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‘Customer Service’

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A Tale of Two Storms

Why is it that when two companies are faced with the same dilemma, one of them comes through with flying colors while the other just drops the ball completely? To me, it has everything to do with the culture and attitude that permeates the entire organization, from the top on down.

A few weeks ago while delivering a keynote speech at a corporate sales meeting in Tampa; I spoke about the merits of Southwest Airlines. Afterwards, one of the audience members relayed to me an experience he had with Southwest that proved my point completely.

This guy lives in Chicago. At the time of the story he had a girlfriend in Baltimore, who he would visit every weekend. The story takes place during the summer, when thunderstorms always make flying out of Chicago an adventure.

One weekend he was headed to Baltimore on U.S. Air. While seated in the gate area waiting to board, an announcement came over the PA system which said, “We are expecting thunderstorms in the area. So instead of boarding now and taking the chance you’ll be stuck sitting on the plane waiting for the weather to clear, we’ll just keep you in the gate area.” The upshot: the flight arrived in Baltimore three hours late.

The very next weekend he was again heading to Baltimore, this time on Southwest Airlines. While sitting in the gate area, the same announcement came over the loudspeaker, which told the passenger about thunderstorms in the area. But this time they followed by saying, “So we’re going to speed up the process; start boarding immediately and try to beat the thunderstorms out of here. In fact, we’re going to be extremely annoying in order to get you to move quickly. Let’s see if we can get those thunderstorms chasing US all the way to Baltimore.”

Needless to say they left on time and landed on time; why is that? Culture, that’s why.

The US Air people were most concerned about “Not screwing up and making people angry.” In the back of their minds they were probably saying, “What happens if we board them and the thunderstorms hit before they take off? All those people will get stuck sitting on the plane and we’ll look like idiots.” As if sitting in the gate area for three hours was a FAR better alternative.

The people from Southwest were only concerned with succeeding, and as you know, if you’re long time reader of this blog; listen to my Monday Motivational Minute; or read my book, The Best Damn Sales Book Ever, “Not failing,” is a lot different than succeeding.

The troubling part of this story is the lack of effort put forth by the people from US Air. There was nothing stopping them from doing the same thing Southwest did; except the different attitudes and cultures of the two airlines.

At Southwest, the attitude is, “Let’s do whatever it takes to get this plane out of here on time.” At US Air (and many other companies), the attitude is, “We did what we were supposed to do. Everything would have been OK if it weren’t for the thunderstorms, which is something totally beyond our control.”

First off, you will never be successful doing just what you are supposed to do. Like the people at Southwest Airlines, success only comes to those who do MORE than they’re supposed to do.

Second, while thunderstorms are not something you can control and could be unexpected, the most successful people and companies constantly prepare for the unexpected. While we never know what’s going to happen, you can rest assured that something always will happen!

The kind of culture and attitude found at Southwest Airlines (and any other successful company), always starts at the top. While innovation is a bottom up process that starts with the people closest to the action, an outstanding culture, attitude and commitment are top down qualities that start with upper management and permeate every corner of an organization.

By the way, BAD culture, attitude and commitment do the same thing no matter how large or small your company. If you want to learn more about forming solid client relationships and delivering amazing customer service, I’m offering Make My Life Easier: What the 21st Century Customer Really Wants, plus my other video and CD packages, at a 40% discount until February 11th, 2009. Click here!

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Science Park & A Sales Mentality

We need to talk about the importance of creating a sales mentality throughout your entire organization.

But before I start, this Monday, I will be releasing my first Motivational Minute Podcast. This is exclusive to email subscribers. Each week, you’ll be getting one of these motivational minutes to supercharge you for the week. Also, I’ll be releasing details about my new keynote speech for 2009 “Beat The Recession With Warren Greshes,” a 90 minute hard-hitting, no-holds-barred presentation guaranteed to transform your organization. Now back to the topic at hand…

I don’t know about you, but many companies with services I need seem to have dropped off the face of the earth. Are they out of business, or just hiding because they’re afraid to sell, or, maybe don’t know how? It has forced me to give my business to people I wouldn’t normally deal with. Sure it might be tougher out there today, but everyone needs to know that when prospects say “NO” today it only means “NO” today. It’s not “NO” tomorrow, the next day, week or month.

I want to tell you a story about the first experience I had with an organization where there was no sales mentality, and why to this day I speak about ensuring that the sales process permeates your entire business culture.

Around 1987 or ‘88, not long after I had started my speaking business, I landed a new client in Connecticut named Science Park. Science Park was an incubator whose purpose was to bring together, under one roof, entrepreneurs and small business owners who were trying to get their fledgling companies off the ground.

Science Park not only provided them with office space, but also with administrative and consulting support. Most of these small new companies were high tech startups. Each and every one of them was started and owned by highly intelligent people who believed they had come up with the next great product or idea. And, in fact, many of them had come up with outstanding ideas.

