from Doing Business In Memphis
our data research reveals a lot about how business is really
done in Memphis!
love it when we talk to people who obviously know their jobs and
take pride in doing it. These individuals are friendly, well spoken,
and have ready answers for our questions such as, "What year was
your company established"? Conversely, and unfortunately, we also
see a distressing number of companies which are represented by
people who are rude, inarticulate, and who basically couldn't
care less about their company or their bosses. The simple question,
"Could you please tell me the name of your company's president
(or CEO, General Manager, etc.)" sometimes inspired responses
ranging from "I have no idea" to "You don't need to know."
"outtakes" documented by our Data Researchers represent some of
the more amusing responses we've received during our yearly update.
They also include some of our "oldies but goodies" that were gathered
from previous years but are just too good to retire. We promise
we did not make any of these up!
this end of this litany of how not to do business in Memphis,
we have a few simple suggestions on how business can avoid these
Mail Jail. Some companies will do anything to avoid
talking to you in person. A large established law firm has a voice
mail system so complicated that our Data Researchers could not
crack it, even after numerous attempts. They did repeatedly land
in a mailbox with an automated attendant delivering the following
message: It is January 28 and our office is closed due to bad
weather. The researcher got this message on April 3rd.
Lickin' Good. We called one large corporation whose
secretary answered the phone with a mouth full of food. It wasn't
just a case of uh-oh, I got caught with a mouthful of bagel. This
woman proceeded to eat the entire time our researcher talked to
her. Munch, crunch, slurp, belch.
Company Just Runs Itself! When our Data Researcher
asked who the owner was, the person who answered the phone replied,
"Some Lady." Well, then, who was the restaurant manager? They
didn't have one, the person replied. Hmmm. Who, then, runs the
place when "the Lady" wasn't there. "No one. It just runs itself."
Self-Run. Another company that "just runs itself" is
a popular fast food restaurant. The Researcher called the main
office on this one and was told they have "no one in charge there."
Where am I? We called a pizza restaurant and the assistant
manager not only didn't know where he was, but didn't know his
boss's name either. This must be a real problem, because we also
talked to another store where the assistant could barely pronounce
the manager's name, much less spell it.
Lost Employees. Yet another pizza restaurant told us
to call back after 5 PM. He too did not know the address of the
establishment he works for. (What's with the pizza parlors, anyway?)
in the Mall. One store manager said he didn't know
anything except that he was "in a mall."
Could be Queen! One church we spoke with had no clergy
at that time. When we asked the assistant what her title was,
she laughed and said, "I can be anything I want to be this week!"
Place to Work. One downtown retail establishment described
in great detail the shop and its mission. Afterwards he added,
"Smoking is allowed in the shop, and we serve wine after 5:00
Runs Deep. There was a trucks part company that refused
to confirm or deny any information including his street address,
zip code or name of owner. "Last time I did that, " he confided,
"I got mixed up in some money laundering."
Paranoia . . . Into Your Life It May Creep. A retailer
told us that she could not be listed in the directory because
it would, in her words, "affect our insurance." Say what?
the Reservation. When asked what his title was, one
person told us, "What the hell do they call me? . . . principal,
that's it." He said that he actually didn't do much of anything.
"I just pick my nose and scratch my backside."
Town Politics. In one of the small surrounding towns,
the mayor's wife answered the Researcher's questions regarding
one of the local businesses. When the Researcher called this particular
place a "lovely town" and "lovely place to live," she wife snorted.
"Not if you live here. It used to be a nice place. Not anymore."
Mystery. Everyone either has a web site or they're
working on one. And everyone wants you to visit their web site.
Well, maybe not everyone. We found one person whom, when asked
if they had a web site said: "Yes, but no one here knows what
it is." Another bozo told us they had a web site but that it was
"confidential." Wonder how many hits that site gets?
Wonder Where I Work. In confirming the name of the
business, this rocket scientist told us "I'm not sure of the exact
name of our company!"
Wonder Where I Work, Part II. It was a dry cleaners.
We were all on the same page about that. But the person who answered
the phone had to walk outside to confirm the address.
Wonder Where I Work, Part III. Obviously a lot of people
do not know where they work. A worker at a fast food restaurant
told us that he knew he was on Macon Road but really didn't know
the address; he explained he'd only been there two months.
