Category Archive for The Customer’s Way

What Is A School Bus, Really?

While attending a presentation in the Detroit suburb of Novi I was given a fresh perspective in an unexpected way.  The CEO of a school bus company was visiting the group to speak with us about the economy and how they, as a company, had weathered the storm.  The structural changes and adjustments to employment levels they implemented were significant, but necessary, to assure long term success.  As he shared charts and graphs that illustrated his points I paid attention as well as I could.  Typically, these kinds of presentations are not of much interest to me but it was educational nonetheless. 

As he transitioned the presentation to the history of the company he got more passionate.  Many years ago the company founder had an epiphany and I can imagine the conversation in his head went something like this. 


“Children in rural areas can not get a good education because, in part, they can not attend school on a regular basis.  This is due to the great distance they must travel every day.  If I could help them attend school every day, they can improve their chance at a better life.” 


Thus, the first school bus was built and a brand new industry was created.  Is this not the starting point of so many entrepreneurial ventures?  One person wakes in the morning and sees a common problem in a brand new light.  They see the problem in a whole new way and think to themselves, “I can solve this.”  As the CEO laid out a history of the development of the school bus industry I became more engaged in the conversation. 


The blessing I received from this presentation was yet another confirmation that being an entrepreneur is not simply about being your own boss and making lots of money.  Becoming an entrepreneur is more about being willing to suffer personal struggles and loss in pursuit of a greater purpose.  We do what we do to make a significant difference in the lives of the people whose lives we touch with our presence and our product.


As you develop in your journey, whether you are an entrepreneur or not, seek a higher purpose.  Find a passion that drives you outside of your own personal desires.  Follow the dream placed in your heart from the time you were conceived.

Racing To Success


During a recent visit with a friend we were discussing how running a successful racing team can be applied to running a successful business.  I thought I might share some insights from the conversation. 


In racing, things happen at an incredibly high rate.  There is little time to make decisions and execute changes when you are driving 200 miles per hour.  As a result, the need for precise and accurate decision making is paramount.  Racing teams invest an enormous amount of time preparing the car and equipment throughout the week to assure it is ready for Sunday.  They practice every move they will make over and over until they can do it subconsciously.  The simple task of changing a tire must be completed in as little a 3 to 5 seconds during a pit stop.  Putting 40 gallons of fuel in the tank must be accomplished in less than 10.  Everything is a carefully choreographed ballet.  Any slight misstep can mean the difference between first place and 20th.  After two hours of racing the difference between winning and losing can in the 100ths of a second.  Many races have been won or lost based on the pit stops alone even though they take up less than a minute or two in total.


During the race, the driver must make small yet precise adjustments to car and driving style to minimize the time it takes to circle the track.  Each and every move that is not dedicated to maximum forward motion costs precious time, time that can never be recovered.  Every time the accelerator is lifted speed and time are lost.  Every traffic situation that requires excess navigation costs more time.  There are a tremendous number of decisions that have to be made every second of every race.  Distraction of any kind will cost the team the race.


The pit crews are built based on finding highly trained individuals who know how to work together in pursuit of a single goal; being the first car to cross the finish line.  Each member has a specific job and trains to do it as efficiently and quickly as possible.  They practice endlessly to perfect the moves they will make together on race day.  The things they do become ingrained into their minds so deeply it becomes second nature.  They anticipate what could go wrong and practice how they will deal with it on race day.  Something as simple as a lug nut falling off a wrench can add several seconds to a stop so they plan for and practice what they will do when it happens. 


Business can be approached in the same way.  We make many critical decisions every day.  We perform functions that will affect our future, sometimes in very significant ways.  Many times we do not see the result of our decisions until late in the “race”, when it is too late to make up time and win.  Each decision has a natural, reliable and predictable outcome.  Often businesses struggle, not because of huge errors in decision making, but more as an aggregation of ineffective or incorrect decisions.  Decisions that did not keep them moving toward their goal. 


