Archive for the ‘Now THAT’S Customer Service’ Category

What a Tale of Two Laundromats Has to Do with YOUR Business

What a Tale of Two Laundromats Has to Do with Your Business

I had to go to a laundromat recently to wash an extra large faux fur comforter as my washer is too small for the job.

Ended up having an engaging business conversation with the owner after sharing with him how I had first gone to another laundromat and immediately turned around and walked right back out.

Why?

Because it was gross and filthy! Looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years, flotsam left in the washers, garbage cans overflowing, every other machine broken, dirty water all over the floor, no attendant to be found. Disgusting! That’s when I Googled for alternatives and found his place.

So I drove over there, and let me tell you, it was like night and day!

Clean, gleaming surfaces everywhere you looked. Every single washer and dryer extra large and roomy… and NOT broken. A sparking clean restroom. A little “convenience store” counter to buy supplies and munchies if you like. And the owner there sweeping the floor, wiping down and checking machines, picking up lint.

He immediately recognized I was new and came right over to assist me. This was the Ritz-Carlton of laundromats compared to the first one I went to!

I told the owner how impressed I was with his place, how awful the other one was and how I had immediately left.

He thanked me so much and was truly touched as he takes great pride in his business.

He said it might be a little higher priced, but you pay for quality.

“Yesssss!” I exclaimed.

I added that I didn’t think it was all that expensive anyway (my complete wash and dry was only $7 total) because if you go to a crappy laundromat with broken, inefficient machines, you’d end up pumping in way more time and money than that.

Perfect example of how the so-called “cheap” comes out expensive.

He couldn’t agree more and told me how one time some guy from the other laundromat I had first gone to had come in and was badmouthing his place to all his customers, telling them how expensive this place was and how much cheaper it was at the other (crappy) place. The owner told the guy, “Hey, I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but my customers are free to go wherever they choose.”

I said, “But you know what? Don’t you change a thing. Because you have different markets. Their market is not YOUR market. I am very happy to pay well for a clean, safe place, state-of-art machines that actually work and do the job right the first time, and a helpful, friendly owner like you.”

So many great things about this:

  • Knowing who your market and ideal client are (hint: it’s not the short-sighted, penny-pinching miser who cares about nothing but saving a buck at the expense of everything else).
  • Understanding your value in relation to what your market and ideal client values.
  • Pricing profitably so you can provide great quality and customer experience.

Be thinking about how this translates in your business:

  • What can you do (or continue to do) in your business to give your clients and prospective clients a great experience dealing with your company?
  • How does pride in your work and service show up for your clients?
  • Do you see the correlation between pricing well and being able to take great care of clients?
  • Are you pricing at a level that allows you do great work, focus on ideal clients and give them a great experience?
  • How well to you understand who your market and ideal clients are? Who do you WANT to be your clients?

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the Money-Back Guarantees

Stop with the “100% money-back guarantee” on your service. You’re not selling a ShamWow, for crying out loud! Your blood, sweat and tears do not come with a money-back offer.

Plus, there are theories of law at play here.

Ideally, you have great skills and do great work for clients. But whether someone likes the work or not is a completely different value from the fact that they engaged you to do the work.

By law, you are entitled to be paid for work you were engaged to do, as long as you made every good faith effort and held up your end of the bargain.

Whether they like the end result is something else entirely. And they aren’t entitled to 100% of their money back on that.

Plus, think about it. You’d have to hold those funds aside and deprive yourself of their use until the end of whatever period you’ve given.

That’s ridiculous!

Clients who don’t like your work have the same recourse we all do:  to express our dissatisfaction and give the provider an opportunity to do better and/or stop working with that provider any further and take our business elsewhere. Simple as that.

It’s up to all of us to do our homework and choose service providers wisely, with quality in mind, not cheapness.

We usually get what we pay for in this life, and when clients cheap out, they shouldn’t be surprised when that’s the kind of quality they get in return. They just aren’t going to get a Rolls Royce for the price of a Ford, no way no how.

You, on the other hand, as a conscientious service provider of integrity who cares about your clients and doing good work can offer to redo any work that a client isn’t satisfied with.

But beyond that, you need to stop prostrating yourself and begging and bribing people to work with you.

