Some things grind my gears

I am going to rant on a few items. I am 100% certain that you have experienced some, if not all, of these items. I will not just whine, I will offer a few thoughts on a more positive outlook or action you can take.

  • People that do not obey traffic signals when it is not busy cut corners in other aspects of their life. How do I know? Well, the driver training car that rolled through the stop sign and almost hit me because I had not yet stepped on the sidewalk? Would you take lessons if I gave you the name?
  • People that roll through stop signs when you are standing waiting to cross and you wait to see if they stop, and you have a flashing red light in the middle of your chest, and you are walking a big dog, and you are wearing a bright orange toque! And they give you the finger when you yell “stop!!!”
  • Companies that do not change their outdoor signage when a special event, like Thanksgiving or Halloween, is at least two weeks past. How can you not get a new message about something great you have done for a customer or have inside?!?!
  • Retail staff that are asked one question, answer something completely different, and when you ask one more time they say “I don’t know, I just work here.” Seriously, any manager should be absolutely ashamed and embarrassed about this. I will phantom shop your business and you will be surprised what I find!
  • “Our menu has changed…we may monitor your call for quality assurance purposes…” When has anyone ever received a follow-up call about the quality of their call experience? And only in the name of company-first productivity would the menu options be created. Listen to your own menu options and I am sure you will shake your head. Dumb structure justifies renewed focus on AI.
  • I stay one night in your hotel and you sign me up for an immediate room upgrade, and I automatically receive your newsletter. And then I get this message when I unsubscribe “Your unsubscribe request will be processed within 10 business days.  If you choose to opt back into marketing updates including offers, giveaways, event notifications, visit player services to add your email address.” I don’t think so!!!
  • I sign up for your newsletter or download the white paper in four seconds, click the button and confirm on the opt-in email, and it takes at least 5 business days for my unsubscribe request to be processed. As if…
  • A sales trainer that suggested you wing it in your sales presentation to a prospective client, “no preparation needed” because you want to appear natural. In sports, this would get you cut. And it should get you fired in business. Prepare properly because there are many of your competitors that will not and you will gain an advantage.
  • Companies that think they can turn on and off the advertising tap when they are too busy to handle the customer traffic, or they need more customers. Riddle me this Batman…is that how you shop? As David Ogilvy said, “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.”
  • Marketers that have never studied marketing. As Prof. Mark Ritson said, “
  • Everyone that gushed over all the digital platforms that are now being seen as evil empires. From Facebook to Google to Twitter. They take so much of our personal data (why do we let them?), sell it to others, and then claim they are not a media platform. Read any post from the Ad Contrarian, including the most recent.
  • People that do not clean their vehicle windows after a snowfall. I have no idea how they think they can see and they are a danger to everyone else. There is a snowbrush at any store or gas station.

And there is so much more that I will save for another day.

Find a counterpoint when you see something that you agree with. Expand your thinking, and your organization’s thinking, by using critical thinking. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Dave Trott may consider this upstream thinking, looking at the situation from a different perspective to find an alternate solution.

If people understand why they are doing what they are being asked to do, their job will have meaning and they can become intrinsically motivated. The commencement speech by Admiral McRaven is so inspiring he made it into  a book. The first message about how to change the world begins with making your bed each day. And the lesson is that if you cannot do that properly how can you be trusted to properly do a job with anything more important.

Any of the situations I ranted about above are fixable. And in some cases it is not a big correction or major expense. It simply takes focus, a will to accomplish the task and to be a more responsible person.

The answer is in you.


Act Like You’ve Been There Before

This quote has been attributed to legendary football coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant of Alabama, and Joe Paterno of Penn State. Searching snopes and other sites indicates they both said it.

My first point is that too many players in all the major sports have mistaken energy, excitement and enthusiasm by making only one good play and then making costly mistakes or losing the game.

In the Sask/Winnipeg CFL semi-final, some Riders were going nuts after a couple of big tackles, in their eyes. And one player jumped offside and gave the Big Blue an extra set of downs that they capitalized on for a TD.

The same thing happened in a college game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. A OSU player made one bug play and then got torched more than once.

Basketball also has its share of “one hit wonders” that make a big dunk and then play lousy defence for the whole game.

