Fueled By Passion…Fulfilled by Performance

It’s Friday night, about 8pm Mountaint time, & I’m sitting in the Denver Airport United Club waiting on what’s turned into about a 3 hour flight delay. I should (hopefully) be home by midnight, but it’s unlikely any sooner…

In the last 18 days for work, I’ve been in 16 cities, driven well over 20 hours (across 5 states & 3 tropical islands) in 7 different cars, slept in 8 different hotels (and 1 airplane), been on 8 flights (and I still have 1 more to get home), spanned 4 time zones…and met with 17 firms & hosted 6 QuickBooks Online training events attended by over 100 accountants.

Oh, and did I mention I was home for a whopping 67 hours last week between trips?

Needless to say, my life has been an absolute whirlwind the past few weeks. I’ve had to make decisions like “do I care more about getting in a training session or cardio or sleep” (knowing I may only be getting 3-4 hours of sleep regardless). I’ve been on hold at 1am more than once with the United Premier desk trying desperately to figure out how to make it to my destination or home before midnight and without driving hours as my glass slipper gradually becomes a pumpkin. I’ve far exceeded the recommended dosage of protein bars & tuna packets (in my car racing from one meeting to another). I’ve fallen asleep more than once with my face in my laptop somewhere between 1am & 3am local time. My earliest (but not only pre-dawn) call was at 4:30am local time. And, I’ve managed to pack in more first-time meetings with new partners than I typically do in a month (or more).

Am I exhausted? Drained? Sleep deprived? In major need of a few days at home (and manicure)? Heck yeah – but am I energized and inspired by all of the amazing conversations and “light-bulb moments” that I’ve experienced in the past 3 weeks? HECK YEAH! These past few weeks have been an amazing reminder to me of why I do what I do – and why I push myself so hard.

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There’s a sign at my gym that reads, in part: “I’m obsessed, a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated”. I read it constantly when I’m training, and use it to motivate myself to push harder, lift heavier, go faster…but recently I’ve been thinking of that even outside of the gym. It’s really become part of my core, part of my why.

After making the 90 minute drive from a firm in Northern Utah this afternoon, my last meeting of the trip, I arrived at the airport to this message from them in my email:

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I had so many similar conversations with partners I’ve been meeting with that it’s impossible to even think of slowing down. Those conversations and their excitement has propelled me into my next non-stop day & I’m so excited to keep turning on the gas over the next few months.

I’m extremely fortunate to have a husband & family that enable me to put my career and my partners so high on my priority list. I honestly couldn’t do what I do on the road without my life-line back home. We’ve made a commitment to each other to support both of our careers, and have adopted a “work-life integration” motto (thanks for the term, Ed Kless). I never feel that I’m taking away from my home life by putting so much of myself into work – instead, I’ve got a built-in motivator cheering me on (and me him) each step of the way.

Throughout these daunting marathon days, as I’d drive from meeting to meeting, to hotel, to airport, I got to share the great news of another awesome visit. Each time I was reminded (as usual) that it’s moments like those that motivate me to keep going, and affirm why every flight, every mile, every early morning, and every tuna packet are just adding fuel to my fire.

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Earning Customer Loyalty

This time last year, my amazing fiancé (now husband) surprised me for my birthday with a 6-month coaching package from an online fitness coach I’d been obsessed with following for several months through various Social channels. For once, a fitness persona who uses hashtags like “#TeamPants” & “#MyMomFollowsMe”, and is 100% focused on bettering herself and anyone who will follow. It’s not an overstatement to say that Sarah Bowmar has changed my life.

Upon first look at the program (meal plan + cardio + weight training routines), I was completely overwhelmed & remember telling Brian “there’s no way I can actually do this while traveling like I do”. But for anyone who has spent any time with me on the road this past year, it’s clear that where there’s a will, there’s a way – and I’ve made it happen. Even if that means living out of a cooler in a hotel room, or eating MRE-style tuna pouches while driving across Southern Illinois.

