Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Category: Customer Service (page 2 of 6)

Spotting a professional

Picture 079 By BurningQuestion on flickrThe word ‘professional’ is quite often overused in today’s world.

There are tons of professionals out there. Professional sports players. Professional money managers. Professionals in the medical and legal industrys.

Over the last 10 years, there’s been a move to make darn near every type of job a ‘professional’ type of job – “Professional” project managers (PMP), Professional HR managers (PHR / SPHR) and even developers / IT personnel have gotten in on the act with certifications like the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).

Now…there’s nothing wrong with the above certificates at all.  If you’ve earned a cert, be proud of it…but don’t expect to be immediately seen as a ‘professional’ just because you’ve got a piece of paper. Same goes for degrees too…go read a great piece by JK Allen that touches on this topic in a post titled Who Needs a MBA (or any Degree) When You Have Hustle?

But…if a piece of paper / certificate doesn’t make you a professional…what does?

Simple – an attitude.  Yes…an attitude.

Of course…don’t try to be a Doctor or Lawyer with just your attitude…you’d definitely need to have the requisite school/cert/paper there.  But…for most everything else in life – attitude works wonders.

A few examples of Professionalism

My wife and I recently listed our house for sale. While getting the house ready for sale, we noticed a few issues that would need to be fixed. A couple of our windows had their seals broken and needed to be replaced and a few sprinklers needed to be fixed.

We listed these issues on the Seller’s Disclosure listing and made note that they’d be fixed before selling.

We called out a Window repair company, a Carpet Cleaning company, an AC and Heat company and a sprinkler repair company.   I was really surprised to find that each and every person that came out to the house was a professional.  Not necessarily because of a certificate or license – but because of their attitude.

Their attitude was focused on service and professionalism. They all wanted to do the right thing for me…they also all went above and beyond.

The window folks – JJ’s Window Services in Dallas – did a great job.  Highly recommended.  If their website was working, I’d include the link…will add it if their website starts working again.

The Carpet guy – Infinity Carpet and Tile Cleaning – what an awesome job they did.  The owner, Michael Adkins  is a professional…..he spent way more time at our house cleaning our carpet than he really needed to.

The AC & Heat Guy – Dwight from Dwight’s Heating and Air – is a consummate professional.  I know that if I need any service for air conditioning or heating system repair or help, Dwight’s there for me. I’ve used him 4 or 5 times over he last 8 years…awesome service.

The Sprinkler repair guy – Mac from American Irrigation and Landscape – is just as awesome as the others.  Mac was a professional with a capital “P”.  I want to take a second to highlight what Mac did for…he’s actually the reason for this post.

Mac the Sprinkler Pro

Mac was supposed to be at the house between 5 and 6PM.  He called at about 5:30 to tell me he was running late and would probably be about 45 minutes to an hour late.  I wasn’t happy that he was going to be late – but at least he had the professionalism to call and tell me.

When Mac arrived, he immediately set out to solve my sprinkler problems.  First step though – a free sprinkler system tune-up…I like that 🙂

After the tune-up, he dug (literally) into the sprinkler problems.  I had one sprinkler head that had come loose and needed fixed along with a leak that had sprung from a capped sprinkler head under my patio.

Rather than stand around and think about the problem, Mac got to digging.  He fixed the first problem within about a minute and jumped over to problem #2.

While Mac worked, he kept me in the loop on what he was doing and why.  He explained why he was digging where he was digging. He explained why he was digging the way he was (because he wanted to save the top layer of soil and grass).

He fixed both problems within about 15 minutes.  He wasn’t slacking…he was digging and moving fast.    For a man / company that was paid by the hour, he was moving a lot faster than I expected him to.

In addition to solving my immediate problems, Mac gave me some hints on ways to not have these problems again.  He told me where to go buy my sprinkler heads and supplies (local irrigation supply store…don’t but them from Home Depot). He also gave me some hints on keeping the grass watered while not wasting water.

Overall, Mac was a great guy.  He solved my problems and he educated me.

He also made me a customer for life.

You see…it wasn’t the fact that Mac had a license from the state of Texas that made him a professional.  What made him a pro was the fact that he had the right attitude. He approached service the right way.  Sure…he was late….but he let me know he was going to be late before he was late.

The key to Mac’s professionalism – his attitude.  He was focused on doing the job and doing it right. He was focused on providing the best service he could provide too.

So..for everyone out there who’s relying on a certificate, degree or some other form of validation of your professionalism – you’ve gone down the wrong path.

Professionalism isn’t found in a certificate or piece of paper.  Its found in your heart and in your mind.  Its your attitude toward your job, life and the world.

Get the right attitude + some ‘hustle‘ and you’ll have it made.