You’re offering a service and knowledge work, not selling products that can be returned to the shelves.

Saying Thank You

One of the things I love about etsy are the clever, inventive ways the vendors come up with in saying thank you. This is obviously something that is cultivated as part of the etsy culture. From beautiful uses of natural materials to creative packaging to (like today) an adorable little bundle of extra beads with “Thank you” attached.

Sure, some may think it’s “just” a thank you, but that stuff is not lost on clients and customers. It’s delightful and memorable and there is obvious effort and style involved, which is what makes it more meaningful.

This kind of effort can make even more of an impact on the clients of services (where our “product” is a service which is basically invisible). I am not a fan of automating “thank you’s.” I detest it, in fact. Because the message is, you are not worth me putting myself out enough to make an effort. And it’s the personal attention and effort that is the secret sauce and makes the meaning.

What clever, creative, inventive ways can you dream up and instititute as part of your brand culture to say “thank you” to your clients for their (continued) business?

Being of Service

What does being of service really mean?

So often, I see Administrative Consultants thinking it means being “instant assistants” and working with clients as if they were employees. They make unrealistic (and ultimately undeliverable) promises of “24 hour” and “on-demand” service.

Being of service—true service—means being able to deliver consistently and dependably at a humanly sustainable pace. Listen, you aren’t going to be of service to anyone running around like a chicken with its head cut off, all stressed out and making mistake after mistake due to being hurried and harried and not giving yourself enough “space” to breathe and think clearly.

That’s exactly where you’ll end up attempting to be an “instant assistant,” bending over backwards trying to impossibly meet every constant demand. That thinking lacks foresight, business sense, and just plain doesn’t work.

What does work is being intentional in your business. What does that mean? It means examining your business, bringing every process, system and action to conscious thought, and making sure each contributes to your ability to deliver long-term, value-rich, purposeful, consistently reliable service.

Why are you doing things the way you do? What are your systems? How do your processes facilitate your workflow? In the big picture, do they allow you to run a dependable, sustainable practice? Do they contribute to your service and consistent dependability to clients? What systems, policies, processes and flows will? What ineffective policies and processes do you need to say “no” to in order to deliver bigger value and superior long-term service?

Being a great service provider doesn’t mean killing yourself. Being a great solo professional service provider means being a conscious business owner and effective (not instant) manager of your client workload.

(originally posted February 24, 2007)

Are You Making Things Difficult?

I often see folks in our industry who think if their business and work isn’t hard, they haven’t “earned it.”

Consequently, I’ll see them making things (both consciously and subconsciously) much more difficult and complicated than need be.

This is a terribly self-sabotaging/self-defeating mindset to have.

There are lots of people in our industry who are working with 10 or more clients and yet are earning so poorly (less than $10,000 annually!) that they could actually make more money in a job.

It’s not difficult to get clients when you charge very little. The problem is that administratively supporting that many clients is a daily hardship that keeps them imprisoned at their desk and not making any money to boot.

The Case for Success

If you feel guilty about charging or things being easy in your business, here’s what I want you to understand: You can not be of consistent, reliable, top-quality service to your clients if you are struggling to keep up with the work, making it difficult and complicated, and not earning well on top of it.

If you have to work with more and more clients because you aren’t charging enough to earn what you need, you are doing them a disservice. Because the more you spread yourself thin, the less personal care, support and top quality work they get.

Building your business so that it is easy, profitable and financially successful is a BENEFIT to your clients.

When you make things easier in your business for you, you actually improve your service to clients. That is of tremendous value!

When you can easily take care of clients, you make your business more profitable (which means you will be able to stick around for them for the long-haul) and you create dramatically more time and space to give superior service and support. All of which allows you to charge a premium for your service so that you can make more money while working with fewer clients AND have more time and money for your own life.

Marketing Lessons from a Greasy Spoon

Sometime last year, I happened upon a greasy spoon in some out of the way corner of our city that I never knew existed. My guy and I absolutely love down-home food (especially of the breakfast persuasion) and we giggle like little kids whenever we find a gem like this.

If you blink, you’ll miss the place entirely. It presents such an unassuming face from the outside. But the minute you set foot into the small, crowded room and are warmly greeted by the friendly waitress, you know it’s something special.

You would think that a teeny tiny space might be a little off-putting, but somehow it just works. You feel like you’re in a cozy cocoon bundled up with friends, even though you don’t know a soul there. The tables have pretty, embroidered cloths on them and each is brightly accentuated with a vase of fresh meadow flowers. Customers sitting at different tables laugh and chat as if they’d known each other for years.

When the menu is brought to you (along with some iced water to sip on while you peruse your choices), you can’t help but notice the personal care and attention that went into the details. The pages are stitched together by hand with some happy-colored yarn. On the cover is a photo of the owner and a letter (written as if to you, personally) about her joy in bringing good food and good spirit to her customers. The love she has for what she does is undeniable and you immediately feel cared for.

After ordering, you notice a little guestbook with pens and crayons next to the flowers. You look around and see that every table has one. You open yours up and begin reading all the precious, sometimes hilarious, notes left by previous customers raving about the food, the owner and the atmosphere (or commiserating about their hangovers). On some pages there are drawings by children whose parents, I’m sure, were grateful to have something with which to occupy their attention.

Before you know it, your food arrives and you are unexpectedly delighted by the portions, which are neither meagerly small nor gluttonously indulgent. They are just perfect and you feel you are getting way more than your penny’s worth. As soon as you sink your teeth into the first bite, you realize the food lives up to every promise of the delicious aromas that have been teasing you.

You learn from the menu that everything is made fresh each day from scratch–right down to the jam, which you can purchase to take home with you–and locally grown whenever possible. You realize you will never again be able to stomach another processed, assembly-lined Denny’s meal in your life now that you’ve had this humble, yet sumptuous, repast.

As you bring your head up for air (which is difficult to do as your dish is just soooo good), you notice a couple maps on the wall, one of the United States and one of Europe and the rest of the world. Hundreds of little pushpins are tacked all over each map. A note to the side that asks, “Where do you call home?” invites you to push your own pin into your home town. How fun! As evidenced by the maps, customers here come from far and wide.

The other thing I should mention is that this little home-away-home only serves breakfast and closes by 1:30 p.m each day (except Sundays and Mondays when they are closed). They focus on doing that one thing so spectacularly well that they’ve gained a devoted flock of customers from around the world standing in line outside the door.

As I finished my hearty, satisfying first meal there, I couldn’t help but think about what an extraordinary service and marketing example this little hole in the wall sets for businesses of any kind. Big companies could take quite a few cues from them!

Look at the creative way they used guestbooks to generate testimonials and reviews. See how they build a sense of community in a fun, interactive way with their pushpin maps. Notice how all the attention to small details evokes the feeling of home and family. The owner makes a personal connection with her photo and her message on each and every menu. You really feel the warmth and enthusiasm she has put into her labor of love–her restaurant, her customers and her cooking–and it’s contagious.

Think about the last time you did business with someone where the experience was so wonderful it really sticks in your memory. How did that business deliver that experience to you? What was it they did that made it so memorable? What were the little touches that really brought it home for you? What could you be doing in your own business to have the same effect on your clients and customers?

I don’t have all the answers on this topic; none of us does. This is a journey each of us experiments with and sees and feels for ourselves. The point is that soulful business inspiration abounds in our world every day! Be conscious and aware of your own experiences as a customer. What kind of wonderful ideas can you adapt and implement in your own business to delight those you serve?

Dear Danielle: What List Management System Do You Recommend

Dear Danielle:

I have enjoyed learning about becoming a better administrative support business owner through your newsletter and forms. My question now is I have a client that wants me to manage his membership database and newsletter formatting and sending. Is there a system that you have used or recommend for this? His database contains over 800 email addresses and names and is done as an excel spreadsheet. His newsletter content is coming from another source and it is expected that I manage that. Any Hints? Recommendations? Thanks –BD

I’d need a bit more information about the context of his membership database to share any thoughts there (e.g., who is added and how and when, and what are his objectives for collecting and using the information?), but as far as ezines, I always encourage clients to go with a list management, autoresponder and distribution tool such as Aweber.

Managing ezine subscribers via an excel spreadsheet is so inefficient and archaic.

