Small Business Week?

From the Small Business Week web site:

small_biz_week

Just because we’re small doesn’t mean our “week” should only be three days long, does it?

Customer Service–Washington Style

I consider myself a good citizen, certainly one who loves my country. But I have to admit that I have some trust issues with the current crowd in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. So, you can imagine my response when I received a letter over the weekend from the United States Department of State. I was born right here in the heartland of America, so I don’t think they can deport me.  It’s doubtful that the current administration would appoint me as ambassador to anything or any place.  So. I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

I opened the envelope and was relieved when it didn’t explode or spew any strange white powder.  In fact, it actually contained money–a money order for $8.48!

It was so long ago that I had almost forgotten it, but last summer, when I applied for a passport, to be blunt, they screwed it up.  My official US identification said that I was born in Hannibal, Maryland.  (MO vs MD)  It’s a simple mistake except for the fact that (1) there is no Hannibal, Maryland and (2) my previous passport had the correct information.

I had visions of myself returning to the US only to be told that my passport was invalid and that I would have to go back to Ireland (not an altogether unpleasant thought) but for the sake of my wife and kids, I decided I’d better get the thing straightened out.  So I sent everything back so they could try again.  The second time was the charm.  Of course I had to pay to have photos retaken and to mail everything back to South Carolina.

The letter I received this week was the government’s “mea culpa”.  Here’s what it said:

Dear Mr. Buckley:

The Charleston Passport Center deeply regrets the error that occurred during the processing of your passport.  Please accept the enclosed money order as reimbursement for your costs associated with this error.

We apologize for any inconvenience that you may have experienced, and hope that our next opportunity to serve your passport needs will be more proficient. [emphasis mine]

Sincerely yours,

Timothy M. Wiesnet

Director

Don’t get me wrong.  I appreciate the $8.48 and will put it to good use.  Obviously the government is trying to get its act together when it comes to customer service.  But they need to work on the time thing.  It’s been about nine months since the original mistake was made.

Fortunately for you and me, we can learn from others’ mistakes.  When we make a mistake, own up to it right away.  We should correct our errors in hours, not months.  Own up to it, apologize, do whatever it takes to restore the customer to their desired state (refund, replacement product or service, whatever it takes) and you end up with a loyal customer.  Anything less just isn’t good enough.

Of course, the next time I need to renew my passport I won’t be able to shop around.  The government is mother of all monopolies.  Give them points for doing something when they didn’t have to anything at all.  But, you and I aren’t that lucky. Our customers do have a choice.  We have to do everything we can to make sure that they choose us.

Help Fight a Killer!

tour_spoMore observant readers may notice that a new tab has been added at the top of the page.  It’s a page called “Help Fight Diabetes!”.  To make a long story short (and you can read the longer story by clicking the tab) my son and I will be riding in the Tour de Cure, a bike ride to raise money for the American Diabetes Association.

Here’s the thing.  Even though I have type 2 diabetes myself, my real reason for riding is to help raise money to keep other people from getting the disease and to help find a cure for those who already have it, especially the kids.  Most of us associate diabetes with eating too many sweets and with being overweight.  And that’s true.  But it can strike at any age, even in young children.  The idea of my grandkids or yours having to stick themselves two or three times a day to check their blood sugar and possibly taking insulin shots for the rest of their lives  scares the hell out of me.

So, here’s what I’m going to do.  First, I’m inviting you to participate by making a small donation.  Click on the page link above to do that (or click here).  Second, as a guy who promotes social media, I’m going to put the power of facebook, twitter, and other social media tools to work to ask for donations.  I have enough connections through these sites that I should be able to raise a nice amount of money.  Consider your donation as a gift to fight a deadly disease and a test of the power of the Internet.  I’d really appreciate it if you would encourage your friends to donate too.  Let’s show the world what a few committed geeks can do.

Third, and certainly not least, I want to encourage you to get yourself tested.  Nearly six million people have diabetes and don’t know it.  All it takes is a simple blood test to find out if you have the disease, or if you are in danger of getting it.  Do yourself and your family a huge favor by getting the test.  While it’s not curable (yet), diabetes is certainly controllable.  But you can’t control it if you don’t know you have it.

Thank you in advance for your help!

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Another Virus!

Just last month we were all concerned about a virus that might attack our computers. The April 1 date has come and gone but according to the experts we’re not out of the woods yet.

Now we’re being warned about a different type of virus. This time the target isn’t our computer, it’s us. We’re being warned about a potential “pandemic” of swine flu. “Pandemic” is a good example of an obscure term that can suddenly become a buzzword, seemingly overnight.

