Experience and Expectations

How do your experiences affect your expectations when you go about your daily activities? How do your experiences affect your expectations when you do business with someone? I thought so.

Have you seen the ads by CarMax? Here is a car dealer that understands how our experiences shape our expectations. For those who don’t understand what I am referring to, CarMax is running an advertising campaign where people experience a seemingly unending series of minor disasters/catastrophes, where the actual service or products delivered come nowhere near the promises made or expectations set. Witness the ad where the two prisoners escape prison only to find life outside is SO horrible that they actually beg to be allowed back into the prison. Likewise, there is the ad where the couple gets married and goes on the proverbial “honeymoon from hell”.

The message in the ads is that CarMax understands that shopping for a new and used car is not a happy memory for most people and full of mental caricatures of the fast talking, high pressure salesman with bad hair, bad breath and the proverbial loud, plaid suit. As a personal aside, my wife’s brother was a car salesman for many years and laughed ruefully at the caricature while making a VERY good living selling new and used cars.

What do CarMax and my wife’s brother have in common? Both provide laid back experiences where the customer is allowed to freely look through the lot and inventory at his/her own pace. Full disclosure on the vehicle’s background is freely provided and an effort is made to make the customer feel relaxed.

Talking with my wife’s brother about it, he commented that he tries to match the customer with cars that will meet their needs instead of the dealership’s needs. He resists trying to sell the most expensive vehicle on his lot if it does not meet the customer’s needs and lifestyle.

The payoff? He has built up a loyal clientele that comes back year after year and tells others about the excellent service he provides.

Can you say the same about your business?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

In his excellent weekly newsletter, friend John Stewart of Vantage Economics preaches to business people that one way of boosting revenues is improving customer satisfaction. Why? As John puts it, “many of your customers and suppliers will be more sympathetic than you think, which could allow you to negotiate better terms.”

Comparing this perspective to a recent lament by another friend, who co-owns a custom cabinetry shop with her husband, as well as the challenges the winery I am associated with has to deal with, I have to agree with John’s statement.

As both consumers and business people, we seem to always hear the mantra that “the Customer is always right.” As I noted in a previous post, drawing on my own experience, that is not correct, but as my old technician friend noted, “the Customer is ALWAYS the Customer.”

Customers do NOT always get what they want. If they did, my friend and her husband would not be able to stay in business building beautiful, hand-crafted customer cabinets, the winery I work with would be out of business because people would be served wine even when drunk and would purchase wine at MUCH lower than production costs.

Saying “NO” to impossible demands means educating the Customer on the choices available and the benefits of what you CAN provide as an alternative to what is desired.

For example, my friend constantly educates customers on WHY her husband will NOT compete with Lowes, Home Depot or other cut-rate competitors on price or their “one size fits all” approach. She stresses the quality, durability and cost benefit of her husband’s handiwork, which is signed by hand when installed. Does she limit her sales volume? She admits she does. But the satisfaction of a job well done for satisfied customers cannot always be counted in dollars.

Likewise for the winery, the law prevents providing a taste of wine to someone who is intoxicated. From a marketing viewpoint, the winery also pushes to extoll its wines and openly compare it to similar wines from elsewhere in the region, country and world. Does this mean lower sales volumes? Of course it does. But repeat visits from satisfied customers who tout their experience and the wines to others is priceless.

What is your perspective?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Experience Drives Behavior

In a networking group I attend, one of the participants stood up and talked about an address he heard several years ago about how one’s experience will define his or her purchasing decisions. Specifically, if the buyer had a favorable experience with a vendor or a particular item, it was likely that the buyer would go back for repeat purchases. Likewise, if the initial buying experience was a poor one, the buyer would look elsewhere in the future.

Can you relate to this scenario? As you look at your purchasing decisions, how much does your past experience influence your future buying choices?

If you’ve flown in the post 9/11 environment, you can probably tell horror stories about the service you experienced or observed. These experiences have probably been negatively enforced as the airline industry also has to cope with rising fuel costs and imposing a wide variety of fees to stay solvent. If you remember, it even got to the point where one airline executive went on television to proudly defend his company’s decision to charge fees for passenger carry-on bags.

