Monthly Archives: February 2015

Generation Whatever

I’m going to sound like a cranky old guy today which may or may not be an apt description of how I’m feeling. Please don’t confuse the tone with the message. I have been thinking for quite a while about this and I guess it’s time to get it off my chest.

I’m sad for an entire group of young people. Without painting with too broad a brush stroke, there seems to be an entire generation of youngsters I’ve been encountering more and more often that I’ve come to call “Generation Whatever.” Let’s call them “GenW” for short. I’d characterize them as “along for the ride.” They do the work that’s asked of them and not much more. They seem way more interested in what’s happening on their phones than what’s going on in front of them. They’re generally not particularly proactive. This has nothing to do with their smarts – many of the GenW’s I’ve encountered are well-educated and pretty intelligent. No, this has to do with attitude.

One of the things about which I’m proud is that I’m a damn good teacher – references available on request.  Over the years I’ve developed a lot of very fine executives and inherent in each of them was a willingness to learn and a desire to improve.  Lately it seems that when I start down the development path with a number of GenW’s I get their stock answer as we discuss where things can get better.

You realize that inputting data that way will make it difficult to search and compile information later? Whatever.

You used a spell-check but didn’t read it yourself so this newsletter copy uses a homophone of the correct word. Whatever.

I’m not talking about slackers here.  They’re generally not goofing off.  They just don’t seem to have any sort of professional attitude.  Perhaps for many of them it’s just their day job – what they do to earn the money that allows them to pursue what they love.  Maybe they were indulged as children and never made to take responsibility.  Maybe I’m just too damn old but I don’t think so.  I’ve discussed my thinking with other professionals 20 years younger than I am and they share the feeling.

Maybe it comes from a world in which version 1.0 of anything is usually riddled with errors and gets continual updating (How do we test software?  We release it!).  Maybe much of the business world has fallen to lower standards so they don’t feel so out of touch.  Maybe they are really perfectionists who are trying to protect themselves from embarrassment, criticism, anger and the withdrawal of love or approval.  I’m not sure and I’m not sure I care.  All is know is that it doesn’t bode particularly well for any of us in business.

Am I off base here?  And PLEASE – any comments of “whatever” are really not appreciated!

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Thoughts From George

Presidents’ Day celebrates the births of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  You might not think of Washington as a successful businessman but he was, even after he left the presidency.  He made rye whiskey in retirement after a career as a tobacco farmer.  Since today is a holiday for many of you, I thought I’d get in the “day off” spirit by reposting something from 2009 that still is good advice – Washington’s, not mine!  

April 30: George Washington becomes the first ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s no surprise that almost 282 years after his birth, George Washington has some business thoughts. Now before you click to the next blog, let’s remember that this is the man who predicted the European Union a long time ago except that he called it the “United States of Europe“. His open letter to the American People, written as he left office, raises themes that are even more true today. He urged Americans to unite for the good of the whole country, to avoid permanent foreign alliances, particularly in Europe, and to keep morality first and foremost in government.

Turns out he had some pretty good business advice as well although I’m not sure he intended it as such. So, let’s follow his advice to “Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive” and look briefly at a few quotes.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.

We’ve discussed that point many times in this space. It’s impossible to do good business while doing bad things.

My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty… it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein.

Right-sizing, in other words, but also giving people responsibility and the freedom to act. I suspect that he knew a lot about conservation and deployment of resources from his time near the Delaware.

Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble.

Oh boy. Is there a better quote to sum up all that has gone down in the housing and mortgage industries? Don’t do bad deals and you’ll sleep better! And finally:

Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.

For whom you work and with whom you do business say a lot about YOU! So Happy Presidents Day and let’s remember the people behind the holiday as well as what they had to say.

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Foodie Friday and this week I have a little video for you.  This one highlights a campaign run by the folks at Intermarché called Inglorious Fruits And Vegetables.  Intermarché is the third largest supermarkets chain in France.  They noticed that there is an awful lot of wasted food – stuff that’s grown but is deemed imperfect or unappealing and which gets tossed.  To fight against this food waste they decided to sell (30% cheaper) the imperfect fruits and vegetables which they called “the inglorious fruits and vegetables”.  Watch the video but the results were amazing:

As one publication put it:

This initiative is a complete success because it’s a win-win-win campaign : consumers get the same quality products for cheaper, the growers get money for products that are usually thrown away and Intermarché increase its business by selling a brand new line of products.

