Stop Treating Your Employees Better Than Your Customers

I’m just going to say it: The pendulum has swung too far. We have to stop catering to our staff.  Employee-centric policies and behaviors are driving customers to your competitors. As competition for the best and the brightest employees has grown over the years, so too has the tendency to cater to our staff — at the expense of our customers. Managers are so afraid of losing a staff member that they are careful not to ask too much of them or quickly take their side in the event of a unhappy customer. But the victim of these policies that seek to make life easier for our staff, is too-often our customers themselves — and they pay the bills.
When a server says: “Sorry, we don’t allow substitutions.”  Whatthey are really saying is: “I know you are trying to give us your money, but that would require us to do some math, or the cook would have to think about where that might go on the plate, or we’d have to break our routine…” 
Or are you trying to steer customers to do business with you, the way YOU want them to do it, because that would be easier for you? So you intentionally don’t put your phone number on your website, because you want prospects to fill out the contact form instead. “But the phone will just ring all day if we put the phone number on there,” you say. What?? God forbid you would have to take calls from your actual customers. Sorry that you are being inconvenienced by your customers. Fail!
It’s not that the customer is always right, but provided they are being reasonable, they are always more important than your employees. And if the issue is extra work on the part of your team, then do the extra work! Ok? So business is hard. Competitors would love to take that burden off your hands.
Your day care center, or dance academy or Tae Kwon Do studio is littered with signs scolding parents: “No talking to kids during class.” “No food or drink in the waiting area.” “Parents who are more than 10 minutes late picking up their children will be fined $35.”  All policies created and communicated to make life better for their staff, but serve to make the parents feel unwelcome. Dumb.
When the metal gate at the mall retail store is closed halfway down 30 minutes before closing; When the chairs are being put up around you in the restaurant, the employees are saying loud and clear: “Don’t come in here. Go away. We want to go home. Your money is less important than our plans for later.”  Why would you allow your staff to behave like this?
When a horrible, publicly-shared video of a paying customer being assaulted and dragged off one of your planes is shared by millions, and your first reaction is to write a letter to support your team and tell them they did nothing wrong, your priorities are misplaced.
To be clear, our employees are crucial. We must treat them well, be fair and clear in our expectations. But the greatest thing we can do to ensure employment for our staff is to ensure that our customers and clients are thrilled with us, feel welcome, valued and catered to.
Customer experience is more than merely creating “wow” moments. It’s fixing everything that your customers see, experience or interact with to ensure that it is crafted and delivered with THEM in mind. Winning  in business today comes from ensuring that your customers don’t feel like their needs are secondary to anyone.

David Avrin, CSP is a popular marketing and customer experience keynote speaker, consultant and business author. He is the author of the celebrated business book: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You! (Classified Press) and his latest: Visibility Marketing (Career Press) is available worldwide. Learn more and watch a preview at www.VisibilityInternational.com

Don’t Take Away Service and Tell Me It’s For My Convenience

I throw the final few items in my cart and head to the checkout counter. I had made a quick stop at the local grocery store, and after a quick count of my items, I confirmed that I had indeed met the 20 item or less criteria. Yes!  As I reached the checkout area in the front of the store, I found only one staffed aisle, and the three carts in line had enough groceries to feed large families… for a week or more.

The only option, and the one that I dreaded, was the horrible, poorly functioning, self-checkout stations. I gave an audible sigh and began to scan my items.

“Please place your item in the bagging area,” her voice rang out in that familiar, yet robotic tone. “Please scan next item.” Beep. “Please place item in the bagging – Please replace item on the scanner. Unexpected item found in the bagging area. Contacting store Associate.”

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I wait. I waive for a staff person. There is one, but she is helping another guy who apparently can’t look up “honeydew melon” from the menu of cartoon images on the screen. I contemplate going over and pushing the image – right in front his face for him – but decide against it. I try to waive to another staff person who is bagging groceries. They tell me that they can’t help me. Finally, a frazzled staffer comes over and swipes their card at my register, hits a few buttons in rapid succession and I am back in business – briefly.

“Please scan your next item.” Beep. “Place your item in the bagging area.” I place my lactose-free cottage cheese container in the bag.  “No item detected,” she repeats in that infuriating monotone. I repeat the action, but the response is the same. I try over and over.

“Contacting store associate.”

Frustrated (read furious) I grab all the items out of the bags, throw them back in my cart and make my way to the back of the line in the staffed checkout aisle, and wait for a human (with daily, high volume scanning experience) to check me out. I should have started here in the first place. On second thought, the store should have had more than one checkout clerk serving their customers.

Pushing me to self-checkout was not for my convenience, it was to save them money. But it’s not going to save them money, it’s going to cost them a customer – and lots of future money. Fail.

Organizational “bean counters” are costing companies millions, if not billions of dollars each year when they exclude marketing, customer service and even HR from the budgeting process.

Here’s the problem: A static economic model envisions a direct cause and effect correlation. In other words: Cut costs, save money. Makes sense.  However, a dynamic economic model recognizes that real people are effected in an emotional way by service disruption, and that buying behaviors are influenced when people are inconvenienced or unhappy. In short: We don’t like voice mail robots, self-serve checkouts and tag your own bag at the airport.

The lesson is pretty basic, but too often ignored: You spend a great deal of time and money acquiring new customers, why on earth would you make it hard for them to do business with you? Don’t forget we have lots and lots of choices. Are your policies geared toward make it easy for your staff or your customers? Is the elimination of humans to solve customer problems or answer questions, frustrating your customers? (By the way, thats’s a rhetorical question. The answer is “yes.”)  Fix that. Quickly.

David Avrin, CSP is a popular marketing and customer service keynote speaker, consultant and business author. He is the author of the celebrated business book: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You! (Classified Press) and his latest: Visibility Marketing (Career Press) is available worldwide. Learn more and watch a preview at http://www.VisibilityInternational.com

 

Losing the Message for the Messenger

There has been a great deal of discussion about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the playing of the National Anthem and others who have followed suit. And while he, like all Americans, has freedom of choose, he doesn’t enjoy freedom from consequences. The truth is that most others do not share his method or mindset, and they often hold the purse strings.

To be clear, I am not taking a political stance or even making a racial commentary. In my “business marketing” mindset, this is a communications issue.

In choosing an act (sitting during the national anthem) that is so abhorrent to so many Americans, Colin and others who support him, have made what I believe to be a miscalculation. Rather than shining a light on the important issue of racial injustice, they have turned the attention and the outrage on themselves. Many of the people they need to wake up and listen, are now so angry or disappointed, that they are predisposed to ignore or reject much of what they have to say.

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Some years back, I recall an animal rights activist in Denver named Robin Duxbury. She was so steadfast in her belief in the value of the lives and feeling of animals, that her controversial (read absurd) assertions overshadowed the very worthy cause she supported. When she proclaimed to the press something along the lines of: “A person is a valuable as a horse, as a dog, as a cat, as a fly, and as flea, and none deserved priority over the others,” she lost all credibility.

Of course animal rights, and to a much greater extent, the rights of oppressed minorities, are very important issues. Unfortunately, the messengers too often dilute the message. When those, who we need to be sympathetic to our cause for change to occur, are repelled by the form of the message, the effort fails.  In this way Kaepernic has failed. While he has succeeded in getting the country to take notice, by and large, they have taken notice, not of the cause, but of him and his perceived disrespect to the flag and the country they love.

Lest you think that I “don’t get it,” be clear that my commentary is not on the merits of the cause, but on the manner of it’s marketing. They may feel as if their sacrifice is worth the price they are paying. I would submit that there are a hundred better ways of spending their celebrity brand equity, communicate their message and bringing others to their cause. Angering and offending 300 million fellow Americans was not among them.

Despite the trite assertions, all news is not good news and all PR is not good PR and too often important messages are being lost for the messenger.

