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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
Management Marketing Motivation Positioning Productivity Small Business Strategy Time management

Saying no to business

Do you say no?

I’m always in fear of not having enough business, so I say yes to projects that might not be a perfect fit or that I don’t have time to tackle effectively. So for me, the question would be, how do I know when to say no?

That’s a quote from a reader.

When you aren’t sure how many deals you have coming next week, can you say no to business that isn’t your forte, or that you are too busy for?

Sure, it’s tough, but you have to. You can do that other stuff, but you’ll regret it.

Every time you take a project that is out in left field, you’ll be annoyed.

If you have properly positioned your business, the chance of getting more projects that don’t quite fit right will be reduced. You won’t be tempted to take what isn’t offered and you’ll be available for more of the right
work.

In addition, the better you are at your core business, the less likely you are to want to produce other work that can’t meet your typical quality standards – simply because you do that work sporadically.

Sometimes you’ll have to transition to that core work, stepping into other projects along the way as you focus your marketing and take on more projects your the core business area.

One alternative – find someone who is great at that other work you get and work out a deal to refer the projects to them.

Doing 100 things poorly is no way to run a business. Even jugglers use the same type of balls (well, most of them anyhow<g>).

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Automation Competition Customer service Employees Management Marketing Positioning Productivity Small Business SMS systems Technology The Slight Edge Twitter

Operations and Details: Why you need a passion for crossing the T and dotting the I

One of the very few troubling things about living in a small town or a rural area is that sometimes, not all that often, but sometimes (yeah, I repeat myself), you find yourself “forced” to use a vendor that drives you crazy.

Because of what appears to be a lack of passion about operations and details.

Talk about timing. As I was writing this post, up on Twitter pops this tweet from @ChrisBrogan :

“Is anyone really *passionate* about operations and details?”
Chris Brogan

To be sure, when I say “passion”, I don’t mean that your hormone levels start rising when you are making sure your business’ detailed operations are just so – and have processes in place to keep them that way, but I’ll tell you what: I’ll bet you ARE passionate about the lifestyle that your business provides for you.

You know. Things like being able to make that Boy Scout meeting, that piano recital, that Wednesday afternoon golf “meeting” every other week, the choir practice, your kid’s soccer games or the bridge club.

Whatever it might be…the passion that you have for the lifestyle you lead has a direct relationship with the passion you have for crossing the T and dotting the I.

You probably think I’m nuts, so let’s talk about a few examples from my business life. I suppose this could be a reference to the pet peeves discussion of a few days ago, but this is really a bit different because the kinds of things I’m talking about here could be a part of any business.

In my case, it’s a local business whose services I use every month. Likewise, several of my clients use this service every month because they produce the production version of what I created for my clients (gee, is that vague enough?)

Why do I put up with the annoyance?

One reason and one reason only: There is no viable alternative business that provides this service within the community with the slate of features I need.

These are the kinds of things that any service business could be doing, and quite a few online or brick and mortar retail product stores could be as well. That way YOU can fix the ones you might be doing.

Number 1 – They deliver, but they can’t tell me for sure (in advance) when a produced job will be delivered.

When they do deliver, they don’t notify me that they’ve delivered the product. Because I happen to be one of those “Likes to know if the client got the stuff I ordered for them” kinds of guys, I have to call back (and remember to call back<g> and ask if the stuff was delivered. Today, I had to do this and they had to call me back because they had no idea.

Number 2 – They don’t notify me when the job is done/delivered unless I ask (and sometimes not even then). They clearly have no system to keep track of what needs to be delivered, what is on the truck, what has been delivered and what couldn’t be delivered. My guess is that they might have a clipboard nailed to a wall somewhere. Maybe.

Note that the big box store that competes with them (but doesnt offer enough services to make me switch), DOES have automated email notification that the job is done and I can pick it up.

Little things make a difference, especially when I can decide to give them my cell phone’s SMS email address, forcing their email to my phone.

Why is this apparent triviality even important?

Lessee…In the days of $4 gas, an emailed notification that goes to my phone could save me a 40 mile round trip drive (if I’m already in town for something else), PLUS 40+ minutes of their productive time if I have to turn around and come get that job because it is time-bound.

I don’t like doing business with companies that waste my time. Do you?

It might not just be my time. Maybe I have my virtual assistant (who lives here) pick them up. Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to take the email and forward to her, or call her? Sure, they could email directly to her – but if they aren’t emailing, what difference does it make? So now we’re talking about contractor or employee time, depending on your situation.

Number 3 – Out of control accounting. OK, I admit it, I *hate* bookkeeping (yes, I do appreciate and take action on the reports).

This is important with them because I often pay by credit or debit card and then get invoiced for the same amount at a later time. This happens repeatedly. So much so, in fact, that I have to get statements and make sure I haven’t paid for something twice. Sometimes I pay in person. Sometimes I pay over the phone or even via email. It doesn’t seem to matter, because double payments or unlogged payments are a frequent issue.

In the case of the in-store payment, this occurs despite the fact that they appear to enter the payment on the computer when I’m in their store. In fact, most of the problems originated from in-store payments.

Call me confused.

By now, you’re probably still wondering where the “why cross and dot” in all this is.

Simple: It’s those lifestyle things that make owning a business worthwhile. If your business is out of control, you don’t have time for that every other Wednesday golf meeting with friends you treasure. You can’t make that Rotary meeting once a month, much less once a week.

You can’t go on that photo safari across Montana, much less across Africa. And you sure can’t leave at 10am or 2pm for that school play or soccer game out of town that you promised your kid you’d make, even though they know you’ll be on your cell phone the whole time.

Why? Because you can’t leave your business for a week for fear that it will collapse into chaos when you aren’t there.

Cross the T and dot the I, and put systems in place to make sure it happens even when you aren’t there.

Imagine if you don’t have these things in place. That ONE important delivery to your best client gets messed up, or forgotten and that client leaves forever taking 5 or 6 figures worth of business to a competitor.

Now you feel like you can’t ever leave to watch a kid’s recital, ball game or what not.

Is that really worth not putting some effort, some passion into systems that cross the T and dot the I?

Don’t you want your business to be the one that is known as the one that never drops the ball?

Categories
Competition Corporate America Management Positioning Small Business

Is your business dependent on suburbia?

Lajpat Nagar
photo credit: wili_hybrid

Today’s guest post comes from TED.

It’s a 20 minute video presentation by James Howard Kunstler about the “Tragedy of Suburbia”, and there is a strategic business message in here that is worth examining, especially given what is going on in the energy business.

Is your business dependent on the current structure of suburbia? Strip malls, mega stores and so on? I know that a good portion of my readers are independent business owners, so I’m not too concerned about the box store situation but many of you use the box stores as a way of gaining additional traffic. Not unlike the remora that clings to the shark, I guess.

WARNING: The F word is used in the video 3-4 times, but I suggest that you not discard the overall message simply because of that.

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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”.

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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
Competition Management Small Business systems Technology

Keeping score is important for your business

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you’ll have read a few posts about the value of measurement.

Measuring marketing response is the primary thing you’ll find, but as a CFO friend of mine says, “That which is measured will be managed”.

Seth starts off talking about the green marketing but ends up making a very good point about why those things we measure are better-managed.

Bottom line: They’ve got a number.

Got something that’s important to your business? Keep score. It matters.

Categories
Competition Management Marketing Positioning Small Business

If your business disappeared, would anyone notice?

Pleck Road Transformation

photo credit: Lee Jordan

On last Friday’s radio show, I asked my listeners the rhetorical question: “If your business disappeared, would anyone notice?”

Perhaps a more realistic question: If a “Closed” sign was in the window tomorrow, without warning…would anyone really care?

Or would they simply drive down the street to the next business that does what you do, and go on with their lives?

The ideal answer is that there would be rioting in the streets, but let’s be realistic:)

Would they notice? If they noticed, would they care?

If you can’t answer ‘Yes!’, what do you think makes them stop at your business now, instead of driving a little bit further to someone else’s place?

If the road in front of your business is torn up for the next 3 months due to state road work, would people be determined enough to do business with you that they would deal with the detours and hassles of driving in a construction zone?

This sort of thing happens to restaurants, retail and service businesses all the time. Many close because they aren’t doing enough to make their business a habit for their clients. Or they aren’t being imaginative enough to find a way to deal with the construction.

If the state started working on the road in front of your building and continued to do so for 3 months – what would you do to get prospects to deal with the construction hassles and dust, solely to do business with you?

Categories
Competition Customer service ECommerce Management Marketing Small Business Strategy systems

Making it easier – isn’t that what your clients really want?

Easy Cheese photo credit: xiaming

Yesterday, we talked about making it easier for your clients to do – whatever it is that you make them do, hopefully not making them do it at all.

But what about making it easier to do the things that you can’t eliminate? One example is making it easier to reorder from you. You already know what your clients buy, right?

What do you do to remind them it’s time to refill, replenish and reorder? Since you know what they ordered, it should be easy for you to do this.

How do you know? It’s in your order database, point of sale (POS) system or online store order history.

You know how long it has been since they’ve visited your store or ordered online.

Is that number of days getting close? Shouldn’t you send them something (or call) to make it easy to order?

Has that number of days already passed? Shouldn’t you be contacting them to make sure all is well and that they haven’t run out of whatever they buy from you?

Do you have a system in place to get regular reorders pre-authorized by your clients? Makes life easier for them and more fruitful for you.

If you have automated reorders in place, isn’t it that much harder for a competitor to steal your clients from you? And aren’t your clients that much happier with the way you’ve added a little non-stick Teflon to their day to day lives?