Last weekend Gloria and I were in the right place at the right time when we went up to Washington DC to celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. Our daughter came down on her spring break and our son had just moved to Washington to find a job in the political arena so it was a family reunion too. We even had our anniversary dinner at Clyde’s in Georgetown, the same restaurant where Gloria and I got engaged some 30 —sigh— years ago. Needless to say we all had a wonderful time.
On Monday I did my FOX appearance from the Washington DC bureau. That’s always a treat because of both the enormous traffic of interviews and interviewees FOX hustles through their DC outpost and because a lot of the faces you see in the hallways are the same ones you see in the House and Senate (FOX’s studio is across the street from the Capital Building for that very reason.) For my political junkie wife and son it was like sitting on the field during the all-star game.
While we were waiting in the green room we struck up a conversation with a very nice man who was catching his breath after a heated on-air debate. Turned out he’s a political consultant and gave Danny lots of good advice on what he needed to do to find a job. David (I’ll protect his last name and identity) explained to Danny how the system works, why you need a mentor to guide you through Washington’s labyrinth-like proceedings, and why it would make sense for Danny to build his network today and worry about building his bank account tomorrow. It was a 45-minute master class in how Washington works.
While they talked I was called to do my segments and left the room for about half an hour (you can watch them HERE and HERE). When I returned they were still chatting about what Danny needed to do to launch his career. David commented on the two interviews I had done and it turned out there were a few things that I had that he needed – specifically contacts in the TV and speaking worlds. We spent the next little while exchanging VCF cards and phone numbers and promising to get together the next time I was up in DC.
Once I got back to the hotel I looked up our new friend on Google and Facebook and discovered we weren’t just chatting with any old political consultant but that we’d been with one of THE (pronounced “THEE”) political consultants. Clearly Danny, Gloria, and I were in the right place at the right time.
That got me to thinking about opportunity.
A few years ago we were at a dinner that featured a sitting Supreme Court Justice. Thanks to the generosity of my friend Phil Bakes, Gloria and I sat at the same table and got to chat with the judge. At some point during the meal I asked him how he actually made it onto the Supreme Court.
The judge explained about the basic requirements (not legal or historical, by the way, but pretty universally accepted) of first being a lawyer and then federal judge and having a good relationship with the White House. But, he said, while that was all well and good, you still have to “be on the corner when the bus goes by.”
Clearly I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time and the right place at the wrong time a lot more times than I’d like to remember but sometimes I’ve been in the right place at the right time too. And that’s when you realize how important it is to be ready when chance presents itself.
My father always said, “When opportunity knocks, you can’t say ‘come back later.’” Both our Justice’s chance to serve on the Supreme Court and Danny’s chance to find a mentor in Washington DC confirm that my dad’s words were correct.
Actor Denzel Washington said, “Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.”
Auto racer Bobby Unser said, Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
I said, “Hey Danny, don’t forget to call David.”
What would you say?
Samsonite is also getting into the smart luggage act with their “new line of GeoTrakR suitcases, containing a cellular-enabled baggage-tracking system… and Andiamo will introduce a new carry-on with a Wi-Fi hotspot, battery charger and other features.”
Before we proceed, let me make it clear that I’m a tech geek. I love gizmos and technology. I lust for every new device Apple releases, I change apps as often as you change underwear, and I’ve figured out how to digitize all of my papers, bills, accounts, photos, sketches, and every other thing I can scan and upload to the cloud. My music hard drive has three terabytes of storage and holds over 114 days of continuous songs.
But even though I’m an early adapter and totally obsessed travel-light voyager, I will never buy one of these modern day steamer trunks. Talk about putting the “lug” back in “luggage,” not one review mentions how much smart luggage weighs, but I’ll bet it’s plenty. And that flies in the face of my belief that the key to travelling happy is travelling light.
Thanks to my never-ending travel schedule speaking at conferences around the world, I’ve experimented with enough bags and packing schemes to sink the Titanic. And I’ve figured out the exact solution and the exact bag to make travelling as easy as possible. More on that in a minute…
I’ve written on the subject of travelling light a few times before (I told you I was obsessed). You can read those posts HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE. And you can read my Fortune Magazine profile on travel as a competitive sport HERE. If you do you’ll see that learning about travelling light is an ongoing evolution – some of the tools and techniques I recommended early on have been discarded for new ideas. Live and learn, I say.
But before we get to my latest solution, here are five rules that will make your travel as pleasant and convenient as possible:
If you’re only going to bring a briefcase or pocketbook and one bag, you better bring the right one. After years of experimentation, here’s the best bag you can buy for trouble-free travel – a 22” Tumi duffel. It’s got a cavernous central storage area for shoes, folded suits, and all your clothes, a zippered pocket on the inside for items you want to keep as secure as possible, two pockets at either end – I use one for technology and the other for accessories – and a large zip pocket on the front for tickets, keys, passport, phone, etc. It’s easy to pack, easy to live out of if you organize with packing cubes, easy to carry, and easy to stuff overhead. And no wheels or frames adding weight or taking up valuable space.
The bad news is that Tumi doesn’t make them any more but you can usually find them on EBay for less than $100 in nylon and around $200 in leather (but beware, leather’s heavier than nylon). They come and go but there were a few listed when I wrote this article.
2,400 years ago Socrates said, “ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ.” (For those few of you who don’t read Greek, Socrates’ statement translates to something like, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”)
Thanks to the computer’s limitless ability to compile measurements and metrics, companies and professionals now have a way to apply Socrates’ theory to business. As we rush headlong into The Internet of Things – the new Internet protocol that will enable all of our devices to interconnect – this phenomenon will only grow more prevalent. Spending, transactions, speed to market, and every activity that can be tracked will be tracked and managed with equations that can squeeze every little bit of efficiency out of every little action.
When it comes to customer service, I’ve figured out that the specific equation for success is 925<247365.
As far back as the 1920s, The Hawthorne Effect was studied to prove that observation improves performance. According to Wikipedia, “The Hawthorne Effect suggested that productivity gains occurred as a result of the motivational effect on workers of the interest being shown in them.” In simpler terms, it is where individuals improve a measureable aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of people who work in the customer service industry. These hardworking professionals, formerly known as the Complaint Department, manage the phones and desks of companies that want to provide a friendly voice for customers that have a problem. The gist of our discussion was how technology has changed their businesses—and will continue to do so.
Long before we had democratized communication, most rants against companies were one-way monologues. Yes, you could send a letter to a company you thought had wronged you, and you could call the complaint department, but those were the only options available to you. Whether the company fixed your problem or not, you had little recourse other than to tell the people in your immediate circle how unhappy you were.
But with today’s ubiquitous access to social media (SM) sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, plus video sites including YouTube and Vimeo, a disgruntled customer has lots of ways to spread the news of their disappointment. In many cases, the angry customer may have an even larger and louder soapbox than the company itself.
Because of this, the position of the former “complaint department” becomes more important than ever. After all, they’re the ones who are on the frontline of responding to issues, fixing problems, changing attitudes, and maintaining clients. This opportunity offers even more potential when you realize that a formerly disgruntled client who feels that they’ve been respected and well-served can actually become a more loyal and higher value customer.
The mistake is that most companies put their social media activities in the hands of marketing departments who are ill-equipped to handle the job. Let’s face it: Marketing folks want to come up with a great new concept, seduce the idea, bring it to a big exciting climax, and then smoke a cigarette afterwards. We’re too busy expressing our creativity to do the day-to-day blocking and tackling required to turn around unhappy customers who are tweeting their displeasure at all hours of the night. Instead, it makes all the sense in the world for marketing departments to create SM messaging and design and then turn over the day-to-day (and night) operation to customer service.
Problem is, marketing departments will be loath to surrender control of their company’s SM activities even though it’s the best thing they could do. And so customer service representatives who want to burn down the old systems and suggest this unique realignment will need some fuel for their fire. And that’s where metrics come into play:
After all, that’s the way their customers see it too.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.