Category Archives: Customer Service

Highway confessions; I ran over that sign

This sign has directed its last patron

So I had a bit of a rough weekend in terms of driving.  I had a hitch mounted cargo carrier on the back of my jeep to haul camping supplies.  I guess I had a hard time judging distances, I blame the heat.

I hit two things:  I ran down a fast food joint’s sign and bumped someones SUV in the parking lot.  There’s a difference.

When I bumped the guy’s car, I felt really bad.  There was barely any damage, a small dent in the rubber probably on its way to popping back out.  I stayed out in the parking lot and waited until he came out of the store and explained what happened and apologized.  He looked at the bump briefly and agreed that it was too small to care about.  We went on our way.

I stopped briefly when I cut a turn too hard and clipped the fast food sign.  It made an awful sound.  Not a full stop, a rolling stop really.  I’m pretty sure the sign was already down and I just finished the job, it was rusty and seemingly sheered off at the base.  I didn’t feel bad though.  As a matter of fact, I was more concerned with any damage to my jeep and wondering why they chose such a poor place for a sign.  Honestly, I laughed  hardily as I drove down the highway, trading jokes with my wife about the situation and my impending arrest.

Here’s what separates the two incidents:

I identified with the SUV owner, even though I’d never met him.  He is a person and deserves to know that his car was bumped.  I was prepared to pay for any damage caused because I wanted to do right by him.

This fast food place is a nameless and faceless corporation.  Their parking lot was unkept and cared about me only enough to get me out of their drive through line.

The fix?

Chain stores need to identify themselves using their people.  Managers should have their pictures up and meet customers.  Clerks should make a bit of small talk and use their names.  It’s an easy fix really and customers will come back because they were treated like people BY people.  It’s not that corporations need to increase the number of self reporting sign runner overs, they need to increase the customer return rate.  Even corporations can be small town shops.

If I had met Bill the manager or even knew his name I may have let them know that I ran their sign over.  I might mention to him that it was really poorly placed though.

Contributing to our society; One Google review at a time

Mike’s pizza deserves more great reviews.

I read internet customer reviews before I buy something or go somewhere.  My wife reads them even more.  I post reviews on Google, when a business strikes me as very good or bad.  I should post more reviews on Amazon about the products I buy.

There is value in these reviews.  This is the power of the internet.  Anyone, anytime can post what they think about a product.  The most helpful reviews are cheered by other customers while the least helpful fall to the bottom.

This is good right?  This is increased access to information so that the customer can make informed decisions.

The economic law of supply and demand depends on the supplier and buyer having equal information about the good.  The opposite is called ‘information asymmetry.’  This condition is said to cause market failure.  Google it, it’s interesting.

Bad guys are creating asymmetry on purpose.

What if an author or publisher hires a company to post hundreds of positive reviews of their book on Amazon?  What about a product?

There are no laws against being shady and unethical.  It usually hurts your brand though.

The company, promises, “We don’t actually delete any webpages (only the person who posted [a bad review or negative content] can do that), instead we simply make unwanted pages about your business rank lower in search results so that virtually no one ever sees them.”

So, I guess the story goes if you are a shitty doctor or a restaurant with poor service and have earned some bad customer reviews, you can hire to make them ‘go away?’

That’s weak.

Let’s do our part and post quick reviews on Google and Amazon when we buy something or go somewhere…the market…no, our society depends on it.

Ok, maybe not our society.

Fried dough with sugar; who does it better? The hedgehog does.

I grew up on Long Island.   We had Dunkin’ Donuts.  I have fond memories of my Mom bringing home a dozen donuts or stopping by for a quick Boston Creme before we got on the train.  It was good.

Dunkin Donuts makes the best donuts and coffee on the planet.

Dunkin Donuts makes the best donuts and coffee on the planet.


Dunkin Donuts makes sandwiches.  Shitty ones.  Dunkin Donuts makes…well, they have ice cream stores attached to them now.  They make all kinds of garbage.  Check out the front page of their website:

They lost their brand.

What if, for the last several years, they just refined and built on to the fact that they make the best coffee and donuts on the planet?  Whether or not its true doesn’t matter; it can be true.

What if for the past several years they concentrated on just coffee and donuts, that perfect combo and left the rest to fast food joints or other, lesser establishments?

The Dunkin Donuts brand would be a lot better off.  Maybe they would make less money in the short term, but in the long term, they could forever seal their fate as the best coffee and donuts on the planet.

I walk into Starbucks and ask the bubbly chick what she does and she says she is a barrista.  She makes coffee, oh yeah, they have some other stuff too.

When I walk into Dunkin Donuts the dude isn’t sure what he does, he makes ice cream sundaes, terrible sandwiches, some  ice cream cakes, breakfast burritos and oh yeah, donuts too.

It’s sad really.

It all goes back to the hedgehog concept.  To be truly successful, you should:

1.  Determine where your passion is.

2.  Determine what you CAN be the best at.

3.  Determine what drives your profit engine.

Jim Collins, author of the Good to Great series describes it in video here:

The Hedgehog Concept

You can apply this anywhere.  Apply it to your life.  Apply it to your office.  There is something that you are passionate about, something that you can be the best at, and maybe it will even pay the bills…if not, maybe it should.  Whatever you choose should not be breakfast burritos, though.

