The goal of customer service

The goal of customer service should always be excellence. The value of great customer service can never be underestimated. The customer isn’t always right as the saying goes. But the companies job is to make them feel like they are. My thought process is always respond as quickly as possible to new leads. Email is fine but phone provides a personal touch that sometimes can’t be felt through emails. Of course there will be numerous variable here but the person is looking for something and from someone. Our job is to bring them quickly to a resolve that your company will best suit their needs for the best price and service anywhere on the planet. In some cases clients will pay a higher price for great customer service.

Here are some basics:

1. The employee must know their stuff
2. Always answer with a smile
3. Get on the clients level and use some of the same words if possible to reiterate what they are saying
4. Respond as quickly as possible.
5. Give as much information as necessary but not the whole carrot. Get buy in gradually. Show the value.
6. Mobile devices make a huge impact if you can respond and answer questions from anywhere but within reason

As I have worked with various companies over the years I have been impressed with owners who live the passion of customer service. It is a trickle down effect on customer relations and potential further sales.

The goal of customer service should always be excellence, efficiency, timeliness and satisfaction on the clients part.

Steven Hume

Hume Management & Consulting




Keep Your Cool

As SMALL-BUSINESS owners we’ve learned that some customers can try our patience.  They may be late or not show up, fail to pay their bill on time, want more and more for less, get rude, be snappy or demanding.

Large companies may be able to write off folks without concern, but usually a small business needs and wants to keep customers happy even when they don’t put their best foot forward.  We can’t let them take advantage of us of course, but we can’t afford to blow our stacks ream them out, tell them off, demean them or otherwise lose their tempers.  We have to keep our cool, no matter how we feel.

Since that is clearly not always easy in the heat of the moment, here are some tricks of the trade.

Know your Triggers.  Knowing your hot buttons can help you be prepared to respond .  Among the most common triggers; behaviors that is (a) unexpected and out of the blue; (b) clearly the customer’s fault, not yours; and/or unfair.

Wait to respond.  When your hackles rise, postpone your response,  If the behavior is something you need to talk about with the customer, to be sure it doesn’t happen again contact the person after you have cooled down.

Be clear on your desired outcome.  Use and “I message.”  For example, instead of saying, “You are always late for your appointments,” you might say, “When you are late for your appointments, I get behind for the rest of the day and it upsets my other clients.”

Be specific.  What behavior do you want the customer to change in the future?  Instead of “Please do better,” or “Don’t do that again, please,” ask for specific actions, such as “Would you be able to be on time from now on?”

Listen carefully.   If the customer is having problems that cause the undesirable behavior, don’t write off explanations simply as excuses.  It may be possible to change your arrangements in ways that will prevent such behavior.  You may want to accept that the person is having a bad day or has had a bad life.  His or her behavior might have been irksome, but not intolerable,  we’re all human, after all.

Say sorry.  Should you slip and lose your cool, apologize.  Doctors who apologize are sued less frequently than doctors who don’t apologize.  Keeping your cool and using their guidelines work.  You will feel better when you handle things better, and if your customers like you even when they’re not at their best, they will stick with you.


Used with permission from Costco Connection and Paul and Sarah Edwards.


Examples from a  medical office where customer service wasn’t the norm:

We worked in a medical office where the doctor was very very short tempered.  The staff had had numerous turnover and only the thick skinned survived.  2 days into our project a client walked in the door about 15 minutes late.  Mind you the staff called the clients all early in the morning (6:30-8:00 am) to remind the patients not to be late.  This was an everyday occurrence. Client walks in and the doctor happens to hear the staff quietly tell her she was late.  For the next 4 minutes the doctor unloaded on this patient, and soon to be X-patient.  The lobby was full of people and when the doctor had her say she walked into the next exam room and carried on.  At this point I was stunned.  The doctor put together some four letter phrases that not even I had heard of.  Meanwhile the client stormed out, slammed the door and the lobby was terrified.  I quickly headed out the door and caught the elevator down to the garage and caught the patient.  She was fuming and teary eyed.  I explained that we were working with this office as consultants and apologized for the doctors behavior.  I listened for about 10 minutes while this client unloaded.  In the end she opened up her purse and showed me $8000 dollars, cash.  She had saved up this money and would have gladly handled it over to the office that day for her procedure.  But it was too late.  Once again I apologized to her and she was on her way.

