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The one customer service mistake all businesses should avoid

(BUSINESS) Customer service is paramount for every business, but this one mistake handicaps so many and can be fixed so easily.

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As both an entrepreneur and business coach, I’m cursed with the proclivity to recognize areas for improvement in any businesses that I visit – even as just a customer. I wait in lines, stay on hold and watch mistakes happen, all the while dreaming of how I’d create a better customer service experience.

Case in point: I recently accompanied my girlfriend, Pam, on a trip to a car dealership – and what should have been a simple transaction turned into a nightmare, all because of customer experience.

Throughout the entire experience, I witnessed from the sidelines numerous small mistakes that, if resolved, could widely improve the processes of that car dealership and grow its business. But it wasn’t these small mistakes that did the most damage. Because of just one critical error, they will never know what they did wrong.

With over 180,000 miles on her current car, Pam knew that the time had come to replace her trusty and reliable vehicle of many years. She liked her current car, so she decided to simply replace it with a new version of the same model and brand. The only change would be a new color. To make the transaction even easier, she sold her old car to a friend and she didn’t need financing, opting to use her local bank for financing or pay cash.

Based on the above, I assumed that the car shopping experience would be extremely quick and painless. We contacted several dealers in the area and gave them the exact specifications of her new car and asked them to respond with their best price. Simple, right?

After receiving responses from three dealers in the area, Pam made the decision to go with the dealer closest to her house. They had the exact vehicle she wanted, although it was at another location, so it would take a few days to receive. And their price was almost identical to the lowest price received. They even said they would match a 0% interest financing offer that another dealer had offered to attract her business. Her next step was to head to the dealership and fill out the paperwork. We decided to do it on the way out of town for the weekend, because it was going to be so easy.

Upon arrival, she was told that she had to meet with the financing person and there was one customer in front of her. She was reassured, “It will be a short wait…” It turns out their definition of a “short” wait was several hours.

Multiple times, she asked what could be done to shorten the wait. Surprisingly, even if she decided to pay cash, their process required that she visit with the finance person. As she later found out, that was because the finance person’s goal was to upgrade her on insurance, financing, warranties and other add-ons – despite the fact that she clearly told her salesperson upon arrival that she did not want any of those add-ons.

Her only request was a quick experience, which they failed to deliver.

Upon finishing her paperwork with the finance person, my girlfriend was approached one last time by the salesperson as she headed out the door. He said it was “really important” that he go over one last detail of the transaction in his office. He proceeded to review the survey that she would receive from the manufacturer about her car-buying experience. He handed her a pre-filled out version of the survey with certain areas highlighted with the exact score he wanted her to provide so he could get his “full commission.”

He explained in great detail that his pay was directly related to the score on the survey. He even bribed her with some all-weather floor mats she noticed earlier in the day but decided were too expensive. He said the mats would “magically” be in her car when it was delivered – a small token of his appreciation for filling out the survey per his instructions.

All in all, the customer service experience was less than satisfactory and was riddled with mistakes. But, it was the salesperson’s mistake that most seriously hurt the business. Can you spot it?

As I watched the conversation about the floor mats unfold, that desire to help businesses improve struck me, and I realized that the incentive structure put in place by the dealership was going to prevent them from getting the real information – the true survey results – they needed to improve their business. (Which is too bad, because they really need to improve.)

A lesson that I always share with the businesses and leaders I work with day to day is: Incentives are a powerful tool to motivate team members, but if they get in the way of honest feedback or inspire teams to chase “rewards” instead of true business success, they can also have unintended consequences which put the brakes on the growth of organizations.

After a few additional hiccups in the process, my girlfriend finally received her new car… with the all-weather floor mats. She’s very happy with the car, but disappointed with the car-buying experience.

And unfortunately, because of the dealership’s decision to connect pay incentives to the survey, the dealership and manufacturer will never know the truth.

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Certified Petra Coach Rob Simons draws upon his 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, brand expert and business coach. Rob founded PixelWorks Corporation in 1993 to serve the interactive advertising industry and in 1996 he founded Toolbox Studios, Inc., one of the most respected branded content marketing firms in Texas. Rob sold Toolbox Studios in 2015 to focus exclusively on business coaching, which includes certification as a Gazelles International Four Decisions™ coach. An active member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), Rob is currently a “Master” EO Strategy Summit Facilitator and an EO Accelerator Instructor. In 2007, the San Antonio Business Journal named him one of San Antonio’s “40 Under 40.”

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How the Lean concept can have the biggest impact on your bottom line

(BUSINESS) Using the Lean business concept and asking the non-sexy question of “What’s dumb around here?” your business will outpace your competitors in no time.

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Entrepreneurs love solving problems. That’s what they’re good at doing. In fact, the more complex, difficult and messy the problem, the more the entrepreneur will enjoy the challenge. Entrepreneurs are especially good at solving problems that nobody knew were there. Think about Steve Jobs: He knew that we needed a pocket MP3 player before we even knew what it was.

While entrepreneurs are coming up with the next “big” thing, we need the non-entrepreneurs in our organizations focused on solving the small problems in our company with the same enthusiasm. Imagine if every one of your team members were consistently looking for opportunities to improve your systems, processes and service delivery. Those subtle changes made in the non-sexy parts of the business usually have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

This is a business concept called Lean, in which a company changes their processes to create the most benefit to the customer using the least amount of resources possible. Lean is commonly used in the manufacturing industry, but its principles can be used in any business to change the way of thinking and doing things.

I recently witnessed a great example of how Lean principles were used to improve one of my clients, LuminUltra – a leading provider of microbiological testing hardware, software and services. The company serves industries that need to know quickly and accurately what’s living in their water. At a recent quarterly planning session at the LuminUltra offices in Fredericton, Canada, COO Charlie Younger shared a powerful story about the company’s manufacturing facility and challenging the status quo.

During the expansion of the company’s manufacturing facility, one of the team members was lamenting to Charlie about how much time it took to complete a lengthy step of the manufacturing process – one specific quality check that was very time-consuming. He remarked that in the history of the company they never had a single machine fail the test. Charlie’s first thought was, do they even need to perform this specific test again?

After more discussion with colleagues, the team realized that the other quality checks performed earlier in the manufacturing process would always identify a defective unit. With this knowledge, the manufacturing team asked for permission to perform minimal testing to still provide assurance with less work. When presented with the information, the company leadership agreed that it was a great idea and would save time and money as well as improve the employee experience. But the bigger question was: Why hadn’t anyone ever questioned this lengthy step of the manufacturing process before?

Charlie, having run Lean programs in the past, has seen this issue before: People continue to do what they’ve always done even if they think there is a better way. He thought this would be a great opportunity to use a fun, simple but elegant technique to capture other status quo breakers – in other words, he decided to use the same principles for changing the company’s production process to make other company decisions.

With that, he posted a whiteboard in the manufacturing room with the title “What’s Dumb Around Here?” and encouraged team members to capture possible “dumb things” to add to it. These topics are discussed and vetted during their Lean process meetings to determine if they can be improved.

When I discussed the new process with Charlie, he noted, “First, you have to create an environment where people are willing to question the status quo. We have always been highly focused on quality and accuracy, so the team thought it was outrageous to openly question a quality check we had been performing for years.”

He continued, “You have to help your management team be open to receiving ideas that might seem crazy and not overreact to the suggestions. Instead, simply ask them to explain their logic. More often than not, the front line knows a better way to do things but does not know how to navigate the change. The beauty of using Lean techniques is that you now have an easy navigation path to discuss, approve and roll out changes. Suddenly, you have an energized front line solving problems with minimal involvement from management – how great is that?”

While LuminUltra continues to grow their product line and expand into new markets, it expects that its implementation of Lean principles will help it make subtle but important modifications to processes that will positively affect its bottom line. The CEO, Pat Whalen, remarked, “If we can produce our products faster and more cost effectively and get them into the hands of our customers faster, we can have an even bigger impact on the water sector with our microbiological monitoring products. I need all of our team members thinking how we can improve every single day. The water sector needs us.”

Every visionary, big-thinking entrepreneur needs a team that challenges the status quo. How are you encouraging your team members to identify, “What’s Dumb Around Here?”

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How to temp test to see if a Master’s degree is really right for you

(EDITORIAL) Pursuing a Master’s degree is often part of advancing a career, but are you sure you’re ready to sink time, money, and energy into more education?

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Higher and further

“A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are,” wrote poet Nikki Giovanni. “Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.”

Whether or not you’re looking to make a transition to embrace yourself and what it is that entails, or simply need to boost your career opportunities by dusting off your skill set, going back to college can simultaneously seem like a great idea and a risky bet.

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And both vantage points would be right. Jordan Weissmann, writing at Slate, notes that for the non-traditional student, graduation rates are nearly 20 percent lower. Completion rates are lower still for non-traditional students who are taking classes on less than a full time schedule.

So, for those of us who are intellectually curious, yet conscious of not wanting to sink an investment of time, money, and energy into an unproductive and unprofitable opportunity to improve, what are our options?

Timely ways to investigate are at hand

If you’re just in the preliminary exploration phase of what might be of interest, listen to or watch a lecture on the topic. With hundreds of sites that offer such lectures, it can be overwhelming to find a place to begin that’s both reputable and interesting.

That’s why the launch of Find Lectures is a boon to the prospective student. In one place, you’ve got a searchable catalog of nearly 26,000 free lectures, many 60-minutes or less, from TED, the Library of Congress, Talks at Google, and more.

For those who want more than just an exploratory conversation about a topic, there are multiple colleges and universities who have opened MOOCs, or massive open online courses. MOOCs, many of which are free, can be found for an almost unlimited number of courses, with some leading to degrees, while others allow you to get the knowledge, information, or skill, albeit with no degree path following.

EdX and Udacity

An example of the different types of MOOC providers can be found by looking at EdX and Udacity.

EdX, a consortium of colleges and universities banded together to offer generally free courses on a wide variety of topics, includes such providers as MIT, Harvard University, Boston University, UC Berkeley, and Dartmouth College, among others.

Founded through a joint effort between MIT and Harvard in 2012, EdX currently sees more than 7 million students taking one or more of the over 700 courses that are currently offered.

In an online environment, the EdX courses feature weekly learning targets, which are taught using a blend of online video content, electronic textbooks, and interactive learning exercises, including collaboration with other peers taking the course through online discussion forums. While the majority of the courses are free, students who choose to take courses to complete an EdX Verified Certificate do face varying fees. All students who choose to audit courses can do so at no cost.

Udacity is similar, yet different, in their approach. As with EdX, students take online courses that feature a blend of online video content and peer-to-peer collaboration, but Udacity courses are aimed towards those seeking skill development in computer sciences. As such, one sees that the courses are developed through partnerships with tech businesses such as Google and AT&T, as opposed to varying universities. Initially created as an extension of free computer classes at Stanford in 2011, the Udacity courses offer a trial enrollment period, after which course continuance costs varying fees per class.

The Udacity brand has focused on creating skill development and certifications that are recognized within the varying branches of the tech industry.

In an attempt to expand the reach of their offerings, in 2014, Udacity partnered with Georgia Institute of Technology to offer a MOOC degree in computer science at a price point of only $7,000, significantly lower than other similar Master’s programs.

A great dip of the toe

As you stop and think about how to take advantage of the new world, it’s okay to be hesitant, and even scared. You’ve got to find the sweet spot in finding or enhancing your career, with skills that are necessary to do so, and realize a return on your investment in time, money, and satisfaction quickly.

It’s important to do the things that we love, that are emotionally rewarding and financially remunerative, but we also realize that we live in a world, especially for the mid-career professional that is hesitant to allow a great deal of time to make that investigation into how to do so.

Using these tools, combined with self-reflection, can help you make the most of that time as you consider what’s out there for you, just waiting.

#Education

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Business News

If you want to hire your top pick, studies say quit stalling

(BUSINESS) Waiting for more than a month to make a final offer may mean that you’re missing out on the valuable candidates you really want to hire.

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The phrase “Slow and steady wins the race” may describe your optimal strategy in some departments, but according to a study by 3Gem, hiring isn’t one of them. If you’re waiting more than a month before deciding on a new hire, you’re most likely not getting your first pick.

The study, conducted via 9,000 employees, determined that around 67 percent of employees had passed on their first job choice because they didn’t hear back from an employer before a second opportunity arose. Additionally, 70 percent of those surveyed said that they wouldn’t stick around for a job if the hiring process took more than a month from start to finish.

If your ears are burning, it may be time to change your hiring tactics.

This isn’t to say that you should rush into hiring; your recruiting process deserves time and ample consideration. However, taking more than a few weeks to go through the process of starting recruiting, meeting applicants, and making your final offer means that you’re both missing out on top-notch talent and wasting the time of countless potential recruits.

Consider your applicant pool: the majority of your options are either currently unemployed or heading in that direction (volitionally or otherwise). Few people can afford to stay unemployed for more than a month, meaning that any option, regardless of whether your business is the employee’s dream environment, starts to look better than your lack of a timely answer.

From an employee’s perspective, an application is as good as rejected if they haven’t heard back within a couple of weeks, and having no income during that period of time is suboptimal. Waiting for more than four weeks before making a decision, to say nothing of more than that—20 percent of the surveyed employees had experienced wait times of over two months—is unacceptable.

The math is simple: exceptional candidates have neither the time nor the need to wait for a response. If you place hiring over other activities during your recruiting bouts, prioritize the top one percent of your applicants, and make your final offer the second you’ve made up your mind, you’ll see an increase in in-house talent in no time.

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