Customer Service

What If a Party Broke Out In Your Doctor’s Office?

I was sitting in my family doctor’s waiting room this morning when a crazy idea flashed into my brain. Now, you should know I was fasting for the previous 12 hours so perhaps my brain was a bit addled. But, here it is and you can be the judge.

Wouldn’t it be a lot of fun if doctor’s offices had patient appreciation days? Your average doctor’s waiting room is about as much fun as the local undertakers. Actually, my local mortician is a whole lot more entertaining than any physician I know. I especially like it when he removes his toupee or puts it on backwards.

Anyway, back to the doctor’s office. At least once a month, I think they need to have patient appreciation day complete with balloons, costumes, some music (other than the usual PBS stuff), refreshments (they can be of the healthy variety) and some good, old-fashioned hugs handed out by the staff and physicians.

I know you’re thinking this is a dumb idea. I bet you’re worried about catching something from one of the other patients. Listen, as far as I’m concerned, I believe that if you’re sick with something potentially contagious what the hell are you doing mingling with people that are just trying to get their birth control or anxiety drugs?

Which leads me to my other idea for doctor’s waiting rooms – two rooms – one for sick people and one for well. I bet it would cut down immensely on colds, flu and dirty looks being spread around. And, we’ll make sure the sick people get refreshments too. And, yeah, a couple of the balloons. Sorry – no hugs.

Health care is one of the most expensive things we pay for in this country. Doesn’t it make good customer service sense to say thank you to the people footing the bill? And, if you think you’re not footing the bill because insurance is paying for it then you need to make sure you always go into the sick person waiting room.

So, what do you think? How are you going to feel if the next time you visit your doctor a party breaks out to thank you for being a patient?

Trust me, you’ll thank me.

And, while you’re thinking about it, how can you show your customers, clients, or patients that you appreciate them? When is the last time you said thank you? When is the last time you had balloons for them.

When is the last time you gave them a hug?

Image compliments of deltaMike

Legal Slimy Marketing

I got a mailing the other day. You can see a photo of it here. It’s a self-mailer letter and envelope that has the following in bold type:

PENNSYLVANIA BUSINESSES
INSIDE:  11 FEDERAL AND PENNSYLVANIA
REGULATIONS AFFECTING YOUR EMPLOYEES
IMMEDIATE RESPONSE REQUESTED

It also has an image of the state of PA and at the bottom of the envelope the words:

Compliance Update
2010

The date is in the same typeface as you see on your IRS 1040 form. Inside you are greeted with more bold type and the title of UPDATE NOTICE – 2010. The small type then goes on to explain that as an employer in Perkasie, PA, The Poole Consulting Group LLC must ensure compliance with revised 2010 labor law posting requirements and replace any outdated notices.

The mailing isn’t from the state of Pennsylvania or the federal government which is what the graphics and wording want you to believe. The company that sends them out is Personnel Concepts in Ontario, CA. Their return envelope is even addressed to Compliance Service Department.

Don’t you just love the word compliance? Personnel Concepts hopes you’ll be compliant, scan the document quickly and send them your credit card order for $15.90 or $25.90 dependent upon your desire for the laminated or unlaminated version.

If you do a search on Personnel Concepts you’ll find plenty of complaints. You’ll also find comments by someone by the name of Anonymous supporting the company and a rebuttal on a Ripoff Report from the company that states:

“Personnel Concepts has always informed consumers the posters they advertise are available from the government for free. If one chooses, they may read only one side of the mailer received, but it’s recommended they read both sides.”

That’s correct – all the stuff they sell to businesses is free from the government. And, they do say it on the letter I got. It’s in gray type on a gray background on the back side of the address piece of the envelope. That’s the side that usually gets tossed in the trash when you disassemble the self-mailer.

Is their marketing legal? As far as I can tell. In fact they say, “Our business nor our services and products are fraudulent. In fact, all of our products are attorney reviewed…”

Legal but absolutely slimy!

