customers. The 12-year-old spending $25 today might be back for an engagement ring in 10 years.

81. Do not give customers paying cash 96 cents in change. What is this, a gas station? Round up.

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82. Do not suddenly turn on the charm when you’re closing a sale. People will notice, and it will offend them.

83. Never tell a customer the store will be closing, to hint that they should hurry up and leave.

84. Never leave the sales floor if you’re the only one on it.

85. Never leave a showcase unsecured when you’re finished with it. And don’t leave your keys out.

86. Do not abide fingerprints or smudges on the showcases. If you’re free, wipe them down immediately.

88. Do not ask a woman if she likes the jewelry her husband bought her. It might not have been for her.

89. In fact, don’t bring up purchases with anyone except the purchaser. You don’t know whom it’s really for, or if it’s supposed to be a surprise.

90. To that end, do not leave voice or email messages that could spoil a surprise. Simply leave your name and number, and ask for a call back.

91. Do not forget to thank customers with a note or call. It’s not just polite; it’s your chance to do damage control if something went wrong.

92. Do not fail to keep good records. There are husbands and boyfriends out there who will love you for knowing what their ladies want.

93. Never forget to offer to gift-wrap a purchase.

94. Don’t be afraid to hop in the car and hand-deliver an item. That’s something customers tell their friends about.

95. Do not inconvenience a customer. If there’s a way to make their life easier, don’t dismiss it just because it’s not usually done.

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96. Do not place blame. It doesn’t matter if it’s the goldsmith’s fault, or the supplier’s, or yours. Just fix it.

97. Never forget that some things are more important than money. Where death or other serious grief is involved, don’t be a stickler over store policy.

98. Never insult a customer or act as if they don’t belong in your store.

99. Never, ever, ever lie to a customer. Or to your boss or fellow employees, for that matter.

100. Do not read while you’re on the sales floor. Not even high-quality literature like In Search of Lost Time or Anna Karenina or INSTORE. (Oops! OK, put it down beginning … now!)

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Cover Stories

20 Ways You Can Deliver Jaw-Dropping Customer Service

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JEWELERS DELIVER CHRISTMAS GIFTS in blizzards without the convenience of sleigh and flying reindeer. They whip up custom orders faster than the speed of a laser. They leap headlong into the role of emergency ring bearer. These tales are the stuff of company legend for independent retailers. But the Henderson family of Bend, OR, has a story that really stands out.

Annette Henderson had gone into labor in December at the same time that her husband, Ron Henderson, needed a finished piece of jewelry delivered to a customer.
“So he asked my mom to deliver it (the jewelry) on the way to the hospital and that he would meet her there,” says their daughter Natasha Henderson, manager of Saxon’s Fine Jewelers. Jewelry delivery made, Annette was driving over the railroad tracks on the way to the hospital when her water broke.

All was well, though, because the second “delivery” took place in the hospital. And the baby — Natasha — joined the family business and works with both of her parents at Saxon’s. “We even get along for the most part,” Natasha says. “And my mom didn’t kill my dad over that. She hasn’t yet, anyway.”
OK, they win, right!?

Beyond the heroics, though, what are you doing to deliver extreme customer service every day? And why is that so important in 2019?

Sometimes it seems there are not enough hours in the day to keep customers happy. Fifty seven percent of respondents to INSTORE’s 2018 Big Survey work more than 45 hours per week. Eric Ohanian of Eric Ohanian & Sons Co. in Boston is one of them. “I am meeting two customers on the way home tonight after working 11 hours,” he says. “We go the extra mile almost daily. I do believe it is the only reason we are still in business. Giving that extra level of service is all that sets us apart from the big box stores or the Internet.”

Besides devoting time to it, other keys to offering extreme customer service include making it personal, building relationships and developing a company culture focused on the customer.

Author and retail business strategist Bob Phibbs says simply that people who feel they matter buy more. If someone has made the effort to drive to your store, they expect to find something new and personal for them. Selling has to meet those needs and not be just about clerking or showing products.

Natasha Henderson with her parents, Ron and Annette of Bend, OR.

“To compete in 2019, you’ve got to make an emotional brand connection in your stores,” Phibbs explains. “If you have a ruthless attention to that, you’ll be fine. It’s time now to get sales training, to keep role-playing and to keep trying to figure out how to create an exceptional experience in your store.”
That means training for consistency.

“Most retailers think training is something you did already — like you changed your socks this morning. But training has to be a culture. When I work with great sales groups every day, there’s a focus; they’re looking at new products and role-playing. Instead of letting people sit behind the counter and talk about what happened on Game Of Thrones last night, keep a dialog going.”

The stakes are high because the customer experience — great or disappointing — has wider repercussions than ever before. “As soon as I walk out of your store, I can rave or rant about you,” Phibbs says. “Nobody had a microphone before like they do now.”

