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Work for the 99%, not the 1%

I was speaking to someone who helps run customer service for a large company yesterday. A theme that came up fairly frequently was working for the 99% percent of customers that aren’t trying to scam your company and taking your chances with the 1% that do.

A lot of companies treat their 99% like criminals because of the 1%. You have probably been a store where you have to a dressing room unlocked or get a number saying how many items you brought in. This is because the 1%, or even the 5% steals from the store and they have “had to” implement this policy.

Other companies have ridiculous return policies because they think their customers are out to get them. You have to bring your receipt, it has to be returned within 30 minutes of purchase, it can’t be washed, it must have the original tag, etc. The extent that they take the return policies to is crazy.

Other companies, though, don’t treat their customers like criminals and I think they are doing something right. Nordstrom, for example, has a pretty much unconditional return policy. There are urban myths about Nordstrom accepting a tire on a return (they don’t sell tires). Nordstrom trusts their customers and I would say this has been great for the 99% of customers that aren’t out to get Nordstrom.

Radio Shack’s terrible return policy made me swear off the company forever. Headsets.com’s excellent return policy made me a lifelong customer. Radio Shack subscribes to the “our customers are out to get us” philosophy and that doesn’t work.

In April, I wrote a post about how to handle shoplifters. It was prompted by me reading a passage about a woman who was falsely accused of shoplifting.  It’s not uncommon for stores to force people to check their bags. How annoying.

Newsflash: A vast majority of your customers don’t want to rip you off or scam you. A huge majority.

That applies to all types of industries – not just retail. A lot of industries think their customers are out to get them – it just seems to be really obvious in retail. Lots of software companies make you jump through hoops to get your software activated. Why? They think you pirated the software. We’ve come to accept it, but it’s the same thing. There are plenty of other examples. Actually, they are usually disguised as “policies.”

With that in mind, don’t treat your customers like criminals. Work for the 99% that mean well, not the 1% that don’t.

Negative Experience with Adorama

I ordered a camera bag from Adorama Camera through Amazon.com. I got the bag later than expected (though before the absolute latest delivery date). The bag was fine, but it didn’t meet my expectations in terms of size and what it offered.

I couldn’t find a specific email or department for returns, so I emailed Adorama’s general customer service email address. The next business day I heard back from them. The company basically ignored all of my specific questions and gave me the FAQ from their web site about returns (which I mentioned I had already read).

Since I couldn’t get much help with email, I decided to give them a call. The first time I press the extension for customer service, I am informed call volume is high and I should call back later. No option to hold, nothing. I call back and press the number for sales. I’m connected right away. I mention the message and the sales representative connects me to customer service (he said they should definitely be open – but it was an hour after they were supposed to open?). I am then connected to customer service and wait on hold for 10 minutes.

After the waiting on hold, I am connected to a lady who doesn’t seem very happy to be there. She’s kind of rude, can’t seem to hear me, and is short. The lady just wants to send me the same FAQ. She was even kind of pushy. Needless to say, the experience was disappointing.

The whole customer service experience was much different than I expected. I had heard and read plenty of good things about the company. Plus, when I emailed them to check on the status on my order, I got a very nice, helpful, and friendly response. I even got a follow up a few days later.

This was much different than my return experience with Headsets.com. I recently had to exchange something at Newegg.com, and was pleasantly surprised by how simple and hassle free that was as well.

Some lessons from this:

  • The return experience should be a good one. If Adorama handled this experience better, I would still have considered using them for future purchases. The bag not meeting my expectations wasn’t their fault. The negative customer service experience was.
  • Don’t lose a customer over a bad experience. Because of this one negative experience, I won’t buy from Adorama again. Invest resources (money and people) into dealing with returns and exchanges. They make a big difference.
  • You can recover. If you do mess up at one point and the customer makes you aware of it (I told them in a response to my email that I was basically ignored) – you can recover. The response to me telling them they messed up – a one liner answering one question.
  • Don’t make people call back. I can’t stand calling a company and getting a message telling me to call back. Unacceptable!

What have your experiences with Adorama been like? Like I’ve said, I’ve heard mostly good things, so this was surprising to me.

The hardest part about customer service.

A majority of this week has been dedicated to the interview with Dick Hunter of Dell. The interview (which I highly suggest reading) is done now, so it’s back to your normal programming.

When going through my usual search checks, one of the questions asked was “What is the most difficult part about providing great customer service?” That’s quite a question and one that cannot be answered easily.

To answer this question, I thought back to some of my interviews. Mike Faith of Headsets.com said the hardest part is providing great customer service day in and day out. Robert Stephens of the Geek Squad said the hardest part is providing the same quality level as you get bigger.

I think those are both good answers. Staying focused on customer service and then keeping quality levels up as you get bigger is very tough. I don’t think one is harder than the other – they are both extremely difficult.

