attitude Automation Business culture Buy Local Competition Corporate America Education Employees Leadership Manufacturing Personal development Politics Productivity Small Business strategic planning

Maker, Taker, Patriot.

Wall Street Journal senior economist Stephen Moore recently wrote a column about “takers and makers“, revealing that “More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined.

Twice as many people (22.5 million) work in government than in manufacturing (11.5 milion).

Upon hearing this, many will launch into their political persuasion’s talking points (regardless of leanings). But it isn’t that simple.

It’s not the 60s anymore

In 1960, about 8.7 million people were government employees. In 51 years, that number has almost tripled. I don’t have a breakdown of the increase in front of me, but a 300% increase is large no matter how you look at it.

Moore derisively calls these 22.5 million “bureaucrats”, which to me coveys the image of the corrupt Daley regime in Chicago or an uncaring, inefficient Department of Motor Vehicles (not what you get in Kalispell’s blue building).

Based on the comments I hear, most don’t view rank and file firefighters, police officers, teachers, train conductors, military personnel and the like as bureaucrats.

In one example, Moore mentions the doubled public school employment between 1970 and 2005, referencing a University of Washington study, as an example of government inefficiency given that standardized test scores haven’t doubled in that time.

Electric shock and cages

In the 1960s, students with Down’s Syndrome, mental deficiencies, autism or physical challenges were treated as second class citizens. Today, they learn as a part of mainstream student populations, just as employers do. Doing this requires increased staff. Some kids have a single staff member dedicated to them. Today we teach topics in school that didn’t exist in 1960, like computers, robotics and computer-aided design (CAD).

I don’t think anyone, with the possible exception of the current Montana Legislature, would wish for a return to the 1960s. Yes, that was sarcasm. Mostly.

If you look at the manufacturing and industrial changes since the 60s, it’s hard not to see the migration of the steel, textile and heavy industries overseas as having a significant impact on employment numbers.

While government numbers have gone up markedly, Moore didn’t address the disappearance of manufacturing and industrial jobs during that same period.

The falloff of employment in those industries didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Blame the third world

The industrial revolution in the U.S. transformed business: Steam, electricity, internal combustion.

In the last 20-30 years, it happened again; fueled by computers, industrial automation and the rise of the third world.

While these changes were decimating U.S. presence in industries like heavy equipment, steel and textiles manufacturing, we retain a reticence to pay anything above 1960s prices for commodities like steel, lumber and textiles.

We kept prices down and competed with cheap overseas labor through industrial automation and computers, but that cost jobs. When someone is laid off from a foundry job, where do they go?

If someone laid off after two decades in one of these industries has an opportunity to share their skills with young people looking to learn a trade, and in doing so, keeps their family off of taxpayer-funded public assistance – are they a maker, a taker or a bureaucrat?

If in that 20 years they didn’t take the initiative (on their personal time) to remain employable by learning a new skill (welding, software, repairing industrial robots, etc), who’s responsible?


Industrial automation is replacing cheap third world labor with labor that’s even cheaper. China supplants India, who “stole” the work from US workers. Advances in automation allow us to keep prices low and allow our businesses to avoid paying modern wages for dangerous work now done by machines, but they also eliminate third-world jobs here in the states.

Are those jobs we want? That laid off industrial worker who now teaches…do we *want* them teaching a 1960s or 1970s skill in a 2011 economy?

Businesses of all sizes outsource work because it’s not efficient to keep people on staff to do that work. Business is then more flexible and the jobs we keep are usually more secure, but low-value employment is hammered by it. Is that good or bad?

Nothing is as simple as the politicos and power hungry want you to think.

Want to be patriotic? Invest in yourself, make something that people want/need, and create your own future.

attitude Business culture Competition Consumer Advocacy Corporate America Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Internet marketing Point of sale Retail Sales Small Business systems Technology Word of mouth marketing

Service before the no-sale

This is what can happen when a legitimate customer hits an artificial wall within your business.

It’s made worse when customer service is setup to fail. Clearly the service person has no power to do anything positive to seal the deal and help / retain this customer.

The guy is standing there with money in his hand and she is forced to tell him they can’t take it unless he’s willing to buy an old, backdated version of the product.

What’s worse is that the rep has been trained to say something like “I understand why you would be concerned.”, which is code speak for “Yeah, it stinks but I can’t do anything about it, sorry.”

Don’t put up artificial walls.

Don’t make customer service (much less your website) into a “sales prevention department”.

Make it easy to buy.

