Bizarre Customer Service

Recently, I wrote a customer service blog praising serveral large companies on good or better customer service.

Then, there’s Verizon, my cell phone carrier.

Used to be that if you were late on a payment, you just called in, let them know that you were making a payment, how much it was, and maybe the check number.

No digital nonsense. I don’t think all these geniuses realize how insecure the digiital world is.

No threats to turn off your cell service.

I want them to go back to the old method, before some IT consultant probably ‘fixed’ their system.

So, it’s now longer, not customer friendly, and takes more time.


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It’s about the people

I recently took two flights on American Airlines, and it was like a tale of two cities.

The first one started with a senior Captain for American, Captain Walzer, playing a drumstick solo on the countertop of the gate counter.

I’ve never seen this before, and it infused the whole cabin and gate crew with a nice, relaxed vibe.

This isn’t the sometimes frantic energy of Southwest Airlines, which to me just shouts: “Please like me!….I’m just a humble little startup from Dallas!” Ha.

On the return flight, it was back to staid ol American Airlines. Nothing special…..just sort of humdrum.

Everybody was businesslike and efficient, but just didn’t seem to be too inpspired.

Again, it was the people.

So, the question is: Are your people doing all they can to make your product or service stand out from everyone else. Without betraying your corporate ethos and acting silly.

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Don’t Mess with Success

Unless you have a better product, have tested and focus grouped it extensively.

Case in point: My wife and I like to eat about once a month at the local Olive Garden, which is owned by Darden Restaurants.

We nearly always order the same thing: calamare appetiser, salad, gnocci soup and breadsticks.

Last year, Darden’s new CFO tried to eliminate the breadsticks to cut costs. Major uproar from customers.

This year in the last two months, they changed the recipe for calimari. Said they focus groupped it and customer tested it. Wasn’t as crispy golden brown, and had sesame seeds in the batter. Very bizzare. We didn’t like it.

Had a long chat on the scene with Amy Lamb, the site manager, who was very forthcoming, if a little defensive. I’ll be willing to bet Olive Garden got a new Executive Chef, who made the change, and tested it in a focus group, but probably didn’t test it against the prior version. People do that when they want to rig the results.

The odd thing is that Olive Garden has a number of new items on their menu, but if their customer counts go down because of the calimari fiasco, they may not have the intended effect.

The point of all this is when you’ve got a clear winner, either don’t mess with it, or if you ‘improve’ it, do an a-b test against the prior product. Make sure you cover all your regions in which you sell, and maybe even use a third party to do the tests.

Unless you’ve got a clear winner, and it will increase sales, don’t change.

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We Need the People

There’s been a lot of commotion about southern border security in the United States, and it seems to us that some new perspectives are needed.

  1. Our labor participation rate is about the highest it’s ever been, so businesses are running out of available workers they could hire.
  2. It’s not going to be long before we get some wage inflation, either.
  3. So far, we’ve been opening the gates for the STEM immigrants, which is good, but what about garden variety workers for service and manufacturing industries? We don’t hear about that.
  4. In Arizona, the Department of Labor has computerized all the industries with available jobs….about 1100 industries. What if we did that nationally, so that an immigrant can be pulled off line, shown the available industries by state, and where the best places to go are. Then we get them a Greyhound ticket to that place and a point of contact.
  5. If there’s a job match, then the immigrant gets a provisional green card listing where he’s to go, along with family, as long as the family is actually real.
  6. If you like these ideas, forward them to your State representatives. If not, feel free to comment on what you’d do better.
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Don’t Rely Exclusively on Web For Leads

Something we’ve noticed in calling around to businesses is that they’re leaving their phone numbers off their web sites.

This might be a US-only post, but we’d like to know what the situation is in other countries.

We know that it’s a pain to answer the phone at times.

But, you never know who might call. Even the robocalls.

You should think about how your customers and prospects might find you. It’s not about the big yellow book with phone numbers in it anymore.

Even direct mail is making a comeback…keep up those customer lists, write snappy headlines and relevant comments and so forth.

We even have recommended trade shows on occasion.