Scaling customer service.
There is a whole section on rapid growth on Service Untitled. Companies that experience a lot of growth have a lot of trouble scaling appropriately. Even companies that are growing at an average pace often have trouble scaling. They don’t know what to do, have trouble hiring the right person, and so on. They just keep growing and can’t do much. Robert Stephens told me it was easy for the Geek Squad to provide great customer all the time when it was just him. However, when there are 15,000 people providing customer service as well, it gets much more difficult.

Staying focused.
Staying focused is another problem that companies of all sizes and growth levels experience. Staying focused on anything, including customer service, can be very hard. When there are bills to pay, people to train, customers to serve, etc., focusing on providing great customer service (consistently) is a very difficult thing to do. Mike Faith said that staying focused and working to always improve is a constant struggle and something they have to work on day in and day out. Not all companies are willing to make that kind of commitment.

How do you work to scale your customer service and stay focused? Needless to say, those are two topics we’ll be re-looking in the future.

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.

Look mom, I got a lollipop!

I bought a memory card for my phone through Amazon’s marketplace from a store called thememstore.com. I wasn’t expecting much – it was just a memory card that cost like $30 or something. I wanted the card to get to me in a reasonable amount of time and work. Those were my expectations. They were met when I received the package about 5 days after ordering and it worked fine in my phone.

However, the company went the extra mile through a little thing that ended up making it a fairly notable experience. In the box with my memory card and the packing list were two lollipops. They were the good types of lollipops (my favorite type) and I was impressed. A friend of mine was with me when I opened the box and she noticed there were lollipops in the box and was impressed.

Now how much did that cost The Mem Store? 50 cents? Maximum? Wouldn’t that be cool if Amazon or even a different, smaller retailer like Headsets.com included a lollipop with every order? It is a pretty cool idea and makes a difference. Not everyone will like the lollipop specifically, but it definitely makes the experience less run of the mill.

It is a series of little things like including the lollipop in the package that collectively can make a big difference in a customer service experience. If you can find five or six other “lollipop” things that you can add to your customer service experience, it will make a noticeable difference.

There are lots of opportunities to do things like that. For example, Kayak.com could send a postcard to customers who make travel reservations from the location they are about to go. If it is a major location like Florida, New York, San Diego, etc., it wouldn’t be hard to keep the postcards around and send them out with some text saying “Hi from New York! We look forward to seeing you and thank you for using Kayak.com.” That is just one idea – I am sure there are hundreds of other things that can be done.

Remember when they used to give lollypops at the bank? I’m not sure if they do that anymore, but I remember as I got older (even from like 5 to 7), it became harder to get lollipops from the banks. I’m not sure what, if any banks give out lollipops now, but it is a good idea. The cost is low and it makes people happy.

I’ve had back luck with technology today. The USB cord for my phone (which is like a week old) stopped working and the monitor for my desktop (which is like 6 months old) also stopped working. Who knows? There may be two more customer service stories over the next week or two.

Rewarding Employees

I was also reading Fortune Small Business over the weekend. There was an article about the “best bosses” as ranked by an organization called Winning Workplaces.

What caught my attention was that the CEO of Rackspace (Graham Weston) was featured as one of the companies and there was a quote from Daivd Bryce, whom was interviewed by Service Untitled a few months ago. Mike Faith of Headsets.com was also featured.

Some highlights (in my own words):

  • Vitale, Caturano & Company gives gourmet dinners during tax seasons, tuition reimbursement, and more. [Link]
  • Interaction Associates conducts regular “Quality of Work Life” surveys. [Link]
  • Headsets.com encourages employees to submit ideas and feedback and hosts an open invitation dinner at the CEO’s home every Tuesday. [Link]
  • SmartPak Equine has employee stock ownership, open-book management and a quarterly recognition program by and for employees has kept SmartPak’s workforce motivated and focused on the company’s core values. They also weekly meetings with the purpose of of simplifying tasks. [Link]
  • M5 Networks gives certain employees things like a “Trustworthiness Award” and a prize, has monthly late-night jam sessions with the company’s band (made up of employees), telecommunicating options, and more. [Link]
  • At Seventh Generation, the company invests a lot of time and money into training and quality products. [Link]
  • St. Louis Staffing (which I have heard a lot about lately) provides full and part time employees with health insurance, paid time off, bonuses, flexible schedules, and apparel. [Link
  • Digineer provides classes for subjects like time management, health and wellness, and has community activities like an Iron Chef competition, snow tubing, and family picnics. [Link]
  • New Media Strategies has cool perks like movie time for employees, an “Ass Kickers of the Month” award, an open-bar happy hour, a training university, and more. [Link]
  • Rackspace’s CEO lets top performing employees use his BMW for a week, has awards for providing Fanatical Support and more. [Link]

Equity programs for employees were a very common theme. Lots of companies also have training programs for employees that teach both work and non-work related things. To me, those seemed to be the two most common things. Both are extremely useful in enabling and encouraging employees to perform better and go the extra mile.