Apple Corporate America Customer service Improvement planning Point of sale Productivity Retail Sales service Small Business strategic planning systems

Verizon’s pleasant surprise

Waiting For an Important Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

Thursday was the first day of retail, walk-in Verizon iPhone sales in the U.S.

Normally a visit to our VZW store is guaranteed to consume 60-90 min, even here in rural Montana. They’re usually busy, so you sign in on a screen and they call your name in the order you arrive.

If you set your expectations at that 60-90 min, you’re not so annoyed when you finally get to leave.

Fast forward to the end of Thursday. My wife comes home, saying she wants to go get her phone.

I’m thinking “Oh man, its the first day. Its gonna be nuts.” Based on past history, I expect at least 2 hours.

The Surprise

We walk in and they are hammered. Even so, they still have 3-4 people standing around freed up, waiting for wanna-be hipsters.

We get someone right away. We pay, the Verizon guy moves her contacts from her Blackberry to the iPhone 4. The phone activates in 27 seconds and we leave in a total of 10 minutes.

TEN MINUTES. Someone put some logistics work into this rollout.

I’m FLOORED that we got in and out of their store with a phone switch in 10 minutes on the first day of retail sales, especially given that a normal day takes an hour on most occasions.

I talk to someone later and find out that after several hours in line, a guy in Seattle called to say he was still 8 blocks from the store.

10 minutes = Montana fringe benefits.

Box stores Business model Buy Local Competition Corporate America customer retention Economic Development Employees Retail Small Business Wal-Mart

Is the lack of Wal-Mart actually a tax?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Lordcolus

A lot of thoughts come to mind both ways about Wal-Mart‘s effect on local businesses and consumers.

No shortage of them are provoked by this Forbes op/ed saying that the lack of access to Wal-Mart in NYC is actually a tax, and continues by stating that building a WalMart in NYC is economic stimulus.

For example, the author ignores the local sourcing that WalMart used to do during its “Buy American” phase. He also fails to discuss that when left enough time in a competitive market devoid of Wal-Mart, poorly run local businesses tend to fail anyway.

What do you think?

air travel airlines attitude Business culture Corporate America Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees goals Leadership quality Small Business Southwest

One guy and 12 minutes to a lifelong customer @SouthwestAir

Not long ago, a little boy was murdered.

Soon after, his grandpa was traveling to see his little 3 year old grandson one last time.

He was running for the plane, desperately late despite getting to the airport several hours before departure.

After two hours of standing in line, pleading with TSA officials and airline employees to help him get to his gate on time, his perception was that no one seemed to care how important it was to make that plane.


While the drama takes place in the ticket and security line, the airplane was sitting at the gate.

Waiting, waiting and more waiting.

It’s a Southwest airplane.

Anyone who has traveled with and/or read about Southwest knows that one of their top operational priorities is fast turnaround at the airport’s gate.

It’s simple. Planes make money in the air. They don’t make money sitting at the gate.

Southwest takes that to heart. Their focus on at-the-gate efficiency is so well polished that they can turn a plane from arrival to departure in 20 minutes, 2-3 times faster than many competitors.

Every employee is well aware of that focus.

The grapevine

Somehow, someone at the gate found out.

Despite the focus on turnaround and the potential risk to their jobs, the ticketing agent and pilot refused to move the plane away from the gate until the grandpa arrived.

People know to make these kinds of decisions every day, but they often don’t out of fear for their jobs or the specter of “policy”.

The wrong kind of business culture breeds that behavior.

The right kind of business culture empowers their employees to make decisions that are the right ones for the customer at that moment, even if they temporarily fly in the face of business policy or strategic goals. They hire and train with those things in mind.

The agent and pilot knew what should be done and took action.


Who do you think that grandpa and family fly with in the future?

Opportunities to create life-long loyalty are fleeting. Make the most of the ones you get and make sure your people do too.

Especially when it’s the right thing to do.

Corporate America Education Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Personal development Small Business

Goldman does something right

Today’s guest post is from the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Goldman’s gotten a lot of bad press over the last few years, and deservedly so.

This time, they’ve done some good for small businesses. Check it out.

Apple Automation Business culture Competition Corporate America Customer relationships Customer service Direct Marketing ECommerce Marketing Retail Sales Small Business Strategy Technology The Slight Edge

Easy like Sunday morning

First the iTunes store.

Now the Mac App Store doubles Evernote’s hourly rate of new user signups.

How many times does the forehead need slapping before it’s obvious that making it easy to buy is what it’s all about?

Make it easy to buy.

Make it easy to buy.

Make it easy to buy.

