Business Management

Is Anybody Listening?

7193106_d854e4418cAs an experiment, I started unsubscribing from email that I don’t want to receive. I used to let it go to my SPAM file and then delete it. But, I was curious to see how many companies actually let me unsubscribe and how easy or difficult they would make it.

It turns out that it runs the gamut from the unsubscribe link doesn’t work to companies that unsubscribe you immediately and also send you an instant email confirming that fact and letting you know they will miss you and welcome you back.

For companies that had broken links or in the cases where I continued to receive emails past the date they said I would be unsubscribed, I wrote personal emails to the customer service departments – again as an experiment. About half of them didn’t reply or the mail bounced back. Most of the ones that did respond did so with abrupt form responses and missed an opportunity to let me know they were listening to me.

Yesterday, I decided to switch accounting software and install Intuit’s ubiquitous QuickBooks 2008. After installation, I wanted to watch the tutorial but every time I clicked on it, I got a message saying I needed Adobe Flash installed. I knew it was installed but I actually uninstalled it and reinstalled – twice. And, both times I got the same error.

I finally found a QuickBooks user forum where I discovered that everybody that has version 2008 was having the exact same problem. Adobe figured out how to fix it which required removing the latest Flash version and installing an older version – even though it is an Intuit problem.

One posting on the Forum jumped out at me. The person said, “Doesn’t anyone at Intuit read their own Forums and listen to their users?” It went on to discuss that this has been a problem for months and Intuit knows about it but has done nothing to fix it. Does anyone at Intuit listen? The people on their Forum don’t think so based on the fact they haven’t fixed an easy bug and it has been months.

I was going to write them an email but when I started looking for the address I found a note from Intuit customer service saying they were extremely busy and might not get to me for a while because of a recent problem caused by a Microsoft Windows update. They hadn’t fixed it yet but they had a workaround.

Seth Godin talks about what happens when you argue with customers when they reach out to talk with you. Just click here to read You’re Right!

Better Than Anyone…

Bigstockphoto_group_laughing__candiDo you value your employees? I’d take a wager that you answered yes to that question. But do you really? Do you take care of them better than anybody else can? You might believe you do but if you can’t spell out HOW you do it, you may have a problem. Or, maybe you don’t believe you need to take care of them better than anyone else can. If that’s the case – read no further. You’re in the wrong line of work.

I’ve had business people tell me that they can easily replace employees during rough economic times since the available pool is larger. My guess is that with that kind of employee attitude they really aren’t taking care of their current employees better than anyone else. And, treating employees like commodities when times are rough will come back to bite “you know where.” When things get better your best people will leave.

Let your employees know they are valued and that you care about them personally. If you aren’t a “people person” and aren’t capable of being empathic then I’d suggest you get a partner or someone who is capable. Listen to them. Ask them their advice. Have them put themselves in your shoes. Let them know you heard them and give them feedback.

If you need one last reason to take care of your employees better – remember this. If you do, odds are that your employees will be taking care of your customers the same way – better than anyone else can.

Could You Be Treating Customers This Way?

I know this kind of customer service still exists but I’m always amazed when I hear about it.Bigstockphoto_secretary_on_the_phon

A friend told me that one of her employees came into her office with tears of frustration and anger yesterday. It seems that this woman had just gotten off the phone with the phone company. Her babysitter had used her cell phone to call her and let her know her phone line was out. She called the phone company repair office and was told that it would take a WEEK to repair it. “But, that’s not acceptable, “she told the phone company. “I am a single mom with children at home and I need my phone in case of an emergency.”

The phone company’s answer, “We’re very busy and we have lots of other customers who also have problems. It will take a week and that is as soon as I can schedule it.”

That was the end of the conversation. No discussion. What the customer heard is “I don’t care about you, your family or your concern about an emergency.”

Maybe the phone company is busy. Maybe they are too busy connecting up new FIOS accounts to repair their non-FIOS customers’ phones in less than a week – who knows?

Everyone is busy. Meanwhile, the customer is worried about what might happen without phone service in an emergency. And, the phone company employee, who should be counseled into another type of vocation – one that doesn’t deal with people or animals – treated the customer with disrespect and callousness.

Could this same thing happen in your business? Don’t fool yourself – it might already be happening

Do yourself and your business a favor. Have someone you know be one of your customers. Have them interact with your employees in different manners like being in a ticked off mood or even angry. See if your employees respond in kind or with kindness.

Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks – Which Do You Prefer?

