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Advertising Business model Competition Customer relationships customer retention Direct Mail Direct Marketing Email marketing Getting new customers Internet marketing Marketing Positioning Retail Sales Small Business Strategy

The unexpected message clients get from you

Ruins
Creative Commons License photo credit: Nicholas_T

Have you ever received a new-customers-only offer from someone that you already do business with?

In particular – Have you received one and found that the “new customer deal” in the ad is better than what you’re paying?

As an existing customer of that business, how does that make you feel? To me, it devalues whatever relationship I might have with that vendor.

What message is that vendor sending you when they make new-customer-only offers that you can’t take advantage of?

It might feel something like this:

Dear Old Client,

Today, we’re going to offer a great deal to people we don’t know because we really want more new customers.

Because you’re already a customer, this discount isn’t available to you. Yes, we realize that we have a customer relationship with you, but we’re going to ignore that and the fact that you may have been one of the key customers who helped get us where we are today.

Again… discounts are just for NEW customers, so please don’t ask us to give you the same discount they get.

Until next time,

Some Business Name, Inc.
“Your (whatever) vendor”

I doubt that’s the message you wanted to send them.

So do I hide my new customer offers?

Discount offers intended only for new clients aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they should never appear in front of an existing customer unless you’re using mass media.

With mass media, it’s going to happen because you can’t control who sees the ad and who doesn’t. Radio, TV, newspaper, magazine and billboard come to mind as possible places where long-time customers might be exposed to your “new customer deal” ad.

If you’re going to place ads in a media that you can’t control access to, there are some options for minimizing it – such as your choice of radio time slot, TV time slot, TV show your ads are shown with, magazine location and so on.

Still, some customers are going to see/hear the ad.

Why? Because you’re advertising in a place where you expect to find people who resemble the customers you already have. If your customers restore experienced sailboats and you advertise in “This Old Boat” magazine, people who are already your customers are pretty likely to see your ads.

So what do you do?

What else do you have?

Normally I would encourage you to use a direct, personal means of reaching the new prospect. If you did, an existing customer would be unlikely to see those ads. Thing is, you should already be doing that, and that doesn’t apply to mass media (yet).

When your ads are targeted at a new customer, it’ll be tempting to assume that existing customers won’t call or email to respond. They will. They might even want to add new people, new location(s) or new services to their account.

If your sales team’s response is so formally scripted that they can’t  (or aren’t allowed to) adjust appropriately to a response from an existing customer – you could lose that customer. You need to have something else (presumably better targeted) to discuss with customers who call to ask about the probably cheap thing you’re hanging out there to attract new customers.

Mature, advanced, special

Your newest customers tend to have less mature needs than your long-time customers. What would attract new customers that long-term customers already have and are unlikely to express interest in? That’s your new customer deal.

For example, long-term customers probably don’t need startup services and entry level products – unless they are starting a new venture. In that case, they should qualify for the deal you’re offering and you’re nuts not to let them have it.

When existing customers aren’t starting something new, be prepared to discuss advanced offerings with them, even though they called about your new customer ad. A meaningful conversation with long-time customers is more important than a discussion of the thing you frequently sell to new customers. Your offer might include more, better, more frequent, more frequent *and* better, extended hours, access to senior staff, exclusive services and so on.

The point is not to bait and switch – after all, your ad was targeted at new customers. The existing ones will contact you despite that, so engage them in a conversation about something that really matters to them.

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Business Resources Buy Local Competition Direct Marketing Facebook Getting new customers Internet marketing Restaurants Retail SEO Small Business SMS Social Media Web 2.0

Why the tourist drove past your business

Changes2005vs2013Photo credit: AP

You’ve probably seen this AP image contrasting the crowds at St. Peter’s in Rome over the last eight years.

The first photo was taken by Luca Bruno in 2005 during preparations for the public viewing of Pope John Paul II’s body – almost two years before the iPhone was first announced.

The second photo was taken by Michael Sohn in March 2013 as the crowd waited for the first balcony appearance of a newly-elected Pope Francis I.

No matter how you feel about mobile devices, smartphones, the mobile browsing experience, the quality of smartphone photos, the always-connected lifestyle and how these things relate to your personal life, ignoring the business impact of the widespread adoption of these devices is done at your peril.

So what?

