By: Wonderlane

Ask great questions

I’m always looking for better questions to ask.

Good questions educate me about a situation or a mindset someone is in and help me understand where they’re coming from.

Great questions can open the mind of the person you ask the question of. They tend to create discussions that create slight momentum shifts toward changes previously considered “impossible”,  “too costly” or in conflict with existing thoughts, processes and mindsets that are considered sacrosanct.

Asking great questions without belittling or embarrassing the person being asked is an essential skill whether you’re a journalist, salesperson, manager or business owner. Journalists who ask a mix of good and great questions not only get good answers from the podium, but also provoke the listener or viewer to think hard about their position and what formed it.

I suspect you can think of a few questions of that nature related to the social and political issues of the day. What I would encourage is considering what good and great questions you should be asking your staff, your clients and yourself.

Here are some of the useful questions I’ve collected over the years:

  • Why? (often asked repeatedly)
  • Why not?
  • So? (Be careful, this can come off as a bit rude)
  • What if our belief / prediction / estimate is wrong?
  • If we suspend our tightly held opinions for a moment, what else becomes possible?
  • How can I help?
  • What can I eliminate, add, accelerate, decelerate, start or stop that will help?
  • Help me understand.
  • What’s the biggest risk in doing this?
  • What’s the biggest risk in not doing this? This often works better than the prior question because most of us easily identify “Why we can’t / shouldn’t do this” items.
  • If this fails, what is plan B?
  • Why does that matter? This tends to provoke different responses than “Why?” by digging a little deeper into the Why.
  • What does this accomplish?
  • If this works, what’s the next step?
  • If this fails, is that OK?
  • How does this add value to the things we find important?
  • Can you give me a bit more detail on how you got there? Good for digging deeper on an idea or analysis.
  • How will this impact our clients’ ability to deliver what their clients need and want?
  • If this is wildly successful, are we as a company structured to handle that kind of success?
  • Is this designed to handle 10 times the input, output or clients we currently expect if we provide the necessary infrastructure to support that growth?
  • And that’s important because? (often repeated)
  • What challenges must be overcome to pull this off?
  • Can we talk about how we’ll deal with those challenges?
  • How does this impact our key performance indicators? Examples: cost per lead / new client / sale / deployment, support load, lead time, etc.
  • What opportunities does this provide to our partners?
  • Help me understand how this strengthens our core business.
  • Is this in conflict with our values?
  • How does this support our values?
  • How did the pilot program go?
  • What did our clients say about it?
  • What about this is really important to you, your crew and our clients?
  • What data will be used to monitor this project / activity? How will it be measured? Do we know what the decision points are for that data? How were those points determined?
  • Do you have what you need to do this?
  • How can we communicate this effectively to clients and internally?
  • How does this drive our “one number”? Your number might be webinar views / month, the number of after hours service calls, free trials / month, or average days between purchases. A car lot might see a visit to the lot with a spouse as a leading indicator.
  • What are your biggest barriers to success? What’s the plan to deal with them?
  • Who isn’t “on board” with this? Why?
  • If we remove our egos / need to be “right” from this discussion, what changes?
  • What are the weaknesses in this plan? Do you need help with them?
  • Who are your strongest leaders and how are you developing them to handle more responsibility?
  • What are you doing to attract new talent?
  • What expectations does this set?  How will we manage them?
  • What are you doing to identify and develop both new and existing leaders on your staff?

What good and great questions do you ask?

By: ImagineCup

ROI: Why they don’t take your call

These days, it isn’t about the shine; it’s about what happens when the shine wears off.

Will your business owner clients think positively of you a year from now because of an investment you championed? They’d better. Without buy in from everyone involved, resistance is the best you can expect the next time you visit.

As for this time – If you can’t explain to a random person in the lunch room or the warehouse why their employer should buy your stuff, it’s going to get picked to shreds.

ROI and the Why-To-Buy

The key to being successful is establishing Why-to-Buy in the context of each involved group. The discussion that sells the owner will differ quite a bit from the one that gets the warehouse on board, much less the one that gives the warehouse manager the tools necessary to get their staff on board.

