Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

Establishing a merchant account to accept credit cards

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Earlier this month, hundreds of small business owners descended on Washington, D.C., to announce Read the rest of this entry »

Customer Service Makeover

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Customer service is truly the lifeblood of any small business. Small businesses generally can’t compete with big box stores and bigger corporations on price, but customer service can provide small businesses with a competitive edge – if you do it right.

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Customer Service Tips

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I’ve been working in customer service off and on for over a decade, and in that time, I’ve dealt with some of the best and worst examples of customers that you can find.  Some of them made my day through our interactions, while others made me want to jump over the counter and beat the holy hell out of them.  But through it all, I found a number of strategies that apply not only to dealing with customers, but with people in general.

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The Ten Commandments of Customer Service

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Customer service is an integral part of our job and should not be seen as an extension of it. A company’s most vital asset is its customers. Without them, we would not and could not exist in business. When you satisfy our customers, they not only help us grow by continuing to do business with you, but recommend you to friends and associates.

The practice of customer service should be as present on the show floor as it is in any other sales environment.

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If Your Company Went Out of Business, Would Anybody Notice?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

One of the truly jarring dimensions of the Great Recession is the death sentence it has imposed on of hundreds of brands, even whole companies, that were once familiar parts of the business landscape — not just bankruptcies, but liquidations and flat-out disappearances. Once-proud automobile nameplates, including GM’s Oldsmobile and Pontiac, and Ford’s Mercury, have become history. The ghosts of once-prominent (and now liquidated) retailers, from Circuit City to Virgin Megastores to Linens N Things, haunt shopping malls from coast to coast. And then there are the obituaries for so many newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and many more too depressing to list.

The fact that “going out of business” has become such a growth business got me thinking about a question I heard years ago from advertising legend Roy Spence, cofounder of GSD&M, who told me he heard it from strategy guru Jim Collins. Whomever the original source, it’s a question I’ve posed time and again to organizations and their leaders who are searching for the courage to make big positive change in tough economic times.

The question is as profound as it is simple — and it’s worth taking seriously as you evaluate your approach to strategy, competition, and innovation. Here it is: If your company went out of business tomorrow, would anybody really miss you and why? Think about it for a moment. Why might a company be missed? First, because it’s providing a product or service so unique that it can’t be provided nearly as well by the five or six other companies that are its main rivals. BMW falls into this camp, maybe Ritz-Carlton and Emirates Airlines. But really, how many products or service do you know for which this is true? Your car? Your dishwasher? Your mutual funds? Your credit cards? In all of these categories, aren’t there plenty of pretty-good alternatives to whatever choice you’re making today?

Second, a company might be missed because it has created a workplace so dynamic and energetic that most employees would be hard-pressed to find a similar environment somewhere else. To be sure, in this brutal economy, having any job beats being jobless. But how many places have you worked in, or how many workplaces do you know of, where folks are so fired up to report for duty on Monday morning that if they had to go find a new job on Tuesday morning they’d miss their old surroundings? These days, the only thing lower than customer satisfaction is employee satisfaction.

Finally, a company might be missed because it has forged a uniquely emotional connection with customers that other companies can’t replicate. That is, a relationship based not just on the economic value it has to offer, but the values with which it conducts itself. Apple is an obvious passion brand in the performance-obsessed technology world — maybe the greatest passion brand in the whole world. HBO comes to mind as a passion brand in the notoriously fickle media market, a network that has doesn’t just have viewers but devoted followers. But ultimately, in a world of non-stop competition and endless choices, how many companies and brands do you know that have achieved the status that Kevin Roberts, of Saatchi & Saatchi, calls a lovemark — in his words, a product, service or entity that inspires “loyalty beyond reason.”

The fact is, precious few companies meet any of these three criteria — which may be why so many companies feel like they are on the verge of going out of business. So the next time colleagues urge you to think small and downsize your dreams, ask why they believe that playing it safe is playing it smart. That’s what they thought at Oldsmobile and Mercury and Circuit City and the Rocky Mountain News — and look how it worked out for them!

Here’s the real message: If your customers can live without you, eventually they will.

Here’s the big challenge: If you do business the way everybody else does business, you’ll never do any better.

Here’s the urgent question: If your company went out of business, would anybody notice?

Good luck as you work on your answers.