Automation Business Resources Competition Corporate America Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Feedback Management Productivity service Small Business Strategy systems Technology Time management

Romeo Oscar Kilo Uniform Hotel Echo Lima Papa

Overweb :: Midori cluster
Creative Commons License photo credit: br1dotcom

That’s military phonetics for “Roku Help”.

Last month, I bought a Roku XD-S so we could watch Netflix on our TV rather than on a laptop.

It’s a fine unit for streaming Netflix and (probably) Amazon Video-on-Demand, Major League Baseball on demand and so on.

The interface was a little disappointing because I hoped to be able to queue Netflix DVDs from it, but the primary function was streaming and at that it performs quite well.

Trouble is, the Wii that we never use (it was a gift) now plays Netflix as well, so we no longer need the Roku. The last thing we need is another box and more wires under the TV.

Beam me up

So I use the Roku support form on their website to ask for a RMA. I would have called them, but nowhere on their site does it say “DO THIS TO RETURN YOUR UNIT”, despite the lovely graphics saying “30 day unconditional return policy”.

The next day, I get an email saying “We don’t do RMAs by email, please call 888-600-7658.”

That’s fine, so I call.

I get transferred overseas, judging from the accent of the very nice man who answers the phone.

While his command of English is an order of magnitude (or several) better than my command of his native tongue, we have accents to deal with. Both of us.

We end up using military phonetics for TWENTY-THREE minutes because we can’t communicate very well, primarily due to our accents.

Throw in 5s, 9s, Cs, Ss and Fs and we had a jolly time.

Focus: Customer Experience

Shipping your tech support overseas doesn’t bother me, as long as the internal feedback chain remains in place and the customers are served well.

Putting people on the phone who require Hotel Echo Lima Papa (“H E L P”) to be understood (and to understand the caller) does your company a disservice and alienates customers – regardless of what their native tongue might be.

The guy did an admirable job and given our communication issues, showed great patience. Neither of us got angry. I got what I needed.

But 23 minutes to get a RMA because names, email addresses, street addresses and so on have to be communicated in military phonetic alphabet creates a horrid customer experience.

As a small business owner, you probably aren’t even considering moving your customer support overseas. But are you doing something else that creates a customer experience that is this slow and unproductive?

As I said last Friday, “follow the paper”.

PS: Shortly after the call, I received an email with the details of the RMA, shipment and packing info, etc. We got it right, but the email was a ton faster and crystal clear. The SAME rep could have serviced that request perfectly via email in 2 minutes, rather than spending 23 minutes on the phone.

Automation Business culture Corporate America Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Feedback Hospitality Improvement Management quality Restaurants Retail service Small Business SMS Strategy systems Technology

A passing meteor

2009 Leonid Meteor
Creative Commons License photo credit: Navicore

The wrong email at the wrong time, no matter how well intended, can be like a meteor strike.

It can weaken, dismantle or even ruin the relationship you’ve built with a customer.

A friend recently relayed a story about a summer stay at a hotel in South Texas.

Shortly after his stay, he got an email from the hotel chain’s corporate HQ asking how he enjoyed his stay. It was automatically generated, no doubt – but that’s OK when done right.

As it happened, he had just checked his bank statement and saw that they had overcharged him almost $100 more than what his final invoice indicated. After responding to the email, he followed up with a call to the front desk of the hotel.

The problem was taken care of right away by the person who answered the phone.

As time passed, he forgot all about the email, which was sent by and returned to the hotel’s corporate parent.

Time heals (almost) all wounds

Fast forward 4 months.

My friend gets an email from the hotel parent company’s “Email Resolution Desk”. The agent notes that “she appreciated my email, but she couldn’t do anything about my issue, so I need to contact the hotel directly.”

His comment: “Wow, they’d have been better off just not replying at this point.”


The extra email, like the meteor, left a crater in that customer’s experience.

This sort of disconnected communication is common to franchises whose corporate parent thinks it’s doing the right thing by monitoring customer “satisfaction”. The problem is, the disconnection and the lack of follow up.

The unfortunate part

What’s unfortunate about the situation is that a 2 min phone call could have turned that into a follow up email just to make sure he was happy with the resolution. Even if corporate had merely taken the trouble to email the hotel and ask how the situation was resolved (if reported at all), it would have given them far more insight into the situation and (hopefully) resulted in a far more intelligent email to my friend.

Instead of ticking him off by making it obvious that corporate was detached from the situation and not in touch with their franchisee, it would have conveyed (albeit 90 days late IMO) that they were making sure things were properly handled by their franchisee.