When new purchase discussions do get down to talking about numbers, the ROI discussed is sometimes legitimately unproven and is frequently presented in a way that makes ROI impossible to prove, much less disprove. That’s a fast track to a “no sale”.

What’s your reaction to sales calls?

Ask a few business owners about sales calls. You’ll get a common list of “Why I don’t want to talk to you, sales dude.

  • I don’t know you, even though you act like I do.
  • I still have a bad feeling about our last deal.
  • I don’t need anything right now, but I am willing to listen to new stuff just in case, but you need to make an appointment.
  • You have no appointment.
  • I’m the wrong person.

The last time I had an office on a public street, the front door had a sign that invited two types of salespeople in (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts) and provided the rest with instructions and a number to call for an appointment.

In seven years, one salesperson called that number to make an appointment. The rest wasted their time because they didn’t respect our time enough to make an appointment. You might think that an aggressive salesperson shouldn’t take no for an answer. When it concerned that office, that was the wrong choice.

Nice Presentation?

Another thing that I see and hear repeatedly is problems with a sales presentation.

These complaints include:

  • A one way conversation – like drinking from a firehose
  • Not customized based on knowledge of your needs
  • Generic financials that don’t identify a payoff period
  • Little consideration for your real situation
  • Inaccurate assessment of labor cost savings
  • Ignore additional costs and management requirements
  • Gaps between the presentation and delivered solution
  • Selling the invisible. Either things that don’t work or things that don’t yet exist – and won’t be delivered for months.

Consider whether your presentations exhibit any of these qualities.

What they want to experience

How would most business owners react when their favorite salesperson calls?

This person…

  • Only calls when there’s a win ready for the business owner to invest in.
  • Shows up with a checklist of qualifications that illustrate why the opportunity fits the business.
  • Shows up with testimonials from similar businesses – complete with contact information, so you’re welcome to call them.
  • Has clearly spent time thinking about why they and the opportunity fits the owner’s business.
  • Brings up alternatives and why they ruled them out.
  • Leads their market – not so much in sales as much as vision, crcitical because it carries with it influence and the reputation of a market leader.
  • Thinks about what challenges you face and what they can do to make it possible to overcome them.
  • Brings opportunities that you can implement  that without losing your existing momentum.

Getting buy-in

Think about how many times you’ve had to deal with the situations I described above – both good and bad. How many times have you done this to a prospect? How much trouble was it to make that deal happen, if it happened?

ROI grows as buy-in expands. Remember that everyone views ROI differently.  Next time, we’ll talk about strategies to involve everyone in that conversation so that the buy-in stretches from the main office to the warehouse dock.

When a business owner sees that sort of widespread buy-in, good outcomes are almost sure to follow.

By: State Farm

Save your bacon: Backup your stuff

Today was yet another one of those days that come far too often.

A day when someone tells me their computer crashed and they have no backups. For months.

This isn’t a computer at home that’s used for email, Facebook and maybe an occasional game. This computer is used to manage their customers’ technical data and no one has bothered to back it up. We’re talking several gigabytes of contact information, among other things.

The stumper for me is this: Despite the fact that a sizable portion of this company’s tens of millions in revenue depends on the data this software manages, they haven’t backed it up for months.

Computers can come and go – it’s the data that matters. Except for specialty units like servers and such, many of the computers that do what this one does could be replaced by new, much faster hardware for $300-$400. But none of that matters much if you don’t backup your business data.

Every time I think I should give clients a choice about backing up the data created in systems I create, one of these situations pops up to remind me that no choice is necessary.

I have to keep my clients’ best interest at heart *even when they don’t*.

It happens.

Know anyone whose dog chewed through a computer’s power cord? I do. Ever had the power fail while you were doing something important? Did it mess up your data? It will.

Ironically, I lost power a few hours after I wrote the outline for this piece.

