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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Customer Always Wins

Last week I received another overwhelming response to my article “Educating The Customer”. I thank everyone for their support and comments. It seems that many of the comments I have received relating to the customer being right, come down to negotiations. One person, who actually commented on the blog itself (which is greatly appreciated and helps promote discussions), explained that they were “A non-confrontational person” and had trouble when it came to educating the customer. While the example I gave in my story was based more on a safe and professional installation, those comments conflated with many other comments from my previous article “Who’s Your Customer”. So I thought I would share this story with everyone. This is an actual event, from when I worked on a hospital remodel project.

I was the project manager on an emergency room expansion project to an existing, well established, hospital in Florida. We had been working on this project for approximately six months and the overall project had been broken down into twelve different phases. We were just starting the third phase which was building out an old storage room into a new pharmacy.

Prior to starting this phase the GC had a pre-construction meeting with all the sub-contractors to discuss the plan. I had put together our electrical plan and our schedule for the execution of this phase and was well prepared for the meeting. The meeting went off without a hitch. Everyone seemed to be on the same page, and it looked as though this phase would run as smoothly as the previous phases.

The following Monday the GC’s superintendant came up to me and asked why we hadn’t started work in the storage area yet? Confused, I looked at him and stated, that I thought we had just discussed this at the meeting last week, and they were supposed to start the demo today. The superintendant said, “Yes, exactly, why aren’t you in there removing the fixtures?”

I tried to explain to the superintendant that the demo work was not in our contract and that all we were supposed to do was disconnect the power to the storage room for the demo crew. The super flipped his lid and started screaming at me and calling me some less than flattering names. Rather than become emotional and take it personally I sat there and listened to him, and allowed him to vent his frustration. I then told him, I understood his frustration and maybe I was wrong. I invited him back to my office trailer to check, and if indeed it was in my contract, I would get people in there immediately to start removing the fixtures.

I will not bother to go into the details of the contract but we were at a standstill. After looking over the contract the super was convinced that it was my responsibility, and I was convinced that it was not. At this point the super and I went to discuss this with the Project Manager for the GC. The Project Manager, again not letting emotion get involved, sided with me on the fact the there was a note on the electrical plans that said: “all demos by others”. The problem was that there was a note on the demolition plans that said: “fixtures to be demoed by others”. This was clearly a mistake and now we had to get it resolved.

The GC brought in the owner to discuss the situation and the owner was very adamant that they were not going to pay any money out for something that was in the contract, regardless of how unclear. They believed that it was not an acceptable reason for a change order and that the problem should have been found before this point in the project.

Again, I am not going to get into details but in the end the owner realized that since the architect was hired by the owner, and the architect drew up the plans and wrote the notes, that the liability lies with the owner, and if they wanted to they could go back to the architect for compensation.

Now in most cases this situation would have resulted in a change order, and the only person coming out of the whole process with a positive experience would have been my company. However, as I have said many times, I believe in giving the customer the best possible value.

What no one else knew was that I was also doing a project for a small warehouse facility. This warehouse had minimal lighting installed and the owner was planning on adding shelving and was in need of additional lighting. However, his budget was extremely limited to say the least. Keeping in mind that I am always looking for a win/win situation for my customers, I asked the owner of the warehouse facility if he cared if the lights to be installed where used. The owner quickly replied, that he didn’t care as long as they worked. I asked him to let me check on some things for him, and I would get back to him.

I went back to the hospital and spoke with the GC. I told him that if the owner was willing to let us keep the lights, that I would remove the lighting for free. The GC went to the owner and then the owner and I discussed it. I told the owner that if I could keep the fixtures we would not charge for the demo, assuming I could get the other customer to buy the lights from me. The owner was thrilled and in full agreement.

I went back to the warehouse owner and told him that I had the opportunity for him to buy 400 fixtures at $40 each. I explained that I understood he only needed 275 fixtures, but at $110 each that would cost him $30,250. Some of the used fixtures would not be working or usable, but I promised that we would get 275 working fixtures out of the lot, and for much less than buying new fixtures. He agreed and thanked me for helping him with his tight budget limitations.

