Service Not Included

Among the extraordinary benefits of the technological age are the opportunities it gives business owners to provide exceptional customer service.

And exceptional customer service is the surest way to separate yourself from the competition. A subject I blogged about a few weeks ago.

Of course, any opportunity to excel also offers a company the chance to demonstrate, in ever-more spectacular ways, the scope of its customer service shortcomings.

Tonight, I wanted to activate call forwarding on my home phone. A service that my Fios package summary says is included.

After a 30 minute odyssey through the swamp that is Verizon’s web site (the more you struggle you more you find yourself in the same place) I finally hit the button that said, “Have a Question? A live representative will help you.”

What followed was a 40 minute descent into madness.

It was not that the representative did not want to help. It was that he had not been trained to help.

So, when you decide to offer your customers’ service, I have but one word of advice.



A Verizon Service Representative will be with you shortly. Thank you. (18:10:00)

Agent Dean has joined. (18:11:00)

Dean : Chat ID for this session is 07230911976. (18:11:00)

Dean(18:13:11): Hello. Thank you for visiting our Verizon chat service. How can I help you place your order?

You(18:13:55): I want {to activate} call forwarding.

Dean(18:14:16): I will be happy to help you with that.

You(18:14:20): My account summary says it is part of my package already

You(18:14:26): Verizon Freedom Essentials $49.99


Call Forwarding - Busy/Don't Answer



You(18:14:48): Is that true?

Dean(18:15:14): Included means you are not required to pay additional charges for this features.

You(18:15:43): Great. But it doesn't work.

Dean(18:15:48): You can add your calling features and then click on the next button to proceed and then on your Review order page click on the check out button to to proceed.

You(18:17:01): When I do that it adds $5.75 amonth to my bill.

Dean(18:18:37): Okay, it means this feature is not included.

You will see your calling features charge on your order page. On the Review order page click on the check out button to proceed and then fill all required information then click on the next button to proceed.

You(18:19:51): So 'included' means 'not included'. I see that's very clear.

Dean(18:20:16): No, you will see charges on your order page it means this feature is not included.

Dean(18:20:41): To add this feature you will need to complete your online process.

You(18:20:59): So the statement on my account summary page is not true?

Verizon Freedom Essentials $49.99


Call Forwarding - Busy/Don't Answer



Dean(18:21:09): To proceed with your online process click on the check out button and follow the online prompts.

You(18:23:18): So, pay $5.75 a month for a service that is already included in my agreement because it's not included? Just so I'm clear. Is this a one-time deal or are all Verizon packages structured like this?

Dean(18:24:03): NO, for included features there is not additional charges, you may add other additional features along with your included one.

You(18:24:41): My included one is 'call forwarding.'

You(18:24:56): But you're telling me there is an additional charge for that.

You(18:25:02): Which is it?

You(18:25:13): If it's 'included' there's no additional charge.

You(18:25:26): If there's an additional charge it's not included.

You(18:25:39): In which case, why does it say it's 'included'?

Dean(18:27:20): Thank you for your patience, I was checking on your questions.

Usually call forwading option is chargable so it is not included.

You(18:27:50): But it says it is included on my account summary.

You(18:27:54): Verizon Freedom Essentials $49.99


Call Forwarding - Busy/Don't Answer



Dean(18:29:19): Would you like to add call forwding feature with your service?

You(18:30:50): My account summary says that it is included.

You(18:31:13): Verizon Freedom Essentials $49.99


Call Forwarding - Busy/Don't Answer



Dean(18:31:28): After selection of your features you will see your package /calling features charges on your Review order page before you check out.

You(18:32:06): Dean - you have spent 20 minutes not answering my question.

Dean(18:32:57): I apologize for any inconvenience, I am not intend to provide you any kind of hassle.

You(18:33:00): This is a waste of time.

You(18:33:16): My account summary says Call Forwarding is included

You(18:33:26): If it is included why do I need to add it?

You(18:33:43): And if I add it why should I apy more for it if it is included?

You(18:33:49): Can you answer that?

You(18:33:56): If not, I give up.

