ProTips

The E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals

(No.5, April 2004)

 

A Guide to this Month’s Edition

1. Welcome

2. ProTips for Professional Development

3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

4. Topic of the Month: Make It Easy For Customers To Do Business With You.

5. Quote of the Month

6. Ramblings

7. Announcements

 

Welcome

Welcome to Issue No.5 of “ProTips, the E-newsletter for Waste Industry Professionals.”

 

This month’s newsletter is filled with tips and thoughts to help with your professional development and to manage your business more profitably. My purpose is to stimulate your thinking; the industry benefits most when we all do our best.

 

***********************************************************************If you would like more information about any of the topics discussed in this newsletter, or have any thoughts you would like to share, call me at 510.881.9440, or send an e-mail to ron@protoconsulting.com.

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2. ProTips for Professional Development

 

Leadership is not a spectator sport; dynamic leadership springs from a wide view of the world, and demands participation. To succeed in the game, you have to be involved with every fiber of your being. Leaders have to possess the skill to realistically assess many viewpoints, some of which they won’t agree with, and the capability to act in the best interests of as many people as possible. They develop the strength to make things happen even when they know their decisions will not be popular with everyone. The ongoing development of your physical, mental, and spiritual perception will provide you with a solid foundation for proceeding with well-grounded intent and confidence. Following are three concepts that I believe are key to improving your performance and advancing your career.

 

Physical…Do some kind of physical exercise every day. I prefer an early morning workout, so there are no excuses for skipping it at the end of a tough day. Exercise gets the blood and oxygen flowing through your body and into your brain. It’s what you need for a clean break out of the starting blocks so you can operate at peak performance all day.

 

Sustained vigorous exercise is also a great stress-buster. When you get absorbed in your workout routine, you forget about your cares and woes, and the stress just melts away. Exercise clears your mind and enhances your receptivity for new ideas. During vigorous activity, I’ve often discovered the solution to an issue that I’ve been wrestling with for a long time. Do yourself a big favor; start exercising regularly. If you are already exercising, don’t stop; your body and mind will thank you.

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Mental…Vigorous exercise is also a great mental booster, so exercise your brain (which is really just another muscle), every day for peak performance. Yes, I know you use your brain all day long at work, and by the end of the day, you’re often tired. What may surprise you, though, is that much of the tiredness is caused by boredom from the same old routine. Think about it--when you’re excited about something new, you DO have more energy--so do something different! Challenge yourself: select a new hobby, read a heady book (something about Einstein’s theory of relativity will do here), or take in a play. The objective is to stretch your mind in new directions. Take a chance with some new thoughts! You’re much more likely to regret it if you don’t step into something new than if you do.

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Spiritual…Exercise your spirit every day. This type of exercise is a little different; it requires silence. How you exercise your spirit is a personal thing; everyone has, or should have, a way to contact his or her higher power. (If you don’t believe in a higher power, you can stop reading this section now). You can pray, meditate, or just sit quietly; the choice is yours. The key here is to slow down and regenerate your inner being; invigorate your spirit. You can’t keep your mind and body racing at 100 MPH and expect to function at the top of your game. Even Michael Andretti has to pull his Indy car in for a pit stop once in awhile so he can refuel, repair, and get back into the race-- hopefully ending in the winner’s circle. Take time to nurture your inner being, and you, too, can head for the winner’s circle.

 

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3. ProTips for Operational Profitability

 

People…Are your employees properly trained? Do you give them rudimentary instruction when they start work and figure that through osmosis they’ll pick up whatever else they need along the way? That’s not the way to get peak performance from your folks, and the mistakes they make as a result manifest as poor service, upset customers, and disenchanted coworkers—intangible, hard-to-spot costs that drain the profits from a company.

 

Can you imagine a professional sports team not continuing to practice throughout the season? Good coaches know that’s inconceivable! Hopefully, your business continues to grow and change, and new concepts, techniques, and procedures must be put into practice to support this growth. By engaging your employees’ minds in the process of continuous growth and improvement, you’ll release them from repeatedly making the same mistakes, and morale will reach a new high.

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Productivity….Do you have a problem route…or two…or three? If the regular driver goes on vacation or takes a day off, does everything go to heck in a hand basket? It’s easy to blame the relief driver, but the solution may be as close as the route map. It never seems to fail, but the last copy you made of the route map somehow cut off one little court or part of a street that then gets overlooked. Whether you’re photocopying the route map or printing it from a computerized routing program, always check and double-check for the details that may be missing.

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Profits…Waste processing is one of the largest expenses a collection company has. Whether you dump your trucks at a landfill, a transfer station, or a recycling plant, the cost to do so is among your largest. Make sure you are not overpaying. I‘m not suggesting that anyone is trying to overcharge you; what I mean is that mistakes do happen. If it’s a manual weighing system, the scale master may inadvertently assign a truck to the wrong company. If the weighing system is computerized, that’s all the more reason to reconcile your invoice. Garbage in, garbage out (pun intended)…computers can make mistakes also.

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4. Topic of the Month

 

Make it easy for customers to do business with you. That sounds simple enough, but are you really doing it? To find out how you’re perceived, check for yourself; ask your customers, your employees, and anyone else you regularly come in contact with.

 

Following are some ideas to consider:

 

--Are you taking your customers for granted, particularly if they’re yours because of an exclusive franchise or long-term contract that makes you the only authorized service provider?

 

--Is your telephone being answered promptly? If you have an automated answering system, are the selections immediately understandable, with the person the customer needs to speak with only one or two selections away?

