Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Business Lessons – a few thoughts on Customer Service

This is almost a lost art – Service the customer. In a service business this is truly how you make money and yet so many forget that in a product business if it is how you make money and keep customers. 

What is customer service – simply it is seeing what the customer needs and then dedicating yourself and/or your business to meeting and/or exceeding that need.  Worded differently it is having a customer (not self or business) centered approach. Currently our culture teaches self comes first service/others second. The notion of putting others first in order to have your needs meant is almost a foreign concept. Take advantage of and exploit others is the rule of the day because this is truely the quickest way to get ahead short term. A classic example of this is the wall street case on trial where the individual basically stole $50 billion from people he even called friends. 

To perform customer service well requires two qualities – a sense of confidence in self and job and a desire to help others. So what can customer service get you as a business – a loyal customer who appreciates the value you bring and added service they receive with the purchase of their product or services. Additionally it requires competence and an informed knowledge of and about your product or service. 

  • Customer service is not – listening to what a person say and then using their weakness to exploit them by selling them something that is more expensive that they do not need in order to get over on them leaving them with buyers regret 
  • Customer service is – listening to what the customer wants and then using that information to anticipate their needs both present and future and offering a product or a solution which is cost effective solution. 

So often people forget that we are paid to solve problems real or perceived. Let me give you an example of poor customer service using a real world example - there is a company whose sells internet appliances that states clearly on their site they do not offer technical support. How can you sell something and not be willing to answer questions about it? How can you take a person's money and say - know what I have no further obligation to you - call someone else who cares? I will not place the name of the company but I will post a direct quote from their website:

"XYZ (a real company) does not provide Technical Support for the items listed below via chat, email or telephone. Please contact the manufacturer of the equipment or work with your network administrator for assistance on these issues.

  • VPN access or technical support
  • VoIP / Video conferencing
  • Remote Access applications
  • Gaming system set-up or configuration
  • Online gaming"

So if XYZ is the manufacturer of the equipment what is the message?

Here are the questions:

  • Is customer/client satisfaction a part of your customer value proposition?
  • Without customer/client satisfaction how long can a business prosper, thrive and grow?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Business Lessons – a few thoughts on Warranty

Often in business manufacturers offer a warranty or a guarantee on workmanship. If it thought the longer the warranty the more confidence the manufacturer has in the quality, durability and reliability of their product. A warranty is nothing more than guarantee in workmanship stating for so many months or years we will repair or replace this item baring extreme abuse if it fails. 

Some company’s have even figured out how to use this as a marketing tool and a revenue generating source much like insurance companies. What the will do is knowing the mean time between failure is say 5 years. They will offer a one year warranty initially. Then there will offer you the option to extend the warranty at some fixed rate for so many years. Essentially what they are doing is banking a reserve such that when the item fails there is a cash reserve to cover the parts and/or repairs.  Some auto mobile makers even offer lifetime warranties (provided you maintain the item at their dealership) 

So as a service business how might you use this concept to help you improve your reputation since your product is your intellectual capital? One option – depending would be you implement a solution and within a certain period of time should something not go right you take the time at your cost to make it right. Let’s say you design a network and you overlook a drop – you add the drop you missed at your cost.  Sure it will cut into your profits a little but it will do more to improve your credibility with the client and never forget they are the reason you are in business. 

Becoming the Man I Want (Book Review)

I would highly recommend anyone read this book. It is by my personal friend Chantell. Those of you who follow Tyler Perry may remember her from Madea goes to Jail, Madea’s Class Reunion and What’s Done in the Dark. 

Her family and I go way back when I was in corporate they were friends and when I left they supported me and some even became clients – they have been ever loyal and supportive and each are people of high integrity and fierce loyalty. 

This book deals with becoming the person you want to attract from a female standpoint among other issues like personal respect, insecurity, edification, loyalty, etc. She openly discusses the many mistakes she made and her own shortcomings and deals with the fact she so often asked of her partners things she was not willing to give and her own shortcomings. She wanted people to enable her to do what she wanted with no accountability and possed many hard questions. I recommend this book not only for females but for males only as the issues contained are universal.

