From April 2011

“It’s just business” is just bunk

Sure, for many out there, inwardly focused on amassing more and more and more and everyone else be damned, business may not be personal. In that case it’s about one person winning and others losing. But I’d wager there that such a person is denying that it’s personal to avoid feelings of guilt. Not always. But often.

We humans are a funny lot. We’re not wired to be automatons. We’re emotional, irrational, unpredictable beings. We can’t be turned off, rebooted, or reprogrammed (unless we make a concious decision and the effort to do so ourselves).

And that makes business personal. With all of the tools companies have at their disposal to personalize business, why not create unique experiences for your customers? You have behavioral targeting on the web that customizes content to suit the searcher. You have the ability for mass customization. Burger King was on to something when they said Have it Your Way. Now you really can. There’s little excuse for impersonal business outside of shear commodities no one cares about. And even then it gets personal if you’re in the business of selling them – building the partnerships and relationships that lead to sales success.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the personal side of business. From meeting a couple great Twitter friends in real life and connecting in Twitterverse which has humanized the people behind the avatars to seeing the effects of the Tsunami in Japan. Experiencing the loss of a colleague to cancer last December – way before his time. And learning last month that my dear sister has cancer and now begins the fight – and making it three out of three sisters who’ve had or have cancer. {Fortunately they’re all still with us} It puts things into perspective. Gives clarity to what you do in your job. Makes you ask the question, is what I’m doing making a difference? If not, what should I be doing differently?

Last week Valeria wrote about a friend who died of cancer and asked the question “What happens now?” She then talks about a sales person at Nordstrom who formed a real connection with her simply because she cared.

So given that time is so fleeting, why waste it on experiences that don’t enrich our lives in one way or another? There’s so much opportunity to design a business that delivers wow and delight – and those that do so have a much better shot at growing their bottom line over a longer horizon. They’re the businesses we want to share with others. And now more than ever we have the tools available to make personal real. And that doesn’t mean slapping a person’s first name via a mail merge on a sales letter.

To drive this point home, spend six minutes watching this video. When you’re stripped bare little else matters but the people closest to us.

How personal is your business?

Data, code games, lucky people, time management, and when painful management makes cool less cool.

We’ve all seen enough bar and pie charts in PowerPoint but they’re still a visually powerful way to communicate information if done well. But with the amazing amount of information available to us now – too much, really – there’s so much more we can do with it to tell compelling stories. We don’t need to settle for the boring pie. Infosthetics and Visual Complexity are two inspiring resources for taking a deep dive into what’s possible with a little imagination and effort to make data useful. As a communicator, you owe it to your audiences to make the data you want to share more memorable and tangible. Use it to tell a powerful, relevant story – not just drown people with chart after meaningless chart.

Just like the first web pages were mere brochures, many of the first uses of QR Codes are for connect print to online, taking you to a landing page or website. But Nick makes us think about how we can use them to create magical customer experiences that make customers want to engage further. He encourages us to think about them as an experience delivery platform and that their future success lies in how marketers use them. If customers found them boring, what makes them think yours are any different? Good thoughts here!

We think successful people must be somehow lucky. But they’re not. They do things differently. And they often fail a lot before they ‘get lucky’. Erik Calonius looks at what these differences are. There’s nothing like a major life event or illness to put things into perspective, sharing the story of Steve Jobs and his pancreatic cancer. With a sister who just began treatment for breast cancer, this hits closer to home. For Steve, it’s about living every day with gusto. And Erik notes that lucky people keep their minds open. They get out of the weeds and stay curious. This brings me back to Carol Dweck’s great book, Mindset – and the differences between people with open and closed minds.

Building on what separates lucky people from the rest are the habits of successful entrepreneurs. These are people who have vision and effectively manage competing priorities to make things happen. In a world of constant distraction a key skill here is effective time management. This interview with @CASUDI who I’ve come to know via Twitter and had the privilege of meeting recently for lunch provides a glimpse into effective time management. She’s a master at juggling many different businesses, passions and thus priorities and as you’ll see has a keen zest for life. You wouldn’t know it from the VW Golf I drive but I have a secret passion for cool cars and can appreciate the experience of driving a well-tuned machine. The flip side is you should be working on creating a well-tuned brand.

