Business Management

Is Complaining About Poor Service Windmill Tilting?

Bill is always looking for examples of extraordinary customer service but he says he doesn't experience it nearly as often as poor customer service. That probably does not qualify as breaking news to you.

Bill says that when he finds extraordinary service he makes sure to recognize the person directly and also by letting their company or supervisor know. I asked him what he does when he experiences bad customer service and I think his response is typical for a lot of us.

"I used to let the person know their service was unacceptable and also notify their management but I pretty much gave up doing that," says Bill. "I found out that most of the time the company and management did nothing or made excuses rather than taking responsibility and making the customer happy."

Personally, I haven't given up on letting people know despite the frustration that often accompanies my efforts. I think if you don't tell them you're unhappy and their service is unacceptable it is unlikely to change. But, sometimes I feel like I'm tilting at windmills.

For example, I print my own postage online. It's no different than using a postage meter which has been happening since 1920 when Pitney-Bowes invented it and got it approved by the USPS for commercial use. With online printing you can do even more things including printing photo stamps. I use ones with a photo of "Listen First – Sell Later" on the stamp. It's inexpensive marketing and every week someone who gets mail from me comments about the stamp. I'm happy to share with them how they can do it themselves.

But, back to customer service. I live in the little town of Perkasie, PA which is served by a post office that is probably less than half the size it needs to be. While the town is small the mailing area for Perkasie is huge. I'm sure it was created back when there were more cows than people. That has changed and now it is a very busy and understaffed place. However, I find that the postal employees there are a great group of people and my mail carrier gives exceptional service.

Then there is the one guy who usually mans the window in the lobby. Two people could work this window but other than holiday mailing season it is always the same guy. And, he doesn't care about good service. In fact, he seems angry that his customers can do what he get paid to do. He's the guy who weighs your mail and puts the stamp on it. And, he knows all the rules. Well, actually he kind of knows all the rules. Nobody knows all of them because the USPS is always changing them and some are contradictory.

It never fails that when he is presented with mail that is already stamped and all he needs to do is say thank you and put it in the bin to go out that he has to make a comment about it. He wants to argue about packaging, stamping, forms, and anything else that is presented. I've seen him do this with pretty much anyone that drops things off where he doesn't get to sell the stamps and interpret the rules.

Today, I mailed about a dozen books to people and I used media mail. The stamp I printed has media mail printed on it. When I gave him these packages and told him they were all media mail he looked like he wanted to open each one to make sure I wasn't including some kind of contraband. He then told me, "These should be stamped media mail." and proceeded to use a stamp older than the post office to stamp red "Media Mail" all over the packages.

I said, "The stamp itself already has media mail printed on it." "Well, someone might not read that." was his response as he continued stamping away in glee. Out of curiosity I looked online to see what the post office required. Here is the rule – Mark each piece "Media Mail" and "Presorted" or "PRSRT" in the postage area. That was exactly what I had done. And, once again he was wrong and making his own rules up.

Now this may not seem like terrible service to you but it really is. In fact, it is probably worse service than the person who just doesn't care. If the post office were a business it is most likely that they would be out of business. Upper management has gone to great lengths to encourage the use of their services in order to help stem the flow of red ink. This guy, for whatever reason, makes people want to do anything but do business with him.

AT&T mobile is being attacked right now by Verizon for providing poor service with their 3G network. You've seen the ads and I've read many a blog and tweet that seem to agree. You'd think they would be working really hard to keep every customer happy.

Nope. In fact they have a policy right now that is likely to drive people away. More on that in a future post. Meanwhile, you might want to check out Validas. They might be able save you money on your mobile phone bills. I have no connection to them but they saved me a pretty good chunk of money by letting me know about a better plan that AT&T never mentioned to me. And, I've been their customer since they bought Cingular!

How do you deal with poor customer service? Do you let them know? Do you let management know? Or, have you given up like Bill?

Selling and Marketing To The Different Person

Some of us thrive on risk and others fear making a mistake first and foremost. Laurie enjoys a good party as much as anyone while Jon hates the idea of idle chatter. Just give Paul the handouts for the workshop and he'll be happy. He has things to do and can't sit through one without constantly checking his email. Meanwhile, Marie sits right up front and takes copious notes.

