Monday, November 27, 2006

Is Service Dead?

Tis the season! As we endure the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, nerves are a bit more frayed, wait times a little longer and prime parking spots a little more difficult to find. Just before the initial kick-off of the holiday season, several encounters made me question whether service, or I should say service with a smile is dead.

I went to a well known restaurant chain for a take-out order (which I had called in). I walked in and there was no hostess at the podium so I stood in line to pay for my order. After waiting patiently for 15 minutes, I was told by the manager to step aside because he was busy and would have to check to see if my order was ready. In fact if he had taken three steps to the food prep area he would have witnessed my order being thrown into bags at that very moment.

You see I had been watching the harried waitresses pulling tags and fulfilling orders. I watched as one waitress went from cashier to the food area (with no hand washing in between). I watched her ask about my order and then take the styrofoam container with my slice of pumpkin pie (I know what you're thinking, but we're all entitled to the occasional indulgence and I do skip the crust!) and shove it on top of a whole pie and slam the glass shut crushing the container.

Yet, I stepped aside as he took payment from the dine in customers. I did so because I was curious to see how he would handle the situation. I finally got my order. I was never asked if I needed silverware or condiments, never asked if there was anything else (missed opportunity for an upsell) nor did I ever receive a smile or the customary "come again." Thank you, I won't!

Sadly, this has all too often been my customer experience. Business owners, small and large need to realize that a focus on customer experience will result in greater profits. This is beyond service with a smile but service with a purpose. Without customers, a business will die. So it is hard to understand why more companies do not focus on the centerpiece of their very livelihood.

Customers can help you to correct ineffiencies in your business, fuel your product/service development and grow your business. When a business realizes the true value of its customer, it will soar. I hope that during this holiday season you experience purpose driven service with a smile!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Price versus Quality

Writing for a living can be a tough and often thankless job, particularly for writers who work in the commercial space. I am fortunate to be doing what I love for a living. I take as much pride in the quality of my work and professionalism as I did when I worked in Corporate America. However, there are those in the business world who seem to have a disregard for the commercial writing profession.

As a commercial writer I have to find jobs. No fancy bylines or articles for me. I have to spend a portion of my week on business development. In the past year that I’ve been in business, I have developed regular clients but as all business owners know you can never stop marketing. So, I use several of the freelance boards to bid on writing assignments. It’s a great way to reach a target market but every group has its rotten apples. As I sifted through project listings today, I ran across what sounded like an awesome creative writing project until I read the post. The client was looking for talented, creative, dependable, flawless writers with excellent command of the English language. This client was tired of posting projects only to work with writers who have disappointed in some way. The client was unwilling to pay any up front deposit because he’d been burned in the past. The post was one of the longest I’d ever seen with many requirements. I was interested until the end “will only buy in bulk, 50 articles, 1 per day, will pay no more than $1 per article.”

If the article takes 2 hours to research and write, you are making $0.50 an hour. At 2 hours per article, you are giving this client a little more than 2 weeks of your time for a whopping $100.00. The client complained about quality but the old adage “you get what you pay for” does apply here. This client will get lots of bids but at that price will not find quality writers.

It leaves me wondering, if we have reached the point that we are so price driven that quality no longer matters. For my sake and that of other service professionals I hope that time will prove me wrong.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Off to the Naughty Mat!

I am an avid fan of track and field, among other sports. As a runner though, I particularly enjoy watching athletes race at speeds I will never, ever reach. So as a fan, the news of doping allegations against Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones really troubled me. These allegations came just as I was digesting the Floyd Lndis scandal. Unfortunately for sports fans, there has been no shortage of bad boy (or girl) behavior from the sports world. In recent weeks, rather than headlines about home runs, touchdowns and birdies, we have been treated to items about weapons charges, child molestation, rehab and manager with bloodied noses. Sadly the sports section is beginning to resemble the crime beat.

I realize that the world itself has become a different place, so it is inevitable that all facets of society will be impacted, but must it be that way. What message are we sending to our children? We encourage our young people to dream big and work hard so that they can achieve greatness and inspire others. We teach them that success and good citzenship are intertwined. Yet, public figures seem to spit in the face of this logic.

JonBenet Ramsay's alleged murderer has received rock star media attention. Mel Gibson drives drunk and denigrates the Jews and receives a publicity blitz bigger than any of his film openings. Pitchers hit their manager in the nose and it hits the front page of the papers. In this country, it would appear, in spite of what we teach, bad behavior is rewarded.

It is easy to blame the media and they certainly have some responsibility, but we must share the blame. We continue to watch, read, listen and comment on bad news items. Certainly, the public is deserving to be made aware of many of these situations, but must we be bombarded with them daily? I think we would all benefit from a little less of the bad and a little more of the good. Instead of hearing about every nuance of a murderer's life, why not treat the public to stories of hope, survival and good behavior? If we shift the balance, even a little, I believe that we and our children will benefit in the end.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Growth and Renewal

One of my favorite places to run is a local park. It's only four miles from my home. I can run there and back on the days I need longer miles. As you drive through residential streets and turn into the entrance, it looks like an average park. There are benches, playsets, harried parents and children laughing. However, as you pass the play equipment you walk over a bridge and enter an oasis of serenity. The trees loom over the path creating a quiet, forest setting. There are ponds and streams that wrap around wooded trails each leading to a new adventure.

It is here in what I fondly call my "happy place" that I do many of my long distance runs. I also come when I am pondering, procrastinating or otherwise in need of a diversion or pick me up. This morning, I was here for the pure simple joy of running in the place I love. The first 6 miles passed in silent thought. I mulled over new business ideas, thought of stories in progress and examined areas of life and business that I want to improve. I was beginning mile 7 when a leaf fell in my pathway. It was so quiet that the gentle sound broke through my thoughts. As my running shoes crunched over the leaf, I looked up at the tree. It was so tall I had to strain my neck to see the upper branches. There were mature leaves and new leaves sprouting from its sturdy limbs. I glanced over at the pond and saw a large branch floating along the surface.

I kept running but I thought of that tree and how much it resembles our lives. Each year that goes by, our base grows stronger and although we are aging, we never stop growing. Like the tree our lives have seasons. We have our share of the barren winter months. A time when we are quiet and still as we await the new season. We also have our spring, when hope is renewed as God waters the seeds that have been planted so that they will grow. We have our summer, when new gifts spring forth and enjoy the slower rhythm and time of play. Finally, we too have our autumn, when once again the dead places in our lives fall away so there is room for new growth. Each season has a purpose in our lives, although not all are enjoyable. We need the different seasons to reach our full potential, just like the trees.

There are times in our lives when we shed more than leaves, but we lose an entire branch. We can lose a larger branch during a time of intense challenge or trauma. We can lose a branch because it has been broken by someone who did not exercise the right amount of care. We may even lose a branch due to aging, we simply cannot support the weight of it anymore. Yet, the branch does not bring down the tree.

I finished up 17 miles and I felt physically and spiritually stronger. I realized that God gives us the ability to weather all of the seasons are life. Because of Him, we can grow and flourish and one days our branches will also touch the sky.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Dad Dot Com

My 76 year old father has developed a sudden fascination with the net, not in using it mind you but in having others use it for him. My Dad does not own a computer, and seems to have no interest in acquiring one but over the past several weeks he has gone out of his way to ensure that all of his transactions are handled via the net. Last week he drove 15 miles to my niece's house to have her send an email on his behalf. Why didn't he just pick up the phone to ask my niece to send the email? It's a mystery to us all and we have learned not to ask too many questions of a 76 year old man! A few days later, he called me and asked me to RSVP to a wedding via email. Of course it took three phone calls for him to decipher and tell me the email address (aha, perhaps that explains the 15 mile drive!) but we were finally able to get it done. I have no idea why he didn't check the little box and drop it in the mail, or even call for pete's sake. He just seemed mighty determined to use the technology that the bride and groom had offered! Today, I get a call from my Dad asking if I was really, really busy. Uh, I write for a living Dad, am I ever too busy for distractions? When I avoid a direct answer (I'm not letting on that I was procrastinating on an assignment by reading about Lindsay Lohan) and say calmly "What's up Dad? What do you need?" he answers, I need you to cancel an appointment. Well, yes this I can do! "Sure Dad, do you have the number?" Silly me, I still pick up the phone to make appointments. My Dad replies, its Henry Ford dot com. Uh, okay Dad. So I log on to the site and he recites his medical number. "Dad who is the appoinment with?" "It's with the hearing aid people." (Gee, thanks Dad I'm sure there's only one audiologist there). I input his name and birthdate and then ask "Dad who's your doctor?" Does he know? Of course not, but darnit he knows Henry Ford dot com! Okay, I type Audiology and hope that combined with his name and birthdate they'll figure it out. Surely, they'll figure it out when he doesn't show up! Okay, Dad it's done. He excitedly says "Thank you Baby!" tells me good-bye and is off to who knows what adventure. Can online shopping be far behind?