My new poster child for exceptional customer service – Koopman Lumber Hardware store

I have been living in the small town of Grafton, MA for the last 6 years. Being a home owner, I have had the need to visit the hardware store almost every week to buy stuff to fix/install things around the house. Until recently, these trips have always been to the big box hardware retail stores such as Lowe’s and occasionally to Home Depot. Ironically, I used to drive by my local hardware store Koopman Lumber but never used to stop there dismissing it as a small store compared to Lowe’s. Lowe’s being bigger was considered to be the store of choices and also perceived as the one to be where the best price is likely to be. I will admit I am very price conscious (hey, it is in the Indian blood!). Customer service at Lowe’s is average, nothing to write about. You did get some folks who seemed to be knowledgeable and willing to help you out, but then often you had to go looking for them. Staff at a typical Lowe’s store is minimal for the size of the store.

Then, recently someone walked into my storm screen door leading to the deck. I could not find a replacement door even after numerous trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot. These retailers only sell you new stuff, they don’t care about getting stuff repaired for you. So as a last resort, I walked into my local, long forgotten Koopman Lumber. Never did I realize that I was about to discover an exceptional company that should be considered an epitome of superior customer service. They repaired my storm screen door. But the exceptional customer service they delivered has resulted in my now making Koopman my destination for all my home repair needs. The customer service is very personal. You can never roam around the store looking for someone because it is well staffed and all the staff are on a walkie talkie with each other so that they can quickly get you the expert that can help you the best. Returns are super easy to make even if you do not have a receipt.

Prices may not be the cheapest, but now I don’t care. Convenience is great because it is a lot closer, and I trust the advice they give me – because in one case they talked me out of an expensive solution for what they considered the right solution for my needs.

What does this teach me as a software product manager?

  1. You do not always have to be big to win. Instead, what you need to do is treat every customer who walks in through your door right so that they will keep coming back. How many businesses realize this – most of them don’t.
  2. If you are local, the only way you can fight the big boys (and the online stores) is via customer relationships and service.
  3. If you are a small town business, you can choose to ignore your local customers at your own peril. Big town customers are not going to come to small town businesses unless you have something unique to offer. But you can surely drive your local customers to big town businesses if you don’t take care of them.

Thoughts? Any other stories about your local businesses that you have come to love?

Contact Us but facilitate it ….

All companies on their website have an About Us or Contact Us section. However, not all companies provide their phone contact information phoneon their website and instead ask you to fill out a web form or email them if you want to contact them.

This unfortunately sends wrong messages. The message could be construed as any of the following:

  1. Sorry, we are too busy that we don’t want you to bother us by calling us.
  2. We don’t value direct communication between humans, we want you to write to us even though you may be a prospect with a willingness to buy.
  3. You are too many and we don’t have the bandwidth to answer your questions, most of which we could deem to be stupid anyways – so we only want to talk to the serious folks who take the time to write to us though we will not commit if we will ever get back to them either.

In a world where people value authenticity and human touch, you are essentially creating hurdles for people so that they do not communicate with you. In one of my previous posts, I had written about email and 7% – how you lose 93% of your communication power when you use email as the communication channel.

With a web form or email, there is no feedback as to when one will get a reply as opposed to getting to talk to a human being – customers/prospects usually have a question that they want answers for now, not later. Would these companies say this to a prospect in a face-to-face meeting? But unfortunately these companies are sending the wrong message to the millions that are on the internet that they will never have a chance to have a face-to-face conversation with.

I understand the scalability issue, but that is not a prospect’s or a customer’s problem – that is the company’s problem. Airlines list their contact phone numbers, banks do, telephone companies do. But some of these companies have the long phone trees which we all have come to hate so much that websites such as gethuman.com have cropped up. But all of this is better than not providing a contact number for your customers/prospects to reach you. Hiding your phone contact information behind a web form or email is outright insulting to your site visitors.

Now this is applicable not just at the organization level. It is very applicable to us as product managers. Whenever, I talk to my prospects/customers or meet with them, I hand out my business card, my direct number, my email address – if they call me, I want to talk to them. There is nothing more important that I am doing that is more important than talking to customers. I am not saying that I do customer support for them, but I want to hear their concerns, questions etc. and make sure that I get the right person to help them. In 99% of the cases, the caller is happy that I am going to transfer the call to the person best to help them. I thank them for having called me.

Be authentic, be human and more importantly be reachable. If we as consumers get offended by the lack of contact information, I will guarantee you that our customers are as well. There is a lot of downside and no upside for hiding your phone number. After all, our jobs exist only to serve our customers.

Thoughts?

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Image: Courtesy of geekologie.com

Two words that will make you and your business better

THANK YOU!

