Do You Charge for Estimates?

money1As a service provider, much of my time is spent meeting with potential customers. Whether over the phone or in person I have the opportunity to ask questions about their needs so that I can assess the project and offer an estimate for the cost and benefits of working together.

I don’t charge for this. Do you?

A great majority of the time after our meeting, if the proposal meets their needs and their budget, we proceed. However, sometimes the project doesn’t happen.  I suppose I am out the time and money spent on driving to the meeting, having the meeting and writing the proposal; however, I look at it as an investment in my business. 

Today, while taking my car in for an estimate of repairs, I noticed a sign that read:

One free estimate per car

$5 for each additional estimate

To be honest, I had to keep myself from laughing outloud. $5? Really? I will admit that I have seen companies that charge a fee for the estimate or consultation but then deduct that fee from the entire project should you decide to work together. But five dollars to look at the body of my car for less than five minutes?

Perhaps the dollar amount is small enough that people don’t hesitate, but when you consider that most auto body repair jobs end up costing several hundred dollars – if not more, just what is the company gaining by charging $5.  A better question might be – what are they loosing?

The purpose of an estimate or initial consultation is to uncover the needs but also to share your expertise. There is so much competition that consumers have an overwhelming number of choices. Why place a road block, even a $5 road block between you and the opportunity to have a new customer?




This Service Stinks

From Cartoon

From Cartoon

I have bugs in my living room. Big, leggy, gross bugs and when you squish them a blue goo comes out.  Ick.  At first there was just one and then a few days later, one more.  Over the last month I’ve seen and disposed of about 12 of them and yesterday when I saw one on the wall, I had had it and decided to learn more.  I carefully put the bug, still living, in a sandwich bag, grabbed my purse and headed to the local “helpful place.”

I was given great assistance by a young man who not only knew the bug to be a stink bug but that it was harmless and sensitive and found a stink bug catcher than I could hang in my living room. I had done quite a bit of digging in the dirt around the edge of my house in the back and had noticed the bugs out back and he assured me that this trap would take care of the ones inside.

So home I come, ready to get rid of the stink bugs only to discover that for inside use I also need a special stink light sold separately.  It doesn’t work without the light.

So one day later I head back to the helpful place and was met by two women who said I probably just needed to open the box.  Nope, I assured them and then pointed to the small disclaimer on the box.  I said that I’d been told this would do the trick and did they have a light?

I was taken to the section of the store and was told that nope, they don’t carry the light.

So I was sold something that won’t work? I asked. 

She didn’t make eye contact. She didn’t apologize.  She did not offer to call another store or order one in for me.  She just turned away and walked up to another customer to see if she could dispense more of her helpful service.

I can understand that some stores can’t possibly afford to carry all of the inventory available. I can also understand that stores sell out of popular items during certain times of the year.  But to not acknowledge the situation I was now in and to walk away without offering any further assistance or at the very least suggesting that Lowes or Home Depot might have what I need, felt hugely less than helpful.

What do you think?  Is it common sense to try and find a solution for your customers or is the “oh well” attitude that I encountered what we now should expect when shopping?


Making it Easy to Do Business

Are You Easy to Do Business With? Are You Sure?

Today the mirror was held up to my business and the reflection wasn’t pretty. It has nothing to do with the oral surgery from yesterday and my swollen chipmunk cheek or the red nose from a wicked bad cold….nope, a potential customer showed me that I wasn’t that easy to do business with.

In this month’s newsletter, I mention that one thing I recommend we do this year is write an e-book – a showcase of our knowledge and expertise.  Someone emailed me and asked if I already had e-books for sale.

Yes, I replied. I then proceeded to give him five different website addresses where he could find information about the different books. Now, when I wrote the books, they each had a different niche and audience and so I created different landing pages and opportunities to purchase but it wasn’t until he sent me this response that I realized how difficult I made things for my customer:

I had trouble finding each of these.  Could you provide direct links?  For example, I found your Business Basics book, but I did not see an option to choose either a hard copy or an e-book copy. . .  
I was making him work harder than he needed to and I had made it confusing. Wow!  I had truly missed the mark. So thanks to his persistence and communication, I have created a single page with all of my e-books.
Lesson learned:  we may know in our head the right thing to do, but if we look at our business from the customer’s perspective – have we really followed through?  I hadn’t and I thank this person so much for bringing that to my attention!
Do you make it easy to do business with?  Are you sure? 

Preparing for Customer Disappointment

angry1This topic seems timely on the eve of Black Friday frenzy.  Retailers are expecting a record breaking volume of shoppers and sales this week . In an effort to gain the customer’s first dollars they are opening even earlier – some on Thanksgiving day! 

The ads, the offers, the promises being offered in pre-Thanksgiving day adverisements lead me to believe there are going to be some tired, cranky, disppointed customers when they get to the front of the line and discover that even getting in line at 2am wasn’t early enough to get the biggest gift at the best discount.

So how do you prepare for that disappointment? More importantly, how do you prepare for your employees, because they are the ones that will be dealing with customer’s frustration?

In a recent article by Andy Hanselman entitled Dealing with Customer Disappointment, he talks about companies training their employees to listen for key word phrases that might indicate a customer is less than happy.

Gee, in the optical world, we knew a customer was disappointed when they threw their glasses and said “these don’t work, I want a refund.” But perhaps some times the disappointment is a little more subtle.

Andy provides these valuable steps for preparing for customer disappointment:

  • Acknowledge it: we are going to make mistakes – customers appreciate it when we face up to that and then make it right
  • Empower for it: give your employees the tools necessary to correct the situation
  • Prepare for it: brainstorm with your staff – what things typically disappoint your customers?
  • Look for it: don’t wait for the verbal disappointment – keep your eye out for someone that is less than happy and fix it
  • Deal with it: bottom line – make it right!

I would like to add one thing and that is “step in your customer’s shoes” for just a minute. We  can acknowledge, empower and deal with it without really connecting with what customer is feeling. We grit our teeth, roll our eyes when our back is turned to the customer and grudgingly give them what they want.

Trust me – they can sense it.

However, if you stop for a minute and put yourself in their shoes, you will deal with the situation in a more empathetic manner. This too will be noticed by your customers. Noticed and appreciated.

In a recent study 92% of consumers said they would be willing to go back to a company after a negative experience if they received a follow up apology and/or correction.

Are you prepared for handling customer’s disppointments this holiday season? Are your employees empowered to fix the situation on the spot? Here is where we can take a page from the Ritz Carlton way of doing business.

Here is a listing of what an Employee of Ritz Carlton represents:

Service Values: I Am Proud To Be Ritz-Carlton

  1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
  2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
  3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
  4. I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
  5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
  6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
  7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
  8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
  9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
  10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
  11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
  12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.

Starbucks Refusal Hurts Barnes and Noble Employees


I met a customer at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore over the weekend.  We both decided to grab a cup of coffee.  My customer, Kathy, is a loyal – no, more like an obsessed Starbucks fan. Everyday she has to have her Starbucks – not just in the morning but several throughout the day. So, of course, she has a Starbucks card. She handed it to the employee behind the cafe counter.

“I’m sorry but we don’t take the Starbucks card.”

“But the Starbucks logo is on the menu, the coffee you are pouring is Starbucks and the apron you have on has the Starbucks logo emblazoned across the front.”

“Yes, I know, but Starbucks won’t allow us to take their cards.”

She went on to tell us that the Barnes and Noble officials had approached Starbucks and offered to set up the system to take their cards and coupons but Starbucks refused.

Here’s the gig.  Who is left to enforce that corporate decision? Who is left to disappoint the customer? Who is faced with ridicule when a customer gets angry?

The employee.

Just like my recent story of CVS and Moneygram who partnered up to offer additional services to customers yet refuse to support them, here is Starbucks plastering their brand name all over the Barnes and Noble cafe and yet refusing to allow customers a true Starbucks experience.

Who looks bad? Everyone.  Who is impacted? Not Starbucks. Not even Barnes and Noble. It is the employee that has to face the grief and the customer who is faced with disappointment.

When corporations get together and decide to combine brands – do they think these decisions through from the frontline experience perspective?

I think not.


US Soldier Sends Message to HP Support

I have to be honest – I don’t think I have any words to add to this message from a PRIOR HP customer. Talk about poor customer service! 

HP – do you have anything to say for your approach to helping customers?


Brand Damage by Association

cvsIn this new world of co-opetition, we are finding ourselves partnered with other businesses and services to offer a more complete experience to our customers. However, we need to make sure these alliances are smart choices.

My son, who now lives in Chicago, was recently robbed while on the big bad streets of the windy city. It was a Sunday evening and there he was. No ID, no ATM or credit card and most seriously, no Student ID card which meant – no access to his building or his food account. He didn’t have a penny to his name, just his smile (which he wasn’t flashing) and a cell phone.

He texted me after trying in vain to rectify the situation. The building security wouldn’t let him in unless he had $25 to buy a new student ID card.

He was on the streets.


I drove to the local CVS which had a Money Gram hotline phone. “Just pick up the phone and you can wire transfer the money,” I was told.

So I went through the process and it was simple. I paid CASH to the CVS desk and called my son with the special code. He walked across from his apartment building to the CVS to retrieve the money.

Wow – this is simple, I thought.

Nope. The red hot phone didn’t work at the CVS – it had been broken for some time and there wasn’t another CVS or Money Gram location within the zip code. So I called Money Gram back and was told by Money Gram that CVS would issue the money. My son put the manager on the phone with Money Gram – an argument ensued and no money changed hands.

After a night sleeping in the lobby, he found a friend to loan him money while he waited for the CVS to fork over the already paid cash. THREE WEEKS LATER – still no cash.