The mailings are meant to mislead and take advantage of the busy and uniformed. I’m sure many small business owners send them the money when they could get the same things for free. They’ll tell you they are providing business owners with a great service. But when an owner realizes they have been duped (even though it is only a few bucks) they will respond the way one customer put it in his posting:

“They may or may not have a good product but they have lost me as a customer with this sleazy low life marketing. If they indeed have such valuable products and services they would never need to stoop to such practices as other schemers on the Internet. Just makes you question if they are trustworthy or not, I say not. Once they loose enough customers they will change the deceptive marketing strategy that they currently employ.

If that were only the way it turns out. My guess is this is so profitable all the slime in the world won’t change they way they do business.

Oh, and by the way. My company doesn’t have any employees.

Give Them One On The House

Walt knows how to run a bar and restaurant and he knows how to deliver extraordinary customer service. He also knows it is a lot easier and less costly to keep the customers you have than it is to find new ones. He makes it a practice to give his customers a drink on the house on a regular basis. They appreciate it and they keep coming back. They also tell their friends about Walt's Place.

What about you and your customers? Do you make it a habit it give them one on the house to let them know you appreciate them and their business? Or, do you nickle and dime them for everything you can get?

People want to feel like they are appreciated.

People prefer to buy from people and not companies when possible.

People buy from people they like and trust.

Walt knows this and lives it.

What about you?

Self-Employed and Afraid of Selling

Lots of people have made the decision to become self-employed. Some even decided it themselves without an ex-employer helping. I have the opportunity to talk with people in this group everyday about their challenges and the number one seems to be selling. By selling, I mean fear of selling, don’t know how to sell, and wish they didn’t have to sell.

As a group they are extremely bright, educated, and talented. Many of them awe me with their abilities and passion. However, almost all of them tell me they need help in selling. Some say they need marketing help but they can get a lot of marketing help from these days without looking too far. So even those people are usually referring to sales.

Why is it so hard for them? Selling means actually asking for money because unless you’re bartering poultry or beans you’re going to need money to stay in business. And, asking strangers for money is fearful and often starts a process in our head which in turn causes some or all of the following.

  • Our mouths freeze up while weird sounds emanate from our throat
  • We begin babbling and talking incessantly about ourselves and our products and what we can do for the customer.
  • We wonder what ever possessed to think that our services or products are worth that kind of money.
  • If the customer questions the price, we blurt out “I can make you a better offer.”
  • We have no idea what to say when someone says, “I’ll get back to you and let you know after I discuss it with my spouse, accountant or Reiki master.

Here are five-steps that if you follow should help you increase your number of sales with much less stress. In fact, you might even start enjoying the process.

  1. Connect – it starts with the relationship. People buy from people. And, they more they trust and like you the more likely is that they will do business with you. If you don’t take the time to establish the trust and for them to genuinely like you, then you are already at Failure Level Three with Level Five being “Forgedaboudit”
  2. Focus – You want to focus on what is important to your customer. And, guess what, it isn’t you, your company, your products, services, or the size of your office. It’s not about you. It’s about the customer. Put your focus on them and what they need and want. What problems do they have that need solved? What’s keeping them awake at night? What value and meaning can you provide? And, guess what? It might not be what you’re selling. Maybe what they need is to be connected to someone who can solve their problem. Maybe that isn’t you – this time. But, if you focus on them and not on yourself then you will find yourself making just the right recommendations. Now the trust level really goes up and you’re not a vendor. You’ve just become a trusted adviser.
  3. Ask – This may seem like common sense but it isn’t that common. By ask I mean you will want to ask questions that will elicit the type of information you need in order to provide the kind of value and meaning for the client. These are almost always open-ended questions that begin with who, what, when, where, how, and why. Pretend you’re a journalist and you’re searching for answers.
  4. Listen – Goes hand in hand with asking but you must really listen with your entire being. Don’t listen with one ear while your brain is thinking about how you can sell something. Listen and ask more questions. You should be listening at least 80% of the time which is about 100% different from what most of you usually do.
  5. Reassure – Even when someone trusts you and believes that the solution you’ve recommended adds value or solves their problem they almost always need a little reassurance that they are doing the right thing. This is where you need to be a storyteller. And, if you’re a good teller of stories you will seldom have to worry about the dreaded “Let me check with…and I’ll get back to you.” Tell them a story about someone just like them who had the same need or problem to solve. Tell them how you solved it or how it was solved. Reassure them you will make sure they get what they need and want. Guarantee it. Hold their hand. Take care of the details for them. Ask them if you can do business together. And, make sure you do the next step.
  6. Follow-up – I wrote yesterday about having the courage to handle the truth. You must follow-up and ask if the customer did indeed get what they paid for. In fact, you want them to feel like they got more than what they paid for because then they will buy again from you. And, they will be willing to tell others about you and help you build your business. They will become part of your sales force.

