Communication In Business Services Firms

Good communication in business services firms can make or break a sale. When you market your company and services, the only thing a prospective client cares about is what you will be able to do for them. Clearly communicating that with them isn’t as simple as displaying a list of services. It involves give and take and a thorough understanding of the prospects in your marketplace.

To apply the principles of good communication, you can start by learning as much as you can about your prospects. Understand their desires and their pain. Identify their needs and prepare for your meetings accordingly.

You can anticipate generic problems that your prospect might have, not just company specific ones or problems inherent in the industry. Your client expects you to be ahead of that curve. If you are pitching a new service to an existing client, can you communicate how you might help the customer become an internal problem-solver or address pandemic challenges. You can actually help transform your client’s liability into an asset through quality communication.

In some industries clients might be afraid that they’re not working with the newest equipment, or perhaps they feel they can’t increase product production speed and efficiency. Another fear that clients experience is the fear of lagging behind, not being able to match their competitors or serve their customers with the best products or services. There could be a fear that they won’t be able to apply state-of-the-art information systems, improve client communications, or have a market-savvy web site. These fears can be allayed by offering the value of your perspective along with open, clear communication.

Another difficulty common in sales situations may be the need to overcome hidden decision making. This is an excellent example of the need for communication in business services firms. A firm’s strategy must include a systematic approach to finding out what the decision makers won’t reveal on their own. Do you know who is the real buyer of the service or product you are selling? Who is the real user? When are the decision maker and the person the company sent to the sales meeting actually the same person? Having clear communication with your sales team and with your prospects will alleviate the tangle that can result from the absence of this information.

The way you sell products and services should directly reflect the way you work internally. Where it’s appropriate, you may want to propose regular meetings with your team and include budget reviews as items on the agenda. Likewise, you’ll want to make the buyer feel just how assiduous you are in keeping them aware of what is happening and how much it is costing. This level of communication is uncommon in business services firms, but it can make or break the future of your client relationships. Your investment in communication will translate directly to your bottom line.

Sustainability, Operations and Supply Chain Management in Manufacturing and Service Industries

Tourism is a huge and dynamic industry that is comprised of a wide variety of service businesses that reflect the same dynamics and priorities that a manufacturer would have for operations planning (OP) and supply chain management (SCM). One such service business is the cruise ship sector in which vacationers travel via these types of vessels to various destinations.

While manufacturers produce tangible products and wastes, service companies also produce waste, but their products are intangible. For example, the product that a personal trainer might produce is a healthier client. Operations Managers (OM) in both industries share similar interests in eliminating waste and delivering quality products.

The two main intangible products that the vacationer (end user) buys, and a cruise ship company “manufactures” and delivers, are pleasure and relaxation – the total experience that allows vacationers to “suspend” their everyday reality for a period of time and immerse themselves in pleasurable experiences. The mission of the cruise ship industry is to deliver this experience to them in a way that surpasses their customers’ expectations, and it depends a great deal on the manufacturing industry to make this possible.

Comparable Dynamics and Priorities in Manufacturing and Service

The movement and connection of goods and services from the point of origin, or the original source, to the end user is referred to as “the supply chain”. Supply Chain Management is a part of the Operations Management that involves the effective management of many inter-firm processes such as:

  • Supplier/Vendor relationship management
  • Order Processing
  • Information Systems management
  • Sourcing and Procurement
  • Production Scheduling
  • Inventory Management
  • Warehousing and Distribution
  • Customer Services
  • Environmentally sustainable practices

Just as in the manufacturing industry, in the cruise ship industry it takes the coordination of a variety of resources – financial, material and human – working together to manage these processes in order to achieve organizational goals.

Operations Management involves the management of all the activities that produce an output (a product). In operations management a multitude of processes must be managed in order to produce and distribute products and services. Policies must be formulated; daily operations must be managed, and so must the use of human and material resources. OM also demands the effective utilization of technology and communications systems to allow for timely ordering and delivery of materials and products, and the servicing of customers and stakeholders.