Never Work for Chump Change

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

How much you should pay yourself, how to make the most of empty space, and what to do when under legal attack

When my co-author, Bo Burlingham, and I launched Street Smarts in December 1995, people would often ask us if we were worried that we might run out of subjects to write about. We just shrugged and said, “We’ll see.” But we soon realized we had no concerns on that score. We had only to read the mail that readers began sending us. Each letter described a unique situation that demanded its own response.

One of my few regrets about the column has been my inability to answer more of those letters and, later, e-mails. While I was running my businesses, I simply didn’t have the time. I’m still a pretty busy guy, but developments over the past few years (see the series of columns called “The Offer,” beginning in November 2006) have given me some breathing room, and I’ve used it to step up significantly my pro bono work advising entrepreneurs. The time also feels right to extend that effort to the Street Smarts column.

In the past, we’ve devoted one or two columns a year to answering your questions. Now, we’ll be doing that in every column — unless, of course, something dramatic happens in my business (or elsewhere), in which case I’ll break away to bring you an update. We also encourage you to post queries and comments online or write to me directly at asknorm@inc.com. In addition, we’re going to hold another contest like the one we ran last year. The three winners will get an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to spend a day with me at my offices in Brooklyn and to visit Inc. You can find the details online.

In the meantime, let’s get the ball rolling:

Dear Norm,
I have a booming business connecting people with people. For example, I helped the Today show find a woman to propose to her boyfriend on Sadie Hawkins Day, and I worked with the Boston Symphony Orchestra recruiting young people to introduce to classical music at Tanglewood. I also organize business networking events and host several speed-dating sessions a month. I’m working more than 100 hours a week, and I charge $50 per hour for my services. I should be in great shape, but I can barely make ends meet. Can you help me?

Ilana Eberson, The NYC Business Networking Group, New York City

I needed more information, and so I invited Ilana to come see me. When she showed up, I had her sit down and estimate the amount of money she’d made in the past year and the number of hours she’d worked. We then divided the first by the second. Sure enough, Ilana wasn’t earning anywhere near $50 per hour. The real number was closer to $7 per hour. She was shocked, but I wasn’t surprised. Like most first-time entrepreneurs, she’d had one overriding fear starting out, namely, that she wouldn’t make enough money to support herself and would be forced to get a job. The natural tendency in those circumstances is to undervalue what you’re selling, because you’re so desperate to generate cash. What Ilana undervalued was her time, her talent, and her connections.

For example, a cosmetics company might hire her to put together a list of women from the ages of 26 to 35, along with their contact information. She’d charge her normal hourly rate, neglecting to take into account all the time she’d spent creating her extensive list of contacts, without which she couldn’t have provided the service. Or she’d spend an hour doing an e-mail blast for somebody and charge $50, overlooking her travel time to and from the customer’s location. In fact, the total time for the job, including travel, was more like half a day. She’d then sweeten the pot by throwing in a second e-mail blast at no extra charge. That added up to a whole day of work for $50, or about $6.25 an hour.

I gave Ilana a homework assignment. I asked her to write down what she really wanted to do in the next year and how much money she needed to live on during that time. Up until then, Ilana had been too busy to look beyond the next month. The question was always, How am I going to fit in all the things I have to do? I figured that, in planning a whole year, she’d be able to put aside the things she felt obligated to do at the moment and think instead about her long-term goals. And that’s what happened. She suddenly became aware of what she was missing as a result of her frenetic schedule. And, eventually, she was able to cut back on money-losing activities, focus on her best opportunities, charge prices in line with the true value of her services, and say no to people who weren’t willing to pay her what she was worth. Above all, she realized that, in filling her schedule with so many small things, she’d stopped dreaming of the big things she wanted to do, and that gave her all the incentive she needed to change.

Dear Norm,
I have a transportation and logistics company that I’ve owned for nearly 15 years. Our headquarters is in a warehouse, and we have about 7,000 square feet we’re not using. I want to explore ways of getting some benefit out of this space. I’ve considered getting into records storage, but I don’t know where to start. Can you point me in the right direction?

