Corporate America Customer service Employees Management

This old man, he’s got Dish.

Well, he sorta has Dish. He has a bill every month anyhow.

Dish Networks is simply amazing.

I haven’t done business with them in years. Their customer service 8 years ago was mildly annoying but nothing unusual for a public “utility” of that nature. We expect them to be bad, or at least, barely better than AT&T.

This story about an older guy and his account with Dish Networks are a great example of what not to do, how not to do something as ugly as that, and perhaps most importantly, why “it’s our policy” is a great way to create horrific referrals and PR that you won’t be proud of.

The money is bad enough, but the way this call was handled – even if the description isn’t 100% accurate – is astoundingly ugly – even for a big, dumb corporation.

How much is it worth to have your company used as a bad example of customer service? Is it worth the $150 they got?

Training your staff to handle things like this is one of the most valuable things you’ll do for the long term health of your business. If nothing else, training them to be at least marginally human, vs robots that say “It’s our policy” over and over again will get you higher up the food chain past AT&T.

You can, and should, do better.

Competition Corporate America Customer service Employees Management The Slight Edge

If you pay your people minimum wage, you are an idiot.

Earlier today, I got an urgent email warning me about the recent minimum wage hike.

The Fair Labor Standards Act increased the federal minimum wage in three steps:

  • July 24, 2007, $5.85 per hour
  • July 24, 2008, $6.55 per hour
  • July 24, 2009, $7.25 per hour

If you have employees in your store making minimum wage, you MUST increase their pay rate immediately! If you have already paid them for time worked after July 24 you must calculate the difference between their old rate and the new rate and give them a paycheck to make up the difference!

Heads up – You should only have to do this if you are an idiot.

Competition Customer service Marketing Retail Software The Slight Edge

The right (and wrong) reasons to use CRM software in your business

Those guys at Harvard do a great job of reminding me to remind my readers about the pitfalls and opportunities that come from using CRM software.

You might expect that a trained geek (“Don’t try this at home”) would simply implement all the software and move on, in order to eliminate all those pesky employee type people. Well, unlike the scarecrow, I have a brain (yes, I realize that the peanut gallery is likely to have contention with that<g>) and know better – and so should you.

So how do we avoid the pitfalls, take advantage of the opportunities and sink that 37 foot putt to beat Tiger at the PGA?

The CIO Insight article by the Harvard guys has a few things worthy of comment that apply to your small business.

For starters, some info about CRM (customer relationship management) software spending:

Spending on CRM dominates investment in categories of software. Retailers are particularly enamored of CRM technology, with one survey in 2003 finding that already 65 percent of retailers had implemented at least one CRM application and some 80 percent of those surveyed say that investments in CRM were a good way to build their business. Ironically, much of the investment in CRM software has been oriented toward reducing the costs of servicing customers, not building new or stronger customer relationships.

The problem with software like this is that it is rarely used for the right reason. Simply by virtue of its existence, it should reduce service costs (as noted above). But that isn’t where the real value happens – and it’s the value most often ignored by companies who have actively implemented CRM software.

The value? Learning what your customers do and want so that you have that “message to market match” that Dan is constantly talking about.

Learning which kinds of customers buy what and how often. It’s easy for almost any retailer to say “Our average transaction size is $42.37. Our store serves an average of 48 customers per day on weekdays and 79 on Saturday.” (Ok, the latter isn’t as common, but it should be)

Big retailers know much, much more than this. They know by the hour how many people are in the store and what the average transaction size for that hour is – and they know it for a specific day of the year, as well as for specific weeks of the year. And lots more.

That’s why WalMart is constantly pushing the envelope on database storage. I read something yesterday that said their next database was going to be measured in petabytes. I’m a geek and I didn’t even bother to see what that meant in English.

But I digress (I do that a lot).

What a CRM can tell you that most people don’t bother to pursue and utilize is not that the average transaction size is $42.37, but that the average transaction size for a married woman with 2 kids is $98.12, she visits about every 17 days and she owns a home in a specific zip code. And that her kids are in elementary school. And that her husband never visits the store on weekdays with her, but almost always does on weekends, when the family’s purchases almost double to $181.19 and usually involve home improvement purchases.

On the other hand, the average single man under 35 years of age visits the store every 42 days, spends $121.75 and rents his home.

So what’s that worth? If you advertise to the family, you advertise home improvement and kids stuff. You use families in the materials, you focus on the busy executive mom’s needs for weekday promotions and the big purchases on the weekends that might be a bit more attractive to the husband.

Likewise, your marketing to the single man avoids home ownership related products and services, and focuses on areas that become obvious based on his purchases.

Then you group all this data together (the geeks say “aggregate”) and figure out what groups your customers naturally create among themselves. And that’s another set of marketing pieces and promotions – focused specifically on the needs of those groups – and you don’t send promotions for single men to a mailing list of widowed seniors (seems like common sense, but…).

Contrary to what is often said about these actions, this is not depersonalizing your business, but doing just the opposite. You are finding out more about each customer so that you can offer them things that are more germane to their lifestyle. IE: Stuff they really want.

You want depersonalization? Try “Dear valued customer” on a letter or email.

The Harvard article continues, noting:

But before you can manage a customer relationship, you first need to build or create that relationship. And customer relationships are not really built by fancy data-mining and statistical analysis packages that track people’s behavior, nor by the now ubiquitous automated phone systems that basically just irritate people. Rather, relationships and their quality are determined by what happens to customers when they actually make contact with the organizations that have so avidly sought their business through advertising and other promotions.

No question that the phone system does save money. It also wastes a ton of it through lost sales and annoyed clients. Should you have automated phone systems so that I can check my order status at 1am, or make a payment via my phone from St. Kitts? Sure. Should your phone be answered by a real person during reasonably normal business hours so that I can solve a problem that cannot be solved simply by typing in my account number and pressing the # key? Unless you’re a fool, absolutely.

The big gotcha on these systems is that businesses abandon what they are already doing and move wholesale to the automated system. That’s not what customers want. They want BOTH automated service when appropriate AND a comforting handholding experience when things are screwed up. Some portion of the customers prefer the automated service for as many functions as possible, while others want to deal with a real person. It’s really tough to get by on just one and doing so risks alienating the people whose money funded that new system in the first place.

Next up in the article…

Interactions between companies and their customers are still, even in this Internet age, often conducted by, of all things, real live human beings. That’s why successful organizations in industries such as airlines, hospitality, retailing, and financial services are relentless in their attention to hiring people who will fit into a service-oriented culture; diligent in inculcatingâ?? through extensive trainingâ??service skills and attitudes; and, most importantly, scrupulous in taking care of their people so they will feel good about and be proud of the company and want to deliver a great customer experience.

“Inculcating”. Wow, that’s a 50 dollar word. How about this: Hire caring people and give them the motivation, tools, training and opportunity to do everything within reason to improve your customers’ experience with your company.

Last but not least, the article noted:

So maybe instead of splurging on automated phone systems and software to analyze people’s buying patterns, or even on fancier robotic telephone answering technology, if companies want to invest in technology to actually improve customer service and retention they might be better served to first invest money in software that helps them hire better people who are more likely to stay.

Sure, anything to help someone select a better employee (once you define “better”) who will stick around longer is an advantage. Software that analyzes a person’s likelihood to steal has been around for some time. Written tests that examine personality traits in the same areas, even longer. Tests and software to analyze a service rep’s ability to relate to a frustrated client – even that is available.

Me? I think trivial day-to-day interactions and behavior are a good indicator, perhaps not of the likelihood of theft, but of something valuable to me: Initiative.

For example: When interviewing someone, I leave a balled up piece of paper on the floor between the entrance to the interview location and the chair where the person will sit. Doesn’t matter if the interviewee is cleaning staff, support or sales.

