I love companies with slow computers

How much money do you waste by making your staff wait for computers?

For slow networks?

For slow internet?

For slow computers?

How hard do you make it for them to get their work done?

How many times has a hotel desk clerk apologized to you at check in time because their computer was not behaving, was slow, or was down? I don’t travel all that much, but I hear this fairly often.

How many times do you get similar messages from retail employees, or from customer service reps that you’re on the phone with?

Regularly, for me.

Is your staff’s productivity hamstrung like this? What impression does a recurring “I’m sorry, my computer is slow, thanks for your patience” message leave with your clients?

I love companies like this – when they’re competition for my clients. Don’t be one of them.

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?

Consistency drives word of mouth business

Last week, my wife and I went to a place we’d been looking forward to for some time.  Our 31st wedding anniversary dinner was the perfect occasion to try a new (to us) place, so we went to a local Cajun restaurant whose entree price ranking is $$ and name includes “Orleans”.

Long time readers know I rarely name poor performers. I’ve made note of the theme, price range and part of the name to set the expectation you’d expect to find there.

Expectations vs. Reality

The combination of Cajun, $$ and Orleans implied white tablecloths, a Bourbon Street vibe / atmosphere and good Louisiana cuisine prepared to order, perhaps with an emphasis on seafood.

The menu’s broad selection of Cajun seafood dishes nailed that, but expectation delivery faded from there. There was little to tie the ambiance to New Orleans. The table settings resembled something you’d find in a pizza joint. This created a bit of disconnect with the pricing, menu and the restaurant’s name – which implied fine Bourbon Street dining.

Despite arriving at about 7:00 pm on a Wednesday, the place was empty. Warning bells went off, but we figured we’d give it a shot anyway. After being seated, I noticed the floor was filthy. It seats 30-35 and on a busy night, I can see how the staff might not be able to get to the floor between turns. However, the dining area has a tile floor and the place was empty except for us, so finding it consistently dirty throughout the restaurant was pretty surprising.

The chef arrived at the restaurant at the same time we did. Rather than going to the kitchen, the chef sat down in the dining area with a couple of web site consultants and discussed the menu, photos and what should be changed on their site.

At no time during our visit did the chef enter the kitchen – including from the time we ordered to the time we received our food. Likewise, neither the waiter or cook staff approached the chef’s table for guidance. I suspect that the chef has their hand in their sauces and general guidance of the kitchen, but in a place this small in this price range, I expect direct chef involvement in the food and perhaps even a table visit on a slow night in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Instead, there was no welcome, no eye contact, no thank you and no time in the kitchen. Nothing from the chef.

Speaking of empty, it was quiet enough to hear the microwave beeping just before my wife’s étouffée arrived. Despite the microwave, the étouffée was surprisingly tasty and easily the best part of her meal. Oddly enough, the waiter discouraged her from ordering the entree, so she ordered a small cup to get a taste of it despite the waiter’s recommendation.

The inconsistency returned with my wife’s Shrimp Pontchartrain entree, which turned out to be a massive platter of heavily salted pasta / sauce with little sign of shrimp.  Meanwhile, my Catfish Tchoupitoulas was very good. I’d definitely order it again.

Quality and branding inconsistencies can damage any business – even if they don’t serve food.

Police your inconsistencies

Inconsistencies plague small business and can destroy repeat business, as well as word of mouth business. The more processes, systems and training you can put in place to root out these issues, the closer your business gets to marketing itself by reputation.

Our visit included a number of inconsistencies with the business’ pricing, name, menu and food.

The menu listed numerous chef and/or restaurant honors, yet the most recent award was four years old. The years without an award stood out as much as the period of years where consistent annual awards implied high quality. If you can’t show award consistency, don’t list the award years or list them as “Five time winner”. Meanwhile, address the inconsistencies that caused the wins to stop.

Whether you operate a three star restaurant or a tire shop, cleanliness is important. It’s a signal that a business cares and pays attention to details, while sending a message about the cleanliness of other parts of the business that you cannot see. Given the filthy condition of the dining area floor, would you expect the walk-in cooler, prep table or kitchen floor to be clean?

What inconsistencies can you address to increase repeat and word of mouth business?

Pivots make customer service personal

It was Saturday so my social calendar was in full swing.

Earlier today, I met a friend for lunch and barley pops at a place that has a sunny, well-lit dining area perfect for the first sunny day in a long while.

After being greeted as we sat down, no less than five different wait staff walked past us repeatedly during a 10 minute period that made it clear we’d left our cloaking device turned on. This prompted a well-worn thought, ‘This would be a great place for a restaurant.’

Once we were done joking about that, I stopped one of the servers as they passed by and asked if we could get some menus. He grabbed a couple, told us the name of our server and said he would send the server to get our orders. Not much later, our server arrived and while service was still slow on a busy Saturday, we were attended to in a reasonable manner. During this service, the initial delay was never mentioned, despite the fact that our server had walked past our table numerous times without a nod or a glance before being told that we’d asked for menus.

While it really didn’t matter or impact the occasion, I wouldn’t be writing about it if the server had simply mentioned that they were sorry for missing our table, that the place was rocking or they were down a waitperson, or what not.

Failing to acknowledge the lack of attention has a way of implying that the diner is supposed to think nothing of it.

Customer service slip ups happen

Things like this happen all the time. It’s OK. We’re human rather than perfect little robots, after all.

Still, by taking a moment to acknowledge a slip up, we give our clients the acknowledgement necessary to allow their minds to stop dwelling on it (even subconsciously) as a part of their experience, which makes it easier to forget and move on.

With the tiniest personal touch, we turn a negative into a positive.

The tiniest opportunity

Later that day, my wife and I met my in-laws for dinner.

The food was good – better than I expected, in fact. The service was quite good and definitely attentive. The server made recommendations based on their personal experiences with the dishes they serve – and she was spot on.

One of the dishes had a problem, though. When the person who ordered it took their first bite, they found a twisted piece of plastic in their food.

Once notified, the server handled the situation well, took the plastic, said they would show it to the manager and left to do just that. Not much later, the server indicated that the manager would visit our table.

The manager never showed up. I wonder if the kitchen was ever notified. The server comped the meal, which the diner didn’t request, so that was a nice gesture.

Will that diner forget that experience, or will it percolate the next time they consider eating there?

Involvement matters

What I would like to have seen, even though the plate was not mine:

  • The manager tells the kitchen what happened (which they may have done – we don’t know).
  • The person who prepared the food comes out to the table, introduces themselves, acknowledges the problem and offers a brief, but sincere apology with no groveling (again, mistakes happen).
  • The preparer explains what the diner found. This allows the diner to feel comfortable completing their meal, or not, depending on the situation. If the food problem could make the diner sick, they’d take the food and discard it unless testing was warranted.
  • Finally, the person who prepared the plate could, regardless of the explanation, offer to replace the dish, or substitute it for something else.

Consider what each of those steps demonstrates or accomplishes in the diner’s mind.

Consider how they’d describe the event to others after this happened and compare it to “I found plastic in my food and all they did was comp my meal.”

Customer service pivot

In the startup world, a “pivot” is a strategic direction change made after customer feedback indicates your idea needs adjustment.

In customer service, the pivot is that little thing you do to transform what could be a customer-losing experience into one that almost guarantees they’ll be back.

How do you know which customers want to be an insider?

Coffee Cupping

This past weekend, I checked off two to-do- list items with one visit to @OnyxCoffeeLab.

First, I was looking for a good locally-owned place to sit, sip and write. A coffee shop.

Second, I was meeting with the founder of a @StartupWeekend-born startup to discuss how it would go forward.

It started off nicely enough with a chat with the baristas about the Northwest (one of them was from Pullman, WA), including some agreement that NWA’s current 18% gray winter sky is right out of a classic Northwest winter.

After some solo writing time, my meeting guy arrived. As we finished our discussion, a group of people entered together, filling the table’s remaining 10 seats. Soon after, the shop’s owner came over and started assembling a mass of small coffee cups, bottled water and other gear.

Turns out that a couple of hours earlier, I had settled into a seat at the Onyx Coffee Lab‘s cupping table.

Lean Customer Development

What I witnessed next was a nice session of customer development.

In addition to enjoying some new-to-me coffees, I watched as the owner exposed already-bought-in customers to new products that he’s considering for their product mix. None of the coffees we tasted are available for sale – the owner was still determining which ones he liked and presumably was using the reaction of this group to refine his opinion.

