Monthly Archives: March 2016

Eye Wanna Scream

I had an appointment with the eye doctor this morning.  It was a familiar experience, one that I wrote about 2.5 years ago in a post called Eye Yi Yi. Not a thing has changed – not the timing, not the staff ignoring patients and chatting over coffee, nothing.  I reread what I wrote then and it still applies.  I wish the doctor himself wasn’t one of the best eye docs in the state.  While the exam went longer this time, the principles haven’t. Great docs obviously don’t make great business experiences.  We can learn from this, however, no matter what our business might be!

Nothing like a bad customer experience with a medical professional to begin one’s day on a happy note!  OK, so I don’t wear sarcasm well, but it’s either snark or anger (it’s a fine line!) so I’m going with the former.  Let’s get your take.

English: A human eye after the pupil was dilat...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I generally schedule my medical appointments early.  In fact, I try to be the first appointment of the day if possible.  In theory (and today proves it’s JUST a theory), I should be able to get in and out quickly so the entire day isn’t disrupted.  As it turned out this morning, not so much.  However, it is a nice lesson on how not to treat your customers.

The doc opens up at 8 which is the time of my appointment.  I present myself on time, walk to the reception desk, and am greeted with…nothing.  Oh, the receptionist is there, but she’s arranging papers, printing out forms (and not the day’s calendar of appointments – that’s sitting in front of her), and generally doing her best to ignore me.  After a minute or so, there’s a mumbled “I’ll be right with you”.  Three minutes later (I only know because it was 5 after 8 when she spoke to me) I get a “yes?”  OK, so I get it’s a little weird that I’m noticing how long I’m waiting, but remember the premise:  first in, no waiting, out quickly.

I tell her “I’m Keith.”  “Last name?”  My immediate response:  “the schedule is right in front of you. How many people named Keith are scheduled to be here at 8?” stayed inside my brain while I told her.  “Have a seat.”  8:06

I know who is going to examine me and she’s right there in the office.  Chatting and drinking coffee.  For the next 10 minutes.  8:16 is when I was called into the exam room.  I don’t generally bill by the quarter-hour, but if I did, these folks would now owe me more than I’ll owe them for the appointment.  It was a 5-minute eye exam, and when I asked about some results she informed me she didn’t have my chart because the doctor had it at his house.  Oh.  But he’d be right in. OK.

5 minutes later, in walks the doctor, chartless.  Looks at the results of the exam, takes a quick look at my eyes, and says he’ll call me but if he doesn’t I should call him to discuss the results.  Visit over.

Here are my takeaways that I think apply to any business:

  • An appointment is something that’s binding on both you and your customer.  You expect them to be there on time, you need to be as well.  I totally get that people might be delayed due to traffic or other issues.  Which leads to the second point.
  • When you break the above agreement, a little apology is called for.  I got none.
  • The person greeting customers (and patients are customers!) needs to be personable and customer-focused.  Grumpy, even first thing in the morning, is never acceptable.
  • When you are not prepared, don’t put the onus on your customer to fix your mistake.  Not having the chart is your problem – don’t make it mine by asking me to call you.
  • Finally, no customer should ever leave your business angry.  Not ever.

Maybe I’m overreacting, but compare it to yesterday’s experience.  I walked in at the required time and within 5 minutes I was out of the waiting room (in the middle of the day in a busy office) and into an exam.  Well-run businesses are easy to spot!

That’s my take – what’s yours?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?


I read a lot of articles every day.  OK, the truth be told, I skim a lot of articles every day (usually over 1,000).  I read far fewer.  A few things struck  me as I rolled through my RSS reader this morning (I use Feedly).  The first is the repetitive nature of reporting.  Once something is said on one site it seems to show up within a few minutes on another.  The repetition isn’t limited to cross-site activity either.  Many sites will publish the same material again an hour after they first do so.  I’m not sure if they’re A/B testing headlines or what but to me, it’s just clutter and noise.

Another thing that struck me is the sensationalist nature of many of the headlines.  I totally understand the need to stand out in the cluttered media worlds through which my feed orbits, but there is a huge problem with it: distraction.  The headline might be screaming “fire” but as you dig into the article you inevitably find that it discusses the possibly of a fire if several unlikely scenarios occur.  The real issue for many of us is less about the time we waste reading the article than it is the repercussions that ensue from people who don’t.

Think about how often a higher up in your company or a client reads the headline (or worse yet, hears about it from someone else) and pings you for information.  Maybe it’s a chain of emails (each of which takes time to craft) or maybe it’s a phone call or two.  It’s a fire drill that takes time away from the things on which we should be focused.  They’re neither urgent nor important. They’re a distraction.

