Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Measure twice and cut once

The title to this post is a phrase I’m sure most of you are familiar with. It’s a common phrase in carpentry and repair reminding you to take accurate measurements (measure twice) so that you get it right the first time (only cut once). An inaccurate measurement can cause a number of problems. If your measurement is off, and you don’t catch it, you may not be able to assemble the finished product or may have a structurally unsound finished product. Assuming that you catch the mistake, you will end up wasting time by having to re-cut the item. If you’re as lucky as me, you will have cut it too short and therefore have to start again with a new piece having rendered the first piece unusable, wasting time AND material.

The same concept also applies to customer service. If you ask enough of the right questions, you will ensure that the customer’s needs are met in one visit. My customers occasionally joke with me about how they were “assaulted” with questions when they walked in the door. Our associates are trained to greet every customer that walks in the door and ask them what we can help them find. I wouldn’t call that being assaulted, but they are definitely being questioned as they walk in the door. It’s merely a matter of recognizing the customer (our paycheck), guiding them directly to what they need (saving them time), and pairing them with an associate trained in whatever their project entails (1 on 1 customer service).

Asking enough of the right questions not only saves the customer from making unnecessary return trips, it also builds the customer’s confidence in your abilities. The questions you ask show the customer that you understand the project, have the necessary project/product knowledge, and can help them complete their project. Their confidence in you increases as does the likelihood that they will seek you out (and your business) for help in future projects. You have strengthened the relationship that you have with that customer and increased their loyalty to you and your business.

Not every project goes as planned. Even if you do ask all the right questions, there is always the possibility that another issue may come up as the project is being completed. I have joked with customers on their third or fourth trip to the store in one day that I was going to get them an associate name tag because they were spending so much time in the store. It’s a constant reminder to make sure I am doing everything I can, and asking all the questions I can, to make the most out of their visit.

Some of my customers may joke about being “assaulted” at the door with questions, but they can’t say they didn’t receive customer service. Asking all the pertinent questions gets them to the right aisle, for the right product (or service), and helps them complete their project. Asking those extra questions (measuring twice) ensured that they only had to make one trip (cut once). Until next time…

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Is the customer always right?

I have to admit that I haven’t spent much time in the past reading blogs and as I am now writing one of my own, I decided to check out a few of the other blogs to get a better idea of how others do it. I didn’t really learn anything new about blogging (so don’t watch for a drastic improvement) except that everyone writes them differently and with a wide range of quality. I did however stumble across one that I found particularly fun to read and it got me thinking about customer service.

This particular blog was more of a website that accepted stories about employee experiences with customers. It poked fun at how the customer is never right as opposed to the well known phrase “the customer is always right”. Please don’t get the wrong idea regarding my thoughts on customer service, but I did find most of the stories quite hilarious. Anyone who’s spent time in retail can tell you stories like the customer who tried to get warranty service on an item that has a competitor’s private label on it. Or, as I often run into, customers telling me that we’re closed on Sunday, even though we’ve had the same Sunday hours (we’re open) for over eight years now. The point is, everyone makes mistakes, or incorrect assumptions, every once in a while and nobody is always right.

The first mistake most people make is in taking the phrase “the customer is always right” literally. It may be a lot easier to say than “the customer always has a right to excellent customer service”, but the latter is more accurate. The customer is the one keeping you in business. Any (honest) businessman will tell you that the reason they are in business is to make money. I choose to make money by helping others, but in the end, I do that, as a profession, to make money. That money made comes from the customer. That is why (as often as possible) “what the customer wants, the customer should get”. It may not be exactly what they’re asking for or expecting, but it should at least get an answer or solution for their issue.

There are definitely limits on what you can reasonably do for a customer, but it’s not that hard to find the middle ground. Like the customer that comes in with the competitor’s item needing warranty service, I may not be able to fulfill their warranty, but more often than not, I am able to repair it or get them the parts they need. Great customer service should be a no-brainer as it brings you repeat business and often added business from word of mouth advertising. Going that extra step will pay off in dollars.