Policies in both the manufacturing and service industry sectors might include social and environmental impact considerations such as the use of resources and the disposal of wastes. Religious, cultural, political and legal issues such as human rights, use of child labor, wage and hours; human resource impact issues such as age, gender and other forms of discrimination must also be considered.

In a manufacturing situation these considerations would impact the goods and services that the cruise industry might use. Some of these goods include foods, linens, toiletries, furnishings, packaging, electronics, fuel, etc. All of these products are outputs of a manufacturing process that a cruise ship might use and all of these products impact the environment from the original source to the end-user.

Organizations in both industries need to develop a sustainability mind-set and identify where waste being generated in their companies and along their supply chains; the reason why and when, at what stage it is being produced.

So, for example, the OM of a cruise line that is socially and environmentally conscious, and who wants to improve their SCM and incorporate a closed-loop method of operation in her organization, might be considerate of the inputs that a manufacturing company utilizes in its production process and in the processes that it utilizes to convert the raw materials into products; the timely deliverance of those products; the quality of customer service after the product is delivered, and the impact that disposal of these products have on the environment.

Likewise, manufacturing companies (whose products the cruise lines use) also wishing to do the same might, in turn, be considerate of the inputs that their suppliers utilize in their operations. As mentioned before, these inputs include – but are not limited to – various impact considerations previously mentioned.

This backward view of the supply chain links the end user of the services of the cruise ship to the beginning of the supply chain – and that includes all the companies that, working backward, might make up the chain to the original source. An original source might be cotton growers and the policies they have in place that might affect the methods that they use to grow, harvest and supply the converters of the cotton.

Questions that an Operations Managers might ask, for example, are:

· Ate the cotton growers using harmful, earth polluting chemicals in growing the cotton?

· Is child labor being used in harvesting?

· Are working conditions safe, and are wage and hours legal and fair?

· Are materials being delivered on time – and if not, what are the reasons that are preventing this?

These questions impact the management of the supply chain and organizations can gain or lose competitive advantage if they do not consider such questions because, in the case of a cruise ship, for example, an enlightened vacationer might hardly be impressed that the soft cotton sheets that she uses on the cruise line were made from cotton picked by children who live in slums and who earn mere pennies a day for back-breaking labor – and are denied an education because of these poor labor practices.

These types of considerations and decisions faced by a cruise line Operations Manager will affect his or her own company’s financial bottom line and will also affect the operations management of their down-line suppliers, as it also would in manufacturing. One can easily see that the considerations and activities of Operations Managers in service industries easily affect supply chain management in their organizations.

Maintaining a Competitive Advantage

Today’s consumers are more sophisticated and keenly aware of the global impact that their actions have on the environment and many consumers already take actions to reduce their “carbon footprint”, that is the contribution to the environmental impact of human beings and their activities upon the planet.

For example, the more waste one leaves behind in one’s daily activities, the larger one’s carbon foot-print. This idea has been capsulized in the term “going green”. Consumers are not only modifying their own habits in order to minimize waste and thus reduce their carbon footprints, but they are also holding corporations accountable for their impacts on the environment. This has put pressure on many corporations to go green by embracing more environmentally friendly processes in their operations.

Cruise ships are like floating cities that can generate as much as “…30,000 gallons of sewage, 250,000 gallons of kitchen, bath and laundry waste water and 10 tons of garbage — each day”. Effectively managing the inputs that create this amount of waste begins with effective management of the supply chain. Effective management of the supply chain begins with effective operations management.

Socially and environmentally conscious organizations that develop a vision and a mission articulating a clear objective to take responsibility for ensuring the sustainability of all inputs that go into their products will have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. So a cruise line, for example, that establishes a culture of “world class supply chain management” into its operational processes can gain significant competitive advantage over its competitors because “supply management directly affects the two factors which control the bottom line: total costs and sales”[2] (Burt, Dobler, Starling. 2003, p. 10).

For example, a cruise ship line that is an early entrant into World Class Supply Management practices will most likely emerge as a leader in the practice and, as such, will stand to hold “40 -60 percent of the market after competition enters the picture” (p. 11). The quality of its offerings will also improve as it utilizes the sustainable goods produced by manufacturers. Since quality usually commands premium prices, this can help firms gain market share. Today, a more informed and enlightened public demand higher quality goods and thus supports organizations that deliver quality.

