Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Do you remember that song “Signs, signs, everywhere signs?”  It got me to thinking about signs and how they communicate.  I am often surprised that we don’t have more traffic accidents than we do.  Think about how many times you have been confused by how traffic signs communicate information.  There are so many assumptions that get made.  Have you ever been confronted with signs that you simply can’t decipher?  Consider this sign in Boston:

What does it mean?  I don’t know and I feel certain someone from a foreign land would never know.  I can only think it results in either accidents or long, arduous journeys resulting in arguments or getting lost or both.

What does this have to do with business?  Well, how many unclear messages are being communicated to your customers?  How much small print or misleading language is present in your paperwork or signage?  How much of your communication makes the assumption that people know what you mean?

The simple message here is to make things as easy as possible for your customers.  No more misleading language, no more questionable messaging, just clear and most of all easy.  Make is so easy to do business with you that a 6 year old could do it and you are on your way to better service delivery and more loyal customers.

QUESTION:  What language, messaging or communications does your business need to clear up to make it easier to do business with you?

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Do you need a rule to do what’s right?

I saw an article this week in USA today about a federal government rule that says airlines have to give customers 24 hours to make a change to their flight reservations.

I think it says a lot about how much these companies care about customers if they have to have a rule established that provides some fairness to customers.  You would think an airline would think about this and market that they give a 48 hour allowance, or even better, how about just allowing customers to make changes without a penalty other than paying the difference in fares (oh wait, there is one, Southwest Airlines…but they’ve been customer-centric from their inception).

The thing that really bothers me is that the airlines seem hell bent on doing things in their favor rather than the customer’s favor. And we customers wonder, why does the service offered seem so spotty from employee to employee?

The answer is simple and it points out one of the key problems with getting good service these days.  If the company demonstrates in policies and/or actions that they are selfish (i.e. do things that benefit them without real concern for what it does to customers), is it any wonder that their employees deliver inconsistent and less than genuine service?  As a parent, I cannot expect my children to play nice in the sandbox if I demonstrate lousy social behaviors; the same goes for companies.  Employees do as leaders do (and communicate through policies).

I guess what I am saying is that businesses need to think hard and get focused on their customers (the people who keep them in business) instead of doing things that are self-centered.

As far as the airlines, customers make mistakes, they accidentally put in wrong dates, have things change in their lives, and need to make changes due to all manner of difficulties.  C’mon airlines, your customers are fallible humans and you could do the right thing and give them a break that is better than 24 hours mandated by law.

QUESTION:  Are you considering your customer in your decision-making?  Are you thinking about how you are affecting them when you establish rules or policies?  Are you thinking about what you are communicating to your employees about how to treat customers?

What’s Your Business’s Focus?

I had a power outage the other day.  After 27 hours of darkness, heat and complaining kids, the electric company finally repaired things and got me and my family up and running again.  However, I quickly found that for some reason my internet, phone and TV service had been damaged by the incident and no longer worked.  This meant a dreaded call to my provider.

The reason I bring this up is to prove how much influence the service behaviors of a company can have on customer perceptions.  Did you see how I said DREADED call?  I’ll bet no one batted an eye when they read that.  In fact, I will bet most of you nodded your head in agreement.  Why is that?  Why is it that when people mention having to call their internet provider or their mobile phone provider, the typical response is a laugh and a comment about how horrible the experience is going to be?

Well, my experience is a good example.  After plodding through an endless series of questions and instructions requiring several pushes of different buttons on my phone’s keypad, I was met with, “let me get someone to help you.”  That’s all I wanted in the first place.  The wait for a human being was one hour and five minutes.  Fortunately mobile phones have a speaker function and I was able to have it plugged in to an electrical outlet so I could manage the hour wait and do some other things.

Once I got a human, the person who I spoke with was excellent, she was kind and very helpful.  She didn’t sound like she was reading from a script and truly listened to me and waited when I needed to take time to find something.  She was great.  The thing that wasn’t great was when we determined that a service call would be necessary (why are these called service calls?  This is a repair call.  Service is what I was or wasn’t getting.  See my post called What’s Your Mission.).

I was actually fine with getting a repair person to come over, in fact, I was glad.  The problem was in scheduling the “appointment.” The appointment, as it turned out, was not an appointment at all.  She said, “we can come out today, but I can’t give you a time, someone will need to be there all day.  Outside of that, our next appointment is next week.”  My brain went fuzzy and I couldn’t believe it.  I was now in the position of having to provide service to them by being available at their convenience rather than them serving me at my convenience.  I pay their bills, I am a customer, I pay their paychecks.  They should serve me.  This was a true example of a company whose focus is not at all on the customer, but rather on what suits them best.

This is the prime thing I want to get at here.  These types of companies have earned themselves a reputation for providing poor service and they perpetuate it by sending regular subtle messages that their focus is on them and not their customers.  They spend a ton of money on marketing how great their service is, yet their actions say something else entirely…and people know it (think about your head shake when I mentioned calling my internet provider.)

While I could get into talking about ways they could  fix their “appointment” system and their automated phone system, I will spare you.  What I do want to say is that the first step for these companies is for them to scrap their current systems and start over by looking at everything, and I mean everything, from the customer perspective.  What does a customer have to do to get help?  What do they have to go through?  How does it affect their lives?  How does it screw up their day or not?

Service is about helping people succeed and great service not only does that but it does it in a way that is easy and enjoyable.  If you want your business to be great at service, you must first and foremost examine how well you are helping your customers succeed and how easy and enjoyable it is by walking in their shoes.  You need to design systems and processes around your customers’ needs and goals rather than your company’s  needs and goals.

QUESTION:  What is you business’s focus, your own needs or your customers’?  Is it time to take a hard look?

What’s Your Mission?

I recently had a problem with my air conditioning and had to call the HVAC repairman to come over and fix it.  Now, my HVAC guy is really good and he takes care of his customers.  He goes out of his way for loyal customers, and does everything he can to communicate with you and help you understand what’s happening as well as to minimize cost.  I appreciate all of that and think he’s awesome.

However, one thing that he said over and over stuck in my head.  He would continually refer to new sales as installation and to repair as service.  While it is only language, I think language influences how we think about things and, in turn, influences our behaviors.

Why is all of it not called service?  Isn’t the installation of new products a service?  Is repair somehow service and sales not?  Perhaps this suggests something wrong in business in general.  We compartmentalize service into a department or specific role instead of making service the mission to which everything we do must conform.  Service is at the heart of business, indeed I say it often, service is the business of business, it is the reason we have businesses.  Isn’t serving customers the point of everything you do, from marketing to sales to delivery to operations?  Aren’t customers the reason behind it all?  Why then is service a piece of the pie?  Shouldn’t service be the pie?

Question:  Do you compartmentalize service as something separate in your business or is it your business?