Consulting’s Future: Specialization

Customers First? Sure, But How

Corrections or additions?

These articles were prepared for the November 15, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

US Postal Service: Pushing the Envelope

E-commerce, boast the computer nerds smugly, will soon

banish the U.S. Postal Service into a fond memory. Websites, fax and

E-mail will run it all, some believe. In reply, Postal Classification

Specialist Peter Furka simply laughs: "They predicted this

with the telegraph and then with the phone — and we’re still here,

handling a record 105 billion pieces of mail this year."

Although mail may be sure, its technologies, discounts, rates, and

possibilities are changing in great leaps. To help large and small

mailers keep abreast, the Postal Service is offering a lavish Mailers

Education Day at Princeton University’s McCosh Hall on Friday, November

17, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. While the program will be laced with

catered breakfast, lunch, and several campus tours, it is very much

a nuts and bolts event. The series of talks and workshops such as

"Direct Mail Marketing;" "E-commerce," "Automation

& Office Services" are designed to aid both business and non-profit

mailers. Deputy Postmaster General John Nolan will present and

explain a list of new business service innovations.

Those interested should register with the Business Service Network,

U.S. Postal Service, 21 Kilmer Road, Edison 08889. Or call 732-819-4322.

Cost is $85 with lunch, $60 without.

And who’s interested in mail? Maybe you should be. Odds are your business

expends 5 to 10 percent of its budget on mail; more if you are a non-profit

or deal with direct mail marketing. The post office offers more than

500 ways to mail an item and discounts (beyond the regular bulk permit)

of over 20 percent. "And darn few firms," says Furka, "are

taking advantage."

Furka admits that rates will increase this year, first class rising

probably a penny and non-profit bulk taking the biggest increase.

But the savings available from the new automation along with a sharper

mailing strategy could offset this increase several times. "Truth

to tell," says Furka "too many firms praise innovation in

the board room and ignore it in the mail room." Among the mailing

flaws:

Mailing lists. First and costliest among these flaws stem

from the use of ancient mailing lists. Firms buy or develop potential

client lists through marketing surveys and then treat them as golden.

But 15 to 20 per cent of addresses change annually. Any list held

over one year means wasted postage and pushes up substantially those

precious response-percentage-points your mail campaign needs to break

even. The Internet can aid in updating, but not necessarily in the

substantial number of address errors. Checking address validity is

one of several Post Office business services offered.

Bar coding. By bar coding your outgoing mail in house,

you simply turn a two-step sort process into a single step. In return

the post office thanks you kindly by discounting six to eight cents

off a first class letter and 20 percent or more off your bulk rate.

Paul Dreifuss, who will speak on automation, claims that pre-mail

coding has proved a boon to McCarter & English, the 256-attorney firm

in Newark. As the law firm’s operations manager, he insists bar coding

not only trims costs, but increases speed and accuracy. "Many

of our contracts require non-faxed signatures and demand a five-day

response time," says Dreifuss. "With bar coding we get a two-day

delivery, without going into priority rates. More importantly, we

just lose less than with a hand-scribbled address."

Traditionally, the process of bar coding one’s mail before sending

it out required an expensive machine, limiting the discount only to

major mailers. But now coding has become a service that can be outsourced.

Private firms will code at the close of a business day for mid-size

mailers, or drop off points can be arranged for small (under 300 pieces

daily) companies.

Tracing mail in house. Of every 10 parcels and letters

that get lost in the mail, usually nine are lost in house. Most companies

just dump and sort packages with no recording. Dreifuss, tired of

dealing with frantic lawyers’ tirades, instituted a tracing system,

using the post office and UPS bar codes. Scanning guns record every

incoming box, electronic note pads record the date and signature of

the recipient, the software even sorts it by office and floor. No

lost checks, no screaming lawyers.

B>Parcel rate comparison. The overnight parcel options are

numerous, but the lowest rates vary greatly on volume and distance.

Express mail is optimum for single items, particularly when shipping

to out of the way places. A quick category-sort may save the small

shipper substantially.

Planet coding. The newest and probably the most helpful

innovation to business mailers since the zip code, planet coding should

come fully on line by 2002. Basically, it allows the sender to trace

his mailings through the Post Office system and know the exact day

they will arrive. The direct mail marketer will know the exact day

his brochures hit Princeton, or the entire Southwest. The marketer

can then plan orders and rotate sales staff and stock accordingly.

Sounds ideal, but the kinks need working out. Installation of such

a system requires a 98 percent on-time delivery rate with virtually

flawless tracing and instant reporting back to the sender. "We’re

not there quite yet," says Peter Furka. "But give us a year

or two."

With all these Post office offerings it would be wrong to sense desperation

in the face of an ever growing flow of E-mail and E-commerce. Back

in 1849, all the gold rushers tore out to California to cash in on

the latest quick-rich enterprise. Most returned bankrupt. But the

little German Heinrich Schliemann sold each miner the picks and grubstake

that allowed him to operate, and he walked away with millions.