How to Make Someone’s Day

Consultant Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts says it’s the customer’s definition of extreme that matters — not yours. “Often,” she says, “the things we think of as over the top are really little more than what today’s experienced luxury consumer expects … and there’s nothing ‘extreme’ about simply meeting expectations.”

The standard for extreme service is most often set outside of the jewelry industry, she says. The consistency provided by high-end coffee brands or the experience of taking delivery of a new luxury car, for example, are good places to start looking for ways to surprise and delight your customer.

In other words, pay attention to good service you receive in all aspects of your life and let it inform what you do in your store.

Consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group recently experienced amazing customer service at a restaurant in Tezza sul Brenta, Italy.

“I have some vendors visiting from London, and we all went out to dinner at a little local pizzeria. We got to talking and solving the problems of the world, and suddenly we realized that we were the only people left in the restaurant. For how long? Who knows! I went up front to pay, and the owner and his wife were sitting behind the counter looking very tired, but patient. I looked over at the door, and saw they had closed an hour and a half prior! They had cheerfully served more wine and checked in on us without once suggesting it was time for us to pack up and leave. Needless to say, I will be going back to that restaurant and bringing all my friends!”

Hill, in a recent blog post, outlined how important building a strong positive business culture is in providing that kind of exceptional service. Excellent customer service can be very difficult to find, even in the luxury sector, she says. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to do.

“You can’t automate it. You can’t script it or cookie-cutter it. You can’t ensure it with policy or rules. Excellent customer service is about people, and people run on motivation.”

To create a company culture that will nurture and serve customers, you must have a culture that nurtures and serves employees. That doesn’t mean coddling. Employees want to be treated as professionals, with dignity and respect. Study after study demonstrates that employees who are trusted and expected to perform admirably will rise to the occasion.

Andrea Riso of Talisman Collection, El Dorado Hills, CA, says her culture is to do everything possible to satisfy customers, including firing staff who don’t get it. “I’ve driven for hours, shown up at weddings, loaned jewelry when something is not done in time (rarely do I ever miss a deadline), give the jewelry for free if the customer had a bad experience with our staff, fired staff, taken calls and texts 24/7/365 (and I do mean 365), fixed things for free pre-wedding for people who are not my customers!”

 

20 TIPS FOR OUTSTANDING
CUSTOMER SERVICE

 

MAKE IT PERSONAL

Barry Moltz, small-business consultant, speaker and author, says online retailers are offering a kind of “faux personalization” that has become an expectation. When he signs on to Amazon.com, for example, the site greets him by name and knows what he’s bought in the past and what he might like to buy in the future. So, if you can’t remember all of your customers’ names and everything they might like or have ever wished for or purchased, collect all the information you can from your customers and get your POS system up to speed to do the work for you. “Amazon always remembers who you are, but does your local retail store?” Moltz asks.

LET THEM TOUCH THE STUFF

John Carter, CEO of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, IL, installed a “wedding-ring playground” — a custom-made bar-height table to display bridal sample lines from vendors. It allows engagement-ring shoppers to try out many different styles in a relaxed setting. “It’s helping start the conversation with the client,” Carter says. “It’s become a way to break the ice, hear about their likes and preferences, and then we can delve into all the options.”

At Jack Lewis Jewelers, shoppers are invited to play with sample rings at the wedding-ring playground.

OFFER OMNI-CHANNEL SUPPORT

Ensure the customer has a seamless experience no matter the channel they use. If you’re cultivating e-commerce and you have a full-time social-media or marketing associate, consider chatting — offering customers online help in real time. (This can also be outsourced to a larger company.) Helping a customer on your website used to mean providing an e-mail address or listing the company phone number, says Moltz, author of Bam: Delivering Customer Service In A Self-Service World. “Real-time chat is quickly becoming a requirement to help your online clients. Can video chat be far behind, for an even more personal touch?” If you offer live-chat support, list the hours on your website so that users know when they can and can’t contact you.

SET UP A GENIUS JEWELER BAR

Daniel Pink, author of Drive, suggests a jewelry store version of the Apple Store Genius Bar. “Clueless customers — guys like me who don’t know their amethyst from their elbow — would flock to ask questions of your jewelry genius,” Pink says.

OFFER APPOINTMENTS

Some retailers have found a niche with appointment-only businesses, but it’s a nice thing to offer your favorite customers whatever your business model. Once you’ve established a relationship with a busy client, don’t leave your future availability to the chance your schedules happen to mesh. Let them make an appointment when it’s convenient to them and set aside time on your calendar to make the shopping experience special.

