I bought tickets to see Bob Seger last week. The concert is still a few months away but I’m a fan of his music and this might be the last time he tours. One of my favorite Bob Seger songs is “Feel Like A Number.” It was written in 1978 and yet it is incredibly prescient about how things are today.
What prompted that thought is this statement from a piece of research issued by the CMO Council:
One issue plaguing many organizations is a sense that in the race to master data and harness the power of the marketing technology stack, the customer, and perhaps an understanding of human relationships, has been lost. In fact, 41 percent of respondents admit that focusing on the relationship being built instead of the campaign being deployed, has been a key challenge. Nearly one-third admit that they sometimes forget that their “targets” are human beings.
It’s part of a study called Bringing a Human Voice to Customer Choice. It really should be called “The Root Of The Problem” since it strikes me that forgetting we’re dealing with humans is really the primary cause of so many issues businesses have. They’re customers, not accounts. They’re not phone calls to be cleared as quickly as possible but consumers with a problem that needs to be solved. They’re not employees, they’re co-workers and humans who go home to their families each night just as you do.
Business is all about data today but when was the last time you had a relationship with a database? It’s easy to be seduced by data but it’s also easy to miss the nuances that focusing on individuals can yield. Do you really understand what problem people are trying to solve by using your product or service or are you relying on “the numbers” to show you something that number can’t really show?
Sing Seger’s couplet to yourself every once in a while:
I’m not a number
Dammit I’m a man
It’s an important reminder and gets to the root of the problem, don’t you think?
I have to admit it – I’m a sucker for the major award shows. Watching the Oscars last night made me think about some of the “awards” many companies give themselves. You can usually find them talking about them as they sell themselves. You know the drill:
We have world-class customer service
Our employee benefits are the best in our field
Our products are cutting-edge
And on and on. Now, having come from the sales world I’m not necessarily averse to a little hyperbole, but there is a line, one which is often crossed because there aren’t any standards. It’s an issue that affects businesses in a lot of ways, some small and some pretty egregious. It’s often the small ways – the little white lies we tell ourselves in planning or product meetings – that lead to the big ways – the hyperbole we broadcast in our marketing and set false expectations among customers, partners, vendors, and others.
Think about the differences between Consumer Reports and Amazon reviews. Consumer Reports has rigorous testing standards. It maintains editorial independence and accepts no advertising in the magazine. It buys the products it reviews and pays retail prices for them. While they’ve been sued over bad reviews they’ve never lost a case. Their reviews are objective and all products in a category are held to the same standards.
Compare that to Amazon or Yelp or Google reviews. The reviewer has no objective standards for the most part. They have no idea if common standards for a product category exist nor how to measure or apply them. The JD Power surveys try to aggregate the consumer point of view in a way that reduces personal bias which is better than pure subjective reviews. After all, who hasn’t felt like broadcasting a bad review of something to the world? Maybe the product was fine but you had a nasty experience with customer service so you trash the product as well on your review.
Many businesses do the same thing in their marketing. They don’t use objective standards and end up setting false expectations. I think many industries would do themselves a favor by objectively assessing how well individual brands meet reasonable performance expectations. I remember we used to take an annual survey of media buyers in the TV industry. On the face of it, we did a good job of assessing ourselves and our competitors objectively. The truth was many of the sales guys knew when the survey was being fielded and would wine and dine the buyers to make sure we got good reviews. Subjective standards don’t work.
How do you market yourself? Do you have enough information about your performance on an objective basis? Can you get some?
This Foodie Friday, it was an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that got me thinking:
My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.
OK, so what does that have to do with food and, of course, with business? These days, much like Rodney’s psychiatrist, everyone’s a critic. There is a huge problem with that since constructive criticism implies that the critic knows something about the subject. Unfortunately, with the internet offering everyone with an opinion a place to express that opinion, the assumption that the critic knows anything about the subject is often proven to be completely wrong.
Think about a professional restaurant critic. They dine out several times a week at a minimum. They are exposed to many different types of cuisine and usually many different chefs cooking each type of those cuisines. They can distinguish between types of pizza or BBQ and write knowledgeably about what makes one execution better than another. Before they write about a place they will usually dine there a few times both so they can sample more of the menu and to make sure that their impressions with respect to service and the dishes are correct.
Now take your typical Yelp reviewer. They may go to a place once. Their experience with many cuisines is limited and the examples that they’ve sampled might not actually be representative of a great execution (think someone who stumbles on to real Chinese food vs. the American Chinese food served nearly everywhere). Maybe they had to wait 10 minutes past their reservation time and got angry so they wrote a bad review. In short, they often criticize based on limited information and out of spite, exactly the opposite of what any constructive criticism should be.
As a reader trying to figure out where to go for dinner, I look for a second opinion. One thing I do is to only look at the 1- or 2-star reviews. Generally, they have very little in common with one another which tells me that they might have been posted out of anger or a single bad experience. Maybe everyone thinks the desserts are awful but since I don’t eat dessert that’s not relevant to me. When things are apparent across the bad reviews, I trust that information. Ignore the false criticism and get a second opinion.
It’s the same in business. You can’t just listen to the praise directed at you, of course. You need to hear the criticism so you can grow. That said, you need a second opinion much of the time. Don’t take it personally, don’t listen to the tone but only to the words, and ask yourself what you can learn. Then go ask someone you trust – someone with enough experience both with you and your work – about the validity of the bad review.
Yes, opinions are like asses in that everyone has one. But they’re not all created equal. Get second opinions before you make changes, just as a smart restaurateur does. Value the informed critics and ignore the trolls. Can you do that?