After work hours I met with the doctor and told her my experience with this particular patient.  The doctor was pretty upset that she unloaded on this lady and called her personally after hours to apoligize.  Too little too late at that point.

The doctor should have let the staff handle this matter, rescheduled the client or made other arrangements.  It cost the doctor that day $8000.  But in the end it probably cost this office much much more due to poor word of mouth referrals.


Steven Hume

Hume Management & Consulting



Being a Business Owner

Over the years I have had the privilege of meeting with numerous business owners. Some clients started early on with an idea and others started later in life after working in the corporate world.

The most successful clients have been those who have taken everything in and are willing to listen to advice and make the necessary changes. On the other side of the coin are business owners who want to do everything their way and listen, but aren’t open to make any necessary changes. One business owner I met mentioned “the phones are ringing and we are making $$$ hand over fist”. We had long discussions and I told him that within 3 years his business would go bankrupt if he didn’t change his methodologies for running this company. Almost to the day 3 years later he filed for BK.

Shifts in thinking are always necessary to serve the customer. The consumer now with the Internet has numerous choices and customer service really needs to be a top priority. Latest trends and threats always need to be studied with regularity.

A company’s biggest assets are its employees. Paying the employee their worth is extremely valuable. Hiring employees who see the big picture is a must. One owner chose to pay his employees on the low scale but during Christmas would have a Christmas party and buy each employee little inexpensive gifts as a way to make it up. Most employees whom I interviewed felt he was a cheapskate and wanted to have hirer wages instead of cheap gifts. Employee’s also want to feel valued. It is a natural human tendency to feel wanted and appreciated for a job well done. Employees want to be held accountable. Employees want to feel appreciated but also to strive higher in job performance.

Data is something the business owner should have constant access to with the right to ask:

What does the data show?
How can we improve on existing processes?
Where are our strengths and weaknesses?

Weekly reports should be a must with all managers. Getting a feel on how they are responding to customer needs and so on.

The best companies fire on all cylinders as much as possible and are willing to be flexible as times change.

Steven Hume

Hume Management & Consulting



Profitable Growth is Everyone’s Business by Ram Charan

This is by far one of the best books I have read in regards to my consulting practice.  Ram Charan is a masterful writer with a vault of information that is useable immediately.

His goal is “to improve the practice of business by people tools they can put to use immediately”

The book is built around the idea of producing constant revenue growth.  The medium he uses during the course of this book is centered around the game of baseball.  Many companies swing for the fences constantly, but never consider a single or double to be worthwhile. But those singles and doubles actually from the foundations on which to build a company through the basic’s.

A few great quotes…

“Every contact of every person with a customer is an opportunity for revenue growth”

“Marketing is about finding out what the customer wants, and designing products, services and programs that give it to them”

“But the reality is most ideas are generated when people exchange information”

“Does the management team come into contact with the user of your product”?

“How good are the upstream marketing skills-that is, the ability to segment markets and identify consumer attributes in your business”?

I highly recommend this book for your library.

Steven Hume

Hume Management & Consulting

Is your technology current?

A recent study showed that businesses increase revenues 15% points faster by keeping up with the latest technologies for their companies.  Whether that be tech savvy or cloud savvy these businesses surveyed found that improving efficiencies, connecting with new customers and markets enabled them to compete with larger scale companies.  Customer realize the businesses that use newer technology often times provide better service, run more secure operations which translates into higher customer satisfaction.

Outdated technologies have an impact on employees as well.  They deal with the slower technologies first hand.  It can be a very frustrating situation with the employees are hand-cuffed because the owner doesn’t or won’t keep up with the best tools for them to use.  The cloud-based technology allows small businesses to work from anywhere.  Maybe the best employees for your operation are out of state.  The cloud can really help.  Colleagues can collaborate seamlessly even when working from different locations.

