Monthly Archives: May 2016


The Memorial Day weekend gave me a little time to get caught up on some reading. Some of what I was reading were analytics reports (I know – get a life) and while I very much appreciate the cycle of continual improvement Google fosters within their analytics product, that cycle yields a continuously growing amount of data. The problem that I have isn’t so much understanding what I’m reading but trying to figure out why any of it matters to my clients. I also spend time figuring out which of the numbers are lying to me. 

It’s no secret that there are an awful lot of bad actors in the digital world. Once it becomes clear how fraud is detected those bad actors move on to another form. If viewability is important, they create sites where there is 100% viewability but no content of any value. I had a client get all excited about an increase in referral traffic until I pointed out that most of that traffic was coming as a result of referrer spam. When we filtered it out, traffic was flat. Another prospect got excited by the large “stickiness” – time on site and pages viewed – that her site has. They were impressive until you filtered out the IP addresses of her employees, who spent hours a day on the site.

Silly things, I know, but it points to a common problem. An IDG study of a couple of years ago pointed out that nearly half of marketers said they struggle to make sense of the vast amount of data they get. The other half thinks they know what the numbers mean, yet many of their plans are built to achieve unrealistic metrics. The problem is compounded by what the paper identifies as the accuracy problem I mentioned above:

Why is data accuracy still such a big issue? One possible reason is a lack of investment in a defined data management process that includes ongoing, consistent data migration, data maintenance, quality control and governance. Too often data is held and managed in multiple organizational silos. This results in inconsistency, duplication, gaps and errors.

So while “garbage in, garbage out” isn’t a particular revelation, it does serve as an excellent reminder to take out the trash as best you can while compiling all of that data.  You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

It’s Not Just The Burger

This Foodie Friday, the topic is Fast Food. Specifically, we’re going to see what we can learn from the rankings of fast food chains in the latest Temkin Ratings Report. What the heck are the Temkin Ratings?

English: McDonalds' sign in Harlem.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Temkin Experience Ratings are based on consumer feedback of their recent interactions with companies. We asked consumers to rate three components of the experience, Success, Effort, and Emotion, on a 7-point scale. For each component, we take the percentage of consumers that gave a rating of 6 or 7 and subtract the percentage that gave a rating of 1, 2, or 3. This results in a “net goodness” rating for each of the three components. The overall Temkin Experience Rating is an average of the three “net goodness” percentages.

In other words, they’re measuring if customers could do what they wanted to do, how easy it was to complete the interaction and their overall feelings about the interaction. In this case, it might be if the chain had the food item you wanted or prepared it the way you asked, was there a long wait or other impediment to you getting you food, and how pleasant the experience was.

Here is the business paradox and perhaps a learning. McDonald’s and Burger King didn’t do very well. In fact, as one site reported:

McDonald’s ranked dead-last among fast-food restaurants in the report, but there must be a masochistic streak among American consumers. Though the restaurant remains one of “the most commonly disliked fast-food establishments” in the U.S., last month Nation’s Restaurant News reported that McDonald’s is also the most-visited chain in the country.

So here is the question.  McDonald’s has placed a lot of emphasis on improving the menu – healthier items, more organic ingredients – and they now offer their popular breakfast items all day.  Sales are much better, and revenue and profits are two critical boxes on the scorecard in business.  I get that.  However, maybe they should have been spending more time improving the customer experience.  I can’t imagine that there is any sense of loyalty here.  The ratings seem to indicate that consumers go to McDonald’s either because it’s cheap or convenient and not out of any sense of enjoyment.  I don’t see that as a formula for long-term customer retention.

The thing for us to remember is that customers aren’t looking at your balance sheet.  They look at the product or service as well as the totality of their interaction with you.  If you’re not measuring and taking those things into account as you compile the financials, you’re probably missing a critical part as you analyze the health or your business.  Make sense?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Ignoring 9 Out Of 10

I realize I’ve spent the first couple of posts this week on the topic of companies being less than responsive to customers. I was chatting about this with someone yesterday and they asked me if I really thought the two cases I cited were the norm.  After all, he said, how can companies really expect this kind of behavior to remain quiet when every person is a publisher?

Sprout Social

Sprout Social

Precisely my point, but since when does common sense prevail?  In fact, companies are getting worse at being responsive.  Maybe it’s just the increase in volume, maybe it’s the ease with which customers can reach out, but the common sense solution of staffing up and training to handle the increased load is nowhere to be found.  Since we believe in fact-based statements here, these facts are from Sprout Social:

90% of people surveyed have used social in some way to communicate directly with a brand. What’s more, social surpasses phone and email as the first place most people turn when they have a problem or issue with a product or service, according to Sprout’s consumer survey. Following this trend, The Sprout Index shows that the number of social messages needing a response from a brand has increased by 18%over the past year. In spite of the high volume of messages that require a response, brands reply to just 11% of people (a number that’s been stuck in neutral since 2015).

