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In this issue of Small Business News from The Stevie Awards:
How to Get a Start on the Competition
Project Management and Team Building 1.01
Podcast Interview: Inspiring Fast Growth
Small Business Blogs & Sites of Note
Calendar of Events for Small Business

DefibtechIn winning its 2006 Stevie Award for Best Customer Service Team in the American Business Awards,, Inc. beat out some pretty stiff competition When presented with the award, Mike Faith, president and CEO of, said: "This is vindication for all the hard work and dedication of the talented and creative professional Customer Service Team that mans our call center."

Known as America’s headset specialists,, Inc. caters to its 116,000 strong customer base through a 57-person call center based in the heart of San Francisco. As one of the fastest-growing private companies in America today, it prides itself on delivering Customer Service at levels of employee efficiency not normally found in the B2B office electronics industry.

Mike Faith attributes the company’s success to its committed focus on just two things:

1. Providing the largest selection of products at the best price;  and
2. Outstanding Customer Service.

Here are some pointers from on how to achieve the outstanding Customer Service part:

Enjoy the Experience
According to Mike: “We've found the best way to enjoy our work day is by helping people. It's a cliché, but true. Our goal: each person who calls us will be glad that they did. Whether they purchase from us, have a question, want to return an item, or even complain—our goal is total customer satisfaction. That's how we enjoy ourselves.”

Ensure Customer Satisfaction
The company measures overall customer satisfaction by surveying each and every customer interaction. Customers are asked to rate their overall experience and the service they received on a scale that runs from Poor to Excellent. sets itself the goal of an 8:1 ratio of Excellent across the entire company.

This means that 88.8% of the 2,100 surveys that customers complete every month rate every aspect of customer interaction with the company as “the best experience possible,” whether that transaction is a pre-sale inquiry, a product support call, a call to return a product, a Live-Chat session via the company website, or even an overdue bill collection call.

These exceptionally high standards are met consistently, with individual customer service reps (CSRs) regularly achieving 100% weekly customer satisfaction, and the excellence ratio for the entire company frequently passing 10:1(90.9%).  It peaked at 14:1(93.3%) in March of 2006.

Hire the Right Team
Faith gets his CSRs to consistently provide that “wow” experience by hiring the right reps. CSRs go through a rigorous interview and testing process. Included in the process are separate interviews with Faith and customer service manager Chris Hicken, an IQ test, and significant time spent listening to live calls.
Once hired, CSRs are taught that respecting customers is of the utmost importance. In fact, being disrespectful to customers, either during a phone call or while talking with co-workers, is a fireable offense. “Rolling your eyes or making inappropriate gestures or comments about a customer are all things at some stage of our lives that we’ve been guilty of,” Faith says. “But it’s just not an acceptable trait, even if the customer is wrong. They’re paying us money and deserve our respect.”

The company promises to return all out-of-hours voicemails and emails within two business hours, and to answer 98% of its 1,000+ daily calls to its call center in under 4 rings by one of its live, fully-trained customer service representatives. A response from the team of Live-Chat operators on the company website takes typically less than 60 seconds. In order to uphold these promises, the company staffs its call-center from 5AM to 5PM with enough CSRs to handle its peak call volume.
Ensure Employee Satisfaction
Attention to the morale and wellbeing of its employees is reflected through Faith’s nomination and recognition by FSB Best Bosses and Winning Workplaces, and by the listing of in the San Francisco Business Times’ “100 Best Companies to Work for in the Bay Area”, for two years running.

Be Accountable
Every piece of marketing the company produces lists the president/CEO’s direct phone and email and the contact details for both the customer service manager and the shipping manager. Should a problem arise, customers are urged to directly contact any member of the management team.

About Mike Faith
Escaping from the drudgery of England's state schools at age 15 with a desire to scratch his entrepreneurial itch, Mike Faith pursued a sales and marketing career in the UK for a while before setting his sights on the larger US market.  He founded, Inc. in 1997. has grown from humble beginnings to be a profitable and self-funded company. Mike Faith’s plan is to grow the company to $200M in sales by 2010.  Says Mike: “We are a team of headset experts who founded our company on the belief that the less you try to do, the better you do what you try. I think that passion is the thing that sets us apart.  And it’s not just a one department thing—it’s a company-wide belief system.”

Mike lives in Danville, California, with his wife and two children.


by Edwin Bailey, managing director of and, online business intelligence for industry

When the apprentices of the eponymous TV program enter the boardroom to explain why they made such a hash of their latest project, do you wonder how these apparently highly talented individuals keep getting it wrong week after week?  Or worse, do you compare their disasters to your own efforts at managing projects or team building away from the eyes of a prying camera?

Just think how much better off they would be if they simply took 45 minutes after each project to run through a metric to assess their team’s strengths and blockages before going into that boardroom.  But no!  Let’s do everything at a gallop, allow no time for structured thinking, and then subject ourselves to lots of demoralizing feedback. 

It’s compulsive TV, but is it business? Well, if nothing else, it might send us back to our training manuals to refresh our thinking on how to run a successful project, and not just because we are terrified of being told “You’re Fired!”

There are two excellent new guide-cum-workbooks on project management and team metrics: Alan Wren’s A-Z of Project Management on how to set up and run projects; and Mike Woodcock and David Francis’ Team Metrics onhow to measure team effectiveness.

How Not to Run a Project
Project management is often deemed by bosses to be an unnecessary overhead, but it can save both time and money. In fact, it could be termed risk management—or avoiding mistakes.  As Alan Wren says in the A-Z of Project Management: “He who has burnt his mouth, blows on his soup.”