Impaired. When we asked to speak to the office manager
we were told, "She ain't in."
a Spelling Bee Contestant. The company moved its offices
to a Poplar Avenut address. The woman carefully spelled out the
street name: P-O-P-L-E-R.
I Just Work Here. The church receptionist told us she
wasn't sure just who the pastor is.
Church Disinformation. The church secretary could not
tell us if the head clergyman was a Rev., or a Dr., or an Elder.
Our Data Researcher told us she sounded like she had been fast
Out of Business. One respondent told us: "I will be
going out of business in 60 days. I'm 74 and getting to old for
Going Out of Business. The voice mail of a certain
retail business. "We're usually here by 10 or 10:30 and are open
till around 4:00 or so. Or by chance, or by appointment."
Comeback. We asked, "Do you have a toll-free number?"
The person replied, "Well, it's toll-free if you live here."
Take this Employee. Please. When asked if Mr. Jones
was still store manager, the person said: "Yes, but don't say
it too loud, nobody knows he is still manager."
Home. After identifying ourselves, one of things we
always do when we update company information is to explain that
we are looking for any changes (in location, telephone, size of
company, personnel) that may have occurred since we called them
last year. One brilliant manager told us this: "I am new here,
but everything is still the same, like last year."
Know Absolutely Nothing Here. One transportation company
was left out of the Logistics Section because the Data Researcher
could not get any information confirmed. He simply wrote, "No
one knows squat here."
Were They Thinking? One of our Researchers reported
that when calling an electrical contracting company she noticed
that the on-hold background music was unusually loud and intrusive.
When the person came on the line the music just kept right on
playing while they were having a conversation. Weird.
One Less Lawyer. A lawyer told us not to bother listing
him this year because he had lost his license. "I think I'm just
going to leave it alone," he said, referring to the practice of
that A Couple More. An Office Manager in an executive
suite being rented by several lawyers was giving us the information
about which attorneys still worked there. She told our researcher
in a confidential tone, "You know, some of these lawyers have
suddenly left town!"
Legal Info. When asked what kind of attorney he was,
the gentleman chuckled and said: "A damn good one!"
Less Entrepreneur. One small consulting firm owner
told us he was closing the door to the business. "I have a real
Service Flat Lines. There was seemingly no way to reach
anyone in this morass of voice mail instructions at a clinic that
had four or five locations but one central phone number. (A really
bad idea.) Whenever she did reach a real voice, they could give
no information, and would either give her disconnected numbers
or would take her back into the tangle of recorded messages. She
finally gave up and wrote, "I think they must be selling black
market organs for transplant. They really don't want you to know
they even exist."
Book Travesties. We spoke to a company that sells pipes
as part of their water, sewer and gas supplies. Because they sell
"pipes" one of the local phone book companies had them listed
under "Tobacco and Smoking Supplies."
at the Crisis Center. The office was some sort of mental
health intervention place. We don't want to name names. We are
assuming (maybe incorrectly) that the person who answered the
phone was a staff member and not a mental patient, but we cannot
be certain. At any rate, they proceeded to give our Researcher
a list of other phone numbers, contacts, etc. while repeatedly
stating that "this number you are dialing is not the crisis line
for our center." Yes, that's fine, the Researcher said. We will
only list the office number, not the crisis line. The person on
the other end, oblivious to that bit of information, waxed on
dramatically: "In other words, if someone was coming after you
with a butcher knife, please do not call me at this number. I
could not help you. If someone was coming at you with an ax or
a butcher knife, you would need to call our crisis line to get
help." And on and on. The researcher finally got off the line
but she said the experience definitely gave her the creeps.
Personalities. We wanted to clarify a name issue. We
had the owner's name of a company as Paul _______. We also had
information that the owner's name was Frank _______. And we also
knew there was just one owner. When we called back for clarification
we were told, "Oh, Paul and Frank is the same person."
Body Occupying Front Desk. One company was asked if
Mr. So-and-So was still president. The person answered, "I don't
have a clue. I'm just a temporary."
of Clueless. Another person replied flatly, "I don't
know," when we asked her to confirm the name of the company's
general manager. We did not get the impression this person was
Sorry to Bother You at Your Place of Business. The
phone at this shop was answered thusly: ". . . what is all this
junk layin' around here? "XYZ" Shop, whuddya want?"
to Lose Customers or What Happens When the Inmates Run the Asylum.
A Data Researcher called one of the locations of a well known
hair salon and began, "Hi, I'm Laura with Delta Consulting Group
. . ." Before she could say another word the person who answered
the phone barked "I'm busy!" and slammed down the telephone. Now,
Laura could have been getting ready to say, "Hi, I'm Laura with
Delta Consulting and I would like to schedule a cut, color, manicure
and pedicure for our president, Ms. Camp." However, Laura never
received the chance. One thing is for sure, however. None of us
in this office will ever patronize any of those salons again.
Up With High Tech. The researcher called a small tech
firm. After 6 or 7 rings a voice on an an obviously cheap answering
machine that sounded like it was recorded in a bathroom or kitchen
said, "Thanks for calling Customer Support. All operators are
busy helping other people. Please leave your name at the sound
of the tone."
Regarding the question of how many employees a company
has, we told the receptionist that we had them listed as having
five employees last year. She said, "No, we're down to one now.
I'm just doing the work of five people."
Having a Good Time. The husband of the woman who owned
the business answered the phone and supplied us with a few good
laughs. He said, "I come in eight hours every day but I don't
get paid!" "Web address? Well, we've got a lot of spiders around
here." And, "My wife owns the company but she's usually out playing
golf everyday." And finally, "They won't let me touch the computers.
I erased everything twice so now I'm not allowed near them!"
Livin' the Good Life. The business was closed he said
because he had sold the building, fired the help, works when he
wants to, and fishes a lot." We'd say he has it made.
At the Wheel. A Data Researcher who wrote this comment
regarding her interview: "I hope this information is correct.
I woke someone up in this office at 9:25 AM." We're sure
the owner of this travel agency didn't mind.
in the Office. The manager of a retail store in East
Memphis was, as the Researcher described, "Barely there. I mean,
this person was so dead on the phone that I half expected people
to arrive to start the chalk drawing around her."
ARF!!! It's a new job title. The man who answered the
phone was friendly and helpful. When we asked his position he
chuckled, "My title is A.R.F., all 'round flunky!"
Politics. The owner of a small tax and bookkeeping
company whispered into the phone, "No, her title is not Office
Manager. She is the secretary. I think she's been telling people
she's the Office Manager. We don't have an Office Manager here."
Hard Working Man. The owner of a radiator repair shop
told us: "I've been retired for six years but people won't let
me quit working and go fishing like I wanna. I told my wife, when
I die don't tell 'em where I'm buried because they won't let me
Our Researcher asked is their company was minority or female owned.
No, she was told, it's a sole proprietorship.
Manners. One Data Researcher called a large, well-known
auto dealership and was promptly told: "We don't have time for
people like you!" Slam! With an attitude like that, it makes
us wonder just how much time they have for customers or
potential customers. It's a safe bet that we won't
try to find out!
Each year we remove a number of people who are no longer with
the company because they are dead. However, we did run across
one company who carefully confirmed all the information we had,
and then at the end of the interview the partner of the company
casually mentioned that her husband was dead. The Data Researcher
said, "Oh. Excuse me. I'm very sorry. I guess I must have misunderstood
you. I thought you just told me he was the president of the business."
"Oh, he is. Or, he was. We want to keep him listed as president
even though he's, uh, not here. We want to do it out of respect.
That's OK, isn't it?"
Happened Again. The incident above happened several
years ago but it remains one of our all-time favorites. The same
thing happened again last year at another business. A small company's
owner had died a while back but the current president urged us
to leave him listed as owner. Go figure!
Adult Supervision Here. Admittedly, the Data Researcher
had worked a long day and well, sometimes you never know what
might jump out of your mouth. She was trying to ask the woman
at the accounting firm if they still had the same Audit Supervisor
as last year. Instead she asked if they still had an Adult Supervisor.
Startled by her question, the woman hesitated but then quipped,
"I don't think we've ever had adult supervision around here!"
Everyone had a good laugh.
Do Absolutely Everything, Including Windows! One business
told our Researcher his one-person company did the following things:
Financial Services, Security, Business & Personal Services,
Printing & Publishing, and Janitorial.
Degree of Separation. Wow. This story blew us all away,
and it will definitely go on the record as the strangest out-takes
of all time. We have a Data Researcher by the name of Frankie,
who has worked with us on annual updates for several years. One
year she called a very large company (over 500 employees) and
was routed to an assistant to help her with the update information.
