Sinful Service

Customers are the lifeblood of an entrepreneurship. And yet, many entrepreneurs have or condone a rather cavalier attitude about their customers. I’ve written before about the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which is one of the best measures of customer satisfaction. A poor NPS is a pretty good indication that something has gone awry with how customers are being treated. Comcast has a -5 NPS. Bank of America and Honda USA have an NPS of zero. By contrast the NPS for Amazon is +62 and for Apple it’s +72. For more information on the NPS, link to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_Promoter.

There are several surefire ways to drive down a Net Promoter Score. Explained another way – there are a number of errors that are made that drive away customers. Let’s look at a few sinful service flubs that are all too common.

  • It’s not my job. I’m sure we’ve all encountered someone who tells us this. The implication is that this person really could care less about me as a customer. It’s more important to him or her to color inside the lines and take no responsibility for helping me with the bigger picture. By contrast, I’m pleased to report that I recently visited a Bed Bath & Beyond store and asked a salesperson where to find a certain obscure product. Not only did she tell me exactly where it was, but she escorted me across the store and helped me find the right item. Maybe that’s why Bed Bath has a +44 NPS!
  • I’m going to give you the royal runaround. The “it’s not my job” approach leads to a far worse malady called, “the royal runaround.” This happens to me frequently when I’m calling a customer help line. First, I have to spend several minutes punching my way through the automated attendant to eventually get to the right person. I don’t know about you, but when I call for service, I don’t want to listen to a recording. I want to talk with a live person. Sometimes when I finally succeed in this quest, the person is friendly and solves my problem immediately. But in other instances the person may tell me that he or she can’t help me and I need to be transferred to another department thereby increasing the chances of being disconnected, or finding out that the next person is also going to shuffle me to still someone else.
  • I’m just following policy. This one is just lovely. We try to understand why the defective item we purchased at a particular store cannot be returned to that store, but instead must be sent directly to the manufacturer. “I didn’t buy the item directly from the manufacturer; I bought it from your store,” I explain. “That’s just our policy and there’s nothing I can do about it” I’m told by the customer “service” representative at the store. Makes me wonder why I need to pay a mark-up to the middleman if I’m going to have to deal with the manufacturer when the product fails.
  • My job sucks and I’m going to treat you like dirt (or worse). It’s easy to tell when someone who interacts with the public hates their job. I once had an encounter with a person who worked for a large company. I went to the office of this company and was ushered into an inner waiting area. The person I was to meet was sitting at a desk across the waiting room. She had a permanent scowl on her face and refused to acknowledge me. She fiddled around with a variety of menial tasks and finally at ten minutes after my appointment time she motioned me over. Not once did she make eye contact. She asked a couple of perfunctory questions; stamped a piece of paper, and shoved it back across the desk without saying a word. Her loathing of her job was palpable.
  • I may be smiling, but I’m still lying to you. This is pure poison. When a customer can no longer trust the company with whom he or she is dealing, then all is lost. Here’s the scenario. We are talking with a customer service representative for a consumer products company. We’ve had an issue with one of their products. The representative is most pleasant and assures us that the issue will be resolved immediately. Days pass with no resolution. We speak with the representative again and are told that the problem is being resolved. More time passes – still no resolution. Finally we speak with a different representative and learn that there is no resolution and never was to have been. We were fed a pack of lies from the very beginning.

As we grow our entrepreneurial endeavors, we must be ever vigilant to ensure that our customers are completely satisfied and we avoid the pitfalls of sinful service.

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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Entrepreneur Who Cried Wolf

Harkening back to my childhood days, I remember a wonderful Aesop’s Fable called The Boy Who Cried Wolf. As the story goes, a little boy had a tendency to sound a false alarm that a wolf was attacking a flock of sheep. After doing this repeatedly, the villagers eventually stopped taking him seriously. Then when the wolf actually did eat the sheep, the little boy’s cries fell on deaf ears. In some versions of this story, the wolf also eats the boy. I believe that this fable is more apropos for our society today than perhaps at any time in recent memory. The current state of political affairs comes to mind as a perfect example of how over-the-top proclamations about how our country is doomed are being bandied about on a daily basis.

We can expand a modern-day Aesop’s Fable to include entrepreneurs – more specifically, entrepreneurs who engage in lying and distortion. There’s a distinction between puffery and lying. Puffery involves hyperbole which by definition is “obvious and intentional exaggeration not intended to be taken literally.” For example, if we say that our widgets are the “best,” there’s no objective way to measure this claim and the public generally understands the context to contain a degree of hyperbole. On the other hand, if we say that 99% of all our customers agree that our widgets are the “best,” then this is a factual claim that can be verified. And it becomes a lie if this fact is manufactured or we can’t prove that 99% of all our customers agree with our statement.

