Providing The World With The Ultimate Customer Experience

Lucky's Blog

This blog has been created to keep our customers, partners and friends up to date with pertinent information relating to our industry, technical or otherwise. It will also keep everyone up to date with M.C. Dean's ever expanding capabilities. Thanks to all my followers and I hope you find this blog both helpfull and informative. Best Regards: Lucky Drake

Friday, August 26, 2011

Goal Setting

I was talking with a client over lunch yesterday and we were discussing some of the goals she had and that they seemed unattainable. The more time we spent talking, the more I realized the problem wasn’t with her goals but with her goal setting abilities.

We all have “Goals”, but the truth is, that when analyzed, most of us only have dreams-- not goals. So what’s the difference? Simple really, a goal is a final outcome someone has planned. Yes Planned! If you have a goal without a plan then it is just a dream.

Over and over again I have interactions with people that think they are real goal oriented with a one year, five year, and ten year plan. But when I ask probing questions I find out they really only have dreams. Now this isn’t to say that dreams can’t come true, but if you want to achieve a goal you need a plan.

I can comment on a personal example to help clarify this thought. Since I was a young child watching the “Wide World of Sports” I always thought that a tri-athlete was the pinnacle example of strength and conditioning. I can remember thinking to myself, ’someday I want to compete in a triathlon’. That was a dream. About two years ago I made a personal goal to lose weight and get back into shape. I focused my goal on being able to compete in a triathlon and check off that bucket list item once and for all. I sat down and worked out a schedule of exercising, diet, and month by month weight loss goals. I then started walking, then biking & swimming, and eventually running. I just registered for my first triathlon, on October 16th. I also put together a more focused training schedule that included weight training, running, swimming, and biking daily, to prepare for this event. I will let everyone know how it all turns out but there is little chance I will not accomplish this “goal” unless I give up on it, because I have a goal, and an action plan to accomplish it.

Now that we understand the difference between a goal and a dream, let’s look into the next biggest problem with goal setting. Too many people put time limits on their goals. In many cases this can cause destructive behaviors, internal stress, and a reduced level of patience. You become so focused on falling behind that you end up abandoning your goal, or you start to let other things in your life become effected. Also, you can get so drawn into accomplishing that goal within a certain time frame, that you will miss other opportunities that can have a greater impact in your life than completing the original goal itself. Furthermore, things change. Outside influences may change that directly affect your ability to attain that goal. Therefore, your goal has to be a moving target, both in time and effort. There is nothing wrong with having an approximate time frame attached to a goal as long as you understand that the timeframe is not the driving factor, the goal itself is what should be important.

To summarize, when goal setting, you must have the duality of the goal itself and an action plan in place to achieve it. The action plan should be a detailed, step by step program, without time constraints. It should also be an adjustable plan to make room for changes due to outside influences.

You should treat each goal as you would a vacation. Before you go on a vacation, you check the weather, air fares, hotel prices, etc. You plan your route, budget expenses, and make allowances for the unexpected. Just like a vacation you want to plan the details of your goals. Focus on what needs to happen to obtain the goal and plan step by step activities to achieve the goal. Only once you have a comprehensive plan of baby steps can you start implementing the required efforts to accomplish the goals you have set for yourself.

Finally, if you take the time to put together a solid action plan, the only thing stopping you from achieving the goals you set forth is you. Stay focused-- but fluid, and there won’t be any goals you cannot achieve.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What is Value in the Service industry?

We all know what value is when we are buying the “Big Gulp” at our local 7-11. It’s obvious! For ten cents more you get nearly 30% more. No brainer right?

In the service industry it is not quite as transparent as at your local convenience store or even with your favorite product. Service is an invisible product that most customers have to experience before they can decide if they are happy with it or not. Think of a restaurant. You can’t go out, order your food, consume your order, and then not pay because you were dissatisfied. You have to, pardon the pun, “eat it” and just not patronize that establishment again. While you can, and I suggest you do, complain about your dissatisfaction, you have little recourse at the end of the meal.

