I just left a message for a highly successful buddy of mine. Or at least I tried reaching him. His receptionist was so busy, so stressed, and so rude that her best customer service was to tell me to “call back later.” Now as it happens, I will call back. And it won’t be a problem because I have his home number and his cell number. But what if I were a potential client trying to decide whether or not to send a big piece of business his way?
You say you can’t afford customer service? You can’t afford to hire someone with highly developed interpersonal skills to answer your phone? I say you can’t afford not to. Because you must start branding your business with good customer service long before your customer actually talks to your highly-exalted and oh-so-busy self.
I know, I know. You get a hundred phone calls a day. So do I. The “Nuke a Whale for the Middle East” charity wants my time and money and so does every other sales rep this side of Sarajevo. But we’re talking about a brick of gold in the haystack here, not a needle. Can you afford to throw away the million-dollar inquiry amongst the dross because you can’t afford customer service?
Nowhere is the “almost every phone call is a complete and utter waste of time” paradigm more true than for personal injury attorneys.
“Thirty years ago, my ex-husband’s cousin almost slipped in an abandoned building and might have hurt himself and the voices in my head told me to call you so you can represent us.”
Now you don’t need a law degree to know that the value of this case is zero. The statute of limitations has run out; the caller has no legal standing regarding her ex; her ex didn’t sustain an actual injury; the owner of the abandoned building can’t be found and has no money; the caller may have mental health issues. Who even knows if the building is still standing?
But should the customer service rep say, “Ms. Hot-Shot is in a meeting”? Should they communicate, “we only work with clients for whom there is a potential payout”? Should they announce, “Go take a long walk off a short pier”? No, no, a thousand times no.
Because this caller may have a million-dollar case subsequently or she may have a neighbor who does. And if she gets blown off by your imperious assistant, that good case is going to wind up somewhere else. Somewhere where they understand customer service.
This woman needs customer service. She needs to be invited in and given a cup of tea. She needs a brochure and maybe a refrigerator magnet. She needs to feel welcome and wanted. Because five years from now when she is wrongfully injured by a wealthy drunk driving a brand new Porsche convertible, you want her to remember where your office is and how gracious your staff was.
Benjamin Franklin, by all accounts more successful than you or I, got it right:
“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe the horse was lost. For the want of a horse the rider was lost.
For the want of a rider the battle was lost. For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”
Wouldn’t today be a good time to focus on your customer service?Published on March 3rd, 2015
Sometime between World War II and The Korean War, private first class Leonard NMI Turkel was returning a truck to the Pensacola Air Force base when he misunderestimated a blind curve and swerved off the road. Although the private was adept at driving trucks from his days delivering laundry in the Bronx, he wasn’t used to unforgiving culverts and buried the big truck’s front wheel three feet into the muddy ditch that ran alongside the road.
PFC Turkel tried everything he could think of to free the stuck vehicle from the Georgia clay. But even with the truck’s four-wheel drive and prodigious torque he could not pull it out of the trench. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way to call for help he hoisted himself up onto the truck’s badly listing fender and waited for his eventual rescue.
Before too long PFC Turkel saw two headlights coming towards him through the encroaching gloom. Too close together to be a car and approaching too slowly to be a couple of motorcycles, he finally realized it was a farmer lumbering up the road on a big tractor. PFC Turkel hopped down off the fender and waved his cap in the humid dusk to flag down his potential rescuer.
The big John Deere tractor shuddered to a stop and its driver looked down at the hapless private.
“Well, well. What do we have here?” the farmer drawled slowly.
“The truck’s stuck.” My father answered. “I was hoping you could help me yank it out of the ditch.”
The farmer didn’t answer, he just rubbed his chin, stepped off the tractor and slowly ambled around the olive green Air Force transporter while he assessed the situation. Finally he stopped in front of my dad and looked him up and down.
“Son,” the farmer drawled at the tall, skinny kid in front of him. “You’re either stupid or a Yankee.” It came out as “Stooopid.”
