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Blogs May 2004

May 25, 2004

Another follow up to my blog of May 4, 2004: I received a couple of cordial and sincerely apologetic e-mails from the management of the company in question. They were forthright in admitting their mistake and offered me a free meal at their restaurant. Now, that's treating customers right.

There are several lessons for all of us from this situation:

1. If you are not satisfied with the service or treatment you receive at a company, let the management know. Companies will respond because they want to know how they can improve and want another chance to earn your business.

2. If you are the one who needs to apologize, be up front and admit your mistakes. Be specific about how you plan to remedy the problem. Offer the unhappy customer something in compensation that will make him or her want to come back.

Recovering from a bad situation can strengthen the bond between customer and company.

May 10, 2004

To follow up to my blog of May 4, 2004: I wrote an e-mail of complaint to the company whose efforts in performing competitive research disturbed my lunch. Here is that e-mail I got back from them:

*   *   *

Thank you for taking the time to contact [our company]. Our customers are very important to us, and we appreciate their comments, questions and suggestions.

In regard to your regard to your concern, I hope the following information will be helpful.

Your message is a priority to us and we will be working in cooperation with our appropriate...subject matter experts in the interest of providing you with the most accurate and up-to-date information available.

We apologize in advance for any delay or inconvenience.

*   *   *

This is another sign of a disturbing trend of late, the half-hearted apology. (You can substitute "hearted" with any extremity you choose.) This is the type of apology kids and husbands usually give. "I'm sorry" (usually screamed) really means, "Shut up and leave me alone!"

United States government officials have been giving that apology a lot lately. Perhaps they can start giving Iraqi POWs and their families the same type of apology I got from that company:

*   *   *

Dear Iraqi Prisoner of War and Family:

We have been made aware that you may have experienced certain conditions that could cause some discomfort as well as possibly violating certain religious tenets and/or cultural norms of your country. Your comments are very important to us, and we deeply regret any displeasure you may have experienced from members and/or contractors of the United States Armed Forces. We would like to reassure you that such behaviors are unusual and do not represent the high quality of customer service we provide here at the United States of America. We will do everything we can to rectify this situation and assure that it does not happen again. We value your feedback and hope that you will continue to look to the United States of America to provide all of your liberation and democraticization needs.

Customer Service Department
The United States of America

*   *   *

Of course, the message won't be in Arabic, and there will be no return e-mail address.

May 4, 2004

It's Cinco de Mayo time, so I decided to celebrate with lunch at my favorite fast-food Mexican chicken place. There, I saw an example of marketing research done badly.

I knew something was wrong when I stepped into line behind two well-dressed gentlemen. One was wearing the polo shirt of a competing chicken place. They told me that I could step ahead of them in line. It turns out that they were only studying the menu. They then went to the front door to meet up with a group of other men, including several who were wearing the same competitor's polo shirt. The group swelled to about eight or ten people.

It was obvious that they were there to study the restaurant. They carried notepads and digital cameras, and they loudly discussed how the restaurant operates, saying things like, "Why do they do things this way?" They first flocked around the pickup counter. (I had to walk around them to get my order.) They then commandeered a counter for seating (during a busy lunch hour, remember) and turned it into a conference table where they discussed their findings. As they did this, one member of their group walked up and down my aisle glancing at what we were eating. I was relieved when they left, and I made a mental note not to patronize their place.

Competitive analysis is crucial in business. When I worked at AST years ago, we would buy competitors' computers to study. In Tech Pubs, we would look over their manuals and learned how to improve upon them. But if you're going to perform competitive analysis on a restaurant or any business that's open to the public, for heaven's sake, be discreet. Don't make a spectacle of yourselves, and don't be a hindrance to that company's patrons. Remember that your competitor's customers can become yours, but only if you treat them respectfully.

May 2, 2004

It's warm-weather time again in the northern hemisphere. (It certainly has been very warm here in southern California with temperatures reaching 100° F or 38° C.) So, I'm going to share with you my pet peeve: people who wear shorts to work in an office.

This is not a problem in parts of the world and in certain industries that have a strict dress code. But, in parts of the United States, we have a kind of a dress code called "business casual". In most businesses, this is typically interpreted as quality polo shirts and khaki slacks. But in California, "business casual" means "anything goes," and anything does. Low-rise miniskirts, low-cut blouses, and shorts of all lengths and degrees of tightness. Women aren't the only guilty parties men wear shorts, muscle shirts, and other revealing outfits in the workplace as well.

Unless you spend most of your time outside, such clothing is unnecessary in the office. Most office buildings run their air conditioners at a temperature suitable for hanging meat, so shorts wearers wind up putting on sweaters or draping them over their legs. Even when I wear a polo shirt and slacks on a hot day, I wind up shivering when I step inside the office.

Most importantly, such attire is inappropriate for the office. People's attention is drawn to the wearer's exposed flesh (along with the tattoos that show up more frequently on men and women). Glances can be misinterpreted, which can lead to phone calls to HR or lawyers.

I have a several pairs of shorts (including a couple we got on sale at Kohl's) that I wear on weekends or change into after work. But I will never wear them to work. On the job, I want to look like a serious, respectable professional. I'm not going to the beach, so why dress like I am?   

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