Monthly Archives: May 2014

That’s Just Rude

Foodie Friday and I hope you had a chance over the past week to go out to eat.


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe it was to a holiday barbecue to begin the Summer or maybe you just needed a night off from the kitchen.  I’ve spent the week dining out a lot and it gave me a chance to reflect on something I see as a truism in life and in business.

Have you ever dined out with someone who is abominable to the server?  They treat someone who is doing their job with indifference at best and outright rudeness at worst.  Most servers, as you might know, are working for minimum wage plus tips.  It’s obviously in their best interest to keep their tables happy and I find it rare that a server warrants anything but polite, respectful treatment.  If you don’t like the food, the server didn’t cook it (or order it).  If they hover and you find it distracting, they’re probably just doing as their manager is instructing them.  Yet some people treat the wait staff as indentured servants, ordering them around without a “thank you” or “please.”  It embarrasses me, but it does something else.  It tells me a lot about the person with whom I’m dining.

You know that I subscribe to the “customer is almost always right” theory.  That “rightness” ends when they stop behaving like a reasonable adult.  I find that the people who need to demean other people generally have issues themselves – insecurity, low self-esteem among them.  So why is this on a business blog?

Bad managers can be like bad customers.  They treat their staff as “that guy” does a server.  Instead, just as you won’t get fed without a server doing their job, managers forget that it’s the work of their subordinates that makes their job necessary.  Just as servers can make a meal memorable or a disaster, staff can make the boss look great or incompetent.  I’ve always felt that we get what we give in both instances.  Which will it be for you?

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Give The People What They Want

I was working at a television network when the Internet became a “thing.”


(Photo credit: Daniel Y. Go)

In those early years streaming video wasn’t really a consideration since the technology hadn’t been invented and there was no such thing as broadband in the home.  Nevertheless, the seeds of where we are today had been planted and there was a huge threat perceived by my compatriots at the network from the emerging technology.

Fast forward 15 years.  Today video streaming is a common part of the media experience and that technology has broadened the potential reach of content services (which is how one needs to think of “broadcasters”) well beyond the living room.  Forward-thinking companies embraced this new access to eyeballs while some continue to resist, entrenched in their old business models which are pretty much on their last legs.  The  way forward is seen in a study released the other day by the Viacom folks.  They studied the impact of TV Everywhere which defined as watching full-length TV programs on sites and apps by “authenticating,” or using pay TV log-in information.

The majority of users agree: TV Everywhere is additive to the TV viewing experience. Since they began using TV Everywhere apps and sites, 64% report watching more TV overall. This finding is even stronger among Millennials, with 72% watching more TV.  TV Everywhere also increases the value of pay TV subscriptions while strengthening loyalty to pay TV providers and relationships with networks.

  • A full 98% of users say TVE adds value to their pay TV subscription, with 67% saying it adds “a lot” of value.

  • The vast majority (93%) is more likely to stay with their provider due to TV Everywhere and 68% have a more favorable impression of networks that offer TVE experiences.

This points out how when we give consumers what they want instead of forcing them to choose an inferior option that may coincide with our business needs but not their appetites, companies do better.  Yes, I’m writing that in a way that extends it beyond just TV Everywhere but that’s the point I take away from the data.  Do you agree?

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Reach Out And Touch Someone

In the late 1970’s the folks at the Bell System, which was part (a BIG part) of AT&T, ran commercials with the theme “Reach Out And Touch Someone.”  It urged consumers to be proactive – to pick up the telephone and “just say hi.”  After last week I sort of wish they had followed their own advice and let me explain why.

AT&T Store

 (Photo credit: JeepersMedia)

My family and I have been on AT&T Wireless for decades.  So long that two of our four accounts have unlimited data plans grandfathered in (try to buy one of those any more – you can’t!).  We found, however, that sometimes one or two of us would go over the monthly data cap and have to pay additional charges while the two on the unlimited accounts rarely used much data at all (we’re often connected to WiFi).  Our monthly bill was close to $300 and we’ve been thinking about finding a cheaper, better plan for us all.

