Who Wants To Buy HOPELESS HAPPINESS? (Always Test Your Marketing Materials)

Check this ad along EDSA:

So When I first saw that sign, I was confused: wait, why would a company – in health insurance at that –  want to sell hopeless happiness?!

Then, upon, closer inspection, I saw what they were trying to accomplish with the shadow and stuff. Since I always pass by that part of Edsa, I’d always ask my co-passengers what they read or saw when they saw this sign. The results would always be:

Hopeless Happiness

I’m not so sure who did this ad for Medicard, but I don’t think the intention for this ad was:

When people see this ad, they should immediately think “Hopeless Happiness!” When they closely inspect it though, they should see that Happiness is the shadow Hopelessness casts. (whose symbolism I still can’t really figure out)

There are numerous other examples of this. (you can post more examples in the comments section!)

Lesson here: it’s not enough that we triple-check our marketing materials and copy. We have to TEST them with other people.

It’s not enough that it passes our own paradigm. Oftentimes, we are too close to the material that we don’t get to see what the everyman will get to see.

No need to hire an expensive marketing research firm. You can start by sending the copy to 20 different friends through email and ask for suggestions (people love to give their opinion in stuff like this). Post it in Facebook for a few friends. Grab a projector, project it on the wall and let the whole office comment without you rendering judgement.

Test. Test multiple versions and make people choose.

More importantly, try to simulate the actual medium the copy will be reflected in. If it’s website copy, don’t show it to people in Word format, plug it in a Powerpoint presentation which simulates the website to be developed.

(so if you have a 50-foot bllboard, don’t post it in EDSA first. Unravel the thing, hang it by a wall, and see how people take it – and yup, I think it’s worth the hassle)

ADDENDUM: Apparently, it’s not the only MEDICARD sign of its kind. There’s another sign, also along EDSA. The same idea but with these two words instead: “ANXIETY ASSURANCE” 

Anyone with a pic? 

 

Curiosity Skins The Cat

3 months ago I was talking to whole lot of doctors.

I was talking to our pediatrician for the needs of my older kids, our gynecologist for my wife’s pregnancy, my surgeon for my impending operation, more doctors to get the clearances needed for me to push through with the operation, and even visited a few confined loved ones and friends.

I was in and out of hospitals and hospital clinics. A good chunk of this time I spend waiting. 

What did I do to pass the time?

I couldn’t help but be an entrepreneur.

First, I noticed that for all the clinics of the new doctors I saw, the secretary asked me to manually fill up a patient’s form. Curious, I asked the secretaries if I would need to fill up another form if I went to the doctor’s other clinics in other hospitals. All of them said yes, I’d need to fill up another one.

Meanwhile, for my existing doctors, they’d pull out my file from a huge cabinet.

HMMMMMM…

Instead of sitting down to wait, I decided to get up and peer in other clinics to see if they used desktops for filing records. Very very few of them had desktops. One secretary I saw was manually encoding the recently-filled form of a patient into the desktop.

Interestingly though, I saw a number of tablets used by doctors walking in the lobby. Thinking back, I remembered that a number of doctors who visited during hospital confinement used iPads to document their visits.

HMMMMMM…

The startup thesis forming in my head was: would doctors use tablet-based, mobile-powered clinic application to manage their clinics better?

So I asked my wife (who’s a doctor) for her opinion. I asked my own doctors (I thoroughly quizzed the poor cardiologist who cleared my operation) if they’d buy an app like that. I asked more doctors.

After getting some validation, I told 2 entrepreneurial friends whom I knew would be interested in this sort of idea to brainstorm with me. Excitedly, we eventually developed the idea even further after a couple of meetings over noodles and cake. We’re now set on testing our assumptions more rigorously through a minimum viable product.

Startup ideas are formed by thinking of problems to solve. More specifically, how to skin the cat BETTER than the status quo.

