Have you ever had an interaction with a company that merited special consideration? What happens to a company when they have the right policy in place but make the wrong decision? Here is a recent example: http://overheadbin.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/25/11392324-dying-veteran-protests-spirit-airlines-no-refund-policy?chromedomain=usnews&lite
As detailed by this story, a terminally ill veteran was denied a refund by Spirit Air Lines. Why? In an effort to keep costs low, Spirit does not offer refunds. Why is this the right policy but wrong decision in this case?
The analysis of this airline ticket example is essential to understanding when and where to make exceptions to your refund policies. The paper “Refundability and Price: Empirical Analysis on the Airline Industry” by Seong man Moon & Makoto Watanabe of Sogang University is the seminal work in this field. The conclusion of the research is that the premium is paid for a refundable ticket is directly correlates with the distance of travel. This tells us that a long flight such as the one between Florida and New York (1010 miles) can turns out to be the most significant determinant of the relative price between refundable and non-refundable tickets. However if you look at a flight between Los Angeles and Las Vegas (236 miles) the difference in ticket price between refundable and non-refundable is negligible as the customer has the option of making the five hour drive.
So how can you as an entrepreneur use the sophisticated pricing model of the airline industry to deliver better customer service?
1. Understand the nature of the product or service you deliver. If you provide a time sensitive or essential service such as critical health care or something that is difficult for the customer to substitute, this calls for strong scenario analysis planning. Be prepared to make exceptions and deal with customers on a case by case basis even though you may have a sound structure of customer policies. The potential cost of bad publicity is significant especially when a remedy only takes a little compassion and extra effort.
2. If you are selling easily substitutable products like apple pie and lemonade be prepared to offer customer service that rivals Zappos. Make sure your customers walk away with a positive memorable experience even if you have to give out an extra cup of lemonade.
3. Empower employees to use creativity to solve problems. Great Customer service pays off. Reflecting on the Spirit Airlines example, how much money was saved by not refunding the ticket $500-1000? Now if just one or two people choose another airline over Spirit due to the bad publicity, this business decision will result in a potential loss.
Making exceptions to rules or policies makes for remarkable customer service. Happy customers lead to profitability. Just ask Steve Jobs or Tony Hseih of Zappos why exceeding customer expectations is important. Both of these men created considerable wealth and loyal customers–something I know you are also capable of.
If I told you that you could communicate with anyone in the world while sleeping and make money would you believe me? Or would you dismiss me as a “Billy Mays as seen on TV” sleazy pitchman? If you write computer code, create an app and place it in the Itunes store, Steve Jobs becomes the modern equivalent of the pitchman. How is this possible?
The concept of a Lingua franca as described by Encyclopedia Britannica began as a “Frankish Language” developed by the crusaders in the middle ages as a way to communicate with middle eastern traders as they plundered their way to the holy land. Functionally this created an ability to communicate between people who otherwise spoke unintelligible languages to one another. Fast forward to 2012 and the world’s Lingua Franca is found in computer coding. Recent examples in the business world support my assertion.
In a recent interview Groupon co-founder and chairman Eric Lefkofsky stated that the ability to take your ideas, produce something and articulate a solution people can interact with is a key success. One of the greatest tools you can have is the ability to code. (Chicago Tribune 4/15/2012). With the resources and technological advances your dream or wish can be translated into a functional application that benefits the public. Dream, articulate, code it, and prototype. When it works put your app in the Itunes store. This is how commerce is done in 2012. (As a side note the app market is growing at a 77% rate–year over year). Instagram founder and CEO Kevin Systrom received his formal educational training in marketing and is a self-taught computer programmer at night. His investment in teaching himself coding paid off as Facebook bought his company last week for $1 billion.
Finally in a telling post written by Lifehacker (Lifehacker has been recognized as an outstanding blog by Time, Wired, Mensa, PC Magazine and others) founder Gina Trapini she describes the process of learning coding as a long battle that consists of small incremental victories. As Trapini states “Getting really good at programming, like anything else, is a matter of sticking with it, trying things out, and getting experience as you go”. (Lifehacker Gina Trapini 11/09).
As I write this piece I fully intend to take my own advice. Check out this you tube video courtesy of MIT and you have the opportunity to learn a valuable skill. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6U-i4gXkLM
See you the coding journey it may be bumpy but we’ll get there.
Until next time, be good and cultivate your community of friends.