Ever had a client call and tell you their computer was stolen and their backup media was sitting on top of the computer – and it’s gone too? I have. Don’t make me nag and wag my finger at you. Backup your stuff

Backup your stuff

Take your business data seriously. Yes, it’s one more thing to do, even though you can automate it – just be sure those automated backups really do work. Do it every week, if not every day for stuff that you truly cannot afford to lose. Don’t be that person who calls and says “…..and we haven’t backed up since…”

The second most important thing about backups is that you can restore them. Save a copy of the backup on a different device – not the same drive your data is on. If your backups are on the same hard drive as your data, you’re doing it wrong. If that drive dies, your backup dies with it.

At least once a month, try to restore on your backups to a different computer. If you can’t, you’re no better off than the businesses who don’t backup at all.

That electricity thing…

I’m a little NASA-ish when it comes to backup power systems. I have an APC SmartUPS uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with automatic voltage regulation (AVR) on every computer as well as the TV. Yes, I really do mean every computer.

While I rarely watch the tube, I don’t want to replace it if I don’t have to. The UPS units are why I have servers that still run after 10 years.

Computers like stable electricity. They, like your data, are an asset. Depending on what type of computer you use, you might be able to replace it for a couple of hundred dollars – but you can’t replace the data.

You can’t get the time back that you’ll waste replacing hardware, reinstalling software, reconfiguring your network and finally, re-keying your data – if you have it.

A $200-300 UPS will pay for itself with the first outage. Having even two minutes to close files and shut things down normally before firing off an email saying “losing power” etc is worth every penny vs. having it all shut down in a millisecond with no notice, damaging data as it goes down.

If and when electricity spikes or failures cream your machine or your data, there is rarely anything your computer person can do to make things right. Quite often, it’s time to replace the computer and start over.

Sound like fun? It isn’t. Save your bacon. Backup your data. Test your backups by restoring them to a different machine. Sleep better at night.

Worth saying twice: I have to keep my clients’ best interest at heart *even when they don’t*.

By: THOR

What are your compelling reasons?

This past week, I’ve had several conversations revolving around why people don’t buy, why people stop buying, how we can get them to use what they bought and how we can get them to switch to our product instead of a competitor’s.

These conversations all have the same foundation: Giving people a compelling reason to change.

Whether we’re talking about buying, changing what they use, or using what they’ve bought, people need compelling reasons to change what they’re doing – even if they’re not doing anything.

Without compelling reasons – buying and implementing is much harder

It seems obvious that making it easier to buy is important, yet some businesses do their best to make it hard to give them your money.

However, buying isn’t the only obstacle to overcome. That’s why I’ve told the software setup story as many times as anyone would listen.

Selling them is one thing, getting them to use, adopt, implement it is quite another – and in fact, it’s more important than the sale over the long term.

If you don’t care what they do after they buy your stuff, it’s an indication that your business model is broken, even if you’re selling that stuff like crazy right now. Someday, that will change. When it does, how will your current business model work?

If you aren’t focusing on making sure they implement what they buy, your business model might not be broken, but your management of it is. You wouldn’t plant a crop and never watering or weed it, so why would you make a sale and then make no effort to cultivate the use of what you sold them?

That’s what the software setup story addresses and as you can read, I’ve been there.

What’s their point of view?

One of the things that fails business owners most often is assuming that their clientele is just like them. To be sure, there some cases where that’s true, but in others – it’s simply wrong.

The danger in this is that people buy, implement and change things for reasons who may not have considered, or for reasons that are meaningless to you. If that reason is the primary driver in decision making for your market and you miss it because their reason means nothing to you, closing a sale could be quite an uphill climb.

Even if you’re shy, you have to ask questions.

What are the obstacles to change? In many cases, they might want to change but think they don’t have the time to retrain their people, adjust their internal business processes and deal with yet another change. Solving that requires your value proposition to be clear, compelling and long-lasting.

What are the real reasons they might change? What truly causes the pain they feel? What keeps them up at night? What makes them worry about their future? Why is changing worth it at all if the outcome is the same? Same reports, same Excel spreadsheets, same profit?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re going to struggle to sell to them even if you have exactly what they need and want to take away their pain.

I don’t sell things that make the pain go away

If you aren’t making someone’s business pain go away, your clients are probably some portion of the general public. You might want someone to buy your cosmetics, or perhaps you’d like them to give your dry cleaners a chance vs. them continuing to use the one they use now.

