This is really interesting stuff....
Did you know that Bruce Springsteen is in town this weekend?
Neither did I until a couple minutes ago when I found out by accident looking for something else. Turns out Bruce and the E Street Band are playing Sunday night at the United Center. I wish someone had told me.
How often do you hear about a concert or event that you would have absolutely attended but you found out about it a day or a week late? Right? Happens all the time.
Sure you can sign up with Metromix (I did long ago) and get emails all the time. But they come when I am at work as an interruption, they are not really organized well, and not personalized based on what I really am interested in.
Why hasn't Apple jumped in to solve this problem? They know where I am, and based on my iTunes library they know what music I have, what music I buy, what music I listen to most. The Genius is always telling me about music I might like, or offering to build a playlist for me. Why didn't it tell me Bruce was coming to town?
When I'm in iTunes I am in a far different place than when reading email. That is exactly the time to give me personalized music related news.
I put the over-under at 12 months before Concert Promotion is a central part of iTunes. And considering the greed and tone deaf approach to customer service that Ticketmaster has shown with ridiculous fees and charges even as we print our own tickets, I think that Apple could do to them what it did to the cell phone market. Come in late to a mature market, redefine it based on user experience, and then own it.
Do you want the over or the under?
Congratulations is my new favorite word.
I was recently introduced to the concept of frequently and sincerely saying congratulations by my co-workers.
In my company people congratulate each other all the time. I am new to the organization and don't know if there is a particular history or genesis of this phenomenon, but it's very real. Don't get me wrong, we don't all run around patting each other on the back all day, but noticing, mentioning and congratulating achievement is in our DNA.
I have always been a big believer in positive reinforcement and catching people doing something well, and I have had a few bosses who were really good at it too. I have written my share of attaboy, and keep up the good work emails and have frequent positive discussions with my employees all the time not just at review time.
But congratulations adds something more. Congratulations says good work and good outcome. But more than that, it is all about acknowledging personal accomplishment. This may be the key component.
"That was a good meeting" is just an observation of an event.
"Congratulations, that was a good meeting" is a clear statement that I think YOU are the reason the meeting went well.
How often does someone tell you congratulations? How often do you say it?
Try it. Don't save it for graduation and promotions. Use it all the time. And don't shorten it to congrats, and don't send it in an email if you can easily say it in person.
You will be surprised how it feels to say it, and how the other person reacts.
For the longest time I thought about the word creative as an adjective, as in, “she’s so creative.” Creative described people who liked to think a lot, look at different perspectives, come up with innovative ideas. Creative people see things a bit different from everyone else and are fun to be around. Off the wall ideas are more likely to be described as creative.
Creative was an adjective that described the person or the idea. And it was totally subjective.
But lately I have been struck that this is not really the nature of creativity. Don’t get me wrong; novel ideas are definitely important for the creative process. But I had the wrong part of speech when I thought of creative as an adjective.
Creative doesn't describe the person or the idea, it describes what they do. (don't get all grammatical on me)
A creative person creates things. Painters, writers, musicians, filmmakers, designers, architects, developers, marketers, are easy to imagine, but creative can exist in every job, or not. Or completely outside their job. The measure of creativity is the creation of something new, not the imagining of it.
The thinking, the imagining is just a means to an end.
I work for a creative marketing agency, and the other day I was in our storeroom and found myself looking around at all the artifacts on the shelves. The company started as a video production shop and there are literally hundreds maybe thousands of tapes of various formats that are a window into the history of the organization. I walked around and read the names off one tape after another and tried to imagine the story behind each. Some of these tapes go back 21 years.
As I read the various titles and dates I had a profound sense of what it means to be creative.
To commit yourself to create something that didn’t exist before. To actually make it happen. And then to put it on the shelf, to move on and create something else.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Forever.
Creative doesn't describe what a person is, it describes what a person does.
So I ask all of you reading this who consider yourselves creative.
Are you happy with what are you creating? What's on your shelf?
I measure all paid software and web based solutions against my experiences using Turbo Tax. I measure all breakfast restaurants against Walker Bros. I measure free web services against Gmail. I measure hotel beds against the Westin Heavenly Bed. I measure the way an airline treats me against my experience as an Executive Platinum member of American. I measure commercials against the Mac vs PC ads these days and the older Bud Light commercials, both of which make me laugh. I measure TV shows against Seinfeld, 30 Rock and The Office (which also make me laugh.) And I measure consumer electronics against TiVo and the iPod.
