Customer Service for Businesses and People Too

The first interactions with your company or organization really the the most important ones. It’s what makes your company in a person’s mind — be it good or bad. It’s the initial filter that everything else passes through. It’s also really really hard to turn around a negative first impression.

I’ve been in service-oriented positions before, and in positions where I didn’t have to offer great service, but chose to anyway. It’s really made a huge difference in both how customers perceived me, and in the way I felt afterwards. Like I was actually helping out vs. just “doing my duty”.

Good customer service isn’t hard.

I think it’s more of a mind-set, than anything, to want to offer good service to everyone, even if they’re not your customers per-se.

It’s about making their lives a little easier and less difficult. And it’s about not having the mind-set of “that’s not my job”. In fact, for those people who only do the bare minimum, and no more, only trying to get through the day, only “putting in your time” and “paying your dues”, this post isn’t for you. Just leave. Or die.

For those who do care about adding value to the world, I’ve put together a short list of things which can really boost your organzation’s customer service to the next level.

1. Smile. Always, no matter what. I mean, don’t give fake smiles, be genuine. Make people feel welcome. One way to cultivate this attitude is from the book “The Greatest Salesman in the World”, by Og Mandino. From The Scroll Marked II:

I will greet this day with love in my heart.

And how will I confront each whom I meet? In only one way. In silence and to myself I will address him and say I Love You. Though spoken in silence these words will shine in my eyes, unwrinkle my brow, bring a smile to my lips, and echo in my voice; and his heart will be opened. And who is there who will say nay to my goods when his heart feels my love?

— from The Scroll Marked II

2. Don’t expect the customer to know anything. I see employees get frustrated all the time when customers don’t know or aren’t aware of something. And then vent on the customer or rudely explain to them the “rules” of the establishment, or policies, or whatever. Look, customer’s don’t know the business inside and out — that’s the employee’s job. It’s also their job to make the customer feel like the most important person in the world, which brings me to my next point:

3. Treat your customers like gold. Like solid gold. Because, they’re your lifeblood. Each and every one of them. A customer isn’t a one-time thing. Know the lifetime value of a customer and then treat that customer as such. Do this for every single customer and you’ll be fine. Customers talk. They also listen and see. They can see when you or your staff treats another customer poorly, and they think “Well, what’s to stop them from treating me the same way?”. The answer is “nothing”, so just treat them like gold instead.

4. Take care of the customer. Even if it’s not your field of expertise. You don’t have to know everything, or be an expert. People don’t expect that. But they do expect to be treated well, to be taken care of.

Example: Let’s say your business is dry-cleaning, and a customer asks about the best method to wash… a car. Sure, it’s asinine. But people sometimes are. Regardless, compare these answers below:

“Umm… we don’t do that. We’re a dry-cleaners, for clothing.”

vs.

(smiling)

“Well sir, I’m not really an expert on car washing, but let’s see… there’s a car wash about 1/2 mile down on the right. I know that someone there will be able to help you better than I can. We’re actually a dry-cleaners, for clothes like suits and shirts and such. If you ever need any of those cleaned, be sure and come back and see us.”

Which one gives the customer That Warm Fuzzy Feeling?

5. Always be professional. Always be pleasant.

Sometimes customers get irrational. Sometimes they’re jerks. This does not give you the right to be a jerk back. Remember, other customers are watching. Remember the phrase “I’m very sorry” and use it in difficult situations.

“No sir, I’m very sorry, but the price is actually X, and you still owe us Y.”

“I’m very sorry for any inconvenience, but we just don’t have it in that color.”

“I apologize ma’am, but my manager’s simply not in right now. I’m very sorry.”

This might require training in keeping your calm, especially if you’re someone known to have a short fuse.

6. Never air dirty laundry. Don’t bicker or argue with an employee in front of any customer. If you must settle something with a co-worker, pull them aside or around back, out of sight of customers. This is especially true about arguing with customers. (But never do that, also see the above point.)

7. Always go above & beyond. Do more than is expected. “That’s not my job” should never, ever come out of your mouth, nor of your employees. Of course, your words originate in your mind. In truth, this shouldn’t even be in your thoughts. Rather, how can you take care of the customer? What needs to be done? Just do the thing.

Even if it’s not your job, if no one else is around to do something and that thing needs to be done, then just do it yourself. Don’t stand on principle, just do what needs to be done. Also, don’t complain about it, nor about having done it. In fact, just don’t complain at all, ever.

This is how you become valuable.

8. Remember the lifetime value of a customer.

A couple of months ago I was searching for an accountant for my new business. I called a local accountant that I found through Google and set up an appointment with John.

