Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

Can a manufacturer publish a blog? Would Sears?

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

After my initial report on the Sears saga (see post Sears customer service), I got busy and couldn’t write for a while (among other things, just became a new grandma). But okay, the refrigerator arrived (dented for sure) and was installed by a third party company. I noticed that every time I closed the bottom door, the freezer door would pop open. Spent a good time trying to get the service dept.–was told to put vaseline around the edge. I said, excuse me? This is a brand new refrigerator. Are you kidding? Had to ask for a supervisor, who told me in a slightly less offensive way that I should try vaseline–it works great for 8 year old units. ????

Then, after a day or so, suddenly the main door wouldn’t close. Literally stayed stuck open by about 2 inches. It was a good game trying to get hold of the right people, but finally a Sears repair department agreed to send someone out–5 days later.

So finally the repair guy shows up (during which time I had to haul the door up and push hard to get it closed) and found there were some washers missing when the door was installed.  The thing works now but I’m just holding my breath…

Well, manufacturers can blog, too. A couple of years ago I did a presentation on blogging for a group of highly skeptical computer-geek-entrepreneurial types recently. Questions came fast and furious. One was particularly interesting: what would a manufacturing company blog about?

I remember the stories I wrote for one of the annual Akron Business Conferences. One of my favorites was the one I wrote about how a small manufacturing division of a larger company did a complete revisioning of itself–and became a model for others who face the grinding realities of globalization on their ability to be competitive and thus, on their bottom lines.

Here’s the story of Neighborhood Manufacturing, a division of Superior Tool. Read that if you have a minute, then check out their website. There’s a place that’s learned to speak in its true voice.

If you had to guess, what do you think the people at Neighborhood Manufacturing could write in their corporate blog about–that their customers and prospects would love to hear–and that would make their employees even more proud to work there?

Recognizing employee contributions? Positive changes they’re making to the neighborhood they’re located in? How they overcome the challenges of meeting certain orders? Relationships with customers? And how much danger do you think they have of losing business to competitors from talking about those things?

Neighborhood Manufacturing is presenting itself as a company people will want to do business with, but not because they’re cheaper. Naturally, first is that they get the job done right, but my guess is their customers will stay with them because they obviously care–about their employees, about their neighborhood, about being good corporate citizens and–the implication is–they’ll care about their customers, too.

Couldn’t think of better topics for blogging. I wrote about this company originally in 2003 when blogging was just a trend for business… Notice how relevant it is today!

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Sears started blogging? I’m guessing they wouldn’t dare.

Sears – a saga of customer "service"

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Sometimes appliances die. Sure. But we baby boomers grew up in a world where major ones, like refrigerators, died maybe in 20 or 30 years, if ever. I’m going to chronicle my sad personal saga as it happens–a  good thing to do with a corporate blog if you can tie it to how your customers will never experience this kind of thing with your company.

The refrigerator in my totally rehabbed condo was original and new about 4.5 years ago. We think (can’t check because it was spirited away from its spot in my Chicago alley almost as soon as it was put out there) it was a Frigidaire and looked like this. Okay, so last February I had spent $225 (more than 25% of the original cost of the refrigerator) getting something-to-do-with-but-not-the-compressor repaired. Early this week when I reach for a Dove Bite treat that there is soup inside where the ice cream is supposed to be. I realize the refrigerator has quit worki–ng again–clearly already for several days–early this week. So I called the same repair people.

The gentleman arrives. Of course, has to leave the door ajar while he investigates, so dreams of my food remaining cold are out the window.  Concludes, after a lengthy examination, that the computer board has shorted out. Shows me the dark spot. Yes, I say. Well, he says, I don’t have one on my truck. I’ll have to come back tomorrow–and you’ll have to throw all your food away.

I remain hopeful–after all, he didn’t leave the freezer open all that time. Even it it thaws, that stuff ought to still be cold.

