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Adobe misses the outsourcing boat

2 of 3 Coast Guard 47' Motor Lifeboat performs storm exercises in wild surf at Morro Bay
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

Would you find it odd if McDonald’s outsourced their burger cooking to Joe’s Diner or Burger King? What about Global Burger Associates?

If they did so, would they know if the quality of their food dropped?

What’s my point? My point is that you don’t farm out core competencies.

While I hadn’t noticed it because I haven’t asked them for customer service help in years, Adobe recently posted an open letter to their customers about the quality of their customer service in recent times.

The letter discusses the fact that they have a new global services vendor and how they are quickly working to get this vendor up to speed.

Sad, really.

Not that outsourcing thing, though that is unfortunate – regardless of who is doing the work.

What’s sad is that this work isn’t viewed as important enough to handle it themselves, ie: with Adobe employees.

I’ve heard all the arguments. IMO, they’re all wrong.

As wrong as liver-flavored ice cream

Farming out your customer service and support to some other company is just plain stupid. Not only that, it ignores the asset that customer service and support are.

You just don’t farm out an asset like customer service to another company.

What data are they missing by outsourcing support/service duties to another company?

It’s possible that they have access to the database, but is it integrated with their own customer/order database?

Can their developers access this remote system when they need to find out what is causing their customers’ pain?

Can their developers meet face to face with the support staff when dealing with an issue of substantial magnitude?

I don’t know. Maybe. My guess is “sorta” rather than “No”.

But those answers would be “Yes” if they felt it was important enough to do it themselves.

Assets, not liabilities

If you have 5,000 customer service employees who can provide great care for your customers and your competition has 5,000 outsourced customer service contractors who can provide great care for their customers – who has the assets?

Who can leverage the skills they have in-house? Who is building a base of employees with in-depth product and customer knowledge? Aren’t those the people you want to promote in order to strengthen your company?

Not the outsourced one.

Customer service and support are not an expense to be outsourced to the low bidder, nor to that “premium global services” vendor down the street or across the globe.

They’re an asset to care for, leverage and tend to with the utmost respect, just like your customers.

No, it isn’t easy. If it was easy…anyone could do it.

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Your customer’s pet peeve

This post discusses one of them:

Inconsistency is a good one, but…yours might be different.

I don’t mean your pet peeve, I mean that thing your business does to irritate your customers. Or those things. Multiple annoyances.

How often do you irritate a customer?

Daily. Hourly. Every other minute. Right now?

How many customers a day do you manage to tick off or at least mildly annoy?

What the heck are you thinking?

There’s a top secret, super-duper method for solving this problem. It takes years to gain the expertise to pull this off…or not.

The secret? Ask them.

They’ll be more than happy to tell you.

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The power of measurement

Despite Chris’ assertion that information wants to be free, some of it just isn’t. Sorry.

In fact, some information is worth far more than the paper it is printed on (or the pixels it lights up).

For example, imagine that your company publishes technical articles. Short, sweet, fine-tuned to a specific purpose for a very specific audience.

The trick is making money from them, so maybe you’ve found that the best way to do that for your company (vs all other models) is to charge for access to your publication.

The Wall Street Journal does this. So does Investor’s Business Daily, as do a number of publications (online or print) in technical fields like auto mechanics, programming and FOREX trading.

Prove it

One of the biggest challenges these firms have is proving their publication’s worth at renewal time.

When renewal time comes up, or the charge appears on the credit card bill, the customer thought process goes something like this:

Come on, why should I pay $300 a year for a technical investing article resource when I can find everything Google has indexed for free?

The answer these businesses might commonly respond with include some of these:

  • Because it’s well-indexed so you can quickly find the exact trading info you need.
  • Because it has a search engine that understands investing terminology so you can quickly find exactly what you need
  • Because our publication is fine-tuned to the audience’s investing style (or whatever). It’s as if it was written solely for day traders with between $4200 and $6500 to trade per day.
  • Because it includes proven step-by-step guides for trading without losing my shorts (pun intended).