I could write a book about all of this – actually I did. And, I often spend 3-5 intensive days with people who want to become more proficient in selling. But, I think if you take the time focus on these six-steps you’ll find the process easier and more profitable.

And, as always, feel free to ask questions in the comments or in a direct email to me at [email protected]

Thank you and talk with you soon!

Because I Say So and No Soup For You

You may of heard of the terms hunters and farmers as they relate to salespeople. Farmers supposedly are the type of sales people who farm current customers. They call on their customers who give them repeat business. Hunters are at the top of the sales food chain (at least they believe they are) because they open new accounts. They only call on prospects with the goal of making them customers.

In my experience too many farmers have never been taught to really sell because management believes they are only order takers (waiters for example) which without the right knowledge they often become. And, many hunters (stockbrokers looking for new accounts) focus entirely on their own needs, egos, and compensation and are the type of salesperson who often gives salespeople and selling in general a bad reputation. And, as one of the top hunters ever for my division of 3M Company, I've got the credibility to back up those observations.

So, let's forget about being a hunter or farmer. Throw those terms away for good and concentrate on being a salesperson because every single one of us has to be able to sell. It doesn't matter if you are a surgeon or an artist you'll want to sell a patient on a course of treatment or a patron on seeing the genius of your art. If you're a parent your sales skills will be tested for years by your children. Imagine telling a prospect about your product and when they ask why they should buy it you say, "Because I say so!"

Let's use my interaction with Dell Computer's support forum yesterday as an example of what not to do when you are selling current customers. Dell has a forum they monitor and use to solve problems, answer sales questions and pretty much anything related to their products and services. That's a great idea and a really excellent way to talk to customers in almost real time without having them wait in line to speak to someone who is usually better at preventing sales than making them. Score one for Dell for the forum.

But the reason I was on this forum is because one of my LCD monitors went to sleep and won't wake up. It turns out by following the conversation on Dell's own forum that this is a major problem with lots of monitors (maybe thousands or hundreds of thousands) and Dell knows about it. You can Google the problem or follow it in forums. So, what is Dell doing about it? Well, based on the forum they let people spend time and money trying to fix the problem by working on everything but the monitor itself. Then eventually someone from Dell pops up and offers a Dell solution which sounds a little bit like reciting an incantation around a campfire and waking up with hope in your heart that the problem is fixed.

I tried the incantation and it didn't work. I couldn't find evidence that it works for anyone else either. What would work is if Dell contacted everyone who has ever bought an A01 or AO2 monitor and ship them a new one. They thought they fixed it back in July 2008 when they came out with the A02 but they didn't and now they are sticking their heads in the sand and replying to customers like Dell-Chris M did when she answered a customer's email by saying the useless incantation sequence was Dell's only fix for the problem. She also said they don't have a firmware patch to fix it. When the same customer jokingly asked if he had to stand on his head when doing the incantation solution Chris-M's response was "That is up to you."

By the way – Sales rule number one for business owners – Never let anyone communicate with your customers who is not in possession of a sense of humor. If they really do add value to your organization keep them away from all customers and other employees too.

One last thing, Chris M from Dell told a customer in Feb. 2010 she believed all problems were solved when the A02 version replaced the A01. However, In May 2009 she was addressing the exact same issue. Bad memory? At least in that Feb. 2010 post she admits that "I see your A02s still have issues and she would check with engineering. How many Dell customers said, "Let me out of Dell Hell" as a result of how they are handling this?

By now you are probably thinking neither me nor my employees would treat our customers this way. You'd be wrong. I know good companies who do it all the time because they pay too much attention to pennies and no attention to the value of a long-term customer asset. Think GM, Ford, Verizon, most airlines, and my favorite sushi restaurant – Ooka.

A waiter or waitress is a salesperson. Last week my salesperson at Ooka failed badly. I arrived ten minutes after they open for lunch and was the first customer in the door. I ordered a lunch special and 3 more sushi/sashimi choices. That's a $30 lunch order at this place. The special comes with soup and salad but it seemed someone had dropped the ball in the kitchen and the soup was cold and would be 15 more minutes. I said, "Instead of bringing me my soup and salad halfway through lunch would you please bring me some seaweed salad and forget the other salad and soup."

You already know what she said, "I can't do that." I said, "Why not? You'd be exchanging soup and a salad for another salad and making a good customer not have to wait." Her answer again, "I can't do that."

The difference is price is $1.00.

I would guess that I spend $700-$1000 a year there. That means over the last ten years I've spent as much as $10,000 and I'll spend another $10,000 over the next ten years – unless I find someplace that values me more. By focusing on pennies – the bottom line – this restaurant stands to lose many thousands of dollars from me and the other ten people I'll send to my new favorite sushi place. By the way, this is the second time this has happened to me at Ooka. I was hoping this time the result might be different.

These are only a couple examples of how not to build value and relationships with your customers and prospects. They happen in millions of companies every day and every day billions of dollars are lost because you or your employees don't know how to sell.

The question is – what are you going to do about it?

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?

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.

What’s the Difference

What kind of experience do you create for your customers? When I think back over this past year, I remember the really exceptional and the really frustrating ones. The ones that were average tend to fade away which means the next time I want what they are selling, I might not think of them first – or at all. You might think about that the next time someone says you are doing a good job. You don't want to do a good job. That's just average. You want to do an extraordinary job. You won't be forgotten if you do.

My frustration levels this past year were peaked by some huge communication companies, software companies and (insert airline name here). It is easy to place the blame for poor customer experience on the size of the companies who deliver it. But, that isn't true. There are large companies who get it and deliver an outstanding experience. Amazon comes to mind immediately for me. Watching how they deal when things don't go perfectly should be a case study for all businesses.

And yet, I believe that there were a lot more companies delivering great experiences this year than in years past. Some of them are devotees of social media and learn what it is their customers want and expect directly from them while interacting through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. And, some like my dry cleaner and the farmer who raises our organic vegetables don't need books or gurus to tell them how to delight their customers. They love what they are doing and they love their customers and it shows.

It is true though that most of the extraordinary experiences I had came from small companies. I believe that most people want to deliver extraordinary service. It only makes good sense. I believe that most of the time when it does not happen it is the company and not the individual at fault.

I also lost one of my champions this month. I've written here about Claire Signs, the fantastic bank branch manager in Chalfont, PA for PNC. It seems that others in the bank also noticed her awesome ability with customers and they have promoted her into a job teaching others how to deliver the same kind of experience she created in her branch. She deserves it and PNC is very smart for noticing. But, I'll miss her smile and her hugs.

I'm in the process of doing some goal setting which I always do this time of year. But, it is different for me this year. It's the beginning of a new decade and I am now in my 60th year. I see my planning and goal setting this time as a guide for the rest of my life's work. It's extremely exciting when I think of it this way.

Maybe you can take some time over the next few days to think about what's important to you, what guides your life and what is your purpose here. It can't hurt and it just might lead to you being part of even more extraordinary experiences this coming year.

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!