Seems like just yesterday that I did a series of speaking gigs with groups of local business owners about social media, getting found via local web search, the growth of mobile and the impact of these things on local businesses. Fact is, it’s been closer to 18 months since that series concluded.

To their credit, some have picked up on what we talked about and are interacting with their prospects and clients via social media. At least one local business that I frequent offers occasional coupons for subscribers to their text message (SMS) based opt-in list.

While most local business sites display acceptably on today’s tablets, the story is altogether different on a phone, where a smaller number have made efforts to improve the experience of a website visitor using a phone. Let’s refresh why it’s important to deal with this.

It’s not uncommon to hear “So what?” when this topic comes up in discussion. That’s not the right question.

First impressions

Again, you must set aside your personal likes/dislikes about these devices because it isn’t about you. It’s about your customers.

If these customers are tourists whose first impression – and purchase decision – is tied to the usability of your site on their phone, it’s worth considering whether your site is helping them (and you).

You might be thinking “Well, they have smartphones, but do they use them for that?” It’s a good question. I can tell you 25% of visitors to the Columbia Falls’ Chamber website are using mobile devices – a number that grows every month. I’ve been told churches see an even larger percentage of mobile users.

So what do you do?

A mobile website checklist

Let’s talk about mobile website basics:

  • Do you have a website that is actually usable on a phone?
  • Does it clearly describe what you do, when you are open, how to get there (using Google Maps, et al) and how to contact your business?
  • Restaurants, is your menu visible on the phone or does it appear on a phone as tiny print because it’s in a PDF intended for desktop users?

To start this process, claim your business on Google Places for Business and setup a Facebook Page (not a Facebook user account) for your business. Both of these will give you a basic summary presence on mobile devices that includes hours, contact info and location.

Compare these two mobile search results:

flathead beacon mobile search result dmbdgoogle

The one on the left (without a Google Places listing) is tougher to read on a phone and requires additional screen taps to get answers to the basic questions listed above.

The one on the right (with a Google Places listing) gives you everything you need to make the next choice. One tap to call, get directions or view their site.

Which of those do you want your prospects to see?

Why’d they drive by?

When your website makes it easy for mobile phone users to learn about your business, it helps them decide what to do, where and when to go, and how well your business fits their needs/wants.

So why did the tourist drive past your business?

Three reasons:

  • They didn’t know your business exists, or they didn’t know enough about your business
  • The info they found didn’t help them make a decision.
  • The info they found helped them make a decision to go elsewhere.

The last reason is acceptable. You shouldn’t expect everyone to be your customer, much less to stop in simply because your business is easy to learn about and find online.

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Business Ethics Business model Competition Corporate America Economic Development Entrepreneurs Montana Restaurants Retail Small Business

Butcher shops concerned about locally grown meat sales limits

Rude Cow!
Creative Commons License photo credit: foxypar4

The legislature is considering placing additional limits on the production or sale of locally grown meat, including the meat of wild animals.

Backing this legislation is the Corporate Grocers Association, which serves the interests of corporate grocery chains across America.

The proposed law also places strict annual limits on hunting and fishing since those activities impact the meat sales of CGA members. Catch and release fishing will not be affected since it does not affect meat sales.

CGA public relations officer M. A. DeUpnaam said “This legislation will protect our members and their employees from the predatory practices of micro-ranchers, predatory local hunters, people who selfishly decline to practice catch and release fishing, as well local butcher shops and meat processors who specialize in processing and selling locally raised meat products.

The action was taken at the request of a local CGA grocer after their newspaper reported that “425 whitetail deer, 64 mule deer and 58 elk” were harvested in his market area during the first three weeks of hunting season. After calculating how much that wild animal meat could cost his grocery in lost meat sales, he convinced the Association to step in.

History on CGA’s side

In prior sessions, the CGA has been successful in lobbying for protection of their members. Butcher shops and meat processors are limited to 10 retail sales hours per day and may sell no more than two pounds of meat per day to any single customer. Micro-ranches are allowed to raise no more animals than would produce 10,000 pounds of meat (for retail sale) annually.

If the 10,000 pound limit is exceeded during the calendar year, the business must shut down retail sales for the remainder of the calendar year and curtail production so that the limit isn’t exceeded the following year. Producers who exceed the 10,000 pound limit more than once will be required to cease retail sales permanently. Of course, they’re still allowed to sell their meat to wholesale buyers.

