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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.

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Customers: Not the enemy

If your customers are treated like the enemy when they give feedback about your products, services, customer service and so on; that’s exactly what they’ll become.

How are you treating your customers when something you did (or something they *perceive* of you) manages to set them off?

It’s easy to take it personally…but do your best not to.

The high-value feedback you might normally miss out on is hiding right behind the bluster.

It’s often the most valuable you’ll get. It’s coming from a customer who cares in a vulnerable moment.

Soak it in. Thank them. And take action.

PS: That doesn’t mean you let people become abusive. Defuse, then discover.

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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.”

Exactly.

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.

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Why is management tracking us? Evidence.

I‘ve been reading Joel Spolsky’s blog for a really long time.

So long that he’s sort of retired it, or at least changed it substantially from its earlier days.

There are some posts I return to frequently. The Joel Test being one of them.

The Joel Test is a simple 12 checkbox way to tell if your software company is serious about what it does. You may not agree with all of the items on the list, but there’s a darned good reason for each one of them.

Ship it on time is not in the vocabulary

One of the biggest problems software companies have is shipping a product on a schedule. On time, that is.

The biggest ones (Microsoft, Intuit, Apple and Adobe come to mind) seem to have figured most of this out, evidenced by annual releases of their mainstream products (eg: Office, QuickBooks, iTunes and Creative Suite). Naturally, everyone can think of an exception case for those 4 companies.

The rest – especially the smaller ones – seem to get sucked into a maelstrom of delivery problems. Part of the reason is that programming is a bit of an art and a science rolled into one.

Add management issues to that and you begin to see why the Joel Test is so important.

Bigger

Shipping on time requires far more than just discipline. It requires a system (or systems) for making things happen, or not happen.

Ultimately, this involves people and their performance – which varies widely from task to task.

Shipping on time requires that you know how long things take – and that this varies from task to task and person to person. Not the mythical man-month where we can get 9 pregnant women together to make a baby in a month (a classic software company problem), but the kind where we know that Joe, Sandy and Jerry produce different kinds of work results at different speeds – and that’s OK. Really.

This has applications in your business even if you don’t produce software.

Today’s guest post, Joel’s Evidence-Based Scheduling, discusses how collecting real-world information about how your folks work (and how their work environment works) isn’t just some evil management plan to cut back on the number and lengths of the bathroom breaks employees take, but in fact can be the secret sauce to setting deadlines that make sense to everyone and then going out there and ACTUALLY HITTING THEM.

Yes, all that noise you just heard is software developers and product managers worldwide hitting the floor, or their foreheads, or something.

Think about what it would mean to your business to be able to accurately schedule work and then DELIVER IT on time. Think about what it would mean to be able to do that time after time, despite changes in the work product you’ve been asked to produce (no matter what you do).

Why it’s OK to gather the evidence

Measuring the work you and your staff do serves your business well IF you do it and IF you use what you find to make your company better.

In some lines of work, measuring staff performance is considered evil and predatory and downright wrong. Those folks should be arguing against the poor methods used to measure the work, rather than the measurement itself. No matter what you use, some prognosticate that their work can’t be measured.

Horse hockey.

Again, please note that Joel’s article doesn’t talk about measuring so he can flog his poor staff, pay them less or belittle them. He simply does it so they can set a date to accomplish a task and have some sort of assurance that they’ll come close to hitting it.

Ultimately, gathering this “evidence” serves everyone – and especially the customer who buys their products. The company that can build complex products and services to spec on time and on budget might just have an edge, ya think?

Saying what you’ll do and then having the systems in place to help make sure you do what you said. How revolutionary.

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If I owned Amtrak

Some random thoughts that passed through my head during my recent Amtrak trip – which went fairly well.

I don’t warrant that they’ll all be winners, popular or successful. Just some brainstorming.

  • Showers. $5.
  • Real bathrooms, even if it means there are fewer of them. Despite being better than airliner bathrooms, women don’t really appreciate them in their current state – and neither do most men.
  • Way better facilities for disabled and less mobile persons. 24″ wide winding staircases and airline-style bathrooms at the bottom of those stairs say “Stay away” to a lot of people.
  • Add some family-friendly features. There are no diaper changing tables, no place for kids to mingle and play, no family-only cars where families could avoid things that they don’t want their kids to see at whatever age.
  • Rails. Man o man the continuous welded rail in the West smokes the rails elsewhere. Quieter, smoother, faster.
  • Add a middle business class. Right now, there’s coach and sleepers. There’s room for another tier in some areas I suspect.
  • Fix the low-end sleepers. Most people who have them comment about them being cramped and uncomfortable.
  • Text message the current train position, estimated arrival (relative to that position) to subscribed mobile devices.
  • Information stations on LCD panels in each car so you know where you are, what the next stop is, how long you’ll be there, what the dining car menu is, etc.
  • Wireless everywhere.
  • Electricity in the observation car and at every seat (currently, it tends to be one or the other. Very inconsistent.)
  • Business car? Meeting room?
  • High-speed solid rail in the interstate system’s median?

