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Andrew Field of PrintingForLess.com – Part 1

This interview is one that I’ve been excited to post for a few weeks. It’s just taken a long time to get it all written down, edited, and so on (my fault!). However, I think it’ll be worth the wait.

PrintingForLess.com is an interesting company that I first heard about from Robert Scoble, and then more from Christian Long. Their coverage sparked my interest and I setup an interview with the company’s CEO and founder, Andrew Field.

The company is fairly big (about 165 employees) and its average order is about $470. Their common orders range from$60 box of business cards (shipping included) to 2,500 8 x 11, full color brochures. They’ve been growing very fast.

The interview will be four parts. In the first part, Andrew tells me about PrintingForLess.com and its history and how they discovered that customer service was a great way to do things.

Click “read more” to read the interview.

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One Year of Blogging

I hope everyone had a nice Easter/Passover/Sunday.

As of about 6:30 PM this evening, I have been blogging for one year at Service Untitled.

I started Service Untitled to meet new people, learn about customer service, and pick up a bit of business. I also hoped to educate some people about customer service and just how powerful it can be. I’ve done all of those things and more and I don’t think a monetary value could be put on how much I have learned and the people I have met through Service Untitled.

I’ve blogged every single Monday thru Friday since April of 2006. I’ve only missed a few days and it’s been great. Blogging is a lot of work and I would by lying if I occasionally questioned whether or it was not worth it. Regardless, though, I’m convinced that it has been worth the time and effort.

Numbers wise, Service Untitled has grown (in terms of traffic) almost every month since it started. Recently, it’s been growing even more. Comments and numbers of subscribers also seem to increasing every month. I’ve written appropxiately 290 or so posts.

Service Untitled has also had an immeasurable affect on the amount of consulting and writing work I’m able to get. I’m positive my blog has helped me land more than a few jobs. I’ve found that a relatively popular blog that gets a fair amount of traffic and has quite a bit of content gives you some instant credibility. It helps a lot and definitely gets your name out and your foot in the door.

What has been very encouraging is all the feedback I’ve received. People seem to like Service Untitled and it’s great to hear that. I love reading comments and emails I get about Service Untitled and my posts. It’s exciting to see a post of mine featured or talked about somewhere.

I’d like to send a special thanks to all the great people I’ve come to know over the last year. A very special thanks to Maria, Meikah, Tom, Joe, and Glenn. I’ve recently gotten to know Becky and Lorna some more over the last few months and they have been great as well.

I don’t want to leave out any of the non-customer service bloggers, either: more thanks to Liz, Phil, and Ben. Others who I don’t know quite as well, but have been a pleasure to know (and indirectly work with) are Mike and Terry.

I’d also like to thank all of the various contributors. My guest writers have helped me cover subjects that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to cover: John from eStara, Darlene, Jodi from Mannersmith, Robert, and Vito from DemoDemo.

I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a lot of interesting people from equally interesting companies: Robert Stephens (Geek Squad), Toni Schneider (Automattic), Mike Faith (Headsets.com), David Bryce (Rackspace), Janice Liu (HP), Paul English (Kayak.com/GetHuman), Joe Kraus (JotSpot), Craig Newmark (Craigslist), and Konstantin Guericke (LinkedIn).

Many of these people have not only become business connections, but friends as well. I’m constantly impressed by how friendly a vast majority of my fellow bloggers are. Maybe it’s because they write about customer service and are that “type” of people, but they are always willing and happy to help.

Of course, a thank you is owed to all of the readers of Service Untitled. I appreciate all of the comments, emails, suggestions, and feedback. When I hear a new reader was told about Service Untitled by a friend, I’m delighted. Please do keep reading.

It isn’t possible to thank everyone so I guess, in short, what I want to say is thank you. Thank you for everything. I truly appreciate it. It’s been a great year and I am looking forward to many more.

Robert Stephens Understands Blogs

A week or so ago I read this post on Consumerist about Robert Stephen’s commitment to resolve any reader complaints relating to the Geek Squad and Best Buy. This was quite interesting to me.

Firstly, how many executives do this? Not many. In most cases, it is a miracle if anyone responds to complaints posted on blogs, much less tells the editor of a related site to send any issues their way. The various companies I interview are usually interested in hearing about any complaints or issues relating to the company, but they don’t do it in the same way that Robert did.

