Category Archives: Consulting

Don’t Waste My Time

I wasn’t going to write this week until Foodie Friday but I got aggravated and this seems to be one of my saner outlets to express my frustrations. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I moved into a new home last February. In the new home, since it is newly constructed, are brand-new appliances. So far, they’ve been wonderful.

I especially like the ice-maker feature built into the fridge. That’s why, when it wouldn’t dispense ice last evening, I was horrified to find that the ice maker seems to have ingested itself. Somehow the little plastic tray that forms the ice and dumps it into the bin got tangled in the worm screw that pushes the ice to the dispenser. To paraphrase the Soup Nazi, no ice for me.

This morning I called the folks at Sears bright and early (7:30 eastern) to get a repair person out here and this is where the business angle comes in. If you’ve been following Sears at all in the business press (or even in this space), you know that they are in all kinds of financial trouble. Without getting into why that is, it’s safe to say that the last thing they want to do at this point is to alienate a customer. You with me so far?

Back to the phone call. Obviously, the fridge is still under warranty – it’s not even a year old. I called the number on their website that gets you to service for products under warranty and was greeted by an AI bot. I’m not a fan of these things – I think they aren’t that great yet and I’ve been frustrated more than once by a bot that couldn’t get what it was I wanted. Without a lot of gory details, I got this one to send me to a human. Except the humans weren’t in yet. “Please call back during business hours.” I spent 4 minutes getting to that point. They didn’t even bother to say what “business hours” were and in which time zone.

Let’s not alienate a customer, right? What would I have done differently? First, maybe they shouldn’t answer the phone with anything other than “our business hours are…” and ask you to call back. Even better – ask for my phone number so you can call me back when you get in. Don’t tie me up for several minutes and waste my time.

Sears isn’t the only company I’ve had a negative experience today. Two members of my family ordered new phones from ATT. Neither wanted insurance, told the salesperson so, and yet both were going to be billed $8.99/month without their permission. I know only because I got the “welcome to your new insurance” email since I’m the main account holder. That means more time out of my day to fix a problem that neither I nor my family members made.

If you run a business, especially a business that’s in financial distress or a business that is in an insanely competitive area, spend more time hugging your customers. Find ways to reduce their pain. Don’t waste their time or connive ways to take their money. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

What A Waste

In addition to it being Foodie Friday, it’s also trash day. Every Thursday night I wheel the trash and recycling bins out to the curb to await their pick-up Friday morning. That also means that each Thursday I go through the fridge and toss any food that has reached its expiration date or any leftovers that didn’t manage to get consumed after they were cooked sometime in the previous 5 days. In all candor, it’s one of the more frustrating things for me since I absolutely HATE to waste food.

Yes, I was of the generation who had parents that reminded us that children were starving in Europe (which they actually were as the continent rebuilt after WWII) and elsewhere but I don’t think that’s really what bothers me. It’s also not the feeling like I’m tossing cash money into the trash bin although that in effect is exactly what I’m doing. I just don’t like to waste anything. That’s one of the many reasons I’ve always admired Jacques Pepin who would always demonstrate how to make use of every scrap of food on his cooking shows.

This from a Food52 piece:

The average American ends up throwing away a full 103 pounds of spoiled food each year, according to a recent survey of 2,000 people conducted by OnePoll for Bosch home appliances. That works out to an average of 4 items a week, or the weekly equivalent of $53.81. All told, per the survey results, the average American adult will waste 6,180 pounds of food in their lifetime.

Food isn’t the only area where we waste perfectly good things either. Plastic bags are a plague, for example. I’m surprised stores still offer them or don’t hand out reusable bags. My supermarket sells big reusable bags at cost and will replace them for free if they rip. Trader Joe’s does something similar. It’s good for the customer, good for the environment, and good for the business since they don’t have to purchase as many single-use bags.

There is a lot of waste in business, of course, and I don’t just mean single-use bags. We produce reports that no one reads just because the report has always been produced. We don’t look at the analytics of what we’re doing on the web and in social media to understand if the bang is commiserated with the buck – the time and effort – we spend making those platforms hum.  We waste time in endless group email chains to solve a problem when one brief meeting would serve to fix the whole thing.

