Monthly Archives: December 2014

Top Posts Of The Year 2014 – #1!

This was the most-read post I wrote in 2014.  It is about one of the favorite topics here on the screed: customer service.  This one was a pleasure to write as was the experience upon which it was based.  It was originally called “Service Done Right,” and that’s something I hope the screed continues to provide for you.  Happy New Year!

I go on an annual golf trip – no shock given that golf is a frequent topic here on the screed. This year’s takes place in a few weeks and part of our group’s tradition (it’s our twentieth trip!) is that each guy brings “free stuff” for every other guy. Of course, it’s never free to the giver, but that’s part of the charm, I guess.

Over the years I’ve made a variety of commemorative T-shirts for the group as my gift and I’ll be doing that again this year (sorry if I ruined the surprise for any of my group that visits here). I designed them and sent the file off with my order to Design-A-Shirt, the company I’ve used several times before. What happened next is customer service at its finest.

First, when they began working on the order, they sent out proof sheets to show me how they had cleaned up what I sent them and to get an approval to proceed.  This is the first step in very smart customer service.  After all, why take the chance on an unhappy customer (bad) or on having to redo an order (worse, and a killer of margins)?  This was NOT a form email.  It came from a person and I responded to a personal mailbox as I approved what they were doing.

To this point, I’d call this above average, smart customer communication.  Here is where it gets extraordinary.  I got this note yesterday:

Hello Keith,

I wanted to follow up on the order you placed with us to provide you with a production photo of your design printed on fabric. Please see the attached photo for reference. We are concerned about the text… as it’s a bit hard to read. To fix that we would either have to move the “ball” up to make the font larger, or use a different, thinner font that would be more legible. Please advise!

Wow.  They printed the approved design on T-shirt fabric and had a human give it the once over.  That same human took the time to write me a personal note and to ask for guidance.  I should remind you that this is for 13 shirts and the total cost was around $150, far from a big order.  Even so, they made me feel as if I was ordering 13 dozen.  Giving equal attention to every customer is part of doing it right.  Not surprisingly, late last night I got an email that the order had shipped and will be here at the end of the week – several days ahead of when it was promised.

Think I’ll be back?  You bet.  More importantly, by using them as an example of perfect customer communication and service – that which goes above and beyond the customer’s expectations – I’m hoping you’ll both learn from them and given them consideration if you need to make a shirt or two.  I know I talk often in this space about how excellent customer service costs less than you think and retaining a customer is always easier than finding a new one.  Hopefully this real word example resonates.  Does it?

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Top Posts Of 2014 – #2

Continuing a review of the most-read posts written this past year, today we have one from way back in January.  This was one of our TunesDay Tuesday posts (should I bring those back?) and deals with the same business idea as yesterday’s post.   Do I detect a pattern in your curiosity?

Tomorrow we’ll have the most-read post of the year and Friday we’ll have your favorite Foodie Friday post of 2014.  This one  was originally called “Long Black Road.” Enjoy!

This TunesDay we’re going to look at an old song that’s actually new.  Recorded back in 2001 it wasn’t in wide release until recently when it was featured in the soundtrack to American Hustle.  The movie is very good; the soundtrack is excellent.  The song is Long Black Road which was recorded on ELO‘s last album (Zoom) and only issued in the Japanese version of the record as a bonus track.  Pretty obscure, but to those of us who’ve long  admired Jeff Lynne it was sort of familiar.  Here it is for your listening pleasure:

What makes this song of interest to us today is the message contained in the lyrics.  What I like about this song is it makes the same point in three different ways.  A directionless musician pursues his dreams in the first verse despite being told to get, in essence, a real job.  “Face reality” as the song puts it.  I’m sure every entrepreneur and every start-up has heard that at some point.

The second verse is the core message for anyone in business:

So I drifted for a while down the road to ruin
I couldn’t find my way, I didn’t know what I was doin’
I saw a lot of people coming back the other way
So I kept on goin’ when I heard them say,

“You gotta get up in the morning, take your heavy load
And you gotta keep goin’ down the long black road.”

How many businesses are caught up doing the same kind of drifting?  How often do we wonder if we’re lost?  In this case, despite the number of people coming back, the singer keeps going, having heard the message to persist.  Quitting is easy – taking the load down the long black road isn’t.   By the third verse, the singer is a success, but gets reminded that money won’t bring happiness.  The journey – overcoming the obstacles, facing “trouble and strife” are every bit as important as the end goal.  Three great business points.

Funny how much one can learn in three verses over three minutes if we’ll just listen…

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Top Posts Of 2014 – #3

As has become my tradition, I review and republish the posts I wrote and you all read the most during the previous year.  The post below touches on a theme we visit fairly often here on the screed – staying focused on the things that will move our businesses forward.  It was the third most read post this past year.   Enjoy!

In the movie “Up”, every so often the dogs interrupt themselves mid-sentence because a squirrel – or even the thought of a squirrel – appears. They stop the conversation or whatever else it is they’re doing to chase that distraction.


(Photo credit: likeaduck)

We don’t call them squirrels in business. They’re more like bright shiny objects or the next new thing. Sure, we call them something else altogether – market opportunities for one. In some cases, they really are. Most of the time, however, they’re just a squirrel that’s dashed across the business plan and provided a major distraction.

Consumers can be fickle.  For example, the typical mobile app is used fewer than 10 times before deletion and over a quarter of people use an app once after downloading.  If you’re working to monetize one of those apps, you have a very limited window in general.  Most businesses aren’t living in that fickle a world unless they choose to be there.  They do that by chasing squirrels.

So how does one distinguish between a legitimate opportunity and a shiny object/squirrel?  As always, it’s a combination of things; some consumer-focused, some business-focused.  With respect to the latter, any new business extension will require resources of some sort, even if it’s the shifting of existing support to the new thing.  Resources are finite in most businesses.  Do you have them?

Ask yourself if customers care.  We can point to any number of examples of being too early for the market.  GO had a mobile operating system and mobile, pen-based computers long before the iPad or iPhone.  NextNewNetworks was doing video long before there was broadband to support streaming.  WebTV was another.  In those and other cases consumers couldn’t understand what was in it for them.  After all, selling is about providing value.  How does the squirrel you’re considering do that?  Does it really provide sustainable growth or just a brief pop in revenues (and maybe not in profits)?

Looking over the horizon is the hardest part of any good business person’s job.  The great ones learn to stay focused on what’s in front of them while taking that peek while ignoring the squirrels.  Can you do that?

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