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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.

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Consistent communication is essential

Tomorrow’s post is in part about consistent communication, so this catch by Kelly Kautz about 2 tweets from Delta this weekend seems like a good intro.


When your message is not consistent, you can expect the unhappy reactions found in the comments to that tweet.

Communicating while considering the conversation going on in the minds of your clientele is essential, but you’d better be sure all of them are part of the conversation.



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Software Riff # 12 – On getting buy in

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Win on low price, lose on low price

Do you depend on having the best price to win business? If so, are you sure that’s really how you want people to choose your company?

I ask that because if you cut your price 10%, that 10% comes out of your profit margin. Perhaps obvious, but not always something folks pay attention to – particularly when price is used as an end-all, be-all to close a sale.

You can tell that’s going on when you intentionally keep silent when someone names the price of a product or service. Stay silent long enough after they react to your “What’s the price?” question and the “we’ll win on price at all costs” salesperson (particularly the novice) will often get nervous and say something like “Of course, we can go lower…”

Use low price as a component

As Amazon Web Services SVP Andy Jassy is fond of saying, “I’ve never met a customer who asked if they could pay more.”

So how do you balance between being too expensive and being the one with the paper-thin margins?

Don’t get me wrong. Using price as a component of the things you use attract customers is fine. Where you run into trouble is when it’s used as the primary decision point. In those cases, you’re more than likely going to get burned and less likely to attract long-term customers.

One common example is using products and services as loss leaders. It’s OK to leverage price in this way as long as you know your numbers very, very well *and* you know that once you get that customer, there are plenty of opportunities to provide more value to them – value that they’ll be happy to pay for.

Fail to do this and you’re headed for trouble. This isn’t just about milk at the back of the store. You see it frequently with internet-based services. How do they offer “free” to so many people, yet still make a profit?

They know how much it costs to offer that free service.

They know how many of those freebie users will convert to paying customers because they want services, features and benefits not offered to freebie clients.

They know their margin on the paying customers is enough to fund the freebies, plus profit margin, so that more paying customers raise their hand and say “Yes, I need that.”

Bottom line, they know their numbers and they never stop recalculating them, just in case something changes.

Low price isn’t owned by the internet crowd

You can use free or cheap as a lead generation carrot as long as you too know your numbers, and make sure that you’re using that offer with the right prospect.

That’s where most businesses get started down the wrong road – they make the offer to the wrong group of people, ie: people who would never have been their customer in the first place.

If you make your offer to the right people, that’s a different story altogether – and that’s the magic formula no matter what your pricing is like.

The timeshare business has done this for years by giving away a free night or two, dinner, etc – all in order to get you to see and enjoy what their facility offers. They know historically what percentage of people will buy if they take the time and make the effort to attract the right prospects to their offers.

Using low price requires well-crafted offers

Timeshares don’t make their numbers by giving away all those free nights, golf rounds, lift tickets and meals to anyone and everyone. They’re careful to pre-qualify prospects using financial, behavioral, demographic and psychographic measures to make sure they closely match historical buyers.

When you attract people with a low price offer, the goal isn’t simply to make it free or available for a low price, but to provide enough of a taste with as little risk as possible to the prospect so that the right person can make a decision to become your newest client.

If you can do this without killing your margins during the period between the time they taste and the time they get serious about buying the real value you can deliver, then low price can work.

Do you know your numbers that well?



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The Software Riff is a brief, daily podcast for owners of small software companies. Each day, we’ll discuss strategies designed to help you transform your software business from something that you work for, into an asset that works for you even when you aren’t there.

If you’re frustrated by growth, marketing or productivity issues, despite working as hard as you can, this is the podcast for you.

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Business culture: Reflected by daily conversation

There are a few commonly-used phrases in business conversation that raise the hair on my neck.

Here are three of my favorites, along with one (‘innovation’) that we hear bandied about in the tech press on what seems like an hourly basis.

  • Industry Norms
  • Best Practices
  • Human Capital
  • Innovation

They sound like such good things, so you may wonder why they’re so hair-raising.

You might be thinking that they’re just words, but they could be the lexicon of your business culture. The problem with these phrases is that they sound like one thing but they usually mean something entirely different.

Does it matter? I think so. Employees and even contractors look to the leader of a business for signals that they walk their talk. Words that undermine the stated business culture can do a lot of integrity damage.

Dictionary Man

Let’s review the phrases I mentioned.

Industry Norms

This one is a little sneaky because it seems to convey that you are doing as well as those in your industry who are normal.

What is “normal”, exactly?

In this context, I think of it as average. That means if you are meeting industry norms, you are right smack in the middle. Not doing poorly, but not leading the industry.

I wouldn’t consider that a goal unless you are currently below average – and even then, it should be a pit stop rather than a destination.

When your staff sees industry norm statistics in trade publications, I’m thinking you would want them to consider those as something they’d want to see in the rear view mirror, rather than something to aspire to.

Best Practices

This one is similar to “industry norms” because it conveys the average, or perhaps a little history lesson.

To me, “Best Practices” are those things that are considered the least common denominator of business practice in your industry.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be performing them – it means that the businesses leading your market no longer sees them as something to start doing or strive for. Instead, they consider them assumptions of how to do business, rather than something done only by the best businesses.

If you’re the leader in your market, you know that you can look back at things you started doing two or three (or ten) years ago and find that the average or lower-tier businesses are just now catching on to them.

Human Capital

I see Temple Grandin watching over a feedlot. She observes people’s behavior as they are herded through a Dodge City feedlot’s gates, chutes and ramps. Occasionally, she makes suggestions for how to adjust things so people are less likely to become upset as they mindlessly parade along.

If you’re in the financial industry, “human capital” might be a more positive term, but in that context is still feels a bit like something to consume, spend or exhaust in order to achieve a goal. Like firewood.

If you use it in the context of investment and improvement, I can see a positive, but the word choice is something to be very careful with.


Let me redefine it for you: Innovation lights up the face of a customer.

Is that what happens when they see your latest new feature?

This doesn’t really matter does it?

Your staff makes that decision about you and your leadership team. I suspect you make it about those you consider leaders.

When you listen to a local, state or national leader speak – do you dissect their comments and make any judgments based on the words they use?

When viewed through that lens, do your words seem more important?

Another angle: If your employees rolled their eyes every time you spoke, how would that make you feel? I suspect it would tick you off if you were face to face.

Now imagine them rolling their eyes because of something you said in an email, on a conference call or perhaps to a customer while that employee is within earshot.

What words reflect your business culture?

The culture of your business is reflected in the words you and your leaders use every day to describe your business, your people, your products and your prospects in the marketplace.

Are they leading your staff & your business culture in the wrong direction?