If you would like to review all of the profiles, and the full articles, click here.

Does your company do anything like this? Would you be interested in learning more about any of these companies? Let me know and I will do my best to make it happen!

Different ways to ask for feedback.

I had intended to write about small businesses and customer service today, but will be saving that until Monday. Instead, I’m going to talk about a few ways to gather feedback.

Here are some examples (in no particular order):

Kayak.com – kayak.com/feedback
This form, which is linked to from the bottom of every page is straight forward and asks a few key questions (would you refer Kayak to a friend, would you use Kayak again, etc.). Well done and extremely effective.

Headsets.com headsets.com/headsets/company/contact.html
The contact page has a feedback form as well as some other email addresses for various things. You have to guess a little to find the page to provide feedback (as it says Contact Us, not Feedback), but it is still effective.

Alienware – feedback@alienware.com
Whenever you call Alienware, the representative will say to send your questions, comments, etc. to the feedback@alienware.com email address. They do reply and it is an extremely simple and effective method of gathering feedback.

Craigslist – craigslist.org/about/help/feedback
In the site’s help section, there is a feedback page. They have a feedback forum as well as a simple help@craigslist.org email address.

Dell – dell.com
Dell has a feedback form linked to from their site’s home page. It is actually a feedback link for their web site, not the company’s products. Somewhat misleading, but asking for feedback regardless.

HP – hp.com
Like Dell, HP also has an easy way to provide web site feedback. However, finding a page to provide feedback on products and other things is not easy. There are lots and lots of options.

Remember the Milk – rememberthemilk.com/help/contact/
My favorite to do list application has a “Feedback” link with a simple form at the bottom of every page. When you send in a feedback report (like I did – providing positive feedback) you receive a personal reply. Very simple, very effective.

See the differences? Lots of people ask for feedback in different ways. Some people do it well, others are okay, and others are terrible.

Great: Kayak.com, Alienware, Remember the Milk
Acceptable: Headsets.com, Craigslist
Bad: Dell, HP

Kayak does it the best because they ask some good questions and make the form easy to find. Alienware does it great because it is so simple and convenient to just send an email to feedback@alienware.com. Remember the Milk does well because like Kayak, their system is also very simple and effective.

Headsets.com does better than Craigslist because they have an actual form for feedback (just the term). Craigslist also keeps things simple, but does not have a form and the page is slightly buried. However, both are acceptable (if not better).

Dell does badly because their form is misleading and is more for web design than customer service. HP has a feedback section, but there are too many options and it makes it complicated.

Here is a weekend project: try and model the feedback methods of one of the “great” companies and add a feedback section to your web site. It isn’t complicated (a semi-competent programmer could probably set something up within about 15-20 minutes) at all and the feedback you get from customers will be well worth the time and effort.

Rapid Growth: Recruiting, Hiring, and Training

A very common set of problems that companies run into during rapid growth times are the problems associated with recruiting, hiring, and training staff members. Like a lot of things during rapid growth times, the quality levels typically go down a few notches when everyone gets busy.

Recruiting & Hiring:
I am so happy when I have already covered things that come up in series. I talk quite a bit about hiring. Here are some posts that are worth reviewing:

These posts address a few key issues (where to find people, how to ensure you hire the right people, etc.). By the way, I discovered this article about Headsets.com’s hiring process. It is pretty lengthy process (as Mike Faith described in his interview with Service Untitled) and is worth looking at.

The most important thing when it comes to recruiting and hiring is not to settle. You need a big batch of candidates to pick from and to get that, you may need to spend some money. Post ads everywhere, hire recruiters, setup an employee referral program, and quite a bit more.


Hire trainers.
If your company doesn’t already have a dedicated trainer (or more), it should. My general rule of thumb is for every 50 employees, one needs to have a job related exclusively to training. Depending on the company, this number may need to be higher or lower. An average company with 150 employees should do well with three dedicated trainers.

A dedicated trainer is someone who wakes up everyday and thinks about how to make the training process at Company XYZ better. They then go into work and do the actual training or something related to it (i. e. writing documentation for training) all day.

Hire other people.
Hire other to help with training, recruiting, and hiring. You may need an employee assessment expert, someone that specializes in interviewing, and a few recruiters. You can bring these people on as full employees (if you think it is needed) or simply as consultants. Companies that are growing quickly don’t have time to “figure it out.”

If you are hiring 5 people a day, you need to make sure they are right for your company. If not, the mistake can be costly. It is far less expensive to hire someone to do it right. The same goes with your training programs – why waste a week of your new employees’ time? Make sure the time counts.

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