Friday, February 28, 2014

All Expectations...

"Customer service is not just a department...
it’s everyone’s job"


A few weeks ago, my son was riding his bicycle on his way to work when he found himself on the wrong side of a bicycle / automobile collision.

The car stopped, the police and medics were summoned, and an accident report was filed.

He ended up spending a few days in the hospital (like father... like son) with a fractured vertebra in his back plus a few cuts and bruises... but he is expected to fully recover (although the bike is a goner).

A family friend is an attorney who handles things like this.  She explained that the first step before filing any insurance claims is to get a copy of the police report.

So earlier this week, I headed down to the main police station in downtown San Diego first thing in the morning to see if I could get a copy of the police report.

When I arrived at the police station, there was already a line of people in front of me so I patiently waited my turn.  After about 20 minutes, I was being helped by a very friendly officer who politely told me that the reports were not handled at the main station but rather at one of the auxiliary stations about 20 minutes away.

Since this was my first time requesting a police report, I apologized to the officer for wasting his time, wished him well, and headed to the other station.

Unlike the main station downtown, parking was ample and free.

When I went to the reception area, I noticed that no one was manning the desk so I patiently waited for someone to emerge from the closed door.  After about 15 minutes, an officer came out, but he was not the duty officer assigned to the front desk. 

I asked him where the duty officer was, and he responded that the duty officer had called in sick that morning but that he would try to find someone back in the office to help me.  

I thanked the officer for the help and waited about 15 minutes for another officer to finally come out.

I explained that I was trying to get a copy of a police report and asked him if he could help me.  He wanted to know if I had a case number, and I gave it to him.

He asked me to wait a moment while he retrieved the report.

About 10 minutes passed when he reemerged into the lobby.

He asked me if this was a traffic accident and I said yes.
He then told me that all traffic reports were handled at the traffic division about 15 miles away.  The officer asked me if I knew where the traffic division was and when I said "no" he drew me a map and sent me on my way.

I followed the map to another police sub-station but found the lobby locked when I tried to open the door.  I
??waited for a few minutes when I saw an officer exiting from a side door to the building.  I rushed over to talk with the officer before he walked away to his car.

I asked him why the lobby door was locked and the officer apologized and explained that the duty officer was in a meeting and asked if I could come back in about 90 minutes.

I told him that I couldn’t wait but that I’d return tomorrow.

As I was driving out the parking lot, I noticed a building across the street that said "San Diego Police - Traffic Division".  It seems that I wasn’t even at the right building!

"I was finally at the right place," I thought as I waited my turn to speak with the duty officer at this station.  

The duty officer took all the pertinent information, went into the back office and returned with a computer printout.  She explained that the printout showed that a report had been filed but that I needed to go to the records division to pick up an actual copy (the computer printout was just a referencing tool).

Exasperated, I asked her to please tell me where the records division was.  She told me that it was at the main police headquarters downtown... exactly where I had started some 4 hours before!!

Out of time, I returned the following day to the records division and picked up a copy of the report.

Now this isn’t a story of bureaucratic red-tape.  It’s a story of customer service.

At every stop, I found the officers I met to be friendly, courteous and polite.  A few even went out of their way to try and help me even though it wasn’t their responsibility to do so. 

The real issue wasn’t about politeness... it was about the lack of someone actually helping me to solve my problem.

This same phenomenon occurs on a regular basis whenever I try to contact a credit card company whose customer service department has been outsourced to a foreign call-center.

The people on the other end of the telephone call are incredibly polite... they just can’t do anything to actually to help solve my problem.

Ask the owner of any company what sets them apart from another company... and they will invariably say... outstanding customer service. 

Every company THINKS that they
?are providing great customer service... but in reality very few companies actually do.  (In the same way that everyone THINKS that they have a sense of humor... but not everyone actually does).

Providing customer service means that you are actually helping people solve their problems, giving people additional options to choose from, or simply letting customers vent their frustrations.

Providing outstanding customer service starts at the top of any organization and permeates throughout the entire organization.  Any person in the chain of command should have the authority to solve a customer’s problem... no matter what.

