Less Than Your Best

Recently I picked up a great line from one of our customers.  At the resolution phase of a warranty repair, he told me, “Ben, ain’t no such thing as perfect parts or perfect people.”  This stuck with me and I’ve even parroted it a few times since.  I understand this phrase’s meaning to be: we don’t live in a perfect world, so keep that in mind, be reasonable and solve the problems as they arise.  I find this simple message extremely helpful to keep things in perspective.

Last night on my drive home I heard something that helps tie this together and set an action plan for times we find ourselves to be less than perfect.  Listening to a Cubs baseball broadcast, color commentator and former player Ron Kumar told a story about himself and Giants slugger Pablo Sandoval; it went something like this:

During a recent game, the Cubs and Giants went into extra innings.  In the 10th inning, Sandoval went to bat with the bases loaded and one out and produced a weak ground ball that resulted in an inning-ending double play.  Later in the 13th inning, Sandoval got another opportunity and hit a game-winning walk-off homerun.  Sandoval was quoted: “After my at-bat in the 10th, I said to myself, you are better than that, you need to demonstrate that.” 

Kumar added some personal experience to his recounting of this story: “Yeah, sometimes you’re in the major leagues, but occasionally have to check yourself, go into the dugout, splash some water on your face, and remind yourself what you are capable of…you need to refocus and hold yourself accountable to the level of play that got you there.”

Used in conjunction, these two snippets combine for a powerful recipe of self-awareness, accountability, consistency, and continuous improvement.  Simply put, none of us operate at our best at all times.  To do so as often as possible, we need to establish and measure ourselves against standards, and be prepared to splash some water on our faces (or whatever you find helps you refocus and reset) and step our game back up.  

Baseball and sports, in general, lend themselves well to analogy.  This principle strikes me as universally applicable.  No perfect parts or people.  Up until he was recently passed by Manning, Brady, and Brees, Brett Favre held the all-time NFL records for both passing touchdowns and interceptions thrown.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Wins only exist with a potential for loss.  Everyone gets a trophy for showing up appears to be falling out of favor at youth sports (thankfully!).

Think about the most recent time you fell well short of your company’s, family’s, or personal standards.  Allow yourself to get very uncomfortable feeling those emotions of embarrassment, shame, irresponsibility, whatever form that upset takes and use it to motivate yourself to be better.

Easy wins and successes are not memorable and have little to no ongoing value.  Failures and missteps can be extremely valuable and motivating.  Don’t beat yourself up, simply recognize we will all be faced with our own inferior performance at times, and it is important we have a plan in place to identify when this happens and get ourselves back in the win column as fast and as often as possible.

 

Perception, Assumption, Assertion

My trick to lure you in with the biggest words I know has worked!  If you are in business, work in a business, or rely on anyone who does, you are being affected by a process you have likely little knowledge of: the perception, assumptions, and assertions of your potential customers.  In minutes customers can research, form an opinion, and make decisions digitally without any input from you other than interaction with your website.  

Our collective customer-facing group of around 40 meets monthly to celebrate achievements, recognize milestones, and announce exciting initiatives.  We dedicate the majority of this monthly gathering time to working on self-improvement.  These are peer-led activities (yes, that means games most of the time!) on attitude, expectation management, teamwork, empathy, leadership and much more. Most recently we performed an exercise in reviews that I found fascinating and helpful. 

The format was simple.  Break into groups and get passed a story of a customer’s experience.  Each group got a different customer story, anything from “bought a used car” to “restaurant dining” and “appliance purchasing”.  The directions were to read the story as if it was you and then write a review on the sheet below, the kind you’d post to Yelp, Google or Facebook if so inclined.  Then the stories, now with reviews, were collected and passed to a different group.  Their instructions were to only read the review and then state whether they would or wouldn’t do business with that company and why.  We then had some open discussion where responses were varied.  Here are some things I learned that morning, knew instinctively beforehand, or have reflected upon between then and now:

  • The power of consumer to consumer influence is tremendous in today’s marketplace.  It’s never been easier to speak loudly to all future customers a company may have.  It’s as if you can legally graffiti on shop windows!
  • Perception IS reality; especially important in singularly made judgments (customer and their screen).
  • Customers are making snap decisions on whether or not to buy from you before ever making contact.
  • Past experiences and personal preferences are wildcards in the perception of messages, so are each individual’s values.

