Time Outs and Take Aways

This post is definitely for florists or anyone in a sales position. Hm, I know that if you are not, you are going to be intrigued enough now to read the whole post. All I say is, if you were a customer of mine, please don't judge me!! 

How can I say this nicely? When dealing with the public sometimes it's necessary to have some tools in your arsenal to keep your sanity. The two biggest ones I learned were "Time Outs and Take Aways". 

Have you ever had a customer on the phone who is placing an order for a floral gift but can't seem to
make a decision. Or perhaps they don't listen well enough to answer some of your questions such as what is the address the gift is going to or even the recipients name. You know, as the floral professional, all the things you need to get answers to in order to help this person but you just can't seem to move them along. We've all had customers like this. 10, 15 and even 20 minutes into a phone conversation with no end in sight. If you were like me, sometimes you are the only on in the shop. You are on the phone and then a customer walks in or another line rings. This customer just doesn't seem to get to the point so that you can finish their order and move on to the millions of other things you need to do. Come on, we know you have been there!! 

 After 34 years in business and training literally 100 people over the years to provide wonderful customer service, I can tell you these 2 techniques, when used at the right time, in the right way with the best of intentions will work. Oh and a shout out to the lovely woman above. That is Heena who worked with us for 16 years and was the most patient sales person I ever employed and before you ask, she used the Time Out Technique all the time!! 

Time Out Technique:

Your customer appears to be a loop. You know what I mean, you've been in loops yourself at times. A loop is when your customer is not making any forward movement on their decision making.The signs might be that they are starting to repeat themselves. Perhaps they are going back to the beginning and starting over. Another loop is when they are so in their head that they can not answer a question designed to help them. They seem to not even hear you, they talk over you, they don't come up for a breath. The person is getting more and more anxious, even distressed - yes, this can happen! Before you know it, you might even loose the customer completely because they are so unsure they might even decide not to send the floral gift. 

When you get to that point as mentioned above, the "Time Out" Technique goes like this. "Sue, I'm so sorry but would you be able to hold the line for just a split second? I have someone in front of me that needs to ask a question. I promise I'll be right back". I'd then wait for them to say it was fine. I never put someone on hold until they told me it was ok. That's important, don't even miss this step. Then you proceed to put them on hold. While they are on hold, you take a couple of deep breaths to help settle any anxiety you might have. After about 1/2 a minute, you pick up again and start off with "Thank you so much Sue, now where were we, oh yes, you wanted us to create a really pretty design to send to your sister Jill. What did you want to say on the card? ". Where ever you were stuck, you are going to get them back on track. 

If you are reading this and you've never been in sales or customer service, this might sound like total BS but loops happen more often then you might think. You are probably thinking that as a sale professional, we need to be more patient, answer all their questions and let them take as long as they like.  I'll be honest, when I would try to teach this technique to my new staff members, they really had a problem with attempting the "Time Out". I would be coaching them when I heard the conversation going down this path. I'd say "Do it, Do It Now!" and sometimes they would shake their head because they just couldn't do it. They were taught to be kind and not tell a fib (I'm going to call it a fib because it truly is with the best of intentions) but the truth is, the customer gets only more anxious and confused. As long as you are polite and genuinely want to help them, this technique gives them a minute to settle their thoughts and takes the pressure off them. 

Ok, now for the much firmer "Take Away". I learned this one from my husband who worked in sales for last part of his financial career before joining my company. This technique works for 2 reasons. First because not every order/customer is good for you and your company and second because no one deserves to be bullied.

Take Away Technique:

A customer calls and while placing an order they start really busting your chops about price. They start telling you that they used to be in the business and know better then you or perhaps they don't want to pay a delivery fee because they have seen ads for free delivery from another shop. That's when you pull out the big guns of the "Take Away" and it might go something like this. "Sue, I hear you about the delivery fee we charge. I would completely understand if you don't want to place your order with us and would like to go with that other shop you saw online. Would you like me to cancel this order and not process it, either way, I won't be offended". Then silence. You say nothing. What you have done is just said to them, either pay the delivery fee or don't place your order. You've taken away their ability to bully you into giving them free delivery. As a shop owner this is powerful but as an employee, even more so. If you work in a shop, you probably don't have the authority to change prices or give free delivery. Why get into a back and forth about that when you can just tell them you understand their frustration and just take the sale back from them. 99 times out of 100 they will tell you that they really want to place their order with your shop. Then you just move on, give them their total and then ask how they wish to pay.   As an owner, I tried explaining the business side of things but it's not their concern and it's not my job to educate them. This technique stops them in their tracks. Doesn't that sound better then going back and forth about it, trying to explain your side of things? 

The "Take Away" is really good when you realized that a customer is not good for you or your business. I had a few of them over the years. Those usually went something like..."Sue, we have really appreciated your business over the years but it seems like we no longer are a good fit for you. It might be time to see if another florist would work out better". Then you wish them well and send them on their way. You weren't mean, you were very respectful. Sometimes they beg you take them back. Yes, that happens and sometimes they just move on. 

He might get mad at me but the picture below is real and raw. It's my husband during one of our last holidays at the shop. We often saw him like this. Sometimes Alicia, Alanna and I even laughed about it, being it was so Kevin but it wasn't funny. Customers on the phone bringing him to this point. As his wife, it was hard to watch.

The last thing I will say on this topic is that it's a very stressful job being a florist. Someone from outside the industry might laugh at this but it's not until you have to deal with a difficult bride, a screaming prom mom or a grieving spouse that you can see how anxious your job can make you on any given day. Why not try to put yourself first once in awhile. Sometimes you think that it's part of your job to have unlimited patience and take whatever a customer is dealing out but the truth is that life is a bit too short for that. Don't just think about yourself. Think of your wonderful employees who come in every single day and do a great job. If you can make their work environment more enjoyable, isn't that a worthy goal.  Ask any of my staff who learned and used these techniques. They can make a huge difference and at the end, you usually have a more satisfied customer. I'd call that a Win/Win. 


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