Next day 11 a.m. arrives and the guy doesn’t. I call him at noon and he’s clearly forgotten about me. I ask, do you think I should just buy a new refrigerator? Well, hard to say, ma’am. Okay, he finally does arrive around 3. Fools around a while and then installs the new board. Calls me out of my office and says, ma’am, you need to buy a new refrigerator. Shows me where the new board shorted out instantly.

The man takes some pity on me and agrees he will only charge me a service charge for a single call. I pay.

On a colleague’s advice I hike out to the Sears Outlet store to look over the scatch-and-dent collection on sale there. A huge showroom floor is jammed with refrigerators in various stages of defacement. I’m nervous. Worry that scratch-and-dent could mean worse. Even as I insist on the sales guy answering questions about service and warranties and so on, he assures me that I can buy an extended warranty (something I’ve never done on anything–I worked in the car business just long enough to know that dealers count on them for extra profit and they often don’t deliver what the purchaser expects).

I’m nervous not only because of the scratch-and-dent thing, but also because my own not-very-old refrigerator has cost me a lot of money and died anyway. So I pick one out–looks almost exactly like the old one but it’s a Kenmore–and agree to purchase the 3-year extended warranty for $150–half the $300 the price tag tells me I’m saving on the price of the refrigerator. Supposedly guarantees me free unlimited service, free preventive maintenance, with the trusty if-we-can’t-fix-it-we’ll-give-you-another clause.

The fridge arrives. Next episode tomorrow.  

Secrets to making your customers happy – prioritize and outsource, including your blog

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Stephen Covey said it to great applause. That you’re most effective when you properly prioritize your time. And the way I remember it, his proposition seemed intellectual and complex…that big box divided into four sections with so much explanation for each! But the gist was, do important and urgent things first.

He’s right, of course. And all good things flow therefrom–including excellence in customer service. You’ll find several intriguing formulas in this new book for maximizing high personal effectiveness (note: not high efficiency, which just means doing more stuff), The 4-hour Work Week. Timothy Ferriss suggests if you truly want to become more effective, ONLY do the quadrant I stuff. And that means learning to delegate…and outsource.

Among other things, Ferriss says you must write your employees an email saying, “Keep the customers happy. If it is a problem that takes less than $100 [you pick the amount based on what your time is worth] to fix, use your judgment and fix it yourself.” Do you recall the times when a service person said something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir/madam, let me fix that for you right now”? Of course you do. Those are the golden customer service moments of our lives. You tell all our friends. You might even blog about it…

Assuming of course you’ve hired the right people–supervisors and employees with brains who care about the company and the customers–this alone should gain you a significant amount of time…time that you would have spent answering questions and giving permission. I love this quote, “It’s amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double when you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.” If it doesn’t work that way with somebody, hire someone with whom it does.

Great advice: Set yourself up as information-free as possible–a huge challenge in today’s multimedia-ed assaultive world. Do you read newspapers and/or watch television news? My long-time personal favorite–stop. You’ll gain that time every day. And you’ll discover that if there’s anything you should know, you’ll find it out anyway. Set up specific times when you’ll read your email and check your voice mail–let people know what those times are, and then stick to them.

He also suggests outsourcing parts of your life–and mentions a Smart Money article that talks about using an overseas resource for outsourced virtual assistance–Brickwork, based in Bangalore, India. I haven’t tried it yet, but this book gives a great case study.

The point is that your customers get better service when you’re not the bottleneck. And you can apply this principle to your blog authorship–hire an expert–if you follow certain mandates:

1. Make sure the person knows how to listen carefully to you–as much as possible it should be your voice out there.

2. Do a bit of painless market research. Ask your customers, vendors, colleagues, what they would like to hear/read in your blog. 

3. Develop an A-list of sources for your writer–sources you personally read and those your colleagues, vendors and customers read.

4. If yours is a complex industry or there are areas that require extreme care and/or privacy, work out a general list of topics and cautions so that the writer can research and create without consulting you every time.

5. Email your own thoughts for the blog as they occur to you. You’ll never remember to tell your writer unless you pass it on as soon as you think of it. 

There’s no more powerful online public relations tool than a blog that reflects your voice and gives readers valuable information. Since the presence of a business blog has also now become an accepted part of a solid search engine marketing strategy, there’s no reason not to get started. Questions? Want to start one now? Email me here.

Respect for internal customers goes far

Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Not surprisingly, this study reveals that hospitals with understaffed ICU units have higher incidences of infection and patient mortality. What a perfect metaphor for businesses of all kinds–when you overwork your employees to the point of stress, the results for your customers suffer. The Deming quality studies from decades ago confirmed this understanding, yet we continue to disregard it in our organizational imperatives.

Why is there such a severe nursing shortage? No doubt lots of factors count, but clearly these are biggies: nurses are consistently overworked and, compared to medical doctors, underpaid, and women now have other options where they can count on receiving a) similar or better money, b) far less stressful working conditions, c) get more respect from employers and have more opportunities for pleasant interactions with coworkers (being around disease and illness is taxing), and d) not have to work excessive overtime.

So it seems reasonable to conclude that we don’t necessarily have fewer people who care about nursing. Seems more like the practitioners don’t get the respect they deserve. And it’s the patients–that’s you and me–who pay the price. And nursing is one industry that can’t be outsourced.

If you treat your employees with the respect they deserve–fair pay, benefits as reasonable as you can afford, opportunities to learn and advance–that kind of thing is worth bragging about on your corporate blog. So go ahead–point out the good things you do for your employees. Not only will your customers respect you for it–they’ll also get better service.  Because in the area of treating people with respect, what goes around, comes around. Even when some of them work overseas…

Small business: make room for the boom in entrepreneurs

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Some people get paid to look into the crystal ball for business. At Intuit, the Quicken/Quickbooks accounting software people, they decided recently to collaborate with the nonprofit Institute for the Future by sponsoring a study on small business trends. Smart business! If you know where your customers are headed, you can be like the wolf in the Red Riding Hood story–get there early and be ready for them.

Predictions at the Institute this year focus on the changing face of small business. More young people, more baby boomers, women, women-as-moms, and emigrant and minority entrepreneurs are going to mean more large companies can outsource–increasingly to people working from home or small offices rather than to other countries.

Multicultural marketing must reflect the growing diversity of both business owners and customers–and that doesn’t mean just language, according to Steven Aldrich, vice president, Strategy & Innovation, Small Business Division at Intuit. It also means identifying “the right media, influencers and distribution channels. One size does not fit all. Businesses will need their marketing to reflect the unique cultures and needs of their audiences. …small business[es that] may have been…serving a local audience…are now thinking globally in terms of marketing outreach, such as broader exposure on the Web and multi-lingual marketing campaigns…may discover new multi-cultural markets they hadn’t thought of before.”

More entrepreneurs can mean good news on the “green” front.
“As more and more entrepreneurs begin businesses in their homes,” says Aldrich, “the commute to work is reduced to a quick walk across the hall to the home office. These types of shifts can positively impact the environment by reducing traffic congestion.” As more talented people begin working on their own, fresh, creative ideas on all fronts–including the environment–are likely to come from these sources. An example, says Aldrich, is the small business Act Now Productions now working with Wal-Mart to help them become a sustainable enterprise.

Any way you cut it, if you’re an entrepreneur–whether self-selected or reluctant–you’re the future of small business. Corporate America is willing to do business with you, so get your ducks in order. Now we need to marshall more resources to help entrepeneurs find the funding and the support they need to meet the ongoing challenges of growing into their futures.

Write in your corporate blog about how you will reach out to small businesess. If you’re a small business, write in your business blog about how you’re preparing to help solve some of corporate America’s thorny issues. I think what this comes down to is two main differences in how we operate: 1) we’re becoming more personal (small business owners are personally engaged in delivering customer service), and 2) we’re going back to the frontier mentality…not finding jobs, as such, but exercising more passion and creativity in finding ways to discover our strengths and use them to earn a living.

Here’s the INTUIT-sponsored report on the Future of Small Business. 

Share personal anecdotes in your corporate blog

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

You’re doing great things at your company. Finding new ways to serve your customers . And of course you’re telling your prospects and customers about these things in your corporate blog.

But remember, readers love hearing about you personally. How things in your personal life lead you to consider ways to serve them better. In Bill Marriott’s blog you’ll see that he regularly weaves personal experiences into his posts, even talking about his family, his grandchildren, and so on.

If you fear you’d be giving away your privacy, consider that there are many things you can tell about your personal life. Even if you’re not the owner of a vast hotel chain talking about staying at some fine hotel somewhere, still your experiences as a business owner or executive very often relate in some way to your work life–and talking about them won’t necessarily invite the papparazzi to invade your world. There are always dozens of occurrences in the course of a week at work that can bring sparkle and intensity to your blog content–sometimes especially if the experience is negative.

You wouldn’t hide every negative thing from a colleague. Think of your readers as colleagues and write to them as you would talk to your business associates. Use the same principles of privacy and decorum and common sense in both situations.

Are you a leader? A trend setter?

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Oddly enough, the U.S. government seems to be slightly ahead of the private sector in setting people up to work from home. A recent study says that 44% of federal employees who responded to a survey have the option to telecommute. While those numbers could be skewed because if you don’t have the option, maybe the survey doesn’t look very interesting to you, that same situation probably holds true for government and private employees surveyed. 

That seems surprising…that the government is ahead of the capitalist system on any single item.  But when you consider the benefits of telecommuting to the organization, it’s maybe not so surprising.  They include: 1) significantly decrease traffic and pollution in congested cities, 2) improving employee recruitment and retention by enabling a better work-life balance, and 3) help ensure continuity of government operations during snowstorms and other minor events as well as after catastrophes. (Hmmm. The Homeland Security people may be having a hand in this.)

At any rate, if your company is enlightened–in any way–or is a leader at doing something new and better, whether for employees or customers or vendors, you get big-time brag rights on your business blog. Take ‘em.

'cuz they said!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Forrester is the 10-ton-giant of the business research world. Here they are weighing in on one of our favorite subjects: “Social media like blogs and peer reviews are gaining influence, and marketers avoiding these newly emerging channels risk losing business.”

Thankfully, they offer an easier entree into the world of social networking by suggesting that fear of blogs can be tamed by starting out with email marketing.  The idea is that business owners can begin to get used to having interactions with their customers–listening to their customers. They can do so by experimenting with less frightening options like surveys, polls, message boards, and testimonials–learning that customer service includes inviting and dealing with customer responses.

Start learning to get personal in your marketing efforts, and you’ll be catching the wave that’s not a fad and isn’t going away: business blogs.

What's really going on with your customers?

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

You can always write about the positive happenings at your company or in your professional life as part of your business/corporate blog. But sometimes it pays to talk openly about what’s missing–like what customers are unhappy about in your industry.

A couple of guys writing in the Harvard Business review have done a wonderful job of examining that elusive thing called customer satisfaction. They posit that CRM (customer relationship management) software is actually hurting levels of customer satisfaction. They’ve invented a new term for an old concept–CEM (Customer Experience Management)–which means actually asking the customer how s/he feels about each experience with your company. Wrote my monthly GetMoreCustomers newsletter on specific ways CEM differs from CRM  

Now writing in your blog about that sort of thing takes courage–but believe me, it’s the kind of thing that will get you more attention than almost anything. And more loyalty from customers who feel you’re truly working to make a difference in their experience. So take the bullet between your teeth and go for it–the HBR guys promise that, done right, it improves your bottom line.