Archives For Business

One of my favorite places to visit when I am in the US are book stores. Walking down the street, subway or inside a mall, if I see a book store, I have to go inside. And most of time, I end up purchasing something, even though I may not have finished reading my previous purchases. Among all the physical stores I have visited, I have always liked the Barnes & Noble store. I stress “physical” because my favorite store is Amazon.com, simply because I get a better deal on books and CDs apart from the expansive range of stuff I have access to and access to different opinions about what I am about to buy.

The main difference between these two stores is that – Amazon helps me make the right decision whereas Barnes & Noble makes me feel good about my opinion. That is because they sell me the experience of buying a book. I can feel it before I buy it.

In terms of recommendations and reviews, B&N gives me shelves or tables filled with best-sellers, new books or bargain-finds. But I don’t have access to instant reviews about a book or whether I have different choices I can look at. I could always sit down and read a few pages myself and do it over a cup of Joe.

And now, click-and-mortar is winning over brick-and-mortar. It was bound to happen. On Aug 3, 2010, Barnes & Noble announced that their board was considering a sale of the company. There is now a tussle over who gets control of the company. On one side, you have Leonard Riggio, Barnes & Noble’s founder and chairman (29.9% of the company’s shares). The other side has investor Ron Burkle, who is already a large stockholder in the company (19.2% of shares). We will know what comes of this fight by September 28 at the company’s annual meeting.

 

 

Barnes & Noble has 777 locations

What intrigues me about Barnes & Noble is the fact that they have 777 stores across the US. Compare that with 19 fulfillment centers (in US alone) of Amazon.com. Why do you need so many stores? It is obvious that running and maintaining these stores can be expensive by themselves. It definitely is not going to help keep the costs down.

Look at the numbers:

Revenue (US$)Operating Income (US$)Net Income (US$)
Barnes & Noble5.12 billion143 million75.9 million
Amazon.com24.5 billion1.129 billion902 million

Source: Wikipedia.com

B&N introduced the Nook Reader to compete with Amazon’s Kindle. They even did well by producing Nook apps for the iPhone and iPad. But it was late and not well accepted in the market, especially with its touch screen and software problems.

I am no supply-chain expert neither am I a financial wizard. But it would be very depressing to see a neighborhood B&N store close down (even though sometimes that makes sense).

One of the few things that Barnes & Noble needs to get right first is – take the fight online. And use the network of stores to your advantage. Amazon plays on a much wider scale than B&N (electronics, instruments, appliances etc.) and it will not make sense for B&N to get into all that now.

  • Engage the reader/buyer online. Invest in technology that will make bn.com more like Amazon.com. Given the choice between bn.com and amazon.com, it is very easy to choose Amazon’s website because of the wealth of information available to you about what you want to buy. BN.com has some great features like their professional reviews, local store events, etc. Club that with some community participation, they should see people spending more time on their websites.
  • Fix the Nook Reader. People are not going to buy a device that is slow. (You could slash the price heavily but it won’t help you in the long term.)
  • Do something with all that space. Each B&N shop has so much space and so little happening. There must be something else you can do than just book readings and author meets.

I just hope that whoever gets control of the bookstore makes it right this time.

What do you think? Do you think B&N has a chance? What should they do to improve business?

Time-Management-LCSomeone said, “You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about the future”

Inundated. I have my work at full steam – and sometimes they get the better of me. Organizing and coordinating the different parts of a media & communications job can be fun. And challenging. I am learning to adjust to the lead times involved in this work and the different time zones!

But why did my blog suffer? I had time to brush my teeth. Take bath. Daily. Eat food. Why did my blog suffer? It was not fair. But I give credit to all of you who have been patient and very encouraging. I am thankful.

Time management has not always been my forte. My idea of time management is to not sleep. But my body does not agree with my theory. How much ever I try, it always gets the better of me. It just would not let me have my way. I don’t know how it does it but it always keeps me in bed for five hours every day. And if I push it too far, bam! In bed you go for a week! If someone knows how to beat that, let me know.

What did I learn about time management?

  • Use a calendar. Paper or online.
  • List your tasks/appointments.
  • Prioritize them. You could either number them or mark them in some way so you can clearly see the important tasks. Those are the ones you want to get done first.
  • Cancel tasks. There is always a “not-to-do-list” where there is a to-do list.
  • Start. Sometimes, this can be the toughest part. There may be planning that is required or information that needs to be gathered. It is important to start somewhere. It sets you in motion. You can build momentum as you move on.
  • Strike them off, once it is done. Move on to the next task.

Side notes:
– It is important to know when to stop. You could go on forever doing a homepage or cleaning the bathroom. It is easier when you realize that you will have to update the homepage tomorrow or the bathroom needs to be clean and sanitized, not polished and slippery! You could always spend more time on tasks once you have finished the other things on your list.

– Don’t beat yourself because you were not able to finish the task list. Learn to carry forward and finish it the next day.

– Some tasks are not meant to be finished in a single day. Break them into parts and split them over days.

How do you manage your time? Would love to know.

value-coffee-cupsCreating value is a difficult thing. If you market products or services, you need to provide value in terms of quality, functionality and pricing. If you are marketing yourself, you create value by doing things differently and making it work by doing it differently.

But what do you do when you have competition? Creating value is easy when you are the single player. But when there is someone else offering something similar, what kind of value would you create? A better one. And value is always created for the customer.

If you and your competition have the same product or offer the same services, the difference you offer is consistency. Consistency, really is a rarity in today’s world. Offering the same high value over and over again drills down one concept in your customer’s mind – trust. If your customer can trust you, it does not matter who your competition is – they will keep coming back to you.

Creating consistent value can be tough. But if you keep at it, they will notice you and stick with you.

Image courtesy: singing

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Bad-Customer-Service-ToonA barber wants to get things done quickly without focusing on the quality of his work. You see he is getting his joint renovated and he cannot afford to close it down for a couple of weeks. That could affect his business. So what does he do? Keep one side of his shop open and make sure every customer is attended to but does not care about what kind of work is getting done. So customers walk out with a bad hair day after spending time in a place where they are supposed to give you good ones.

A tailor is the busiest during festivals or events, so to keep up with the demand, she rushes through the process which ends up with mis-fitting clothes and a lot of frustration. Her staff is under so much pressure they do a shoddy job at every step from taking measurements to the final sew.

A telemarketer does not bother if she has called the same customer three times already on the same day. She is just trying to finish her daily quota of calls.

A restaurant waiter does not bother to keep the hygiene because he has been working from seven in the morning and it is going to be nine at night. He is tired and wants to go home.

A newspaper company introduces a scheme to deliver papers for a whole year and collects money for it too. But they do not bother to live through their promise. Of course, they would just blame the people who are in the business of delivering the papers.

Obviously, all these people and so many others like them don’t bother to change. They don’t care about building relationships. They don’t bother if the customer is happy. They don’t mind if a couple of customers are not satisfied with their work.

They really don’t care about the customer.

We should stop caring for these people too. Stop acknowledging their presence. Stop shopping with them. Stop using their services. Switch brands. Switch loyalties. You are not bound to them. They depend on you. Spread the word on how they ignored you, how they overcharged you, how they didn’t respect you for who you are. Stop them before they become a bigger menace.

Stop-Bad-Customer-Service-Campaign-Poster

There are two supermarkets serving the community where my parents live. Let’s call them Supermarket A and Supermarket B. Both supermarkets are national brands. In fact, Supermarket B has a legacy that is older than Supermarket A. Supermarket A is where I frequent, because my parents introduced me to them first.

Last weekend, I decided to visit Supermarket B, because I heard that their bakery section is supposed to be good. The first thing I noticed when I entered the place is the lack of people. There were two customers. And both of them were in the checkout lanes. I went about getting what I needed and I noticed – they either did not have what I wanted or the existing stock was running out of shelf life. They did not get enough customers to recycle their stock. The bakery section was literally empty.

I headed for the checkout lane with what I found, feeling bad for these guys. And then I noticed, the lady at the checkout counter did not smile, nor greet and was rude to whatever questions I asked.

When I reached home and told my mother that we visited Supermarket B, her reaction was, “Why did you go there? Nobody goes to that place!” That’s when I realized that Supermarket B had just missed the market. They did not relate to the community. They did not understand customer service. They did not understand the importance they could have played in the community – serving their needs. They lost out.

I have always been allergic to bad customer service. Add to that aisles of soon-to-be-stale grocery, how many customers would be interested in coming back? If they don’t plan to change, they might as well sell out.

What can you do to protect your business or organization?

  • Promise to give something and give it. Or don’t promise at all.
  • Good customer service is not about smiling or greeting your customer. It is more about respect and understanding their needs. Be fanatical about good customer service.
  • Keep a tab on competition. See what they are doing right and copy, then do better. See what they are doing wrong and improvise.

I had to visit Supermarket A that evening and it was crowded as usual.

Better

February 9, 2008 — 2 Comments

It is better not to do business, if you don’t plan to give good (excellent and pleasing) customer service.

If you really want to make money from your business, please make sure you take care of the people who take care of your customers.

Most business owners have very little or no direct interaction with their customers. So this becomes even more important then. It is easy to forget that your employees are also people who have dreams, ambitions and families.

It does not matter what the size of your organization is, good HR policies make a difference. And it is easy to identify a place where the people are taken well care of. Walk into any mall or retail store and you will know just after spending a minute there.

The minimum you should do is pay your employees on time – on the last day of the month. Every month. If you can’t do that, I think you should just shut down your business and get a job.

Remember, before there are customers, there were employees!

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Whatever happened to meaningful messages?

For most businesses, the first mindset is ‘how do I make money out of this?’. It is never – ‘What can I provide to the customer?’ ‘What is the value add that the customer gets?’ I am not saying that we should not look at the viability of our business models but in the process of doing this, we often lose focus of the important – the customer.

When we design the UI or create a website or train the customer support team, do we really do it keeping the customer in mind? ‘How is the user going to interact with my website?’ ‘How should my support team interact with my customers?’ If you believe in processes, are those actually helping your customers or are they just helping you track what your employees are doing?

Seth Godin has a post about how retail stores arrange first by brand, then type, then style and then size. It would be so much easier if they would arrange by type first and then by brand or even type and size first and then by brand. It is quite an obvious way of doing it but I have never seen any retail store do it, except for bookstores. It would be a disaster if they had put all the McGrawHill books together and then separated them by topic.

It is so sad to see stores display the sign “Customers are our greatest asset” but don’t have a system in place to take care of that asset.