By coincidence, I had to place an order for gift cards online from both Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts main Bigstockphoto_coffee_beans___3730_2

website at the same time a couple of weeks ago. My experience between the two was pretty different and I think speaks to their company culture.

When I think Starbucks, I think of expensive coffee that I don’t find all that appealing – and I have tried to understand the coffee attraction. I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts coffee but that’s just me. I also perceive Starbucks in-store ordering process as confusing, frustrating and at times, intimidating. Dunkin’ seems to be just the opposite.

Guess what? Ordering off their website is exactly the same. On Dunkin’ I had my corporate gift cards in my cart to checkout in three clicks. I then had to give the usual information to purchase and ship. No pain and no confusion. I was done in a few minutes.

Starbucks took me to their personal and corporate information sign up sheet in three clicks. As I write this I am trying to duplicate my experience. I can’t get into my corporate account because I must have the wrong password. I didn’t really want a corporate account to begin with. I only wanted to buy a few dozen cards for $5 each.

Now since I’m locked out of Starbucks (Why would they lock me out – the only thing I can do with my account is buy things from them. Are they crazy or did some mad Starbucks IT security person come up with this idea?) Anyway, once I got my corporate account the other day, I then tried to find the right place to order my cards. They prominently featured showing me how to customize a card – which I thought was a good idea until I learned that cost more money.

Then I found a place to order some nice cards with nice photos – but they only came in $15 and up denominations – even though they claim to have $5 cards back on my second click page. At last I found the place to buy $5 cards which I did order. It took much more time that it should have taken and it left me frustrated and wishing I had bought all Dunkin Donuts cards.

Then I got an email with an order confirmation from both companies. Dunkin’ then sent me an email with a TRACKING NUMBER when they shipped. I had my cards in about three days. Starbucks also sent me an email when they shipped with NO tracking number. It’s been about 5 days since I have had the Dunkin’ order so I finally sent Starbucks an email asking about my order and if there is a way I can track it. That was about 6 hours ago. I’ve not had a response but I did get the cards by UPS this afternoon – which means that I could have easily tracked the order if they had included the tracking number in the email.

Two different companies with two different cultures and ways of treating their customers. One is headed up and the other down.

Take a look at your own company. Become a customer and see how easy (of difficult) it is to do business with it. Get some friends to call your office and tell you honestly about their experience. Use some secret shoppers. And, never, ever let your web designer design the process for communicating with you and your company.

Put On Hold By Verizon

Bigstockphoto_black_hole_abyss__d_fHave you signed up for Verizon’s new FIOS service yet? The latest offer I saw in my area was for a free flat panel television if you sign up for their combination phone, Internet and television service. They call it a Triple Play. I think it’s more of a Triple Threat!

Wait a minute, you say you didn’t get the television and you just signed up? Well, give them a call and I’m sure they’ll get one right out to you. You know they understand that the relationship they have with their customers is their greatest asset. WRONG! Verizon doesn’t have a clue about how to treat their customers. Everything they do is focused on the short term bottom line. It always has been and it always will be.

So what prompted this latest rant? My phone service went out yesterday afternoon – that was Sunday. After checking the network interface and finding no dial tone, I knew the problem was on their end so I called repair and reported the outage. It’s now after 11:00AM here Monday and my phone line is still dead and I hadn’t heard from Verizon – so I called them. After asking me the same exact questions I already answered yesterday, the Verizon employee informed me she would dispatch someone on Wednesday and would someone be home to let them in? (By the way, she had already established with me that everything was outside and nobody needed to be home – but I let that question go by). It was the Wednesday comment that stopped me dead.

I said, “Wait a minute. Are you telling me that you can’t have someone repair my phone line until Wednesday, three days after I reported it as being out of service?” “Yes, we’re very busy and that is our first available slot.” I told her that three days is unacceptable. She repeated that they are busy and she can’t have someone there until Wednesday. I told her I would call the Pennsylvania Utility Commission to see what they said about waiting three days – which I did. The PUC told me that Verizon needed by law to have responded to me within 24 hours and three days is unacceptable for no service – unless there is some special reason. He then told me that usually when someone calls and files a complaint with the PUC, Verizon has someone there that day to make the repair. He couldn’t guarantee it, of course, but he stated that is often how it works as the fines Verizon may be liable for are greater than the cost of getting one of their repair personnel on the job.

So, do yourself a favor and before you make that big switch to FIOS, think about having your phone, television and Internet service all in the hands of Verizon. Think about how their customer service and ask yourself who you are going to call when they tell you they can’t get to your problem for three days.

