What it takes to be #1, lessons from the dog park

It is amazing the range of topics that we cover on our weekend walks through the dog park. As the dogs are running and wrestling, sniffing and rolling, we are talking and enjoying a hot coffee. There is a fantastic book by Vince Lombardi Jr., “What it takes to be #1, Vince Lombardi on Leadership,” that describes leadership from his legendary father’s perspective. Today, I want to build on some of the aspects of this book related to one’s personal preparation to be a better leader. However, instead of football this will be in reference to what is known in the US of A as the “fall classic – The World Series.” I am not going to break down all the details of the games and the gajillion stats that this sport has because I am  not really a baseball guy. I admire the athleticism and skill that the MLB players have. The accomplishments are incredible. And so are the plays that these men make on a nightly basis.

At the dog park last Saturday, we talked about a small sliver of video from game #4 where two of the Houston Astros elite pitchers, Garritt Cole and Justin Verlander, were spotted in the dugout talking about the finer aspects of certain pitches. They were showing each other different grips and talking about spin/rotation and a number of other things. They were not scheduled to pitch that day and they were talking about their craft. In detail. In excruciating detail. Because they want to get better. They respect each other (they are two of the pitchers considered for the AL Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the American League) and know they can learn from each other. They have different pitching styles and strengths relative to the types of pitches they throw.

And yet, they wanted to learn from the best, in each other’s eyes. This was the fascinating part in our dog park conversation. The concept applies to any personal vocation.

Jeffrey Gitomer and Anthony Iannarino are sales gurus that have the experience and expertise to know what you can achieve by investing one hour a day with extra study in the craft of selling. Consider this – if you studied sales material for 1 hour per weekday, that is 5 hours per week and 240 hours per year, taking 4 weeks off for vacation. This is the equivalent of one full month of full-time study. And if you  are disciplined in your efforts, you will be committing to the right type of hours to help yourself gain expertise in your craft.

Marketers should be studying at the same level of discipline and effort to improve their understanding of human behaviour and how to create differentiation for their product or company.

Some leaders join CEO peer groups, like MacKay CEO Forums, to learn from the experiences of their colleagues in different industries. This is like CEO school.

Notice that in all these examples, the players involved, or the training recommended, was not designed to solve a particular problem? The shared experiences and wisdom from others can be assessed and translated so that you can create your own distinction and advantage. Yes, core principles will be offered. But it is up to you how to adapt for your particular situation, personality, strengths and needs.

When was the last time you asked a senior colleague, in your company or in another industry that you admire, to let you buy them coffee or lunch to “pick their brain” about a specific topic where they are successful? Jack Canfield, in his book “The Success Principles” suggests this approach as you are trying to learn from other’s experience and success. What is the worst thing that happens? The other person says “no” and you have to try a different approach or a different person.

But what if they say “yes” and you get the time to meet? Now you can be ahead of others. You still have to apply what you learn and craft it for your situation. There is no magic bullet in this process or approach.

You will get a bit better every day. Practice on the right techniques and behaviours. Then, your actions can be reviewed and improved. A necessity as the world changes and adjusts around you.

And then one day you will be the person that others will ask to meet. And of course you will say yes. Because you know that even if you study the grip and spin rotation and see how the expert does it, you still have to practice throwing the ball if you want to get really good at it.

And at after this discussion at the dog park, we end with “Hey Trappar, fetch this fastball!”


Planes, hotels, and restaurants…

Customer Service – should be able to be delivered consistently. And yet there are wide ranges on the customer service continuum. We all have stories of customer service heaven and customer service hell.

Recent travel allowed me to experience each of these polar opposites. Here is the chronology:

  • I traveled on Delta for the first time as reported a few weeks back. Outstanding in all areas. I just had to make a travel change due to work and while the West Jet person on the phone was good, this did not translate into actions on the ground. More on that in a moment. The latest customer service journey started two weeks ago, when, as a result of the snow fall , things were moving a tad slower as we headed to the airport. Thankfully Gil, from the car service, was in a Lincoln Navigator. Plenty of room for the luggage, and he made it to the airport driving very safely in about 45 minutes – slightly longer than normal time. He took a new route that was perfect.  While we arrived well ahead of the flight, things went downhill quickly. While waiting at the gate, we were told at least 5 times that the plane was just going to be pulled to the gate and we could board. Three hours later it showed up…but wait, there’s more! All the other West Jet flights were coming to their gates, boarding and leaving virtually on time. Flights scheduled after us left well before us. When I called West Jet from our hotel in Toronto, because we missed our connecting flight to Detroit, I was told the delay was weather related. Which makes sense only if all flights were affected the same. It was not as if the inclement weather was only over our plane on the tarmac. The young man suggested I call their super guest service center on Saturday to make my case “because he couldn’t do anything for me and pay for my hotel.” I ensured that since our bags were originally checked all the way to Detroit  that we would not be charged again the next day. Wrong again, Timmy. We got to the airport 2 1/2 hours before our flight, and sure enough, the nice Delta agent told me there was no note on my account about the bags being checked through. Good thing we had the baggage tags from the previous day that indicated checked through and she ensure we were not charged again. She also answered a couple of other questions in a most professional and friendly way. I got no help from the super guest service rep – he wasn’t super.
  • In Toledo, Tylar and Emily worked out at the same fitness chain as they did in Chicago last year. Gwen went with Emily for a spin class. Bear in mind Gwen had been there before a couple of months ago. There was a new manager who must have had 100% for rote memorization of the manual, but received a 0% in how to apply this in real life. She needed ID for Gwen , so back to the house. Upon returning with necessary ID, the new manager indicated the need to sign forms and do all manner of administration. Upon which the ladies left. The next day Emily was told that Gwen could have paid a drop in fee and all would have been OK. What the heck???
  • On our way from Toledo to Galena, for our son’s wedding, we needed to stop for a quick bite of dinner. It is a 7 1/2 hour drive, so we needed the break. We stopped at one of our upper Midwest favourites – Culver’s, home of the butterburger. We arrived just as a bus load of seniors stopped for their dinner. Horrors, how could this restaurant handle the sudden influx of customers that resulted in max capacity reached instantly!? Well, they did and the food was hot and with a minimal wait. In fact, not really longer than a normal wait. The star of the show was Craig, one of the employees. He was hustling to bring out the orders to the correct table and ensure everyone had what they needed. “Hi, I am Craig, here is your (insert specific order here). Would you like some more crackers for your soup? If you have any questions, I am here to help you right away.” He cleaned the tables and greeted everyone with a smile. There were other staff as well, they were just quieter and not quite as fast as Craig. He was so outstanding we tipped him with Canadian loonies as an unique good luck charm – he was surprised and very grateful. What had the potential to be awful was outstanding and fun.
  • The wedding was held at a lovely resort. Fall colours. Green grass (given we left Winnipeg buried in snow). And more friendly people. From the kindly lady that bagged a couple of groceries for me at Piggly Wiggly (I now have a t-shirt!), to the wedding planners, the serving staff (Jesse, thanks for all the shrimp), and Mike the shuttle driver – everyone was friendly and helpful. Consistently. Without fail.
  • In contrast, again, an airline. I had to fly from Minneapolis to Montreal for a client project. Even though the flight was booked, when I arrived at the airport there was no ticket for me. It took two Delta reps to pass me onto the “Special Services” (I sure feel special after all this) because they could not find my ticket. Young Anthony was on his first day in this special section and I gave him a doozy. Good thing “Help me Rhonda” was on the ready.  She determined that the ticket was not properly linked from WestJet to Delta. And all with a smile and positive attitude. She was clearly in the right role – expertise and care.

So, what have I learned?

  • If I was starting a service-based company I would hire Rhonda, Mike, Anthony, Gil, and Craig.
  • I wouldn’t hire the fitness center manager or people in certain airline call centers.
  • In service, you don’t have to do everything well. You cannot and be successful. There are only a handful of companies in the world that can charge a premium and deliver a stunning service in all areas. Frances Frei, Harvard Professor, with Anne Morriss, were co-authors of a terrific book “Uncommon Service.”  It is a must read. Or watch Frei on her Ted Talk for a quick summary. The authors dissect ways to differentiate and how it can be paid for. Sometimes you have to do something poorly on purpose in order to do what your customer wants much better.
  • If you think like a customer and work through the journey and match your processes, business model and training and support of your staff, I am pretty certain you will win. But you cannot do everything so pick what matters to your customer and be different. Make sure your people know how they are supposed to help, too.

If you have any questions or comments…I am at your service…no on-hold message.


Changing Words to Change a Meaning

I have always enjoyed word puzzles. Playing scrabble and hangman were popular past times for me. I enjoy doing doing crosswords, but usually didn’t get a chance to complete the daily crossword in the Winnipeg Tribune growing up because this was my Dad’s domain.

Puns are one of my favourite word tools, as I try to be funny. Mostly to the chagrin of my family and friends. When I get a good groan I know I have been a very punny guy.

I have a couple of word games on my cell phone. These are to keep my mind sharp (some might say I need to start with sharpening it first) and my brain working. I have selectively added Scrabble (the app makes words I didn’t even know existed, so this helps expand my vocabulary), Wordscapes (unscrambling letters to create words that fit into a small crossword puzzle layout, and Word Shaker (like the game “Boggle” where you have letters randomly on a 4 x 4 grid and you have to draw lines from letter to letter to create words).