In this way we affect each-others businesses.  A bad experience with one pizza place can make a customer suspicious of all pizza places’ ability to deliver satisfactorily, and predispose them to accept the unreasonable expectations of others as valid grievances.

Most people have a pretty strong justice meter.  Overall the responses were not surprising.  We all tried to be fair and objective, see the businesses side and be honest on our likelihood to condemn or accept.  So there is hope: especially if you take some effort to defend your reputation and demonstrate the commitment to serving customers.

The reviews your customer will leave about your product or service will predominantly be very positive or very negative.  Customers who are neutrally satisfied have little incentive to make effort to review.  People review when they are ecstatic or upset.  Positive reviews bring satisfaction, boost morale, and help win future customers.  Cherish them and share them.  Negative reviews are a legitimate threat to most businesses and should be monitored and addressed with urgency.  The best way to address negative reviews is to seek out the root causes and solve them through improvements, preventing negative experiences before they occur. 

I think even the best of organizations would say they are still on that journey.  Additionally, there are reviews which are let’s say, less than objective, reasonable, unbiased, forthcoming, complete, truthful….Customers writing a negative review are often emotional, passionate, distressed, outraged, disappointed, you name it, all of which affect what words they choose to tell their customer story to the world (wide web).

Here’s what you can do and why it’s important:

  • Add your voice to the conversation.  Respond publicly where possible so readers of the review can see your responsiveness and hear your side of the story.  I think the default of send template “Sorry to hear this. please contact us directly so we can help.” is missing the mark.  It doesn’t tell the resolution part of the story publicly and people rarely post follow up reviews to tell that part for you.  
  • Own service issues and solve them at the first opportunity.  Most people responded they would buy from companies who adequately addressed issues.  I interpret this as most people have reasonable expectations and realize things do sometimes go wrong and are satisfied when resolved well.  When issues even small go unresolved, ignored, or discounted a damaging downward spiral occurs.

The stage is now the world and it’s always open mic night.  It’s critical we all leverage this great influence for good and protect against detriments to our businesses futures.

Bungle in the Bundle

It’s not all right with me.  

Every now and then I’ll indulge myself and dip into the McDonald’s across from our office for a breakfast snack.  I can’t be the only one out there jonesing for a hash brown patty!  A funny thing happens each time I order: the sausage biscuit with egg is my jam and, of course, I like it with hash browns.  I have amazing coffee from home in a super insulated Yeti mug, so I don’t need a drink.  

The individual price of the sandwich plus hash brown exceeds the meal price which includes a drink.  The drink options are coffee, soda, orange juice, or milk, and the non-soda options add small increments to the price, none of which add up to more than the combination of a sandwich and browns a la carte.  Sometimes I’ll get coffee and spill it into my travel mug, which results in undermining the last few sips I take while finishing my snack.  Other times I’ll get chocolate milk, and slam that down, mainly as a nod to my youthful self who would have never let an opportunity for choco milk pass by.  Twice I’ve forgotten that I don’t really like their orange juice, or don’t like it trying to overpower the savory notes of the biscuit.  Yes, I have tried to substitute an additional ‘brown for the drink, to no avail.  

Last week I ordered the number 4 with “the least expensive drink option”.  I received a small Dr. Pepper and tossed it out six feet later in the next waste receptacle.  The immediate disposal, though equal waste to if I’d consumed it, felt ridiculous.  I’m resigned to order “Number 4 meal, no drink” from now on.  It’s the closest I can get to the ideal terms of the deal as presented by this merchant.  Am I thrilled about it?  No, it’s silly and a wee bit frustrating.  This is a painless junk food indulgence example.  What about on your cable bill though, still painless?  Really, so if I add home phone, a service I have no interest in, I qualify for a superfecta bundle promo and pay less?!  What if you want a volume price break on some pop tarts but really only want the brown sugar cinnamon and get stuck with the three other berry flavors that are just ok?  

Nobody wants a bad bundle.  The examples I’ve laid out are the result of macro-analytics dictating pricing and strategy logic that breaks down under my transactional experience.  Why didn’t they consider the guy without the drink?  Don’t I save the cost of beverage, container, and handling? Shouldn’t this cost less?  