Obviously this is no laughing matter.  Like the conficker computer virus, swine flu may be an overblown threat. But since this one has killed people, it’s certainly worth our attention. Since it spreads by human contact, and since most of us are in the business of human contact, we should be careful.

There are a number of precautions that you can take and that’s beyond the scope of this blog. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site for more information. But at the very minimum, you should wash your hands frequently and make sure the things you touch often are squeeky clean. Cash registers, phones, counters, door knobs and handles, display merchandise, and any number of other surfaces should be kept clean with a disinfectant cleaner.

Waterless hand cleaner, can literally be a life saver. Make sure you have some at every work station and that you and your staff use it.

When in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Mea Culpa

One thing about the Internet, when you suck it’s right there for everyone to see.  Frankly, this has been a terrible blogging week.  There have just been too many things going on.  For starters, the weather here in the heartland has been awesome.  It’s been in the 70s with sun most of the time.  I haven’t been able to resist putting some serious (for me) miles on the bicycle.  It’s been a great chance to catch up on my podcast listening but it’s seriously cut into my writing time.

It’s also been a week of strange computer issues.  I can’t get onto Facebook and repeated requests for tech support have gone unanswered.   Then there’s TweetDeck.  I love TweetDeck.  It’s a neat way to access your Twitter feeds and frankly it’s spoiled me.  So, when a new version of the program came available, I jumped right on it.  Unfortunately, the new version doesn’t work on my machine.  Like the Facebook issue, I’ve tried several times to get help from TweetDeck tech support with no success.

None of these things is an excuse for not providing better content this week to you, my faithful readers and I promise to do better in the future.  But it does show how easy it is to get caught up in day-to-day stuff and get distracted from the important things.

But it also shows that social media isn’t the only thing in life.  Maybe it doesn’t hurt to step away once in a while to smell the roses, to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, or to curse the gremlins that sometimes live inside our computers.

Let me leave you with something neat before we head into the weekend.  I received a notification this morning that KMZU Radio is following me on Twitter.  I tweeted them a thank you message and got the following message back:  Thank You, too, Mike Buckley! May the BLESSINGS truly Be! Have a great day.”

What a great, positive message.  We can all use more blessings and this one was greatly appreciated.  Another lesson learned from an unlikely source. 

To all of you, may the BLESSINGS truly Be!  Have a great day and weekend!

PS.  I spent a lot of time in my car during my days as a traveling salesman and I fell in love with small- to mid- market radio.  Just for fun, here’s a KMZU TV spot.

Sweating the Small Stuff

I know you’ve heard the expression, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Sometimes it may be good advice, but in running our businesses, it’s often the small stuff that can make a big difference. From Seth Godin’s blog comes an interesting story about a bread shop. The shop opens every day at 6:00 am. That seems very early, especially in the small town where this business is located. But, every morning at 6:00, 20 to 50 people board a bus, headed for a day at the shore. That’s 20 to 50 potential customers who are on the bus, leaving town when the shop opens its doors. If the owner were to open just ten minutes earlier, the difference in sales would be substantial. Just 70 minutes of additional work per week (assuming the shop is open and the bus runs seven days per week) could yield as many as 350 more customers per week. Sometimes it pays to “sweat the small stuff.” Is there any small stuff that you might be overlooking in your business?

[This post originally appeared on “Mine Your Own Business“, May 30, 2006.]

Step Away From the Computer

This blog focuses on small business, quality, and social media.  We try to provide an equal balance of all three.  But as I look at the various blogs, podcasts, twitter streams, and other social media that I follow I’m noticing that there’s way too much coverage of social media.  I mean, how many posts about using Twitter in your small business can you read anyway.  My apologies for contributing to this glut of redundant information.

Today I’d like to offer a short, simple piece of advise for your business.  Close this page, get up from your chair, and go find a customer.  If you’re in retail it should be easy.  There’s probably a customer under your roof as you read this.  If you don’t operate out of a storefront, you may have to do a little more.  You may have to make a phone call.  You may have to actually leave the building.

As I write this many of you are past the half-way point of your work day.  Set the paperwork aside and actually communicate face-to-face, or at least by phone with another human being who might  buy your product or service or refer you to someone who will.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still a big believer in using the internet, especially the web 2.0 tools, to market your business.  But you can fall into a viscious trap if you spend your whole day staring at a computer monitor.  Life is all about balance.

That’s it for today.  I’m outta here.