Tools like Aweber not only automate the function of opting in subscribers, it provides the tools to create ezine templates, schedule them ahead of time for publication, utilize autoresponder capabilities, allow subscribers to manage their own subscriptions and the client to leverage and maximize their networking and marketing to a greater, more consistent degree.

With Aweber you can use one of the many basic ezine templates they provide for free, modify one of their templates or upload your own ezine format in HTML. It’s super flexible and easy to use.

You can also upload as many issues ahead of time as you wish and set each of them to publish automatically according to whatever dates you have indicated.

The broadcast messaging allows you schedule ezines or any other kind of one-off communications you wish to go out to your lists. And you can have as many lists as you wish: one for your ezine subscribers, one for your members, one for teleseminar registrations, etc.

The autoresponders are another great tool you get with Aweber. With autoresponders, you can set up a series of follow-up communications to go out automatically in sequential time intervals rather than specific dates.

For example, some people use autoresponders to offer e-courses. Subscribers who are interested will opt-in to the list and the autoresponders will issue the first lesson, then the second lesson 7 days after that (or however many days interval you indicate), and so on.

Aweber’s tracking, reporting and analysis tools are incredible, and it’s got the highest whitelist ratings and best delivery rates of all the other services.

So you see, simply storing names and contact info in a spreadsheet really doesn’t do much for you. With an autoresponder/list management service such as Aweber, not only are you streamlining all the work and processes that go into list building, but also automating and making dynamic use of the information and actually putting it into action. I would definitely encourage your client in that direction.

Aweber will allow him to import an existing list, but it must be washed clean first of any obsolete email addresses and the subscribers will have to confirm their desire to opt-in again.

Moving to any new system like that he can expect to lose some of the people on his current list (some experts say the rule of thumb is about 50%) so it’s not entirely painless.

However, you want to help him understand that communicating or trying to maintain a relationship with folks who aren’t interested in the first place isn’t effort that is well-placed.

Aweber will help him build his list back up and what’s better is that he’ll be gaining people who really do have an interest and want to hear from him (as opposed to continuing to send out messages to people he’s merely collected business cards from who may not have any interest in his business or hearing from him).

A Great Lesson in Adding Value

You may remember my blog post from April 9 on Taking the Marketing & Referral Bull by the Horns.

In that post, I shared a great example of a service provider “asking for the business,” and how you could likewise follow-up and ask for referrals in your own administrative support business.

My client and I had such a great experience working with this service provider. He presented a very professional image. He was polished and business-like,  conducting all his interactions with us very professionally. And once the job was fully completed, he asked us for our feedback and referrals, which we were very happy to give.

Being in Washington, we don’t have much need for process service in Minnesota. We’ll definitely pass this fellow’s name around to those who might be able to use his services, but truth be told, those opportunities to do so will in all likelihood be very limited.

I’m sure he realizes this as well. And yet today, he offered another great example that Administrative Consultants can take a cue from.

I received an email from Brian, this service provider. He hoped we were doing well over here on the west coast and let me know that through his networking, he came across a process server in Tacoma that he wanted to recommend to us. He made it clear that he hadn’t actually worked with him, but his communication with this fellow was impressive enough that he wanted to send his contact info our way.

Why does this simple, unassuming email have such an impact?

Because in an industry that is rife with unprofessionalism, unbusinesslike operations and fly-by-nights, it offers a stellar example of how to nurture relationships, deliver fantastic customer service and provide added, personable value.

Brian is no dummy. He realizes that as out-of-state customers it not likely we’ll work together again any time soon. But he clearly understands networking and building relationships.

He knows that in a highly commoditized industry like process service, it’s the relationships he nurtures and the value he provides that get the word out about his company and have it standing heads and tails above the rest.

Administrative Consultants will do well to heed this example. ;)

Colleague Q & A: Working with Clients

A colleague and I were chatting online recently. It was a great conversation and I realized afterward the information would be so helpful to others as well.

With that in mind, here’s a transcript of our mini Q & A session:

Danielle: So you had a great call with a client this week?

KT: This morning. I’ve really found my rhythm with all of my clients. It feels great.

Danielle: What was it about the call that made it especially energizing?

KT: I discovered that I need to know my clients in order to do a good job with them. We got to know each other a little better on a personal and professional level. I feel more confident in myself as a service provider and as a business owner. I think that is coming across to the clients.

Danielle: So what was not happening before that you weren’t getting to know your clients?

KT: I think I was busy getting to know me, the business owner. I am great with people. I just had no idea how much of my successful interaction with them was dependent on visual cues. Initially, virtual relationships were a bit disconcerting for me. Truth be told, they still are in some ways. However, I do think I’ve found my sea legs and I’m becoming more comfortable.

Danielle: Excellent! And how often were you meeting with clients? How often are you meeting now?

KT: Before, it was very irregular. With one client, we have a scheduled monthly update meeting, but we call each other in between if necessary. Another client is bi-weekly. The third client is as needed.

Danielle: May I suggest something that I think will help?

KT: Absolutely.

Danielle: Cool… I suggest weekly telephone meeting with clients, especially, and most importantly, with new clients, at least for the first 3 to 6 months (if not the first year). Make it part of the process and part of your standards. Because it absolutely will work like nothing else in: a) establishing and maintaining that personal connection that is vital to the partnership, and b) creating a platform in order to better serve clients and thereby growing and increasing your role and understanding in the work.

KT: I have found it immensely helpful to have that regular personal contact, so making it a regular part of the week sounds good to me. I really like the opportunity to find out how the client’s priorities may have shifted, and what new information may impact projects we’re working on.

Danielle: Absolutely! Eventually, when you’ve worked with a client for a number of years, you may both find that the connection is so solid you don’t need that level of frequency, that your communication and relationship with each other is so sympatico that your email exchanges pretty much take care of everything. At that point, you may find that twice or once monthly meetings is all that’s needed. But do continue to meet on a regular basis of some kind. It helps “water” the relationship and keep it thriving.

KT. I think this is a fabulous idea!

Danielle: The important factor, I’ve also found, is making it systematic. Don’t let it be willy nilly. Make it a planned and regularly scheduled event in the relationship. Not only will it make it that much easier to manage all your weekly telephone meetings with clients, but it will also be less disruptive to actual work. Set it and forget it is the idea (not forget it, of course, but just get it scheduled for the same time/same day every week so it becomes a routine for everyone).

KT: Ideally, I would like to do them on Monday morning. I can’t think of a more productive way to start the week.

Danielle: Whatever day makes sense for you. I don’t know how you feel about this, but one thing that’s helped my business run smoothly is that I don’t let clients decide what day these calls are held. I tell them right in the consultation process that we’ll have a weekly one-hour meeting and I do those on Tuesdays and I give them a couple times to choose from that will be their regular “slot” from that point on. They don’t get options so they have to be able to work with that or we can’t work together.

KT: How do you get around a client saying that they aren’t available at the time you want to schedule the call?

Danielle: What I tell them is that if they aren’t available for a particular week’s call, I would expect them to give me advance (not last minute) notice so that I can schedule other things and that we’ll just resume the following week. I don’t do reschedules for that same week. I have a very systematic, scheduled system and I serve clients exceptionally well because of it. I don’t worry too much about the time unless it feels like there’s a real abuse or disrespect going on. Then we’ll have a talk and if it ever comes down to it, the time will come out of their hours. Of course, when that is the case, it’s usually time to recognize whether a client is a fit or not. But that’s worst case scenario stuff. Personally, I haven’t had much problem with that in many, many years and you usually don’t when you make sure you’re working with ideal clients who value you in the first place.

KT: Is there any advantage regarding who places the call, you or the client?

Danielle: Whatever your personal preference is. I think there can be power plays with that whole thing, which isn’t of any interest to me personally. I tend to see that stuff as game-playing and that’s definitely not relational. I call clients because I feel it’s an opportunity to demonstrate customer service. But either way, you might both decide that it will be the client who calls you. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way as long as it’s not decided out of game-playing or power-tripping.

KT: Are your clients fairly long-term?

Danielle: All of my clients since about 2002 have been long-term (i.e., monthly retainer).

KT: When a client wants to work with you, what criteria do you use to determine whether you want to work with the client?