Think about the risk people take when they change from Maybelline to Bare Minerals or from One-Hour-Martinizing to Joe’s Hometown Cleaners.

How do you currently communicate that trying your stuff is so easy and so risk free that if it doesn’t work out, they lose nothing?

Once you’ve done a great job of taking risk off their plate, you still have the task of proving the value of switching.  How are you doing that these days? Put yourself in their place.

Imagine a bank asks you to switch to their bank from the one you currently use – the one where your direct deposit goes and where your bill pay stuff is all setup and working smoothly.

Or consider switching from Windows to Mac or iPhone to Android.

Now you understand how they feel when you ask them to switch.

 

 

By: Pete

Earning Return Business, Part Four: Confidence

In our last three conversations about earning return business, we tap danced around something that is at the core of getting people to repeatedly come back to your business without a second thought of going somewhere else – Confidence.

Confidence is personal

As their confidence rises, people have this interesting way of insisting that others use their go-to business. You’ve probably had this happen to you. You’ll mention that you need a new dentist, or are going to buy a truck, put your family up at a local B & B, or want to get a fence built and someone you know will be positively rabid in their insistence that you use their favorite business for that purchase.

Some take it very personally. If you choose a business other than the one they recommended and have a less than ideal experience, you’re likely to hear about it until you share your good experience with their favorite vendor the next time you have that need.

This happens for several reasons:

  • They feel an obligation to you as a friend or family member and want you to have a good experience. In short, they want to do something nice for you.
  • They want that business to stick around, so the more people they send to the business, the better.
  • When a business knows you are sending them clients, they tend to treat you a little bit differently. We all enjoy that feeling of being treated a little bit special, much like the response Norm hears when he walks into Cheers.

Don’t underestimate that last one. Loyalty of this nature is easy to build with the right kind of attention and is invaluable.

Building loyalty with pizza

My wife and I often have a dinner date night on Friday and more often than not, we’ll find ourselves having pizza. There’s a lot of good pizza where we live, so the choice isn’t easy.

Despite all the great choices, we more often than not end up at a restaurant called “The Back Room”, mostly because of barkeep Zak. When Zak was young, he swam with our boys during summer swim league. Yet that history isn’t why we go there.

After a long work week, we usually sit in the TV lounge area at the end of the Back Room’s bar. Because we’ve been there enough times, Zak automatically brings us one of the rotators he’s sure we’ll like (and he takes the time to tell us about it) after ordering our favorite pizza (which isn’t on the menu) and salads – never forgetting our preferred substitutions from prior visits.

Zak has learned that we’re creatures of habit when we come to the Back Room and we’ve learned to have confidence that he will take care of us and remember what we like.

Earning return business via confidence

The more confidence clients have in you and your company’s ability to deliver what they want, when they want it, at the quality level they’ve paid for – the more likely it is they’ll keep coming back.

Confidence comes from a number of different places, but at its root, it’s about your clients’ peace of mind and friction-free experience.

Whether they’re  good or bad, I’ll bet you can think of little things that happened during recent interaction with businesses that affected your confidence in them. The trick is figuring out what those little things are for your business and your clientele.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to instill that peace of mind, here’s a few examples:

  • A Realtor who provides a refrigerator checklist to her clients to prove her mettle by listing in advance the things that she may have to handle for the clients during a home transaction. This sends the confidence-building message “they will not surprise us”.
  • A software company that documents the minute details of their in-house source management, build, testing and deployment process for their clients, raising confidence in the quality of releases that are publicly available to them.
  • Once a rarity, now many restaurants frame their city/county health inspection for all clients to see. Ever see a framed “C” or “D” grade?
  • “Pre-owned” certifications for cars that indicate what has been checked prior to putting the car on the market.
  • Banks that don’t have a deposit cutoff at 3:00 PM.

To a good business, these things seem obvious. No matter how obvious, the key is taking the next step.

How do you build your clients’ confidence?

By: RBerteig

Earning Return Business, part three

In the last year, we’ve experienced the joy of moving. Twice.

Yes, twice on purpose.

Apparently our lives are in such dire need of adventure that one move wasn’t enough.

