Success, 37 cents at a time

Remember the movie where Kevin Costner builds a ballpark in the middle of his corn field, prompting his dead father to play catch with him? Eventually hundreds of others to come to visit him, the presumption being that those visitors mean his family’s money troubles are over.

Get over it. It’s just a movie, albeit a fun one.

While it worked for Costner, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. You need to WORK for them. Even Walt Disney had to work to get people to Disney World (and the Disney folks still work at that).

According to statistics, a fair percentage of the new businesses opened in the U.S. are restaurants. One might speculate that this is because people think it’s about the recipe they have (it typically isn’t) or because they’ve have always wanted to own/run a restaurant because it looks like so much fun (more likely).

Word has it that about 80% of those new businesses fail in the first 5 years and about 50% of the rest fail in the next 5 years.

Wonder why?

There are typically a “popular” short list of reasons, usually most of them are not the root cause of the problem, but they all add up.

One of the big ones I see all the time. “Build it and they will come” syndrome.

On the other hand, there is my friend Pratik, who owns a gourmet pizza restaurant in New Joisey. One of the ways he has grown his business substantially is by increasing his catering revenue.

How did he do that? Putting his face on his business. Making sure his people get it. Getting rid of the ones who don’t and taking care of the ones who do. Delivering catering orders as if he was the “delivery boy” as often as possible, where he will get feedback that he might not get as the owner, simply because his customers assume he’s just a delivery boy.

Other times, he’ll visit as the owner in order to thank the customer, ask how their service and food were and see if there are any ways to improve their service.

And one of the most insidious, competitive, sneaky things he does? He sends a hand-written card to every catering customer, thanking them for their order.

Wonder of wonders, he almost always gets a 2nd and 3rd order shortly thereafter. All for 37 cents, plus the price of a card and 2 minutes of his time.

Who do you think that catering client is going to remember the next time they need to cater a meeting? The real person who sent them a hand-written card to thank them for their business, or the faceless business who sticks copy paper under the windshields every few weeks?

Many business owners wouldn’t bother to buy a card, much less write one. Maybe they think they deserve the business (“I earned it”, or “We work hard”). You don’t. You earn it, every single day.

Get out there and work. And remember the little 37 cent things that mean success.

Your people are like a typewriter

Xvxryonx makxs a diffxrxncx

Somxtimxs I gxt to thinking that what I do doxsn’t mattxr. But whxn I start thinking that way, I rxmxm­bxr my old typxwritxr. Most of thx kxys workxd finx most of thx timx. But onx day, onx of thx kxys stop­pxd working altogxthxr. Only onx, and that rxally mxssxd xvxrything up. So whxn I’m txmptxd to say, I’m only onx pxrson, it won’t makx much diffxrncx if I don’t do this quitx right, I rxmxmbxr my old typxwritxr. And I say to mysxlf: “I am a kxy pxrson and nxxdxd vxry much.”

Adapted from the book “Inside the Magic Kingdom“, used with the permission of the publisher.

Not understanding this vital concept can make the difference between an employee and a great member of your staff who constantly contributes to the bottom line.

Everyone, from the janitor to the CEO has to think in this manner if your company is to continuously improve.

You are a bad employee

Entrepreneurs make the worst employees, which is why they ARE entrepreneurs, if they’ve managed to escape that J-O-B thing.

Working for yourself is a constant exercise in self-control and task management. Note that I didnt say time management.

Bottom line, and this comes from something Dan Kennedy said a while back…”Manage yourself as if you are the worst employee you’ve ever had….because you ARE.”

Ain’t that the truth:/

Where’s the upsell?

Why don’t you ASK? Havent you ever been asked “Would you like fries with that?” I mean, its only the world’s most common upsell (ok, maybe the most-common U.S. upsell…).

ASK. Dont say no for the customer. That’s their job. Your job is to remind them of what you have that they want, or to a lesser extent, need.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left a store, driven down the road and thought, “Damn, I forgot *whatever*”.

When you and your staff don’t ask (and do so IN CONTEXT and SINCERELY), you might be costing me time and money. Ask smart questions, make smart suggestions and help me out. You’ll stand out in a crowd of lost business souls.

They know where I live…

Or at least you’d think so, since they got my check.

There’s a sale in progress at the golf shop. Orrrr not.

Since I paid for my twilight pass 2 months ago, I havent heard word one since then. They have all my contact info. I get nothing about pre-season sales in the golf shop, nothing from the restaurant, nothing from anyone over there. Such loneliness:)

No email, fax, phone call or letter telling me about the great pre-season sale on cool shirts, bags, or what not.

No invitation to upgrade my twilighter membership to one with a cart.

No contact reminding me that they have a restaurant on premises.

No contact reminding me that they have condos for sale.

No contact offering me a free cart with a prepaid dinner in their restaurant.

Apparently they are content to take all the Albertans’ money. If their marketing effort was a golf shot, it’d be a shank into the weeds.

Living under a rock

Today in a newsgroup post, Rocky Phelps wrote:

Another lesson: if you are a third-party vendor and have customer support issues, you _have_ to make time to at least be communicative. “a vendor” has gotten himself in hot water with his customers many times in the past by not communicating well enough..

Id rewrite that slightly and word it like this: Another lesson: if you are a vendor, you _have_ to make time to at least be communicative. While your customers might have empathy for your home or car trouble, that doesn’t mean their needs cease to become important while you try to reassemble your life. A 2 sentence daily blog entry that informs, even humorously, about your plight today is better than silence.

If you arent communicating with your customers on a regular basis, you are leaving it up to your competitors, newsgroup trolls, the press, random wackos and others to provide the information that your customers use to formulate an opinion of your products and services, as well as your company.

A failure to regularly communicate with customers is stupid business, whether you are a software company, a car dealer, a non-profit organization or a laundromat.

Anyone who thinks there is a difference in how often you communicate with customers for these 4 types of businesses, or any other business, clearly doesnt get it.

Web hosts with a clue

Earlier this week, email and browsing to sites hosted on my reseller account at TCH (Total Choice Hosting) stopped working from home. I VPN’d into a client’s office (same ISP as my home) and found it didnt work there either. I VPN’d into my office (different ISP from my home) and it worked fine.

I contacted my DSL provider (and phone company) CenturyTel, and got the standard 20 question “Are you a dope?” runaround. Do you have a firewall? Are you sure? What did you change? Can you turn off ZoneAlarm? (Not without installing it first…) Can you bypass the router (you know, the router that hasnt had a setting change in 3 years…) and connect directly via XP? And so on. I give them a tracert, they blow me off and ask me to reboot, yadayadayada. I bail on them, as it is clear they are going to be of little assistance, even after telling them that 2 different locations are experiencing this issue.

Some days I think it would be quite enjoyable to have the resources to offer my entire community free wireless and VOIP access just for the purpose of sticking it to the phone company, but they probably wouldnt even notice.

On Monday, I get into the office and about noon, access to the sites that didnt work at home started getting spotty, then disappears altogether. I contact the web host (TCH), provide them with a tracert and ask what to do. They tell me access is being blocked or otherwise thwarted outside their network and ask me to contact the staff at Prioritycolo.com, whose router appears to be blocking access to the TCH servers.

I check their support page. No phone number. I thought “Oh boy, no phone. This will be an exercise in frustration.” Sometimes its nice to be wrong.

I started to email them, but thought better of that. Fax? Nah. I took a shot at IRC chat, since their support page offers access to their team that way. Surprisingly, I got their lead admin, who asked a few questions, had me send him a few tracerts from both my office ISP and my client’s ISP and a few minutes later, he has tweaked the router and we’re golden. Turns out he knows the big cheese at TCH as well, and asks me to forward the tracerts to him simply because he knows that guy will want to see them.

Later that day, I get home and everything works there as well. Now…that wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Myles at PriorityColo.com gets it, as does TCH.

Talk to the animals

In the not too recent past, my business was quite dependent on a product from a particular company. As good as it is, this product had a rough time, as it was passed from one company to another. Unfortunately, none of the owners anywhere along this trail seem to have an inkling of customer relationship skills, much less marketing aptitude.

Certainly there is or has been at least one person at these companies that “gets it”, but it is never the CEO. Leadership comes from the top. If the CEO mistreats the customer base and has disdain for them, guess what the line employees are going to do and have. That’s exactly what one sees in this case.

Case in point: Any customer of this company who is unfortunate enough to state negative comments, constructive or not, gets summarily ignored.

Certainly the 80/20 rule is applicable and we all have customers we should “fire”, but ignoring “everyone” is stunningly inept. If you are willing to ignore your customers and make them ambivalent to your company and your product or service, you are ASKING a competitor to come in and take your business.

When I walk into a business and get treated like this, the first thought that crosses my mind is to call my real estate person and ask if this business’ competitor is for sale.

In this case, we’re talking about a product that the customer gets fairly heavily invested in from a time point of view, so perhaps the company feels that a multiple year, multiple decade pile of products related to this company’s product is an impediment to the departure of customers. They couldnt be more wrong. These days, companies like this are fiddling while Rome burns.

Will this company go out of business? Perhaps not.

Do they have a notable percentage of customers who are perpetually annoyed with them? Absolutely.

Will they leave millions on the table? Absolutely.

Does this negatively impact their customers? Sure. Without the millions that they should have had and the resources that money could provide, this company will be less agile and less able to provide to their customers that which will keep them ahead of THEIR competitors.

Talk to your customers as often as possible, by email, direct mail, fax, telephone, smoke signals…SOMETHING. If you dont, I can assure you that someone else is. It might even be my company and Id like nothing better than to take your customer and do the simple things that are necessary to keep them as my customer for life.