Archive for 'training'

When Sought Out Criticism Fails Miserably

Yesterday, I noticed a television ad for a local Tex-Mex chain named Tumbleweed that is based here in Louisville promoting a website (Tell Terry What You Think) to tell their CEO (Terry Smith) what you think. A couple of months ago, I had a rotten experience in one of their restaurants simply trying to place a carry out order when I dropped in on my way home one night, and I wanted to tell someone higher up within their company in hopes they’d do something about it. I decided to tell the CEO about my experience via his new website. I figured if the guy was willing to shell out the money to generate a television ad, he must be serious about fixing the company’s many problems.

Tumbleweed’s Main Problems: Tumbleweed used to be a thriving chain that packed customers in every day. There have been several upper level management changes over the years, and the chain has struggled mightily due to Authentic Mexican restaurants sprouting up all around in addition to the fast casual Mexican segment including Q-Doba, Moe’s, LaBamba, etc. I used to LOVE Tumbleweed, but their customer service has been consistently poor, and their chips (always stale tasting) and salsa pale in comparison to their top competitors. Their burritos are good, but that’s not enough anymore. Anyone can make a pretty good burrito–it’s a lot like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still good enough.

Back to the story: my e-mail outlined my experience in pretty good detail and even offered to help by consulting with the company since that’s what I do. I tried to offer solutions to the problems, but it’s apparent that all the money spent advertising the website is in hopes that the complimentary e-mails come flooding in because the complaints will be dealt with much like this:
—————————————-
Roger,

Thank you for making use of my new website and for providing comments on your experience at our Springhurst Tumbleweed. I will pass your comments on to our team in Springhurst and know that they will be disappointed to hear of your experience. It does sound as if one of our team members “dropped the ball” during your carry out order and for that I am deeply sorry and apologize for the inconvenience that it caused you.

If you were to visit one of our restaurants today you would find a guest comment card asking that you request a manager’s presence at the first sign of a difficulty in one of our restaurants. We have a new management team in Springhurst and the performance at this restaurant has been well above average over the past few months.

Again, I appreciate your comments and hope you have an opportunity to try Tumbleweed again and tell me what you think.

Terry
—————————————-

First off, how does his recommended solution of trying Tumbleweed again (on my dime I might add) benefit me in any way? Obviously, in spite of his website and TV ad designed to welcome feedback, the guy doesn’t get it! I have little desire to go back, and that’s why I e-mailed him in the first place about my unpleasant experience and to offer consulting help. The place needs someone that understands placing the customer first, and this guy is out to lunch if that’s really his genuine recommendation and not some detached assistant’s. I sincerely hope a CEO doesn’t think that’s a viable solution to a customer service problem!

I don’t like Tumbleweed enough to tolerate rotten service and a brush off from their CEO that basically says to me “get over it” and “visit again because we have new management.” Who gives a damn that you have new management? How does that help me with my daily decision making when it comes to choosing a place to eat? I don’t choose eateries based on their management team! There are far too many quality competitors out there to lower my expectations to help some self serving organization that doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether I tell you about my bad experience or not.

Guess what? I’m now telling anyone who will listen in the most public of forums because they neither listened nor cared enough to pay attention. I honestly could care less if they take me up on my consulting offer–I have plenty to do without having to educate this chain that customers pay the bills, and poor customer service is a sign of poor training, poor management, and/or poor hiring practices. In Tumbleweed’s case, I vote for all of the above. Add to that: lack of committed leadership.

Lesson to be learned: if you’re going to give people a forum to tell you what they think, be prepared for people to take you up on it by telling you exactly what they think–good and bad. If someone complains, take the time to listen and try to provide a legitimate solution as quickly as possible. Don’t waste people’s time with some canned response that shows you don’t really read the complaints. If you only want compliments and positive referrals, it’s best to selectively target only those folks which will tell you what you want to hear. Those that tell you what you need to hear are obviously of little value to you anyway so why bother opening up the lines of communication to everyone?

Tumbleweed, you let me down. I honestly thought you might be trying to recapture some of your past glory by welcoming feedback of all sorts this time and actually doing something about the poor customer service that has marred your chain for years now. Oh well, have fun filing for bankruptcy within the next 3-5 years. It was good knowing you!

UPDATE: IT GETS BETTER!

I just received another e-mail from Terry (or is it one of his assistants?)

——————–

Roger,

Here’s what’s in it for you; a juicy USDA choice ribeye steak aged 21 days and grilled over a superhot mesquite wood fire until it’s juicy flavor is just right for he your palate. Get this with two great sides and you have one of the best meals for the money found anywhere in Louisville.

