Great Customer Service Mystery

I hit a dry patch while preparing a presentation over the holidays,  I needed examples of national brands the audience would immediately consider outstanding customer service organizations.

Many did a good job.  Some did pretty good jobs, but finding the company doing a great job was difficult.

Nordstrom is one obvious fallback, but has almost reached the level of cliche.

Customer service, like marketing, is science and art. But smart local businesses do both

Customer service advocates once tried using the Malcolm Baldridge Award as a proxy for a national customer service award.  That worked early when customer-centric organizations like the now defunct AT&T Universal Card and FedEx won awards for service.


Zappos’ service culture is revered, but the company is slowly absorbing into Amazon, a pretty good service company too, but better at logistics and making markets.  There’s not much there to make customers swoon.

Multiple elements create a world class service envrionment, but first among them is having a world class service or product offering.  Then the organization has to dazzle customers with every transaction, including full empowerment  down to the line staff level.

Ritz Carlton properties still have some of that cachet, but keeping a service quality culture at that level  is darn near impossible when you grow from 4 to 40 sites and sell out to Marriott.

Some companies–Amazon, FedEx,  Disney depending on who is talking–have great national reputations, but they are the exception.   The inability of most national brands to deliver great customer service is an opportunity for small businesses.

Your takeaway as a small business leader is to make customer service a differentiator. If you run a pizza parlor, you can compete with the chains by offering good quality food and great service.  Not every independent bookshop was squeezed out of business by Amazon.  Instead the national chains took a beating, just as Netflix was administering the same style of beating to Blockbuster.  But Joe’s Pizza, at the corner for two generations?   Doing just fine thanks.

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Download Patent, Trademark Data

NLM computer room in 1969For anything you may like or not like about Google, we have to stipulate that the company has an amazing search functionality.  You may hate Gmail or Google Docs or Maps, but the search engine is great at chewing through huge blocks of data.

Now the company has announced that anyone can download patent and trademark data from Google.  This is the latest in a series of initiatives Google has taken in the public sector, and the scope of this project is somewhat staggering.   Google is making 10 terabytes of information available for download to open the program.

Let’s size up that whole terabyte thing.

You know the disk drive you’re proud of with all your music and photos?  The 200 gigabyte drive?    If you downloaded everything, you would need 50 of them.

Perhaps most puzzling about this partnership is the statement made by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).  ”The USPTO does not currently have the technical capability to provide this public information in a bulk machine readable format that is desired by the intellectual property (IP) community,” the agency wrote in a statement yesterday.

That’s kind of interesting.  I know federal technology is iffy at best and when I’ve been exposed first-hand to agency initiatives I’ve longed for a communicator with Scotty on the other side, ready to beam me to the current decade.  But the USPTO can’t technically handle making its database public in a bulk format?  Maybe this kind of data failure is why Super SEO Rhea Drysdale had to spend $17,000 of her own money to block a trademark application for the term SEO.   And maybe that’s why psuedo agencies like the USPS have FexEx boxes out front and much of Europe and Japan enjoys high speed rail while we plod along on Amtrak when it’s available in that market.

So Google continues cozying up to federal agencies and your takeaway as a small business is that there are likely plenty of opportunities for you in the federal sector.  Start your research at the Small Business Administration’s federal contracting pages.  Sometimes you just have to ask.

And fill out a lot of paperwork.  That paperwork thing isn’t going away any time soon.

Postal Service Still Can’t Run A Business

NEW YORK - MAY 14:  U.S. Postal Service spokes...
Forever may be more transient than you thought.  Image by Getty Images via Daylife

When news first swept DC that the US Postal Service (USPS) was making noises about cutting delivery days from 6 to 5, the U.S. Congress knew that the fish were in the barrel, ready to be plucked out and, well, eaten(?)

There was no way that lawmakers were going to concede such a critical issue while wars rage on, the economy is ruins, unemployment continues climbing and the State of California pays people with Monopoly money.