I’m a big fan of Twitter and the connections and friends it’s helped me make. And it’s become an instrumental tool to the work I do as a communicator as well as a great news source. So I was a little disappointed to hear about their management woes. But also think there’s a lesson here for all of us: no matter how great your technology or passionate your customers, you need strong vision and cohesive leadership to execute and sustain. The lessons and pains here echo throughout many businesses. If you’re one of them, this is proof you’re not alone and a wake-up call to take corrective action. #LeadershipChat on Tuesdays is a great place to start!

Motivation is deeply personal

Dan Pink’s book – Drive – provides a clear understanding of what really motivates us. I previously touched on extrinsic and intrinsic motivators and we know that carrot and stick techniques fail to motivate people in the creative problem solving economy we’re living in. Rather, they work for jobs that simply need to get done and don’t require heavy lifting in the brain department.

He talks about two key behaviors: type 1, motivated by intrinsic means and type  x, motivated by extrinsic means. While there are times all of us exhibit type x behaviors, type 1 is where we tend to spend much of our time – and explains why most carrot and stick motivators fail in business.

There are three keys to motivation:

Autonomy over our work and life. Dan argues that management as a discipline is getting long in the tooth and that research is starting to show how Results Only Work Environments are enhancing productivity – and motivation. No longer is it about doing the time but about achieving results and having some control over how and when that happens. It’s certainly not a free for all – it’s about accountability and respect.  We like to have the freedom to solve problems effectively and think about new ways to improve. We’re wired this way, yet business has done its best to squash that notion.

Mastery. It’s something that requires effort, causes pain and that we can never, ever fully achieve. And when we’re invested in developing our skills in a certain area, we’re engaged and work becomes less like work and more like play. Pink encourages us to look at kids for how this is done because most of us quit the pursuit of mastery. But it’s in the pursuit of mastery when we’re most alive.

Purpose. We achieve more when we know we’re doing something that could change the world or at least make a difference. We need to know that the work we do matters. If it doesn’t, we’re demotivated. At the end of our careers and our short time here, we want to know that our lives mattered. Pure and simple. No one wants to be bar code.

But now that you know the keys to motivation, how do you explain why some people succeed and others fail? What separates an entrepreneur from the average office worker?

This is where I believe motivation becomes deeply personal. And also something I’ve mentioned before. Some people have the inner strength to move rocks forward no matter what and others give up. Either because they’ve been beaten down and no longer see or think about possibility. Or they’re simply lazy and want it all handed to them. Our cushy American lives could explain why India and China are eating our lunch. It could explain why their kids read more and at a higher level than ours. And why they’re turning out more quality scientists and engineers than we are. (Aside from the fact that we’re not investing in education at the same level as they are). It’s about setting priorities.

I know people from privileged backgrounds who are just as unmotivated as those from poor backgrounds. And on the flip side, there are many self-made people who fought the odds and won. Using their inner strength and refusing to accept the status quo.

We can draw conclusions on why some people succeed and others do not. And we can show anyone who listens what the keys to success may be. It comes down to their desire to do the hard work necessary to succeed. To not give up when you don’t see immediate results. It’s about the mental models we use to construct our own realities. And the willingness to change them when they’re broken. And that is a very personal matter indeed.

Customer experience 101: A brand stumbles and makes good.

The tale of how my car isn’t all that needed oil

I’ve been a customer of Oil Can Henry’s for more than 10 years and have found that as far as quick oil change shops go, they’re one of the best. Have had really bad experiences with the big national brand shop many of you might know and will never return. They were flat out deceptive.

So when I recently stopped by on my way home from work to have my oil change I was mildly annoyed that the wait was going to be an hour with just a couple of cars there. But no matter, I’d try again the following evening. So I did, only to discover the wait again was at least an hour. So much for the ’10 minute oil change’ I thought. When I asked why, the guy said there were only two of them working because another was on vacation. And that it’d be that way all week. Ouch. Now clearly irritated, and having watched a couple cars also drive away each night, I thought I’d go out of my way to try another store. About 8 miles away.  It was time to test the brand / customer experience. As a marketer, I was on a mission.

Same story. Only two working and just one car ahead of me. Time to fire up Twitter. What I discovered was that their last Tweet was more than a week a prior and was a coupon offer. As were the few Tweets I checked before that. So I Tweeted the following:

During this time, another car drove up and turned back. I was curious to see if and how quickly they’d respond. In the meantime, I read reviews of other brands, none of which were confidence inspiring. Oh, I also told several different people about my less than stellar experience.

After three days of no response, I finally went to yet a third store near the office. This time, all three bays were going with two to three cars in line. Fully staffed, I REALLY NEEDED an oil change so I waited about 25 minutes. Not bad – and tolerable because it was clear they were working hard. I found out this was a corporate store versus a franchise shop (like the others). Like usual, they did a fine job with a smile.

Two weeks later I get an email from the marketing director apologizing. I thanked him for reaching out and suggested they monitor their Twitter account more closely as two weeks is simply far too long in social media. He acknowledged that but missed an opportunity to engage with a loyal customer.

However, about a week later a letter of apology showed up with a $39 gift card for a future oil change from a customer service rep. The letter was nice but very formal – done in typical corporate speak. They really should have responded via Twitter so that others seeing my Tweet would know they took action. It would have more impact if he’d engaged himself and / or followed up with me. As it stands, you wouldn’t know what they did if I didn’t write about it here.

I grew up in retail and recognize that it can be tough to forecast demand, but as a brand that trades on fast service, it’s imperative that you staff to deliver that. Or change your promise. Because there aren’t many good drop-in oil change options, I was willing to give Oil Can Henry’s another try because they’ve consistently delivered good service. I recognize too that there are times when things don’t always go as planned when you’re dealing with retail customer service. While their engagement with an unhappy customer may not have been ideal, they did make the effort to make it right. I respect them for that and will continue to support them.

Contrast this experience with Les Schwab Tires, where in the last three months we’ve bought two sets of tires and a set of shocks and struts. No matter what store I’ve gone to since I started buying brakes and tires – and anyone I’ve talked to – they have delivered. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. They’re always staffed. Always busy. And always hustling. In fact, few retail experiences exude the energy you’ll find at Les Schwab. I think that’s the opportunity that Oil Can Henry’s has. Few business experiences anywhere are as consistently good as Les Schwab Tires.

It doesn’t matter how mundane you’re offering, there’s always the opportunity to create the wow and delight. I’m not sure any of us enjoys spending money on oil changes, tires and brakes. They’re a necessary evil. But why not turn it into an experience that could put a reassuring smile on your face? Sometimes the simplest things are the most important. And can really make someone’s day.

The lesson for anyone is to recognize that Social Media is not another marketing channel for one-way communication. To really make it work, it’s something you need to bake into every aspect of your company. And never forget the power of good ‘ol fashioned communication, which is exactly where social shines of course.

Owl pellets for dinner?

Last night we attended our daughter’s school auction – raising $80,000 to compensate for ever shrinking public school budgets. Each year it’s traditionally a nice evening out with a great group of parents and friends. This year, though, under the guise of saving money, the auction committee moved the venue from the Tualatin Country Club to the Ambridge Event Center.  The former had a great atmosphere, good food and wine. This featured gymnasium-style lighting and what had to be the absolute worst food at a banquet-style event I’ve attended. Ever. They say they have award-winning menus – but don’t mention what those awards might be.

Before I continue my rant, let me say that we raised $5,000 more than last year so you can’t say the venue nor the food affected the outcome, fortunately. It’s a worthy cause and it comes down to the company you’re with – which was great.

We didn’t exactly have owl pellets, but imagine sitting down at a table with linens that weren’t the cleanest, starting with a salad of iceberg lettuce mounded on a plate with a side bowl of croutons and ranch dressing for the table. Okay, so not anticipating fresh organic garden greens, but still. Then comes via family style a bowl of steamed broccoli (or was it microwaved?) and the main course: burnt chicken sausage sliced into pellet-sized chunks. We even had to ask what these were. Neither had any seasoning, sauce as a veiled attempt to make them attractive let alone appetizing. Finish this off with a sort of mushroom tortellini.

After they cleared our plates, dessert shows up – brownies and lemon bars. When I asked if they were bringing plates, the server gruffly responded that’s what these are for dropping a stack of little white cocktail napkins on the table. Hmmm. Now mind you the lemon bars were not finger food, requiring a fork to eat with any grace. And having to pick them up off the plate left your fingers pretty sticky; you’d think there would be a basic serving utensil. Nope.

In short, dinner resembled something a college student would cook for their parents for the first time rather than a catered banquet affair. Before now, I generally attributed rubber chicken with rice pilaf to be low grade banquet food. But this moved the bar to a new low. How hard is it to make a huge vat of rice and fry-up some chicken for a crowd? Or how about good ‘old spaghetti and meatballs?

Seriously, almost anything would be a step up. And at $45 per plate compared with $50 per plate at the Tualatin Country Club, this was pretty sad. In fact, a few years ago in a leadership program we toured the local prison having lunch there – the same food the prisoners ate. THAT was infinitely better than what passed for a dinner last night. Let me also say that I don’t expect a gourmet 5-star meal either. That’s not the point. You can easily and economically do great, simple food for a crowd.

Perhaps you think I’m being overly harsh or dwelling on the trivial. But I believe if you’re in the service business you need to figure out how to deliver a great experience as the price point you offer. You need to pay attention to the details and this to me is a prime example of how a business failed at doing that.

If you’re a caterer, three things are required for success

  • good food
  • good service
  • clean linens and basic utensils.

None of the above needs to cost a lot of money. And as an event planner, if you’re going to charge $45 per plate, you need to ensure a basic level of quality and service. The experience depends on it.

And if you’re an event planner, you need to ensure the experience appropriately reflects the event and your company or company you’re representing. In this case, the organizers are all volunteers and planning a major auction is a huge undertaking. And that’s why as a caterer / venue, you should help your clients succeed. It’s key to winning repeat business.

I wonder how many others there put on events for their companies and look for area venues and caterers. What kind of missed opportunity do you think they had to gain other customers? Imagine how this venue/caterer could grow their business by delivering a great experience – and imagine how easily they can kill it by doing what we experienced!

Thankfully we still raised the much needed funds for keeping strong programs and smaller class sizes alive in our elementary school.

Telling stories, manifestos, a real guarantee, and the unsocial web but social business

I stumbled upon The Stories We Construct with Are you ready to Succeed by Srikumar Rao fresh in my mind. Rao talks about the mental models we construct to create our reality – but that is not THE reality. And this presentation walks you through how the narratives we tell ourselves frame how we see our past as well as the future, guiding our behavior. Stories govern how we spend our time, what we buy and the decisions we make. These are powerful concepts that can help marketers create relevant stories for their audiences as well as help you see how your own stories influence your behaviors and choices. I would certainly encourage marketers to use this information for social good rather than to deceive and manipulate. Ultimately you’ll be found out and that’s hardly the way to build a loyal following.

We often get stuck in our daily routines and can use a quick jolt of sharp thinking to awaken our senses. That makes these five manifestos worth your time. From Frank Lloyd Wright to Seth Godin, John Maeda at RISD, Leo Tolstoy and Apple, there’s some serious wisdom to kick start your day if you are indeed stuck. And if you’re not, it doesn’t hurt to think about how these might influence your decision making and goal setting. I’ve grabbed one from each of the five here and encourage you to read on for more. Think, too, about creating your own.

  • Instinctive Cooperation
  • There really isn’t much of a ‘short run’. It quickly becomes yesterday. The long run, on the other hand, sticks around for quite a while.
  • Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.
  • Always live less expensively than you might.
  • Have the self-honesty to admit when you’re wrong and the courage to change.

I tend to believe that if more companies invested in true customer service in every sense of the word, they’d need to spend less on marketing to bring in new customers. So many companies place front line customer service in the most drab locations, push them to get customers off the phone as quickly as possible and pay them very little. No wonder they’re cranky when you call. You would be too if you had to talk to cranky customers all day while not being empowered to think for yourself or actually HELP a customer. Check out Zingerman’s customer service guarantee. How powerful is it that they guarantee no hassles no exclusions and no statute of limitations? This is powerful marketing at the root level of a company. Can your company do this? Why not?