John was nice enough and answered all my questions. But I couldn’t help but feel a sense of disdain from him. Answering my questions unconcernedly, just trying to get me out of his office. Almost like I was a joke and he didn’t really take me seriously as a businessperson. This really discouraged me for a few days.

I almost thought about giving up on local accountants, then decided against it. Maybe it was just him, and a chat with a different accountant might be a completely different experience. Boy, am I glad I did.

My meeting with my current accountant started with a warm greeting, smile and handshake from Keith, then he ushered me into his office and answered all my questions. We chatted accounting. We talked about my business and deductions I could claim. About young, determined rookie IRS agents and how to deal with them. For an hour and a half, he answered every question I had about accounting and starting my new business. That was his own time, given to me for absolutely nothing.

Keith knows the lifetime value of a customer, and now I’m a paying client of his. All that to say, always keep the lifetime value of a customer in mind. In addition to building goodwill and adding value to the world, it will also be of value to your own bottom line.

On Being Prolific

Cut to the chase – I’ve decided to commit to being prolific. YOLO, and I’ve got so much stuff that I’ve worked 80% on, then just left it there. Articles that I’ve left it on my hard drive, never published. Ideas for amazing things, workshops, businesses, just left in my notebook.

A couple weeks ago, I had an idea for a non-profit. It just came to me in the shower, but it was so detailed, and the potential upside so big, that I had to write it out. It’s just sitting in Evernote now, but I’ll be publishing that publicly very soon.

(Note: Here it is. It’s tentatively called “Foundations”.)

Some of the things I’ve worked hours on. Some things, probably 20 – 40 hours at least. And yet, they’re just not good enough yet. I still don’t feel great about the end result, it’s not polished enough or whatever. So I let it sit for later. I intend to finish, but then never get around to it. Something else catches my attention, maybe a newer, better project. So the old one, it stagnates. Even though I’m 70% done.

Many of that will never see the light of day. Some of it could have helped a person or two. Instead it sits on some cloud server where it’ll eventually get deleted or the physical disk will crash (most likely disk hardware/firmware, but that’s being pedantic).

We’re all gonna die some day. It’s scary to think about, but it’s true. A lot of us, myself included, live like we have all the time in the world. The truth is that none of us know when it’s our time to leave this world, and we only get one shot at this thing called life.

This is your life. You get one of them.
— Sebastian Marshall

I haven’t been publishing much lately. That’s not to say that I’m not creating. I’m doing lots of things every day. Proactive, positive, productive things. Strategies. Ideas for things. Building good will, trying to help people out.

Developing a personal system of policies and ethics. Reading the Credo. Reading a lot of really good books. Learning to type using Colemak.

I’ve been scattered, but trying to consolidate.

I have lots of disparate interests. Trying to bring all those under one umbrella, into one place and have it all make sense, is hard. But I’m starting now, and I’m committed to getting things done, even if they’re not 100% perfect. That’s one of my problems – most of my life I’ve been a detail person. Now I’ve had to learn to be a “big-picture” thinker instead. I still sometimes fall back to being detail-oriented. At times I catch myself trying to fit into that role, instead of realizing that I’m growing beyond that, and can’t have everything. I can’t do everything. I used to think that I could. Over the past year I’ve been realizing that I can’t. So, in an effort to just “ship” as they say, I’ll be putting things out that may not be 100%. Some details might be overlooked. That’s ok. They can be changed later. Details can be corrected/fixed/added/subtracted. But something that’s not shipped can’t be used by anyone.

This also means that I’ll be more vulnerable, which I don’t like to show. A lot of people like me don’t like to show that side of themselves online.

If you’re reading this now, then I’ve already created & scheduled quite a few things to be produced, published, or otherwise released to the world. This might mean code, books, articles, plans/strategies, ideas, businesses. Most of it will probably be at my blog, but I’m branching out from there. That’s the entire point.

In fact, I almost just tabled this to be finished “later”. I have somewhere to go, a few little errands to start on now, and then… then I realized that I was doing it again. So, I apologize if this seems unfinished. If the closing paragraph isn’t as polished as I’d like. (It almost certainly isn’t.) But I have to get this out to the world, as well as many other things.

In closing, watch these spaces for changes and general awesomeness:

nathanmarley.com
ngmarley.com
blackcarrot.be

(This list will be updated as things happen/unfold/are created.)

Thanks for reading. Oh, and please get in touch if you have any inclination to do so.

Foundations

Foundations – Name of a non-profit organization to work with young people and teach them to make good decisions.