The best way to find opportunities? Observe. Never be shy in talking people. Never assume. Reach out and ask (you’d be surprised – most people LOVED to be asked). This is great way you can uncover some long-standing problems.

Be curious. And then, decide to be even more curious.

The Entrepreneurial Punch in the Mouth

Uhm, nope, the entrepreneur doesn’t do the punching in this piece…

Seasoned entrepreneurs know that they will eventually get punched in the mouth.

A lot.

This is the litmus test for new entrepreneurs, and remains one key reason why the majority of people don’t take the plunge.

When you are starting up, you have all sorts of enthusiasm. Everyone is excited. The energy is palpable. You think you’ve got a great plan in place. YEAH! I’M GOING TO MAKE IT BIG, WORLD!

Then you get punched in the mouth.

You lay sprawled on the floor. There is blood all over. Your plan has gone up in smoke.

How will you react?

The following are punches in the mouth that I’ve personally gone through, or have seen friends gone through:

  • You discover that the super-duper, world-changing, paradigm-shifting, world-beating, the-word-innovation-fails-in-describing idea that you had is actually already being done. And they are doing it so much better than you imagined.
  • Your parents don’t support your leap
  • Co-founders leaving
  • There’s just no money in the bank anymore, and your employees are asking for their salaries
  • Your biggest client sends you casual fax message that they are letting you go
  • The prized employee who singlehandedly built your system leaves for Singapore
  • You realize the product you spent all this time building has no market
  • Facebook or google decides to create a feature which happens to be your main selling point
  • No one believes in your idea (or in essence, in you) enough to fund it

These are the type of things I never ever felt in corporate, so when I started getting punched like this, sometimes one after another, it was jarring.

We keep hearing things like “will” and “perseverance” associated with entrepreneurs.

This is why.

No matter how much it is glamorized (especially nowadays), being an entrepreneur is DIFFICULT.

We get punched like that for the first time, we fall. And more than the shock, more than the pain, the overwhelming thing which creeps in is doubt. Sitting down reeling and dazed, the thought that will circle back time after time is: can I really do this?

How you recover, how you ignore the pain, how you CHOOSE to repeatedly get up, how you go on with hardly any motivation, will greatly determine how far you will go in being an entrepreneur. It is a grind.

Are you ready to get punched in the mouth?

Run Far, Far, Away From These Soul Suckers!

Is it feeding time yet?!

Two quick stories.

Last week, a friend of mine was about to take the leap. She had a consulting concept in mind and had a client ready. Being someone with integrity, she decided to ask her boss if there was anything at all that would be construed as unethical if she put up the practice she had in mind. She didn’t think it was going to be a problem, but she just wanted to be sure. She also trusted her boss and valued his opinion.

The boss shot the idea down. It WAS unethical, he said.

Huh?!

Tell me, is there something unethical when a marketing manager from an FMCG firm wishes to put up a consulting firm whose first potential client was a small firm engaged in construction?

I know a handful of FMCG marketing people who have put up their own consulting firms. None were sued. In fact, almost all these new firms were contracted by the very firms their founders resigned from.

So what gives ?!

Perhaps the boss thought:

“Uh-oh. If she leaves, I’m going to have to do more work, I’ve got to find a replacement, and it also hurts my reputation. Easy call here.”

Next story.

Another friend, this time from a large IT firm, had been in his firm for good number of years already. One very common occurrence was having lunch out with a set of friends in the office. He admitted that they would always have a good time – mostly bashing his current employers and trying to out-do one another with boss horror stories.

During one lunch session, he told his friends about a recent decision he’d made: he was going to take a pay cut to join a startup.

To my friend’s utter surprise, there wasn’t universal support!

“Of course, mostly everyone congratulated me at first, but you can see from their expressions and body language that some thought differently. Then later it came out:”

Iiwan mo na kami dito!” (So, now you are leaving us behind)

My friend was puzzled because he thought he’d get all-out support, after all, they were his friends.