These are the standards against which you will be judged if you want to feed me breakfast, sell me a gadget, or get me to watch your TV show.
It doesn't matter to me one bit if you consider yourself in a different "space" than Gmail, TiVo or Turbo Tax. You will be judged by the standard they set because I said so.
I'm not being difficult, I just know what is possible based on my experiences with my favorites and I will hold you responsible every time you fail to meet my expectations.
It's tempting to "mange expectations." But be careful, if you manage expectations too low, I will just avoid you. If you manage expectations too high, you better stack up against the best. It's a catch 22, it's completely out of your control, and it's the cost of getting my business. Get over it.
Microsoft spends billions developing and improving it's core software product Microsoft Office and sells it for around $300 retail. Or you can get a 100% compatible suite of software from Open Office for free. I used to buy shoes at Nordstrom's, but now I use Zappos because it has a better selection and is a better use of my time. Two hugely recognizable brands with long histories of being the best at what they do, swept aside because my expectations changed. Don't get me started on books, music and movies...
And if you think that this only applies to businesses, think again. I'd bet that every one of you can name a person that does a really good job at something that's important to you. Whether they work for you, with you, or as a customer or contractor you know who they are. They set the standard for how you will judge other people you come in contact with.
When you take a new job, how will you most likely be introduced? "This is Tom, he is the 'new Steve.'"
How much of your acceptance in your new job will be based on who you are and what you bring, and how much will be based on how you stack up against Steve? Fair? Doesn't matter.
There are simply too many options available to us consumers to think that anyone can get away with being "below expectations" for longer than it takes me to find an alternative and switch. And you don't even have to be bad at what you do to find yourself on the wrong end of expectations. Sometimes a new concept comes along and totally changes expectations (Zappos). Or circumstances outside your control change how people view you (kinda wish you bought a Prius last year instead of an SUV?)
So you can be the best at what you do, or be so different that you create a whole new expectation.
At the very least make sure you are obsessed with understanding the expectations against which you are being judged.
And be ready to change.
Who's minding your store? Who is responsible for your brand image and your reputation? Whom do your customers interact with the most?
It's my experience that in most companies it is actually the lowest paid, highest turnover employees who have the greatest impact on your customer service and your brand image. The telephone customer service rep, the hotel front desk clerk, the airline gate agent, the security guard at the hospital, the waitress.
How do they feel they are treated as employees? What do they think about your company? You can not out-perform your own self-image. And when it comes to customer service you can not out-perform your front line employee's perception of you as an employer.
Your employees will not treat the customer better than they themselves are treated.
These are the people who talk to your customers, and listen to them. They are the ones who collectively make or break your brand. Not you. Not your CMO or your ad agency. Your lowest paid employees.
And middle-management will not treat these employees better than they themselves are treated by senior-management, and so on.
This starts at the top.
Put your employees at the top of your mission statement, ahead of your customers, and show that commitment in everything you do. Make it real, not just a slogan.
Measuring what your customers think about you is a lagging indicator.
Measuring what your employees think of you. Now that's a leading indicator.
I'm staying at a nice hotel, almost $200 per night. As I walked into the room the first thing that caught my eye was that they provided a very nice clock radio, one that was optimized to work with an iPod.
I thought this was a very nice touch, and clearly something tailored to a business traveler. The kind of thing that says, "We think about you and want to make your stay a little more enjoyable." The kind of thing that makes you remember a hotel. They also have a very nice DVD player attached to the television.
I stay in a lot of hotels, and have to say that having an iPod enabled radio and a DVD player are not common amenities that I run across.
Then I went to unpack and hang up my clothes, and the message changed.
If you look closely at the picture (click on it to enlarge) you will see that apparently three of these completely useless hangers have in fact been boosted. So maybe they are on to something after all.
Next I discover the smallest bar of soap I've ever seen. This is the bar of soap after washing my hands exactly one time. I put the quarter in the picture so you would get a sense of scale. At this point I was completely confused. A couple observations and a question for the hotel manager.
You are savvy enough to know that most business travelers have an iPod, and aren't carrying their favorite CD's around with them. But you apparently believe that they are carrying DVD's in their travel case. You have enough money to put a DVD player in the room, which probably doesn't get used very often, but go cheap on hangers and soap which are used by nearly 100% of your customers.
Is this part of a master plan? Do you have a target audience in mind that responds to this particular positioning? Or is all this the result of a series of disconnected decisions made by you and your predecessors?
Somewhere our there right now is a guy designing another set of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) prompts. With absolutely no appreciation for the irony, he works in the Customer Service department. He most likely works hard, means well and doesn't consider his work to be evil. He probably takes pride in his work, after all there is a good reason for each of these prompts. To route inquiries to the right department, to track volumes by category, etc.
Of course not. So what happened?
Inside out thinking is what happened. From the inside out every one of those prompts make sense. They solve a problem, or enhance a report, or reflect the corporate organization chart. And there will probably be another release in a few months that brings new prompts to solve new problems.
But from the outside in, from a customer perspective, everything looks different.
Do you ever try to access your company or department as a customer? How does your service look from an outside in perspective?
Are you trying to reach people? To get them to come to your website, buy your products or services, read your newspaper, view your ad, remember your message?
Good luck. In the history of the world it has never been harder to do this than it is today. There was a time, not long ago, when we all watched the same TV shows and listened to a half dozen radio stations. Your town had one or two newspapers, and a really big movie theater had 2 screens. The only barrier to reaching people was money.
Getting your message out in today's world requires that you first acknowledge that you are competing with absolutely everything in every medium. The entire Internet, not just your competitor's website, your customer's favorite iPod playlist, the entire catalog of On Demand movies, the 20 different reality TV shows playing at any given moment. Absolutely everything.
Because what you are after is a few precious minutes, not of someone's time, but of their attention. And while people will sometimes allow you to waste their time, they are very protective of their attention, and they punish people who waste it.
So now it's not enough to be able to buy commercial time, or a full page ad, you have to be interesting too. Interesting enough that someone will choose to give you their attention. Interesting enough that after having given you their attention, they will be glad they did.
How interesting is your message? Are you even trying to be interesting, or just accurate?
What was your reaction when you heard the news about Eliot Spitzer? Moral outrage? Here we go again? Embarrassment for his wife and daughters? Partisan opportunity? What the hell do you get for $5,500 (or $4,300) an hour? I have heard some version of all of these in the past 72 hours.
But my reaction was much simpler. I am pissed at Eliot Spitzer.
Not because of what he did specifically, I'm pretty sure his wife has that angle covered.
No, I'm pissed because every time we are reminded that human weakness is the issue, we respond by making more rules and obstacles and checkpoints and oversight to prevent it from happening again. And it makes it easier for people who are in the "dis-trust business" (expense account departments, the IRS, bureaucrats) to assert that they are the only line of defense against all the cheaters in the world.
The "dis-trusters" had a good week. Their budgets will probably go up. They will get to say, "I told you so", or "I knew he was too good to be true." It will be hard to argue with their requests for more rules, more oversight and more intrusive monitoring. And once those new rules are enacted, they are with us for life.
The problem is that all the additional rules won't stop a dishonest person, and don't do anything to address human weakness, they just make life harder for the rest of us, who are honestly trying to get things done and follow the rules and make a difference.
Thanks a lot, Eliot.
I was at an event recently, a surprise 40th birthday party for a good friend that I used to work with. I got to hang out with a ton of people from my previous employer (huge health insurance company - rhymes with "you floss, you yield"). Anyway, as I caught up with people and wandered around the party nearly everyone commented on my wardrobe. I was wearing nice new blue jeans, leather soled loafers and a collared blue dress shirt. Which is actually pretty dressed up for me these days. But people couldn't get over the jeans. I confessed that I frequently wore gym shoes to work, at this point they said that I was just bragging...
I'm not comfortable all the time. I have frequent client meetings, and I suit up according to their dress code, but the rest of the time I dress for comfort.
How much is being comfortable worth to you? Would you accept a lower salary if you knew that you could dress in comfortable clothes every day? Or going the other direction, if you dress for comfort today, how much more would they have to pay you to get you to put on a tie every day, or wear wing-tip shoes?
Is one of the defining characteristics of the truly successful that they get to decide how they will dress all the time?