Additionally, consumers are demanding more and more that corporations go green as much as possible. Building sustainability into the supply chain will improve quality and increase customer satisfaction. Organizations that do not build sustainability into their operations will find that it will cost them more (in the loss of market share) to NOT do so. By building sustainability into their practices early, both manufacturing and service organizations can expect to gain and maintain a competitive advantage.

Limo Business Advice: Tips for Success in the Limousine and Car Service Industry

In today’s slumping economy, many would consider it risky to enter or be involved in a luxury service based business venture. The limousine and car service industry would fall into that category. While it may be true that business is not what it once was, there is still more than enough opportunity to be both successful and profitable. If you’ve ever considered becoming involved in or actively run a limo service, it is important to recognize some of the key aspects and details necessary to make you one of the next success stories within the industry.

Being behind the scenes and not the wheel fail to expose you, an office person, to the many tales of horror that are often discussed in a car. These prior car service experiences are at times the conversation of choice coming from what should be the most important priority of your limo business: the customer. Customer service is at the tip top of the list when it comes to building and maintaining not only an honest relationship but a returning base as well. The customer will take everything from their first phone call and follow it through the entire experience. Behind the scenes, the customer service baton is quietly handed off from the office to the dispatch department, into the hands of the chauffeur and left up to them to deliver. It is important for the driver to be on time, properly attired and ready to greet the customer with a smile and a handshake. Small things such as bottle of water or a glass full of mints can also go a long way to improve upon the image of your service. A problem and incident free ride results in a happy customer and a happy customer is always a returning customer. Let the mistakes others, through your customer service, be your ticket to company growth.

A beat up vehicle with high mileage and a mediocre ride is no definition of the word luxury! It is important to remember that characteristic when maintaining or shopping around for the golden eggs of your business: the fleet. If customers do not have standards that must be met, they will surely go the budget friendly route and use a taxi. As a luxury service provider, it is important maintain a clean image and provide vehicles that are newer, clean and also properly maintained. Smoking in a vehicle this day in age is almost grounds for disaster and must be avoided at all costs. Routine oil changes, staying current with maintenance, repair, and quality car washes not only extend the life of your vehicles but will also aid in the resale value when it comes time to upgrade or expand. Also, be sure to keep track of all of your vehicle costs and service records as they do play a role in determining what you can expect to charge your customers. A customer riding in style is yet another reflection of your business and the tight ship you run. It is critical to not neglect what truly is the driving force of your business.

Think like a customer while preparing an effective marketing campaign and target those outlets. Once you’ve accumulated a client base and have a niche for delivering the quality of service that meets not only the customer expectation but your own as well, it’s time to find new business. While every market is different and the target audiences vary, the objective always remains the same. Being a bit more aggressive with your marketing is often the key to finding new business. Set aside a budget but also be prepared to spend money for the new target audience. It takes money to make money. A more aggressive marketing approach can include your internet campaign. Is your website up to par at the very least? Can people even find your website? Search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and social media are to be considered when looking to build your company profile or rank your website among search requests on the big search engines: Google, Yahoo and Bing. Make sure to target keywords and search phrases that generate volume and strive to place your company website within first two pages of results. While professional marketing materials such as brochures and business cards are still effective and nice to have in this day in age, the internet is the king of advertising this generation. Also do not neglect the power of word of mouth through quality of your service. Many referrals come from the mouth of customers who have been happy and satisfied with what you have provided.

Finally, affiliates are your friends. There is plenty of work to go around and let’s face it, there will be times where you will be in over your head no matter how big you may get to be. Having that reliable someone to turn to in such an event is the key to not only keeping your business running problem free but also your peace of mind. Whether it be the one car operator or an established business, look to build these quality relationships and be sure to treat affiliate clients with the same level of service as if they are your own. Doing business together is one of the more underrated outlets for income in this industry and also a critical backdoor to turn to when you get stuck in a bind. As with life itself, it is better to make and have more friends than enemies.

