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Service Failure: Samsung June 19, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Building trust, Customer Service.
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DirksProPhotoI own a great Samsung DLP TV and have had it for about five years.  Just recently the color started faltering so I went online and sent a request on the Samsung service site for some…service.  A few days later I received an email from someone from the CA offices of Samsung.  Their email stated in part that they would make three attempts to contact us to arrange service.  He noted in his email that this was their first attempt.  So…I emailed him back the same day – thinking time was everything.

The next day – after only the first attempt – Samsung sent me an email to let me know they cancelled my request for service.  No reason.  Just canceled.  So, I emailed the nice fellow (had no phone number or otherwise I would have just called him).  I let him know that I had just rec’d a note from Samsung stating they cancelled my service request and that I in fact WANTED service – a paying customer!

Result:  Nothing.  No email response.  No nothing.  And of course, no service.  Well, that was the end of my efforts to work directly with Samsung and their dedicated service provider.

Ok.  So the next day I go online and find a local TV repair service.  I fill out the service request form and send it via  their website.  Result: No call since and it’s been three days.  I guess they are just too busy for a PAYING CUSTOMER like myself.  What business are these people in?

What to do?  I turn to Sears.  I go online and within a few minutes am able to schedule a service appointment.  Done.  Now let’s see if they show up.  I’ll let you know how this saga plays out in a subsequent blog post.  Stay tuned.

UPDATE 070213: So Sears won the day.  Not only was I easily able to set up an appointment for a repair person to come out to my house they also called to confirm the appointment (on top of the email confirmation).  The repair person was professional, clean and knew his stuff.  Problem solved for only $99.00 (which is credited to any repairs too).

Those other guys who never called me?  I found out later that they are just about out of business.  No wonder.

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The Rise of Lower-Priced Premium Quality May 21, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Strategy.
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DirksProPhotoThere is a very distinct trend in product and service development today that I feel has major implications for businesses of all sizes and industries. It’s the idea that cheaper or lower-priced products are being design and built with far better quality than just a few years or even a decade ago.

Take the Ford Fiesta for instance. This is an economy car (lower priced, low expectations) that’s been around for a while but like the Chevy Cavalier or the Ford Escort, suffered from the traditional “low-priced, low-quality” syndrome. The 2012 Ford Fiesta is now a highly rated car (edmunds.com) with a still-low sticker price. To get the Fiesta to this point, Ford had to make a commitment with itself to find ways of incorporating select design & engineering elements from their higher-priced, higher quality brands and drilling them into the designs of their economy car line. And they still had to provide this economy car at an economy price (starting at $13,000).

For another example, both Hyundai and Kia had to learn the same hard lesson across all of their product lines when they came to the U.S. market just a few decades ago. Back then, both were the laughing stock of the car industry when they tried to produce less expensive cars in all categories but fell short with major quality problems. What they learned is that while some American consumers want to spend as little as possible…they still want to be able to show value for whatever money they spend. Now both offer less-priced cars at higher than average quality. A market strategy win for both.

Remember the Yugo? The idea was great – a super cheap car for the masses. Sure, you could buy perhaps three or four Yugos for under $12k all in but there was one problem. The Yugo broke down almost immediately upon trying to leave the dealership. That was the end of Yugo.

Let’s take wines as another example. There was a time when there was very cheap wine (Boones Farm Strawberry wine ring a bell?) or very premium wines (at $20 or more a bottle). There was little in the way of a great Merlot or a Sirah at $8 a bottle. However, for more than a few years now, consumers have been treated to a very competitive industry that has figured out how to provide high quality wines in the $8 to $14 dollar range.

So what’s this mean for you and your business? Here some thoughts:

– Do you offer lower-priced, higher quality products or services to you customers? The key is figuring out 1) which features & associated benefits from your high quality offerings can be 2) engineered into your lower-priced offerings.
– Check your competitors. Who is offering a slightly upgraded product or service at a competitively lower price? If I’m your competitor and I know I have to have a line of basic, lesser priced products or services for those customers who want them, my best strategy for outflanking you is to offer a slightly improved version. One that has the kind of feature(s) and benefit(s) often only found in the premium lines.

Consumers today are far less tolerant of cheaply priced, lower quality products than ever. Rest assured that there is still quite some amount of junk being sold as a product or service – but therein lies your competitive opportunity. Seize it.

