Monthly Archives: April 2019

Good Caddies, Great Business

I like walking the golf course with a caddie. I really don’t get to do so much anymore since not a lot of places employ caddies. Even rarer are the places that employ professional caddies (as opposed to some kid who will carry your bag but knows less about the course and golf than you do).

I was thinking about the differences a professional caddie can make and it dawned on me that some of the things I appreciate most about good caddies are the same things that can help transform a good business into a great business. Ironically, those things don’t include what is often cited as the caddie’s three jobs: show up, keep up and shut up. There are, however, a number of other things I’d like to point out.

First, great caddies are available. What I mean by that is that they keep up with you and are by your side when you need them to be. They also leave you alone when you don’t need them, as you chat with your golfing companions. Great businesses are available as well. You can reach someone 24/7, even if it’s only to get told “we hear you and someone will get back to you by 9am” and their website information is up to date and complete. Great businesses let you know they are available and they hear you.

A caddie is an epitome of combining service and convenience. That’s what your business needs to do as well. The convenience of someone buying online and the service of going to pick up the order at a special desk at your local retail outlet does that (and saves shipping charges as well as time).

Caddies are proactive. They have the right yardage figured out when you get to the ball and they hand you the right club for the shot. By the way, great caddies give you the club you need, not necessarily the club you want. After a few shots, they’re pretty good at assessing your game and understanding the best way to help you have a great round. Great businesses are the same – they’re proactive. They know their customers and have what they want before they ask for it.

Finally, the best caddies are fun people. They’re great to talk with, generally have a decent joke or two to tell, and help you to focus on your task at hand. They make it easy to have the best experience possible. Isn’t that exactly what great businesses do as well?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Let Me Call You Back

One thing I deal with constantly these days is getting people on the telephone. I will often make 20 calls in an hour or two and only get a few people – all of whom have requested that someone call them – to answer the phone. Sometimes when I reach them they’re at work or driving and they ask if they can call me back. They hardly ever do, even when we set up a specific time. They don’t call me so I’ll call them at the appointed hour. They rarely answer.

It sounds awful, right? They claim to want information about new opportunities yet they won’t answer when opportunity comes knocking. My question to you concerns your business doing the same thing. No, not having customers hang up on you, but the opposite. Are you hanging up on them?

When was the last time you looked at your inbound customer service metrics? Do you even have such things? Research shows that consumers value efficient service and knowledgeable staff when they call a business. They find being kept on hold, rude service, and automated phone menus frustrating. You can measure on-hold time and you can test the customer service reps to be sure they’re knowledgeable and personable.  You can check when call volume peaks and schedule more reps during that time.

One thing I’ve come to like quite a bit is the “let me call you back” option when there is going to be an on-hold time of more than a few minutes. You know what I mean – “press 5 to get a call back when there is an available representative or press 6 to schedule a time to be called back.” That’s customer-friendly and shows them that you respect their time and have empathy for their problem. When I hear “your call is important to us,” I always think “if it’s so damn important, why aren’t you answering?” Calling back shows it really is important.

It’s the little things we do in business that say a lot about how we run our firms. What messages are you sending? Are they the kind that will get customers to return?

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The Buffet Bill

Happy Foodie Friday and a Happy Easter and a Zissen Pesach to those of you who celebrate one or the other (or both!). I spent much of this week in Las Vegas, one of this country’s great food cities. I know – how can I say that about a town that’s built pretty much just to separate you from your money? Well, you gotta eat in between all of that spending and it seems as if every big name chef has a place in Vegas. There is also an awful lot of great local places too.

While the food is very good at most places in town, it’s pretty expensive. Obviously, the high-end, big-name chef places are pricey but even some of the small local joints I patronized ended up costing quite a bit of change. While I realize that the prices I pay in my little North Carolina town aren’t “big city”, I’m quite used to NYC pricing since that’s what I paid my entire life. The prices in Vegas are beyond that when you total up all of the ala carte items you order.

