Nice One Orcon


317019_10150310135863188_76190173187_7703929_5794010_nWhy is it that the little things are so hard? Why do I really dislike credit departments? Do you know how yours talks to your customers?

So today I got home after a long but great day at the office. I found a ‘letter’ from Orcon saying that I had 5 days to pay my overdue account or risk getting my phone and Internet disconnected. I previously took up the option to pay by American Express to make sure that it was always paid on time, along with my power bill.

I rang Orcon and their credit department answered way faster than their support help desk ever has, less than a minute! I gave them my details and said I had received the letter and the person on the phone (Philippines accent I think) responded with “and when are you going to pay it?” I was taken aback. As far as I knew, it was always paid on time by Amex.

It transpired that my Amex card expired at the end of July, but I never received the replacement that American Express subsequently told me they had sent. I didn’t receive anything from Amex asking why the card had not been authenticated, nor did I receive anything from Orcon saying the account hadn’t been paid. I spend over a thousand dollars a year with Orcon, so at least a response like “How may I help you?” Rather than “when are you going to pay?” might have been nice.

So Orcon, I paid your account, that I didn’t know was overdue, on my Visa and American Express will no longer get a commission on that monthly transaction.

If you know that’s how your ‘Accounts Receivable’ treat your customers, you should also know that they don’t like it.

The last company that spoke to me like that was GE Money, through which I once bought a Canon SLR camera on 12 months interest free and was about 5 days overdue (because I didn’t get a reminder note from them). That was about 5 years ago and I have never used them again and told lots of people who follow me, my story.

Maybe it’s time to shop around and see what packages your competitors are offering, Orcon….. I’m sure my blog and social media followers would welcome my opinion. For everyone else, if you use 3rd party call centers, it’s a good idea to check them out as a customer once in a while and see how they are representing your business, because they are your front desk, especially if you don’t have a bricks and mortar presence.

I’m Very Thankyou


ChillinYesterday I asked a colleague how she was doing, she replied that she was doing well. I said that I was pleased to hear it and asked after he partner who had been unwell.

She then asked me how I was doing and I replied “I’m very thanks”. She said that was great and then continued into a conversation.

If I ask you, I’m actually asking. What about you? Is it a platitude or friendly greeting, or is someone engaging with you and really cares. My response is one way of finding out if the other person is really listening. I would expect someone who is listening to either laugh (because they know me) or respond with a “very what?”

It doesn’t take much to engage a little with people, even a smile from a perfect stranger, with no more meaning than acknowledgement of your existence from a fellow human being, matters. I’d really welcome some comments here because this interests me.

Next time someone asks you how you are, whether or not you respond with a platitude, if you have a moment, ask them how they are, in reply. Listen to their answer and show that you listened with empathy. Ask a question or offer a positive response relevant to their response. Show them you care and try to make it a habit. Then please come back to this blog and tell me how it went.

I’d really like to know.

 

Petrol Tax Increase and Solar Power Feed-in Tariffs


It’s election year next year and the National Government has announced petrol tax increases to start in July this year. Now I don’t have a problem in principle with user pays, although after the report by the Ministry of Transport earlier this year, it doesn’t look like things are going to improve, in fact we are likely to see mid day traffic congestion (don’t we already have that?) in Auckland, as well as the morning and evening commutes.

Long BayThere doesn’t seem to be a lot of encouragement for people to work from home although that would ease the pressure on congestion. Auckland Council seems dead set on high rise housing in the Auckland Unitary Plan, but at the same time they are building new homes in areas like Long Bay as quickly as they can, with no sign of increased road capacity for the 2500+ homes to be built. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against high rise as long as it is done smartly, without taking sun away from existing properties and it is part of an environment which includes amenities that encourage people to work, live and play in a safe healthy environment.

Wouldn’t it be great if those homes all had solar panels on their roofs and were able to sell excess power back to the power companies. Even better if they could get interest free loans to cover the cost. This last long hot summer would have been able to generate massive amounts of power for water heating etc. It’s funny that when I built a minor dwelling next to my last home, I had to install an ugly water tank to capture rainwater and allow it to trickle into the stormwater system from the roof, which I could of course also use for the garden, but there were no options with regard to using renewable energy.

I was listening to the Peggy Smedley Show podcasts as I do each week and she recently interviewed Nick Bitterswyk CEO of Urban Green Energy, who mentioned that great things were happening in areas like solar power in Australia and New Zealand. He was right about Australia, which is going gangbusters with finance and feed-in tariffs, but clean and green New Zealand is not. We do not walk the talk when it comes to renewable energy as you can see on the web site at EECA.