Some people ask lots of questions in a sales situation but never listen to the answers. Others hang onto every word looking for you to say something they know can't be true. Like using the phrase "everyone likes." They know that's not possible and they automatically distrust you.

I know a man whose office doesn't look like he's ever in it and yet he's there every day. He uses a table instead of a desk that accumulates clutter. The photos on his credenza look like people who might have already been in the frame when he bought it. He speaks in a monotone with absolutely no emotion. In my opinion he has the personality of a dead mackerel and yet his fellow accountants elected him as their managing partner.

Then there is Alan who wants you to take care of all the details for him. He trusted you right away and even though he knows some people will let him down – he's not going to change. Jodi is more cautious. She needs to wait and see. Will you do what you say you'll do? Are you all style and no substance? She needs to know before she trusts and buys.

Why is any of this important? Do you want to be a successful marketer, sales person, communicator? People want to be communicated with in the way that makes them most comfortable. They won't tell you that but doing so is quite often the difference between success and failure.

They will tell you how to approach them and communicate if you take the time to listen, observe and learn. Marketers target their messages this way. Salespeople and small business owners seldom do and it would make all the difference in their lives, earnings and success if they did.

There are a number of resources you can find using Google. And, I'm going to put together some videos for you that I hope will help. Stay tuned.

Freezing Lizard Brains and Cows That Aren’t Purple

My brain just froze! It has nothing to do with the weather (which is 15F) or the lizard (which you can learn more about here). At least I hope not.

Let me explain. For the past 3 days I have been immersed in:

  1. Trying out some sales and marketing software that really excites me with its potential for small business.
  2. Talking to as many people as possible about Linchpin and why they will want to read it.
  3. Creating a new video which will launch soon. Here is my channel. I'll let you know when the new video is up for viewing.
  4. Working with two new small business clients who want to change from their old style of marketing.
  5. Collaborating with friends and tribe members (those are synonymous) on ideas including at least 5 new eBooks.

So, I just sat down to write a post to you. And, that's when my brain froze up. I didn't know what to write about first or last for that matter.

Let's start with talking about businesses that want to change how they market. Maybe this is you or someone you know.

You've been in business now for a while and you're doing okay. You made it past that first five years. You know you can do better but you're finding that the way you found customers for all the years you've been in business just isn't working anymore. Yellow pages don't work. Print ads don't work. You tried telemarketing and it worked once but now there are Do Not Call lists and you know people don't want to be bothered by your commercial when they are home relaxing. You used to be able to send out a letter or a postcard and count on responses but now even that is drying up if all you're doing is interrupting people.

You're ready to try something different. You keep hearing about social media and Twitter and Facebook and wonder if that is the answer. You hear about blogs but don't know the first thing about having one.

Marketing has changed and it wasn't evolution. It was a revolution. So, how do you start using it?

Here's the bad news. It's a lot of work. Instead of telling your advertising salesperson to run a new ad you're now the chief marketing officer. You always were but a lot of you delegated that part of the job. You'll have to go back to school in a manner of speaking. Your gut is correct and there is a lot to learn. But, there is plenty of help. Books, videos, CD's, support groups, forums, blogs, vlogs, consultants, coaches and mentors.

Right now a blog is the foundation of the new marketing. Tomorrow (and I mean soon) it could be a video blog. You're going to have to learn how to create relationships with people not for the purpose of selling them something but because you have some important value to offer them in the way of solutions and education and more.

You've got to be authentic and if you're not good with people you'd better hire someone who is because that's a quality – an art – that is indispensable in this new marketing.

Yep. It is going to be a lot of work even if you hire a coach or consultant or find a mentor. And, if they tell you anything differently – run.

It's your choice. You can adapt, learn, and join us and hang on for the ride when you do.

Or, you can forget everything I just wrote and don't change a thing. You can try and milk it for a while but that cow is drying up. And, it sure as heck isn't a purple one.

Microsoft Takes Their Revenge On XP Users

What is MS thinking? How many Windows machines do you think are still running the XP operating system? If you said millions you'd be correct. In fact, there are more machines running XP than running Vista. Vista was a dog and smart users never upgraded from XP which finally became a stable OS. The last number I saw said that over 60% of Windows users still use XP.

So what did Microsoft do with their new Windows 7? They made it so difficult to move from XP to 7 that you might have to hire someone to help. Basically, you have to do a clean install of your computer which means backing everything up to an external hard drive, wiping the system clean and then building it all over again.