Image Credit: Picture 079 By BurningQuestion on flickr

Customer Service sucks…or….the one where Eric lost his temper….

scream and shout By mdanys on flickrI lost my temper yesterday and a poor, helpless support representative got to hear some words that would make most folks blush.

See…when someone in a support position tells me they can’t help me, i get angry. In this particular case, what tipped me over the edge and caused a couple of expletives to roll out of my mouth was the response from the company’s support rep.

They said:

I’m sorry but that isn’t a problem I can help you with.  You’ll need to go to our website and file a ticket to get help.

Listen up  support and call center managers –  if I’m on the phone with you, I’ve done everything i could do prior to placing that phone call. I’ve read all your support material, been through your support / discussion forum and done as much research as possible.   I’ve read about the other people having the same problem…and I’ve seen your lack of response to their online requests for help.

You see…if i thought your online support system actually worked and was a viable approach, I would have tried to submit a ticket there…but with the other people having the same trouble, I figured a phone call is in order.

Now…granted…many people don’t take the time to do the research before calling support, but I do.

Regardless, if someone is on the phone with you / your support team, the last thing you should do is to tell them you can’t help them and they will need to go file a support request on your website.


Because it tells that person that they aren’t important and their problem isn’t important.

Of course, your support model might be built on a paid support model and/or tiered levels of support.  Perhaps a user calls in to get support and they aren’t entitled to it – feel free to explain your support model to them and offer them an upgrade to be able to get support.

But…if that user has a valid support agreement, help them out. Please?

Rather than telling me to go to the website and file a ticket, the customer support rep could have easily opened a ticket and explained why he couldn’t help me on the phone and explained what the process would look like moving forward. That would have been helpful. I wouldn’t have gotten so angry with that approach…but instead, I was told to basically ‘go away’.

Will i continue to use this company’s product/service? Yes…but it will take a while before I pay them any more money…if i give them any more money at all. This one interaction with their support team has pushed me from being an evangelist for them to being someone that just might point people away from this company.

PS – I told a friend about this experience and she said “sounds like every phone call that I make to my IT helpdesk”.  There’s something telling in that…but that’s a post for another time 🙂

Image Credit: scream and shout By mdanys on flickr

The frustrations of being “just” a customer

Customer Service By Here’s Kate on flickrI really hate being “just” a customer.

“Just” a customer is someone you force to call an 800 number to get service.

“Just” a customer is someone that has to spend 10 minutes on the phone working through the maze of the automated phone system before talking to a real person.

“Just” a customer is someone that you tell ‘sorry…you are under contract and must pay $125 to cancel before your 1 year anniversary”…..when that anniversary date is 2 days away.

“Just” a customer is someone that you really don’t care about keeping.

I hate being “just” a customer.

If you treat me like “just”a customer, you can expect me to treat you similarly.

When I call you to inquire about my service and it takes me 3 phone calls and 30 minutes of hold time, don’t expect me to be receptive to your offers to ‘increase’ my service for your  ‘one-time special offer’.

Don’t treat me like Vonage just did and make me wait on hold for 10 minutes then connect me to someone with extremely poor phone service (vonage….you ARE a phone service provider, are you not?)  and tell me that I agreed to a ‘cancellation fee’ if I cancel within a year of my order date….and my year anniversary date is in 2 days.

Don’t treat me like Legal Zoom did either. Don’t use an under-handed technique to sell me on your service. Don’t offer me 3 free months of service than automatically charge me for a year of service without informing me that an annual charge is about to be placed.  Mind you…I wanted the extra year of service….but just remind me about the charge beforehand.

Treat me like Ooma did when I called them a few weeks ago.  Answer the phone and ask me how my day is going. Answer my questions quickly, clearly and with information rather than sales speak.  (I’m now an Ooma user..and love it).

Treat me like AppSumo did when they thought I’d unsubscribed due to something they had done.  They reached out and apologized (even though it wasn’t their fault).

Treat me like “just” a customer and you’ll be one of the first companies / services I cut when I want/need to save money.

Treat me like a person and you’ll be amazed at how quickly I open my wallet and how much money I’m willing to spend with you.

Image Credit: Customer Service By Here’s Kate on flickr

A lesson in Customer Relations

Customer Service By nffcnnr on flickrYesterday I spent some time going through my inbox and cleaning up a lot of email newsletters / services that I’ve subscribed to.  I think I unsubscribed from about 25 to 30 different newsletters and/or notification services.

I didn’t unsubscribe willy-nilly though…I kept those that I found interesting and/or that I look forward to reading.

One of the newsletters that I unsubscribed from was the AppSumo notification service for new deals. Now…I’ve purchased a package through AppSumo in the past and definitely signed up for their email alerts and find the service to be pretty cool.