All of that is warm, fuzzy but not so exciting.

#3 and #4 aren’t bad but #1 and #2 are Google’s domain. They get better at it every day and paying you for it is going to get less and less likely unless you are much, much better at it in your specialty area.

I got your proof right here

Bottom line, almost all of that is pretty subjective. Bean counters (and spouses?) want hard numbers: “Why do you need this?”

Why not let them tell you?

If your article instructs them and provides them with a skill or offers a way to discover a new technique, make sure your feedback mechanisms (on the site or whatever) allow a way to say “Dude, this article saved me 2 or 3 days of struggling with this task”.

And yeah, it’s a lot like a Digg or a reTweet, but it’s more accurate than that.

The mechanism that works for you might need to be a number they can type in, or it might be a radio button with selections like “Waste of my time”, “Saved me maybe an hour”, “HUGE, DUDE. This got me back on track after a week”.

Whatever it is, it provides them with a way to tell you how much time, money, etc your information, your service, your product, your help saved them.

Think about where you could go with that info, even if it is largely anecdotal and not scientifically defensible.

If you have 100 clients and they (on average) provide feedback via a mechanism like this that says you save them 112 hours per year, seems to me that your prospects might want to know that information.

It also seems like it would be a great way to totally defuse the “your price is too high” argument (and maybe a number of others).

It might tell you how outrageous you can make your money-back guarantee. If it’s 30 days but it should be a year or 5 years, these numbers will give you some insight into it.

Who knows, you might even find out that your pricing and your value proposition are in vastly different places.

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The wisdom of setting expectations from a 17 year old bacon lover

Best sign ever
Creative Commons License photo credit: miss_rogue

Last week I was at summer camp with the Scout troop so things were a bit quiet here.

Normally I would have posted a series of posts written in advance, but I thought both of us needed a break. Break time is over, so let’s get back at it.

As always, there are lessons in business to bring home from camp, often from unexpected places.

Like a 17 year old in the dining hall.

Before I get to that, the story requires a few facts to get you into the proper context:

  • Boy Scouts would eat bacon at every meal for a week if you’d let them. No, I am not kidding.
  • Bacon is a sneaky way of getting the boys to learn that cooking sometimes requires patience and that a camp stove’s burners have settings other than “Off” and “Blast furnace”. When a boy sees a perfectly cooked strip of bacon, they can respect the care that was taken to prepare it (right before they inhale it, that is).
  • At Scout camp, two things are essential: Good food and a great staff. If either one is bad, that camp will not be fondly remembered.

Now that you are properly educated, here’s the story.

Real Bacon? Are you nuts???

One morning at breakfast, the camp offered bacon to the 200+ campers and staff in attendance.

If you’ve been to Scout summer camp before, you know this is rare because of the expense and because it is difficult to cook bacon for 200+ people while having it anywhere close to hot when served and most importantly – in that situation, it is rarely cooked right.

Typically you find summer camp bacon limp and undercooked or charred and/or some combination of both – sometimes with all those conditions occurring on the same piece (again, not kidding – would I kid about bacon?).

Add to that, summer camp bacon is not normally what Mom and Dad would serve, instead it’s often some tiny strip of paper-thin re-cooked bacon. Pfft.

As folks head through the line on this fine morning, people are seen coming back to their seats with 3 strips of bacon – a rather unheard of serving size at summer camp.

Not only are they giving out 3 strips, but these strips are monstrous (OK, maybe they’re normal – but that’s shocking enough) *and* they are perfectly cooked.

Then the worst happens: They run out of bacon.

Folks, this is like running out of beer and pork products at an LSU home football game. Riots are possible.

The Great Bacon Fiasco

At our table, the event already has a name: “The Great Bacon Fiasco”. And you thought I wasn’t kidding about Scouts taking bacon seriously…

People are coming back to their seats with zero bacon and they are watching someone at the next table munch gleefully on 3 strips of porcine heaven.

Apparently some miscommunication occurred with the servers, who gave out 3 strips vs 2, thereby blowing the bacon budget.

The only thing stopping the second coming of the South Central Riots is that the head chef can be seen (through the service window) at the back of the kitchen where she has the entire griddle covered with cooking bacon.

Calmer heads prevail and eventually, 2 strip servings begin to go out to those who were previously left out.

Naturally, those in the Two Strip Club are grumbling – mostly because they know those other lucky dudes got 3 pieces.


Not long after everyone is served, the crazy dude announcing the meal (trust me, gotta be there) announces that seconds will be served and he goes around table by table releasing folks to the seconds line so they can “get their pork on”.

Upon returning from the seconds line, my senior patrol leader (ie: the youth in charge of the troop) sits down with 1 strip of bacon. Perfectly cooked, but terribly lonesome. Everyone who went up for seconds got 1 more slice – which makes perfect sense so that the maximum number of people get seconds.

Problem is, a kid who would normally be happy to have received a 3rd, perfectly-cooked strip of bacon is instead mildly annoyed, or disappointed, or something along those lines.

His bacon-inspired wisdom: He remarks that everyone who only got 2 strips would be far less grumpy if they had given everyone 2 strips from the outset and then given out that same 1 strip second serving to anyone who wanted seconds.

Wiser than his years might reveal, the young man understands how setting expectations works – whether it’s with bacon, product delivery, service, follow up or what not.

What kind of expectations does your business set? Do they meet or exceed what is delivered?  Would altering one impact the reception of the other?

Pass the bacon.

PS: If the bacon thing doesn’t resonate with you, substitute latkes. Same fervor, different food.

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Surfing the Riptide of Customer Service, part 3

In part 3 of our series (start at Part One here), my friend’s story about his customer service experience continues on the phone with Apple Store continues on the phone…

So I begin to explain, yes, of course, there are ways to make appointments without my needing to sit at a computer. So, she transfers me to corporate help on the national level.

There, after a host of menus, I’m not getting far. So I answer in my best Cajun accent knowing that they’ll send me to someone who is bilingual. Sure enough, a young lady comes on the line.

She explains that she, too, can’t take an appointment. I explain to her that she has a computer, she has the URL, of course she can take an appointment. She can fill in the blanks and I’ll tell her what goes in them. She says, yes, of course she can do that.

Then she says, “There are no available appointments for a few days.”

So I said, … let’s be clear. I’m in your local store. I tell the lady I’m coming through on Wednesday afternoon and what time. She says I have to dial a phone number to set up the appointment and I can’t do it until a day or two before Wednesday. I do that. Then I find out that a day or two isn’t far enough ahead. And that the phone number doesn’t allow me to set up an appointment either. And then I remember that toy I really wanted for my 4th birthday and I channel all of that pain into the phone call.

She says, “Just drop in, find the manager, explain what happened on Sunday and today and she’ll take care of you.”

Cool. I give her the “human engineering talk” about the touch tone system as well.

So at this point, if you are the call center person, how do you relay to your corporate IT/communications group that there is an obvious problem in the phone menus? Many small companies lack a trouble ticket reporting system for people at this level. It might get written on a Post It note and referred to someone later, or it might be forgotten.

Just a thought…

If the next customer to deal with this problem buys iPhones for a Fortune 500 company, what’s the potential cost to Apple and AT&T?

If the next person to fall into your trap does so because you don’t have a solid mechanism for reporting, tracking, fixing and getting user feedback from your own people – what could that cost you?

How big is your biggest customer? That’s how much a simple customer service problem could cost you.

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Surfing the Riptide of Customer Service, part 2

Naruto whirlpool
Creative Commons License photo credit: MShades

Last time, we talked about the start of an unfortunate experience with Apple customer service.

Let’s continue the story with the joy of a voice mail phone tree. Click here to read part one of this story.

Watch for the one failure point – the one place that takes the customer off the customer service highway and pushes them into the maze.