Dean(18:34:52): Let me inform you, Your current features reflect as Existing features ( not included features)on your order page.

You(18:35:49): What?

You(18:36:19): When is an Included feature not an Existing Feature?

Dean(18:37:39): Included means you can get however, it does not mean that you have selected those features and you already have those features. However, let me send you a separate link for calling features so you can get better idea.


You(18:39:30): This takes me to the Verizon home page

Dean(18:39:50): Yes, select home phone option then select calling features options.

You(18:40:07): Do you have a link to the AT&T residential phone service website?

Dean(18:40:49): I can assist you for Verizon services at this time.

Then enter your Zip code and then click on the submit button to view all calling features.

You(18:40:49): There is no Home Phone option

You(18:41:46): I don't need to know whether Call Forwarding is available. I need to know why, if it is included in my account summary, it is not a feature I can access.

Dean(18:42:16): Are you able to see Red bar below the Verizon logo?

Dean(18:43:42): I understand your concern however, it might be an error since usually these feature is chanrgable.

You(18:44:21): There are no words to describe this experience.

You(18:44:25): I surrender.

You(18:44:29): Verizon wins.

Dean(18:46:31): Again I apologize for any inconvenience.

You(18:46:31): I'll just leave a note on the fridge and hope anyone who calls sees it.

Dean(18:48:46): Let me provide you a contact number if you want to call our local Verizon business office.

Dean(18:49:12): You can call us at our local verizon business office at 1 + your area code + 890-7100.

Dean(18:49:22): You can call on this number between 8 AM to 6 PM from Monday to Friday.

You(18:49:33): Thanks, but no. I've aged enough already.

You(18:49:38): Good night.


Change. Part 4.

When Cortés reached the new world he burned his ships to ensure his men harbored no second thoughts about their new life.

Apparently in 1504 fire was easier to find than a buyer in the real estate market 0f 2009.

Having failed to sell our Chicago home in each of the previous two years, we entered 2009 with twice as much real estate as we wanted and a shrinking economy. From an emotional standpoint, we also had a boat back to our old life. More than once we were tempted by familiarity and fear to jump in and start paddling back to the midwest.

Familiarity and fear are frauds. Say it three times. Pin it on every door you pass through. Tattoo it somewhere prominent. Less serious measures will leave you vulnerable to their siren call.

For as hard as we try to use our brains, we are animals. Ninety percent of our DNA we share with chimpanzees. And the remaining ten can’t do all the thinking all the time. So, much as we might wish to be smart, pragmatic, strategic and wise, chemistry 101 will often prevent it. Particularly when stress is added to the equation. Like that brought about by a once in a lifetime economic melt-down.

The fact is Cortés was way ahead of his time. He still is. Because he knew that when options are removed, we make the best of a situation. And the best is often great.

But given choices, we reflect, cogitate, rationalize, justify, and then often head back the way we came. It’s called human nature. And it has happened this way since before we stood and walked.

A lot of company owners acknowledge the emotional side of change with words. But then act as though someone else had said them.

Better business is built on a foundation of sensitivity to the emotions of everyone involved. Including your own. Sometimes you need to take physical steps to create the environment for progress. Like burning your ships.

We bought 650 West Hutchinson Street on December 1, 1994. Put another way, George W Bush had barely taken the oath of office as the Governor of Texas. No one had heard of Monica Lewinsky. And Barack Obama - in his second year teaching law at the University of Chicago - was three years away from holding his first elected office. The day we moved into the house, we weren’t married, didn’t own a single dog, and had never hired a single person.

Through all that our home had been our ship.

But as Winter turned to Spring this year still we couldn’t cut it lose. And our broker - a sales genius - told us that it might be another year before we’d see an offer. The alternative - and on many days the temptation - was to head back. Familiarity and fear might be frauds. But their short term narcotic effect is powerful.

It was with relief and some surprise that we received a call in mid May. With it came the chance to begin to focus fully on the way forward. Someone had fallen in love with our house.

We started to negotiate. The match was lit. The fat lady was about to sing.

There’s a reason fat ladies with loud voices don’t hold lit matches.