OFFER PRIVACY

Martin Shanker, professional trainer and president of Shanker Inc. in New York City, says that many luxury buyers would purchase more if they could be less visible when making those high-end choices. But retailers often don’t factor in the need for discretion in the sales process. “Consequently, clients are making purchases online or in cities other than where they live,” Shanker says. “Luxury sales teams need to be extra sensitive in identifying these types of buyers and take steps to offer them increased privacy.” Consider inviting them to a more private room or viewing area, away from the selling floor. “The trend to be less conspicuous has not stopped the luxury customer from making large purchases. Therefore, sales professionals need to be cautious about misinterpreting a desire for privacy as a lack of interest in buying and unintentionally trading the business down.”

MONITOR COMPLAINTS

Take a close look at customer feedback and identify the main three to five recurring complaints, whether they’re delivered in person, by phone or in an online review. Then take steps to make sure they stop recurring. Consider the feedback you receive from your customers “free customer service consulting.” This is info of great value, not an interruption of your day, says Forbes.com. What could be better than to get information directly from your customers? And yet, responding to it, reviewing it, acting on it can feel like an interruption of our work if we don’t carefully check our attitude.

HIRE THE BEST

It’s very important to have a qualified person with the right “diamond DNA” to make create a positive impression, says David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy. Research has shown the best diamond sales associates share similar traits: They are neither submissive nor aggressive, but tend toward slight extroversion, and their patience levels are in the median range (they can wait to close a sale without coming across as pushy). Once you have the right people out there, offer sales training, product knowledge and support, and make sure they are not spending their time changing batteries when they should be using their skills to greet customers and close sales

UNLOCK THEIR IMAGINATION

Chuck Kuba of Iowa Diamond in Des Moines, IA, came from a background in the performing arts before returning to the family’s traditional line of work and opening his own jewelry store. The two really aren’t so different: one is played out on the boards, the other in the imagination, says Kuba, who is a big advocate of using the “theater of the mind” to unlock a customer’s dreams, desires and aspirations. “Nothing can compare with asking a woman to close her eyes and imagine the perfect engagement ring and then describe it to you,” says Kuba. “It’s magic.”

PRACTICE EMPATHY

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Try out the role of counselor when selling or handling returns, if the situation calls for it. Say, “Tell me more.” It puts customers at ease, suggests author Harry Friedman in No Thanks, I’m Just Looking. And if they’re unhappy with a situation, it defuses the tension. If they’re not sure what they want, it will help them reach a conclusion.

REALLY LISTEN TO WHAT THEY WANT

“I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget,” says Jo Goralski of the Jewelry Mechanic in Oconomowoc, WI. “I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.”

BE VERY GOOD AT GETTING THEM TO TALK

“If they’re shopping together for an engagement ring, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone,” says Shane Decker. “Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or another online retailer. Say, ‘I’m so glad you did some research!’ If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet. The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.”

DON’T JUDGE

It’s tough even to tell anymore who has money to spend. “They don’t just come in and say I’ve got 20 grand to spend on my wife,” says Bob Phibbs. “And they don’t dress like they did in the ‘60s to buy jewelry; they may come in in flip flops and shorts. Judging has to stop.”

MANAGE EVERY FACET OF THE EXPERIENCE

“This is my favorite exercise to do with stores,” says consultant Joel Hassler of VonHasle Jewelry Advisers. “At a staff meeting, give each associate a piece of paper and have them write down as many things as they can about your store where your customer interacts with your business. Then, similar to the game Scattergories, go around the room and get a point for each thing you have on your list that no one else had. Put a $20 gift card on the line for the winner. The point you’re trying to make is that there are way more things than you might think of, almost an unending list. The door handles, the pens, the cases, the displays, the volume of your hold music, the fonts/colors in your advertising, the ceiling tiles, the burned out light bulb, the string on your bags, etc. It’s not so much about micromanaging, but over-managing everything that leaves an impression on your customer, subtle or not.”

INVITE COLLABORATION

The fact that customers want to be intimately involved in the creation of a piece of jewelry can be considered either an annoyance or an opportunity. Collins Jewelers in Dallas, GA, opts for the latter view, starting with taking the customer out to lunch to go over their renderings and then involving them in every step of production. “One customer wanted to pour his own gold, so we took care of all the details and made that possible, and he was ecstatic,” says owner Marty Collins.

SUPPORT THEIR CHARITIES

“We open our doors to any of our customers who are involved with a charity and host a fundraising event at the store,” says Tracy Lewis of Glennpeter Jewelers Diamond Centre in Albany, NY. “We hire a caterer, bartender and cleaning crew. They bring their supporters, charge at the door and make money on raffle items.” They’ve helped raise $3 million for charity that way while establishing valuable relationships with clients and prospective clients.

At Von Bargen Jewelers, each location recruits a customer advisory board that provides valuable feedback.