And while the USPS can’t run their services profitably, they also do a horrible job managing their online presence.  After today’s announcement that the PRC might instead seek to slash costs by closing post offices, the web site went bananas. In short, the PRC’s site was inaccessible from almost every possible access point.

How did I finally get in?  I went to  Google, typed the agency’s name, found a newsroom link and looked at Google’s cached copy so I could get the direct, ugly URL generated on their ASP site.

One need only look outside postal facilities to see a brightly colored FedEx box that competes with the high margin services the postal service operates.  Perhaps we just ought to open mail delivery to FedEx and UPS and let the three compete in an oligopoly.  Because even on the day before Christmas, I’ve never had trouble reaching a Federal Express tracking page.

The 12 page list of proposed post office closures is on our site too.   It’s a PDF file, and a  big one, but we wanted to post because the USPS says their IT engineers are working on the problem.  The “problem” is likely the spiked demand that will likely continue another day.

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Postage Increase Weeks Away – Fast Friday Fact

A ride in this letter carrier's bag costs almost 5% more next month

A ride in this letter carrier's bag costs almost 5% more next month

If you heard the news, you probably heard back in February. Since then, news about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the global financial crisis, probably pushed thoughts about postage from your mind.

But just as the U.S. Postal service tells lawmakers that it may need to cut the number of delivery days, a postage rate increase takes effect May 11. The price of a first class stamp jumps 4.76% to 44 cents. Media mail rates go even higher. A one pound package that is sent for $2.23 now climbs 6.7% to $2.38.

I know the distribution and fulfillment folks plotted their budgets months ago (UPS and FedEx raise rates early in the year at the time the USPS announces its rate increase for spring). The inflation rate has been minuscule since December 2008 and was only 3.8% in 2008, but here comes a big increase.

Meanwhile, the folks at the Bureau of Labor Statistics who compile the various (yes, there are multiple) consumer price indices show a 0.4% increase over the last 12 months.  And yes, that includes fuel.

Email remains free, but that Kindle will cost you.

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The World’s Most Captive Affiliate Marketing Audience

Who do you think really holds the keys to a captive affiliate audience?  Is it Microsoft, populating a desktop with all sorts of links and browser shortcuts?   What about hardware manufacturers who do the same except embed actual software on the system you purchased so that they get a piece of the pie if you convert?   Or maybe it’s a company like Intuit, which made really great products in the B2B and B2C worlds before it began compromising the user experience with continual upsells.

Guess again.

The U.S. Postal Service, under fire for financial mismanagement from all quarters has become the equivalent of the Plaka in Athens — a place to buy almost anything with haggling supposedly encouraged but never really done very well.

I’ve been critical of the USPS before, but now have experienced the wonder that is the business change of address process.    After changing addresses for two company names,  our business credit card was charged $1 for each transaction.  From what I remember of pricing, the elimination of labor in a process drives down and eliminates costs.  So why is this formerly free service now available only with $1?  The post office says it’s to eliminate fraud.  I’m guessing there is another way.

But a dollar or two is nothing compared to the onslaught of advertising EVERY postal customer must wade through in order to complete the transaction.  After dumping multiple magazine pitches and anything remotely related to someone moving, I was emailed a separate confirmation for each transaction:

USPS selling commercial services in address change requests

USPS selling commercial services in address change requests

I still find it humorous that the FedEx drop off box is at the front of the local post office because, Lord knows, there aren’t enough FedEx drop off points in the U.S.   I wonder what the rates are for getting top placement on the change of address form.  Then I wonder if the USPS, like Amtrak, either wants to be private or public.  Because maybe FedEx can offer more services at an equal or lower cost than the postal service.  Why stop there?  Maybe Greyhound could get Amtrak-level subsidies and compete on a level playing field.

But if you’re an affiliate marketer, you didn’t just lose out to Dell, Microsoft and Intuit. You have the entire USPS to compete with as well.

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