Secondly, kudos to Robert for actually following through. From when I’ve talked to him and forwarded issues his way, he does get them resolved. This is tough in a lot of organizations and it really helps. If you say you’re going to help, you should. If you over-promise and under-deliver, it is a recipe for disaster.

In reading the comments, as expected, there were cynics. I agree that the companies should try to get to a point where elevations aren’t necessary. However, that’s awfully optimistic thinking. The larger the company gets, the more complaints it’ll receive. Even if a mere 1/10 of a percent of people complain – if you do enough business, it’s a lot.

Best Buy has 128,000 employees – most companies don’t have that many sales transactions a year. Many towns aren’t that large. It is impossible to do everything right when you operate on that scale. Let’s say Best Buy does 1,000,000 transactions a month (completely hypothetical number – their revenue is $30.8 billion/year, though). If they can make sure that 99.9% are happy enough where they don’t complain, they’ll still get 1,000 complaints. That’s a lot.

Robert’s dedication shows a lot about his attitude towards customer service. He truly wants to make Geek Squad and Best Buy customers happy. He realizes that it’s impossible for them to be perfect and wants to make it so customers can get an easy resolution.

Now, how can you duplicate what Robert is doing?

  • Watch the web. Use Google Alerts and other tools to watch what people are saying about you and your company.
  • Pay attention to related sites. If you notice Google Alerts is constantly giving you alerts from Consumerist or from Z forum, etc., watch those sites. Sign up, subscribe to the RSS, etc.
  • Watch industry sites. Watch any major sites, communities, etc. related to your industry and/or niche. That’ll help you know what’s going on and help you identify the right people.
  • Contact those sites. Contact the management at those sites and talk to them. Ask for their suggestions, mention that they can contact you with issues, etc.
  • Respond. When you do get a complaint, respond to it. Ensure that you get a resolution and that the person updates their original topic, etc. with the resolution.
  • Follow up. Once you get a resolution, be sure to follow up in a few weeks to ensure everything is still going well.
  • Stay in touch. It’s important to stay in touch with the editors, moderators, etc. at the sites that are relevant. They’ll be a tremendous help down the road.

For some more reading, check out this post about responding to angry forum (and it works with bloggers, too) posters.

Car Dealer Customer Service Tips

Here is part three of three of the series on car dealers and customer service.

After lots of phone calls, several talks to multiple managers, and so on, I finally got my car. It took another trip for them to remember to bring the temporary license plate, but I finally got it and it can now be legally driven.

So what can car dealers do to improve their customer service? Here are some of my suggestions:

Have a point of contact.
Throughout my experience, I didn’t really have a point of contact. I had like 5 or 6. Plus, almost all of them were useless. The point of contact should be able to help you with all your questions and concerns, or at the very least, point you in the right direction. Something like that Rackspace Team Structure, perhaps.

The car dealers I dealt with lacked the ability to follow up. I was the one who constantly had to call and bug them. They should follow up with the customer, ensure that the customer is happy, and that the experience was as expected.

Have comfortable places to sit.
Why couldn’t they do the whole car buying, fill out the paperwork, etc. in a nice conference room? Why couldn’t the various people from various departments come into that conference room? The room could have some comfortable chairs, some magazines, a television (that we set), etc.

The dealership had a blasting stereo at one side and a blasting television at the other. There was not a piece of carpet in the entire building. Dealerships should try to at least respect some noise concerns and at the very least, have a quiet part of the dealership.

Less people.
While this is more a business thing, the going back and forth to get the price OK’ed is a pain. Just have the manager come in and do the haggling. It’ll take 5 minutes instead of 20. Again, see the “point of contact” part.

Faster and less small talk.
When you walk in, you shouldn’t have to wait around for people to find you. Then, when they do find you, don’t do the overly enthusiastic “we’re going to get a great deal” type thing. Instead, do what they do in retail. Say “How may I help you?” It works a lot better. Then, when people say they are looking for such and such a car, say “OK. Great. I’m sure we can find you a great car and a great price.” or something along those lines.

Don’t hide the fees.
After I negotiated the base price on my car, there was nearly $1,000 in dealer fees, title fees, etc. That makes a big difference. Mention that when people are looking. Better yet, say you can waive the fees.