In plain view: a trash can.

Someone asleep at the wheel or without much initiative will walk in, perhaps glance at the paper, and leave the paper as is, or ask if I want them to pick it up. While asking is better than nothing, I don’t need more children. If you need permission to toss a wadded up piece of paper in the trash, you probably aren’t what I’m looking for.

Someone who shows a little initiative will pick it up and toss it in the can without a word. This is the minimal expectation if the interview is to have any meaning at all. Anything less than this and we’re just having a pleasant conversation.

Someone who is on the ball will pick it up and find a way to work it into the conversation – perhaps even recognizing that it’s a test, and ask about it. I haven’t experience that one yet.

Someone who knows me well would probably pick it up and toss it to (or at) me and ask me why I keep my office such a mess 🙂

PS: regarding the putt vs Tiger – all I can say is practice more often.

Corporate America Customer service Management Marketing

They know where you live. But do they care?

I was having lunch with a friend from Rotary a while back and he told me about an interesting encounter he’d had with a new bank that came to the area.

He said that this bank was new in town, but not new to banking. In fact, he’s had an account there for over forty years.

He contacted them after they had been open for a little while, primarily because they hadn’t contacted him. He found it a little odd that they hadn’t gotten in touch, especially given that he’d been a client since the 1960s. Like a lot of other banks, this bank has been bought and sold many times, but the original account is still there and he still gets statements in the mail here in the valley.

My friend tells me that he called the bank and mentions that he has had an account at a Minneapolis branch of the same bank for over 40 years. He tells the person who answers that he expected a call or a card in the mail to advise him of the opening of the new bank, but received nothing, thus the call.

After fishing for the response he expected (visit the bank, ask for his name, etc) and getting nowhere, he gets this reply to one of his questions: “Well, maybe you should open an account here. Bye.

He wasn’t asked about the account, much less how to reach him or if he wanted to transfer the account to the local branch. He wasn’t asked if he had specific questions.

They didn’t even bother to get his name.

So what should have happened?

This customer is a businessperson and has experience with mailing lists, customer databases and the like. He knew that he should have been contacted and why.

  • Why wouldn’t the bank run their database to find all the customers in this part of the state? It’s an ideal time to send them a series of mailings (a postcard, a card, a letter inviting him to a customer-only grand opening, etc) in order to get an existing customer onboard with your new staff, location, etc.
  • Why wouldn’t they invite the ones within an hour’s drive to come in to a special reception to introduce these customers to their personal banker? After all, they are used to dealing with the bank by phone and US mail from several states away.
  • Why wouldn’t they take the opportunity to make a personal appointment in order to open up a better relationship with an existing customer- in this case, a customer who despite being more than 1000 miles from their bank – still does business there after 40 years?

A friend of mine who used to run a bank here didn’t have an answer for me. I told him my story about never being contacted by my bank for over 5 years. I asked him why banks wouldn’t want to work harder to be better partners to business owners by actively working with them.

I suspect that the majority of business owners out there would respond positively to a note or a voice message like this: “Hey Joe, every 6 months or so we review the accounts of our best commercial clients just to make sure there isn’t some way we can help them with the financial aspects of their business. Do you have 15 minutes to meet over coffee so we can chat about a few things? I’ll meet you at your place, or wherever you like and we can go over a few things that might help you. I’m not trying to sell you anything, we simply like to make sure our business clients are as strong as we can help them become.

Someone is paying attention to your customers. Is it you?

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…

Automation Competition Customer service Management Marketing Retail Technology The Slight Edge

How businesses burn dollars saving dimes

fire.jpg“A Scout is Thrifty.” This Scoutmaster will ask that you notice that while “thrifty” is part of the Scout law, “foolish” or “leaves money on the table” are not.

One of the sad things I see when I visit some businesses is the lack of flexibility when payment time arrives.

One of your primary goals as a business owner is to remove any and all obstacles that might make it more difficult to buy, or to give the customer a reason or excuse to buy later, much less to leave.