So today I drove to the local CVS where the money was originally left and used the red hot phone to receive a special number that would enable the CVS to give me back the CASH I’d already given them.

I talked to the manager.

“We don’t give cash.”

You see they just have a relationship with the Money Gram phone – they aren’t connected. However, as a customer – I’m associating the services together. You see I gave CASH to a CVS employee. How is it my problem that the relationship they have with Money Gram is separate? In the mind of the customer – I gave money to CVS – why didn’t CVS give the money to my son who was in a crisis situation?

How much money, by the way?  $50. Big corporate International chain CVS couldn’t fork over $50 to a young man in an emergency because it was caught in some silly red tape due to a red phone that didn’t work. By the way – if the red phone HAD worked – the cash still came from the CVS drawer. Yep.

How do I know? Because that is what happened today.  When the manager stopped arguing with me this afternoon and actually entered the code into his computer, guess what message popped up?  Dollar amounts under $200 are to be issued in CASH.

If we are going to connect with another company to offer additional services – we can’t wash our hands and say “that’s not my job.”

Because IF WE DO – our company brand is damaged. In my example – Money Gram did what they were supposed to. It was CVS that thought the rules were too important to bend that left my son homeless that night.

In my mind – CVS holds the blame – the brand has been damaged in my mind.

What do you think? If you connect with another company – do you feel comfortable washing your hands of the situation if something goes wrong or do you try to make it right?

Is this just Mama Bear protecting her young and not able to see the forest for the trees? Weight in with your comments.


United Breaks Guitars

I attended a recent TEEM meeting in Akron, actually I was the speaker, and after the dinner a gentleman come up and we were talking about building customer relationships and the latest trend of REAL TIME REVIEWS.

Customers are using their social media voice to share their customer service experiences. He asked if I had seen the video about United Airlines and how they broke a passenger’s guitar.  I said, I hadn’t and he said “oh, it is a classic case of real time reviews – you have to check it out.”

He was right – is a great example of the customer sharing their frustration with a big company as well as showcasing their talent. You can see that the video has had almost 10 MILLION views! It certainly spread a message of poor quality and a customer service department that doesn’t listen and makes customers jump through hoops!

If a customer wrote a song about their last experience with you – what would the song be about and would it go viral?


A Teaching Moment

OhNoLadyWe can’t always provide the perfect product or experience to our customers. Often the way we handle challenging situations with our customers is the way we solidify our relationship with them.

Yesterday, I was disappointed.

I have used the same service company in my home for a few years and they always provide wonderful service. In fact, “wonderful” has become the norm and I realized yesterday, that I had begun to assume and expect “wonderful” and perhaps had lost my appreciation of their exemplary service.

Yesterday they disappointed me.

So I emailed the owner of the company and apologized for complaining but over the past two visits, what had once been spotless was now spotted.

The email I received back said this, in part:

Thanks for the detailed feedback, we very much appreciate it. This is a great training opportunity for our new Field Manager to work with our employee on this specific issue. The good news is, as you say, she is demonstrating otherwise pretty good work, and she’s been a good worker for us, so I’m sure she’ll be open to the feedback.

I loved that.  Why?

  • She acknowledged my complaint with thanks
  • She recognized it as an opportunity for a supervisor to work on her management skills
  • She supported the employee in question by reminding me of her prior wonderful work (which I had also acknowledged in my complaining email)
  • She assured me that the situation would be discussed
  • She made me feel CONFIDENT that my services would be restored to their normal off-the-charts experience

I was listened to.  I am valued.  I am one happy customer!

Not only that – I feel PART of the solution. Like we are all in this together. That is powerful stuff.

Normally when faced with a customer complaint we feel defensive and we may feel like we blew it and have lost the customer so let’s just give them a refund and say good bye.

Not necessary at all!

Our customers WANT us to be successful. They don’t want to go through the hassle of “training” a new company. 

So how do you handle customers who shine a light on your mistakes? Can we learn something from how this company handled the situation?


Last Perception is the Lasting Impression

Yesterday I had the opportunity to address the Retail Organization of Lakeland Community College at the Great Lakes Mall. I shared my thoughts on the value of make or break moments with our customers…each moment is an opportunity to make a difference.

After the talk, one participant came up and shared a great observation:

When you are shopping for clothing; you can enter the store and be greeting warmly, you can receive wonderful attention and help selecting the perfect outfit, but it can all fall apart at the checkout counter.


If the sales associate handles your newly purchased items like some dirty laundry to be stuffed in the laundry bag – your last impression of the store is that they have no value for the product or the fact that you’ve just spent hard earned money to purchase those new items. It is almost as if they are wiping their checkout counter with your new clothes as they stuff them into the bag.


It’s funny because I haven’t ever thought about that, yet when an associate takes the time to carefully fold the clothes, offer to put them on hangers or even wrap them in tissue paper – I take notice and I love that special treatment.

The last perception with our customers is the lasting impression they have of us. So how are we doing with that?

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