As you circle the track in pursuit of your business goals, be mindful of your decisions and actions.  Make those decisions purposeful with an eye toward constantly moving your company toward your ultimate goal.  Educate yourself continuously.  Make plans that accommodate changing conditions.  Work closely with your team.  Practice, practice, practice.


Good racing, see you on the track!!

Fly The Plane

Recently, I took my introductory flight lesson and got completely HOOKED on flying.  It was the realization of a 30 year old dream and I can’t wait to begin the process of getting my pilots license.  Once on the ground I sent the requisite text message, including an aerial photo, to family and friends in order to commemorate the event.  Thanks mom and dad for the gift certificate!!! 

A few days later I was on the phone with Dean when the topic of flying came up.  He had taken flying lessons 30 or 40 years ago but his memory was fresh on the subject.  As we discussed my experience the topic of dealing with unexpected aircraft problems came up.  He shared that his instructor told him over and over the most important thing to do in an emergency is to “fly the plane.”  What he meant was to not become so distracted with the emergency that you forget to make sure the plane is staying in the air as long as possible while you assess the situation.  The first thing to do in an emergency is to scan the gages, set the flaps and trim for maximum glide path and begin looking for a location to land the plane.  If, for instance, the engine has quit running there is little hope of restarting it in the air.  Focusing on starting a dead engine while careening out of control is counter-productive to say the least.  It is critical to know what to do in an emergency and how to do it which is why you are trained how to deal with them long before they occur.  Just like the boy scout motto says, “always be prepared.”  I think of Captain Sullenberger, the pilot who successfully landed a US Airways airbus in the Hudson, saying what he and the crew did as a team was merely a result of the excellent training they had received. 


We all experience emergencies in life whether they be personal or business.  Storms just crop up from time to time.  When an unexpected challenge comes about consider how pilots are trained to handle emergencies.  First, and foremost, keep calm and identify the most important things that must happen to assure forward momentum.  Financially, check the equivalent of gages, flaps and controls to be sure they are set correctly…then deal with the issue methodically and calmly.  Knowing your plane will not careen into the ground because you prepared properly will give you a sense of confidence that will pull you out of the situation successfully.


Life is short and precious.  Keep perspective and set your priorities carefully.  Always, “fly the plane.”

Michigan Manufacturers Association Workshop

River’s End Consulting is proud to announce it will be conducting a half day workshop for the Michigan Manufacturers Association in Lansing on April 13th.  This workshop will guide the participants through a set of exercises designed to familiarize them with the principles and tools of a Voice Of the Customer (VOC) system known as “The Customer’s Way”.  For additional information, follow this link

Interchange forum April Event date is set

River’s End Consulting is proud to announce it is co-hosting an executive forum on April 19 in Novi.  If you are a forward thinking leader click on the link for more information Event Info or simply click the order button below and join us for a two hour discussion. 

She Gave Everything She Had

Author Tim Blodgett

“She’s the first person I’m going to fire!!”


At this point, I don’t remember if I said those words out loud or just thought them to myself. Either way, that was my opinion. And, I was determined to make it happen.


So, who was she? “Sherri” was one of the Ramp Service Agents at the airline I was working for. She had been hired just a few months before. She also worked in one of the zones I was going to be supervising in less than 2 weeks when my promotion became official. Since her date of hire, Sherri had been injured on the job 3 times. Each time, her injury required a modified duty work assignment. This usually involved sitting in a chair at a baggage drop location so that she could radio the dispatch office whenever another airline had a bag to transfer to us. Most people would read books in their abundant amount of downtime. Sherri was no different.


Shortly after beginning my new role as Ramp Service Supervisor, I attended a mandatory Supervisor Training class. It was 5 days of lectures and role-playing scenarios. Most of the feedback from my peers was that it had been a waste of time. I was still undecided. Once I was back on the front lines, I was ready to start making changes. I figured that Sherri had no idea what I was planning for her. I have to admit, that made me smile a little bit.


