Customer Service: The Last Outpost | William Nozak | Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice

Customer Service: The Last Outpost | William Nozak, MBA | Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice

First impressions may be last impressions.

Someone once said your only competition is anyone that improves customer service. So let’s assume this is in the Business-Bible. Let’s create some additional assumptions for the sake of an argument. First, price does not matter up to a certain asymptote. Obviously value, supply chaining, competition, among other things define price in the real world. Secondly, all businesses in a specific vertical are equally matched on everything (no comparative advantage exists i.e. All businesses are innovative or not, location doesn’t matter, etc). This leaves customer service as the last outpost

Other advantages aside, customer service, price, and innovativion are outposts. How you manage and value these outposts differentiates your business. “The times, they are a changin.'” In ten years, outsourcing, supply chaining, and technology have created global competitors that can beat your price and innovation outposts. Plus, price and innovation are effected more so by external forces than customer service. Minimum wage, insurances, property costs, etc., effect price, and we can only create what we know how i.e. other industries create innovations that positively or negatively affect our innovations.

In any case, we must err on the side of customer service. Customer-service-savvy professionals will dominate industries that once had zero need for the competency. The day of the highly skilled, but deficient in customer service professional is fading; more valuable are the moderately skilled with appreciable customer service skills. Employees must view customer service through three lenses: the  customer, the business, and the market, in order to be worthy of competitive wages. Anyone that improves customer service in your vertical is a threat, so, Without these lenses how will your team see them coming? The last outpost is customer service.

For more Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur (E2E) business articles by this author visit www.harpershutshavedice.me.

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Core Competencies: The Key To The First Door And More | William Nozak | Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice

Core Competencies: The Key To The First Door And More

If you missed it, the world is flat, thanks to the fall of the Berlin wall, the rise of internet, the Y2K debacle which we outsourced the fix to India, among other things. Read The World Is Flat. Businesses core competencies distinguish it from its competitors. That little business you have going on called You, Inc., must embrace its own core competencies. You are selling, but who is buying? If you never have a problem finding a job, there is a good chance you are an “untouchable.” Which is a good goal. Maybe you got there by being special, specialized, localized, or anchored, but certainly, you have transferable core competencies.

So who is buying You, Inc.? The answer to this question defines the core competencies you will aim to acquire. These core competencies will get you into interviews, an entry-level position, and keep you hired, for a couple years. America’s middle-class jobs are changing. If you do not plan to use an entry-level position as a springboard into greater responsibility, you might as well sell Polaroid film, because that job will likely be on the cusp of automation, digitization, or outsourcing. Here today and gone tomorrow are many traditional middle-class jobs. According to Friedman, the US job market follows a bell shaped curve, with middle-class jobs occupying the mean and everything within one standard deviation with high- and low-end jobs occupying two and three standard deviations from mean. The “bell” of the bell shaped curve in the US encompasses the middle-class job markets. As globalization continues to move, dismantle, and create jobs, so too the “bell” will shift and shimmy. As the dust settles, a new mean will be defined; extremely high- and low-end jobs will remain two and three standard deviations from the mean and middle-class jobs will once again be the “bell.” If this does not happen, yes, America is screwed. (A dumbbell shaped job market with a higher frequency of high- and low-end jobs is not healthy.)

Once inside the first door, become “special or specialized” continuously learn more about your job and the jobs vertical to yours. Business is hard pressed to outsource, digitize, or automate the responsibilities of its “A” players. Be “localized or anchored.” Being rooted in a community can buffer you against foreign competitors. How will the global economy outsource, digitize, or automate a masseuse? Planet Earth is not the Sixth Element, yet. However, nothing is safe; I hope you realize this. Nothing. Before the fiber optic highway connected the US to unconnected parts of the world, kids in developing countries had little hope of using their skills to compete in the US marketplace. Now traditional jobs are easily outsourced to anywhere on the planet, product or service, assuming connectivity. Competition 3.0 is here. Ten years ago, some of the brightest kids in my college classes were foreigners. Many of the dumbest and laziest? Americans!

If you find your way into an entry-level position. Learn from those around you, horizontally and vertically. Be a sponge, a life-long learner and grow into positions that require more expertise. Do not settle into jobs that are on the cusp of outsourcing, digitization, or automation. Yes work your way up and appreciate the climb, but do not settle. Stay hungry; do not get complacent. At You, Inc., always be improving and adding to your core competencies.

Continuous development of your core competencies does not ensure that your inevitable downsizing is less like sand slipping through fingers, but it will give you confidence and additional competence, which are transferable among verticals. I once had a job where every few months my boss would enter my office and say, “remind me, why we need you?” This boss loved me and battled for my position more than I can know. Why was I so naive to think that being great at what I did would create loyalty among the owners? Loyalty is a relic in a global marketplace. The only loyalty an owner will ever show you in a global economy is to give you a chance to take on the responsibility of two or more people at the price of one. If loyalty is what you seek, continually manage more for less and you will always have it. This is the new race. Be mentally nimble and vigilant and run faster, harder, smarter than the competition.

The new name of the game. Increase your competencies and travel beyond the first door, out of reach of outsourcing, digitization, and automation. You might even aim to be “untouchable,” extremely employable no matter the vertical. When you venture beyond the competencies required at the first door, newly acquired competencies are transferable and linkable. When the mission is lofty, 20% of the road is behind and 80% is in front. Set high standards for yourself and never be satisfied with the status quo. For more business articles by this author visit www.harpershutshavedice.me.

The Multiplier: Teamwork | William Nozak | Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice

The Multiplier
William Nozak CEO of Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice

Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsled time.” – Cool Runnings (1993).

The power of team cannot be overemphasized in a culture where autonomy is celebrated and community is criticized. Eighteen hundred years ago, Aristotle said “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and the Bible eludes to this mystery with “How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight…” and “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Gandhi recognized the power of team saying, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” So what is with this teamwork thing?

Just like parents, leaders, managers, teachers, and preachers, some diminish and others multiply. We will consider only when a team is functioning as a multiplier and view teamwork through the lenses of synergy. Google defines synergy as “The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” Not very different from what Aristotle said in 300 B.C. Although culture occasionally reminds us of the power of teamwork, it is more so the exception. Where Simon and Garfunkel gave us, “I Am A rock I am an island” Tenth Avenue North reminds us “No man is an island.” Where professional musicians and television largely teach me, my, and mine, professional sports teams remind us winning and teamwork are never mutually exclusive AKA 2015 New York Nicks. When the business community glorifies the king-type entrepreneur, President Obama weighs in on the theory of a self-made man reminding us that none exists. Beside a few voices in the wilderness, classroom projects, and team sports, who is championing “Team?” You must champion team.

All I want is a successful small business; I do not need a team I need employees.
So you did not graduate from Stanford, major in social science, and do not plan to move to Silicon Valley with your billion-dollar-idea web application requiring hundreds of brilliant programmers, venture capital, and then an IPO? Well, that is the majority of entrepreneurs. It’s different in the Midwest the verticals are oil, oil, or oil. Where have all the cowboys gone? If you are not moving to California, joining the oil racket, or the billion dollar vertical in another state, what do you do?

I cannot tell you but you will need a team. No matter if you take every class at your Alma mater or pull a Kobe Bryant and go straight out of high school to your chosen field you will need supportive friends and family. You may need co-founders or investors. You need mentors, colleagues, a professional network, peers, and support in general. Every successful person has non-paid team members. I use the term team members loosely as anyone that imparts something of value. You will not have team members if you first are not friendly. Sure people can be successful with very little teamwork. Entrepreneurs do not get this luxury. In the CASHFLOW Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, he reminded us to live on the right side of the quadrant. Build a system so that people can work for you and/or make investments where your money works for you.

How do I become a better team player?
Start by practicing friendliness and giving of your time to others dreams and projects. Be mindful when your actions diminish others and multiply self. Read Winning Friends and Influencing People by Dale Carnegie, read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Expend energy in the pursuit of knowledge about communication, body language, and interpersonal skills. See where this is going? Learn how to energize those around you, become a multiplier, reduce your diminishing actions, practice at it, be vulnerable to the team, set goals larger than you set for yourself, and never stop growing. Before you know it, a spark of teammate will grow inside of you and smart people will gravitate toward you, doors will swing open in front of you, projects will appear tailored for you, and at those moments, you will have the skills to find the team to make the dream work. Even Michael Jordan needed a team to win six NBA championships. Teamwork is the multiplier. For more business articles by this author visit www.harpershutshavedice.me or Harper’s Hut Blog.