Of growing concern

CGA members are deeply concerned by the rapid growth of the microranch business, despite annual production limits placed on them. It’s not hard to see why: 100 new micro-ranches operating at maximum capacity in a single state would mean one million pounds of meat is available for purchase in that state – meat that wasn’t previously on the market. Add that to the previously ignored volume of wild animal meat produced and it’s no wonder the legislature is getting grilled by the CGA.

Microranchers and local butcher shops contend that they do not compete directly with CGA members because they produce a premium quality, high-priced product that the typical grocery shopper doesn’t buy at CGA member stores. CGA spokesperson DeUpnaam countered that assertion, saying “Every pound of meat sold by a local butcher shop, regardless of price or quality, is a pound of meat not sold by a CGA member. It’s a zero sum game and corrective action is necessary to return things to the way they were when our members established their businesses.”

Local produce and herb farms watching closely

Organic farms and local gardeners are monitoring this legislation closely, concerned that the legislature might decide to place limits on the sale of locally grown produce.

Community farmers markets are also watching and wondering about “corrective action” targeting their markets. Because they take a small cut of the sales made by a local butcher shop or gardener at their events, they too could become subject to the annual sales limits. While they have never lobbied a state legislature before, the organizers of 14 farmers markets in this area met last weekend to discuss sending a representative to the state house to monitor the situation, and if necessary, plead their case.

Fiction?

Yes, that’s a made up headline and story line – but it isn’t quite so fictional if you own a microbrewery or craft brewery business in Montana.

Update: After receiving substantial feedback from constituents, the committee in charge of fine tuning and releasing HB616 to the Montana House thought better of it and unanimously voted to table it. The committee also unanimously approved a study bill that is intended to get all parties involved in “fixing” Montana’s licensing laws in time to bring a palatable solution to the next legislature.

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Amazon attitude Business culture Competition ECommerce Employees Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Productivity Retail service Small Business strategic planning Strategy systems Technology The Slight Edge

Rather than sweep, eliminate the source of dirt

During the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Re:Invent conference‘s “fireside chat” with Jeff Bezos, he told a story about during a professional development session where he (like all senior Amazon management) spent two days on the Amazon customer service call center staff.

Stop for just a minute.

If your business is small – you likely spend time on customer service, even if not by choice.

Depending on the size of your business, you’re might be insulated from your customer service people and likely from your customers. While it isn’t something you want to do every day, I assure you the value of doing what Amazon senior management does here is sizable.

Listen to the quality

I’ve sat within earshot of my customer service staff. You learn a lot about your quality. Sometimes you learn things about your quality that runs a chill up your spine – but that’s better than not knowing.

That’s what Bezos learned.

During the session, he handled calls and operated the customer support system while being coached through the process by an experienced Amazon customer service person as each customer called in.

While this had to be hugely educational for him about unmet needs and/or streamlining processes for his customer service team, he learned a unexpected lesson – how things really work when it comes to product quality at Amazon, which gave him an idea to improve quality and do so before the cost of low quality grew.

Listen to Bezos describe the result – how Amazon now handles poor products, poor packaging and enables their staff to communicate quality information (and make decisions) about them – much like Toyota’s assembly line allows anyone to “pull the cord” to stop the line to deal with a defect (2 minutes, 47 seconds from 18:01 to 20:48):

 

Can your sales/service people pull a poorly-made or poorly-packaged product off the sales floor? How long will you sell a lame product or perhaps worse – a good product delivered poorly – to your “valued customers”?

How would this impact your buying process and related contracts? How would this impact your product quality and delivery feedback processes? Note Bezos’ use of the un-word “systematize” – not just making more work, but making a new system to make the work and customer experience better.

If you don’t do these things (in your own way, of course), are you willing to deal with the disadvantage this creates between your business and businesses that handle this as Amazon does? What else could you do rather than this to assure the same level of highly-consistent quality of products and packaging?

Remember, this isn’t about replicating what Amazon does. The important thing is to replicate or improve upon the results.

Doing the right work

While discussing a week-long Kaizen (quality) professional development training session, Bezos talks about a Japanese consultant who chastised him for sweeping up some dust on the warehouse floor (1 minute, 54 seconds from 20:49 to 22:43):

 

Eliminating the source of dirt is more important than finding a better janitor or a better broom. Obvious, once you think about it.

Smart businesses regularly do something new and different in their market, producing really good results.