As I was putting my plan of action together, I remembered some of the training I had just been through. Since I was still undecided about its usefulness, I determined to try it out and see how it worked first-hand. I had been observing Sherri’s work habits for a few weeks. I already had enough information to schedule a meeting with her. A few days later, when we had a break in the action, I sat down to talk with her in one of the ramp offices.


Working at a large airport can be pretty complicated at times. Your training usually consists of learning one of the many aspects of a flight at a time. Then, you’re sent out to the front lines with the hopes that you will connect the dots. And, if you worked for our airline, you could easily have up to 4 flights to work – at the same time. I told you it could be pretty complicated.


As we progressed through our conversation about her job performance, one thing became obviously clear about Sherri. She was scared. Not about the fact that she was having a meeting with her supervisor. No, she was scared by the work she was expected to do. She felt lost.


I asked a few more probing questions to validate my new suspicions. What I found was disheartening. In the time that Sherri had been on the front lines, no one had taken the time to help her connect the dots from her training. That was part of her reason for spending time on Modified Duty. At least there she wouldn’t be in anyone’s way or perform poorly at her job. She gave everything she had. She just didn’t have everything that she needed.


The next step I took was probably the most important. I asked Sherri what I could do to help her. I didn’t make her solely responsible for her progress. I took some of that responsibility, too. If I had placed the full burden of improvement on Sherri, I would have been setting her up to fail. Instead, I partnered with her and invested myself in her life.


Over the next few days and weeks, I worked directly with Sherri. She showed proficiency in all of the tasks. I began to help her understand when and why each thing needed to be done. From there, she was able to prioritize them and effectively work on more than one flight at a time. Something else happened that I didn’t really expect.


Most jobs have duties that tend to be ignored or neglected. This happens because people either don’t see the value in them, or they just don’t like doing them. Our job was no different. However, Sherri started taking care of those duties, too. Without being asked!! She was becoming a model employee.


A short time later, Sherri was injured in an accident on the job. I was almost certain she had broken a bone in her foot. I wrote up the injury report and then provided her with the list of doctors she could see for the Worker’s Compensation claim. She decided to pay for her own care instead of file a claim. Her reason? She didn’t ever want to be placed on Modified Duty again. Wow!!


Sherri started out as a target. Luckily, she was allowed to blossom. All it took was an investment into her life. Do you know anyone that could benefit from an investment of YOUR time and efforts?

GPS for Life


Many years ago I was invited to join the family deer camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It was a great honor and a bit intimidating as well.  The camp had been in existence for over 70 years with a rich heritage.  It was closed to all but members and guests.  On November 13th I was sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck headed north armed with an old shotgun, at least three times the equipment I needed and an old boy scout compass.


After a 10 hour drive and an overnight stay in a small hotel in town we headed into the woods toward the cabin.  We parked the trucks and walked the last mile to camp to set up and get ready for opening day.  One of the first things I was given was a photocopy of a hand drawn map showing the trails and critical landmarks.  My instructions were to carry the map and my compass at all times.  Because the cabin is 2 miles off the main road in the middle of hundreds of thousands of acres of heavy forest, wandering a mere few hundred yards from camp could get me very lost for a very long time.  I still think they were less concerned about my well being than losing precious euchre and beer time if they had to go looking for me.


Sure enough, on the second day of the season, while on a stroll,  I got lost.  Considering it was a pleasant day for northern Michigan in November, sunny and low 50s, I was in no real danger.  The only thing at risk was my pride and I knew the verbal beating would be brutal and sustained if I needed rescue.  In order to avoid certain shame I hauled out my map and compass and attempted  to figure out where I was and how to get back.  It took me hours to get un-lost for a very simple reason.  Compasses and maps are only good if you know where you currently are.  I could see the cabin on the map as well as other critical landmarks…I just could not see myself.  Using dead reckoning, and some good guessing, I arrived back at the cabin, tired and hungry, 2 1/2 hours later.


