Competition Customer service Management Marketing Montana Positioning Retail Small Business Strategy systems Word of mouth marketing

Do you know why you lost that client? I do.

Last week, a story in one of our local papers noted that a local business had lost a customer that they had served for thirty years.

Thirty years is a long time to have a customer. That’s really impressive.

This big, regular customer accounted for a major portion of this local business’ revenue.

When the owner of that business was interviewed about the loss of that big customer – one of the largest businesses of that kind in our area – the owner said he was “dismayed” that he wasn’t given the opportunity to re-bid, and offer lower prices or enhanced service.

The straw that broke the backs of 1000 camels? He followed that with “They went with <the other vendor> for reasons I don’t know, I was flabbergasted.”

I’ve been in that business several times in the last 9 years. The store looks like it hasn’t changed in 30 years. It sends a signal that the rest of the business is probably operated similarly.

If you were in the retail Catholic goods business, Ian would have a field day with you. It’d be like game 7 of the 2008 NBA Finals. You’d be down 30 points before you knew it and the Celtics would be putting in retired players from the 1960’s to mop up the floor with you.

But that isn’t why you lost that big customer.

I know exactly why you lost the business.

You don’t have a relationship with them.

Your comments prove it. I suspect that you kept that customer for a long time because “they’d always done it that way”, but that is just a guess.

I verified that lack of a relationship by following the trail of evidence, and asking a few questions. I was told that your old customer approached the new vendor for help, saying they were unsatisfied with you.

That too is obvious, just from your comments in the article.

When you’ve had a customer for thirty years, and they have become 20-25% of your revenue stream, what in the world kept you from offering them “enhanced service” well before this happened?

If you could lower prices (or offset that by adding value) in order to put an iron cage around this customer so you’d never lose them…why didn’t you?

How could you NOT know that they were unhappy with you? After 30 years, you should have keys to the place. You should have your own coffee mug in their break room.

Ok, maybe keys is a little overboard, but still – you should have a good first name basis, personal relationship with the owner and management of that business.

And you should have known the business part of the relationship was broken long before it hit the papers. Long before you made that customer so frustrated that they felt asking you for help was a lost cause, so they asked your competitor.

Yet you are “flabbergasted” at the reason for losing that customer. And you blame that other business for being ruthless.

Look in the mirror. That’s whose fault it is.

For everyone else reading this: Which customer are YOU taking for granted?

Community Competition Employees Leadership Legal Management Marketing Montana Photography Politics Positioning Public Relations Small Business Strategy Word of mouth marketing

Can you really reserve the right to refuse service?

With the recent same-sex marriage ruling in California, more and more businesses are going to be faced with making serious, perhaps business/life-altering decisions about their operations – assuming they haven’t already.

One excellent example is the case of New Mexico wedding photographers who refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony in 2006.

Earlier this year, the state of New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission ruled that they had violated the rights of the gay couple who called to inquire about their photography services, and fined them $6600.

It’s easy to think in hindsight that if they were uncomfortable – for any reason – shooting the ceremony, they could have simply said “We are booked that day, sorry.

The problem is, do you also lie when the Catholic couple calls, or the bi-racial couple calls, or the Muslim couple, or the white couple, or the Jewish couple, or the Republican couple? Before long, you’re left to photographing parakeets, as long as they promise to behave:)

Seriously, I don’t mean to equate any of these groups with each other, much less with the parakeet, but the exaggeration (perhaps) makes the point clearer.

Does the context matter?

We recently talked about firing clients, in the context of them being abusive to my staff. Is that any different? What if that client had sued, saying he had the right to say whatever he wanted and still acquire our software?

Last week, Blackstar Rising blogger and professional wedding photographer Sean Cayton discussed the issues surrounding same-sex wedding photography. His comments were in the context of “if I do business with group A, will I lose the business of group B” and noted that he was watching the situation as he figures out what to do.

We’ve seen this here in Montana a little bit, as a Great Falls pharmacy decided to stop carrying birth control pills a while back, citing moral objections.

Note that they also made it clear that their profit and sales volume of those items were small and that was also part of the decision. True or not, are you obligated to carry EVERY drug, even if it doesn’t sell well? Some might question your real reasons for stopping those sales.

And that gets us to the real question…

Is it possible NOT to offend?

What is a business owner to do?

These days, in some business sectors, it’s almost impossible not to offend SOMEONE simply by opening for business in the morning. Others because they go camping with Boy Scouts, or go to the Catholic church, or volunteer at the UN Association, or carry a Sierra Club membership card, and so on.

In a lot of ways, this goes back to having your business well thought out. Knowing who your customer is, and who they aren’t. Knowing yourself, because you have to expect in today’s business and political climate, you are going to take crap for things you take part in, much less for things you feel strongly about.

And remember that it isn’t just you. Your staff plays a significant role here. It’s not hard to imagine that a religious goods store owner would try pretty hard not to hire an atheist, but they would have to be very careful how they figure that out without breaking employment law.

Yeah, with all those links, I’m sending you all over the place to ponder the impact of this, and perhaps, give you a few things to think about before one of these situations catches you unprepared. Strategically, and personally, it makes sense to have as much of this figured out as you can – but sometimes, that’s not how life is.