Talk Is Expensive

The public humiliation of yet another ‘do as I say, not as I do’ leader, is a timely reminder of what happens when power meets self importance.

Business owners face this challenge daily. And many mistake authority for the ability to speak first and think about the consequences later.

For employees, however, the equation is exactly reversed and every word they utter in front of their employer is measured and weighed.

The net result is that the very act of speaking becomes currency in a work environment. And how you spend it has enormous impact on the health of the business.

As a business owner there are some simple guidelines to follow that will maximize the weight of what you say:

  • Never make a promise you aren’t certain you will be able to keep. One un-delivered commitment turns inspiration into hyperbole forever after.

  • Listen first, second and third. Employees want to be heard. And will work with more commitment for a company that respects them enough to provide them that courtesy.

  • Have ideals and standards. But only those that you can live by yourself. Hypocrisy has a stench that is unmistakable.

  • If you over-reach, admit it, and learn from the mistake. Restoring trust will take time. But the clock only starts once you accept responsibility.

Lead, Follow Or Get Out Of The Way

Once a business owner has decided that the time for talking is done, the act of acting requires group participation.

But because change scares so many people, many companies end up with a few people pushing a boulder up a hill made rockier by bodies lying across the path.

Often they’re not lying there to be deliberately obstructive. But neither are they clearing the way. Or pushing from below.

If you’re serious about taking your business into a better future you should give your employees three choices.

Show me a better way.

Help me.

Stand aside.

And if the stand aside group stand aside for more than a few minutes, have them stand outside.


There are a lot of people waiting to get in.

Planning The Last Day First / STEP 4: INTEGRATION

On 9/11, Chris and I were in a hotel room in Scotland. She was on the phone with our accountant in Chicago about the upcoming deal with the Whitehouse. Suddenly, he told her to turn on CNN. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.As soon as the picture resolved I knew it was terrorism. A clear blue sky. The tallest building within several thousand miles. And growing up in London in the Seventies where bombs were part of our daily life. I knew it was possible. It took four days to get back to the States. We were the first plane allowed in to US airspace from Europe. We landed to applause and sobbing. And a new way of life.

Planning The Last Day First / STEP 3: MERGER & ACQUISITION

As a very junior account executive at Ogilvy & Mather, I heard Kelly O’Dea - who went on to become President of three different worldwide ad agencies - describe trying to get to a new business presentation in Miami from a snowbound New York. With every airport in the Tri-state area closed, it was apparent that the Ogilvy team wasn’t going to make it in time. “We’ve tried everything,” Kelly was told. “You can’t get there from here.”Kelly paused and then said, “where can you get there from?”

Planning The Last Day First / STEP 2: EXPANSION

The first year went by in a blur. A few signs of optimism. A lot of anxiety. But through it all we really did act locally and think globally.We had hired David Brixton, a very talented editor from London and convinced him and his wife Jemma of our dream. They moved to Chicago and brought European flair, creative credibility, a work ethic that matched ours and extraordinary social sensibility.

Five Steps to a David

I’m a big believer in expansive thinking.

If you know me at all, either in person or through this blog, it’s as someone who likes to imagine the broadest possibilities. If you don’t start out there, I find you almost always end up very close to where you began.

But once you’ve defined the vision, then you’ve got to deliver it.

In an interesting post yesterday, Fred Wilson - the venture capitalist - wrote about managing expectations to those you report to as a business owner. Investors, a board, your partners. He stressed the need for consistency and delivering what you promise, even if that means significantly reducing your forecasts to make sure you can hit them.

Fred’s a brilliant guy and a hugely successful investor. But I think there's a better answer than. Because if you set low projections someone’s going to expect you to reduce your overhead to match. In a lot of businesses that usually means people, and the good ones take a long time to replace.

I think there are five things you should do instead of going straight to forecasting the worst case scenario:

  1. Have systems in place that are reliable and consistent. Make sure you know what you’re getting in the way of reporting and when you’re going to get it. As the CEO of a company I drove the managers of each of our offices crazy with my constant scrutiny of our monthly billings. I made a lot of decisions based on those billing projections which impacted people’s lives, and if you said you were going to bill that invoice this month, there needed to be a really good reason if you later decided you couldn’t.