Jim Wood, Maverick Express, Battle Creek, Michigan

Whenever you see a potential opportunity, the first step is to check out your assumptions. In records storage, for example, what counts is not square footage but cubic footage. I called Jim and asked him the height of his warehouse’s ceilings. He said they were about 18 feet high. So he had 126,000 cubic feet of space. Allowing 3 cubic feet per box, including open space and aisles, he had room for about 42,000 boxes. If he could fill the space at a monthly rate of, say, 20 cents per box, he could collect as much as $8,400 per month in rent. Of course, he’d have expenses. He’d need to buy or lease racks, as well as equipment to move the boxes around. He also had to consider what would happen after he filled the space. Where would he put the additional boxes his customers were bound to send him? And I cautioned him to remember that the business required a long-term commitment. He had to be prepared to keep the boxes more or less permanently. With all that in mind, does it still make sense to use the space for records storage? Only Jim can make that call.

Before making a big decision like that, however, it’s always best to explore all the options. I suggested that Jim ask his customers if they have any warehouse needs. He might well find a source of revenue he hadn’t thought of. Then again, he might decide that the smartest course is to use the extra space to create a stronger bond with customers by providing an additional service, such as storing skids for them or providing space for special projects. In a tough economy, there’s always pressure to reduce prices. I believe it’s far better to maintain prices and provide additional services instead, even if you don’t charge for them. You’ll protect your gross margins and make it tougher for competitors to lure customers away.

Dear Norm,
My company makes rollable, foldable ballet flats that save women from aching high-heel feet. I recently got a threatening phone call from a competitor whose company has a name similar to mine. I prefer to focus on sales and marketing, but I can’t take threats like this lying down. It looks like there may be a trademark/patent battle. Any advice?

Andrea Padilla, Spare Soles, San Diego

Try to work out a settlement, even if it’s not perfect. People shouldn’t waste time and money on litigation if they can avoid it. (See “Don’t Worry, Be a Little Unhappy,” April 1998.)

Norm Brodsky (brodsky13@aol.com) is a veteran entrepreneur. His co-author is editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. A paperback edition of their book, The Knack, was published in February under a new title, Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs.

Customer Service Processes-Companies Still Don’t Get It!

Monday, February 15th, 2010

A key component of customer loyalty is how well a company handles complaints. I have a fresh example to illustrate! I bought a top of the line, king size memory foam mattress six months ago and it already has a lump in the middle. It has a 15 year warranty on it so I called customer service. They are sending out a third party to determine if there is a defect which is fine.

The customer service representative then informed me that if the mattress is defective and needs to be replaced, there is a $50 charge that I must pay for them to deliver the new one and take away the defective one. I told her that doesn’t make sense that I would have to pay a delivery charge for their defective mattress. She calmly and politely informed me that in the small print of the agreement that I signed, it clearly stated that I was responsible for these charges if the mattress was defective. I didn’t check the small print but I’m sure it is there.

I’m not sure what occurred in their customer service process design meetings (if there were any) but they were obviously looking at the process from an internal, short term financial point of view. The cost to deliver goods was to be passed on to the consumer……for their defect!!

Although this may satisfy the short term financial metric, it fails miserably on the longer term, more critical metric, customer satisfaction. In my opinion, there is a simple solution that satisfies both metrics. They could deliver the new replacement mattress free of charge (what a concept!).

This satisfies the customer who is upset that the product was defective but at least the company stands by their product and makes the replacement as positive of an experience as possible.

From the financial perspective, a financial analyst could determine the defective mattress rate (for simplicity, let’s say one defect for every 50 sold). If the average delivery cost is $50/replacement, then that cost could be spread over every 50 mattresses sold by adding a dollar to every initial delivery or adding a dollar to the sales price. The customer, at the time of sale, could care less if the delivery fee is $20 or $21 or if the sales price goes up a dollar. It would be transparent to them.

The end result is a satisfied customer who would consider buying from the same store again and the cost of redelivery is covered indirectly. The result of their current process is that I will never buy another mattress from them.

They won’t be able to measure that directly but it will show up in future sales since there will be less repeat business over the long term. I know this sounds so basic but I am continually amazed at how many companies do not understand customer service and satisfaction.

This isn’t any different than the nice hotel that wants to charge me, on a separate line item, an extra .50 for a newspaper. Just give me the freaking’ newspaper and build the cost into my nightly rate!!

Some companies just don’t get it!!

Derrick Strand

dstrand@derrickstrand.com

www.derrickstrand.com