Who is Stevie Ray


Stevie Ray has been a columnist for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal since 1997, making him the longest running local columnist for the publication.  Not long ago, his column became nationally syndicated to all Business Journals across the country.

Stevie writes from his perspective both as a business owner and man-on-the-street customer.  He is the author of four books and has his work published in the Harvard Business Review.  If you like what he has to say, leave a comment.  If you don’t like what he has to say, leave one anyway.

Sometimes Crap Flows Uphill

My wife, Kanitta, and I stared blankly at our electric range. It was eleven years old and, as is often said of friends, “He died too young.” It was an electric model, which I thought would be better for my award-winning baked goods (if you taste my home-made baklava you will never buy store-bought again). I was mistaken. The burners started deciding for themselves when they would turn on or off. Kanitta loves to cook; she also has this unrealistic expectation of deciding for herself when to turn on the burners. To top it off, the handle on the oven door popped off. Normally I would grab some tools, buy some screws, and start drilling. Something told me that I probably shouldn’t mess with a major appliance that reaches temperatures of 500 degrees. Besides, dumping the old range would allow us to switch to a gas model; maybe even one that would let us determine our own cooking temperatures.

After much shopping, we found a model we liked. Since Kanitta has this odd aversion to paying more for something she can get for less, she checked for online deals. We found the same brand for $400 less than at the store. I had never purchased a major appliance online before, but I thought, “That $400 will go a long way toward finishing that statue of myself in the back yard.” The only downside of an online purchase is that you are never sure of the delivery date until a day or two beforehand. In our case, that made the process tricky because we would need to schedule a plumber to run a new gas line and hook up the range. Plumbers are difficult to book with only a day’s notice. We were stuck waiting to hear from the delivery company and hoping we could get a last-minute appointment with a plumber (or we would be eating microwave dinners). Here is where the customer service crumbled.

The day I got the call from the delivery service, “Hi. This is Trixi from No Name Moving. We have a range ready to deliver. Will someone be home Tuesday from Noon to 4:00?” I said, “We have to schedule a plumber for a hook-up. Is there any chance someone could deliver earlier in the day?” “No. We have the day’s deliveries already scheduled.” “Any chance of making us the first delivery of the day, then you could get back to the rest of your schedule?” The ensuing sigh on the other end of the phone told me I was asking for something akin to rescheduling the launch of the space shuttle. After a pause, the woman said, “Let me check and call you back.” (Not, “Is it alright if I check into that and call you back?” Just, “…I’ll call you back” followed by a dial tone.)

The rest of the day went by with no word from Ms. Sunshine. The next morning I called back. “Hi, you were going to check on an early delivery. Were you able to find out anything?” “Yeah. I guess he’s going to try to make it that morning.” “I need to schedule a plumber to hook up the range, is there a specific time I can expect the delivery?” “He said he would do his best to get there before 9:00.” “That does leave me in a bind because if he doesn’t get here by then, I’ll have a plumber here for nothing.” Another sigh. “Okay. I’ll check and call you back.”

Four hours later, no word. I called again. “Hello, I was told I would get a confirmation about a delivery time.” “Yeah. He’ll make it the first delivery of the day.” Silly me, I forgot to Google Clock Times for First Deliveries of the Day so I had to foolishly ask, “And when would that be?” “First deliveries are always at 8:00!” I felt so bad for wasting this person’s valuable time. I almost sent a letter of apology, but I realized that, too, would take time to read; and this was obviously a very busy woman.

The day of delivery arrived. I found a plumber who could schedule a last-minute job (I’ll save that story for next month). The plumber was set to arrive at 1:00 p.m. I was up and ready at the house by 7:00 a.m. anxiously awaiting a new gas range at 8:00. Then 8:30. Then 9:45. By 11:00 I called and asked, “Hey. I was supposed to get a delivery at 8:00. Any word on that?” “He was supposed to be there. If he didn’t show up I don’t know where he is.” I knew it was foolish of me to ask, she was too busy pissing off other customers to check on the ones she already pissed off. At 12:30, just 30 minutes before the plumber was set to arrive, the truck with the range pulled up. The drivers were very apologetic; actually much nicer than the woman on the phone whose job is was to take care of customers.

Here is the deal. The delivery company is hired by the online dealer to handle all their accounts. As a result, the delivery company is super nice to the online dealer. Since I am not paying them directly, they have no reason to be nice to me (other than it is usually better to be nice to people); they had no fear of losing my business. What they don’t know is that I have written a letter to the online dealer letting them know that, because they don’t do a good enough job vetting their delivery service, I can no longer trust the online dealer. The dealer loses a lot of potential business (I have other appliances that are beginning to develop minds of their own, too), and the delivery service may lose a major account and never know why. They may have to start marketing to residential customers and actually being nice to people. The old saying that Crap flows downhill sometimes works in reverse.


Footnote: After this column ran in the Business Journal, I received a few comments that should be addressed.

Some folks said I could have avoided the time crunch problem by simply scheduling the plumber to run the gas line the next day. Without getting into a big, Don’t you think I thought of that? debate, suffice it to say there were many reasons why that was not an option.

Other folks said, “What did you expect for a less expensive option?” Some even said, “You get what you pay for!” And still others said I was naïve to plan my life around delivery services; which are typically unreliable.

So, before you send similar e-mails, I was not upset because we had unreasonable expectations that could not be reasonably met. If the delivery company had said, “Look, there is no way we can meet your request” I would have made plans accordingly. The entire point of the story concerns business ethics:

1)      You don’t get what you pay for, you get what you are promised. The delivery company promised to call by a certain time, and didn’t. They promised to deliver by a certain time, and didn’t. It is that simple. No company, or person, should make a promise and not deliver on that promise. Claiming that such behavior is acceptable based on the price of the service is unethical.

My company has, regrettably, fallen short in the past. In such cases, we have apologized and tried to compensate for our failure. We also provide our services to non-profit organizations and charities dozens of times each year at substantial discounts from our standard rates. Every customer and client receives the same attention, regardless of how much they pay. If any member of my company excused poor service because “you get what you pay for” I would fire that person on the spot.

2)      The appliance provider thinks their job is done once they hand off their product to the delivery company. We never received a follow-up asking if everything was done to our satisfaction. Companies that fail to do this can make all the excuses they want, (“It was the delivery company’s fault, not ours”), but in the end, the appliance company will suffer the drop in sales.

Finally, one reader asked why I was “whining” about my problem. I let him know that I don’t treat my column as an opportunity to whine to the public about my lousy day (that is what Facebook is for). I take business seriously. As a business owner, I only get to eat what I kill. When I notice a poor business practice I first examine my own company to make sure I am not committing the same error. Then I write about the situation in my column so other business leaders can have the same opportunity for self-examination. Sharing experiences and holding each other accountable is the best means of growth for us all.

Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management.  He can be reached at www.stevierays.org or stevie@stevierays.org.

If someone forwarded this article to you and you would like to have Stevie Ray’s column sent to you each month absolutely free, click here.

Help your employees learn firsthand the techniques Stevie Ray has gained from working with corporations around the globe.  Click here right now to go to the web site for Stevie Ray’s Improv Company and see what he can do for you.

If your company is planning an event and you need entertainment so this one doesn’t feel just like the last one, click here.

Learn to deliver powerful presentations, think on the spot, and other valuable skills by clicking here and ordering books authored by Stevie Ray.

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is…

I received quite a response from my column a while ago that dealt with effective teams. My article emphasized that teams thrive in an atmosphere of support; that team members are responsible for creating a safe feeling among the group so that everyone would feel confident to do their best work. An atmosphere of fear creates a situation in which employees will only do what they know works; they take fewer chances, which inhibits individual growth and an ultimate flat-lining of productivity.

Continue reading

Want Some Fudge? What Key?

My family wanted to surprise our mother for her birthday this year, so we took her for a weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. As tourists, we did our part to contribute to the state’s annual tourism revenue of just over $16.5 billion. If you visit most places that rely heavily on tourist’s dollars for revenue, you see a kind of love-hate relationship with visitors. The locals know that their livelihood depends on the kindness, and generosity, of strangers and this can foster gratitude, as well as resentment. I have visited plenty of tourist traps where the staff “thanks you for your business” with such apathy that you feel like cattle being moved through the stalls at an auction house.

Continue reading

Manage Behaviors or Lead to Outcomes: Only One Means Profits

I am tired of hearing, “There is a difference between being a manager and a leader.” Whoever created that phrase didn’t know anything about running a business. Sure, there is a difference between simply managing people’s time and leading them to excel, but the phrase above gives managers the excuse to ignore the big picture and leaders the excuse to stare at mission statements while overlooking the everyday life of the company. Everyone leads, or should. An employee who has been on the job only a few weeks longer than the new hire will lead the new kid on the block. The question is, will that leadership be in the direction you want?

Continue reading

Why Some Jobs Will Never Be Automated

I would guess about 90 percent of the services I receive from people could be replaced by automation. There are ice cream dispensers to replace the guy behind the counter. Reservation websites can hold your theatre tickets as easily as the box office personnel. In fact, the battle rages as to which people prefer; someone answering the phone and directing you to the appropriate department, or a phone menu that lets you self-direct. Which-ever side of the issue gets your vote; there is one reason that so many jobs will never be automated with any success. It is the answer to the question I ask groups at workshops all the time, “What is the only difference between you and automation?”

Continue reading

The More You Give, The More You Get

I was reading an inflight magazine recently (yes, I had run out of real things to do) and saw a quote by an executive that reminded me of the one of the oldest business lessons around. A woman was asked for one piece of advice she would offer busy executives. She said, “Be generous with your time. It will always pay you back in spades.” I use that sentiment to compare experiences I have had with two different companies in the past month. One was with a tree service. After years of letting the tree in our front yard grow unchecked, my wife and I decided we didn’t need flora that reached the stratosphere. Being typical consumers, we got bids from several tree companies. We didn’t go with the cheapest one, we went with the one that was responsive to our call, reasonable in their price, and had an air of professionalism.

Continue reading

Look Pal, I’m the Expert

I walked into the huge, fancy ballroom in Las Vegas in the afternoon to set up for my evening presentation. The sound technician met me at the door. Most of the time I hear, “We have a number of microphone options; if you tell me your preference we can get you set up right away. At this hotel, I was met with, “You gonna need a handheld, a lavalier, or what?” I relied, “I like a handheld, they sound better.” Without acknowledging that words actually came out of my mouth, he walked away. He returned a minute later and handed me a microphone. “Mind if I give it a quick sound check?” I asked. He said, “I already did a sound check, it works.” With that, he flipped the switch on, jammed the microphone up to his mouth and said, “Check, check, check. See?”

I continued, “No offense to Eminem, but I hold my mic a little lower in front of my chest so I don’t look like a rapper. Can we turn up the volume a bit so I can back off the mic?” He replied with a twinge of sarcasm, “Oh. You mean you don’t want to hold it the same way that Obama, Bill Gates, and Colin Powell when they were here?” I tried to imagine Bill Gates holding a microphone half an inch from his face and singing, “Yo, yo, yo, wha’s up Vegas?” I said, “As much as I admire our former Secretary of State, I would like it a little lower. “This is a tough room for sound,” he said. “You’re gonna get feedback.” (The loud squeal you hear when a microphone is moved in front of a speaker) I looked around. Other than the decorations, it was set up pretty much like every other hotel ballroom. I said, “I think we’ll be okay. Please set it louder for me.”