  2. Hire smart people. Then let them help you be smarter about what the numbers say. It took longer than I wanted to instill the monthly invoicing discipline in some of those local managers. That was my fault. Until I stopped to explain the broader context of how we used those billing projections, they didn’t see that it really made that much difference. Individually, a single invoice rarely did. Cumulatively it was enormous. But I was the only who could see that. Once they understood, they gave me powerful insight each month into trends they were seeing locally. Those early warning signs let me adjust in other places.

  3. Have someone you trust search out the bad news in the monthly numbers and highlight them. Good news is easy to deliver. Bad news takes research. But once you can give bad news a proper context, you can provide better alternatives. Have someone who’s not afraid to give you the bad information.

  4. Always, always keep one eye fixed firmly on where you’re trying to take the business. You need to know whether you’re moving closer or further away with every set of financial reports. If things are going south you need to know before not after the fact and act accordingly. Once you do decide to act, it will be based on the broadest and deepest view.

  5. Partner with your partners, investors or board members each step of the way. If you’re working with the right people, they’ll help you preserve the core of the business as long as possible.

The trick to carving a statue, Michelangelo once said, “is to remove everything that isn’t the statue.”

The skill is making sure what you're left with is not just a piece of rock.

The Wisdom of Dave Allen

When we started our first company and hired our first members of staff, we worried about whether they would like us. Eventually, we learned that earning their respect was more important.

We also learned, painfully at times, that a company that was a reflection only of our values and beliefs would be limited in what it could become.

Over time, we got better at broadening the debate while still holding on to our standards, and we moved the business in directions that we would never have found alone.

It’s not easy to be open to another perspective. Starting your own business is a daunting proposition. And the will to do it often comes from a deep seated conviction that yours is the ‘right’ way. Through experience, I’ve come to realize that I can maintain the integrity of my convictions while accepting the wisdom of another point of view.

Dave Allen was an Irish comedian who had a show on the BBC in the 70s and 80s. Sitting languidly in a single chair, he would smoke and drink his way through story after story. He was an Irish Catholic and the church provided him with a lot of his material.

Even as a teenager I found him compelling. Not just for his humor and irreverence but because he was provocative. In the best sense of the word.

His signature was his sign-off and I woke up this morning with his voice in my head. On a day when religion is to the fore, even for those of us who are not, his sign-off still provokes me to pause and remember that mine is not the only point of view.

“Goodnight. And may your God go with you.”

Change Your Business? Listen To The Birds.

I was with a group of clients last week who have fully embraced the fact that their business will never be the same. Change is in the air, like never before.

It’s been a long time coming. And there have, so far, been many more words than deeds. As a species we try very hard to intellectualize our environment. Fight or flight? Neither, actually. Can we talk about it instead?

Our ability to analyze complex scenarios and evaluate possibilities is one of the attributes that separates us from other species. The other is imagination. The fuel on which the future is formed.

Where are we going? And how are we going to get there? If you’re not asking those questions it’s probably time to think about doing something else.

But analysis and imagination are not enough. The ability to act is the crucial link between the two. And in this regard, other species leave us in the proverbial dust.

Birds fly south for the winter. There is no meeting to debate the pros and cons. No assumption that they should go north again because that’s what they did last time. It is enough that they know they must go and that south is where they want to end up.

As a business owner you need to know where you are going. And you need to know why. And if the best answers you come up with are ‘south’ and to ‘survive’, then that’s good enough to start moving.

The alternative is to talk about it some more or continue in the same direction.

And when an economic winter like this one arrives, all that will be left are a few frozen feathers.

There Are Two Sides to Every Harry

We have five dogs. Which I realize make us crazy dog people. We’re fine with that. In fact I can’t think of a description that would mean more.

Yesterday afternoon we found out that soon we’ll only have four. Our eldest dog, Harry, is 16 and has bone cancer. Depending on how fast it spreads he has somewhere between a couple of weeks and a few months.