GREET & GUIDE

At the Diamond Vault in Sarasota, FL, a concierge greets guests upon arriving, offers a beverage (beer, wine, champagne, coffee, etc.) and helps direct them to the appropriate person or area in the store — i.e. service/repair, vintage/estate jewelry, engagement rings, fine jewelry, etc. This approach can cut down on the “just looking” response since the concierge isn’t directly trying to sell them something. At the Diamond Vault, the concierge, who is a graduate gemologist, is also equipped with a computer and a phone and can easily answer customer-service questions, no matter how technical they may be.

PULL UP A CHAIR

Treat your customers as if you’re opening your home to them, says Elle Hill of Hill & Co., or as if you’ve invited them to a party. That means providing comfortable seating and offering them a drink, at least, along with a sincere welcoming smile and acknowledgment of their presence. Consider your level of hospitality. Would you offer your guests a glass of Champagne? Brownies on a silver tray? Wine and cheese? And consider the overall impression: Is the scent of your store inviting (cinnamon, cookies)? Or is it overpowering?

START A CLUB

Shoppers feel special if they are included in a special sub-set of customers. Invite your best customers to join a VIP club, then invite them to exclusive trunk shows and offer special deals. Or put together an advisory board of well-connected customers who offer suggestions on what they’d like to see in your cases. For example, in Vermont, each Von Bargen Jewelers location has its own customer advisory board, made up of savvy, fashionable women, who meet quarterly to discuss inventory, merchandising and marketing. The store serves food and beverages, and participants receive gift bags, including $100 gift certificates to the store.

THEY ARE NOT JUST FINE

“No one should ever ask customers any question that will result in the answer, ‘Fine.’ That’s an acronym for Feelings I’m Not Expressing,” says Scott Ginsberg, author of How To Be That Guy And The Approachable Salesperson. “Instead, employees should ask only open-ended, passion-finding questions like, ‘What keeps you busy outside of work?’ and ‘What was the best part about your week?’ The question, ‘So, what do you do?’ should be outlawed completely. Because your job isn’t to learn what people do — it’s to learn who they are. Only then can you suggest the right jewelry to fit their individual truth.”

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Cover Stories

How to Know When It’s Time to Go

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on

Author Seth Godin says strategic quitting is the secret of successful organizations, while reactive quitting is the bane of those who strive and fail to get what they want. “And most people do just that, they quit when it’s painful and stick when they can’t be bothered to quit,” he writes in his book, The Dip.

In the case of retail jewelers, consultants say, some simply don’t have enough time to collect their thoughts, let alone devise a plan. Others may fear change.

If you’ve had enough, it may be time to call it quits and do something else. “Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy,” Godin writes.

Whether that something else turns out to be beach-combing in retirement, pursuing a hobby or reimagining a new way to do business, having a plan is a prerequisite to success. Jewelry store owners who do plan for the next phase of their lives express a strong sense of freedom, both before and after they activate that plan.

Consultant Bill Boyajian of Bill Boyajian & Associates has not run into any long-term jewelers who, deep down, don’t love what they do.

“That’s part of the problem,” he says. “They can’t envision what they will do if they leave their business. They haven’t had any free time to develop any hobbies. I encourage them to think about becoming a private jeweler, but being involved to a lesser extent.”

Josh Hayes, business analyst for Wilkerson, says retailers he’s worked with on retirement sales do want to stay involved with the industry. Many set up offices with a few display cases of sample lines and work by appointment. “It works out perfectly because you still have your customer lists from your store, so after your closing event, you can transition your old customers to your new endeavor. Then you have the flexibility to work as much as you choose.”

But even semi-retirement requires planning. According to David Brown of the Edge Retail Academy, 37 percent of jewelry store owners have no retirement plan at all; many just hope their exit works itself out. The key is to be in a position to retire — financially, physically, and mentally.

“Knowing that you can gives you answers,” Brown says. “Knowing that you can’t gives you stress.”
“Ask yourself, what options do I have: I can sell the business, close the business down, or I can groom the business so it runs without me, become an absentee owner and get a good income out of it,” Brown says.

On occasion, the millennial successor wants to speed up their parents’ exit, or in other ways would be an unpleasant or unsuitable business partner during a lengthy transition. In these cases, Boyajian advises the parents to liquidate most of their inventory in a sale to ensure they have money for retirement, and then simply let their kids take over the lease and the business and build up the inventory again.

Closing and retirement sales are regulated by law, and they can only be done once. Most of the store owners’ retirement income rests on the return from the sale event, so it’s incredibly important that the event is conducted properly. While Wilkerson can put together a closing event in about three weeks in an emergency situation, a year of planning will improve results, perhaps dramatically.

“Once the sale is complete, the new owner has lower inventory, minimal debt and can usually get some consignment inventory from vendors they know, and build up the store in the direction they intend to take it,” Hayes says.

Here are some examples of transition tales that show every indication they’ll be success stories.

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