The young lady handed me a card, said call that number a day or so before I was dropping in, and everything would be cool.

Off I went.

Wednesday night, I was planning on returning to the city. So, Tuesday, while driving around, I call the number on the card. “For this problem, press 1. For this problem, press 2. For this problem, press 3. For an appointment …” so I pressed 4. And the menu started again.

Must not have stuck.

“For an appointment …” I hit the 4 again. The menu starts. I press 4, Bye bye. It hangs up.

Well, I remember my old Windows phones would sometimes not give the button tone on a call and calling back worked. So, I do it again. 4 … menu starts again. I press 0 … hangs up.

So, this time I _really_ listen.

“For an appointment, go to this website blah blah. For anything else, press 5.”


4 doesn’t work. The 4th option is the only option that you can’t press a sequential number for. Somebody in human engineering dropped the ball.

I press 5.

A person in the Apple store answers and I explain I want to make an appointment. “Yes sir, here’s the URL” … uh, I don’t have a computer. I’m in my truck. I just need to make an appointment. “I’m sorry. You can’t make an appointment that way.”

If someone was standing in front of you, would you tell them to go home and get online to make an appointment? Of course not.

You have the customer on the phone and tells them to hang up and do something else to make an appointment? They are right in front of you, just as if they are standing in your store. What in the world would make you think the ideal thing to do is send them on their way?

I hope I don’t have to elaborate on the inane nature of a request like this. Clearly a failure in design of the service appointment process. Employees need to be empowered with systems that allow them to deal with this situation.

Next time, we’ll see where this mess continues and learn another lesson from Apple.

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Dreaming not just OK, it’s essential.

Early in the movie “Dances with Wolves”, the Sioux tribe elders are discussing what to do about John Dunbar, Kevin Costner’s character in the movie.

Costner plays a lone Army scout at a remote outpost in the western plains.

The tribe had just discovered his presence earlier that day and the elders were discussing what to do around the chief’s fire.

After listening for some time, as chiefs tend to do, the chief talks about finding one man in the middle of the wilderness all by himself. He wonders if the man has “medicine” because he seems unafraid of being out in the plains in the middle of nowhere, despite being all alone.

When John Dunbar asked for this remote duty, he had no idea what he was in for and it just sounded interesting to him, so he did it. Kevin Costner’s character was an entrepreneur, in Army terms. A dreamer (but also a doer).

Dreaming is OK, really.

A while back, someone called me a dreamer. It almost felt derogatory, but I know it wasn’t intended that way.

What bothered me then and still bothers me to this very moment is that this person left me with the idea that they felt dreaming was a bad thing.

A thing to be avoided, or best case, a thing for children rather than entrepreneurs. I couldn’t disagree more.

I really donâ??t know what caused this person to lose that part of themselves, but I see a lot of that these days and it concerns me.

Recovery is in OUR hands

You see, I believe that the dreamers are the ones who fuel things like economic recovery.

Presidents donâ??t do it. Congressional Representatives donâ??t do it. Senators donâ??t do it.

Business people and their customers do it.

Dreaming isn’t enough

It takes more than a dreamer though. It takes a dreamer who is also a doer. Without action, a dream is not worth much.

A big thinker who does little more than think and doesn’t share their brilliance or find a doer to implement their great idea isnâ??t nearly as important (in my mind at least) as someone who isnâ??t quite so brilliant, but gets out of their chair every day and makes things happen.

It simply isnâ??t enough to sit here and think “What if?”

There HAS to be action.

Often, part of being an entrepreneur is not always knowing what’ll be there when you arrive.

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Why Gary Vaynerchuk watches and listens. What about you?

Today’s guest post comes from WineLibraryTV’s Gary Vaynerchuk, the gregarious crown prince of online wine merchants.

Today, Gary talks about what he does with feedback – of all kinds – both the kind he agrees with, and the kind he doesn’t – and why both have their place.

How do you handle public criticism like Gary discussed?

How does your staff handle it?


And finally, do you even know when someone is talking about your business online?