Census you asked

Why do I bring up these moves?

According to U.S. Census data from 2010, Americans move about 12 times in their lives – and younger generations are trending toward moving even more often.

Moving is not an inexpensive or easy affair. It can stress families heavily at a time when they are already under substantial pressure. Since we do it about a dozen times in our lives, it would seem obvious that there’s lots of incentive to create an experience that encourages repeat business and good word of mouth.

Let’s talk about a few examples.

U-Haul vs. Penske

I’ve rented from Penske once, 16 years ago. I had to drive their truck from Missoula to Cheyenne to return it. In retrospect, this was not the most time and cost efficient plan, but a prior U-Haul experience had me avoiding them.

Despite the crazy return location, I’d rent from them again tomorrow – if they had a local store in the places I was moving from and moving to. Why? 16 years later, I still have good vibes from that move, the rig I received and how they handled the process on both ends.

I’ve since used U-Haul twice. As they were 16 years ago, the trucks are spartan in features, still use gas (less power, lower mileage) rather than diesel and often give you the idea that you’re the last person to drive it before they sell it off.

I’ve used them twice is because they were the only local choice at both ends of a move.

Confidence earns repeat business

Despite my issues with their trucks, the people who work for U-Haul  (and their dealers) have proven to be friendly and service-oriented.

As with many other large businesses, there are roses and thorns with each experience, and once in a while you’re fortunate to meet unique people who set the standard for everyone else you deal with in a particular market, such as Hungry Horse Montana’s Kasey Faulk and her crew.

The thorns usually relate to little issues that point to management’s attention to detail. A recent example is the truck I picked up. The windshield appeared that it hadn’t been cleaned. It was covered with bugs.

Thing is, the bugs weren’t whole like someone hadn’t touched the windshield at all. Instead, it looked like they’d been “sort of” cleaned but hadn’t finished the job.  I suspect U-Haul has someone clean the windshields in every truck at check-in time (or before it goes out), but that they don’t have their people hop in the truck to check their work when the cleaning is done or when the truck is rented.

Yes, these are little things

Little things. Trivial things. But they make you wonder about the attention paid to other little things, like oil, lube, u-joints and wheel bearings.

You see, after you’ve paid a crew to load a truck, the last thing you want to do is find yourself stranded in the middle of Eden on a broiling hot day in the sun.

Actually, that’s the next to last thing you want.

The last thing you want is to have to unload the truck and load your stuff onto its replacement – particularly if it was loaded by a crew as good as Kasey’s. You don’t really want to do that even if it wasn’t loaded by her crew.

Fortunately this wasn’t part of our experience and there was no mechanical issue on either trip, despite the ill-cared-for appearance of the rig.

Earning return business requires creating the right memories

While nothing went wrong for us, these kinds of things are on your clients’ minds when they ponder coming back to you.

  • Have they cleaned the truck / bedspread / bathrooms since the last time I was here?
  • Am I going to have to deal with grease on this and that and that again?
  • Will the tub be dirty again?
  • Will they track in dirt and not clean up the sawdust and drywall dust again?
  • Is that guy behind the counter going to ogle my daughter again?

If these are the memories you’re creating, how likely is it that they’ll return?

Depend on being the best game in town, not the only one.

By: Vinoth Chandar

Leaders honor their words

Recently, someone in a position of trust and honor was found to have published someone else’s work without attribution.

The situation was made worse by their affiliation with an organization whose reputation for trust and honor is sacrosanct.

Plagiarism and/or unattributed quotes happen. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, sometimes not. Sometimes, there are excuses and denial.

Coming clean about our mistakes

We’re not perfect beings. All of us make mistakes, no matter what our handlers, customer support people, PR representatives and spokespeople say.

When we make mistakes, the reasons are fairly consistent. We’re under deadline pressure and/or circumstances distract us and alter our behavior, even if for a short while – and it often seems like those circumstances, distractions and pressures occur at the worst possible time.

In response, our fight or flight kicks in, and we buckle down and crank out the email, document, work product or service.