11%, meaning brands are ignoring 89% of the messages sent to them as consumers reach out. I guess they’re too busy misusing social media and other responsive channels as megaphones (so 1995) since the research found that brands send promotional messages out 23 times as often as they respond to a customer message. It’s not just social that requires our attention.  August 2015 research from Nice Systems and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that internet users in major metro areas worldwide used an average of 5.6 customer service channels.

I can hear you rubbing your temples as the headache comes on.  How will you support your customers in those places when you might be ignoring 9 out of 10 customer interactions now?  Beats me, but the question needs to be answered, and the organizations that do so will be the ones that win.  Make sense?


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Kicking The Curb

The government is one of everyone’s favorite punching bags. It really doesn’t matter where on the political spectrum you fall. The government is the target of an angry rant and/or much headshaking at some point. Today’s topic is a great example of that and it’s instructive to business as well. No, I haven’t reconsidered my self-imposed ban on politics in this space. This has nothing to do with politics and a lot to do with things such as management, customer service, and accountability.

English: A flat automobile tire. Français : Un...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The town in which I live just installed new curbs on Main Street. The new curbs, which meet federal and state standards, are made of granite for their durability (lots of salt and snow plows on the roads here in New England). They also have really sharp edges which, as documented in this article from a local blog shows, have been shredding tires. No, driving on the curb isn’t normal here, but parallel parking is, and apparently there have been many cases of the curbs cutting down tires as the tires bump into them.  The government’s response?

The granite curbs used on Main Street are the same material and construction that is used throughout Connecticut and meets state and federal specifications.  Because it is cut stone it does have a sharper edge than asphalt or concrete. It is a chosen material because of it hardness and resilience to salt. It can stand up to New England winters with routine snow plowing and application of salt. The curb is not intended to be driven upon and will not damage a tire on routine contact.

In other words, not my problem.  We’re following the rules and despite the fact that the rules have caused the citizens (read customers) whom we serve to suffer flat tires, it’s your fault.  Quit hitting the curb. Rather than thinking about how to round the edges and to solve the problem, the government official is thinking about how to blame the victim.

You might be shaking your head about this (as you should) but business does the same thing. Rather than fixing customer problems we look to shift blame.  We do things such as ask customers to sign lengthy agreements written in legalese in which they waive rights.  We impose hidden fees which are only clearly disclosed when someone complains. I can’t wait to hear the Downtown Merchants Association (a local business group), who will lose business as customers choose other places to park (and shop) weigh in on the topic of how the nicer new curbs have “helped” make downtown more attractive to business.

I happen to believe there is a valuable role for government to play in our lives (so do you every time you call a cop or report a fire or drive on a road). I don’t think there is a place for any business – government included – to ignore its customers nor to leave obvious problems unsolved.  You?

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I Got Trucked

I rented a cargo van and that’s when the fun started. I mentioned in another post that we’re preparing to sell Rancho Deluxe and part of the process is cleaning out 30 years of stuff. I booked a cargo van through Enterprise, a company from which I’ve rented cars in the past without issue. They confirmed my reservation but just to be safe I went to the local lot and examined the vehicle I was renting a week ahead of time to be sure it would serve my needs. It was fine.

At 2pm the day of the rental I got a call from Enterprise asking if I was indeed coming to pick it up. I said yes, the reservation is for 5:30 and that’s when I’ll be there. I asked if there was an issue. The guy on the phone said no, we have a van, it’s just not the one you saw. Hmm. Is it the same size? “No, it’s a little shorter.” “You mean less tall because I need height to get some items in?” “No, the length is less.” OK, not an issue.

5:30 comes and I go to get the van. It is quite nice but a miniature version of what I rented. It was no bigger than a minivan or large SUV, and not at all satisfactory for my needs. The customer service rep was very apologetic, informing me that the person who rented it last hadn’t brought it back, they’d been working all day to find me another one, etc. All well and good, but it’s 5:40, most other rental places have closed or will close in the next 20 minutes, and I need a van.