Although customer service is hard to define, there are some attributes that lend itself to providing an outstanding customer experience.

1.      Attentiveness, empathy, and tenacity - the customer should feel as though their problem is your problem and you won’t rest until their problem is solved and the customer is satisfied with the results.

2.      Knowledge and lateral thinking - the customer needs to believe that the person helping them to solve a problem has the skill set to actually help them.  Additionally, the person helping the customer should know all the product or service options that could further assist the customer in selecting the optimal options for them.

3.      Communication - Active listening should be employed when listening to the customer describe a problem to make sure that the problem is fully understood before offering possible solutions.  Once a solution to the problem has been determined, then that solution should be clearly communicated to the customer so they completely understand what it is that you are going to do for them.

Great customer service is more than a smile and a handshake.  It’s actually doing something to make sure that the customer is fully satisfied and the value proposition realized in the mind of the customer.

It’s not easy... customers are indeed fickle... but they will appreciate the extra effort and hopefully become long-term customers and even advocates spreading their positive experiences to other potential customers in the community.

As more and more products and services become commoditized... providing great customer service will allow companies to stand above the rest and add a differentiating factor that is difficult (if not impossible) for your competitors to emulate.
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we try our best to exceed all of our customers’ expectations and provide the best customer service we can...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Brewing Up a Storm...

"In China, if you are lucky to be just one-in-a-million...there are only 1300 people just like you"

~Thomas Friedman

About 15 years ago, I had the opportunity to meet a man named Peter Slosberg.  

We were both at an entrepreneur conference at MIT near Boston when we happened to sit next to one another at lunch. 

Pete and I had a chance to talk about the speakers that we had heard that morning and discussed some of the central points our speakers had hoped to leave with us.

One of the speakers we had just heard, talked about why it was good to market to middle-America.  By marketing to middle-America, you simply tap into the largest sectors of the market. 

The speaker referenced the infamous bank robber, Willie Sutton, who was once asked by the press as to why he robbed banks.  Mr. Sutton simply replied, "because that’s where the money is". 

In the eyes of our speaker, catering to the center was indeed the best way to reach the largest group of potential customers.

I asked Pete about his business, and he explained that he was in the hospitality business, specializing in beverage distribution.

I asked him if his company sold their products mainly to middle-America and he replied that his products were sold to customers across the spectrum.  At first our customers were on the fringes... but today what was the fringe is now becoming the center.

After lunch we both went our own ways to return phone calls before the afternoon session began.  

We wished each other well with our future endeavors and went our own ways.

When I returned to the auditorium, the next speaker was just being introduced. 

To my surprise, the next speaker was none other than Pete Slosberg.  As it turns out, my lunch table mate was actually the founder of the second largest microbrewery in America, Pete’s Wicked Ale (the largest being Samuel Adams).

For the next hour or so, Pete entertained the audience with his stories of successfully starting and operating a microbrewery, competing head-to-head with the behemoths beer brands, many of whom might spend more money on one 30-second Super Bowl commercial than his company spent in its entire existence.

Pete’s Wicked Ale didn’t mass market anything. 

They didn’t operate in the middle of the curve... they lived in the fringes producing a quality product that they knew some people would buy if they only were given the opportunity to sell it.

Their strategy was simple, instead of spending valuable company resources in buying expensive advertising, they instead concentrated on having their company sales reps spend time educating food and beverage servers in bars and restaurants about how beer is brewed and what elements can differentiate the different types of brews.

Once educated these servers and bar tenders then became Pete’s de facto sales force interacting with the beer drinking public. 

These servers weren’t paid any commissions for the sales, but rather it allowed them to become experts in their field in the eyes of their customers.

Pete Wicked Ale also built its customer base by educating the general beer-drinking public about the finer points of beer by creating educational place mats that graphically showed where their favorite beers were on two distinct axes...  

Beer Landscape
Click Image to Enlarge

On the horizontal axis was the color and type of beer - color comes from roasting the barley used in brewing and type coming from how it is brewed and carbonation added.

On the vertical axis was the sweetness (or bitterness) - Sweetness comes from the addition of hops.

The most popular beers in America were plotted and labeled on the graph.

