Saying thanks: Wedding vendors

It's now under three months until my wedding. We've been blessed in this process by having talented friends and family who we love and who love us. Only our flower vendor (whom I'll also mention here) was a stranger at the start of our process. As you plan your events, we recommend everybody here. Tell them we sent you!

Flowers: Backyard Garden. I really wanted no part of the flower plans. If I can't eat it, I'm not interested in learning how to grow it, and if I need an allergy pill to pin it to my lapel, I'd rather just skip it. But Nino took us through the shop and into his consultation room, which basically looks like a dining room with a big TV on the wall. He offered us coffee, asked some questions, picked up a remote and showed us some slides. He's followed up with us on colors exactly on the schedule he outlined, and we're looking forward to the final product.

Photos: Kelvin Ringold, Custom Photogenics. Kelvin is one of my oldest friends, and he's part of that group of people we were both friends with before we started dating, so he's known us and our relationship the whole time. Kelvin's a talented human, not just photographer. He writes newsletters, he's a public speaker, he's a life coach. Kelvin and I eat lunch together about twice a month, share our lives and how we're improving ourselves. Send him some business, if you would.

DJ: Geoff "Deaf Geoff" Herbert. Geoff is a friend I made on Twitter back in 2009, when Syracuse was first starting to use the paltform to build a community, before the university embraced it. He's a multi-talented pop culture observer. He's an entertainment producer, disc jockey and former on-air talent. And he's deaf. He speaks not only to students who want to be in radio, but also to groups of deaf young people to show them what's possible for them, to expand their horizons.

Favors: Simmons Ink & Stitch. Reggie and his wife Lysa are a new business. I used to play racquetball with Reggie, who has the sort of laugh you can hear for a quarter mile, and that's how I learned he was doing this for work. I was walking through a mall to see a friend at an art shop, and I thought I heard Reggie laughing, so I wandered in that direction, and there he was. They spent an hour with me showing me what was possible, and we found something that we truly loved, and, by letting us do some of our own craftwork, they helped us keep within our budget.

Venue and food: The Ridge. The Ridge is a lovely 9-hole golf course with a tavern that some of Jen's cousins bought and remodeled. The course has some great views, and the food at the tavern is fantastic, as is the atmosphere. They love bourbons and beer, always keeping a couple of special craft selections around. Make the trip out there. In fact, get in touch and we'll make plans to go play and eat.

Officiant: Frank D'Agostino. Frank is one of the funniest people we both know, another friend I made on Twitter alongside Geoff. He's a goofball, but he's a grown-up, in that he knows when to be serious. He may be a Yankees fan, but he's one of the best people in my life, and his family and ours have certainly been mutually supportive. He got a license when we asked him to marry us, so he can marry you, too.

TwitterFacebookTumblrLinkedInRedditStumbleUponFriendFeedPinterestShare/Bookmark

How Apple isn’t doing it for me right now

Update 3, 9/13: So, it's been a month, and still no follow-up. Apple released a new iPhone yesterday. Yeah, I'm an Android fan anyway, but I can't even consider getting another Apple device, since I don't know when I'll be able to use the iTunes store for anything but free apps again. I followed up on the email thread with Apple support, and I told them I was just doing it for laughs, since, as a manager of a service department, I collect these experiences. Which is true. I'd like to know what the worst of the worst is like so that I don't have to deal with it again.

Update 2, 8/16: I just downloaded Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and When You Are Engulfed in Flames from Barnes & Noble's website. It required a new software install and I had to create new playlists on my iPod because the device didn't recognize the books as audiobooks, but it was worth the extra half hour or so.

Update 1, 8/15: I did email and ask for follow-up. The customer service rep's answer was, at it's essence, "We don't have a resolution yet. We'll let you know when we do.

I've been an on-and-off Apple guy most of my life. Right now I'm so very far off, I can only vent here about it; talking to the company isn't doing any good.

Here's the story.

I went to buy an audiobook on the iTunes store on my netbook. It's a device I've owned for a little over two years, and I've never bought anything on the iTunes store with it. But my 7-year-old laptop is dying, and it won't connect to the iTunes store anymore. The iPod Nano I want to listen to the audiobook on can't connect to the store except through a computer, and my iPad doesn't have a way to connect to the Nano, so through the netbook it had to be.

I went to the iTunes store, selected my audiobook, clicked "Buy Now," and, when prompted, entered my iTunes Store/Apple Store user name and password.

