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Archive for July, 2009

I refuse to be one of those people who’s jaded and negative.  I’m the person who goes to great lengths to make sure the manager of a restaurant knows when their bathroom needs attention or equally, if it looks nice.  I’ll always make an effort to let someone know when I receive superior service.  Many people only reserve the dreaded, “may I speak with your manager” for negative feedback…me, I like to share the good stuff.  Conversely, I will go out of my way to communicate poor customer service to someone who can impact future experiences.

Over the past 4 months I have spent a total of 6 hours on the phone with Verizon customer service…what does customer service even mean if they’re at risk of losing me as a customer because I’m not getting any service?  Needless to say, I’m not very happy with the outcome and I seriously had to walk away from the phone before I blew a gasket…I could not believe what I was hearing.

Without boring you with the details the verdict is: big phone conglomerate 1; Fortner 0.  They’re right, I’m wrong (reference You Can’t Win ’em All for a laugh).  And, according to Ms. Congeniality on the phone, it doesn’t really matter what my notes say, their notes “don’t lie.”  That’s it! 48 minutes into this last conversation she basically informed me that I was mistaken and apparently confused about what actually took place the three previous months…because it’s not “in her notes!”

I’m a GREAT customer.  I always brag about my positive experiences and rally friends to that particular store, service or restaurant.  I’m a big tipper and a loyal consumer.  I’m what you would call a satisfied consumer who knows how she likes to be treated.  I am not hard to satisfy.  But one thing I’ve learned by being on the other end of customer service is that even satisfied customers don’t make loyal customers. I know, because I’m leaving Verizon after five years of being a “satisfied” customer.

With my career at least, I consider a truly loyal customer as one that can’t imagine doing business with anyone but me.  They end up being my best advertiser because they’ve become advocates for what I do.  AND if you’re lucky, they’ll even bore their friends with stories of how great you are!  Businesses don’t FIND loyal customers, they MAKE them!

The funny thing about customer loyalty is that there is a direct correlation to positive customer service and repeat business.  “Duh,” you say but believe it or not many workers and companies believe it’s enough to earn your business, the rest is left to fate, attrition or that it’s someone else’s concern.  It’s not really as much that I’m loyal to my restaurants, businesses and services…it’s that they’re loyal to me! Man, does that sound completely self-absorbed or what?  Whatever the case, it should be all about me—and the many “me’s” I represent.  I’m not a number, I’m not “just a customer” and if I represent the majority, a company could be in trouble if we all walked away from a five year relationship.  What happened to the old adage, “the customer is always right?”  Hmm, must not have been “in the notes.”

Back in 2006, I decided that it was my responsibility to provide my staff with the tools to make our customers loyal, repeat customers.  I created my own list of “non-negotiables” that I try to follow in my client interaction:

  • Everyone we interact with—whether co-worker, vendor or client—IS OUR CUSTOMER
  • We are all responsible for their loyalty
  • We never say, “I can’t,” without first exhausting all creative ideas
  • We are committed to creating a better experience
  • We are committed to learning new systems and procedures to better assist each other and our customers
  • We will spend the time that is necessary to understand the question in order to provide a creative solution
  • We appreciate our customers because they chose US
  • We are committed to creating experiences for our customers that they might be willing to pay for.

And those bullets are also my guideline for how I expect to be treated.  Make a list of non-negotiables for your business; it may mean the difference between winning or losing a great customer.

Hey Verizon, can you hear me now?

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I use it every day.  The more I find myself engaged in relationships that cross both personal and professional boundaries, the less I try to resist.  I can also say that the advent of social networking has made building true friendships easier at work where once a line was drawn. And dropping a “love ya,” or a “sending love your way” comment seems to soften those lines even more.  Facebook made me do it, I’ll say.  Facebook made me love these people!

I enjoy telling people I love them.  I think people need to hear it more often.  I feel good knowing that if you or I got hit by a bus tomorrow, you would know that I truly cared.  I see people hurting in the workplace; whether it be health reasons, family woes or car troubles, and if I think they need an “I’m thinking about your family” or an “I love you,” by golly I’m giving it to them.  The bad news is we’ve become such a nation of political correctness that it’s inappropriate to tell people you love them at work.  And just like Roberta Flack, I ask, “Where Is the Love?”

Sadly, it’s left Corporate America…and even more disconcerting are the stats that we spend more time with the people we work with than we do with the people we live with.  Reports say that the average full-time worker spends 9.3 hours at, and commuting to, work versus the 1.8 hours per day of quality time in the home.  Of that “quality time,” .31 hours is spent watching television.  Seems to me that a little love just might be what’s missing from the mix.

I was once reprimanded at a corporate job for calling a list of required items needed for a loan closing, a “love note.”  Anyone  who had ever done business with me knew it was my personal way of lightening up the ugly list of items being requested (demanded) by the underwriters, i.e., 2 years tax returns; 2 months bank statements, pay stubs, etc.  Calling it a love note, then asking for all the required documents somehow made the gathering more pleasurable if you can call that task pleasurable.  For me, it was an extension of the love and care I took in finding the right loan, positively communicating and making their experience one they’d tell their friends about.  For corporate banking, however it was considered a recipe for a lawsuit.  I say, losing that personal touch is what’s contributed to the demise of the American Dream.  The missing ingredient IS love–for what you do, how you do it and how you treat people along the way.

Okay, so you can’t go around telling people you love them all day because 1) they’d think you were certifiable, 2) they’d probably think you were selling Amway (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and 3) they  probably are not prepared to reciprocate–which makes for some awkward silence–so here’s my solution:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can. As often as you can!