Stories about the “unreasonable” customers are plentiful and often fun to listen to, but there is a reason those types of customers are out there. Because they have had to deal with a complete lack of customer service in so many businesses, they choose to approach you with a fighter’s stance. There is also that misconception that “the customer is always right” means that they can get whatever they want. I always think back to the Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers”. I love the song, but never agreed with the premise. ALL prayers are answered….the answer just isn’t always “yes”. Until next time…

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nursing: Extreme Customer Service

I find myself evaluating the level of customer service everywhere I go. I guess it’s a side effect of training customer service for so long. It’s a lot like my inability to take an item off the shelf in the store and not front the item from behind…too many years in retail I guess. I had the opportunity this week to witness an example of excellent customer service under unfortunate circumstances.

My daughter spent 24 hours in the hospital for observation due to an illness. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve had this experience with my daughter. She had eye surgery when she was ten months old and dental surgery (two root canals, caps, and fillings) last year. Each instance had its pros and cons as far as my daughter was concerned. At ten months old, she had no fear because she didn’t know what was going on. It broke my heart after the surgery though because she’s in pain, doesn’t know why, and I can’t explain it to her as she’s only ten months old. At four and five years old, she battles you going in and coming out of surgery. I have learned what to expect from her and know what the nurses are going to have to deal with as well. I have been very impressed with the level of customer service from the nurses during our multiple hospital visits.

The playing field for nursing is a bit different than your typical customer service situation. For one, their “customers” never want to be there. At least, I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed getting sick or having surgery. They find themselves trying to make the best of a bad situation. My daughter made it clear with her occasional outbursts that she did not want to be there. I know at one point (after the IV was put into her hand….she hates needles) she flat out told the nurse, “I don’t like you”. On one hand I was not happy with her for talking to the nurse like that, but on the other hand, I was just glad that she didn’t throw a temper tantrum like I know she wanted to.

In addition to a nurse’s customer not wanting to be there, their customer is also often in pain and/or medicated. This only adds to fun. As we found out, steroids (to open her inflamed lungs) kept her awake and made her cranky. That’s a perfect storm when she had already been awake for 20+ hours. (A little side note: I’m pretty sure the steroids give her nightmares too…a little fun now at home when trying to catch up on sleep.)

Nurses also don’t have the opportunity to sell you more or make more money because they offer better customer service. Increasing sales for a retail associate or getting a bigger tip as a server in a restaurant help boost your desire to provide better service. That’s not the case for a nurse though. I won’t claim to know what drives a nurse to put up with half the things they do and keep plugging away with their service for others. I doubt it’s the same for all of them. I can only assume that they have a strong desire to help others and enjoy being able to minimize pain and suffering. I’m assuming one of the many nurses I know will let me know if I’m close…if they happen to read this.

Basically, to me, nursing seems to be a selfless act of compassion, providing excellent customer service, without personal benefit, while possibly being puked on. So, for that, a big thanks to all the nurses out there. Until next time….

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Testing the blogging waters

I'm going to be honest and tell you up front that I'm not sure if I am going to maintain an ongoing blog for the long haul. I wondered from the start if it was something I wanted to (or could) keep up with. I initially started publishing a few articles on LinkedIn when they opened up the publishing platform to the general public rather than limiting publishing capabilities to LinkedIn Influencers. When I was first considering whether or not to take advantage of the opportunity to publish something online, I went through the same list of questions I assume most people would have. Why would I want to write a blog? What would I write about? How long could I come up with new material? Who would read my work? Where would I publish my blog? So, for those of you still reading at this point, my first blog post from the Google+ platform will address how I answered those questions.

Why would I want to write a blog?

