September 25, 2012  

Big Business Thinking is Better Than Small Town Shop Behavior

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I recently traveled back in time.  Or, rather, back to my perception of what time past was like.  And, I didn’t even need a time machine to do it!  What I learned is that big business needs to take some queues from their mom-and-pop counterparts because big business seems to think they don’t need customers these days, at least based on their customer service policies, as I’ve harped on in some prior posts.  (What can I say, I’m a harper, and not in the classical music kind of way!)

I time-traveled by simply driving from big-town Manhattan to small-town New Haven and ate breakfast at a seemingly un-special, ordinary restaurant called Patricia’s.  From the outside, in fact, it seemed there were only a few customers, and the only reason I went in was because it was the only place nearby, that wasn’t fast food, still serving breakfast at 11am on a weekday.

I ordered some eggs (which are delicious and cooked by Patricia herself) and then I hear her say to a customer at another table, 

it’s ok you can pay us next time.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Was I dreaming or in an alternate universe? She told me they were regulars. 

Wait,” I thought, “someone actually treats their LOYAL customers with respect, instead of just the new ones?”  As Patricia’s newest customer, this theory of hers, on its own, made me want to scream recommendations about her restaurant from the hilltops, tell everyone I know about it, and return should I ever be back in New Haven!

And now, for the harping!  (WARNING – there will be foul language that follows.)

Why is it only in small towns and businesses that we see this loyal customer kindness mentality?  I have to be honest, I am sick and tired of feeling punished for my loyalty.  On TV, the internet and in newspapers, I am confronted with “new customer deals” by utilities companies that I’ve been a loyal customer of for years!  Why are you dangling carrots in front of my face that I’m not allowed to eat???  Meanwhile, do I ever get a postcard in the mail, that even says, “THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS?”  Nope!  No gift, no discount, nadda, just the honor of paying higher rates.  It’s only if I call to complain about this seeming inequity that I have a shot of being treated better.  Even then,  I’m first told I’m not a new customer, and that when I was, I, too, got a good deal (as if I should be thankful for them having me as a customer, rather than the other way round!)  

Is the message big business wants us to infer that we’re better off being a new customer someplace else? Is the cost of implementing loyal customer programs really going to outweigh the profit?

Back at Patricia’s, I said I was impressed that she treated her loyal customers so kindly especially since so many large companies treat new customers better than loyal ones. I’m sure you’ve had your own crap experiences you can relate to that help you understand why we need more Patricia’s out there!

And, could someone please tell me, what the f&^k is the point of a damn customer satisfaction survey?  I have filled out countless of them. Moste frequently when I’ve just had the most horrid of experiences with a company.  I bomb them in the ratings, and explain why I scored them so low.  And yet, I don’t even get an email thanking me for my business with someone trying to set up time with me to address my concerns!  Perhaps the bad surveys end up with the bad nuts from the more recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film and only the good ones get any attention?  It seems to me, if you’re going to conduct a survey asking for feedback on your service, and you have no mechanism to follow up with the respondents, you’re making us feel under-valuedUnder-valued customers soon become someone else’s customer!

And, what about self-service?  First, let’s cut the bullshit, ok?  “Self-service” simply means something to the following extent, “Although we know some of our customers do enjoy the ease of being able to complete transactions anywhere, anytime, we know a lot of you hate it.  Unfortunately, we can’t pay our top executives a big bonus unless we cut down the number of people doing work our customers can be doing themselves.”

Now, ok, I’m very opinionated, I just hate shit-coating.  Let’s just call it what it is, rather than making this out to be a customer-focused policy.  And yes, for the customers that do like self-service, great, no gripe.  But, there are MANY customers that prefer a live voice, and hand-holding to searching FAQ’s in an endless sea of pages where terminology and keywords are not in their language.  How are you helping those customers, I wonder?

OK, enough complaining, let’s use the rest of this post for some constructive feedback.  Here are my suggestions for how ANY business can apply small-town values to increasing loyal, and satisfied, customers.

1 - Let’s start with treating ALL our customers as valuable.  If new customers get discounts, what can you offer loyal customers to thank them for their business?

2 - If you’re conducting a survey, asking people to take the time to give you feedback, you need to follow-up with them. If you don’t think you have enough resources (we get it, the economy is what it is) then perhaps you should narrow down the number of customers you survey to match the resources you have.  An automated email acknowleding receipt is a great start, but it’s not enough.  Call or email them to find out how you can do better by them.  Most important, let them know what you’ve changed as a direct result of their feedback!