“I believe I’m both, sir” my dad replied.
The farmer laughed and wordlessly returned to his tractor. But instead of hopping back up and chugging away, he wrapped one end of a heavy rope around the John Deere’s front hitch and then tossed the other end to my dad to tie to the truck. Next he straddled the tractor’s saddle, threw the transmission into reverse, and deftly yanked the truck back onto the road.
I think my dad told me this story simply because it was an amusing memory from his younger days. But to me it always held a more significant meaning – thoughtful intentionality.
I return to my dad’s tale again and again when I’m in a situation where emotion is threatening to get the best of me and I’m tempted to respond in an elevated manner that might be momentarily satisfying but will ultimately detract from what I’m trying to accomplish.
You see, my dad was neither stupid nor a Yankee. To a kid who grew up in the Bronx, a Yankee wasn’t an interloper from up north but a superstar who played on his beloved hometown baseball team.
“I believe I’m both, sir” was my dad’s innocuous response to the farmer’s insult that diffused the situation and focused my father’s intentionality and ultimately got him what he wanted — the truck out of the ditch. My dad didn’t respond to the insult in-kind, he didn’t refer to his beloved Yankees (the baseball team, not the Northern slur) and he didn’t elevate the challenge.
“I believe I’m both, sir”, most likely said with his big beautiful smile, was my dad’s solution to an uncomfortable problem and a wonderful lesson that is always with me even though my father no longer is. The intentionality of “I believe I’m both, sir” has served me well in business and in my personal life and contributes mightily to my personal brand. I hope it can do the same for you.Published on February 22nd, 2015
Last Friday’s edition of The New York Times included two stories on the trouble with transparency that few readers probably connected even though the problem affects all of us.
One article was about how Brian Williams “misremembered” his flight on a United States military helicopter that was forced down by enemy fire in 2003 under the headline, “With Apology, Williams Digs Himself Deeper.”
(This story was the subject of my blog post last week.)
The other, titled “Pascal Lands in Sony’s Outbox,” was further down the page and chronicled Sony Pictures Entertainment studio chief Amy Pascal’s trouble with transparency after “she made denigrating remarks about President Obama’s presumed preference for black-themed movies.”
So what do articles about a disgraced TV news anchor and the resigning top executive at Sony Pictures have in common? And why do you care?
Besides both people having top jobs in the media business, and both taking “indefinite leaves of absence” from those jobs, and both being in trouble for saying offensive things, there was one salient point that was most likely overlooked – both offenders were outed and pilloried by the Internet.
In the Williams’ article, CNN’s New Day host Chris Cuomo said, “the Internet would ‘eat him (Williams) alive.’” In Pascal’s case, hackers revealed her private emails in which her comments on President Obama’s movie preferences “became fodder for gossip sites, trade publications and mainstream news organizations.”
Not that anyone reading this blog needs to worry about either Williams’ or Pascal’s futures. The NBC host had a five-year, $10 million contract with the network and Sony’s executive exit included a four-year guaranteed payout of $30 to $40 million, a percentage of the profits on films she produced, and millions of dollars for annual office costs. Neither Williams nor Pascal will have to worry about where their next Fifth Avenue pied-à-terre is coming from and neither should you.
Facts and occurrences that would have taken forever to catch fire years ago now become common knowledge overnight. And whether it’s Governor Chris Christie seen rooting against his home team in a private sky box or Mitt Romney getting caught on video making snide comments about “the other 47%” to a private audience or Pascal sending offensive emails in what she thought was a private conversation, the key protective word of the pre-Internet days, “private,” is now both passé and irrelevant.
Whether or not Williams, Pascal, or any other celebrities’ comments would be found guilty in a court of law no longer matters. Today they are instantly condemned in the court of public opinion. And today’s companies, terrified by the effect of such comments on their stock price and shareholder value, need to be quick to make defensive moves to protect their business. So do you.