Yesterday, one of these situations happened to me. After four days of intense meetings and business travel in the middle of a family move, followed by a hectic morning of back to back appointments, I had to lead a conference call. I was not as prepared for it as I would have liked. While the call went OK, I knew that it could have been better.

While this probably didn’t break the trust of those involved, it could have even though the parts where I was less prepared than I wanted to be might only have been detected by a few of those involved. The problem is that this could have created a small crack in their trust in my ability to deliver.

At this point, I had a choice. Pretend nothing happened or acknowledge it and make amends by putting some space in my calendar for prep before the next meeting so that it doesn’t happen again. Choose your solution carefully.

Commitment vs. Ego

When we’re “caught” in a situation like this, the cause may no longer exist, whether it was legitimate or an excuse. By the time the mistake goes public, the cause might not make any sense at all.

This is why your ego has to take a back seat and let your commitment to the people involved take over. Our egos are frequently the cause of conflicts, whitewashes and “cover ups”.

Ego spawns thoughts like “They cant be right because that means I’m wrong.”

Commitment must ALWAYS take precedence over ego.

If you’re a comrade of someone in an organization based on trust and honor and they choose themselves over the organization in a matter of trust and honor, how does that make you feel?

While it may be politically unsound for an elected official to admit a mistake, explain the situation and take steps to make amends, it’s equally ignorant to pretend nothing happened.

This isn’t pleading not guilty to something you didn’t do. It’s lying about something that happened long ago when you were perhaps young(er), less than 100% (even temporarily) and/or affected by then current circumstances. We like to pretend that circumstances don’t matter and that we’re perfect. They matter and we aren’t. We’re human.

When someone spins your mistake, it’s their lie. It becomes yours when you fail to call out their lie. It’s as easy as “Wait a minute, that’s not what’s going on here. Let me explain.

Why this matters to business leaders

Consider the question that a failure to “Let me explain” provokes about your decision making ability, regardless of anything you’ve done in the past.

The damage occurs when you choose ego over commitment because it tells everyone that your commitment as a leader to them and the organization is less important than your individual wants and needs.

It tells everyone that you can’t be trusted. Ever tried to regain trust of family? Constituents? Employees? Clients? The public? It’s terribly difficult.

When the lie is about the tiniest little thing, it sends a message: It tells your staff you’ll lie about anything. Trust is fragile. Your staff needs to be able to trust and believe in you, and you need this of them.

Put yourself in their place: How hard would you work for someone you can’t trust?

Never forget you’re a leader first (commitment) and an individual second (ego).

By: Gilles Gonthier

Groundhog Day with Ooompa Loompas

Recently, I had a series of “Groundhog Day” experiences with multiple vendors in the same market, in the same market area, while seeking the same product that all of them sell.

Of course, they’re competitors, though some of them may be owned by the same people or corporation. I didn’t look that hard, but I doubt that’s the case.

What I found most interesting about this situation is that they were identical in almost every possible way. If you switched the logo, phone number, business name and address between each of them, you’d find it difficult to figure out which was which. Nothing about any of them appeared to stand out from the others.

Long-time readers might assume that I would find this appalling. They’d be right.

So that there is no doubt about how I feel about this situation, let me make it clear: Being exactly like every other business in your market is a dangerous concoction of idiotic, risky, lazy and so on.

Yes, there are situations that require that some things are pretty much identical from business to business. Regulatory requirements are a good example. Even though regulations might control some behavior in your market, they do not require you to become yet another Oompa Loompa.

You get the idea that I find it not only appalling but not too smart. Let’s talk about why.

Why being a clone is bad

Oompa Loompas are identical. While they presumably do good work, they produce the same results as every other Oompa Loompa. Why would someone choose your Oompa Loompa business over the identical one down the street?

If you’re all the same, what usually tips them in your favor is price.

Yet if everyone is doing things the same way, their overhead is going to be pretty consistent from business to business. With the exception of negotiation skills with vendors and the profit margin you choose when setting prices, what’s left to alter? Not much.

Of course, there will be pressure to price similarly, since there’s no difference between business A and business B. Welcome to the vicious circle.

Why not being a clone is good

When you’re not one of the Oompa Loompas, there’s always pressure to conform. Perhaps unspoken, perhaps not.

Pressure looks and sounds like: Work like us. Have a sign like us. Wear the same type of uniforms we wear. Offer the same delivery we offer. Don’t deliver, because we don’t. Provide the same level of service we provide. Don’t provide what we don’t provide. Advertise like we do. Sell like we do. Price like we do.

In industries where this is really rampant, it sounds like this: Get our industry certification because it says you do everything exactly like we do – and don’t change a thing after the fact because we’ll yank your Clone Stamp of Approval (CSoA).

While the CSoA badge is attractive and shiny while remaining artistically conservative enough that the CSoA committee somehow agreed long enough to sign off on it, you should think about how being a clone makes you feel and how it resonates with the reason you have a business in the first place.

Consider why you risked everything to start your business.

  • Was it because you had a better idea?
  • Was it because you wanted to serve people in a better way?
  • Was it because you thought so differently about the market?
  • Was it because you felt the clientele in that market were under served?
  • Or….Was it so you could march in lock step with all the other clones?

I seriously doubt the last one was anyone’s choice. Most business owners aren’t built that way, so how does this situation happen?

How it happens

Earlier, I mentioned “idiotic, risky, lazy”, describing behavior, not people. These behaviors can be active or passive. My experience and suspicion says there’s a mix of active and passive lazy going on here, perhaps mixed with a touch of fear.

At some point, I hope you decide that it’s riskier to be a clone than it is to stop being one. At that point, all that’s left is to overcome the fear of leaving Cloneville.

Moving out of Cloneville

How do you get out of Cloneville?

Think about what’s important to your clientele. What makes things easier, faster, smoother and more productive for them? Fix one thing at a time. Repeat.

By: Thomas Rousing

Earning return business, part two

Last time, I shared a story about how Best Buy avoided losing my family’s phone business (and perhaps all our business) by bending the rules a little on an insurance claim that had gotten in the weeds thanks to a combination of errors on our part and theirs.

This week, car rentals. We recently drove 1300+ miles to see my mom and rented a car for the trip. Most of the adventure occurred during the rental car pickup, of course.

Deliver what you promise, unless you can’t

I reserved a small, high-mileage car for the trip. My evil plan was to rent a car whose difference in gas mileage would more or less cover the rental, while giving us a chance to check out the car.

While talking on the phone to the local guy at the  rental place, I was assured that they have one in stock. Naturally, when I got there a few hours later, they didn’t have the car I reserved. This isn’t uncommon when reservations are made online and far in advance at an airport, but when you call the local outlet and ask the “Do you have what I reserved?” question – you expect to get it. Turned out, they had so few cars that they ended up making me wait 45 minutes while they tried to clean up their “mule” (shuttle car).

The car I got was a lower mileage car than we wanted, though not terribly low, and it wasn’t the one we wanted to evaluate for purchase, so it ended up being a less productive rental than we’d hoped.

They were wise enough to end the pickup experience on a positive note by defusing the frustration of a 45 minute wait by waiving the fuel charges and saying “Bring it back as empty as you can.”  If you’re calculating the cost of defusing situations like this in your business, keep in mind that the fuel charge savings of at most $30 isn’t what defuses the situation. Owning up to the inconvenience, apologizing and making an effort to ease the annoyance is where the situation is turned around.

Owning up is part of earning return business

With some clients, owning up, apologizing and putting $30 on the table won’t be enough. That’s why it’s critical to train your staff and give them the authority (and boundaries) to resolve situations like this without forcing the client to hear them restate policy, wait for permission to escalate the issue, wait for a response from corporate, etc. Making your clientele wait another 45 minutes and getting them on the phone with the corporate call center will make things worse, not better. That’s why last week’s BB situation worked – there was no waiting.

Waiving the fuel charge meant more than not worrying about the fuel – it meant not making an extra stop before returning the car. Little things…

Little lies are still lies

On the negative side, there was a token apology for not having the reserved car we’d talked about, and of course, no action on that. However, I understand that things happen and you can’t give someone a car you don’t have (the car didn’t come back on time from the prior renter).

In your business, this is where you take the opportunity to make things better, not worse. For example, they could have retrieved the same make/model car from the airport (30 miles away), or suggested that I go there and pick up that car to save time and then comp the airport parking of my car. They didn’t offer either.

When I asked why they operate differently from the airport, such as charging us for a day when they are closed, I got the excuse that local rental locations “work differently” than the airport location because “we’re a different company”. Of course both use the same reservation systems, corporate branding and pricing.  But they’re different.

Train the excuses out of your staff

Not long ago I heard someone say “Excuses are a lie wrapped in a reason.”

In your internal training, you’ve got to repeatedly reinforce that things like this are unacceptable discussion points.  They aren’t malicious, but they become part of your story because you’ve told them 100 or 1000 times. Each one is a paper cut on your culture and your reputation, and eventually – those cuts bleed.

By: Walmart

Earning return business

When you make client service decisions, do you weigh the cost of losing the client in your decision?

I’m talking about the hard cost of losing that client, not the often fuzzy, sometimes made up, and frequently inaccurate cost of a loss, that usually includes the 10-20 people (on average) that an unhappy client will tell after a poor experience – even if it’s their fault. While that does tend to happen, it’s this unhappy client I’m focused on, not their friends, family and coworkers. That’s the one you’re almost sure to lose in a badly handled situation.

What will it cost you if that person never comes back? Not their friends, not someone who reads what they say on Facebook, but them.

Let me describe a recent adventure at Best Buy to give you some context.

Best Buy?

A couple of months before the iPhone 5S came out last year, Best Buy (BB) had an offer to upgrade from an iPhone 4 to a 5 at no cost. The only catch, which I didn’t view as a catch, was that we had to renew our cell contract with Verizon.

We’re happy to reward their early investment in Montana cell infrastructure by remaining with them, at least until they give us a reason not to. As such, renewing was a zero friction event. More like a two free phones event.

BB has a different device insurance than Verizon and we felt the coverage was better, so we put BB insurance on our phones. The one part of Verizon we aren’t a fan of is the corporate stores, so handling all warranty/damage claims in BB seemed like a much better idea. Little did we know…

Earning return business sometimes means bending the rules

My phone recently developed a loose charging socket, probably from me catching the cord on something too many times. Near the end, I had to get creative to get it to charge. So I go up to the nearest BB store and show it to them. The guy at the counter starts the replacement process and checks their records. He says our insurance was cancelled for non-payment.

Hmm. We dig further and find that our debit card number changed in February. We didn’t think about the connection when that change occurred, and they couldn’t charge the insurance to the old card, so the cancel was legit. Unwise, but legit. After a single email to get our attention – they cancelled it.  The email went to an account that gets a lot of spam and isn’t one that I monitor, so it was missed.

While still in the store, I ended up on the phone with the BB insurance guys. Staying mellow paid off, as the agent was willing and able to reinstate the insurance without paying back premiums, setup future payments with the new card number, tweak the email address and allow us to continue the warranty replacement process.

Yes. You read that right. They didn’t even charge the unpaid months in the past.

Preserve and Protect Lifetime Client Value

The potential lose-a-client error, in my mind, was them allowing the insurance to cancel after a simple email. Are you that willing to let a recurring charge client go away? Pick up the phone, people.  One email is not enough effort.

Here’s why: Had they denied the claim, which was clearly their right, I would probably never do phone business with BB again. If they handled it poorly enough, they could have lost all my BB business.

But that isn’t what happened.

Someone is presumably training the folks at BB insurance to think about the long term and what marketing people call LCV – lifetime client value.

The question you have to ask is “Is the incremental value worth the lost lifetime client value?”

In BB’s case: Is it worth the incremental replacement cost of a phone, minus the payment of insurance premiums, to keep a BB client? I think it is, particularly compared to the cost of losing a client, perhaps forever.

In my case, it could have added up to decades of purchases by my wife and I, and perhaps our kids. I suspect that would add up to more than an insurance company’s wholesale price of a refurbished iPhone 5.

Are you thinking about the incremental cost of the service you provide vs. the lifetime client value when training your staff? You should.