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?

Why Setting Boundaries and Policies Is About Excellent Customer Service

Lots of folk like to think customer service is all about saying “yes” to anything and everything.

That’s a recipe for not only unhappy business ownership, but poor customer satisfaction as well.

If you’ve followed my writings for any length of time, you know I talk a lot about the importance of making sure you take care of your needs first in business; that you’re:

  • working with people you like;
  • doing work you love;
  • charging a profitable rate; and
  • getting paid on time and fairly for the value you provide.

Having those needs met is vitally important to service delivery. A miserable service provider will inevitably become surly and resentful, do sloppy work, drag their feet and miss deadlines.

That’s definitely not good for business, and makes for very unhappy customers.

Setting clear boundaries and policies sets the foundation for providing excellent customer service and creating a happy client experience.

A client who doesn’t know what the boundaries are is bound to step over a line they don’t even know exists.

Likewise, if the protocols and policies in your business haven’t been clearly outlined, you leave clients to decide on their own how your business works.

Invariably, this leads to them doing or expecting something that doesn’t jibe in some way with how you do things in your business.

And us being human, we end up getting irritated with these clients.

But why? They aren’t mind readers.

You have no business feeling frustrated with clients (which, by the way, they will sense no matter how well you think you are hiding it) if you haven’t clearly communicated your standards and boundaries, your policies and procedures and how things work in your business, and what expectations they may (and may not) have.

No one likes to step falteringly or feel their way forward in the dark. Your policies and procedures are the road map clients need to do business with you.

Clearly articulated policies put clients at ease because they then know how things will proceed. They know what to expect and when. In turn, they will feel more confident in you and find working with you easier and more pleasant.

The purpose of your policies and procedures is to create the optimum conditions that allow you to deliver on your service promises and create the very best client experience that you can.

Don’t hem and haw and expect people to read your mind. Tell clients what you need from them. Find out what they need and want. Then share with them the polices and standards you have set in your business that allow you to achieve those desired outcomes.

Feedback from a Client Perspective

Recently, I worked with a newer colleague from our community on a special project. She did the work okay, but there were some aspects of her service and manner that were a little offputting from a client perspective.

I gave her some honest, constructive feedback that I think will help her improve, and felt this was information that others could benefit from as well. Read on…

  • When consulting with new clients, be sure to let them finish their sentences. Allow them to finish their complete thoughts before interrupting with your own questions or input. You want to do more listening than speaking in the first part of the consultation when you are doing your information gathering. It’s very offputting and annoying to not be able to finish a sentence.
  • It’s okay to ask lots of clarifying questions. If you don’t feel you understand completely what the client is asking, be sure to ask. Paraphrasing back to the client is a great way to make sure you are on the same page with regard to instructions and preferences.
  • It’s also okay to ask questions as they arise. Sometimes you don’t realize you have a question until it comes up in the process of working on a project, so by all means ask for clarification or further instructions along the way. That will go a long way in helping meet client expectations and satisfaction.
  • If you get stuck on something or find out that you can’t do something after all, don’t waste a client’s time by proceeding without permission. It’s okay if you don’t know something, or need to do further research. But do check in with the client. Let them know there’s something you are stuck on, or don’t know how to do or whatever the case may be. Find out what is important to them and ask them to advise you as to how they’d like you to proceed.
  • Make sure you are under-promising and over-delivering rather than over-promising and falling short. This includes timeframes. If you say you can get something done by a certain date, and then continuously ask for more time, that is very off-putting to clients regardless of whether they can extend the deadline or not. What that tells them is that you haven’t given yourself enough space to get the work done and more importantly, that they can’t really depend on your word. They won’t be confident in the future of any delivery dates you give them based on an experience like that. Expectations are far easier to manage if you set them properly at the beginning. If you fail to deliver according to whatever you’ve stated, that will reflect poorly on you and clients won’t be as happy or satisfied. It’s a trust killer.
  • By all means, collect client testimonials whenever you can. You should be asking project clients and retained clients for both feedback and testimonials (if they are happy) after the successful completion of projects and at least every six months for retainer clients. I underscore the word “after” because there is some etiquette involved when asking for testimonials also. You want to ask for testimonials, but you don’t want to ask prematurely. It’s very inappropriate to ask in the middle of a project. Don’t ask the second you complete a project either, as that comes across as being a little too pushy and indelicate, as if you’re more interested in getting the testimonial and forcing the request than making sure the customer is happy. You want to give the client time to make sure they are satisfied with the work first and that everything works properly. My rule of thumb is one week after successful completion of the project and client sign-off. And make sure you don’t ask for a testimonial until you’ve first asked whether the client is even happy or not.

What Do Clients Want?


I can’t tell you how many times I hear from business owners how frustrated they are with Virtual Assistants who don’t “own” their role as the administrative experts.

If you are just sitting around waiting for clients to tell you what to do, you are nothing more than an employee.

Clients who are seeking Virtual Assistants, TRUE Virtual Assistants, don’t want an employee—they want an expert who not only competently executes work and manages projects, but also commands their own business.

Clients want and expect us as the Virtual Assistant administrative experts to guide them, to have some answers and to lead the way by their side toward instilling strong administrative foundations in their business.

I’ll share some comments I received most recently from a business owner:

“I have worked with Virtual Assistants for the past year, but I am not finding the perfect fit for both of us. I am definitely looking for someone who sees me as a client and partner, rather than a paycheck. I need a professional who has the entrepreneurial, pro-active leadership, but I have been attracting Virtual Assistants who still have an employee-follower mentality.

“I don’t mind a short learning curve, but I can’t do the hand-holding past Virtual Assistants have required. I need someone who can basically hit the ground running and start moving some tasks off my plate. Rather than me giving them a checklist and constantly following up to make sure the tasks are done within the deadlines, I would love someone who gives me a list of the things they need from me to get going and checks in to tell me tasks are completed.”

As the founder of the Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce, and a practicing Virtual Assistant, I hear this lament from business owners over and over.

Helping Virtual Assistants free themselves from the shackles of employee-mindset and lead them into true business ownership—and true service to clients—is one of the foremost goals of my organization.

I recently shared some of my best kept secrets to Virtual Assistant business ownership and success in my new guide, “Getting and Keeping Clients–The Plan.” (This is GDE-34 in our forms store.)

Getting and keeping clients is really all about knowing how to work with clients and manage expectations. In this guide, I provide you with meaty information and ideas for creating your “Red Carpet Treatment” plan, implementing a system for ramping up with new clients, and establishing your operational strategy that leads to profitability and client satisfaction.

Virtual Assistance is leaving adolescence and entering adulthood as a profession. Will you be left behind?

RAVE: Shout Out to and a Lesson in Customer Service

I have to upgrade my computer soon. I haven’t been looking forward to it since it will involve reinstalling tons of software and restoring files.

In the meantime, I thought I could take a short-cut to improving my computer’s lagging performance by upgrading my RAM.

Much to my chagrin, I discovered that they don’t make the particular memory my computer uses anymore. Buying from the manufacturer, it would be so pricey I may as well buy a new computer.

Alternatively, finding the obsolete parts online is like finding a needle in a haystack, and since I’m not a technical person nor someone who has ever bought anything on eBay, I’d have to place a lot of trust that the seller was legitimate and the parts in working order even if I did find them.

So I asked a group of colleagues if they could check around for me. One woman turned me on to a couple of website addresses of computer stores she had done business with in the past and highly recommended.

Since it was the first one she listed, I looked up

Oy vey! It was “Z91E” this and “Asus A8N32 SLI Deluxe” that.

Needless to point out, I am a complete dolt when it comes to computer technical stuff. I may as well have been reading Greek or trying to interpret hyroglyphics. So I called their 1-800 number and reached a fellow who introduced himself as Scott.

OH-MY-GAWD!!! I had the most “Wow!” customer service experience, I (almost) can’t even tell you.

Scott answered all my idiotic questions with not a hint of impatience or condescension at my ignorance, and went above and beyond that to give me a wealth of information in such easy to understand terms.

I felt like I’d just received a degree’s worth of knowledge in this one phone call with him, and all the bits and pieces of technical info that had been scattered in my brain that I never truly understood lo these many, many years suddenly got the synapses connecting and it all made sense.

And not once did he act like he had better things to do or was in a hurry to brush me off. You know how some places are like that? They can’t be bothered with phone calls even though we are customers just as if we were standing right there in the store, and sometimes even then they can barely tolerate taking the time to talk with you.

He was so nice, friendly, polite and engaging. His attention was fully in the conversation and nothing was distracting him. That kind of personal attentiveness and quality service is just so hard to find anymore these days.

And once I got off the phone, I didn’t feel the need to talk to the other place, even just for the sake of comparision. I had just experienced such stupefyingly uncommon excellent service that I would have gotten on a waiting list to do business with this guy if need be, and probably even paid for the privilege of doing so – not the other way around.

And not once did it occur to me to wonder if he was the cheapest. I know I’m not going anywhere else when I need the services this fellow offers. And he’s on the other side of the country from me on top of it!

Now that’s sales and service when they make you not even consider the competition.

That kind of superior helpfulness and courtesy is the most simple, effortless, cost-free rapport-builder you can extend to both clients and prospective clients alike.

Think about it. This guy made such a favorable impression on me that here I am writing about it on my blog. Free press, free marketing, free advertising reaching who knows how many people all over the country from someone who hasn’t even done business with him yet.

It’s a lesson that all businesses can learn from.