“I am single, never been married, no kids and I am about to turn 40! WHY AM I NOT MARRIED!!! This makes no sense at all. One day I was watching Oprah and they talked about making a list of the things you want, see it and believe. I decided to make a list of all the things I wanted in a MAN. The more I wrote what I wanted in a man, the more I had to look at me. I found it was easy to say what I want in a man, but what would happen if I decided to “

Chantell makes her home in Atlanta
Her phone and fax: 888-229-1722

I personally have read the book 3 times already and get something new and helpful each time. It goes to show that you never know what a person is thinking or going through unless they tell you as long as I knew her much of what she shared and was thinking I had no idea. Communication is truly becoming a lost art. She deal with issues like control, manipulation, deceipt, personal spirtuality and selfishness.

Why do I like this book simply (and yes I am bias because I like the respect the author and family that aside) it speaks to the heart of so many truths people avoid – she is saying here are my mistakes and here are the lessons I learned, here are some I am still learning, I am not there yet however I invite you to walk with me on my journey and use some of these tool to help you not repeat my mistakes. This book talks of character, forgiveness and self, of others and personal growth. It says honestly the first thing I must do before I ask something of anyone is take a good hard look at the person in the mirror and make sure I am willing  to do it myself now!

I hope you enjoy and get as much out of it as I have. In fact I enjoyed it so much I sent copies to family and people I respect and have plans at my mother’s request to get another copy to gift to my 14 year old sister.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Business Lessons – a few thoughts on Price

Nothing in life is free, we all know this to be true. Yet so often we discuss price when the real issue of importance is perceived value. Allow me to explain, thetrue question is if item or service you are considering buying is worth the cost you will have to pay to acquire it. If the cost is too low you will perceive it as cheap substandard, if the cost is too high it will be perceived that you are being taken advantage of the client or buyer. The trick then is finding that right price point that you or the client/customer is willing to pay to acquire the goods or services. 

Finding the right price point is as much of an art as it is a science in that it is not the same for everyone so you have to normalize it to some extent and set a price the largest number of people are comfortable with paying in order to maximize your profit. Understand regardless of what you do for some you are always going to be too expensive and ye for others too cheap but you need to find that sweet spot that works. 

Why is it as much of an art as a science? Simple – valuation is very subjective and you have to account for an intangible that is difficult, the value a client or buyer places on themselves, their business, or their process. Remember their personal value determines if the price is too high to too low. If your price is too low they will infer your service or product is inferior and if too high they will look for excuses to not pay or will seek a more convenient solution because they value themselves or their company less than you do your product or service. 

Same goes for an employee. Many consider employees as possessions instead of investments in the companies future and this difference in attitude plays out in so many different ways with respect to how they see themselves, their personal value to the company, the price they are willing to pay and how much they are willing to contribute to the company’s long term will being. So price or rather perceived value is important on so many levels. 

So always work to consider when pricing your product or service to never over or under price yourself and know that regardless of the price some people will always never be willing to pay even if your price point is totally reasonable. 

Image source Boxes and Arrows

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Business Lessons – a few thoughts on Consistency

This is a very important issue and is often one people miss. In manufacturing you put processes (rules) in place to make sure everything you make is similar if using the same name or item. Process Control is what it is called in manufacturing. Process control means you put a raw material in one end of the system and as it passes through due to the conditions being maintained you can predict with reasonable certainty what will come out the other end. 

Having spent many years working in the chemical industry as a process engineer and before that a project manager I came to understand the important of consistency, process control, and standards of quality. These things are important with respect to manufacturing and people. Additionally something is said to be consistent when it does not contain contradiction. 

Lets break this down in everyday terms

  • Green must always be green
  • Blue must always be blue
  • A Computer must always be a computer
  • An Intel process cannot be a AMD Processor
  • A 300 GB hard drive will not substitute for a 160 GB drive
  • A 50 Watt/channel amplifier is not a 200 Watt/channel amp 

So how does this apply to the service industry? Simple in the service industry this concept is called honesty! Your word is the process control and your service is the product. You clients count on you to do what you say and that you will live up to or exceed the expectations your verbal and written words convey. 

