Tag Archive for 'Customer Care'

It’s never too early to greet your customers

Celebrate your customers this week

This week is National Customer Service Week.  It’s always the first full week of October, which this year is October 6 - 10. Started by the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) in 1988, it has become a national event as proclaimed by the U.S. Congress.
Photo courtesy of Lifecare-EdinburghAccording to the ICSA, the purpose of National Customer Service Week is “to create a positive message that lasts all year long and to provide a productive opportunity to generate an even stronger commitment to customer service excellence.”
This week, I challenge all small businesses — including my own — to rededicate our businesses, our thinking, our training, and especially the execution of our business activity, to focusing on delivering customer service excellence.
As we strive for this noble goal, let’s not forget that you and I don’t get to be the judges of how effective we are at customer service excellence. Only our customers can have that role.
And if your customers aren’t telling you that you’re doing an excellent job, either you aren’t, or you aren’t asking. If this is the case, perhaps we’ve just identified a good place to start in your quest for customer service excellence.

You should never have “a customer from hell”

“This is one of those customers from hell.”

That’s what a small business owner said to me during one of my road trips across the country to check on how things are going out on Main Street.

“Ann” was responding to my query about her business. Her full quote was closer to, “Business is good. But right now I’ve got to spend most of the day dealing with this customer from hell.”

Photo courtesy of Blue Wolf Consulting

When I was a pup commission salesman right out of high school working in big ticket retail, I quickly realized all customers aren’t created equal; there are cool ones, high maintenance ones and impossible ones, like the one Ann was fuming about. My initial reaction was I didn’t like the latter two types and would try to avoid them. But upon more mature reflection I realized that if I was going to be successful selling on commission, I would have to do business with all kinds of customers, not just the easy ones. Honing this perspective over time, I developed the twin pillars of Blasingame’s Difficult Customer Strategy.

Pillar One: Make an extra effort to understand what troubles and/or motivates difficult customers and serve them within an inch of their lives. Most difficult customers will give you points for the effort and very likely their business in the bargain. And here’s an extra effort bonus: When a difficult customer likes you, you’ll have a customer for life, and the most valuable referral source.

Pillar Two: The hellish behavior of some customers typically manifests as excessive demands. When dealing with such people, charge them for their behavior. As I told Ann, charge difficult customers enough so that regardless of their level of maintenance, you hope they come back and ask for everything again. The key is to ask enough questions about their expectations before you set your price. Or at least remember the next time.

One former consulting client of mine could be difficult. Whenever we were face-to-face and he showed me his hellish side, I would exaggerate making a mark on my note pad, which he knew was to remind me to add a difficulty factor fee on his next invoice (he had a different name for it that can’t be used here). Eventually we joked about it, but he knew his behavior impacted his bill. He was a client for years and, difficult or not, I always liked his business.

Write this on a rock … You should never have a customer from hell.

Is a crowdfunding business loan right for you?

In my last column I introduced the concept of crowdfunding — the new word and online methods of fundraising and capitalization. The two crowdfunding examples I described were contributions and business transactions doubling as fundraising.

Let’s continue with the third type, which is, crowdfunding structured for loans.

Crowdfunding debt, AKA peer-to-peer and social lending, is like traditional borrowing: a request for funds comes with the promise of repayment with interest over a specific term. But the former is done online, and the latter is not. Individuals use crowdfunding for personal loans, but our focus here is for business borrowing, which typically involve four crowds:

1. Business borrowers

2. An online crowdfunding platform aggregating loan requests

3. A funding and underwriting source, likely a hedge fund

4. Individuals who invest with #3, knowing it’s for loans to small businesses

Remember the innumerable and anonymous crowdfunding factors from the previous column? These two are also in play with crowdfunding debt, because a large crowd is required to provide a pool of loan funds and dilute the risk, and investors are only known to the funding source aggregator.

Regardless of the funding source, crowdfunding or traditional, small business loans are expensive for the borrower because this sector is considered high risk for two primary reasons:

1. Most small businesses are undercapitalized and operate on a thin survival margin

2. Too many small business owners don’t track financial performance well enough to know how they’re really doing.

And since crowdfunding loans are unsecured, taking the risk to an even higher level, crowdfunding business loans are doubly expensive.

So is a crowdfunding business loan right for you? Here’s some context: If you can borrow from your bank, this year you’ll probably pay an average of about 6% annual interest rate. A crowdfunding loan APR will likely be 15% or more. Any questions?

Crowdfunding business lending has achieved some level of critical mass and is growing.  As I’ve said before, the future of small business capitalization will look a lot different than it does today largely due to this emerging alternative.

Next time we’ll wrap up this series with a tour of the good, bad, and improbable of investor equity crowdfunding. And more tough love.

Write this on a rock If you can borrow money from a bank, don’t borrow from a crowd

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”


RESULTS: Who do you use when you need, or have needed, website development services like building or upgrading a website?

The Question:

Who do you use when you need, or have needed, website development services like building or upgrading a website?
39% — A local, small web development firm
9% — An online web development company that helps us            do it ourselves
44% — Individual consultants
8% — Don’t have a website

Jim’s Comments:

First, I’m happy to report that more than 90% of the small businesses that hang out with us have websites. And for all of the money spent advertising to have your website created - sometimes for free — with the help of a national online developer, less than 10% have availed themselves of this type of resource. Finally, whether a local firm or individual web developer, over 80% have primarily employed one of these small business alternatives.

There could be many reasons for the dominance of these last two, including that most of us already had a website before the large online platforms became so prominent, or we have more customized requirements that don’t fit cookie-cutter resources, or we just want to do business with other small businesses. Either way, I was pleased to see these answers because they lead me to believe that the online presence of small businesses has improved in quantity and quality.

Congratulations to all who participated and keep up the good work. Please be sure to respond to our new poll.

“Thank you” is golden, “No problem” is a problem

It has happened to all of us: You’re being waited on at a restaurant, buying a product or returning something to a merchant, and as an employee is delivering some kind of service you say, “Thank you.”

Good for you; your mother would be so proud.  But she wouldn’t be impressed by what has become an unfortunate response to thank you. After you say thank you for having your water refilled or your order completed, there is sadly a good chance the employee will say, incredibly, “No problem.”

So, from this response are you now to think that simply allowing service to be delivered is some sort of problem you’ve created, for which forgiveness should be granted?  Should you feel relief that you’ve been redeemed by this person with “No problem” absolution?

Clearly, American English has devolved to a level that makes many of us nostalgic for casual. It’s difficult to pinpoint where things ran off the rails. But somehow the sublime “it’s my pleasure” has deviated into the subpar “no problem.”

Well, my friends, let’s get one thing straight: No problem is a problem. When small business employees say no problem to a customer instead of you’re welcome, it’s a serious problem that over time could be the equivalent of a business death wish.

Think I’m overreacting?  How much money do you spend getting a customer to do business with you?  How much energy and resources do you invest into making sure your products, pricing, display, etc., are just right?  How many sleepless nights do you spend worrying about how to compete with the Big Boxes?

Now that we’ve established the enormity and consequences of these answers, are you sure that no employee of yours ever causes one of your customers to think — even subliminally — that the mere fact that they do business with you could be some kind of problem?

In The Age of the Customer, the only thing unique about your relationship with a customer is the experience they have with you — how they FEEL about doing business with you.  Everything else is a commodity. Everything!

So, pray tell, in what universe does “no problem” help your business maximize the positive emotions of an excellent customer experience? Stop saying it, and train your employees to stop saying it.  If success is your goal, this is non-negotiable!

There must be 39 different ways in the English language to express your delight in serving a customer without saying “no problem.” Use one of them.

Write this on a rock… In The Age of the Customer, “Thank you” is golden, “No problem” is a problem.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, “The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.”




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