Bad customer feedback is an OPPORTUNITY.  Any customer that bombs you should be on the top of your list.  If they’ve taken the time to tell you how unhappy they are, you still have a last chance to keep their business!  They are the people that can help you develop your business into what your customers want!  If you don’t call them immediately, you’re literally throwing money in the garbage. 

4 - If a customer leaves you a message, call them back!  Especially if you’re a supervisor. 

5 – Devise ways to create a community.  That does not always mean a Facebook or LinkedIn group, by the way.  I want to tell everyone I know about Patricia’s restaurant (by the way, click here to find their Facebook page and address so you can go there!) because I felt I was part of a family when I went.  They did not pay me anything.  I did not get any discount.  And yet, here I am not being able to say enough about how impressed I am with this place.  What can you do to get your customers to be this excited about them?  Here’s a suggestion – treat them like family – and for those of you that need the disclaimer – like the family you WANT!

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September 18, 2012  

I Made the Wrong Decision

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This is the antithesis of last week’s lie of the day – it’s what you often think happened after you made the choice you did.  I could easily have titled it, “John Cleese knows the New York roads better than I do,” as you will shortly learn.

It’s amazing to me how easily we slip into deciding that we can’t make good decisions, which we then use to prove to ourselves that we better not make another decision again, ever, no, really, never, never, never!

And, your face probably really does resemble the photo in this post. It’s not very pretty, is it? Well, neither is beating yourself up! 1st lesson,

When you beat yourself up for making a bad decision, you look ugly, so stop doing it! You are scaring away your friends, family, and potential lovers with that crazy face.

2nd lesson,

When you label your choice as either “right” or “wrong” you only give yourself a 50% chance of being right. That’s lame.

3rd lesson,

Given the choice, your brain is more happy reminding you that you suck at making decisions, so labotomize the negativity, it’s not helping you!

4th lesson,

How the f%$k can you possibly know you made a “wrong” decision until you can see what comes of it?

Let me give you an example from my recent past. I will warn you, this is a driving story, and I get very passionate and upset about stressful driving, so there will be several expletives forthcoming. If you can’t handle curse words, you might want to exit at this point. Furthermore, if you are not familiar with the roads and bridges in and near New York City, you may get a little lost. So, let me give you a quick user guide:

  • The Saw Mill Parkway – leads to New York City
  • The George Washington Bridge – pain in the a$$ to cross, too many trucks. Abbreviated as “GWB”
  • The Verrazano Bridge – impossible to get to
  • The FDR – biggest ever freaking pain in the a$$ and lots of bad driving

So, back to my story. I was driving from Valhalla, NY, back to New York City. I visited my grandparents’ graves, and in my conversation with them, I told them that I have decided to live life on my terms, and make empowering choices.

So, back in the car, my GPS, which I have not updated since I bought it, about 2 or 3 years ago, is wanting me to go down these side roads. I see signs for New York, but I’m following my damn GPS because it’s John Cleese’s voice instructing me, and I’m quite sure that a British comedian knows the fecking roads in the boonies of New York much better than I do. Logically, some tiny side road will be much faster than a major throughway….in fact, when I finally backtrack, and get onto a major road and I see “Saw Mill Parkway” that I KNOW goes back to New York, and John Cleese tells me to get off the damn road and turn around, I listen! I end up driving in circles, literally! (Clearly, he was using me as comedic fodder….)

This was the first time I said, OUT LOUD to myself, in the car, “You f*&king idiot! (Because I like to talk about myself, to myself.) You know your GPS has not been updated in years, why are you following it’s advice instead of taking a freaking road, that could not be more obvious about saying NEW YORK CITY? What are you waiting for, a damn Broadway show sign in bright blinking lights, and a horse to gallop by with a cowboy that lassos your car and forces you to take the freaking road?” or something to this extent.

So, I ignored my comedic British navigator telling me I should turn my car around, and said, “f-uc% you! I’m driving MY way!”

At that moment, I realized, I had first judged myself as a poor decision-maker, because I was going in circles. However, as soon as I made the choice to make my own decision, and do things my way, I not only got headed on the right road back to the city, I also realized I was putting into action what I just told my grandparents – living life on my terms! What could be a better decision than that?

And so, I drove for many miles with a feeling of “I’m right, you’re wrong, na-na-na-boo-boo!” lighting up my face. And then, the George Washington Bridge happened. Or, should I say, didn’t happen, because one of the levels was closed for construction, and all the road signs said, “Take the Verrazano to avoid congestion.” Now, my nose is not stuffy, but John Cleese is clearly telling me to stay on the George Washington Bridge, so since I know that I’m right, and he’s British, and can’t see the road in front of me, I once again triumphantly ignore him and head on over to the road towards the Verrazano!