David Avrin, CSP speaks around the world on marketing and strategic brand development. A celebrated author and business consultant, he is the author of: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You! and his latest book: Visibility Marketing (2016 Career Press) Learn more and watch a preview at www.VisibilityInternational.com

 

To Be Free, Lochte Needs to Turn Himself In. 

David Avrin, Brand Consultant and author of Visibility Marketing (2106 Career Press)

There is a clear and simple way for disgraced Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte to salvage what’s left of his reputation, though there is little chance that he will do it.

Lochte needs to get on a plane this weekend and return to Brazil to face a judge. Famous for his quote: “If you are a man at night, you need to be a man in the morning,” Lochte has been provided a golden opportunity to live up to his questionable maxim. It would be the smartest possible investment in his brand — though he’s not known for making smart decisions.

As the fallout from his drunken night and concocted story has dragged on, it’s only been exacerbated by the agonizing trickle of additional truth that has seeped-out each day. The fact that he eventually comes clean a week later stands in stark contrast to the lies he doubled-down on.

We Americans can be a forgiving lot, but only when presented with honesty, humility and authentic contrition. That can only be found in front of a judge back in Rio.

There is a famous scene in the Will Smith movie Hancock, where Jason Bateman’s PR character tells the “superhero” that he has to go to jail to show people that he is really sorry and not above the law. He doesn’t have to take his medicine. He wisely chooses to.

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Ryan Lochte has to go to jail, or at the very least face a judge and accept whatever punishment is dolled out. It won’t likely be severe, given the nature of the crime, but Brazil needs to save face and Lochte needs to save his career and reputation.

Hey Ryan, rip off bandaid. Man-up and get on a plane.

David Avrin is the author the new release: Visibility Marketing (2016 Career Press) Avrin is a popular business speaker, brand consultant and executive coach. Learn more at http://www.VisibilityInternational.com

A Painful Serving of Humble Pie

(Author’s Note: The week’s events surround the Olympian Ryan Lochte’s fabricated story and his doubling-down before a weak attempt to walk it back, reminded me of a challenging scenario I face some years back. Here was my recounting of the tough lesson learned from my failure to effectively self-edit.)

(Originally written in 2009) Humble Pie

By David Avrin, CSP

I just got my lunch handed to me by a business prospect and will be eating “humble pie” for months to come. It was a humiliating lesson, exacted upon a careless and overly-casual “professional” by an astute and thoughtful company leader. File this under: “Do as I say – not as I did.”

I arrived this afternoon for my third face-to-face meeting with a strong prospect for my CEO roundtable group. I’ll call him “Mike.” Assuming that this was the final step of the evaluation process with an impressive company leader, I believed that Mike and I both had found a strong fit and would likely be progressing with a formal membership application. He would soon be joining the CEO roundtable group and I would be his executive coach.

After moving beyond the greetings and pleasantries, we took our seats in his office as Mike closed the door. As he sat by his desk, he began our discussion by explaining that he had been struggling with an internal dynamic at his company whereby his customer service staff and administration staff were “badmouthing” each other. Worst yet, they were expressing dissatisfaction with their coworkers in conversations with customers. He explained that when a customer called with a complaint about their bill or the service that had been provided, Admin would say that the Customer Service department had clearly dropped the ball, or Customer Service would throw Admin under the bus by blaming them for whatever the problem was. He was struggling with how best to confront the situation.

Mike continued: “Then I got this voice mail message last Friday,” and he turned to the phone on his desk, hit the “Speakerphone” button and began to dial. To my surprise, the voice on the recording was my own.

“Hi Mike,” I said. “This is David Avrin and yes, you are correct, the meeting place listed in the e-mail invitation was wrong. Some ‘Bone-Head’ from the corporate office sent out the wrong location.” Then, without ever taking his gaze off of me, Mike pressed a button on the phone rewinding it slightly. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…” Click. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…” Click. “Some Bone-Head from the corporate office…”

I sat speechless as Mike leaned back in his chair and after a brief pause, looked me in the eye and said: “So here’s my dilemma Dave, I’m looking for an executive coach to help me become a better leader and deal with issues such as how to confront poor internal behavior, and this is the message I received from my leading candidate. What the hell do I do with this?”