We all are busy, we have all those emails to read, all those meetings to attend, all those conference calls we have to be on. We don’t have time. But, keep in mind that we have the thankyousame 24 hours that Albert Einstein had, Madam Curie had, Mahatma Gandhi had, Martin Luther King had, Richard Branson has. It is what we do with it that makes the difference.

But when we are on this treadmill that we cannot seem to get off, I think it will benefit us and others to take the time to say those two little words that will make you and your business better than what it is today – THANK YOU. Whether this is to

  1. Your wife who took the time to pick up the kids in the evening because your meeting ran over or
  2. Your kid who wished you good luck when you were going out for an important business meeting or
  3. Your family member who called to wish you good luck during your job interview day or
  4. Your colleague who picked up lunch for you or
  5. Your office manager who ordered all the office supplies you needed or
  6. The candidate who took his/her precious time to interview for a job in your company and did not get selected or
  7. The prospect/friend/customer who send you one of their ideas – independent of how good their idea is or
  8. The stranger at the mall who held the door open for you so that you could roll the stroller in

and the list could go on.

Saying Thank you does not cost you anything but if said correctly makes someone’s lives happier and makes you a PERSONAL human being (not just a professional one).  What do I mean by correctly? Don’t say it when you are rushing through to your next meeting, when you are rushing through the door. Slow down, STOP, look at the person and say Thank you with a smile. If you are not face to face (especially in the case of 6 and 7), call them on the phone – take the time to do it because they took the precious time to interview with you or write to you. Don’t use email unless you have 10’s and 100’s of Thank you’s to say. Yes, this takes time but who said building a good personal or business relationship is easy ? Is it something you can live without? In the interconnected world we live in, you never know who knows whom, who needs whom and when. No one has regretted on his death bed that he thanked people one too many times.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who read this blog. Thank you for taking the time to read and leave comments.

Now, go say Thank You to those who are helping you to have a great day. No one will be offended. They may not remember every instance when you said it, but those instances when you did not, will be etched in their memory.

Image: Courtesy of VirtualHug.Wordpress.com

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Permission Marketing gone astray – InfusionSoft

Couple of weeks back, I came across this company called InfusionSoft. I signed up to download something that looked interesting to me called “9 proven techniques to double sales”. To do this, I had to fill out the following form.

When you do this, they send you a link via an email to download the white paper. I was fine with it until this point.

Then the trouble started – there is nothing in the above dialog that gives them permission to send me anything other than the above white paper. Now I get daily emails from their CEO Clate Mask. Here are some of the titles of the emails and some of the content in the email.

Email 1: How one incredible number skyrockets your income

…… Just imagine being able to double your sales (even when businesses all around you are falling further and further into debt.) Think how great you’ll feel when customers are begging you to serve them AND you can stop wondering if you’ll be in business next month. ……

Email 2: 7 Magnetic Marketing Secrets To Explode Your Profits

……when you’re in harvesting mode, you’re working smart and scooping up sales left and right. You can spend your time at closings, on the phone with hot leads or out on the golf course because you know your prospects will call YOU when they’re ready to move forward. ….

Email 3: Double your sales with one powerful secret

and on and on it goes.

What? Customers coming begging to me to serve them? Go and play golf because prospects will call you? Am I living on the wrong planet or what?

Do you think I will ever buy anything from InfusionSoft? No, but I sure am writing about them so that I can save others from this experience.

The emails also say this – which I thought was even more hilarious

We value your privacy, we really hate spammers, and we’re not going to sell your info to spammers (or to anyone else). If you really want to read the boring details of the privacy policy, you can read them here.

We Product marketers should take note – Just because we allowed a customer/prospect to download something free from our website, it does NOT give us permission to send them stuff. If we want to engage with them, we need to do it using Permission Marketing, a term coined by Seth Godin. Ask for their permission and then send them useful stuff that will help them get better at what they do. We need to build a trusted relationship with them such that they will hopefully buy something from us in the future. It is not a guarantee, but if we help someone, they are bound to at least invite us to the “purchase” party if we indeed have what they want.

Permission marketing is NOT getting permission from the customer to spam them – this will absolutely kill any chance of getting any future business.

Yes, InfusionSoft does give me a way to unsubscribe from these emails, but it is work I have to do.

Clate, you will not be getting the phone call from me begging you to serve me while you are having a good time playing golf.

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Product Review – Service Magic rocks

Last week, I had to get a tree cut in the yard and then my garage door broke down with the door bent and the rollers popped out. Not knowing who to call, I checked out ServiceMagic. What an awesome experience that turned out to.

