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Opinion Editorials

How brands fail at customer service [editorial]

Just as many companies have switched to overseas production and lower quality materials, customer relations has also taken a hit. Customer service has fallen by the wayside, with more and more companies focusing on higher quantities of customers, and forgetting about quality.




The cornerstone of business

“The customer is always right” is a phrase that every businessperson and entrepreneur is familiar with. While the phrase may not be accurate, its message of customer service is one that has long been embraced as important to business success. In fact, adequately assessing the needs of the market, pricing your product or services at the right price point, managing costs, and keeping your customers happy are the major cornerstones of Business 101. Or at least they were.


Is customer service a thing of the past?

Just as many companies have switched to overseas production and lower quality materials, customer relations has also taken a hit. Customer service has fallen by the wayside, with more and more companies focusing on higher quantities of customers, and forgetting about quality.  Customer service has become an Olympic sport of avoidance as companies are going to extreme measures to avoid interacting with customers. From adopting lengthy problem resolution processes to not making a phone number available to customers at all, customer service has hit an all time low.

Frustrating, or even unsatisfactory, customer experiences in business are inevitable, but having a proper channel of resolution can significantly diffuse the situation and remedy negative feelings from customers. This idea seems logical, yet I’ve managed to encounter customer experiences recently, personally and professionally, that leave me shaking my head.

Looking for help in all the wrong places

A couple of weeks ago we received a bill that had recently changed and I wanted more clarification on the price increase. My question was simple, and after searching for about ten minutes on their website, I decided to make a brief phone call in order to get clarification. My children were engaged in something that didn’t require my attention, so I figured since I wasn’t readily finding the information I needed online, I’d call and speak to someone. I was greeted immediately with a friendly sounding automation that informed me that I could speak my responses in lieu of typing a number to select my response. This seemed like an improvement to the automated customer service experience of the past. Ok, sure. I’ll play.

My first instruction was to state my reason for calling. It seemed like a long shot that the system would be able to decode my problem in this open-answer type prompt, and I was right. I was directed to another menu where I was to select one of eight different potential problems I needed assistance with – of course none of which applied. I was then moved along to the next menu, expecting at any point to encounter a “press 0 for an operator” option that never came. This is when my young children had some kind of immediate need that had to be addressed that very second or the world end, so I hung up the phone with the idea that I’d call back in a few minutes and attempt to bypass the automation altogether.


After taking care of my children, and settling them back into an activity, I decided to try again to resolve my issue, this time with a different approach. As soon as the automation welcomed me to the phone call I began pressing numbers hoping to create confusion and yelling “Representative!” into the phone. This somehow worked, and I was able to speak with someone, but only after perseverance and about 45 minutes of wasted time.

Negative feelings linger

When I hung up the phone, while I had received the answer I sought in the beginning, I felt frustrated and annoyed. Clearly, as I am writing an editorial about poor customer service, these feelings have stuck with me and I let out a low grumble every time a correspondence from this company comes across my desk. Why did I have to try so hard to get an answer to a simple question? It seems as if companies have attempted to avoid communication at all costs with their customers. I understand having a tier one support option, maybe a FAQ page or similar, but during my pursuit for answers I began to feel as if they wanted me to give up. They were hoping I’d just say forget it and move on. If I was able to speak to a human, either on the phone or via the computer, I could have had my issue resolved in under five minutes – instead it took me nearly an hour.

Customer service matters

When starting a business venture it’s important to remember that your customers are an integral component to success. The image you portray extends beyond the quality of product you provide. If your customer doesn’t feel valued those feelings can tarnish even best deal they have received. On the flip side, if a consumer does feel valued they begin to associate quality service with a quality product, causing brand dedication, free word of mouth advertising, and a greater acceptance to change, including redesign and price increase.

The moral of this story is be sure the customer service funnel you have in place is effectively giving consumers the answers they need, with as little frustration as possible. Call your own automated help line, submit a ticket, and crosscheck your FAQs. Keep in mind that while the customer isn’t always right, the customer does like to feel as if they matter.


Megan Noel, a veteran ex-educator with a PhD in Early Childhood Education, enjoys researching life through the eyes of her two young children, while writing about her family’s adventures on With a nearly a decade in small business and marketing, this freelance writer spends most evenings pouring over new ideas and writing articles, while indulging in good food and better wine.

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  1. Pamela Hartwell

    March 17, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    In pursuing a new career in real estate the disconnect is unfortunate but true in my experience on an almost daily bases. Trying to have plan for the recordings is not really possible. When the recordings start the iphone is put on speaker and other task can be performed while waiting. If I have to wait for the representative and be transferred to another dept., when the rep. gets on the telephone the stress level is so high I respond out of frustration and sometimes have to regroup for the reason of the call. There seems to be a disconnect created by the impersonal aspect of technology that extends to the relationship and function of our “Work.” Our service to man.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Very insightful, Pamela, thanks for adding that!

  2. Pingback: Social media is transitioning to in-app customer service - The American Genius

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Opinion Editorials

How top performers work smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) People at the top of their game work less, but with more focus – learn how to replicate their good habits to get ahead.



working smarter

Practice, practice and more practice will get you to be more competent in what you do, but working smarter isn’t always about competency, at least in business. Productivity expert, Morten T. Hansen’s studies indicate that multitasking is detrimental to working smarter. But it’s only half of the problem.

Hansen discovered that the top performers did not try to do thousands of things at a time. He’s not the only one.

Earl Miller, an MIT neuroscientist outlines why humans cannot multitask. As he puts it, “our brains… delude us into thinking we can do more.” But this is an illusion. When we interrupt the creative process, it takes time to get refocused to be creative and innovative. It’s better to focus on one project for a set amount of time, take a break, then get started on another project.

Hansen also found in his research that the top performers focused on fewer goals. He recommends cutting everything in the day that isn’t producing value. As a small business owner, you have to look at which tasks bring in the most profit. This might mean that you outsource the bookkeeping that takes you hours or give up being on a committee at the Chamber of Commerce that is taking too much time away from your business.

Taking on less work will help you work smarter, but Hansen found that it goes hand-in-hand with obsessing over what you do have to do.

When you have fewer burning fires, you can dedicate your time to these tasks to create quality work. According to Hansen, this one thing took middle performers at the 50th percentile and put them into the 75th percentile. When someone is competent in writing reports, for example, and can focus their energy into that, the work is much better.

Top performers also take breaks to rest their brains. One of my favorite analogies is the one where a lumberjack is given a stack of wood that needs to be cut down. He starts with a sharp ax, but over time, as the ax gets dull it becomes harder to chop the wood. By taking a break and sharpening the ax, more gets accomplished with less effort.

Your brain is like that ax. It works great when you first get to work. You’re excited to get started. In a couple of hours, your brain needs a break. Go outside and take a walk. Get away from your desk. Do something different for 15 minutes. When you come back, you should feel like you have a second jolt of energy to take on tasks until you break for lunch. Science backs the need for breaks during the day.

By taking breaks, obsessing over what you have to do, and laser focusing on fewer goals, you’ll be outperforming your competitors (and even coworkers). Work smarter, not harder.

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Opinion Editorials

The real key to working smarter, not harder

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all heard that we should be working harder, not smarter, but how does one go about doing that aside from a bunch of apps?



working smarter, not working harder

I know you’ve heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” but what does that mean exactly? How do you work smarter?

A new book by Morten T. Hansen attempts to answer the question. “Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More” was released at the end of January. Hansen found 7 different behaviors outside of education levels, age and number of hours worked. I’d like to take a look at a couple of the things he recommends. Read the book if you want to know more.

Let’s continue on by addressing the 10,000 Hour Theory of Expertise. Under this principle, it’s thought that if you spend 10,000 hours in deliberate practice of a skill, you’ll become world-class in any field. The Beatles are thought to have used this theory to become one of the greatest bands in history. But it’s not just about practicing until your fingers bleed or you can’t stay awake any longer, it’s really about pushing yourself in an area.

Although it has been argued that this theory doesn’t necessarily apply in business or professions, there’s something to be said about deliberate practice.

When it comes to working smarter, no, you don’t need to spend 10,000 hours in the workplace to get better at your job. But you can put some of the principles of the theory in action:

  • Pick a skill that you need to develop. There’s no way you can work on every skill at the same time. Just choose one to focus on for three months, or six months. Review your performance now. Have a benchmark of where you want to take that skill.
  • Carve out time to work on that skill. Spend 15 minutes a day doing something that helps you get better. You know the old joke? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? “Practice.” You’re going to have to find ways to practice.
  • Work on specific elements of a skill. Typically, the skills we want to improve involve a lot of smaller things. Take a good presentation. You need connect with people, have a good outline and learn to have diction and tons of other things. Work on one thing at a time. ?I used to have a real problem with looking at people when I was giving a presentation. For quite a few months, I made it a priority to be conscious of making eye contact. No matter who I was talking to, the cashier, a patron at the center where I volunteer and even my neighbors. It’s much easier now for me.
  • Get feedback. You may believe you’re making progress, but others may have a different vantage point. Find a couple of good mentors who can really evaluate your performance and offer constructive criticism.

Repeat until your skill-set grows.

To get better, you need challenge and practice. Believe me, you’re going to make some mistakes along the way. Get up, dust yourself off and keep practicing.

Competence in a particular area goes a long way toward working smarter.

But wait, there’s more – the discussion continues in part two of this series, keep reading!

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Opinion Editorials

How I pitched the CEO of Reddit onstage at SXSW with no notice

(EDITORIAL) This is the story of how luck, networking, preparation and being at the right place at the right time got me onstage at SXSW with no notice, to pitch Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit and co-founder of Hipmunk.



daniel senyard pitching the CEO of Reddit

After graduating from Austin’s Capital Factory accelerator earlier this year, Shep, my travel tech startup was in need of our first office. The team had grown to more than seven people, and while coffee shops had sufficed for product meetings when there were only four of us, we’d started getting dirty looks when we began putting tables together and colonizing entire corners. We looked at dedicated offices, office shares, and coworking spaces like WeWork. When it came down to it, at this phase, Capital Factory was the right choice for our company.

We’d already raised our seed round with Capital Factory with several of their partners as major investors, so we decided that, as a startup in Austin, we had to be where the press, investors, and partners were most likely to show up. Past visitors to Capital Factory have included Barack Obama, Apple CEO, Tim Cooke, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, and many more. We knew that we might be able to get a space for less, but the community, education, and flow of people through the space optimizes our startup for serendipity.

Fast forward to this year’s SXSW and I was meeting with team members on the fifth floor when I received a text telling me that Steve Huffman, the CEO of Reddit and co-founder of travel startup Hipmunk, was downstairs and he had just said that creating a travel tech startup is the most difficult thing he’s ever done.

“The CEO of Reddit is talking right now and saying that doing a travel startup is the hardest thing he’s [e]ver done. You should tweet at him.” said the first text. “Baer just told him about Shep,” came the next one, referencing Josh Baer, the founder of Capital Factory, who was conducting the interview downstairs.

So, being in the right place (or at least four floors above) at the right time, I rushed downstairs and made eye contact with Josh before taking a seat in the back of the room. I planned to wait until after the talk and fight the crowd to introduce myself as the person Josh had mentioned and hand Steve a business card.

SXSW had other plans for me.

“So, we only have about three more minutes, and because SXSW is all about doing things on the fly and taking opportunity as it finds you, I’m going to ask Daniel Senyard from Shep, who’s just joined us, to come up and pitch Steve for 90 seconds,” said Josh from the stage before getting up and giving me his seat. I proceeded to tell Steve how Shep allows smaller businesses to set up and track travel policies and team spending on travel websites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Southwest through a free browser extension. My hands were shaking, but I got it all out in about the right amount of time, and he immediately responded by saying, “I love the Premise.”


Steve asked some questions about customers (closed Beta) and target market (companies that spend less than $1M in annual travel) before enquiring whether Shep had to have relationships with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Orbitz or Meta Searches like Kayak. I said no, but that through our strategic investors, I’d spoken to many of them.

“I’m trying to grill you, but I honestly think they would love this,” he said, stating how OTAs and other travel sites lose lots of bookings when companies grow and move from letting their team book on their favorite websites and instead mandate bookings be made on enterprise booking tools like Concur or AmEx Travel. Now Steve knows this world better than almost anyone, having co-founded an OTA that was actually acquired by the very company he says OTAs lose business to, Concur!

After a few more comments, I thanked him and took the opportunity to slip him a business card before heading back to my seat.

Now, to some, this may seem like pure luck but these moments of serendipity take years to create.

While there are several factors at play, it all essentially boils down to just showing up every time. As Josh said to me afterward, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” and I’ve been preparing and pitching non-stop (albeit within three different businesses) for seven years. Over those seven years and three companies, I’ve slowly built up a vast network of connected people who will text me when my name is mentioned and will invite me onstage when they see an opportunity.

While I didn’t nail it, I didn’t flub my pitch because I’ve rehearsed various forms and lengths of pitches in mirrors, while driving, and to every family member that can stand it. I’ve taken my bumps and done my reps while probably pitching 200 times. I even won a contest and was sent over to Oslo to represent Texas at Oslo Innovation Week back in 2015. But even after pitching at every chance I’m given, I still get nervous, and my hands are still a little shaky while writing this, an hour after it all happened.

It was an amazing opportunity, and I’m very thankful to Henry for texting me, Josh for inviting me onstage, and John and Henry for recording the whole thing. While cool moments like this are certainly highlights, it’s just a step towards building brand recognition for our solution. Now I need to follow up and see if I can get Steve to join our advisory board…

Also read “Why your being the ‘Uber of’ or ‘Netflix of’ is bad for your business” by Daniel Senyard.

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