Perhaps not. Perhaps the basis of their friendship had been the bonds they formed hating on their current jobsso once that was gone…

Or perhaps it’s simply people being crabs.

I guess that’s one more advantage of doing bold leaps – you get to see who your real friends are. Real friends believe in you, and WILL support any endeavor of yours that involves pursuing your heart’s desires.

Find them and distance yourself from the selfish soul-suckers above.

Ignore These 5 Founding Team Principles At Your Own Peril

I think I’ve written more than a few posts on founding teams already. I can’t help it, because it’s just SO FREAKING important. This very first step will make or break your startup.

A huge part of my work now is assembling founding teams. Of course, I’ve had successes and failures. As usual, the failures have taught me much more than the successes. From what I’ve learned, here are more detailed principles I now live by when it comes to founder selection.

Ignore at your peril.

1) DNA=KRA

Founder DNA should match Company KRA’S.

Once you identify the 2-3 main strategic areas your company will be involved in, find founders who can fulfill EACH area. Are you starting up a mobile gaming firm? Then you need someone who designs great games, someone who makes great games, and someone who can sell them. If you are all three, then you can actually put one up on your own. There’s a very good chance that you are not though, so fill the gaps with co-founder or two. (I highly suggest keeping it to 3)

“Why can’t we just hire someone for the gap?”

The answer can be very practical. Because that someone who is hired can leave. If the person leaves, and is occupying a position of strategic importance (say, you hired a person who will develop your games), then your whole company gets stalled. If the founders are selected strategically, then one partner can always fill the gap of whoever employee leaves.

This is one secret why STORM works. The whole soul behind STORM is HR and IT. So over the years we’ve lost IT team leaders to Singapore, or lost internal HR Consultants. Whoever leaves, either Pao (founder, IT guy) or I (founder, HR guy) can take up the slack, so no time is wasted.

This way, you ensure that the DNA of your startup will always be aligned to its core objectives.

2) NEVER Compromise on a Founder

This is corollary to the first one. Sometimes, we get too excited with working with our friends or we get too excited about starting that we end up partnering with the wrong person.

We can delude ourselves into thinking thoughts like:

Hmmmmm…this guy isn’t as impressive as I had hoped, but he’s close enough

or

This person is just okay, but I do think I set my standards too high in the first place anyway. He should be able to do the job.

No, he won’t.

NEVER compromise. Don’t talk yourself in doing so. Keep on digging. Believe me, you’d much much rather get delayed than selecting the wrong person.

QUICK TIP: 3 things to seriously ask yourself: a) CAN he do the job? (capability) b) WILL he do the job (motivation) c) DOES HE HAVE TIME to do the job? (bandwidth)

That guy you selected COULD’VE BEEN this guy instead

3) You can only gauge talent in your own DNA sphere

Scenario: you want to fill a founder post with someone with a programmer background. “I want a great programmer,” you say to yourself. Then some person comes in and shows you some stuff he’s made. It works. You’re impressed. It’s easy to mutter to yourself, “This guy’s great!”

DON’T GIVE HIM THE KEYS TO THE CITY JUST YET.

I liken the above to this scenario: let’s say you’ve never watched football in your life. You could watch some schlub in the local soccer field score some goals (maybe one with a bicycle kick) and say to yourself, “Wow, that guy is an amazing player.” And then, a few days after you get to watch Lionel Messi play. NOW you know what “great” is.

Tip: in situations like this, ASK someone who is knowledgable about an area who can discern “great” from “mediocre.”

4) You have to have someone fulltime

I guess it IS possible for a startup to begin standing on its own two feet with all of its founders doing it part-time. This is just impossibly difficult to do, I’ve found. Without someone in your founding team who can put on the hours your startup sorely needs, it’s very difficult to pull off. The most valuable thing your startup needs is not funding, or a killer strategy – the most valuable thing it needs is great people spending time on it.  