As he spoke, all I could do was nod knowingly, acknowledging that everything he was saying was true and the concern he expressed was richly-deserved. I had screwed-up – big time. Not just because my poorly-considered, off-hand comment had violated my covenant with a trusted and valued corporate partner, but because I had damaged my credibility with someone I respected. The resulting challenge to my judgment and credibility was no one’s fault but my own.

In the moment, I knew the worst thing I could do was to attempt an excuse, or try to talk around the massive “elephant” sitting in the middle of the room. Instead, I acknowledged what we both knew to be true. I screwed up. I offered my apology and told him that he was right to “call me out” on my poor behavior and that my credibility was essentially “nil!”

I explained that in my effort to be casual and familiar in my correspondence, I used a very poor choice of words. More likely, I offered, in dismissing or even denigrating someone else for what was clearly an honest mistake, I was basically implying that I wouldn’t be guilty of such an infraction. Of course we all make mistakes, and ascribing blame, regardless of the legitimacy, was clearly wrong.

As I flashed-back to my frustrated state when I made the phone call to Mike following the errant e-mail blast, I realized that my remarks were simply a poorly-considered, knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on “jerk”) to a communication that I feared would damage his perception of me and our organization. Instead, it was my actions that diminished our credibility. So once again, all I could do was apologize.

We went on to have a solid and meaningful discussion about the value of our leadership roundtable and his prospective involvement, but the reality of what had transpired hung over the conversation. What will happen from here on is unclear, but what is clear is that my professional reputation with this company leader was tarnished – by my behavior. It is a bell that can’t be un-rung.

One of my favorite expressions states that: “Experience comes from bad decision, and good decisions come from experience.” This is a bad decision I will not repeat.

Do you learn from your professional mistakes? Do you sometimes look back at your early work experiences and cringe at some of the things you did and said. It’s true for most of us.  I would submit that every time an inappropriate thought crosses your mind, but fails to cross your lips, then that’s clear evidence of a lesson well-learned. And we are still learning – myself included. Sometimes even “The Coach” needs a coach.

Your personal and professional brand is not your logo or your tag line. It is not the colors of your lobby or the greeting offered to your customers. Your brand is not merely the jingle on your commercials or the cleanliness of your bathroom. It is everything. It’s everything that you do, and everything you don’t do well in your business. Your brand is what others think about you when you leave the room, or when they leave your business.  How well are you crafting, reinforcing and protecting your personal and professional brand?

Today, I stunk up the place. Tomorrow I will do better. Mea culpa.

David Avrin, CSP is known internationally as the Visibility Coach. A popular business keynote speaker, branding consultant and executive coach, David is the author of the celebrated: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You! and his latest: Visibility Marketing (2016 Career Press) Learn more and watch a preview video at www.VisibilityInternational.com

Consensus Kills Creativity

By David Avrin, CSP — Author of: Visibility Marketing 

It’s become fashionable of late to lament the dearth of creative ideas. The reality is that we don’t have a deficiency in creativity — we too often have a pervasive lack of courage! Creative people in business are too-often reluctant to share creative ideas for fear of being shut-down. They’ve been brought up in a corporate culture that pays lip-service to creativity, but rewards the status-quo.

There is an oft-shared scenario where a group of very young school children are asked: “Who can sing and dance?” Virtually all the hands shoot into the air. Then the same question is asked of a group of high schoolers and most avert their eyes and slouch down into their chairs. We are taught at an early age that to put yourself “out there,” is to risk social ostracism. We take risks at times, but they are well-calculated risks.

