Tag Archive for 'customer service'

Two reasons quality service can take you down

Successful customer service is the process of delivering value to customers in exchange for payment.

Surely this is the prime directive of any business. But that process isn’t truly successful unless the relationship can be sustained, and only quality produces sustainability.

But what kind of quality?

“Quality service” is a 20th century term that businesses use to declare a commitment to diligent customer support. But customers typically associate it with, and businesses too often tolerate it as promptly addressing a problem. Unfortunately, here’s what quality service often sounds like:

“We’re sorry we delivered the wrong size part. But we’re committed to quality service, so one of our trucks will be there in an hour with the correct part.”

It’s true. Sometimes quality service like that impresses the customer – and businesses even like to brag about delivering it. But while prompt attention is admirable, it’s not optimal because it has a negative impact on sustainability in at least two ways:

  1. The customer was inconvenienced by inaccurate service – you screwed up!
  2. Allowing an avoidable problem to occur is the worst kind of profit-eating inefficiency.

In the 21st century, successful small businesses have converted their problem-fixing “quality service” to the profitable and sustainable “quality process.”

Put simply, executing a quality process is serving customers correctly the first time. Accomplishing a quality process ranges from the very basic, accurate order filling, to the more complex, integrating into your operation only those vendors that share your quality process commitment. It shouldn’t be breaking news that your large business customers have been doing this for a couple of decades, to eliminate weak links in their supply chain.

The optimal goal of your quality process is sustainable customer relationships. That means 1) you did it right the first time; and 2) you made a profit and didn’t squander any of it on mistakes. Such sustainability is in evidence when customers return to find your profitable business still there, ready to serve them again with your quality process.

So why would anyone live with profit-eating quality service instead of managing with a quality process? Because cash is a drama queen and profit isn’t.

Delivering quality service is practiced by crisis managers. The crisis comes when you could lose a sale – possibly even a customer – because an order was filled incorrectly, creating a hit to your cash flow so quickly and dramatically that it takes your breath away: “OMG, get out there right now and fix this!”  Lots of drama for everyone.

Having a quality process is a commitment to profitability, requiring disciplined, long-view professional management. You’ll recognize it by the sound of no drama experienced by you or your customers … crickets.

Professional small business CEOs know that focusing on a quality process – doing it right the first time – takes a commitment to quality hiring, efficiency training, and a focus on what customers want, not just what they need. These practices produce sustained profitability and, in time, will eliminate your noisy cash flow drama.

Remember, the quality service you’ve been so proud of may seem admirable, but when delivered in response to something that was avoidable, it assaults profitability, threatens sustainability and ultimately will put you out of business.

Write this on a rock … Convert quality service into the more profitable – and sustainable – quality process.

Four kinds of Vitamin C prevent professional scurvy

For centuries, prolonged service at sea resulted in sailors contracting a malady called scurvy.  Those so afflicted bruised easily, had joint pain, gum disease, tooth loss — you get the picture.

By the mid-18th century, researchers discovered that eating citrus fruit, like lemons and limes, would prevent scurvy. We now know the active ingredient in this “remedy” is vitamin C in the ascorbic acid found in these fruits. Ascorbic literally means “no scurvy” in Latin.

One of the maladies often found in business owners is a condition I call professional scurvy. This kind doesn’t cause your teeth to fall out, but symptoms do include high levels of negative energy, low levels of performance and an easily bruised ego resulting in an unfortunately high business failure rate.

The good news is, like the seagoing kind, professional scurvy can be cured with vitamin C — actually four kinds of professional vitamin C.

1.  Vitamin Courage

Challenges ignored turn into ugly problems that can bruise a business. But facing challenges with courage reduces the negative impact and provides a chance to morph them into opportunities.

Courage is being brave AFTER you’ve had time to think about it.  Catch challenges early so you can administer a dose of Vitamin Courage.

2.  Vitamin Confidence

Thomas Edison is alleged to have said failure is successfully identifying what doesn’t work. Pure success tends to build ego, which in high concentration can be professionally dangerous. But success alloyed with failure actually builds confidence, which is essential for long-term performance.

Vitamin Confidence in business is nothing more than faith in your ability to sail around present and future challenges, as well as seize opportunities that come your way.