If you refuse service, even if it is your right, how will the market react?

Are you prepared financially and personally to deal with the outcome? Is your business structured so that you can turn away business that you don’t want. If you don’t want it (whatever IT is), is there another way to deal with those prospect?

For starters, referring them to a competitor that delivers great quality is the minimum you owe them.

Remember, your marketing and your reputation – both built intentionally – is likely what caused them to contact you. Hanging up on them because they were attracted by your success is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

When you hang out a shingle, you invite the public to deal with you. None of us is perfect, least of all, me.

How you react to the folks who “bother you” – regardless of the reason – is just as important as how you react to your ideal client.

Both deserve courtesy.

Corporate America Education Ethics Legal Management Marketing Public Relations Restaurants Small Business Word of mouth marketing

How to tick off a big group of customers

Homeschoolers do what they do for a number of reasons.

Some dont like the local schools. Some homeschool so they can include religious teachings in the curriculum, or to avoid stuff in the public school curriculum that contradicts their faith.

Some do so because their child has something going on that might not help them succeed in public school. Some do so simply because they can – who wouldnt want to spend an extra several years with your kid, all day long, if you could?

Today’s guest post is from Ian over at Musings from a Catholic Bookstore, where he talks about the business lessons that the folks over at Subway missed while implementing their misguided campaign for school kids.

Me? I’m cooking for 80 or so folks at the Order of the Arrow Ordeal weekend near Bigfork, MT. See you Monday.

Blogging Media Photography Positioning Small Business Social Media Word of mouth marketing

Best Seat in the House shows why you should be blogging

It may not be clear from the things I talk about here, but I enjoy photography. I shoot some scenic stuff, like the photo at the top of this page and I shoot a lot of sports and community stuff.


When it comes to sports, I’ll shoot baseball, soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, football, etc – and I don’t really mind how young or old the participants are. I’ve been on the field to shoot major college football and basketball, and I’ve been on the field to shoot the Columbia Falls 6th grade football team.

As a result of the photography thing, one of my favorite blogs is Best Seat in the House by Seattle Times sports (mostly) photographer Rod Mar.

This post about golf, Caddyshack and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle was typical of Mar’s fun and informative (to photographers) posts. I suspect that if you asked Rod, he’d say that he isn’t a writer – and that’s my point.

In order to blog, you don’t have to be an expert writer with 12 books under your belt (that’d be uncomfortable, much less unsightly).

Instead, you just have to have a conversation with your readers.

When you educate, annoy, incite and entertain your readers, you develop a personal relationship with them (more accurately, they develop one with you).

Isn’t that what you want your customers to have with your business and your staff?

Amazon Competition ECommerce Ethics Management Media Public Relations Word of mouth marketing

Amazon launches their weapon of mass destruction, steps on the long tail of independent authors

No Known Restrictions: President Woodrow Wilson Addresses Congress, 1917 (LOC)
photo credit:

People continue to have this idea that companies like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Starbucks and Microsoft are bulletproof.

Folks, it just isn’t so. You might also have thought that UCLA was bulletproof Thursday night against Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, except that no one told WKU about it. Top-seeded UCLA pulled it out in the last 4 minutes, after leading 12th seeded WKU by only 4 points with 5 minutes remaining.

David and Goliath plays out every day, if David is clever enough.

These big companies that small business owners love to complain about are great at building giant customer lists and then turning right around and crapping in their corn flakes. They do it everyday. All you have to do is look around (one of the reasons I mentioned the Google Alerts thing yesterday).

It’s Amazon’s turn. They just got punched in the word of mouth.

What am I talking about?

The Amazon print on demand (POD) story at

And the Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, Washington Post, TechCrunch, Computerworld and Publisher’s Weekly. And so on.

Before you think that this only affects big print on demand publishers, don’t forget that little (and some not so little) independent authors sometimes see the bulk of their sales via Amazon and POD.

If there are fewer authors able to sell on Amazon (because of their demands), what happens? Does the record industry try to do this next? They’ve already lost control, but there is leverage out there if they want to use it (movies, for one).

What about your ISP? Perhaps they will require that all websites updated from your DSL account must be hosted with their web hosting services. They can easily control this.

The upside is that the market always has a way of sorting this stuff out. Somewhere out there, there’s a little print on demand house just rubbing their hands together.

Oh yeah, and I just realized that my Google Alerts are not covering enough bases.

Competition Creativity Motivation Word of mouth marketing

Do your customers’ eyes light up when you deliver your products and services?

Why not? If you know more than the customer about your product, isn’t your obligation to expose them to the newest, coolest, greatest stuff in your line of work?

Photographer Ron Rovtar thinks so, and I certainly agree. His guest post is over at photography business blog Blackstar Rising.

Ron talks about not only giving your customers what they want, but exceeding their expectations by giving them things they didn’t even know they wanted.

I know you’ve seen your customers’ eyes light up from time to time. Find ways to do it more often and they’ll talk about your business even more than they do now.

