Days of Barter & Batter

Recently, on a work & play vacation in a developing country, I was reminded of what the Customer Service experience once was.
Being a headset fan & a Customer Service Fanatic I thought I’d combine a bit of both with a shopping trip “downtown”. There were hundreds of small stores selling literally millions of electronic devices – i-pods, bank note verifiers, fingerprint scanners, robotic vacuum cleaners that clean your floor then automatically park themselves in their recharging base, & your favorite & mine, telephone headsets.
In one store I found a plethora of headsets – plain headsets, brightly colored headsets, corded headsets & wireless headsets, cell phone headsets & computer headsets. Fine – the commodity is there, how about the service?
“How much for the cell phone headsets ?” ….. “Cell phone?” – my first challenge – “mobile phone headsets ?” ….. “Ah, mobile phone headsets – very good headsets – yes?” ….. “Yes” ….. “400″ ….. “too much, too much” ….. “how many you want?” ….. “3″ ….. “How about 5 ?” …..”okay maybe 5″ ….. “How about 10?” ….”no I don’t want 10″ ….. “How about 7 ?” ….. “Okay maybe 7″ – Let The Games Begin!
First it was sit and drink coffee. Sweet coffee scented with cardamon. Then some fantastic pastries. Over 15 minutes was spent just talking about me – Where I was from, What I did, How long I was in this country, Why I wanted 10 headsets? (You’ll note that the Customer Service Rep had by now adopted the positive attitude that I was indeed going to buy 10 headsets!)
Eventually the topic turned to price. Clearly my Customer Service Rep had a vested interest in certain “quality & value” headsets, however he always courteously answered my questions, then of course poured more coffee and offered more pastries. Between cups of coffee and trays of pastries our table became laden with new electronic gadgets “that might interest” me, once my Customer Service Rep found out enough about my personality to tantalize me with exactly the right mix of goodies.
Ultimately I strayed from the telephone headsets and bought a vacuum cleaner – remember, the one that parks itself to recharge? We bartered over it’s price and eventually agreed, after he had battered me with words and seduced me with more pastries and coffee.
As I left the store he ran after me – a value added – he thanked me and handed me a cell phone headset “for being such a good customer”.
While I don’t always have the time to sit & drink & talk, and my waist line definitely couldn’t face this challenge on a daily basis, sometimes it’s pleasant not to rush through the Customer Service experience. It’s nice to feel like a person again and even to go in after a headset and come out with a vacuum cleaner!

Bah Humbug!!!

Well, the Holiday Season is upon us and we’re madly shopping, which means we’re exposed to all types of Customer Service. One of the key challenges that I find at this time of year is being served quickly, because I’m in a hurry and there are crowds of people, and still receiving quality Customer Service.
Last week I was on a longish domestic flight – I arrived at the airport with several thousand other people all going their own way. As usual, I’m rushing along talking on my cell phone headset, finalising one deal or another and at the airport entrance I’m greeted by a jolly Santa Claus – he’s clearly a Customer Service expert, although this one did seem rather stressed, being ignored by moist of the bustling crowd. I, too, was too busy to say hello – silly me, I may well have missed my chance for a Plantronics CS50 Headset in my Christmas stocking because of that!
The queues were enormous and the counter staff tired, grumpy and over-worked. Even though I could understand how they felt I still wanted great Customer Service. They were run off their feet and making a valiant effort to multi-task, talking to Customers in person and on the phone using their cordless headsets. Still that didn’t mean that they should let their level of Customer Service drop.
Next was the news stand – I just wanted a newspaper 5 minutes later “next” is called, my money is snatched out of my hand and “next” called again. The same again at the coffee stall.
A crowd of bustling passengers line up to board the flight, crying children and all. I was not looking forward to this flight. I make one more quick call on my headset to grumble to my wife that I don’t like this time of year – bah, humbug!!!!
We board, take off, climb to altitude. The passenger next to me is a large man, tall and cramped into his seat. I’m pushed against the window. Then suddenly from nowhere a friendly face – “There’s a spare seat by the emergency exit. You might find it more comfortable”. The flight attendant escorts my neighbor to their new, roomier, seat
She returns to me with a smile and asks if I too have enough room now. The meals arrive, the Customer Service is great and suddenly I feel much better.
When we land I grab my headset and immediately call my wife and tell her how wonderful this time of year is.
A smile and a kind word can go a long way.
Here’s to a great 2007 for all of you out there in cyber-blog world.

A Recession is a Terrible Thing to Waste

With all of the doom and gloom out there, people seem to forget that in fact, a recession really is a terrible thing to waste. Just take a moment and think, when is there a better time to “cut the fat,” make smarter choices, and prepare for recovery? I find that individuals and companies get too wrapped-up in focusing on the negative aspects of a recession, they don’t stop and take the time to think about/take advantage of the upsides. So what does all of this mean?
It means that we should all be thinking critically and creatively about how we can benefit from these harsh financial times. Is there someone in your company that isn’t the best fit? When was the last time you took a look at your supply costs? How could you get twice the results in half the time. I personally guarantee that if you take the time to consider these and other similar questions, you will find yourself prospering rather than floundering, you’ll be focused on improvement and preparation, and you’ll be one of the first to go against the motto that “down is the new up,” and realize that “up is, once again the new up” ?

Road to Recovery, or the Dreaded Double-Dip?

It was March 3rd that I decided that the economy was on the up-swing. Why March 3rd? Well, to be honest, I couldn’t really point to a specific event or trigger other than the fact that I was tired of sharing the negative outlook that so many of us have been suffering from since October and November of last year. That’s right, I was tired of it. Tired of worrying, wondering, and wishing for change. So, at 3:37am on March 3rd, 2009 (a day that will certainly go down in imfamy), I made the decision that the economy is on the way up.
Well, since then, as you likely know, things have turned around. The market is up, business is slowly turning around (from what I see at and in a few of my friends’ companies), and even the voices coming from our televisions seem to be saying that things are looking a bit brighter. So the question that I pose to you today is, are we really on the road to recovery, or are we headed for the dreaded double-dip? I’m not sure, myself, so I’m sticking with my planned positivity, but the question still looms, and I’ll surely take a stance in the near future. Stay tuned…

Open Letter to Bally Total Fitness CEO Mike Sheehan

Mike Sheehan
Bally Total Fitness
8700 W Bryn Mawr Ave.
Chicago, IL 60631
CC to Danville, CA location Manager Sian Thiessen.
June 4, 2009
Dear Mike,
I’m two years into a three year membership at Bally Total Fitness, with the Danville, CA location being my normal place to visit. The staff know me well, and to their credit most know me by name, including your manager Sian. I usually have my card but sometimes forget it. Yesterday I went in and was told I wasn’t allowed in because I didn’t have my card for the second time. Ok, I’m happy to pay the $10 for another one, would prefer to have it turn up somewhere around the house in the next day or two like it usually does, but I can go with a new one if that makes everyone happy. But not having my wallet on me, I don’t normally take it to the gym, meant after a manager check I was turned away. Hmm. Ok, well you can choose how to treat your Customers, but frankly, I think you lose big time when you do this. I let the pleasant girl on reception (Revita sp?) know that I knew it wasn’t her fault, but I’d not renew my membership when it comes up, and would no longer refer people there. I’ve referred two new members in the past year, never asking for any deal for it, just because I thought it was good to do. And as for the personal training I do from time to time, a few grand spent last year – nah. I won’t spend more money there. Yes I’ll pay the $10 for another card to work through my expiration of current membership, but that’s the extent Bally’s will see of my $$ now.
What a shame your company chooses even from the hardships of bankruptcy, to alienate Customers. I know others at the gym are quite pissed about the way it’s being done too. I’m sure Sian is hamstrung by corporate policy on this one, which is why I thought you should know directly what I think, and its impact on you. I too run a company, and know that we can’t please all of our Customers all the time and sometimes we have to disappoint some of them. However, I also know that rules that alienate good Customers always come back to bite.
There you go, I feel better now that I’ve got that off my chest. No need for a reply, I’m sure you have better things to do, but I do hope you consider the impact of turning people who are in their gym gear with a fully paid membership away from a location as your company policy.
P.S. Please do not have anyone call me for membership renewal and please place me on your do not call list. Such a solicitation after this notice, even if by accident, would be considered a breach of the do not call law and be subject to a $500 penalty on the first offence, which I will pursue. Silly rule? Yep, almost unreasonable really, but it just shows how silly we can all be with rules.

Why I Love and Hate Banks

Okay, hate is a strong word, maybe it’s unfair, but over the years, I’ve found banks offer very different service. No, I don’t mean the superficial smile that they all give you, I mean when you need something done, or when you don’t have your ID, but want to get some cash. Well, I must confess, I am an ex-big bank guy.

After many years with Wells, I’ve been gradually moving my accounts, and boy am I so much more pleased with the service. Today I went to pay a check into Tri-Valley Bank in San Ramon, where one of my businesses banks. No ID, no nothing, walk in, they smile, ask me if my daughter has finished school, and seamlessly pay the check in without the, “You have to have a deposit slip for that, Sir.” It’s a world of difference when you can call your banker on his cell phone at any time, and he’ll just make things happen for you.

Okay, I admit it, I’ve got a vested interest in this post. After I switched to this small community bank, I liked it so much, I started buying the stock. Did I tell you I thought the stock was cheap, too? :) TRVB.

I hope you’re getting great service at your bank, too. And Tri-Valley, keep up the great work.