I’ve just completed a long-awaited move from “Camp Lancelot” — my thoroughly conventional 4-bedroom house in a thoroughly-conventional suburb of thoroughly-conventional Cincinnati — to the “Crow’s Nest,” a 22nd-floor -apartment overlooking the mighty Ohio River smack in the middle of cosmopolitan, sophisticated downtown Cincinnati. Big difference!

I love being in the middle of the action. I love listening to the engines of the push-boats moving barges up and down the river. I can walk across the Ohio River to Newport on the Levee and grab ice cream, by a book, or catch a movie. Monday night, I walked to the Aronoff Theatre, which is where the touring Broadway shows perform, to hear Ron Chernow talk about his new biography of U.S. Grant. I cut my commute in half and added half an hour of valuable time to my day. Those of you who visit for cocktails the night before next week’s annual Masterminding Meeting will surely agree I picked a great place to live.

But last night, as I was catching up on email and news, my internet suddenly went out. That meant getting on the phone with the dreaded Spectrum Communications, widely regarded to have the worst customer service of any company in America.

Sadly, Spectrum didn’t disappoint me in that regard. I started by fighting a voice-response system that had a hard time understanding my voice. Then I spent 20 minutes on hold. Then I spent 10 minutes with a customer-service rep who identified the problem as Spectrum’s failure to properly note that my order had been completed — which led them to cancel it entirely. (Huh?) That guy sent me to another guy, who looked me up in his system and couldn’t find me by the address he had for me somewhere in Iowa. (I’ve been to Iowa, and it’s really a lovely place, but it’s not where I’m trying to use the internet.) Finally, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, he got my order “completed” and service restored. Time elapsed: 38 minutes, 12 seconds. Total apologies for their failure to communicate the issue to me or alert me to the problem: zero.

Now, on the one hand, dealing with the cable company is just one of those little annoyances of life. And I got this article started while I was still on the line. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here. But on the other hand, this was a pain-in-the-ass experience that Spectrum inflicted on me because they failed to communicate and failed to do anything to sugarcoat that failure. And it’s not just me . . . Spectrum earned their nationwide reputation for lousy customer service through diligent, systematic effort!

I realize that customer service snafus are inevitable. We’ve had our fair share here as we’ve transitioned from the old TaxCoach system to Financial Gravity’s shiny new Tax Master Network. We’ve had technical issues, support issues, and billing issues. But I like to believe that we’ve done our best to telegraph the coming changes ahead of time and apologize when the trains haven’t run on time. And I like to think that we’ve built a reservoir of goodwill over the years to cushion the pain when there’s a glitch.

Here’s what (I hope!) we understand, that Spectrum doesn’t seem to. When you choose to do business with someone, whether they’re a giant national cable provider, a business-development system, or even a local restaurant or other business, you’re not just buying a product or service. You’re getting an experience. And the quality of that experience can have just as much power over your opinion of the vendor as the product or service you’re actually buying. You can sit down at a popular restaurant and bite into the best hamburger in town . . . but if there’s a screaming toddler in the next seat, you’ll go home grumbling about the experience.

Too many businesses don’t seem to “get” that fact. They spend endless hours engineering systems to automate as much of their customer-service functions as possible, and even more hours trying to shave costs by cutting staff to the bone. But they don’t seem to consider the effect those bottom-line-oriented strategies have on the customers who pay the bills in the first place. And they don’t seem to realize that just a little explanation can go a long way! As Friedrich Nietzche once said, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Just let us know what’s going on. We really will bear with you!

What about you? What about your practice, your systems, and your staff? Are you focused internally, on how you can get your work done as efficiently and profitably as possible? Terrific. That’s important! But are you also focused externally, on how all those systems and staffers combine to create an experience? That’s important, too!

While we’re on the topic of customer experience, let me make a point about ours. As I mentioned before, we’ve just made a big transition from the old TaxCoach to the new TMN. In a lot of ways, it’s been like renovating a house. And while that may look fun and glamorous on the HGTV network, anyone who’s actually done it will tell you that renovating something old is actually harder than building something new. Lots more expensive surprises, too!

Now we have a whole new set of systems and procedures for you to experience. And we want to know what the experience is like on your end. So please, reach out and let us know how it feels. Are we doing enough to explain what’s going on, and why we really do believe that, despite the bumps today, we’re so confident that you’ll appreciate it all tomorrow? What more can we do to make sure the infrastructure we’re building and rolling out today will serve you well throughout your membership?

Oh, and we promise you’ll never be on hold for 20 minutes while we try and figure out why our system thinks you’re four states away!

Member Success

On yesterday’s Wednesday Business Development Call, a new member asked if we could recommend any particular formula for determining fees for corporate and partnership returns. Several members chimed in with their own ideas on charging more — including this one, who shall remain nameless lest his prospects do a “deep Google” and find this:

“Raise your fees until 10-20% of your clients complain. I’ve hit 15-25% over year the last three years. This was the first year we lost anyone for fees.”

Now, this may not be a slam-dunk. It means you’ll have to listen to 10-20% of your clients complain about fees, and explain to them why you’re worth what you’re charging. It’ll take a stiff spine. But if you’re not afraid of the pushback, you’ll be happy with the results!

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