I’m not suggesting that these folks and many others don’t deserve to be outed for their mistruths and misdeeds—although I should add that most of us have said inappropriate things when we didn’t think anyone was listening. I sincerely do hope that such transparency will ultimately improve the tone and nature of public discourse and behavior. But in the meantime, every CEO, CMO, marketing professional, parent, and person on the ‘net needs to vigilantly guard their professional and personal reputation.
Remember that the walls may not have ears (at least not yet), but that every person with a smart phone has a recorder, a video camera, and a simple way to put your behavior online – and on trial – in a world where you are not presumed innocent until proven guilty.Published on February 15th, 2015
Brian Williams is not going to return to NBC Nightly News. He is not going to reenergize his news career. He’s not going to make a comeback.
Brian Williams is toast.
Williams has promised to get back on the air, saying, “Upon my return I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”
But it won’t happen because Brian Williams is toast.
It’s not that others haven’t lied and then succeeded at second chances. Lots of famous people lie to their audiences, suffer temporary setbacks, and still come back to enjoy bigger and better public images.
Bill Clinton did it. His assertion that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” turned out to be a lie. But today Clinton is one of the most beloved political statesmen in the world.
Bill’s wife Hilary Clinton did it too. She “misstated” claims of coming under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia in the 1990s and had to admit that it wasn’t true after video footage showed the first lady walking calmly from her plane. But now Clinton is a former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State and the leading Democratic presidential candidate for 2016.
But Brian Williams is toast.
Here’s what Stars and Stripes reported Williams said: “The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG… Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.” But The Washington Post added that, “Williams was not in the helicopter that was hit, but followed half an hour to an hour later on another helicopter that landed to avoid a sandstorm.”
According to The New York Times, “Mr. Williams said he had embellished an account of an incident in 2003; over the years he came to say that he was in a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire, an assertion he now says is not true. He now says he was in a trailing helicopter, and that he ‘conflated’ the two aircraft.”
Williams has tried to say he was sorry, albeit in clumsy, ham-fisted apologies that used tortuous words such as “conflated,” “misremembered,” and “the fog of memory.” But even Williams’ clumsy explanations are not the reason why he’s finished. After all, we’ve endured a litany of fat-tongued celebrities’ clumsy explanations as they grasp for redemption, from Jimmy Swaggart’s tears to Larry Craig’s “wide stance” to Paula Deen’s not understanding the N-word to Tammy Faye Bakker’s MascaraGate.
The key to Bill Clinton’s impeachment was not what he said when he covered up his marital misdeeds but that he broke the law when he lied to Congress under oath. And Hilary Clinton’s lie (a story coincidentally similar to William’s) hasn’t seemed to derail her ambitions very much either.
So why is Brian Williams toast when so many others have managed to skate around their “misrembering” to little bad effect? It’s simple: no one really cares when politicians lie because — sad but true — no one really expects politicians to be honest in the first place. But Brian Williams is toast because as a journalist he violated his core value, his defining ideal, and his authentic self when he lied to himself and to us.
In a violent year when over 60 journalists around the world have died trying to tell the true story, Williams tale of false bravado is seen as a betrayal of not just the NBC anchor’s audience but of all the brave men and women who really were in harm’s way. And there’s no way NBC Nightly News’ 9.3 million viewers will ever forgive that.
Brian Williams is toast.Published on February 9th, 2015
When I went to elementary school on Miami Beach there were just four or five African-American kids in our group. I remember this only because I found out later that there were very few black families living on South Beach and the kids in our class were the children of teachers on Miami Beach that were able to bring their kids with them.
When I got to seventh grade the school board integrated the Miami-Dade school system and black kids were bussed across Biscayne Bay to Miami Beach. This redistricting immediately changed our student census from about 50/50 Hispanic and Jewish kids (with the occasional white Christian students and some Jewbans sprinkled in for good measure) to roughly 1/3 Cuban, 1/3 Jewish, 1/3 African-American.