In the very center of the graph (the place where beer had no real distinction between beers), we find the mega-brands, Budweiser, Coors, Miller, and Corona.  

As we travel outward from the center, we find beers like Sam Adams Boston Lager, Anchor Steam, Bass Ale, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  In the extremities of the graph, we see beers such as Guinness Stout and Sapporo Black.

Of course, there was plenty of mention of Pete’s various varietals throughout the chart... causing plenty of patrons to specifically request one of their fine beers or ales.

Today, the microbrewery industry is flourishing with literally thousands of different brands providing the market with an almost endless assortment of colors, flavorings, and carbonation.

No longer are we satisfied with bland beers from the center but rather we have the ability to expand our horizons and explore new beer frontiers.

The idea of micro-brewing is a relatively new phenomenon... well in America that is.

The ideas that completely changed the landscape in brewing has also changed other well-heeled industries... such as publishing, music, and broadcasting industries.

No longer is the public forced to subjugate to the ivory towers of decision makers who dictate what songs we hear on the radio, what books will sit out on display at books stores, and what entertainment we will receive during prime time each evening.

The gatekeepers in these industries are history...

Marketers, for years, have lived by the notion that they can simply build a brand with gobs of money buying more and more ad space... their world is now upside down as choices for consumers are now becoming endless.

Consider for a moment that you have devised a new product or service that is a perfect solution to a problem suffered by only one person in a million.  This may seem like a VERY small population.  However, considering that there is now over 7 billion inhabitants on this earth, there are still over 7,000 people who want and need your product..!!

With the enhanced communication and delivery tools that we have available to us today, there is a very good chance many of those 7,000 potential clients will find a way to our door step to purchase the very product or service that they need.

That example above was based on a one-in-a-million need... imagine the possibilities if you can find a product or service that helps one person in 10,000 rather than 1,000,000... now the client pool exceeds 700,000 people worldwide!...

The idea of big companies providing goods and services to the center of the graph is quickly fading as more and more people demand a customized solution to their wants and needs.

The success stories of tomorrow won’t be written about mass-marketed - mediocre and unimaginative products - but rather small companies with big ideas that solve niche problems for a small community of customers.

Our potential customers are already there... willing and waiting... thirsty for something new... now it’s our job to create something special that will offer a select group of people something that they yearn for and are willing to purchase...

There are riches to be found in niches...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we will continue to develop new products and services in order to help you solve your unique problems...

Friday, February 14, 2014

Throwing Star Fish...

"If you think that you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito."
~ African Proverb

This last Tuesday there was a special election in San Diego to elect a new city mayor after the last mayor resigned over several scandals concerning sexual harassment.

Now it’s usually not customary to hold an election in California in February so the voter turnout was very sparse.
While I was shopping that evening, I asked the clerk at the store if he had voted.

He responded to my question by saying, "No... I never vote... it’s a waste of time because I’m only one vote out of several thousand that are cast... so it doesn't really matter..."

I wanted to reprimand him for not exercising the very right that so many have fought and died for... but I thought better than to waste my breath... so I bid him a simple good-night and left the store.

As I drove home, I couldn't help but think of the old story that I had once heard as a young boy...

There was an old man who used to go to the ocean’s shore to walk every morning.

Early one morning, the old man was walking along the beach when off in distance he saw a young man bending down occasionally to pick something up and throw it into the ocean. 

As the old man got closer, he called out to the young man, "Good morning!  May I ask what you are doing?"

The young man paused and looked up, and replied, "I’m throwing starfish back into the ocean.  The storm last night washed them onto the beach and the starfish can’t return to the ocean by themselves.  When the clouds burn off and the sun comes out, they will die unless I throw them back into the water."

The old man replied, "But there must be hundreds of starfish on this beach... plus thousands of starfish on other beaches all up and down the coast.  I’m afraid that your efforts won’t really make that much of a difference."

The young man bent down, and picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean.

He then turned to the old man, smiled and said, "It made a difference to that one... "

How many times in our lives have we found ourselves in a situation where the scope of the problem is so big that we ask ourselves, "How can I possibly make a meaningful difference?"