It’s easy to spot a strong group facilitator. The strong facilitator rewards participation. They knows that when they ask the group members to share their ideas, every suggestion get written on the white board or flip-chart for all to see. It’s validation that the idea has merit. As they say: “The behavior that is recognized and rewarded, is the behavior that is repeated.” If an idea is shared by a participant and not written with the others, then the sharing shuts down quickly. Nobody wants to offer the idea publicly that is deemed unworthy.

The same dynamic has thrown an enormous wet blanket on most business marketing. The most creative, outrageous, out-of-the-box, potentially game-changing ideas are rarely shared. There are certainly super-creative marketing firms that foster an open dialogue, but even in those environments, the most creative ideas are sanitized, or focus-grouped to death before the client ever sees or hears them.

     Here’s the hard truth: While collaboration is often beneficial, consensus kills creativity. It’s the group decision-making process that is responsible for the death of most truly creative marketing ideas. Out-of-the-box ideas are floated, focused-grouped, debated and after everyone is heard, concerns are considered and we are assured that nobody will be offended or their comfort-zone disrupted, the once-bold idea has been sanitized to the lowest common denominator. It may be safe. It may check all the boxes and fit the industry norms, but the mere fact that it feels safe, means it won’t likely stand out. Standing out requires doing something  different and unexpected.

When 81 year-old Clara Pellar famously shouted: “Where’s the beef? in a 1984 Wendy’s TV commercial, a “buzz-worthy” catch-phrase and a star was born. Unexpected, non-traditional and very, very funny.

      K-Mart caused a real stir a few years ago when a television commercial aired featuring people declaring: “I just shipped my pants!” After a quick double take, and a collective “What did he just say?” we realized that he said “shipped.” It may not be to your taste, but it certainly got your attention and was memorable!  I say, Bravo!

Marketing professionals come up with great ideas all the time! Those ideas just rarely make it through the sanitizing gauntlet and see the light of day. I am not talking about shock for the sake of shock, but boldness, and creativity for the sake of conversation, memorability, buzz-worthiness and ultimately, winning!

Companies have struggled for centuries with the elusive challenge of staying top-of-mind with their customers and prospects. Today, billions of dollars are spent (and too-often wasted) in an effort to gain and retain top-of-mind status with clients. Most efforts fall short because the ideas are too safe, to common and blend in. In these hyper-competitive times, it simply takes more to stand out, and few do nearly enough.

Excerpted from the book: Visibility Marketing (2016 Career Press)

 David Avrin, CSP is known as The Visibility Coach. An in-demand business marketing keynote speaker and branding consultant, David helps companies and organizations discover, craft and promote meaningful competitive advantages. He is the author of the popular: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who Knows You! (2014, Classified Press) and his latest book: Visibility Marketing (2016 Career Press)

Learn more at http://www.VisibilityInternational.com

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

“OK Dad, there is something I want to do and I know you’re gonna say ‘no,’ but I just want you to listen to the whole thing without saying anything,” my 13 year-old son says to me.
 
“Go ahead,” I say with my arms folded.
 
“So, I have this old iPhone 5 that wont even turn on,” he says, trying to contain his enthusiasm. “I have been smashing it with a hammer and now I want to set it on fire. And I know that gasoline is really dangerous, so…after I pour gasoline on it…(My face now showing disbelief) …I’m going to stand ten feet away…
 
“Um, I don’t think so!” I begin.
 
“Just listen!” he implores. “Then I’m going to take my Nerf bow and arrow set and dip the end in the gasoline and light it on fire and then shoot it at the iPhone so I can light it without getting burned!”
 
He then looks at me, so incredibly excited and proud of himself, as if he’s just discovered the cure for cancer that tastes like chocolate. “What do you think? Brilliant, huh?”
 
“Not going to happen,” I say casually.
 
“But dad!” he implores.
 
At this point, I am turning away pretending to be disgusted, when in fact it is exactly what I would have wanted to do at his age. Of course, my father would have said: “Not a chance.”
 
“I appreciate the creativity,” I say. “But my 13 year-old son is not going to play with gasoline. Not going to happen Bubba.”
 
Boys.