In the end the Hospital got what they wanted, the GC was praised for hiring us, the warehouse owner got a great deal, and I walked away with three customers singing my praises all while taking a little coin home in my company’s pocket. If I had gotten caught up in the battle, and not stopped and listened to what the objections were, then I would never have come up with this solution. When faced with a customer who is unhappy, stop! Listen, and try to find out how you can make everyone a winning proposal. It is not a battle, it is not an argument, and it’s not even a confrontation. What it is, is an opportunity for you to help your customer, and earn a reputation.

I have told this story to illustrate that you cannot get caught up in who wins and who loses. The fact is that if your customer doesn’t win every time, then I promise you, you are the one who has lost.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Educating The Customer

A couple weeks back I posted an article about the customer always being right, and with that, came a large amount of emails and comments. While it was not a topic I expected to receive such an overwhelming response on, it made me understand that this is a topic that people feel very passionate about. One person in particular responded to me about a customer that wanted them to do something not only wrong, but unsafe, and was looking for some direction. A friend of mine had a similar experience that he requested my help with, and I felt it would be helpful to share his story, as a lesson learned, with my readers. I thought that this was a good example of how even though a customer may always be right, you may also need to educate them a little, so they can make the correct choices. (While this story is accurate in the details the names are fictitious.)

I got a phone call from Tony, he is a good friend of mine who started his own business a few years back and calls me from time to time for some guidance. This particular day he called to let me know about a customer he had that was building a restaurant. The owner of the restaurant, Steve, asked him to move some switches that were going to be in the way of a new cooler he was installing. Tony looked over the job, came up with a price, and turned over a change order. When he gave the proposal to Steve, Tony explained that this was a turnkey price that included all the required patching and painting. Steve told Tony that his price was ridiculous; and questioned why he would have any patching and painting costs.

Tony went on to explain to Steve all that he would be required to do to make the installation up to code. Steve told Tony that he “knows” about electric and went on to describe a cheaper, easier, and highly illegal installation. He further stated that he has had many electricians do this in the past. Steve went one step further and told Tony that if he didn’t do it that way that he would not pay him for the work he had completed to date.

Tony knew of my philosophy that the customer is always right and was perplexed on how to proceed. After all he wasn’t going to put his license on the line for this guy by doing something illegal. That is what led to his phone call to me. When I heard what Steve was requesting, I was alarmed and I told Tony that not only was that a code violation but that it is a life safety issue and someone could die from a job done that way. Tony told me that he had tried to explain that to the customer, but that the customer was very adamant that it was ‘his way or no pay.’

I asked Tony to set up a meeting on site with Steve that I would attend. While we were waiting on Steve, Tony was showing me the area where the switches needed to be moved. Just as we were walking out to the parking lot Steve came pulling up in his gorgeous Ford GT, he was dressed to the nines, and was obviously quite successful in his line of work.

After a brief introduction I walked Steve over to the area were the switches needed to be moved. Steve was confused about why I was there and why we were still discussing a situation that in his mind had been resolved. Steve barked at me that he had already made it clear that he was not paying extra money to patch walls for something as simple as moving a switch. Steve further stated that he has been in business a long time and knows the tricks contractors play to make up money and he isn’t about to fall for it. I explained to Steve that I had no interest in money, that I was there as a favor to a friend. I then complimented Steve on his experience and mentioned that he must be very proficient in his business practices his success was obvious based on the beautiful car he was driving.

I asked Steve if there was a problem with any of the work that Tony had done to date, excluding the switches that needed to be relocated. When Steve said no, that Tony had done a great job thus far-- but he still wasn’t paying a bunch of extra money to move those switches! I jumped in right there and let him know that we had two completely different situations. One had nothing to do with the other. He paused long enough for me to explain my position. If Tony did a good job on the rest of his restaurant then there shouldn’t be a problem in getting paid for the work he had done. The issue we needed to discuss was the relocation of the switches.

Steve then said that he could not open the restaurant until he got the new cooler set and Tony was holding up that process. That is why he was threatening to hold his money. I explained to Steve that the issue Tony had was with safety, not money. When Tony refused to proceed with the relocation of the switches as Steve requested, it was because that process was a safety hazard and did not constitute a professional or safe job. “Tony’s license is tied to every job for the life of the building, and if someone were to be injured, he could lose his license and be held criminally responsible, as could the business owner. If you really stop to think about it, Tony is trying to protect you and your business as well as his best interests”, I explained.

Steve, still thinking this was a ploy for more money, told me, “I don’t care! I just want it done quick and cheap!” I explained to Steve that I could only see two options moving forward. One: negotiate a fair rate for Tony to do the job according to code and have a safe working condition, or Two: sign a waiver, releasing Tony’s Electric from liability, and sub that portion of the job out to another contractor that is willing to put others lives in jeopardy. I explained to Steve that Tony is only interested in making him happy and helping him to get his restaurant done the way he wants it done in the most efficient manner. However, Tony was not going to violate any laws or put anyone’s life in danger.

Steve stepped back and asked me, “ how is it possible for this to really be a safety hazard? As long as the splice is good and tight and the wires are taped up well, then there can’t be any real risk.”

I went on to say that I would be happy to go into detail about the theory of electricity and how this particular practice could cause a shock and or fire hazard. I told him; “It doesn’t matter whether it truly is a safety hazard or not, it is a code violation, and therefore illegal. The fact remains that if for any reason there was a fire or someone were to be injured, the investigators would find this violation and it would be used as a tool to show negligence against the owner and the electrical company putting you and Tony at risk. Stop and think about it for a minute. How many fire hazards are there in a restaurant? If, God forbid, there was a fire that had nothing to do with any form of negligence, would you really want to be held accountable just to save a few bucks on this move? The investigators will make a report that states there were electrical code violations, and it will be up to you and Tony to go to court to prove that this particular violation had nothing to do with causing the incident. It may be hard to convince a court that you are not a negligent person if they can prove acts were performed that demonstrated a blind eye to safety. Even if you are successful it will cost you a bundle in lawyer’s fees just to prove it.”

I finished up with Steve by explaining, “Tony runs a professional company that looks out for the best interests of the customer and provides a superior product. He has spent many years building a reputation by providing the customer with the best possible solution to promote an efficient and safe electrical system. While we understand that you have your own goals and deadlines to deal with, Tony cannot compromise the moral foundation he has spent years building, to save a customer a few dollars.”

I then asked, “Steve, if you were buying a new computer, would you tell Bill Gates how to build it? More than likely you would trust the expert on how the computer was built. You may want to decide on what extras or options you need but in the end the core of the system would be built based on the expert’s experience. All we are asking for is to be extended that same courtesy. We are the experts when it comes to electrical installations, and this is part of your core system. You want to trust the expert.”

In the end Steve understood what I was expressing. I did spend some time going into the technical side of what could happen and why it was in his best interest to make the move according to the code. It was no surprise to me that once the job was completed Steve was happy, his cooler was installed correctly and to code, and he was able to open on time. Tony was paid in full; and everyone walked away with what they wanted.

The idea behind this story is: don’t compromise your ethics, or integrity, due to a pushy customer. You have no idea what stresses the customer is under, so you shouldn’t judge them based on a single interaction, and even when your customer is wrong they are your customer. If you take the time to help them understand why your proposal makes sense and the risks involved with cutting corners most of the time your customers will come around and start to trust you. It is up to you to educate them on the proper path and any risk associated with alternative options. In the end, if your customer doesn’t understand your proposal then it is your fault for not communicating the details in a way they can understand. You are the expert and it is your responsibility to help your customer to “always be right”, and many times that is through education and communication.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lack Of Training Not Talent

I have written many articles about successful management techniques and how to get the most out of your team by making them feel like they are part of something larger than just a company. Throughout these articles I have received hundreds of emails explaining specific problematic employees and excuses as to why they could not be managed, let alone productive. While I agree that there are a small percentage of people out there that cannot be taught, trained, or motivated to do anything more than the minimum to sustain their employment, I believe the percentage is very small. When I ask my students, clients, or team members, the question about how many people do they think fit this bill? I usually get numbers like 30% or as high as 60% of people are “useless” or un-trainable in their minds. It has been my experience that the actual number is closer to less than 1%.

