Have you ever stopped to think about what this means? The customer is the lifeline of a business. Besides employees, customers are the greatest asset a company can have and must be treated accordingly.
For many companies, this has been a difficult time. People are waiting it out and treading cautiously through this first quarter, keeping purchases to a minimum. However, some have prepared for a time like this and are in a position to stay on the offensive and press forward.
Those companies took careful measure of their return on each investment, assembled the best management team and are quick to adapt to new circumstances. They instill confidence in their customers.
For customers to continue to make investments, they have to be reassured yours is one of those companies.
Here are four principles customers look for before making an investment with you.
1. Innovation. Are you leading or following? Find new ways to set yourself apart from the competition.
2. Value. Give customers more for their money. When people receive more than they expect -- in goods or services -- they place more perceived value on that transaction, which leads to higher customer satisfaction.
3. Sound leadership. Good leaders make good decisions. Evaluate whether you have the right leadership to keep your company on top.
4. Customer service. Service doesn't end after the transaction is done. If you want to keep customers happy, stay in contact after the purchase. Stay up to date on their needs and find out what they like and dislike about your product or service, which will help you fine-tune it for the next customer.
Even when you think customers are wrong, if you listen carefully, they're probably telling you something about your business that needs correcting.
In the current economic climate, you can't afford to ignore them. If you and your staff remember the customer is always right, you'll never go wrong. Fred Koury (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.
Radin, who started Internet Insider Radio, a company that produced a weekly radio program geared to help Internet users, is moving on to helping business owners work through the discomfort they are experiencing with their computer systems.
Radin's company, M.Masters, is consulting with business owners to help make their computer-related technology, from e-mail to office applications, more productive.
"I consider myself to be a personal productivity coach," says Radin.
But he's still going to do radio broadcasts. Radin will continue to produce "Megabyte Minute," a program airing on radio stations in 20 markets. And, says Radin, he's working on producing a television program. Stay tuned.
Now Joseph, who started the company in 1991, employs 45 work-at-home professionals who helped generate $1.5 million in revenue in 2001, a 23 percent increase over the previous year.
Joseph's concept is simple: Accountants with four-year accounting degrees and at least five years experience work from home-based offices for Bookminders' approximately 200 clients.Business owners looking to cut or eliminate staff pay the business an average of $1,000 a month for its services.
Joseph is planning to introduce a Quickbooks Web-based product that will allow accountants and their clients access via an application service provider.
That's why Richard Peck, editor of Nursing Homes, says the magazine chose the president and CEO of St. Barnabas Health System as a member of its editorial advisory board.
Anyone familiar with St. Barnabas might view Peck's comment as an understatement. Day, who has been with St. Barnabas for 34 years, heads an organization that provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient health care services, with care ranging from family medicine to post-hospital nursing care to carriage homes for seniors. It includes two skilled nursing centers, two assisted living residences, two retirement communities, an outpatient medical center and a charitable foundation.
The health system's business acumen was acknowledged in 1995 with the Arthur Andersen Enterprise Award for Best Business Practices.
Since 1987, Day and St. Barnabas have hosted an annual leadership conference attended by many of the region's prominent business government leaders.
As a woman, she faced the obstacles most women entrepreneurs faced then, and, at times, still confront now. The other obstacle was a little different. Pittsburgh, the conventional wisdom had it, wasn't much of a place for market research.
Campos became the Rotary Club of Pittsburgh's first woman president in 1997. And she didn't allow preconceptions about the region blunt her enthusiasm for building a market research company. Her client base now includes multinational corporations, nonprofits, health care organizations, financial institutions and trade and professional organizations.
Recently, Campos has confronted the challenges and opportunities posed by the growing use of technology, particularly online technology, to her industry. She's gone with her strengths and continues to deliver the core research services Campos Market Research has traditionally offered while building large e-mail databases to tap for online focus groups and surveys.
We were asked that question several times this year after we put out a call for nominations for the 2002 Pacesetters. There aren't any hard and fast requirements other than a nominee live in one of the counties where we have significant circulation. Beyond that, a Pacesetter should demonstrate that he or she has made a contribution to the business community and economic development of the region that goes beyond the norm and, in some way, outside the ordinary.
Public service counts. So does job creation. And making tough decisions in trying times may mean more this year than it has in others.
We have witnessed in recent months the tremendous value of exemplary leadership in the most fundamental and critical of ways and circumstances. We've also seen how great leaders can bring out the best in their followers, and how the worst of leaders can lead theirs down a path of destruction.
Ironically, great leaders seem to have an uncanny ability to inspire the people around them to be leaders in their own right, and that may be the very essence of outstanding leadership.
We were duly impressed this year by the quality of the nominees and the packages of supporting information submitted on their behalf. There were several 20-page presentations that took lots of time, care and energy to put together. Several of those individuals were selected. Others weren't, but certainly will be considered in the future.
Beyond the nominations we receive, we spend a good deal of time reviewing the newsmakers covered on the pages of SBN, people we have met or heard about. We try to avoid simply choosing the usual suspects, although we won't ignore the well-known, especially if they have distinguished themselves recently. We send out an e-mail appeal for nominations, hoping to pick up someone we haven't identified before.
