I’m tired.

The phone rings and rings and rings.

No one picks up.

Since March 2020, some businesses are hiding behind an excuse.

We don’t have anyone to work. We were too busy serving other customers.

Blah, blah, blah.

You weren’t too busy to take my money.

I told one provider my time had value.

I asked where I could send an invoice for an hour of my time.

I know it’s ridiculous but they fired the first shot by wasting my time.

Their equally bullshit competitor pulls the same crap. They’re both safe until someone disrupts all of them.

Blockbuster used to steal from me. They stole from Reed Hastings too and he started Netflix.

Actually, this laissez-faire attitude is not a result of the pandemic.

It’s been there lurking among profit margins and employee efficiencies for years.

Covid exposed it.

The telephone tree made the customer work for service.

Telephone tree?

Press the first three letters of the person’s last name you’d like to reach…

There used to be a person responsible for that. We called her a switchboard operator.

When I met Aline, she did that job for United Parcel Service’s Canadian accounting office.

The job sucked. Aline was happy to give it to Rosie the Robot.

If you’re too young to remember Rosie, she was the housecleaning robot on the Jetsons.

Rosie eliminates mind-numbing simple tasks people don’t want to do.

But like most things, we make Rosie do more than she should in the spirit of efficiency and profitability.

Aline didn’t lose her employment to Rosie. She was transferred to a better job with more money because she was a good, reliable, happy employee.

Things have changed.

Jobs used to be eliminated when a business got in trouble.

Now they are eliminated because it’s too hard to find people.

McDonald’s installed self-serve kiosks in restaurants followed by an online ordering app. Where four cashiers used to work, one can do it part-time.

McDonald’s isn’t less busy.

They installed Rosie the Robot to solve an employment problem and an ordering problem by putting the work back in the customers’ hands.

McDonald’s had no choice. They couldn’t find people to work the counter.

And if I think Mickey D’s Rosie is too complicated, someone will serve me at the counter.

My favorite car dealer is Cumberland Honda.

They never installed Rosie to handle customer calls.

Their policy: The phone must not ring more than 2 times. It includes the owner.

I call Eric in sales, and Brad in service picks up. Brad patches me to Eric or his voicemail with one push of a button.

As small as that effort is, it makes me feel important.

It’s remarkable in a world of cold-hearted Rosie’s.

It’s frustrating when I call my service provider with an emergency and no one answers

It’s infuriating when I navigate their telephone tree and leave a message, only to get a return call a week later.

When the company hides behind the Covid excuse, I want to reach through the phone waves and squeeze their pinhead holding necks.

What did they expect?

Employees got sent home. Some without pay. They found other work. As the economy opened up, they were short-staffed.

Customers will pay for this problem in the short term. They will fill their needs elsewhere, which means the businesses who don’t fix their labour problem will be the long-term losers.

Again, Covid magnified a problem that already existed.

My kids used to say our cell phone provider was “On-hold with Rogers”.

So how do we fix the problem?

I suggest putting the customer first, always. Even when it hurts. Cumberland Honda employees answer the phone within 2 rings. If your phone rings off the hook during busy times, maybe it’s time for another employee or invest in a Rosie.

The only thing worse than a telephone Rosie is no answer at all.

Here are a few things you can do to check if the customer is being put first:

  • Do a monthly audit of phone recordings. How long does it take for a customer to speak to the person they need?
  • Recording calls means someone has to review those calls. Don’t only use the calls for insurance when things go bad. Review Rosie for improving customer service.
  • You can “undercover boss” your company. Call to find out what happens to a customer. Check how people act when you’re not around. Time the call.

You can’t fix what you don’t measure.

If you’re only measuring sales and profit margins, you’re looking at results.

The 100-metre sprinter wants to win gold at the Olympics. He needs a time of 9.8 seconds to win.

9.9 seconds will not do. There are 15 other sprinters who can run 9.9 seconds.

He can work on strength training, stretches, oxygen intake, nutrition, attitude, clothing, and overall health.

If he does everything according to plan and if the conditions are perfect, he has a chance. Otherwise, he loses.

Your business is no different.

You have a combination of things you can control and things you can’t.

You can’t control:

  • if the world shuts down
  • competitors steal some of your customers
  • employees who die, move away, or choose another employer
  • foreign governments
  • inflation and interest rates
  • employee happiness
  • customer happiness
  • customers who die, move away, or choose a new provider

You can control:

  • the message you share in the market
  • the message you communicate to your employees
  • the money you spend communicating that message
  • who you hire
  • how you treat others
  • correcting mistakes by doing the right thing.
  • systems implemented to deliver a consistent, expected level of service
  • culture in your business.

Businesses that weather the storm of uncertainty don’t blame the things they can’t control. They get better by measuring the things they can.

God give me the serenity to accept things that cannot be changed; Give me courage to change things which must be changed; And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.

– Dr. Niebuhr

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