3.  Vitamin Character

Contracts are the transactional laws of the marketplace. But like the relationship between captain and crew, it’s character that counts, not legal words or signatures on paper.

Those who demonstrate high levels of Vitamin Character —like doing the right thing even if the contract doesn’t require it — have no difficulty finding customers or crew.

4.  Vitamin Credential

This one is critical because courage without skill is the definition of foolhardy; confidence without resources is what Texans call “all hat and no cattle;” and character without knowledge is a well-intentioned commitment that may not be kept.

All the best intentions won’t help you succeed if you don’t acquire Vitamin Credentials — education, skill, experience and resources — that can back up your business plan and commitment to deliver.

Write this on a rock….

Prevent professional scurvy with regular doses Professional Vitamin C.

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

Replace your quality service with a quality process

Successful customer service is the process of delivering value to a customer in exchange for payment.

Surely this is the prime directive of any business.

But this process isn’t truly successful unless the relationship can be sustained; and only quality produces sustainability.

“Quality service” is a 20th century term businesses use to declare a commitment to diligent customer support. But customers typically associate it with, and businesses too often tolerate it as, promptly addressing a problem. Here’s what quality service might sounds like:

“We’re sorry that part was the wrong size. But we’re committed to quality service, so one of our trucks will be there in an hour with a new part.”

In most cases, quality service impresses the customer. But while prompt attention is admirable, it’s not optimal because it has a negative impact on sustainability in at least two ways: 1) The customer was inconvenienced by inaccurate service; 2) fixing an avoidable problem is the worst kind of profit-eating inefficiency.

In the 21st century, successful small business customer service requires converting “quality service” to the quality process.

Executing a quality process, put simply, is serving customers right the first time. Accomplishing a quality process ranges from the very basic – accurate order filling, to the more complex plan of integrating into your operation only those vendors that share your quality process commitment.

The optimal goal of your quality process is sustainability through profitable customer relationships. This is accomplished when customers return to find your profitable business is still there, ready to serve them successfully – again.

Cash is king because the impact of negative cash on a business will take your breath away. And profit is queen only because the manifestation of negative profit takes longer than negative cash, which is the reason why quality service is even tolerated as a business practice.

When you’re ready to stop tolerating profit-eating quality service and convert to the profit-making quality process, here’s a good a place to start: Leslie Kossoff’s book, Managing for Quality, just out now in the new 21st century edition, in hard-copy and e-formats.

Remember, the quality service you’re so proud of may be admirable, but when delivered in response to something that was avoidable, it assaults profitability, threatens sustainability and, therefore, ultimately could put you out of business.

Convert quality service into the more profitable – and sustainable – quality process.

I talk regularly with Leslie Kossoff about the quality process. You can listen or download our conversations here. I also talked more about converting quality service into a quality process today on The Small Business Advocate Show. Listen or download what I had to say.

Check out more great SBA content HERE!

The customer is now in control - get over it!

As previously revealed in this space, the Age of the Seller is succumbing to the Age of the Customer. In the new Age, control of the relationship between Seller and Customer has shifted to the latter.

This paradigm shift is largely caused by online platforms that are: 1) increasing the access customers have to information about a Seller and its products; 2) allowing customers to express and share what they have learned about and experienced with a business.

To put two fine points on the first element of the shift, in the new Age: Customers have access to virtually all the information they need before you know they’re interested, and prospects are similarly informed before you even know they exist. Such access to information is changing - or disrupting - the way you market to and connect with customers, as well as how you train sales people. Plus it demonstrates why your greatest danger in the Age of the Customer isn’t being uncompetitive, it’s becoming irrelevant.

The second element is the new kid on the block, but corresponds to a centuries-old marketplace maxim, “If you make customers happy they will tell someone; if you make them unhappy they will tell 10 people,” which describes the ancient practice of word-of-mouth. The theory behind the 1:10 ratio is that all businesses, regardless of size, are motivated to perform, or risk a marketplace indictment by the judge and jury of word-of-mouth.

In the new Age, online platforms have caused word-of-mouth to transmogrify into a powerful dynamic called “user generated content,” aka UGC. This is when customers post online their experiences, questions, praise or condemnation about a seller’s products, services, and general behavior in the marketplace. In the vernacular, it’s word-of-mouth on steroids.

Indeed, if the word-of-mouth maxim were coined today it would sound like this: “Customers may post online their opinion – positive or otherwise – about your business, making it available potentially to millions.” To paraphrase Mark Twain, comparing word-of-mouth to UGC is like comparing a lightning bug to lightning.

In the new Age you have to do two new things: 1) anticipate that customers are already well informed; 2) track and respond to UGC about your business. And how well you do these two will influence whether the new customer control becomes a sales lever, or a disruptor that makes you irrelevant.

It’s the Age of the Customer - get over it.

Last week on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked with Alan Maites, President of Robinson & Maites, an unconventional marketing firm in Chicago, about the Age of the Customer and how it will change relationships with customers. Take a few minutes to click on one of the links below and listen to our conversation. And, as always, leave your thoughts on the Age of the Customer.

Marketing in the Age of the Customer featuring Alan Maites

Serve communities in the Age of the Customer featuring Alan Maites

“No problem” is a big problem for small business

It has happened to all of us: You are 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 an excellent 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 a problem you’ve created, from which you should pray adobe acrobat x pro forgiveness will be granted? Should you feel relief that you’ve been redeemed by this person with “no problem” absolution?

Clearly, American English has deviated to a level that makes many feel nostalgic for casual. And it’s difficult to pinpoint where things ran off of the rails, but somehow the sublime “it’s my pleasure” has devolved into the sub par “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 of these answers, have you checked to make sure that no employee of yours ever causes one of your customers to think - even subliminally - that the mere fact that they are doing business with you could be some kind of a problem?

The only thing that is unique about the contact your business has 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 in what universe does “no problem” help your business maximize the positive emotions of a wonderful customer experience? Stop saying it, and train your employees to stop saying it.

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

Recently, I discussed the issue of “No Problem” being a big problem on my radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your thoughts. Listen Live! Download, Too!

Ten Small Business survival steps to take right now

Last week we talked about assuming a survival attitude. Here are 10 things to do right now to execute on this attitude.

1. Profit is the Queen of business, but cash is King. Ask employees to help cut waste and expenses, plus review operational steps and eliminate or tighten up inefficient ones. What’s their motivation? How about job security? Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.

2. Stay close to accounts receivables and cash management. Many tasks can and should be delegated by a business owner, but right now cash management isn’t one of them.

3. Declare war on excess inventory. Don’t miss a sale, but don’t let one piece of inventory spend the night in your building unless it’s absolutely essential. Inventory is cash you can’t spend until you convert it back by making a sale.

4. Review ALL contracts for services to make sure you still need them. Your customers are doing the same thing; get ready.

5. Make your banker your survival partner in 2009. Keep him or her informed about how things are going, good or bad – especially the bad. Bankers need information, even if it’s bad news. Remember this: An uninformed banker is a scared banker, and no one ever got any help out of a scared banker.

6. Wherever possible renegotiate term loans, including real estate mortgages, to take advantage of lower interest rates. Longer amortization and lower rates preserve cash.

7. If you rent, talk with your landlord about adjustments in the terms of your lease. Don’t expect the landlord to take a major hit, but he or she knows that prospects may not line up to take your space if you leave. This is a good time to be creative.

8. Convert non-performing assets to cash – even if you have to sell for less than you want. What things were worth last year has no bearing on what they’re worth today, and they might be worth less tomorrow. If it’s not performing, cut it loose.

9. If it’s humanly possible, personally call on EVERY customer at least once in the near future, even if a salesperson is calling on them. This isn’t a sales call; it’s a relationship call. Find out what you can do to help them, and then do it. Your company’s future probably depends upon these visits.

10. Payroll expenses must be addressed. Non-performers must go first. Before making other cuts, ask your team to help find creative ways to allocate your bare-bones payroll budget. But don’t forget that now could be a good time to invest in the future by acquiring a highly trained “big business” employee who just got laid off.

Don’t wait - take these 2009 survival steps right now.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I discussed these 10 survival steps in more detail. You can listen to my thoughts by clicking on this link. And as always, I look forward to your comments.




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