Security threats is not lost on customers.  Think of the recent flare-up within the Target situation.  Lots of unhappy people had their personal data compromised.  Technology changes very rapidly.  If your operating system is more than 5 years old take a hard look at upgrading.  Many business owners can’t be in the office 24-7.  They like to check in from a portable device or from home.  Technology makes this avenue a snap.  While working in Florida we had a client who installed tracking devices in all 13 of his employees trucks.  He found some very unusual happening when employees reported verbally they were at a clients location  when the GPS showed them somewhere different.  Lost productivity was tighten up immediately and employees knew they could no longer “snow” the boss.

A professional looking and functioning web site goes a long way when potential clients are looking for a business. 77% of customers surveyed expect that your web site be up-to-date, quick, functional & easy to understand.  Templates are going the way of the past as clean coded web sites that are responsive are quickly taking over.  If your web site is outdated it is like dealing with a run-down brick and mortar storefront.

Ask your employees what their thoughts are regarding the current technology.  Ask them how upgrading could make their lives better when at work and I am sure your eyes will be opened.  Employees generally have a pulse on the business sometimes more than the owner.  Upgrading technologies in the end can save lots of time, money and headaches.

The story of the washer

A client recently related this story of a simple washer and how it turned out to be a $1.9 million dollar sale for his company….

The phone rang and it was Edith from the local church. She asked if I could come over to her house one day and take a look at a leaky faucet. Edith was about 80 years old, widow and really didn’t have anyone to help with small home repairs. I told her sure and made it over the next Sunday after church. It was a simple $.50 cent washer that needed to be replaced..

Few weeks later I got a call from Fred who said he was referred from Edith and he needed some help with a gutter on his house. No problem I said and made an appointment the next week to take a look at it and repaired everything for him at $75. At first I thought maybe I should send out one of my employees but Fred asked if I would specifically come out and take a look at his project.

Very next day I get a call from Bill who was referred from Fred who was referred from Edith. He said he heard that I did good work. At this point I already have 45 employees and a multi-million dollar construction company but as far as these people know I am just a handy man from a local church.

Bill and I got together and once again it was a simple fix to a broken stair on his back porch….

4 months later I get a call. Guy asks if I construct buildings and I said yes and how could I help? Well it turns out that he heard about me from Bill who heard from Fred who heard from Edith that I do good work.

Taking care of simple referrals I have learned makes a big difference. They are to be prized possessions that need as quick attention as possible. I could have let my estimator or other employee handle this task, but I really felt that since Edith was my primary source of these referrals I owed it to her to do these jobs myself.

The gentleman who called and asked if I built buildings turned out to be a $1.9 million dollar project that we recently just finished in Redmond, WA.

The simple way my client took care of his word of mouth referral, a $.50 cent washer job, turned out to be a $1.9 million dollar warehouse. Wow!

Word of mouth referrals should be treated with utmost care and expediency. Your employees should always be alert to handle these types of clients with extreme care and efficiency. The owner went out of his way to handle these very mundane tasks, but in the end he reaped the rewards for his company.

Steve Hume

Hume Management & Consulting

Good vs. Bad Managers

Good managers can make or break a business. Bad managers, according to the Harvard Business Review can cost businesses billions of dollars each year. Businesses always want to have the best people in the proper spots. But sometimes they force the issue and pay for it. Back in my 20’s I worked for a computer educational company. The top sales people were always pushed into managerial positions and sometimes with disastrous results. One such sales person was number 1 for the previous 6 months and management decided he was deserving of his own school, across the country. They moved him and his family across to Philadelphia. One 2 year old and his wife was 6 months pregnant. After 6 months in Philadelphia he was fired for not hitting his numbers as director of the school. I thought to myself why was this guy even a manager? He hit his numbers but he did lots of lying to get his students enrolled. Everyone knew he was crooked but still management wanted to promote from within. I felt bad for him. Young guy, all hyped up, gets a managerial position only to be left high and dry, clear across the country.

5 talents all managers should possess:

1. The motivate every single employee to take action and engage them with a compelling mission and vision.
2. They have assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance.
3. They can create a clear culture of clear accountability.
4. They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
5. They make decisions that are based on productivity, not politics.