Community Marketing: Fact vs. Fiction April 12, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Community Marketing.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

One underutilized area of marketing is where a business supports one or a few local community events and/or organizations.  I say it’s underutilized primarily because most businesses I know are often not quite sure how to relate support with business needs.  Then there’s the issue of why it’s good business to support local organizations and what are the best ways to support them.  Here’s my list of ‘fact vs. fiction’ when it comes to what I call community marketing:

Facts:

  • Community marketing can be strategically important to a small businesses.  Sure, you can ignore the world around you but smart businesses who support community events and organizations reap the benefits of establishing additional good will and brand equity within the community.  Helping non-profit organizations in a real and genuine way raises your stature and your businesses stature in your community.
  • Focusing on the “giving” part means that the business benefits to you take care of themselves and accrue in different ways.  Most people can see through a person and/or business that’s clearly providing community support in the interest of only getting more business for themselves.  Be selfless in this case.

Fiction:

  • You have to spend money to support community-based organizations.  Yes but often they want your time as a volunteer to sit on a board or committee…they really could use your brainpower but the money helps too.  Perhaps you support them by lending them some manpower from your business for an event.  Whatever it is, it isn’t just about supporting with direct dollars.
  • Buying ads in community-based events will drive business.  No, it won’t.  You have better chance of winning the Powerball.  Why? First, ads in community-event flyers have a life expectancy of about 10 seconds.  Don’t believe me?  Where do you think these printed booklets often go?  On someones coffee table?  On their fridge?  Taped onto a wall? In their purse?  No, most are left on the floor or table on the night of the event.  Secondly, it takes more than one ad impression to get people to respond to your ad.  In fact, it takes at least 3 impressions to get anyone to notice you at all.  So you think that one 5 x 5 ad in the community flyer is going to drive your business? Make the phones ring?  Rookie mistake.  The real reason you buy ads in community events is TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT AND PROVIDE THEM WITH A SOURCE OF FUNDING.  That’s it.
  • Advertising in community based publications is branding.  No, it’s not – at least not like Nike.  You’re not Nike and spending a few hundred dollars per year to maybe $2k or $3k won’t make you a household name either.  Why?  Again, because the life expectancy of most community publications is minute and the amount of people who actually bother to look at the ads is even less.  If advertising is your focus for branding or business development, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Instead, build your business brand by building strong and positive relationships as you network through the community.
  • You should never expect any business resulting from your involvement in a community-based organization.  Wrong.  The difference is that you should never hold your support for any community-based organization hostage to your demand to drive business in your direction. People will see through your real motives and your reputation will be tainted as such.

Want to know how the real community players (I mean that as professional business people who are genuine in their support) get more business?  They network.  They development genuine professional relationships with other business people.  People like to support other people who have like-minded interests.  You can get more business by being a consistent and genuine supporter of community organizations if you focus on helping the organization and leveraging the relationships of the people you meet along the way.

Learning point:  If you want to meet other successful business owners and other key community influencers, working to help better community-based organizations is where you will find them.  Just look at the boards of some of your community organizations?  Whose on them? Losers? I think not.

Supporting community-based organizations can be a very smart investment of both time and money if you are genuine and really committed to helping them.

“When Would You Like It?” March 23, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Keeping Your Customers, Setting Customer Expectations.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

What’s your service model?  Is it to deliver the best service possible at all times?  Is it to over-promise and over-deliver?  Or under-promise and over-deliver?  Or under-promise and under-deliver? Who does that right?

Whatever the combination of your service model, the key to servicing your customers is setting expectations.  How do you set customer expectations?

While I might not have scientific evidence to present you today, I can say with much certainty that NOT being able to set a customers expectations is a great way to cause more problems than you think.

This is particularly true of service providers.  Service providers in any business live and die on three things: price, quality & timely delivery. What I often see as both a consumer and consultant is businesses who in their zeal to “keep the client happy” can’t for the life of them set expectations for success.

What do I mean?  Let me clarify. Everybody seems comfortable asking the basic expectation question:

When would you like it?

But few and I mean very few in the service business are able to make the next statement – after the customer answers the above question:

Let me check with (our team, production schedule, etc.) to confirm if we can meet that date.  If we can’t, I’ll give you the date we can meet.

You also have to keep in mind this: most customers are not expecting to get your service YESTERDAY.  Most business transactions that I’ve witnesses over the years, customers have reasonable expectations.