Net result?

When was the last time you brainstormed about your business? Or asked your customers to do so?

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Changes and Clipboards

While the world wrings its hands over the tax implications of LeBron James’ move to Miami, the rest of us didn’t even look up.

We’re working hard to create (or advance the progress of) our next big thing.

Meanwhile, the economy stumbles forward in some ways, races in others, and limps in still others. Change, both for the better and the worse.

Now is the time to take a look at all the processes in your business and see what can be eliminated (presumably not service, unless people don’t want it), what can be fine-tuned and what needs to be added.

Put a fine chamois on that

Even here at business process improvement’s global headquarters (or something like that), I can find things that need to be systemized or further refined.

For example, I noticed that some of the things I do didn’t have enough of a feedback loop in them. Sure, I ask but I really hadn’t formalized it into a system that *anyone* could use (even me before coffee). As a result, I’ve added a feedback loop in after every coaching session.

I realize that I needed to automate some additional parts of my follow up timeline by creating some tools to talk to QuickBooks and produce email, letters and a checklist of stuff for me to do based on recent sales, expirations of a period of time since a last sale (such as a coaching session), and so on.

Naturally, this is being pushed to my Google Calendar, so I get appropriately nagged by smartphone, iTouch and/or Things.

But you’re a lone eagle

Why did I do all that for a one dude office? Because things (lower case) get forgotten or fall between the cracks, no matter how big or small a business is. Putting these tools in place makes sure that I touch all the bases after hitting that home run.

Why is that important? Because it’s easy for the massively polished sales forces of organizations like Chet Holmes’ (who produces really good sales training materials) and George S. May (etc) to slip in under the radar and try to swipe a client from me. Or 10.

The same thing can happen to you. It’s easy to attract a local small business’ business until you goof up and drop the ball.

Clipboards

When I walk into a business and see 2 dozen yellow pads on clipboards hanging from a matrix of nails on the wall, I know there are balls being dropped.

I know it because those clipboards don’t scream at people who walk by and say “Dude, you haven’t called the customer on this page and told them that their order was delayed because it was damaged during shipment.”

Automated process management systems, even simple ones that “talk” to QuickBooks, can do that. At the very least, if you prefer a human touch (recommended), they will remind you and your staff to follow up (and tell you why). Better that you call before it was due and share the bad news now vs. sharing it 2 weeks after the promised delivery date.

That’s one way that the young whippersnapper (who is 52 and freshly laid off) gets in the door on you because they are more attentive, more timely and they follow up when it makes sense.

Kudos to them if they are on the ball rather than you. They’re hungry.

As long as they don’t forget as their business matures and the client list grows, you’re fighting a tough battle to supplant them.

Meanwhile, you’re fighting all those battles and dealing with inefficient business processes, it makes it that much harder to you (and/or your team, if you have one) to create that next big thing that’s going to be your Hank, LeBron, Junior or Martha.

Speaking of that big thing

You *are* working on or trying to advance your next big thing, right? You aren’t waiting for the economy to “turn”, I hope. Your next big thing is part of what produces that turn. If you’re too busy playing customer service Whack-a-Mole with a wall of clipboards, the time to create that next big thing is hard to find.

Is there something that needs some work? Put your Mark hat on. What could use a little chamois (or even a Sham-wow) to polish it up a bit?

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Do they listen?

One of the most valuable lessons that my dad taught me was also one of those dad quotes that I’ll never forget: “Be a good listener.”

It took me way too long to really get what he meant, and by then, it dawned on me that he meant many different things by it.

Among other things, it’s really hard to learn when your mouth is open.

Today’s guest post from Seth Godin goes momentarily to that same place – to the value of using bullhorns to communicate rather than being good listeners and having a conversation with their clientele.

The irony of his comment in that post is that Seth is in broadcast-only (bullhorn) mode on Twitter, posting only links to his blog posts. Likewise, he does not allow reader comments on his blog. It’s odd to see behavior that isn’t at all congruent with what he teaches, but it is what it is.

I think he’s wrong to be in broadcast only mode, even though I believe he’s right about the bullhorn.

Be a good listener and encouraging your staff to be the same – it’s always good business.

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Are you measuring the future or the past?

This was the story of Hurricane
Creative Commons License photo credit: cyberuly

Recently, I’ve found myself involved in a multitude of conversations about community benefit organizations and education.

Something Hildy said reminded me that I need to discuss running those two entities “like a business”.

One of the first things that you hear from business people after a story in the news about a failing school or wacko teacher is that schools need to run like a business.

Listen to the news about today’s natural disaster response (or some such) and you’ll hear the same about community benefit organizations (sometimes called non-profit or non-governmental organizations).

“Run them like a business and it’ll solve all your problems”, they say…in so many words.