The amazing fact is that these examples can go on and on and on and on…

I am all for playing with passion. I always played hard and was thrilled at a big play by a teammate or that I was able to make. As a coach, I was known to be vocal. And mostly encouraging. Although I did often ask a ref for “clarification about a call.” Heck, I still do that with Old School in our senior men’s basketball league.

But I know I am not a great bball player. Some would say I am not a bball player at all. And I cannot argue.

The second point relates to business and life in general.

In business, how do you act?

  • Are you the smarmy “boss’s favorite?”
  • Do you talk a big game and fail to deliver on your sales quota?
  • Do you skip a couple of boxes of bolts during the physical inventory count?
  • Do you double up on a taxi expense claim for an extra $25?
  • Do you make a small lie that you can live with because the end result was OK?

What if your decision or action was just like the athletes mentioned above? This is the classic “it seemed like a good idea at the time” story. The end does not justify the means if what you did was illegal, immoral or physically hurt someone.

Let’s look at the CEO of Nissan. Wow, what an unbeleiveable story of someone who must have thought he was “small g” god. This type of serious action can destroy the moral and confidence of every single customer and employee. In this digital day and age of whistleblower protection, who would think they wouldn’t get caught?!?!?! Only the biggest ego around.

And we have a Canadian version in BC. The Clerk of the legislature Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, were placed on immediate administrative leave. No details are provided for the situation that impacts two senior and long serving officials.

On the surface, any organization would do well to have a set of guiding values and principles. And just relying on a set of common values or principles is not enough if those values or principles are flawed. Street gangs have a code and operating principles. . But they are used to promote illegal activity that is a net drain on society in so many ways.

Are you clear in the types of behaviour that you expect and accept? Do you, as a leader (and a leader is anyone that others willingly follow) act like you’ve been there before? Do you conduct yourself in a manner that would make your mother proud? Or do you cuss so much that one wonders how you could give your dear, sweet mother a peck on the cheek with that foul mouth?

It is sometimes true that actions do indeed speak louder than words. And yet words can be more powerful and effective at diffusing a situation and bringing clarity, more so than a punch in the nose.

The TED Talk video by Amy Cuddy is an interesting view on power posing and the “Fake it till you Make it” approach. I believe you need confidence. I beleive you need skills and abilities. I believe that you need drive and commitment and a resilience to succeed when things don’t go as planned.

Just as with the sports stories, there are business and personal success stories that abound because of the drive of the human spirit.

Let’s not do it once in a while, let’s do it all the time. “That which you do in the dark will come out in the light.” When no one is watching, do you cross against the red light? What if a child was standing beside you and there was no traffic? What is the right answer?

You know it. Act like you’ve been there before and set the right standard.

Footnote to last week: Tony, I had one great experience as I toured a specialty aviation company here in Winnipeg. My faith in human performance and customer-focused business excellence is restored from this visit to their operation. My retail experiences on the other hand…not so much.

Our Service is Our Difference

The actual exchange with a customer, be it in person, on the phone or digitally, all have an impact on the customer’s opinion about your brand. In fact, this “moment of truth” can undo all the other great work your company has done until that point.

I am pretty sure you are thinking, “nothing I don’t already know, Tim. Where is all your great insight today? Not enough sleep last night?”

Well, that last part may be a bit true, but it is not the reason for my point today.

If this concept was so well understood, there would never be another customer complaint by you or anyone else ever again.

However, we know full well that there are people involved in all the interactions noted above, and that means there is no guarantee of 100% perfect customer service. Ever!

Case in point. I was making a purchase at a retailer and I was asked if I was a member of their rewards program. I said yes and they called up the details. No other communication letting me know if my purchase did anything other than get added to my account or anything else. This is a gigantic “so what.” The clerk did not even look at me at any time she was ringing up the purchase. She was talking to a colleague two registers down from her.

Why do I buy from this store when there are other options? In this case it was only based on product availability. I limit my purchases here because of the lousy service and no consistent corporate message or value differentiator.

And I am not talking about offering a digital coupon!!! I can give coupons to anyone walking by my store any time I want. I need to create value. If only retailers, in particular, can get their front line staff to truly take a genuine interest in the customer there is a lot of great feedback that can be provided to management. And then management has to take action.

