Reputation

CustServ: How Big O Tires Convinces Its Customers Never to Come Back

Unless I'm paying compliments, I usually don't include the actual names of the people or companies I'm writing about. However, in this case, it's necessary.

The company involved is Big O Tires.

I was visiting a friend of mine recently when her son, while borrowing her car, got a flat front tire. AAA came out immediately (props to AAA) and changed the flat for the so-called 'donut' (I remember when spare tires were real) - so my friend knew that she was going to have to do a quick turnaround in getting either the flat repaired or a new tire purchased. She also knew she'd probably replace the other front tire at the same time as it was showing enough wear to warrant replacement.

We went early in the morning to her local Big O Tire store. Now, to be frank, I didn't want her to go there. I wanted her to go to Costco - because I trust Costco.  In earlier years, I had used Big O - as well as other tire dealers - but once changing to Costco, consistently found that my tire experiences were great, both during the process and in their after-care (so props to Costco, too).

My friend had used her local Big O's services over the years, so she figured they were convenient and she could trust them.

She was wrong. She couldn't.

I won't take your time by going into the long details (do write a comment if you're interested in hearing them - because I'll be happy to let loose), but the upshot was:
  • They gave her - and charged her for - services she specifically told them she didn't want.
  • They rotated her old and new tires such that both new ones were front and back on the same side of the car.
  • Upon going back and confronting them with the facts, the store manager as good as told her it was all her fault.
  • He then, upon giving her the refund for the services she didn't want, opted to pay her in cash (she had paid with her credit card) and shorted her on the amount he gave her (which, you'll notice, also means he was stealing from the company).
So, to cut to the chase, the Big O manager:
  • Provided bad service
  • Put her and anyone else in the car at personal risk and then, to top it off,
  • Stole her money.
You gotta love these guys. Or not. Definitely, not.

The 'after-care' was so bad that - even before she realized that the manager had stolen her refund money - my friend had opted not to have them touch her car to put the tires in the right place. She didn't trust them even to perform that service.

So, bye-bye Big O. As my friend told the store manager, "You don't want my business" - and she was right. He couldn't have cared less whether she - or any other customer - came back again. Otherwise he would have ensured that he and everyone on his staff was providing the best, most honest and trustworthy service possible.

All of which leads us to what you can learn from this. Ask yourself:

Are any of our products or services convincing our customers that they don't want to come back to us as their preferred provider?

If the answer is yes - even to the most infinitesimal degree - it's time to take action. Otherwise, not only will your business get the same decision my friend made - but you'll get me and others happy to tell everyone else about it.

Reputation Management: Teaching Your Customers Why They Can't Trust You (or why the New York Times are liars)

Customers are an interesting bunch. You just never know what's going to make them think a certain way about your product or service.

Take the New York Times, for example.

Like every other media outlet, they've had their problems with content in the past, but it's pretty safe to say that they're one of the most trusted newspaper/media outlets. Possibly in the world.

But if their business practices are not as robust as their reporting, why should we trust them?

The short answer is: We shouldn't.

Why?

Because they, themselves, have given us reason not to.

Here's the little story that's the basis of this big lesson in reputation management.

At the beginning of this month, I decided to cancel my online subscription to nytimes.com.

They had taken my payment on a Saturday. I called two days later - first thing Monday morning - explained that I hadn't known that their offices were open on weekends until hearing their greeting message on that particular call, but hoped that they would give me the refund anyway.

I was assured by their Customer Service Representative that a refund would be paid to me. I was also told that it takes 10 to 15 business days for the payment to arrive.

Frankly, while I thought that was a horrible refund policy for customer service purposes, I didn't give it any further thought.

Very quickly I received an email confirming that my subscription was cancelled but never received any confirmation of a refund. Okay, I thought. That will come separately.

But it didn't. So I called again later that same week, spoke with a different Customer Service Representative, had them look at my account file, confirm that the subscription was cancelled and that a refund was on its way.

The very polite Representative told me that, yes, everything was in progress, the payment would be made and that I shouldn't expect an email regarding the refund as they wouldn't be generating one. The payment would simply land.

But it didn't. So, today, I called again (because it had become a hobby) - but this time was told that I wouldn't be given a refund and that, in fact, it was never requested nor processed.

Which makes the New York Times liars.

The thing that executives and managers rarely put together - even though any sentient, thinking beings would - is that what happens in one part of an organization directly impacts the way the rest of the organization is viewed.

We're talking about $15. That's it. Fifteen dollars.

What's important about that number is that, clearly, it's not the amount of money that makes the difference. It's that TWO of their representatives told me the same lie - and that makes lying their policy.

Which makes the New York Times liars.

