Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Good Customer Service Still Exists

As someone who tries to embody good customer service, I have come to realize a few things...

It is apparent that in this day and age good customer service is a dying breed. That being said, it is also apparent that it is alive and well in some places scattered throughout my travels.

Above you will notice a picture of the Pilot Travel Center located just off of I-84 exit 1 in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.

As a big fan of the "Rockstar 2x" energy drinks, I often find myself here to purchase that very beverage. Energy drinks, food and gas here at Pilot are more expensive than many of the local gas stations I visit from time to time (most likely due to its location).

However I often choose to stop in for my caffeine fix here versus some of the other local gas stations because the customer service here is always very good and often times superior to other local gas stations.

All of the cashiers have been very kind to me and one in particular (Louise Vrabel) always greets me with a "good morning, how are you today?" accompanied by a smile and a compliment on the weather or recent events in addition to offering me savings on my purchase if there happens to be any good deals in relation to them.

This simple kindness and projection of positive energy and interest in customers well-being is something which I find lacking in many peoples approach to customer service these days.

The old saying "I may not remember your name but I will never forget how you make me feel" rings true in regards to all transactions from the gas station purchase to the signing and execution of a major managed print services contract.

This may sound trivial to you but I can assure you, a cashier who makes it a point to smile, take note of their return customers and make their short visit enjoyable is not always present in many similar establishments I have visited.

Another local gas station of whom I will not name has a couple similar employees...

They also have a gentleman who does his job well but simply does not poses a spirit of service towards the clientele. On numerous occasions one of his contemporaries has stopped me to ask if I would like to take advantage of "the buy one get one" deal on my preferred brand of energy drinks while this gentleman never even mentions the possibility.

It is only recently that he has made it a habit of saying "thanks" or "have a nice day" upon my exit, words of which it seems he has to struggle to get out.

While I hold nothing against this gentleman his demeanor is one reason I do at times choose to purchase my morning beverage from the Pilot store instead of the one at which he works. While the higher prices are enough to have me choose otherwise at times, I will often times choose to spend more for same product from a business who projects better customer service and positive energy.

Louise and the other cashiers quality of customer service at Pilot make the extra dollars worth it.

So if your ever in Sturbridge near I-84 stop by the Pilot Travel Center, the customer service alone is worth a visit.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When The Student Is Ready...

Mark Schaefer and I at "CLINK" Boston, MA.

Here is an excerpt from my new book

Music, Mischief And Marketing: A Guerrillas Guide For The Creative Protagonist

From chapter 9:
When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Will Appear

"The title of this chapter is an old Buddhist proverb that speaks volumes about my own experiences in Marketing. When I started out in my position as Expert Laser Services “Chief Social Media Marketing Engineer” (as I have been dubbed by management) I had no credentials, no budget and a mere six months to show some ROI.

What on earth was I to do?

Not only was thinking outside of the box my only option, it was the only thing that made sense at that point in time. As an autodidact, I leapt headlong into educating myself about social media, B2B Marketing, the state of our industry and how to combine and utilize knowledge from each of those resources.

In addition to studying marketing and mps industry blogs I worked hard at developing my own perspective, a unique voice within an industry that already had its fair share of experts spread over the blogosphere.

Being true to your self is key in a position such as this. Listening to my own intuition and trying to think as a consumer within my market space, I created content that I would want to see coming from a vendor such as my own company.

With the internet still pulsing with free knowledge I simply soaked up everything I could from all other marketing experts and industry pundits that I could while simultaneously presenting my own variants of opinions and information via the company blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn page and Twitter account.

To be an “expert” you simply have to be at least two steps ahead of those who view you as a thought leader and always learning more, day in and day out.

While using this same process in becoming a thought leader in my own industry, I formulated the first installment of the “Destroy Your Printer Contest”.

On October 19th of 2009 I (the student) had apparently become ready for exposure on Mark Scheafer’s (the teacher) “Grow” marketing blog. Mark who is a legend in his own right as author of one of the top marketing blogs on the net, Professor of social media at Rutgers University and author of the book “The Tao of Twitter” was the first person to break the story of my now infamous and annual destruction contest.

I truly feel that his post about my work is the seed that has sprouted into a cornucopia of media surrounding my work which includes coverage from countless blogs in both the marketing and MPS industries as well as the New York Times, Recycler Magazine, and multiple books.

Indeed, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear…"

In the picture above you will find both myself and Mark Schaefer striking a pose. In this shot we are sitting in the restaurant "CLINK" which resides in the beautiful Liberty Hotel in Boston Massachusetts. Mark and I finally had the chance to meet here in person after years of communication via the internet and a short phone call a while back.

Meeting Mark in person was more like reconnecting with an old friend than meeting a fellow human being in person for the first time.

Friendly, professional, humble and generous...

In addition to being a master of his craft, Mark is the epitome of the above terms.

If you ever have the chance to meet with Mark, I highly recommend jumping at the opportunity. A conversation with this man will likely result in your own bursts of inspiration. Truly a great person with a great mind, Mark is simply a joy to be around.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Power Of The Egregore

First off...

What is an egregore?

Wikipedia has this to say about the subject...

"Egregore (also egregor) is an occult concept representing a "thoughtform" or "collective group mind", an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people. The symbiotic relationship between an egregore and its group has been compared to the more recent, non-occult concepts of the corporation (as a legal entity) and the meme."

So, what does this concept have to do with anything regarding our industry?

Well to really understand the depth of this question, let us consider a few examples of well known egregores.

Santa Claus
Uncle Sam
Bugs Bunny

All three of these characters are egregores. None of them exist in reality, however they are very much so "real" to thousands if not millions of people as known personalities.

Santa Claus is actually considered by many (primarily children) to be a real, living and breathing magical human being who takes residence in the north pole. As such he is one of a select few if not the only person to posses a group of flying reindeer whom he employs to deliver toys to all the children of the world on Christmas eve.

The egregore that is Santa Claus is given and sustains its life as an artificial psychic entity by the countless children whom believe him to be real and by their parents who suggest and support his existence.

While Santa Claus is also a talisman of great power of which parents use from time to time as a way to have their children behave well on occasions where they become unruly, he is also a symbol of great love, peace, magic(k), myth and wonderment.

In addition he is used as a marketing tool to generate millions of dollars in sales in multiple industries every year.

Some would even suggest that he is the epitome of the demi-god...

I have illustrated these points to lead up to this part of the post where I will now remind you of the non-occult, egregorious concept of the corporation.

When a large corporation has a name, logo or other symbolic sign of power associated with said organization it is essentially an egregore.

Often times, due to the perceptions of those people who make up the group mind surrounding the egregores identity (perhaps the corporations logo or name for example) people tend to make assumptions about what that corporation and it's symbols mean.

Lets say you have a giant in the industry who is well known for producing laser printers, computers and or various other pieces of technology many of which revolve around the business/office side of the perceptions surrounding its brand...

Because said entity is so established as an "expert" or "thought leader" within one spectrum of the industry, it may be very easy for said entity to suggest to the public that upon entering the managed print services industry despite its gross lack of expertise, it is an expert in said industry simply because it claims to be one.

Now, because this corporation is in and of itself or has created an egregore in relation to its logo or brand, those in the public whose presumptions form the basis of the egregores identity via the group mind that exists because of their preconceived notions about what that corporation is, now also support the notion that this corporation is an expert in this field whether or not this is actually true.

So to clarify...

A well established business that is an expert in one relm of an industry can enter another realm of the same industry with no experience and still take a large share of the market away from smaller true industry experts, simply because they wield the psychological power to shift the perspectives of the public in favor of what they want you to believe.

Sound to crazy to be true?

If you think so, take a look the companies in the managed print services space who have the majority of the market share on contract and compare how long they have been in the industry to some of the smaller independent providers.

Do you honestly think that 5 years, 6 years or even 10 years is enough time for those larger companies to build the infrastructure, train their sales staff, service techs and other employees, sign multi-year contracts, and experience/learn from the dynamic atmosphere related to the execution of said contracts to really suggest they are experts?

Well fortunately for them, they have large marketing departments with talented professionals who are trained in the craft.

After all, if you have a global presence that must automatically make you an expert right?

Something to consider the next time a salesman walks through your door and asks to speak to your CFO or IT manager about managed print services...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Meditations On Losing A Relationship

I was originally going to title this post "Meditations On Losing A Sale".

I decided against this because to me, describing what happens when a customer purchases a machine or service plan from me as a "sale" is a bastardization of what it is really happening.

I know that with every sale made, a relationship begins.

I am not perfect but try very hard to go above and beyond for my customers. Because they are not just customers, they are human beings who have entrusted me to take care of them in regards to their office imaging needs...

I personally hate the term "salesman" because it dredges up all kinds of negative imagery and that happens for a reason.

Many salesmen are notoriously greedy, self servicing dark wizards bent on one thing...

Cold hard cash. Getting the next big "score".

I fully, with every ounce of my being hate the fact that there are so many sales professionals who who choose to embody this negative stereotype.

It is my personal mission to be the antithesis of this persona.

I put my customers first and keep my focus on their needs. I do all I can to provide a fair price for the best possible products and services, with my commission always being an afterthought and never front and center of my motivations.

So when I loose a sale to some one like this. It is painful. And while some of that pain is my own, it is not nearly as painful to my ego as it will be to the customers wallet.

Recently I proposed a copier to a customer who has been doing business with us for over 6 years.

While I fully expected them to get at least a second proposal for comparison to our own, I never imagined they would buy the same machine with both minimum and overage charges in addition to a higher regular rate.

What supposedly set off the decision maker in this company is the fact that we included a charge for scans at .0002 per scan...

And while the other vendor did not charge for scanning, their regular rates were both higher than ours. Further more, we did not charge overages or give them a minimum monthly output as this other vendor has.

Consequently, they are now spending more on their service plan with this other vendor than they would have with our plan even if we still charged them for scanning (which we offered to remove as sign of good faith in that we cherished them as a customer and would work with them to keep their business).

The real travesty here is the fact that even with our scanning charges our option would have been cheaper.

Now this is one copier sale...

For me, the commission from this sale would equate to perhaps, gas money for a few weeks. Financially, its not a major loss to me.

Emotionally it is frustrating because they have been hoodwinked by this other vendor...

I am not upset that I lost "another score" as some in the sales craft would put it.

I am upset about this because I lost a relationship with a customer to an individual who probably thinks of these people as another feather in their cap...

Another score... Another piece of meat.

I am upset about it because this other salesman, slicked his hair back, shot an elevator pitch and used the same age old techniques of coercive persuasion that is so prevalent in the craft of "pocket lining" it is virtually an accepted practice in the art of sales.

What I am trying to get at here is that whether you buy from me or from anyone else.

Don't be had. Do your homework and really look at the MATH.

It is so easy to be deceived by the language of a talented and experienced sales professional, especially if their intentions are focused on their commission versus your happiness and satisfaction.

Don't assume they are saving you anything by eliminating one cost when such "generosities" are accompanied by minimums and overage charges in the details.

I can honestly say that while I am always interested in new business, I will not sacrifice the value of a relationship with another human being for a larger financial return.

At the risk of being repetitive, I implore you...

Be awake. Be aware. Do your homework.