We still happen to like telemarketing for b2b applications, but we’re in the minority.

For b2c, all of those social media sites can work, as can your website, but make sure that it’s all customer centric. Phone numbers, emails, lists of execs, so forth.

And you have to keep track of where the customers come from!

Who said being a owner, CEO or marketing/sales person was easy?

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Larry and Sergei, Watch Your Perceptions

Recently, it was reported that Larry Page and Sergei Brin, the two chief Googlers, went to the Pentagon to pitch their Artificial Intelligence services.

All well and good.

However, right after that meeting, they went to Beijing to talk to the Chinese government about the same thing. The problem comes, we think, because whatever is done for the Chinese government finds its way into the Chinese military. And, I don’t think that we want to be helping the Chinese military. It wasn’t reported if the Googlers let the US Office of Technology Transfer know of their business, or whether they actually did any business with China.

Even though the business might be good, the perception, at least from where we sit, doesn’t look good.

Which raises the question, what are the perceptions of your business among your customers?

We’ve blogged on this before, but it bears repeating.

How long has it been since you did a perception check with your customers? What do THEY think of your firm?

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Mickey D, No QC

For some reason, maybe people, maybe training, maybe something else, our two local McDonalds have had a QC problem. And it’s usually on my wife’s order, even though I pick the orders up at drive thru. One was missing a bun, one a patty, two got cheese when no cheese ordered. In all cases, McDonalds made it right without question, but what happened to initial quality control?

They get the order right, but the problem is execution.

Do you have the same problem? When’s the last time you either kept order execution statistics or checked fulfillment correctness? Think about it; get your manufacturing and warehouse managers on the same page.

If you’re a service business or retail, what metrics do you use to make sure execution is where it should be?

Lots of companies track customer satisfaction rates, but we haven’t seen much on intermediate steps.

One of our School’s investors has also got a good story on a screwup involving an offshoring supplier, so we’ll let her tell it.

In the meantime, look over your quality control procedures and how they’re working.

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Don’t Forget Your Phone Number

Many companies assume, wrongly, that once they have put up a web site, they’re done with their promotion efforts.

Not so.

Your company should appear in whatever medium your customers might find you, and with a phone number. If you operate in multiiple countries, it might be multiple phone numbers.

And with responsive customer facing representatives who are knowlegeable. And, again, they might have to speak in more than one language. We in the US think English is supreme, but we get posts from all over the world in all sorts of languages, and thanks to Word Press, we can translate them all.

So, the bottom line is think about what your customers want before you forget your phone number!

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Get an MOU from Your Spouse

Get an MOU from your spouse if you’re planning to start a business together. We know it sounds cruel and unusual, but it might save a relationship.

We got the idea for this blogpost from one of our Solutions Forum groups, where one member was getting ready to start an insurance agency, but wasn’t sure how her husband might react.

We also opined that entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart, either, since she’s leaving a nice corporate job. Her spouse needs to know that, too.

(MOU in US paralance is a Memorandum of Understanding.)

Running a business together with your spouse or partner is hard, because you see each other during work hours as well as outside work.

We’ve got one divorce to show for ignoring this advice, so a word to the wise.

The MOU should outline who is going to do what in the business, e.g., sales, finance, operations, etc.

It’s also a good idea to spell out how you’re going to make decisions, e.g., by consensus, or one partner gets to make all the decisions in one of the areas.

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Should You Hire A Business Coach?

I’m attributing the title to an article that appeared in a national publication.

We’re biased, because we do business coaching through groups and 1/1 meetings, but it’s good to see the industry getting some push.

The article said that you should hire a business coach when you get ‘stuck’ on a decision, but that’s a little narrow.

You should hire a business coach to review practically anything you want to do. My best clients do, and they’reĀ  better for it….on average, $100,000 better.

You should also look for a business coach with not only background in the area where you’re stuck, but other areas, too: finance, taxes, leadership, employee relations, all the areas where you might get ‘stuck.’

The business coach should also commit to delivering much more in savings or revenue improvements than he or she costs, too. Many just engage in handholding, but you should want more than that.

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