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Time to Audit Your Image It's all in the details--from the friendliness of reception to your office decor.

By Sydney Barrows

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

This article is an edited excerpt from Uncensored Sales Strategies by Sydney Biddle Barrows with Dan Kennedy, available from Entrepreneur Press .

You know that old saying "You can't see the forest for the trees." Over the last year or few years, it's possible that you, and your employees if applicable, have become so accustomed to the status quo that familiarity blinds you to anything that might be amiss. And remember that it is usually not in employees' best interests to point out any problems they might end up being assigned to fix or for which they might be blamed. Unless a problem directly affects the size of their paychecks or makes it difficult to perform their duties, most will figure it's your business and therefore your problem. And in reality, ultimately it is your problem. Here are a few suggestions to help you assess your business and determine if you're giving your customers what they're expecting.

They're Saying What?!
The first place you must start in your analysis is your telephone--or in the case of a web-based business, your customer support department or live chat feature. We all assume everyone knows how to answer a telephone, and to a certain extent, that's true. However, they might not actually be answering it the way you want it answered. Or in a way that is most effective for your business.

Your staff might not have a clear idea of how you want them to interact with a customer. And in the absence of clear direction, they will do or say what they think is best, based on their own values, which might not be the same as yours. They likely know the end result they are supposed to achieve, such as capturing a prospective patient's information before booking an appointment.

But exactly how are they asking for that information? You might be appalled when you find out. If you have not made it a priority to thoroughly train everyone who might ever come into contact with a customer, you are doing the equivalent of letting the inmates run the asylum--who knows what crazy things they are subjecting your prospects and customers to?

Listening In
The first order of the day is to have a professional "mystery shop" your phones. Chris Mullins, one of the contributors to this book, has a business that does just that. She has an army of people who make numerous calls to a client's business, answering service, or call center over a period of days and records them. Her people are trained to ask all sorts of questions and conduct themselves in various manners, all in order to capture a response to many different situations. She then analyzes the tapes and makes the appropriate recommendations.

Chris says clients are shocked when they hear what their employees are actually saying! For online businesses, her mystery shoppers e-mail the customer service department and use the Live Chat feature to see how those people interact with customers over a period of a week or two.

The very first thing I do when working on a consulting engagement is call the client's business several times on the phone to see how the staff handles themselves in various situations. On one call, I make an appointment and upon my arrival, anonymously go through the experience of being a first-time client, patient, or customer. In addition to observing how I am shepherded through whatever it is I am ostensibly there for, I also make careful mental notes of the physical premises, the actual sales presentation, and the actions and behavior of all the staff members I interact with as well as those I see in the background. You would be amazed at what I find is really going on. Nearly every time, it is far different than what the client believes is going on. One actually fired the office manager on the spot after I submitted my report, he was so horrified.

Employees behave very differently when The Boss is around; didn't you do the same when you had a boss? Many business owners are so busy running the business in a global sense that they either "let the business run itself" or hire a manager to do it for them. Putting the inmates in charge of the asylum is a dubious business model. Unless the manager is your spouse, you absolutely must have weekly meetings not only to stay on top of what is going on, but to let the manager know you are paying attention plus you need to make sure they are taking care of whatever it was you discussed at the last meeting. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan was want to say during the negotiations of the nuclear disarmament treaty with the former Soviet Union.

Sweat the Small Stuff
It is not just the way your staff answers the phone and interacts with customers in person. Yes, this is extremely important, especially during that first contact a prospect has with your business. It's not just what they say, nor just how they say it; it is also their ability to give the prospect sufficient information in a coherent and understandable way that the prospect is able to make the decision to take the next step and make an appointment or a purchase.

One thing many business owners overlook is the impact the physical environment has on a customer's perception of your business and, often, on their decision to buy. What is it like to be in your space? How does it feel and what kind of associations does a customer make when looking at his or her surroundings? What messages, both overt and subliminal, does the appearance of your space signal to the customer?

You and your employees are so accustomed to being in your space that it is all but impossible for any of you to see it through a customer's eyes. Once again, this is why it is so imperative to have fresh eyes come in and do a completely impartial analysis. Fresh eyes can see the inconsistencies between your customer's "mental movie" and the reality they actually experience. Fresh eyes can also help you rewrite the script for your business so that the movie you are showing is the same one your customer is expecting as well as the one you want them to see.

Fresh eyes not only look for problems, they also identify additional opportunities to create, reinforce, and maintain the image you want your customers to have of you and your company. Fresh eyes also contribute fresh ideas to revitalize your business, and are often able to recognize sales and marketing opportunities you may never have considered.

They're Doing What?!
Let me give you a few examples from some of my on-site consulting engagements. I do a Fresh Eyes analysis and consulting for a number of day spas and medi-spas; in fact, spas are probably my favorite clients. Nearly all of them want to project a luxurious and upscale image, which makes sense considering their clients are relatively affluent.

One of the ways one of my client's employees decided to cut down on the size of the daily laundry was to put paper towels in the bathrooms instead of using the usual terrycloth towels. That would not be incongruous with their upscale image if the paper towels were of good quality--but not only were they not good quality, they were probably the cheapest grade on the market. Another spa had pieces of paper taped to the wall of the very elegant dressing room describing new services the spa offered. In another, the minute a client walked in the front door she found herself in a very beautiful, luxurious, and serene space, but when she was shown to the consultation room where the sales presentation and decision to make the purchase takes place, suddenly she found herself in a dismal and chaotic environment.

Do you see the incongruence between the image or story these business owners thought they were projecting and the reality? Can you understand that a client would feel confused, dismayed, and disappointed when confronted with a very different experience than the one she was led to believe she was going to have? And you know what they say: "A confused mind always says no."

Sydney Biddle Barrows is a New York based business consultant and recognized expert on the customer experience. You can find out more about her coaching programs, consulting practice and her newest book, Uncensored Sales Strategies, at

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