Monthly Archives: November 2014

Timing Is Everything

Today is prep day for tomorrow’s feast.  Since I’m busy doing many other things (including praying the pending snow storm misses us), I’m reposting my Thanksgiving screed from 2008.  Not much has changed in the intervening 6 years about my approach to the task at hand.  It’s also a decent observation on the value of planning and attention to detail.  Happy Thanksgiving!

I had an assistant once who developed the concept of “the Ritter factor” when estimating time.  The basic concept was that if I said something would take a certain amount of time, that amount needed to be multiplied by 4.5 to determine the actual time required.  While not admitting to the accuracy or even existence of this factor, I can state that Thanksgiving‘s biggest challenge is time. “Time?” you’re thinking, “that’s the biggest challenge?  HA!  This idiot has really lost it!”  I’m sure you could put together a list of this week’s challenges which would contain items such as where to stash all the coats, how to fit 25 people around a table made for 12, and how to step over Uncle Elmer to get to the bathroom without waking him up.  However, as the conductor of the Thanksgiving orchestra around old Rancho Deluxe here, let me assure you that the primary challenge of the day is delivering all 39 items on the menu to the table at the same time, appropriately hot or cold as required.

The key to the entire day is a timed checklist.  Seriously.  I take enormous amount of crap from everyone who sees mine each year until they realize that the meal is being served at exactly the time requested by the Mrs. which happens to coincide nicely with halftime of the football game.  This list is created by using back timing – something TV and radio producers do all the time.  Beginning at the desired end time and factoring in the availability of necessary facilities (ovens, stove burners, etc.), you work backwards and piece together the time required for each dish until you have a road map.  Anything I can knock off ahead of time (baking, prepping all the dressings, parboiling vegetables) is done up to 24 hours in advance.  It even gets down to resting time for the turkeys before carving and the time it takes for the oil to heat up in the fryer.  In fact, we’ve started frying a turkey in part because it frees up an oven late in the process.  This sounds like a silly bit of overkill to get the meal ready, but it prevents you from leaving the soup in the refrigerator or forgetting you were serving carrots and finding a 20lb bag the next morning.

I’d be happy to share my list with you but it really would only help you a bit.  The cooking facilities here are pretty damn good although we spent the money on them instead of indoor toilets (kidding).  You have to tie your back-timed list to the menu, the facilities you have available to you, and your cooking skills.  Even though my former assistant (who comes most years for the Thanksgiving meal) thinks I’m chronologically challenged, I’ve got 25 full bellies Thursday evening that think otherwise.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Thanks For Bad Bosses

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, many people take the time to reflect on the things for which they’re thankful. When I was managing a team, I was hopeful that I made the lists in my team’s minds since having a good supervisor can make the work day seem not like work at all.

What always struck me when I worked in large offices was that there are really bad bosses. I had a few and I was peers with quite a few more. I even supervised a couple although their skills got better fairly quickly or they moved on. That’s not to say that I never had great or even good bosses. I was lucky to have had many of them. But the bad ones really stood out, and in a weird way I give thanks for them as well since they provided daily examples of what NOT to do.

Why were they bad? More importantly, what can you take away as learnings from the suffering of their subordinates?  Well, first I always shook my head at the bosses who confused what they did with who they are.  The bad ones all had a sense of entitlement; the great ones felt like jut another teammate.  You can spot the great ones – they’re leaders and would be so even if they didn’t have the title.  People come to them for help and guidance.  Bad bosses get avoided like the plague.

Great bosses have people who work “with” them, not “for” them.  Listen carefully the next time a supervisor mentions someone on his staff for that word.  You might also think that a great boss is completely incompetent.  Every time something goes wrong in their area, it’s the boss who says they’re to blame.  That is because the great ones take blame for every bad event that occurs while giving as much credit as they can to members of their team.

Finally, you’ve heard the old truism that there’s no “I” in “team.”  Great bosses believe that and they make sure that every member of their staff gets it.

So how about it.  Are you as thankful as I am for all the bad bosses that show you the light of effective management, or have you been cursed with only great bosses in your life?

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Three Types Of Customers

I saw the results of a survey by the folks at SAP a couple of weeks ago and have been meaning to write about it as we hit prime shopping time for the holidays.  They announced results from the Customer Journey Poll, a survey aimed toward helping organizations improve their understanding of customer happiness and encourage brand loyalty.  They polled more than 3,000 Americans, ages 18 and older, to gain insight into what makes customers loyal to a particular brand.  What they found is interesting, albeit not very surprising.

