Categories
Competition Corporate America

Internet banking, static IP addresses & corporate service

Look around for a few minutes on the net and you’re sure to find some lame websites.

Some of them are only partly so, but punish their customers more so than anyone else.

Today’s inane examples are Chase and American Express.

This afternoon, I logged into Chase to pay my bill. I login, and it says “hey, you’re using a new computer, I must authorize you.”

Well, that’s all fine and dandy but I’m not using a new computer. It’s the same laptop I’ve had for the last year or 2. What they really mean is that my IP address has changed, but they can’t say that or the majority of their clientele would experience jaw pain and psoriasis. Or something.

Unless you have a static IP address, this is going to happen every time. Funny thing is, I’m paying for a static IP address here at the office, but I routinely find the IP changing because CenturyTel is well, incompetent. Every time I call about it, I get apologies and “we’ll fix it” and sure enough it gets fixed for a week or a month….but then it starts changing again.

But I digress.

So, just like the last time I logged into Chase (yes, this is a regular thing), I tell it I want a new code, it lets me pick how to get it, I do so, it sends it, I check my email, I click on the “I have my activation code” button and I get “Sorry, our activation system isnt working right now.”

I guess that’s why they detected the new computer, forced me through the activation process and issued a code to me, right?

Grrrrr.

I wonder how many thousands of phone calls that generates per week. The site is supposed to save them money and me time. Right now, it’s doing neither.

Grrrr.

Next, Amex.

Every time I login to their website, it tells me that they couldnt reach me via email. The window that tells me this pops up and interrupts what I’m trying to do… and does so every single time.

Of course, I’ve gotten 7 emails from them since the last login (payment due, payment received, travel stuff, Membership Rewards news, and so on), but whatever. It could mean that ONE of them bounced. Who knows.

The little popup window asks me to click to find out what the deal is. For the last several months, after I click on the little popup window, I am taken to a page that says “Sorry, our system is currently unavailable”. This has been the case, morning noon and night, all year long.
This is the state of corporate internet-based customer service and billing in 2007?

Makes it all that much harder to swallow when small business owners tell me that the big box stores, franchises and corporates are beating them to pieces. Those same businesses have become professionals at annoying the squirt out of their customers. And you STILL can’t take their customers away from them?

Try harder. Try smarter.

Categories
Competition Good Examples Strategy

Is your company ready for you to hit the road?

A friend and former business partner of mine passed on last Friday. 45 years old. Too young. As I spoke to her brother earlier this week, I thought back to better times. Her, her brothers, myself and our staff at Charley’s in Tampa after a successful trade show. Good folks, good wine, good food. RIP.

Despite all of this, notwithstanding the grief, her business…what used to be our business, chugs along like almost any other day today.

How could that possibly happen?

Systems. Documented procedures, step by step, click by click instructions for every process in the business, whether they involve a tape gun, box, CD, packing slip, trade show box, mailer, product shipment, service call, installation process, or whatever.

Everything the staff does, with few exceptions, was documented and placed in a printed procedures manual. Online versions were available (and built into our software) to make sure the most up to date version was available to everyone.

McDonald’s-like? You bet. All of this started with Michael Gerber’s E-Myth, which I read years ago after finding an employer was using the processes he described.

Read the E-Myth. Use it. If you have to choose only 1 thing that I suggest, choose this. It’ll pay for itself many times.

Categories
Book Reviews Competition The Slight Edge

E-Myth

I find it a little hard to believe that I hadn’t included this in my must-read list, but sure enough, it wasn’t there.

Michael Gerber’s E-Myth describes the benefits and process of getting those mindless trivial tasks in your business under control. You know, the ones that suck up the hours and have you doing things that someone else should be doing? Yeah, those.

The ones that you just know you can perform better than anyone else. As if its important that you load the packing tape gun jusssssst right.

In a few respects, it takes a McDonald’s-esque look at your business. Identify and document every process so that a new employee could do immediately (or at least…soon). If the task involves a computer, go click by click. If the task involves manual labor, document every step. No assumptions. Leave nothing out.

