Monthly Archives: December 2013

Most Read Posts of 2013 – TunesDay Edition

Last day of the year and it falls on a TunesDay.  I looked up the most read post with that theme and it was one from this past July when the Mrs. and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary.  Not content to let that speak for itself, I turned to a rock classic to talk about relationships between our businesses and our customers.  I hope you enjoy it (again!) and please have a safe New Year’s Eve.  See you on the other side.

It’s Tunesday! Today is a special one for me since it’s the 35th anniversary of the day the Mrs. and I got married. Because of that, I wanted a song from roughly the time when we got married that’s also a love song. What popped into my head this morning is “Let’s Stay Together“, a hit for both Al Green and Tina Turner.   The two hits actually happened on either side of our wedding date and I’m very aware that a lot of folks use this as a wedding song (we didn’t – Embraceable You, as I recall…).  I’ve always thought that Al Green’s version was way too low-key for the passion of the song and the video below is a live Tina Turner version which captures the song’s essence:

So what’s this got to do with business?  Actually, quite a bit.  You see, trying to stay together is what all of us do as businesses – with our customers, our team, and our vendors:

Let’s, let’s stay together
Lovin’ you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad

The one thing that makes a relationship last is the trust that you’re standing on certain ground.  As the lyric says, you may go through bad times as well as good but never wondering about the underlying connection is crucial.  A customer with issues may not be happy but they’ll stay a customer if they trust you’re working to resolve their problem.  They want to hear “let me be the one you come running to”, not “I’m unable to help you.”

At its core, a relationship of any sort involves an investment of some sort.  While there is a lot of sanity in not throwing good money (literally and figuratively) after bad, it’s generally easier to keep a customer than to find new ones.  A commitment to trying to stay together makes that happen.  That’s how you celebrate 35 years as partners!

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Most Read Posts Of 2013 – Part 3

Continuing to reblog the posts that got the most readership this past year, we come upon a post from just a month ago.  This one concerned the retailers who fined  a customer over a negative review.  Genius!  In the month since this was written, things have continued to slide downhill for the KlearGear folks, with lawsuits being the least of their worries.  Tens of thousands of negative articles have been written about this mess and it remains a fantastic lesson is what NOT to do in resolving customer complaints.

The holiday shopping season has begun in earnest and so today let’s remind ourselves about how some online businesses deserve the equivalent of a Darwin Award for killing themselves as this big opportunity arises.

Stupid IV

(Photo credit: LauraLewis23)

You might have heard about KlearGear.com, a $47million online retailer of what they call geek toys and goodies.  They deserve the aforementioned Darwin Award for resolving a dispute with a customer in a manner that will, in my opinion, destroy their business.  Let’s see what you think.

A customer ordered something from the company way back in 2008 which didn’t arrive.  The customer then posted a negative review on the web.  Nothing very unusual about this so far, I know.  What happened next is.  Some genius at KlearGear decided it would be a good idea to “fine” the customer $3,500 for disparaging the company, citing a clause in their site’s Terms Of Service that wasn’t even in those terms in 2008.  When the customer didn’t pay, they reported the $3,500 as a bad debt to credit reporting agencies, trashing the customer’s credit rating.  You can read the gory details here.

Unfortunately for the retailer, the customer fought back and looks set to win a $75,000 judgement against the company.  Frankly, that’s the least of the retailer’s worries.  The torrent of negative commentary on social media has prompted the company to hide its Twitter account and to close off other social points of contact because of the overwhelming response.  Of course, by going into hiding the company has pretty much destroyed its own reputation on the web.  My guess is that the rest of the business will follow.

This began with a $20 item.  Instead of accepting that there was a problem – perhaps even one of the customer’s own making (which it wasn’t) – and apologizing, KlearGear escalated the problem.  The lost $20 sale is now a potential $75,000 liability which pales by comparison to the millions of dollars of negative coverage they’re receiving.  As we’ve said before, when you’re doing business the right way, the need to moderate or control customer feedback doesn’t exist.  If your product or service is great, so too will be the general commentary about you on the web and social.  We’ve also talked about how it’s easier and more profitable to sell to repeat customers than to find new ones.  That’s a huge reason why the best retailers go out of their way to minimize (or get rid of!)  bad customer experiences.

This is a textbook case on how not to handle customer service or bad reviews.  It’s about as bad as it gets and reached new depths of business stupidity.  You agree?