Not my words, but I think John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, was onto something.  The thought and intent behind his words fit any religion or lack thereof.  I think his quote DEFINES love.

The basic premise behind the quote has to be the kind of principles this country, and its workforce, were founded on.  I say if you can’t say it, show it.  And I agree, along with John, Paul, George and Ringo, All You Need is Love!

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Anger doesn’t fix any problem; profanity is a waste of breath and blame is an exercise in self-righteousness that really has no place in the workplace.  And I know because I’ve tried all three!  So what is the answer to overcoming a large-scale let down in business?  It’s the same as it would be in your personal life; and as a psychologist once told me, “disappointment is just disappointment…it’s reciprocal, when you disappoint someone else it doesn’t mean death for anyone, it’s just disappointment.  Acknowledge the fact that you’re disappointed and move on.”

Yeah, right! It sounds very easy on paper but quite frankly, I need a little more time to process than that.  I need a day or two of wallowing and self-talk that allows for some pondering, questioning and praying.  I don’t think I’m that unique.

On Friday, I received an email that informed me that the single largest initiative I’ve been preparing for the 2009 fair has fallen apart.  Like a house of cards in a windstorm it’s destroyed.  Had it not been the very anchor I had based the entire “vibe” of the fair on, I would have just rolled…but it dropped me to the depths LIKE an anchor when I got the news.

Part miscommunication, part overzealousness on behalf of the manufacturer, whatever the case I am gravely disappointed and somewhat at a loss for a “plan b.”  Sick to my stomach is a better description.  I remind myself, it’s not world peace.  Then I plead, “but it was MY world peace.”

My world peace is a greening initiative that I feel could change the face of fairs and recycling and energy use…it is a world-changing endeavor that I am still eager to find a solution for.  The machine I was expecting is a rarity and its use was unique for our application (we were literally going to turn poop into power by using the fast-wood pyrolysis method of doing away with our animal waste and turning it into bio diesel).  I was hoping this machine would change how people perceived the fair, change the demographic of who was interested, and possibly be the innovative new idea that crossed agriculture with technology and saved our fair!  Big ideas I guess can result in big failures.

How much energy can one expend and how much heart can you have left after such a huge let down to forge ahead?  The answer is: there is no limit to what you can expend and you can give it everything you’ve got.  After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM  read, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” He kept that memo over the fire place in his Beverly Hills home. Astaire once observed that “when you’re experimenting, you have to try so many things, that you may go days getting nothing but exhausted. And there is a reward for perseverance.”

Blah, blah, blah you might say…I did..I’ve tried every motivational quip and rah-rah antic I know…but the winner for me this weekend was silence and contemplation and a bit of perseverance.  The quieter I got about the issue the more I came to realize that I can only do what I can do.  I’m not (thankfully) single-handedly in charge of greening my world or my city or my fair so maybe there are people and resources that exist that I haven’t yet met.

Maybe there are phone calls and pitches still to be made and there is hope that my efforts thus far have mattered.  There is hope that even with a disappointing outcome, what I did mattered. I’m not rolling over to accept defeat; I’m rolling over and looking for a way–where there is no way. It’s painful and “uncomfortable” as one friend put it, ha, uncomfortable what a great word for “part humiliation, part disappointment, part exasperation.”  I’m holding onto uncomfortable for today. But just for today…

A quote by Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

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“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” is a well-known sports mantra.  It exemplifies a form of unfettered competitiveness that has permeated American sports. Its assertion about the importance of winning has been touted as a basic tenet of the American sports creed and, at the same time, singled out as encapsulating what is purportedly right with competitive sports.

We learn at a very early age about winning and losing.  It starts on the 4-square or dodge-ball courts.  There has to be a winner; and ultimately a loser.  You hear preachers speak of “winning souls;” on the news we’ve become immune to the phrase “winning the war on terror,” in politics we often hear, “may the best man win,” and sometimes you’ll even quip, “what really matters is how you play the game.”  Yeah right!

Is winning only what happens when someone else loses?

I attended a seminar in 1997 where the facilitator asked the question, “does someone have to win in order for them to be right?”  This got everyone thinking.  Then he asked, “if someone has to get hurt for you to be right, is it worth it?”  Sadly, it was a split response from the crowd.  He then drilled a little deeper to ask, “could you go through life being right, without forcing someone to acknowledge that fact?”  It took a while, but again a split audience.  Then he concluded, “what do you stand to gain by making someone else wrong?”  The answers ranged from ego to power to satisfaction and then everyone, as if simultaneously enlightened, seemed to “get it” …winning isn’t everything.  And to quote Road House, one of my favorite cliché movies chock full of corny lines, “nobody ever wins a fight.” But how true that is in life and in business.

Society has taught us that being right is most important, but I’ve recently tried (and failed and tried yet again) an exercise in not making people wrong so that I can be right.  I call it an exercise, but really, it’s an ongoing work-in-process because I forget, I get self-righteous then I begin again.

I first started by trying to catch myself sooner in the digression.  Then I began counting to 10 before I opened my trap…it helps, but the urge was still there…it still is.  One of the antonyms of winning is the word unattractive…which is exactly how I have to picture myself: making someone admit that I am right and they are wrong is not a pretty sight.

One day I hope to be rid of my need for superiority and righteousness, but until then I’ll just keep practicing.  Until I get it mastered, I’m adding a constant question to my vernacular; “who wins by me being right?”

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