Customer Service – What get’s it done?

The gym I go to has a great front desk staff.

Their greetings are strong when I come in, smiles big, very receptive to the few requests I’ve had and bid a great farewell when I leave.

Every time, all of them.

Most of the other staff seem to be on board as well.

So what is it?

Does American Family Fitness pay really well?  Do they just hire the right twenty somethings?  Are they consistently trained and managed?

I’m not sure exactly but what I am sure of is that the culture is right.

Regardless of hiring practices, pay or training models the culture set by the leadership creates the environment for success…or failure.

In my experience culture is determined through time by communicating with your peeps often, by being forthright with standards and expectations and, most importantly, by explaining “why.”  Explaining why means explaining to the staff the enduring end-sate, the objective, the second or third desired effect.

Your people are smart and will help you to your goal; if they know what it is (exactly) and you allow them to.

Leaders need to take some time to reflect, communicate and observe; this, done over time, will start an organization on an enduring path to success – it will create the right culture.

Answering lots of email doesn’t.

The Green Lady Has Been Distracted

Ahhhh, Pike’s Place.  Tall, with a little ice, mmm, just right.  Just about every time.

Isn’t that what Starbucks is selling?  Consistent product and service no matter where you are and when.  I have been to a lot of Starbucks across the nation and through just about every government agency.  Granted, the State Department only “proudly brews” Starbucks products..sham.

Anyway,  I have been alarmed by a recent trend in declining service.   This weekend I pulled into one of my regular stops. Garbage in the parking lot, “that’s odd,” I thought.  No problem, the bubbly girl at the register reminded me where I was.  When she turned around to pour my coffee though, 50 cent shots of espresso began accumulating on my total, seemingly by themselves.  I watched the total go from $1.78 to over $6.

Cool marketing technique I thought, because now I am interested in adding a shot.  The girl noticed but was not surprised.  “Sorry about that,” she giggled.

“No problem.” I said, “Is the register broken?”

“Nope! (giggle, giggle) Its the flies.”

Wow.  What just happened?  Flies ran me up for 9 shots added to my already strong coffee?  “Disgusting,” I said trying not to be mean.

She went on to explain how they make a big effort when the customers arent around to kill and disperse the espresso adding flies.  I didnt know what to say except, “Well, good luck!”

I grabbed my coffee and left in a hurry.

Its happened a couple of times recently, maybe the garbage was over flowing in Virginia or the ladies in North Carolina were texting instead of serving.  Its alarming because the Starbucks brand is strong, very strong and each interaction like this is another chink in the armor times thousands of customers.

Does Starbucks compete?  Kind of.  They compete against your home coffee, they compete against 7-11 or the gas station, fast-food joints have joined in and they compete against your local brewer.

But take it from me, when I don’t know the area, I know Starbucks and that keeps me coming back even in the airport or at Target.  Like McDonald’s, they strive for predictability but unlike McDonald’s there is no Burger King like alternative.

McDonald’s now sells their coffee for $1.  “Would you like flies with that?”

“Two please.”

Environmental Hazards

A lesson in management by Dr Drew:

This morning I forgot my headphones. I usually zone out to Pandora Radio, Rage Against the Machine mix turned just loud enough to drown out the sounds around me, not this morning.
For some reason at 5 a.m. the gym sound system was rocking some Bob and Sheri, the TVs that surround the place are set to Dr Drew, CNN, a local televangalistic infomercial and sports. Dr Drew is the only one we can hear.

This morning on Dr Drew we enjoyed a segment about a woman who paid $50K to have her dog cloned. What the fuck has happened to us? Why is this on TV at the gym? Why is this on TV anywhere. Friends, its not a in-depth documentary on cloning, stem cell research and the like. No. Its about ‘Double Trouble’ the dog who has been cloned for a common man’s year’s salary. The woman sits on the floor of the studio while the dog curls up comfortably in a director’s chair.

Bob and Sheri have asked our nation’s population to call in and explain the stupidest things they’ve done. Callers, please note that whatever you say on this nationally syndicated radio show will be second (on the stupid scale) to the fact that you called Bob and Sheri to tell them about it. Between exercises I learned what happens to a woman’s face when a bottle rocket is shot from her mouth.

The lesson: The reason this shit was on at the gym was due to a few things.
1. No manager that has ever exercised has ever been to that gym during these peak hours. Leaders have to be places. What goes unchecked, goes undone.
2. Perhaps no one is in charge of changing the channels on the TV, it’s someone else’s responsibility (or no one’s). Every responsibility has to have a name attached to it. Perhaps the efforts will be shared but the responsibility lies with a real person. Bill, you’re in charge of the lights and the TV.
3. Customers have no easy feedback mechanism. You want your place to be better? Listen to your customers. You want your customers to tell you about your place? Ask them and make it so easy for them to tell you it makes them uncomfortable. The right message is delivered just by asking.

So, tell me how great this post it. I really, really want to know. Its easy, just click on the ‘comment’ button and fire away, send me an email if you prefer, no matter what I want your feedback. Bill, make sure you are paying attention to the TV, Ill be checking in on you tomorrow.

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