To quote: Honesty is the human quality of communicating and acting truthfully related to truth as a value. This includes listening, and any action in the human repertoire — as well as speaking. Superficially, honesty means simply stating facts and views as best one truly believes them to be. It includes both honesty to others, and to oneself (see: self-deception) and about one's own motives and inner reality. Honesty, at times, has the ability to cause misfortune to the person who displays it. Honesty can also mean fairness, and truthfulness, and the avoidance of misleading people.

Happy New Year

Get your Xmas Clock at www.commentbaby.com

Business Lessons – A few thoughts on Predictability

What does it mean to be predictable and why is this an important trait in any relationship but especially business. It is because predictability is the essence of trust. We trust people and things that we feel comfortable with and those things we feel comfortable with are those things that and people that perform consistently to or above the expectations we have set in our mind. 

Let me explain it this way when we are driving and we pull the urn signal up we know the right light will come on down the left. When we turn the steering wheel clockwise we turn right counter clock wise we turn left. These actions are predictable because we do the same thing and we know we will get consistent results. This is what we look for in businesses, business people and supplies. We trust things that we know the outcome and we can predict what will happen based on the circumstance. 

To quote predictability (also called banality) refers to the degree to the fact that a correct prodiction or forcast of a system's state can be made either qualitatively or quantitatively. 

So my question to you as a business owner understanding this is a foundational issue key to your long term success and sustainability – are you predictable? 

Consider these to get the idea:

  • What if the Sun did not rise every day in the  same place or at all?
  • What if the power did not come on even though you paid your bill?
  • What if the sanitation people did not pick up your trash weekly?
  • What if a track athlete decided instead of finishing the race to stop 2/3rds of the way?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Business Lessons: A few thoughts on Durability

Durability is best described as the ability under use (sometimes excessive) to keep working. This is true of a part and even a business. In business and people terms it is called persistence.   

You want businesses and things that have lasting powering and will function to or better than specifications regardless of how long you use it – you want durable items and vendors. Durability, another foundational trait of established businesses.

  • Are you tough enough?
  • Can this Camera stand the abuse of everyday use?
  • Will this power button the computer fail?
  • Will the pans and sliders on this sound board stand up to everyday use
  • Can this switch keep working day by day under its traffic load
  • Bottom line is this – you do not want a part to break or fail when you are using it
  • You do not want your key to break in the door or the ignition
  • You do not want the handle on your coffee mug to break off when you pick it up
  • You do not want a bridge to fail when you are driving over it
  • You do not want a chair to collapse when you sit on it
  • You do not want to call a business only to find out it no longer exists 

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have a Blessed Holiday

This is a short note to wish all of you a blessed season and fulfilling New Year.

May you spend it surrounded by people you love and respect.

May you each aspire to and achieve your dreams

May you each grow and realize your potential

May your lives be a blessing to all of those you touch

May the thought of you bring a smile to someones face!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Business Lessons - A few thoughts on Quality/Integrity

When you purchase an item most people want to make sure it is well made. They want to know sound processes and procedures with the required information were used in the fabrication of the device. 

Lets take a sound board – you want to know that all of the internal circuits and external connections are there, the internal wiring is correct, the slider are correct and working, the pans are in place and working, the VU meters work and are correctly calibrated, etc. 

When building a house and pouring the foundation would you want a substandard concrete or electrical or wiring – of course not you want a home that is built to such that it will not collapse under its own weight or the electrical catch fire or the pipes burst. 

Let’s break this down even more:

  • Do you want a 4 burner stove that only two of the elements work?
  • Do you want a refrigerator that only keeps the food cold half the time?
  • Do you want a 24 track sound board that has 6 channels that do not work?
  • Do you want a computer that has half of the ram slots missing?
  • Do you want a motherboard that is missing?
  • Do you want a supplier/vendor who promised 50 items but delivers 45?
  • Do you want a security camera that works 75% of the time?
  • Do you want a DVR that records every other day?
  • Do you want to buy a part produced in a facility that does not follow its own process controls or rules? 

So why did combine quality and integrity - because they are related and without integrity quality cannot exist because it cannot be sustained. 

Image source Monash University

Monday, December 22, 2008

Business Lessons - A few thoughts on Reliability

When you buy something be it a service or a product you want to make sure that product or service is dependable. You want to know when you turn the ignition the car or truck starts, when you flip the switch the light comes on when you pay your bill the balance is reflected in he online statement.  That is called reliability. 

As a business owner you want to make sure your product or service is reliable and that your client can use it with little to no thought.   Reliability is the ability of a person or system to perform and maintain its functions in routine circumstances, as well as hostile or unexpected circumstances. 

What does that mean – regardless of the circumstance or situation people expect it to work. Imagine if you will PC, the electricity is ok and everything else works but it is raining outside (thought the PC is inside) and due to the slight change in moisture the PC refuses to boot – that is not reliable and the client will have little to no use for this system in fact you will soon loose this client because they cannot depend on you or your product. Imagine you were a service provider and you made a commitment to be on site at 11 AM and did not show – again you are not reliable so you will loose the client. 

Reliability is one of the foundational issues required for the success of your business.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Business Lessons - A few thoughts on making quality decisions

This post begins my arc to business lessons. With that said though lets deal with a basic truth which applies to everyone and everything and yet many people work so hard to ignore it. Balance is important – knowing the difference between a need vs want – sure it is fine to get some wants but if you focus only on wants and never address the needs then there would be no point. 

Example – you need clothing, water, food, electricity, transportation and a few other things but suppose you spent your money on lottery tickets – soon you would not have even your basic needs for survival – unless of course you won the lottery! With respect to business if you spent all of your money on advertising and none on manufacturing, quality improvement, staffing, etc same difference. While the balance is ever changing and dynamic there must be a balance – advertising does not good if there is not a product or service just as having a product or service is not good if there is no one willing to pay for it. 

So let’s talk about the core issues or characteristics of importance: 

  • Reliability – you know almost without thinking that you can depend on it to be there when you need it. Be it car, PC, Security system, sound system, it works!
  • Quality/Integrity – you know that the construction is sound, the specifications are clear, the materials used will stand up to normal none abusive use
  • Durability – knowing that this device will last for a reasonable period of time
  • Predictability – knowing the device will perform as advertised
  • Consistency – knowing that that manufacturer used a process that ensured each item was made the same not using one method on Monday and another on Tuesday. Further knowing green is green, blue is blue and a keyboard is not being sold as a mouse
  • Price – Having a reasonable cost associated with the perceived benefit and the feeling I am not being taken advantage of
  • Warranty – does the business that made this have confidence enough in their ability to make things right by me in a reasonable amount of time
  • Customer Service – this should actually be first – it is the value add and lets the customer know they are important and servicing them (not making money) is the focus of the business
  • References/Reviews – what do other reliable sources have to say about the item or service you are about to purchase? 

Here is a simple truth many ignore – people buy things and as soon as they stop working or do not perform as advertised they either return the item, are disappointed, or they put it away and stop using it. The only devices, items, and services that people use day after day and come to depend on are those that meet the criteria set out above. 

Also important is how the business makes that person feel - are they important - is their business, time and money respected or are they treated as an inconvenience that as soon as or even before the money is received is at best an annoyance? 

Here is the twist if you will some food for thought – has anyone thought or considered this applies to the following (business and personal):

  • Consultant
  • Friend
  • Computer
  • Family member
  • Store (grocery, fast food or convenience)
  • Security System
  • Politician
  • Car
  • Waiters, cashers, clerks….
  • A/V systems
  • Etc 

Google search on what to look for when you buy 

What are your thoughts? 

In subsequent posts will deal with the respective individual points of quality, customer service, etc as they relate to the success of any business.  

More High level basics about CCTV Cameras (Parts and Housing)

Ever wonder why most Security CCTV Cameras are placed in housing enclosures? 

Let me explain simply – Cameras are in fact electronic devices and while used for security nothing but cameras. So to protect the camera from dust and excessive humidity they are enclosed in housing. This housing protects the camera from excessive moisture, in the case of external housing from excessive cold (via built in fan and heater) and the main lenses from dust. Many normal enclosures are almost air tight and are extremely water resistant. There are some underwater enclosures that are air and water tight. 