We adopted Harry from a rescue organization in Chicago one year after we got together as a couple, and one day after we moved into our house. Now we can’t remember what it was like when he wasn't around.

He came to work with us every day and took us through all the highs and lows of owning our own business. He calmed us when we were anxious, and barked a lot when we we got loud, which always brought us back to earth - a good place to run a business from we realized.

He saved us from a guy who broke into our house one morning while we were asleep, literally chasing him down the stairs and out the door. We made some changes to the locks at home, and then changed all of our network passwords at work. Neither made us feel as safe as Harry’s bark.

He isn’t a perfect dog. The day we brought him home he bit me. Two days later he bit Chris. We found out that he’d been picked up on the South Side of Chicago as an eight month old stray. Someone had tried to turn him into a guard dog and then dumped him on the street when they realized he didn’t have the heart for it.

But their work left an indelible scar on his psyche, and to this day, he fights with his fear that no one is to be trusted - even after fifteen years. Early scars run deep. But the remorse in his eyes whenever that fear gets the better of him is that of a soul who wants only to love and be loved.

I have loved Harry, night and day. Even when he has snapped at me and I’ve been infuriated by his apparent ingratitude for having saved his life.

But I have come to realize that the greatest lesson he has taught me is that how he acts is not always who he wants to be.

I’ve tried to remember that in business and in life. That sometimes fear makes us say and do things that are the exact opposite of what we feel in our heart.

It’s a thought worth remembering the next time something infuriates you.

Because, as I've been shown, there are always two sides to every story.

Lay Off the Lay-Offs

The news this morning is that more people lost their jobs in February than in any month since 1949. Which makes 4.4 million since December 2007. Staggering numbers. We’re on our way to ten percent unemployment.

But why? Aren’t these the very people that companies need to buy their products and use their services? Without a job they’re not likely to be consuming much of anything.

Companies that are choosing lay-offs over salary reductions - and it is a choice - are only looking at one side of the problem. Cutting costs. They’re hoping someone else figures out how to encourage people to spend.

I was in a meeting yesterday in which we heard that a highly paid employee had been told he was being let go last week. He asked if he could take a thirty percent pay cut instead. The company instantly agreed.

I’m sure he and his family are spending less than they were. But they are still spending. And more than if he had lost his job entirely. Which doesn’t take into account the fact that he’s not depleting his investment funds to pay for his lifestyle, or putting his house on the market. That’s a model that will create a natural bottom to all this built on real value.

If every company faced with the need to cut overhead had looked at the problem holistically, the answer would have been pretty clear. Companywide salary cuts give you: better cost saving results faster; more ability to keep your customers happy; a belief among your staff that you’re trying to protect them; a shared willingness to innovate and take responsibility for finding answers and flexibility if things get worse or improve. It also keeps the economy moving forward, albeit at a slower pace.

As a species, we do best when we’re moving forward. And generally we’re pretty good at being able to keep one eye on where we’re going while navigating the broken pavement along the way.

Running a business is the same thing. But if you’re only worrying about avoiding the broken pavement, who knows where you’ll end up?

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, what the #*@* is going on?

When chaos reigns, it's easy to look for the nearest answer.

But if you're the sole owner of a business or a member of a long established partnership, the voices you hear are probably too familiar at a time like this.

Look for someone you trust, but who doesn't always see things the same way you do, and ask them to challenge your thinking. Then you can do the same for them, which will also help you work on your listening skills. Sounds like the subject for another post.

Freezing In Place Only Makes Your Teeth Chatter

In tough times, it's become standard advice that companies shouldn’t freeze in place. That's true. Problems that were obvious even in good times become infinitely worse if you do nothing when your market is shrinking. The challenge now is to find a way to move forward without adding risk.

The first step is to leverage your best assets. Your people.

Start at the top and make sure your stars are doing things that only they can do. Have them delegate everything else, then go through the same process with every level of staff. You'll eliminate the 15-20% of busy work that no one at the company should be doing and immediately foster higher job satisfaction. People who like what they do also start to innovate better ways to do it.

When the economy comes back, your business and your people will be ready to take advantage of this new-found focus.