Focusing on Patient Needs

I have been dealing with arthritis in my foot for about a year now. On the recommendation of an acquaintance, I made an appointment to see a physical therapist who apparently works wonders.

As I traveled several miles and nearly an hour to see him, I kept hoping that he lived up to his billing. The office is not in the most attractive location. In fact, many of the businesses around him are closed. And it feels almost like the middle of nowhere.

When I walked in 20 minutes late, the person greeting me was intensely and genuinely kind. I filled out my requisite paperwork and sat for a few minutes until it was my turn.

After a 10-minute consultation with the therapist, he offered his thoughts for what would get me back running. And he suggested two other PTs closer to where I work so that my rehab would be far more convenient. When it was time to go, I tried to pay, but he wanted to see what the insurance company said first. If there was any amount for which I would be responsible, he would just send a bill or call. Later that same day, the call came, and I gladly paid the amount needed.

A few days later, the receipt came in the mail folded in a personal note thanking me for coming in and wishing me well on my rehabilitation.

He truly just wanted me to get better. In the process, he created another raving fan who will recommend him in a heartbeat. Why? Because the focus was on what I needed, not his sale. It makes a difference.

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The Window Can Be Dangerous

People want to know. Maybe not everything, but most things. There is still some bliss associated with ignorance, particularly for those messier details. So, companies are putting more of themselves “in the window”, showing the world how they function and what they actually do.

When you put yourself there, honesty and openness rule the day. With that honesty, innocent mistakes can be forgiven. Companies that insist on the constant spin that everything is perfect need only one thread to see it all unravel. Simply look to the individuals and organizations that quickly find themselves cowering in disgrace.

At the same time, having that type of transparency, especially for a company that has been around for a while, requires that you have your act together. Let me offer a personal example.

Traveling home from a business trip last week, I stopped at a familiar vendor (they have stores across the country with a good reputation) to grab a sandwich for the flight. I placed my order and could watch the staff just to the side making the sandwiches and wraps. The line of people waiting for their food grew, yet the workers showed absolutely no sense of urgency. They also looked as though they didn’t really know how to make what they were selling. They ran out of most types of bread, even though that is their specialty. And they fulfilled the orders out of sequence.

All of this is happening before 6 PM on a Friday in one of the country’s busiest airports.

There were other problems as well: inconsistency in calling out the finished order to patrons; other staff not stepping in to help; a manager trying to decide with another manager which one would stay and which would go to the other location in the terminal. And yes, everything took place in plain sight.

Take a lesson. Get your processes and procedures in place. Train your staff to be customer-centric. Create a sense of urgency in fulfilling customer needs. Then, put it in the window for all to see.

Oh, and if you’re worried about your competitors stealing your ideas, fear not. Out-execute them, and you’ll stay ahead of the game.

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Losing that Loving Feeling

When an organization really connects with people, something special happens. A bond forms. A mutual respect and admiration drives the relationship. The organization is driven by its passion to deliver its product and exceed all expectations.

It does it so well, people talk. And their friends make a connection. And they talk. And their friends connect. And it continues.

The organization grows and expands. Then they find themselves facing a difficult choice: seek to appeal to an even broader audience and reap tremendous rewards or stay true to your roots and forgo the potentially big payoff.

Starbucks chose the former. Eight years ago, I wrote a case study advocating for free Wi-Fi in their shops and a focus on a music partnership. They did some of it (my case study was not the reason why) as well as several other things that diluted who they were. They even went so far as to print out customers’ orders on stickers and put them on the cup where the baristas’ scribbles are supposed to go. That was the true sign that the end was near.

The news surrounding the number of pending store closures and associated layoffs, then, comes as no surprise. They broke their connection to their core audience. And while they had a good run, they lost track of who they were and are paying for those sins.

When faced with the opportunity to grow and expand, look closely at what that will do to your identity. Does it fall in line with who you are? Is it the natural evolution of your business? Or is it an attempt at the quick score? Are you diluting your brand and what it stands for?

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Recanting a Rant

Yesterday, I started to rant about the hoops I was jumping through to cancel an account. I am going to say that, on the surface, I was getting ahead of myself. Any company has a right…no, a duty…to know why a customer wants to leave. The best way to do that is to offer various avenues for the customer to offer feedback. Let them tell you via phone, e-mail, online response form, whatever makes them happy. Remember it is all about them.

So, getting back to my original rant, I called the company, as they required, to cancel my account. As I predicted, they tried to make me an offer to stay. Here’s the thing. The offer was a special deal for people that don’t really use the service that much. And it’s not offered as an option on their website. In other words, it’s an act of desperation to keep a customer on a continuity program.

When a customer wants to leave because they don’t see the value in your service, you either have to show them the actual value you are providing (which they didn’t) or make some other real change. But if the customer has to work harder than they deem necessary, there won’t be any value to them, regardless of what you do.

The customer comes first. And you have to meet his needs on his terms. Companies that are too strict in their one-sided agreements (like credit card companies and mobile phone providers) are going to see a high level of churn because the customer feels he is being screwed. That’s just the way it is. Treat the customer with respect and honor his wishes. If you wouldn’t put up with one of your policies, get rid of it. Chances are the people you serve won’t put up with it either.

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The Thing about Expectations

I’ve written before about expectations, especially managing them. But there is another side. For the greatest success, you must exceed whatever expectations exist.

Here’s the thing, once you meet, then exceed those expectations, you have now raised the bar. Created a new set of expectations. That you must now exceed.

It’s not very fair is it? But the point is to continuously improve. Because once you do it that one time, that’s it. You have to do it again. And again. And again. It is never-ending. As it should be.

Set the expectation. Manage it. Exceed it. Then start the process again. Keep moving up and improving.

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Walk the Talk

We’ve been interviewing a number of local PR agencies lately, and I have to say, for the most part, it has been a disappointing exercise. They talk and talk without truly understanding that this is the equivalent of a job interview, and we expect them to be at the top of their game. If someone is looking for a top-notch agency, have your act together and prove it. Let me give you some examples of what we’ve experienced:

  • “Our owners are heavily involved with all of our clients”—Really? They why aren’t they here? If you are going to talk about how involved the owners are, make sure they are there. And if that’s the case, they can tell us themselves.
  • “If you’re just looking for someone to write press releases, I can recommend some other people to do that”—Great! Who are they? Oh, you’re not going to actually tell me. Then don’t say it in the first place.
  • “We can throw somebody at [your project]”—I hope they don’t get hurt in the process. We are looking to hire an agency to support us, not writer’s pool looking to be hurled at the project du jour.
  • “We call you weekly or bi-weekly to give you updates and send you a monthly activity report, because we’ll get in trouble with the owners if we don’t”—Oh, I see. Not because it’s the right thing to do.
  • “We do media relations training”—Then why are you incapable of answering a basic question without stumbling through it and looking to someone else for help. If you train in media relations, pretend you are on the podium and in front of a camera.
  • “PRSA says you can measure ROI by taking the column inches in the publication (or the number of minutes on television), applying the equivalent ad value, and multiplying by three”—Um, no. That is your return on investment not mine. PRSA is an admirable association, but that is not a measurement of a client’s ROI. I measure my ROI by the actual benefit I receive from the PR activity—sales, number of new clients, registrations. If your activity cannot be associated with something truly measurable for the client, you cannot claim ROI. In other words, if their business doesn’t grow, you didn’t offer them a return. And that is OK, if growing the business isn’t an objective.
  • “Other agencies do…(whatever)”—I don’t care what other agencies do. I want to know what you do. I’m talking to other agencies, so I’ll judge for myself what they do. I don’t want to know what you have to say about other agencies unless you are speaking specifically about what a competitor does well that you admire or you are giving me a reason that you left that particular agency that is significantly different at your new one. Even then, be careful what you say.
  • “We told our client to do [this particular newsworthy event]”—We heard this from two different agencies. About the exact same thing. Yep, one was taking credit for the other’s work. I don’t know who was who. At that point, it didn’t matter, since both had several of the problems already mentioned.

Again, when you are pitching potential clients, it is a job interview. You have to be spot on your game. If your heart isn’t in it, if this isn’t the most important thing you are doing at that moment, don’t even bother to show up. It will be less embarrassing that way.

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Managing Expectations

On Friday, I wrote about closing loops on everything—questions, requests, complaints, whatever. One thing that will make closing those loops much easier is by properly managing expectations.

This concept is one of the most important business lessons I have learned. It truly is a 360˚ method of management, because it goes up, down and sideways. And managing expectations works because it keeps people on the same page, it gives everyone a basis for assessment and it gets things done.

Here’s what I mean. Your boss tasks you with a project. Keeping him informed of where you are, what obstacles you face and why you will or will not meet the deadline is the only way to ensure you’ll get through it. Without managing his expectations, the first hiccup you hit looks like incompetence.

Look at it from the other side. Suppose you task one of your employees with a project. If you are telling them what your expectations are of them, there is no telling what you will get or when it will be done. Manage it from the beginning and you’ll get a better outcome.

It also works with colleagues. If your working on a project together, keeping your team informed about your particular piece allows them to manage their portion better. And there are far fewer surprises.

Of course, managing someone’s expectations is useless if you aren’t delivering.

What about your customers? How well are you managing their expectations of what you say you are going to deliver? How well are you meeting those expectations?

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