Later, I found out that the shop does cuppings (think “wine tasting” for coffee) almost every Saturday at 10 am. Sometimes they discuss different brew methods or other coffee geekery – always with a dual focus on education (building a better customer/spokesperson) and the coffee itself. This week, the education component included some help understanding how the coffee business grades coffees, ie: specialty vs run of the mill vs “not-so-specialty” coffee and how the various acids and sugars in the bean result in what we taste and feel when we have a cuppa Joe.

I didn’t discuss this with the owner after the cupping, but I suspect this was not only done in the interest of Lean Startup style customer development, but also to gather some feedback from those bought-in customers – presumably some of their biggest, best-engaged fans – as well as to build on their fanbase while pulling existing fans a bit closer.

I wish these sessions were on YouTube. They’d make a nice series for new fans to review as they choose their next “thirdplace“, much less for fans who missed a Saturday.

Oh yeah, the coffee

Coffee nerds, if you’re wondering what we tasted, we had:

  • Brazil Caturra
  • Burundi Bourbon (pronounced burr-bone, which has nothing to do with Jack Daniels)
  • Guatemala Geisha (no, nothing to do with Japanese bathhouses)
  • Ethiopian Heirloom (this one seemed to be the crowd favorite)

I preferred the last two, but I wonder if the order of their presentation provoked that result.

All in all, it was a great combination of StartupWeekend, coffee and the use of Lean Startup principles. Yet there’s one more lesson you can take from it.

In what position do they see you?

How can you can tweak and use this for your business? By understanding that a cuppings aren’t just about coffee, they’re about positioning.

  • The owner shares his coffee insight, education, expertise and knowledge with a group of customers who appear to be insiders. Almost everyone else in the shop is watching and listening intently since they don’t have a seat at the table (it’s first come, first serve). Some of them want a seat at the table.
  • The owner gets to meet with customers who have raised their hand to show they’re interested at a level beyond the customer norm. These folks will talk about the shop, its coffee, the cupping and anything else they felt was important. These people have other friends with common interests – including coffee. You know it’ll be discussed. In fact, you just read what I shared about it.
  • “Raising their hand” says “I care about, enjoy, have enthusiasm about coffee at a higher level than your average customer.” Just being a customer at a “coffee lab” shows a higher than typical interest in coffee. These guys go beyond that norm. Those are the customers for whom your positioning is most important. They are also the customers whose feedback you want.

How you can accomplish these things for your business?

Hooters, standards and politics

HootersFilner

No matter how you feel about Hooters restaurants, it’s clear that at least one of them doesn’t appreciate the behavior that San Diego’s mayor is accused of.

While I think it’s a smart use of the news – particularly in Filner’s San Diego, it will be interesting to see how their customers react. What do you think?

Hat tip to @FrancisBarraza for the photo.

Help them help you

20130714-111557.jpg

During a recent road trip, I encountered this sign in a rest room entryway at an Oklahoma Turnpike rest stop.

Below the sign was a standard wall light switch.

While I didn’t test it and hang around to measure response time, it’s a nice idea that allows customers to help a business’ staff become aware of problems more quickly than their periodic monitoring might reveal – particularly at a very busy highway rest stop where a mess might be just around the corner.

The longer that new mess hangs around unaddressed, the more likely it is that it will make a bad impression on a visitor. While not foolproof or automatic, the switch is one more way to build in systems/processes that can improve the business environment.

What systems, tools and processes have you established that enable your customers to help your business?

What about your products and services? Depending on the nature of them, it’s possible for them to alert you to situations you should be aware of that will improve your business and how it’s perceived.

Six simple questions about your website

I received these questions in an email from Tony Robbins last year.

The premise was to ask if you could answer these questions without doing a bunch of research, much less if you could answer them at all.

  1. How many visitors come to your website per month?
  2. How many of those turn into sales?
  3. How many emails are you collecting per month through your website?
  4. How long has the site been up?
  5. How many emails are in your database that have been collected through your website?
  6. What are you doing to follow up with visitors and close sales?

Seems to me they’re as important now as they were in 1995, much less last year.

A lot of businesses pay attention to #1. Many pay attention to #2.

Number 3 and 5 get plenty of attention from some, not so much from others.

The Big One

Number 6 is the one that I see the least effort on across the board.

