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.


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?

There Are No Shortcuts to Being Genuine

I stopped by my post office box over the weekend and among other things received a SendOutCard from a marketer.


I would never in a million years send one of those cheap, tacky, gang-printed, computer-signed cards to anyone I cared about, much less any of my clients.

Who’s going to feel special when they know they are just an outsourced chore that must be attended to for convention’s sake and that you can’t be bothered to even sign your own name or write a personal note?

When it comes to me, do me a favor… save a tree and yourself the time and postage (and me the lowered opinion) and just don’t bother at all.

Sure, sending sentiments takes an effort.

Sure, time is precious when you are running a business.

Systemization, processes and automation are very important things to leverage.

But there are just some things in life – and business – that need to be taken time for, and the effort extended, if they are going to mean anything.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to being genuine and authentic.

This very past week, in fact, I received an unexpected card from my insurance company thanking me for a referral I sent to them.

It was all hand-written: my address, their return address and the message inside the card.

This is a very busy firm, too. Having staff expend time and resources to provide this kind of personal attention is no small expense.

But it matters.

I felt special. I felt warm and fuzzy about them. I felt like I alone was singled out to receive this personal gesture. I thought, now THIS is a classy business and my opinion and loyalty to them shot even higher. It was absolutely lovely.

With a little advance planning, sending cards doesn’t have to be a chore. Here are some of my best tips:

  1. Do your card-shopping in advance. Starting in September or October will put you way ahead of the game. If you come across a few designs you really like, get them all and you’ll have a future supply.
  2. Have some taste and make a thoughtful selection. Don’t just grab the first thing you see. Pick out a design or two that you really like that reflects your personality or sentiments.
  3. Get your card list together starting in September so you can then create mail-merged labels. Your saved list will also give you a headstart the following year.
  4. Some experts recommend addressing everything by hand. Others say go ahead and use labels on the outside, but sign your name and write your personal message by hand. I personally like to use labels or preprinted envelopes for my return address (to ensure legibility and mail delivery) and then write everything else out by hand.
  5. Do a little at a time. By starting in September, you’ve got plenty of time to do a few cards a day or each week. By the time the holiday season rolls around, you’ll have everything ready to be mailed out. You’ll at least be way ahead of the game.

Don’t be a cheapskate. And I’m not talking about money here. I’m talking about soul. Cheapskates turn the world into a Walmart and suck the very essence of life from it.

What We Mean by Structure

In a recent post that discussed properly framing your business so the marketplace “gets it,” I reminded those of you in the administrative support business that structure is your friend.

It occurred to me, however, that some people might not understand what I mean by structure.

First, let me emphasize that creating structure is not about boxing you in. On the contrary!

Structure is about erecting a foundation in your business that will support solid weight and give you the space you need to move around.

It’s about establishing standards, policies and procedures.

It’s about systemizing, automating and streamlining those recurring and repetitive processes, workflows and tasks.

It’s about setting and managing proper expectations in clients and giving them parameters and boundaries.

It’s about communicating that information to them.

Structure brings order to chaos. It’s what organizes the disorganized and disjointed. It’s what preserves relationships.

Structure is what will allow you to roll with the punches and go with the flow caused by all the twists and unexpected turns that you WILL confront throughout the life of your business.

Structure is what will allow you to remain flexible and agile. It will prevent your “building” from crumbling to the ground when you encounter setbacks or are forced into detours or course corrections.

Structure is what will give you the time to develop your ideas and work on experiments, as well as the freedom to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Structure is what will allow you to take superior care of clients and do your best work for them.

It’s what will prevent burnout and overwhelm.

Just as importantly, structure is a comfort to clients.

It tells them that yours is an administrative support practice that is set up smartly to serve them and that you are in a committed, legitimate business.

It says that yours is not a fly-by-night operation and they won’t be putting their eggs in a basket that may disappear into thin air tomorrow.

It shows them that you take their interests seriously and have given careful consideration in setting up your business to serve them for the long-haul.

It’s Called Customer Service, Not Servitude

I came across a blog post where a colleague was talking about an issue she was having with a client who wanted to do something in a certain way that she knew wasn’t the best way, and would actually cause the client more problems.

Instead of guiding this client, as an expert should, away from an outdated, unproductive or convoluted way of doing something that would neither serve the client’s purposes nor be an efficient use of her time as a service provider, she abdicated her role as the administrative expert, commenting, “But as she is the client, I do as she asks.”

People, it’s called customer SERVICE, not servitude.

If a client wants to do something that is neither productive nor helpful, and especially when it will not help them achieve the end result they are looking for, it is certainly your role to educate them and advise them otherwise.

If you don’t, you are neither serving the client nor being a useful partner to them. You are merely being a lackey who isn’t truly helping them achieve their goals.

And another thing, don’t allow client’s to spin your wheels. It’s not just the client’s business that is involved here. It’s your business as well.

In the end, the client’s business is certainly theirs to do with as they please. It’s also the client’s perogative to ignore your best counsel.

If they want to take steps backward in their business, that’s up to them.

But that doesn’t mean you should allow them to take you with them, especially if engaging in certain work or a way of doing something is counterproductive and has a detrimental impact on your business or processes.

It’s okay to say “no.”

Let them know that while you certainly respect their decision to do a thing a certain way, it’s not something you are willing to do for them as it’s an inefficient and unproductive use of resources in your business. Put in a more positive way, explain that you can accomplish X for them as long as they are willing to allow you to do things according to current industry standards and quality and here’s what they need to do or have to get started…

It’s not your “job” to do everything single thing a client asks.

It’s also not your obligation to perform any work that does not fall in line with what you deem as acceptable on a professional level in your business.

And it’s certainly within your rights as a business owner yourself to decline those things in which you don’t want to participate.

The Importance and Discipline of Diligent Communication

Excellent communication — not merely good or okay communication — is so important in your business relationships.

I would venture to say it’s even more important for us in the administrative support business because we may never meet our clients, colleagues or associates face-to-face.

One aspect of beyond-excellent communication is consistently following through in your responses to emails and voicemails.

I’m not talking about the occasional message or response that falls through the cracks; that happens to the best of us.

What I’m talking about is establishing consciously-devised standards and policies for handling correspondence in your practice.

This includes being in the habit of making sure those who correspond with you know that their message was received.

There is nothing more frustrating and annoying than sending someone a message and hearing nothing but crickets in response.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

You’re left wondering whether the recipient is taking whatever action might have been required, or if they even got the message at all.

This kind of poor communication creates extra work for those who trying to correspond and work with you.

It doesn’t put you in a good light and definitely doesn’t engender any confidence in your competence and follow-through abilities.

Don’t do that to your clients and associates — or yourself, for that matter.

Establish a timeliness standard in your business and then be disciplined about sticking with it.

If you have a 24-48 hour turnaround, make sure you demonstrate a pattern of consistently responding to all messages within that timeframe.

Also devise processes and procedures that allow you to keep track of messages and follow-up appropriately and efficiently.

Even if you don’t have to do anything, you should still acknowledge receipt of the message. This can be accomplished with a simple “got it” or “received” or “noted.”

That quick, effortless action can mean all the difference for the person at the other end.

It will definitely work wonders on keeping clients happy and instilling trust and confidence in them that you are on top of things.