Extensions and cell phones
Each person you deal with should give you their card with an extension number and phone number. It was annoying to have to call the central number, push 2 for sales, and then ask for the people.

Food and beverage.
There should be food and beverages available to customers who want it. In fact, employees should offer the food and beverage to the customers. It should then be provided, for free. This should definitely be done if the customer is in the process of actually buying the car.

These are just a few things. They aren’t too drastic or hard to do. In fact, most of them could be implemented fairly easily. They will definitely result in happier customers and quite likely, more repeat business and referrals. More often than not, customer service isn’t too hard. It’s just having the right mindset for it. Car dealerships don’t seem to have the mindset.

Verizon Customer Service Does Well!

I’m going to stop talking about car dealer customer service for a little while and talk about two recent Verizon experiences.

The bottom part of my phone’s screen starting getting awfully temperamental on Saturday or so. It wasn’t working right at all and it just stopped working all of the sudden. No idea what caused it. I tried some troubleshooting steps myself and had no luck. I figured I had to call Verizon.

Phone Call #1
I called Verizon on Sunday (April 1st), went through a few quick menus and was transferred to a friendly guy named Jason. I explained my problem to Jason and he did what he needed to and got the account verified. I told him the troubleshooting steps I had done and he made it very clear that I wouldn’t have to do them again. It’s a nice change to have a company think you are actually competent. It also made me think a bit higher of Verizon.

He led me through an additional troubleshooting step or two (neither were too complicated or time consuming) and we came to the conclusion that there was definitely something the matter with the phone that we couldn’t fix. He told me that Verizon would be overnighting me a new phone (phone and shipping was free) and that I could send my old phone back once I got all setup with the new one. At this point, I was quite happy. I even offered to (and did) send a note to Jason’s supervisor about how well he did.

Besides the core elements of the troubleshooting, the product exchange, etc., which he did very well at, Jason excelled in a few other ways:

  • He was good at small talk. I liked the fact that Jason obviously wasn’t reading from a script. I asked if they had gotten many April Fool’s calls and he explained that they sometimes have them at the office, but they hadn’t gotten any. I mentioned that I doubt many people make a joke of their PDA phones not working. From that, he then told me about a customer who had lost something like 10,000 contacts the other day, had everything that could go wrong happen, and how it took two hours on the phone with him to get some of them back.
  • He was good at small talk #2. After hearing the story about the other customer, I mentioned that I was just a customer service consultant and didn’t even know that many people. He asked some questions about that and about my blog and so on. It’s rare (unfortunately) to see a customer service representative that actually can get off script smoothly and maintain a pleasant conversation.
  • He was friendly. Throughout the entire experience, Jason wasn’t rude, short, etc. From previous experiences with Verizon, that is what I expected and was pleasant surprised to see otherwise.
  • I got an extension! I thought extension numbers were a telecom company myth, but Jason actually give me an extension that I could reach him at if I had any other questions.

All in all, I’d rate the experience as a great one. It was far above acceptable and I was pleasant surprised. Jason wasn’t quite as happy and enthusiastic as the T-Mobile people, but that was fine – he was friendly, able to resolve my issues, and get the job done in a pleasant manner.

Phone Call #2
I got the box from FedEx today. They tried to deliver it on Tuesday, but I wasn’t home to sign for the package. I opened the box and was happy to see they had sent the right phone and all the information I needed. I was confused about one of the forms I had to fill out and called Verizon again.

I was connected to a friendly lady within a few seconds. She offered to help and seemed to be generally happy. It took a bit of explanation (which I expected), but she was able to get the answer. The answer wasn’t too complicated, but I wanted to be sure. She confirmed and I was happy.

What set this call apart from just being acceptable was the representative was actually pro-active. She asked if I wanted to activate my new phone (instead of me having to call back later). I declined since I wanted to set the new one up first, but I was impressed by her offer. I also asked if I could type out the form instead of writing it on this stupid plastic insert and got an “of course” which is always nice to hear.

Verizon has been impressing me the last few days. I wonder what they’ve been doing, but whatever it is, it’s working. Now we just need to see some other companies that are also working to improve customer service do the same thing and the consumer/business world could be a better place.

Car Dealer Customer Service – Part 2 of 3

So to continue yesterday’s post about my car buying experience, here is how it went with Dealer C. As promised, I will also recap what each company did right and wrong. Then, on Thursday I’m going to write about what the car dealerships can be better. Sometime within the next couple of weeks, I will likely post an interview as well.

Dealer C
So Dealer C was the final dealer. The experience was anything but pleasant. First of all, Dealer C was not a Toyota dealership. They were a Dodge dealership that happened to get one of the cars I wanted in on a trade. I found them online and called to verify the car was in stock. Like most of the companies, they were unable to tell me if the car was in stock and had to call me back. I did get a call back and the car was in stock.

As I got closer to the dealership, I called the lady I had been working with (calling her Betty). She told me that she had to leave for an hour to pick her daughter up and that I should look for Dave. We walked into the dealership and asked for Dave. About 10 minutes passed and someone who appeared to be a manager came out and asked if we had been helped. I told this guy I was looking for Dave. He picked up his phone and then saw Dave walking towards us. The manager briefly yelled at Dave, who then introduced himself. He then disappeared for another 5 minutes. Dave came back with another guy (Bob).

Bob introduced himself and I said I’d like to see the car. We walked out to the car (not close, but not far) and then he remembered he had to get the keys. Bob disappeared while we stood outside and looked at the car. He came back fairly quickly and I looked at the car. Except for a few minor exterior scratches, it was fine.

We got in the car and took it for a test drive. The dealership had a gate and their “advanced” system for opening it involved honking the horn and then someone inside would open the gate. Many more honks than I would have liked to hear later, the gate was opened and we were on the road. The test drive was fairly uneventful. There was no bragging about the car or its features – more just turn here, turn here type experience. That was fine. We took it back to the dealership and parked the car.

At this point, we were ready to talk numbers. The process was fairly drawn out and here’s how it went (in brief):

  • We sat in Dave’s little office thing. He came out with a price.
  • I counter-offered.
  • He went to his manager and came back with another offer.
  • I wanted lower.
  • He went to his manager again and came back with another number.
  • We agreed on a price.

The whole process took like 45 minutes. He started filling out the paperwork and that was time consuming. Then, the initial lady (Betty) came in and started filling out more paperwork. I gave the same information over and over again. While I was doing this, the sun was pounding in the little room and it was not too comfortable. We moved to the front of the dealership and started filling out paperwork there. No sun, but there was a gigantic (and very loud) television that was playing infomercials for a golf resort in Maryland.

More paperwork, more spelling my street name, and so on. We finished and Betty disappeared for a while. I walked around the dealership and was subjected to loud music on one side and the television on the other side. I asked a guy for a soda and he told me the snack stand was closed (it was not complicated to get one – I would have gotten it myself if I was allowed). There was no quiet place to sit. I actually spent most of the time in the cars (it was the quietest and most comfortable).

About 45 minutes passed and Betty finally came back. She introduced me to another person (Ivan) with a thick Russian accent. He gave me a whole bunch of paperwork to sign. I asked what a sheet was for and he said something along the lines of “We don’t know that your money is good.” It was the quickest part of the process (which I was thankful for) since he was prepared and actually knew what he was doing.

Once they verify the wire transfer, the car should be delivered tomorrow. They also promised to get the car detailed. I’m not too hopeful, but we’ll see.

So, what did these dealerships do right (and wrong)? Let’s see. A (+) indicates that it was positive, a (-) indicates that it was negative. Feel free to add things that I may have left off.

Dealer A:

  • Call backed promptly with stock (+)
  • Said they would provide us with a good deal and were generally welcoming (+)
  • Somewhat obnoxious sales guy (-)
  • Little to no waiting time (+)
  • Car was in relatively poor shape and sales guy couldn’t provide service records (-)

Dealer B:

  • Really obnoxious sales guy (–)
  • Lots of waiting time (-)
  • Mini argument in front of customer (-)
  • Car was in better shape and was clean. (+)
  • Sales guy could provide some sort of service record and information (+)

Dealer C:

  • Had to wait to talk to right person, and was then given to someone else (-)
  • Loud music and television (-)
  • No pushy sales reps (+)
  • No soda or drinks offered (-)
  • Slow (-)
  • No comfortable place to sit (-)

As you can see, the experiences were bad all around. It’s really unfortunate that the buying of a car should be such a miserable experience. You would think it would be fun, but it is certainly anything but fun. More on this Thursday.

