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How do you define ‘customer service’?

June 1, 2011

Here’s the scenario:

You are a small business owner providing tangible products to your customers. The door opens, and in walks one of your best customers. She lets you know that that one of the two widgets you ordered for her several months back was never shipped.

Now, the widgets were on backorder, and your vendor had agreed to ship them directly to your customer once they were in stock. You, of course, assure her that you’ll contact the vendor to determine what happened to the second widget, and see when they’ll be able to ship out another one to her.

Unfortunately, while on the phone with the vendor, you learn that their records show they did ship both of them out to her four months ago. You calmly explain that she received only the one. The vendor doesn’t understand how/why that happened, and says they’ll look into it further on their end, but that in the meantime, they will request another widget be sent out to her.

Problem Solved…Right?

Fantastic! Good customer service, right? There was a problem. Now, there’s a solution. You let your customer know she should be receiving the missing widget within the next few days. And then…

Briiiing. Briiiing.

You answer the phone only to find your vendor on the other end. It’s the supervisor of Jane, the person to whom you’d just spoken regarding the missing widget. The supervisor explains that Jane is new. Jane doesn’t understand that there’s a way to verify if the proper product was shipped, which is by the package weight. And, according to the package weight, two widgets were shipped in the box sent to your customer, which means they fulfilled their end of the deal.

Now what?

Hmmmm. Well, that’s nice and all, but here’s the thing: The customer never received the second widget. Maybe the scale was wrong. Maybe something happened to the second widget mid-shipment. Maybe because the shipping delivery person left the package outside the customer’s apartment complex instead of taking it to the appropriate delivery location for drop-off, someone opened the box and took one of the really cool widgets your customer bought.

Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows?

All you know is that you have a customer who paid for a product she hasn’t received. You paid for that product when you ordered it, and you haven’t received it. Now, the vendor is saying, “Tough luck, dude,” we already sent it to you, and we’re not re-sending it.

Now what?

You calmly (again) explain to Jane’s supervisor that you don’t know what happened – and, unfortunately, have no way of knowing what happened. What you do know is that your customer never received the product they paid for and you paid for. You know that you just explained to your customer how the vendor was so sorry for the mix-up and would, of course, be more than happy to ship out another product to rectify the wrong. So…now what?

The Return Policy: Huh?

Jane’s supervisor explains that their return policy is 30 days, and there’s really nothing to be done.

Uh…return policy? What does that have to do with anything?

You explain to Jane’s supervisor, that that’s nice that their return policy is 30 days, but in this instance, we’re not trying to return anything. The customer never received the product. There’s nothing to return.

So, given you’ve already explained to the customer that the vendor will ship out the new product, the customer’s already paid for that product, you’ve already paid for that product, and you’re going to make sure that your customer receives the customer service they deserve, where does that leave us? You ask the vendor what they would have you tell your customer – ultimately, their customer – given that scenario. And you know what you hear?


What happened to ‘the customer is always right’?

Right. Because, good customer service begins with one philosophy: The customer is always right – even when he’s wrong.

Yep, that’s right. It doesn’t matter if the vendor is right in this situation. It doesn’t matter if your customer thought there was only one widget in the box, threw it out and now is requesting another one. It doesn’t matter if your customer is lying. What matters is doing right by the customer.

Now, in this particular scenario, which is a variation on a true story, the vendor ended up coming through in the end. They called back, and told the business owner that because Jane originally agreed to ship out a new product, they would honor her word. (Go Jane!) The customer received the product and all is good.

Or is it?

What damage was done by this encounter with this vendor? How does the customer now view them? How does the small business owner now view them? Is this a company you’d want to do business with?

Drop me a comment on your thoughts below. I’d love to hear them.


A Six-Year-Old’s Perspective on Marketing

October 6, 2010
Walmart Supercenter sign

Image by Ron Dauphin

The other morning on the way to before-school care, my six-year-old asked me what a tagline was. I’m not exactly sure what prompted the question, but I’ve always been amazed at his propensity to retain the taglines of various brands via commercials even at a young age.

I replied, “You know that saying you always repeat when the Walmart commercial comes on? They say, ‘Walmart,’ and you say–”

“–Save money. Live better!” he practically shouts, interrupting me, of course.

“Right. That’s a tagline. It’s something a company or store uses to help customers understand what they’re about or what they sell and why it matters to the customer. They used to have a different tagline: Walmart. Always low prices,” I muse, somewhat thinking outloud. It was only 6:15 a.m., mind you.

“Ooooh. I like that one much better,” he says from the backseat.

“You do? Why?” So do I, but I was curious as to what his little mind was conjuring up.

“Because, mom (Insert *duh* here; can’t you hear it?), that means the toys don’t cost as much, and I could buy more of them,” he explains…as if to a six-year-old. 😉

Huh. That’s exactly right. And that’s why that tagline is better. It clearly explains the benefit to the consumer in straightforward terms…even a six-year-old can  understand.

Maybe they should have had him on their tagline focus group panel. What do you think? Which tagline is better and why? Are there other brands you can think of that changed theirs for the worse and/or could stand to have a tagline makeover?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment below.

Think. Act. Live.

September 19, 2010
thinking red,green and black

Image by jmsmytaste via Flickr

What are you waiting for? Go ahead. You can do it. I know you can. Do you?

Think before you act and then act decisively. Fortune favors the brave.

~Brian Tracy

As long as you think before you act, there’s no reason not to act decisively. I don’t know about you, but I continually come face-to-face with people who are stuck in a recurring deadly cycle of analysis paralysis.

Facing Decisions and Failing

This debilitating condition all but renders the person useless when faced with a decision. Any decision.

  • Should we create a direct mailer or send an e-mail? Uhhh…
  • Should we inform not only this audience but that one of the change? Uhhh…
  • Which image better elicits the action we’re trying to achieve? Uhhh…
  • What should we call this new product? Uhhh….
  • Italian or Chinese? Uhhh….

Without the ability to make concrete, confident decisions, we rob ourselves – and our clients – of the ability to truly live. To enjoy our work, revel in the progress we’re making and see the fruits of our labor. Without the ability to make concrete, confident decisions, there’s often no fruits to enjoy because nothing’s been decided and nothing’s been done.

No Risk. No Reward.

We were each hired to accomplish a job. To serve a purpose. To contribute to the overall success of the company.

Well? What are you waiting for?

Think about the decision in front of you. Weigh the pros and the cons. Understand the worst-case scenario with decision A and decision B. Understand the best-case scenario with those same decisions.

Then act. Accept the responsibility. Accept the risk. Be brave. Know that even if the decision doesn’t yield perfect results, you can learn from it. Improve on it. Move on.

And live.

After all, fortune favors the brave.

Do you agree? Disagree? Drop me a comment.

Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. And accept some responsibility. Please.

September 8, 2010

I’m not exactly sure if it’s something in the air or water or what, but lately, there’s a lot of, “That’s not my fault.” “I’m not sure how that could have happened.” “Make sure you get someone else to sign off on it because otherwise it’s our responsibility.”

Oh my gosh. Not that. Heaven forbid we take responsibility for our actions. For our opinions. For our work. *Scoff.*

Seriously, people?

Take Some Responsibility

We all make poor decisions. It’s how we respond to them that matters.

We all make mistakes. It’s how we learn from them that matters.

We all make judgment calls on a daily basis. It’s how we take responsibility for them that matters.

We’re human. We’re not infallible. We do the best we can. We strive for 110% every single day. And if and when a mistake pops up, we accept it. Own up to it. And move on.

We have to. This is how we learn, change, improve. This is how we better ourselves. This is how great leaders are separated from people simply in leadership roles. There’s a difference.

So, the next time you fall, pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. And accept some responsibility. Then, use that knowledge to make a change for the better, avoid that mistake next time and enhance your leadership skills.

Agree or disagree? Drop me a comment, and let me know.

But…what’s the problem?

August 20, 2010

It often amazes me how we can sometimes completely overlook the problem and focus solely on completing the task.

Let me explain.

Let’s say a client comes to you with a project. There’s this brochure. The task? It’s outdated and needs to be updated.

Seems fairly straightforward, right? But what if I told you that this brochure costs tons of money to print, that it’s going to take several hours to rework it and several more to redesign it, and that it’s talking about a program the company doesn’t really want to promote right now?

Still sound like a simple matter of completing the requested task?

Ask Some Questions

Rather than running with a task at face value, often we need to ask questions, delve a little deeper and understand the true objective the client is trying to achieve.

  • Do they really need the brochure updated?
  • Is there another way the information could be disseminated?
  • What objective are they trying to achieve by using the brochure?
  • Would a website or online forum work just as well?
  • Is there a way to integrate the information into another mechanism they’re already using?

In this particular instance, after talking about these exact things with the client, we realized that they didn’t really need a printed piece in brochure format. After all, the website they used had similar information on it – it was just missing one crucial element. Hmmm, what if we added that one crucial element to the website?

“Perfect!” the client responded, elated.

Yet, rather than asking these questions, the communicator was going to rework the brochure as requested simply because that was the request.

It’s time to dig deeper and stop robotically completing every request you receive. At face value the task may seem straightforward, but…what’s the problem?

How do you tackle client requests? I’d love to hear your stories. Leave me a comment below.

Knowing When ‘Good’ Is Good Enough

April 28, 2010
Starring role...

Image: Pewari Naan

It often amazes me how one key theme will emerge from numerous conversations with unrelated people in the course of one or two weeks. And it happens all the time.

This week is no different.

I read Perfection is Overrated on Fuel Your Writing. It started like this:

I’ve stared at this article for the better part of an hour.

Dedication, you might call it, were you the flattering type (thanks!). Idiocy, you might counter, if you weren’t. But let’s label it perfectionism, the bane of the diligent writer, and the whole messy reason I’ve rewritten this introductory sequence three times over.

I’m tempted to rewrite it again.

That’s the terrible truth of it: perfectionism, celebrated in fields that demand little attachment to your work, proves a dangerous hurdle for folks who make a living off the sweat, blood and tears they pour onto the page.

~Matt Madeiro

Been there. Done that.

Next came the conversation with a coworker about “analysis paralysis.” You know, that horrible condition that causes some to overthink everything. To re-read, review and re-analyze everything you write over and over and over again until you lose sight of the primary objective – and drive everyone else nuts.

I’ve worked with a few people inflicted with this debilitating condition. You?

Finally, the frustration of a client regarding the inability of his writer to produce anything on time because she wanted it to be perfect – instead of striving for simply well-written, clear, accurate and on-time.

But, I Need an ‘A+’

Some will say that this constant re-analysis and obsession with perfection is a necessary evil. They say it has to be just perfect. “Should we use ‘that’ or ‘which’? Should we flip the clauses? Should this sentence be shorter? Longer? Should I add more paragraphs? Delete some paragraphs?”


Does the article clearly articulate your primary objective? Does it accomplish your goal, as-is, without any further changes? Is it clear, concise and compelling? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you’re finished. The article is complete. Call it a day, and move on to the next task on your bulging to-do list.

“But it needs to be an “A+!” It could be better. If we just tweak it a bit more, it could be great. I’ve been thinking about this particular paragraph, and I think we could modify this one word to make all the difference.”

It Can Always Be Improved

Yes, maybe. Writing can always be improved, modified and tweaked. But to what end? What are you trying to accomplish? Will it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

A friend of mine shared a philosophy of his previous boss, which went something like this: “An on-time C is always better than a late A.”

Now, as a straight-A student, I had to think about that for a minute. I, too, have tendencies to want to make each piece perfect. But just because I think it’s perfect, doesn’t mean my client will. Everybody’s perfect is different. And that’s why, my friend’s boss is right.

It’s always better to ensure you meet your clients’ deadline with a solid, clear and accurate article than miss the deadline just to have the piece ‘perfect’ in your mind.

You have to know when ‘good’ is good enough. How do you avoid the perfection paralysis?

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Don’t Overthink It

April 21, 2010
The writer, the written and the writing tool

Image by Ravages via Flickr

It’s 2 p.m., and your [boss/client] just told you the piece you thought was due next week, is really due by 4 p.m. Luckily, you’ve already done the research and interviews, and you’re ready to go. Or are you?

The Pressure

How well do you work under pressure? If you’re like a lot of writers, that’s when you thrive. But what if you’re not? What’s the secret to producing awe-inspiring pieces in deadline-tight timeframes?

Don’t overthink it.

  1. First, think about the intent of the article or piece you’re writing. What’s the overall objective? What are you trying to communicate? Got it? Good.
  2. Now, summarize the article or piece – outloud. If your neighbors will think you’ve gone loopy, you can always pull one of them aside and explain that you just want to get this piece straight in your own mind and want to say it outloud. Otherwise, it’s okay to have them think you’re a bit loopy. The spice of life and all that.
  3. At this point, you should feel like a big weight has been lifted off of you. You’ve now summarized the content in one sentence. Adding to it, is the easy part. After all, you’re a writer, right? We all like to go on and on and on. But I digress…
  4. Next, type (or write if you’re old school) what you’ve just said outloud into your blank document. Now that you have your overall objective and a succinct one-line summary, you’re good to go. Simply determine how to flesh it out and organize it. And then write!

Let me know how it goes. If you’re like me, sometimes the hardest part is step 2. After saying it outloud in simple terms, it’s much easier to figure out your particular angle and go from there. Good luck! And, don’t overthink it.

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