Danielle: That’s a good question… of course, there are my hard criteria — the qualifiers and list of prerequisites that help ensure I’m not wasting your time with anyone who is absolutely not going to be a fit. They have to be in my target market (I work with solo attorneys in business, intellectual property and entertainment law). They have to be at a certain income level. I avoid those in start-up phase; they’re generally too disorganized and tend to have no money or reliable cashflow at that stage. Then, once I do meet with someone in consultation and I determine that their goals are things I can help them with, I look at the person themselves and ask questions to get some insight into their their relationship/communication/work styles are. That’s when it comes down to intuition and chemistry. If you have a reasonable sense that you’d enjoy working with someone, go for it. You do what you can to make as educated a decision as possible when choosing clients (because it’s definitely not profitable to work with poor-fitting clients and after all that work you’ve invested onboarding them, you want it to be worth your while), but if it doesn’t work out, no big deal. Either of you can walk away at any time (with some courteous amount of notice, of course).

KT: Regarding certain income, how do you verify that the client isn’t just telling you what you want to hear?

Danielle: Well, you don’t ever know absolutely for sure. Trust goes both ways. You just have to go with your gut. If they appear to be truthful (looking the part) and you feel they are being truthful, and you feel a good chemistry and authenticity, go for it. And again, if it doesn’t work out, walk away. Exercise your option to terminate the contract with whatever notice is stipulated. Simple as that.

KT: How did you handle it when your gut was telling you to walk away, but your wallet was telling you that you desperately need the income? (I ended up walking away, but not nearly soon enough.)

Danielle: There’s no miracle solution for that. Reality is reality. I think the best you can do when you feel you can’t immediately walk away (because you need the money), but recognize that the situation isn’t good for you or your business, is that you work as hard as you can to replace that client ASAP so that you can let them go. I’ll say this, however: that being invested in the money or outcomes is exactly what enslaves you to poor-fitting clients. It’s a tricky business, but if you can somehow mentally train yourself not to care about the money or what happens, however you want to explain how that works in the world (laws of attraction, power of intention, whatever), it really does work out for the best. In fact, I would tell you just out of my own experience, things always work out far better when you can do that. You make better decisions and more ideal things come in to replace the unideal much more quickly.

KT: Danielle, you are such a sweetheart to share your wisdom with me. I really do appreciate it! I’m gonna try and log some billable time in this afternoon, but even though it wasn’t billable, this has been the most productive part of my day.

Danielle: My pleasure; it was fun talking with you. You ask really smart questions and I love that about you.

Taking the Marketing and Referral Bull by the Horns

In my own practice, I had a wonderful experience recently working with an out-of-state vendor.

One of my clients needed to serve a lawsuit we’re handling in another state and I needed to find a process server for the job.

The service wasn’t entirely straightforward, but the process server handled everything in stride and followed up very diligently and with great attention to detail.

Once completed, he sent his invoice which we promptly paid.

Afterward, we got a very nice message from him thanking us for the business and speedy payment. He went on to ask us this:

“I was wondering if you would please spread my contact information around to others in the profession who might need service done in Minnesota. Also, if you have a chance, would you be so kind as to write a review/referral that I could post on my website and/or my marketing materials.”

I was more than happy to oblige him and sent him a fabulous testimonial.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Because it’s such a fantastic example of taking the bull by the horns and asking for what you want or need in business.

The way he worded his request was perfect in its simplicity, sincerity and directness.

Administrative Consultants can and should be doing the same thing in their businesses.

Here are some pointers to help you do that:

  1. First, make sure your loves the work and service. No one is going to recommend you to others if this isn’t the case (and asking for their referral in this event will be even more off-putting) so be sure to elicit feedback and make sure they are happy and satisfied before asking anything of them.
  2. Don’t ask for referrals/testimonials/recommendations prematurely. Again, this can be very offputting. If the work is project-based, don’t ask in the middle of things. Wait until it is fully completed and your client is happy before asking. If the client is one you work with continuously (such as on a retained basis), make it part of your process to elicit feedback and testimonials at least every six months.
  3. Ask for what you want, just like this business owner did. On a regular basis and at the end of every project, ask clients for their recommendations and to spread the word about your service. You act proactively on behalf of clients; do the same for yourself!
  4. Make it as easy for clients to refer you. This fellow’s request made it very clear who we should refer (“anyone needing process service in  Minnesota.”). The more you have your target market specifically defined, the easier and more frequently folks will refer to you and spread the word.

Now go get those referrals and recommendations!