Yep. That means you're going to need all the original disks for all the software on your computer. MS doesn't quite mention that in the directions you can see in the photo. They tell you that you will need to reinstall your software like Word or Office. I guess in their world computers only run software from Microsoft.

We have 4 computers running XP in my home and one running Vista. On just my laptop alone I have over 60 programs. That means I will have to find all the software on disks along with any necessary installation codes. Many of my programs were direct downloads from a company on the net. Again, I will have to find out where to download them again and I will need their serial numbers which are not always easy to find – at least for me. Many small businesses (me included) have powerful workstations running RAID for a lot more programs and complexity with it comes to wiping out the software and starting all over.

We will all have the issue of video, audio and network adapters. Many people will spend hours just trying to make their home network work again. By the way, you did write down all the wireless and network codes and put them where they are easy to find again – right?

If you bought your anti-virus or anti-spyware software more than two years ago it might never work with Windows 7. And, make sure you save a copy or all your documents and photos on that external hard drive. Otherwise it will be hasta la vista baby.

I'm fairly knowledgable about this kind of stuff. I've built many computers from scratch. But, I know I'm going to spend hours doing this and I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing.

What about all the millions of people who only know how to turn on their computer and use it? What will they do? Will they put the disk in and think it will upgrade like most all software they have ever used? What will they do when it doesn't work or worse destroys their information?

If you're a small business with a dozen or 12 dozen computers running Windows XP what are you doing to do? Windows no longer supports XP. You'll eventually have to upgrade. And, you'll most likely have to pay someone to do it. I suggest you have them do it on a Saturday and hope that your back in business by Monday.

From where I sit, Microsoft's decision to ignore Windows XP systems for upgrades smells like revenge for the installed base's overwhelming refusal to upgrade from XP to Vista.

How is that for treating your customer like you really value them!

Maybe it is time to visit my local Apple store.

My Goals

Goals. We talk about them a lot this time of year. Individuals set them as well as companies. There are web sites to help you set them and more articles than you can shake a stick at. This isn’t one of them.

I promised that I’d share my goals here with you. And, I’m keeping my promise. I’ve always been a goal setter and I always share them with friends and family who I know are both supportive and hold me accountable. What’s better than to share with my friends here. Here are the big ones.

  • Write a new book for print and have it finished by December 1, 2010.
  • Collaborate on eBooks with several colleagues.
  • Conduct a free monthly webinar beginning in Feb. 2010.
  • Do an every other week video blog on Mr. Listen First.
  • Comment on at least one other blog daily.
  • Guest post on 6 other blogs.
  • Reach and maintain a weight of 190 pounds.

Feel free to remind me, encourage or offer ideas.

Scam Charges on Your Credit Card and Cell Phone

A couple of weeks ago, Joann and I were working in the office together and I was going through some credit card statements for year-end accounting. One of the statements was for a Bank of America credit card and I noticed a monthly charge for $12.00 that I had seen before that I assumed was something Joann had signed up for at one time. So, I asked her what it was for.

She didn't know and had never signed up for it. I knew that I hadn't signed up and the only thing the statement told me is that it was for something called Reservation Rewards owned by a company by the name of WebLoyalty. So, we called Bank of America where we found out that we had been getting billed for this for over a year and that we "must have authorized it at some time," according to the B of A rep. We assured her that was not the case whereupon she very quickly said that she could refund 6 months but we would have to talk to the actual company to get a full refund.

At that point I knew something wasn't right and I knew Bank of America also knew it since they were amazingly quick to offer a 6 month refund. I Googled the company and sure enough there were plenty of complaints and warnings including one from the Attorney General of Connecticut. It seems that thousands of people and companies have complained about WebLoyalty.

The way it works, according to this article, is once you have used a site like Expedia, Fandango or PriceLine you are directed to other windows and pop-ups where if you're not paying close attention it is easy to say "no" to an offer and have it actually mean "yes." Then your credit card information is used by Reservation Rewards until you notice it and cancel.

Here is a link to another site that tells you how to get your money back if you find you've been paying for this service and never subscribed. And, Consumer Reports has an article on the company.

