Using Process Management to Effectively Deal with Customer Complaints

Customer complaints are a gift. Complaining to you, rather than about you can help you get better without the loss of customers. Amazon has a famous and effective process for making this happen.


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Make Doing the Wrong Thing Hard … Fundamentals

To help prevent errors, a construct translated as “make doing the wrong thing hard” has been around informally for many decades. It was formalized as part of the Toyota Production System by Shigeo Shingo and called poka-yoke in Japanese. This replaced the original name, baka-yoke, which translates as “idiot proofing.”

There are some examples of this concept on the blog and you can find them by searching. In this short video we discuss the foundational idea behind the concept.


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Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

When companies get in trouble, often times their knee-jerk reaction is to reorganize. Public companies will do that in hope their shareholders think they are taking action. Others do it because they have the usually mistaken belief that changing people or the organization will solve the root cause of the problem. Rarely is that so, as we explore in this short video.


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Control Charts: One of Ishikawa’s 7 Tools of Quality

Our focus is on helping you improve the revenue side of your business, and also the bottom line, by using proven process management methods in Marketing and Sales. Ishikawa developed seven tools he felt would improve results. We look at applying them to Marketing and Sales.


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The Demise of a Great Brand

It is sad to see the demise of a once great brand. It is even sadder when the demise is self-inflicted. And, as is often the case, this time it was caused by a focus on cost not the value of what the customer was buying.

To be fair, as is often the case, this product was bought for two likely purposes: to support the organization and for the taste. I am talking here about Girl Scout Cookies and most specifically Do-si-dos, or Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies.

I have been a strong supporter of the Girl Scout Cookie drive for decades. When my neighborhood only had one Girl Scout, she got the orders. When more came, I split them, but the girls knew I was likely their best customer as the minimum order for each was one case. (Come on, they must last a year).

My favorite became the peanut butter sandwich cookie. I loved them. Several years ago, the Girl Scouts changed the bakers they were using for the cookies to save money; and the quality/taste of the peanut butter sandwich cookies have deteriorated. Further, they offer two names for the “same” cookie depending on whether the baker is East Coast or West Coast. And the cookies are materially different, and both are very poor imitations of the original.

As I live in the West Coast area, I get the “Peanut Butter Sandwich” named cookie. It has become marginal at best and I don’t plan to buy them anymore. I got a chance to buy the Do-si-do named cookie by contacting the Girl Scouts of America and they connected me with a troop in the East. The problem was I had to also paying shipping which does not support the Girl Scouts but does make the cookies more expensive.

While these were also a poor imitation of the original, they were materially better than the West Coast version. Thus, not only has quality taken a dive, but there is no consistency either. While you can argue that they have different names and people are unlikely to get both, this is further damaging to the brand.

I am very sorry to say that I am likely a former customer for the Girl Scouts and I suspect I am not alone. Perhaps the increased profit they make on the cheaper cookies offsets the loss of customers, or more likely, they have no idea what is happening and why sales may be declining.

But too many companies know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.


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Real World Example of Customer Experience Differences

There is a fantastic example of customer experience differences being demonstrated during this pandemic. As more people can get vaccinated and more locations open to provide them, we see a stark difference between the customer experience by location, even though the vaccines being given are the same and the delivery method is the same.

While I am certain this is not 100% true, it has been my experience and those of many people I have talked to, so I am using it as an example.

In general, the medical community is not particularly customer centric. Their job, as they see it, is to provide medical expertise as needed to help solve the issues the patient is having. Surgeons are probably the extreme example of lack of “bedside manner.” As vaccines have rolled out, the initial location to get them has been a hospital or other medical center or the county medical center. The experience has been good, and most people report it takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get in line, get their “jab” and wait to make sure there are no immediate side effects.

As the roll-out has expanded, pharmacies have joined the available locations including chains like CVS and retailers with an in-store pharmacy like Wal-Mart. People who have their “jab” at those locations report a 15–20-minute total time for the same process.

How is it that retailers can do it so much faster? Simple, they care about customer experience more than hospitals and county medical centers do. Yes, even Wal-Mart, which is not really known for customer experience anymore, beats the medical community hands down.

How can retailers do it? Because it is in the DNA. Why can’t medical centers/hospitals do it as well? It’s not even part of their thought process much less a priority. Every process is perfectly constructed to produce the results it does. Medical processes are not customer centric. Retail processes should be and compared to medical processes they clearly are.


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Brick & Mortar Suicide Continues…despite Covid -19

I have written on several occasions over the last few years about how brick and mortar retailers are doing more to destroy themselves than the e-tailers they blame. (Do a search on suicide and you will find them.) I haven’t provided a story recently, but then today happened.

One of the key reasons for using brick and mortar is to get the item right now. Such was the case today. We were in need of a new, entry level, Windows laptop. The obvious brick and mortar place here in Reno would be Best Buy, so off we went.

They had two excellent choices. We asked the sales person if he could get either of them for us. He scanned the items and said no to both. He was not even able to order them to be delivered to the store. They were not available. (Well I saw one of each available, but did not bother to ask if he could sell the “floor sample.”) We just left.

Next stop Wal-Mart. Nice computer department, just nobody staffing it. We found a clerk who paged the “technology specialist” who finally arrived. We showed her the item we wanted and she gave us the same answer as we got at Best Buy: not available.

