Carol is a consummate customer service professional and she delivers the best customer experience I have ever received from just about any company when I have been at the point of giving up all hope.
So I had a very unique experience last month. Way back in January I discovered that I could earn additional cash back points for automatically paying my Sprint cell phone bill with my Discover card. Setting up my automatic bill pay, I thought was relatively easy. Sprint sent me an email explaining that bill pay would take a month to kick-in, so it wouldn't be until February that I would have the convenience of the service.
Well, sure enough when I got my February e-bill from Sprint they informed me that my automatic payment would take place the day before my bill was due. Now, I happen to be one of those people who pay all of their bills on time, and I regularly check my bank account to make sure things are set to be paid. In this case I trusted Sprint had it all under control. However, a few days before my bill's due date I received a bill reminder email from Sprint, and this one didn't mention the fact that automatic bill pay was set up to pay my bill the day before it was due. So, the trust I had in Sprint began to fade.
At the end of the day when the first automatic bill payment was to be made I monitored my online Sprint bill to see if my payment status would change. I also monitored my Discover card transactions to see if my Sprint payment would post. Nothing. The next day, the day my Sprint bill was due, I did the same thing. Again nothing. A few minutes before midnight I made a manual payment using my Discover card to avoid any late fees (according to the language on my bill), which overrode my automatic payment setup.
When I received my March Sprint bill I once again set up automatic bill pay using my Discover card, thinking that perhaps I’d done something wrong back in January. Once again I waited one month for the service to kick in, received my first bill with auto payment the day before the due date, and went through the whole ridiculous process just like before only to wind up paying manually to avoid those late fees.
In May I decide to call Discover’s customer service and see if they can help me successfully sign up for the service. While it does take transferring me twice, each time after confirming my personal and card information and then explaining my situation, which makes three times in total, I am at least directed to the appropriate person. She explains that the automatic payment process is initiated through Sprint and not Discover, so it’s not something that Discover can fix for me.
Now, I'm exasperated, frustrated, and pretty darn angry, but this woman, we’ll call her Carol, is a consummate customer service professional and she delivers the best customer experience I have ever received from just about any company when I have been at the point of giving up all hope. Here’s what she does:
Now, on the other end of the experience there is Sprint, where the initial agent that Carol speaks with hangs up on her—not on purpose, but still. The agent that we eventually deal with, let’s call him Fred, is an okay guy, but he is no Carol. He's knowledgeable and does impart two very interesting pieces of information, namely:
I am a customer who has gone to considerable lengths to sign up for a service that guarantees his employer on-time monthly payment of my bills. As an agent of this company, I would expect Fred to be more motivated to both help me and make up for the inconvenience I have suffered through no fault of my own by offering to assist me in reactivating my automatic bill pay or forwarding my feedback and experience with this service to the appropriate areas of the company. Fred does neither. Now, I understand that he may not be able to reactivate my automatic bill pay, but he can collect my feedback and he can also offer to compensate me for my troubles in some way. Even more importantly, throughout our time together, I expect Fred to treat me with respect, which I think is the very least he can do.
So, I guess I’m disappointed Fred isn’t smart enough to understand all this and take appropriate action. Because, let’s face it, even if Fred himself couldn’t care less about my Sprint automatic payment experience or me, his job should be to make me think there isn’t anything more important to him in the world, at least while we're on the phone together. After all, that's exactly what happened with Carol, and in the process she earned my undying personal gratitude and boatloads of corporate loyalty for her employer, Discover—and, that’s the point of delivering great customer service, even when, or rather, especially when you can’t solve your customers’ problems.
Is your customer experience in line with your communications strategy? Are you building loyalty with every interaction? If you’re not sure, let's discuss how I can help you find out.
If you’re stuck on getting that business plan done before you start-up, that's fine, but remember, plans are never perfect; they are only ever works-in-progress.
Well, yes and no. If you're looking for investors, then you definitely need a well thought out and written business plan. Take the time to do your research and do it right.
However, if you're going into business for yourself, and you're not looking for financial backers, then you really don't need to invest loads of time (and money) building a detailed plan. The odds are you know more than you think you do about the critical factors that will make your business a success; you may not know it or trust yourself enough to realize it.
You need to do your homework, too, but if you can:
In my experience, most entrepreneurs spend way too much time honing and perfecting their business plan to the detriment of their start-up. By the time they're ready to get their business going they've missed out on countless opportunities.
If you’re stuck on getting that business plan done before you start-up, that's fine, but remember, plans are never perfect; they are only ever works in progress. After investing three-to-six months in marketing your products or services and delivering them to customers consider how much more you'll know about the different areas of your business and, consequently, your plans for it.
It’s good to have a business plan; it’s even better to have some business and the insights that comes from your efforts to land some.
Jim Horan’s "The One Page Business Plan" series of books, available on Amazon, are helpful references...one is sure to be right for the type of business you're starting.
Also, check out the business model canvas for an easy one page planning tool.
Like most smart solutions that evolve from a simple and, perhaps, obvious idea, Housing First sets up a win-win model for both parties...
Confucious said, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." Certainly anyone watching, reading or listening to the news last May would have had the same thought.
Utah, a state known to be rather conservative, made national headlines as a result of both its reduction in the number of its homeless residents over the past decade and in how they achieved such astonishing results.
First the numbers:
The program responsible for Utah's success, Pathway's to Housing First, has a fairly simple premise—by providing clean, safe and stable housing for their homeless, communities can then address the underlying factors that lead to chronic homelessness.
By far, the two biggest contributors to chronic homelessness are mental health issues and drug abuse, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that the highest costs to communities associated with chronic homelessness also are around providing services and dealing with the consequences of these very same culprits, mental health issues and drug abuse.
The program works because people who have consistent housing, as in a place to call home, have been shown to be more successful maintaining necessary treatment, attaining and retaining employment, and, in general, reintegrating back into the community where they establish connections that help keep them motivated and on track.
Like most smart solutions that evolve from a simple and, perhaps, obvious idea, Housing First sets up a win-win model for both parties (municipalities and homeless residents), so it makes it difficult for either to discount the benefits they will enjoy from participation.
So, why aren't more cities and communities taking advantage of the Housing First approach? It's the national homeless solution for the entire country of Canada. Yet here in the US only 7 of the 13 states with homelessness rates above the national average of 18.5% have yet to employ this program.
Why, when there is no downside, do otherwise reasonable people either fail to act or fail to see the reason in such a proposition?
Popular books by Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely and a host of others have established that we, as individuals, consistently behave irrationally, making decisions that are frequently not in our own best interests. I wonder also if our already hampered decision making is further compromised by group dynamics, as you would find in any community or governing body?
The fact that Pathways to Housing First is approved by the federal government, and the Obama Administration in particular, certainly may have something to do with some states rejection or resistance to its logic and also makes the Utah story that much more remarkable, but where both lives and actual costs are concerned not to mention quality of life for an entire community, again, where is the down-side?
Whatever the cause of the resistance, as income disparity increases and more and more communities find themselves dealing with homelessness, Utah's success stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when the simple solution is embraced.
I hope the wisdom in opting for this course of action isn't lost others.