Let me explain. I believe that most people in this world want to do a good job and have pride in the work they produce. However, even the best of intentions fall short when specific expectations are not laid out, and the proper training provided. In past articles I have covered in great detail the importance of providing clear expectations so I will not go into that in this article. What I would like to cover is the second most important tool to an employees’ success: Training.

In today’s business world almost every new hire is either thrown into the work pool and expected to sink or swim, or given a week or two of “Training”, and expected to be a productive part of the organization from the start. The problem with this is that even in a very simplistic business structure, it is unlikely for anyone to understand the entire business operation in two weeks, even in the best of circumstances.

In the first example, we throw a new hire into the field and expect results. Even if we have been clear on what our expectations are, there is little chance this new hire can be successful until they have learned all the ins and outs of the company through trial and error. This is expensive to the company, and very frustrating to the new hire. In most cases they will quit or you will fire them and consider them to be a poor employee.

In the second example you offer “training” to the new hire but it usually only consists of the bare minimum needed to function, and is only as good as whomever the “trainer” is and their qualifications. Worse yet, often they are trained by other employees with a huge work load of their own. So the new hire spends most of their time sitting and waiting for the “trainer” to have some free time, or simply just watches the “trainer” and hopes to learn by example.

The issues with both of these methodologies, is that only the top performers in the industry can be successful under these conditions. Thus, the reasons so many people think that there are so few good candidates out there. If we do not set up our new hires for success, then we are the only ones to blame when they do not succeed.

So how do we solve this problem? When you have a new hire start they should be given proper training on how to do their job within the company’s process and procedures. This training should be specific, have a set timeline, and a well defined syllabus. This training cannot be different for each new hire and based solely on the discretion of the trainer. The person training the new hire needs to have the sole focus of preparing the new hire for a long term career within the organization. I know that many companies will argue that they cannot afford this process. They don’t have the time or the money to expend on training. However, if you actually consider how much time and money it takes to hire a new employee; Ads, interviews, application process, testing, background checks, etc… you should start to understand that what you can’t afford is to lose this new hire due to a lack of training.

When CEO’s set up budgets each year very little, if any, money is put into the training budget. On average less than five cents per hour worked. So that means if your company averages 50,000 hours a year, they will only commit $2,500 dollars to training. In this scenario it is easy to see why so many new hires complain about the same thing, no training. You would have a hard time teaching someone how to play a board game for that amount of money, let alone the intricacies of a corporate structure. We need to change our way of thinking and begin to understand that our employees are our most valuable asset, and that we need to invest in them the same way we invest in other parts of our business. Only then will we begin to see the true talent curve of our industry.

So now you have a new hire that has been properly trained. The next step is to keep them trained. Another common misconception is that once someone has been successful they will continue to do so, and they end up being ignored. Training needs to be an ongoing process. Internal processes and procedures are always changing, as is our market, the laws, the customers, etc. We need to keep our team up to date on the latest codes, customer trends, safety issues, customer service practices, and so on. Your employees should receive some kind of training every month. This doesn’t need to be anything more than an hour or two meeting each month. When it comes down to the actual training the important part is to keep your team informed and feeling like they are part of something bigger than a paycheck.

Like I said at the beginning, I truly believe that most people want to do a good job and take pride in their efforts. So we need to spend more time making sure that we are giving our team the proper tools to be successful and take care of our customers. Training is the first step to creating a memorable customer experience. And if you do not provide your team with the proper training, then it is you that let your team and your customers down. Avoid that pitfall by providing a structured training program with ongoing sessions, it will build a stronger team, and will set you apart from your competition and help make your company a true leader in the industry.