Backlash

Of course, the next thing out of the mouths of some of the folks involved in education and community benefit (you might call them non-profit – a poorly chosen name) organizations is something like this:

“Oh, you mean like Enron, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers?” (or the currently top-of-mind business cretin of the moment)

Why yes, of course. That’s exactly what those silly business folks meant.

They have studied your troubles at length and have decided that it’s best to run your school district or your food bank like some sort of corrupt dictator, complete with automatic weapons, fast cigarette boats, and under the table money.

With that behind us, let’s get real.

Reality strikes

Seriously though, what does someone mean when they say they want to run your school or non-profit  “like a business”?

In the case of schools, let’s gloss over the likelihood that it probably means they don’t really get how complex a school district budget is, noting that it’s a recursive budget of budgets consisting minimally of bond funds, Fed and state monies and that oh-by-the-way annual operating budget.

Those oddball budgets are then scrambled a bit more by the goofy manner we’ve chosen to fund education: Head count, which produces oddball economies of scale of the type that few in business have to deal with.

In the case of the community org, the common mistake is assuming that all (or most) activities have to have a hard dollar return on investment – and that if it one can’t be found, they are failing somewhere, perhaps everywhere.

What they really mean about schools

I think much of this comes from a sense of low/no accountability, something that makes business owners nuts (oh just wait, we’ll come back to that).

Much of this comes from the news media. You see stuff about the teacher in Florida who slept with her 15 year old student, or stories of rooms full of bad teachers in NYC who are paid not to teach because they can’t be fired, or the litany of schools failing based on No Child Left Behind Act criteria and it isn’t long before it’s easy to stick em all in one bucket of non-accountability.

The obvious place for business people to start is “Why are you spending $ on that?” and “Why can’t you fire that bad teacher?” (contracts, legalities and the 17 conflicting definitions of “bad teacher” notwithstanding)

What they really mean about orgs

In the case of a non-profit (I had to use the term at least once), it often relates to the blank stare you often get when asking for standard business metrics, such as marketing leads, “sales” and return on investment.

The organization that measures their success on things that are hard-to-quantify financially is going to take some heat from people used to using standard metrics to gauge success. Even the ones I’m involved in often have a difficult time producing that info.

Questions of a future past

The big questions in all of this are:

  • What’s getting measured – and are those the right things to measure?
  • What are you doing with that information?
  • What does any of that have to do with what you’re REALLY trying to accomplish over the long haul?

Think about it… we measure teachers based on their students’ grades and test scores. Like tax returns, they indicate historical performance.

What do we do to measure future performance?

I’d like to be able to see trend info showing how various learner types do in each teacher’s class and how each type of student’s learning, problem solving and creativity advances as they experience each teacher type.

For example: Who is the most effective math teacher for 6th grade kids who learn visual/spatially and are reading 2 years below grade level? Why is that teacher so effective for that group? Why does that teacher fail to reach non-spatial/non-visual learners as well as other teachers? Why is he so effective with Asperger’s kids? Do these success trends change when they are teaching science or history? Why?

Do these patterns of success (or not) change based on race, income, family situation and other factors we can’t control? What controllable factors are impactful, if any – for this learner type? Have you tried addressing them? What happened?

Answer: They have no idea. But it isn’t entirely their fault. They’re forced to answer the wrong questions in order to find a way to balance their budget.

Is there a line of questions like that – about your business – that would transform your thinking from past performance (letter grades) to future performance? (matching learner types with teachers who are the most effective at teaching each type of learner)

The punch line: Considering that last question, are you truly running your *business* like a business?

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Things you’d never say to a CEO?

Today’s guest post is from Pragmatic Marketing and asks the question…

If you could say one thing to your company president without fear of reprisal, what would you say?

Here are the results.

The question is, what would your folks say to you…and are you big enough to let them do so?

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A not so little reason why American Airlines loses millions

While it would be easy to squeeze them off one by one, I won’t go into all the obvious reasons.

This one is a bit more subtle but just as deadly to a company. The really poisonous thing is that attitudes like this come from the top down and they are CYA’d all the way up the food chain.

Further comment on this whole airline thing will come in a future post, but for now, just check out Dustin’s experience in today’s triple feature guest post from Dustin Curtis.

Your takeaway?

Two things:

First, little things matter. Ever watch someone try to use your product or website? Ever watch them try to find information in your brochure or find the milk in your store? You make them crazy. Really. Just watch them, but don’t say I didn’t warn you – it’ll make *you* crazy until you fix your business.

Second, customer feedback matters. If you can’t fix it in an hour, a day or a week, people generally understand if you’ll just take the time to tell your story. On the other hand, if you don’t respond or you respond rudely, they’ll remember it for years and tell everyone they know. Not that difficult, yet all too rare.

PS: Dustin – Yeah, I know. The blog badly needs a redesign.

Tomorrow, more from Dustin. Why? Because he understands that little things matter, even to the sweaty guy in the last row on JetBlue.