So it is with electronic commerce. Jim Lombard, head of the

Business Development Division of Redi Direct and Redi Mail, says that

"one of the hot five businesses in the coming decade will be fulfillment

— firms that will take up the E-commerce company’s orders and

fulfill their promises and get the stuff to the customer." This

will demand a strong link between the Internet and the physical mail

systems.

"Frankly," says Lombard, "E-commerce has yet to sort itself

out. Too frequently the firms are a marriage of salespeople and techies

who until now have dazzled venture capitalists with screens and high

promises." The trouble is they are not run by business people

and they stand clueless beyond taking the order. They vanish in and

out of business by the thousands.

So you can’t fax anvils to St. Louis. But fulfillment firms, with

the help of UPS, the Post Office etc., can put them in the customers’

hands, making the whole E-commerce idea feel a little less vaporous.

In addition, Lombard will explain how an enormous new flow of marketing

information can come when the Postal Service and the Internet link

up. "If I were starting up a new company today," Lombard says,

"I would put my entire catalog on the web and then use my postage

budget to send postcards, inviting customers to visit us on our new

website. I’d get three times the coverage for the same cost."

So perhaps in the end we won’t go pitting slow and steady snail-mail

against rabbit-like E-mail, but let them work together for a more

profitable run.

— Bart Jackson

Top Of Page
Consulting’s Future: Specialization

Not so many years ago a corporate joke was that nobody

was every unemployed, they were just consultants. Now it’s no joke:

Outsourcing has created a huge demand for consultants, and companies

turning to consultants expect to get a high-powered performer.

"Most clients’ expectations of a consultant are higher than for

an employee," says Jerry Savin, president and CEO of Sitka

Systems Inc. in Pacific Palisades, California. That’s one of the challenges

for anyone carving out a career as a consultant. "The level of

service and thought generally don’t meet the expectations of the client.

When real life comes into play and the client is disappointed with

the outcome, how you deal with the unexpected and your ability to

deal with a client when things don’t turn out as planned" can

mean retaining or losing a client.

Savin, also founder and CEO of the Cambridge Technology Consulting

Group Inc. and a consultant for more than 20 years, speaks on "the

future of consulting and the opportunities it offers" at the 10th

anniversary dinner of the Central New Jersey Chapter of the Institute

of Management Consultants on Monday, November 20, at 6 p.m. at the

Doral Forrestal, 100 College Road East. Call 609-896-4457 for reservation

information.

Savin believes that companies that focus on one area have the greatest

opportunity for success. "I am coming to the conclusion that a

full-service firm is a farce. Even they have specialties, and may

be heavily weighted to IT. Even in human resources, there may be firms

that focus on headhunting, but other areas within human resources

are probably outside their realm," he says.

One of the fields experiencing the greatest growth today is information

technology. "If past is any indication, a major revenue driver

is IT," says Savin. "Computers are a kind of a fact of life

anymore" and they need continuous maintenance and upgrading. Strategy

consulting is another growing area.

While IT is growing, Savin says that E-commerce consulting is going

through some fallout now. As E-commerce firms have been experiencing

difficulties, E-commerce consultants have suffered along with their

clients. "As E-commerce grew, E-commerce consulting grew. Now

that E-commerce firms are experiencing hard times, consulting firms

fortunes have fallen as well."

Besides making sure expectations remain realistic for both consultant

and client, in terms of length of time and resources needed to accomplish

the goal, Savin has other tips for consultants, including taking care

of existing clients; marketing continuously; and trying to turn projects

into long-term relationships.

Savin says that income and activities tend to be project-oriented,

but consultants have to market themselves and they have to provide

the service for which they were hired. "The natural tendency is

less marketing and more [toward] doing. You have to get some kind

of balance in there," Savin says.

Once hired, the consultant needs to be aware of "danger signs"

that a project might be in jeopardy. These may include: Feeling the

client pulling away; seeing that the client is slowing down on paying

bills; dissension in the ranks. If any of these signs appear, then

sit down with the client and work through the problem. "Make sure

you and your client understand the true goal," says Savin. "In

your heart of hearts you know when the company is going to follow

through." He says that if the client doesn’t, "you don’t necessarily

have to have pangs of guilt about it."

A recent change in the field is the "re-emergence of consultant

brokers related to the Internet. The number of companies that find

consulting engagements and make them available to companies has experienced

growth over recent years," according to Savin. He believes, however,

that the number of these firms will decrease over time. "Why would

I want to go to a consultant I don’t know?" Savin says. "I’m

not sure why people would want to use them."

Instead, he feels companies would go to consultants through referrals

or those they have worked with before. "It may be trite, but nothing

beats experience and I think management consulting fits in there,"

says Savin. When it comes to consulting, there is nothing like having

a fair amount of experience under your belt."

— Elizabeth B. Timko

Top Of Page
Customers First? Sure, But How

While businesses large and small agree that putting

the customer first is essential to bottom-line success, not all companies

succeed in developing profitable customer relationships. The problem

is often that they have not planned and implemented the necessary

strategies and procedures in advance. "Customer relationships

are not an afterthought," maintains Helene Mazur of Princeton

Performance Dynamics. "You have to plan for loyal customers. Building

long-term customer relationships will be the differentiating factor

in any business’ ability to succeed."