Our lot in life isn't to lead our country of a billion people to independence, without waging war against the rulers, like Mahatma Gandhi.

We weren’t born into a system of governance where voting privileges was determined by the color of our skin... and where we would spend most of our adult life in prison for trying to change the status quo like Nelson Mandela.

We didn’t lead the fight that allowed woman the right to vote in America like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone.

We are not a civil rights leader like Martin Luther King... a general leading his troops fighting against the Nazi tyranny in WWII... or the leader of the free world...

We are not famous... we do not have celebrity status... we do not have great wealth... we aren’t leading a movement... we are not fighting a war against a great injustice...

Most of us are just one person... what can we do as just one person?

My friend Nick and I were driving one cold night when we saw a homeless woman on the side of the road without a jacket or warm clothing.  Nick pulled the car over to the side of the road... open his trunk and took out a blanket he used to keep himself warm at his kids’ soccer games... he gave the blanket to the woman.

He made a difference in her life that cold evening...

Another friend of mine, Jeff, was asked by a homeless man in front of a fast-food restaurant for some spare change so he could buy a hot cup of coffee.  

Knowing that if he just gave the man some money, it might just be spent at a local liquor store, Jeff instead walked the man into the restaurant and told the man to order lunch for himself. 

Instead of parting with a few quarters, Jeff bought the man a complete meal.

He made a difference by helping to feed a person one small meal...

There are countless other stories of small efforts, by ordinary people, that made a positive difference in someone’s life.

Making a difference doesn’t take much work... it just takes a willingness to make an effort.

Little things like...

Filling up a trash bag with litter at the local park...

Writing a personal letter to let someone know that you’re thinking of them...

Offering to tutor a child who needs some extra help...

Stopping by to play a game of cards with an elderly person in the neighborhood...

Taking someone to the airport...

Offering to take a stranger’s shopping cart back to the store front...

Stopping to help a stranded driver change a flat tire... 
Helping a friend move...

Giving blood...

Waking up early to make the family a hot breakfast...

Every person has the capacity to help another human being at one time or another... 

...there just needs to be the willingness to do so...

Most of the time, there isn't a reward for doing nice things for people... there is no recognition on the local news or write-ups in the paper... if you’re lucky you might get a heart-felt "thank you... I really appreciate it".

...but a reward should not be the reason for the action... the real reward is knowing that you were able to help someone... because there might be some day when you are the one who needs a little extra help...

It doesn’t matter that you don’t lead congregations of people... you’re not a community organizer... you don’t teach third graders... save the whales... or are the leader of a revolution...

One person can and does make a difference... to someone... at some time. 

Everyone counts... even you...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where each and everyone makes a difference...

Friday, February 7, 2014

What Matters the Most...

[It’s the first Friday of the month so that means that it’s time again for a guest blog.  

Billie Attaway is an old friend that I met at an Entrepreneur conference 12 years ago. He has a great message this month so I encourage you all to take a moment and give it a read... Jim] 

First of all thanks to Jim and Optifuse for the opportunity to participate in his Blog.  I think it is a neat idea to have guest bloggers and to give Jim’s brain cells a chance to recuperate.  

When Jim called me and said "okay Billie you are up in two weeks", my first thought was "oh my God", this is for real. Writers block immediately set in and my mind started sorting the things I could blog about. 

You see at 57 years young this will be my first blog.  Blogging about things that interest me or that I think others would find interesting has always intrigued me, so Jim, thanks again for the opportunity.

A little background, I was born and raised in Orlando to a poor hard-working family, Mickey Mouse (Disney World) chased me out of Orlando and forever changed my home town.   

I’m a serial entrepreneur’ living in Charleston, SC (what a great place to live and raise a family) for the past thirty-seven years.  

In that time, I’ve started, sold or closed six very different businesses in diverse industries such as staffing, telecom, wireless, finance, real estate and manufacturing.

Some of the businesses I started were highly successful and award winning (two of the companies were included on the prestigious Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies) while the others, were those that were closed, represented some of the most painful/best learning opportunities I’ve ever had.

In between businesses I am blessed to be able to travel to many different countries having a chance to observe a variety of cultures and meet a rich diversity of people. 