And then I was prompted to answer two security questions that (a) I don't remember setting up and (b) don't make any sense long-term. One of them was "What was your worst job?" Now, I've been in the work force for about 20 years, and I've probably had an iTunes store account since it first opened a decade ago or however long it was.

Uh...

OK, I understand that if I'd both known my username and password (which is typically all you need to know to log into an account) and been able to answer the security questions, we'd be good.

But there has to be a way for me to make a purchase anyway, right? Or at least reset the security questions?

So I emailed support.

I got a message back (at 9:04pm, by the way, from someone whose shift ended at 9pm and was off the next day – way to queue that one up for quick resolution, Apple) that requested the following information to reset my security questions:

If you can't remember the answers to these questions, I can reset the questions for you. For your security, please reply to this email and provide the following information:

At least one of the following:
- The order number of one of your purchases
- The last four digits of the credit card used for your iTunes Store account

And two of the following:
- Your birth date
- The billing address on your account
- The phone number on your account

Now, since app purchases apparently don't count, I didn't have any purchases in my 18-month order history. Instead, I provided the rep with the last four digits of the credit card on my iTunes Store account, my birth date, the address and phone number on the account (so, more information than she really needed).

Let me preface this next bit, in which I get really frustrated, with the fact that I know Apple's had a very recent high-profile security problem.

Here comes the quote from the email. Ready?

Thank you so much for replying with the requested information.

Josh, although I was able to verify the information that you have provided, I apologize because I am not able to reset the security questions at this time. Apple is currently working toward a resolution for the issue you have reported. You will receive an email after the matter has been investigated and further information is available.

Seriously? I answered the questions you asked correctly, you were able to verify that, but you're not able to reset the security questions with no explanation, no next steps and no timeline for resolution? That's a joke, right?

My response was civil, but pointed. I'd logged on for an impulse purchase. Without a quick resolution, I wouldn't make that purchase anyway (even if we'd resolved it with that next email, they would have lost the purchase). But now I'm unlikely to use the iTunes store if I can find a competitor with even a near-equivalent price for the same product. And if I can't find such a competitor, is anything I might buy from the iTunes store in the future really a necessity?

Probably not.

And if I wind up not wanting to use the iTunes store in the future, am I likely to want to use Apple devices in the future?

Probably not.

That's just lousy customer service through and through.

How to get better customer service

Still doing the disclaimer reminder thing, since this gets close to work: The following opinions are mine, not my employer's.

Yesterday I offered some advice as a hiring manager in the customer service field on how to give better customer service. But let's remember there are some things you, as a customer, can do to get better customer service.

Let's go in with a couple of givens here. One, you're seeking a good (or great) customer service experience. You'd think this goes without saying, but sometimes people want to come out of a transaction feeling superior to the person they're dealing with, or at the very least they want the satisfaction of being able to yell at someone who probably does not deserve it (remember that the person at the business undertaking the customer service transaction is, by and large, several steps removed from the person who implemented pricing or policies). For another, you either want or need the product or service you're buying (flat screen TV = want; auto insurance = need); these tips are not going to help you if you're in a place you're getting cold called or bullied into a sale.

What can you do to increase your likelihood of getting good customer service?

Level the playing field. Typically, if you walk into a store or restaurant, the person helping you will either introduce themselves ("Hi, I'm Josh, and I'll be your server tonight"), or will be wearing a name tag. Respond with your name and at least pretend you're as happy to see that person as they pretend to be to see you. "Hi, Josh, I'm Bill. How are you tonight?" Seriously, have you ever done that to a server? Now you know each other's names. We're cool, and dammit, Bill, I'm gonna make sure that even if your beer is flat, your burger is overcooked and the manager sat on your dessert, everything within my power to make your dinner awesome is gonna happen. The trick is to not be condescending. Don't call the server "buddy," "pal," or anything that might seem like this guy's your pet. Your server already knows he's serving you. No need to rub it in.

Have an idea of what you want. When some of us went into a local restaurant and ordered an appetizer sampler, the server asked how we wanted the wings. One of our party said, "delicious." OK, fair enough. There are six sauces, any would be acceptable. No problem. But don't walk into Best Buy and ask for something electronic. If you want a toaster, ask for a toaster, and then get recommendations.

Communicate your needs. I'm allergic to mangoes. I can't walk into a restaurant and ask someone to surprise me with an appetizer. Nobody is going to ask if I'm allergic to mangoes. That's something I have to express. Side note: I recently found out I have this allergy, and I just this second realized I can no longer have a mango lassi at an Indian restaurant. I just got really sad for a minute. If you need a new refrigerator, make sure the salesperson knows you're looking for a little dorm fridge to send your kid off to college with, not a $1200 super-fridge that julienne-cuts ice. You're just going to get more and more frustrated.