But I promise, this isn’t a blog about fitness – in fact, one of the things I respect so much about Sarah has nothing to do with fitness at all – it has to do with her ability to earn customer loyalty – and that’s something we all can agree is a highly sought after skill…

From the moment I discovered Sarah, I was hooked – skimming through all her Instagram posts, Tweets, YouTube videos, and diligently saving her newsletter workouts to cobble together some of the most challenging workouts I’ve ever done – all with material she provides to followers for free. I remember for a split second thinking “why do I need her coaching package, I have everything she does already?”, but I underestimated her – and myself.

I know for many accountants, they’re doing things on their own as well – I’ll often meet a firm who has a great start to their online practice, and I’m so impressed that they’ve done it with little to no resources from Intuit, but it’s clear they’re struggling (and often frustrated). It’s so fun being the one who gets to break the good news to them by sharing everything we can provide to them as part of our managed account team. Ultimately, It’s an opportunity for us to really earn the loyalty of our partners, who have put their trust in us, by putting their clients on our platform.

As I’ve watched Sarah & her husband, Josh, build their businesses over this past year, I’ve seen myself go from “freemium” user, to client, to supplement user, to elite member of their bowmarfitness membership website. I’ve seen her soar to over 1 million Instagram followers (giving back regularly to loyal followers by doing weekly – sometimes daily – giveaways). And I’ve caught myself feeling such a sense of gratitude for what she’s done for me…and through that, an amazing sense of loyalty. There are millions of places I could go online to find more workouts, but I choose to come back to the Bowmars, because they invested in me, and earned my loyalty.

There’s such a sense of accomplishment when I know that partners who previously recommended other solutions have now shifted to QuickBooks Online. Accounting software is just a tool, and they all have debits & credits, but what can set a tool apart from another is the people behind that brand. I only hope that I can be a similar inspiration to the accountants I work with every day. I hope that my managed firms feel valued, appreciated, and even inspired by me as they make huge strides and move closer to the daunting task of taking their practice online. I imagine when many of them first hear my  pep talk, they feel a bit overwhelmed too, but I’ve seen some of my firms make amazing progress this past year, and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

Throughout the year, I’ve sent progress check-ins to Sarah, and she’s been an amazing encouragement, as well as providing me guidance on things to do differently. Anything worth doing in life is challenging, but having a cheerleader rooting you on sure helps. She constantly makes me feel like she feels proud of the difference she’s made in my life.

In the same way, I absolutely love getting the call or email from my partners telling me “got another QBO for you”, and I love that we’ll often do a virtual happy dance together when a big one comes across. It’s such a great privilege to represent a company like Intuit, and help earn customer loyalty for QBO. I love feeling like I’ve helped make a difference in my partners’ careers…and lives.

Going the Extra 1,000 Miles

With a quick glance at my Twitter feed, you’ll find out pretty quickly that I’m extremely passionate about customer service. I probably choose to exercise my Twitter voice a tad too often when I’m frustrated by any of my frequent vendors, or receive poor service in general…and I know I’ve already blogged about the topic here too. But it’s a two-way street – I expect and expect to provide others with exceptional experiences. It’s part of why I feel working at Intuit fits me so well – after all, our final core value is Deliver Awesome.

When I personally experience a disappointing customer experience, I often find that the way it’s handled is even more of what sticks out in my mind than the initial problem in general. For example, I was recently mischarged at CVS for a few items (nothing earth shattering, but it was more the principle of it), and hadn’t caught it until I was already home and on my way out of town. I brought in my receipt when I got back, and explained what happened. While the woman did refund my money (finally, after an argument about it), she made me feel so stupid and frustrated that while I got my $10, the experience was far more expensive & I left a frustrated customer really questioning whether I wanted to shop there going forward (after all, there’s a Walgreens down the street). Or on a recent flight delay, I finally argued United into Super-Shuttling me home instead of making me stay at LAX (25 minute flight from Palm Springs) overnight, but not after they gave me such an attitude that I actually Tweeted to American Airlines asking if they would match my United status.