What’s the business lesson? First and foremost, be honest with your customers. Obviously, they knew there was an issue at 2 when they called. Why not be honest? I’ve been on the other end of this, running the NHL’s online commerce. One year we were completely out of hockey jerseys and the inventory system failed to turn off new orders. I told the customer service reps to be honest – we would not be able to fulfill the orders by Christmas and if the customers didn’t want a credit then a full refund should be offered. More than that, I asked our commerce folks to be proactive and contact the people immediately, since it is unacceptable that some kid wouldn’t get a gift due to our faulty inventory management.

Had they been open about the problem at 2, it would have given me 3 hours to find a replacement. They were also dishonest about the size of the replacement. It had nowhere close to the cargo capacity of what I rented. No, I didn’t take the replacement Enterprise offered me. I scrambled and was lucky enough to convince a U-Haul dealer to stay open an extra 15 minutes to rent me something like what I rented in the first place. It will cost me a few bucks more but at least I got what I needed.

I’m hoping this was an aberration on Enterprise’s part. As I said above, I’ve rented cars from them before without a hitch. Customers don’t expect perfection but they do expect to be told when there is a problem and to be told what you’re doing to solve it. I wasn’t told there was a problem until it was too late, and what they had done was to throw up their hands when they couldn’t find a replacement in their own inventory (ever hear of an airline rebooking you on another airline? Maybe get one from someone else?). The goodwill you’ll generate by doing so will outweigh the negative of the moment.  You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, What's Going On

Bringing The Heat

This Foodie Friday, let’s bring the heat.  Specifically, let’s talk about hot peppers.  Many people, myself included, enjoy spicy food.  The problem with cooking food that brings the heat is that what’s hot to me might not be hot enough for you.  Now that I think of it, the opposite is nearly always true – if I’m happy with the heat in a dish, chances are most of the folks for whom I’m cooking are going to find it hard to eat and enjoy.

This image shows a Habanero chile, which is th...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article from First We Feast summarized it nicely:

A 2013Technomic study showed that 54% of Americans prefer spicy sauces and dips—a number that was and likely still is increasing rapidly. Unlike so many other taste preferences, though, the growth of spice brings with it a prickly issue: How much heat can your tongue handle?

As it turns out research shows that tolerance to hot food is both genetic and a learned habit – you can train yourself to eat hotter food if you’re willing to go through the pain of doing so, and some folks have a head start based on genetics.  “Hot” or “Spicy” is really a subjective term even though a measurement standard exists that make it really easy to tell how much heat is in a dish. Scientists can measure Scoville units to determine how the capsaicin in a pepper or a dish registers as heat.  It’s an objective standard.  Which brings us to the business point today.

Too many of us rely on gut feel – how we perceive things to be – rather than an objective standard.  What seems fine to us might be intolerable to our customers. There is little in business that we can or should do without measuring, even if we can’t test in advance.  That’s not to say that we never should put things out there based on our own tastes, but we need to listen carefully to feedback and be prepared to adjust the seasoning.  It’s fine to bring the heat in any product or business, but let’s remember that some folks can’t stand any heat and will go running from our kitchens if we’re not paying attention.

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Filed under Consulting, food

Publisher : Cavete

Sometimes I look at what’s going on in publishing as if someone was whispering the Springsteen lyric in management’s ear:

Those romantic young boys, they’re callin’ through the window
Hey, Spanish Johnny, you want to make a little easy money tonight?

The easy money comes from native advertising, particularly the kind that’s plug and play. Just as in the song, however, there isn’t any easy money that comes without strings attached and some research from Penn State found out just what those strings entail.

The research team found that when content was identified as native advertising, readers held a lower opinion of the media outlet it was published in. However, the reputation of the company being promoted was not affected…“We all have the idea that the news media should be objective and neutral…that’s how it works,” Wu said. “But people may see the media and companies working together to deceive us…so they change their perception toward the media more dramatically. On the other hand, people see that the company is just doing what it’s supposed to, promoting itself.”

The speaker in the quote above is the PhD student who conducted the study. While I certainly understand the importance of revenue generation in an increasingly competitive and difficult marketplace, I also understand the value of a publisher’s reputation. That reputation, like all of ours, takes a long time to establish but can be shattered rather quickly. The loss of trust is fatal for any brand and particularly so for an information service.

Maybe it’s called “native content” or maybe it’s actually identified as “sponsored content” or a “promoted post.”  Either way, it’s generally not immediately identifiable as being from a source different from the main news or information the publisher puts out.  I think most of us dislike being enticed to read something under false pretenses, and part of the decision to invest time in reading involves the quality of the content which is predicated on the source.  When we’re deceived, we’re unhappy, and when we’re unhappy, we don’t return.

Publishers need to beware.  There is no easy money to be made unless you’re in it for the short term and are reputation-agnostic.  Are you?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Huh?