Do I Know You...?

My fiancée and I are going through the saga of buying (or possibly NOT buying) our first home. We have a lot of people “helping” us with this ordeal. There is our realtor (make that, second realtor). And his boss, the broker. There is HUD-the government agency known as the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There is SCE&G. And CPW. There is the home inspector (actually, we’re on our second one of these, too.) Finally, there is the “Field Services” company who has winterized and de-winterized our potential home twice now. In the future there will be closing attorneys and lawyers and brokers and probably some HUD representative telling me how I incorrectly filled out his tedious stupid government-y paperwork.  I knew this wouldn’t be easy. But I did not think it would ever be this hard to have just ONE of these people work in my favor. No phone calls have been made on our behalf. Nobody can ever meet or talk or email outside of 9-5. Nobody can contact anyone else. We are the mediators of this whole group of people, and we have NO CLUE what we are doing. $1000 here, $290 there, $30 to that guy, $275 for the inspection. Why? Why are we giving everyone money and having the worst experience of our lives? EVLOVING CUSTOMER SERVICE is the point of this blog.

Everyone rants about customer service, I know. But as small businesses turn into medium-sized businesses and so on, my plea to you is know your customer! And don’t forget it! They are real people. They will need their hand held sometimes. And that’s totally okay. Expectations are changing—fast. We here at B&A are realizing that every single day as we cater to our clients very specific needs and requirements. They are dishing over hard-earned money in a tough economy and expect results. We know! Lots of companies are doing exactly what my fiancée and I are doing: dishing out money for marketing and branding strategies that they don’t fully understand or know how to implement and are miserable because they aren’t seeing results.

I can say, first hand, that B&A knows how you feel! And we can hold your hand. Or not, if that’s what you want. 


Fast and Furious

I recently was faced with a huge dilemma: do I meet a deadline and rush the design process or do I take the time to get it right and miss the deadline. Ugh! Thing is, I don't miss deadlines! I was stressed out beyond belief, as any designer would be. I decided to rush it and get the design to my client so he could move along with his marketing plan.

I know that every single designer has been in my position. We've all had clients call us and say the deadline was yesterday and we kill ourselves to make sure it's done asap only to find out it wasn't as urgent as the client said it was. Pulling all-nighters doesn't help anyone - not me, not the client. The design suffers and nobody's happy.

I guess this is a plea to all potential design clients: please give your designer a chance to do the best for you by giving him or her the time they need to develop the right design for you. If you truly have a rush job be prepared to pay a rush fee for the service and possibly have fewer opportunities for feedback.


Customer Service Woos

I don't know if you remember or not but I wrote a blog post a few months ago about my Love/Hate relationship with Twitter. I talked about how I love that Twitter has opened communication between so many people, but on the reverse how it is a little bit of information overload for me. I talked about how as a customer you can go on Twitter and blast a company or product and that I did that exact thing. This week I'm going to expand on that experience and subject. I believe that monitoring social media is very important even if you don't participate because you want to know what/how people are talking about you and/or company. If you are a company that has implemented a social media strategy and you have dedicated people to monitoring conversations, empowering your team to solve customers problems via social media is a good idea.

I had (and am still having) a poor experience with a company and its social media team immediately contacted me to apologize and say that if I had any questions or needed any help to let them know. So, I did and they have been very generous in "trying" to help me but they can't. I know they want too but the corporation they work for has not given them any authority to make any decisions or even point me in the right direction. So, what's the point then? If you spend money on having a team monitor social media but then you don't actually let them do anything to solve people's problems, one could argue that the company is just wasting money by essentially not doing anything. You might as well not have any social media strategy at all. Is it better to monitor social media and just tell people sorry or not do anything at all?

I think that consumers would be more aggravated if you apologize and then do nothing to solve the problem. Isn't that just patronizing me is some sense? Because you recognize there is a problem but then don't do anything about it. In my situation, I don't blame the social media crew whose intentions are good in trying to satisfy me, but the "corporate monster" who won't let them do anything about it. Generally, I find this is an issue with large Fortune 500 corporations because small to mid-size business are very active in their social media policies and understand that empowering employees as an HR practice gives them an edge over their competition makes them faster and more efficient to solve problems. Don't get me wrong there are many companies out there that are doing it right and using social media as a way to monitor and fix problems and I may be the one person in the world that has come across this issue. What are your thoughts on empowering your employees to solve problems of customers via social media?

Customers of Different Stripes

I'm what I consider a very logical, systems oriented person and you'll hear me ask all the time, "does that make sense?"after explaining a procedure or why I did something the way I did it. This logical mind of mine can prove to be aggravating to those people that are the types that say, "that's our policy" or "that's just always been the way we have done it."

So this past week I dealt with a services switchover for a client from one vendor to another. It was a phone and data switch, which involved the current vendor, the new vendor, the phone system vendor and the IT vendor and I'm stuck in the middle. The new vendor schedules the switch date and gives me the standard, "we'll be there sometime between 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm." So, for the past week I have been hounding everyone I can at the new vendor's office about can you please give me a more exact time because I have to coordinate other people to be there and I don't want to pay them to stand around and do nothing for 4 hours (particularly at $125 an hour each - you do the math). This wastes everyone's time and money. I'm hounding the salesperson because he is the one I have a relationship with and he is stuck between a rock and hard place because I'm sure I'm aggravating him and his company won't empower him to take the "bull by the horns" and just work something out.

So how do companies solve this kind of business problem? First, it is recognizing that this consumer set has different needs than their typical consumer and realizing there is an issue and identifying it. This is where a good business management consultant, like moi (I was a French minor in college), comes in and gives the organization ways to solve problems, be more efficient, save money and make customers happy. Business customers are have different needs and coordinate many different moving pieces and if you are an organization that insists on sticking to your service "window" you need to explore ways to satisfy consumers that have different needs from your core customers, like give your sales staff more insight and training into the installation process. I don't mean train them on how to install, I mean training on how long it takes to do an installation like it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to wire the system. Hear me out on this - had my salesperson told me, "you are the second call for the tech on his schedule and he will spend an hour to an hour and half installing the equipment and wiring," I could have figured out for my planning purposes that the tech will probably get there around 2:30 pm and he will need to do his prep work for about an hour and a half so I need to schedule the phone systems vendor and the IT vendor to be there at 4:00 pm. Had the salesperson been taught the process, he would have been able to guide me through this planning process saving us all time and money.

In the end, they are giving me a credit on my bill to compensate me for my expense of scheduling my other vendors to stand around and wait on them. It isn't the salesperson's fault (who, BTW, redeemed himself and is back to being my BFF) and is trying to make me happy by reimbursing me, which is awesome and I really appreciate it, but it is this kind of inefficiency that could have been avoided if they thought of the process more logically and recognized that business clients have very different needs from their typical customer. The point is that as a business owner/manager think about all your customer segments and how their needs are different and how can you tweak your system slightly to meet their needs. Sometimes it is just a small change that can make a big difference between a somewhat satisfied customer and a raving fan.

My Love/Hate Twitter Relationship

I'm taking over Bartlby's Blog today, which I normally don't do, to share an experience I had last week that I think we can all learn from. As many of you may know I have a Twitter account (you can follow me @bartlesandassoc) that I have an unhealthy, co-dependt relationship with. I love Twitter because it is an innovative medium to hold conversations that businesses can utilize to give their brand a personality and to start to create that all important relationship with consumers that is so vital in marketing today but it can be a bit of information overload (for me at least).

So to give you a little background, for the past year and and half I have been trying to work with a mortgage company (who will remain nameless to protect the innocent) to try and take advantage of this low interest rate market. I'm a business person, what do you expect? Every single time I call the company I get the same snarky, why did you call me, answer, "You have to send in your information again and call every week to check the status. I'll make a note in your file." And then I call a week later and get yet another person who can't even put together a proper sentence who asks me all kinds of personal questions only to tell me they have no note that I called last week and to fax in my information AGAIN and check back in a week. So at this point every person in the company has my social security number because I have to keep giving it to them over the phone and then faxing it in with my information AND I have lost an hour of my life that I can't get back which I could have been using to make money to, you guessed it, pay the mortgage. Needless to say, my customer service experience has been terrible!

This last time I had had enough so I took to my Twitter account (because I was in one of my love moods with it that day) and posted, "I want 2 know why (company) takes forever & never gets anything done & I have 2 go through the process all over yet again." Followed a few minutes later by, "So aggrevated with (company), going to the pool for a few hours to get over it. See you guys on the flip side." Within about an hour a representative from the company tweets me back about how they are sorry for my aggravation with the company and to DM them with my concerns and questions. So in 140 characters (part of the hate end in my love/hate relationship) I tweet them my issue and they are now working on my case. It still remains to be seen if I will get any help, but there is a very valuable lesson to be learned here. All consumers now have a loud voice and they WILL use it.

For businesses it is extremely important that you monitor the conversations that are happening on social media about your brand and company. And whether or not you choose to participate in the conversation is up to you, but you need to monitor them because if you're like me you can't afford negative conversations happening about your company. Also, it allows you to spot good and bad opportunities that you can build on. The company I'm dealing with is going through a particularly hard merger right now and CANNOT afford to have bad PR floating around on the interwebs about how their customer service is terrible. Can you afford that kind of bad PR? I know I can't.