I've been assured that I'll be contacted by a Supervisor to further discuss my "issue" (their word).

We'll see. They're probably lying about that, too.

Business and Society: Taking Responsibility

This is not going to be a long post, because you know what you need to do and what your responsibilities are - both as part of business and part of society.

Recently, I was asked to update a White Paper I wrote a few years ago for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants on corporate reputation. Part of what I was asked to update are the case studies - and that got me looking closely at what had changed in the years since I first wrote the thing. And that got me looking at Goldman Sachs.

Did you know that within a month period Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman's CEO, gave an interview where he explained that people were going to have to lower their expectations of the government help they receive (everything from Medicare and Social Security to Veteran's benefits, Disability and Food Stamps) because the Government simply can't afford it and made the decision to pay his executives their 2012 bonuses a month early so that they would miss the tax increase that was occurring as of January 1, 2013?

The optics of the decision were bad enough.

It's the fact that he preceded it by telling those who can't afford multi-million dollar homes, let alone multi-thousand dollar suits, that they have to change their expectations...because people like him were going to make decisions making sure that others' living expenses couldn't be met...that makes it worse.

Because it didn't matter. Not to him and not to his company.

That has to stop. Business leaders - at all levels from micros- and SMBs to multi-nationals - in all industries and sectors need to recognize that they have a greater responsibility to society than just making their businesses a success.

That shareholders are societal stakeholders, too - and that the other stakeholders who don't hold shares are directly and immediately impacted by the financial and other decisions that executives and board members make.

There's nothing wrong with making money. In fact, there's nothing wrong with making lots of money if that's what you want to do.

But this is more. This is a business industry-driven social change that looks beyond the next day's profits or next quarter's analyst meeting and recognizes that there really is such a thing as a greater good that business - more than any other entity - is designed to achieve.

Do that. Look at the decisions you make - from employee benefits to environmental impact and beyond - to see exactly what impact you and your business are making on your world every day.

Then make it better.
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Reputation: Why It Matters and How You Can Manage It (CIMA original version - I'll let you know when the update is live)
Reputation and Profits: The "Good Corporate Citizenship" Question (llk)

Business and Politics: Avoiding Your Organization's Fiscal Cliffs

One of my areas of expertise is tracking how business and politics intersect in the ways they operate - and, most importantly, what we can learn from both. Over the years, I've written strategy papers on the subject as well as having advised senior members of United Kingdom political parties on how business strategy can be applied to create political party success.

With all that's been going on in US politics recently, I've decided to begin posting on the subject - only in this case, focusing on what business can learn from how politics operates, at its best and at its worst.

There are important strategic, operational and profit-related lessons to be learned and applied to your business, so, no matter where you live or what your political affiliation might be, put it aside and just look at the process.

I'll look forward to your thoughts and comments.
*****
On January 1st, 2013, a few minutes after 11 pm, the United States House of Representatives voted to accept the Senate's bill (approved some 21 hours earlier) averting the so-called "Fiscal Cliff."

As markets around the world opened for their first trading day of the new year, they upheld the conventional wisdom that a global economic catastrophe was averted. Markets and futures were immediately up and could well stay that way. At least until the already known next 'cliff' occurs in two to three months.

So, good for Congress. They did their job. They saved the world. For the moment.

They should also be ashamed of themselves.

The reason why they deserve real scorn is because it was this exact same Congress that agreed to the "cliff" in the first place. That was in December, 2010.

Twenty-five months ago.

Why did they create the cliff? The logic was that it would motivate the elected officials to work together to solve the debt and deficit problems the US is facing.

From then until now - while those twenty-five months passed with the cliff always looming - they weren't willing to do what needed to be done for their own country as well as those world markets and economies. Right up until the last minute - and only then because it was the last minute.

Okay, so that's the politics of it. What does this have to do with you?

Like it or not...admit it or not...but you have your version of a cliff playing out in your organization on a regular basis.

It's those things that you and your employees at every level see and know and recognize out on the horizon that you'll take care of later. Some day. Soon. You're sure of it.

Only those 'things' - both little and big - grow to outrageous proportions the closer they get to whatever time limit within which you're working.

Maybe it's when your customer needs an order filled. Or you've got a new product or service launch that needs that one more thing to make sure everything goes smoothly. Or there's an expert you know you're going to need to hire to make sure that the strategy you're currently working has a chance in hell of actually succeeding.

It's anything that escalates from knowledge to emergency - simply because you or someone in your organization let it get that far.

And it gets worse.

You may well have someone you trust who has made a success of their career swooping in at the last moment to save the day.