When you hear the call next year, consider nominating someone or submitting your own name as a Pacesetter. Tell us why you believe the nominee is Pacesetter material and give us supportive material to help us make our decision.
And if you've been nominated and have yet to be chosen, take heart. Try again next year. And keep on trying in the business arena. After all, perseverance is one of the earmarks of a Pacesetter.
After a long career as an educator and educational administrator, Utay decided to establish an educational center to address the specific needs of individuals. As executive director of Total Learning Centers, Wexford, that's just what she does.
Founded in 1999, Total Learning Centers offers a broad spectrum of services for school-aged children, adults and couples seeking professional help in adding to their skills or overcoming skill deficits. The services can be described as evaluation, tutoring, counseling and training.
Says Utay: "There are well-established models out there, national organizations that offer similar services. But there's a difference. They operate, in my opinion, on client retention, holding on to clients to generate more fees. Our philosophy is to focus very specifically on each individual and meet their needs in the most direct manner possible."
Utay admits her "get-them-in-and-out" philosophy may not be the best money-making technique, but she considers it both an ethical and effective long-term business strategy.
"If we do a good job for our clients and are affordable, our reputation will spread by word of mouth," she says. "In the big picture, that's where I'd like to see our business coming from -- clients, their families, their peers and educational counselors."
Return of the native
A Pittsburgh-area native who graduated from Mount Lebanon High School, Utay completed a bachelor's degree in elementary education at the University of Pittsburgh and earned master's and doctorate degrees at East Texas State University, where her studies emphasized special education and learning disabilities.
It was during a study abroad program that she met her husband, Joe Utay, a Ph.D. psychologist from Dallas. The couple settled in Dallas, where they pursued their careers in different but related specialties, and later lived and worked in Kentucky.
In 1999, the family, now including a daughter, Andrea, returned to the Pittsburgh area to establish a learning center. Joe Utay is director of evaluation and counseling services for the organization.
"When you study the demographics, you can see that Wexford is a natural location for us," says Utay. "Of course, there are other communities in and around the Pittsburgh area that are just as viable. So one of our future objectives may be to open a second center, possibly in the eastern suburbs."
All-star team approach
Initially, Total Learning Centers was Carol and Joe Utay. Today there are 10 full-time employees and three dozen part-time associates, necessitated by the wide variety of services offered.
Utay located her business in 5,000 square fee in the Pine Tree Shoppes, a shopping mall on Perry Highway.
"It's a really ideal location for us," Utay said. "Pine Tree Shoppes is located at a natural crossroads of the community. It's easy to find and there's ample parking. Just as important are the plenty of other facilities nearby. Many of our clients are young people who are driven here by parents or other adults. And not every adult wants to sit in the lobby and read a book while the client is working with us."
Culminating a life's work
For a woman who'd spent her career in large, public educational institutions and organizations, the shift to the ownership and management of a small, specialized private company has been an education.
"There is no single, dramatic moment in our development that stands out in my memory," she says. "The challenge for me has been to acquire skills and a comfort level for some basic and not so basic business, organizational and ownership activities.
"Sure, I was district technology coordinator for Jessamine County Schools (Nicholasville, Ky.) and administered a $1.2 million budget. But that didn't prepare me to negotiate with suppliers when we bought equipment and supplies for the center."
Total Learning Centers is not just another career move. Utay considers it the culmination of everything she's done.
"This is it," she says. "This is what I want to be doing for the rest of my career. I expect there will be major business decisions along the way, like whether or not we establish one or two more locations. But as for the work itself, this is what I want to be doing."
Her principal challenge will be to balance the demands of entrepreneurship against her talents and instincts for evaluating, counseling and educating.
"There's a natural concern about becoming too much the business person and less the educator," she says. "So I continue to think of myself as an educator and to value my interaction with individual clients, helping them develop their special and unique skills and helping them to achieve their dreams." How to reach: Carol Utay, (724)940-1090.
Towers Perrin surveyed 40 major Pittsburgh employers and found that most respondents expect to pay out merit increases at about the same level in 2002 as they did in 2001.
The study indicates participating companies overall are taking an optimistic view of the economy, says a Towers Perrin consultant.
"Merit increase budgets tend to be a pretty good barometer of a company's business outlook because wage and salary costs make up the bulk of controllable operating expenses for most businesses in today's increasingly service-based economy, " says Steve Pakela, a compensation consultant with Towers Perrin in Pittsburgh.
Some companies are being cautious, however. The 10 companies in the survey that gave smaller-than-average merit increases in 2001 plan 2002 increases of only 3 percent, about 25 percent less than last year's level in most categories.
The 10 with higher-than-average increases in 2001 are also planning smaller increases in 2002. This suggests a heightened sense of concern about the economy in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to the report.
Not this year, according to a survey by benefits consultant Towers Perrin.
Large employers' costs will jump about 14 percent this year, the study indicates, and many employers are passing along a share of those costs to their employees.
"Both locally and nationally, 2002 will bring the sharpest increase in health plan costs that companies have seen in many years," says Dan O'Malley, leader of Towers Perrin's health and welfare consulting practice in Pittsburgh.
Employees who received small increases in salary or wages for 2002 may see a reduction in take-home pay, says O'Malley.