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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tobacconist Whisperer

I like to think of Tobacconist Whisperer as my own little management theory, but in reality it has been borrowed from the original Horse Whisperer(s) and Dog Whisperer (Cesar Milan). It has taken me almost fifteen years to get to the point where I can use the Tobacconist Whisperer techniques and I am finding them just as valuable as anything I have ever learned from Peter Drucker, Ken Blanchard, Tom Peters, or any other management guru.
Tobacconist Whispering is the art and science of understanding natural human behaviors, instincts, and reactions; then using that knowledge to illicit desired actions from Tobacconists and Customers. Tobacconist Whispering is employed through Calm & Assertive behavior.
It is easy enough to understand that stress and angst lead to more stress and angst. A stressed manager will stress their Tobacconist who will in turn stress the customer. No matter how hard we try, our own dispositions and body language will affect and effect those around us.
For example, recently I walked into my Princeton store to find a Tobacconist on the floor trying to fix the fax machine while another was fussing with the credit card machine. The machinery had gone haywire and there were customers coming in and out of the store. Both of my Tobacconists had flustered and frustrated demeanors. One had their brow sweating and the other looked ready to strangle a chicken. I’m sure a decade ago this would have led me to get angry and frustrated as well. But I now know that all of these problems can and will be fixed; they are just machines after all. The only variable worth focusing on in this mini-catastrophe was the CUSTOMER. Our job is always to focus on the customer and not let anything get in the way of that. If you focus on the customer then you realize that nothing else matters. We must encourage that customer to come back through our good service and having two hysterical or frustrated Tobacconists does not help. So I walked into the shop and focused on being more CALM than ever, telling employees to RELAX and FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER. I used my body language, tonal inflection, and words to CALM the situation and get everyone re-focused. If I had come in cursing, barking, or overly assertive it would have compounded the already downwardly spiraling situation.
The Tobacconist Whisperer techniques are about letting your mood and emotions set the tone for what you want out of people, and lead by example. Consider your employees (and customers) like your loved-ones and ask yourself: How do I want my loved-ones to be treated? What do I want my loved-ones exposed to? Treat them with calmness, respect, and fairness. You are in a position to create a perfect world for yourself and it starts by LEADING BY EXAMPLE.
Every retail Tobacconist knows that when it rains it pours. Often we are dealing with broken humidifiers, machinery problems, schedule changes, POS issues, and much more. All the while, we must provide a comfortable and hospitable environment for our customers: that burden/responsibility/honor rests on our shoulders, so we must lead by example.
And the Tobacconist Whisperer techniques work equally well on customers. Through our body language, tone, and words we can manage our customers as well. One of the first things I tell our Tobacconist Apprentices is that “You never know what a customer has been through on a particular day”. If someone comes in and is nasty or angry, that is OK. Perhaps they received terrible news that day or lost a loved one: these things happen every day. It is not our job to judge them, but rather to do our best to bring something pleasant and positive to their day. As humans, retailers, and Tobacconists we must be willing to accept and forgive in order to move forward. Conversely, if a customer is ever belligerent or too nasty, every one of my Tobacconists is authorized to throw them out forever; because no one deserves to be treated with disrespect. There is a lot of grey area here, but if you train and educate with the right values your Tobacconists should be able to make the right decision without letting their egos or emotions get in the way.
Ultimately, Tobacconist Whisperer is about being cool and collected under pressure; body language counts! With December and the holidays around the corner, these are excellent values to be reminded of. The ten days before Christmas are extraordinarily challenging for good retail Tobacconists: we handle ten times our usual traffic and try to maintain our own high standards, since we want those customers to come back during the year. Ironically, the majority of our holiday customers are the most challenging, question and doubt-filled customers: they are called SPOUSES. So my advice to myself and every other Tobacconist this year is buckle down, be cool, and focus on the customer. Everything else should take care of itself…

Jorge Armenteros, CMT

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