Why complain? In many cases the owner or manager will not know that there is a problem unless someone tells them. While I am a firm believer that a good manager needs to have processes in place to measure how they are doing, few actually do. I always preach that you need to worry about what people are saying, but what they are not saying is even more important. Most people will look you in the eye and tell you everything was fine, then tell everyone they know, about the awful experience they had, and never use your service again.

In some cases customers go after the cheapest price, throwing caution to the wind, and ignoring the signs of value, and get exactly what they bargained for, poor service and quality. However, in many cases it’s not that simple. A customer’s motivation was not just price, but they wanted the best value. Many poor service minded companies have great ad campaigns, and lure in unsuspecting customers who find out too late that the real signs of value didn’t exist.

So what are the signs of value in a service industry? My belief is that you need to focus on a few key points.

Reputation What is the reputation of your service provider? To start with, reputation is paramount. While yes it is possible to use a service with a great reputation only to have your expectations fall short. In general, the only way to build a reputation of excellent customer service is by covering all key points consistently. When you consider how easy it is for the general public to voice their disappointment within the online world, it is more important than ever to focus on complete customer satisfaction. So a company with a good reputation most likely earned it.

The Experience How would you rate your overall experience with your service provider? The other day I was sitting in a doctor’s office filling out paperwork and thinking to myself, in today’s electronic age, why couldn’t I have filled this out online prior to coming into the office? Instead I have to sit here and try to recall all the pertinent information and sit around and wait for the receptionist to enter all my information into their system. That is not thinking about the “customer’s” overall experience. If they were, they would have an online portal, for patients to enter and update their information, while having access to all their medical records. This would also save the doctor administrative time for entering and updating patient’s records.

As I have stated in previous blogs the overall customer experience, in my opinion, is the single largest reason that customers open their wallets, and develop loyalty to a service provider. It is also the number one reason a customer will never grace you with their patronage again if it was a bad experience. You need to focus on each step of the customer’s buying experience and do everything you can to make it as pleasurable and free flowing as possible. Remove any barriers that slow down the process, and make your service easier to use than any other service provider.

Dependability Can you count on your service provider? One key component to offering a great value to our customers is that when we say we will be there, we are there on time. When we say the job will cost this much, and be done by this time, that is exactly what we deliver. I have experienced many occasions of poor customer service in this area. Not to pick on doctors, but I have never shown up for a doctor’s appointment and been seen at the time of the appointment. Why is that? How is it that I can build a job that takes over a year to complete and finish it on time but a doctor can’t keep an appointment? If your customers can count on you to do what you say, and do it when you say you will, that is a huge value.

Communication Can you get a hold of your service provider? Every one of my customers has my cell phone number and when they call 24/7/365 I answer it or call them back within the hour. When you consider that we touch over 400 customers a month, just in the Tampa market alone, you might think I am crazy. However, because I have a great team that understands the culture built here, my phone rarely rings.

The key to good communication is to always answer your phone and talk with your customers. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know-- but I will find out”. All too often I hear peers and students tell me that they don’t call the customer back until they have an answer. That is a quick way to be perceived as non-accessible.

In many cases poor communication is why people are considered undependable. You need to be clear with your customers, explain exactly what you will and won’t do, and when you will do it, or if you simply don’t have an answer right this minute-- tell them, but then get them one. Clear and concise communication will eliminate most cases of conflict or perceived unmet expectations.

Safety How safe is you service provider? Safety is one of the key points that most customers overlook. Depending on what service you are buying, safety could and should be your biggest concern. When hiring a service provider you are allowing unknown individuals access to your facilities, employees, customers and possibly sensitive areas. You want to know what kind of pre-hire screening, drug tests, background checks and training the company does before you just give the technicians carte blanche to your empire. In many cases they will be working around your customers, employees and the general public. You need to know what kind of training they have had to safeguard any risk of injuries. In our line of work we are actually working on the electrical systems, which are the life blood of your building, not to mention all the risks associated with electricity. We spend thousands of dollars per technician, and hundreds of training hours to make sure that we keep our customers and technicians safe. Our technicians understand the risks involved prior to beginning any project. We not only make sure our customers know our safety process, but get feedback from them to continually improve our methods to insure the utmost safety practices are being implemented, to protect our customer’s systems, employees, assets, and the general public.

Most of our customer’s general counsel and risk managers are aware of the importance of safe work practices and have put in place minimum requirements for those larger companies. But if you don’t have these resources you may want to ask a few questions before deciding on who you are going to grant access to your company’s assets.

• Do they have a written safety program?

• What training do they give to their Technicians?

• What safeguards do they implement to mitigate risks and protect the general public?

• What is their EMR (Experience Modification Rate) rating?

• What PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) do they provide their technicians to avoid injury?

While some of this may seem to be over the top, think about what it will cost your company if there is an accident on your site? Lawyer’s fees, Insurance claims, Workman’s comp claims, etc… not to mention the bad press you might receive, especially if you are found negligent. It truly isn’t worth the risk to save a couple of bucks.

In closing, while the economy continues to shrink, and everyone continues to tighten their belts, we all are looking to find a better deal and to shave a few bucks off our costs and budgets. However, I urge everyone to stay focused on what you are cutting. We all should be looking for better value, but that doesn’t always mean a lower cost. What we are really trying to do is ‘do more with less’. This takes some thought and strategizing, not just finding cheaper options. Bring in your service providers and see what they can do to help you. If they are true business partners they will listen to your issues and come up with options that can help. If they don’t they are not really business partners, they are just vendors. You need to find the “Big Gulp” companies that will help you figure out how to get 30% more for only ten cents. Those are your business partners and that is VALUE!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Relationships In Today’s Economy

With our economic state in peril, everybody is trying to do more with less. This is putting a major strain on most employees and owners. As we look for new cuts that need to be made, most companies think the first cut to be made is in marketing and business development. The ironic part is that marketing and business development are what will bring new work in the door. If we continue to cut our business development efforts, we will continue to cut our customer activity.

One big part of business development efforts are relationships. We get so bogged down with work that we no longer take the time to go to the networking events, trade shows, community and charity events, etc… This turns out to be the death of new and repeat business.

In a downward economy, relationships become even more important than ever. Your customers are receiving on average 3-5 phone calls a day trying to sell them a replacement for your services. While in the past these calls would be ignored, your customers are starting to pay attention, since you are no longer in their face reminding them that your product is superior and that you do care about their problems.

The truth is that you still care but you just don’t have the time to give them that special attention you once did. Don’t worry though, your competition does. As market shares shrink and customers go away, your competition, is finding more time to call on your customers and if you are not going to give them that special attention, they will.

The trick is not to get caught up in the reduction of workforce. Stop cutting and start building. Continue along the same path that got you where you are today. Offer that service that no one else can in today’s economy. I have seen record sales and we have not been able to hire fast enough in this current economic condition. The reason is that as everybody else is shrinking and cutting back, we are expanding and hiring new customer solution providers. I refuse to cut anything that effects the customers overall experience. I refuse to cut anything that affects the quality of our service.

More and more companies are going out of business playing the, “I can sell it cheaper than you can” game. This is leaving a tremendous void in customer support. There are thousands of new customers every day looking for a replacement to the company that just went under. They need a solution and they need it fast. Focus on being that solution, and offering them the kind of personal attention that has been lost in this recession, and you too will start to see the success that I have been lucky enough to experience.

With this comes great responsibility. Do not ever take for granted the trust your customers have put in your organization. It is easy to get lost as work starts to pour in and priorities must be set. Your top priority must always be your customer’s needs. You must continue to genuinely care about their problems and offer quality solutions. Keep those relationships growing and you will see your market share continue to grow; they are the life blood of your organization.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Time Management

Time and time again I get asked the question, “How do you do all you do?”, or at least something similar to that question. Basically people want to know how I am able to run five division offices, write these blogs, network and work on business development, perform at public speaking events, volunteer and organize philanthropic events, train for a triathlon, etc. etc. etc. Besides the fact that I spend little time on non-productive things, and work every hour I am not sleeping, the simple answer is time management.