A Little Help From My Friends | William Nozak | Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice

A Little Help From My Friends | William Nozak, MBA | Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice

I was painting the exterior of the hut for the next Harper’s Hut location, I looked down in my paint bucket, and there was a bug. Most people would pick it out and flick it away and that is what I did too. Knowing that the paint would solidify and the bug would die a very unfair death, I got down off the ladder, found the bug, and rinsed it off; giving it another chance at survival. Oftentimes business owners are that little bug in the paint pail. A paint covered bug where a little rinsing off could have drastically changed expected outcomes.

How many friends do you have that run some form of business? Guess what. They know something about business that you do not. For instance, the friend that owns the nail salon most likely knows effective customer retention secrets, let us call these guerrilla business secrets. Other friends that work for companies have insights into marketing, best hiring practices, process scripting, documentation, accounting, AKA guerrilla business secrets. If you learn of them, implement them! Many solid entrepreneurs have never dared to learn from these friends and acquaintances. Many of these friends and acquaintances have also never opened the door for you to learn from them. The best set up is when you can learn from each other. You are trudging along making a profit and have had no need to improve upon your strengths while minimizing the risk of your weaknesses, when wham, Joe Shmo’s Big Name Brand Store just broke ground in the neighborhood competing directly for the same customers that currently patronize yours. In an instant, you are a bug in a bucket.

You see, the bug and I were not competing for the same resources. Whereas in real life two entrepreneurs often do. Even if it and I were, it still would be a humane act on my part to rinse the bug off. What happened to it next is not my concern. If I am a bug, I am praying other bugs inform me of potential paint bucket hazards. Here we are, having the most developed communication system on earth, and business owners, not competing for the same resources, neglect to guide, mentor, or assist those that are in the same horizontal plane (noncompeting business owners) as them. So, too often, good, honest, hardworking business owners are a bug in a bucket because of their business deficiencies, lack of knowledge, experience, and mentorship. Do not get me wrong picking up a book, watching a How To YouTube video, or paying for a college education are solutions that work, however many future small business owners will not do those three things. The adage people perish for the lack of knowledge is in full effect in small business. This leaves us with good ole fashion information sharing. Be advised, someone will misinterpret your Samaritan act, guidance, or mentorship as teachings of industry specific secrets and will create a business that competes directly with yours. Slap them in the face and look out for your own interest. Sharing horizontally with those that are business owners is lauded; sharing vertically with those that will compete directly with you is risky business. Only you can know when the latter is appropriate. For more business related articles check out http://harpershutshavedice.me/ or Harper’s Hut Blog.

Caveat Venditor – So You Have Bad Customers? | William Nozak | Nozak Knows

Caveat Venditor – So You Have Bad Customers?
William Nozak – Harper’s Hut Shaved Ice

Notice I did not say reviews! Maybe the impression was that there were no bad customers. You know, if the customer pays, then they are, by definition, good. I cannot agree less. If we cannot agree that there is ‘bad’ anything, then we can agree that in everything, there is a better fit or a best fit. For sake of the argument, if a better fit exists then a bad fit exists and we will term them bad customers. So how do we deal with bad customers that we have created, can be salvaged, or must be fired?

If these bad customers are result of unmet expectations, or shirked fiduciary responsibilities, where we created a discrepancy between perceived value and actual value, then it is our responsibility to fix the problem. Here lies a tension between high standards and unobtainable standards. Yes, this group exists, is created by us, and must be retained by us. It is our duty to open their eyes and turn them from bad to good. Return them to their former glory, by returning yourself to your former glory; they will love you the more for it.

But, what about when a customer is not a good fit altogether. These bad customers are a problem. Above all when dealing with bad customers, we must use an exorbitant amount of grace and tact. There is no fast and furious way to fire these customers. And once we assist them in moving on, they and we are better off for it. Let us introduce a caveat that states not all bad customers must be excommunicated. That some can be salvaged, salvaged by persuasion. Simply setting guidelines or expectations for better behavior or treatment of staff may work. Only time can tell. One thing remains, the rest have to go. Getting rid of them without creating a problem for yourself is the rub.

Returning bad customers to good customers, laying down the law with others, and firing the remainder is how we deal with bad customers. Tact, diplomacy, grace, keep filling in the blank, is the key. A final warning, when a bad customer must be fired, it is us who must take the high, much higher, highest road. No road but the highest road works. If you want a fired customer to become your worst nightmare on the web, then try the middle road. Repercussion for doing this badly is a bad review, rip-off report, BBB downgrade waiting to happen. You are in business because you love doing it, you can be the best at it, and it drives your economic engine. Stay classy. For more business related articles check out http://harpershutshavedice.me/ or Harper’s Hut Blog.