Categories
Competition Customer service Employees Leadership Management Marketing Small Business

Firing a client

I had dinner with a client night before last and that topic was one of the things we very much agree on – when to send a client along to another vendor.

His story was not unusual. You’ve all probably had it happen to you in one form or another.

A new client left voice mail and email asking about a new purchase before the new purchase was completed, and both messages were laced with F bombs and similar colorful language.

Result: That new client was advised to go elsewhere, which was a good choice in my mind. Clearly that client’s behavior was not likely to get nicer.

Back in my photo software days, we had a fairly standard license agreement that we asked people to sign.

One of the reasons we did this was to make sure they actually read it. The best surprise is no surprise, as Holiday Inn used to say.

The other reason was that we included another page with the legalese license agreement. That page set the expectations for their use of the software and for their relationship as a client with us.

It also set our expectations of their behavior.

For example, we required that they use a battery backup on their server. We also expected them to backup their data daily (and provided a free tool for that purpose). Both of these things were for their own good, so that they would have the best possible experience with software that ran their entire business.

We wanted to make this point up front, before bad things happened to their data because of lightning, theft etc – hopefully so those things would never be a business killer.

More importantly, we defined exactly what would happen if they called us, faxed us or emailed us. We defined what an emergency was from our perspective and told them exactly how to report one so that it would get treated like an emergency (and of course, not to treat everything that way).

One guy called up and refused to sign the agreements. He insisted that we ship him the software, which he had just paid for, and said that signing the agreements was a waste of his time.

During this process, he felt the need to scream at one of my staff members over the phone – about 2 signatures. As you might imagine, he had spent more time arguing about the signatures than it would take to simply read and sign the agreements and have someone fax them to us.

I got on the phone and told him that we would be refunding his payment immediately and that no software would be shipped. I then told him why this was happening. End of discussion. It didn’t matter if he told 100 people. Those people would already know he was a jerk, or they’d agree. Either way, it wasn’t going to cost us a dime.

More importantly, I wasn’t going to allow people to talk to my staff like that and I wanted my staff to know that there was a flip side to my extremely high expectations for their service and support work: That they’d only have to deal with an abusive jerk once.

They knew to transfer the call to me, or ask to continue the call later when they had calmed down. If that happened, I would call them back and discuss their inappropriate behavior with them.

Either they would call and apologize to my staff member (and every one of them did), or I would terminate the relationship and refund their $, no matter how long they had been a client. Never had to do that. Came close once and the guy chilled out when he figured out I was dead serious.

My staff was the bread and butter of the business. Without them, I’d be the bald, insane guy drooling on my keyboard at the end of a 75 phone call customer support day.

Life is too short to do business with abusive jerks. Those are great people to send to your competitors.

Categories
Blogging Competition Marketing Positioning Small Business Social Media Web 2.0

7 more reasons why small business owners should blog

Today’s guest post is from Church of the Customer. Ben discusses 7 reasons why small business owners should blog, and provides a few dos and don’ts for the new blogger.

Enjoy.

Categories
Competition Corporate America Customer service Leadership Management Marketing Positioning Pricing Small Business

American Airlines tests the law of unintended consequences

American Airlines has had only a few advertising slogans over the last several decades.

  • We know why you fly. We’re American Airlines. (Uh, because it takes too long to drive?)
  • Something special in the air. (It was the dog, really!)
  • Doing What We Do Best (and that is?…)

That isn’t where the PR is coming from for AA these days.

Naturally, it’s coming from that “$15 to check a piece of luggage” thing.

To me, the $15 isn’t that big of a deal, *but* the likely possibility is that the law of unintended consequences will strike American and other airlines who follow suit.

Airline travel is already working hard to become an experience right up there with going to the dentist, getting a visit from your brother in law the insurance salesman (noting that my pretty cool brother in law sells insurance<g>), and having someone at your door asking if you need your carpet cleaned.

Making air travel even more annoying is not the answer.

What American might see when the law of unintended consequences comes to visit.

At check in:

  • Lines will become longer and slower because people behind the counter will have to take credit cards, make change and so on. Just wait till the person in front of you has a “Take the card” marker on their credit card account and the poor airline check-in clerk is forced to repo their card.
  • MORE education will have to take place during check-in because people will not have funds (trust me) to check bags that are too big to carry on. And of course, they will argue with someone that the bag is OK and has been carried on many times before. All of which will take more time, making the line longer and slower.

At security:

  • $15 per checked bag will mean more people will carry on even more crap. Meaning TSA will have more stuff to xray and the line at security will be even slower because people will forget that the 3 ounce rule applies to carryons and that 24 ounce native coconut shampoo bottle you bought in Tahiti will have to be poured out.

During boarding:

  • Bags that are too big will have to be checked, delaying departure, disrupting the boarding process and oh by the way, will the baggage handlers in the jetway have credit card scanners on them?
  • Everyone and their mom will be carrying on more stuff. It’s bad enough as it is, with people bringing everything they own to carry on – it will get worse when every checked bag is now $15.

During deplaning:

  • Slower, for the same reasons that boarding will be slower.