This woman's name was Charlie. Frankie made a few idle comments
about both of their names, and then offhandedly remarked that
she had taken a job in 1964 vacated by a woman named Charlie at
a radio station in California. There was a stunned silence. Then
Charlie asked Frankie, "Was that radio station KFAC in Los Angeles?"
It was. "I am the Charlie who had the job you took after I moved!"
It is indeed a small, small world!
year we come out of production armed with new ideas and insights,
plus tons of observations about how people are doing business.
(Or aren't in some cases.) Many, many thousands of phone calls
were made. We've been to voice mail hell and back. And, we've
been to voice mail jail, where there was no escape and absolutely
no humans to talk to. Voice mail has replaced answering machines,
and in many cases, is replacing people. Some company's aggressive
use and abuse of voice mail made it all but impossible to update
information on them. In those cases, we had no other option but
to drop their listings. These same companies were also the ones
whose employees would not return phone calls left on voice mail.
Unfortunately, voice mail makes it much easier for people to become
more and more inaccessible . . . which mostly is not a good thing.
are a few observations about voice mail and other things, as well
as a few suggestions that might come in handy sometime.
You Have Voice-Mail, Less Is More!
shorter and more succinct your message is, the better. The less
complicated and convoluted, the better. We encountered some voice
mail systems so long and complicated we forgot who were calling
and why by the time we finally reached someone. What's really
annoying is to have voice mail for the receptionist or the main,
front-line telephone person.
"On-Hold" Time To Your Advantage
a caller to your company is put on hold for more than a few seconds
it's crazy not to have some sort of recording informing the person
on hold about the benefits of your products and services. Something
like: "Did you know that XYZ Company can make life easier for
you by blah, blah, blah."
Sure Your Frontline Employees Know Your Web Address
your company has a Web Page and/or Email address, and you don't
mind sharing it, make sure your front line telephone people have
it, and know how to articulate it. You don't even need to say
"http, colon, double slash." Just say www.whateveryourdomaineis.com
(or .org, .edu, etc.).
Employees Should Be Able to Answer Simple Questions.
who answer the phone should know simple things about your company,
such as, is it based in Memphis or another city. If it's not based
in Memphis where is the company headquarters? What year were you
established? What is your correct address and zip code? (Forget
the zip code, you wouldn't believe how many people answering your
phones don't even know where you are or how to find you. This
could be a real bummer if you are a retailer.) We did actually
have someone from a retail outlet tell us, "I'm sorry, I can't
give out that information." And all we wanted wanted to do was
confirm their address!
Your Fontline Employees With the Information They Need.
would seem obvious that whoever answers the phone should know
who works there and who doesn't. This is a clear and present challenge
to many people on the phones. Understandably, if the company has
hundreds of employees, it may take a few minutes to recall (or
look up) some of the names. However, one would think that all
front-line people would be able to identify by name and title
their Presidents, CEOs, and senior management. Also, it's a good
idea for front-liners to have the correct spelling of these folks'
Employees Can Be Your Best--Or Worst-- Advertisements.
person who answers the phone is like a big billboard to the person
making the phone call. Generally you make a mental image of that
company through this contact. Are they friendly? Do they sound
the kind of people who want to do business with? Do they sound
like they know what they're doing? Do they want to help you, or
are they trying to get you out of their hair as quickly as possible?
We found there were a bunch of companies we would love to do business
with. And, because we are always scouting out new sources of vendors,
supplies, etc., we will go back to some of them as a customer.
On the other hand, there are some that we would not do business
with if they were the only ones in Memphis offering the product
or service. These folks got relegated to our in-house database
entitled "Jerks and Morons."
absolute best companies with the most polished images were the
ones that picked up the call within 3 to 4 rings, then warmly
and distinctly announced the company's name. (Terrible, terrible
examples are: "Hi, I'm Frieda. We're having a great day at Friendly
Frisky Furniture. Can I interest you in a futon with nothing down
and no payments till August?" Believe it or not, they're out there!)
The best have people who sound interested, awake, and fully prepared
to deal with your questions or requests. They inspire confidence
and leave you with the impression that they will do whatever it
takes to serve their customers.
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Doing Business In Memphis.