Having found success providing limo service in a faced paced and demanding market, the tips I’ve been able to share with you are the result of some first hand experiences I’ve accumulated being both behind the wheel and the curtain as well. To go above and beyond not only your personal expectation but also the services provided by most others will be critical in establishing and maintaining your loyal customer base. Remember to never cut corners and always put these customers at the forefront of your operation. Failure to perform at the level expected is the only reason why many services fail to stay alive in this industry. Being ambitious, creative and using due diligence in your decision making will ultimately determine just how far you go within the limousine and car service industry.

Merchant Services Industry Undressed – Swipe Secrets Revealed

DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE ARE 16,000 COMPANIES THAT OFFER MERCHANT SERVICES AND THAT 99.8% OF THEM ARE RESELLERS?

That’s right; there are approximately 16,000 companies that offer MC/Visa Processing in the US. However, less than 20 of them actually do the processing themselves. So when I say 99.8% are resellers that is, unbelievably a conservative number. (The actual figure is 99.875%). It doesn’t take much to figure out that (follow me here) many of these resellers are reselling for a company that is already reselling. In fact, there may be as many as five companies between you and the actual processing company.

The biggest misconception in the marketplace is the idea that your local bank processes credit card transactions. With the extremely rare exception they do not. To simplify things, your Bank is in the business of opening accounts and lending money. Just about everything else they offer; Merchant Services, Payroll Services, Identity Theft Protection, Credit Report Monitoring, etc. is all farmed out to the actual providers of those services. This allows the bank to generate income from multiple sources and develop stronger relationships within their community. It makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, hopefully you are banking with an organization you know, like and trust.

For some, the convenience and piece of mind are worth the extra costs associated with finding a provider yourself. The problem is those added fees continue to accrue for years. Over time, you may end up paying thousands of dollars to avoid what might only turn out to be a couple of hours of simple industry research.

However, the Merchant Services Industry is so incredibly over wrought with resellers that finding quality information is near impossible. What makes matters worse is the underlying negative affect this distribution model has on the actual merchants accepting credit cards for payment of goods and services.

Think about it…

A processor that engages an Independent Sales Organization (ISO) to sell their services for them has a vested interest in the success of that ISO. In other words the ISO becomes the customer. The ISO is exponentially more important to the Processor than the small business owner accepting Master Card and Visa transactions. In fact, for all intents and purposes, that Merchant will never matter.

This is the basis for all of the problems in the industry. Unfortunately for small business owners, the “horse is out of the barn.” There is no shutting this puppy down.

For the last few decades everything in this industry has been set up to help the ISO at the business owner’s expense. Here are a few examples:

1. Equipment Leasing: Many of the ISOs thrive on equipment leases. The worst example I have ever heard of was a small business owner, right here in New England that leased a $400 (wholesale cost) terminal for $99.00 per month for 16 years, (or $19,008.00). Today, the wholesale cost on most analog terminals is around $250.

a. Note: If you are considering an equipment change I recommend a dual/com terminal to take advantage of the internet for faster transactions. They cost a bit more (about $400) but often allow you to eliminate a costly business phone line.

2. Three Tier Pricing: Most small business owners are set up on a plan that bundles all transaction types in to three categories: Qualified; Mid-Qualified and Non-Qualified. However, there are no strict guidelines for classification. In other words what is a Non-Qualified transaction for you might be a Mid-Qualified transaction for someone else. Some ISO’s are actually adding a fourth tier.

3. One Standard Rate: I am sure you are bombarded by sales professionals offering you some new great rate for your Visa and MasterCard transactions. Did you know that Visa is actually less expensive to process than MasterCard? Did you also know that on average, a small business owner will accept Visa 60% of the time and MasterCard only 40%? If you are paying the same for MasterCard and Visa then you are giving money away every single month.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. In subsequent articles I will share with you more information to help you better understand an industry that is vital to your success. Accepting MasterCard and Visa is no longer an option, or a luxury. I assure you there are things you can do to get the absolute most out of your Merchant Services for less than you are paying now. Simply learning how the industry works and the steps you can take to control your costs will help you better understand your options going forward.