Remember that the customer is not always right. This must go back to the 1950s or 1960s, when the U.S. really started to be a service economy. The premise is "I'm spending money with you, so I'm going to get it my way." It just doesn't really work that way. If you walk into a pizza shop and order a pizza and a salad, you'll probably get a pizza, and a salad. But if you then empty your salad bowl onto the pizza and return the empty salad bowl, you're probably not going to get out of there paying for only a pizza. "But the salad is a single topping. It's called 'salad'!" Similarly, you might be able to negotiate a little bit here and there, but you're probably not going to be able to bully a business into becoming a different business. For example, a hat shop that measures your head and hand-stitches a hat to fit you is going to charge you a lot more than if you bought a similar style hat at a department store. Don't expect Artisan A to compete on price with Department Store B, but don't expect Department Store B to match the quality of Artisan A.

So those are some really easy things you can do to get better customer service with every transaction. Do you have other ideas?

How to give great customer service

Again, since I'm a hiring manager in customer service, a reminder that opinions here are mine and not my employer's.

It always surprises me when I have a poor enough customer service experience that I need to remark on it. And it seems to be happening more and more often. Companies are starting to get really good at creating great experiences to make up for bad ones, but why not just give great customer service in the first place?

Let's first understand that every business has two types of customers: internal and external. External customers are the people you serve; those who buy something from your business. Internal customers are the people you work with. These are people you aren't making financial transactions with, but with whom you create good or ill will with by the way you interact in the workplace. Give poor internal customer service, and you're likely to feel alienated at work.

I think giving good customer service is taxing, but easy. I find it taxing because I'm an introvert and would rather be buried behind a computer screen than talking to strangers all day, but I find it easy because I genuinely find people interesting and I like speaking one-on-one. I also think the products and services my company sells are useful and I use them myself (if you can't say this about the stuff your company sells, go work for someone else where you can – seriously, it's hard enough slugging out a 40-hour workweek; if you can't do it with a good conscience, just don't do it).

Here are a few tips to give great customer service the first time. There will be no stories of recovery here. I have some of those I'd be willing to share, but I'd so much rather tell you how to avoid the need for them.

Your personal stuff stays at home. Everybody has bad days. Don't take them out on your customers. If you want to warn your internal customers that you've got some personal stuff going on and that you'd appreciate some space and/or extra help that day, cool. Hopefully you've done right enough by them that it's not an issue. But your external customers should never be aware of it. I work in an industry in which I see the same people every day. They can tell by my energy levels if I'm having an off-day (I've seen them three to five days a week at the same time for almost two years now), but they also know they can rely on me for what they need to make their experience with the company a positive one. They don't need to know why I'm having an off-day, and it doesn't need to come through in our interaction.

Smile. If you smile before you speak to someone (and I'm going to say this like you're a 7-year old), your insides will follow what your outsides are doing. If you're putting on a genuine smile, your voice and your energy will appear to your customer that you are honestly happy to see and help them.

Listen, and ask questions. This is the single most important thing you can do to make sure you're helping someone efficiently and effectively. You'll get your customer what they want, and you won't waste their time. And sometimes, the customer doesn't want anything from you – only for you to listen. Sometimes you have to ask a couple of questions to get clarification on what your customer wants, but you should be able to get there pretty easily. Let me tell you a story about when I spent more money at a place because the less expensive place I went gave me poor customer service. All I wanted was for the rep to listen to me.

I was planning a weekend trip that would cover about 600 miles. Not a huge distance, but I had a car of questionable reliability, so I decided to rent a car. I made reservations, I got an agreement in the mail (I made the reservation a month in advance), and I got reminder emails. I decided to take my lunch hour to pick up the car instead of waiting until after work. When I got there, I discovered that if I was paying cash I had to put down an extra couple of hundred dollars. This wouldn't have been a problem, but I wasn't aware of it. I started to say something to the rep, and she cut me off, saying that it was on page 17 of my rental agreement, and she could get me a copy if I like. I then said, and four and a half years later I can recite this almost verbatim:

Actually, I was going to say that you sent me three reminder emails that said, in big letters, that I can't take my rental SUV into Canada because of some vehicle restriction law. I'm renting a sub-compact. If you'd included the cash note once instead of the SUV one, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I really just wanted to offer that as a suggestion, but now I'm going to spend more money to rent the same car somewhere else.