I understand that I may be a market exception in these cases, and there is not sufficient awareness or incentive for the merchant to make any changes in my favor.  Regardless, if my buying needs fit outside their business logic, I still have an awkward experience.  

I’ve been on the other end of the bad bundle, too.  At my first estimating/sales position, I was with a large painting company in San Francisco, and I’d make the mistake of including a small item on a large job, such as the small shed on an entire house repaint.  Customers that didn’t see value in the shed painting may ask, please remove the shed from the quote, and then I’m in the awkward position of either taking a hit to my potential gross profit should I get the job, or pushing the bundle on the customer to keep my price point.  

Bad bundling, confusing terms, unbalanced component pricing, and more are all enemies of value exchange.  The best transaction are those where the maximum of value created is consumed.  Waste on either end erodes the potential value for both the merchant and customer.  

Time to pretend you are your customer:

  • What value do they seek that you don’t provide?  
  • What are you doing that your customer does not find valuable?  
  • What are you doing that is valuable that your customer doesn’t know about and therefore does not value?  
  • Where is the waste in your sale and service?  
  • If you can’t immediately think of a couple of potential pitfalls, ask your customers and ask your staff.

Find out what your customer values and deliver that to the best of your ability.  Keep asking and keep adding to the value you create and exchange. Again, no one wants a bad bundle; they want value. 

Your Business In Layman’s Terms

Because we probably aren’t experts on everything, in many customer service scenarios we are put in the position of the layman, needing some specialized information explained… to understand the medical procedure, the amount of labor required, the exact specifications. It is on the part of the professional to simplify – without dumbing down – the technical information in order to “make the sale”.

The term layman has come to mean “a person who does not belong to a particular profession or who is not expert in some field.”  It also has a somewhat less commonly known meaning of “a person who is not a member of the clergy”, which is its original definition. Layman is derived from the words “lay” (from the Old French “lai”, meaning “secular”) and “man”, hence the “non-cleric” meaning.

To put something in layman’s terms is to describe a complex or technical statement using words and terms that someone not specialized in a specific field can understand.

My work is technically oriented, and not everyone I communicate with shares my knowledge, experience, understanding, or vocabulary.  My current role is leader of the product support team for a transmission remanufacturer, dealing heavily in technical diagnostic work.  My previous careers in contracting and insurance had similar challenges.  To both internal customers (the people in other departments in your company or your vendors/suppliers) and external customers (the ones that pay!), your expertise and understanding are often beyond theirs, but the need to find common ground and effectively communicate or translate technical details are critical to your success, and theirs.

Here are some examples that may be relevant to you:

  • demonstrating value in a sale
  • setting proper expectations for your product or service delivery
  • troubleshooting issues
  • promoting adherence to processes
  • getting buy in from business leadership
  • new process or systems adoption

Problem now stated, it is my mission to provide some value in how to combat or mitigate (insurance lingo for limit) this challenge.  Here’s are some strategies:

  • Find common language.
    • Avoid using technical jargon or acronyms that the recipient of your message may not know.
  • Simplify, slow down, and provide only relevant info.
    • Less can be more if it’s understandable.
  • Use metaphors.
    • Tell a story your customer can relate to that makes your intended point.
  • Pictures!
    • A good infographic or diagram can be a major help here.
  • Ask questions to assess the listeners understanding:
    • Does that make sense? Are you with me so far?
  • Put yourself in their shoes.
    • Try to take the blinders off and pretend that if you didn’t have all the knowledge, would you follow?
  • Self-deprecation or even technical-deprecation may be useful to keep people from getting defensive when they are confused.
    • “I recall getting this mixed up before someone explained it to me, too.”

It isn’t necessary for every customer, client, or passerby to have the same technical understanding of the service you’re providing as you do. What is essential is that the customer understands what the scope of work is and what they’re paying for. I try out explanations on my 7-year-old – with a completely open mind and no prior knowledge, he’s a good judge of how clearly I can explain a process without the necessary technical lingo.

To make the sale or mitigate customer concerns about time or spending, remember it’s not dumbing down, but translation. Simplify, illustrate, and ask questions.

