One of the worst things to say to customers is “no.” Instead of responding that you don’t have a product in stock or provide a service, always provide some other option, says Rick Voigt, president of Today’s Business Products.

“If it’s something you don’t sell, suggest an equivalent product. Mention that you have this alternate item, and ask if that would work for the customer,” Voigt says. “The answer is never no, even when it’s really no. There’s always an option you can present.”

Smart Business spoke with Voigt about customer service mistakes, and how to ensure they don’t occur at your business.

Can you provide another example of how to turn a “no” into a “yes?”

Every week we get a call from someone who needs a product today, and the deliveries already went out. Depending on the location, it can be taken to the customer; you can ensure it’s waiting for them if they send someone over; or, if it’s an item not in stock, check with another facility and have it sent out from there.

Even when the answer is technically no, there are options to make it yes. Maybe they can’t get a product exactly when they want it, but at least the customer is presented with alternatives.

It’s also important to empower your employees to make decisions, within reason.

What are some other big customer service mistakes?

In order to have good customer service, it’s essential to answer your phones. People don’t want to call, get a voicemail tree and have to push buttons.

Another big mistake is not returning phone calls and emails. Never leave at the end of the day without returning an email or phone call. Even if you don’t have the answer to the question, tell the customer that you’re still doing research. If you told a customer that you’re going to get back to them by the end of the day, show the respect to contact them even if you don’t have the answer yet — ‘I don’t have the solution for you. I didn’t want to leave you hanging while I’m waiting for the owner to get back,’ etc.

When you get back to them, let them know what options are available. If a manufacturer is closed, tell the customer that the manufacturer is closed and you can get an answer in the morning and get back to them.

Always be on the offense, which never puts the customer on the defense. Be proactive rather than reactive. We have a policy that if something is backordered, we call or send an email and give the customer options so we can fulfill their order. A customer wants to know something has been backordered, in case it’s something that is needed right away.

If a customer has warranty issues, don’t just tell them to call an 800 number. Everyone knows how frustrating it can be to call those numbers. Contact the manufacturer and have a conference call with the customer. Make sure that the customer is taken care of by the manufacturer.

Is there always a solution to make the customer happy?

There will always be people who you can’t reason with, but most people are reasonable. The important thing is that you treat people the way you want to be treated — with respect.

When I bought my first car, I walked into an Oldsmobile dealership in shorts and a T-shirt. The salespeople snubbed their noses and pointed at one guy to take care of me. I bought a car from him, my brother bought a car from him that same day, and I bought two more cars from him. Every time I walk into the dealership he smiles because he received business no one else wanted.

The old adage is that an unhappy customer will tell 10 people, while a happy customer will tell two. It’s all about the experience they receive and putting a smile on the customer’s face.

Rick Voigt is president at Today’s Business Products. Reach him at (216) 267-5000 or

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Published in Cleveland
Tuesday, 28 January 2014 13:09

How to help your sales force meet its goals

Salespeople always have goals they need to meet. Giving them a road map on how to achieve these goals can help increase accountability and boost sales.

“We developed something to make salespeople a little more responsible. We put a program together that not only sets goals, but helps them achieve their goals,” says Rick Voigt, president of Today’s Business Products.

Smart Business spoke with Voigt about setting sales goals and how businesses can get better results by making employees part of the process.

Where did the idea originate and how does the program work?

The program came out of a sales management group; another company had great success with it, and we tweaked it to suit our needs.

We call it ‘Stand and Deliver.’ Salespeople were given quotas, which were broken down by quarters. Then they were asked how they intended to reach these goals. That included things like what customers they were going to get, their top 10 prospects and leads they were working on.

It makes someone more accountable than just giving them a goal of $1 million and letting them figure out how to accomplish it. We’ve given salespeople quarterly quotas, but never asked them to come up with a plan for how those sales would be achieved. This way they take more ownership of their goals.

It’s a road map to success. By making it very detailed, it’s easier to follow through on the results. If someone says they are going to call on these 15 customers and try to expand their categories — try to get them to add janitorial products, for example — a manager can follow up on that and see the outcome.

How was the plan presented to employees?

They were provided with an outline and a template to work with, as well as examples of how to create a road map. A spreadsheet was provided that had different tabs to be filled out, including a section on what salespeople needed from the management team to be successful.

There also was a SWOT analysis — they were asked to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, both internally and externally. That provided us with a chance to evaluate their opinions of the company and our customers.

Where there any surprises?

No, but there were things mentioned that are needed and we’re working on those, such as a new software program that will provide them with a mobile app to access customer information.

The process was very positive; they did a great job making their presentations and were well prepared.

The intent of doing the road map is to eliminate excuses. At the end of the quarter, if all steps of the process are followed, then everyone should meet his or her goals. We made sure goals were manageable, although there also are stretch goals for employees who go above and beyond.