Word Shaker also provides an unique view into the history of language when you consider how adding one letter to a word can create a new word with a totally different meaning.

Let me share a few recent favorites:

  • Tim – add an ‘e’ and you get “Time.” Okay, Tim is a name, not a word, but this is my blog
  • Pin – add an ‘e’ and you get “Pine.”
  • Head – add a ‘y’ and you get “Heady.”
  • Spin – add an ‘e’ and you get “Spine.”
  • War – add a ‘t’ and you get “Wart.”
  • Seed – add a ‘y’ and you get “Seedy.”
  • New – add a ‘s’ and you get “News.”
  • Mus – add a ‘t’ and you get “Must.” Full disclosure, I had to look up “mus” to learn it is a genus of rodent. Hey, add an ‘i’ within genus and you get genius!
  • Mut – add an ‘e’ and you get “Mute.”
  • Hurl – change the ‘l’ to a ‘t’ and you get “Hurt.”
  • Ten – add a ‘t’ and you get “Tent.”
  • Tam – add an ‘e’ and you get “Tame.”
  • Tas – add a ‘k’ and you get “Task.”  And I had to check on the word Tas – who knew???
  • Fir – add an ‘m’ and you get “Firm.”
  • Firs – add a ‘t’ and you get “First.”
  • Sat – add an ‘e’ and you get “Sate.”
  • The – add an ‘n’ and you get “Then.”
  • Hat – add an ‘e’ and you get “Hate.”
  • Mat – add an ‘e’ and you get “Mate.”
  • Stud – add a ‘y’ and you get “Study.”
  • Earn – add an ‘l’ at the front and you get “Learn.”

Here are a couple of examples where you can also take a letter away and create something new and positive:

  • Drivel – remove the ‘l’ and you get “Drive.”
  • Fired – remove the ‘d’ and you have “Fire” as in “Fire You Up!”

Obviously, there are countless more examples. The point is that by making one small addition or subtraction to a word,  activity, or action, you can completely change the word or the interpretation of the action. When you are reviewing your internal processes and expectations, a small adjustment can have a major change in the definition of what you are doing. This change can re-invigorate or re-energize your staff. Positive changes that are noticed by customers will encourage people to share the recent new or truly improved experience.

So often, a major change is not required to eventually effect an improved outcome. Addressing small items and making the adjustments on several items will lead to an improved cumulative effect that results in the desired overall improvement.

And your staff will definitely be able to help if you have the right corporate values and environment that encourages participation and new ideas.

As you “steer” towards a better future, sometimes a “reset” is required.

To your success!

What’s in a Word?

I love reading – from fiction to history to biographies and lately to westerns and the James Bond books. I also enjoy reading a wide range of business books, particularly those about being customer-centric, either marketing or sales-focused (latest recommendation is “Mr. Jenkins Told Me…”) and about advertising.

I am fascinated by human behaviour and intrigued by how we react to messaging. A great ad message seems like it is written just for me. I don’t always have to act immediately, in fact most of us never act immediately, but the message should be planted in my head for future reference. Only when you know what makes your customer truly tick, not just relative to your product or service, can you begin to use the words that will resonate with them and embed your name in their minds.

Icons like David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach, and John Hegarty were masters at knowing this and applying it to their craft. They were not better than their clients, and did not try and turn their clients’ customers away through silly word or image gimmicks. I also enjoy the understanding and insights that icons from today like Rory Sutherland and Dave Trott bring to their craft. These gents also know how great messaging can be effective at solving more than just an ad challenge. They understand that great messaging can solve business problems because to know what to say you have to understand the business challenge to be solved or the opportunity to be taken advantage of.

And guess what? This takes hard work. Like anything else that you want to get good at. Not just practice, but disciplined practice that must be applied to your situation and then let the creative juices and ideas flow.

And think like your customer. But do NOT always think that you are the customer. Your personal filters and biases will not creep into your thinking. They will drop in like a Monty Python 16 ton weight. And then you are in trouble because you are making an ad for you as the customer. It might be for something that you might never use or buy. If this is you, or if this is you directing your current agency, please step back and learn about the real customer and about how they would really use your product or service.

If you want to tell a story, please tell a real one! Not something so hokey and made up that the viewer, reader, listener just tunes you out. Many clients claim their advertising is not effective. And depending on the medium they selected, they often just blame the medium. I believe that in most cases their advertising is not effective because their messaging stinks. Yep, just stinks!

A great story can be funny, maybe even a bit silly. Bit it cannot be so far-fetched that you just tune it out. Characters can be created (The Jolly Green Giant pops to mind) and tied to a product and can be effective. And characters can be created that leave you wondering, “What were they thinking?” The Charmin Bears??? May be cute but won’s make me want to buy it.

Identify words and phrases that represent your organization’s values and how your customers use your product or service. When you know how you help them you can build messaging around this concept. You can build messaging that solves a problem or builds on an opportunity or strength. You can only do this by knowing your customer better. Not just what you think about your customer (or if you are an agency, what you think you know about your client’s customer) but what you know. Have you watched people use or interact with your product or the service you provide? I mean, watched, listened and truly observed to understand what was needed?

Seek first to understand before you assume you know.

Because, for those of you that remember the TV show “The Odd Couple,” remember the immortal words of Felix Unger “When you assume you make an ‘ass of u and me.'”

Fly the friendly skies

I flew Delta Airlines for the first-time last week. There is a sense of trepidation as you step into the unknown of a new air carrier. Especially based on my airline travel history.

Like many travellers, I have had the following major things occur:

  • flights delayed, resulting in a missed connection
  • flights delayed, and then cancelled
  • flights overbooked and being asked, vigorously, to give up my seat
  • luggage rerouted to another city and not receiving it for a couple of days
  • luggage damaged; several times
  • luggage stolen. I had a great gym bag from a national rugby championship, and the fellas on the baggage truck kept it for themselves and put my stuff in a cardboard box

So when you pick a new airline, you are not sure what you will get.

From the moment I checked in, the Delta reps seemed different. They were human. And at 5:00 AM they had a sense of humour and they were ready to help. So far so good at check-in.

I got a tip from the gate agent who was checking me just before I boarded the plane. I should have had my full name on the ticket so that it matched my passport. He said it nicely, efficiently and in a helpful way. I didn’t feel bad – I felt informed. This was good to know.

I had a small bag with a book, binder and my tablet plus a box carrying 10 1 1/2″ binders. It was a Captain Morgan rum box, so the flight attendant was only too happy to talk to me about where to store my rum! She advised it would easily fit in the overhead, and that I should proceed to my seat. We had a good chuckle when her colleague came and also inquired about the special box of rum. Wow, broke two hearts first thing in the morning, and it had to do with rum; or lack thereof 🙂

When I settled into my window seat in “comfort +” there was a young lad about 12 years old that drew the short straw between the fellow on the aisle and me. Good thing for him he wasn’t too big. His Mom was behind us and his older sister in front.

Another passenger stopped at the row in front of us and looked at the young girl who was in his seat. The flight attendant came up, checked her phone for the full seat configuration with all passengers’ names, and determined that the girl was indeed in the wrong seat. And this is what the flight attendant did:

She found the Mom and confirmed that she was in the right seat and so was her son
She told the mom that her daughter was in the wrong seat. Her correct seat was on the other side of the aisle
She looked at the Mom and said (), (paraphrasing),Ma’am; I am going to mive your daughter from this seat to this one. Can you see her? She is all settled in, and now you know where she is.”
The mom, standing in her row, expressed her thanks and sat down
The man sat in his correct seat and thanked the flight attendant.
No excitement. No raised voices. No issues. Professionally handled. I was impressed.

The standard safety message is delivered electronically on the screens, as is the case with other airlines. But in this one, there is a really strong message from the Delta CEO first, and then the message. The message has a person and also some cartoon-like drawings. There is a sense of humour without making light of the need for safety. It was an excellent video.

But wait…there’s more!

As I was getting ready to put my phone in airplane mode (one of the few that actually does it, I’m sure) I noticed a message indicated on my “Fly Delta” app. When I clicked on it, there was a notice that my checked bag was being confirmed as loaded on the plane.

Say what???

I was amazed and delighted about this feature. Someone at Delta actually thought like a passenger. When you check a bag, your big concern is that it will actually arrive when you do, and in one piece. When we arrived in Minneapolis, the app showed me that my bag was unloaded, and I got another message when it was loaded on my plane to Phoenix.

Thinking from the customer’s perspective. What a novel concept.

Every Delta employee I spoke with at any point in my journey provided exceptional service in a friendly and professional manner. Like a human that cares about serving the customers with pride.

I bet they have high employee engagement scores.

They have annual revenue in excess of $45 billion annually and have grown in the past few years. And their net profit is about 10% of revenues.

If you take care of all the details in your customer experience, train and empower your employees to do what is right for the customer, you will be successful as Delta. Maybe not as large, but you gotta start somewhere.

Based on this expereince, it appears Delta has defined “fly the friendly skies.”

And I sent a letter to the CEO. I’ll let you know if I get a reply.