Their one big problem was: while they all had a certain amount of technical knowledge and tremendous expertise, not a single one of them knew how to sell. On top of that, they thought selling was beneath them and they weren’t quite sure it was necessary.

These would-be entrepreneurs honestly believed, if you build a better mouse trap the world will beat a path to your door. Unfortunately, many of them ended up sitting in their tiny little offices waiting for that door to open and guess what: that’s right; it never did.

My job was to teach these business owners not only how to sell, but the importance of having a sales mentality, how critical it is for business owners to always be involved in the sales process, even if you have salespeople working for you.

As the economy continues to unravel, it becomes absolutely critical for business owners, and executives, who distance themselves from the sales process, to get involved; quickly.

Clients need to be hearing from the top dog on a regular basis. If you don’t know how to sell; learn! If you think selling is something dirty that’s beneath you, here’s your choice: sell or go out of business!

If you think you can’t sell or are afraid to sell, but still want to learn how, let me recommend two of my DVD’s that can get you started. One of them, Prospecting Skills That Work, will teach you how to bring in new business and the other, Make My Life Easier will teach you how to keep it and grow it. And remember, you still have one day to buy them at a 50% discount!

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How To Lose 1 Million Customers In 3 Months

Everything happens for a reason, especially in business. Companies don’t go out of business or lose customers for reasons totally beyond their control: there’s always a reason.

Most likely their service stunk; or they had really bad management. Perhaps their prices were out of whack with the value, or lack of same, they provided. But believe me; it has nothing to do with bad luck, bad economy or competition. As with anything else in life, when things aren’t going the way you hoped they would, your best bet is to look in the mirror. That brings me to Sprint.

On MarketWatch, there was an article last week titled, Sprint loses more money, customers.

The article began:

“Sprint Nextel Corp. on Monday said it lost more than 1 million of its most profitable customers (about to be 1 million and 1, I might add) in the first three months of 2008 as the company’s net loss widened in the most recent quarter.

Sprint has lost millions of customers to rivals in the past few years owing to poor customer service, a less appealing selection of phones and snafus related to it’s $35 billion purchase of Nextel in 2005.

Chief Executive Daniel Hesse, hired in December, has already taken a number of steps to improve the company’s financial performance and its relationship with customers.”

Well, you could have fooled me.

I have been a Sprint Wireless customer for over 5 years, which definitely puts me WAYYYYY above average. However, as it stands right now, I will be an ex-customer when my contract runs out in February of ’09.

I have four cell numbers under contract; one for each member of the family. This last contract started back in May of 2006. It had 2100 anytime minutes per month, unlimited nights and weekends, no roaming charges and was a “Fair and Flexible Plan,” meaning if we went over our minutes we would only be charged $5 for each 100 minute overage.

A few months later I realized we didn’t need 2100 anytime minutes (I use Skype far more than my cell; better value), so I downgraded the plan to 1400 anytime minutes per month. Little did I know (because nobody ever bothered to tell me) that when I changed my plan Sprint extended it another 2 years, meaning instead of my plan expiring in May of ’08, it won’t expire until February of ’09.

On top of that, when I received my latest bill I noticed that I was charged twenty cents per minute extra for going over my minutes: What happened to Fair and Flexible?

So I called Sprint Customer Service, something I really hate doing, because there’s never any way to do it quickly. I was told that when I changed my plan I lost the Fair and Flexible component because that service was no longer being offered at that time (Probably because it was a good thing for the customer). I asked how come I was never notified of this at the time and naturally I received a stupid answer. I was also told that Sprint no longer offered the Fair and Flexible plan (remember this part; it comes up later).

Now, to add insult to injury, Sprint announced a couple of months ago that as a service to their customers, in their latest effort to stop the bleeding, they will no longer penalize customers and extend their contracts just for changing their plans.

Now here’s a real pet peeve of mine!

Don’t you just hate it when companies treat new customers better than they treat their long term loyal customers? Cellphone companies are notorious for this.

So now I’m really ticked and I’m going to complain. I decide I want to write a letter to Daniel Hesse, the new CEO, since he claims he wants to improve the company’s relationship with its customers.

But now there’s a problem: I go to the Sprint website and nowhere on that website is there an address for their corporate headquarters or even an email address for the CEO. I guess Mr. Hesse, like so many other executives of bad companies only wants to improve customer relations if he doesn’t actually have to be in contact with any of us.

So once again I called customer service, only this time I started my stop watch. I told my story to the Customer Service Rep and the first thing he said was, “Let me see if I can get you back on the Fair and Flexible Plan.” I know what you’re saying, “I thought the Fair and Flexible Plan wasn’t being offered anymore,” and you’d be right to think that because that’s what I was told.

Don’t you just love it when two people from the same company tell you completely different stories? Remember what I said at the beginning; there are always good reasons why companies fail.

Naturally, I couldn’t get the Fair and Flexible plan but that didn’t matter; I wanted Sprint to do something for me or I would cancel my service when my contract was up. This young man said he couldn’t do anything for me but would transfer me to someone who could and he put me on hold while he went to contact that department.