During an emergency:

  • More crap will be available to trip over as people have more stuff in their lap and stuffed under the seat. One more cabin fire is all it will take for a Congressional hearing on carry ons.

All of this is really not the point of the discussion. It’s simply conjecture.

The real point of this discussion is to motivate you not to let yourself get trapped into doing stupid things that will make it harder and less enjoyable to do business with you, all because you were dumb enough to allow your business to become a price-sensitive commodity.

When the only purchase decision point you give your clientèle is price, you leave yourself with little in the way of strategy.

Given today’s levels of airline service – what other decision points are there? Either that airline goes to your city, or it doesn’t. Everything else is schedule and price. Commodities.

Here’s what they won’t do – and their behavior over time proves it.

  • No domestic U.S. airline will raise the price of their tickets so that they can actually provide the level of service that most travelers appreciate.
  • No domestic U.S. airline will provide the level of service that makes them the only choice when it’s time to fly.
  • No domestic U.S. airline will focus on the most profitable travelers, pamper them so they’ll never leave, price their tickets accordingly and let everyone else fight over the price shoppers who will change airlines for $5 round trip savings.

Don’t fall into the cheap trap. It’s easy to do when the press says that the economy has slowed, even though you couldn’t tell based on how packed the Costco parking lot is.

Be better, not cheaper.

Update: Today, this article about US Air making more service changes in the wrong direction.

Related posts elsewhere on the net:

Church of the Customer’s take on the American Airlines situation.

Categories
Competition Customer service Leadership Management Positioning Small Business Strategy

Money loves speed

Need for Speed
Creative Commons License photo credit: Amnemona

Dan Kennedy is one of the many well-known business experts who can often be found saying “Money loves speed”. What they mean is speed of implementation. IE: How fast do you take information and take action on it? The faster, the better, as far as your wallet is concerned.

For example, we talked yesterday about pet peeves.

A few hours later, Bruce Johnson was in the middle of his client base’s online community asking what their pet peeves were with his company.

Some business owners would have printed out the post, tossed it on a pile of todo notes and gotten around to it “someday”. That isn’t what Bruce did.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone emailed me and said that the blog looked like crap on Internet Explorer 6 under Windows XP. That long awaited move to WordPress 2.5 simply had to get done, so last night, Business is Personal moved to 2.5 and to a new look and feel (which isn’t quite where I want it…yet).

Every time you look closely at a very successful entrepreneur, you’ll find someone who takes action on information as quickly as possible.

It doesn’t mean they’re always in a hurry (though they might be), it means that they take action. Now. Today.

Not “someday” or “soon”.

Categories
Competition Management Marketing Positioning Small Business systems The Slight Edge

Pet peeves and your business’ addiction to crack

Plumber James #2
photo credit: MoToMo

Who hasn’t either had a plumber hanging out of their sink, or heard about one? You know the stereotype.

Some guy’s rear end is hanging out from under your sink, his pants are not quite the right size, and “too much information” is pointed right at you. It’s like looking at a car wreck on the highway. You know you shouldn’t look. You don’t want to see that. But, you look anyway. My eyes, my eyes!

That’s probably one of the most commonly-known consumer pet peeves with the plumbing business.

In your business, no matter what you do or sell, people have pet peeves with your business.

If you’re a builder, the common ones are: communication is poor, workmanship, management of sub-contractors is troubling, rarely on budget, rarely on time, cheap materials that weren’t what was spec’d out.

Note: If you’re a builder, you may not do these things, but I’ll bet you know some builders in your market that DO have these problems. Likewise for the plumbers.

In every single market, there is a common list of pet peeves that consumers have about your business.

We’ve all had that lovely waste of time the “our service person will be there <27 days from now> between noon and 7pm.” That’s what many businesses call a service appointment. I call it a good waste of a day.

What pet peeves does your business inflict on your clients?

Not sure? Ask your clients. Ask friends what ticks them off or annoys them about doing business with businesses like yours. Once you have a list, take steps to eliminate them and put processes in place to prevent their return.

Then take it a step further. Make note of the contrast between you and your competition as it relates to these pet peeves.

For example: “Our service appointments don’t last all afternoon. We’ll be there when we say we will, or we’ll give you $50 and buy you dinner.”

These are easy things to fix, and being the only plumber in town who isn’t putting on a show will make an impact.

Categories
Customer service Management Productivity

Your clients have better things to do

While I never met Bruce Barrington, one of the reasons I really admire him is something he said long ago about the things that programming tools make you do when building a program.

Bruce said:

Anything you have to do every time shouldn’t have to be done at all.

Mozambique n4
photo credit: babasteve

Frankly, I think you can apply this to a lot of things in business – at least systems and processes-wise.

Here’s an example: Last Friday, I’m logging into Aweber to add a new message to my email newsletter. At the bottom of the list, I notice that my last message had a SpamAssassin score of 0.4.

Call me anal-retentive (or fastidious, whatever) but I don’t like seeing those scores on my emails.

Not. Even. Zero. Point. One.

So I click the SpamAssassin score link, which is supposed to show me which parts of the message caused the score to result. When I click the link, Aweber’s system tells me this:

There was an error in processing your SpamAssassin score. This is usually due to the message having lines that are greater than 80 characters long. If you still get this error message, then please contact customer support.