The next year I decided to take a brand new GPS unit with me.  I figured if I could mark the location of the cabin I would always know what direction to go in the event I got lost again.  I did have the sense to play with it before I needed it so I eagerly opened the packaging and inserted fresh batteries.  Turning the device on I noticed it not only took a long time to acquire satellite signals the big arrow would only point north regardless of the direction I turned.  In frustration I took a couple of steps to see if it was getting a clear signal from the sky.  Immediately the needle swung to the east and began pointing in the direction I was traveling.  I had found a limitation to the technology.   You see, GPS only knows where you are on the planet and the direction you are headed…if you are moving.  If I had refused to move until I had clear and concise directions I would have assumed the unit was defective and returned it for another.  Further, for a GPS unit to work properly you must tell it where you want to go and that means you have to program in coordinates or mark a location when you get there.  That meant I had to have help getting back to the cabin the following year so I could tell it where the cabin was before I set off into the woods.  The good thing was that when I wanted to return all I had to do was click a couple of buttons and the big black arrow would point me in the direction of the camp.


Life can be a bit like that GPS experience.  There are times when standing still can lead to frustration and confusion, it can even be dangerous.  There are times when, even if you do not know what direction to go, you must start moving in any direction to get your bearings.  Only then can you make course corrections.  Additionally, you must also know where you want to end up for the trip to be more than aimless wandering.


At times we all must make a blind move or two to gain vision.

What does it cost to lose a customer?

Last month I suggested the cost of losing a patient could be substantial but somewhat hidden.  For this month’s installment I did some, admittedly shallow, informal research on the topic of what a doctor may lose as a result of poor customer service.  I was sharing this series of articles with my friend Al.  He has a heart condition that requires him to see a cardiologist three times per year.  His story illustrated my point very effectively.  He shared that the average cost of each visit to his doctor is around $1300 which means the cardiologist grosses close to $4000 per year on his office visits alone.  During his last visit he informed the doctor that he will be seeking the treatment and care of another specialist.  The reason he gave had nothing to do with the medical care he had received; it was totally tied to the fact that he felt ignored by the doctor.  Al never felt like he had a chance to talk with his Doctor and ask questions during routine visits.  He informed his cardiologist, in no uncertain terms, he will not be returning for additional care.

Some may say, “What’s the big deal, it’s only $4000”, but consider this.  Over the next ten years this lost customer relationship will cost the doctor $40,000 in office visits.  It will also eliminate any chance of him performing additional procedures Al may need over the next ten years.  Further, consider that Al is not shy about sharing his story with others.  He actively recommends against others engaging with this particular physician.  If only 10 people heed Al’s advice this represents a loss of nearly $400,000 over the next ten years.  All because Al wanted an extra few minutes of his care providers time to ask some questions and get answers and some assurance.

What could your office experience be costing you?  How can you analyze the situation and begin improving the customer experience in your practice?  Stay tuned, I will begin laying out a method for doing exactly this in the coming articles.

As a last thought this month, consider what Susan Dubin-Light posted on Facebook last month; “Here’s the deal…from now on, any DR. that makes me wait longer than 10 minutes, I will deduct my hourly rate from my bill. My time is just as important as yours! Waiting 45 minutes is UNACCEPTABLE!!

The Waiting Room Part II

Last month I told the story of my wife and her experience in “The Waiting Room”.  What I did not tell you is that it was 10 years ago and we are now divorced.  Ironically, as I was writing the first article my new wife was having the same experience for the same surgery.  Though the wait times have been shorter the impact on her has been the same.  After one two hour wait she told me she will be finding another care provider in the near future.  She has no complaints about the medical care she has received or the personal care from the doctor.  The entire problem stems from the waiting room experience.   May I suggest a question for us to consider, what is the impact of the waiting room experience on the doctors’ practice and, ultimately, their business? 