Last stop was RC Willey a furniture store that also sells appliances and electronics. Found two computers there and the sales person was all over it for us. He went and got it and in the mean time 3 other sales people asked if we were being helped. Wow, not committing suicide here.

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Adapting to Change

For the last year+ companies have had to deal with the changes brought on by the pandemic. Much has been written about being adaptive, agile, flexible, customer-focused, etc. While some businesses have had no ability to adapt because governments effectively shut them down, others have found interesting ways to adapt including focusing on take out food rather than inside service; find ways to allow outdoor dining even in cold weather; remote learning including remote exercise; remote medical visits and more.

I recently saw and experienced a truly unique adaption that combines many attributes to solve multiple problems. The Cinemark Theaters here in Reno, (and likely other places) are allowing you to create a Watch Party for you and about 20 of your closest friends.

For a fixed price you rent the entire theater. You can bring about 20 people with you. The price of renting the theater is $150 if you see a new movie and $100 if you see a classic movie. They give you choices of times and movies throughout the day. Concessions are extra of course, but discounted as well.

How does this solve multiple problems? Movie theaters in the modern era have multiple theaters together to reduce overhead. In “normal” times there are lots of movies to show and the theaters are kept busy. In today’s world we see several problems: Only a few movies are being released so there aren’t enough to fill the available screens; the number of people allowed in a theater is limited due to social distancing; and many people are reluctant to go out.

A private watch party solves all of these problems. People pick the movie they want to see when they want to see it. And the theater is not restricted to just “first run” movies. Thus more theaters are in use.

The number of people is limited by the rules and can be further limited by the person arranging the watch party. If you allow the maximum number of people the cost per ticket is about 1/2 the going rate. You can then reduce it further if you like and still pay about the going rate. The theater sells concessions and they have their own “salesperson” selling out the theaters for them. Win Win Win.

And it is great fun and my neighbors love it.


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Super Bowl 2021: The Ads

As has been my tradition for most of the time this blog has been around, I will comment on this year’s Super Bowl ads. As a reminder, my perspective is that these ads should be a “big deal.” At $5M for 30 seconds, the production value needs to be “super.” I also believe the ad needs to have a message that resonates with the target customers. It can be to affirm loyalty with current customers, to attract new customers, or both. And, of course, we have no idea whether the ad was actually effective because we don’t have the metrics that matter. Our question is often: Does the advertiser?

This year’s Super Bowl, like the year it represents, was unusual in terms of the # of fans allowed to watch in person, as well as the stated intentions of some major brands to “sit out” the game in lieu of donating the money to a “cause.” My question is why are those two activities mutually exclusive? Certainly, these huge companies can do both and many donate to worthy causes all the time, and advertise in the Super Bowl. Was the point to denounce the Super Bowl as a capricious event in this time? If so, why? And I then have to ask when a parent company like Anheuser Busch advertises but Bud does not, why? Again, I am not privy to their inner decision-making process, so I don’t know, but it seems illogical.

Now to the ads themselves. As I have noted many years now, these ads are just not “super.” I had people speculate that the current crop of creative managers just aren’t that creative. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Maybe we have reached a point where fear of offending anyone makes edgy communication worrisome. Regardless, again, this year, the ads were mostly mediocre.

The top ads as rated by the audience were the two Rocket Mortgage, “Certain is Better” ads. I agree they are on point and clever. And Rocket can easily determine if it made their “phones ring.” My other two ads that I felt were on message were the GM ad for electric cars challenging Norway, and the Huggies ad. The ad I felt had the best “non-product” message was the “meet in the middle” ad sponsored by Jeep. Unfortunately, the ad was pulled from You Tube because Bruce Springsteen, who was featured in the ad, was arrested for a DUI. So maybe offending someone is a bigger deal than lack of creativity.


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The Secret to Selling More

The secret to selling more isn’t where you’ve been looking—if it was, you’ve have found it already!

            But where is it?  To answer that question, let’s go back in time.  Long, long ago…in the 50s…when manufacturing was King, management was concerned with making  “good” stuff.  When the stuff coming off the manufacturing line was “bad”, top management went to the person running manufacturing and beat them up.  “Make better stuff!”, they screamed at the hapless manufacturing manager.  But lo, often the stuff never improved. 

            It never occurred to top management then that the reason that their stuff was coming off the manufacturing line “bad” didn’t lie in the manufacturing function at all!  It never occurred to them that maybe the problem was in design.  Maybe the stuff was never designed in a manufacturable way!

            Fast forward to…now.  Now your sales are down, and most managements are beating up their sales managers over it.  “Sell more stuff!”, they’re screaming!  Well, maybe the reason for insufficient sales isn’t in the sales area at all.  Maybe it’s in the marketing area.  Maybe Marketing has done a poor job of “designing” your stuff to be sold.  Maybe they’ve specified the wrong features, or targeted the wrong audience, or come up with the wrong positioning, or are using the wrong channel, or have “mis-specified” any number of other attributes of your stuff. 

            As design is to manufacturing, marketing is to sales. 

            Now’s the time to take a hard look whether your stuff is matched with the needs of the customers that you are uniquely qualified.  That is, whether your “what” (the stuff you make) is aligned with your “who” (the customers you are in a position to serve.)  A mis-alignment there is not something that can be solved by selling harder—you must address the root cause.  Yet the leverage of a proper alignment between you “who” and your “what” is enormous.  Then selling is easy! 


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