* You are viewing the archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category. View the rest of the archives.

Interview with Doria Camaraza from American Express – Part 1 of 4

About two weeks ago, I interviewed Doria Camaraza, who is is the Senior Vice President and General Manager of Fort Lauderdale Service Center for American Express. This was an interview I was excited a lot about because I’ve written about American Express a number of times and in pretty much any customer satisfaction or customer service ranking, American Express makes the list. As an American Express cardmember myself, the workings behind the 160 year old company were also personally interesting to me.

This is a pretty lengthy interview, so I’ve divided it into four parts. Part one includes an introduction to Doria and her background with American Express, a quick overview of the different service centers that American Express has around the country, and some information on how American Express hires and trains its customer service representatives (called Customer Care Professionals).

You can see part one of the interview by clicking “read more.” A preview of part two is also included at the end of this part.

Continue Reading

Book Review: The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business

I just finished reading The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business A Step-By-Step Approach to Quickly Diagnose, Treat, and Cure written by Bob Phibbs. He begins his book asking the retailer to identify what type of business owner he might be, and breaks down the four personalities to:

Driver: Extroverted, egotistical, project driven, and makes decisions based on results. An example of this “Thinker” would be Donald Trump, and the “You’re fired” line.
Analytical: Introverted, project driven, and makes decisions based on facts. An example of this “Thinker” would be Dr. Spock from Star Trek.
Expressive: Spontaneous, good negotiator,and learns by doing. An example of  this “Feeler” would be Jimmy Buffett who lives life to the fullest and is not detail driven.
Amiable: Peacemaker, introverted, loyal, and decides based on emotions. An example of this “Feeler” would be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

Throughout the book, the author describes what each personality can bring to customers, fellow employees and the sales staff; how they react as managers and what an owner can do to enhance everyone’s best talents.

The book starts out like a regular retail sales training book, but highlights some great ideas. It is divided into eight chapters beginning with the financial and physical aspects of retail stores, and honesty in on employee hiring, training, building, and coaching. The author also emphasized the importance of marketing to help create a successful business and touches upon social media including Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and of course, the company website.

In the beginning of the book, the author suggests a company start with evaluating their financial situation based on the Profit and Loss statements, which may require a company to increase prices, limit discounts, cut waste, eliminate overtime, and hand out paychecks personally in order to have a personal knowledge of one’s own company’s expenses. Interviews for new employees should be no longer than 20 minutes and some sample interview questions such as asking a candidate to describe a typical day at his/her last job, or describe when you went out of your way for a client can help to increase the 51% chance of choosing an outstanding employee.

The importance of helping employees by using written job descriptions, handbooks for the “don’ts” of the business, and training that covers the “do” procedures will ensure employees function as you want. Great employees do the right things when you aren’t there.

Mr. Phibbs used an example of an older woman coming into a store looking for carpeting. Jane’s pet had recently died and the carpeting needed replacement. The woman was retired, on a fixed income and now had a new puppy. The saleswoman found a selection Jane loved and worked up an estimate. The price was $4,200, a higher price than the woman had expected, but the salesperson offered her interest free financing for 36 months. Less expensive products were offered, but Jane kept coming back to her original choice, and just wanted to think about it.

“As I was getting out my business card, I asked Jane if there was ‘anything else’ concerning her about purchasing the carpet. She told me she didn’t think she could move the books out of her bookcase and the curios out of her cabinets, and that because her children were scattered over the United States, she didn’t have anyone to help her. I told her I would come over a week before the installation and give her a hand with moving her furniture. Jane replied by asking me, ‘How much would it cost me?’ and I answered, ‘Lunch-peanut butter or tuna fish are my favorites.’ She laughed, asked me how much of  deposit I needed and got out her checkbook. That is the essence of great retail; being of service to someone else. Help her to see that you have both the answer and the way to make her life better.”

The advice and step by step descriptions of  the six stages of training emphasizes there are no shortcuts to becoming top sales personnel, and exemplary customer service is always an integral part of the success. When the entire staff is able to work together, the business grows and the company makes more money. The author states there is no such thing as a level playing field in retail since stores like Wal-Mart will always be able to offer lower prices, Best Buy will always have more inventory, and a mall will be able to offer better parking than a downtown shopping district, but you can find unique ways to make your store more attractive and train your staff to consistently deliver exceptional results every day.