If you think you're too savvy to have this happen to you then think again. There are lots of comments about this company from people who are very aware of traps like this online and still got caught. One of them was a computer programmer and intellectual property attorney. In our case it was almost surely me that got caught as I'm the one who used Expedia quite a bit and they are one of the companies tied to WebLoyalty.

By the way, Bank of America sent us a letter a month later saying WebLoyalty provided proof that they had an imprint of our credit card or we had presented the card at the time of service. Neither of these are even physically possible so we called the bank. The rep did a tap dance and said that what the letter said isn't what they meant and that WebLoyalty had only provided B of A with a copy of their charge slip. There was no signature or authorization from us. We're not done with B of A yet and their letter that "isn't what we meant."

The end-of-the-year is a good time to take a close look at your statements. While you're at it you might want to look for the same kind of $10 or less charge on your cell phone statement. The same kind of scams are being played out there and the cell phone companies (just like the banks) are complicit in helping scam millions of dollars from consumers and business.

Trains, Planes, and Suckers

Why hasn't Amtrak taken better advantage of this economy. You'd think that the combination of people watching what they spend and the airlines pissing more and more people off daily that trains would be a great (and welcome) travel solution.

It hasn't happened. Same old service and too high of fares on their money making eastern seaboard routes. And, taking a page from the airlines, Amtrak charges business travelers who don't have time to stop every 15 minutes the highest fares. Doesn't it make sense that a train that stops every 15 minutes probably costs more to operate than an express? Then why charge more for the express?

Because the suckers (customers) will pay it.

Then there are the companies like Verizon and Comcast who now offer phone, Internet and television all in one tidy package. Any one out there enjoy having to deal with either of these two companies? When I first signed up for Verizon FIOS I made sure my contract included all the HD channels. Oops! I forgot to make sure that when let say AMC or Animal Planet (all included in my package) have a HD channel that I'll automatically get it since I get the non-HD version. Nope. Doesn't work that way.

You have to subscribe sucker!

Actually, I can do away with pretty much all those services and spend more time reading and writing. I can watch movies and things I really want to watch using other technologies. The thing that really ticks me off is having to deal directly with any of these companies. They really don't have a customer service clue and they can waste hours of my time trying to do anything as simple as ask a single question.

I saw where the airlines are not only going to charge you more now per ticket for peak travel but they will also charge more for your bags. Don't like that? Too bad. Try driving across country or taking the train sucker.

Then there are the mobile phone companies that offer so many different plans that they all begin to look like some kind of Ponzi Scheme. Between their claims about their different technologies, their plans and their contracts it kind of makes you yearn for go old Ma Bell. 

And, if you think all this confusion and obfuscation is the by-product of bad management you'd be wrong.

It is intentional.

The New York Times Haggler's column yesterday had a bit about how he wasn't getting his credit card bill from Bank of America for months. BofA assured him they were sending it. It turns out that the bank decided to change envelopes and started using one that had no mention of the bank's name on it. Since it was a bulk mail piece in a blank envelope the Haggler (and probably thousands of others) threw it out thinking it was junk mail.

How much do you think that little move cost consumers in late fees?

Got you again sucker!

Arrested for Not Leaving a Tip and More

From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" column we have two stories today. The first took place in my backyard at the Lehigh Pub in Bethlehem, PA where an extremely intelligent restaurant manager had two of his patrons arrested for not leaving a tip. Yes, that's what I said. They refused to leave a tip for their party of eight. Talk about customer service!

It seems it took over an hour for them to be served their salads and wings and they ended up having to get their own napkins and soda refills since their waitress was missing and outside smoking much of the time. The restaurant has a mandatory 18% surcharge. When they got their bill the tip surcharge was 22% and that put them over the tipping point. They told the manager that because their service was so terribly poor they would not pay the tip. They did pay the bill for the food, drinks and tax.

After taking their money, the genius manager called Bethlehem police and had them arrested for theft of services. The cop in this case has to be related to the manager or the owner. Otherwise, he or she needs to be removed from the force for stupidity in uniform. You can read about it here. Or, just Google it as it is all over the Internet now.

Next up is the Philadelphia city council. Philadelphia has a problem with bicycle riders that don't obey traffic laws. Two pedestrians were killed last month after being struck by cyclists. So, what's the answer? I would think it might be a good thing if the laws currently on the books were enforced. They aren't and both council, police and bike advocates agree on that.