20120819-193233.jpg

It’s at this point that I realize there are about 2 miles of cars trying to do the same thing, and none of them are actually moving. Meanwhile traffic heading to the GWB is rolling along. I’m going to have to swallow my pride and follow Mr. Cleese’s advice after all, and so I do……only to land in even WORSE traffic, and this time, there is no f-ing exit road.  I took advantage of the stuckness to snap the photo here from my car because I realized this would become a blog post.

It’s here that I, for the second time, say out loud to myself, in the car, “You fu$%ing idiot! You are supposed to be living life on your terms! Why are you listening to John Cleese again?” or some variation.

I eventually end up turning the GPS off, exiting for the Deegan Expressway, that takes me to the FDR, to find only one lane closed, and exited again to end up spending 45 minutes driving 40 city blocks.

My first instinct, of course, was to beat myself up for the wrong decisions I had made – and I am very powerful, and easily could make myself wrong for every one of them.  But, then it dawned on me,

I made it home safe, and my choices may have caused me to avoid something worse, so again, what decision could be better than the one that got me home safe?

So, the final action for you is this:

Instead of beating yourself up for a perceived bad decision (I don’t care if it’s a bad investment, a stupid thing you did at work that got you fired, ruining your diet,….) focus your energy on what you learned, and what you’re going to do NOW.  Crying over the past doesn’t change your future, so stop playing victim, and grab those bull’s balls!

Want some more BullBusting in your life?  Check out BullBuster Bootcamp!

 

 

 

 

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September 11, 2012  

I Can’t Decide

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This is one of the most over-used lies I’ve heard MYSELF use, not to mention friends and colleagues. 

It’s almost as bad as when Frank Zappa (ok, dating myself!) created the Valley Girl concept that introduced the term “like” into our vocabulary that we STILL can’t get out!  “You know, it’s so like hot outside….”  We just use “I can’t decide” to preface half the communication in our life!

I can’t decide whether to go out, or stay in tonight.”

I can’t decide what I want for lunch.”

I can’t decide where to go on vacation.”

Gosh, our life sounds like a big decision headache!

The problem with starting our sentences, and our thoughts, with this paralyzing phrase, is that we end up stuck, and sometimes, feeling totally screwed up! 

 A good deal of the time, I think we are actually stuck in one of two beliefs; “I only have 2 choices, and neither is satisfying” or “I’m overwhelmed by all the options to choose from”.

From there, we begin to project the outcome of each potential decision, as if we are suddenly completely psychic in a way we are not anyplace else in our lives.  The outcome is of course, either shitty, or shittier, and, we know we are right.

Let’s bust the bullshit on being stuck in indecision, ok?  Here we go:

For those of you stuck in “I only have 2 choices, and they both suck,” or some variation

  • You actually have a very simple assignment.  Here it is, ready?  Come up with a 3rd option!  Think you don’t have one?  Then make up options until you finally realize that you DO.  There are endless possibilities for us, so why stick yourself between 2? 
  • And, by the way, those outcomes that you projected in your otherwise brilliant mind?  They are full of crap!  Sorry to burst your intelligent brain bubble, but really, why are you focusing on such negative outcomes?  First off, negative thoughts attract negative circumstances.  So, unless you WANT a negative outcome, stop wasting your beautiful mind on all this negativity.  Second, does your life really represent only negative outcomes to decisions?  Think hard.  There is at least one example, someplace in your memory, of a GREAT decision you made!  So, remember, you can have something wonderful if you choose to.

Now, for those of you stuck in “I have too many choices to choose from,” here’s what I have to say

  • Good for you, it’s nice to have so many options!  I’m glad you are not choosing between the classical shitty and shittier.
  • You are most likely focusing on the options, and not the desired outcome.  And, I’ll bet many of the options seem really freaking fantastic, too, which no doubt makes the decision harder.  It’s like looking at a dessert menu and thinking, “I can eat an ice cream sunday, or a brownie, or cheesecake, or a cupcake, I have no food allergies, I need the calories, so what do I choose?” 
  • The desired outcome is usually what you WANT or an end GOAL.  So, instead of focusing on all your options, think about what you WANT (chocolate, ah, so I can rule out cheesecake, and I’m gonna want sprinkles, which go best with ice cream, so I’ll have the sunday!) or the end GOAL.  In the dessert example, if you wanted to actually lose weight, you’d simply hand the menu back and order nothing, unless they had fruit or sorbet.  If it’s a choice between job offers, you’d be thinking about areas like salary, location, career projection, etc. 
  • By focusing on the end point, the plethora of choices begin to shrink, and the best decisions begin to pop out!

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September 4, 2012  

Corporations Want Innovative Ideas

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Today’s Lie of the Day is one that comes to us via some of the companies we work for, and is available as both a podcast and as an article. 

Large corporations are on the lookout for innovation.  It’s a great buzzword I hear over and over – they want clever ideas, clever thoughts, the next great idea….but some of them don’t seem realize that they are stomping out innovation with processes and regulations. 

The bulk of innovation sewage (the place where great ideas get stopped up), in my opinion, comes from the expectations and judgements of where ideas should come from, and how they should look.  I am referring to two areas:

 

1 – how a person looks, and behaves and
2 – levels of leadership

Both these areas have a direct impact on whether an idea is well received and implemented, or shut down.

The basic truth about innovation is that it usually relies on an environment that supports creativity. 

When it comes to dress and behavior, different people find creativity in different ways.  Some spike their hair, some write on their t-shirts, others wear bright nail polish or dye their hair brighter.  Unfortunately, many of these creative expressions are not acceptable in corporate.  Think about my website – it’s pretty creative, and I’ve got a lot of ideas, but would you consider my website fitting the typical corporate mold?  (Probably not!) And since it doesn’t, are you listening to the judgments that just entered your mind about a corporate mold?  It’s hard to be innovative when you’re in mold, and not just because of its look and smell….budump-buh!   And, isn’t it ironic, for those of you that may see my site as funny and creative, that you wouldn’t naturally line me up with corporate?  And that’s just because I’ve been creative and innovative in an outside-the-box way, which, hello!, is just what corporate said they wanted! Interesting paradox, isn’t it? 

When you’re supposed to dress, talk and act like everyone else, where does originality have a shot? That feels to me like telling someone to stay in the box, but think outside it, which is mighty tough when you feel constantly boxed in

I have to wonder if lots of employees get great ideas when they’re home, or driving or cooking their favorite meal because they can be comfortable being themselves.   

At the end of the day, an employee that dresses funny or brightly won’t seem so bad when they bring you an idea that results in $20 million, will they?  So, is it more important that employees look and act corporate, or is it more important to create innovative solutions to problems that lead to increased profits? 

Now, certainly, we can take this conversation in many directions – should the slob who never cleans up his desk or showers and feels most innovative in the nude be allowed to scatter his belongings everywhere, shed his clothing and smell bad at work in the name of creativity?  Should the person that finds creativity in cursing every other word be allowed to walk around the office shouting expletives all day?  No, I’m not suggesting that harmful behavior be excused in the name of creativity.  What I am suggesting is that sometimes innovative people don’t look “normal” – they don’t necessarily wear suits and ties, speak corporate speak, or arrive to work on time.  They might just wear colorful clothing, spike their hair (yes it is possible to have clean hair that sticks up straight!) and work flexible hours. 

Innovation is only acceptable if it comes from the right level.

To my point about innovation and levels, I’ve noticed that in many companies, there are some exceptional ideas for innovation at the “bottom”.  Unfortunately, when lower level employees suggest an idea, one of two things generally happens –

  1. the great ideas are poached by that person’s leadership team, who take it over, implement it, advance their careers, and don’t give a drop of credit to the originator,  or,
  2. the employee is deemed a boat rocker, and discouraged from further suggestions. 

Either way, too frequently, the result is that these brilliant employees learn to keep great ideas to themselves

The employee experience is often fear-based – they end of feeling that suggesting an innovative idea could cost them their job.  Isn’t that ridiculous? 

It’s ironic to me that many of you reading this know exactly what I’m talking about, and you’ve no doubt experienced it yourself.  I have to wonder if senior leadership in these companies are unaware of the problem, or choose to ignore it.  Either way, this rampant creative block is unfortunate for business, for leadership, and for the future of great ideas.

If you want things to be different, why force everyone to be the same?

I think it’s time that we honor and respect innovation for what it is – a creative path that can come from anyone, and anywhere.  Let’s throw titles, levels, and funky appearance judgments out the window when it comes to creative ideas.  In the realm of innovation, everyone should have a voice, that voice should be called forth, and it should be recognizedLet’s bridge the gap between leadership levels and let innovators be the driving force of innovation, rather than titles.

What’s your take on this?  Submit your comments below!  And, as always, feel free to submit your own lie of the day for consideration in a future blog post!

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