They uncovered three very interesting personas that they claim definitely did not exist 10 years ago:

SAP found three distinct personas that surfaced from the poll data: The “virtuous” customer who patronizes companies that have values to which he or she relates; the “invested” customer, who loves to interact with companies and often seeks guidance and information; and the “ignored” customer, whose inquiries about a product or service sometimes get delayed or ignored. By understanding which customer falls into which persona, brands will have the ability to deliver content that customers consider most important and, in turn, improve overall engagement.

First is the Ignored Consumer:

While email is the most popular way cited to communicate with companies, nearly half of respondents (48 percent) reported problems with delayed or no email responses.  These customers… likely wouldn’t continue to patronize a company that cuts them off.

No kidding.  But how many of us are guilty of creating exactly that group among our customer base?  On the other side of the fence is the Virtuous Customer:

Virtuous customers are those who repeatedly buy from companies they deem to have values similar to theirs. Poll data showed that shared values was cited by 30 percent of Americans as a reason to stay loyal to a brand, making it one of the top three reasons for loyalty. Seventy-five percent said the product/service itself spurred loyalty, while 41 percent cited discounts/offers.

Finally, there are Invested Customers:

Invested customers are the ones who love to interact with companies. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they’d either like or might like (depending on the company) to be offered help via chat or phone before they even ask for it. A whopping 80 percent would either like or might like to be kept up to date on new products.

Interesting.  Just as there are different types of customers there are different methods with which to engage them.  It’s increasingly important that we not offer up one-size-fits-all solutions and focus on reaching each segment in a manner that addresses their loyalty hot buttons.

Worth some thinking?

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The Same Old Thing

It’s the last Foodie Friday post before Thanksgiving here in the U.S. and I thought this might be a good time to reflect upon that meal. I’ll start cooking this weekend by making turkey stock and I’ll be doing a little each day right up until mealtime on Thursday. Hopefully the 25 folks in attendance will all get fed at the same time and fall asleep watching football in a food coma.

English: Thanksgiving cheer distributed for me...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the truth be told, I don’t love this meal although it’s one of my favorite holidays. It’s a favorite because the family gathers together, something that’s a precious occasion as we all get older and become more spread out. But I don’t love the meal because it’s always the same menu with the odd little variation – a different take on a vegetable or maybe a new pie.  It’s kind of boring as a cook but I know the people who are being fed love it.  Which got me thinking.

All of us in business seem to be under a constant imperative to innovate.  To make our products better.  To change things up because if you do what you’ve always done you’ll get what you always get.  If you’ve spent any time here on the screed you know that I buy into looking at our businesses through new eyes as often as we can.  Then I think of the Thanksgiving meal.

The family likes the familiarity.  They look forward to some of the dishes that they only eat this one time each year.  They know what they’re going to get when they traipse over to Rancho Deluxe for the meal. Our customers are like that too, I think.  When you walk into most QSR chains you know what you’re going to get when you order a menu item. Whether you’re in New York or Los Angeles it will be the same.  For many people who are risk-averse, that’s comforting and critical.

The balance between innovation and stability is something we need to maintain as we go forward in our business thinking.  When I switched over to frying the turkey on Thanksgiving I still roasted one so the family could make the move in their own minds instead of me imposing my will.  We no longer roast a bird because everyone’s preferences changed.  There’s no need for any of us to repeat the “New Coke” disaster.

I’ll be serving the same old thing for Thanksgiving.  It makes my “customers” happy.  You?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

The Lady Does Protest Too Much

You might have read Hamlet. Perhaps unwillingly in high school English, perhaps for pleasure since it’s one of the greatest dramatic works in the English language. At one point Gertrude says “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Tiger Woods Photo by Paddy Briggs

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That line has been used as a figure of speech ever since (and since 1602 means for a long time) to mean that a person’s overly frequent or vehement attempts to convince others of something have ironically helped to convince others that the opposite is true, by making the person look insincere and defensive. Thank you, Wikipedia!

I thought about that quote the other day as Tiger Woods responded to a satirical piece written by the great Dan Jenkins. Jenkins wrote an “interview” with Tiger which was clearly labeled as made up in which Tiger was made to look cheap, dumb, and nasty. What happened next is instructive for all of us and for any business.

The “interview” ran in the print-only edition of a golf magazine.  Had Tiger left it alone, it would have been read by hard-core golfers and died.  Instead, Tiger took it upon himself to issue a 600 word rebuttal on ThePlayersTribune.com which was picked up immediately by the media.  The interest in the controversy grew quickly, and the golf magazine then posted the original article on its website where anyone could read it.  The mostly ignored problem became a front and center issue.  Which is the point.

Maybe you’ve heard it called “The Streisand Effect.”  This is when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.  It’s instructive.  By protesting too much we fan the flames of the problem.  Should every negative comment be ignored?  Of course not.  But had Tiger responded publicly (and I’m not sure he should have in this case) with an appreciative chuckle and a wink of the eye (“I’ll have to work harder and adjust my thinking to live up to the bad guy image you made up”), this all would have gone away.  Better would have been a phone call to Jenkins and a quiet meeting someplace to straighten it all out.

There are dozens of examples of companies and individuals choosing the wrong course and triggering The Streisand Effect.  While our emotional response to something false or misleading might be to take that course, the smarter response is to choose another.  What’s yours?

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Brand Purpose

I was reading a report on lifestyle segmentation and women when I came across a term that I really like: Brand Purpose. I know – if this is what you read for fun, what the heck does your work reading entail?  In any event, the term comes from the folks at Harbinger Communications and it’s so of their USP – Unique Selling Proposition. They define it thusly:

Brand purpose is the ownable, actionable impact the brand will make on the lives of the target consumers, rooted at the intersection of what the brand offers the world and the consumer’s deepest cares and desires.

There are a couple of things to consider here and I think it isn’t a bad exercise for anyone is business (and, therefore, anyone with a brand) to think about them.  First, what does your brand offer the world?  How is it different from anyone else doing what you do or offering the same type of product or service?  What problems are you solving for your customers?  I’m amazed when I speak to businesses about this how few of them have a very clear notion of the answer to those questions.

Second.  What do you know about your consumer?  You have rams of information at your fingertips about the “what” – what did they buy, what was the average sale, etc.  You might know their basic demography.  But what do you know about their motivations?  What primary research have you done?  What feedback do you get on a regular basis?  The world is no longer “we talk, you listen.”  Brands need to do way more listening than talking.

Finally, how can you “own” the answers to the above?  Can anyone else come in and take your place in the consumer’s mind?  Is your positioning and purpose actionable, or is it just a nice mission statement?  Are you adding genuine value to peoples’ lives or are you just making this month’s sales target?

Something to consider today!

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What Business Hours?

I tried to pay my health insurance premium on Saturday. Even though I have a 31 day grace period, I’m always prompt about sending it in on the due date since I don’t want a sniffle to turn into pneumonia which rapidly becomes bankruptcy.

I’ve been paying the bill online for a year. It’s a pretty easy system. Input the account number, input the invoice number, tell them if you want the money taken from a bank or a credit card and you’re good to go. This time, not so much. With the invoice in my hand I was told the system could not find my information. Oh sure – they knew the group number existed, but not the invoice. Hmm. Maybe using the telephone payment system?

Same result. The automated system couldn’t find my invoice either. No problem. Heck, it’s late morning on a Saturday – let’s call customer service and speak with a human. Um – no. Not until 8am Monday. I guess it hasn’t dawned on this company that people who are at work during the week might like to have an opportunity to speak to customer service when they have an hour to wait on hold and do their business.

So promptly at 8 Monday morning I called. I got right through to an agent who found my invoice without an issue and took my payment. As it turned out their system had a database issue over the weekend which is why it couldn’t process any payments.  Which prompted a couple of thoughts.

If you have critical systems you need to have monitors in place which alert you to failure.  Any web-based client who owns servers has some sort of alert in place to tell them if something is down.  Even more have alerts in place to tell them if something is running slowly, if a DDoS attack is happening, or if any number of other events occur that affects site performance and, therefore, their business.  In this case, the company could not take in revenue.  That’s pretty important.

Doing business when YOU want and not when your customer is ready is so last century.  I realize that implementing automated systems to facilitate that during non-business hours is what the company was doing but failing to monitor and maintain those systems is the same as not having them.  Actually, it may be even worse since it frustrates your customers.

The concept of “business hours” is dead.  Your business is open 24/7.  Maybe it’s just your mind that’s closed?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?