The Need for a Champion
Wren considers that every major project needs a champion, preferably at board level, so that the project becomes an integral part of the ongoing growth of a business. He cites a bank that had adopted the methodology approach to projects favoured by one of the big management consultancies. This approach didn’t seem to be working and the bank couldn’t understand why. Good money had been invested in a massive training exercise within the company. 

A little probing revealed that this training had only been given to those executing the projects. The senior managers were outside the loop.  Consequently they didn’t understand what was going on and just told the executives to get on with it. Had the managers been privy to the new methods, they would have been able to make sense of progress or the lack of it. Without committed champions, projects either wither on the vine or get pushed through against the odds.

Make a Plan
The A-Z provides a planning checklist. Then you can dip into the manual on a need-to-know basis. The magic list is:

- Pre-Project, e.g. feasibility, life cycle, sensitivity analysis, terms of reference;
- Planning, e.g. approval, budgets, milestones, critical path, planning checklist;
- During a Project, e.g. review, Earned Value Analysis, filing & documents, risk management, task checklist;
- Closing a Project, e.g. handover, post-project review;
- Project Organization, e.g. champion, matrix management, steering group;
- Project Finance, including authorisation, budget control, Earned Value Analysis, impact analysis.

“Major variations or exceptions will inevitably occur in the best laid plans, but the original plan should stay as the baseline against which to measure progress,” says Wren, “otherwise if you try to track progress against plans that are changing regularly, how will you ever know where you are in relation to where you should have been on a particular date? It’s a sad reality of the Project Manager’s role that you can wait months for a go-ahead, but woe betide a delivery that is one day late.”

Start and Finish Dates
To avoid “Will the last person out turn off the lights?” syndrome it is important to ensure the closing and disposing of tasks in a project in order to bring matters to an orderly end. If you close a project and then one of the stakeholders asks you whether the project is still running, something has gone wrong.

The People Factor
Behind any project there are, of course, people. And they can be pretty unpredictable. One of the earliest investigations into motivators of productivity was Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne experiments at GEC in the US in the late 1930s. The studies among factory workers were originally intended to see if productivity increased with better lighting. 

What the researchers found was that if you turned the lights down, productivity improved. If you told the workers that you had turned the lights up, the productivity still improved. Whatever the researchers imposed, the productivity went up. Psychology, as opposed to physiology, had entered the workplace. The workers were simply responding in a positive way because management was taking some notice of them.  The lesson from Mayo’s studies was that team culture affects performance and morale.  Managers need to develop a positive set of norms in teams that will result in support for the organization and efficiency. 

Team Building
With team building being so much a part of the workplace today, it inevitably follows that instruments are needed both to build productive teams and to measure their performance against agreed objectives.  Enter Team Metrics.

Managers and trainers will find the Woodcock and Francis loose-leaf workbook an excellent round up of the key elements in team building. The book’s chief focus is as a practical measuring tool of performance. There are five metrics, consisting of score-able questionnaires and score grids, and in some cases worksheets, as well as useful background notes.  The metrics are:

    1. for auditing generic team effectiveness
    2. for assessing team leadership
    3. for assessing team strengths and blockages
    4. for assessing top team performance
    5. for facilitators

The questionnaires can be used quickly as a barometer during a particular project. For instance, the High Energy Teamwork Assessment is designed to see if enthusiasm levels are holding up.  It can be completed by each member of a team in about 10 minutes. Results can be reviewed in 5, and then the team called together for 45 minutes to analyze the results.

These instruments are as useful for ongoing assessments as for performance in one-off projects. Team Metrics alsoincludes a bit of psychoanalysis of different styles of working.  Apparently there are ten major roles that you can play in a team. Are you, for instance, a critic or a harmonizer? A politician or a radical? The descriptions will help you understand what you personally contribute.

Team Metrics cites twelve components of effective team working include shared values and explicit roles.  Explicit roles, now they would come in handy for an ‘Apprentice’ project team!

The Project Management A-Z
A Compendium of Project Management Techniques and How to Use Them
Alan Wren 
A4 Hardback, 436 pps £99
A4 Looseleaf 436 pps  £155
Team Metrics,
Resources for Measuring and Improving Team Performance
Mike Woodcock and David Francis. 
A4 Looseleaf + CD. 340 pps. Oct 2005  £299.00

Both books are available from online pharma business bookshop, Piribo Ltd

This is an extract from an article, which first appeared June 2006 in PharmaFocus.


MontrealTrevor Skillen is President and CEO and a founder of Metasoft Systems of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Metasoft won the Stevie Award for Highest Market Share Growth in the 2006 Selling Power Sales Excellence Awards.

Since Metasoft's market share grew 440% during the eligiblity period measured by this year's awards, we figured he would have a valuable perspective on how to inspire and manage fast growth.

Listen to the podcast interview

Blogs, or web logs, are all the rage these days. Each month in this space we'll point you to several blogs that we think might be of interest to you.

Service Untitled : Tips and advice on how to improve customer service and the customer service experience.
Return Customer : Learn beneficial marketing and business principles from everyday experiences.
Where Is Basil? : A travel blog about Basil the donkey’s adventures around the world. Will he deliver his Fawlty Towers DVDs to you in 2007?
Create Your Own Snowflake : Not a blog, but if you create a snowflake you help donations to the Salvation Army.

Calendar of Upcoming Events for Small Business Owners and Managers
January 8-11 : International Consumer Electronics Show , Las Vegas, Nevada
mid-January: Call for Entries for 2007 American Business Awards and 2007 International Business Awards
January 23, Forbes Customer Experience Innovation Forum, New York, New York
March 21, Marketing Directors' European Summit, London, England