One thing that’s a real tradition is the Vegas buffet. Every hotel has one and there are many stand-alone buffets in town as well. They’re not inexpensive either. The one at my hotel was $31 including the tip. Yes, even bottomless mimosas! As I was running through the massive food service area (for the third time), I realized that I’m very much a buffet guy and I think most consumers are too.

What I mean by that is that we seem to be living in an age where everything is ala carte. Your airline ticket may be your protein, but you might want some veggies (an assigned seat), a salad (a checked bag), and a starch (fuel surcharges, booking fees, etc.) which will make up the real cost of your meal.  Sure, your hotel room is $139/night, but the “resort fees” and fees for things like having a safe in your room or built-in tips for the housekeeper can inflate your bill quite a bit.

Everyone complains about what most ticket services tack on to the base price of a concert ticket. Look at your cable or telephone bill and I’m sure you can find quite a bit of dough you’re being charged that takes your monthly tab beyond the advertised price that drew you in as a customer in the first place. I’m a buffet-pricing guy. Tell me the entire price upfront and let me decide. Sure, the lower price might get me in the door once, but the anger I feel when I see the final bill will assure that I won’t be back.

You might be fine with ala carte pricing. In theory, I am too because why pay for something you won’t use? The problem is that you really don’t have the option. When an airline charges you for carry-on bags or for checked bags, there is no “option” unless it’s a day trip without luggage. You’re paying the fee. why not include it in the price?

Enjoy your buffet this weekend!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Great Skills

I spent some time last week speaking with a fellow who is trying to change his life. I meet a lot of those folks in my franchise consulting role. They’re tired of working for someone else and want to invest what they’ve saved in creating a new, better life for themselves and their families.

One thing we talk about early on in the process is the skill set the candidate is bringing with them. Have they managed people? Do they like selling? Do they know about technology? It’s not that any skill set is better or worse. It’s simply about identifying what they bring beyond financial resources as we examine the hundreds of possibilities out there.

The fellow I spoke with last week works in auto repair. He’s a “body man.” Unfortunately, many of the auto body repair franchises are well beyond his financial abilities so we talked about some others. I also brought up a franchise that’s involved in drywall repair. He said he didn’t know anything about drywall and he didn’t have those skills. I reminded him that this, like most other franchises, offers a lot of training but putting that aside, I asked why repairing drywall is that much different from repairing sheet metal. He’s now considering the franchise but it raised a good point that we all need to remember.

Many of us focus on the trees and not on the forest. We think about learning a skill in a vacuum instead of the broader application that learning may have. Learning to code, for example, can teach project management, since you can’t perform either one well without a great plan and a flow chart of sorts.  It’s also a good reminder that learning the “broad” skills of communication, problem-solving, and teamwork have application across the board. That’s why so many of the business opportunities I deal with emphasize they want candidates with those skills and will train them on the specific skills needed to be successful.

Unlike Napoleon Dynamite, we all DO have skills and most of us have more of them than we think. What are yours?

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Fast Food Solutions

It’s Foodie Friday! Today I’d like us to contemplate the foods that make us hungry. No, I don’t mean the ones for which we have cravings. I mean food that can actually increase your hunger when you eat them.avoid fast food solutions

Have you ever wondered why bars put out salty snacks like popcorn or peanuts or pretzels? As it turns out, salt makes you thirsty and what better place to be when you’re thirsty than your favorite watering hole? Salt, according to some studies, is addictive, as is sugar and fat. The food industry has become very good at layering those things together to create products (I’m deliberately not saying “foods”) that play to our addictions, light up our dopamine centers, and cause us to engage in self-destructive behaviors. When you hear the old Lay’s slogan about “bet you can’t just eat just one,” you might try to think about what the drug pusher says as they give away their free samples to people: “don’t worry – you’ll be back.”

The screed today isn’t meant to be a lecture on improving our eating habits. Instead, there is a business point here. We don’t eat salty snacks or sugary foods or processed foods or even foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners (they made you hungry too) to get fat. We eat them to solve an immediate need – hunger. But there is any number of other options that can fill that need without triggering the problems that come from really unhealthy foods.