Yet many business owners do just that – give their customers a reason to leave, or worse yet, a reason not to stop.

It’s especially prevalent with restaurants, probably because they feel that the credit card merchant fees eat into their small transaction sizes. I’ve seen numerous restaurant employees and EVEN THE OWNER act as if they are offended or annoyed because someone asked if they took credit or debit cards.

Nice introduction to the customer, wouldn’t you say?

In many cases, the ability to use a card is what provokes someone to choose your place over someone else’s.

In a tourist-driven economy like we have here in Montana, you’ve just got to be nuts not to take them.

People are traveling, they have limited cash (not your problem), they want to save their cash for places that only take cash and for emergencies, and so on. They want to use their credit or debit card.

Yet all they get is excuses like these…

Automation Competition Customer service Marketing Technology The Slight Edge

Even a car wash has a loyalty program. You should too.

Cincinnati-based Proctor and Gamble owns Mr. Clean car washes, an extension of their Mr Clean brand that expanded into the profitable car wash supply market a few years ago – and tripled the revenue from their oldest brand. Wouldn’t you like to triple the revenue from your oldest brand after 50 years? Count me in:)

Like any smart business, they have instituted a car wash loyalty program, which is briefly mentioned in a Cincinnati Enquirer story about the new car wash: ( archived at, just in case they delete the article )

Even though the Mr Clean car wash concept is new and only at one location so far, they’ve already signed up 400 loyalty program members.

I wonder if they are missing THE key element that is critical to their success in generating profits from a loyalty program…

Competition Corporate America Customer service Entrepreneurs Software Technology

“GE, We bring old browsers to life”

My wife is paying bills today. She comes into my office and tells me her browser doesn’t have enough encryption for one of the sites she’s using.

The GE page she shows me says that her browser isn’t secure enough. Riiiight.

See, her laptop runs Internet Explorer 7, which comes with 128 bit encryption right out of “the box”.

So I try it on my machine, which also runs IE7. Same error.

Annoyed, I try it on Firefox, which is my laptop’s primary browser.

Same error.

Seriously annoyed, I go downstairs to a test machine that still has Internet Explorer 6 on it – specifically left on IE6 so I can test things like this.

It gets past the security check, then does nothing. Just sits there. No spinning e, no movement at all. I try hitting the URL again.


This is the same company who makes jet engines that keep airliners in the air.

The same company that supposedly has a handle on millions of mortgages, auto finance contracts and so on.

Despite that…they have no IE7 support after almost a year, and no Firefox support.

On the bright side, as you can see from these screen shots, they do support “IE 4.0 and higher, Netscape and AOL 4.0”.

And the engine behind all this – one of the largest merchant processors on the planet: First Data.

Errors like the ones seen on this GE site are the kinds of things that kill online stores. A big corporation like GE doesn’t have to care, even though they should.

Big corporations are interesting critters.  Powerful, but not very nimble. Like the elephant.

Your business should be more like the cheetah. A bit less powerful. A lot more nimble.

Automation Customer service Management Sales Technology

Would you send a customer home for 48 hours?

One of my suppliers does.

See, 3 of the material suppliers to my wholesale business have online ordering.

One of them, naturally the one I use the most, is the one that I had never used online.

Sooo, when I got in a pinch for some supplies a few weeks ago, I figured that ordering online would be faster. Plus, it was after their normal business hours – the perfect time to make sure my order would be in the pipeline first thing in the morning…

Think again.

Customer service Management Montana

Don’t shoot the manager, fire ’em.

One last anecdotal lesson for the week regarding our trip to Shelby MT last weekend.

Dan often talks about people’s actions not being congruent with their stated desires. I like that word – congruent.

Behavior that isn’t congruent exactly describes a convenience store I was in this weekend.

The store is one of a chain owned by a large Montana corporation and is in what might be considered an “economically challenged” town – despite being 15 miles from one entrance to Glacier National Park and 30 miles from another.