The basic idea is that the decisions we make, big and small, are the very reason that we’re exactly who & where we are at this moment in life. So, for people to affect their future in a positive way, they’ve to have a solid base of decisions. The non-profit would organize a workshop for juveniles (both delinquents and school children) to not only demonstrate the power of decisions, but give very specific tactics for pragmatic implementation of making good decisions. Teaches basic entrepreneurship and community involvement.

Example: a workshop on how consumer credit works, brief overview of credit scores, how the bureaus determine scores, examples of bad credit and consequences, and how to start building good credit when young, before it’s needed.

Another example: a gardening workshop which teaches community gardening (local business or person can donate space to a comm. garden), organic methods, how to grow produce, pH levels of soil/medium, companion planting, in-season planting, etc. Even rooftop gardening to maximize use of space.

All these workshops would be integrated into a weekend programme. The organization would work with judiciaries and officials to offer this program to young offenders in exchange for community service time, or some kind of reduced sentence.

The youth learn valuable skills and also have to spend less time doing work that’s… less rewarding (e.g. the standard community service).

Community volunteers teach the courses/workshops for the weekend, and the local area children are more educated. More educated, and hopefully less likely to fall back into a life of bad decisions.

The juvenile detention centers are less full (always a good thing), and the community is overall a better place. Future value of the local community increases tremendously as a result, because the young today are our future businessmen, entrepreneurs and politicians.

This is obviously still in idea stage. I’d like to implement something like this one day, if for no other reason, just to give back to my community and try and create the world I’d like to live in. Anyone who wants to take this and run with it, feel free. Also please feel free to get in touch if you’d like to collaborate on anything like this or just bounce ideas around.

Finally, some solid goals.

Sunset on a Highway in Alabama
Sunset on a Highway in Alabama

Feel like I’ve had a breakthrough tonight. Maybe it’s a combination of being alone for a few hours (INTJ – I charge up on being alone), or maybe it’s the slight lift that I got from the cup o’ tea that I had a little bit ago, but it’s starting to click.

For years, I’ve wanted to “travel the world” and be mobile, yet make an income at the same time. But it was so hard to envision without getting a time-consuming and draining customer support job.

Re-reading that last paragraph, makes it look like I haven’t traveled much. I’ve been to Europe 3 times, Asia twice, New Zealand twice, Canada 3x (spent a month in Quebec), Central/South America for 3 months… I’ve traveled a bit. But my bank account always goes down, and I’m not able to spend the time I want traveling, for as long as I’d like.

Since my eyestrain has gotten progressively worse over the past year, I’ve wanted less and less to spend any time in the computer, much less try my hand at getting a remote software development job. And reading over those job postings makes me want to vomit. Every time.

“Consulting” was the holy grail… the one thing I could do while traveling the world, keeping my eyesight and staying free. (Freedom is my highest value.)

I always wondered how they do it — I have a mentor who’s been traveling the world and consulting for near 10 years now — he can easily make $5-$10k in a month, no problem. Much more these days I’m sure.

Tonight I was reading over some of his old writing today, some articles from 5-6 years ago… then it clicked.

He talked about wanting to have a 10x return for his work… e.g. if he charged $75 per hour, then within a year, he wants that client to receive $750 worth of value for every hour they’ve paid him.

That’s it. That’s the secret to consulting — leaving people better off than if they’d never hired you to begin with. In his case, much better off. Another thing he mentioned — as he was calculating what he needed to meet his goals.

First, he calculated that he wanted to bring in $6000 per month. So he did some brief calculations:

$20 / hr for 300 hours. 75 hours per week. Too many hours.
$40 / hr for 150 hours. 37.5 hours per week. Still a lot of hours, esp. for consulting
$75 / hr for 80 hours… that’s 20 hours per week. That was plenty of time for him to work on other projects as well as meet his income goals.

That’s when it hit me – I don’t have to try and throw myself into building a business 100% of the time every single day. That’s why I’ve been burning out for a year. That’s also why I haven’t been able to stick with a goal. Jumping around, different goals, choosing what seems easiest at the time vs doing what I’m passionate about.

Building a business (which means I can leave and still get income) vs starting a service which requires me to work for continual income (consulting, coaching).

I can do both.

Finally, feel like I’m developing some solid goals… steps for reaching exactly what I want. Discovering that I can achieve what I want, because I’m finally starting to realize what that is.

At this point in my life, I want to be spending about 20 hours / week consulting, coaching, for income. Improving the lives of others and making sure that all my clients get at least a 2-4x return for their investment, if not much more. I’m shooting low now, as far as return goes. I will be satisfied if my current clients are getting 4x return, even a 2x. Because I know that as I improve, so will those results. A 10x return within a few months’ time isn’t out of the question — as long as I stay on a tight feedback loop with lots of iterations. And getting $150 in value for $75 is still a bargain.