It’s the same in business. We often take the easiest or most available or cheapest solution to solve an immediate need. Unfortunately, those “fast food” solutions only solve the problem in the near term and can often cause long-term damage. Just as with food, we need to be aware of our cravings and think before we eat. We need to consider all of the options, not just the “fast food” ways out. We need to choose more wisely, not just more expeditiously.

Make sense?

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Circular Firing Squads

One thing that used to amaze me without fail was when a room full of intelligent people would form a circular firing squad and shoot away. OK, so it’s not literally true, but you know what I mean and you’ve probably been in one or more of these situations yourself.

Photo by Holger Link

It happens when someone surfaces an idea or an argument that deviates from the conventional wisdom or thinking on an issue. Instead of evaluating the new thinking on its merits, people start taking potshots at one another. They should be united against a common “enemy” – the competition, for example, or a big problem. Instead, they attack one another.

I’m not really sure how one combats this. I always used to raise ideas along with all of the flaws inherent in what I was espousing. By showing that I understood the weaknesses in my thinking I was also showing that I could be balanced and not delusional enough to think that every idea I had was gold. What I was hoping for was for others to focus on the good parts of my thinking instead of spending time trying to surface the problems because I had already done that.

Whenever possible, I’d draw pictures of some sort – Venn diagrams, flow charts, whatever – because I believe that pictures are more easily understood, even those drawn by a person with zero artistic ability (me). The goal was always to get the team standing back to back, rifles pointed out at the problem and away from pointing inward at one another.

Creating an environment where new ideas flourish is one of the biggest management challenges. Keeping the team focused on the big goals and not on taking pot shots at one another to further their personal goals is another one. What’s above are some of the ways I do that. How do you do that?

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Hitting Curves

My friend posted a picture of his father on social media the other day. Outside of my own father, he was probably the most influential male in my life as I was growing up in many ways. Aside from wondering why he’s aged and I haven’t as I saw the photo (that’s a joke, kids), it made me recall one thing that he did to teach my friend and me to be better baseball players: hitting curveballs.

My friend’s dad was no ordinary dad when it came to imparting that little piece of baseball knowledge either. He had tried out with the Yankees and the family lore is that had my friend’s mom not told him that she would walk on the marriage, he would have been signed and playing in Yankee Stadium. Obviously, when this guy tells you he’s going to teach you about curveballs, you listen.

For those of you that have never stood in against a pitcher with a lively curve, the pitch starts by heading at your head and breaks down and away from you. That’s what my friend’s father threw at us – pitches that started at our heads and broke in over the plate. Of course, once he felt we were getting complacent about standing in against the curve, he’d toss the odd pitch right at our heads to teach us to look for the rotation of the ball and to duck if it wasn’t going to curve. A fastball at your skull gets you focused very quickly!

Almost every player who makes the majors can hit fastballs. It’s the ones who can hit breaking pitches – sliders and curveballs – who become stars. It’s true in business as well. When things are going along according to plan and not diverging from the track they’re on, things are relatively easy to manage. Even if something appears dangerous (like a fastball heading for your ear) it’s relatively easy to get out of the way if you can see where things are heading.

Learning to hit business curveballs is something that you need to do if you’re going to elevate your game. You need to prepare for them by planning and recognizing that they’re going to show up from time to time. Your team needs to be ready, and you need to think about who can handle curveballs as you’re assembling that team.  People who are regimented and can’t deal with it when events start tracking differently are probably not your priority hires.

Mostly, you need to expect things to go wrong. After bailing out and hitting the dirt a couple of times, I realized that some attempted curveballs don’t break even when the rotation makes it look like they’re trying. It’s better to have to wash your uniform than to repair your skull. Your team needs to recognize that bailing out might be the smartest option when things begin to go awry. Watch out for those curves, learn to hit them out of the park, and your team can’t be beaten. Right?

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Filed under Consulting, Growing up, Thinking Aloud