At a recent home show I visited every exhibit where they were selling domestic solar power solutions and asked about the ability to sell surplus power back to power companies. They said that it was not happening, that the utility companies were not supportive or interested. They said that they and the Government have their own agendas when it comes to power generation.

Now we have a large reliance on hydro and geothermal power. Much of our power in the North Island comes from geothermal power sources in the Taupo region, such as Wairakei. I wonder what would happen if we had a major eruption and this source of power dried up. What would our back up plan be? What if we had another drought similar to the one we had this summer and the lakes were too low to provide sufficient energy. You can’t suddenly roll out a solar energy plan at the last minute.

I urge Kiwis to consider solar power and feed-in tariffs when thinking of who to vote for next year in our national elections. This is not a new topic, I have blogged about it several times. If a disaster happens, will the Government say they could not have foreseen this situation? I don’t think so, it is a choice. I’m hoping that at least the Green Party will think about this as part of their election manifesto. Actually where are the Greens? They do appear to have a policy on feed-in tariffs, but its pretty hard to find.

So if you were able to get an interest free loan to put solar panels on your home and the ability to use that power when you needed to and were able to sell power back to the grid for a rebate at fair market pricing, would you take advantage of it? I welcome your comments.

Is Water Care Services an Oxymoron?


Our water bill has shot up in recent times, we had a leak repaired in November and it settled down to its new high, but January went nuts to the level of a 6 person household. Ours is 3. We couldn’t understand why, but it hurt, especially on top of the new increases in water fees on the North Shore in Auckland. Last week we finally discovered a new leak right by the water mains and on 8 February we called Water Care Services. 

Ware Leak

Ware Leak

The call center staff were very friendly and said it would probably take 3 working days for someone to come and check it out. While we were waiting for this visit a lot of water went down the drain. A neighbor had a similar problem and Water Care sent them a contractor to check out the problem.

On The 13th I rang again and asked what was happening. They put me on hold, came back and said I was in a priority queue. I was pleased that something was happening. I asked if the contractor could ring when they were coming and I was put on hold again and she said that was fine, they would ring when they were on the way. I told her I was working from home on the 14th, so that would be great. I had a plumber booked for the 14th in case the problem was on our side.

No one came to our house on the 14th, but a Water Care contractor went to a similar problem about 4 doors down the road. My next door neighbor asked them if they could have a look at my problem while they were there. He said he would look into it. He didn’t. I postponed the plumber.

I rang the Water Care call center again on the 14th  and they explained that the contractor couldn’t look at our place because he didn’t have access to the works order for it. She said someone would be there before 11 on the 15th and they would call before coming as requested.

I worked from home again on the 15th, wanting to be there when the contractor came. At around 11:30 I went to the letter box, the area around the meter box was very muddy and water was coming out of the mains box in much greater volume than before. In the letter box was a note from a company called Lend Lease saying “SUSPECT YOU HAVE A PRIVATE LEAK”

I contacted the plumber who is unavailable for another 3 days and now we walk backwards and forwards to the water main, turning it on and off as required. The plumber said to us that there appear to be many instances in the area of higher pressure in the pipes (due to increasing water supply capacity works for the new Long Bay subdivisions and other growth in the area) causing leaks.

So a couple of questions for you and Water Care. How is it that you can send 3 contractors to the same street in the same street in different instances and you don’t have the technology in the 21st century to identify that there are other jobs that could be done at the same time? Sending a van out from wherever and back 3 times must be quite expensive (a bit like my water bill). If that happens 3 times in one week, just in my street, how much extra does it cost. Calls like mine to the call center which had local sounding people (which must be pretty big, because I never spoke to the same person twice), Maybe half an hour of time. Calls from them to contractors, another 15 minutes. Processing multiple works orders, maybe 20 minutes. 3 trips from vans to my street, with driving time, probably an hour each. That’s a lot of ratepayers money. It’s also a lot of wasted water, are the dams overflowing after this dry summer, that we can afford to waste it?

Does Water Care Services have sustainability KPI’s?

I’m starting to understand why Water Care charges so much. I know they have a geospatial database, one would assume they have a good CRM. Hopefully they will give me a rebate on the excess water for January and February, which I can apply to the plumber’s bill. I’m looking forward to having him fix the problem in a couple of days time.

I am wondering if other people have had similar experiences? Please feel free to leave a comment. By the way I am not a whingeing stirrer, I give credit where it is due to, for example my recent blog about AA Insurance, who provided me with fantastic service after someone dinged my car in a car park and took off. The thing is, I am a ratepayer, I am paying massive amounts of money for water and waste-water and I suspect that with better management or systems, I could be paying a whole lot less.

 

Consumption 2.0 and Mobile Society


I’ve just read an article by Hugo Garcia of Futures Lab in Portugal in the latest issue of The Futurist. He was outlining how younger people today are more mobile, more focussed on consuming goods, services and experiences, rather than being attached to things and places. One area that he was strong on was the fact that people are now so mobile and keen to explore the world and their environments.

Location becomes far more important because you are continuing moving around as opposed to tied to a fixed location in the world. He said that one example is the trend towards not owning a home, perhaps ever. I always hear talk about how hard it is to get into property, I don’t think it has ever been easy. When we bought our first home (to give ourselves and our children some long term security) we bought in a cheap neighbourhood and at one stage were paying in excess on 20% interest. For a couple of years in the beginning, we went without pretty much anything, just to pay the interest. Today many don’t want to restrict their lifestyle, making it a choice, their choice is to live for today.

The ‘office’ is for many people today, especially knowledge workers, not somewhere we need to be a lot of the time and the cost of maintaining an office, commuting, car parking (you could almost rent a room for the cost of my Auckland City car park). We go to the office when we need to, for meetings, teamwork etc, but otherwise I can be much more productive from my home office.

White BikesHugo talks about shared mobility. This is not a new concept, but certainly one that is coming back with a vengeance. Back in the 1960’s the Provos introduced white bikes that anyone could use. The idea was that you grabbed a bike, rode it to where you wanted to go and left it there for the next person to use. Their concept, same as today was to reduce pollution and traffic congestion and promote community engagement. They were certainly engaged as very quickly the bikes were stolen and repainted, but the idea was very good.

Today carpooling continues to grow, Zipcars, recently purchased by Avis, which is currently being debated as to whether it was an anticompetitive manoeuvre, is an example of car sharing, which in principle makes a lot of sense. People share ownership in boats, holiday homes and other items and many people are travelling around the world using the services of portals like Airbnb. There are loads of companies sprouting up like Whipcar, which lets you rent out your own vehicle when you don’t need it.

Globalisation is also an area that is changing rapidly. I remember reading history books about the great depression and how people moved from town to town looking for work. Mobility today is something far more international and international borders are being crossed continually by people in search of work, whether it is because they can’t find it at home, want a better life, or simply enjoy the itinerant lifestyle. Over a million Kiwis are working and living overseas, while British and other nationalities are moving to New Zealand to work on projects such as the reconstruction of  Christchurch.

Hugo points out there are pro’s and cons. “Unfortunately, some areas may become abandoned because they lack competitive advantages. The war for talent between countries will increase, but regions that offer good living conditions may gain an advantage.

I note again that knowledge workers, one of the biggest industry segments today can often work from anywhere and travel when required. I know many journalists and developers that live in small towns for the lifestyle, but can still perform on a global stage.

This mobile society opens up huge scope for innovation and disruption, particularly with location based services, applications for mobile use, which can support the new mobile lifestyle. Kiwi developers can and are developing applications used globally, despite those that say you can’t be successful unless you are in Silicon Valley, things are changing. The money may be there, but they don’t have a monopoly of good ideas.

If anyone knows about a mobile lifestyle its Kiwis, anywhere is a long way from New Zealand. We know how to travel, we absorb and learn and we love new technology. Where we need help is harnessing our smarts, to help our innovators and entrepreneurs to learn how to scale and think big. That’s a tough ask and I don’t think our Government is doing anywhere near enough to ensure that smart people are able to grow from small concepts to large global enterprises.

I was just asking myself how I suddenly got on my soap box, but then I’m not sure I ever get off it:)

If Only You Would Listen


Its soapbox time again, but it won’t take long. This is for myself and for the many business people who talk too much.

I’ve been in a lot of business meetings lately, some of them excellent, many of them way too long. This morning I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts Rock the World With LinkedIn on Webmaster Radio which was an interview with the founder of MBAWriters and Director at BT Consulting, Todd Rhoad. Among other things they were talking about the value and importance of eBooks. This is of course something of a hobby horse for me.

I wrote a treatise called Are eBooks Ready to Come of Age and published it 10 years ago. You can get a free PDF copy here.