Bottomline: I enjoyed reading the book. It is chock full of logical, practical advice. The real world examples show just how training and an awareness of different personality types can make a profound difference between success and failure. In a very tough economic crisis, businesses need to be unique and figure out what truly differentiates their business from a multitude of other retailers out there selling similar products. Phibbs shows the reader a practical step by step approach.

Pros: The book gives the reader a lot of detail into the “do’s and don’ts” of building a unique retail store. There are step by step examples to jolt you into a challenging way of thinking about store design, products and staff, and most suggestions are applicable to any business.

Cons: Even though I found the descriptions of the different types of personalities interesting, it became very drawn out and confusing. Parts of the book seemed to be more of a psychological dialogue aimed toward personality quirks than a guide to building a better business.

Interested? The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business is available on Amazon.com for $13.57 (paperback) and $9.99 (Kindle).

Interview with John Falcone of Sennheiser

I met John Falcone, who is the President and CEO of Sennheiser Electronic Corporation, a month or two ago while I was in San Francisco (thanks to Mike Faith for introducing us!) and after a quick email exchange, John was nice enough to agree to an interview.

In case you aren’t aware, Sennheiser is a major manufacturer of microphones, headphones, and wireless transmission systems. I know about the company because they make my favorite pair of headphones. A bit of background: The company was founded in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany and is still family-owned and the part that John runs is a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary based in Old Lyme, CT that focuses on sales and marketing of Sennheiser products in the United States.

Here’s the interview with John. The style was a bit different than the traditional Q&A style I normally use, so please let me know if you like it or not in the comments.

Our founder, Prof. Dr. Fritz Sennheiser, just passed away at age 98 and left a legacy that defines how and why we do things the way we do. His biography is fascinating and gives great insight as to our history and the man who made it all happen.

Before I came to Sennheiser, I was working for Philips in the consumer electronics market. A recruiter contacted me and asked if I was interested in coming to work at Sennheiser. I wasn’t really interested until I had a meeting with Prof. Dr. Joerg Sennheiser, Prof. Dr. Fritz Sennheiser’s son. That meeting made me anxious to join his team, and to become part of a family owned company.

We are a family owned company, and our mission of manufacturing high-quality audio solutions is as strong as it was 65 years ago. The Sennheiser family is committed to staying true to this mission over the years to come. The third generation has just stepped into management roles and will carry this mission into the future. While we are global corporation today, the family spirit and quality values of the brand Sennheiser can be felt all around the world.

Music plays a large role at Sennheiser. Due to our strong involvement in pro audio and the music industry, it’s natural that many employees are also very talented musicians or music aficionados – thus many Sennheiser internal conferences often end with sizable jam sessions after the official part is done. So when our employees talk to our end users- who are often musicians themselves – it soon becomes an authentic peer-to-peer discussion.

Continue Reading

How to get a customer service job

Last week my friend Sara went on an interview at a very trendy boutique on Worth Avenue on the élite island of Palm Beach. She responded to an online ad looking for a “talented and devoted customer service representative capable of going beyond great service.”

If you have never been to Worth Avenue, imagine the South Florida version of Hollywood’s Rodeo Drive. Every conceivable luxurious  amenity is offered, merchandise beyond your wildest dreams and Halston, Chanel, Vuitton and Gucci beckoning for your credit cards.

“What does excellent customer service mean to you?”  This was posed to Sara the moment she walked in the door and introduced herself. Immediately Sara smiled, thought for a moment and answered that excellent customer service is the extra effort that keeps customers happy and keeps them coming back. She explained how she thought  it included the first impression someone gets  just walking in a store checking out the layout, the cleanliness, as well as the staff.

Sara went on to explain how listening to customers’ needs and asking questions without seeming intrusive is an art all to itself. She doesn’t feel that following a customer around a store is always in the best interest of the client and the store, but remains in earshot and is always ready to point the customer in the right direction; in other words the customer service representative is always paying attention.

Sara exhibited excellent knowledge of the clothing line in the store demonstrating her product knowledge. I would speculate Sara knows as much about designer labels as any fashionista.

As the interview continued, Sara was asked how she would respond to any complaints, and besides the stock answers of being polite and respectful, and listening to the customer, Sara added that if something was amiss with her  service to the client, she would apologize immediately.

There were a few questions about listening to complaints, dealing with them and Sara explained how she tries to see all sides of the problem, considers different solutions within the scope of company’s policies and comes up with the best solution to meet the customer’s needs. And the question about the one customer in Sara’s career that really tested her patience, well, that was Sara’s mother, and Sara explained that her own positive attitude, deep breaths, communicative skills and the ability to listen has brought her through the most stressful situations.