The second example is the infamous call option menu when you go through a main switchboard.

“We have changed our options to serve you better.” “Please listen as our options have changed.” “If you do not hear your option please press 1 to repeat this menu.”

Often there is no option to speak with a live person. I was conducting some market research calls for a client this summer and was phoning someone in Toronto. His voice mail box was full. So I called the main line and spoke to the receptionist. Her answer was, “we know he needs to clean up his voice mailbox, but he won’t do it.” So I asked if she could take a message. Her reply was “there is no guarantee he will call you back.” I told her I had spoken with this person before and was following up upon his request. It is stunning how people do not understand these seemingly small things and the big impact they can have. And to reinforce my initial point, the website highlights that the company is family owned, talks about what made them great, and nothing about the WIFM for the customer.

Too many organizations think they are customer focused because they are on social media. Wrong!

Your messaging is still all about you – a new product a sale or something. Newsflash – you are not in business unless you have customers. And if you treat them with disrespect in any channel, you are forcing people away.

This concept holds for any industry. You think your manufacturing process is the best? Guess what, globally there is someone who is doing it better and it is only a matter of time before they eat your lunch. If you have not positioned your product or service as something that can provide a customer personal joy, lower costs, higher profits or some other measure of value, then you are never going to be remembered when potential customers need your product or service.

And in the digital age, poor customer experience can spread instantly, broadly, and ruin your reputation faster than before.

When was the last time you conducted a phantom shopper project and used the findings to help your staff improve their interactions? Sometimes, they do not know what they are doing wrong becuse no one has ever pointed it out to them and corrected them. The latest motivation fad lasts for a day. But when you can inspire your team, they harness the drive from within themselves, and that is when you win. It is easier to steer the rocket than it is to light it.

Great customer experience happens, too. And I will keep looking for it and report back when I find it.

Spartan Leadership

The best definition of leadership I have ever seen is “a leader is someone others willingly follow.”

When you are seen as a leader there is great responsibility that goes with this new stature.

I read a wonderful quote today, attributed in the source as Alexander the Great, “I am more afraid of one hundred sheep led by a lion than one hundred lions led by a sheep. ”

Of course there are a million and one quotes on leadership. I enjoy reading most of them because I am keenly interested in human behaviour and what real leadership is all about.

If someone has to call themselves a leader to validate their position, I doubt they are a real leader. Just like in advertising or other corporate messages that state “we have the best customer service.” I never trust that one.

So, how can you distinguish the real leaders from the fake leaders?

In Steven Pressfield’s fantastic book, Gates of Fire, about the battle of Thermopylae (remember the movie 300, this is waaaay better), there is a paragraph near the end of the book where Xeones, the Spartan who survived the battle and recounted the story of the Spartans to the Persian King, describes what a king is. If you change king to leader, I believe we have a terrific definition:

“A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them. He serves them, not they him”

You can unpack this quote sentence by sentence and think of books that have been written on each line, including:

  • Leaders eat last: why some teams pull together and others don’t, by Simon Sinek
  • The dichotomy of leadership: balancing the challenges of extreme ownership to lead and win, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • The servant as leader, by Robert Greenleaf (actually an essay that spawn his book on servant leadership.

And there are numerous writings by Harvard Business Review, professors at many leading institutions, and other leadership experts like James Covey, John Maxwell, Marshall Goldsmith and others. And of course sports books from successful coaches, players, and summaries of great teams.

Leaders must often make tough decisions. In fact, their employees count on them to make the tough decisions. Inaction is often seen as a debilitating weakness of a leader.

Kouzes and Posner, in their seminal work in The Leadership Challenge talk about the power of love that a leader can show. I am not referring to someone who constantly cries, or is overly emotional all the time. I see that as weakness.

They are referring to a genuine love and respect for their people and know that it is an honour to serve them. And I agree. Leaders are accountable to themselves first and then their customers – both internal and external. This can be a weighty responsibility. And it is why not everyone is cut out for a leadership role. Not everyone wants this responsibility all the time. Leadership is a 24/7 quality now in this age of social media where every moment is captured and sent around the world.