Seriously. How stupid is that of a way to lose a customer? All I needed from her was to listen, and she decided she wasn't interested in that. She wound up having to listen to me anyway, and she lost me as a customer for her company.

Give a damn. Here's a phrase that comes from one of my customers: "You can't train giving a damn." And she's right. If you don't give a damn about your company, your company's products, or your customers, it comes through. And if one of those things is true, you shouldn't be wasting your time working for them, and your company shouldn't be wasting their money paying you. There are always internal politics and you may be unhappy at the moment, but if at the end of the day you don't give a damn about what you do, it's time for you to find something else.

That's really it. Four things you can do to create a good customer experience. Add yours in comments below. Next up, some tips for getting better customer service.

So that’s what our yard looks like! Hire Yardsmith

Note: The short version of this post is go hire Yardsmith if you need some yard work done. They did amazing job at a much lower price than I expected. The rest of this post is me rambling about how desperate we were and how awesome they were.

Those of you who know us well know that our back yard has become the stuff of ever-growing legend over the past 18 months. Here's the story on that.

Martin Luther King Day 2011 was particularly warm. We'd had this tree that needed to come down in the back yard for a while, and someone came over to take care of it.

Well, he didn't exactly take care of it. He left wood all over the yard, and left 20 feet of trunk standing, and promised to come back and finish the job in the summer (yeah, right). If I remembered who the guy was, I'd tell you, so you don't make the same mistake we did.

This tree, by the way, was a 60-foot maple, probably 120 years old or more. It wasn't little.

JB's brother Ben came over and helped a lot with the wood. He cut a lot of it, split more of it, and took well over 1,000 pounds of it off our hands (he has a larger plot of land in a more rural area. He helped us stack a bunch of what he didn't take.

Last spring, we had a barbecue. We invited people to come eat and take some wood to burn. One guy had a chainsaw in his truck; another guy had some tow straps in his. We took down the trunk.

I bought a chainsaw. Ben and I cut up and stacked everything we could. We did pretty well, but dropped enough chains and got uncomfortable enough with what we were doing that we decided we had to hire someone to take care of the rest of it.

We hired Lee's Tree Service in March to do the last 20 feet of trunk, which was firmly in the ground and about 3 feet in diameter.

It turns out it wasn't just us. Bernie Lee and his employee dropped three chains while cutting it up – there were nails and bullets and all kinds of stuff in the trunk from before the neighborhood was built around the tree.

Between Bernie and us, we got the wood out of the yard. There was still sawdust all over the place; I filled a bucket so that we could throw handfuls of maple dust on the charcoal. Yum. I raked up a couple of piles of sawdust, but there was still that and bark and such all over the place.

We got enough of that up that we were finally able to wheel the lawn mower out a couple of weeks ago. Yes, you read that timeline correctly. This was the first time we were able to get the mower out in nearly two years. The grass and weeds were thigh-high in some places. Moving some of the stuff around, we displaced frogs and who knows what other wildlife. We started seeing wild strawberries beginning to grow here and there.

JB started the mower up, knocked down a couple of feet of grass, and the mower stalled. Start, stop, start stop, and an hour later, we had a patch of grass. This went on for a week; she'd spend an hour starting and stopping, and we started to see some open space. Not much, but some.

I went out and got a reel mower. It made moving around a bit easier, but it wood flatten some patches of grass. A couple of hours out there and I roughly doubled the size of the patch. That still left about 70% of the yard covered in crap, and we'd done five hours' worth of work.

I looked at JB and spoke a truth I don't think either of us wanted to admit: We were going to have to pay somebody to help us out here. I don't know much about the lawn service industry, but I figure that most lawn services make money from either big landscaping jobs or an on-going mowing and plowing contract. I thought it would be difficult to get someone to come out for one job.

I tweeted, "Anyone know a local lawn service that would do a one-off rockstar job at a reasonable price?"

A local comic and web developer got back to me and told me his client, Yardsmith, would surely fit the bill. I filled out their contact form on Saturday. It looked like we were just outside of their coverage area, and I mentioned that in my inquiry.

I got an email back on Monday morning from Craig at Yardsmith. He told me he'd be able to take a look at the property that day. I told him we wouldn't be home, but I gave him some general instructions for what we wanted.

He came back with a quote, and it was so far below my expectation that I honestly thought he checked out the wrong property. I didn't ask if he was sure; instead I pretty much just emailed back, "Awesome! When can you get here?"

He emailed Tuesday morning and said, "My guys can be there tomorrow."

I got home and moved a stack of wood that would have been in their way (yeah, we still have plenty – if you need some, just let me know; we'll burn a lot of it, but still), and emailed off some instructions, letting them know that I'd be at work but JB would be home.

I then saw this tweet from JB: "Pictures likely to follow once @JoshShear sees the beauty. Thank you Yardsmith, you guys did a great job."

I got home after a softball game, and brought Rufus out back to pee (the dog, not me; I'm still allowed to use the toilet) and check out the work. They did an awesome job. They even bagged and took all the crap they cut down. We could have bought them lunch on top of what we paid them and still not hit our weekly grocery bill. Go hire them right now for whatever you need. Here's their website again.

Know your customers: 2 very different dining experiences

Last weekend, I visited my parents in Springfield, Mass., to help get some stuff out of the house (they're moving to South Carolina, where the snowblower will be useless, the seafood and taxes cheaper, and the retirement easier).

We went out to eat twice, and had two very different experiences. The food, in both cases, was excellent – above expectation and worth the price.

I'll tell you first about Ixtapa #5. This is a taco truck parked in the parking lot of a grocery store in a heavily Latino community.

Their English is as broken as my Spanish. They serve tacos, quesadillas and Mexican sodas. Maybe they'd do a burrito. They put tongue (pictured), chicken or beef on your tortilla of choice. Bam, the end.

They're quick, the food is cheap, they don't chat a lot unless they know the customer's family (which is common in a close community like that one), and it's one of the most genuine dining experiences I've had (even though I was standing in a grocery store parking lot).

Next, I want to talk about Felix's Family Restaurant. This is an Italian restaurant that stands in what used to be a pizzeria. They overhauled it after a kitchen fire moved the pizza place a mile away. It should be noted that the building shares a parking lot with Felix's Auto Body.

We went to catch up with some old friends (and by old friends, I mean we've know the family for 30ish years). It was evident from the hugs and the animated talking that we were catching up and kind of caught up in ourselves.

Some wandering musicians began playing (accordion and guitar), and they were loud. They serenaded tables near and far with Italian songs – I get this; it's authentic and it adds to a dining experience.

We did our best to ignore the musicians – we made it obvious by not looking at them, not offering applause and certainly not participating when they stood over several members of our party and played in their ears.

And then they tried to engage us.

Let me make this clear. We weren't there to see a concert. If we'd been a table in the corner entirely ignoring a musician we (and other people) had paid to see and talking across the table at the top of our lungs so we could be heard, we'd be giant assholes.

But the musicians were ambiance, and we didn't want it. And they insisted. It took every hint short of asking if they'd just go play across the room to get them to let us enjoy our food.

The server was an entirely different story. She left one pitcher of water for 9 adults and wasn't attentive to it.

When she showed up with eight salad plates, she apologized, noting that she probably stole it – a cute joke, except that she then spent the next several minutes regaling us with stories of stolen restaurant cutlery, rather than, say, getting us another plate.

It took us 15 minutes to get a shaker of red pepper at one point during the meal.

One of our party let her know she was allergic to tomatoes. When she asked that her dinner be altered to avoid tomatoes, the server brought a dinner that appeared to have something tomato red on it. After insisting there were no tomatoes, we learned it was marinara sauce. Which, if you worked in an Italian restaurant, you'd be required to know has a tomato base, no? And while the dish was replaced with something tomato-free, we didn't get an apology from management, nor did we get a discounted dinner.

Overall, we were at the restaurant slightly over two hours, without any unnecessary chatter; it just took that long to do dinner.

It was one of the worst customer service experiences I've ever had, and I had it in a place that stood to charge us in the area of $200 for our purchase.

Recommendations: Taco truck yes, Felix's no.

Dollar Shave Club

I'm officially a fan-boy.

For those of you who don't know me, I require a lot of razor blades. I shave my head, and if I could get a job growing beards, I'd be among the highest paid members of my profession. Think: "I just saw you last week. Where the hell did you get that four-inch goatee?"

In case you haven't noticed, razor blades are not cheap. They're also not good.

I've been a Schick Quattro guy for a few years now. I pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 for 8 replacement blades, and I go through about 2 a week. If I decide to go 10 days or so without shaving, I'll burn an extra one or two on top of that. Seriously. I should have gone into radio. Or poetry. You know, something where I'm not in front of people and pretty shaggy totally isn't an issue as long as you don't stink.

Then I learned about Dollar Shave Club back in late February. For the price, I couldn't say no to trying it. I joined their $9 a month plan, which includes a handle at sign-up and then three 5-blade razors a month.

And then I got this email:

Last week the Internet came to visit, and as a result, we're unable to fulfill your order right now.

Yes, we think this sucks too. But we're giving you options.

Those options were take your money back now, no harm, no foul, or wait it out and we'll ship in May.

It's embarrassing not to be able to fulfill first orders. It's also a pretty awesome problem to have way exceeded your initial expectations.

I decided to wait it out. I mean, it's still the same amount of money, and it's still way cheaper than I've been paying.

They said they'd ship on the 15th, so I haven't actually shaved in a week, anticipating the arrival of my new razor. It came today, and it took care of a week's worth of growth cleanly. No razor burn (what?!), no cuts, no dulling. The blades are pretty freakin' amazing. And they're half the price of what I've been paying.

Good customer service recovery, and a great product. I get a free month if you use my link. Please do. Here it is.

Great Customer Service: Home Depot, DeWitt, NY

"Who can tell me about chainsaws?" I asked the guy in the tools aisle.

"Actually, chainsaws are in garden."

Crap, that's all the way back where I came in the store. I guess that sort of makes sense, but I was on my feet for 7 hours at work. Eh, I have to walk that in the parking lot to get back to my car anyway. Sigh.

"Who can tell me about chainsaws?" I asked the guy in the garden aisle.

"Let me get you Tom. I don't have a walkie, but we can find someone who does. He's the second smartest guy in the store."

"Why aren't you getting me the smartest?"

"He doesn't know anything about chainsaws."

"OK, second smartest it is."

Tom came over, brought me to the chainsaws, and asked about my project.

Having figured out what I needed, he asked about my price range, and didn't even try to get me to spend an extra $20. He then scanned the chainsaw and discovered it listed zero in stock.

Then he opened a dusty case on the bottom shelf and discovered that zero wasn't quite true. But there appeared to be a lubricant leak in the case.

Tom then obtained a roll of rags, and as he cleaned out the case, he explained about the two-cycle engine, the sort of gas-oil mix I'd need, where to put the lubricant, and he replaced the crushed, leaking lubricant can.

And then he gave me a display-item discount on the saw, which has been cutting perfectly.

Rock on, Home Depot.

Turning around a customer using a Facebook-facetime combo

It was 10:30 on a Tuesday night when I got a notification that someone had posted on our Facebook wall – and he wasn't happy. Rather than respond right away, we discussed our response among management and slept on it, which led to a mildly productive exchange (blacked out boxes are the complainer's name, red boxes are the name of an employee):

The member came into the club a few days later, and I asked if everything had been taken care of, noting that I was the person responding to him on Facebook. He noted that it had, and apologized for the way he reacted.

That was all well and good until he went to work out. When he came back up, he told me the real story: He had a really bad experience at a prior gym and didn't want to get roped into anything. He described that prior experience, and it was definitely not the way any gym should have treated him. He seemed happy.

The next day, here's what came up on our Facebook page:

I think with the initial Facebook follow-up and the phone calls and emails from the membership team, we were able to at least get him into the gym. It was the experience of seeing us face-to-face and talking to us that really clinched the deal, though.

Remember that your customers are people, not just complaints (or kudos). Invite them into your world, and you'll learn a lot from each other.

Winning customers by stretching the rules

For those Syracuseans not in the know, Funk 'N' Waffles is a great little spot on the SU hill. It has a menu of interesting waffle creations (including chicken & waffles, pulled pork waffles, and a new favorite for some of my friends: a stuffing waffle with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce), good coffee, and free wifi.

They are good citizens, opting for local eggs, Dinosaur BarBQue sauces, and other local options when possible.

The only complaint I've ever thought of is that they close at 4:30 on Mondays, which is kind of early.

So, as co-chair of the 40 Below Civic Engagement Task Force, I approached the venue about staying open a little later to host a social networking event, which started at 5:30. I arrived a little before 5, and was pleased to see they had something of a walk-in crowd, which meant they weren't bored in that hour between when they typically close and when we were to start.

Then we brought in 16 people – very few of whom had been there before. And almost to a person, they were so impressed with the venue that they said they would not only return, but bring other new people.

If eight of those people do return with two new people each, and then half of those new people do the same, that's a lot of new customers, thanks to being willing to keep the lights on and paying two employees for four extra hours.

That's a minimal investment for a lot of new customers – and let's not forget that so much of small business marketing is helping the non-profits in your area.

Awesome job, Funk 'N' Waffles.