Even if it’s just one founder fulltime. You got to have someone who commits, right from the start. If not, development will be slow as hell, and somewhere down the line, your momentum and/or motivation just wanes.

This happens no matter how utterly magnificent your part-time founders are.

Don’t make equity room for these two

5) Get rid of pure talking heads

Never give substantial shares (or any shares for that matter) to people who will only assume what I call the “talking head” role. Someone who says he’s in it for merely “the strategy part.”

What characterizes the “talking head” is his lack of arms and legs – he won’t do anything. He just presumes he’s worth the equity because of the sheer “knowledge and wisdom” he will impart.

Resist his wily charms. You need DOERS who will contribute. Get DOERS who can multi-task and think as well.

You CAN, however, get these guys as mentors. It’s almost 100% they’ll agree.

Do these right, and it’s literally half the battle.

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5 Things They Don’t Tell You When You Make THE LEAP

I thought it was over, but we managed to overcome so much adversity. In the end, it was soooo much worth it!”

Of course, we keep on hearing this about those who’ve taken the great leap from corporate to entrepreneur, right? The insane difficulty and the inevitable phoenix-like rise to the top.

But what exactly makes it difficult? What are the exact changes felt?

I’d like to highlight some of the things I felt and observed when I made my own leap, almost exactly 3 years ago today:

1) I WAS DOUBTING PETER

From ten years of structured work with a boss, I suddenly now called ALL the shots. I went from doing final interviews and creating performance management systems as an HR Manager to suddenly deciding what to build, who to market to, how to handle finances, and how exactly to spend my time.  There was nothing in corporate that could’ve prepared me for it.

I remember smiling and facing the STORM team to tell them I was going to be fulltime: about how excited I was and we’d get to do all sorts of things. While I was confident and optimistic, I was at the same time wracked with doubt.

What if I’m wrong?

In retrospect, having a team to lead also helped a lot: you’re forced to live up to the confidence you WANT to exude around them.

After some time, did end up getting used to it, largely because no matter what happens, you realize you don’t get fired.

Now, there is still doubt, with the difference being the knowledge that doubt really comes with the territory of doing new things. So the focus becomes – let’s do this fast, so if it doesn’t work, we learn and adjust fast as well.

2) THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A SALARY

The whole point of a salary revolves around its consistency – every two weeks you get it, and what you get is exactly the same month after month.

If that’s what a salary is, then sorry, but you don’t get that.

I thought I gave myself a salary when I started fulltime for STORM, but it turns out, what I gave myself was an upper limit:  I would usually get something lower, and what I would get would vary each time.

Why? Simply because startups struggle in their first years, if not altogether folding.

It was the time when I understood when A/R was really all about. Sometimes, clients just don’t pay on time – and it could be for inane reasons (like “the accountant is absent” or “the check is in the drawer and the person with the key is on VL”). Of course, they don’t really know (or care) that you’ve been banking on that check for everything.

Gosh, I hate receivables.

 

3) YOU NEED YOUR SPOUSE TO BE THERE FOR YOU

So in essence I told my wife, who just gave birth to our firstborn, that I was going to take an 85% pay cut to pursue my dream during the recession.

She had EVERY RIGHT to say something like:

“WTH?! Did you hit your head somewhere? Think about your son! Wait a bit first until the firm is more stable to give you higher pay”

And you know what? Thinking about it now, if she told me that, I probably would not have taken my leap when I did. And not doing so at that time would have killed STORM.

She continued to believe in me during the times relatives doubted my choice, or when there were more bad news, or when we had to tighten our belts.

My wife had faith in me.

And that made all the difference.

4) YOU WILL NEED TO FIRE FRIENDS

As a former HR leader, it was usual for me to fire people. That doesn’t mean it would be any easier in my own firms. In fact, it’s harder, because in a smaller team, I worked directly with everyone. They’re friends.

There will be hiring mistakes though. I think one big weakness we have had in STORM is that Pao and I have cream puffs for hearts, so we delay and delay.

