Archive for the ‘baby boomers’ Category

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.  

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.