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Most Read Posts Of The Year – Foodie Edition

It’s Foodie Friday and since we’re reviewing the most read posts of the year I’m combining the two.  I’m also cheating a little.  The most read food-related post this year wasn’t written for our Friday Foodie Fun.  It was the post about finding a thumb tack in clam chowder.  This post, originally titled Recipes And Business, was actually written just before the Giants played in the Super Bowl in 2012 and was, in fact, the most-read foodie post this year.  Nice to know it has legs and it did way better than the Giants this year!  Enjoy.

Many of you will be cooking something for Sunday’s big game and so this Foodie Friday we’ll think a little bit about what recipes to follow.  Actually, it’s more about how one follows any recipe, and what that has in common with business.

An example recipe, printed from the Wikibooks ...

Image via Wikipedia

As I think you might know, my feeling about cooking is that it’s more like jazz while baking is more Baroque music– far more structured and precise.  Given that, the way I see recipes might differ from how you see them and how that perspective carries into business.  Let’s see.

A recipe is a guide, not an edict.  I look at them as outlines of the dish, but it’s up to me as the cook to insert the flavors I want to present.  For example, if I’m making chili for Sunday’s game, I know that most of the folks who will be at the party enjoy fairly hot food so I might change the spice mix accordingly.  Cooking veal cutlets for 20 can be expensive but turkey cutlets in the same recipe can be just as tasty.  With a vegan and a vegetarian as members of the household here, I often modify recipes to accommodate their eating styles too.  I have a sense of the destination and the recipe is the map, but there are often many routes to get to where I’m trying to go.

Business is the same.  There are some basic road maps – take in more than you spend, treat customers and employees well – but every business is different.  Sticking to the recipe isn’t always possible, and sometimes the road we wish to take is closed, but with a good understanding of fundamental techniques and enough knowledge of the building blocks (ingredients), one can cope with changing market conditions and take advantage of opportunities (I was going to make snapper but look at the fresh grouper on sale!) that might arise.

So as you’re whipping up that pot of gumbo, maybe try thickening it with okra instead of your usual file powder.  If you’re not having much luck using SEM for online commerce, maybe social media can be more efficient.  It’s jazz – learn to improvise – oh, and Go Big Blue!

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Most Read Posts of 2013 – Part 1

Today we begin my annual period of sloth by looking at the most read posts of the last year.  This first one was written at the very end of 2012, after I did last year’s review, and since it was the one of the most read this year I’m starting with it again.  Originally titled “The Most Important Thing I Learned This Year“, I wrote this after some reflection following my brother’s passing late last year.  Having had an additional year’s time to reflect, I think if anything I understated things.  Please read it and give it some thought.

Sometimes things that are very personal can also be important to a much wider sphere. Today is one of those things, I hope, and it’s a good one with which to end 2012.

As my brother lay dying a month or so ago, he said something that really stuck. He had a very rare form of cancer, one which even if it had been caught very early might not have been curable. While Mike was never one for much (if any) self-pity, on this occasion he indulged himself just a bit. What he had to say was a very important thing for your business life and that’s what I’d like to share.

“Why didn’t I take a day off and go to the doctor? Why didn’t I tell a client I can’t meet? Why did I keep going to the office?”

He knew – long before it was obvious to any of the rest of us – that something was wrong yet he felt a responsibility to his job and to his clients to put them first.  Obviously, I’m a big believer in that – I write often about a customer-centric focus.  However, what I learned this year was that if you’re going to serve your clients well you also need to be in sound enough shape physically and mentally to do so.  That requires that we take some time away.  Shut down the email, turn off the cellphone.  Go play a video game or golf or cook or read a non-business book.  Treat yourself as you would a client – they deserve some focused, uninterrupted time and so do you.

As I said, even if he had gone to the doctor the outcome might have been the same.  What might not have been, however, was how he used the time he had left and how he was treated to determine that time.  Mike’s lesson wasn’t exactly something I learned for the first time this year but this time it’s stuck.  I hope he can help it stick with you as well.

Enjoy a day or two off – on to a great 2013!

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Wrapping It Up

There won’t be a blog post tomorrow – it’s a day for family and friends and not thoughts of business. I know it’s TunesDay but the music today is all my own.  It’s become my annual thing to repeat the most read posts of the year between the two holidays, which means this will be the last original post of the year.  Most read music post next Tuesday; most read Foodie Friday post…well, you can probably figure it out.

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First and foremost, a healthy and Happy New Year to each and every one of you and to your families. Having had several health issues occur within my extended family over the last year or so I can tell you being healthy trumps anything business can give you.