I woke up this morning thinking about James Earl Jones saying “If you build it they will come”. Of course 23 years ago when these words were uttered in Field of Dreams Kevin Kostner built a baseball stadium in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. If we change the context of the quote to today’s retail market, how would this be understood? I would suggest that the “voice” speaking to us in contemporary terms would be creating an app or an e-commerce website that both engages and successfully generates revenue without the overhead of commercial retail property. The former CEO of Best Buy Brian Dunn was quoted in a March telephone interview with Bloomberg Business Week as saying “The one critical thing we offer the world is choice. We provide the latest and greatest choice of all technology gear, from Apple (AAPL) products to Google (GOOG)products, and that brings more opportunity to help people put technology to use. That is a great place for us to be.” A week later Best Buy posted a $1.7 billion quarterly loss, announced the closing 50 stores and now Brian Dunn is looking for a new job. The failure to recognize the significant cultural shift in retail consumer behavior ultimately may bankrupt Best Buy and several other Big Box retailers unless they embrace the new customer dynamic.
Lets pinpoint this paradigm shift of consumer behavior so that we can benefit and become both thought leaders and adapt our business to meet the needs of the modern marketplace.
Before shoppers had access to apps and extensive exposure to e-commerce websites, the only way you could comparison shop was to go from store to store. Now we can walk into a retail establishment, look at the wares, scan a QR code and instantly find the same item online for less money. As we depart the commercial property we are able to use smart phone apps to comparison shop and purchase the item.
So what is the answer to the ideal retail operation?
Lets summarize, learn and be proactive to the new demands of today’s consumer:
1. Bigger isn’t always better. Again as I have reminded you before, focusing on a niche market and perfecting your operation and processes will create memorable customer engagement. This will allow you to compete in qualitative areas that the customer cares about rather than focusing on price comparison. Remember if you have to compete on price someone will always sell for less.
2. All new and current operations need to be built in a scalable manner that will allow the seamless execution of mobile technologies and platforms. It won’t be long until a majority of e-commerce will be done on smart phones. Again “if you build it they will come” but make sure it is “app friendly”.
3. Educating customer’s remains critically important, however the methods in which you do this have changed. Many customers are not interested in walking into your retail venture and receiving a sales pitch. Using social media to educate and engage whether is it a blog, YouTube video or an app, teach customers what they need to know by using their smart phones.
The last question in my mind regarding this subject is what will become of the strip malls and the shopping centers that once housed these mega stores? Will your local Best Buy turn into an Urban Farm? Probably not, If I were to guess probably a “Cash for Gold” store.
May all your efforts lead to productive apps and all your limbs be mobile.
Until next time, be good and cultivate your community of friends.
If I had any doubt that NCAA scholar athletes should get paid, the latest case of University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino has erased any second thoughts. Lets consider the known facts of the Petrino case and how the decisions being made by the University of Arkansas are driven by cost analysis.
Here are the facts of the case:
University of Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino was driving his 2012 Harley Davidson Motorcycle this past Sunday April 1, 2012 and was involved in a crash.
Once the initial 911 call was made, in which two people were reported on the motorcycle is when the scandal started to take shape. The original 911 callers denied that there were two people on the motorcycle. The second person on the motorcycle with the 51-year-old Petrino was former Arkansas volleyball player and current football program employee Jessica Dorrell, who is 25.
At a Tuesday news conference Petrino who is married with four children, didn’t mention he was riding with another passenger. In addition the University of Arkansas Athletic Department issued a press release quoting Petrino’s family stating “no other individuals” were involved. Petrino said that he had spent Sunday with his wife, Becky, at a lake and was going for an evening ride.
On Thursday the Arkansas State Police released the details of their investigation of the accident. Shortly before the report was released, Petrino contacted Arkansas Athletic director Jeff Long and admitted he was with Dorrell during the crash. Late Thursday Petrino also admitted an inappropriate relationship with Dorrell. The University of Arkansas held a second press conference Thursday and announced that Petrino was being put on paid administrative leave.
Now Petrino’s fate rests on how Athletic director Jeff Long evaluates the situation. The “Morality Clause” in Petrino’s contract states: “engaging in conduct, as solely determined by the university, which is clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying the position of head football coach or which negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.” The quick translation of this clause is that any action Petrino takes that negatively affects revenue streams beyond what the football team can generate will end in termination of the coach. In this case Petrino has two major problems:
1. He wasn’t truthful with his superiors about the accident and lied about it publicly,
2, Petrino hired Jessica Dorrell to work under his supervision in the football office. If a “previous inappropriate relationship” with Petrino did indeed lead to her hiring, that’s bad news for everybody involved.
So what will be the end result of this situation? If we look back at a similar situation involving a coach’s morality clause, Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville‘s men’s basketball coach was involved in an extra marrital affair in 2003. In addition to the affair, Pitino paid Karen Cunagin Sypher $3,000 to cover medical costs for an abortion. In the end the University of Louisville administration decided that Pitino would keep his job. A decision that largely can be attributed to Pitino’s ability to produce winning and revenue generating basketball teams.
The same can be said about Bobby Petrino. Since his arrival in Fayetteville, Arkansas has risen to prominence on the national college football scene and has begun constructing a new $43 million football facility. If the University’s decision is financially based, Petrino should survive these egregious actions. His ethical reputation may be ruined but his production on the field is unquestioned.
When thinking about this situation as an Entrepreneur two potential scenarios come to mind:
1. When should you cut a customer loose? (remember not everyone can be your customer). It is likely you have encountered a demanding customer that you can never satisfy. The combination of the time, effort and resources devoted to a dis-satisfied customer can quickly become a losing proposition. Knowing when to let a customer go can be a key decision that influences your company’s outcome.
2. When should you part ways with an employee? (remember everyone is dispensable) Even a well-meaning loyal employee can pick up bad habits and engage in unproductive work related behaviors. Analyzing the costs associated with an employee and understanding the potential implications, both financial and the affect on customer good will is a necessary skill for an entrepreneur to engage in.
Is mandating someone to buy broccoli similar to forcing you to buy health insurance? According to Justice Scalia they are similar.
Maybe Justice Scalia meant you should eat your broccoli so you stay healthy thereby saving on your co-pays.
Until next time, be good and cultivate your community of friends
With a global economy gyrating with sweeping political changes, technological breakthroughs and new emerging global markets, an entrepreneur must think and act strategically. One of the most overlooked assets small businesses fail to capitalize on is intellectual Capital. In his prophetic article “Shocking Truths About the Future” (Business Strategy July/August 1996) Futurist Alvin Toffler talks about the shift in the world economy from a base of financial to intellectual capital. Toffler states “Knowledge is no longer just a factor of production. It is the critical factor of production”. Lets take this relatively esoteric concept of Intellectual Capital and break down the components:
Thomas Stewart in an article entitled “So you Think You’re Company is so Smart” (Fortune April 30, 2001) delineated three crucial elements:
1. Human Capital is the talent, creativity, skill and ability of a company’s workforce. This shows up in innovative strategies, plans and processes that the people in an organization develop and then passionately pursue.
2. Structural capital is the accumulated knowledge and experience that a company possesses. It can take many forms including processes, software, patents but most importantly, the knowledge and experience of employee strengths, abilities and challenges. Essentially the entrepreneur will have a strong understanding of the feasibility of opportunities based on the capability of her staff.
3. Customer Capital includes the established customer base, positive reputation, ongoing relationships and goodwill the company has built up overtime with its customers.
Given these three components how has Whole Foods used Intellectual Capital as a competitive advantage to carve out a strong customer base in the grocery business where mega chains such as Wal-mart and Kroger previously dominated?
Whole Foods invests heavily in Human Capital. They spend time and money selecting Team Members (note they are not called employees implying a much more important role in the company’s success) by carefully screening job applicants to find those that love and have a passion for both customer service and natural food. Each Team Member is carefully trained so they can demonstrate and explain the benefits of the company’s organic and natural food. (Remember if you want to sell more, help educate customers and they will choose to buy more). As a result, Whole Foods routinely lands on Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work”
The Structural Capital component for Whole Foods comes from its increased knowledge of “local sourcing”. As we become more connected globally, there is increasing concern by many consumers on how and where their food is produced. Whole Foods has transferred this into a competitive advantage strategy of acquiring locally grown products.
Finally, with an immense amount of Customer Capital, Whole foods knows that its customers do not shop at the store searching for the lowest prices. Rather store managers and team members have the autonomy to recognize and stock their store with regional food preferences that local customers demand. The ability to quickly react and mix locally demanded products has created in the words of Matthew Mell “Disney for foodies”.
As we enter the Spring here in North America lets re-energize the Bank of Social Capital because no matter what the Federal Reserve may dictate, Ben Bernanke can’t diminish the value the relationships and goodwill you create.
Until next time, be good and cultivate your community of friends