I don’t mean not-so-thoughtful act of cloning a service or a product. I’m talking about the processes and systems that a strong business depends on and eventually turns to as a strategic advantage. Might be a sales or marketing process, might be front or back office.

Once the value is shown, even of a non-obvious system/process, why wouldn’t these things be duplicated by business B when they see business A gaining value from them?

  • Sometimes the new system/process was intentionally designed to be complex so that it would be hard for competitors to duplicate.
  • Sometimes those complexities don’t impact a small local business but a parallel business need for a similar system still exists in that business that should be considered.
  • Sometimes we have this odd tendency to watch someone do something great and stop right there because it’s so easy to assume that we can’t do what others have done.
  • Sometimes the lead isn’t followed because of ingrained beliefs like “Yes, but that’ll never work here.”

What’s your reason? What system would transform your business front office? What would transform the back office? These things don’t have to be massive or expensive. As one of my mentors says, “Little hinges swing big doors.”

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Business model Buy Local Customer relationships Getting new customers Marketing marketing to the affluent Marketing to women Retail Small Business strategic planning Strategy Wal-Mart

Black. Small Business. Cyber.

Waiting for weekend (TGIF) 244/366
Creative Commons License photo credit: Skley

Black Friday is behind us.

Small Business Saturday is behind us.

Cyber Monday is behind us.

So now what?

While these three events are primarily focused on retail, they expose an underlying weakness that most small businesses need to deal with.

Having a PLAN.

Maybe this seems obvious. It should, but the last small business owner survey I saw indicated that 74% of small businesses didn’t have a marketing plan, even though 89% of those same people felt marketing was their first or second most important task (they’re right).

Obvious or not, more businesses need to take it seriously.

Cheese

Oh, I know. You’ve heard it before. And maybe you’ve tried it before.

Maybe you bought some software that regurgitates a fill-in-the-blanks marketing plan. Those things tend to come out like a slice of generic vegetable oil based “pasteurized process cheese food”. Not so appetizing.

That fill-in-the-blanks plan is probably not something you wanted to use, but if you did, maybe it didn’t work so well. Once one doesn’t work, it’s easy to assume that none will.

A recent survey of small business owners indicated that only 14% of business owners got the results they would like from their marketing plan. If you’re not in that 14%, that might be why you’re in the “marketing plans don’t work” mindset.

You’re half right. Bad fill-in-the-blank ones don’t. While sometimes the good ones don’t work, most of them do.

What’s your strategy?

But no plan at all is a recipe for (at the least) dependency on the price-driven chaos of Black Friday and events like Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. If you use Black Friday the wrong way, what impression does this leave about your store? Does it make people want to come back?

There’s nothing wrong with those three days, particularly if you’re smart about how you use them. But they’re only three days.

What’s your strategy for the other 362 days?

Is it low price? If that’s your only strategy and someone else’s prices are lower tomorrow, the stampede moves to their store. “Lowest prices ever” is only a valid marketing plan if you have the capital, clout and systems to profitably sustain it (eg: WalMart).

Waiting

You might have started your business because you love what you do or what you sell, but somewhere in there, most small business owners also wanted more time, more money, more freedom and more control.

So why give it up by not managing your own marketing?

In most communities, November and December see an uptick in retail shopping on Black Friday, but depending on/waiting for that to occur and (per the mythical definition) bring you into the black is below you.

You need a better plan.

Just plan it

I’m not here to sell you a marketing plan. Sure, I could work with you on one, but that isn’t the point. The point is that you need one – a good one, no matter how/where you get it.

Whether you do it yourself or get some help, there are some questions you’ll need to answer.

Questions about your customers, for example. Visualize each type. What are they like? No matter what “store” means to your business, what gets them off the couch and brings them into the store? What results do they want?

For example, you sell animal supplies. Your customers might be large animal owners (ie: horses), ranchers, and people who like feeding migratory birds. Each group requires a different message.

Another question is “How do the needs of those groups change over time?” Are their needs different in October than in March? How should that change your message? That animal supply store knows that winter feed needs are different from summer feed needs and that mature animals eat differently than newborns. Different messages are necessary.

Simple, obvious stuff, but these questions need to be the basis of the plan you put together. There’s a lot of mechanical work to the how and what of delivering your message to just the right people, but you need to have the message and customer parts figured out first or the mechanics mean nothing.