I am far from being an "all about me" kind of person. I am also not fond of being the center of attention. I certainly don't think what I have to say is so important that it needs to be posted online. So, you may be wondering, why in the world am I posting my thoughts online? Well, I continue to develop and refine my own abilities by training others. Writing about what I know (even if nobody is reading it) reinforces that knowledge in my mind and usually increases my knowledge as I see something new every time I review something.

Others choose to write for a variety of reasons. Professionally, writing a blog may get you noticed if you want to be a paid blogger, journalist, or book author. Others just want to be heard or be able to vent, rant, or rave about hot topics to them. Some like to be helpful....and I'm thanking all of you food bloggers that provide a non-stop supply of recipes. For me, it's just something new to try and why I stated at the beginning that I don't know if my blogging is long term.

What would I write about? 

As I initially started publishing via LinkedIn, I felt the need to limit my post topics to something that is business related. There is no real policy saying that it has to be business related, but it really makes sense as LinkedIn is a business oriented networking site. Having already spent quite a bit of time reading the posts of corporate CEO's, business owners, professional consultants, and the like, I realized that there isn't much "new" material out there. The bigger trick is finding a different way to look at the old material and maybe taking something different away from it. Don't get me wrong, there are new innovations and technology and there are definitely new legal and "politically correct" ways of looking at old material.

As a leader and trainer for many years, that's the broad topic I chose to start writing about. The "what would I write about" question then turned into what would be unique about what I was writing. My inspiration came as I was explaining something to my daughter one day. It dawned on me that being a dad is being a leader. You train, develop, guide, and correct your children. The same is true of employees. Unfortunately, the similarities between developing a child at home can be a little too similar to developing an adult at work. Either my children are extremely mature, or some adults seriously lack the ability to follow direction and be mature adults....but that's a topic for another day.

So, I now address the similarities of developing children to developing employees. That shouldn't be taken as an insult to trainees. The point I make with my articles are that it's nothing new. Basic concepts that should be common sense (notice I said "should") apply to a variety of different settings and age groups.

How long could I come up with new material? 

I quickly found out that material is never ending. Once I made the connection between management, training, parenting, etc, I get ideas non-stop. The bigger issue is determining when to broaden or refine the topic. I have all kinds of ideas that, by themselves, don't warrant a blog post. I also have ideas that need to be broken down into five posts rather than five paragraphs.

Since I am a newbie to this whole thing, I've just been making notes and shuffling them around until something fits right. I'm giving myself a lot of leeway as I'm not getting paid to blog by an employer with certain expectations and there are only a handful of people who even read them at this point. It's all part of my learning curve. So far, I don't see an end to the ideas, but I do see the ideas branching out from my original business related ideas.

Who would read my work? 

As I pointed out in the "why would I write a blog" section, I'm not concerned about being hear by everyone. That makes the who would read my work question pretty insignificant, but yet, it is there.It would be nice if somebody actually read it, right? Well, fear not. People read anything. Sorry, not trying to offend anyone, but it's true. I'm obviously not saying that anyone would want to read my blog (at least not more than once). I'm just saying that for every writer, there is a reader. Next time you're going through your social media account of choice, before you scroll past that "stupid, uninteresting to you" post, look at the thousands of likes, +1's, and shares that it has.

Where would I publish my blog?

I'm pretty much full circle now. I already mentioned that I started writing at LinkedIn because the opportunity happened to be there in my news feed as something new they were doing. I also felt that writing about management and training would give me the most topics to work with as that's what I do for a living. LinkedIn makes sense for that. My Facebook friends probably don't care too much about a mentoring program that works, then again, I do relate it to parenting. :)
My reason for trying out this Google+ blogging platform is because I can't get non-business related ideas out of my head. LinkedIn isn't the place for that and Facebook isn't (at least shouldn't be) the place for posts 2-3 pages long. Every social media site, networking site, and blog has the option to share links. Therefore, find the platform or host that you like most, work from there, and link elsewhere.