Make sure every staffer has a copy. Keep it up to date. Set the expectation that the processes will be used as documented, and if they aren’t, fix the documentation or fix the process.

Give a copy to every new employee. Set the expectation to learn and use it.

Why go to all this trouble?

So you can get some real work done. So your people can get their work done without bugging the crud out of you.

So you can leave town for a week and not get 27 cell calls each day asking inane questions like “where is the mailbox key”, “how do I turn on the alarm before I leave” and “how do I backup our critical data?” (as if anyone knows you even do this…and you DO do this, right?)

And most importantly, so you can focus on what’s important in your business.

Think about how easy it would be to train a new employee and get them moving in the right direction (ie: positive ROI) if you had their job processes documented, step by step.

There are a few things that you don’t want to do after reading the E-Myth:

1) Assume that the book will run the place. It wont. What gets measured, gets managed. The book simply tells how things should be done, it doesnt get up and kick people into gear.

2) Turn your business into a McDonald’s. Gerber uses McD’s as the example, not as the be-all, end-all of small businesses. The key to his McD example is that the steps are documented and used. Not that you want to turn your business into an faceless (and smelly) automaton run by 16 year olds.

3) Pick apart every little conflict in the book like some of the reviewers at Amazon do. Wonder how many of them actually USE what they read? Take what works and use it and move on. This process works, but only if you use it.

4) Read the book every time you perform a task. It teaches the process and provides a reference to new employees, temp employees and those of us who might have a brain fart when we need to do something that we havent done in a month or two.

Categories
China Competition Education

What scares a global Fortune 200 CEO?

Recently I had the good fortune to book a global Fortune 200 CEO for a business seminar I was responsible for arranging. It was one of those friend of a friend things, but you use what you got. He happens to have a home here in Montana, as well as in China.

He was speaking to a group of new leaders here in our little valley in Montana, and I asked him to speak about international trade. More and more startups here are doing business with China, importing AND exporting. As such, I wanted them to get some exposure to what he had experienced as the CEO and Chairman of a $2B company.

As someone who owns a home in a city of 24 million and in a rural Montana town of a couple of thousand, and runs businesses in both areas (one huge over there, several not nearly so huge here), I expected some interesting observations.

I asked him what he would tell the school boards in Montana if he could get them to do one thing for the future. More math, more science, more languages.

Finally, I asked him what scared him. I was truly curious what scares the CEO of a $2B company.

He noted the number of engineers graduating from college each year in China vs the number here, and them compared the number of new attorneys in China to the number here. You can guess the disparity.

He mentioned that more students in China take the SAT in ENGLISH every WEEK than students in the US take it per month.

The class was rather silent, and had few questions, so I asked a few things intended to stir the pot.

When I asked if our high schools should start teaching Chinese, he said no and followed with “I think we should start teaching Chinese in preschool.”

Eventually, we (and the group) had a long discussion about innovation, bureaucracy, engineer vs attorney statistics, mistakes to avoid when going into China and so on. Good stuff.

Categories
Competition Marketing Wal-Mart

Tom Peters, Geeks, Women and WalMart

Hey, I promised Id get back to WallyWorld and Hamilton. And yes, I know its about time, but before I step back into the step by step system we’ve been discussing, I wanted to go over a list that Tom Peters put together on this same topic.

Over at http://www.tompeters.com/entries.php?note=007977.php, Tom talks about what he things the small business has to do to compete with WalMart.

Tom says his “WallopWalmart16” list is focused on “eating the big guy’s lunch”. Seems to me that none of us are necessarily going to run WalMart, Target, HomeDepot, Lowe’s or Costco out of town, which is what I would call eating their lunch – but that really isn’t the point.

One of your goals should be to regularly and systematically identify and carve off pieces of their business that they simply don’t pay enough attention to. Yeah, a niche.

Tom notes that you have to be in a niche, never attack them head-on (which in most cases means price), repeats the don’t compete on price thing and offers a few other tidbits are worth listening to. As you might expect, he refers to “In Pursuit of Excellence” by closing with the advice that you have to win these clients away one experience and one thrilled customer at a time.

In my experience, the two gems in there that seems to be missed by so many businesses are “Sophisticated use of information technology” and “Focus on Women-as-clients”.

Sophisticated use of information technology means a little more than “buy cool new computers”. It means keeping track of things that most businesses don’t capture, much less measure, monitor and use when making business decisions. For example, I’ll bet if I asked you to produce a set of mailing labels for your top 25 clients, based on lifetime sales, you couldn’t do it in less than 5 minutes. If I asked you to tell me which of your clients are “overdue” for a visit based on their historical purchases, could you produce this list? If you can answer those questions, then you know things about your clients that enable you to make wiser choices about your marketing. You know WHEN to follow up on each customer. Do you think Walmart knows when you havent been in the store for 45 days and your average is every 22 days? Depending on what you use to pay for your purchases, they probably know. The difference is…they wont do anything about it (yet).

What are you doing with your systems? What are you measuring? How are you using that information?

In the 1950’s, women make 80% or more of the purchases for the home. Since then, women have been (mostly) emancipated, have broken through tons of barriers and are climbing corporate ladders and experiencing entrepreneurial success everywhere. And guess what…they still make 80% of the purchases.

Despite this, few retail or service businesses do anything about it. Their store, their marketing, their follow up systems..none of that takes the “woman factor” into consideration. Certainly, there are businesses whose clientele is not primarily women, but there are still ways those businesses can cater differently to the women they do serve – and lock those ladies in as a lifetime customer.

What are you doing to make doing business with you easier and more pleasant for clients who are women?

Categories
Competition Marketing

Competition is a funny thing

Competition is a funny thing. The reactions by different businesses are almost always educational.

For example, a local business has their shorts in a bunch because the local high school bought a machine that (sorta) does what their expensive engraving equipment does. The owners went to the board and complained that the school was competing with them.

As you might expect, it’s been splattered all over our weekly newspaper on and off for a few weeks, including accusations that the school district is doing work for local businesses. Iâ??m not aware of any proof being offered, but itâ??s really beside the point. Then they complained that the school district might eventually stop buying $3000 worth of stuff from them each year.

A few points to consider…

1) They stand to lose $3000 worth of business across an entire year? Look, if 3 grand is the difference between success and failure for your business this year, you need to get a job.

2) Did you really think you would endear yourself to the public by moaning about this in the paper and to the school board? Next I suppose the local newspaper will complain because the students are writing news stories in journalism class. Or the local metal shops, cabinet shops and programmers will ask them to lose the metal shop, wood shop and computer lab? Look, I *LIKE* when businesses mention that they could get a kid to do their work for “10 bucks an hour”. Why? Because I KNOW they’ll be back, ready for me to clean up the mess. Think about it. What happens when your system goes down and your little genius is busy studying because he has a chemistry test the next day? Or when she’s out of town on a band trip? Or when he can’t skip football practice? Or when his girlfriend threatens to break up with him if he doesn’t come over RIGHT NOW?

3) Anyone who would get engraving made at the high school isn’t likely to buy â??real engravingâ? from a business. The quality difference is apparent, if nothing else because the machine is different. Iâ??ve seen work from both machines. The real biz does far better work. Of course, its far less convenient to drop by their business now that theyâ??ve moved out of town to a rural location (DUH), but it beats going into the high school, checking in as a visitor, or meeting the kid in the evening.

4) Whereâ??s your marketing? Instead of fighting this, take advantage of it. Do most â??freebieâ? jobs get done on time? No. (Think “cheap, fast or good, pick any 2”) Do they have all the various stock emblems for engraving at the high school? No. Can you just drop something off with a brief note, say â??make this happenâ? & know itâ??ll be done professionally & on time? TODAY? Not likely. Can you get “rush service”? Probably not. All â??weaponsâ? for your marketing.

Market more and complain less. Youâ??ll have less to complain about. Bonus: you won’t look like a putz in the local paper.