I sometimes feel like a broken record talking about how proud I am to be wearing Intuit Blue and representing a company who puts Employees and Customers so high up on their priority list. This past month, however, I’ve been involved in a situation that takes that pride to the next level and beyond.

The scenario starts off with every employee’s worst nightmare – a partner, and their customer, having major problems and unable to get straight answers from support. To add insult to injury, there was a delay in getting an escalated support agent in touch with them. I’ll just come out and say it – it was bad. I was mortified that balls were dropped, and absolutely fell on my sword with my partner accepting full responsibility for the delay, and the poor experience.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, all of this culminated the Friday night before Christmas…but that’s actually where the story starts getting good. Around 5pm local time, I had a VP at Intuit on the phone, walking the halls of the office, recruiting an army to fix it.

I’d love to say it was an easy fix – and that by Monday morning that next week they were up and running, but that’s not how it went. If you fast forward – you’ll skip through multiple hospital visits (don’t ask), numerous long nights & weekends worked (including middle-of-the-night file imports), several holidays ignored to ensure deadlines were hit, and a plethora of other bumps in the road…all with one goal in mind: Deliver Awesome to this customer.

No, we couldn’t make up for the poor initial experience, nor could we snap our fingers and make this particular problem go away, but what we could do is provide our partner & customer with the determination to get them back up and running and not give up on them. After one of our numerous status calls, I wound up in a back & forth conversation with our Care Leader who’s been spearheading this operation – and I told him then how much I knew he’d done – and appreciated him & the team so much. I couldn’t help but feel, in the midst of this nightmare, so much pride to be on their team. We jokingly asked each other about a theme song for this entire project – his suggestion seemed too fitting to argue – he and the team have definitely gone the extra 500 miles – and 500 more!

The Art of Good Complaining

Being the daughter of an audio engineer, going to the movies was always a little different for our family. Besides the fact that we kids were forced to sit clear through the end of the credits to give my father the pleasure of spotting any friends or colleagues who had a hand in creating the masterful digital sound, we then would have to wait for him to track down a theater manager to let them know that something was wrong with the audio output in the theater itself. More often than not, Dad would make fast friends who appreciated him lending his expert ear to their establishment…and would thank him by giving him a movie voucher for next time. It became a running joke that Mr. Hogan hadn’t actually paid for a movie since 1987.

Maybe it’s genetic then, because I’ve always had a way with words when it comes to complaining nicely.  My usual opening like goes something like “I realize this isn’t your fault, so I apologize in advance that you’re the one taking my call, but…”. It’s amazing how often that disclaimer immediately helps win over the person I need on my side. I find this approach is far more successful than what I really want to say or do, which unfortunately yields extremely poor results.

Whether my techniques were acquired or inherited, I won’t complain about them. There are times when others have been mistreated, or just gotten nowhere with a complaint and I’ve called back to discuss and gotten exactly what we wanted. Of course, things don’t always go my way, and when I decide something is worth escalating, I do so with little to no expectations of the person receiving the feedback listening let alone caring. I do it more as a way to vent when I experience such bad customer service. Every once in a while though, I see glimmers of hope that remind me customer service and pride of small business ownership still live today.

On a recent trip, after my late-night gym trip, I opted to run out for a healthy post-workout snack from the neighborhood cafe (I lie, it was the local Chocolate/ Gelato/ Coffee shop – and it’s REALLY good!). I squeezed in a few extra minutes on the treadmill to make up for the delicious Italian wafer that comes with their house-made gelato. When I pulled up in front & ran in (oblivious to the “CLOSED” sign in the window), I was shocked to be stared down by two lethargic teenagers who told me “sorry, we’re closed”. Looking down at my watch, it was still 7 minutes before closing time, and I let them know. They again assured me that they were no longer open.

Completely irritated, I was tempted to post a poor review on Yelp, ruining their perfect 5-Star rating streak. Instead, I found an email on their website & quickly typed a message titled: “Too bad you aren’t open when you say you are”. I briefly explained the situation & off I went in search of a more sensible post-work out choice (like maybe a protein bar).

To my surprise, I awoke the next morning to a reply from the store’s owner. Not only did he apologize for the way I was treated, and assured me that company policy is to remain open during business hours, but – get this – thanked me for letting him know. He asked me to stop by if I was still in town, and said they wanted to give me something for my trouble. When I walked in on my way to morning appointment, I was pleased to meet his son, who again, thanked me profusely as he handed me a $20 gift card and made me an incredible espresso on the house.  He also told me that the employees would be handled. As I walked out, he called out “Come back again soon, Love”.

Granted, one lost out-of-town customer wouldn’t make or break a store like that, but it’s amazing that instead of losing business, I want to tell everyone how great this family-owned store is. Instead of being frustrated and never going back – I now know where I’ll be getting my coffee every time I’m in the neighborhood…a place where customer service is alive & kicking.

Join me next time for episode two featuring my adventures with Time Warner Cable…

Not Just Another Dry Cleaner

I’m not an accountant…in fact, the one and only test I ever failed in my entire educational career was an accounting test (not that I’m still traumatized from that or anything). These days, the only accounting I’m qualified to do is numbering my high heels collection. I am, however, the ultimate accounting groupie – I love all my CPA friends like Adrian, Kara, & Dub-Dot. One of the things I most like hearing from them are stories about their clients, and what they do to deliver a great customer experience. When Shayna Chapman talks about one of the small business owners in her small Ohio town, it quickly becomes obvious that she is committed to delivering an amazing customer experience to these folks – and more importantly, that she truly cares about each and every one of them personally as well as professionally.

While I find this impressive, some might say that making her clients feel special is part of her job as the business owner’s accountant and trusted business advisor – but is it really? I mean, doing a tax return and keeping track of a balance sheet is not too different than many of the other services that each and every one of us utilize on a daily basis – for example a dry cleaner – but how often does our dry cleaner make us feel special?

When I bought my house five years ago, I spent a while exploring different neighborhood businesses; the hardware store, the coffee shop, of course the shoe-repair man, and several different dry cleaners. While I tend to be much more particular about where I get my morning cup of coffee than I’ve ever been about dry cleaning, I wound up returning to the shop around the corner that always sent coupons for 40% off services…hey, a penny saved is a penny earned!

Well as unconcerned as I am with who handles my laundry, I’m equally insistent that I should receive superior customer service wherever I go, but especially at a business where I’m a “regular”. So over the past few years, as my wardrobe has gotten a bit more colorful (and a lot more high-maintenance), I’m making more frequent trips to the cleaners. What I started to realize, is that my dry cleaner didn’t really value me as a client – she often made me uncomfortable by asking me to pay in cash vs. using my debit card and wouldn’t give me the discount if I happened to walk out of my house without the coupon that morning. The final straw came when she recently closed the shop unannounced by posting a sign on the door – not very helpful when you need your clothes for a business trip. My dry cleaning honeymoon was over.

As I tried to figure out where to take my next load of laundry, I happened to remember one shop in particular – they were a bit expensive I recalled, but boy, those people were friendly! I decided to try that first, and see what I thought. Much to my surprise, as I walked into Heritage Dry Cleaners in Irvine, I was greeted with a wonderful smile and a “Hello Ms. Hogan! Long time we don’t see you…” Whoa. Really? I hadn’t been there for four years, he remembered my name? Now that is what I call customer service. I’ll have you know, their prices haven’t gone down, but I’ve not gone anywhere else ever since that day.

Sure, any of us can go to the local H&R block for a tax return, or can take our clothes to any local cleaner – but I guarantee that the ones who treat their clients like MY dry cleaner (and like Shayna), are the ones that will become invaluable to everyone that receives that superior customer service. So my challenge to you is to think about what you do to make sure that your clients feel valued. What do you do to let them know you care about them? That and $3.95 will get you a clean skirt to wear!