There is a broader business point here.  How many of us reject the imperfect?  Maybe they’re ideas.  Maybe they’re people.  Maybe they’re underperforming assets.  It’s so easy to assume they’re not useful because they don’t fit our current thinking but maybe there us a win-win business proposition lurking somewhere?  Maybe, as some have suggested, that what we see as imperfect is more about us than what it is we’re judging.  Starting with an open mind and a desire to make something work can produce amazing results, just as it seems to have in France.  How can we all apply that thinking to our businesses?  Something to ponder this weekend!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Aligning The Wifi

Suppose you were staying the night at a hotel and got hungry. Let’s say there is a lovely restaurant down the block and you wander out to sate your hunger pangs. As you walk over you realize a game you wanted to watch comes on in 20 minutes so you get the order to go figuring you’ll eat in the room.  You turn on the game and unwrap your food when there’s a knock on the door. It’s hotel security who confiscates your food. “We have room service here, and if you want to eat you’ll use our service.” Ridiculous?

Substitute “high-speed wi-fi” for “food” and it’s true. There is an ongoing battle in the lodging world over charging guests for wi-fi and forcing them to use it by blocking guests’ access to the guests’ own hotspots. No, I’m not kidding.  You might have read about the FCC fining Marriott $600,000 for blocking guests’ hotspots in their convention centers.  I can tell you from personal experience with clients that hotels force you to use their service (and it’s not cheap and not good) in their convention halls even when you have your own.  We can argue the merits of the hotels’ case (it’s expensive to provide, they’re not running a charity, etc) but there is a broader business point.

This is yet another case where a company’s interest and a customer’s interests are not aligned.  That has to impact the value proposition to the customer.  Contrast the hotels’ thinking with Amazon’s.  This from a shareholder letter:

 I think long-term thinking squares the circle. Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.

We need to take every opportunity to align our interests and those of our customers.  The $10 “resort fee” (since when is mid-town DC a resort?) we charge today may be the last revenues we ever take in from the disgruntled customer.  Foregoing it is an investment in my book.  Yours?

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Creepy Or Helpful?

Have you heard that your car is spying on you? Maybe you’re willing to write it off to “oh, so is my phone, my smart TV, my thermostat, etc.” Maybe you’re concerned. If you don’t know anything about it, you can read this piece and learn a little but in a nutshell many late-model cars collect and transmit a lot of information. As the article states:

The information collected includes where drivers have been, like physical location recorded at regular intervals, the last location they were parked, distances and times traveled, and previous destinations entered into navigation systems. A host of diagnostic data on the car is also captured.

This may be a serious issue or it may be just the latest soapbox onto which politicians and others will vault.  Oddly, the concern many people have is less about the cars’ gathering and disseminating data and more about the fact that bad guys could hack into the car and take control from afar.  Nevertheless, I think it raises a good business thought for all of us.  Think this through with me.

  • You get an email from your car manufacturer.  It tells you that based on thousands of other cars  just like yours there is data collected in the past two weeks that says your fuel injection system is failing and to go to the dealer.  You have seen no evidence of problems.  Creepy or helpful?
  • You receive an envelope in the mail from your insurance company notifying you that your premiums are dropping because you have a history of driving near the speed limit and you maintain safe distances from cars around you.  Creepy or helpful?

I think you get the point.  Engineers design these cars, they love data, and what works from an engineering perspective might creep out civilians. We face that issue in marketing with all kids of data gathering.  I think we realize that the data we gather from shoppers – hopefully with their permission and knowledge – are something  shoppers are becoming more willing to offer as long as they reap some benefits.  I think many of us who frequent the web for shopping are long over the creepy factor of personalization although I suspect it’s still pretty prevalent when data from off the web drives marketing messages.

So the answer in my mind is this.  It’s never been easier to track someone and what they are doing.  What we buy, where we drive, with whom we communicate and just about everything else are all readily available data points.  People want promotions and they want emails that are relevant to them.  We can’t, however, allow our desires to be helpful (and to sell something) cross that line into creepy.  We do that when consumers are unaware of what we gather and how it’s going to be used.  I may love my lower insurance rate but I might not be happy when my rates go up if I don’t know the car is sending data to the manufacture who is collecting money from the insurers for the data.