If that’s not reason enough to visit Tumbleweed you’ll just have to guess at what you are missing.

Terry
——————–

WTF?!? If he actually is the one reading and responding to the e-mails, he’s more out to lunch than one could ever imagine. This is getting downright comical!

Before Tackling SEO In-House, Weigh Your Options

Have you ever wondered “can’t I just perform search engine optimization in-house?” The answer is a resounding “yes, you can,” but there are many things to consider prior to starting your own in-house SEO program. If everything does not line up at the moment, it may be a wiser decision to bring in an outsider to optimize your website properly. Let’s look at some common considerations.

The initial question you should ask yourself prior to undertaking an in-house SEO program is “do I currently have the staff expertise to tackle SEO effectively?” Good candidates for SEO have traits such as: good research skills, learns quickly, high attention to detail, adapts well to change, enjoys solving fairly complex puzzles, is technologically savvy, and isn’t afraid to try various approaches to solve a problem. If you do not spot these basic traits in someone on your staff which could transition smoothly into an SEO role, it might be wise to look externally for some help.

If there is no one obvious on board currently, who else might be an ideal choice within your organizational ranks to learn SEO? Perhaps training someone that is unhappy in their current role, yet is still considered an asset to the organization, may provide a good opportunity to transition that person over to an important new role. Maybe there is someone that is very intelligent which isn’t so happy dealing with people on a regular basis—they may make a good candidate also.

Once you have a candidate or team sketched out, how will you train them? There are several places to look for training and several sources of basic information, but it may be best to hire an outside firm with the sole purpose of training some of your people as they perform the actual services. Many reputable firms will agree to this type of arrangement provided you are clear with your objectives early on in the relationship, and you set a realistic timeframe. This presents a potential win-win outcome in many cases because the outside firm can lay claim to improved ratings as a result of your partnership, and you can build your new team while sharing in the publicity your site brings to both parties. Keep in mind it can take anywhere from two solid months to a year to get someone up to snuff so don’t expect miracles overnight just because you’ve pegged some folks to take on this role. If someone is really passionate about learning, the curve can be shorter, but that is an exception rather than a rule. Most people are resistant to change which means they won’t fully invest of themselves immediately.

Lastly, are SEO tasks performed in-house really cost effective for your organization at this stage of the game? Many SEO firms charge, on average, anywhere from $2,000-10,000 per month to perform their services. That’s a somewhat broad price range, but it takes into account several factors such as: how competitive are the keywords you’re wanting to rank well for, how many high ranking back-links might it take to improve your site’s ranking, will original content generation be a major factor, how well does the site rank today, how long until consistent results may be evident, and so forth. SEO is not a quick fix project and should be viewed as a long range strategic investment versus a one-time project.

If, after reading over this brief list of considerations, you even slightly believe it would be of greater long-term benefit to your company to hire an external firm, it might save some headaches down the road to just bite the bullet and hire someone now. SEO can definitely be done in house, but it takes appropriate planning and allocation of resources just like anything else.

For more Search Engine Optimization information, please visit our company site.

Leveraging Better Competition

Most people who know the least bit about me know I’m a huge University of Louisville athletics fan, and I’m also an avid cyclist. I’ve been a season ticket holder for UofL football and basketball for over ten years, and I’ve been involved in organized cycling for seven plus years. It is through these two interests in conjunction with a childhood of playing competitive baseball I have developed a strong appreciation for the value of solid competition. It has also taught me that in order to achieve improvement, you need to compete against those stronger/better than you.

This Thursday’s West Virginia versus UofL football game is a case study in the value of strong competition. Last year, Louisville (and others) joined the Big East Conference, and many said it was a conference undeserving of a BCS bowl bid and was a severely watered down football product. Nobody questioned the level of competition in basketball, but the losses of Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech in football was supposed to be too great a hurdle to climb in terms of bonafide respectability. Nobody was counting on Louisville and West Virginia raising the football bar to Top 5 levels so quickly. West Virginia comes in ranked #3; Louisville #5. The high level of play by both programs already has forced programs like Rutgers and Pittsburgh to improve, making the overall conference a pretty formidable league all of a sudden. Syracuse and Cincinnati have shown improvement but are likely a couple of years away from being real threats. UConn and South Florida aren’t pushovers necessarily, but they haven’t quite kept up with the others in the league. The league itself has moved ahead of traditional powerhouse leagues in the computer rankings because it is much stronger top to bottom than many envisioned. My belief is the top tier programs have forced the bottom tier to step it up or risk embarrassment and humiliation (a very strong motivator).

In cycling, there are five divisions in road racing (Categories 1-5 with 1 being strongest). I’m admittedly not in that strongest group (I raced Category 4 this past season), but I frequently train with some of the category 1-3 guys when improvement is my focus. Time constraints often prevent many of the members on our team from training the 20+ hours/week it requires to race at that top level. If I consistently train with my peer group, however, I’ll merely maintain my existing fitness levels, and I’m less likely to move up to a higher category. Our team (Team Louisville) has been debating various improvement training programs on our team message board the past few days so that’s why I’m including this in today’s post. Some have called for our team to strictly train together with no other teams involved over the winter, and others have suggested that we mix it up with stronger teams in order to improve our overall team. The problem with training just with our team is our team is composed of cyclists of very similar abilities and styles. To me, it’s not an endeavor that is going to improve our team or teach it anything new. That will come with training consistently with stronger riders and teams which brings me back to the value of stiff competition.

If you are looking to improve your business or any aspect of your life, look at businesses or individuals that are currently better than you at whatever it is you’re looking to improve upon. If you merely continue challenging yourself in a manner you are accustomed, you will succeed at developing a plateau not improvement. Sports provide several good examples of this concept in action, and the lessons should not be lost in the business world.

Product Differentiation? Hardly.

By Roger Bauer

It struck me the other day during lunch at a local Moe’s Southwestern Grill that a new phenomenon has swept the restaurant landscape in the form of poor attempts to differentiate from the competition—renaming accepted terms of business with cutesy nicknames. This is readily visible in the faster food sector, and it’s becoming more prevalent as companies struggle to connect with the consumer in manners which create loyalty and/or preference.

Take Moe’s as a primary example. Personally, I believe they have a very good product to offer, but they’ve gone and out “cuted” themselves with ridiculously silly nicknames for their fare which only serve to confuse and frustrate the customer. It’s easy to see them thinking behind the scenes, but it’s a risky attempt at product differentiation. They’re in fierce competition with franchises such as Qdoba, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, LaBamba, Taco Bell, and Tijuana Flats, (plus many others) but those competitors don’t require a translator to order a simple burrito or taco. Try popping into one of those places one day or night to order a “Joey” or an “Alfredo Garcia.” You’ll get looked at like you have three heads (with good reason).

What would possess a franchise to resort to childish nicknames to try to differentiate themselves? It’s probably an executive’s poor excuse of a marketing concept designed to separate from the competition, but that’s not the type of separation that enables your concept to survive long term. It will ultimately separate them all right—the competition will eventually gain as the initial shtick gives way to annoyance and turns consumers off to the point they prefer the competition even with all other factors being relatively equal.

Sure, things look great for Moe’s presently, and the concept seems “fresh” today, but that can change on a dime without warning. Their current growth could be sapped with one false step because there is less room to wiggle when you’re attempting to retrain your customer base to conform to your concept. What happens if the consumer collectively says “I’m no longer in the mood for Moe?” Would being “cute” be overruled by a desire to becoming truly different (i.e. better)?

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of positives. Their restaurants are well laid out, the décor is modern, the lighting is appropriate, and the food is tasty not to mention reasonably priced. The physical atmosphere is hip and inviting. There are glaring negatives, too. The staff collectively insisting on yelling “Welcome to Moe’s!” at the top of their lungs as a new customer enters doesn’t make me want to setup shop for very long. I can’t wait to get out so I don’t have to hear that any more than I have to. I’d like a little peace and normalcy with my meal Moe, thanks.

Topping off the frustrating concept Moe’s obviously insists upon cramming down the consumer’s throat is the staff correcting the customer when ordering by the desired ingredients instead of its nickname. You’re not training me Moe, you’re supposed to be providing a quality and quick meal which I am going to ring your register for—don’t correct me, simply make the food, take the money, and let me eat in peace!

Moe’s is not alone in this feeble attempt at differentiation, and they won’t be the last, but the lesson to be learned is to keep customer service just that—customer service. The customer is paying so don’t believe you’re going to train the customer as long as the equation is structured that way. If you begin to pay people to come into your franchise or business, you’re well within your rights to try to train them to do business your way. Stick to doing business as the industry dictates until you develop a better way of doing things. Then, and only then, you will have a true differentiator. Simply renaming a common item or process doesn’t make you different—it makes you contrarian. Don’t confuse the two.

Roger Bauer is Founder and CEO of SMB Consulting, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky based small business consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, web presence, internet marketing, SEO, technology, and business analysis. To learn more, point your browser to Business Consulting. To contact a small business consultant today, e-mail info@smbconsultinginc.com.

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