However, if you only ask one question: When would you like it? – and then sit there and write it down and nod your head, you’ve just built your own sword that you will fall on.

Why do business owners commit themselves to a (mostly) arbitrary date without even knowing if they can do it?  Without checking back at the office to see what’s already in the production queue? They leave the meeting or call with the customer thinking that there’s no problem.

The reality is that making customer commitments without understanding if you can is, well, crazy in my view.  After the commitment is made, they head back to the office or shop and announce that “the pressures on!” and everyone must drop everything to move heaven and earth to meet this commitment…other customer commitments made before be damned.

That sets into motion a series of events that usually lead to the following:

1.  Other customers being pushed out of the queue for service because of this latest “911”.  That doesn’t help things.

2. The staff is thrown into unproductive disarray.  Employees who operate in a culture of constant chaos because of reckless customer expectations setting are drained of energy.  They burnout. They get cranky.

3. The rush to meet ridiculous expectations in order to “overserve” the customer leads to lower quality.  In the rush to get the service prepared and delivered, mistakes are often made.  What good does it do to make the superman effort to deliver services where the customer finds errors in the product?  You know what happens.  The customer is not happy and all your “heroic” efforts to over-deliver are negated.

4. Customers get used to running the show on service expectations – it’s like a drug. They want it when they want it and they know you’ll keep delivering and jumping as high as they say when they say it.  Like a seal at a circus.

5. The constant barrage of unrealistic customer expectation setting often leads to being unable to meet the real “911’s” that truly need the team to make a superhuman effort to meet.  Those get mixed into all the other artificial 911’s that are of our own making.

Want to get the best mileage from your efforts and still deliver consistently great service? Don’t overpromise.  Don’t abdicate responsibility for setting expectations entirely to your customer.  Don’t complain when you find you and your staff running like mice in cage every day of the week.  Don’t create swords that you can fall on.

How Nice But Incompetent People Survive March 18, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Management, Performance issues.
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DirksProPhotoHaven’t you been a bit curious as to how people you work with who might be nice (but sometimes not) and are incredibly incompetent…but yet survive to live another day.  In business, you run into these people and often end up shaking your head…wondering how they do it.  How is it they can be so incompetent – often at a very noticeable level – and still have a job?  What gives?  And you know the people I’m talking about!

A few years ago, the secret to the incompetent success was revealed to me.  There was a person whom I and more than a few senior managers knew was about as incompetent as they come.  Nice guy who couldn’t manage his way through a paper bag.  Probably came close to getting fired more than a few times in his career but nonetheless survived.  How?

Ready for this?  Here are three reasons he (and the other incompetents) survive:

1.  They often work cheaply.  Low price point?  That can be the winning number.

2. They’ll often work like dogs and do what they are told to do.  I guess there’s something to be said for people who don’t talk back.

3. They’ll take abuse and keep on ticking.  Remember as a kid – the inflatable bozo the clown that you could punch and it would come right back at you?  That’s the one.

Apparently there is some utility value of the person who has a low labor price point and who will do the dirty work that others will not do.

Of course, there’s always the family-member problem – where a completely incompetent gets to stay because the have a blood line connect to the owner of the business.  Not much you can do about them as blood truly is thicker than water, as the saying goes.

Since learning this about incompetents, I often just smile and keep on going.  Incompetents have their place in the business world and I get it.

Three Trends To Watch February 11, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Disruptive Trends.
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DirksProPhotoI don’t usually make “trends to watch” postings.  While in my work I’m constantly researching, reading and reviewing information of all kinds, I’m not inclined to predict the future.  In this case, I’m not predicting as much as I am signaling that the following trends are already on a collision course with traditional business models.

So, take the following as you wish. Perhaps the best I can do is spark some interest in one or more of these trends and encourage you to do your own research and reading.

Anyway, here are three trends that keep popping up consistently – and each has been growing in scale and importance over the last 5 to 10 years.

The way we approach higher education.

One of my son’s goes to a great college and that great college costs $52,000 per year to attend.  At the end of four years, he will have a very fine education but will have burned through over $200,000 in cash.  Why is this so?

Another issue.  Our country’s finest universities are known not for who they include but for the greater number of students they exclude.  Harvard, Wharton, Northwestern, Chicago, Standford  and others attract not only the brightest of the youngest minds but also the brightest of the experienced minds to teach them.