Having a plan isn’t enough

Executing your plan and adjusting it based on your results is just as critical.

It’s a constant effort for those other 362 days, but your freedom is worth it.

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Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Getting new customers Guarantees Retail Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Who accepts the risk of buying from you?

free
Creative Commons License photo credit: Amanda Nicole Betley

If you don’t accept the risk and responsibility of a purchase, the customer automatically does.

How does that hurt your ability to get a product or service into the hands of someone who very much wants or needs it?

Consider these thought processes that might be going on in the mind of your prospective customer:

If I buy this and it doesn’t work out….I’m going to have to take the hit for this purchase decision from the big boss. I can’t take that risk because I’m due for a review next month and I really want a raise/a promotion/to keep my job.

If I buy this and it doesn’t work out…my spouse is going to blame me.

Are they going to take care of me when the bloom is off the rose (ie: after they have my money)?

Are you going to take the risk of explaining this purchase to my spouse if it goes south? Or am I still on the hook?

Or will you simply guarantee what you sell in a manner that eliminates risk as a concern in the buyer’s mind?

Sales are lost every day because the apparent risk is too high when compared with the trustworthiness of the salesperson, their company, the manufacturer backing the product, or the service provider.

While we signal that with little things that say and do, our guarantee and our history in backing it up goes a long way.

Who accepts the risk of buying from you?

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attitude Business culture Buy Local Customer relationships Employees Management Point of sale Restaurants Retail service Setting Expectations Small Business

Tactical caring

I don’t talk about “b word” too often, but branding is really what a lot of our discussions are ultimately about.

One of the more incisive definitions of branding that I’ve seen is “What people think when your business name is mentioned”. If that doesn’t cut right to the bone, I’m not sure what does.

A recent branding discussion between Justin Kownacki, TD Hurst and myself eventually settled into talking about businesses using “looking like we care” as a tactic as opposed to actually showing that they care. So here we are.

Take a moment

Consider the places you do business with. What’s the first thought you have when you think of them? One of the things that comes to mind for me is “Do they care about my business?”

In other words, is my business important to them? No, my business probably doesn’t keep the local watering hole or pizza joint open all by itself, but do the folks who run and work in those places (and others) give me the impression that they know I could have gone somewhere else?

Not far from my parents’ old place in Plano Texas, there’s a pizza place owned by a Greek family. My parents would almost always take us there when we went to Big D to visit. No matter how busy that place was, the owner always made a point of taking a moment to come out from behind the counter to greet us at our table, welcome us to his place and “visit”, as my grandmother called it.

While this wasn’t necessary, it was a painless, cost-free way to recognize a regular customer by simply being friendly without being mechanical. It only took a moment, but it meant a lot. How do you know? I haven’t visited Dallas in almost ten years. My parents moved.

Yet almost 10 years later, I still remember the impression left by a balding Greek patriarch who was proud of his place and happy we chose to have dinner with him.

If you’re the recipient of this kind of attention, you’re aware of the night and day difference between that and the “tactical caring” you’re used to receiving.

Which kind of care does your business serve up?

Do they or don’t they?

About those places you considered earlier…Do they care? Or do they do things to look like they care?

What’s the difference?

  • Looking like you care: Including a photo of a USB cable on the instructions included in my new printer’s box so you can save the 48 cents per sale that the cable and its packaging cost.
  • Showing that you care: Including a USB cable and charging a dollar more for the printer to save your client a 20 minute trip to the store.
  • Looking like you care: Saying a mechanical “Thanks for coming” as I leave. “Mechanical” because I hear you say the same words to everyone, right after the bell above the door frame jingles.
  • Showing that you care: Thanking me before the bell jingles, and doing so by using my name or some other personalized message that doesn’t get repeated to the next 41 people who leave after I do. Also…thanking me later, via email, a postcard, text message or by somehow rewarding my visit – even with something that costs you nothing. Remembering that I’ve been there before and making note of it, even if you don’t remember my name.
  • Looking like you care: Smiling at my four year old granddaughter when we enter your store, even though you sell nothing she’s interested in.
  • Showing that you care: Smiling at my four year old granddaughter, kneeling down to her level and saying “Hello, young lady”, even though you sell nothing she’s interested in.

It’s OK

Training your staff to look up from the cash register and grunt when a customer enters is transparent, repetitive motion, tactical caring. Stop it. If people needed random grunts to make their lives more fulfilling, they’d install iGrunt on their phone.