Car Buying Customer Service Experience

Sorry for the late post today! It’s been a very long day and I only got home a few hours ago. Don’t worry, though – I have enough material for a whole new blog posts if I so wanted. Actually, it’s going to be a three part series.

So what did I do today? I went car shopping. I hadn’t really been car shopping before – it wasn’t an experience I have ever been too involved in. However, today, I went all out car shopping.

I had done all the expected stuff already – I knew what car I wanted a (a used V6 Toyota Highlander), how much I could afford, what dealerships had the car in stock, and so on. I compared prices online and printed out the specs for three cars. I also convinced my father who is much better at this process than I am to come with me. I am a pretty good negotiator, but am not so good when it comes to the car dealership head games.

Car 1 was at a Dealer A, Car 2 was at Dealer B, and Car 3 was at Dealer C. Here’s how the experience went:

Dealer A
Dealer A was a small Toyota dealership. I had called the dealer in the morning to see if the car I was interested in was still in stock. They weren’t able to tell me right away – they had to call me back in 15 minutes or so. The dealer did call back and they had the car in stock. The guy on the phone (calling him Bob) gave me the name and number of a different guy (Bill) who I should look for when I got there.

I went to the dealer and noticed a sign above the door that said they were committed to superior customer service. The company’s telephone recording and web site also tried to make that awfully clear. I walked in to the showroom and waited for a minute or two (no one said hello or acknowledged my presence) and actually overheard two employees talking about the car I wanted. I walked over and introduced myself. Bob was quite a bit younger than Bill and very enthusiastic (borderline obnoxious). He went on about how I would get the best price from Dealer A and how they were the best. Bill was a quieter, older guy.

Bill led us to his cubicle and told us to make ourselves comfortable. He offered us water, coffee, etc. We said we’d wait outside and that we were okay. Bill disappeared for 10 minutes. He comes back and says the car is out front. We go out the door and I see the car in the back of the lot (the lot isn’t big, but I would not say that this car was out front). He leads us to the car, hands me the keys, and so on. The car has damages to the upholstery, some minor scratches, and so on. We weren’t too impressed.

I asked Bill if he was able to get the warranty records for the car. Apparently, this is not an easy thing to do and Bill made us quite aware of this. To him, the said records simply did not exist. I told him we weren’t interested in the car. After some chit chat about how a good price could convince me otherwise, we left.

Dealer B
Dealer B was a large Toyota dealership. They were the only dealer able to tell me (without having to call me back)  if the car was in stock. It wasn’t the largest one I’ve seen, but it was easily several times larger than the last one. They had a special building for used cars.  As we got out of our car, we were intercepted by a sales guy. He was an older guy as well (will call him John).

As we got inside, another guy with a thick accent of some sort (George) who was definitely obnoxious (way more than borderline) kept on talking. He had the keys to the car and started (though briefly) arguing with John about who’s customer we were. John disappeared to get the car from the lot and we were subjected to George. He commented on me having a folder with notes and a notepad and everything else he could find to talk about. I eventually found myself walking outside while he was mid-sentence (something I never do) and he followed me and kept on talking. I was close to telling him to just shut up and/or leaving.

He saw another customer walk in and immediately gravitated towards them. A few minutes later, he was talking to them and I could hear fairly loud profanity and another mini-fight with another sales rep. He was completely unprofessional and made the experience even worse than it usually would have been. In the mean time, John was no where to be found. Eventually, he came back with the car.

The car was in better shape than the last one. It had some exterior paint scratches, but seemed okay. We asked for the warranty records and John went in to get them. Fast forward 15 minutes: he was no where to be seen. No one followed up or anything. We left. On our way out, we saw George putting the car back.

Stay tuned for the Dealer C experience tomorrow. I’ll also recap what each company did wrong (and right). I can’t say it gets much better. On Thursday, I’ll write about what car dealers can do to make the car buying experience better. Car buying is such a miserable experience and the car dealers don’t make it any easier.

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