Be waste averse. Not just in your fridge but in your office as well. Your wallet and your CFO will thank you!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Don’t Surprise Me

You just can’t be too careful these days, can you? It seems that we hear every day about another data breach involving stolen credit card numbers or passwords or anything from your search history to your online shopping list. If you don’t pay much attention to your data security you are definitely, as my Dad used to say, cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

Since I try to make it a habit to practice what I preach, I’m quite careful about security. I use a password manager and I don’t generally store credit card numbers online, preferring to use that password manager to fill in the number as needed. It was quite disturbing, therefore, when my phone buzzed like a tornado was imminent yesterday. It was American Express notifying me of what they thought might be a fraudulent charge at the Microsoft online store. An email arrived simultaneously, telling me about the charge and asking me to click if I had knowledge of it. I didn’t and told them so, which immediately canceled my Amex card (and to their credit, Amex immediately generated a new number and I’ll have a new card today – why I’ve been a member since 1979).

Imagine my surprise this morning when I got an email from Microsoft telling me they “tried to charge your Xbox Live Gold subscription on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, but the charge of $60.59 to American Express was unsuccessful.” Well, no kidding. I told Amex not to pay it because I didn’t know that it was the renewal of something I very much did want to renew. Maybe if Microsoft gave me a little advance notice, which is what many other companies whose products I auto-renew to a credit card do, I wouldn’t have clicked the button that will now result in my having to change credit card numbers on several other things – my cell phone bill, two newspaper subscriptions and several magazines, and a streaming service among them. Every one of them notifies me before charging my card so that I’m expecting the charge. I guess Microsoft hasn’t figured out that when it comes to charges on a credit card people do NOT like to be surprised.

Had Microsoft put on their customer-focused thinking caps, they would have recognized that. Instead, I’m sure someone thought “let’s not give them the chance to cancel and go ahead and charge the auto-renew without telling them ahead of time.” That’s bad customer communication and bad strategy. By keeping the customer’s needs and perspective front and center, we won’t make mistakes like this. Agreed?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Symptoms, Diseases, And The Long Term

We’re into that time of the year when corporations are reporting their results for the last quarter. I tend to look at any single quarter’s results as a data point and since I’m a believer in watching things through the lens of the long-term, I mostly ignore anything strongly negative or positive unless it’s part of a long-term trend.

I’m sure it’s not a shock to any of you that the cable TV provider business is in a downward trend. I’ve written about this before and you might be one of the millions of folks who have cut their cable cord and gone pure streaming or supplement your streaming with an HD antenna to get your local TV over the air (everything old is new again!). Charter Communications is one of those cable TV providers who is watching their user base deteriorate. This last quarter, the company’s video customers sank by 150,000 subscribers, now totaling 15.8 million. At the same time, their Internet customers grew 221,000 to a total of 24.2 million, which also mirrors what’s going on elsewhere and the aforementioned trends. At the same time, these distributors are getting hit with increased costs for programming – what the cable networks charge the delivery guys to carry their programming (and in theory, the availability of which is why people pay for cable in the first place).

What the CEO said in making the results announcement, however, doesn’t mirror other CEO’s thinking and that’s what I want to highlight today:

Asked why the company doesn’t raise prices to cover increased programming costs, CEO Tom Rutledge said, “If you do a 10% programming price increase and lose 10% of your customers, you don’t really get anywhere and yet you’ve alienated a lot of people. In fact, that’s actually happening and has been happening. I expect continuous fighting for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Rutledge gets it.  He is not confusing a symptom (customer loss amid increasing costs) with the disease (a rapidly changing business model reflecting consumer resentment at the high monthly out of pocket costs). Rasing prices would, in my opinion, accelerate the negative trend. It would stabilize earnings and make investors happy in the short term, but it’s not sustainable and would ultimately result in disaster.

More of us in business need to think that way. What’s a symptom and what’s the disease it reflects? What’s the right play for the long term even if it hurts in the short term? Does that make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

Why Doesn’t Everything Have An FDD?

Have you ever heard of a Franchise Disclosure Document? I hadn’t either until I became involved in matching people up with franchise opportunities. You can read about what the FDD entails here but in a nutshell, it’s meant to be a document that provides enough information to someone thinking about investing in a franchise so that that person can make an educated decision about the investment. It’s sort of like a prospectus you would receive before you invested in a mutual fund or a stock.

If you’re someone who is looking at franchises, putting the FDD’s of a couple of brands in which you’re interested side by side can be enlightening. You will see the differences in the ongoing fees you’re going to be paying as well as the estimated start-up costs you’ll incur. You can look at how many franchisees have joined the system over the years and where they’re located. You can see if any have left the system as well as if there are any bankruptcies or legal actions. You’ll see any differences in how they define the territory to which you’re getting exclusive rights (and if the rights you’re getting are, in fact, exclusive). In short, you’re being given a document that provides the bulk of the information you would probably have to spend weeks researching on your own if you could even find it.  In fact, the FDD even gives you a list of current franchisee so you can “validate” the franchise by calling them and asking them to tell you even more information.

My first thought when I read my first FDD was “wouldn’t it be nice if EVERYTHING had an FDD?” I mean, who wouldn’t want to be handed this kind of information by law? Not only that, once you get the FDD there is a mandatory waiting period before the franchisor can take your money, even if you’re ready to sign up on the spot. Wouldn’t THAT be nice when you’re being pressured into making a quick decision about a big purchase such as a car or a house?

Come to think of it, if you’ve ever bought a car or a house, have you remotely thought that you had complete information? Maybe you got a mechanic or a building inspector to look at them but wouldn’t it be great to have an FDD?

That’s something any business should keep in mind. While we might not want to make up a 250+ page document, we should strive to disclose as much important information as we can throughout the decision-making process to potential customers and partners. Not only does it make them feel more secure in their decision to sign up with you but it also prevents a lot of surprises down the road. Just because we’re not legally obligated to provide something that’s the equivalent of an FDD doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, don’t you think?

And if you’re ready to change your life and look at a new opportunity, click here and I’ll help you make that happen. With an FDD too!

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Filed under Consulting, Franchises, Thinking Aloud

Foreign Flavors

This Foodie Friday, let’s think about the Black Cheese donut. Yes, there is such a thing although unless you live in Jakarta you’ve probably not sampled one. It’s a donut that’s glazed in chocolate icing and then rolled in parmesan cheese. No, I’m not making this up – you can find them at Dunkin’ outlets in Indonesia.

Then there is the Thai snack food of BBQ-flavored fish. They’re bite-sized – yum! You can buy a creamed corn pie (think apple pie but creamed corn) at KFC outlets in Japan or haggis-flavored potato chips in Scotland. If you want a brief around the world tour of some odd food products that will probably seem strange to those of us with American palates, click here and scroll through 46 of them.

The thing is that they’re not odd, not to the people in the areas where they’re made and distributed. As with most things, if there wasn’t demand the product wouldn’t continue to exist. The fact that they got made in the first place is a tribute to anyone who was involved in the process but for whom the product has no appeal. Ignoring our own prejudices is something that helps us succeed in business. Most of us aren’t the typical consumer of our product and, therefore, must keep an open mind where research or other data tells us that there is a market opportunity.

You might not need to be reminded that not everyone sees the world in the same way. One glance at the evening news or even your own social media stream will confirm that for you. Not everyone will love a Black Cheese donut but apparently, enough people do to justify their continued presence on Dunkin’s shelves. We need to try some flavors that are foreign and, even if we don’t like them, remind ourselves that others do.  Crab flavored Pringles might not be your thing. Maybe you prefer the Iberian ham chips. I had my first ketchup flavored chips when I was in Canada. They seemed like a good idea – ketchup goes on french fries which are potatoes, so… Well, they weren’t, but I don’t think any less of our Canadian brethren for making them popular.

Want to keep your business open? Keep your mind open as well. The flavor might only be foreign to you!

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Filed under Consulting, food

The Fundamentals

I was watching the College World Series the other night. My Wolverines are in the final with a chance to win a very surprising national championship (they weren’t supposed to get this far). Go Blue!

Many of the articles attributed their success to great pitching and that’s something whose importance you can never overstate in my opinion. However, there is one other factor I noticed in watching this team that’s applicable to any business. This team has been well-coached in the fundamentals. Let me explain.

Bunting is a lost art in baseball. It’s attempted in many of the major league games I watch and is rarely executed perfectly. Maybe I’m yearning for the age when Phil Rizzuto would school the Yankee teams on bunting (he was among the best ever at it) but I’ve now seen Michigan lay down several perfect bunts on the correct side of the plate based on the situation and the defense. That’s knowing and practicing the fundamentals.

They run the bases well and don’t make bad decisions. Sure, a coach is involved in the decision, but if you don’t hit the bases in stride and run with your head up you’ll miss the “stop/go” signal. They are not too anxious at the plate, often running the pitcher deep into the count. Over time, that has an impact and the more pitches you see, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get one you like. Again, these are fundamentals.

The same holds true in your business. How well schooled is your staff – or are you – in the fundamentals of your operation? Does everyone understand how you are creating value for your customers and your enterprise? Since, as Eisenhower said, the plan may be useless but planning is essential, is everyone involved in that fundamental process? You probably use a lot of industry-specific terms in your office. Does everyone fully understand them and speak your language fluently?

As managers, our job is to make sure that the team has the skills to perform and that skill almost always relies on some fundamentals. Teach them, practice them, and make sure that they’re executed perfectly every time. Like this Michigan team, you’re probably going to overperform and get unexpectedly great results. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud