It goes without saying that a good business man or woman should always be thinking from the perspective of the consumer. After all, no other stakeholders are more influential on your bottom line.
Jim Lauria, a senior water industry executive for more than a decade with experience in process industries before that, has taken that perspective one step further. Lauria recently wrote a book entitled, “How to Get Your Money Back from Big Companies,” in which he gave step-by-step directions for how to identify and rectify poor customer experiences.
Water Technology recently spoke to Lauria about his inspiration for this book, how it relates to his years in the water industry and what his next venture might be.
Water Technology: In addition to writing this book you have worked in the water industry for many years. Could you briefly summarize your experience?
Jim Lauria: After receiving my degree in chemical engineering from Manhattan College, I started working in process industries concentrating on liquid/solid separation technology which included water filtration. Then, around 10 years ago when I provided peer review for the World Health Organization’s publication on drinking water treatment, I decided to dedicate myself to the water industry exclusively. Since that time I have been a senior manager for several water technology companies. I have written for a number of trade publications, including Water Technology, on subjects like water reuse, point-of-entry filtration and future trends in the industry.
WT: How did the idea for this book come about?
JL: My wife Laurie (yes, that’s right she’s Laurie Lauria) was actually the catalyst behind the book, observing how I was successful in resolving complaints with big companies and wanting me to help the underdog consumer versus large corporations. I wanted to show how no one is powerless to get restitution for poor customer experiences. And, being a senior executive and a former CEO, I also wanted to inform CEOs that we are headed into the age of the consumer, where word of mouth is being replaced by word of mouse with different social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus. If someone has a bad experience it's easy to get the word out on those different sites.
WT: How did your experiences in the water industry inform this book?
JL: As a senior executive, I know what customers are expecting, and I've had my share of disgruntled customers — no one's immune to that. These are the kind of things that keep CEOs awake at night. The other thing I used was the experience that in the water industry it’s about continuous improvement. The way I approached the letters was, like what I did in the book, I go through the process of, ‘Okay, this is my first letter to a cable TV company, and here's the mistakes I made and here's how I could have improved it.' Now I've fine-tuned it so that in my last letter to an airline, from the time I wrote the letter to the CEO to the time I got a check for the poor service was about 21 days. So it was pretty quick, and it was because I followed my 10 points of how to go about getting your money back.
WT: What was/is your philosophy as a top executive and how do you keep the end customer in mind?
JL: I try to approach all business situations with professionalism and reasonableness, and most of all with a sense of fairness. I think that you have to show some empathy to the customer, put yourself in their shoes. In the book I mention that, while I don't think that CEO will stand for Chief Empathy Officer anytime soon, in the age of the consumer empathy very well could become a core competence of any company. As we move forward, I think that it's really going to be a part of how do we put ourselves in the customer's position and how do we think like the customer to make sure they're getting what they really deserve and what they expect. That's one of the reasons I wrote the book, to inform CEOs and other senior executives that things are changing. Now, people spend more time on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and they're going to see performance of companies as they navigate in those spaces.
WT: How do you think the water industry compares to other markets in terms of customer service?
JL: Since poor service and defective products can lead to health issues in the water industry, it's critical that problems be handled much more quickly. Being without cable TV or being delayed at the airport, that's a major inconvenience but it's usually not a life or death situation. We really have to have a sense of urgency in the water treatment field more than cable TV or airlines. That's not to say they can't cause real problems and cause distress, but every day we're delivering something that people are going to consume and it could be a life or death situation. Customer service and satisfaction, it's just imparted on us because it's so critical.
WT: Do you see yourself as a consumer advocate after writing this book?
JL: My goal with the book was to have consumers become their own advocates and remind them that they are doing a service for the CEO to whom they are writing the letter. For every one person who reports a problem there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of customers who have the same problem and say nothing. They just take their business elsewhere. The point I make in the book is, if you're not happy with service, you have recourse. It's almost like the David versus Goliath syndrome. People think there are no options, they're a big company. I wanted to make the point that you have more power than you think. The other thing is, we CEOs spend millions of dollars on focus groups, voice of the customer surveys and data mining. But, these letters are market research that money can’t buy.
WT: Do you have any plans to write more books on this subject?
JL: My passion is water management and I will continue in my role to lead water technology businesses with an eye towards meeting the expectations of the consulting engineers, environmental regulators, contractors, municipalities and all the other decision makers involved in supplying value-added solutions to the water industry. And, I will keep on writing about water, business and how people can improve their position in life.
One other result was that in publishing this eBook I learned quite a bit about eBook publishing, i.e. the best route to market, determining publishing, distribution and retail partners, how to create targeted marketing messages to the various communities, my “tribes” as Seth Godin would say, that might have an interest in my book and identifying the platforms I would use to get the word out about my book, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. This will be the basis for a future eBook, "Mapping Your Way to eBook Publishing."