Where do you stand?  Creepy or helpful?

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We’re Getting There

I’m remiss on mentioning a report that came out a couple of weeks back from the Teradata folks.  They surveyed 1,506 marketers in enterprises around the world and across all industries about how they’re using data in business decision-making. It’s an update of a survey they did in mid-2013 and my immediate response to it is that as marketers we seem to be getting there.  Where?

Let’s look at some of the results and I’ll explain my response.

  • Marketers have more than doubled their use of data-driven marketing in the past 18 months. 78 percent of marketers now use data systematically, versus 36 percent in 2013.
  • Marketers however still struggle with individualizing offers and communication. Only 50 percent routinely apply data to engage consumers. 44 percent admit a lack of consistency in omni-channel marketing. And 80 percent say that silos within Marketing prevent them from knowing how campaigns are performing across different channels.
  • 43 percent of marketers say they now control their company’s customer data (up from 34 percent in 2013). And a vast majority (83 percent) say they take an omni-channel approach to reaching customers.
  • 84 percent agree that making marketing and IT into strategic partners is vital.
  • 92 percent agree that integrating data across teams can improve customer service.

The report focuses quite a bit on marketing personalization.  Those are things such as the emails you might get from Amazon after you’ve browsed and item but not bought or the “suggested for you” content you often see as you surf.  Frankly, I often find that to be more annoying than helpful (and often bordering on creepy).  But that isn’t the point today.

One thing I’ve often found difficult in working with clients is getting them to put aside their beliefs and to focus on the facts contained with the data.  Don’t take that to mean that I think decisions should always be taken on the basis of what the numbers show us.  I don’t.  I do, however, believe that we must use the data as a guide along with our experience.  That’s why I say that “we’re getting there.”  Doubling the use of data is encouraging and the higher levels of data integration found in decision-making is a bright spot.

Your thoughts?

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A Lesson From Big Al

Foodie Friday, and our food fun this week comes from a restaurant in which I’ve never eaten but of which I am a customer. A very happy customer, actually, and my happiness is all due to an excellent lesson in customer care.

Big Al’s BBQ & Catering is located in Raleigh. As Al’s website proclaims:

We aren’t the cheapest Carolina BBQ vendor, but we guarantee freshness and award-winning flavors you can’t find anywhere. Period. Come eat with us, or call in and order out! We’ll pack your plate just fine.

Honestly, I’ve not done that. What I have done is to order merchandise from him. You see, my Dad is also called Big Al and I thought it would be a fun surprise to send him a shirt and a hat bearing the Big Al name and logo.  I placed an online order and entered my parents’ address for shipping.  After a week when I hadn’t received an excited call from Florida I began to wonder about the status of my order.  It was then that I noticed the receipt said “local pickup” meaning they were waiting for me to walk into their store and grab the goods.

I emailed the address from which the receipt came explaining that there had been a mix-up.  Within 20 minutes I had a note back from Al himself explaining that he had tried to text me (I had used a land line on the order) to ask about shirt color and was glad I had sent the note.  Here is where the lesson begins.

A quick exchange of emails to furnish the correct shipping address concluded with Al saying “I’ll get that out to you.”  No long explanation, no haggling over if the error was on my end or on his.  Just “I’ll get that out to you. ”  This morning, I received a text – “Going to ship your Dad’s package this morning priority mail…I am picking up the freight for all your troubles.”

If you take one thing away from the roughly 1,700 screeds I’ve written I hope it’s the rock-solid focus on the customer Al demonstrated.  Heck, I’m some schlub from out-of-state that ordered a shirt and hat.  I’m not going to be coming in weekly for food.  Al treated me as I assume he does everyone – with respect, an assumption that the customer is right, and a willingness to go the extra mile.

If you are ever near Raleigh I hope you’ll hit Big Al’s for a meal.  Order out if you can.  Tell your friends to go. Even if you have other dining plans, do me a favor and swing by and let him know you admire his customer-centric focus.  I sure do. I wonder if he can ship ribs to Connecticut?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints