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Automation *can be* personal

Run, Motherfucker, Run
Creative Commons License photo credit: JOE MARINARO

Like I suspect you do, I get a number of automated emails asking how someone’s service was, or reminding me to deal with this or that before a deadline.

Most of these are innocuous emails that were done with an honest effort to help, but because the process was left unfinished, there’s very little long-term or accumulating value in them.

More value *could* come with a little more automation salted with a little personal touch.

For example, if I take a box to the local UPS Store (which recently reopened in our town, thankfully), I have an email waiting for me before I arrive home from the 3 mile drive from their shop.

The email includes the tracking number, a link to check on my package, an estimated arrival date, and perhaps the destination and a brief thank you.

Right up to that point, this is a minimum that should be getting done. There’s value in this email because I can check the link and perhaps put the email in my calendar so I remember to check the status later. Yes, a link to an iCal file to auto-add the delivery date to my calendar would be a nice option.

And then….silence.

Silence isn’t the right answer. It’s unfinished business.

Why silence isn’t golden

In many businesses, there is no email confirmation going on.

When doing business with those firms, I have to call (or they do) in order to find out what’s going on, when my work is done, what the estimate amount was and so on.  For those businesses, this post is a bit of a what-to-do checklist.

So why is the silence after that first email “unfinished business”?

Because it doesn’t complete the task at least as well as you would if you were standing in front of them when the package was delivered. An email isn’t an excuse to get out of work. It’s a way to give your customer the choice of being better informed.

But still, unfinished?

Yes, because (for example) I don’t get an email when the package is delivered and signed for.

That means they’ve missed an opportunity to confirm that the transaction completed as promised while subconsciously reminding me I use them because their job is to set my mind at ease.

It also subconsciously plants yet another seed that I can trust that business to get my package where it’s going safely and on time so I can consider the job delegated successfully.

That’s a big thing if you’re in the service biz.

In addition, they miss the opportunity to add a comment that…

  • Reminds me that 9 packages have been shipped this month and all arrived on time for less than USPS or Fedex rates (or similar).
  • Reminds me that customers who ship as often as I do can save time by opening a monthly-pay account at the store, allowing me to walk in, drop the package and leave rather than wait in line to ship and pay.

And so on.

Note that none of these emails require any manual labor once the templates are setup. The automated shipping notification systems are doing all of the work from that point forward. The result is that your business is more productive (given fewer calls re: package status) and your clients are better informed.

The next step: Those “How was our service?” emails could be of far more value to your customers and your business if someone paid attention to them. More on that tomorrow.

PS: These references to email could just as easily be text messages to my phone. Wouldn’t be lovely if I could choose one or both?

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Ron Clark: Everything we do is personal


As some of you know, my wife is a junior high school teacher.

6th grade to be specific.

Know what that means? Hormones. Drama. Lots of change. Who knows what else.

People think it’s amazing that I’m a Scoutmaster for a Scout troop, but that’s easy compared to being a teacher.

Instead of having to be on my game 5 days a week with 25 6th graders (not all of whom want to be there), I spend 90 minutes a week with boys who want to be in Scouts. Once a month, we go camping for a weekend (and I don’t try to teach them math and history).

Back on topic – Having a teacher in the family also means something else: We watch every teacher movie ever made.

Last night, The Ron Clark Story was on. It’s a true story about a teacher who takes on an inner-city elementary class in Harlem and turns it into a high-performance environment (you knew that, since they don’t make movies about crappy teachers).

Just before the big standardized tests are taken, the kids are trying to explain why they didn’t do well on a test they took while Mr. Clark was out sick with pneumonia.

“It’s nothing personal”

One of the students says “Hey man, it’s nothing personal about you, we just cant pass these tests.”

Clark comes back and tells them “Everything that happens in this room is personal. Everything we say to one another is personal.” (and he goes on from there)

It works the same way in your business.

Everything you do for (or to) your clients.

Everything you say to (or about) your clients.

Shipping is personal

Yesterday, I had a conversation with some folks about shipping.

Like Coke vs. Pepsi and Ford vs. Chevy, this one was one of rivalries.

This time is was about Fedex vs. UPS.

During the conversation, I reflected about the service my company received from a Fedex driver who has been the only driver in Columbia Falls for 10 years.

We used them because their shipping quality was a reflection upon us. We didn’t want the very first thing we shipped to be reflection of our service.

Fedex vs. the post office or other services is always a no brainer, in my experience.

Tim our CFalls Fedex dude picked up almost every one of those packages. He still picks them up for the folks who own the business now.

These days when I have a package or I see him in a store around the Valley, he calls me by name.

If you think about it, it’s not that big a deal. After all, during a delivery, my name is on the package.

Kinda obvious, don’t you think?

Yet not one UPS driver has ever called me by name.

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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.

Friday, January18, 2008

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?