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Customer Service Matters

We hear much today about delighting our customers. This is an admirable goal, and every business should strive to do so. We must acknowledge, however, that this is not sustainable. We may delight customers upon occasion, but to expect we’ll succeed in every interaction will leave us falling short of their increasingly higher standards.

Each time we do something that excites our customers, we set the bar higher for next time. What delights them today and gets them to tell their friends about us will soon fade into the recesses of normalcy. Then, when we can’t meet their newly heightened expectations, we have much further to fall and their disappointment will be all that much greater.

Instead, we should set a more realistic goal. Though it’s not exciting or compelling, we should aim simply to meet customer expectations. Though this sounds boring, don’t dismiss the idea too fast. Many customer service interactions fall short—sometimes far short—of meeting customers’ expectations.

Meeting expectations is sustainable and is good business.

Constant Churn

Do you know someone who left one company because of service issues and then left the new company for the same reason? Once they have used and dismissed each company, their new goal is to pick the least objectionable one.

They no longer pursue the best option. Instead, they seek the one that is least bad, returning to a former unsatisfactory provider. This produces a revolving door of customer churn, whereas a better goal is to keep existing customers.

Does any company provide quality service anymore? The good news is yes, and I celebrate this whenever possible. Yet for each positive example, it’s usually not the company but one person who made the difference. They cared about me and had a genuine interest in the outcome. I was their priority, and they did what the situation required.

Every company claims they offer quality service, but is it real or fantasy? Is a personal connection provided to customers? Can you say, believe, and prove that your company delivers quality service? If you can’t, what changes do you need to make?

Throughout my career, from the jobs I’ve held, businesses I’ve managed, and companies I’ve owned, a consistent thread has been customer service in one form or another. Yet I’m not writing about my experiences in providing customer service, for we are our own worst judges of success. And I’ll admit to having fallen short too many times.

A Lifetime of Experience

Though sharing a lifetime of experience in providing customer service would offer useful input, it would only draw from the businesses I’ve owned and managed. Instead, in these posts I cover something I have much more experience with. Not in providing, but in receiving customer service—and in not receiving it.

We can glean a far better perspective by looking at a lifetime of receiving customer service. This provides a greater array of consideration, offering a more comprehensive approach that most customer service books miss.

I am a consumer. As someone who purchases products and services, I often need support after the sale. I need customer service. I’ll share the times that left me appalled or produced discouragement. Yet I’ll also share those times—albeit not as common—when I experienced customer satisfaction.

Customer service opportunities occur in three arenas. These are in person, over the telephone, and online. None functions in isolation. Each type of customer-focused communication informs our expectations in the other formats. Regardless of the communication channel, whether we’re speaking face to face, talking on the phone, or interacting over the internet, we deal with the same issues and desire the same outcomes. It’s my hope that these posts will provide you with helpful customer service insights that will encourage you to do better and celebrate what you do best. Let us meet our consumers’ expectations every chance we get.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights with others through his books and blogs to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

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April Fools Day Is No Day To Market Truth

The month that follows March kicks off with some tomfoolery; we call this April Fool’s Day. 

As a publisher, each year I receive some April Fool’s Day press releases. While the best ones quickly become self-obvious, there were a couple that I wasn’t sure about. I scowl and press delete.  This is a great reason to never, ever make a serious announcement on April first. You don’t want your important missive to be dismissed as a joke.

I remember years ago, the head-scratcher goes to a book announcement for:

“A Paradise for Some is Paradise for None. Based on actual stories, it tells you about Ron Edelweiss. A former Swiss banker Ron Edelweiss spent eight years in the Caribbean tax, a legal and regulatory haven of the Crocodile Islands, and the challenges he and his family face there, and then in Switzerland as a consequence of his determination to resist the corrupt system.

Although based on “stories,” the book jacket said it was “an entirely and completely and decidedly and deceptively fictional novel.” A Google search of the title gave no matches, but the author is presumably real—and has a website and blog about his ordeal. The book was listed by Lulu, a publishing company that offers books-on-demand and e-books.