Tell me this.

Why in the world do I need to contact customer support? If you’re aweber (whose service I really like), wouldn’t you want to know *every single time* that this problem occurs?

Assuming that’s true, they already know who they are and how to contact themselves<g> and they already know who I am, since I’m logged into Aweber and working on my emails. So why don’t they have their system automatically open a support case on this issue?

I simply shouldn’t have to do this manually.
What do you make your clients do every day, every time they do business with you, every time they use your product, service, software or what not…that they shouldn’t have to do?

Fix it. Get started today.

It’ll make your clients appreciate you more because you’re saving their time.

It’ll make your business stronger and more productive because your stuff will have that much more value, and it’ll be easier to use.

Categories
Competition Corporate America Creativity Customer service Management Small Business

Papa John’s isn’t a Crybaby

They could have sulked.

They could have sued.

They could have said “No comment.”

They could have done absolutely nothing, and likely would have paid the price quietly, possibly for years with some customers.

We are all witnesses.
photo credit: Sonnett

Instead Cleveland-area Papa John’s offered 23 cent pizzas as a way of making amends for the unauthorized production of a t-shirt calling Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James a crybaby. James’ uniform number is 23, thus the price of the pizzas.

The unauthorized Crybaby t-shirts with LeBron’s number were made by a Washington DC franchisee. While that franchisee might be getting grilled in private, their mistake was turned into a positive by the way that Cleveland Papa John’s handled the flap.

All Papa John’s locations in the Cleveland area, Columbus, Toledo and Youngstown will offer the discount pies today from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The lesson for small business owners: How you recover from mistakes and bad news is often more important than the bad news or mistake itself.

Update: Want to put some numbers on it? Google papa john 23 cent pizza. You’ll find 64,300 search engine results in Google on that search phrase. UPI. AP. ChicagoTribune.com, Cleveland.com and on and on. Most of it positive PR for how they handled the situation. Hear more on the Papa Johns LeBron Crybaby story on my May 9 Hotseat Radio show.

Categories
Competition Customer service Email marketing Marketing Mercedes Positioning Small Business Technology

Attention to the little things pays small business dividends

A reader sent me a copy of an email that he received early last month from Mercedes (click the image to read it – it’s too wide for this text area)

merc1.jpg

Attention to detail. Even the little things that might make your client late for an appointment, important meeting or family event – are clearly important to this auto dealer.

I know, you’re thinking this is a simple thing, perhaps even automated. You’re right – yet they still made the effort to do it. Just…in…case.

Did your auto dealership contact you when the time changed? When your vehicle had a recall? Or just to make sure that your vehicle was tuned up and getting the best mileage possible given the price of fuel? Or did they contact you at all?

Categories
Customer service Employees Retail Small Business

Going a step past ordinary

fairy tale;bajka
photo credit: TanjaN1

Today’s guest post is (again) from Church of the Customer, where Jackie is talking about a recent dress shopping experience at J. Crew.

Whether you are a retailer or not, how can you use what she experienced in your business?

Categories
Automation Corporate America Customer service Direct Mail ECommerce Email marketing Marketing Small Business Software Technology

Does your small business send personal emails?

Back in January, Denny Hatch was discussing some emails he received: some personalized, some not.

I wanna hold your hand
photo credit: batega

Would you rather receive this (his example):

Date: 14 Jan 2008 03:58:31- 0800
From: â??Ticketmasterâ?
To: xxxxx
Subject: Event Reminder: Young Frankenstein

Ticketmaster Event Reminder
Hello Denison Hatch. Your event is happening soon!
Young Frankenstein.

When:
Friday, January18, 2008
8:00pm

Where:
Hilton Theater
213 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036

Or this:

Dear Valued Customer,

On behalf of the hundreds of Delta Global Sales professionals dedicated to serving you and your travelers worldwide, â??Thank You!â? for choosing Delta as your preferred airline

To Delta’s credit, they no longer send me “Dear Valued Customer” emails, they got a clue sometime after I posted that and started using my name. I don’t know if the blog post had anything to do with it or not. I mean, sure, I know that automated systems sent the email, but someone, somewhere at Delta had to write the template. A real person. Presumably, that person was charged with writing a personal note to a client whose business they appreciate.

However, there are dozens of other businesses that continue to send me “Dear Valued Customer” emails.

Credit card companies. Utility companies. Car dealerships. Clothing and outdoor gear vendors.

The fact that Ticketmaster was smart enough to send a reminder email was pretty cool. People are busy. We need reminders, even if we have a Day-Timer, a PDA, a smart phone, a spouse, Outlook reminders and a personal assistant.

The fact that Ticketmaster made the email timely and personalized made it seem real, as if a person typed it.

Would Denny be as impressed if he received the email after the show? Or if it said “Dear Valued Ticketmaster Customer” or similar?

This doesn’t just extend to emails. Same goes for letters, postcards, phone calls, packaging, shipping info, and so on.

How many contacts in your business touch your customers personally? How many are annoying, impersonal Dear Valued Customer grams?

What would you rather receive from the businesses you frequent?