Of course the groups mixed together warily. If being 13 to 15 isn’t an awkward enough time already, imagine what it was like to suddenly find yourself in a brand-new environment with brand-new kids and brand-new expectations. As I remember it, the transition was a bit rocky for almost everyone involved.
But there was one oasis of calm in the swirling sea of turmoil – the music department. Kids in band and orchestra were there not just because their friends participated or because it was required but because they played an instrument and were interested in music. More importantly, there was a merit system based solely on talent and ability where race, religion, and upbringing didn’t matter. Finally, our two instructors represented our student body – bandleader Mr. Martin was white and orchestra director Mr. McCall was black. Because of this, I remember the band room as a relatively calm place where everyone got along and became friends.
Having grown up on Miami Beach, my elementary school friends and I spent almost every after school afternoon in the water – either swimming in the ocean, diving in the bay, or horsing around at the community pool at Flamingo Park down the street. And of course once we got to junior high, our new friends came with us. But here’s where our differences were clear.
While I know it’s not politically correct to say that blacks can’t swim, our black friends in the band really couldn’t. Shockingly (to us adolescent Miami Beach residents, anyway), most of these kids had never been to the beach or the bay even though they lived blocks away in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami.
Now why do I risk incurring your wrath by telling you this? No, I don’t want to emulate Jimmy the Greek and his racist comments. Instead I want to point out how great branding and marketing works.
The other day I was honored with the opportunity to present my thoughts on branding to the Board of Directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS). To get ready for my presentation, I read through all the materials they sent me, including their fundraising brochure.
The cover presented a beautiful little girl with the headline, “Imagine… 8 years old and she’d never seen an elevator.” Then I turned the page and experienced this: a picture of a man and a boy standing on the beach and staring out to sea under the headline, “Imagine a child growing up in Miami who has never been to the beach.”
BAM!! Junior high school memories that I hadn’t thought of in years – the story I told you a moment ago – came flooding back to me in a flash. It was what I call a GBM – a “goose bump moment.” In that heady instant I was bewitched and suddenly relating to BBBS with my heart and not my brain. It was such a powerful experience that the brochure’s body copy felt like it had been written just for me:
“From the perspective of our comfortable lives, it’s hard to realize that these kids can’t even imagine much of what we take for granted. (But) you have the power to change that…”
As I said, BAM!! Suddenly I was looking at BBBS in a whole new way.
What can this insight do for you? By taking a page from the BBBS brochure, you too have the power to supercharge your marketing messages. Look to create GBM shared experiences where your brand exists NOT to satisfy you or your boss but where your audience feels that your message makes THEIR lives better. Because while a good brand makes you feel good, a great brand makes you feel good about yourself. And when you can move your customers’ response from their minds to their hearts and generate a GBM emotional response your brand will benefit. Just like all of us who went to school together all those years ago on Miami Beach.Published on February 2nd, 2015
Want to know how to ask for money? Pull off any expressway and down onto any exit ramp in any big city in America and you’ll probably have the same experience:
There will be a man or woman dressed in soiled clothes and filthy sneakers standing at the red light hoping for a handout. They might be holding a dirty rag and a spray bottle. They might be holding a crumpled coffee cup. They might be holding a tattered piece of cardboard with some version of “Will Work For Food” scribbled on it in Magic Marker. Or they might just jab their crusty palm in your direction. Either way, their message is clear: “I need money.”
Let’s face it, sometimes you hand them some change but most times you don’t. And when you don’t you strategize the best way to turn down their request –Do you pull up to the light ahead of them to make it clear you’re not interested? Do you stop so far back from the light that you’re out of reach? Do you stare straight ahead – or down at your phone – and refuse to make eye contact? Do you look them right in the eye and shake your head “no”? Regardless of your technique the result is the same… the light turns green, you step on the gas, and the panhandler recedes in the distance, an oily smudge in your rearview mirror you forget about a moment later.
