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.
Sci-fi alert: Building cities on quantum networks becoming reality
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) The University of Bristol’s Quantum Engineering Tech Lab has created quantum networks that demonstrate the possibilities for future cities.
The University of Bristol is home to the largest quantum entanglement-based computer network in the world. Its Quantum Engineering Technology Lab, led by Dr. Siddarth Joshi, has been spearheading the development of a method of encryption called Quantum Key Distribution that may soon revolutionize information security.
First, what is quantum computing, exactly? (Giving a concise answer to that question is sort of like nailing jelly to a wall, but here goes…)
Much like a light switch, a conventional computer circuit can only be in one of two states at a time: On (1) or off (0). That’s basically how binary code works – by representing information as a series of discrete on and off signals, or high and low energy states.
Quantum computing makes use of a third kind of state that exists between those two.
Think about it this way: If classical, binary computing models rely on energy states of “yes” and “no” to communicate data, quantum computing introduces a state of “maybe.” This is because at the quantum level, the photons that make up the information in a quantum computer can exist in multiple places (or energy states, if you prefer) at once – a phenomenon known as “entanglement.”
Entangled photons cannot be observed or measured (i.e., tampered with) without changing their state and destroying the information they contain. That means quantum computer networks are virtually hack proof compared to traditional networks.
This is where Dr. Joshi’s team is changing the game. While previous attempts to build a secure quantum computer network have been limited to just two machines, the QET Lab has been able to establish a quantum encrypted network between eight machines over a distance of nearly eleven miles.
As Dr. Joshi puts it, “until now, building a quantum network has entailed huge cost, time, and resource, as well as often compromising on its security which defeats the whole purpose. […] By contrast, the QET Lab’s vision is scalable, relatively cheap and, most important of all, impregnable.”
If it can be successfully scaled up further, quantum encryption has countless potential civic applications, such as providing security for voting machines, WiFi networks, remote banking services, credit card transactions, and more.
In order for an entire population to be able to utilize a quantum network, fiber optic infrastructure must first be made accessible and affordable for everyone to have in their homes. In that sense, quantum cities are still roughly two decades away, posits Dr. Joshi. The technology behind it is very nearly mature, though. A simpler application of quantum encryption is practically right around the corner – think quantum ATMs in as few as five years.
5 ways to grow your entrepreneur business without shaming others
(OPINION / EDITORIAL) We all need support as business owners. Let’s talk ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur that do not include shaming your competition.
The year 2020 has forced everyone to re-assess their priorities and given us the most uncertain set of circumstances we have lived through. For businesses and entrepreneurs, they were faced with having to confront new business scenarios quickly. Maybe your entrepreneur business was set to thrive as behaviors changed (maybe you already offered contactless products and services). Or, you were forced to add virtual components or find new revenue streams – immediately. This has been tough.
Every single person is having a hard time with the adjustments and most likely at different stages than others. We’re at the 6-month mark, and each of our timelines are going to look different. Our emotions have greeted us differently too, whether we have felt relief, grief, excitement, fear, hope, determination, or just plain exhaustion.
Now that we are participating in life a bit more virtually than in 2019, this is a good time to re-visit the pros and cons of the influence of technology and marketing outreach online. It’s also a great time to throw old entrepreneur rules out the window and create a better sense of community where you can.
Here’s an alluring article, “Now Is Not the Time for ‘Mom Shaming’”, that gives an example from about a decade ago of how the popularity of mommy bloggers grew by women sharing their parenting “hacks”, tips, or even recipes and crafting ideas via online posts and blogs. As the blog entries grew, so did other moms comparing themselves and/or feeling inadequate. Some of the responses were natural and some may have been coming from a place of defensiveness. Moms are not alone in looking for resources, articles, materials, and friends to tell us we’re doing ok. We just need to be told “You are doing fine.”
Luckily, some moms in Connecticut decided to declare an end to “Mom Wars” and created a photo shoot that shared examples of how each mom had a right to their choices in parenting. It seemed to reinforce the message of, “You are doing fine.” I don’t know about you, but my recent google searches of “Is it ok to have my 3-year old go to bed with the iPad” are pretty much destined to get me in trouble with her pediatrician. I’m hoping that during a global pandemic, “I am doing fine.”
Comparing this scenario to the entrepreneur world, often times your business is your baby. You have worn many hats to keep it alive. You have built the concept and ideas, nurtured the products and services with sweat, tears, and maybe some laughs. You have spent countless hours researching, experimenting, and trying processes and marketing tactics that work for you. You have been asked to “pivot” this year like so many others (sick of that word? Me too).
Here are some ideas for revenue growth as an entrepreneur (or at least, ideas worth considering if you haven’t already):
- It’s about the questions you ask yourself. How does your product or service help or serve others (vs. solely asking how do I get more customers?) This may lead to new ideas or income streams.
- Consider a collaboration or a partnership – even if they seem like the competition. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African proverb
- Stop inadvertently shaming the competition by critiquing what they do. It’s really obvious on your Instagram. Try changing the narrative to how you help others.
- Revisit the poem All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and re-visit it often. “And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”
- Join a community, celebrate others’ success, and try to share some positivity without being asked to do so. Ideas include: Likes/endorsements, recommendations on LinkedIn for your vendor contacts, positive Google or Yelp reviews for fellow small business owners.
It seems like we really could use more kindness and empathy right now. So what if we look for the help and support of others in our entrepreneurial universe versus comparing and defending our different way of doing things?
Can we combat grind culture and injustice with a nap?
(OPINION EDITORIALS) A global pandemic and a climate of racial injustice may require fresh thinking and a new approach from what grind culture has taught us.
Information is delivered to us at warp speed with access to television, radio, and the internet (and more specifically, social media). We are inundated with messages. Oftentimes they’re personalized by something that a friend or family shared. Other times we manage them for work, school, or just keeping up with news. Many entrepreneurs already wear many hats and burn the midnight oil.
During this global pandemic, COVID-19, we have also seen a rise in awareness and attention to social injustice and systemic racism. This is not a new concept, as we all know. But it did feel like the attention was advanced exponentially by the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020. Many people and entrepreneurs felt called to action (or at least experienced self-reflection). And yet they were working at all hours to evolve their businesses to survive. All of this happening simultaneously may have felt like a struggle while they tried to figure out exactly they can do.
There are some incredible thought leaders – and with limited time, it can be as simple as checking them out on Instagram. These public figures give ideas around what to be aware of and how to make sure you are leveling up your awareness.
Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Center for Antiracist Research – he has been studying anti-racism and has several books and interviews that help give language to what has been happening in our country for centuries. His content also delves into why and how white people have believed they are more than people of color. Here is a great interview he did with Brené Brown on her Unlocking Us podcast.
Tamika Mallory – American activist and one of the leading organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. She has been fighting for justice to be brought upon the officers that killed Breonna Taylor on March 13. These are among other efforts around the country to push back on gun control, feminist issues, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Brené Brown – research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She has been listening and engaging on how racism and our shame intersect. She also speaks about how people can reflect on themselves and where they can take action to better our society. She has some antiracism resources on her website.
With all of this information and the change in our daily routines and work habits (or business adjustments), what is a fresh approach or possibly a new angle that you haven’t been able to consider?
There is one social channel against grind culture that may not be as well-known. At an initial glance, you may even perceive this place as a spoof Twitter and Instagram that is just telling you to take a nap. But hold on, it’s actually much smarter than that. The description says “We examine the liberating power of naps. We believe rest is a form of resistance and reparations. We install Nap Experiences. Founding in 2016.”
It might be a great time for you to check out The Nap Ministry, inspired by Tricia Hersey. White people are called to action, and people of color are expressly told to give time to taking care of themselves. Ultimately, it goes both ways – everyone needs the time to recharge and recuperate. But people of color especially are being told to value their rest more than the grind culture. Yes, you’re being told you need to manage your mental health and include self-care in your schedule.
Through The Nap Ministry, Tricia “examines rest as a form of resistance by curating safe spaces for the community to rest via Collective Napping Experiences, immersive workshops, and performance art installations.”
“In this incredibly rich offering, we speak with Tricia on the myths of grind culture, rest as resistance, and reclaiming our imaginative power through sleep. Capitalism and white supremacy have tricked us into believing that our self-worth is tied to our productivity. Tricia shares with us the revolutionary power of rest.” They have even explored embracing sleep as a political act.
Let this allow you to take a deep breath and sigh – it is a must that you take care of yourself to take care of your business as well as your customers and your community. And yes, keep your drive and desire to “get to work”. But not at your expense for the old grind culture narrative.
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