Creativity Marketing Media Public Relations Word of mouth marketing

Using Libby’s good news to promote your wood stove business

woodstove2.jpg Last week, the EPA announced that air quality in Libby, Montana had significantly increased. Libby is the home of Montana’s asbestos Superfund site thanks to the W.R. Grace company’s vermiculite mine located there.

The AP article included comments from University of Montana professors who have studied pollution levels in Libby, from industry spokespeople, and from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The article continued, speaking of the improved indoor air quality and efficiency of the stoves, and how they burn much less wood than in the past.

Again, this was NEWS, not a press release from the wood stove industry.

If you own a wood stove store, this is an ideal time to comment on the article to your local paper. Issue a press release to the local radio and TV stations with your slant on the article. You just might get called for a brief interview.

By the way…they don’t charge for airtime when they interview you. They simply make you the apparent expert on the topic. I mean, what self-respecting radio station would call the “dumb stove guy” to ask questions on the air?

What are you waiting for?

How do you use the news to promote your business?

Customer service Word of mouth marketing

Thinking like a geek – bad idea in ThinkGeek’s case

This Sunday’s “guest post” is from none other than Matt Mullenweg, the purveyor of the open-source (eg, free) system responsible for this blog (and millions like it), ie: WordPress.

Matt’s post from Jan 7 describes an unexpected encounter with ThinkGeek’s lame wishlist feature, but what really jumped out at me was the passive aggressive “poster geek” response he got from their customer service team.

Note to geeks: Go ahead, be surly – but it’s a really bad idea to have grumbly people on your customer service staff.

Made worse is the fact that these grumbly folks are giving those kinds of responses to an A-list blogger (ie: lots and lots of people read his blog) whose posts automatically appear on the admin page of almost every WordPress blog in existence.

Not the kind of word of mouth marketing anyone wants – especially in exactly the market that is most prone to order from ThinkGeek.

UPDATE: (Jan 21, 2008): As you can see in the comments to this post, Matt has received apologies, so to ThinkGeek’s credit – they did something once it was called to their attention. So what’s next, as Jen from ThinkGeek asks in the comments?

Seems to me the thing to do is move toward regular training of the customer service staff, take steps to identify the passive aggressives in the bunch (and find something less customer-facing for them to do if they can’t tone it down), and of course, always be monitoring your support interactions for warning signs, or worse.

It shouldn’t take an encounter with an A-list blogger like Matt for these things to get done, and of course, its possible that they are being done and this incident just slipped through the quality control cracks. But…I guess that’s the real point here. One poorly-timed mistake can get your company on the admin page of every WordPress blog, much less on an A-list bloggers radar. One poorly-timed mistake can tick off the wrong client, and cost you major league revenue over that client’s lifetime.

Being ever-vigilant about how your clientele is simply a must. Part of being ever-vigilant is doing exactly what Jen did. Following up after a mistake.

Corporate America Creativity Marketing Word of mouth marketing

Flying with Tim the Moose

alaska12.jpgIt’s hard to find anyone in the airline business these days who has a sense of humor. Not even Southwest Airlines is even close to as much fun as they used to be. But…at least one is trying.

I recently made reservations for the Rotary President-Elect Training Seminar (PETS) in Seattle (yes, they talked me into it again), and rather than spend 16-20 hours driving it in March, I decided to fly.

Imagine my surprise when my browser showed the image above. It’s the ‘waiting message’ displayed in your browser while their system looks up plane seats, flight costs, etc. The little hoof prints even go left to right as you wait. There were plenty more, all different, none boring, most at least mildly entertaining.

Inane? Hardly. When I confirmed my booking, I was actually looking forward to what they’d do next, plus they were smart enough to customize the wait message for my destination. My wait message referred to Seattle and said that Tim (that’s the moose) always looked for parks with tall grass. They are paying attention to the little details, which gives me high hopes for the flight experience as well.

Word of mouth has already gotten Tim’s message to you. I’ll bet if you saw the messages, you’d mention them to someone else.

All this, from an airline? What a pleasant surprise.

If they can be fun and avoid being boring, surely you can too. Surprise your customers.

Customer service Strategy Word of mouth marketing

How do you get your clients to talk?

Today’s guest post comes from Andy Sernovitz, who talks about the results of a brainstorming session to generate great word of mouth marketing ideas.

The neat thing about this is that it’s a step well beyond what most of these places do now – even though what they do now isn’t completely ordinary.

They’ll give you elaborate instructions and prepare you far better than most medical businesses will do. For example, a friend of mine came back from the well-regarded Lasik place in Calgary (thrilled with the work on her eyes) and said that they “even thought to tell her to bring a $20 bill to pay for the cab that they’d have waiting for her”.

In fact, they told her to put it in a pocket by itself so she could find it easily, and to have the hotel address written down for the cab driver since she wouldn’t necessarily be able to see well when she left the eye doctor’s office.

Smart, but they didn’t go far enough.

They could have taken her back to the hotel themselves in their specially branded vehicle. I suspect their attorney or insurance provider quashed that idea. One accident would eat up a lot of eye surgery profits.

A step farther? Read Andy’s post.

I suspect you’d tell someone about that experience. I know I would.