Now consider this scenario:
The maître d’ catches your eye and motions to you to enter the dining room. On your way to a booth in the main room you see Don Shula or Kevin Spacey or Jimmy Buffett or Michael Jordan sitting at a quiet table against the wall. You walk over and quickly tell them how much you love their work and that you’re their biggest fan. You don’t overstay your welcome but before the maître d’ leaves your table you ask him to bring you the celebrity’s check so you can treat your idol to dinner, anonymously, of course.
Did you see what just happened? Don Shula’s net worth is estimated at $30 million; Kevin Spacey’s at $215 million; Jimmy Buffett’s at $400 million; and Michael Jordan’s fortune is estimated at more than $1 billion – yet they can’t pick up a check anywhere in the world. But the poor guy who’s down to his last dime and doesn’t know how to ask for money can’t even get half a buck when he needs it the most.
So why is it that so many companies – both for-profit and non-profit – use the poverty angle when they’re looking for business? Colleges will point out that tuition only pays a small percentage of their costs, so they need you to make up the difference. Accounts receivable clerks will tell the account payable clerks they’re trying to collect from that they need the money to make payroll. And consultants will point out that you should hire them because they need the business. In other words, established, successful companies resort to begging even though it’s clear that everyone loves a winner and the poverty approach does not work.
Think fast. Which is the most impressive university in the country? I’ll bet you named Harvard. Did you know that Harvard’s endowment now stands at $36.4 billion dollars? According to The International Monetary Fund, that’s more money than the GDPs of over 90 nations, or virtually half the countries in the entire world. Clearly Harvard doesn’t need the funds, yet the money keeps pouring in. Clearly Harvard knows how to ask for money. Ironic, isn’t it, when you realize that the most successful organizations are also the ones that attract the most revenue?
Does this mean that a well-dressed panhandler who knew how to ask for money would actually collect more money than a desperate wretch? I don’t know and I’m not planning on donning a suit and standing on a street corner to find out anytime soon. But it does suggest success begets success and a powerful brand is a great way for you to build a powerful business.
What does it suggest you need to do for your business?Published on January 26th, 2015
We were about eighteen minutes into our morning run when Jen’s running watch and my running watch both started beeping.
“That’s two miles.” I said between gasps for air. “Reassuring that the two GPS watches measured our distance exactly the same.”
“Yeah,” Jen answered, not nearly as out of breath as I was. “You have the expensive one and I have the cheap one. But they work the same.”
I had paid almost twice as much for my running watch as Jen paid for hers even though their time and distance functions are the same. But as I explained to Jen between gasps for air, I didn’t buy my watch for the better function I hoped it would deliver. In fact, I had first chosen the cheaper watch but when I got home I found that the cheaper unit wasn’t programmable and wouldn’t show me only one readout at a time. That was a problem because I run without my glasses and I couldn’t read the little readouts stacked on the dial. The more expensive watch was a better choice because it allowed me to project one large readout that I could actually read.
Funny thing is, nowhere in the ads or the documentation for the more expensive watch does Garmin say anything about that difference. Instead they talk about their watch’s long list of features such as the digital running coach (that I don’t use), the vertical oscillation reading (that I don’t understand), the cadence counter (that I don’t care about), and the recovery advisor (that I don’t believe).
What this means is Garmin is spending their time and money developing and advertising whiz-bang features that at least some of their buyers don’t understand, use or care about. Sure, different runners care about different attributes but the company doesn’t even promote the one benefit that almost every runner over 45 would probably be interested in – the simple fact that they can read the screen while they’re running!
Garmin fell for the folly of function.
Computer companies are well known for promoting digital differences – called speeds and feeds – that their consumers neither understand nor care about. Camera manufacturers, too, fill their product specs with numbers and metrics that don’t matter to the majority of their buyers. Car companies, electronics suppliers, and manufacturers of every stripe all fill their messaging with details of features and attributes that none of their buyers care about.
And it’s not just hard good makers that suffer the folly of function. When was the last time you heard a doctor or lawyer crowing about where they went to school? When was the last time a realtor told you how many agents they employed? When was the last time a moving company bragged about the number of trucks they own or a restaurant listed all of their locations?