How have you made your most technical topic easy to understand?

Are We There Yet?

Have you ever had a big project that felt like no matter how long or hard you worked you couldn’t seem to get it done as quickly as you expected to?  Every time you think you see some light at the end of the tunnel there is a dip or turn or obstruction and the glimmer of light fades away.  It’s a dark and lonely place, a place of low morale, frustration, burnout, hopelessness, and even despair.

It’s not uncommon to find ourselves in this predicament, in fact, I believe it is in our nature.  We experience this on both short-term and long-term tasks.  You may feel like this during moving, or pregnancy, or shoveling a mountain of snow in April, or with bays and a lot full of cars or on a remodel project or working on landing a big account or building and implementing something new at work.  If you are a successful person, (and I know you are; you are reading Reman U aren’t you? 😉) you’re likely ambitious, take on a lot, and heap pressure on yourself to keep driving forward and making things happen.  Those great qualities that help separate you from the heap are also the ones that can put you in the dark tunnel.  Few among us can charge ahead undeterred and unaffected along the journey.

Good news! The tunnel is not real and neither is the light.  Oh man, you thought I meant you were actually digging a tunnel? It’s a metaphor.😉 When we take a step or back or reach task completion and gain some perspective, the pitfalls are easy to see.

  • We are prone to underestimate time.
    • I can build that unit blindfolded in 2 hours (sure you can if everything goes perfectly and that always happens right?)
    • Your computer won’t ever crash on you while writing a Reman U or working on that spreadsheet.
  • We go into projects with assumptions.
    • I have all the parts I need for this one on hand…until you discover that failed weld on a drum you didn’t expect to replace.
    • All of our agents will show up to work today
  • The scope of work often changes.
    • Let’s add radiant flooring to this bathroom remodel as long as we’ve got it open.
    • Great demo! But, you know what would be great, if you added…
  • Resources you counted on may not be available when needed.
    • See above “All of our people will show up to work today.”
    • Helluva day for our heavy duty lifts to take a $h!t on us!
  • Unforeseen challenges and opportunities arise.
    • Did someone say golf outing?! 😊
    • You knew this would be comeback week, didn’t you?
    • Huge new fleet account but the first three absolutely must roll out tomorrow

Taking those factors into mind there are a lot of ways to safeguard ourselves and keep enthusiasm and momentum going on projects.  Some of my coworkers use project management methodologies like kanban boards (or Trello) and scrum which use simple organization tools to visualize work and progress and address estimating shortcomings.  These systems can produce great results, but there are a few things that can be done simply with a “shift” (they pay me extra for these when I use Transmission words) of mindset, or perspective.

When you feel the tunnel taking shape try:

  • Celebrating project milestones
  • Recruiting some help
  • Acknowledging unforeseen developments and adjust expectations accordingly
  • Getting some sleep or find a way to recharge your batteries
  • Pacing yourself and break up big tasks into little ones

Bottom line is you don’t have a crystal ball and sometimes you don’t know what exactly you’re getting yourself into or what will happen next.  Be reasonable with your expectations, deadlines, and assessments.  This holds true for individuals, teams, and especially leadership.  Keep going! whether you make it there today, tomorrow, or even never; you are making progress and that’s where your focus should be to stay productive and effective.

The Customer is (Not) Always Right

I’ve come to think that the old adage, “The customer is always right!” is only useful for someone just learning service.  It’s a safe way for a new or entry-level employee to operate.  In my role handling escalations, responding to complaints and maintaining a company’s reputation, I have come to a deeper understanding, and you know what, it pisses me off.  Social media and digital communication have swung an unreasonable amount of power to the customer.  When I say customer, I’m not talking about B2B, I’m talking about the self-righteous, self-centered end users that risk nothing and use the digital soapboxes to extort and manipulate your business.

I’m blessed to lead what is unquestionably the most compassionate, flexible, and generous warranty team in our industry. We regularly break our already lenient terms and conditions.  I have worked hard to eradicate the word “policy” from our agents’ lips and coach them to tell customers what they can do rather than what they can’t.  Additionally, we do not sell directly to vehicle owners.  Yet, with our volume of business, I face a small but steady stream of negative reviews on Google and Facebook.  Our company treats customers well and we have high star ratings and letter grades on all platforms.  Additionally, I don’t think my business customers are affected by a Facebook post from a VO with unreasonable expectations.  But I’m like you, I have tremendous pride in my operation and our service standards, and I’ll put ridiculous effort into protecting our reputation.