Within minutes, they send me names of three pros rated very high by their customers. I called the pro, got a quote, scheduled the job and got both of these issues taken care of in a hurry. Their customer service is outstanding – they called me to find out how the project was going, they send me thank you notes via email after I had rated the pros – they did not have to do any of this.

This is one of the rare occasions in the recent past where I could say that I have received just an excellent service. We hear all the time about service is being shortchanged by companies due to the current tough economic times, but here is a company that has figured out how to use technology to the hilt to provide such a great service – their website is awesome with easy navigation, customer ratings and reviews of their pros, the results of their 10 point screening etc. They use email communication very well and as a result take many of the pain points involved in finding/hiring a contractor off their customer’s chests. Think about the effort it takes to make sure that the contractors you want to hire have the necessary license, insurance etc. to do the work? All this is done by ServiceMagic for you. Dealing with contractors has never been easy and they seem to have made this easy.

ServiceMagic sets the benchmark against which other service companies should be considered. If you have not used them, I would strongly recommend that you give them a try.

Their success is because they have thought through the entire user experience from the usability of their website through every touch point with the customer either via email or phone. Plus, their service is absolutely free for consumers, they make their money from the pros who get referrals.

Thank you ServiceMagic.

Small decisions can impact product success …..

Last weekend, I volunteered to spend an hour at our local grocery store handing out flyers to shoppers on an upcoming Town hall vote on Grafton school feasibility study. We had a simple decision to make – do we hand out the flyer when shoppers are coming into the store or when they are exiting the store after they are done shopping. We chose to do the latter – for a very simple reason.

When shoppers walk in, they are thinking about one thing and one thing only – SHOPPING – what do I need to buy? where do I need to start? I should not forget to pick up the gallon of milk etc. – anything that breaks their train of thought is an interruption and an unwanted intrusion. If you now give them the flyer, here is a very likely scenario:

  1. They are unlikely to read it
  2. They will put it in the empty cart and the groceries they buy, end up on top of the flyer
  3. When they check out, they will leave the flyer in the cart
  4. They will load the groceries into the car and the flyer ends up left behind the cart.

When shoppers are exiting their store – they are happy that they finished shopping and are headed out. They are more likely to be receptive to your pitch when you hand them the flyer. Here is a very likely scenario:

  1. They are likely to put the flyer into one of their grocery bags or carry it with them in their hand.
  2. The flyer makes it to their car and their home
  3. It has more chances of being read

Now you can see why the simple decision to hand it out at exit works in our favor.

I can think of many such scenarios when I use different products:

  1. When I visit a website that offers a free service, I get interrupted by ads that I have to get past before I am allowed to complete the task. Just because you offer something for free, it does not make it acceptable to force an ad on the user – allow them to have a positive experience and then once they are done, thank them and have the ad appear. They are more likely to look at the ad now that they have had a sense of accomplishment of having completed their task – they are more relaxed. You helped them and they are more likely to help you.
  2. Asking users to register before they can read marketing white paper that brought them to your website. Let them read enough of an outline so that they know if it worth their time and then if they want to read more about it, ask them to either login or register – and tell them why your are asking for the information – so that you can improve their user experience, provide them more of such material etc. – whatever will benefit them. They are likely to give this information to you, now that you have helped them. Or give them the first one free without needing to register and ask them to register when they try to access the second white paper or on their repeat visit.

These may sound obvious when we are the consumers of products or services, but when on the other side designing these products or services, we may get too hung up on our business agenda as opposed to the needs of the users of your product. Try walking in their shoes and see if it makes a whole lot of sense. Go with your gut feel, you will usually be right and if not talk to some real people (people outside your company and get a second opinion.

Your perspectives and comments welcome !!

First experience on a US long distance train

I have been living in the US for the last 18 years and I have never traveled on a train over a long distance. This week, I had to travel to New York and decided to take the Acela Express. What a remarkable experience – I don’t think I will ever fly to New York from Boston.

So what constituted to a great product experience:

1) No security lines

2) Cheap parking – $10 a day compared to $22 a day at Logan plus tolls

3) Parking right outside the station – 2 minute walk compared to Logan’s long walks to terminals plus traffic hassles

4) Awesome, wide comfortable reclining seats

5) On time arrival and departure

6) Cheap taxi ride to the hotel (as opposed to expensive ride from La Guardia) – though we were ripped off by a capitalistic van driver.

7) Quiet car where you are refrained from talking and using the cell phone – I tried the next car and was in midst of so many sales guys chattering over the phone – I quickly made my way to the quiet car and had such a great ride.

Total travel time on the train – 3 hours, 25 minutes compares to probably the same on the flight given how early I need to get to the airport, battle security lines, delays etc.

Plus, above all of this, I contributed to reducing the carbon footprint – hey, I drive a hybrid too.

Truly, a great product experience.