If you or your kids are unable to enter the Ivy league for higher education…does that mean you are relegated to a life of mediocrity? I recommend a good read here: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Read the book and you’ll clearly see where I’m going here.

Here are a few key trends that will change the way we access higher education:

  • Increase in the availability of knowledge both online and offline.  Universities have historically been the originators and gatekeepers of “knowledge”.  The underlying foundation for that tradition has been under siege for more than a decade now.
  • New higher education models are emerging.  Udacity and the Minerva Project are just a few of the many higher education models that are breaking the mold and creating high quality access to knowledge and higher learning.
  • Global mobility of both knowledge & students.  As the digital world changes the way we access and utilize knowledge in all its wonderful forms, students will be able to globalize their access education.  The global competition for students will mean that universities will become more aggressive in offering full-fledged offerings to any corner of the world.
  • More partnerships with corporations.  There’s plenty of great research and knowledge being created in almost every industry today.  Connecting higher education and industry knowledge bases will blur the lines but create perhaps a better way to prepare students for the every smaller but complex world we live in.

The elites won’t like this but too bad.

The way we make things. Maybe you’ve heard all about 3D printing. If not, check this excellent primer from TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/lisa_harouni_a_primer_on_3d_printing.html

3D manufacturing is already happening and creating revival in “small manufacturing” around the world.  This technology and the ones that will surely follow will change the way we think about manufacturing products today.  It will blow your mind but gives rise to the ability for new businesses to create products once thought only to be produced if you invested big bucks into creating a traditional factory.  The investment in the traditional “factory” model has kept a lot of great ideas underground or never to be realized.  That will change and create entirely new business opportunities.  As 3D technology advances, you will be able to run your small manufacturing operation from anywhere in the world.

The ways we raise money. Kickstarter and Crowdfunder have turned the world of sourcing funds for projects of all kinds on its head.  While it doesn’t necessarily mean that every idea will get the funding it needs, it does mean that ACCESS to that funding is anything but traditional.  You still need a great project or enterprise idea – but the traditional means of sourcing is not the only game in town.

The dynamic author Seth Godin used Kickstarter for his lastest book project, The Icarus Deception.  He thought he’d raise $40,000 but instead raised over $240,000 instead.  Now, Seth already has a great and loyal group of followers who helped him seed this project but that isn’t the point.  Seth was able to take a great idea and source his needed project funds from anyone who wanted to participate.  You didn’t have to have millions to participate – $4 bucks got you into the game.  Of course, you could invest more and get more in return but that was up to you.

The way we raise money is changing.  Don’t tell your bank that.

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Well, that’s it for this post.  Keep an eye on these three trends as they grow and evolve.  You know I will.

 

Driving Foot Traffic: Woolworth’s Style December 14, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in Driving Store Traffic, Retailer Store Strategies, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Solving Business Problems, Strategy.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

It took the latest issue of Businessweek to remind of that oftentimes what is new is old.  Case in point: the Woolworth’s food counter.  Remember (for those of you who are old enough to) the days when you local Woolworth’s store had a lunch counter where great, cheap hamburgers, fries and a great milkshake where just across from those square product bins that checkered the store?  Woolworth’s was a pioneer in creating a way to drive foot traffic with something that had nothing directly connected to the products they sold.  By having a soda fountain style lunch counter, there sales per square foot where for a long time better than average.

The lunch counter couldn’t save Woolworth’s from going out of business after decades of success but the idea of driving traffic by providing food lives on.  Nordstrom operates about 200 restaurants of one kind or another, including coffee bars.  Barnes & Noble developed its coffee bar concept to drive traffic and create a reason for people to hang around the store longer.  You’ll also notice that the coffee bar is a place where people meet to socialize.  They know what Woolworth’s long understood: The longer they stay, the more chance they will buy.

So am I suggesting that brick & mortar store owner rig up the BBQ and serve up some burgers?  Not exactly.  What I am suggesting is that in the battle of driving foot traffic it might be that food or drink (coffee bar?) might just do the trick.  As I always say, there is no magic bullet for creating foot traffic – only hard work and great execution wins the day.

What can you do to create ways for people to want to come to your store and stay a bit longer?  Think about it.

“Impossible” Is Just An Opinion December 6, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Solving Business Problems.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

Impossible.  The word that has closed more minds, doors and opportunities than any other I can think of.  “Impossible” is often a frame of mind and an easy, convenient door stop for shutting just about any challenge, idea, project or thought down.  Cold.

