Sunday, September 23, 2007

Call it what it is!

Are you as sick of business euphemisms that hide the facts or over simplify issues as I am? The current practice of calling problems challenges drives me nuts.

The thinking is (I think) that by calling obstacles challenges you energize your people to “meet the challenge”. I think this practice trivializes the complexities of your business and reduces your peoples sense of accomplishment.

We all “know” what words mean, even when we might not remember the exact dictionary definition. When we hear words misused we do recognize the misuse even if we can’t clearly say why that particular statement is wrong. There is an old Confusion saying “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a tiger have?” The correct answer is “Four, calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one”.

It might be useful to look at the Webster’s definition of both problem and challenge.

Challenge (From Webster’s)
1 : to demand as due or deserved : REQUIRE
2 : to order to halt and prove identity
3 : to dispute especially as being unjust, invalid, or outmoded : IMPUGN
4 : to question formally the legality or legal qualifications of
5 a : to confront or defy boldly : DARE b : to call out to duel or combat c : to invite into competition
6 : to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties
7 : to administer a physiological and especially an immunologic challenge to (an organism or cell)

Problem (From Webster’s)
1 a : a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution b : a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done
2 a : an intricate unsettled question b : a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation c : difficulty in understanding or accepting

Challenge has 7 accepted definitions and only the sixth deals with removing difficulties while the first definition of a problem includes the idea of a solution to a difficulty. Since we all know the generally accepted meaning of words, using the correct word to describe business events is critical to a common understanding and in creating a common purpose.

By styling something as a challenge and not as a problem, you loose your teams ability to overcome that problem. Remember, you can’t overcome a challenge BUT you can challenge your team to solve a problem.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bad customer service

The attached link leads to Brian Reich's article about shopping for a new car. While we've all had this experience, how many of us have looked at our own business to make sure we're not making these mistakes?

Lessons From a Car Shopping Experience

I still think that we can learn good business practices by keeping an "I'll never do that" book listing bad experiences and what should have been done to earn or keep our own business.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

World class customer service

Mostly I write about bad service because thats what lights me up. For a change, here is a story about customer service done the right way.

My wife an I were gong to Las Vegas for a couple of days and made the reservations on the internet. When my wife made the reservations, she thought she was at the Paris Paris web site. As it turns out, she was at a web site called and when we got to the hotel, the reservations had been canceled!

This is where the good part starts; because the reservations were make through a third party we had to call to get it straitened out. The first desk clerk gave us a phone number to call that turned out to be an out of service number. Roberto, the second of three desk clerks who helped us, got on his desk phone, talked to with us, and found that we had been double booked. That is 4 rooms rather than two. We needed an extra room because this was a birthday trip for our niece. Roberto made sure that faxed the correction to the hotel and that the folks updating the reservation computer were waiting for the information and updated the computer right away.

We had to go and play in the casino (what a hardship) while the hotel sorted it out. When we came back the desk, Shirlene (a third desk clerk) was waiting for us and knew all the particulars of our problem, Roberto had briefed her well. She went through the check in process as quickly as possible and joked with us, making a potentially frustrating experience more like visiting with a friend.

Things happen and sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we would like. When that happens the true test of your staff is how painless they make that occasional problem for your customer. In this case we saw the very best of Paris Paris’ staffs customer service skills.

Thanks to to Roberto and Shirlene for making an irritating situation as painless as possible and helping us start our vacation with a laugh!

If getting your customers to come back again and again is important to your business you are going to have to invest in your people so they know how to fix things quickly AND how to make your customers feel that they care. That takes a real commitment from management to seek out and reward the employees who do it right. Remember that in customer service rewarding those who succeed is more effective than punishing those who didn’t do it right.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The question of the day

Do you spend as much time and money “maintaining” your employees as you do maintaining your other production equipment? How much time and effort do you spend each week (on the clock) to service computers, drill presses, lathes and the rest of your production tools? How much did you spend in the same time frame on employee training or retraining?

If you have a computer sitting on a desk with out someone to operate it, it’s just a paper weight. In the movie Conan the Barbarian, James Earl Jones asked “What is the sword compared to the arm that wields it?” In the same way what are your tools of production compared to the person who operates them?

Is it cheaper for your company to go find someone with a particular skill set or to train current employees? When you bring in someone from the outside, you send a subtle unspoken message to all your current employees - this company does not value your experience and knowledge of our company and product enough to use it at the next level.

If you think of your employees as replaceable and disposable they will soon think of your company as replaceable and disposable. This means they will take the value they are adding to your business down the street to your competitors for the smallest salary increase. If you’ve ever asked “Why doesn't that person care about their work?”, perhaps it’s because the company doesn’t care about them.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

How to loose customers

My 2 year old Magellan GPS needs new maps, unfortunately Magellan has decided that there is more money in selling me a new unit than supporting what they sold.

This may sound harsh at first, but one of the selling points for Magellan was that I could update the maps. I just tried to order new maps and was told that “we don’t support that model any more”. Magellan will give me a small discount toward a new unit for my now outdated one.

One question for Magellan, why would I buy another Magellan so that in 2 years you can tell me that you won’t support that one either?

There is an old adage, Once bitten twice shy.

In business it’s much cheaper to keep a customer than to gain a new one and almost impossible to get one back if you loss them. Each business has to decide if they want to keep their current customers or not. If they do want customer loyalty, than every business decision has to be weighed against how many customers you’ll loss because of it.