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Opinion Editorials

It’s a who needs who business climate; brands should take heed

A growing “they need us” culture is spreading in the customer service industry, and the disparate attitudes between the corporate office and boots on the ground is growing.

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Brands are losing out to competitors for simple reasons

Personally, as a consumer, I don’t need you, and the only time I do need you is when your industry lobby forces me to need you. For example, cable tv, internet, phone, and other monopoly type situations. Consumers don’t like monopoly situations – at all. So what if you’re a small to enterprise business with all kinds of competition? Simply put, we don’t need you. Why would you think we do (I’m coming right back to this point in just a moment)?

My inspiration for this piece this week is Adidas’ phone customer service from their website. Right off the cuff, I have to give them props for even having a phone number present and a customer service department, but what’s the point when on the other end you have a jerk for a representative who seems to hate you, and the phone number you rode in on to begin with? I’m just sayin’ who needs you? No one. Nike is quite happy with my business, maybe they’re no better, but who knows, maybe their website works properly and I’ll never need to find out if the person on the other end wants to end me.

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Seriously, the employees on the receiving end of the phone call have a monumental task of handling consumers in a way that keeps existing consumers. We all know the cost of acquisition of new customers, so companies like yours spend a lot of time and energy training representatives to handle customers, deescalate situations, and/or simply answer to the needs of customers, and even identify where policy may be stopping empowerment of reps to satisfy consumers. So where is the disconnect? If companies are so into customer service, invest so much in training and service, why the bad service?

The growing “they need us” culture

Having been in the corporate world myself, I’ve never personally worked in a corporate structure that had an overarching ethos of “they need us.” Nor would I ever be a part of one. In my experience however, ethos corruption begins at lower levels where shaving budgets leaves call centers, or retail stores with a different culture that works against the companies’ identity in a negative way. Overworked, underpaid, or even a lack of hours or benefits cause execution of the corporate ethos and great ideas of customer retention to go the other way – the wrong way. A disconnect between execution (call centers, retail stores), and corporate (where there is earning disparity) is also a breeding ground for those who really don’t care about the corporate desire to deliver the best customer service.

I see it a lot lately in fast food and retail stores where if you even raise your voice to make a point, the reaction by the employee seems to be one of escalating the situation, rather than deescalation and a show of simple empathy, an apology, and a resolution. Someone in this two-way situation doesn’t give a shit if you ever shop with them again – and the “if you don’t like it, leave” mentality has replaced satisfying common or uncommon grievances by consumers.

I am convinced there is a growing pattern within our culture where the corporate mission is ignored by the representative on the ground the second the employee reacts by the scale of their paycheck, “I’m not paid enough to put up with this!” A sense of job entitlement has overcome today’s workforce, rather than the employee being grateful for the opportunity of a ladder to climb, and a sense of future within the company which used to serve to encourage great customer service and execution of the corporate mission.

How brands of any size can combat the viral problem

But how does a company fix this problem? Well, that’s not an easy fix when it seems to be a cultural shift, however, every company must assess whether that is in fact the issue, or is it simply outsourcing your call center infrastructure to third parties who really aren’t even aware that your company has an immense focus on customer retention?

In the retail front, or restaurant, it could be as simple as corporate recognition and association with the branches directly. Why do I say this? Because a pat on the back and encouragement to keep up the good work enforces ideals of the corporate ladder, and that the job really is a career, and every consumer is a step in the correct direction on the ladder. Upward mobility matters. This is why in a call center, infrastructure that is third party could be an epic step backwards and fly in the face of upward mobility within your company, because the fact is, they don’t even work for your company.

Take heed executives, get out of the office, and go experience this for yourself. Call into your own third-party customer service centers at all hours of the day and get a feel for various reactions to the many types of consumer calls. Stop depending upon the call center reps who listen to their coworkers, because chances are, those listeners don’t care either. Get out to your corporate-owned stores, and your franchise stores, and get a feel for yourself. It will not take long for you to understand that there is shifting sand under your corporate floor, and even observe it in your own personal daily interactions with other brands and stop lying to yourself that your company isn’t serving the same sour service, because I bet it is.

I’ve worn Adidas shoes most of my life, and knowing what I know about corporate structure, ethos, and execution, it’s likely not an Adidas principal to throw me away, but someone did, and I bet he makes a lot less than I spend. Think about it.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

Opinion Editorials

9 ways to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive at work

(OPINION EDITORIALS) With more and more people joining the LGBTQIA+ community it’d do one well to think about ways to extend inclusiveness at work.

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LGBTQIA+ people may have won marriage equality in 2015, but this momentous victory didn’t mean that discrimination was over. Queer and LGBTQIA+ identified people still have to deal with discrimination and not being in a work environment that supports their identities.

Workplace inclusivity may sound like the hottest new business jargon term on the block, but it actually just a professional way of making sure that everyone feels like a valued team member at the office. Business psychologists have found when people are happy to go to work, they are 12 percent more productive.

Making your business environment a supportive one for the queer community means you’re respecting employees and improving their workplace experience.

Here’s nine ways you can make your workplace more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people.

1) Learn the basics.
If you’re wanting to make your workplace more open to LGBTQIA+ people, it’s best to know what you’re talking about. Firstly, the acronym LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual and the plus encompassing other identities not named; there are many variants on the acronym. Sexual orientations (like lesbian, gay, bisexual) are not the same as gender identities.

Transgender means that that person “seeks to align their gender expression with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.” Cisgender means a person identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. If you need a more comprehensive rundown about sexual orientation, gender identity, and the like, visit the GLAAD reference guide.

2) Stop using the word “gay” as an insult.
Or insinuating people you don’t like are “gay” together. This is the most basic thing that can be done for workplace inclusivity regarding the queer community. Anything that actively says that LGBTQIA+ people are “lesser” than their straight counterparts can hurt the queer people on your team and make them not feel welcome. It’s not cool.

3) Don’t make jokes that involve the LGBTQIA+ community as a punchline.
It’s not cute to make a “funny quip” about pronouns or to call someone a lesbian because of their outfit. This kind of language makes people feel unwanted in the workplace, but many won’t be able to speak up due to the lack of protections about LGBTQIA+ identities in anti-discrimination statutes. So stop it.

4) Support your colleagues.
If you’re in a situation and hear negative or inappropriate talk regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, stick up for your co-workers. Even if they’re not there, by simply expressing that what was said or done was inappropriate, you’re helping make your workplace more inclusive.

5) Avoid the super probing questions.
It’s okay to talk relationships and life with coworkers, but it can cross a line. If you have a transgender colleague, it’s never going to be appropriate to pry about their choices regarding their gender identity, especially since these questions revolve around their body.

If you have a colleague who has a differing sexual orientation than yours, questions about “how sex works” or any invasive relationship question (“are you the bride or the groom”) is going to hurt the welcomeness of your office space. Just don’t do it.

6) Written pronoun clarity is for everyone!
One thing that many LGBTQIA+ people may do is add their pronouns to their business card, email signature, or name badge for clarity. If you’re cisgender, adding your pronouns to these things can offer support and normalize this practice for the LGBTQIA+ community. Not only does it make sure that you are addressed correctly, you’re validating the fact that it’s an important business practice for everyone to follow.

7) Tokens are for board games, not for people.
LGBTQIA+ people are often proud of who they are and for overcoming adversity regarding their identity. However, it’s never ever going to be okay to just reduce them to the token “transgender colleague” or the “bisexual guy.”

Queer people do not exist to earn you a pat on the back for being inclusive, nor do they exist to give the final word on marketing campaigns for “their demographic.” They’re people just like you who have unique perspectives and feelings. Don’t reduce them just to a token.

8) Bathroom usage is about the person using the bathroom, not you.
An individual will make the choice of what bathroom to use, it does not need commentary. If you feel like they “don’t belong” in the bathroom you’re in due to their gender presentation, don’t worry about it and move on. They made the right choice for them.

An easy way to make restroom worries go away is creating gender neutral restrooms. Not only can they shorten lines, they can offer support for transgender, nonbinary, or other LGBTQIA+ people who just need to go as much as you do.

9) Learn from your mistakes.
Everyone will slip up during their journey to make their workplace more inclusive. If you didn’t use the correct pronouns for your non-binary colleague or misgender someone during a presentation, apologize to them, correct yourself, and do better next time. The worst thing to do is if someone corrects you is for you to shut down or get angry. An open ear and an open heart is the best way to make your work environment supportive for all.

The workplace can be a supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ people, or it could be a hurtful one, depending on the specific culture of the institution. But with some easy changes, it can be a space in which queer and LGBTQIA+ people can feel respected and appreciated.

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Opinion Editorials

“Starting a business is easy,” said only one guy ever

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Between following rules, finding funding, and gathering research, no business succeeds without lifting a finger.

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While browsing business articles this week, I came across this one, “Top 10 Business Ideas You Can Start for Free With Barely Lifting a Finger.” These types of articles make me mad. I can’t think of many successful freelancers or entrepreneurs who don’t put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to get a business going.

The author of the article is Murray Newlands, a “VIP Contributor.” Essentially, he’s a freelancer because he also contributes to Forbes, HuffPro and others. He’s the founder of ChattyPeople.com, which is important, because it’s the first business idea he promotes in the article.

But when I pull up his other articles on Entrepreneur.com, I see others like “How to Get Famous and Make Money on YouTube,” “Win Like A Targaryen: 10 Businesses You Can Start for Free,” and “10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free.”

I seriously cannot believe that Entrepreneur.com keeps paying for the same ideas over and over.

The business ideas that are suggested are pretty varied. One suggestion is to offer online classes. I wonder if Newlands considered how long it takes to put together a worthy curriculum and how much effort goes into marketing said course.

Then, you have to work out the bugs, because users will have problems. How do you keep someone from stealing your work? What happens when you have a dispute?

Newlands suggests that you could start a blog. It’s pretty competitive these days. The most successful bloggers are ones that really work on their blog, every day. The bloggers have a brand, offer relevant content and are ethical in how they get traffic.

Think it’s easy? Better try again.

I could go on. Every idea he puts up there is a decent idea, but if he thinks it will increase your bottom line without a lot of hard work and effort, he’s delusional.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a plan. They need to work that plan, rethink it and keep working. They have to worry about liability, marketing and keeping up with technologies.

Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s hard work. It is incredibly inappropriate and grossly negligent to encourage someone to risk everything they have and are on the premise of not lifting a finger.

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Opinion Editorials

Why freelancers should know their worth

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Money is always an awkward talking point and can be difficult for freelancers to state their worth.

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Recently, I delved into what I’ve learned since becoming a freelancer. However, I neglected to mention one of the most difficult lessons to learn, which was something that presented itself to me rather quickly.

“What is your fee for services?” was not a question I had prepared myself for. When it came to hourly rates, I was accustomed to being told what I would make and accepting that as my worth.

This is a concept that needs multiple components to be taken into consideration. You need to evaluate the services you’re providing, the timeliness in which you can accomplish said services, and your level of expertise.

Dorie Clark of the Harvard Business Review believes that freelancers should be charging clients more than what they think they’re worth. The price you give to your clients is worth quite a bit, itself.

Underpricing can send a bad message to your potential clients. If they’re in the market for your services, odds are they are comparing prices from a few other places.

Having too low of a number can put up a red flag to clients that you may be under-experienced. What you’re pricing should correlate with quality and value; set a number that shows you do good work and value that work.

Clark suggests developing a network of trustworthy confidants that you can bounce ideas off of, including price points. Having an idea of what other people in your shoes are doing can help you feel more comfortable when it comes to increasing prices.

And, for increasing prices, it is not something that is going to just happen on its own. It’s highly unlikely for a client to say, “you know what, I think I’ll give you a raise!”

It’s important to never take advantage of any client, but it’s especially important to show loyalty to the ones that have always been loyal to you. Test the waters of price increasing by keeping your prices lower for clients that have always been there, but then try raising prices as you take on new clients.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that you are doing this work to support yourself and, theoretically, because you’re good at it. Make sure you’re putting an appropriate price tag on that value.

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