Category Archives: Helpful Hints

Unkept Promises, Ungathered Feedback

Last week I wrote about how a company with which I did business became a source of annoyance. I realize that the odds are slim that they read the piece, especially since they, through a surrogate, managed to do something even more annoying than spam a good customer.

A few days ago, I got an email from a company who was acting on behalf of the golf ball reseller with whom I had done business. The email lead with “We want to hear your opinion. It will take less than 15 seconds” and featured the logo of the reseller. It further stated that the company:

asked us to contact you to hear about your experience regarding your recent order. Your ratings and comments, whether positive or negative, will help improve their customer service. Your review is also valuable information for new customers who are considering shopping with this company. All feedback will be made public, we will not publish your name.

Scrolling down through the mail, I just had to award 1 to 5 stars, which I did. When I hit the link to enter, I was taken to a website which asked me to write a few words of feedback about my transaction. No problem, at least not until I tried to submit my review. You see, the page wouldn’t submit until I had also written a review of each of the three brands of balls I had ordered, leaving stars for each one as well as several words of text. The 15 seconds (actually quite a few more) being up, I closed the browser tab, feedback, rating, and review unsubmitted.

Yet another thing we can’t do in marketing. We can’t make promises that we know won’t be kept. Asking for “15 seconds” of my time is fine. Requiring many more seconds (minutes, actually) under a false pretense isn’t. The feedback I left initially was my opinion (positive, by the way) of the transaction as well as the quality of what I had received. It would have served to encourage people to do business with this company since they deliver what they promise at an excellent value. Instead, they got nothing, because a vendor they had hired put a gun to my head and demanded I write multiple reviews and wouldn’t take what I had written for them until I did so.

It’s a customer-centric world, folks. You can’t turn a happy customer into one that is left with a bad taste in their mouth because of something you want, not the customer. And for goodness sake, don’t promise anything that you won’t deliver, OK?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, Huh?

No Cabbage For The Corned Beef

It’s Foodie Friday as well as St. Patrick’s Day! Most people in the U.S. associate the holiday with food (as well as with drink). Corned beef and cabbage is generally the food we think of here, and frankly, that’s a little weird since it isn’t really Irish. As the father of two lovely Irish-Jewish daughters, however, I can feel good about it since in many ways it represents the commingling of the Irish and Jewish immigrant communities.

English: Closeup view of A lady shoving a cabb...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, corned beef, and beef generally, wasn’t something widely available in Ireland, and you can’t go into a Jewish deli without seeing corned beef on the menu. One explanation is this:

Many maintain that the dish is simply not Irish at all. The close proximity of the Irish and Jewish communities at the time is said to be largely responsible for the popularity of corned beef among the Irish immigrants. According to thekitchenproject.com, when the Irish arrived in America, they couldn’t find a bacon joint like they had in Ireland so they gravitated toward the Jewish corned beef, which was very similar in texture.

I was shopping for my brisket to corn as well as a cabbage yesterday. Despite a huge swath of produce department space having been allocated to cabbages, there wasn’t single cabbage in stock due to a great sale price (I ended up paying 3x the price in the organic department!). The briskets were plentiful although they were packed in those cryovac bags that make it difficult to see through the printed graphics in order to assess the quality of the product.

What’s the business point for you today? First, if you’re running a sale or know that demand will be high due to a holiday, it’s imperative that you have product on hand. Nothing gets a consumer angrier than the lack of product availability. In this case, the store hadn’t procured enough stock to replenish the shelves, even though the item is evergreen, meaning it will still have its regular level of sale after the holiday. Next, make it easy for customers to examine the product. How often do you see an open box in a store where someone has tried to investigate the actual product as opposed to what’s displayed on the box? Frankly, I think one reason online shopping hasn’t completely obliterated the in-store experience is exactly that. People want to see, feel, and smell the product before taking it home. We need to help them! Finally, ask yourself how you can create an experience around the brand or product. It’s easy on a holiday such as this, but marketing needs a push the other 364 days too!

To my Irish friends and relatives, enjoy the day. I’m going to get my brisket going shortly, and I’m going to put bacon in the cabbage to make it a bit more Irish. After all, isn’t authenticity a key marketing asset as well?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

How Do You Know?