But you don’t care how many degrees your doctor has; you care if they can solve your problem. You don’t care where your lawyer went to school; you care if they can handle your case. You don’t care how many agents work for the realty company you’re planning to hire; you care if the realtor who works for you can sell your house. You don’t care about how many trucks a moving company has; you care if they’ll protect grandma’s baby grand piano. And you don’t care how many restaurants the company manages; you care about how your salad will taste right here and right now.
What this means to you is that it’s time for a sober, gimlet-eyed look at your business’ messaging to make sure you’re not simply listing your features or cataloging your benefits but are making a clear and concise argument for how you make your customers’ lives better. Being able to read the display on my running watch does exactly that for me. What does it for your customers?Published on January 20th, 2015
Q: When is the best time to plant an oak tree?
A: Twenty years ago. Or today.
Happy New Year! 2015 is a brand new year and we’re right in the middle of New Year’s resolution month. That means not enough time has gone by to break the resolutions you’ve already made and there’s still about two weeks left to make some new resolutions.
So right now is the perfect time to resolve to do something about your brand. Sure it would have been great to do something about your brand a few years ago and it would have been good to do something about it last year. But like the proverbial oak tree, it’s never too late to get started and you can’t reap the benefits until you do.
Step one is so easy to answer yet so hard to do. Simply put, you cannot build an effective persuasive brand until you can clearly identify who you are and what you believe. In our current cynical environment, standing for something cogent, consistent, and conscientious is the way to stand up and stand out. Your authentic self is what your clients and customers are crying out for.
Think of brands you respect. Whether they’re multinationals such as Apple, BMW or Illy; personalities such as Rachel Maddow, Bill O’Reilly or Oprah Winfrey; or a local business you frequent and appreciate, they’ve earned your loyalty and respect because they stand for something you can depend on.
While it is critical to know who you are, it’s just as important to understand to whom you’re selling. Although artists can and do create their products for themselves and then hope they find an appropriate audience to support them and their work, the term “starving artist” exists for a reason.
Once you know who you are and what you stand for and you know who your best buyer is and what they care about, the next step is to figure out where they intersect. That is, what is it about you and what you do that makes your best buyers’ lives better?
This is much more important – and less common – then you might think. Too many businesses operate on the “if you build it, they will come” strategy without ever stopping to think why anyone will actually show up.
It used to be easy to figure out your distribution strategy. There were three TV stations (four if you count PBS), a few magazines, some newspapers, radio and billboards. Plus, you could print your logo on t-shirts and ballpoint pens.
Today we’ve got 500 cable channels, social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat; websites and apps and email marketing; podcasts and blogs and vlogs; desktop and mobile; and all the traditional outlets as well.
If you’re wondering which are the right media to use, the correct answer is all of them. You never know where your audience is or where they’ll find your message.
Your New Year’s resolution should be to not only answer my five critical branding questions but to make your answers a daily part of your business plan and activities. Just like the oak tree, your brand needs to be continually nurtured, fertilized, pruned, and watered. Only then can you enjoy all the benefits that a great brand can provide this year and every year as it grows and grows and grows.
You’re invited to Following Your Own Sense of Justice, the first ever auction of my father’s artwork. All proceeds will go to create a scholarship for deserving students at Miami-Dade College.
You can visit the online auction HERE and visit the work in person at the gallery at the Freedom Tower, 600 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Miami. Of course we hope you’ll join us Friday night, January 16 for the gallery show and auction of a true Renaissance man.
Jeremy Mikolajczak, museum director:
“Following Your Own Sense of Justice is a retrospective of Leonard Turkel’s rarely seen artwork and a true testament to the legacy of a man that proved to be one of Miami’s greatest mavericks of civic equality and community building. Auction proceeds will be used to provide scholarships for at-risk youth.”
Please bid online and please join us.
Published on January 13th, 2015