The main parts of a camera are

  • Power connection
  • Lens
  • Iris (auto or manual)
  • Housing
  • CCD element
  • Connector (BNC/Cat cable/Wireless)

Friday, December 19, 2008

High level basics about CCTV Cameras

CCTV = Closed Circuit TV. In a CCTV security system one or more cameras are used to capture the moving image and send it to a splitter or multiplexer which in tern sends the picture to a VCR(s), DVR(s), or monitor(s). What is the difference between regular and CCTV – simple – CCTV is a closed system and regular is broadcast to the public. 

Because CCTV Is a closed system it is the reason many prefer using it for security and monitoring systems. 

Have you been in a major department store (Wal-Mart, etc) or a grocery store and seem those housing outside or those mirrored domes? What about driving down the street and seeing the camera housing mounting to a traffic signal or on the highway? How about in the ceiling behind your teller in the bank? 

CCTV cameras can be just black and white but most are capable of color in high light conditions and switch to Black and white. 

In simple terms the system works by converting the image seen to electrical impulses which are then sent (in the case of RG59 Coax) via the cable then converted back to recognizable images for display on a TV via the devices mentioned earlier. A moving image (motion) is created simply by taking pictures so rapidly their appears to be motion when in fact you are only looking at a series of pictures displayed in rapid succession.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

High level basics about Infrared Security Cameras

Light/brightness is measured in lumens.  A lumen is the measure of the perceived power of light. 

Many people have heard of night vision cameras (yes they are cool) but they are not infrared and they work actually in two ways similar but different – both are able to see at lower lumen (light) levels than normal cameras. Differences – night vision have the ability to capture ambient light or and infrared see into the infrared (heat) spectrum. Some infrared cameras are black and white others are color. The color night vision switch to black and white at low light levels.   

Ok, that was still a little too high brow – let’s make it even simpler

  • Night Vision – typically green
  • Infrared differences between black and white the whiter something is the greater the heat signature. 

The infrared are actually thermal infrared. The infrared cameras typically have LED emitters either enclosed in the camera body or separate.  Also they typically come with a power adaptor to supply the IR LEDs.  Like other security cameras they can be IP (network), Coax (CCTV) or Wi-Fi (network) based. 


  • Did you know the LED emitters allow infrared cameras to see in no light?
  • Did you know in extremely low light the LEDs allow you to see an image as if you were in full daylight?

Suggested Reading: It's a Beautiful World - support MS Research

This is a book by my friend Sophie Addison. Click here for a preview.

Hardcover $36.95

It's a Beautiful World is the product of my concern for my community and for humanity. It combines my interest in tourism and geography with my new found passion for the MS cause.

This project would not have been possible were it not for the generosity of the many photographers who agreed to contribute their work.

ALL proceeds from the sale of this book will go to www.mssociety.ca

Thank you for your support.

"I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis at the age of 22.

In 2006, a severe multiple sclerosis attack left me clinically blind, unable to walk, sit or stand on my own, with sensorial distortion, muscle weakness, pronounced speech problems and a mild case of ataxia which made me unable to write, get dressed or feed myself without assistance."

"Although I have made an almost full recovery this experience changed my life forever.

I believe that within all its tragedy, Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t have to be a hardship alone. It can also be a tool; a reason to be a better person.  I am one of the lucky ones, for I know better than to take my life for granted."