There is an old joke about the greatest inventions of all time. The last one mentioned is the thermos, which can keep soup hot on a cold day and water cold on a hot day. When asked why that makes it the greatest invention of all time, the respondent asks “how does it know?”

You probably face that question all the time in your business. How do you know? More specifically, how can you be sure that you’re in touch with what your customers really want? Maybe you think as Steve Jobs did: customers don’t know what they want until you show them. Here’s the unfortunate truth: you’re not Steve. He may have had a wonderfully intuitive gift for understanding what it was that customers wanted (although there are several examples of him being wrong several times along the way) but you probably don’t.

We can’t spend our time in business finding solutions for problems that don’t exist nor can we build products for which there is no demand. You might not have heard of any companies that do that. The reason is that they’re out of business.

We need to listen to our customers and to the market. We don’t need to spend a lot of money to do so. Analytics are a form of listening and the data doesn’t lie. There are numerous free survey tools available. If you have social media presences (and what business doesn’t?), you are getting feedback on a regular basis, as you are if you have commenting turned on for your blog posts. Maybe you have listings on any number of review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. Do you review those for insights into what it is your customers are thinking?

Make stuff people want. Fall in love with your customers and their needs and not with today’s version of what it is you’re offering. Move quickly to get closer to your customers’ ideal product. Ask them about things and listen to the answers. That’s how you know. OK?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

It Just Works

I’m old enough and digital enough to have used the first IBM PC and VisiCalc. It wasn’t the easiest thing to use but it pretty much was the only thing. DOS led to other operating systems, primarily Windows, that enabled all of us to work more efficiently. Well, that is, unless we were busy figuring out why we couldn’t print or why we were suddenly deluged with pop-up ads via malware.

English: IBM Personal Computer model 5150 with...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That was always the biggest appeal of Apple products to me. They just worked. My primary computer is a MacBook Air and the thought of going back to a Windows environment, no matter how good the reviews are on Windows 10, is dismaying. I’ve had to help friends with their Win10 issues and it certainly doesn’t “just work.” Then again, neither does my MacBook any longer. Sure, it’s nice that the OS upgrades every year (for free!) but I find myself diagnosing problems constantly now (wifi drops, SD cards being ejected at random, and more!).

My next computer will be a Chromebook; specifically a Chromebook with a touchscreen that can serve as a tablet. Chromebooks do just work. They are malware free. Think about how you work now. Most of it is probably via a web browser and in the cloud – my work certainly is for the most part. And they’re inexpensive – I can buy two decent Chromebooks for the price of a new MacBook or a touchscreen Windows machine. But what does this have to do with your business?

The bulk of customers wants that “it just works” experience no matter what you’re selling. They want their problems solved with the least hassle and for the best value. Notice I didn’t say for the lowest price. Just as there are high-end Chromebooks costing more than some Apple computers, so too is there a segment of buyer that want the high-end product and can afford to pay more if they perceive better quality, better service, or maybe a boost to their self-esteem (think luxury cars). But that’s not everyone.

If you want to brag about your computer’s specs then Chromebooks probably aren’t for you. Honestly, they’re not for everyone – you can’t do serious gaming or Photoshop or video editing. If you’re the type that likes to tweak your settings until they’re just right, you probably want to stick with something else. You need to think about your business in this context too. Are you for some very specialized, narrow audiences or are you for the bulk of the consumer base? If the latter, I’d suggest you focus on the “it just works” experience because history shows that’s how the best businesses succeed. You with me?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Contacts, Cost, and Value

A few months ago I installed a contact manager app on my phone. I was quite pleased with it; so much so that I also installed a desktop version of the software on my Mac. As you might gather from some of the stuff about which I rant here on the screed, I read fine print pretty carefully. When I did these installs there was no mention of a trial period nor a limit on the number of contacts. It was quite clear that the version I was using had a premium option with more features, but I was just fine with the basics I was getting for free.

Last week, after a few months of use, I got a message when I opened the app that I would have to upgrade since I had over 1,000 contacts. In fact, I have 2,325 and have had that many for nearly all of the time I’ve used the app. The app no longer performs the free basic stuff it did before. The premium version is $100. Per year. No thanks.