The evening presentation went off without a hitch. The next morning I had a break-out in a smaller room in the hotel and met another sound technician from the hotel. Thinking the previous night’s conversation was just the outcome of a tired, grumpy employee, I asked for the volume to be turned up a bit so I didn’t have to place the microphone half and inch from my face. “If you knew anything about this type of microphone,” he said, “you would know that it sounds best that way. And if I turn it up, you’re gonna get feedback.” I said, “I’ll be careful. Please turn it up.” The break-out went fine; no loud squealing sounds.

I decided not to tell either of these guys that I was a sound technician for a number of years in my youth and I could not only quote them the mathematical formula used to determine feedback levels, but I own the very microphone they used at the hotel. I didn’t mention it because the point is not who knows more about a subject, the point is whether the customer wants to come back to your business the next time they need a service. We all need to have pride in our work, and being an expert in a particular field feels good. It should, it takes years to gain expertise and we should take pride in our accomplishments. However, taking pride and ownership should never cross over into shutting out input.

If you have ever used the phrase, “I’ve been doing this for X years, I know what I’m doing!” you might need to examine how that affects your ability to listen and accommodate others. Throughout history, some of the best ideas have been prefaced with, “Well I’m no expert, but have you thought of trying it this way?” Sure, we must use our expertise to make sure a customer doesn’t ask for something that will ultimately fail, but too often we use that excuse just because we don’t want to do something a different way than we are accustomed. Instead of using expertise to justify laziness, a good professional uses every opportunity to allow input from others to refresh old methods and shake up routine. That way, you can say, “I’ve been doing this for X years, and I’m still learning.”

Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management.  He can be reached at www.stevierays.org or stevie@stevierays.org.

If someone forwarded this article to you and you would like to have Stevie Ray’s column sent to you each month absolutely free, click here.

Help your employees learn firsthand the techniques Stevie Ray has gained from working with corporations around the globe.  Click here right now to go to the web site for Stevie Ray’s Improv Company and see what he can do for you.

If your company is planning an event and you need entertainment so this one doesn’t feel just like the last one, click here.

Learn to deliver powerful presentations, think on the spot, and other valuable skills by clicking here and ordering books authored by Stevie Ray.

Just Text Me

The purpose of the word old-fashioned is to label what is obsolete, which isn’t good. The only time we like hearing old-fashioned is before ice cream. The phone has become old-fashioned, unless you use any other function on the device except the phone itself. It is now more common to hear the phrase, “Text me on my phone” than “Call me on my phone.” But let’s talk about what is really obsolete. Obsolete refers to something that is no longer efficient or useful. Why make a phone call when text or e-mail are faster? The belief is that talking on a phone is obsolete; except that it is not.

Continue reading

Just Wait Until Your Manager Gets Home

I remember watching the show Leave it To Beaver as a kid on a black and white TV set; the kind that was built into a living room cabinet so you could close it and not have the neighbors think that all you did all evening was sit around and watch TV. This was back in the day when all you did all evening was sit around and watch TV. This was also a time when you actually knew most of your neighbors, let alone cared what they thought about what you did with your time. Hardly an episode of that show could go by without hearing the mother, June Cleaver, say the immortal phrase, “You just wait until your father comes home!”

Continue reading

Keep Your Employees Happy, Cross Connect Them

Employee engagement. The newest, most elusive goal in American business. It seems every company takes an annual step back to survey their staff to find out who is “highly engaged” as opposed to “disconnected” from the company. If the scores skew in the wrong direction, someone from HR has to step in and see why Chad from accounting doesn’t believe his spreadsheets have an impact on a company with over 300,000 employees and $11.6 billion in annual profits. There is usually a brief conversation about “how this company can’t get along with the work you do,” then Chad goes back to a cubicle that he once shared with a cube-mate who was let go the previous week, after being told the company couldn’t get along without his work either. At the annual employee appreciation party the CEO shows a PowerPoint slide with an upward-slanting line graph, tells the crowd that they are the reason everything is going so well, and sits down for dinner at a table with a Reserved sign on it so none of those people can sit with him.

Continue reading