All business books are how-to manuals in some sense, but our three picks this month are perfect for the times. If you're a CEO worried about customer service or an investor wanting to save what's left of your portfolio, here's some advice for the long haul.

How to rescue your retirement The investors hardest hit by the Nasdaq nosedive were retirees who overdosed on stocks, says Wall Street Journal columnist Jonathan Clements. People in their 40s and 50s saw their savings get decimated and are now wondering if they will be able to retire at all.

In You've Lost It, Now What?: How To Beat the Bear Market and Still Retire on Time (Portfolio, $23.95, 224 pages, ISBN 1591840163), Clements gives straightforward, realistic advice on how to get your investments (and retirement plans) back on track. Don't count on another bull market to bail you out, he warns. You'll have to save yourself.

The good news is that most folks can invest successfully on their own, and Clements' roadmap is easy to follow. He explains how to balance a portfolio for maximum diversification and stresses keeping trading costs and fund-management fees to a minimum. He shares his stock picks (he's a "huge, huge, huge fan of index funds"), tells what type of bonds to buy, and shows how to invest in real estate without purchasing properties. His biggest piece of advice: save a lot and start now.

This is a book for the average investor, and the advice is clear and sensible. Focus on little things like holding down taxes and rebalancing regularly. Diversify and don't bet the farm on one investment. And did I mention save like crazy? How to save the corporate soul Does a corporation have a soul? Yes, says author David Batstone, and he can prove it. "I will show that a corporation has the potential to act with soul when it puts its resources at the service of the people it employs and the public it serves." He shares eight principles that define this concept in Saving the Corporate Soul & (Who Knows?) Maybe Your Own. Stories about businesses gone bad are a dime a dozen these days, but this lively and thought-provoking book takes a different approach. Batstone teaches his tenets (treat workers like valuable team members, think of the company as part of the community, treat the environment like a silent stakeholder) by profiling companies that are doing it right. One of them is Timberland, a New Hampshire-based footwear maker which gives each employee 40 hours of paid time each year to volunteer. Ninety percent of employees take part, returning to work recharged and happier; their positive energy has a ripple effect, Batstone says. The small Hanna Anderrson clothing company invited customers to send used Hannawear back and receive 20% off their next purchase. Thus the Hannadowns program was born, and thousands of needy children got clothes. Both are great examples of corporations that have combined soul with shrewd business sense.

How to wow your customers One of the top five challenges facing CEOs today is improving customer service, a recent study reported. What makes service stand out? "It's about creating pleasant surprises for customers grown weary of bland, mundane, and truculently impersonal service and keeping them coming back for more," say the authors of Service Magic: The Art of Amazing Your Customers (Dearborn, $18.95, 224 pages, ISBN 0793164672). Customer service experts (and amateur magicians) Ron Zemke and Chip Bell use magic to explain how to read an audience, create rapport and manage magic recoveries. In magic, the music and lights build excitement, and in business you set the stage by playing to a customer's senses with sight, sound, smell and touch. Place magic is the first of the three Ps that include process magic and performance magic (think the fish throwing at Seattle's Pike Place waterfront market).

With chapters on QVC, Romano's Macaroni Grill and Walt Disney, there are plenty of ideas here to emulate. But the real inspiration comes from the mini-snapshots of dozens of companies that bring magic to customers in small, unexpected ways.

 

comments powered by Disqus