I checked out some other contact apps. Some are also $100 a year, some are $100 once, and some are $2. Based on reviews, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between many of them; certainly not a factor of 50 or 100 times with respect to usefulness. Putting aside my anger at my previous app’s misleading and dishonest app store copy which makes no mention of a contact limit, I started to think about one of the most basic business ratios: the cost/value relationship.

Customers assign value based on the benefit they receive – how well you solve their problem – in the context of what it costs them for the solution. Warren Buffett explained it as price being what you pay and value is what you get. Any of us in business need to do that in the context of what other solutions are available and what they charge. A new Lexus and a used Volkswagen but solve the transportation problem but they are only comparable solutions on the most basic level (they both get you from point A to point B). The mistake many of us make is that we look at our unique benefit from our own perspective rather than that of our potential buyer. While we may see the multitude of features our product or service provides, most customers don’t. They see a price tag, first and foremost, and while they might love to have the Lexus they aren’t willing to assign a sufficient enough value differential to the great customer service, the luxurious interior, or the better ride and handling to make up for the large price difference.

I’ll find another contact manager. I don’t even mind paying for one. Like most consumers, I do mind the bait and switch that happened here (and I’ll post a review to that effect in the store). Whatever value we believe justifies the cost we ask customers to incur, we need to be upfront about it as we try to justify the reasons why we’re worth it. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Asked And Answered

I’m constantly advocating that we listen to our customers. One of the ways that we can do that is through surveys. The problem with many surveys is that we don’t ask the right questions, or we ask the right questions in the wrong way. Let me explain.

Suppose I were to ask about Obamacare. I might ask if you approve or disapprove of the law. Simple question, right? Unfortunately, wrong. To someone on the right, the “disapprove” answer might come from a disagreement with the mandate that we all have health insurance. To someone on the left, the “disapprove” response might come from feeling that the law doesn’t go far enough and a single payer system is what we need. Same answers, very different perspectives.

We often make that same mistake by not digging deeply enough. We’re told to avoid open-ended questions in survey design (they’re not computer friendly, after all), but in so doing we end up with data which is ambivalent at best and useless at worst. We also make the mistake of asking both new and returning customers the same things. Their perspectives are different and one group should have better, different insights from which we can learn.

Try to remember that consumers get hit up with surveys everywhere these days. You can’t make a customer service call without being prompted to stay on the line after you hang up to complete a survey. Many websites will pop up a user-experience survey while you’re in the midst of trying to find some important information. We need to survey but we need to be judicious. We need to be as personal as we can and to be respectful of our consumer’s time by not asking 30 questions (3 or 4 are optimal).

As with anything in business, put yourself in the customer’s position first. If what you’re asking is vague, repetitive, burdensome, or impersonal, you’ve already got your answer. It’s in your low response rates.

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

The Cobra Effect

If you heard any news this weekend, you probably are aware of the Executive Order banning folks from certain countries from entering the United States. I expect that the folks who issued the order felt that they were doing something pretty straightforward. Instead, they ended up preventing workers with visas, legal residents with green cards, and a host of others who have all their legal certifications in order from traveling here.

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we’re not a political blog, I’m going to put aside humanitarian concerns and politics and instead focus on what one must assume are unintended consequences of the order. It’s the “Cobra Effect” come to life yet again. Unfamiliar with that? It got its name based on what happened when the Indian government offered rewards for dead cobras in an effort to cure a plague of them. Rather than decreasing the number of cobras, people began breeding them and killing them for the reward money. When the government figured this out they stopped paying for them. People released the cobras they no longer needed. Net effect? More cobras and lots of wasted money. Unintended consequences personified!

So how do we avoid the Cobra Effect in our businesses? Not by preserving the status quo since that’s rarely an option. It’s actually as simple as taking the time to think through what possible effects a particular action might have. “If we do this, that might happen.” Don’t be bashful about throwing out absurd conclusions, either. There are many examples those absurdities becoming reality (you gain more weight when you skip meals? Really?).

I guess my thinking is to go fast but do so slowly. Push for change and evolve your products, services, and business, but do so in a manner that thinks through as many of the potential effects those changes could bring about as you can imagine and avoid the Cobra Effect. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?