Ok, so you get a nasty review on Facebook and contact the customer in a genuine effort to make things right and leave them satisfied.  Well in today’s world I don’t think we are in a fair fight.  Most people/customers are reasonable, and if you’ve done someone wrong, shame on you, go make it right.  They have a right to complain, share their experience, and use whatever means necessary to get your attention.

The unreasonable customer is who I’m complaining about today.  It’s not enough to make things right or fair.  In order to keep these review extortionists at bay, you must do everything they demand no matter how ludicrous.

I had a customer today complain about a unit that was out over four years and 80,000 miles!  Our warranty is 3 years and that’s considerably long for a powertrain component.  I’ve lived and heard all kind of crazy stories.  You changed my oil and now my tail light is out, what the hell did you do to my car?!  I demand a remote starter and a case of beef jerky or I’m taking you to small claims court. The customer is not always right, and sometimes, they’re downright unreasonable.

Tomorrow I’m still going to be patient and placate these terrorists, I know I can’t reason with them and I can’t win.  They’ve been told the customer is always right for too long.  I offer no solutions to this problem, one that is bigger than any of us.  It spans across all industries and I don’t see it going away.  So, what are we to do about it?

Try to hold them accountable when you can risk it, and vent when you can’t.  I can keep doing it, but I need your help.

I need your best responses to an unfair review.

I need your best story of the customer that tried to damage your livelihood with a groundless complaint.

Go ahead let it out.  You’ll feel better.  I do.

Not All Customers Are Good Customers

If you are selling paperclips or pizza, this article may not be very relevant, but an increasing majority of US workers sell a service or a product plus the service to support it.  When service is a significant part of the customer or company relationship, not all customers are created equally.  Not all customers are good customers.

Customers shop, review, vet, and evaluate their options as a regular practice and use this information to influence their buying decisions.  Should companies make similar decisions about who they do business with?  Aren’t all sales and all customers good for the bottom line?  In my experience, spanning two decades, five states, and four industries I say absolutely not.

Some questions to help guide your thoughts are:

  • Do you know who your good customers or bad customers are?
  • What makes a good customer good?
  • What makes a bad customer?
  • What and how do you measure a customer?

What can or should you do with this info?  Can or should you fire a customer?  What about avoiding bad customers in the first place?

In defining a good (or bad) customer, you need to determine the factors that matter to your company. It is important to consider and evaluate the specific factors that impact your business, and how it should view its customers.  Here is a list of some factors that might apply:

  • Do they pay in a timely fashion?  What are the terms?
  • Are they loyal?
  • Do they share in both the profitable deals and the ones that turn south?
  • Can your business reasonably meet their expectations?
  • Does your brand or reputation benefit from the association?
  • Is servicing the account efficient or inefficient in relation to their volume?
  • Do your customer service and business ethics align?
  • Are they a good customer for today? Tomorrow?
  • What is your opportunity cost of working with them?  Who could you spend your resources on if they weren’t on your books?

Some industries have this down to a science; insurance companies, for instance, have complex algorithms that evaluate customers purchasing potential, loyalty, claim history, credit and other factors to determine how to treat and charge you.  You may be shocked to learn that when buying insurance or paying TV or cell phone coverage, that loyalty is actually penalized.  If you are loyal, you are less likely to leave and thus they can raise your prices.  The disloyal customer (who switches carriers/agencies/providers) gets the red carpet pricing treatment because their behavior shows the companies offering these services that they will leave for a better price.  These companies understand good and bad customers and have devised pricing and promotional strategies that align with this knowledge.

What’s critical here is that you consider the not all customers are created equal principle and determine the value of each type with respect to your businesses needs and make decisions and form strategy that supports your business’ health.

You do not need to put energy and resource into a losing proposition.  Reserve the right (and actually use it) to politely decline your services.  Make choices to your benefit.  Don’t keep shoveling the pile because a sale is a sale.  A sale is a sale, but not all of them are a good sale.

 

When to Respond in an EXTRAordinary Fashion

Most of us have jobs that involve customers and customer service, even if that is not in your actual job title.  My question to you today is when is it appropriate to do something extra-ordinary?  Chances are, “Do something special for customer,” is not on any forms at your organization, unless you work at Zappos or on my team at ETE.  Well, my team doesn’t have any written mandate, but I do urge them to do the unexpected as often as possible.

Special responses happen reactively rather than proactively far too often.  Consider the value the organization receives.  If you move mountains for a customer but it’s in response to their dissatisfaction, have you really done anything more than get back to net zero?  While solving issues is important, the real objective of going the extra mile is creating a WOW! experience for a customer, so they’ll tell everyone about how amazing you and your business are.

A popular customer service metric called NPS (net promoter score) focuses on this.  The logic is simple, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being most satisfied only the low and high scores matter.  Everything in the middle is thrown out.  Those customers had an expectation and you merely met it or were close enough.  They are not likely to promote your company or bad mouth it.  The focus is to limit negative experiences and increase the exceedingly satisfied ones.

Back to your job.  Does out of the ordinary occur when:

  • a customer leaves a negative review on the internet
  • you like their car
  • they have an insider connection
  • it’s a good customer who is loyal and promotes your business
  • the company is running a promotion
  • the customer is someone “important”?

I think the answer to when to do something special is: AS OFTEN AND AS RANDOMLY AS POSSIBLE.

I’m sure the often part makes sense to everyone, but why random?  I learned a great lesson in my college days bartending for a guy named Jerry.  He wanted his bartenders to give away free drinks to customers but always in a surprising fashion.  His wisdom was that anything routine, like first or last drink is on the house ends up creating an expectation and loses all its value.  He was so right!  If you don’t create a, “Wow, that’s awesome,” all you did was give something away for free, or worse.

Ok Ben, its easy to point out that doing special things for customers can create positive experiences, but someone has got to pay for all these free drinks!  No problem, your returning customers, and future referral customers, and anyone who reads the raving reviews (which will be most of them) will happily pick up the tab in the form of increased business and decreased marketing costs.  Don’t believe me?  Scared of telling all your employees to start spending your money creating WOW! experiences?  Test it.

Recall that old adage that half of your marketing dollars are wasted?  Budget some of that spend toward extraordinary responses and watch your bottom line.  Chances are your employees are already more careful about spending your money than you are.  I can’t tell you how many times my team will come to me asking for my blessing to invest $50-$100 on a customer’s experience.  My response is always the same: “Do you think it’s the right thing to do?”  “Will it result in a great experience?”  “Make sure they know what you did for them!”

If you want to make each customer experience work for the future of your business, my advice is do the extraordinary until extra-is-ordinary at your company.

 

Make Game Changing Plays

The holiday season brings family together, rewards some of us for enduring cold weather, and carries on traditions. It’s the most wonderful time of the year… especially if you are a football fan like me. Football is a tradition and a passion among many in my family, with my coworkers, and with our customers (right, Chris?).

Right around Thanksgiving things start getting interesting in the football season. The college teams have league championships and bowls and the NFL playoff race is shaking out.  If you are lucky like I feel this year, your team is on the rise with a new head coach, improved roster, and a playmaking defense.  One thing I’ve learned watching loads of football and absorbing the commentary, news, and lore is that having a positive turnover margin leads to a high chance of victory.  It’s true in every sport I’ve played –and at my workplace.

The turnover or (turnaround) is the play or moment that tilts momentum in your favor and helps me, you, and our team succeed – especially when the outcome is a score.  A defensive score, for example, is a huge factor in a football game.  Achieving a positive outcome in response to a challenge or threat is of major benefit for a company or an individual.

Achieving a positive turnover margin is simple. I protect the ball (my business) while still being aggressive enough to generate offense (make progress) and take the ball away from my opponent (and attempt to score).

My favorite teams, be it an NFL franchise or those I’m privileged to work with, are adept at taking the ball away on defense and scoring whenever possible. Think about game-changing turnaround moments in customer service. Whole companies are built on this: taking a dissatisfied or escalated customer interaction and making their day in the end.

How?

  • Protect the ball.
  • Secure my assets – and interests.
  • Protect reputation, market share, and profitability.
  • Be disruptive and seek to capitalize on opportunities.
    • I can’t jump every route and try to intercept the pass, but I should be looking for and working on the plays, processes, and projects that will be momentum boosts.
  • Be ready to make a big play, look for the right ones and trust my instincts…

…even if that takes me and three colleagues out of state with little notice on an over the top response to a challenging situation.

  • Find game-changing plays in operations.
    • Perhaps the process or part I am challenged by can become my – and your – strength.

Your team will win more than lose when maintaining a positive turnaround margin. When the other team is looking to score, don’t just settle for stopping them. Work on your weaknesses and seize opportunities to gain and swing momentum in your favor.


The Support Soigneur scores not only when he’s in the end zone, but when the turnover opportunity is seized. How do you make progress down the field? Add your thoughts below or email Ben directly!

The Cog in Your Customer Experience Strategy

A decade ago, I was a very fast man on the banked oval tracks known as velodromes. At one time, velodrome and track bicycle racing were the most popular spectator sports in America and the top racers held the land speed records of the day. Now, there are only a couple dozen velodromes in operation in the US and few people ever watch a track bicycle race outside of some random Olympic viewing. Trust me, it’s quite exciting!

While I only visit my nearby velodrome a few times a year rather than a few times a week these days, I still like to ride around on a fixed gear bicycle. I appreciate their simplicity and serviceability. Recently, I picked up a new (old) French track bike from a guy on Craigslist who had no idea what he had. I’m pretty sure someone had just abandoned this bike in the basement of his rental property.

I brought it home, cleaned it up, and decided to swap on a higher quality rear wheel I had hanging in my garage rafters. This is usually a very simple process, taking a couple 15mm axle nuts and swapping the cog (gear) from one wheel’s hub to the other. Problem? This cog was seized onto the hub of the old wheel. After putting considerable force on it with my chain whip tool and intermittently spraying PB Blaster on it, the damn thing wouldn’t budge. Somehow the “persuader” pipe I had used for extension leverage in these scenarios didn’t make my last move, which resulted in a trip to the local bike shop.

At the shop, they were able to remove the stubborn cog in a few minutes and the service guy walked me to the register. “That will be $17.64,” he said. Hmmm, I thought. It was a bit more than I expected, but certainly worth the time and effort I saved not fighting this with a vice, torch, and other medieval devices. “Really?” I asked him, wanting to confirm that was the correct amount. The line item in the receipt read FREEWHEEL REMOVAL – and my project was a cog removal. He confirmed. I shook my head, paid, and left.

While I was satisfied with the result and accepting of the service, this was a chump change ticket for this shop and cost them $0. They had no parts cost, they had no marketing cost, they had no sales or service expense, and the wrench that spent the two minutes on this work was spinning on a stool before I arrived.

What was the opportunity? For $17.64, this shop could have wowed a customer. The next time I don’t really feel like doing my own work, I’d have been much more likely to take my project in and pay the $85/hr service rate. In addition, I have two young boys ages 4 and 6. In the next 10 years, I will probably buy at minimum 6 bicycles plus helmets, gloves, tubes, tires, chains, lights, locks, and other accessories.

This little bike shop is a high-tech business with multiple locations and detailed customer information. I’m certain my purchase volume or some customer rating metric was on their point of sale screen. These days, every item in a bike shop today can be purchased online for at least 20% less. All that exists to make up this difference in price is the customer experience.

Why am I sharing this story? Because I want you to get this right. When you have an opportunity to wow someone for a small investment or by passing up a paltry sum of revenue, do it. An investment in a customer (and their word of mouth promotion) is a better investment than your great new marketing idea or discount or customer loyalty program. Make sure your entire staff knows this and is empowered to make it happen.

You can either spend a fortune continuously looking for new customers or you can create a loyal following of promoters that will do this work for you (and better than you could ever do it), simply by leaving the nickels and dimes out of your register and in your customers’ pockets. Let them keep the change, and you’ll stack the paper.


The Sales Cyclist had a stubborn bike cog – and a pretty common customer experience. Are you doing all you can in your own shop to “get it right”? Add your thoughts below or email Ben directly!