Are you assuming they’ll come back? Are you doing something to get them to come back? Are you doing something to keep them as a customer over the long term?

So many questions…

Rather than being overwhelmed by it all, deal with the lack of an answer one at a time – particularly if it requires work.

Having one answer is much better than having none.

How to Win The Three Inch Tourism War of Words

tourismbrochurerack

When I’m on the road, I always take a look at tourism brochure racks.

Take a look at this rack in the Havre Montana Amtrak station.

It’s a typical floor-standing tourism brochure rack that you might see around your town or at the local chamber of commerce office.

I took the photo at this height and angle because I wanted to simulate the view the “average” person has when scanning the rack for something interesting to do or visit.

The critical part is that this is also the likely view they have of your brochure.

If you’re the tourist and this is your eye level view:

  • Which brochures get your attention and provoke you to pick them up?
  • Which leave you with no idea what they’re for?

A critical three inches

The critical question is this: Which ones easily tell their story in the top three inches?

Those top three inches are the most important real estate on a rack brochure because that’s the part everyone can see.

Everything below that point is meaningless if the top three inches can’t provoke someone to pick it up and open it. That cool info inside and on the back? Meaningless if they don’t pick it up.

Whenever I see one of these racks, I always wonder how many graphic designers put enough thought into the design of these rack pieces to print a sample, fold it up and test drive it on a real rack in their community.

If they tried that, do you think it would change the design? How about the text and background colors how they contrast? The headline? Font sizes? Font weights? Font styles?

I’ll bet it would.

I guarantee you it isn’t an accident that you can clearly see “Visitor Tips Online”, “Raft”, “Rafting Zipline” and “Fishing”  from several feet away.

Brochure goals

The primary goal of a brochure isn’t “To get picked up, opened, read and provoke the reader to visit (or make a reservation at) the lodging, attraction or restaurant”, nor is it to jam as many words as possible onto the brochure in an attempt to win an undeclared war of words.

The first goal of the brochure is to get someone to pick it up.

That’s why you see “Raft”, “Fishing” and “Visitor Tips Online”. Either they care or they don’t. If they don’t, you shouldn’t either. From that point, it needs to satisfy the reader’s interests and need to know. If you can’t get them to look at your brochure – all that design and printing expense is wasted.

Is that the goal you communicated to your designer when you asked them to make a brochure? Or was it that you wanted it to be blue, use a gorgeous photo or use a font that “looks Victorian”?

None of that matters if they don’t pick it up.

Heightened awareness

I wonder if brochure designers produce different brochures for the same campaign so they can test the highest performing design.

Do they design differently for different displays? What would change about a brochure’s design if the designer knew the piece was intended for a rack mounted at eye level? What would change if the brochure was designed to lay flat at the check-in counter or on a desk?

Now consider how you would design a floor rack’s brochure to catch the eye of an eight year old, or someone rather tall? Would it provoke a mom with an armload of baby, purse and diaper bag to go to the trouble to pick it up?

This isn’t nitpicking, it’s paying attention to your audience so you can maximize the performance of the brochure.

“Maximize the performance of the brochure” sounds pretty antiseptic. Does “attract enough visitors to allow you to make payroll this week” sound better?

Would that provoke you to go to the trouble to test multiple brochure designs against each other? To design and print different ones for different uses?

This doesn’t apply to MY business

You can’t ignore these things if your business doesn’t use rack brochures.

The best marketing in the world will fail if no one “picks it up”, no matter what media you use.

What’s one more visitor per day (or hour) worth to your business? That’s what this is really about.

Can you find the quality in this kitchen? It isn’t the bacon.

Baconfest Chicago Chef Rose
Photo credit: Chicago Serious Eats

People send me bacon links and/or bacon photos on Facebook almost every day.

I’m not sure what started it. You’d think they see me around town with a fistful of bacon all the time (they don’t, I rarely have any) but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

Today, I found my own link about Baconfest Chicago and it’s all business (OK, there is a little bit of bacon too).

Check out the slideshow illustrating how Chef Rose cooks his Baconfest winning dish and look for ways he’s managing the quality of the food his kitchen produces.

Hint: One of my favorite quotes is from Chef Gordon Ramsey: “Without a leader, there are no standards. Without standards, there is no consistency.”

Where do you see Chef Rose managing quality?