The whole thing smacks of subterfuge, but if it is, it is an elaborate ruse. In any event, had I received the announcement on April 2, I would have accepted it as real. As it is, I’m not sure what to think.  Perhaps that joke was on me.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights with others through his books and blogs to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

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What if the Internet Were Unplugged

Several years ago, there was a time when I lost my Internet connection. Although I had a lot of work to do, I couldn’t think of anything I could accomplish without Internet access. It was about a quarter to twelve, so I took an early lunch.

An hour later it still wasn’t working, so I made the dreaded call to my provider. I greatly disliked doing so because they had an attitude that the problem was my fault. It’s the technological world’s version of “guilty until proven innocence.”After enduring numerous automated prompts and punching in an inordinate number of digits, they performed an automatic test of my line. They pronounced it good and—coincidently or not—my Internet connection started working shortly thereafter.

That prompted a renewed reminder of just how much I depend on the Internet to work. It was a time to give serious thought to how I would conduct business if I were to lose Internet access for a prolonged period of time.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights with others through his books and blogs to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

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It’s Your Move: Life Lessons From the Game of Chess

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

My cousins taught me how to play chess when I was in third grade. My parents, doubting I could grasp the complexities of the game, urged caution and tried to lower my expectations. Yet I forged ahead.

My oldest cousin patiently taught me the names of the pieces and how they moved. He gently quizzed me to gauge my understanding. Soon we played a real game. Despite novice errors, it was great fun. We played until he grew weary. Then I begged his siblings for a few games. But they had less tolerance for my sloppy play; by midafternoon we moved on to other things.

The next morning I challenged my instructor to play again. Before the day was done, I won my first game. He rallied, winning the next two, but I sensed I was beginning to challenge him. Seeking to avoid another loss, he feigned boredom and retreated to a safer activity. I then asked his brother to play. Discerning I’d advanced enough for it to not be too demeaning, he condescended to pick up where his brother left off. By the time their visit was over, I was hooked.

Practice Makes Perfect

Although my desire to play chess was strong, opportunities were limited. I asked family members, but each had a reason not to learn the game. My neighbor wasn’t much help either, having only passing interest. So I played against myself. Sometimes I would play the white pieces (which moves first and takes the offensive); other times I would take the black side (which responds and defends). Sometimes, I’d switch sides midway through the game, giving up a superior position to assume a lesser one.

These exercises may not have been the best way to improve, but I did get better. When it came time for a real game, my practicing paid off.

Study

Although enjoyable, playing against myself became wearisome. So I turned to books. First, I learned some esoteric rules, like en passant, which is seldom used in a real game. Then I studied opening moves and their recommended defenses. I also learned techniques, like the pin, the knight fork (a personal favorite), discovered check (a great way to confound your opponent), and gambits, as well as endgame tactics.

Having consumed several books, I zeroed in on one titled, “How to Beat Bobby Fischer.” The premise was that it was statistically more probable to beat Fischer than to force a draw—of course, he was nine times more likely to win than lose. I actually read, studied, and reenacted many of the sixty-one games he lost in Grandmaster tournaments. I reasoned that to improve, I needed to study the master’s.

Don’t Give Up

The unspoken credo among my chess-playing buddies was that you never conceded. No matter how dire the situation, we would never quit, playing to the end. Resigning a chess game was for those of lesser character. This perspective taught me two things.

First, I learned how to be a good winner, to be gracious to the other player as a person, all the while dismantling his army and backing his king into the corner for an acrimonious checkmate. I wanted to win but desired to not belittle my opponent in the process—after all, I would want to play him again.

Playing to the end also taught me to remain dignified in defeat. That’s much harder—especially when the vanquishing conqueror is relishing his impending victory too much. Yet, these moments perfect character.

Play it Again

Losing is never fun, especially when you deem yourself the superior player, but it does happen. I learned to accept defeat as part of the game and to grow in the process. It’s true that you can learn more in defeat than in victory.