Whereas Mazur looks at customer relations from a global organizational

perspective, consultant Corby O’Connor focuses on the nitty-gritty

communications between the company and its clients and on the business

etiquette that governs these relationships. Business etiquette defines

a way of behaving with mutual respect in a business context that helps

the company’s representatives and its clients to feel comfortable

with each other. "Business etiquette is primarily building rapport,

because if you don’t have rapport, you do not get anything done,"

says O’Connor.

Mazur and O’Connor will be speaking on "Customer Relations and

Business Etiquette" for the Mercer Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday,

November 21, at 8 a.m. at the Greenacres Country Club. Cost is $20.

For information, call 609-393-4143.

In today’s fast-moving business environment, "customer first"

means that a company must be entirely a customer-driven organization,

says Mazur. "Most companies have gotten good at quality and service.

The next step up is to be customer-driven and work with your clients

to identify what they want to become," she continues. Mazur suggests

a three-pronged approach for creating a customer-driven organization,

one that combines customer-focused strategic planning; systems and

processes that support the customer; and an emphasis on the company’s

employees that encourages their effective interactions with customers:

Customer-focused strategic planning should yield a written

vision statement as well as an action plan for implementing that vision.

A vision statement expresses an organization’s values, in terms of

how it will treat different stakeholders, including customers, employees,

vendors, and the local community. With respect to customers, the company

must define how it will collaborate with them to help them achieve

their own goals. "The company’s vision statement," says Mazur,

"should state what your company will look like when your customer’s

needs have been met or exceeded."

Focus on systems and process. A company needs to implement

proper policies, procedures, and practices to support and deliver

outstanding customer service. For example, employees must be trained

to ask good questions and react to input, even if they uncover customer

dissatisfaction. Processes must also be efficient and cost-effective,

so that the company can deliver on time and at lower costs. Business

practices must always be aligned to changing customer needs and expectations.

"As a client’s expectations keep changing with respect to speed,

convenience, and customization, your processes need to keep changing.

Unless you continue to change, you’re not going to succeed," says

Mazur.

Focus on the people side of your company. Organizational

success depends on the interaction between employees and customers.

"Every interaction with the customer is a moment of truth when

you have a chance to enhance customer loyalty," explains Mazur.

However, if employees are to buy in to the importance of a customer

focus, they must be strongly committed to the company. To develop

their loyalty, a company must create an environment where there is

mutual trust and opportunities for professional growth. "If employees

know that their work has meaning, and they are involved in the decision-making

process, they will feel good about themselves and will deliver positive

results for the company," says Mazur

Luckily for the myriads of employees who must communicate regularly

with customers, a code of business etiquette exists that can help

them to behave appropriately and respectfully in standard business

situations. O’Connor maintains that business etiquette must be a part

of employee training and standard company procedures. O’Connor highlights

two areas of business etiquette that impinge strongly on customer

relations: telephone interactions and client visits.

Telephones serve as important gatekeepers of communication between

a company and its customers, and good telephone manners are critical.

O’Connor explains that "bad telephone manners can hurt a client

relationship." She offers the following suggestions for positive

telephone interactions:

1.) Use proper speech and avoid slang like "hold on,"

"hang on," and "he’s tied up now."

2.) Always ask before placing a person on hold.

3.) Never leave people on hold for longer than 30 seconds

without getting back to them.

4.) Include your full name, business association, and

telephone number in any business message.

5.) Avoid telephone tag by leaving specific messages about

how you can be reached.

6.) Ask for permission to use a speaker phone and then

introduce everyone in the room.

When a client visits an office, it is important to use appropriate

business etiquette to make a positive impression. O’Connor suggests

that the host make sure that the receptionist greets the client in

a friendly way; that visitors are not kept waiting for a nametag or

an escort; and that the host always stand for introductions and come

out from behind a desk to shake hands.

"Treat a customer as if you’re bringing them into your home,"

says O’Connor. "For example, offer them a drink and have them

escorted to the elevator, rather than thanking them at the office

door."

O’Connor graduated from Fordham University in 1978, with a B.A. in

communications. After working in marketing and advertising positions

at Time Warner, Home Box Office, and American Broadcasting Company,

she studied business etiquette by the Protocol School of Washington.

Today O’Connor consults for corporations on business etiquette, writes

a weekly business etiquette column in the New Jersey Star Ledger,

and sponsors a forum on the America Online Career Center.

Mazur graduated from the University at Albany in 1979 with a marketing

degree and received an M.B.A. from New York University. She has done

strategic planning, product management, sales and marketing, training,

consulting, and team management for a number of financial service

and technology firms. Her company focuses on strategic planning, leadership,

sales development, and customer service strategies.

Developing a customer-driven organization demands that a company constantly

redesign itself and its strategies in response to changes in the competition,

the business environment, technology, and customer needs. To monitor

these changes, a company must constantly seek information. "The

more information you can gather about customers, suppliers, and distributors,

the more effectively you can meet clients’ needs."

— Michelle Alperin


Previous Story


Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments