Customer Service Hits and Misses

In today’s business world, if you don’t provide excellent customer service, one of your competitors will, and you’ll find  your company’s products and services in ‘commodity hell’, which is aptly named. Recently, we’ve encountered a couple of customer service hits and misses:

1. A Hit: Toscano, who makes and distributes all sorts of decorations for your home, recently shipped the wrong item to us. My wife called them to authorize the return (even though they thoughtfully provided a prepaid return label), and they authorized the return over the phone (no taking it to the manager), but then called back in about 10 minutes to say that they were going to cover shipping for the new part, and we could keep the one they shipped in error. We’re sure they looked at the costs of hassle and back and forth shipping and prior purchase record, and said, ‘let’s do the right thing’. Kudos to them.

2. A Miss: Recently, when we changed our home security service from ADT to a local company, ADT informed us that if we wanted to stay with them, they’d reduce our service $11 per month, about 25%. Or if we were a new customer, we’d get the lower rate. We also paid a $50 setup fee. Why they didn’t say, as their replacement did, that there was no setup fee and it was the lower rate. Now ADT’s got to cope with a former customer (who, via this blog) tells a lot more than nine suspects.

So, the question is: Is your company more like Toscano, or ADT? Think about it. Comments invited from annoyed customer service reps who work for the ADTs of the world.

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Hobby Lobby Hysteria

As Cheri Oteri used to say on Saturday Night Live, ‘simmer down’. To my way of thinking, the Hobby Lobby decision isn’t bad for women.

And it’s not bad for business, although I don’t think that anyone on the left has even discussed the business case for or against.

What many fail to appreciate is that if women are so aggrieved at Hobby Lobby, they don’t have to work there. Second, if they do work there, Hobby Lobby covers 16 of the 20 methods of contraception; they just happen to be against abortion on religious grounds, and as a private employer, that’s their right.

We’ve also heard it said, and we agree, that for business, the Hobby Lobby verdict is only the first of many on the ‘one size fits all’ approach of Obamacare. The better approach would have been, and could still be, if an amendment to the law were filed, to let individuals chose what they want in their healthcare.

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Should You Drain Your 401(k) to Start a Business

The short answer is, no. No because you shouldn’t put all your eggs in your business basket, because it could fail.  However, your 401(k) is a good source of funds.

But, ran a good article this week about using some of the funds, anyway.

The key is ROBS, or Rollovers as Business Startups. The key is that you don’t pay taxes on the withdrawn funds used to buy the business, or get hit with an early withdrawal penalty of 10%. We don’t know if ROBS applies to purchased businesses.

It’s imperative that you have self-direction authority for your IRA, too. Most financial institutions would not approve of the buying or starting of a business, under the Prudent Man Rule; they don’t want to get sued for bad advice.

Apparently, there’s only one financial management firm, Guidant, that will help you set up the business. Guidant charges $4995, plus $119 per month. That’s considerably more than our Entrepreneurship courses, which are available at Solutions Forum will match the $119/month for online consulting, unless we have a licensee in your area.

We would not recommend buying the business outright, unless that’s the only way the owner will sell, because it’s a good idea to keep him/her around for a while, and it limits your risk. Use the 401 to make the downpayment, and have the business do an earnout, ie., buy itself with its own funds. Living owners are generally amenable to this idea, so they can spread tax liability. Estates, not so much.

You should consult the SBA, too, because they might lend you most of the purchase price.

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Back to School for an MBA

Well, Fortune is finally getting with the program.

They had an article on MBA programs and the changes to the programs in the last few years: leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, law and other key areas.

It got us thinking: If we at the ASE ( were to design and MBA, what courses would we put in it?

First, it would depend on whether the student had business background and was running or had run a company. If we assume that the EMBA (our term, for electronic MBA) is for people who have business experience, here’s what we’d have:

E01/E02: Sales Best Practices: Evaluating your sales practices and your sales force. We’d probably include something on evaluating your market position (E15), too.

E04: Internet Marketing. Still a weak point of many firms, particularly SEO and Social Media.

E9/10: Employment Regulations and Personnel Hiring. Nearly always a weak spot.

E11/12: Financial Management for Established Businesses. There’s a lot to learn here.

E14: Alternative Financing

E16: Maximizing the Value of Your Business

E19: Retirement Planning

E20: Supervisory Development

E21: Customer Service

Do we want any electives? If you look at our “E” course list, there are a few. There are 12 courses in our MBA, which is probably more than the traditional schools have.

If anyone out there wants to sign up for our MBA, those are the courses, and we’ll give you the whole package for $200, and throw in a nice framed certificate. Last time I checked, that’s about $20,000 less than a traditional school.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Finance, firing, guerilla marketing, Hiring, Internet Marketing, Marketing, Sales, social media, social media marketing | Leave a comment

Should Companies Monitor Their Employees Social Media?

The Wall Street Journal wrote a big article about this topic in their print edition on May 12, and honestly, we should have put it out there sooner, because it’s a big topic for employers, not only in the hiring of new employees, but also in monitoring existing employees.

In some cases, our members have found employees saying negative things about the company on Twitter, Linked In and Facebook. Time taken by employees, unless it’s in off-hours to post negative things about one’s employer  makes us wonder why the employer hired them in the first place, although all employees are entitled to bitch a bit from time to time.

We also think that if any employee is saying negative things on any public social media site, it’s their right to do so, but since the sites are pretty much public, they forfeit their rights to privacy. Same thing with new hires: why would you want to hire someone who’s said bad things about your company?

