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.
AT&T hit with age discrimination lawsuit over using the word “tenured”
(EDITORIAL) 78% of workers are victims of age discrimination. As awareness arises, lawsuits show what may constitute discrimination, including verbiage.
According to the AARP, 78% of older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. As awareness of ageism increases, lawsuits that allege age bias can help employers understand what constitutes discrimination. A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Smith v. AT&T Mobility Services, L.L.C., No. 21-20366 (5th Cir. May 17, 2022), should give employers pause about using other words that could potentially be a euphemism for “older worker.”
What the lawsuit was about
Smith, a customer service representative at AT&T, alleged that he was denied a promotion because of his age. His manager told him that she was not going to hire any tenured employees. The manager wanted innovative employees in the management positions. Smith took this to mean that he was being denied the promotion because of his age. He sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Texas law.
The district court found that Smith failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to one claim and failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination as to the other two claims. Smith appealed. The Appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, but they did say it was “close.” AT&T did not discriminate against Smith by using the word tenured, because there were other employees of the same age as Smith who were promoted to customer service management positions.
Be aware of the verbiage used to speak to employees
This case is another example of how careful employers need to be about age discrimination, not only in job postings. It’s imperative to train managers about the vagaries of ageism in the workplace to avoid a costly lawsuit. Even though AT&T prevailed, the company still had a pretty hefty legal tab. Don’t try to get around the ADEA by using terminology that could screen out older workers, such as “digital native,” or “recent college grad.” Remind employees and managers about ageism. Document everything. Pay attention to other cases about age discrimination, such as the iTutor case or this case about retirement-driven talk. You may not be able to prevent an employee from feeling discriminated against, but you can certainly protect your business by doing what you can to avoid ageism.
Writing with pen and paper may mean your smarter than your digital peers
(EDITORIAL) Can writing old fashioned make you smarter? Once considered and art form, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past, but should it be?
When I was in college, in 2002, laptops weren’t really commonplace yet. Most students took notes by writing with pen and paper. Today, most students take notes with laptops, tablets, cell phones, or other electronic devices. The days of pen and paper seem to be fading. Some students even wait until the end of class and use their cell phones to take a picture of the whiteboard, so in effect, they are not absorbing any of the information because they “can just take a picture of it and look at it later.”
Is it easier to take notes on an electronic device? I think that largely depends on preference. I type faster than I write, but I still prefer to take notes on paper.
According to researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students who take handwritten notes generally outperform students who typed them.
Writing notes help students learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by other researchers who also compared note-taking techniques.
While most students can type faster than they write, this advantage is short-term. As the WSJ points out, “after just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.” So while it may take a bit longer to capture the notes by hand, more likely than not, you will retain the information longer if you put pen to paper.
As I teach English Composition at the University of Oklahoma, I would also like to say that while I find this to be true for myself, every student has a different learning style. Typed notes are much better than no notes at all. Some students detest writing by hand and I understand that. Everything in our world has gone digital from phones to cable television so it makes sense, even if I don’t like it, that students gravitate more towards electronic note taking than pen and paper.
While I would like to see more students take notes by hand, I certainly won’t require it. Some students are navigating learning disabilities, anxieties, and other impediments that make taking notes digitally more advantageous.
I imagine the same is true for other areas as well: instead of typing meeting notes, what would happen if you wrote them by hand? Would you retain the information longer? Perhaps, and perhaps not; again, I think this depends on your individual learning style.
I would like to suggest that if you are one of the more “electronically-minded” writers, use a flashcard app, or other studying tool to help you review your classroom notes or meeting notes to make them “stick” a bit better. While I find this type of research intriguing, if you enjoy taking your notes electronically, I wouldn’t change my method based on this.
If it’s working for you, keep doing it. Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here, writing everything down with pen and paper.
5 reasons using a VPN is more important now than ever
(EDITORIAL) Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but now, more than ever, entrepreneurs and businesses really should have them.
Virtual private networks (VPN), have always been valuable, but some recent developments in technology, laws, and politics are making them even more important for entrepreneurs and businesses.
A VPN serves as an intermediary layer of anonymity and security between your computer and your internet connection. Your Wi-Fi signal is a radio wave that can ordinarily be intercepted, so any data you transmit back and forth could be taken and abused by interested parties. VPNs act as a kind of middleman, encrypting the data you transmit and protecting you from those prying eyes.
Top10BestVPN.com offers a selection of some of the best-reviewed VPN services on the market; there you can see the different approaches to security and anonymity that different brands take, and get a feel for the price points that are available. But why is it that VPNs are becoming even more important for business owners and entrepreneurs?
These are just five of the emerging influencers in the increasing importance of VPNs:
1. The rise of IoT. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already taking off, with a predicted 8.4 billion devices will be connected to the internet by the end of the year. All those extra connections mean extra points of vulnerability; hackers are skilled at finding tiny entry points, so every new channel you open up on your Wi-Fi connection is another opportunity they could potentially exploit. Using a VPN won’t make your network completely hack-proof—user errors, like giving your password away in a phishing scam, are still a potential threat—but VPNs will make your network more secure than it was before.
2. The popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is growing in popularity, seizing control of devices, sometimes for weeks or months before activating, then holding the device “hostage,” and demanding payment in exchange for releasing the files that are stored on it. These attacks are fast and efficient, making them ideal for hackers to use against small businesses. Again, using a VPN won’t make you immune from these types of attacks, but they will make you harder to target—and hackers tend to opt for the path of least resistance.
3. The escalation of attacks on small businesses. Speaking of small businesses, they happen to be some of the most frequent targets of cybercriminals. About 43 percent of all cyberattacks target small businesses, in part because they have fewer technological defenses but still have valuable assets. Protecting yourself from cyberattacks is a must if you want your business to survive.
4. Political attacks on net neutrality. Politicians have recently attempted to attack and eliminate net neutrality, which is the long-standing guarantee that internet providers can’t violate user privacy by collecting and/or reporting on certain types of data, and can’t create “slow lanes” that throttle certain types of traffic. If net neutrality is abolished, you could face slower internet traffic and decreased privacy on the web. A VPN could, in theory, protect you from these effects. First, your web traffic would be anonymized, so internet providers couldn’t gather as much data on you as other customers. Second, you’ll be routed through a private VPN server, which could help you get around some of the speed throttling you might otherwise see. It’s uncertain whether net neutrality will ultimately fall, but if it does, you’ll want a VPN in place to protect you.
5. The affordability and diversity of VPNs available. Finally, it’s worth considering that VPNs are more affordable and more available than ever before. There are specific VPNs for all manner of businesses and individuals, and they’re all reasonably affordable. Inexpensive options can be yours for as little as a few dollars per month, and more robust, secure options are still affordable, even for frugal businesses. If you try a VPN provider you don’t like, you can always cancel and switch to another provider. This availability makes it easier to find exactly what you need.
If you’ve never used a VPN before and you’re confused, try not to be intimidated. VPNs sound complex, but connecting to one is a simple login process you can use on practically any device. The hardest part is choosing a reliable provider that suits your business’s need. With the influx of coming changes, it’s a good idea to get your VPN in place sooner rather than later.
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