Ten Sales & Marketing Ideas to Implement In the First Quarter of 2008

New_years_clock
1. If you don’t already know, determine the lifetime value of a client/customer to your company.

2. If you don’t already know, determine how much it costs to get a new client/customer.

3. Now that you do know – make sure you treat all your clients and customers with the value they deserve.

4. Send notes, photos, cards, and letters to your clients thanking them.

5. Create a newsletter for your customers and clients.

6. Offer a Discount for Prepayment Program for a Win-Win Relationship.

7. Start a Frequent Buyer Program.

8. Create a New Unique Selling Proposition (see my newsletter entitled "How to Create a Brand and Outsell Everyone Else!"

9.
Survey your customers to see what you are doing right and what you can
do better. Make it anonymous or you won’t get good data.

10. Make
a note to learn all you can about your top 20 clients. Find out their
hobbies, birthdates, family members names and interests, pets, etc.
And, then communicate with them about all these things. Send birthday
cards, news clippings about their hobbies and interests, notes and
postcards when you are traveling with information you know they will
appreciate. Maybe it’s your review of last night’s meal or bottle of
wine if you know they enjoy fine dining jotted on a postcard, or, try
sending an autograph of their child’s favorite sport star or an
autographed Playbill from a play you know they would enjoy. You get the
idea. If you don’t, please reread and implement ideas number one and
two!

The Poole Consulting Group

Small Business Land Mines

Landmines
I have been working with small businesses and
entrepreneurial start-ups for much of my life. There are some wonderful
rewards and benefits in seeing something grow. There are also some
potential land mines that too many small, family owned businesses run
into that lead to problems, lost revenues and, sometimes, lost
companies. Let’s take a look at some of them.

One of the first
land mines that I run into 80% of the time is that small business
owners often equate prior success in another business, sports, etc., to
believing that he or she is brilliant in regards to running the current
business. This keeps many a person from hiring experts outside their
own field. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been contacted after
companies have tried to run their own sales and marketing programs only
to have failed. They never have a business strategy, which should have
come first. They don’t know how to create one and they don’t understand
the value and necessity for their company to have one. Or, if they do
have one, it is sitting in a three-ring binder in a desk drawer that
never gets opened.

Decisions tend to be emotional and not based
on reason in small businesses. If you were running a "big business" you
would be thinking big and have a different mindset. It’s hard for small
business people to think this way because their decisions are often
compared against personal or family needs. And, there is often a spouse
or other relative that influences decision making yet knows almost
nothing about the things one would need to know to make a rational
decision.

I have often experienced situations where one member of
the family is purposely sabotaging the business. You think that sounds
unlikely – not in the least bit. I’ve seen a spouse create turmoil and
drive employees and customers away because they wanted the attention
their spouse was giving the company. I’ve seen one son engage in lying,
cheating and stealing because he was jealous of his siblings. I could
go on but please know it could be happening in your small business and
you won’t know it until it is too late.

Because there is often a
distrust of outsiders; advice from consultants, accountants and
attorneys is often ignored or only partially implemented. Sometimes I
feel like a physician whose patient tells him, "I decided to only take
half of the prescription because I was feeling better." – only to have
the patient get worse and need more drastic intervention. Again,
recognize you can’t have all the answers and you must trust and rely
upon others who are more qualified in a particular area of business.

So what can you as a small business owner do to avoid some of these land mines?

1.
First, focus on making decisions rationally. Assume you are a CEO of a
large company and do the right thing. Don’t get caught up in doing
things right which often means "the way we’ve always done them."

2.
Hire good advisers. Nobody has all the answers in a small company. Make
sure your advisers have the skills and experience to really help you.
My experience is that too many small business owners ask their accounts
or attorneys for business advice. Accountants and attorneys are usually
good accountants and attorneys but are often poor business advisers.

3.
If other family members are actively involved in the company make sure
they have the same accountability an outside employee would have in the
position. Treat them honestly and fairly as you should any employee and
not like "one of the family."

4. Make sure your spouse and other
family members are "on the same page" in regards to everyone’s role in
regards to the company. Even if they are not active in the company they
can be passively affecting it in a negative or positive way. Make sure
it is the latter!

5. Start each day by asking yourself, "How can
I provide value today for my clients/customers?" Focus on doing that
and many of the potential land mines will never enter your business
life.

Believe me, it is more difficult picking up the pieces and
having to unwind and re-start – and always more expensive than getting
good advice on how to avoid the land mines in the first place.

The Poole Consulting Group