Training your staff to take a brief moment to greet someone personally is scary. Do it anyway. Yes, it’s common sense. So why aren’t your people doing it?

The election cycle is behind us. It’s OK to care again. Just don’t grunt.

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Box stores Business Resources Buy Local Corporate America Customer service ECommerce Improvement Internet marketing Marketing Marketing to women Positioning Retail Small Business systems

How a great system can help your business and your customers

What drives your pricing?

For many businesses, it’s strictly keystone. Cost times 2 or 3 (or some other number) = retail price.

A friend shopping for his college-aged daughter mentioned two tool kit prices to me. One item has red accents and is priced at $24.99. The other has pink accents and is priced at $14.99. The kits are almost identical, differing only in the box cutter tool housing – and tool handle coloring.

There is one other difference. The red item is not sold in stores. The pink one is not sold online. Not sure about the logic there.

What message does this situation send to the consumer? Is it just a mistake? Does it reflect solely on the vendor cost? Is the higher price intended to drive the customer to buy in the brick and mortar store, where the consumer is likely to find something else to buy?

No matter what the reason…it’s interesting.

Why do I mention this?

Because it reflects on the quality of your internal systems. Systems that are designed to help your customer. Systems that are designed to prevent embarrassment of your business and your staff. Systems designed to help you improve profitability. Systems designed to inform and advise.

A good retail system will identify substitute items when the item you want is out of stock. It might also tell you which store has that item, in the case of a multi-store retailer. It might also suggest similar items at a range of prices and colors – but only those in stock. It might even tell you that the Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon won’t be in for another 6 weeks. (props to Jupiter Chevrolet)

What does your system do? Who does it help? Who should it help? How can it be improved?

The items? Right here.

See for yourself at http://www.target.com/p/apollo-39-pc-household-tool-kit/-/A-10230581

 

See this one at http://www.target.com/p/39-pc-genera-l-tool-kit-pink/-/A-14044873

Categories
Automation Business culture Competition Corporate America Employees Improvement Leadership Management Restaurants Retail service Small Business

Is there something more important that they could be doing?

Most of us who use computers in our work do so because they relieve us of tedious work or eliminate slow, inefficient, error-prone techniques for producing our work, even if we do have fuss with drivers and hardware failures once in a while.

In the newspaper business, I doubt anyone wants to return to the days of working with sheet film, X-Acto knives and the Gutenberg press.

While it would be fun to create something once in a while using the movable type of almost 600 years ago, do we really want to word wrap by hand, day in and day out?

The computers we sometimes love to hate help us keep track of financials and inventory, they help us communicate with customers, vendors and prospects and so on, but they could do so much more.

Look around the office. Is there someone doing a job on a computer that could be performed by someone with little or no training? Is their work repetitive? Do they have to have distinctive knowledge about your business, your market or your customers to do this work?

There might be something out there (free or otherwise) that could either replace that work or make it far more productive, freeing that person up to do more important value-creating work for your business.

It’s common sense, but we get so busy doing the everyday that we frequently miss the opportunity to ask ourselves how some of those processes could be improved – and it isn’t just about computers.

Your micro economy

The same is true of most repetitive work that doesn’t require knowledge of the market – and the work isn’t limited to “mindless” repetitive things. Some of these jobs simply must exist, but a fair number of them could be done by a system, machine, software or similar – and done at a lower cost with more consistency. Consistency and cost aren’t the only factor. When you have people doing these jobs, those jobs are at risk because they *can* be replaced by a system, machine or software at your competitor – who will then put pressure on you via improved speed, consistency and perhaps better pricing.

It isn’t just about your business being more efficient. It’s about the micro-economy that your business creates being stronger and more resilient. That economy involves you, your suppliers, your employees and/or contractors and their families, your landlord if you rent or lease space, and so on.

When you create a job, it’s a great day. It means many positive things. Yet we want to be careful to create jobs that deliver as much value as possible to our businesses and to our customers. Jobs that CANNOT be easily replaced by the aforementioned system, machine or software.

The easiest way to afford that is to replace the ones that can be replaced. When we do that, we create opportunities for our businesses and our staff. The other thing this does is create jobs that are difficult to devalue. Devalued jobs are too easily discarded because they don’t create enough value. You can’t afford them. They’re “overhead”, not value creators.

Learn from Undercover

In the show “Undercover Boss“, the plot is always the same. The CEO of a large company leaves their office, dresses up like a line worker, does “real work” with their line staff for a week and realizes that their focus on their front line has been lacking.

They learn that the money they think they’re saving by not updating equipment, improving systems and training staff are costing them dearly because they’re impacting the quality of their products, services and/or experience their customers.

The now eyes-wide-open CEO then makes changes that usually involve training, equipment and systems. They see how much time a wasteful process or an outdated piece of equipment costs them as it is multiplied by every person who does that job. It reminds them of something they knew when they got into this business – and what might once have been the difference for them – that the effectiveness of their line employees are critical to their success.

Ask your line employees one question: What would help you do your work better, faster and with more consistency without losing quality?

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attitude Business culture Consumer Advocacy Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Leadership Management Public Relations Restaurants Retail Setting Expectations Small Business Social Media Word of mouth marketing

Did you train them to defend your business or your reputation?

Them, meaning “your staff”.

Are they using your policies and training as a shield to protect your business, or are they using them as tools and leverage to protect your customers and your brand?

There’s a big difference between the two. An example is this story involving a repeatedly broken-down U-Haul truck, whose details quickly spread across Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

You can see things ratchet up here (the tweets are listed in reverse chronological order, 21m means “21 minutes ago”, 3h means “3 hours ago”):

If some of those names don’t mean much, consider that:

  • @Mashable reaches almost 3 million people via Twitter and millions more in the business and tech world via retweets and Mashable.com.
  • @petershankman reaches 140k people on Twitter and has an email list full of journalists, authors, bloggers and PR people waiting for his HARO emails several times a day (HARO - Help-a-Reporter-Out)
The timeframe between 28 Jun (11pm) and the tweets marked 3h is about 36 hours. There are no responses from UHaul during that timeframe. Yet minutes after I mentioned the situation to @PenskeCares, they responded with this:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/PenskeCares/statuses/219109851844984834″]

After social media pressure started to heat up, U-Haul finally spoke up on day three with this (which you see Dave’s response to at “21m”, above):

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/UHaul_Cares/status/219102539017224193″]

Defending the brand

I’m sure that Dave and his dad will be cared for. What about the several hundred thousand people (according to HashTracking.com) who have seen this? Will it be what pops into their head the next time moving related topics are on their mind? That certainly isn’t what U-Haul wants. Will Dave, his friends and family ever use U-Haul again?

Is this what would happen if your business had a problem with someone who knows how to enlist help like this?

Things break. People make mistakes. Customers generally understand. They’re cranky when it happens because it’s unexpected change, discomfort and challenge, but their reaction depends on how you respond.

Your staff’s character and training determine how they implement your policies – and whether the situation becomes the next feel good story (or customer service nightmare) that your customers talk about on Facebook, Twitter and to their friends and family.

Character, Training and Policy

Reputation damage prevention comes down to character, training and policy implementation because you can’t always be there. There’s little doubt in my mind that U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen would have taken care of this properly – just like you would.

But Joe isn’t the one answering the phone.

He has managers and call centers handling that. Initially, it appears they did little to assure Dave that they had his back even though (or because) this drama took place in the region near U-Haul’s Phoenix corporate headquarters.

Efforts to defend their business damaged their reputation – by design, but not by intent. By design means we train our employees to defend our business, but we seldom empower them to defend its brand.

Why? We want to be the one making the decision when money is spent or time is committed to resolve a problem. We believe that no one would make the same decision we would because the staff isn’t spending their money. The problem is that we aren’t always around when these decisions are needed, so we make policy. Policies produce consistent handling of daily operations, a good thing.

We often provide our staff with policy that encourages non-responsibility (“It’s our policy” and “There’s nothing else I can do”) combined with job insecurity (“violating policy is a termination offense”). This prevents your staff from doing the right thing when the unusual occurs.

For edge cases requiring conscientious thought, our policies are often silent. They rarely say “If use of this policy could damage our reputation, do what you think is best for the customer if the short-term cost to the company is less than (whatever), otherwise ask for approval of your resolution.”

And that’s where U-Haul is right now, both at the corporate customer support level and sadly, at a few franchises in the U.S. Southwest. Franchisees have just as much ability to damage the brand as HQ does.

It’s OK to train your staff to defend the business, but be sure they’re empowered and trained to defend your reputation as well.