Where this gets really dicey for entrepreneurs is when the integrity line is crossed. Alex is the CEO of a start-up company and is pitching a group of investors for funding. During an interview with the investor group, he says, “Our firm has 35 customers and we’ve generated $500,000 in revenue.” What he doesn’t reveal is that he doesn’t really have 35 paying customers. He actually has 25 prospective customers that are using a beta version of his product for free; five current customers that are currently paying for his product, and five former customers that quit because they had issues with the product. What he also neglected to say is that his company has been in business for three years and $500,000 is the cumulative revenue generated during that time period. Did Alex lie about his company’s progress or did he engage in a form of puffery? While it’s not quite the false cry that a wolf is eating the sheep, Alex has definitely crossed the line through omission of key facts. Any savvy investor will drill down and quickly learn that Alex has misrepresented his situation – which will probably cost him the investment.

As entrepreneurs our integrity is our most valuable currency. When we go to the bank for a loan, it’s important that we put our best foot forward, but in an honest manner. We should be fact-based with our approach and present a true picture of our operations. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with sharing data trends that portray our company in a growth-mode. When we are reporting to our investors, we share the true, unvarnished facts. If things aren’t as rosy as we’d like, we provide an explanation about the issues we are experiencing. We have a real estate fund and write a quarterly report for our investors. Periodically I like to include a section called, “What’s Not Working.” In it, we discuss some of the challenges we are facing and what we are doing to overcome them. We’ve had feedback from investors who appreciate the fact that we’re not always trying to sell them on unicorns and rainbows.

Another problem area for entrepreneurs is that of overpromising and under-delivering. In fact, we would be much better off doing the opposite. We would do well to find one of the most skeptical members of our team and have him or her help set expectations. It’s likely that our optimism would be dialed back to a more realistic degree. Overpromising once may be forgivable. But if it happens over and over then we’re probably moving past the realm of hyperbole and into the arena of deception.

We all want to win which is a critical element of entrepreneurship. Doing so in an honest and forthright manner may not be the easiest path to take, but it will likely keep us from being eaten by the wolf.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 106 – A Boomer’s Advice to Millennials.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Liars

Here’s a set-up question. What do you think of companies that aren’t honest with their customers? The answers range from, “That’s terrible” to “It happens every day.” Unfortunately both answers are correct. What’s particularly irritating is when those companies beat their chests about how much they care about their customers. There’s a disconnect between words and actions which is pretty disturbing and serves as an excellent lesson for entrepreneurs.

Allow me to tell you a personal story. Each summer we look forward to spending a couple of weeks at a beautiful destination spot in the mountains with enormous trees, blue skies and a fabulous lake. We fly into a nearby airport, collect our bags and head to the car rental counter where we’ve previously made a reservation. After checking in we venture to the car pick-up area – and every single year, bar none, our vehicle is never ready. We’ve waited anywhere from 20 minutes to as long as 45 minutes. The attendants smile and promise that “They are just cleaning up the car as we speak – it will only be a few more minutes.” Fifteen or twenty minutes later they smile again and disappear to go “check” and see where things stand. Sometimes we go through the same drill with two or three more attendants – they seem to work in a tag team sort of manner. Finally, someone tells us that “They’re bringing around the car right now.” Any reasonable person would conclude that would mean the car would arrive in two or three minutes. But it never happens. Eventually we may get the car we ordered. More often than not, we end up with a different vehicle – sometimes better and sometimes worse. Adjustments are made to the price and we’re finally on our way.                                                                                                                                                                                Here’s what’s so bothersome about this experience. We are never told the truth. The attendants are friendly enough. They explain that they’ve been slammed with returns and pickups. But the string-a-long routine is always the same. Yes, I know. I should probably use a different car rental company – though I’ve encountered similar issues elsewhere with other firms. With this particular car rental company, on their website they make a big deal about how they focus on the customer. Part of their mission statement extolls their desire “To exceed our customers’ expectations for service, quality and value.” Elsewhere we’re told that, “Take care of your customers and employees first, and the profits will follow.”

This situation is emblematic of a pervasive problem in the business and entrepreneurial world today. Sometimes we’re so afraid of disappointing a customer that we’d rather try to give them hope while we juggle difficult circumstances. We say things that aren’t quite true and eventually we’re in worse shape than if we would have just been totally honest. Lying doesn’t usually end well. I learned this as a kid and have watched others suffer the consequences as an adult. What should the car rental company have done? For starters, they have a very sophisticated IT operation and could easily have collected data from every hour of every day at every location. Then they would know from my stated pick-up time that there usually is a 30-minute wait and set my expectation accordingly. But we all know that sometimes things unexpectedly go wrong. Training their employees to have empathy in such situations and be totally honest would go a long way.

In a circumstance like this, here’s what I would rather have someone say to me. “We had 50 cars returned within a 30-minute timeframe. Normally we never have more than 20 cars returned in such a short period of time. We’re running at least 45 minutes behind. I’m going to give you a 15% discount for the delay and recommend that you come back at 3:30. In the meantime, here are some drink coupons for the bar inside the airport terminal. Please accept our most sincere apologies.” This statement is pro-active and wrapped with empathy, honesty and realistic expectations. The customer may not be pleased, but at least the company can’t be criticized for not doing everything possible to atone for a bad situation.

We need to ask ourselves whether or not we set honest and realistic expectations for our customers. When we do, we’ll have a much greater chance of solidifying customer loyalty – even when things don’t go as planned.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 8 – The E Factor.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Pinnochio