I'm liking the ease of use on the Google+ platform. The price of FREE is also very acceptable. We'll see what happens. Either way, thanks for reading (if you made it this far). I promise not to make every post ramble on this long. Feel free to let me know what you think. Although I did say I wasn't overly concerned with how professional my blog was, I do actually care. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. Another reason for me caring is that I happen to have friends that happen to consist of, to name a few, the general manager of a newspaper, the editor of a newspaper, and the editor for college publications....something I didn't think about when initially choosing to start a blog. Until next time......

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

a bit more about me

If you feel compelled to learn a little bit more about the guy who produces the rambling nonsense that is average jester, take a read....

About Me:    So you actually clicked on the link to learn more about me, eh? Well, here's a snapshot of who I am to give you a little insight into what you might expect from me. As for the very basics, my name is Jesse (in case you missed the bold print above) and I enjoy writing. As I say in numerous places, and  frequently in my blogs, I love to write, but I don't claim to be great at it. I write because I enjoy it and it helps me feel like I'm doing something while watching television at night.

Living Logistics:    I grew up in Texas, but now live in Minnesota, so you will see frequent comparisons between the two very different states from time to time....especially in the winter. After living in Texas up until the age of 14, my family moved to Wisconsin where I lived for almost ten years. (That was my introduction to what "real winter" is like - and YES, I know how to drive in the winter weather because that's how I learned.) I moved back to Texas and spent about eight years there before moving to Minnesota. I have experienced life in Texas in both the big city of Dallas and the wide open ranches and lakes of East Texas. Because of this, you will see I have a mixed experience of living in the fast lane and actually enjoying life in the slowed down and relaxing life of lake country.

My Family:    Meeting and marrying my wonderful wife is what I consider to be the single greatest thing to ever happen to me. (I can say that because I have TWO daughters...so that's not a SINGLE thing.) I have written a few rather long posts about her, so I won't go too far into what makes her so wonderful. Besides, she's MY wife, so it's most important to me personally anyway. As I mentioned above, I have two amazing daughters as well. You will read a lot about them in my posts as they are often my source of content. Kids see life with a different set of eyes than adults and that provides unique insight into many otherwise "everyday things." I have a large extended family spread out across the United States...and a few outside the U.S.

My Career:    If you really want to read about my career, I would suggest you visit my LinkedIn profile. That will give you an in-depth look....if you care. As a snapshot, I have done a little bit of everything including, but not limited to: tending bar, tree trimming, security, retail sales and management, manufacturing and distribution management, and now sales and account management. I am currently working in the Information and Technology industry as an Inside Account Manager. I also spent six years serving in the United States Marine Corps. Add that all together and you get a wide range of work related topics from different industries and levels in my posts.

My Convictions:    I am a WELS Lutheran and have been all my life. I don't get up on a soap box and preach to the masses, but I am not afraid to call it like it is when I get frustrated about the direction society in general is headed. I am an American patriot. I love my country and will stand up and fight for her at any time. I understand people's rights to their opinions, but I will clearly state my disagreement with them as needed. There is a difference between loving and tolerating a person or idea and being forced to agree with them. I only mentioned these few convictions so you have a basic understanding of my beliefs. I don't write to rile people up so (for most people) my beliefs probably won't affect your reading of my blog.

My Writing Style:    I write like I talk. I make a lot of sarcastic comments, goofy asides and run off on tangents. You will see an "editing/writing" style from me consisting of (comments in parenthesis) and.....multiple periods to "pause" for effect. I hope it's not too annoying, but I figured if I started writing like a professional blogger people would start to expect professional content as well. That being said, my wife is usually kind enough to point out my (basic) spelling mistakes and (horrific) grammatical mistakes so I can at least correct some of the big and obvious ones.

Many Thanks! I appreciate you taking the time to read this and get to know me a bit better. Feel free to email me or comment if you have any further questions or comments. Have a great day!