It’s also important to not wallow in self-pity when setbacks occur but to shake off the disappointment and forge into the future. Regardless of how close I came to winning or how big the loss, my first response was invariably, “Wanna play again?”

Change the Rules

I sometimes played during study hall, where I could count on a worthy opponent is present. Once we organized a chess competition, complete with round-robin play and capped off by a single-elimination tournament.

My track buddy, Spencer, was in study hall, too, but he didn’t play chess. Still, he was attracted to it like a magnet. The variations of pieces and moves intrigued him. I tried in vain to teach him, but his attention span was too short. Tired of watching, he one day blurted out, “Let’s play checkers—all-kings-jump-your-own-man.” I’m not sure if he made this up or not, but I was willing to try. Lacking checkers, we used my chess set, arranging the chessmen like checkers. Since every piece was automatically a king, they could move forward and backward. Also, you could jump your own piece (though you left it on the board) to catapult yourself into enemy territory to capture your opponent’s pieces. It was a wild game and Spence played it with great abandon.

Playing all-kings-jump-your-own-man checkers with a chess set would elicit snide comments from casual observers, but we didn’t care. Spence changed the rules so he could participate and I was happy to oblige.

React Quickly

Aside from Spenser, the rest of us would sometimes play “rapid chess,” where you had to move within five seconds. With no timer, it was self-policing. It taught us to think astutely and react quickly. I had a knack for it, able to assess a situation and make a snap decision, sometimes on intuition or pure reaction. Games only lasted about five minutes and were so intense that it only took a couple to give me a headache.

I sometimes adopted a “rapid chess” strategy in a regular game. Although my hurried moves were not always ideal, their unending swiftness would unnerve my opponent, causing him to get flustered and make blunders. From his perspective, it was always his turn and he was always intently concentrating. I, on the other hand, was relaxed and having fun. I learned it was often better to make a quick decision that was good than to take time to make an ideal move.

Application

To imply that life is like a game of chess is a shallow metaphor. However, just as a good game of chess requires a thoughtful approach and sound strategy, so does running a successful business or living a worthy life.

It’s your move; what’s it going to be?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights with others through his books and blogs to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

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Let’s Watch a Movie

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When someone says, “Let’s watch a movie,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Do you immediately think of a group outing to go watch the latest flick? Perhaps your preferred viewing venue is the more cozy environment of your living room couch. Could it be that watching a movie is a solitary experience for you, one you enjoy parked in front of your laptop computer?

Whatever it may be, there are a multitude of options for watching a movie—and a diverse list of business enterprises that support those variations.

Consider the following options for watching a movie:

  • Drive-in Movie Theaters: This is not likely where you would start your list, but, yes, drive-in movie theaters still exist—and there is a resurgence of interest. According to drive-ins.com, there are 520 drive-ins operating in the United States today.
  • Single-Screen Theaters: The traditional theater with a solitary screen is also waning in popularity and in numbers, but it is not a thing of the past either. Close to where I live is a one-screen theater that has been making a go of it—and attendance is increasing.
  • Multiplex Theaters: The multiscreen theater is the premier venue for the off-site (that is, away from home) movie-viewing experience. These theaters offer multiple titles and varied viewing times. For major openings, they can show films simultaneously on multiple screens and with staggered starting times.
  • Network TV: This is the least costly option for those willing to wait to watch a particular movie. With an antenna, viewing is essentially free, sans the electricity to operate the TV. If you have cable or satellite, the effective cost goes up, but still, there is no incremental per movie charge.
  • Movie Channels: Some movie channels are included as part of a cable/satellite subscriber package, whereas others require a monthly subscription. These are great ways to watch current and classic movies—and everything in between—providing you are willing to scrutinize the programming schedule for desired titles.
  • Pay-per-View: This is generally available on cable/satellite systems, allowing for the viewing of movies (limited to what is offered and when it is showing); there is a charge for each viewing. Essentially this model combines the scheduling and admission elements of a theater with the comfort of home viewing.
  • Video-on-Demand: On-demand is pay-per-view without the schedule. Start a movie at any time, on any day.
  • Local Video Rental Store: Video rental stores function as a library for movies—except that there is a cost for each rental. Most stores are fairly limited in their titles and may stock a few copies.
  • Mail Rental: Netflix (90,000 titles) led the way with this option, with Blockbuster (80,000 titles) and others following. This service allows customers to order a movie online and have it mailed to their home, often by the next day. Watch the movie and mail it back—with free mailing. Although advance planning is required, it is less hassle than driving to a video rental—twice—and there are many more titles and copies available.
  • Download Rental and Streaming Video: This is much like the video-on-demand option, but it utilizes the Internet for distribution (think YouTube, with high quality, for movies). Currently Netflix and Movielink (acquired by Blockbuster).

What does all this mean? Plenty—and it can apply to any industry or business.

The movie distribution business is highly fragmented with many competing variations. Each of the options listed has a threatened existence. Some of them are arguably obsolete, requiring innovation and determination to remain viable. Many are feeling competitive pressures that endanger their existence. For those on the leading edge, technological advances could render them obsolete in an incredibly short time.

Let’s revisit the list again, with these issues in mind:

  • Drive-in Movie Theaters: This is an obsolete option. Those that have survived have adjusted their business model and reinvented themselves to make it work. Over 500 have done just that.
  • Single-Screen Theater: This option is one step removed from the drive-in. Those that have stayed open have figured out how to market themselves and fit into a desirable, sustainable niche.
  • Multiplex Theater: The leader among off-site movie viewing, and the conventional business model, the multiplex is facing increased and intense pressure from the remaining options on the list (except for network TV).
  • Network TV: This is the last distribution node to obtain a movie after its release; therefore, it is typically the last option we consider. How would you like to be the least preferred option and garnering decreased interest? Enough said.
  • Movie Channels: An option for many, but increasingly viewed as limited in comparison to the next five options.
  • Pay-per-View: You get to see movies closer to their release date than the preceding options, but the titles are quite limited in selection and somewhat restricted by schedule.
  • Video-on-Demand: This solves the scheduling restriction of pay-per-view, but still suffers from limited titles.
  • Local Video Rental Store: Who wants the hassle of going to a video store to rent a movie, especially without knowing if your title will be available? Succinctly put, this model is rapidly approaching obsolesce. This is precisely why Blockbuster ventured into rental via mail.
  • Mail Rental: Netflix changed how we rent movies, but this model will quickly fade. Downloading movies will soon make this option passé.
  • Download Rental and Streaming Video: This remaining option seemingly has no immediate threats, but it is a technology-based solution, and technology changes rapidly. As such, a pervasive threat to this business model could erupt at any moment and with little or no warning.

Fragmented Industries

Many industries are likewise fragmented. Some businesses are stuck in the past. These companies, mired in obsolescence, are still in business because they have done what the drive-ins and single-screen theaters have done: somehow they reinvented themselves, found a niche, and marketed effectively.

Then there are organizations that are trapped in their business plan, traveling down a narrowing road. Perhaps their distinctive advantage is their staff, but they can’t hire enough qualified employees. Maybe they have staked their future on an uncertain and questionable strategy. Others are loaded with technology, but the next competitive technological innovation could render all that they have as something that no one wants.

This analysis is not unique to movie distribution. It exists in every business, in every industry, and in every economy. Some will survive and some won’t.

The key is taking what you have and using it to your advantage, perhaps in a way that no one else has thought of. It could be your location, your staff, your technology, your niche, your management team, your leadership, or something else. If you have none of these options, then perhaps it’s time to morph into another line of business, be it within or apart from the industry in which you are currently a part of.

Regardless of your situation, with determination and innovation, there’s always the opportunity to reinvent your business. The one solution that won’t work is to do nothing at all.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights with others through his books and blogs to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.