After about a 5 minute wait I was put in touch with a woman who had no idea what I was calling about. Wouldn’t you assume, as I did, that when the first person said he would transfer me to someone who could help me, then put me on hold while he contacted them that he would have relayed the problem to them? Well, you, like me, would have been wrong. I had to tell my story all over again (another pet peeve).

Now I had been on the phone with Sprint for 24 minutes and had accomplished nothing, so I said to this woman, “Look here’s my story, the other person I spoke to said you would help me. I don’t have time to stay on the phone with you anymore, I’ve wasted enough time already. You have all my information. If you want to do something for me, call me and let me know.”

And I hung up…

It has now been over 24 hours and I haven’t heard from Sprint. What’s the odds that I never will? Probably, 1 to 1? Like I said before and I’ll say it again: there are always very valid reasons why companies fail.

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Amazing Customer Service In Academia!

Delivering extraordinary customer service is not hard. It doesn’t take any amazing skill or talent. It’s very similar to playing great defense in basketball. Both take a high level of commitment, desire, communication and buy-in from everyone on the team as well as every level of the organization.

The only reason a company or organization would deliver lousy customer service is the same reason the New York Knicks play lousy defense. Not enough people on the team care; from the top on down.

Just recently, I came across extraordinary customer service in academia! Yes, you heard that right; the ivy-covered, sheltered-from-reality world of academia. You and your company now have no excuse.

My daughter Emily will soon be completing her junior year of high school and has started her college search. I suggested to Emily that she check out High Point University: a small liberal arts college in High Point, North Carolina. She agreed and we signed up for a campus tour.

I suggested it because I happen to know the new President, Dr. Nido Qubein. Dr. Qubein is not an academic. He is a highly successful businessman, entrepreneur, speaker, and author with a high-energy, can-do, no excuses attitude. I figured if anyone could create a unique, cutting-edge atmosphere on a college campus, this was the guy.

Dr. Qubein became president of High Point University three years ago. What he inherited was not pretty: a failing institution that was bleeding money and losing students. What he has done in the last three years is nothing short of remarkable.

  • He raised over $100 million in the last 2 years.
  • He made the decision that everyone at High Point would understand that students are customers.
  • He told his professors that their biggest responsibility was to be in the classroom, be accessible and educate students.

Everyone who works for the university is friendly, accessible and gives you the impression there’s no task too tough to handle. Dr. Qubein wants every student to have an extraordinary experience in a fun atmosphere. Let me take you through our tour in order for you to really appreciate it.

First Emily, Linda (my wife) and I pulled into the visitor parking lot. Now each parking space has an electronic sign. We found our space and the sign read “Welcome Emily Greshes.” Remember, it’s those small unique touches that people remember.

Next we walked into the admissions building where up on the wall was another electronic sign welcoming all the students who were there for the 2PM tour. Each student was greeted by a separate admissions counselor. Pretty amazing since there were about 10 to 15 students there for tours. She briefed us on the university, told us what would happen on the tour, answered our questions and then turned us over to our tour guide. Our tour guide took us around campus in a golf cart, with two other students and their parents.

What we saw was amazing…

The grounds were perfectly groomed with beautiful flowers everywhere. While the university is 80 years old, there isn’t a single building (dorms included) that isn’t either brand new or completely renovated.

Class sizes are no more than 20 students per class. The entire campus is wireless. The new School of Business building was designed to be exactly like the Harvard School of Business. The dorms look like hotels. A freshman girls dorm had two, three and four bedroom apartments with a kitchen, dining area, common area and bathroom. The bedrooms were singles and each apartment accommodated 2 people per bathroom. The dorms had lounges on each floor with flat-screen televisions, leather recliners and games like foosball.

Now for more of those unique small touches…

In today’s crazy world, I’m sure many of you (like me) worry about security on campus, especially those of you with daughters. At High Point U, the campus police are right in the middle of campus next to the Student Union. If you get back to campus late one night and can’t find a parking spot near your dorm all you need to do is drive over to the campus police; they will take your keys; valet park your car for free and shuttle you to your dorm.

There is an ice cream truck that drives around campus dispensing free ice cream. We met the driver: he’s the Student Body President! They’re lucky my son Michael doesn’t go to school there or that truck would be out of business. There are also outdoor kiosks on campus that will dispense hot coffee, hot chocolate, and breakfast snacks for FREE to any student who is rushing to class and didn’t have time for breakfast.

The new Student Union has an outdoor pool with a hot tub (Emily was sold). Since High Point is the furniture capital there are leather recliners all over campus. Linda was so impressed she asked Dr. Qubein if she could apply for admission.

Needless to say, enrollment is soaring and better yet, so is retention. And just in case you’re wondering, and I’m sure you are, the price represents one of the best values in America for a private school.

It’s amazing what an organization can do when everyone is on the same page and is committed to the same thing! If it can be done in the stodgy, resistant-to-change halls of academia, it can be done anywhere.