So, what is the solution from legislators? Two council members are introducing a bill to license everyone over the age of 12 who wants to ride a bike. They would pay $20. Yeah, tax the bastards – that will stop bike accidents. Make those kids pay up and they won't ever break another law.

Finally a good story from my back yard. Crayola Company in Easton, PA is going to be focusing a lot of effort on green in the coming year. Not the color but the technology. They are building a 15-acre solar park near their plant where the energy produced by the panels will be enough to manufacture 1-Billion Crayons a year. Kudos to Crayola!

Nose Thumbing

I got a direct mail piece from my "Neighborhood Drugstore at Giant" today. It was addressed to resident. I've been a customer of this particular drugstore for as long as Giant has had a pharmacy in their supermarket.

I stopped and read the postcard because the front of the card said I could get up to $60 in free groceries. That sounded good to me especially since I'm a customer.

However, I need to give you a little back story. Within the last year a huge CVS drug store opened about 50 yards away from the Giant store. CVS is known for good prices, a frequent buyer club, and more importantly for me – a drive through.

If I need something from my Giant pharmacy I have to park and then go into the store. It's a hassle compared to drive through – especially when you're not feeling well. But, I didn't really think about moving my prescriptions and my wife's from Giant. I like the people at the pharmacy and they have given us good service.

Now someone in Giant marketing is offering me $60 in groceries for being a pharmacy customer. How great is that! Then I turn the card over and I read the sub-head after the $60 headline. It says, "for new or transferred prescriptions!"

I'm not so happy now. Giant is willing to pay out $60 to get new customers but nothing to keep the customers they have. Which do you think costs more – keeping customers or finding new ones? You know the answer. Everyone intuitively knows the answer. Everyone except the marketers at Giant.

I'm sure they have already lost plenty of customers to CVS. It wasn't like they didn't know they were coming. It took months to build the big store. Why didn't they launch a proactive plan to thrill their customers so they'd never want to leave? Why would they spend a lot of money on a resident mailing to try and lure people away from CVS?

And, why would any business reward new customers while thumbing their nose at the people who have supported them for years?

Cooler Than Fools

I made myself a promise years ago to stop reading blogs or books whose authors claim to know how to invest in the stock market. Buy an indexed mutual fund and your investing life will be simpler and just as good as the experts. I've never regretted my decision.

But, today I found myself on such a site. I was doing some research and Google took me to an article on The Motley Fool. They were all lathered up over Proctor & Gamble's move to establish a national car wash chain. "They should focus on their knitting." is what I interpreted the brothers Gardner to say about the move. I don't happen to agree with them.

P&G has a new-business incubator called FutureWorks. I find the description of the incubator to be ground-breaking for a company founded in 1837 as a soap and candle company. Their stated goal is to "create, develop and discover ideas and partnerships that create thriving new P&G business units and expand them into new segments." Your company might even be a potential partner.

FutureWorks has come up with the idea of a national chain of Mr. Clean Car Washes. I mean who doesn't know Mr. Clean. The guy is cool not to mention he is also bald. I think maybe the Fools are jealous of the cool bald guy with the earring. (Note to self – get ear pierced.)

His car washes sound like they are also very cool. They have giant water guns that shoot soap that you and the kids can fire as the cars go through the wash. You can also have a coffee, enjoy Wi-Fi, and television in their lounge. Other services are oil changes and even car maintenance.

I love that a mega-company like P&G is willing to invest in new ideas like this. And, they are building one of their brands at the same time. We spend about $8 Billion a year on car washes in this country and I'm betting P&G will get their share.

Oh, by the way, P&G does not reduce advertising/marketing budgets during recessions. They didn't make any such reduction during the Great Depression. And, guess what, they have grown and made progress during every major recessionary period.

What is your company doing? Are you maintaining your marketing budget? Are you taking some new risks and trying new ideas?

Or, are you listening to a fool who says wait for things to get better?

PS – Besides writing books and this blog, I also counsel, coach, and consult with companies like yours in the area of sales and marketing.

Learn How to Recognize and Sell to the Four Personality Types

People do business with people that they know, like, and trust. Since we can’t pick or choose the “type” of person we are most likely to trust and like right away, we need to learn how to effectively with everyone’s personality style.” Learn how in this report and start increasing your sales right away!

Selling To The Four Personality Types