Compass needed Competition Customer service Technology

Online businesses: Service or schmervice?

From time to time, I stumble across online businesses that forget that first and foremost, they are a business – not a website.

TWO this week.

I generally find these things when I need service from a business for the first time. Perhaps the dream of the typical internet business owner is to put up a website, get buried in sales, hire a gorgeous assistant to deal with everything (you know, sales, shipping, etc) and sit back and just watch the money roll in.

Thennnnnnn reality hits. You’ve got a real business, Lucy.

People email, call and fax real businesses. No matter how well you’ve explained something, there will be someone who needs help. Or missed that page, or didn’t see the FAQ, or didn’t scan Google for something that seems totally flippin’ obvious to you. No matter how much you’ve automated – which I’m all in favor of – there will be some things you just need to deal with.

The obvious missing “secret” here is…

Compass needed Entrepreneurs Politics

Getting beyond the irony of ethics

Ever notice that the media makes special mention of the job or volunteer efforts of a sex offender when that person is a priest or a Scout leader? Or makes a point about a â??formerâ? Eagle Scout being arrested for a crime?

The obvious reason is to get your attention, to get you to buy the newspaper or keep your finger off the remote controlâ??s channel button. They know that the irony of those situations grab you. Irony is powerful stuff.

Why? Because your expectations for the priest, the Scout leader and the Eagle Scout are already formed in your mind, and their story shatters those expectations.

Hopefully, your expectations are that the priest is a celibate and trusted man of God who loves children, rather than lusting for them.

Likewise, I hope you expect the Scout leader and the Eagle Scout are Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent (the 12 points of the Scout Law), instead of felonious, creepy, and perverse.

Given recent history, itâ??s not surprising that the expectations for corporate execs and elected officials are so much lower. We have so many examples to choose from: Savings and loan failures, Enron, Tyco, Global Crossing. You know the names.

And then of course, there is Washington.

With annoying regularity over the last 20 years, Congressional reps, Senators, and White House staffers have paraded into hearings for one thing or another. One rep probably found it amazing that he wasnâ??t trusted outside his home state because law enforcement found 90 grand in his freezer. I suppose that behavior might be normal for elected officials, but for the rest of usâ?¦.well, it’s a bit suspect. He was re-elected, by the way. He was a better alternative than his opponent in the minds of his constituents.

But it’s not limited to DC. Montana residents are likely aware of a lovely display of â??statesmanshipâ? in the Montana House this week (details at I guess Lange never learned about the “Dont say anything that you dont want your grandmother to read in the paper” rule.

Meanwhile, there are honest, decent Senators, Representatives, bureaucrats etc. Theoretically, at least.

Why am I talking about this, and how does this affect the entrepreneur’s thinking, much less their marketing?

Because you should be better. You HAVE to be better.

With the air of cynicism we have, the general level of mistrust in politicians, bureaucrats and corporate business execs in the news for the wrong reasons, and the reputations of the used car and timeshare salespeople â?? itâ??s easy to get lumped into the shyster mold. In some cases, the reputation has been earned by, as usual, a few bad apples.

I know of at least one timeshare place that doesn’t do business even remotely close to the way we’ve ALL seen it done. You know the places I’m talking about. They’re the ones with people whose hard sell makes anyone else’s hard sell seem like Shrinking Violet.

In Missouri (and probably elsewhere), legislation had to be passed to limit â??Going out of businessâ? sales only to those businesses who were really truly going out of business. I There was one business I remember in particular that â??went out of businessâ? 3 or 4 times a year until this law was passed.

Look, I know that most business owners and entrepreneurs are straight up folks. That message needs to get made to your prospects and your clients. Got hard proof? Testimonials? Use em.

Remember, the smart marketer analyzes the likely sales objections up front and turns them into selling points. Strengths, not weaknesses. Being the town liar and cheat isn’t one of those you can turn around.

When I do business with you, I want to be able to let you hold my wallet while I jump in the pool. If I can’t, if your prospects and clients cant, or don’t feel they could…you’ve got trouble.

For a little empirical â??evidenceâ? of societyâ??s mindset, consider this Jacob Brackman comment:

â??A generation is coming of age in America that doesnâ??t take the news straight, that doesnâ??t take the utterances of public figures straight, that doesnâ??t take social games straightâ?¦it sees giant con games everywhere.â?

Brackman said that â?¦.. in 1971. 35 YEARS AGO.

Think it’s any better today? 35 years ago was before Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, and so on.

But that was them. We’re talking about you and your credibility with the prospect. Just like marketing, it’s work, even if you’re an angel. Testimonials don’t just crawl up in your lap and say Howdy.

On the other hand, it should be easy standing out from the crowd. So make a point of doing so, for the right reasons.

Can I trust you to hold my wallet?

Compass needed

Print THIS!

I bought another business in April 2006 (Im beginning to think I *collect* them). Because the business came with plenty of supplies and I had plenty of other things to juggle, it took a few weeks to get to calling all the vendors and making sure that I didn’t have any suppliers that are going to be a pita to deal with.

I emailed one of them who sent me a package. No response after a month.

I called the printer and spoke with a sales guy, owner, janitor or manager, he didn’t bother to say who he was. I asked for info on pricing and turnaround time. He said he’d get it to me. 3 weeks goes by. Nothing. Clearly, he doesn’t want or need my business. So…silly me, I call back.

He clearly remembers my request. Then he humhaws around (that’s a high-level business term meaning “stalling and mumbling”) and finally tells me that if I really want that info, he’ll have to send me credit app info and all that, since he has to worry about getting paid now that a non-relative owns the business. He clearly says in his tone of voice that he doesn’t want to do that. I tell him, that’s fine, I typically pay with Amex anyhow. He says “We don’t take credit cards”, then proceeds to assume that I’m done with them.