 

-- Once customers do get to speak to a person, are they be bounced around several times before reaching resolution? This gets back to ongoing training. Every day will bring new challenges in serving your customers, and workable solutions should be incorporated into training. Don’t let issues weave their way through your call center by happenstance and become a virus that infects your business.

 

--Are your call center representatives courteous, friendly, professional, and engaging to speak with? Can you hear the smile in their voices?

 

--Are your procedures for starting or changing service straightforward? Don’t snicker! Recently, when completing a rate study for a client and making my calls, I encountered a call center representative who didn’t know the rates and suggested I hang up, call back, and ask to speak to someone else!

 

--If a customer calls regarding a missed pickup, do they receive a gracious apology for the inconvenience, or do they get the third degree? A no-hassle return policy makes everyone’s life a lot easier.

 

--What about extra service? Is it an aggravation for your customers, or is it easy for them to get a little extra garbage picked up? Do you insist that they call in before their service day, or do you train your drivers to pick up the occasional extra bag even if they have to get out of the truck? Whether or not you want to charge for the occasional extra is up to you, but my preference is to go beyond the standard and pick up a little extra once in awhile. It’s the most powerful PR tool you have.

 

At every point of contact, you have the opportunity to make your customer’s experience with you easy or difficult. The choice is yours. Be a top performing company; make it easy for customers to do business with you.

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5. Quote of the Month

 

“A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension” Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

It’s easy to hold onto our hard and fast ways of thinking; that’s why we do it--because it’s easy. The uncomfortable space we enter when we begin to think in new ways or directions may make us want to step back into familiarity, but that unknown arena is where we have the room to stretch our minds. Stretch your mind; allow fresh experiences.

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6. Ramblings

 

There has been a disturbing trend in large-scale contract bidding lately, at least in my neck of the woods. Some companies are bidding recklessly to either gain market share or to hold on to existing business. Whatever the reason, it isn’t doing our industry any good.

 

Millions upon millions of dollars are left on the proverbial table each year. Do we, as an industry, have an aversion to making a profit? It sure looks that way when you see the bids fall well below the current price. Even incumbent contractors are cutting their prices. To add insult to injury, when all else fails, some incumbents are telling the contracting jurisdiction they will match the low bidder’s price just to keep the work. They must be wanting to start a non-profit sector of our industry!

 

There is no question that, as an industry, our profits have shrunk. I don’t think we are different from many other industries whose profits have eroded over the last few years, but what gets me is that the companies who lament the loudest about shrinking profit margins, are the same companies who are giving away the store. I thought we were a for-profit industry.

 

The rogue companies are only half the problem. The other half lies in how the work is put out to bid. Hard-dollar bids are more to my liking. In hard-dollar bidding, companies submit their bids, and the lowest responsible bidder is selected. The contract is awarded, and it’s all systems go. This is not unlike most public works construction bids. The bid is the bid is the bid. You win or lose, and you go on your way, hopefully to make a well-earned profit.

 

Instead, contracting jurisdictions are using requests for proposal (RFPs), which state up front that the lowest bid doesn’t have to be accepted. In addition, the contracts attached to the bids are so onerous and restrictive that it’s mind boggling that any reasonable company would even bid on them, let alone be able to make a buck.

 

If that weren’t enough, all bidders are required to divulge exactly how their bid was developed--including assumptions, productivity, labor rates, other costs, and additional proprietary information. Unfortunately, RFPs give much too much inside information to the contracting jurisdiction, which then often uses the resulting negotiating power to the bidders’ detriment. It’s a recipe for disaster.

 

What to do? Like all poor behavior, ignore it. I’ll say it again…ignore it! Refuse to take part in a bid process or to bid on contracts that are designed to deprive you of your fair profits.

 

You’re saying, “Don’t bid? What are you…nuts, Proto?” I don’t think so. I know of one community where the contracting process was so onerous that the only bidder was the incumbent contractor. Unfortunately, the contracting jurisdiction couldn’t come to agreement with the contractor on the terms of the contract, and was urged by a second consultant to go out to bid again.

 

This consultant wanted to make sure there were enough bidders for the second round, so to garner their interest, the consultant held a conference to elicit concerns from potential bidders. What was interesting was that the very issues raised were the same ones the contracting jurisdiction could not resolve with the incumbent contractor. If we’re all on the same page, as in this case, we can produce results that are in the best interests of our industry and our customers. In the instance of onerous RFPs, it will be interesting to see who bids on them. Will it be the for-profit or the non-profit sector of our industry?

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7. Announcements

 

“ProTips, the E-newsletter For Waste Industry Professionals” is produced and distributed monthly by R.J. Proto Consulting Group, Inc. I encourage you to share it with your colleagues and friends. You may reproduce this electronic newsletter in whole or in part, as long as you include the correct copyright notice (at the end of this newsletter), with a link to my website, http://www.protoconsulting.com.

 

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If you would like more information on any of the above topics, call me at 510.881.9440 or send an e-mail to ron@protoconsulting.com. Please visit my website at http://www.protoconsulting.com for more ideas on professional development and operational improvements.

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Your submissions are always welcome. Send them to ron@protoconsulting.com. If I use your submission, I’ll give you credit, unless you wish to remain anonymous. All submissions become the property of R.J. Proto Consulting Group, Inc., unless otherwise requested by the writer. (Sorry, that’s my lawyer friend).

 

Your privacy is important to me. I will never sell, rent, barter, give away, or trade your email address to anyone else.

 

Copyright 2004 Ronald J. Proto. All rights reserved.