That's all well and good when the emergency is a true emergency - not a manufactured one. If it's the latter, then whoever is playing 'hero' is anything but. In fact that person - man or woman - is the equivalent of an organizational sociopath...allowing that particular cliff to loom and get ever closer for their own purposes, frankly, not caring how it might impact others.

Including you and your business.

Because if the 'thing' escalates far enough for long enough - at least to suit your local sociopath - even with a save, you'll lose your reputation as a trusted provider. There go the orders, customers and jobs. And there goes your business.

So, as this year begins, spend some time on your own and with your leadership team to:
  1. Take a look back over the past six to eighteen months
  2. Identify those situations that escalated into crises
  3. Determine how those crises occurred (real or manufactured)
  4. Define how long in advance the problems were known
  5. Determine in each case how long it took to get from knowledge to action
  6. Specify the outcomes in each case - including but not limited to impact on operating costs, revenues, profits, customer relations, market share, reputation, etc.
  7. Identify the specific functional areas and their respective managers/team members involved in each crisis
  8. Determine whether there is a trend of occurrences by any of the people or functions involved.
As well, if you have a Lean initiative going, take the time to review the teams' measures to identify any trends from the data that show highly risky levels of variation in your processes.

Once you have the information in hand - as uncomfortable as it might be - you'll know what to do. Do it. While you still have the time.

Because the biggest difference between business and politics is that the politicians who took the US to the edge of the fiscal cliff have at least two years before there is a remote possibility of being held responsible and accountable.

For business...for your business...you don't have that luxury. 

Figure out your cliffs now - and then manage your organization so that you're designed never to get close to them again.

Reputation and Profits: The "Good Corporate Citizenship" Question

In the world of Buzzword Bingo or your standard corporate blah-blah-blah, one of the favorite expressions that marketing and PR folks like to use for their clients - especially their Big Boy clients - is that they're "good corporate citizens."

Just so you know how 'true' that is, Enron was one. Their marketing people said so.

It's an interesting question, though. What, exactly, is "good corporate citizenship"? What do you have to do to be a "good corporate citizen"? And why should you bother?

The reason why you - and I mean you, personally - should bother is because it's all about your reputation. Your image in the larger society in which you operate - whether you're the local dry cleaner or a global player - is greatly impacted by how you're perceived to treat the area and people in which your organization exists.

But, you say, we're a Big Boy multi-national? We're everyplace. How are we supposed to really do the "good corporate citizen" thing...and why should we?

Take a moment and think about Jack Welch, the so-called "legendary" former CEO of General Electric.

Did he accomplish amazing things in his company? Yes. Did he create shareholder value that exceeded anyone's dreams? Yes.

Did he, by fighting regulators for over 10 years after it was found that GE was polluting the Hudson River with the cancer causing agents, PCBs, not only put the population of the area but his company and its reputation at risk...as well as taint his own reputation? Yes to that, too.

So much for good corporate citizenship and the renowned Mr. Welch. Even now, over a decade later, when Jack Welch puts himself forward, someone remembers the Hudson and what he didn't do.

It's a good thing for GE that Mr. Welch's successor, Jeff Immelt, understood and acted upon the good image and good business of being a "good corporate citizen" - because he turned around the hit that GE's reputation took, both locally and globally. His smart decisions and 'green' strategy, put them back on track to be a trusted partner and corporate provider.

But it doesn't take a giant effort like GE's to make the "good corporate citizen" difference. You achieve just as big - if not bigger - gains by simply showing your support in your local area.

And for that, let's look at Larry Ellison, yet another "legendary" CEO - who founded and runs Oracle.

Ellison's reputation is as a near wild man - and he seems to thrive on it.

That's okay, because his company does things like support the local community where they're headquartered by being a major sponsor of a money-raising effort to ensure that music continues to be taught in the schools.

From the locals' perspective, that makes Oracle a good company. What that turns into, for all the IT managers, business executives and SMB owners whose kids go to those schools, is that Oracle becomes a preferred provider.

What does this mean for you?

It means it's time to start taking your role as a "good corporate citizen" seriously. It's time to go beyond using the pretty words and put your money where your marketing mouthpieces are saying you are.

It doesn't take a lot - but it does take a decision. Your decision.

What do you want your and your company's legacy to be? How do you want to be seen now and in the future?

More importantly, how do you want to use your good corporate citizenship - your investment in the betterment of society through business - to make a difference in people's lives...and your company's profits...now?

It's time to do something different. Business isn't only about profits. In fact, in your company and on the larger scale, profits are simply there as fuel for growth. Yours and society's.

Be a good corporate citizen by doing real things that make a difference. A real difference.

That's what you'll be remembered for - even as everyone who sees what you're doing make their decision to buy what you have to offer now.