Mitch Joel talks about how the fact we have our own RSS feeds in our browsers featuring our Facebook and Twitter feeds, we’re actually narrowing our world because on average we have only 120 friends so see just what they’re posting. We curate our own lives in a very narcissistic way. His key point then is that the web is becoming less social rather than more. Provocative thinking if the ability to be more social on the web makes us less so. And then we have this report on what Wedbush calls the second internet in which companies become more social, open their platforms and create personal experiences for each customer. And customers have the ability to contribute to the experience. Based on Mitch’s line of thinking, this takes us further down the path being less social as we tailor the experience to what we think and who we connect too eliminating opportunity for serendipity. 

There’s much hype about content being king and all that but Olivier says not so fast. Yes, it’s absolutely important but he encourages – no urges – marketers to look beyond content and embed social media into every part of the business. And to not think about social media as marketing channels – which so many do because that’s what they know. He also lists several business areas that don’t rely on content to be social like digital customer service and business intelligence. This thinking requires that you as a marketer look beyond your domain and seek to break down the silos across your company. It’s about building what Dachis Group calls the social business.  This is long read but you have the weekend to digest in order to hit the ground running on Monday!

Enough already. Are we really that social?

We think we’re social. We tweet, chat, connect, link, like, follow, friend, block, unfriend, click. But what are WE actually doing?

Hey look, here’s a new tool that’s going to help you connect and engage and ultimately SELL MORE STUFF!!!  No time to chat? Try our auto chat that chats while you sleep. Now you don’t have to worry about spending time tweeting. Just input the topics you like to Tweet about and it’ll find the stuff and do it for you. No one will even notice you’re not behind the keyboard!!! Great for while you’re on vacation because you won’t have to worry about feeling disconnected from the stream or people wondering where you went. Spans all time zones!

Maybe that’s a bit far. Or maybe not.

Problem is, what does this accomplish? At what point does all this connectivity disconnect us from the reality right before us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Just read Are you ready to succeed by Srikumar Rao. In it he talks about the mental chatter going on in our heads. And the mental models we use to create our reality. His point is that these models are only one reality but not necessarily the right one. Another key point was to stop the frantic doing and be more deliberate.

Between the mental chatter and the digital chatter, are you moving the needle, whatever needle that might be?

As a business, are you just creating more noise simply looking to extract more $$ out of your customers pockets more quickly? That’s fine if you’re delivering more value and care about the well-being of your customers. If your customers feel that they received more for their hard earned $ than you took. Allow me to pick on Vegas again and say that I think their sole mission is to maximize dollar extraction velocity. Not sure they get the point about social good.

At what point do we say enough? At what point do we shut down and retreat? Your customers?

As someone responsible for executing marketing programs online and traditional, I spend a lot of time behind the keyboard. I enjoy it immensely and have met some really wonderful people and it’s now spilling over into real life. I wouldn’t want to lose this ability to connect. But I’m also feeling like there’s a lot of empty chatter I have to sift through. Sometimes I want to unplug. Turn it off. Enjoy life in analog.

It makes me think about how and who I connect with. I want to make the connection count for the other person. I want to cut the noise I create. Like putting a catalytic converter on my tweets and a scrubber on those coming through my stream. It makes me think about the messages we send out as a company – to make each one completely relevant to the recipient.

If you’re ready to say enough already yourself:

  • Listen first. Tweet later. But if you’re a company, don’t wait two weeks to respond to a tweet (more on that later).
  • Recognize that everyone’s experience is different. And that their noise tolerances are as well.
  • Cut the spam. It belongs in a can only and I’d argue it doesn’t belong there either.
  • If you matter, people will talk.
  • If you don’t matter. They’ll ignore you.
  • Violate their trust and they’re gone.
  • Don’t be afraid to go deeper. Just be okay with the result.
  • Remember that we’re not all sitting around idly waiting for your next Tweet nor hanging on your every word.
  • Ignore the ‘rules’ about blog post length and frequency. But that doesn’t mean writing The Source. Short, done well, is hard and valuable. Long and sloppy is easy.
  • If you’re not going to use the tools to be social, don’t use them at all. Stick with a faxblast.
  • If you’re annoyed by people reaching out to you unsolicited, think about how they feel about you reaching out to them.
  • Everyone, no matter how altruistic they may be, is acting in their own self interest. You are too.

Know why you want to connect with who you want to connect with. Stick with your vision. You do have one, right? Business doesn’t change as fast as everyone wants you to believe it does. Just the tools everyone’s trying to sell. Get grounded in building something worth talking about. Okay? Enough already!