I suspect most medical practices struggle with building a successful business not because of the medical service they provide but because of the “soft touch” issues in their office.  As a consumer I expect a certain level of care and service from all my providers including even my doctor.  Think of the last time your cable quit working.  When you called the company you probably heard what we all have heard.  “Yes Mr. Walker, I understand your frustration and we want to get your TV working as quickly as possible.  What we can do is send out a technician to investigate the problem.  He will be in your area tomorrow and will stop in sometime between eight and noon.  Please make sure you are there when he arrives or we will have to re-schedule for next week.”  Do any of us have that much free time in our lives?  Do we really want to stay home all day for a problem that was in no way our fault?  Dare I answer for us all?  The answer is a resounding “NO”!  A very frustrating situation, right?

In most areas of the country we have perhaps one or two choices for cable service and have no real option but to wait or cancel the service entirely.  In my community there are dozens of choices when it comes to selecting a doctor, all within a few miles of my home.  If I don’t like the service I get from my current doctor I can simply drive a couple of blocks down the road and hire a new one.

What does it cost you to find and start working with a new patient?  How much does it cost you to replace a patient?  What is the cost of maintaining medical files for your patients (current as well as former)?  If you know the cost is very low and does not significantly impact your bottom line you can ignore the next several articles.  If the cost is significant and would like to start considering how to mitigate the problem, you will want to pay attention to the subsequent articles.

As a final thought, never forget that the person needs as much or more treatment than the body.

Why use “The Customer’s Way”?

 Most of us can agree that if we really knew what our customers wanted to buy our business would be a lot simpler.  We could eliminate products and services that are not wanted and focus all of our attention on what people want to buy…need to buy.  There are many companies that supply systems that can conduct the type of research to answer the age old question, “What does my customer really want from my?  What do they want to buy?”  I might suggest the better question is, “What problems are my customers experiencing so I can generate a valuable solution?”  Most companies have great systems to conduct this research, some are not so great.

 The most prolific systems in use are the many survey companies in the world.  They will craft questions that attempt to get the respondent to tell us what they think without guiding them into answering what we want to hear.  They send survey forms out to a representative sample of the target audience and wait for the responses to flood in.  Then they complete a comprehensive analysis of the results to generate statistically significant representations of the general population as a whole.


One drawback to these systems is that they can be a bit difficult to interpret.  If you and I both answer 3 to a question they can not be sure that 3 represents the same thing to both of us.  If they find the average of a response is 3.35 out of 5 what does that truly mean to the population as a whole and, worse yet, what do they need to do to make it a 4.5.  There is not usually a feedback mechanism to get deeper answers to probing questions.  They are pretty much one shot deals.  Surveys have their uses, so long as the user understands their limitations.


Focus groups are another method that is popular.  The company gathers groups of people based on pre-selected profiles and have facilitated discussions with them.  The information is a bit more detailed than surveys and you can ask follow up questions.  However, it can be difficult to keep the noisy ones quiet and get the quiet ones to talk.  Also, it can be a bit difficult to obtain complete openness in a group setting.  Focus groups have their place and uses, so long as the user understands their limitations.


Like many other systems in the world that do what “The Customer’s Way” does another important method is individual interviews with carefully selected people.  These systems utilize a process that empowers the interview team to properly select the individuals that will likely yield the best and most representative information.  They also have a system of generating open ended questions that invite conversation rather than short and abrupt answers.  The best systems also have a robust process that enables the team to make sense of the huge amount of information that comes in from the interviews.


One risk to using this methodology is that it can be misrepresentative of the population,  if the preparation work is not done well prior to engaging the people you are interviewing.  Be sure you are working with a reputable company if you engage in this type of research.  Individual interviews have their uses, so long as the user understands their limitations.


The method I use is “The Customer’s Way”.  It is a proprietary system of interviewing key individuals (customers) to discover what they value and want from my clients.  It is one of many type systems also known as Voice Of the Customer or VOC.  Mine is the only one I have found that takes a unique approach of utilizing resources at the client company to accomplish the research and analysis.  The benefit of this unique feature is that the team becomes very engaged in collecting and analyzing the information.  Once they have invested time and energy in obtaining the information they are more likely to utilize it proactively within the organization. 


When selecting your research methodology and provider, know the benefits and limitations before you buy.