As I’m writing this my two daughters are in the next room wrapping gifts for everyone.  I’ve been forbidden to leave the room I’m in lest the surprise of gift-giving be jeopardized.  They will be the first to admit that they inherited their father’s inability to wrap gifts.  My futile attempts look as if the package had been wrapped and mailed through a series of post offices across each continent, each of which adds a nick and a tear to the wrap job.   Needless to say, the quality of my gifts needs to be spectacular since the packaging is terrible.  Which of course is the business point.

A walk through most markets show you that most companies spend a lot of time thinking about packaging and nearly all of them fail.  Very few go beyond the conventional.  Have a look at these examples and your mind will be opened up as to what we can do – whether it’s a package or the product itself – when we don’t use where we are as a jumping off point.  Starting from scratch is hard – there are few things more terrifying as a blank whiteboard (or an empty space in which one needs to write a blog post).  Those blank spaces – filled only with promise – are where we need to force ourselves to begin.

The year starts next week and with it everything is new again.  I hope you use it to rethink everything.  Even if you come out if the same place, you’re better off for having done the exercise and placing it all in a nicely wrapped package.  Happy Holidays!

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The Pandora’s Box Of Content

As we get to the end of the year, many people (myself included) use the leisurely pace of this week to reflect and/or plan.

Pandora's Box Side

(Photo credit: yum9me)

With that in mind, I think we should spend a bit of time reflecting on Pandora’s Box and how it relates to content.  As you remember, said box was said to have contained all the evils of the world.  Modern usage of the expression is more like the Butterfly Effect I’ve written about before – small things leading to major impacts.

The Pandora’s Box to which I’m referring today is that of native advertising.  I’ve written before about this topic as well, but as the pace of publishers to utilize sponsored content that’s made to look like editorial increases, I wanted to pause and reflect on it again.  As The Wall Street Journal reported

Spending on sponsored content is expected to grow 24% to $1.9 billion this year, a faster growth rate than for most other forms of digital marketing. Total digital advertising spending will total $42.3 billion this year, according to eMarketer.

In other words, roughly 5% of all digital ad spending will be on this form.  That’s a lot.  I’m old school – ads should be easily recognized as such.  That said, I have no problem with content put together by a sponsor and a publisher as long as the substance of that content is accurate.  For example, this blog could be considered an ad for my consulting practice.  That said, I go to some lengths to be sure that what I put up here on the screed is fact-based and not one-sided so that you can mind up your own minds.  An article on, say, the health benefits of french fries (good luck with that!) that exists solely because McDonald’s or Burger King commissioned it and seems like every other article on the web page or magazine or TV news report seems well over the foul line.

This Pandora’s Box is wide open.  Even the New York Times digital is accepting this kind of advertising.  Think is will be long before it isn’t 30 minute infomercials we see on TV but 2.5 minute “news updates” that use station talent?    I’m glad the IAB is working on guidelines and I’m glad the FTC is holding hearings.  Ultimately, however, it’s those of us who  are the product (it’s our eyeballs they’re after!) who need to weigh in loudly.  You agree?

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Kitchens Without Garbage

It’s the last Foodie Friday before Christmas and this week  I want to talk about garbage.

Garbage

(Photo credit: Editor B)

It’s on my mind because last night I watched an interesting episode of Chopped, the Food Network’s show where cooks have to use a basket of ingredients that don’t seem to go with one another to make great dishes in 30 minutes.  The baskets last night all consisted of “garbage” – food that most home cooks often toss out.  Herb stems, bread ends, fish heads and other generally discarded items made up the ingredient lists.  The cooks did well and as food professionals they demonstrated the principle that nothing should be wasted by  a professional.  Or as The Dead would say, “one man gathers what another man spills.”

Jacques Pepin has said this for years on his TV shows – use everything, throw nothing out.  He even takes leftovers and turns them into new dishes.   Which of course is an excellent thought for all business professionals, especially as most businesses move into content creation (surely you’ve heard that everyone is a publisher, haven’t you!?).

Some of my clients fail to observe the immutable law that there is no garbage can on the internet.  While something shot for a TV commercial may not be usable in that 30-second format, the web has no such time constraints.  The speech given at a small conference to an interested audience of a hundred people can become a blog post and then summarized for inclusion in an email newsletter (talk about making something new out of the leftovers!). The audience of a hundred can now be thousands with very little extra effort.

Everything we create in our business lives has some value.  Perhaps that value isn’t to us in the moment but tossing anything of value out when there are so many ways to slice and dice it into something quite tasty is more than a waste.  License it out, recut it, format it for another channel.  The trash bin is the last place anything ought to go.  Agreed?

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