I don’t love the screaming headlines.  They lead to fire drills which lead to distracted, nervous businesspeople.  It’s a truism that we can’t chase everything nor solve every perceived or potential problem.  I try to scrape off the hype, find the facts, measure them against my current goals, strategies, and tactics.  At that point, I can either toss it (which is usually what happens) or update my thinking.  I don’t get distracted.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Home Base

I had a potential client ask me if having a website was still a big deal or if it was a good strategy to use the plethora of platforms to engage with consumers. I have a strong feeling about that, and it’s that digital homelessness is a really bad idea. Let me explain why.

I’ll deal with facts before I get into my opinion (as I’ve encouraged you folks to do many times here on the screed). Let me quote from a Digiday article of last November:

Referral traffic (desktop + mobile) to the top 30 Facebook publishers…plunged 32 percent from January to October, according to SimpleReach, a distribution analytics company. The more reliant the publisher on Facebook, the bigger the hit: Among the top 10, the drop was a steeper 42.7 percent.

Those results line up with those from social traffic tracker SimilarWeb. It found that The Huffington Post’s Facebook traffic fell 60.1 percent, Fox News’ dropped 48.2 percent, and BuzzFeed’s Facebook visits fell 40.8 percent. Across all 50, the biggest drop in traffic in the period took place from January to February, when publishers’ Facebook traffic fell an average of 75 percent. There was a smaller but also significant drop from March to April.

Maybe it was an algorithm shift, maybe it was that the publishers weren’t offering content that was click-worthy.  That proves my point – you can’t know.  If it was the former, you’re at the mercy of a gatekeeper.  I’m not singling out Facebook – Instagram just went to an algorithmically determined feed, as has Twitter.  The point is that without a home base you are at their mercy.  Why?  Because you can’t market for yourself.  “Like Us On Facebook” does a world of good for Facebook and little for you, in my opinion, because while a consumer might like you, they might never see you.

Yes, you can buy ads on any of the aforementioned platforms to drive traffic.  Is that any different from buying search ads?  I think it is.  Search is targeted differently and can be better integrate with site analytics than can any outside platforms.  Putting that aside, with so much in our business lives out of our control, why would we give up anything that can be completely ours?  Having a well-designed and maintained website – a home base on the web – is one of those things.  That’s how I see it.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Thinking Aloud

Your Kitchen

It’s Foodie Friday! It’s no secret that I watch a bunch of cooking shows. In all candor, most of them are wonderful displays of individual talent but really don’t teach us much about the real food world. Nor are they extendable into business thinking, which is what we like to do here on the screed.

Chefs in training in Paris, France (2005).

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The real challenge in a professional restaurant kitchen is coordination and teamwork. Other than Hell’s Kitchen and the annual restaurant wars episode of Top Chef, we rarely get a sense of how difficult that teamwork can be. It does neither the quality of the product nor the business any good to have the meats sitting under a heat lamp while the garnish is being prepared. Obviously, it’s the chef who must oversee the coordination and foster communication, but it’s also the individual cooks.

You probably know that most kitchens have a line and there are various stations in that line. Meats, fish, salads, etc. generally come from different cooks. If one line cook is struggling, the entire process can break down. The cooks need to be organized, making sure to have all the materials they will be needing ready to go. They need to be able to multitask – handling several different items at once. That requires training, practice, and supervision.

Your business isn’t any different. As “the chef” overseeing my “brigade” in the non-food businesses in which I worked, I never felt as if I had to be able to jump on to any station.  By that I mean that no boss needs to be able to handle every job as well as the people doing them each day.  We do, however, need to recognize when there is a problem and ask the right questions to make the problem go away.  Just as a chef can’t make excuses for a slow line cook (train them, move them to a different station, or fire them), no manager can deflect blame for very long.  After all, it’s your kitchen!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

A Thought About Budgeting

Where are you in your annual planning cycle?  The end of March always seemed to be a time when I would have to begin looking at marketing budgets for the upcoming fiscal, so I had a thought you might want to keep in the back of your mind if you’re entering the process now.  It will be worth thinking about if you plan later on as well.

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of us spend a lot of time looking at the plethora of marketing channels available to us.  Mass media such as TV, more personalized media such as social, and very specific, time-based media such as search tend to dominate our thinking.  That’s the pattern I see with many of my clients at least, and it might be where you are as well.  It’s probably misguided thinking, however.  The reality is that how our customers want us to communicate with them is via email:

MarketingSherpa commissioned an online survey that was fielded August 20-24, 2015 with a nationally representative sample of U.S. consumers. We asked consumers, “In which of the following ways, if any, would you prefer to receive regular updates and promotions from companies that you are interested in doing business with? Please select all that apply.”

After summing up the numbers of consumers who prefer email at a frequency chosen by themselves and email at a frequency set by brand, email emerges as the most preferred way to receive updates and promotions (60%). Notably, subscribing to receive emails at a frequency consumers choose is twice as popular (49%) as subscribing to receive email at a company’s pre-determined frequency (24%).  Email is perhaps unexpectedly followed by snail mail (49%), leaving visiting the company’s website in third place (38%).

In other words, we need to stop thinking in terms of what’s new or what’s sexy and focus on our customers’ wishes.  While you’re spending your time trying to get them to follow you on social media (where the algorithms of the services will probably hide your message anyway), your customers are reading something meaningful.  You should be spending your time – and resources – on re-engaging your email database, building up open and response rates, not blasting out messages that fall on deaf ears.

Something to think about?

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One of the most basic principles of selling is that when a customer wants to give you money, take it. Take it as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. Any delay or friction is a chance for the customer to reconsider and for you to lose the sale. I saw this in action yesterday and it’s instructive for all of us.

English: Golf balls.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s almost golf season. Rotten golfer and cheap person that I am, I generally buy “recycled” golf balls for my non-tournament play. These are balls that some intrepid soul fished out of a water hazard (nasty work as this article shows) and which are cleaned up and sold by any number of websites. I usually purchase 8 or 10 dozen before the season begins and since I had a couple of discount coupons in my mailbox, I logged on to the site from which I’ve made several purchases before.  I put my purchases in my shopping cart and went to log in so I could check out quickly.  My login credentials are stored in a password manager, which filled in the user name and password automatically.  Unlike the other few times I’ve used the site, a box popped up letting me know that my credentials would be shared with Hubspot, a well-known CRM system.  That’s when the fun began.

I suspect it had to do with the use of a third-party cookie, but I couldn’t log in.  I was told my information was incorrect (it wasn’t) and they couldn’t log me in.  Sure, I could have called their phone number (listed right on the cart – props for that) but who knows how long that would take.  I also could have checked out as a guest, but then I needed to find my credit card and type in all the billing and shipping information that was already on file.  In short, they’d created friction in the sales process, and at the very worst moment to boot.  What was worse is that a chat window popped up (more CRM) asking me if I was finding everything I needed?  I responded immediately, explained the situation and was greeted by a reply that stated “Matt” (the name that popped up) would be with me shortly.  At that point “shortly” was too long.

Since I had a coupon for another site that offered the same balls at a lower price and a 15% discount along with free shipping, I ordered from the competition. Sure, I had to type in the information but at least now I was getting a better price.  While I was willing to pay a bit more to do business with a site I knew in a seamless manner, when it became a hassle, thereby lowering the value, price became an issue.  Interestingly, about an hour later I received an email (automated) asking me if I had forgotten something since there were items in my shopping cart.  I responded to the customer service address with a shorter version of what you’re reading.  Maybe I should have charged them for the consulting?

These guys did a lot of things right.  Their site is  helpful and easy to navigate.  The pricing and costs of shipping are clear.  They clearly are using CRM and lots of it.  But they failed at the most important time. Selling is hard but the process isn’t.  Explain how you’re solving the customer’s problem.  Provide them with great value for the cost.  When they agree, take their money, say thank you, and leave them alone. Prevent friction, provide support.  You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Call First

Do your friends just show up at your house around supper time?  Do any of them knock on your door unannounced as the game is starting so they can watch on your big screen TV and drink your beer?  I suspect most of them don’t.  It’s common courtesy to call first, isn’t it?  Even those folks who might have a standing invitation of sorts will generally do so, if for no other reason than to see if you’re home. 

I find it interesting, therefore, that many marketers don’t think about the same common courtesy.  That thought came to mind as I read the latest State Of Content report from the Adobe folks.  You can read the whole thing here (pdf), and there is a lot to digest.

Consumers understand the benefit of content recommendations, as long as those recommendations respect privacy. In the US, 73% believe they are meant to enhance the viewing experience. At the same time, 62% believe they don’t respect privacy.  In other words, sure, you’re a friend but you’re also showing up without calling.  Most Americans who use digital media (82%) are comfortable with sharing at least one piece of information about themselves in order to improve the recommendations they see. In other words, CONSUMERS ARE WILLING TO SHARE INFORMATION, BUT EXPECT RETURN ON VALUE.

Calling first means making the consumer comfortable about data collection. Those who are uncomfortable with predictive recommendations believe companies can do something about it, and the biggest thing companies could do is to ask permission to collect their data.  That’s why 63% trust content from a friend or family member and only 23% feel the same about content from a company whose products they don’t buy.

So how about it?  Are you calling first, or are you just showing up?


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Filed under digital media