Sara started her new job this morning.

photo credit: Semaj Bryant

dalas verdugo, Community Director at Vimeo

Vimeodalas verdugo [sic] is the Community Director at the video-sharing web site Vimeo.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post praising the great design and implementation of the company’s help page and dalas was nice enough to take some of his time to answer a few questions I had about the process behind the page and about the company in general.

Question: Did any help sites or web sites inspire the design and look/feel of the help page?
Answer: Our main designer for the Help page was Sockyung Hong, and I know he follows web design very closely, so I’m sure he had influences for the look and functionality of the page, but he’s also very innovative in his own right.

Question: Were designers or customer service people the driving force behind the site?
Answer: The Vimeo team works together unlike any company I have ever been a part of. We’re very collaborative and since we usually have the same goals in mind, it seems like we’re always on the same page. We have frequent meetings to discuss the projects we’re working on and we usually put a document up that all of us can edit so we can refine the copy to be clear and helpful.

Question: How have users reacted to having profiles of two Community Directors on the left hand side?
Answer: I think the members of Vimeo feel very personally connected to Blake and myself, and so it makes sense for us to introduce ourselves right off the bat. From the start, I wanted Help to be very approachable, which is why we offer several ways to get in touch with us, including Instant Message. I wish more companies would offer direct contact with people who can answer questions.

Question: When designing the page, what did designers try to keep in mind?
Answer: We always want the information to be clear, with easy instructions. We try to answer many of the frequently asked questions up front.

Question: What has been added / removed from the page since it first went up?
Answer: Oh man, I can’t remember at this point. Our design philosophy at Vimeo is one of constant refinement, so we are always updating parts of the site when we see an opportunity to make it better. It’s usually pretty obvious at any given time what is causing friction for users, so we try to address those points of friction as soon as possible and keep Vimeo easy to use and understand.

Question: What are thought processes behind those refinements?
Answer: Generally, you just have to listen to your community, because they will tell you what the major problems they’re having are. When I approach writing Help documents, I figure out what to say first, and then I try to simplify my points more and more until they’re totally clear. It’s really about anticipating questions that people might have. If I write something out and then imagine a user asking a question about what I wrote, I go back and answer that question ahead of time. If that makes sense.

If we post something to the Help page and start getting questions about it, we go back and edit the Help page to clarify as soon as possible. If you remove points of friction for users, you have less help requests and less questions.

There have been several times when the amount of help requests about a certain feature have helped us to refine that feature to a point where its operation was so clear that the questions stopped coming in. So it’s a two front war. You have to answer people’s questions clearly, but when it becomes apparent that the reason they are asking questions is because your product needs refinement, you need to step in and fix your product.

Question: How can other companies get similar results?
Answer: Companies can get similar results if they hire competent, passionate employees who are tuned in to the website’s user base. A lot of the success of Vimeo relies on the personalities of the people involved, so step 1 is hire good people.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Christoph Guttentag from Duke – Part 4 of 4

Logo-1This is the fourth and final part of my interview with Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University.

In this part of the interview, Christoph explains how different applicants communicate with Duke, when the best time to contact an admissions officer is, addresses the hotly debated topic of admissions officers looking at MySpace and Facebook profiles, and how Duke gathers feedback regarding its admissions processes. He also provides his opinion about sending thank you notes and courtesy in general, and then finally, provides some tips to those thinking about applying to Duke University.

I want to thank Christoph for taking the time to speak with me and to answer my questions. Hopefully you as readers have enjoyed reading the interview as much as I did conducting it.

To view the rest of this portion of the interview, click “more.” Other parts of the interview include part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Continue Reading

Christoph Guttentag from Duke University – Part 3 of 4

Logo-1This is the third portion of a four part interview with Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University.

In this part of the interview, Christoph explains the aspects of the admissions process that he thinks Duke excels at, discusses some of his office’s customer service policies and strengths, and talks about alumni interviews and how that ties into the admissions process.

Click the link to read on. Part one of the interview is available here. Part two is available here. Part four is available here.

Continue Reading

Christoph Guttentag from Duke University – Part 2 of 4

Logo-1This is the second part of a four part interview with Christoph Guttentag, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Duke University.

In this part of the interview, we discuss the expectations that come along with the $75 application fee and how the early decision program plays into the application process at Duke.

Click the link to read on. Part one of the interview is available here, part three is available here, and part four is available here.
Continue Reading

« Previous Page  Next Page »