And this is where problems can arise. Just ask the Ottawa Senators where a few players were caught in an Uber making disparaging comments about their coach and organization. Some players were “team leaders.” I wonder…

Leonidas, King of the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae is presented as that leader who will do everything that his army will do. He leads into battle. He doesn’t watch safely from the rear. During history, almost all of the well-respected military leaders were in the front lines as much as their troops. Think Cromwell, Attila the Hun, Rommel, Patton, Lord Nelson…

Remember that a leader is someone others willingly follow.

Your character as a leader, first and foremost, is the most important foundation. I am a big fan of Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and Vince Lombardi’s approach to leadership and team play. The final word today comes from the book Legacy: What the All Blacks can Teach us About the business of Life. The author, James Kerr, spent time with this legendary rugby team to compile 15 characteristics (there are 15 players on the pitch) that are the basis of the book. The first is character and the quote used is “Successful leaders balance pride with humility: absolute pride in performance; total humility before the magnitude of the task.”


When employees can tell a story…

You know you are on to something.

Kudos to companies that have explained what their reason for being is, in such a way that employees can relate this to customers.

Big raspberries to those companies that are too high and mighty in a digital age to properly train their employees to relate to customers in a compelling way.

Case in point. We went to a bulk food store to get some rawhide bones for Trappar. We get the big ones so it takes him three nights to chew – one knot each night and the middle takes another night. And I spied two types of chocolate almonds – pumpkin spice and cafe latte.

The sign says “if you want to try a sample please ask one of our staff to get you one” or something close to it. So I asked the young manager-type for a sample of each. He asked, “which one first?” Since I just had a coffee during a meeting I tried the cafe latte. He said “this is my favorite.” After the sample I could tell why.

This was terrific service – fast and friendly.

But it was his quick story about the pumpkin spice that really did it. He said, “this is really good too. Have you ever tried to tell your sweet Scottish grandmother that this pumpkin spice chocolate almond is as good as her pumpkin pie? You can imagine the look on her face until she popped it into her mouth and she smiled and said (he used his Scottish brogue) ‘oh dear this is good.'”

And I bought some of each.

While the website has part of the friendly and “punny” humour that the staff have, it doesn’t really capture the essence of some products anywhere near what the staff can describe in the store. And not just on this occasion.

A great story needs to be:

  • Clear – do not make the listener/reader have to perform mental gymnastics to understand what you are trying to say
  • Concise – why use two words when one will do?
  • Compelling – win the heart and the mind will follow

Too many corporate messages and advertising are all about the company and its product or service without realizing there is a real person that will receive this message. David Ogilvy famously stated, “the consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.”

One of the great misconceptions about mass advertising is the notion that you are speaking to so many people and not everyone wants to hear or see your message. Technically this is true. To solve this, write your message as if you were having a reasonable conversation with one person. Be personable. The medium can then magnify your message.

And telling a corporate story “once upon a time” is great for your 25th anniversary, but for day-to-day contact and messaging, it is typically boring. Congrats on the anniversary…what have you done for me lately.

And yes, all this lousy messaging has created the notion that we are bombarded by advertising, and the advertising doesn’t work. Lousy messaging doesn’t work. Great advertising works.

Even in sales too many reps use old school command and control messaging with the cheesiest line of “what will it take to get you to buy our product today” types of questions.

Jeffrey Gitomer has a great line about questions that should be asked of potential customers. He believes you must “ask a question about the other person that makes them stop and think, consider new information, and respond in terms of you.”

Too many questions from sales reps are manipulative, just like poor advertising and poor corporate stories. You already know enough about you. There is a time and place to tell people about how great you are. Almost always not on the first date. Get to know the other person better.

Don’t tell me you have the best service. Tell me a story in 30 seconds that will lead me to say “wow, what great customer service.”

Don’t tell me your product’s 39 features. Tell me a story about someone who has used some of these features and what it did for them. And that I can believe.

Every person has a “job to be done” at work and at home. This includes everything from building something to eating an ice cream sundae. They need to do it well and they look for the tools (products and services) that can help them. If you don’t understand this, then your sales pitch and your advertising will not work. In fact, your product or service cannot be properly structured until you know what the person is really trying to get done. I am talking about going deep on this understanding.

If your employees are not customer-centric and fully understand how your product or service needs to be portrayed to your customer, then I am not sure you will be as successful as you can.

And that’s the end of the story.