Why did I unsubscribe? Well…in the last few alerts I didn’t see anything that caught my fancy.  So…I unsubscribed.

Today…I received a short email from Noah Kagan from AppSumo apologizing for the email (since I’d unsubscribed from the alert service yesterday) and apologizing for the previous email.

Apparently, the most recent email alert sent by AppSumo was a bit long and a lot of folks complained about it and/or unsubscribed from the service after receiving the email.  Noah apologized for the email length and asked whether there was anything that he and AppSumo could do to improve in the future.

At first, I figured this was a blast email to all customers but it didn’t appear that way. It was short, honest and open….so I responded with my above reason for unsubscribing.

Imagine my surprise when i received an immediate response back from Noah.  Here’s a guy that’s busy as can be running this great little web company and he’s responding back to little ol’ me within seconds.

That response cementing my relationship with AppSumo. I immediately renewed my subscription to the newsletter and am looking forward to seeing what comes across my inbox in the future.


There’s a lot to be learned from little event.

First, its a simple lesson in being human and admitting that a mistake was made (although I didn’t unsubscribe because of that mistake) and asking for feedback on how things can be improved.

The simple act of admitting that a mistake was made and asking for feedback on how to improve for the future occurs rarely today in my experience.

When was the last time you received a simple email like this at your office?  When was the last time you admitted you made a mistake?  We all make mistakes…why not learn from them and move forward?

When was the last time you reached to your client(s) and asked for feedback on how you can improve something that didn’t work out exactly as planned?

Or…even more importantly…when was the last time you asked your client(s) how to improve service after a successful project / interaction?

While its good to ask for forgiveness and feedback if you make a mistake, it can be just as good to ask for feedback when you do things right.

Kudos to Nathan and AppSumo.  Go check them out and sign up…they have some great applications. They’ve got a customer for life here because they took a few minutes from their day and sent an email  asking for feedback.

Image Credit: Customer Service By nffcnnr on flickr

CRM tools do not equal CRM

not equal
Image by holeymoon via Flickr

CRM tools do not equal CRM (yes…I know…I’ve said it twice…but it IS important).

For the geeks out there, let me spell it out for you too – CRM tools != CRM. Or perhaps if you know your FORTRAN 77 (I taught it for 3 years…ugh) – CRM tools .NE. CRM.

Ok…now that we’ve gotten that out there…let’s take a second to look at the world of CRM.

Customer Relationship Management – CRM

According to the all-knowing wikipedia, Customer Relationship Management is defined as:

Customer relationship management (CRM) is a broadly recognized, widely-implemented strategy for managing and nurturing a company’s interactions with customers, clients and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support

Emphasis mine.

To put it more succinctly, CRM is a strategy for managing the relationship with customers using technology to automate & organize the interactions. Love it.

I’m a big fan of CRM. I think the idea has helped many organizations build stronger relationships…and CRM tools have helped drive customers away too.

A tool is a tool

Imagine you’re a project manager. Is the whole of your job wrapped up in the tool you use to manage projects? Can anyone grab a copy of Microsoft project and start managing projects?

Sure…they can build gantt charts and make schedules…but Microsoft Project is not Project Management.

The same is true for any organization using CRM tools. Sure, the tools are available and anyone can use them…but just because you use them, doesn’t mean you are actually ‘doing’ CRM.

True CRM is wrapped around strategic thought. True CRM is looking at methods to truly connect with your customer(s). True CRM requires a ‘think; do’ mentality (i.e.,  think about it first, then do it).

I’m always amazed when I see an organization using CRM without having put any real thought into the tool and the context in which the tool is used.

Let’s look at an example.

Using CRM – A Good & Bad (and worst?) Example

I’ve recently looked into getting a loan to refinance my mortgage. Our current mortgage is a 30 year fixed mortgage with a 5.875% rate. Not bad…but with rates as low as 4.5% these days, it makes sense to look at refinancing at a lower rate…and perhaps move from a 30 year note (with ~23 years left on the note) to a 15 year note. At current rates, the move to a 15 year note would keep my payments basically equivalent.

So…I decided to see what type of rates I could get. I contacted three mortgage brokers via email and got three completely different responses.

Initial Response

Broker #1 responded quickly to my initial request in a very personal and direct manner. He told me what information he would need from me and what the process would look like. He also said he’d be calling me later in the day to chat.

Broker #2 also responded quickly via phone. I happened to be busy when he called so he got my voicemail. He left a message stating that he’d call me back. I then received an email stating the same but in a very ‘automatic email’ voice. And then 5 minutes later I received another call from him. And another email similar in vein to the first. I emailed him back and told him I’d prefer that he call me later in the day. I received an automated response that was exactly the same as the first email I received. More on Broker #2 in a moment.

Broker #3 didn’t respond to my email.

Follow Up

Broker #1 called me when he said he would. We talked about my situation and what I was trying to do and he told me he’d get some quotes to me via email later in the day. About 20 minutes after the call, I received a nice email from the broker thanking me for the time on the phone and reiterating what we spoke about. This email was obviously from a CRM tool but was personalized to me and our conversation.

Broker #2 called me later in the day and put the full force sales pitch on me. This guy is the guy you think about when you think of a salesman. You know the guy…he doesn’t listen, cuts you off and just generally makes an ass of himself. After 15 minutes of him telling me how good he is, he told me he’d get me a few quotes for new loan options.

Broker #3 never called.

Follow Through

I received the quotes from Broker #1 and Broker #2. They were basically the same in terms of rates. I told them both that I’d need a few days to look them over and think about what I wanted to do.

Broker #1 responded to my email with a “thanks…let me know how you want to proceed.”

Broker #2 responded to my email with another canned response.

Over the next 2 days, I received 3 emails and 2 phone calls from Broker #2. Each email was the same and the phone calls were received at the same time of the day.

I finally called Broker #3. BTW – some background on this broker….they are all over the airwaves in Dallas about being DFW’s #1 mortgage broker. When I called them….I got a person on the phone who couldn’t answer any of my questions, didn’t seem interested in talking to me and when I asked if I could use a system online to fill out any forms he said yes…he would email me the info. I received an email from him the following day with a PDF attached asking me to fill out the information and fax it back.


Its been 2 weeks since that first email to the three brokers. I’ve decided not to do anything just yet (we are thinking about moving next year and it doesn’t make financial sense to spend the money to refinance right now).

Broker #1 took the news in stride and said ‘call me when you want me to help with the new mortgage’.

Broker #2 didn’t respond directly but continued to send me canned emails generated from his CRM tool. These emails tell me what a great service he offers, what low rates I can get and how much he values his customers.

Broker #3 just called me back. 4 phone calls in 4 hours. Yikes.

So…the point of my story?

Broker #1 used a CRM tool…but he had a strategy for using it. It was a tool to allow him to manage the relationship.  He will get my business in the future.  If you need a mortgage in Texas…definitely call Brian Palmer at Pinnacle Financial Group at 972-529-6845.

Broker #2 used a CRM tool…but he saw it more as an advertising and marketing tool to ‘blast’ his customers. He hasn’t figured out that CRM is concerned with the relationship.

Broker #3 is an idiot, obviously.

In Closing

CRM, like most other things in life, requires some thought be put into the approach.  Just because you are using a CRM tool, doesn’t mean you are managing the customer relationship…it could just mean you are pissing off your potential customers.

Take a page from Broker #1’s playbook…figure out how you want to interact with your customers then implement a CRM strategy & platform to meet your needs.

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Great Customer Service:

Perhaps you’ve read my rant on Blu Domain…maybe you haven’t.  If not, feel free to click over and read it here.

Well…today I’m going to praise PortfolioSitez, a Blu Domain competitor.    In our search for a web host for my wife’s photography business, a moment to keep photography, we ran across quite a few services.  Blu Domain was of course one of the worst customer service experiences ever…..and Portfoliositez has been the best!

Prior to signing up with Portfoliositez, we asked for access to a demo site to check out there service…we were provide a demo login and got a play around with the front end and back end system.  Its a great administration system and very very simple to use.

We decided to go ahead and sign up with Portfoliositez and within a day we had our system setup and ready to go.  My wife spent a few days getting the site setup and laid out the way she wanted it while I setup the blog (wordpress of course!) and client proofing system (PhotoCart).

We turned the new system live and we were running wonderfully…for about 3 weeks.  The day that she posted a new set of pictures from a recent wedding, the site went down hard.  I took a look at the system and could see that the webserver wasn’t responding…so I had to contact Portfoliositez customer service.

I submitted a trouble ticket at 8:45AM on Monday and called the helpdesk phone number and left a voicemail (their office hours are 9AM to 5PM M-F).

I received a phone call at 9:01 and was told that it appeared that the webserver was having issues (Apache was down…which is something that doesn’t happen much).  Over the next hour, I received three emails from Portfoliositez and within 45 minutes the site was back up and running perfectly.

Now….in situations like this, you really get a chance to test an organization/person.  Portfoliositez came through with flying colors.  With some organizations, we may have been offline for a few hours or days…with this wonderful bunch of folks, we were offline for less than an hour.

If you or someone you know are looking for a portfolio site for your photography work I’d strongly recommend Portfoliositez.

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