What if a salesperson follows through on the plan and doesn’t get the desired results?

Quarterly goals are set, but there are still monthly meetings to go over sales and see where assistance is needed. It could be a matter of sending out another salesperson, manager or even the owner to help the salesperson.

If someone hits 95 or 97 percent of the goal, but is really working and giving everything, you work with them. You can also tell, however, if someone is falling short because of attitude or work ethic. If they’re calling in sick frequently, coming in late or are never around, if they’re not asking questions of clients, that’s a different situation.

If you train employees well and they help each other out, there’s no reason why someone would fail. Some salespeople liked the road map because they wanted that direction and structure. They thought it would help them improve sales.

This helps employees understand what they need to do. Some were doing something similar already. This program just creates a more defined process.

Rick Voigt is president of Today’s Business Products. Reach him at (216) 267-5000 or

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Published in Cleveland

It’s difficult to know for certain what your clients want if you never ask them.

“Businesses should be asking their customers: What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What could we do better? If they’re not asking these questions, apparently they do not care about their customers,” says Rick Voigt, president of Today’s Business Products.

Smart Business spoke with Voigt about ways to gather customer feedback and how to use the results.

How do you find out about customer needs and wants?

You want to conduct surveys, usually at the end of the year. In order to encourage responses, offer an incentive like an entry into a drawing for an Apple iPad. We did that and had about a 20 percent return rate.
With surveys, you want people to be absolutely open and frank. You can’t improve and address problems if no one tells you about them. Another reason to do surveys is that 99 percent come back with praise for the great job being done. When customers put that on paper, it’s really ingrained in their minds. Then if a competitor comes in their door, they’ve just finished saying how great you are. Why would they want to talk to someone else?

What types of questions should be included in a survey?

It’s important to keep surveys short and to the point. When you’ve answered 20 questions and see the survey is only 7 percent complete, you’re not going to finish it.

Two questions we ask are to name their sales representative and driver. That reveals how effectively the sales consultant is at developing a relationship. If they don’t know the salesperson’s name, they don’t have a great relationship. The same goes for the driver — if they know the driver’s name, they have a relationship. Every point of contact with a customer should form a relationship to help establish your business with the client.

We also structure questions to get more information about the customer, such as how many employees work at that location or if they use other suppliers for furniture or office products. This information indicates the customer’s needs and if there’s an opportunity to generate more business with them. Surveys also can be used to determine ways to expand your business into a different product category. If it’s something else the customer uses, they’ll want to purchase it from someone they know and trust.

Our survey asks respondents to rate customer service regarding accuracy of orders, pricing, ease of placing orders and overall satisfaction, as well as what changes can be made to better serve their needs.

One issue that was brought up was the speed of our website. After seeing the responses, it was imperative to upgrade speed of ordering to better suit customers’ needs. We listened and that issue was resolved.

What else can be done to generate customer feedback?

For larger accounts, you can conduct business reviews that show them your performance. It’s like a report card — how is the fill rate, average order size, product categories purchased, method of purchases, etc.

Customers like the reviews because all the cards are out on the table. There’s a list of the top items ordered, and they can see opportunities to save money by going with substitutes. Changing brands can save a customer about 15 percent on average. Or maybe they can save by ordering a larger quantity at one time.

That helps when a competitor comes into the office and says they can save the business money; the client already knows they could save 15 percent if they changed brands. You have to tell customers this information because if you don’t, someone else will.

It’s important to show clients you’re working on their behalf, as a business partner rather than a vendor. You can replace vendors at any time, but you can’t replace a trusted business partner very easily.

Rick Voigt is the president of Today’s Business Products. Reach him at (216) 267-5000 or

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Published in Cleveland

Customer Service Week, set for Oct. 7 to 11 this year, provides a good opportunity to recognize the efforts of those employees who regularly serve as the face of your company when dealing with the public.

“When my dad and I started this company in 1984, one of the things he said to me was, ‘These are the people who make the company run and profitable. If you don’t take care of these people, you’re not going to have a company,’” says Rick Voigt, president of Today’s Business Products.

“Our customer service staff and delivery drivers have more day-to-day interaction with the customers than salespeople or managers,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Voigt about ways to show customer service employees that they are appreciated.

How can companies show appreciation for their customer service employees?

Some ideas include putting caramel apples on desks with a sign ‘you’re the core of our business’ and mints thanking employees for their ‘commit-mint.’ Little trinkets can help put smiles on their faces, and that translates into happier workers when they’re dealing with customers.

The customer service team is an extension of the sales team, so the salespeople also should take part through some activity that shows their appreciation.

You could have salespeople answer phones when the customer service team is treated to a lunch. That helps show appreciation because the sales staff gains a better understanding of what customer service employees do by actually doing the job during that time.

What are some ways customer service personnel go above and beyond to provide a superior experience for clients?

You never want to say ‘no’ to clients. We have actually gone out and picked up a product not available through regular distribution channels in order to accommodate a customer.

One time, a customer placing an order mentioned being in trouble because there was no coffee in the office. An employee pulled it off the shelf and delivered it within 15 minutes. That customer was thrilled that someone went out of his or her way to bring him or her the coffee.

Personality is the most important quality to have in customer service. A male receptionist could seem strange at first to some customers, but may be the most qualified person, with a very pleasant, outgoing personality. If he’s doing his job, your customers will appreciate how they are greeted, regardless of who it is.

How important is it to have customers be able to call a live person rather than reach a directory?

Callers do not like getting a phone tree. A human being should answer the phone during business hours. Even if it’s outside normal business hours, if someone is in the office, they need to answer the phone. They may not be able to assist the caller directly, but they should at least transfer the call to the correct person’s voice mail, which in turn takes one more thing off of the caller’s plate.

People need to be confident that when they hang up the phone that their order, question or concern will be handled properly. That means providing proper training and giving employees authority to make decisions that are in the best interests of the customer and the company. If they are unsure about something, they can talk to a manager or supervisor and get right back to the customer.

Customers who call should not get the experience that you get with many 800 numbers — you don’t know if you’ll be on the phone for 30 minutes or longer. People want human interaction, so that’s what they should be given when they call.

When you give employees the proper tools to do their job and show appreciation for them, they’ll be happier and you’ll have satisfied customers.

Rick Voigt is the president of Today’s Business Products. Reach him at (216) 267-5000 or

Save the date: Oct. 7 to 11 is Customer Service Week. Show your customer service employees how you appreciate them.

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Published in Cleveland

Customers can tell when an employee doesn’t like his or her job.

“Even if it’s over the phone, you can sense if the person is smiling and the energy they have,” says Rick Voigt, president of Today’s Business Products. “Morale is what it’s all about. You can have the greatest company and greatest product, but employees will not be happy and will not stay if morale is low.”

Smart Business spoke with Voigt about ways to improve morale and how happy employees help businesses grow.

Can you quantify the effect morale has on customer service?

Morale goes hand-in-hand with the success of a company and its growth. People can sense if the customer service person on the other end of the phone is smiling; they pick up on that energy and want to talk.

There’s nothing worse than calling a company and the person answering doesn’t have any energy and doesn’t want to talk — you feel like you’re interrupting what they’re doing and you’re a second-class citizen. That attitude has a direct impact on sales. Customers will look for another company to do business with when they have contact with employees who are disinterested.

Customer service is what differentiates companies. There are other businesses that sell office furniture and office products, for example. When you don’t make the product and it can be bought anywhere, it all boils down to customer service.

If you go to a restaurant and the waiter doesn’t treat you well, you will not go back, even if they have great food.

Does customer service extend to all areas of a business?

Absolutely. Drivers are the face of the company when the product is delivered. They need to have a positive attitude when entering a business. Salespeople are the ones engaging customers and bringing them on as accounts. Customer service representatives also engage customers, answering questions with smiles on their faces so that people want to call back and do business with the company.

How do you ensure that employees are happy?

It starts at the top by making sure everyone feels included and part of the team. It’s important for upper management to listen to employees’ opinions. And when they have opinions, you need to be willing to implement their ideas or explain why their idea wasn’t adopted: ‘That’s a great idea, we tried it and it didn’t work. But it’s good that you thought of it.’ When someone comes up with a good idea that is used, make sure that employee gets the recognition.

Are there training sessions or programs that help boost morale and/or customer service?

You should have fun at work. We had a six-month promotion called ‘Get your A game on.’ When employees took an extra step to help a co-worker, they were given an ‘A game dollar’ for a Chinese auction with thousands of dollars worth of prizes. For instance, a driver could earn a dollar for taking a few stops from another driver who was busier, or a salesperson could earn a dollar for turning a lead over to a colleague. People were coming to the management team to make them aware of what co-workers did for them. That promotion worked extremely well. You can tell it was successful because employees are still exhibiting behaviors to receive dollars, even though the dollars no longer exist.

The difference between that and other recognition programs is that it encouraged a team atmosphere instead of competition. It’s good to recognize employees with individual awards, but there could be employees wondering why someone else was picked instead of them.

What else can be done to improve morale?

When a customer sends an email or tells you about a positive interaction with an employee, mention it at a company meeting. People appreciate that recognition and try their best to treat customers in a way that would compel them to write a thank you note.

It’s also important to give employees a nice, clean and safe work environment. Give employees a nice place with a pleasant atmosphere, and they will work harder for you and be much happier.

Rick Voigt is the president of Today’s Business Products. Reach him at (216) 898-4242 or

Work got you down? Check out some videos that will give you a quick laugh and make ordering office supplies more fun.

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Published in Cleveland