The last thing I want to share with you is that I am a Cancer survivor... going on eight years now. I know first-hand that life is precious.  

My background is not shared to brag, but to give substance to my ideas and my thoughts.

Since Jim’s readers are a diverse group I have decided to follow his lead and share what I hope many will consider "a pearl of wisdom".  

Yes this is an overused term, but I hope that one or more of these thoughts will resonate with you.

What matters most?

I wear one of those plastic wrist bands similar to the Live Strong wrist bands started by Lance Armstrong, but mine says "What Matters Most? 

This is a constant reminder for me to live my life by what is really important in my life... what matters most.  

For everyone the answer to this is different... however the question still needs to be asked.

What is really truly important in our lives?  

We see and hear things all the time that might give us pause to think about what matters most... like the loss of a child, a critical illness among a loved one or a friend, or perhaps it’s financial problems that face so many people these days...

Many of us will give a trite answer or even lip service to this question as they really don’t want to think about it, because most people don’t like the answer.

I am unsure of the source, but there is an old adage that resonates with me:  "Where you spend your time and your money shows what really matters to you."  

Try it for a few days, track where you spend your money and your time then compare it to what you say really matters to you.

So I pose the question, "What matters most?"

To that question, there are many different responses.

Some of the most common ones are:

A great job
A nice home
Giving back to the community
Great friends
Learning new things
Work that is stimulating and enjoyable
Toys to play with
Having fun

...and finally... health...

Now health isn’t always the most obvious answer... especially in young adults.

As many of us know, the young think that they will stay young and healthy forever. They don’t appear to be overly concerned about their long-term health because they are mostly healthy today.  

Some say that they are, but watch how they spend their time and their money.  

Some consider it morbid, but every day or so I glance through the obituaries.  Every day I see people my age and younger who have passed away.  

For the most part no one expected this to be their last day on earth.  

Those that developed a sudden illness were not expecting the outcome that awaits us all.  

So to this I implore you to "Carpe Diem" ... seize the day... enjoy the day and all that it holds for you. 

Take joy in the simple things, the sunrise, a beautiful day, the wind in your face.  

Today is the day to enjoy what we have because some day we might not be able to enjoy them.

I would appeal to you to heed the age-old cliche "If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything".  

As a person who has been very ill (I received eight different Chemo-Therapy sessions and 42 separate radiation therapies)...

I would challenge you to pay attention to your health. 

Living a healthy lifestyle is a choice that we can all make.  

Some of the things that we can do to improve our health include: 

  1. Working smarter, but not necessarily longer or harder.  No one on their deathbed wished they had squeezed a few more hours in at work.
  2. Figure out how to reduce stress. Overwork doesn’t usually cause stress... artificial deadlines cause stress (as well as things that are generally out of our immediate control).
  3. Find time to exercise - if we can’t find the time... we need to make the time! Exercising in hard but the rewards pay off in the end.
  4. Spend quality time with friends and loved ones... not just sitting in the same room ignoring each other... but quality time conversing and doing activities together.
  5. Put more healthy things into our body... more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat meats (fish and poultry)... less starches, sugary foods, red meat, and foods containing trans-fats.
  6. Stop putting unhealthy things into our bodies: Smoking, drugs, excessive amounts of alcohol...
Of course, most people already know these things... but we choose to ignore them... because those choices force us to do something difficult.

So back to my question at the beginning of this blog... "What matters most?"

Once you’ve decided what really matters then you have to do something about it.  

Many people set unrealistic goals or try to do too many things they never end up accomplishing... just like our New Years resolutions.

Now don’t go off all half-cocked as we say in the south and go crazy trying to do all of these things at once.  

Take the top three things... the ones that are most important to you. 

Write them down and decide what you can do easily to start with.  

Starting a new healthy life is just like eating an elephant... just take one bite at a time.

Are you living your life based on what really matters or just giving what really matters lip service? 

I challenge you to live your life based on what is important to you.  

To Jim and the team at Optifuse, thank you for the chance to participate in your blog and I wish you all laughter, joy and happiness.

God bless,