- Participating Photographers -

Chris Rowell, Angelo Miele, Halldór Örn Óskarsson, Giampaolo Macorig, Nienke van Atteveldt, Paul Cuthbert, Dave Schreier, Marc Crumpler, Kika Brino, Yannick Garcin, Kimberley Coole, Hitesh Sawlani, Dietmar Temps, Tim Stelzer, Trey Ratcliff, Robert Wallace, Julie Falk, Feije Riemersma, Mohamed Salem Korayem, Tomás Suárez, Ephraim Muller, Nicole Filosa, Alexander van der Wolde, Annabel Vere, Eugenio Viceconte, Glen Chua, David Dennis, Sandy Redding, Stuart Cohen, Rade Sevic, Dave Cohen, Kieran Ball, Kaldoon, Jan Postma, Natasha, Ines Perkovic, Pier Luigi Dallimonti, Daithi Blair, Jason Swain, Pedro Simoes, Ivano Bettati, Jonathan P. Ellgen, Mariano Enrique Guzmán Marenco, Alexandre Buisse, Reto Fetz, Erick Loitière, Håkan Uragård, Alfonso Gonzalez, Peter Thomas, Courtney Platt, Lauren Chapman, Vincent Yeow, Harold Davis, Øivind Helge Eide, Emanuele Barboni, Ruban Phukan, Thomas Becker, Michael A. Zimmel, Eric Nicholas, Pavel Dobrovsky, Dadissad, Boaz Rottem, Ferguson Photography, Jonathan Mussellwhite, Ole Begemann, Igor Bespamyatnov, Chuck Wendig, Jonathan Clark, MaiKoh, Maya H. Li, Simone Merli, Massimo Nanni, Juan Fernando Escobar Ochoa, Steve Rosset, Prabhu B Doss, Bebiano Da Silva, Zeb Andrews.

(Thank you all for making this project possible!)

For contact info, see photo credits or contact me at sophie.addison@live.com.

Stay tuned for the larger edition!!

"I believe that within all its tragedy, Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t have to be a hardship alone. It can also be a tool; a reason to be a better person. I am one of the lucky ones, for I know better than to take my life for granted." Studied and worked in the tourism industry from 2002 to 2006. A volunteer at the Douglas Hospital - Mental Health University Institute as well as at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada’ Super Cities Walk for MS. Also participating on periodical project at the MS Clinic, Notre Dame Hospital - CHUM.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

High level basics about webcams

With this post am beginning transition to video. Later expect a series on quotes by mentors because our mentors and the values and ethics they instilled in us are important. 

Webcams aka Web cameras are a common sight today, so much so that you will even see them integrated into many mainstream laptops and LCD monitors. There are USB, network, and WiFi cameras. In fact as a security option you may want to consider using a webcam with motion detection software to monitor your house or apartment while you are away. Many manufacturers now (depending on the model) offer motion detection that is when an object moves in front of the camera for a certain length of time a trigger is set off and the camera starts to record what happens for a predetermined length of time. In addition some software even offers the option of notifying you of the alarm and in some cases even emailing you the video. 

A webcam in fact all cameras including live action take a single picture (frame) at a time. The only difference between a still picture and a live streaming video is the frequency at which the pictures are taken. At 15 fps the image is jerky but it appears moving, 20 more so, 30 fps is considered low end live. To stream live video you will need a high speed internet connection like cable or DSL internet. 

Ok, let me break this down as simply as I can – the webcam send an image to the computer which is associated with the webcam software program. The program then converts the image data to a format like jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group – so named for the group that developed the compression) then using a web server and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to send to web (think your chat programs). Using other programs you can even stream the image to your website. 

Trivia – Did you know some of the never generations of webcams even incorporate night vision? Example

Internet Scam Series - Browser safety or lack of!

Major Web browsers fail password protection tests (Source: Znet)

Disclaimer - this is not original material rather a copy of a znet blog but the information is too important and timely not to share just because I did not author - Ryan Naraine wrote the material and the link to the original post is shown at the bottom of this blog post.

That nifty password management feature in your favorite Web browser could be helping identity thieves pilfer your personal data.

That’s the biggest takeaway from the results of this test which shows that all the major Web browsers — including IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Chrome — are vulnerable to a total of 20 vulnerabilities that could expose password-related information.  Among the problems are three in particular that, when combined, allow password thieves to take passwords without the user’s knowledge.  They are:

  1. The destination where passwords are sent is not checked.
  2. The location where passwords are requested is not checked.
  3. Invisible form elements can trigger password management.

Google’s shiny new Chrome browser was among the worst offenders.   According to the study,  Chrome’s password manager contains multiple unpatched issues that “form a toxic soup of potential vulnerabilities that can coalesce into broad insecurity.”

Apple’s Safari for Windows browser was also failed a majority of the tests (click image for full version):

Technical details of the test, which was conducted by Chapin Information Services, can be found here.

Ryan Naraine is a security evangelist at Kaspersky Lab, an anti-malware company with operations around the world. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

FolloRyan Naraine on Twitter

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