Businesses shouldn’t promote workers into managerial roles because they deserve it. Experience and skills are very important, but worker’s talents are what will predict if they will perform at their best.

Hiring the right managers will help gain the company a higher competitive advantage, increased productivity with employees, less turnover, less absenteeism and fewer safety issues to name a few.

When consulting with a business I always try to let everyone speak their minds and I just absorb the information and process it. Then we break down the communication barriers and determine where the true problem is stemming from. Then piece by piece putting that business back on the right track with all employees understanding their job descriptions, who they are accountable to, nipping gossip in the bud, and creating a new culture and vision where everyone sees the same target.

I learned a lesson a long time ago from a clients father. He told me that when ever any of his employees had something to say about another employee he would always stop them, go get the other employee and then let them hear the good or bad news personally. He said it cut down on negativity and “he said-she said” immediately.

Lessons learned.

Tips from a coffee house

I was sitting at a friends coffee shop the other day and noticed a magazine and started to thumb through it. It dawned on me as to why the simplest things make coffee franchises so successful. These are 10 steps written by Jack Grout who owns JP’s Coffee in Holland, Michigan.

1. Hire the right people: Make sure your needs and their desires are a fit, make sure they are coffee lovers and most importantly they have a great attitude.
2. Make your expectations clear: Communicate all workplace policies, do not tolerate anything less, make sure to have a employee handbook.
3. Document and systematize your entire business: Policies must be followed at all times, implement well-run systems; processes must be routinely updated.
4. Think of your business as a training school” Well-trained employees are confident in their jobs and customer service. Document all jobs, train staff and test for competence, consistency is critical in everything you do.
5. Empowerment: Encourage employees input; assign responsibilities and follow-up, communicate with staff on a constant basis.
6. Leadership: People are looking for examples to follow. Be that person, have a great attitude everyday, smile and engage employees/customers, compliment employees regularly, have high expectations; have fair and immediate consequences for policy infractions, set an example of integrity.
7. Get your staff to love you; if your staff likes you they will stay longer, work harder and not steal from you. Have high standards; set an example of thrilling customers and empower your staff to do likewise.
8. Serve, serve, serve: The power in relationships is to serve others. Be a servant and your staff will follow your lead.
9. Scheduling: Surveys have shown that job flexibility tops the list of why people work in foodservice. If your employees need time off be flexible and you will reap their loyalty.
10. Patience: Building a great team takes years. You’ll make mistakes, hire someone you thought would be great and find that they are not, and learn along with way. Also, it takes years to create, tweak and oversee all your polices, procedures and training practices. Allow good practices time to work.

That is some of the best and most transferable advice I have ever read. Simple but true in every respect and can be translated to numerous if not all industries.

Is Your Next Great CEO a Management Consultant?

Is Your Next Great CEO a Management Consultant?

by Gretchen Gavett  |   8:00 AM November 19, 2013

There are a variety of places where corporations and boards look for potential CEOs, but the leagues of management consulting generally isn’t one of them. However, new unreleased research from Spencer Stuart, a global executive search firm, suggests that we’re giving this sector short shift: There may be specific cases when a consulting background can actually boost company performance, even more so than a more traditional candidate.

Below is an edited exchange I had with a team at Spencer Stuart, led by consultants Janine Ames and Jim Citrin, who describe what they’ve uncovered about this topic — and what they’re still learning about consultants-as-CEOs.

So why should a company consider hiring a management consultant to be their CEO?

While former management consultants are not frequently chosen as CEOs — our research noted 28 former management consultants with five-plus years of consulting experience out of a total of 541 CEO transitions between 2004 and 2010 — the evidence we’ve uncovered here would suggest that, as a class, they are fully worthy of consideration. When they did take the helm of a company, they tended to improve the condition of the company over the course of their tenure more often than other leaders — 71% of the time versus 42% for those without management consulting backgrounds.

In the subset of cases where the company’s condition was classified as “Crisis” or “Challenged,” a similar difference was also evident, moving the companies to the “Stable” or “Growth” category 92% of the time, versus 70% for non-management consultants.

Leadership choices depend on many factors, of course, and need to be incredibly nuanced. But this evidence perhaps further legitimizes the option.

It can’t be the case that any old consultant should lead up a company. Did you find any characteristics that set effective consultants-to-CEOs apart?

Not every consultant is an appropriate CEO-level leader, just as is true in the broader executive population.  The nature of consulting suggests some particular factors to consider. And it certainly is possible for a person to be a highly successful consultant but not succeed in a CEO role.

For instance, consultants who are gifted at analyzing complex problems and identifying a range of possible solutions, but don’t have the drive to implement those solutions, do not make strong chief executives.  Even strong “people leadership” in a consulting context may not necessarily translate — leading teams of highly educated, motivated MBAs in the “up or out” environment of most management consulting firms is quite different from leading an employee population with a mixed set of skills and backgrounds.

Finally, it is less risky to advise than it is take direct action — those consultants with the courage to be the decider and accept the personal risk of those decisions are more likely to be great CEOs.

In terms of other specific characteristics within the study, leaders who have worked at the partner level for a top strategy firm appear more likely to succeed.  This makes sense given that they have probably worked most directly for CEOs of client companies and therefore appreciate the issues and levers of the top executive.  They also are likely to have had deeper experience tackling some of the most complex and important challenges organizations face.

Does it matter if the consultant has done work for the company doing the hiring?

No, we did not see that relationship.  There are certain industries where deep knowledge and expertise are needed, and consultants working in the industry are therefore more compelling candidates.  However, it was not the case that consultants simply crossed over from serving a specific client to being that company’s top executive.

You found that management consultants were better able to turn poorly performing companies around. Since that’s often the job of a consultant to begin with, should we be surprised?

No, probably not.  Consultants are trained to analyze and address problems, and focus on improving the value of a company over a short time frame — exactly what is needed in many turnaround situations.  They are often adept at connecting the dots between complex sets of issues and crafting phased, comprehensive programs of attack — targeting the initiatives that are most likely to deliver impact.

And what happens after the turnaround — do consultants have the skills to lead companies during good times as well as bad?

Our study did not answer this question specifically, but we have no reason to expect that they did not perform at least as well as their non-consulting peers.  Given the growing complexities of businesses today — in terms of global footprint, changing business models, more complicated constituency networks, risk management, digital technology forces, evolving competitors and other societal shifts — any company in good times is still facing a pretty daunting array of potential challenges.

What can CEOs who don’t have consulting backgrounds learn from those who do?

The main thing to learn is the urgency with which consultants naturally operate.  Having been in project settings where the clock is ticking on delivering value, consultants are often able to analyze the situation and quickly focus on the levers that matter most.

The other message is around the importance of clear and transparent communication — management consultants are trained in communicating complex ideas simply, creating a story that can be followed and remembered, and tying recommended actions back to a central strategic framework that clarifies where the company is headed.  This skill in communication is becoming more important in the transparent, multi-constituent world in which we now live.

Are there any dangers in hiring a consultant to run your company?

There are dangers in any leadership decision, and all people decisions are complicated.  The stakes are enormous and not all the evidence is visible to the naked eye. On top of that, any set of leadership requirements is going to be highly dependent on the company, its situation, strategy, business model, condition, and scores of other factors.

Beyond that, there are certainly dangers in hiring the wrong kind of consultant.  As mentioned above, not every highly successful consultant will make a great CEO.  Careful assessment of the person’s executional drive, well-rounded leadership ability and risk tolerance are important to ensure that a particular consultant will potentially be a capable CEO.  Then there are all the other factors to assess.

What unanswered questions are you still looking into?

One thing we would like to investigate further is whether the trend of choosing former management consultants as CEO is one that is accelerating.  There are some early indications that that could be the case, but we don’t yet have the sample size to prove that.

Our interest in this area is largely about continually evolving our understanding of the characteristics of high-performing CEOs, so we will continue to explore how the valuable skills or competencies that consultants have may be found in, or cultivated in, the corporate environment.

We’re also interested in expanding our research in order to understand the performance of management consultants in a number of other roles — not just as a CEO. 


Gretchen Gavett is an associate editor at the Harvard Business Review. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenmarg.