Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Class! Get Geeked About Customer Service.

I sell books on Amazon. Not that I am promoting my bookstore here, but I want to share my experience to point out three important things about customer service which are useful for any business including my tiling business.

1) Having a fanatical commitment to customer service,
2) Maintaining remarkable customer feedback scores
3) Getting Geeked about "Attaboy's"

A little background
I got into selling books on Amazon while in grad school. The professors provided a continuous flow of high value text books for free - as they are targeted by publishers to pimp their books - they have no choice but to discard the promos or risk losing their office to books.

I saw an opportunity. I learned the ropes of Amazon reselling and I cleared nearly as much as my stipend.

Today, I source books from all sorts of venues, and I am always on the lookout for more. Gone are the days of high value freebies, but now I move volume, and I've invested in the technology to support it. I like it. It's my own little Pawnstars. And, Its not too taxing to my main line of business. Furthermore, I use book selling as an object lesson for my kids.

I'm teaching them how to run a business. They too are book sellers on Amazon under my guidance. Now they consider the choice of saving toward the next book acquisition or spending on consumption.

How this Relates to You
So, anyone who has ever bought something online through Amazon, Ebay, or any other ecommerce site, undoubtedly made a faith based commitment with a third party seller. That the seller on the other end of the transaction would fulfill their commitment to you. And if they failed in doing so, that they would with all grace and poise make good on their duty to you. Immediately!

A big factor in contributing to your faith based decision is seller feedback. Seller feedback, of course, comprises the aggregate experiences from previous purchasers. Feedback is the lifeblood of C2C commerce online. Before making the purchase, you undoubtedly consider the seller's feedback rating, because their previous performance informs your expectation of their performance for you. You would not part with your money otherwise.

Let me guess. You want to deal with four or five star sellers. You want >90-92% ratings. And among these acceptable sellers, a five star 100% seller is a remarkable seller among the herd of grade-A sellers. You might even be willing to pay a small premium to use the 100% seller instead of the grade-A seller just ahead of him. The premium being insurance toward receiving essentially a risk free transaction.

On Fanatical Commitment
When it comes to selling on Amazon, there is only one thing I value more than my feedback rating. And that is my faith in a loving god. Really! Now, I don't want to represent myself as pious and religious, because I am not. But I am spiritual, and I believe in a higher power. It helps me get through. It centers me, and it keeps me on the path towards my best me. Besides, at the end of the day it's all I really have, it's all I really need, and nobody can take it from me save me. I share this with you because I am sure most of you connect on this level. Now, this faith frames my world view and keeps me customer oriented even if when in the short-term what the customer wants conflicts with my own self-interest.

On Maintaining a Remarkable Feedback Score
Did I mention I have a 100% feedback rating on Amazon? Does this mean I am perfect? God-like? No. In fact, I just got through the Christmas rush. Transactions were up four-fold. Very busy. I made some errors. And, my customer's let me know it. Boy Howdy!

On one occasion I misrepresented the condition of the book; End result: Full refund and I bought them the new book including express shipping. This outcome of course followed a brief back and forth of emails with the customer to;
a) accept the blame
b) say sorry
c) commit to getting it right, and
d) propose a solution that was beyond marginally correct.

It was overwhelmingly correct. "Shock and awe".

Here's their comment in my feedback, "Condition of the book was less than described but the seller took care of it right away - going way above and beyond my expectations. I'd order from them again."

Of course this is not the way to run a railroad. But, should a course correction be called for in the future, I will do it again. Because, it is an opportunity to reset the whole relationship, and to take it to a whole other level.

Their feedback is an example of an "Attaboy" (or Attagirl if you prefer). Something I talk about a lot in this blog. Here's what you should know about Attaboys;
1) Attaboy's are at the foundation of my whole approach to business.
2) If you are not getting Attaboy's, you are either not risking enough in your relations with others, or you are not giving enough of yourself to your business.
3) Attaboy's are reassuring. After all who doesn't want to get feedback like the above?
4) Attaboy's are habit forming.

On Getting Geeked about Attaboy's
On another occasion this season, I sold a book that I did not have. It was a title from a 20-book series which I must have miss-listed, because I had another book from the series in my inventory which was not listed at the time of sale. What did I do? Did I pull the plug on the deal? Leave them high and dry? No. I did not fret, I simply bought the book in same or better condition from another seller, and I upgraded the shipping to expedited so they would get the book in the time frame they expected.

How the Attaboy saved Christmas! It cost about 80% over what I received from my buyer, but it was worth it, so long as my customer was being fulfilled. Little did I know the seller I used put a receipt in with the packing my customer saw what I had paid! He then drew the conclusion that I had overcharged him. I got an email indicating his concern. I explained what happened with all the grace and poise I could muster while setting aside my pride over being discovered for misrepresenting my inventory.

He followed up with this message, "What class! Thank you."

I am so geeked. Are you?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
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Monday, December 6, 2010

Tool Review: Call for Clinker Cutters

I will be doing a product review on Clinker Cutters. This is a tool for cutting large body porcelain tile - a key productivity enhancing tool for the tiler.

So this is a call out to manufacturers of clinker cutters. Contact me if you desire to be included in the review. Get in touch with me for more details. You may contact me through Mr. Jim Young at Virginia Tile in Cleveland, OH.

Clinker Tile Cutter with 26-3/4-Inch Cut"> Marshalltown
Clinker Cutter"> Gundlach
Cutter Replacement Cutting Wheel, 7/8 in. Tungsten- ...">
Cutter - 28-2/4" straight cut"> Ishii

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Alena Capra Designs at Coverings 2011 Designer Showcase

Alena Capra, a Ft Lauderdale designer, will be among the designers featured at the Coverings 2011 Installation Design Showcase. Alena is the Principal at Alena Capra Designs where she designs full home and commercial interiors. She is passionate about kitchen and bath design as are we here at Mosaic Musings. She is also attuned to sustainable design. She holds a Green AP, and she is a Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer. While these may signify her commitment to professionalism, there is perhaps no better confirmation of her reputation than to be invited to put it all on the line at the 2011 Coverings Show.

Alena Capra
Photo of 2010 Installation Design Showcase

The Installation Design Showcase at Coverings highlights the synergy between great design and installation. Unveiled just a year ago, the event partners leading installers and designers in a compressed project where design/inception/completion take place inside the show's four day calendar. Very cool indeed. Has anyone called HGTV on this one??? Last year's sponsors for the Installation Design Showcase are posted below.

I have added Ms. Capra's Blog to the blogroll, so we all can keep track of her progress. We congratulate Ms. Capra on this distinction, and wish her great fortune in her work.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mission Accomplished

Here's a quick post about a job I completed in September. It's an excellent example of an attaboy. The photos tell the story about a Happy customer. Mission Accomplished.

DISCLOSURE: I do not post the names of clients or their clients without their permission unless they agree or request to have their information disclosed in this blog.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

New Project Awarded to Midwest Mosaic, Inc.

I just received a contract from a local general contractor to perform a tile project for a private commercial client. For now, I will refer to this as project Urban Canvas for the primary tile selection. I will post photos to the blog under this project name. Located in the Port Clinton, OH area, Urban Canvas will provide Mosaic, Inc. 11 workdays of business in the November/December time frame.

DISCLOSURE: I do not post the names of clients or their clients without their permission unless they agree or request to have their information disclosed in this blog.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Upcoming:Malcolm goes to Greenbuild 2010 November 17-19

I will be in Chicago November 17-19 attending the industry's biggest green building convention, Greenbuild 2010. This is the once a year learning and networking opportunity for green building professionals. I have high hopes for this and will make sure to post my raw thoughts while there. For those of my customers who have work scheduled on these days, Weds-Fri, we will need to shift it to the weekend, November 20 & 21.
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Alphabet Soup. What's with all the acronyms?

A few of my readers have been asking, "Hey Malcolm! What's with all the alphabet (acronyms) after your name?" That's a good question. The short answer is these are my professional certifications. The complete answer lies somewhere between marketing and professionalism. Bottom line, its all about you...the customer. You want the most qualified individual doing your work. The acronyms, in a few short characters, promote the notion that I am among the most highly qualified most professional tile installers in the US. And I offer my talents and expertise at market price. No extra charge to you.


We live in a time where globalization and technology are conspiring to revolutionize work, both in terms of who does it AND how/where it gets done. The customer can and should expect to find highly qualified service providers readily available to meet your needs at a reasonable price. No matter what your needs may be.

For instance small business owners need back office support. A pure overhead dilemma, and an onerous step-cost that threatens many an emergent enterprise. Traditionally the need is fulfilled by a low skilled yet highly competent full time office manager performing a broad range of duties including bookkeeping and basic accounting operations. Now because of GlobalTech, bookkeeping/accounting along with a host of other tasks can and should be performed by a highly skilled subject expert at a piecework price equal to or less than the low skill full time employee. Think of CPA's in India doing bookkeeping for an array of US small business customers charging each only for the services rendered. Sometimes for as little as $5/hr.

The world is indeed flat and getting flatter. This is leading to an unprecedented resource slack in the developed world. Hence, it is entirely reasonable to find an MBA laying tile instead of creating financial weapons of mass destruction. This should be viewed as constructive as well as productive for consumers. And if one MBA is laying tile, then it is entirely reasonable for you to expect that your service providers possess a certification relevant to the services they provide. If they don't have certifications, find some that do. Or at a minimum request that yours pursue a certification as a condition for continued patronage.


I represent myself as a professional in the blog's About Me section. I do this because I want you to get what is called value-for-time, and ultimately value-for-money. Professionalism is a primary attribute when you consider risking your time to read me and ultimately risking your money for my tile work. Thus, I feel it is important I convey to you what makes a professional in my opinion. Hence, you will find many posts about this idea. Among these is the idea of professional certification.

Professional certification indicates knowledge/skill achievement according to some board of standards. So far, my certifications are as follows; MBA, IMI, LEED-GA, CDT, EIT. I say, "so far" because I am not done yet. In my opinion, a professional ought never cease to learn and achieve. After all, knowledge is power. Power to serve others and to serve them well. And, knowledge is an intangible asset. Its distinguishes one from another. Better yet, an intangible knowledge asset cannot be taken except by death, disease, or tragic accident. Pity the tax-man and the debt-collector alike when it comes to knowledge. As Gandalf the Grey exclaimed, "You shall not Pass!" Knowledge is the great equalizer, and it is always available for creating future value.

So let's go through my alphabet...

I have an MBA. That's a Masters degree in Business Administration. I earned this distinction December 2009 from the full-time program at Bowling Green State University an AACSB accredited school. The degree indicates that I have completed a rigorous program of study preparing me for work in the most complex business organizations. So, why am I laying tile? That's another post for another day. The most important take away for you is that AACSB accreditation emphasizes the student's attention to business ethics, and that is what you will get from me. A highly trained business approach guided by ethics.

In 2006, I earned the IMI designation. It indicates that I have completed the International Masonry Institute's (IMI) Contractor College. The IMI is a labor/management organization of the Bricklayers and Allied Crafts (BAC). IMI promotes masonry and allied craft construction and professionalism in the business. Tiling, a trowel trade, is among the allied crafts. Contractor College provides a well rounded course of business and technical study for the contractor and their craft workers. The IMI suggests architects should specify IMI certified contractors to minimize the execution risk of their masonry and allied craft work. As the architect of your tile project, you should too.

Green building is spoken here. The LEED-GA is for professionals who support green building. Issued by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the Green Associate (GA) credential indicates my basic knowledge of the LEED green building system. While I do not expect you will embark upon a LEED certified project, increasingly, I find my customers are presenting environmental goals which rank on par with traditional project goals such as great quality, competitive pricing, and speedy delivery. Earned in 2010, this certification indicates my commitment to helping you achieve your green goals.

In 1999, I earned the CDT designation. It stands for Construction Document Specialist. Have you ever wondered at the complexity of construction? The organized chaos. How is it that despite the chaos, the project always seems to come together? Part of it is the people, and the other part is a set of document principals that is generally accepted by the industry. The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) is the organization that governs these principals. Even though the CSI provides the framework through its Master Format, construction documents are persistently arcane and increasingly complex. A CDT indicates a rigorous study of CSI's Master Format, so CDT's may be relied upon to make skilled interpretations of the project documentation.

The EIT stands for Engineer in Training, and it indicates that I passed the fundamentals of engineering examination; since 1995. The EIT is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). It is step one of two toward achieving the Professional Engineer (PE) License. While my career track does not lead to licensure, as your tile setter it is worth noting the EIT. You have to have a Bachelors of Science in Engineering just to sit for this exam, and some engineering grads never pass the test. My BS is in Civil Engineering, and I have accumulated extensive knowledge about structures, water management, and materials science - heavy on the cement please. You want your tile layer to understand theses topics, and the deeper the understanding the better.

So this is my alphabet so far, and how it relates to you considering me as your tile contractor. Plus a few added thoughts about why you should expect certification from your service providers. My future goals for certification include;
  1. Certified Tile Installer (CTI) from the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF).
  2. Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI).
  3. Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
  4. Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
These I believe should keep my knowledge seeking appetite satisfied for a while. The first two will contribute directly to the value of my current service offering while the last two should give you an idea as to where I want to take my service offerings in the long term. All of these will contribute to my professionalism.

So, What do you think makes a professional? How far do you think certification contributes to professionalism? How much of it is just marketing?
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Ten Minute Marketing Plan. Utilizing the Killer App.

Have you ever wondered why the newspaper business is going so badly? It's not the Internet's fault per-se. And, it's not that every 20-something would-be journalist (or tile-pro like me) has cut out the middle man by publishing blog content directly to the Internet. Besides content creation as well as journalists are expenses for the news media. No my friends, it's Craig's List's fault.
CraigslistImage via Wikipedia
That's right Craig's List, the free Internet classifieds, killed the newspaper businesses. Historically, classified ads have been the key source of revenue for the local paper, and since Craig's is giving it away for FREE their Golden Goose has been cooked. No more eggs. Scary for them but good for least when it comes to marketing.
Simpleton takes the Golden Goose to marketImage via Wikipedia
More people turn to Craig's list every day to find the things they want. And we want them to find us. Right? And Craig's isn't charging a single penny. Whoa! How much did you pay for that Yellow Book listing?
OK, when it comes to marketing for the low-overhead-trade-contractor (LOTC), this one's a no-brainer. Post your trade service in your local Craig's List.
After making my customers happy, I am all about return-on-time-invested (ROTI). I just put my services add up on Craig's List under the heading skilled trades. It took me all of ten minutes.
I guarantee the post will drive prospective customers to this blog, now and into the future. And you want to know how I will know Craig's is driving traffic? I offered a 5% discount off my bill for customers who mention a title from one of my blog posts. That is provided I convert the prospect to a paying customer, but that is a post on sales which I will leave for another day.
In closing, here are three marketing objectives for the low overhead trade contractor.
1. Keep it simple
2. Keep it cheap
3. Verify it's effectiveness
So what are your favorite ten minute marketing plans?
Yours truly,
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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Welcome to Mosaic Musings

The purpose of Musings is to provide a high touch resource for my customers, my future customers, and their friends and family. In this pursuit, I will share about my business approach including marketing and sales, production and service, and close out and follow up. So, this blog will also be useful for other professional tile contractors, tile distributors, and tile product manufacturers.

My approach is honest and genuine. I believe, by putting my customers first, that they will return the favor by referring me to others. In the services business, there can be no other way. We are only as good as our last opportunity to serve. Besides, it really makes my day when a customer lets me know that they appreciate the extra effort. I call that an "attaboy", and I firmly believe it takes ten attaboys to make up for one bad experience.

This point is even more acute in the tile trade. By the square foot, tile is one of the most exquisite finishes on a customer's project. Tile is enduring as well. It lasts for ever. Unlike carpet or vinyl on floors and paint or wall paper on walls, tile just does not fade or wear out. A carpeting or painting contractor can expect repeat business due to normal wear and tear, but tiler's work is one and done. Set it and forget it. So it is essential that I get it right the first time, and if not, I make it right for my own self interest. In this way, I position myself for referrals based on superior performance.

Customers should expect the best from their tile installer. I know my customers do. I want them to expect as much. Tile is a celebration of their most intimate spaces. Whether it is their kitchen or bath, hearth or patio, it is my honor to be selected by them to make their vision come to life. I take every opportunity to understand their desires and expectations and to not rush them to a decision. While I am not a designer, I do have an eye for what looks good. After all, I've been in the business for two decades. I want them to make the right decision about their tile, their tile related products, and their tile installer. I refer them to the best stores and showrooms for their needs and budget. And, I provide them with the information they need to get the most out of their design consults.

Time is of the essence for my customers as well. Once they come to a decision I want them to feel like no time is wasted in getting to completion. I want to minimize the disruption in their lives, so that they can begin to enjoy their intimate spaces as soon as possible and for an exquisite and enduring future.

Hopefully, by keeping it real and keeping it genuine this blog will become an invaluable resource for customers, and future customers alike, as well as other tile contractors, distributors, and tile manufacturers.

Happy tiling,
Malcolm Campbell, IMI, CDT, EIT, MBA
President Midwest Mosiac, Inc.