Not all airlines are following this example. A notable exception is SouthWest Airlines, a no-frills carrier that regularly lampoons the competition and proclaims that, in addition to its relatively low prices, “Bags Fly Free!” The campaign seems to be paying off. When a recent maintenance problem was revealed and resulted in massive flight cancellations, industry analysts predicted that the bad publicity and canceled flights would do relatively little damage to the carrier’s bottom line.

SouthWest is benefitting from its emphasis on thinking about the customer’s experience with other airlines and influencing future behavior by showing the customer how flying with SouthWest will be a less expensive, maybe even more enjoyable alternative.

Can you relate with either the buyer or the vendor? Are you working to ensure your customers have the best experience possible in their dealings with you?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

 

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Business Orientation vs. Customer Orientation

In a recent meeting of a group of small business bloggers I meet with, two of the participants got into an interesting confrontation. The discussion opened when one business owner was handing out some of his wares to promote his business to the other participants at the meeting. When asked where he came up with some of the items he was passing out, the businessman proudly stated that the move was part of his “business orientation”, aimed at increasing his bottom line.

This assertion led to a spirited rejoinder from another business owner, who proclaimed that she succeeded because of her “customer orientation”. She went on to state that because she was always listening to what her customer base was looking for, her business plan was crafted to meet the customer’s needs, not her business’ needs.

The strong response that his initial assertion provoked caused the first businessman to back down and meekly respond that he, too, also paid attention to what the customer was looking for.

In reflecting on this spirited discussion, I began to wonder if all business decisions were based on what the customer wants/needs rather than on what the business wants/needs. My initial conclusion was there is really no difference.

That view changed when I read a review by Gina Smith of Information Week slamming AT&T’s recent decision to acquire rival T-Mobile (“Meet the Old Ma, Same as the Old Ma – Five Reasons Wireless Subscribers Will Suffer Under AT&T/T-Mobile Deal”). In her article, Ms. Smith detailed how this purchase will lead to less competition, less innovation and higher prices for consumers. When you look closer, Ms. Smith is outlining how a “Business Orientation” drives a business decision regardless of what the customer base wants/needs.

The same could be said for Verizon’s decision to halt all new installations of its heralded FIOS infrastructure to puff up its bottom line because of a possible buyout offer by another telecom firm. Customers (like me) who are eagerly awaiting FIOS’ arrival locally are on indefinite hold because of this “Business Oriented” decision.

Can you see other examples?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Organized Labor vs. Customer Service (cont.)

So are unions necessary for the provision of good Customer Service? The prevailing view of management is a resounding “NO”.

Whenever possible, as noted before, organizations with call centers will actively try to close centers where the workers are unionized and transfer the work to areas where unions do not exist. The reason behind this (in the view of management) is the lack of attention paid to resolving the customer’s concerns in favor of the worker feeling some independence from any consequences for sub-par behavior on his/her part. In this view, the worker feels s/he can say whatever s/he wants and not worry about being punished.

For the worker’s part, this independence is valuable because it ensures a steady paycheck job security, as well as what could be viewed as protection from mistreatment by an arbitrary management. This security is to be preserved at all costs.

An acquaintance who is an experienced Human Resource professional recently explained to me that she sees unions as no longer necessary for today’s working professionals. She voiced a view shared by many today that if an organization is dealing with a union, it is because the organization DESERVES it for bad behavior. In these instances, the organization has not realized that one of its constituencies is the workers who help provide the organization’s goods and services. Since the workers are not as easily able to take their talents elsewhere, like a consumer, they organize and threaten to shut the organization down in exchange for negotiated benefits and security.

The countering view is that the EXISTENCE of unions is necessary for good Customer Service because the organization realizes that rewarding workers for good performance, written procedures to avoid capricious management behavior and providing improved benefits for good performance results in happier workers and, in turn, improved Customer Service. In addition, management can also more easily correct the worker’s behavior and even terminate the worker more easily than it could if the worker were part of a union. HR organizations then take the place of union shop stewards and act as intermediaries, when necessary, between the worker and management.

This new model was begun by the high tech industry and proved to be so successful it has been widely adopted, thus making it unnecessary for workers to clamor for union representation and protection.

Obviously, this is a controversial topic. What is your experience/view?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Organized Labor vs. Customer Service

In the Call Center industry, unionized employees are not viewed in a favorable light, as they are seen as resistant to change and immune from corrective action if a problem arises from their activities on the phone. The prevailing view is that these employees are more concerned about THEIR rights rather than helping the caller. As a result, correcting what are seen as harmful behaviors is not worth the necessary bureaucratic and legal steps management must observe. And even after all the steps (or hurdles) have been taken there is little to guarantee that new, desired behaviors will be observed in the long run.

Personally, I have seen organizations actively seek to close centers and move the jobs lost to locations where unions do not exist. Although it is not outwardly acknowledged, this is most likely a factor in the exodus of Call Center jobs overseas. The prevailing wisdom is these non-unionized workers are more attuned to providing better Customer Service and willing to make the necessary changes in behavior to improve their performance.

The corporate world is not alone in this attitude. If one looks at government call centers, one sees, again, a non-unionized workforce with support from governmental employees who enjoy Civil Service protections (which rival union benefits and protections) but may not actually answer the phones. These call centers are all outsourced to the private sector, which guarantees certain levels of customer service.

What are the tradeoffs for unionized and non-unionized organizations? Unionized workers may enjoy better benefits, like medical, dental, pensions and job security than their non-unionized counterparts. Non-unionized workers may enjoy better pay and an increased chance at upward mobility in the organization than their unionized counterparts. The BIG tradeoff for these non-unionized workers is a lack of the job security their unionized and Civil Service counterparts enjoy.

So, are unions necessary for the provision of good Customer Service? The prevailing wisdom is split and I’ll address that next.

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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Politics, Unions and Customer Service

Unless you’ve been under a rock the past several weeks in the United States, you have heard of the labor unrest in the state of Wisconsin. In light of a previous blog topic regarding the application of Customer Service in the political world, one could argue that the Governor and his supporters in the State House are living up to their campaign ads and giving the voters what they asked for – namely a balanced budget coupled with a move to keep future costs down.

Is removing the rights of State employees to collective bargaining the best way to do that? While the move is extreme, clearly a case can be logically made both ways for the move the Governor is attempting.

Much of this depends upon your world view of work. In one view, a union is necessary to counter material excesses and abuse. The union protects workers and helps them feel secure both now and in the future. The collective bargaining arising from unionization helps set a pay rate everyone can live with, defines what can and cannot be expected of a worker, shields the worker from arbitrary and capricious actions by the employer and will also provide a financial safety net when the worker departs, whether for another job or through retirement. As you can expect, unions will battle hard to protect the rights and protections won in past collective bargaining contracts.

In Wisconsin, the battle appears to be shaping up over the size of the pensions State employees can expect to receive. The Governor says the State cannot afford the pensions and failure to get the unions to the negotiating table to address the issue led to the Governor’s decision to disband the unions and the resulting storming of the Wisconsin State House by unionized State employees.

And while this confrontation has been raging, school has been cancelled across the state, other services have gone undone because of union backlash to the Governor’s demands.

Who is being forgotten in this confrontation?

One could make the case that the taxpayers, parents and students of Wisconsin have all been forgotten while the Governor and unions try to force each other to back down.

One poll says most people see the abolishing of union rights as extreme, these same people also expect the unions to give to some of the Governor’s demands in order to balance the budget.

Of course, all this raises the issue of whether unionized employees are bad for Customer Service, as a colleague of mine recently opined.

What’s your view?

 

Steve Oviatt is President of Battlefield Telecom Consulting LLC (www.battlefieldtele.com) and also writes about Telecom Expense Management issues at www.facebook.com/BattlefieldTelecom.

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