The good news is that our bill is now $100 a month less and we’re still with AT&T.  They have a shared data plan that will work for us all and even though two of us lost our unlimited data it won’t be an issue given our usage history.  The bad news is that AT&T came very close to losing us as customers.  Why?

Because we had to figure this out for ourselves.  Do I think it’s reasonable for a huge company to look at its customers and figure out that someone could be paying them $1,200 a year less?  Actually, I do.  That’s what the digital and data revolution of the last decade has been about to a large extent.  Using what you know about your customers to anticipate their needs and provide better service.  I will say that once we went to the AT&T store to confirm what we were able to discern on our own about adjusting our plan they could not have been more helpful and we left quite happy.

No one can take customers for granted.  While AT&T knows an awful lot more about how my family uses data and wireless services than most businesses know about their customers, it’s incumbent on all of us to take whatever it is we do know and try to put it to use in a proactive manner.  That’s what I urge my clients to do.  And now I’m urging you as well.  You in?

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Long Promised Road

This TunesDay, I thought I’d continue to celebrate yesterday’s very American holiday with one of our most “American” bands, The Beach Boys.  The song below is from their “Surf’s Up” album of 1971 and it’s one of my favorite songs when I need a little inspiration.  While Carl Wilson plays all the instruments and sings the vocal parts it has the distinctive Beach Boys sound.  Give it a listen:

They’re one of the few bands that I believe is instantly recognizable as soon as you hear a vocal part.  Maybe it’s that 4 of the 5 were family – the 3 Wilson brothers and their cousin Mike Love.  Their unique five-part harmony influenced almost anyone making music at the time and since.  Which is, of course, today’s business thought.

Every business needs to have its own “sound.”  In a perfect world, that brand identity is unique and wordless.  As the American Marketing Association says:

Your brand identity is the representation of your company’s reputation through the conveyance of attributes, values, purpose, strengths, and passions. Great brands are easy to recognize, their mission is clear, and it fosters that coveted customer loyalty all businesses crave.

It’s not good enough to look to another brand or business and say “me too.”  You need to have something intangible that people will recognize when they encounter the brand.  It’s really the essence of the brand – that central set of emotions that are brought front and center, just as one conjures up California, the surf, and good times when hearing the Beach Boys.

Marketing 101?  Maybe, but if you’re not creating as recognizable a sound as these guys, maybe back to basics is just what you need.  Or as the song says:

But I hit hard at the battle that’s confronting me, yeah
Knock down all the roadblocks a-stumbling me
Throw off all the shackles that are binding me down

Success is waiting!

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Sick Reviews

Today’s Foodie Friday Fun finds us at the intersection of food, data, and social media.

New York Skyline

(Photo credit: CJ Isherwood)

Yes I know we’ve been here before but today’s tidbit concerns an article in the NY Times the other day. The NYC Health Department conducted a pilot study using Yelp reviews to see if they could identify unreported outbreaks of food-borne illness.  Despite what some may think, not everyone calls the city to let them know they got sick eating someplace.  What many folks do, however, is post something on social media.  Since Yelp is the go-to site on dining out, it would make sense to start here.  One can easily see the effort expanding to other likely places – Twitter, Trip Advisor, etc.

So what did they find?

Using a software program developed by Columbia University, city researchers combed through 294,000 Yelp reviews for restaurants in the city over a period of nine months in 2012 and 2013, searching for words like “sick,” “vomit” and “diarrhea” along with other details. After investigating those reports, the researchers substantiated three instances when 16 people had been sickened.

Doesn’t sound like much but it’s a start.  Maybe you’re aware that Google tried something similar to help spot flu outbreaks.  There is a bigger business point here.  What the city is doing is growing big ears.  They’re learning to use the vast amount of self-reported data to eliminate problems in some cases before they’re actually reported via the official channels.  The three instances they found were open for business with no complaints on the official record.  Inspections turned up unclean conditions at all of them.

The real question is how are you going to do something similar in your business?  Maybe you’re watching your Facebook page for negative comments or responding to people pinging your brand account on Twitter.  What are you doing to get beyond those quasi-official channels?