Indecision like this can kill startups, because it isn’t built to carry deadweight like larger firms can. You just need to realize any delay isn’t doing anyone a favor and just do it.

5) IT’S TOUGH TO LEARN FROM MISTAKES

The cliché is true – mistakes will be where you will learn from the most. What they don’t say is how difficult this is to go through. In a lot of times, the lesson gets ingrained in you precisely because the bitter pill was tough to swallow.

In a startup, a mistake can make you miss a pay period. A bad hire can lead to extreme frustration. It can mean the loss of an important client. A series of mistakes can lead to further self-doubt and paralysis.

But this is something you have to learn to deal with and embrace, because it WILL happen. I do think these battle scars are precisely what makes an entrepreneur a true entrepreneur.

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How we are ALL in danger of doing the dodo – and what to do about it

Uhm…no offense dodo, but you even looked the part!

Unfortunately for the species, the dodo remains synonymous for concepts or objects which have become obsolete due to failure to evolve.

When I graduated in 1997, the following industries were kings of the the roost. They are now dead or are shadows of their former selves – all in just 15 years.

Record Stores – remember shops like Odyssey and Music One?

Today, everything in this room can fit in the phone in my pocket

Newspapers – My dad used to get 3 newspapers for the house daily. And that Sunday Manila Bulletin edition was thicker than the Bible.  Now? My dad goes online for his news. Manila Bulletin is now as thick as a comic book.

Video and Game Rentals – ACA Video anyone?

Landlines – I’m not really sure why we got a landline for our house. I think it was because of the bundled package with the internet. It NEVER rings anymore.

Point and Shoot Cameras (not SLR’s) – the lining was on the wall when the smartphone camera specs started getting better and better. Then the iPhone 4-S came out and was essentially the straw which broke the camel’s back.

Photo Developing Shops – These shops seemed to be in every other commercial block at one point. Now you hardly see one.

Encyclopedias – Remember Collier’s, World Book, and Britannica?

These are some of the industries which I think would be in quick decline from hereon:

The PC – Have you seen how cheap laptops now are? It’s also worth noting that the Macs, while still selling well, are now Apple’s lowest-selling machines next to phones and tablets.

Book Publishing – Did you know you can now self-publish in Amazon? (and according to a lot of authors, make MORE money)

Brick and Mortar Bookstores – I used to think, “There would always be a need for a book! It’s a different feeling to turn actual pages.” Then I got an iPad and was introduced to ebooks and Amazon online. From buying a book almost every month just 2 years ago, I haven’t bought a physical book ever since.

(What do you think is on the verge? Hit the comments!)

It’s not surprising that we see industries come and go. What is staggering to observe is the rate of human adoption – and therefore, disruption. How much time did it take for books to gain prominence? Hundreds of years. What about newspapers? Landlines? Record shops? Cameras? The PC? Decades.

Now? You can change the world (and make something obsolete) in months, or even weeks. Just visit the likes of techcrunch and mashable to find proof.

What does this mean?

No one’s job is safe. 

Nowadays, it’s dangerous to become a one-trick pony. (Hello, cobol programmers) You have to be a lifelong learner.

Nowadays, you have to become an expert in becoming an expert. You have to do it fast, too.

Nowadays, you have to deal with the ambiguity that comes when technology disrupts markets every other week.

Flexibility, learning fast, and managing ambiguity?

Sounds awfully like what an entrepreneur does.

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The Shy-Guy’s Guide to Awesome Networking, Part 2

(This post is the second part of a two-part series. Part one can be found here.)

5. Remember, there is no template

No, you don’t need to be THIS GUY to be able to network effectively.

Like in part one, I’m starting this segment with a psychological hurdle. We often have a perception of what a networker is – someone extraverted, someone who is oftentimes the life of the party, someone with 4,839,234 friends in Facebook. A natural gift of gab certainly helps, but it doesn’t mean your destined you can’t network well if you aren’t. Some of the very best networkers I’ve come to know are mild-mannered and unassuming. This is important if we want to grow into mega-networkers: it CAN be learned and it ISN’T necessarily tied to our personality.

Like in growing any skill, however, you have to be able to practice it often.

6. Build, but also remember to maintain

It’s relatively easier to build a network versus maintaining it. Maintenance is hard work. Maintenance means keeping tabs, sending emails, grabbing lunch together, doing Skype chats and all that. How do you do this if you want to maintain say, 500, quality relationships?

Segregate.

Quick and dirty strategy: choose 50 (why 50? try googling path.com’s original strategy) relationships which you find very critical to your objectives. Be sure you have face-to-face time with them regularly. The next 100, perhaps a face-to-face meeting every 6 months or so. The rest? Email correspondence. Build up a system like this (the actions and the numbers are dictated by how much time you can free up), and remember, you can move people up or down your hierarchy.

The most basic way to maintain a business relationship? Keep promises.

They say a relationship takes a lifetime to build and a moment to ruin. Your network of “quality contacts” is a web of relationships. A single broken promise can ruin not merely a singular relationship, but your entire reputation.  Don’t let people down.

7. To sell, avoid selling

This is a very interesting irony I’ve seen happen time and time again. Most of the time, we network with people with the particular intention of selling. The thing is, most people, especially in events/occasions where the person isn’t there as a buyer, are immediately turned off the moment they sense a sales pitch coming. And the feeling is, “I’ve been had!

SWITCH OFF that paradigm that you are there to sell. Instead, make friends. Allow your genuine interest in people to take over. Focus on building a relationship.

Once the relationship has been established and you are talking, trust me, the conversation will naturally flow into what you are peddling. The person will then buy from you if she is interested. Sometimes this process I just described can happen in one conference, or it can happen across months.

8. It’s not about you

Always remember the double-edged sword. Rather than always thinking “what can this guy do for me?” Always think,  “what can I do for this guy?” You’d be surprised at how much more helpful your contacts can be if you are proactive with helping people out.

What are some easy concrete ways you can do this? Send people articles you’d think they’d appreciate. Introduce people to one another if you think it would be mutually beneficial. Give free referrals. Be a mensch.

Dive in! What have you got to lose?

Bonus tips!

– Always have business cards in handy. Put some in your wallet and in your car.

– Blog

– If you find yourself all awkward in networking events, ask yourself, “What have I got to lose, and what have I got to  gain?”

– Contribute. Don’t be a lurker.

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The Shy-Guy’s Guide to Awesome Networking, Part 1

I have always found it easy to speak before a crowd, but I’ve always been a little bit on the shy side when it comes to one-on-one meetings with strangers.

It’s funny that I never really saw the value of effective networking when I was in Human Resources. As a startup owner though, I gradually found out how extremely critical it was to network effectively. Clients, suppliers, co-startup founders, mentors, friends, advice-mongers – you name it, I’ve found them all in networking.

We all know the cliché, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I used to scoff at this when I started working, having the image of a social butterfly in mind. I have discovered though, that it’s not like that at all. To be effective in business you NEED to have a good network.

The following tips are from my own personal experience on how to grow a network effectively.

1) Forget the “user” paradigm

This was my first hurdle – it was psychological. I had to get rid of the notion that I was trying to get to know a person because I wanted to “use” the other party. Of course, it’s partly true. The thing to remember is, it’s a two-edged sword. Yes, you want something from the person, but you are also trying to offer something of value to the other party. If establishing a great business relationship could be mutually exclusive to both of you, then why not?

2) LinkedIn Rocks!

I have always found that LinkedIn is miles away from Facebook when it comes to business networking. Isn’t it much easier to invite strangers (or accept invitations from strangers) than doing the same thing in Facebook? It’s because LinkedIn is an accepted business tool for networking with strangers. Three important things to remember in LinkedIn:

A) Reflect your accomplishments

LinkedIn is wonderful because it’s essentially your online resume – so when people visit your page, they know exactly what sort of value you can give them. Don’t give them a hard time guessing what you do. Say it straight. Use 2nd person. (3rd person sounds a bit too Lebron James) You’d be surprised at how many people will reach out to you through the social network once you’ve established your expertise.

B) Be a person

When inviting people, say something like:

“Hi, my name is Peter. A goal of mine is to network with great people in the industry, so I hope you don’t mind this humble invitation to connect. It’s my hope that you find some value in my own profile. Cheers!”

instead of the robotic template “I’d like to add you to my professional network – Peter Paul V. Cauton”

C) Above all, do not spam!

3) Think of quality AND quantity.

I’ve always been told something like, “10 quality contacts is better than 100 informal acquaintances.” Agreed. For sure.

You know what trumps 10 quality contacts, though?

100 quality contacts. 500 quality contacts trumps a hundred, too.

Yes, quality contacts are crucial, but with the advent of the internet and mobile tools, you can now establish and maintain a wider network of quality contacts.

How exactly do you get to that many quality contacts? Here’s a very important paradigm to take:

4) Be a conscious networker

This is a very important tip, and it’s helped my networking a lot. Networking needs to be a choice – something you allot a specific time of the week for. For example,  I have one hour in a week dedicated to just finding good contacts to network with in LinkedIn – so I easily add 10-15 people in my network through this.  Also, every week, I resolve to have at least one opportunity-seeking coffee talk. I usually ask old friends if we can have coffee, or someone I’ve had online exchanges with, or even a current client. These meetings can usually mean the start of an acquaintance becoming a “quality contact.”

Pay for the coffee. It’s worth it.

I’ve paid Starbucks a small fortune over the past few years. In fact, I was mildly amazed that last Wednesday, I was in three Starbucks shops (and ordered each time) in a span of 5 hours. Yes, the expenses creep up a bit, but when I think of it, ALL my ventures in the last 4-5 years started in a coffee shop. It’s all worth it.

Continued here!

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Don’t Put Parrots In Customer Service

A few weeks ago, I was in the hospital passionately arguing with an HMO officer who was insistent on applying a policy which was so evidently not applicable to my own particular case.

“If we implement this policy, instead of the insurance paying for my fees, I would be paying YOU – it doesn’t make any sense.”

“Ganoon ho talaga.”

WHAT?! I was furious. But I understood what was happening. The person on the other line was trained to placate customers and explain policy, but no true power to interpret or be flexible.

This is inherently why customer service sucks in so many companies – most customer service personnel are simply given a script and if-then scenarios. Invariably, there WILL be cases which won’t fall under any of the planned scenarios – a lot of them. So what happens?

“Ganoon ho talaga.”

“I’m extremely sorry sir, but that’s policy.”

“Let me work on this sir, I’ll put you on hold.” (I’ve had a service put me on hold before for an hour)

A friend of mine told me before that the root cause of this was structural – the product management group is oftentimes separated from the group which does customer service. It gets worse in this outsourcing age – the customer service group can be in an entirely separate company. Structurally, customer service would NOT have easy access to information, nor would they be in a position to make any calls about how to interpret a policy for a specific customer incident.

The problem is, customer service IS a part of the product.

This is why I love Citibank Phone Bankers – I can feel a real difference with how empowered and well-trained they are. In my years phone banking with Citibank, I’ve yet to have a problem they couldn’t solve by themselves in a span of a few minutes, or give me a number where I can talk to a person who can solve my problem. I also know they are paid well and are taken cared of – it’s tough to pirate them. Good job Citibank, you’re putting your money where your mouth is.

Any business that has customers will automatically have to think about customer service. How is your business treating its customers? Do the people who manage customers directly have the power to solve unforeseen customer issues? Or are they parrots with a script?

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