We lost a great big piece of business. We lost a great big piece of business we should have won.
The relationship started really well. We know the travel and tourism industry inside and out. We had exquisite experience and were able to demonstrate the great results we had achieved for similar clients. Our ideas were spot on. And the presentation went as well as it could have. We were on fire.
But we lost a great big piece of business.
And the worst part of it was that it was all my fault.
Do you want to know why?
We were meeting with the client after the pitch. They were blown away by our presentation and we were negotiating next steps. They were fine with our pricing and had no issues with the contract itself. They liked the account people we were assigning to their business and the creative people who would be working on their account. In fact, they were so pleased with the team that the CEO complimented me on assembling such a great group of professionals to work for them.
“Thanks,” I answered. “With such great people working on your business, there’s almost nothing for me to do. And you know, I’m always willing to do less.”
The CEO stared at me dumbfounded. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, everything went downhill from there.
Here’s the worst part:
I was kidding.
Really. I. Was. Kidding.
There was actually a lot of work for me to do. And I was very excited about doing it too. But the little comment that I thought was amusing – “I’m always willing to do less” – was exactly what our new client was worried about.
You see, it turns out that her last agency had apparently done a great presentation with talented senior level people, too, but after that they staffed the business with entry-level employees. They never delivered the work quality they had promised and the client’s sales had suffered.
She was concerned that history was about to repeat itself.
Of course I had no way of knowing that that was her concern, but ignorance is never an acceptable excuse. My attempt to be cute cost us a showcase client and a lot of money.
Last week I found a story online and posted it on Facebook. I am not the original author but I think an edited version is important enough to repeat here:
Two dogs walk into the same room at different times.
One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling.
A woman watching this goes into the room to see what could make one dog so happy and the other so mad.
To her surprise the room was filled with mirrors.
The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him.
What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are. That goes for your outlook, your business, and your life.
I saw funny.
Our client saw lazy.
Learned a lot, though. I hope you did too.
A recent story on public radio talked about the logistics of pursuing smugglers of coveted black rhino horns. The officer interviewed made the point that the discoveries made in this case also helped uncover smugglers of guns, drugs, and even human traffickers. His point was that the skills needed to bring in the banned aphrodisiac were applicable to smuggling all sorts of things.
In 2014, Uber, the logistics app that facilitates a new type of taxi and limo service, moved into different areas too. The company introduced UberRush, a courier service designed to move stuff instead of people. According to The Washington Post, “The same back-end technology that Uber has built to track drivers and connect them to riders can easily be used to order and follow deliveries. All that changes is the cargo on board and the mode of transportation, a detail around which the company is becoming increasingly agnostic.”
Back in 2004 when IBM made their momentous shift from equipment sales to software and systems consulting, it capitalized on the protocols and practices it had constructed to run its previous business model. These proprietary programs became the foundation of what has since become a global business with over $22 billion in revenue. What’s more, the new model provides IBM with both higher-margin recurring revenue and reduced volatility.
So what do black rhino horns, Uber’s logistics, IBM, and your business have in common? Quite simply, you’re sitting on a gold mine of proven protocols that are both marketable and monetizable. The programs and procedures that you have created over the years are exactly what other businesses are looking for.
37 Signals, the creator of Basecamp, was a web design company founded in 1999. But in mid-2004 the company’s focus shifted from web design to web application development when they found a significant market for the management software they created to run their own business. The transition was so successful that 37 Signals changed their company name to Basecamp (their first product) to focus entirely on their flagship.
Many successful speakers in the National Speakers Association, from Mikki Williams to Lou Heckler to Patricia Fripp to Doug Stephenson, have taken the things they’ve learned over their years on the platform and turned them into valuable programs for all the people who want to succeed in the speaking business. Some of their programs teach stage skills, some teach business logistics, and still others are about marketing and promotion. But while all of them are simply a reutilization of proven programs that the practitioners have already used to build their own businesses, each has produced new business opportunities and new revenue streams for their creators – sometimes rivaling or even surpassing the success of the original business they’re cribbed from.
The Washington Post says, “Uber foresees – as Amazon and eBay do, too – that the next growth opportunity in a shifting economy isn’t facilitating digital marketplaces: it’s moving physical stuff. It’s figuring out urban logistics in a world where crowded cities will only become more so, where e-commerce is actually making congestion worse, where the rise of ‘sharing’ has created a need for coordinating the mass joint use of cars, tools, tasks, and dinner.” Most importantly, these companies have figured out that what they already know how to do creates valuable practices and unlimited opportunities.
You can take advantage of what you already know, too.
Many years ago I was in an office with a tattooed art director who dressed in Hell’s Angel denim, leather, and chrome long before it was fashionable. Despite his intimidating appearance he was fiercely soft spoken about his work.
One day, dressed in his best Easy Rider regalia, he presented a beautiful campaign to a less than sophisticated client. The ads featured stunning beauty shots of the product surrounded by a great field of empty white.
The client glanced at the work for a brief moment before he started explaining to my office mate all the things they could put in the white space, from a map to phone numbers and addresses to a great big Se Habla Español announcement. After all he explained, “I’m paying for all that #$%@ empty ad space anyway. Might as well fill it with something $@&%ing useful.”
The art director listened for a long noisy minute before interrupting the client’s rant.
The client was dumbfounded. The ads ran the way they were presented.
Artist-architect-philosopher Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said: “Less is more.”
Steve Jobs said: “Simple can be harder than complex.”
And French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
Clearly, simplicity has been an important subject for designers and communicators both before and after my lesson in that ad agency office years and years ago.
The dictionary offers three different insights into the meaning of the word simplicity that also point to why designers would find it such a compelling concept:
Obviously, being easy to understand does help accomplish the goal of communication because there is nothing extraneous standing in the way of comprehension and subsequent action.
But wait, there’s more.
Simplicity in design helps create a sense of calm, aids comprehension, and provides an attractive focal point for attention.
Simplicity allows the viewer to concentrate and to appreciate what matters while helping them disregard the rest.
Simplicity also insists on responsibility. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said: “Less is more only when more is too much.” A minimalist aesthetic demands that what is included be absolutely critical to overall comprehension and appreciation.
Simplicity is a technique, a direction, and a goal.
Simplicity is simple but never simplistic.
Thoreau wrote: “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.”
Thoreau believed simplicity was important enough to say twice, employing an ironic juxtaposition to make his simple point as simply as possible.
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 Capitol 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?
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.