I wrote the other day about the need to improve data quality.  Sure – in theory a bunch of vindictive people could trigger a health department visit by writing up negative posts containing keywords or phrases.  In theory, I could win the U.S. Senior Open.  Neither is likely to happen.  What is likely to occur, however, is that your competition will find new ways to seek out and use information to drive their businesses forward.  Will you be there with them?

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Have you read Christine Brennan‘s excellent column about FSU this morning in USA Today? You can do so here and I’d encourage it. This is how it starts:

Florida State University

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Were Jameis Winston a fourth-string punter rather than a first-string quarterback, he almost certainly would have long since been kicked off the Florida State football team, probably for good. Instead, the Heisman Trophy-winning problem child is being protected by his university and athletics department for the worst reason possible. He is being coddled because of what he can do for them.

It’s easy to get outraged when you look at how the FSU athletic department, the school administration, the local police, and other “responsible” entities are behaving here.  They are enabling bad behavior.  The folks in the athletic department at FSU, unfortunately, aren’t that different from many of us and how we deal with problem individuals in our businesses.  Let me explain.

Any of us who have ever managed or worked with other people realize that some of them have issues.  Those issues may run the gamut from a bad attitude or incompetence all the way to serious drug problems or criminal behavior.  Try as we might in the hiring process, people with issues slip through our screen and end up on our teams.  Maybe we inherited them.  In any event, what happens next – or doesn’t – is critical.

Some of us think  that the problem, once we’ve identified it, will fix itself.  It won’t.  Maybe we weigh the pain of confrontation and disruption with the pain of maintaining the status quo.   Perhaps we’re in state of equilibrium – other people have picked up the slack caused by the problem child and everyone is coping.  Every one of those rationalizations is wrong and cowardly.  More importantly, they’re holding back both your business and the individual involved.

You can’t hope to isolate the problem.  Others on the team will see that the high standards you set are lies and are not adhered to by everyone and bad behavior is rewarded or at least not punished.  Eventually, a major crisis hits as the individuals involved hit bottom.  The solution is to identify the problem, document it, and put the individuals on notice that you’re aware there is an issue.  Offer to help in any way you can but make it clear that with or without that help you expect the person involved to stop the bad behavior.  Now.  Otherwise, you’re an enabler and part of the problem.

Make sense?


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Your Data Sucks

If you do any work in marketing or sales or just about anything these days you know that you get an overwhelming amount of data each day.  As it turns out, the real issue might not be the amount of the data but the quality of it.  The chart I’ve included today is from the Experian folks reminding us that “Garbage In, Garbage Out” is a truism we can’t avoid.  In fact, many of us are doing a really lousy job of doing so.

The state of data quality

I don’t think it’s a big surprise that the report states that only one third of companies manage their data quality strategy centrally, through a single director.  That, of course, means that:

66% of companies lack a coherent, centralized approach, says the report. Most have little centralization and manage data quality by individual department. For marketers to really take advantage of data insights, information needs to be accurate, consolidated and accessible in real time. A centralized organization-wide data management strategy is essential for marketing success.

I’ll give you an example.  Say you have great web analytics information and fantastic sales information from another data source.  If nobody took the time to figure out a “key”  – a field of data common to both databases – those two excellent, useful, actionable pieces of information can’t be synched up.  That’s why a coherent data schema is important and too many cooks, especailly unsupervised cooks, can really spoil this dish.

Even within a single data-gathering pool, poor planning can be a disaster.  Let’s say you are gathering address information.  If you don’t use a drop-down menu to populate the “state” field, you’re going to end up with typos, different abbreviations (AR, AK, ARK, AS could all be Arkansas) or someone using an abbreviation that your database thinks is another place entirely.  91% of companies suffer from common data errors, the main cause of which is human error. Experian again:

The high level of inaccurate information is brought about by a high level of human error. In many instances information entered across the organization is typed into a database at some point manually, by an employee or the customer directly. That exposes information to different levels of standardization, abbreviations and errors.

As with any part of your business, the quality of your actions is dependent on the quality of the information you have at  hand.  A little time spent on planning is worth a lot in improving that quality.  You agree?

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