Anyway, I’ve seen a few eyes glaze over recently in meetings and presentations. It wasn’t that they were unable to comprehend the topics. It was because they had understood long before. There were a few classic sayings towards the end of the podcast, the things smart parents tell their kids. and the things that sales people are taught, well were taught back in the day when sales was considered a profession. Like:

  • The most successful business people keep their mouths shut. I learned that in my second year of my 3 year Sales & Marketing Diploma. I was selling 2-way radios to a sharp businessman. Halfway through my presentation he asked me for the price. I thought I was dealing with the price objection, so I started in on the problems he had told me about and how the features and benefits of our product would help him with those. He asked again for the price. I stopped, a little confused. He asked me again. I told him and he signed a big fat purchase order on the spot. I learned big time from that and always try to remind other people that you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason and you should use them in that proportion.
  • As Lori said on the podcast (which I strongly recommend you subscribe to, is that you learn more by listening. All you need to to do to get business is listen to what the customer wants, confirm that what they are saying is in fact what they want, then leg them know if you can solve their problem at a rate that is less painful than the problem they want to solve. Then stop talking and get on with doing the business.
  • Smart people are listening and processing what they are being told. As Todd said “With people who are very quiet, you have to be very eager when they pop up and say something, because they’ve been sitting there thinking about it and its probably going to be pretty intelligent.” The flip side of that is think about what you are going to say, don’t speak as you are thinking. Maybe you can’t wait to hear what you are going to say, but your listener may not be as excited unless you are responding to what they are telling you.
  • Another thing I learned many years ago which is obvious, but sometimes you need to think about the obvious, is that we can think much faster than we listen or read. Let your customer listen and if you have a PowerPoint presentation, don’t read them the presentation, they have already read it and are processing it. Glazed eyes again, perhaps thinking about lunch or their next meeting.

I’m going to finish with an old Chicago song I used to love and share with you one great tool that I hear women using all the time, which I call active listening. Do you ever have a conversation with someone, usually a woman and she repeats back to you some of the words you have just said?

“The floods and damage from Cyclone Evan were pretty scary….:

“pretty scary”

“I had some friends who were over there on vacation”

“on vacation, I bet they were wishing they had gone somewhere else”

This is an active conversation and the people doing this are totally engaged. Most people are not totally engaged and are in fact focusing on the next thing they are going to say rather than listening to what their customer or prospect is trying to tell them. Active listening is a really good tool to use because it can stop your mind from wandering off and perhaps missing that clue that your customer is offering you as to why they might want your product. It will also help you understand what your customer is really thinking about and wants. It will let you be ready for buying signals and it will also endear you to the customer because you are showing that you are really interested. If you aren’t interested, then you probably don’t want their business.

Next time you meet someone and they ask how you are, say “Thanks, I’m very, how are you?” If they stop and ask “Very what?” They were listening. Chances are they will say something like “That’s nice”.

Listening for most of us is a skill we need to work on. Very few men, including myself at times, are not great listeners. I have found that the times when people really enjoyed a conversation with me, I actually said very little and I have probably learned a lot.

Orcon I Was Wrong


I’ve had more than my share of troubles with my ISP, Orcon in the past and I haven’t been slow in coming forward sending them brickbats.

I thought this was another of those occasions when I checked my account and it was quite a bit over what I expected. The PDF of the accounts didn’t show why and I didn’t think to check on-line  which I could have done, because the amount I was being charged appeared to be about the same as I was paying before I signed up to a new plan.

I didn’t call them about it straight away because I had spent so much time in the past waiting for their call centre to answer and if there is one thing I can’t stand it is waiting in a queue listening to musak, ads and being told that my call is important.

Yesterday I received an email asking me to respond to an on-line survey and thinking they were in the wrong, I gave them 2 out of 10 for service and explained why.

Today I was delighted to receive a phone call from the call centre on my mobile, discovered that the invoices were in fact correct, I had gone over my data cap of 30GB, but not enough that I should go to a higher plan. I also switched to a new plan that was slightly better than the one I was on and cancelled a service I no longer require.

So while I have no problem in complaining when I feel I’m getting a raw deal, I also want to compliment them on their quick response. I didn’t expect a call at all and I was really impressed with the prompt and friendly service. So this time, thanks Orcon. 10 out of 10.

Now if you wouldn’t drop the connection momentarily from time to time when I’m on-line playing poker and am going all in on a monster hand and playing for real money I would not only be happy, I’d be over the moon.