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Participants often ask me after a speech or a facilitated training I've done, how I got so comfortable speaking in front of groups? This is usually followed by “Do you have any tips that could help make me a better speaker?” After responding with “Yes, hire me.”, I realize how many people out there, in all walks of life, are terrified of public speaking. In fact the latest list of people’s greatest fears ranks Public Speaking at #2 and fear of death at #6. That’s right, people fear public speaking more than dying. Here’s the good news, it’s really not that tough.

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Let me start by saying that I completely understand the need for computer based and virtual training in today’s retail environment. Shrinking margins and lower labor has forced companies to re-think how they train their employees. In the fast paced changing times and short attention spans, there is merit to these delivery systems. They are short, cost effective and merge nicely with the reliance of devices that exist today. Having said that…..

I have been involved in developing and training retail employees for 25 years. Our company, over a 19 year period, has trained well over 500,000 people. Some through video and computer based training but most were trained LIVE. I love all forms of training but to me there is nothing like being in a room with a group of people, who when done, their faces and body language reflect that they got it! Now it’s true that associates can take surveys after watching a video or taking computer based training to show their company that they “got it”, but are they answering truthfully or are they writing what they think the company wants to hear? Tough to do that when you’re looking a participant eye to eye. 

Dating web sites are great, but the face to face live meeting determines if there is a spark or whether you tell your date “I have to get up early, let’s make it a short night”. 

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Originally published in Twice Magazine


I find it amusing how some retailers talk about their extended warranty program. It seems to me that they think of it as this "thing", that generates a lot of money, but no one should talk in the open about. If you have a good program, that truly takes care of the customer, then why the apprehension? Good extended warranty sales should translate to greater customer loyalty. The more satisfied the customer is, the more likely it is they will be back to shop in your store.

The next logical question is, "What makes for a good extended warranty program?" Here are some of my ideas for an extended warranty program that can achieve profitability for the retailer while offering superior service for the customer.

Are you offering the customer a comprehensive plan?

What does your plan cover? Usually a salesperson will tell me it "covers full parts and labor." I ask them what that means. They usually tell me it means "we cover parts and labor...fully." If however I say we cover normal wear & tear, dust, or power surges, I have just offered the customer something tangible. If your coverage does not include these benefits and others like them, it should. It's an easier sell when I can explain, in detail, what the plan is going to cover on the product, instead of using vague terminology. The cost may increase to add this type of coverage, if you currently do not offer it, but the additional sales would make it worth it.

How often do you train?

Increase extended warranty sales by teaching new hires the program before they get on the floor. When a new hire receives proper training on what an extended warranty is and how to sell it, they almost always succeed. Training should occur during the orientation of your new hires. It could be a worksheet, CD ROM, or training video. When interviewing a potential sales person, you should let them know they are expected to offer these plans to the customer with an expected success rate. One manager told me that during the interview he had the person attempt to sell him a plan. He is not looking not for the ideal presentation, but eye contact and their ability to communicate.

Offer a Replacement Plan on less expensive items:

A replacement plan is a great way to increase revenue. Many retailers either do not offer extra coverage on smaller, less expensive electronics, or put little emphasis on this type of program. The plan is a great way to improve customer service and remember, today's small electronics customer is tomorrow's big screen and Appliance customer. The customer could replace it in the store, (getting them back in) or you could have them mail it to the administrator to process the claim (less work for the stores). Either way the customer is thrilled because they are getting a new product. A replacement plan does not guarantee huge profits by itself. Proper price ranges must be developed based upon product mix and customer acceptance. If you can make the price attractive, simplify the procedure, and offer superior customer service, the customer will buy it.

Are your plans priced properly:

Do you price solely on margin rate and/or rate of sale? A combination is best. If you price your plans as a value to the customer, you will make your margin goal by more units being sold. Once again, the more plans you get in the customer's hands, the more likely they are to repeat the purchase or renew their plan. Pricing must be reviewed by product line. Example: For every ten VCRs you are selling 6 plans. That's obvious to me the customer sees the value. Camcorders however, you discover for every ten sold, you are only selling two extended warranties. Are you properly priced both short term and long term when you consider renewals? If you drop the price can you increase sales enough to generate incremental margin? Is it worth it?

Become a partner with your third party administrator:

TPAs are becoming a commodity in the industry. How you interact with them can make a difference in the running of your program. Constantly challenge your TPA to develop new ideas to improve your business. You will not always use their recommendations but it should keep your program on the cutting edge. Set up regularly scheduled meetings with your administrator. Have them give you status reports. Communication between the retailer and the TPA is crucial to the success of an extended warranty program.

Selling extended warranties has become integral to the success of retailers in the marketplace today. What kind of program do you have? The best program offers your customers both value andthe outstanding customer service they have come to expect from your store. The best program that builds customer loyalty, reduces returns and keeps them coming back. To me this is what having long range success is all about. A well run, successful extended warranty program is something to be proud of.

Take an objective look at your existing program. Identify the strengths and weaknesses and discover solutions to improve it. This self-analysis will help you develop a profitable program that offers your customers superior customer service.

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Originally published in Twice Magazine


What is good customer service? This is a question that many in the retail environment ask, and I've been giving it a great deal of thought.

What is the definition of good customer service? I'm not talking about return policies or ease of shopping. I'm talking about good old-fashioned customer courtesy. We spend so much time making the shopping environment high-tech and flashy that we forget what really gets us sales: If the customer likes the people in the store, they'll buy.

In training seminars, I teach one simple rule about customer service: Treat the customer like you're glad they're shopping in your store. If you can't do that, then maybe retail, or for that matter any business where you interact with customers, isn't for you.

Lately I've noticed that people don't seem to care that you're a customer in their establishment. Why do so many sales associates react like I'm bothering them when I have a question? Why does the person behind the car rental counter refuse to look up the entire time I'm at the counter? What the heck is going on?

I believe it's crucial to teach the art of being nice. A lot of companies have rules about greeting the customer within a certain time frame or space. What ends up occurring is that customers get greeted because the salesperson was told it's policy to do so. Why not teach the fact that customers like to be greeted? Or better still, why not make it policy to hire people who like to talk to people? If you need to spend a long time teaching someone how to greet the customer in a friendly manner, perhaps you've hired the wrong person.

Maybe it's a reflection on society that people aren't all that polite to each other in everyday life. I don't pretend to have the answers to society's problems. The point, sad but true, is that some people need training on the art of being nice to customers. Why? Here are some possible explanations:

  1. We hire to fill holes.
  2. We don't interview properly.
  3. We don't teach customer service expectations.
  4. Appraisals aren't performed objectively to address the level of associates' customer service.
  5. Management isn't setting the example on the floor.
  6. Morale is low in the store.

Conversely, here's what you can do to change things:

Stop filling holes and start hiring the right people. Hire people you would D.I.E. to have on the sales floor, those with desire, interest and enthusiasm.

  1. Look for people who will talk freely during the interview. Do they get you into the conversation?
  2. Get more than one opinion. Use other members of management to offer their insight on the potential new hire.
  3. Create an abbreviated quarterly appraisal. An annual appraisal sends the signal that behavior will only be reviewed once a year.
  4. Add an extensive customer interaction training section to new hire orientations.
  5. On mystery shops, assess "associate demeanor toward customer."
  6. Ensure that upper management is setting a positive example when visiting the store.
  7. Review your recognition and reward programs for excellence in good customer service.
  8. In any sales training make sure a big part of the selling process is getting the customer to feel comfortable with the sales associate.

Spending millions on store design, technological advances and merchandise training is important, but you run the risk of diminishing your return on investment if you're not looking at your human resources and customer service training.

Who knows, maybe it will spill over to our everyday lives. One can only hope.

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Vision Magazine

Originally published in Vision Consumer Electronics Magazine



Is that the impression the consumer gets when they call your customer service number?

If it is, you need to review how much was budgeted for product returns.  You did plan (remember You Gotta Have A Plan!) for the amount of product that will be returned and budget for the impact on sales, expense and cash flow didn’t you?

A recent survey of consumers showed that more than 70% of them regard a toll free Call Center to be very or extremely important when they have a question or a problem. Only 5% considered a web site as an important source that they would use to find answers to their questions.

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Bill Stuart • 8 Angel Trace • Brentwood • Tennessee • 37027 • 615.289.0007

John Quattrucci • 3 Harmony Ln • North Easton •MA • 02356 • 508-216-5759

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