But I keep pressing. I ask him for Pantone colors on the stuff they print for us, since I’ll clearly need to go elsewhere for printing. He says “oh, the previous owner just picked them out each time, I don’t have that info.” Riiiight.
So by now, I’ve already well past deciding that this company couldn’t BEG me for another dime of business, but I press on, by now only interested in seeing what else this guy will do. He repeats himself a bit and says he’ll send me the info tomorrow, if I still want it. I say I do and we hang up.

No “Thanks for calling from out of state, I hope we can earn your business.” Just a silent, but very clear “I can’t be troubled to deal with you and your money” coming between the lines.

Compass needed Strategy

Why thank them?

It’s ok to say it. Really. It’s not that hard at all.

Can you remember the last time you received a thank you note from someone that you do business with?

I can.

I regularly get a mass-printed corporate looking thank you postcard with the business person’s picture on it. It’s laser printed, including the guy’s signature. I figure that he knows I got his card, but he was involved in paying the bill to have the card mailed and that’s about it.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place for those kinds of cards – marketing and random, fun customer touches. However, THANK YOUs are NOT the time and place for that kind of card.

I understand he may think he has better things to do than write cards, but let’s talk about it, then you can decide.

Feeling appreciated
Do I think this guy appreciates my business? I think he probably does, but that’s because I know him from elsewhere. He’s in a price-shopped industry that isn’t known for “I stand out in a crowd”. He could stand out easily with some effort, but in his industry, the “industry norm” (ie: what the sheep do and say) is that you will eat beans and rice for 5 years as you grow your customer base, and after 5 years, you are pretty well set for life.

Does the card show his appreciation? Not even close. Maybe the laser printed signature gave it away.

People tend to be annoyed with the guys that sell what he sells. We assume they are impersonal, distant and generally don’t give a crap….just because of what they do. It’s easy to clear that assumption away with a hand-written note.

Does this card tell me “That’s not true about me, I really care!!”


Does this card tell me “It’s my job to take care of your business and keep your out of harm’s way”


Do I think this guy is a friend because I get laser printed cards from him?


Friends don’t send friends thank you cards with laser printed signatures.
Can you remember the last pre-printed thank you note you got from a friend? I’m guessing you don’t.

You get hand written cards from friends. Sometimes cards picked out just for you. Sometimes, cards from a set they bought or had printed. Sometimes, cards they made by hand. Think about the “map” that the leading man in the movie Elizabethtown received to lead him from his father’s little town back to the big city. Do you think her card showed that she cared? No question about it. Who wouldn’t want to get a map like that?

Can you remember the last hand written thank you note you got from an insurance agent, the lady at the dry cleaners, your financial planner or the nice guy at the oil change place?

Can you remember the last time you sent a thank you card or note to a customer – and that card or note wasn’t pre-printed? When you’re at home watching The Apprentice (and I hope you are, we’ll talk about that sometime), why can’t you address and write a brief note on a few cards?

Isn’t my business worth 10 or 15 words, 39 cents and a card? Don’t you want me thinking about your business when I open my mail, rather than thinking about the businesses who I *do* get mail from?

Now back to my original question. Can you remember the last time you received a thank you note from someone that you do business with?

Be smart.

Compass needed

How to keep a bookstore from being sticky

Here I am, sitting in the Hastings book store coffee shop in Helena, waiting for my son’s trombone performance with the All Montana Jazz Band.

The coffee shop has no wireless.

The clueless retailer looks at wireless as an expense. The smart ones look at it as one more reason for their customers to enter their store. People are habitual creatures. They get used to going to store A, regardless of the reason, and before long, store A is all they go to until store A finds a way to tick them off. Then the process starts all over again.

Back to Hastings…it’s mid-afternoon on a weekday before school lets out. Prime stay-at-home mom time, yet they cant even manage to keep someone at the counter. Management has them running all over the store, doing other tasks. Customers come into the coffee area, stand around for a bit, start feeling stupid, then get annoyed, then they finally make them ramble around the store until the find someone who looks like a “coffee dude”. OR THEY LEAVE.

Roughly 1000 square feet of store space, dedicated to this coffee bar and they cant even have the foresight to staff it and make it “sticky” by offering wireless (just one example of what they could do).


Compass needed

Corporate “I dont get it”-itis

Last week, a newspaper story recounted how a local grocery store’s customer noticed a shoplifter, chased him out of the store, pursued him for 20 minutes, and finally caught and held him till the police arrived.

It turned out that the thief was serving a 3 year deferred sentence and a 5 year suspended sentence, both for burglary convictions.

The store promptly rewarded the man who caught the thief with a coupon for free coffee.


Did they need to write a big check? Nope.

Did they need to give him free groceries for life? Nope.

All they had to do was be a little unique. Put a little thought into what they did to thank this guy.

Instead, he gets some free coffee and they get “We’re cheapskates” publicity in the paper. They turned a positive into a negative.

The possibilities are so obvious. What are you doing to send a message that you dont get it?

Think about it, then fix it.

Compass needed

Upshaw and Owens: Losers no matter what the score

Someone needs to give Gene Upshaw and Terrell Owens their own personal DVD copy of “Coach Carter”. Upshaw wants to remove an approved arbitrator because he “piled on”. Peel away the rhetoric and he’s really saying that he wants to remove an arbitrator because he lost the case.

Its too bad they don’t have the cojones to keep TO on the roster, pay the $5MM roster bonus in the spring of 2006, pay his salary and sit his snarky backside on the bench for the 2006 season.

Compass needed

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.