There is also the camp that says employers don’t have the right to snoop on employees social media habits, even though employers do have the legal right to look in on employees social media habits. Whether they have the duty to look in on social media usage might engender fishing expeditions into non-workplace issues, possibly exposing the employer to a lawsuit.

The Journal article doesn’t address the issue of lost productivity, by either the pro or con sides, but that’s an issue if employees are using social media on company time, and they’re on salary. On lunch hours or after hours, employees have the right to do what they want. You as the company owner aren’t big brother.

And, there is the possibility that employees might be on social media because of their jobs, which if they’re in retail, could make sense. And, they might be forging business relationships on Linked In.

So, all in all, we would advise interviewing prospective and existing employees about social media usage, and developing an employee policy on it, which you of course put into your employee handbook, which of course you have. Whether we develop a course on it depends on the comments that we get, so have at it.

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A Three Step Process for Turning Voicemail into a Powerful Sales Tool

This a rather interesting article that we pulled from the Toronto Globe and Mail, which we thought we’d comment on, because we agree there’s a real science to leaving voicemails, which is a lot of our communication these days.

Our first question is why anyone would leave three voicemails in the first place….if the calls aren’t returned, then move on to the next lead. However, you know that each of these leads is costing you money, so you should work them to the max.

Here are their three steps:

1. Leave a succinct message that requires no action from prospect or lead. Personally, we would like a callback, but we’re willing to experiment on a second call, because we know that each lead costs money, and we don’t want to burn them. A succinct message would be ” This is John from the Solutions Forum. I’m following up to see if you got the literature we sent to you on Solutions Forum and whether you’d like to attend a meeting for free.  You can give me a call back at xxx-xxx-xxxx’.

2. Leave a succinct follow up message. Here again, if we haven’t got a callback in a couple of days, it’s a good idea to leave a second message. The second message might be “hi Bill, this is John from Solutions Forum again….I thought I’d reach out again to you to see if you got the literature and would like to attend one of our meetings. Give me a call back at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

3. The third message grovels a bit, and might be the most effective: ‘Hi Bill, it’s John from Solutions Forum. Sorry I keep missing you. It’s too bad we haven’t had the opportunity to connect yet, because attending one of our owners’ meetings might be important for you and your company….we can add a lot of value. Why don’t you give me a call at xxx-xxx-xxxx and we can talk it over?”

In case you don’t like my examples or editorializing on the article, the link is: turning-voicemail-into-a-powerful-sales-tool,


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Cut the False Advertising

We are always looking for financial institutions that are actively lending to small business, as we define it, which is under about $5MM in revenues per year, because so few are. Even though these businesses account for over 50% of US employment and economic activity.

So, when we heard a ad on the radio, we recommended them to one of our clients as a place to look.

We also tried to apply for a $10,000 business loan, even though we don’t need it. The first flag should have been that treats all business loans $10,000 and under as personal loans, and uses personal credit scores to evaluate the loans. This is nonsense for a business loan.

C’mon man. It wouldn’t be rocket science for these people to say ‘submit your latest business p&l and balance sheet to prosper, and we’ll get back to you in less than 24 hours’. And to put this in their ad. And to stop advertising on the Fox Business Channel.

There’s an old adage in marketing that the delivery of the service should match what the advertising promises.

Looks like hasn’t learned this lesson.  Let’s hope someone from reads this blog and responds. It would be worth their while.

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Teaching Entrepreneurship Gets An Incomplete

Bless the Wall Street Journal. They should read their email files once in a while. They keep writing that entrepreneurship education isn’t what it should be, ignoring the articles that we’ve written to them about our School. Now we’ll just vent in our blog.

The referenced article is about the incomplete state of entrepreneurship education, and the WSJ is right.

The problems with ent ed, as we refer to it, is that the courses were expensive, and didn’t cover all the subjects that entrepreneurs need, especially for ongoing companies. We’ve tried to fix that with our humble school, and we’re at least making money at it.

Our courses don’t have to pass through academic review boards….only peer groups of mentors for the School. Our students definitely let us know if they think we’re wrong about something or the course needs more/different content.

We wouldn’t call ent ed incomplete, just evolving.

So, WSJ, take another look. It’s

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Don’t Leave Money on the Table with this Crash Course in Pricing

Aside from a grammar error in the title, this was a pretty good article in

But, we have a few comments (or we wouldn’t blog about it)

1. The usual lack of consideration for perceptual pricing, i.e., how much do your customers think your product or service is worth?

2. No consideration of market segmentation….you might be able to charge higher prices in some segments by adding a few bells and whistles.

3. No consideration of b2b pricing…..everything in the article was retail oriented.

4. No consideration of online pricing; you have to integrate it with your on-ground stores, if you have them.

5. We cover pricing (with all of the above) in our course A02 at

Well, maybe it wasn’t such a good article, reviewing the above defects. But, the link is’t-leave-money-on-the-table-with-this-crash-course-in- pricing

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The Missing Driver of Sales Excellence

OK, sportsfans, what is it?

I have to confess I missed it when I read the headline.

The missing driver is ‘ listening to the market’. This is interesting, because when we do sales consulting, the missing driver is often accountability.

But, it’s a valid point: salespersons usually will find out from customers what you could be doing better or differently with your products or sales. Usually after they’ve just lost a sale. says they have a Sales Leaders Listening Tool. From looking at the first three items, it might be worth giving them your name, position and email address. Interestingly, I didn’t see ‘listening’ as one of the top 3 attributes; not just listening to the market, but listening in general.

Check it out.

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