I also want to be able to put another 10 – 15 hours per week into building a business, systems which run even without me there, or initially with minimal input from myself. I realize that it will take 100% input at first and that number will gradually decrease as the business improves.

I also want to invest time per week (another 10-15 hours) into developing myself. Learning languages, reading about history, business, negotiations, building skills.

This seems like a lot of time, but 2 hours a day is 14 hours per week. Between reading, learning language and cultural interaction, that would be a minimum number for me, for self-development.

So, official 1-year goals, to have achieved within 12 months from today:

* ~20 hours per week consulting
* 10-15 hours per week building a business
* 10-15 hours per week in self-development (includes language, skills, etc)
* $50k in the bank
* mobility (freedom to go wherever)
* started my business and have all business banking/credit set up

Nice-to-haves:

* Credit score above 780
* Semi-fluent in another language (which depends on where I’m at)
* Lamborghini parked in front of my mansion (well it would be nice to have)

10 Ideas to improve your site’s SEO

SEO
SEO

I wrote these ideas for a local photographer that I know, who was asking on Facebook about SEO for her website. But since I think they’re pretty generic, these could apply to just about anyone with a local business. So I’ll just share them on here for everyone, and point her to this post.

SEO is basically broken into 2 things:

1. How relevant is your site’s content to the people searching for it?

You improve this by optimizing your site – content and meta information (e.g. meta tags, internal links to other pages on your site, etc.)

2. How popular is your site? (Sites with the same relevance, but more popular = higher in Google results.) This means how many “backlinks” your site has, which is other people/websites linking back to yours.

You improve this by what’s called “link building”.


Anyway, without further ado, here’s a list of ideas that might help improve any site’s SE rankings.

  1. Ensure your keywords/phrases that you want to rank for are somewhere on your site. Bonus points if in your meta description and in an h1 tag on the page. Keyword phrases are what you type in to google when you want to find your site, e.g. "Northwest Arkansas Photographer", or "Portland Wedding Photography", or whatever. If you know your keywords, you can run a free report here for your site: https://juxseo.zoomshift.com/. But this report will only analyze your page content, not your ranking in the SERPs.

  2. Get lots of (legitimate) links from other sites back to your site. In the SEO industry, we call these "backlinks". The link text should be your keyword phrases mentioned in #1 above.

  3. Have profiles for your business on all social media sites and somehow integrate those with your site, or at least link back to your site.

  4. Make sure you have a responsive theme. This just means that your site is easy to read on a desktop and on a phone, iPad, tablets, etc. Google has started giving preference to sites which have responsive themes, and people viewing your site on mobile devices will appreciate it too.

  5. Make sure your site loads fast. (Google has indicated site loading speed is one of the signals that it uses to rank pages.) Large images/files can be hosted on a CDN. You can see https://moz.com/learn/seo/page-speed for more info.

  6. Make sure your business is registered w/Google business. This will help ensure you’re on the "map" that shows up in the results, and lets Google know you’re around.

  7. Add your site to Google webmaster tools.

  8. Make sure your robots.txt allows indexing (this is easy and can be done from Google webmaster tools).

  9. Create a sitemap for search engines if you don’t already have one.

  10. Are you publishing content to your site on a regular basis? If so, this would result in more frequent search engine visits.

  11. Another suggestion – submit articles to high-profile sites like medium.com & link back to your site

  12. Along the same lines, guest posting to other people’s sites (e.g. other photographers who get a lot of readers) helps, as you get a link back to your site (this is part of link building). All links back to your site are good as long as they’re genuine and not spammy.

Most SEO consultants/services will offer some suggestions like the above, they might do it for you, and they’ll probably deliver ranking and content reports as well. They’re probably just buying these white-label from moz.com, which is the de-facto authority (besides Google themselves) on SEO.

Of course, I’m probably forgetting some things, but this should cover the basics.

Ok, bye.

Photo by Steve Rotman

Another redesign

Switched themes again, this time so that the site would have a responsive theme. The theme is a default WordPress theme, ‘Twenty-Fifteen’ by Automattic. It’s got a large default font, is clean and responsive… I’m not looking for much in a theme, and this one ticks off all the boxes, for now.

Also, hope to have some more posts up soon. I’ve got a few projects in the works, namely, my consulting site, nathanmarley.com and some book ideas that I need to flesh out. Also working on a Northwest Arkansas local cleaning service business that I’m running with my wife, Maid in NWA.

So hopefully, this blog will see some changes soon, as well as a lot of new and interesting content.