Rather than creating a negative vibe for an event that turned out positive, it would have reminded him that the situation was handled promptly and properly – and holy cow, someone at corporate was so on top of things that they were checking up on franchisee conflicts to make sure they were handled properly.

Which of these impressions are your automated emails leaving? Disconnected, or on top of  things?

Just because they’re automated doesn’t mean they have to be clueless.

And the data…

Finally, consider what you’re doing with the info you collect from these “How did we do?” emails, postcards and phone calls.

  • Are you leveraging valuable customer feedback to improve internal processes or eliminate unnecessary ones?
  • Are you using them to motivate staff, create new services, eliminate outdated products, and spruce up what needs a dust and a polish?
  • Are you using them to recognize and reward those who go over the top to please a customer?
  • Are you using them to find places where your training has gaps?

If you aren’t doing some of those things…why are you collecting that info? Why waste the time? Just to make a customer think they have a voice?

In a lot of cases, customers assume those postcards, emails and web forms go into never-never land. Maybe it’s because they don’t see tangible changes as a result of their feedback. Or maybe it’s because businesses seldom (if ever?) follow up on the feedback they get.

I suggest your share these things with your customers. Reward those with great ideas you’ve implemented. Let them know – without a puddle of corporate speak – that you’ve handled the situation they spoke of and put in motion a plan to prevent future occurrences.

Not only will your customers’ experience improve, but their feedback will as well.

Automation Business Ethics Competition Corporate America Customer service Improvement Marketing service Small Business Strategy Telemarketing

Don’t waste a single interaction


Last week I had to get on the phone to cancel an online service.

Not because I wanted to use the phone to cancel, but because it’s a requirement.

You see, you can sign up for this service online, but you can’t cancel it there. And you certainly won’t be doing it easily.

Yes, you read that right. You can sign up online, but canceling requires a phone call.

That’s so “Business can do no wrong, 1999” kind of thinking.

It reminds me of the old America Online (AOL). This is how they used to act. Butâ?¦

There ARE good reasons to require a call

I could see good reason for the call if they truly wanted to check to make sure that I couldn’t use their service. Obviously, that assumes that they’d put effort into making it a pain-free process to find out my situation.

Possible situations:

  • Maybe I couldn’t figure it out.
  • Maybe I found something better.
  • Maybe it wasn’t what I thought it was or didn’t do what I really needed (that vague thing called “merchantability”).

If I’m the vendor interested in improving my offering, I’d want to know those things when my service is getting cancelled by someone.

Why? Because that info will help me do a better job of selling my service in the future. It will also help me adjust who I market the service to and what it does.

A quick call for stuff like this is often faster and more productive for everyone but you have to make it fast, easy and pleasant. It’s a good time to leave a last good impression in a relationship that just didn’t work out (for now), and if time permits, ask what kind of changes would provoke the person to sign up again at a later date.

Hassle your customers

But that isn’t why I had to call them.

I had to call them because they intentionally designed a process to be more difficult than it was to sign up. They wanted it to be “work”, in hopes that I wouldn’t cancel and would just blow it off.

I know this because of what happened when I called.

First, I spent 12 minutes on hold. Overall, that’s not a huge deal because I put my phone on speaker and sat it on my desk, but it does indicate the importance they place on these calls. Or it shows that a TON of people are cancelling. Or both.

During the cancel process – in fact – during the very first interaction with the phone agent, I was asked if I wanted to purchase a “buy one, get one free” airline ticket.

I was so stunned by the out-of-context request, I had to ask him to repeat himself. I just couldn’t believe it.

Rest assured, there’s no relationship *at all* between air travel and what this online service provides. So why are they trying to sell me an airline ticket? Dumb.

Remember, all this lameness happened after 12 minutes on hold.

But they weren’t done. After all that, a six question survey about my satisfaction which should have been done by the agent, who didn’t even ask why I was cancelling. Otherwise, why make me call?

3 of the questions follow:

  • Would I recommend them? No. (An agent could have asked “Why not?”)
  • Rate the call wait time. (Your phone system knows how long I waited. Common sense will give you all the rating you need. It’s a feel-good question to allow me to vent.)
  • Do I feel valued as a customer? No. No. No. (Sorry, the airline ticket question failed to cement our love affair.)

Just in case there’s some doubt about how I feel about this kind of behavior: If this is how you treat your clients and this is how you do business, I hope your competition hires me to relieve you of those pesky customers you treat so poorly. I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

The lesson

Every interaction you have with a customer – no matter how trivial – is an opportunity to reinforce their impression of you (positively, I hope).

Don’t waste ANY of them on stupid, wasteful interactions like this one.