The Simplest Customer Service Trick in the Book

I really don’t mean to over simplify this, but customer service is really simple. And the number one trick is the one so many of us overlook.

It’s returning a phone call.

To restate it, always take your customer’s incoming phone call.  If you can’t, then always return it as soon as possible.

We are constantly interviewing our clients’ customers and vendors as part of our services. This gives us an unpolished view of our client so that we can get the most street-level picture of how the market views our client. Good, bad, or indifferent; warts or beauty marks.  Every blemish.

On a recent assignment I had an unexpected and unsolicited opportunity to interview a client’s customer. I was having lunch with an associate when he informed me that he was a customer of my client. He bragged on the quality of the work and the level of expertise that everyone there showed. But – and this was a big “but” to him–they were horrible at returning phone calls. After inquiring why that stood out so much for him, he explained his reasoning.

First, a little background: they, both my client and my associate, are in a project-focused businesses where time lines and benchmarks are critical. That means there needs to be constant back-and-forth communication about progress and status of various elements of a project.

My associate, while glowing in his compliments about my client as to his abilities, he was extremely frustrated to the point of considering discontinuing any future work because he just simply didn’t hear back from him when he called. Note that he didn’t say “he got bad service or production or bad results.” He just didn’t get timely information. And many times all it would have taken would have been a call back to say, “I’m still working on it, everything is going ok, but I don’t have any changes to report.”

Simple, right? Well, if it’s so simple, why do I find this to be a common complaint? I haven’t done any real scientific or serious analysis on this, but my practical experience informs me that this is really prevalent across all businesses.

Let me just leave you with this challenge. Return your phone calls, even when you have nothing to report. If you don’t have time for a full conversation, then send an email saying you got the phone call, there’s nothing new to report, and you’ll be calling back shortly–and then do just that.

Hey, this stuff really is simple!  Remember that old line about “90 percent of success is showing up?” This is a variation on “showing up.”

Blessings!

Dave

Singles or Home Runs?

We’re coming up on Major League Baseball Opening Day. Spring time in America! You just can’t beat it!

There’s probably nothing more exciting in all of sports than to see a grand slam home run. The bases are loaded and the batter knocks it into the second level of the left field bleachers. There’s just something about that event that makes the rest of the game almost fade away. You’ll remember that play probably long after you’ve even forgotten the final score of the game.

So what?

Way back in an earlier life, I had the privilege and challenge of working with a company as the vice president and general manager of their computer distribution division. This was early in the computer business and all of us in the market were pushing and shoving and trying to differentiate ourselves. I was fortunate enough to work with a well-funded parent company, so we had the wherewithal to do some creative things–so, we did. Of course, we  were also competing many times with equally well-funded companies and that meant they were doing some of their own creative campaigns.

After trying several different programs, succeeding at some and failing at others, the president of the company challenged me with a baseball analogy (lesson?) that I’ve been applying ever since.

After a particularly costly marketing plan that did not achieve much, he said: “Dave, you’re really good at swinging for the fences with some of your campaigns, but I’d be much more pleased if you’d just give me consistent singles and doubles.”

He went on to say: “If you do that, we’ll make consistent progress and get more growth while the other guys waste their time and effort on their home run attempts.”

It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten, even though it’s still in me to want to swing for the outfield bleachers.

As we work with clients, we challenge them to define their ideal client and that then leads to developing a more defined “go-to-market” strategy to best reach those ideal clients. While we’re not marketing experts, we are “go-to-market” experts. Meaning, that we take the “singles and doubles” approach to getting new business and keeping it. No fancy “home run” efforts. Just good old fashioned approach to improving batting averages by doing the right things consistently and repeatedly. This has proven over and over again to result in healthy growth without major investment in unproven marketing or sales efforts. Just the basics of getting a hit most of the time you step in the batter’s box. Which, by the way, happens every day.

So, when you go into work tomorrow, hit consistent singles and doubles. Forget expecting your team to hit home runs. Make sure everyone is doing the basics.

  • Call your prospects
  • Return phone calls
  • Be honest
  • Be consistent
  • Be dependable
  • Be reliable
  • Be responsible

Be the best batter – that’s the one who consistently gets a hit – not the one who occasionally hits a home run. That will grow your reputation and your business more than any other strategy.

Be blessed out there!

Dave

Snake Bit

We changed website hosts recently which meant we were also changing our email server and seemingly a host of other things. If you’ve ever done this, you would agree that I could end this post right now, without ever saying another thing and you’d get the point. But bare with me . . .

Between me and my closest confidant, Paul, we thought  it would be simple enough to do this. Sign up with a new hosting service and then follow the instructions on their site as well as the instructions on the current host’s site and voila – we’re done. A couple of hours, max. Not so much . . .

It seems that everytime I touched something it bounced something that Paul was doing. And then vice versa. So, again, simple enough to fix this. We engaged an expert to jump in and bail the project out and get it done. A week later the website was still not transferred!

While this was extremely frustrating, I joked with Paul, that this was just one of those snake bit projects that we experience every now and then so we just needed to gut it up, press in, and get it done. His reply was, “snake bit?”

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve had more than one of these types of projects. I call them “snake bit” because it’s like you’re in a pit full of snakes and you’re just trying to get from one side to the other – where the ladder is. Every step you take, you step on a snake and get bit. Doesn’t matter which way you turn, or how careful you step, you’re going to get bit. So what’s the solution?

Solution One: Run in place, stomping around angry, screaming at all the snakes. No, that just makes the snakes madder and more of them are going to bite you.

Solution Two: Stand still and hope they will all move away and clear a path for you. Uhh, has inactivity or delaying ever worked for you to get a project to completion?

Solution Three: Admit you’ve been bit, gonna be bit again, take a deep breath and move to the other side. Still going to be painful, but you will get through it and get the project done. The real answer here is to “suck it up!” Focus your time, effort, money, staff, everything on getting done with this project. Don’t cancel it, don’t delay it, get it done and over with. Tell everyone that’s the plan. Don’t let anyone off the hook – and that means don’t let anyone on the team delay it or “run in place creating more mad snakes.” Get it done and get over it.

My point with all this, is we all have these snake bit projects. The only way to get through them is to re-focus on it with a redoubled determination. There will be some hard things to do. Maybe admit to a customer that you’ve failed him or her in some way – but you’re going to fix it. Maybe it’s going to cost you more money than you budgeted. But it’s going to cost you way more if you keep dragging it out. The emotional cost is going to be heavy, too, if you drag it out.

So, snakes or not, when you’re in the pit, renew your and your team’s focus and resources and get to the other side. There’s safety over there. And the lessons learned will be things all of your team will remember and apply in the future.

Blessings!

Dave

Who’s Your Hero?

Where are you going? What are your goals? To whom are you selling? Why are you in business?

These are some of the first questions you can expect to be asked when you begin a new engagement.

The funny thing is, most of us (and that includes me and my company) lose focus on these important questions (or rather the answers) as we get immersed in our day-to-day activities. I’ve told you the story before of when a customer asked me how to set financial goals that were more than just numbers. Well, here’s a bigger picture of how we might address this.

Let’s change the focus.

Who do you look up to? Whether it be in life, sports or business, who is your hero?

Is there a company out there that really sets the standard for what you do? A great competitor that seems to have it all together? Does everything right? Beats you and everyone else in winning business and customers? Maybe you have a vendor or supplier who seems to do everything perfectly. Maybe you have a mentor or an individual you really look up to.

Who is it? What are they doing that is so right? What can you do to imitate them? Learn from them?

I ask this of all of my customers and it always surprises me when they say there is no one. Does this mean they’ve never noticed? They’ve never looked?

To be successful, you must have something beyond goals – and that something is an ideal. An ideal is not a place or a thing. It can be a person. But most often it is a combination of elements that paint a perfect accomplishment; the pinnacle of achievement – for you. It may ultimately not be achievable because it is so perfect.  But if you really believe in it, you’ll strive to achieve it anyway. People like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady have all been considered the best ever in their respective professions. But none of them have ever said they reached their ideal. They have the reputation for being the best, but they never ceased striving to be better. In reality they reached it, but, in their world, they were always going to be striving for it. They were (and are) living their lives striving toward their “ideal,” not for some tangible goal. Do you remember the advertising slogan that said, “I wanna be like Mike.?” Mike was not a “goal.” He was an “ideal.”   I wonder how many great athletes that we have today started with the simple ideal of being “like Mike?”

So, how about you? Can you identify and describe your ideal? I bet you can describe your goals: but can you look way past those and identify your ideal?

What is it?

Who is it?

The best goals are specific, definable and measurable. The best ideals are indescribable but can be pointed to. They are livable and will drive you to accomplishment on top of accomplishment. Striving toward your ideal will drive you beyond tangible goals. Your ideal will give you purpose. And a purpose will give you a life worth living.

Be Blessed!

Dave

Sharpen Your Tools

Last week I was reminiscing about my youth and my Dad’s woodworking shop. With your forbearance, I’d like to take you down one more nostalgic trail.

In our shop we had a lot of tools and, as you can imagine, most of them had to have sharp edges. None were sharper than our chisels. While all the saw blades and planers, and router bits and drill bits had to be sharp, none required the sharpness of the chisel and the hand plane. The reason was simple: these were hand tools and, generally, the last tool to touch the wood. So they had to be sharp enough to do the job without a lot of force and they couldn’t leave any extraneous marks.

To this day, when I do any woodworking, there is nothing more satisfying, I’d even say spiritual, than using a sharp chisel or plane across a beautiful piece of wood. As the tool cuts there is a clean shaving and a sweet sound as that shaving comes off the wood. This can only happen with an extremely sharp and perfectly honed tool. And we learned how to do that in Dad’s shop. The interesting thing about our shop, though, was we broke a cardinal rule of most woodworkers: we kept all the chisels in a drawer – with no edge protection. Those of you who relate to this personally just went “ouch!”

But before you discount everything else, hear me out.

We learned how to properly sharpen tools through a series of finer and finer grit stones and then through a stropping process that created super sharp edges. This however was not a one time procedure. Every time we pulled a chisel out to use, we examined the blade and stropped it and made sure it was ready for use. We never assumed that it was ready “right out of the drawer.” So, while we were careless in one sense for keeping them all in a drawer, we were always testing the blades before they were used.

What’s the point? Well I’m glad you asked – that is, if you haven’t already come to it on your own.

You can’t do a job worthy of true craftsmanship, if you don’t, first of all, use the right tool. And second of all: make sure it’s sharp enough to use.

So today’s question is: When was the last time you read a business book? When was the last time you studied up on or sought advice on a problem that was troubling you at work? Not to become the expert, but to become knowledgeable enough to identify and analyze a challenge to determine the best way to tackle it. Do your people follow your example of always studying and learning more about their craft?

If you’re not sharpening your chisels to the sharpest edge, you’re not doing a true artisan’s job. You’re not doing the best you can do. Take the time to do that. Set, and be, the example so you’ll have a company full of sharp chisels ready to do their best.

Blessings,

Dave

Put Your Hands On It–All Your Planning is Done

When I was growing up my father had a woodworking shop that my brother and I were proud to work in. Ok, there were times we were proud to work in it:  other times – like Saturdays and holidays –not so much. Nonetheless, there were always lessons to be learned. The obvious ones, of course, were the skills required to do woodworking: planning, layout drawing, cutting diagrams, joints, material selections – and on, and on. In addition to all of those, there were also important life skills that, many times, I didn’t realize I was learning until much later. To this day, I find myself reciting some of those very lessons to my own children and to my employees.

One of the greatest lessons comes from my Dad’s most common way to get us to begin a project:

“Ok, it’s time to put the coffee down and get your hands on it.”

You knew when he said that, he meant it literally and he meant right now.

No more talking about what needed to be done or how we were going to do it – it was time to literally shove a board into the saw. From that moment, there was something magical that occurred. Things began to happen.  Until we put our hands on it, there was nothing but a bunch of idle tools and a stack of raw wood. The project started to take shape and, before long, there was a fully assembled table or cabinet sitting in the shop.

And it all started with, “Put your hands on it.”

For the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about planning out the new year.

  • What your plan should be.
  • Starting with looking back at what you’ve done in the past year.
  • What you can build on for the new year.

A lot of serious thought has gone into these plans. And then a lot of effort has been applied in getting everyone to provide ideas and input. Just like all the planning and designing that needed to go into our woodworking projects.

But now the planning is done. Now comes the really important phase: it’s time to put your hands on it.

If you want to see results, they’ll only come by your actions, not your plans. We are all judged by our actions and not our plans. It’s time to believe in our plan and now “put our hands on it.” And get after this new year with a passion.

Magical things will happen. When you take action.

Blessings.

Dave