I would like to start out by saying that time management isn’t possible without the right team behind you. I have the great fortune of having an amazing team of highly talented people working for me and that is the bottom line reason why I am able to manage my time.

As I have said in previous writings you are only as good as your team and they will determine your success. You must hire the right people and get rid of the garbage. When you have inadequate, lazy, or narcissistic team members, you spend your time managing them and not your time. Those individuals will account for 80% of your problems, and will also drag down the morale of the high performers. However, on the other side, when you have true “Rock Stars” across the board, as I have, you won’t have to spend any time worrying about what they are doing. All you have to do is support them and empower them to make their own decisions. Don’t get me wrong they still have objectives and are accountable for them, but you don’t have to worry about how they get those objectives done, only whether or not they achieved their goals.

So once you have the right team to support you, time management becomes easy. All you need to do is analyze the following:

What needs to be done? You need to know what needs to be done each day. This means that you need to have spent time planning this day out, knowing what has to get done and who is going to do it. Don’t under estimate the importance of this step. Many people do not go into detail about what needs to get done and then all the little things you thought were not important enough to plan for start piling up and knock you off your plan. This is no different than budgeting money. Studies have shown that most people that have financial distress, have it as a direct result of not budgeting for the little things. I will give you one example. Some people don’t figure their morning coffee into their monthly budget even though they stop at the local gourmet coffee shop every day to get it rather than making it at home. If you average $3.50 a day for that morning latte, assuming that you only have one, you may not think to include something so trivial into your budget. However, when you add up all those little purchases over the month, you have totaled $105 dollars a month, for that one coffee. David Bach wrote a book called “The Automatic Millionaire” where he discussed ‘retiring on a latte a day’. It is staggering what happens when you start to invest that $3.50 a day. But that is a whole separate subject. The point is that if you don’t plan for all the little things they will become your nemesis in time management.

What do you need to do? The next step is what do I need to accomplish today? I plan out each day the night before (coupled with my weeks, month’s and yearly plan). I analyze every task that has to be done as to whether or not it needs my attention. You see, I don’t waste any time doing something I can have someone else do. I only focus on what needs my attention. If something comes up that one of my “Rock Stars” can handle, it gets delegated to them. That way I can stay on task without interruption. You should never spend time doing something you can have others do for you. Also, I would add that you want to put your focus on what you are best at and not waste time doing things you don’t enjoy or are not as proficient in. Some of the worst managed companies are that way due to micro management, and managers that are not willing to empower their team.

When does it have to be done? You also need to understand when the deadline is and make sure that you have allocated enough time to finish the tasks in a complete and polished manner. When I start my day I have my planned objectives for the day and my day is not over until the final objective is complete. Yes, that does mean there are times when I will only get a few hours sleep but I am committed to my schedule. What is the purpose of putting together a schedule if you are not going to follow it? Remember that your schedule should include recreation and relaxation time.

Make time for Murphy! One thing I can tell you is that no matter how well you plan your day, week, month, etc…, something can, and will, go wrong. If you are not making plans for Murphy, then you shouldn’t even bother making a schedule. Many of the people that I speak with will tell me about how stressed they are and how behind they are at work. I find that they are very structured people and they take the time to plan. What they are generally missing is planned time for the unexpected. Look at it this way, if you plan for something to go wrong and it doesn’t; then you get those much needed hours of sleep back. So what’s the harm?

Know when to say no! Undoubtedly, the biggest reason for blown schedules and poor time management is not knowing when to say ‘no’ to more work. While no one wants to be the one to tell their boss, or even worse, a customer, “NO”. The fact is that there are only so many hours in the day, and if you continue to say yes to everything, either you will need to add unproven staff to handle it or you will fail to meet expectations. Neither should be an acceptable outcome. You have to prioritize and make the tough decisions as to who will get your time and who will not.

To summarize, while there is no great insightful trick to managing your time contained within this article, all of the principles exist. There is no quick tip or trick to proper time management. You either are going to dedicate yourself and be disciplined to your schedule or not. Unfortunately, some people are not disciplined enough to stick to the required structure to be a good time manager. The simple fact is that when all is said and done, all you need to do is “Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan”.