Of course, it was impossible for us to think of anything replacing the horse and buggy.  It was impossible that candles or whale oil could be replaced.  Impossible it was to think that man or woman could fly from one point to another.  Impossible that much medicine could actually fix a bad heart. Impossible that a man could compete in the Olympics with mechanical legs.  Just lot’s of impossibilities out there.

Did you know that Margaret Mitchell was turned down 38 times before a publisher said yes to her manuscript for Gone with the Wind? Or the more recent Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 140 times before getting a publisher?  Steven King was turned down 30 times when he was trying to publish a manuscript titled as Carrie?  The great artist, Monet, had his artwork ridiculed in his day.

At what point do you think that any of these people thought it was going to be “impossible” to get that book published?  The first rejection or the 140th?  The answer is clear.  They didn’t see impossible at the first or last point of rejection.  What they saw in their minds was this:

What the mind can conceive, man can achieve.

Earl Nightingale

We can be thankful that there a few people in every organization that see beyond what many of us see as great, impenetrable walls of impossibility.  Next time you hear someone use the word “impossible”, just remember that what they really told you was that it is possible.

Seth Godin Gets It September 27, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Sales Strategy/Tactics, Strategy.
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As I write this post, I’m sitting in a classroom here at the Googleplex in NYC. Just heard Seth Godin (sethgodin.com) and as he was speaking, I wrote down several things (in paraphrase) that stuck with me. This is all in the context of how we become more successful in our business to help other businesses succeed:

What story are you telling?

Are you trusted?

The more you specialize, the more likely you are to solve problems.

What is your brand promise?

Shun non-believers

Are you selling scarcity or abundance?

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Get it? Think about it.

Where’s Your YouTube Channel? September 19, 2012

Posted by David Dirks in Becoming A Thought Leader, Digital Media Strategy, YouTube Channel Strategy.
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Do you have your own YouTube Channel for your business?  If yes, congrats to you as you are taking advantage of yet another great opportunity to expand you market presence and brand.  Oh, and you’ll be able to sell more products or services over time too.  If you answered that question with a no, then I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that your business doesn’t have its own YouTube Channel.

YouTube used to be the place were you could see cuddly little animals performing stupid tricks (or sometimes funny ones).  Or it was the place you’d find dumb pranks or really dumb tricks.  It still is but to a much lesser extent than before…especially when Google decided to purchase YouTube and make it part of its product family a few short years ago.  Since them, Google has really revved up the YouTube business engines.  The YouTube of today is moving in the direction of providing original programming, providing an expanded array of advertising options and now a vastly improved (and valuable) analytics package like its great Google Analytics does for websites today.

So, why consider building a YouTube Channel?  For one, YouTube represents a huge organic search engine with literally millions and millions of people scouring for information on just about any topic you can think of (that is legal and not pornagraphic of course).  Think of YouTube as you do with Google’s organic search engine.  Every day people are looking for information products, services, ideas on a wide variety of topics…including whatever it is your business does and how it does it.

I don’t care what business you are in, people are looking for real and valuable information that will in some way help them.  I can also tell you what they aren’t looking for: being sold a product or service…at least not directly like some carnival barker.

Want to see the emerging direction of YouTube?  Check out this channel:

http://www.youtube.com/howcast

Notice that Howcast has over 389,000 subscribers and over 650,000,000 views…something we marketers dream about.  Now, you might not have that many subscribers or views but you certainly can develop a large following in the context of your business model.

Here’s an example of a law firm that has developed a YouTube channel that drives between 30-40% of their new client flow.

http://www.youtube.com/sparandbernstein

Spar and Bernstein has 529 subscribers which is excellent but the telling number is the 742,000+ views the channel has had since it started in 2007.  The video on most of its 546 clips is not the best quality but that doesn’t stop people searching for information on immigration law from finding and watching it.  Brad Bernstein, who in my opinion is not only a top notch immigration attorney but also a marketing visionary.  In 2007, he decided to tape his daily radio show and then post the video clips of the show onto his YouTube channel.  The results over time have been spectacular in the context of driving real business to the firm.  And, if you watch the videos, they are educational as Bernstein is answer live questions from his radio show listener audience.

YouTube.  It’s not the old YouTube you used to know.
Watch for more upcoming posts on establishing a YouTube channel for your business.  You can do it!