Tuesday, 25 of September of 2018

A Payphone Business in a Smartphone World

Each month a networking group of consultants from the financial services industry meet for lunch at a picturesque restaurant in a historic Tudor structure surrounded by lush gardens.  This group of roughly a dozen has been meeting in this little oasis outside of Washington DC for over a decade.

I am thrilled to be a part of this band of friendly and intelligent professionals.  Our meetings our informative and productive; an opportunity to swap best practices, share war stories and help each other on both a business and emotional level.   Think group therapy, particularly as we went through the 2008 and 2009.

While all this is nothing extraordinary, what happened at our last two meetings struck me as a huge, in your face, message, which continues to linger (translated, is still stuck in my crawl).

On the first occasion, our waiter refused our regular practice of taking the bill and dividing it evenly among our credit cards.  He simply stated it was against policy and we would either have to use one card or pay cash.  We shared with him several detailed accounts of our extended patronage, our use of this practice through the years, and of our annual holiday party.  He was unfazed by our continuing support of this small business and staunchly stood his ground.

While the test of wills escalated, he informed us the cash registered was unable to perform the necessary functions to honor our request.  He grumbled and beefed about how cheap the owners were and about how outdated all of the equipment at the restaurant was.

Grudgingly, he finally figured out a way to make it work, but clearly demonstrated through his demeanor, he was none too happy.  Since the tip was included for the group, I suspect he figured his less than polite service would not affect him personally.

Our next outing in a similar fashion.  On this occasion the group was half the size of the first.  When we asked about splitting one check four ways, the waiter simply took his pen and pointed to a newly added line on the menu stating the maximum number of cards excepted was three.  He didn’t say word, just tapped his pen on the menu a few more times before finally saying the register couldn’t handle it.

As those who follow these posts know, I am a nut about service and managing the client experience.  These stories obviously illustrate two clear examples of abysmal service, which I would like to briefly dissect

While there are many self-serve, “subway-esque” alternatives to full service wealth management most of you reading this post have built your businesses on service and advice.  It is clear you are in the service industry.    While I highly doubt any of you would ever treat your clients with the level of surliness we encountered, it is worth asking if your policies and other business practices are supporting the message and model you want to deliver.  At $17.50 for a salad, I would highly expect a level of service above what I would get ordering a half smoke at 7-11.

It is also clear to me this enterprise is resting on its laurels.  They have obviously gone a long way to create and maintain those sumptuous gardens and to fill the establishment with antiques and other small touches (making the setting quite splendid).  The food is delicious as well.  Yet, with all this investment they are failing to arm their staff with the tools necessary to serve their clients in a manner expected in the 21st century.  It’s critical for your practice that you keep up with the times and that your business isn’t merely a false façade, alluring on the outside, but falling woefully short when it comes to effectively using the latest tools available.  Ignoring social media, having an outdated web site, no inbound client portal, forgoing an automated email messaging system, pooh-poohing a blog and otherwise using outdated technology and not being sensitive to the impact it is having on your business will be detrimental to your survival

Finally, realizing how much a customer is worth over the long haul is a critical tenant of successful businesses.  These waiters looked at the transaction, not the relationship.  Management, unwilling to invest in the proper tools is creating a business model that will at first atrophy and then, ultimately die, as less revenue (they lost our business) means less money to invest in the business, which means less satisfied clients… – you get the picture.

Everything that transpired became crystal clear in an instant when I was leaving from our last lunch.  There it was, hanging as plain as day on the wall – a payphone.  I guess asking for a free Wi-Fi connection is totally out of the question.

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