Category Archives: Huh?

Opening A Can Of Mistrust

It’s Foodie Friday and I want to talk about a widespread fraud this week. If you cook Italian food every so often, you might have been a victim of this common deception, and of course, it has implications for your business (or else why would I bring it up here?). I’m talking about the lies told by many companies about what lies within a can of tomatoes labeled as “San Marzano.”

If you’ve been to Italy you’ve tasted the difference in what they have there vs. what we commonly use here, and one of the biggest differences is the true San Marzano tomato. Grown in the volcanic soil that surrounds Mt. Vesuvius, these plum tomatoes are protected by an official designation – DOP – which certifies that they are the real deal. Many other types of products receive this stamp which certifies that they are locally grown and packaged in the specific region according to strict standards – balsamic vinegar and mozzarella di bufala are two of the best known along with these tomatoes.

If you walk through your local supermarket, you will find many cans labeled “San Marzano” and yet there is a high likelihood that they are nothing of the sort. 95% of the tomatoes sold here as San Marzanos are fake, at least according to the person who certifies them. If you see crushed or diced San Marzanos, they’re fake, since true ones are only sold whole. If they are grown in the US, they’re fake. If it doesn’t have the DOP seal and the seal of the consortium that sells them, they’re fake. Some unscrupulous packagers put a DOP-looking seal on their cans; some don’t even bother, knowing that the words “San Marzano” are enough to confuse shoppers.

Why do I raise this? First, it bothers me that so many retailers are complicit in perpetuating this fraud. You wouldn’t see a legitimate store knowingly selling fake Dior bags or knockoff golf clubs with high-end labels. Why do supermarkets allow this? Can I trust that the wild-caught fish you’re selling at the fish counter isn’t farm-raised? Second, some fairly big time packagers engage in this, which calls into question what’s in the cans of other products they produce. Are those really organic peas or are you just charging more for the same stuff that’s in the non-organic cans? Lastly, and most importantly, it reiterates the point we’ve made often here in the screed. The most important thing any business gets from customers is trust. Losing that trust can be fatal, no matter how good your service or pricing might be. Knowingly perpetuating a fraud on your customers is way over the foul line.

I don’t want to make too big a point about a can of tomatoes. Most shoppers don’t look for San Marzano tomatoes – they buy whatever is on sale. It only takes one customer, however (like me?), who figures out that you’re profiting off of the deception to put a crack in your reputation. That’s not the type of sauce you want to be serving, is it?

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Filed under food, Consulting, Huh?

It’s A Scam

A couple of decades ago, as I began spending more and more of my professional time in the world of digital, I worked for a guy who wasn’t a believer in all of the hype. He thought that the prognostications of the coming demise of mass media (we worked in TV) and the rapid disruption of business models was BS. Actually, one of his favorite things to do was to pop his head into my office and say “You know this Internet thing is a scam, right?”

I used to laugh it off but 20 years later I’m thinking he might have been right. He certainly was when Web 1.0 blew up, washing away billions of investment. No serious person involved in digital business makes those same mistakes but there is a whole lot of grifting going on nevertheless. Let me explain.

First, there is the whole bots thing in programmatic advertising. If you dig paying real money to put ads in front of fake people, be my guest. The fact that the continuing race to the bottom with respect to pricing results in many legitimate publishers’ sites looking like an Arabian bazaar or a NASCAR vehicle should tell you there’s a problem. The fees taken at every step of the way by vendors who add little to nothing to the process and won’t disclose how their systems function nor the actual ways they’re blocking fake traffic is another scam. Obviously, putting profits before people (servicing your pocketbook before servicing your reader!) is a scam of sorts, too. You’re promising great content but you’re forcing your readers into suffering through a horrible; experience to get to it. Any wonder that Google is adding an ad-blocker to Chrome or that a third of US web users employ some sort of an ad blocker?

Then there are the “influencers.” As one executive who works in influencer marketing stated: 

It’s basically the biggest scam started by the countless influencer marketing platforms that popped up over the past two or three years, who find it a lot easier to recruit and work with super small influencers who will do anything for a $100 gift card. Everyone talks about how these “micro-influencers” have such high engagement, but who cares about a 20 percent engagement rate on a post when only 10 people liked it?

It goes beyond the little guys. The FTC had to once again send out more than 90 letters reminding influencers and marketers that influencers should clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationship to brands when promoting or endorsing products through social media. In failing to do so, these folks, many of whom are big-name celebrities, are scamming their fans by failing to tell them that they’re paid to say nice things about a product they may or may not even use.

I’m not meaning to fault the tools here. I’m just pointing out that one effect the democratization of media has had has been to facilitate many more scams. Easy access means for easy for everyone, including those with less than sterling intent. Back in the day, they would never have got past the Standards people every network had or the accountants than every media outlet had. Today, anyone with an ad and a credit card can get involved. It’s like anything else though. At some point, you have to figure out if you’re about lining your pockets at the expense of your customer in a dishonorable way or if you want to solve the customer’s problems in a way that rewards you for having done so. Your call!

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Considering The Optics

The President fired the Director of the FBI yesterday. Even though such a thing had only happened once before (when the FBI Director was accused of using funds for personal stuff), it is well within the rights of the President to do so. In fact, the head of the FBI, like US Attorneys and White House staff, serve at the pleasure of the President (which always brings to mind this scene from The West Wing in which the staff pledges loyalty to the President using exactly that phrase).

No, I’m not (finally) wading into politics, but there is a tremendous business point to be taken from yesterday’s action. The FBI is investigating if and how the President’s campaign was (is?) tied to Russia. Firing the man who is heading an investigation into your campaign is bad optics, especially when you do so on the day when subpoenas go out. It’s also bad optics to give as a reason something for which you praised that same person a few months earlier.

Bad optics is a phrase typically used in politics which describes when politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself. It has little to do with right and wrong and a lot to do with the perception of right or wrong. We’ve seen a few cases of this in business very recently:

  • United Airlines kicked doctor off a plane and he was beaten up when he refused to go. Were they within their rights to involuntarily bump a passenger? Yes. But the optics, both in front of other passengers and, since everyone has a camera, the rest of the world are horrible.
  • When public schools refuse to give a hot lunch to a child or give them a cheese sandwich instead of what the other kids have because the kid’s family can’t afford to pay, are they within their rights? Yes, but the optics…
  • When a business asks workers to train their (foreign) replacements, they’re helping their bottom line but killing their reputation because the optics are so bad.

One thing we all need to do as part of our decision-making process is to consider the optics. How will this appear, regardless of the right and wrong? It does little good to be in the right when you seem to be very wrong. You with me?

 

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Legalized Discrimination

I work with a number of startup companies, as I’ve mentioned before. There are a whole host of issues that these newbies face but one they don’t, if they’re digital, is the same sort of access to their potential audiences as is enjoyed by their much larger, entrenched competition. The reason for this is an underlying principle of the Internet which is that all traffic – those little packets of information that carry data, pictures, sound, etc. – is handled equally, both by the “backbone” companies responsible for transport and by your Internet Service Provider. You know – the folks (or folks, if you have a cable provider that provides internet access and a wireless company) to whom you send a check each month in return for the ability to send cat videos to your friends.

The reason for this post is to call your attention to the increasingly loud noises out of DC about giving those ISPs the ability to discriminate. Three years ago, John Oliver did a fantastic job of explaining why this issue is important and last Friday night, he did so again. Why did he need to? Because rules that were put in place to protect everyone are being changed.

Suppose you watch those cat videos on three different video platforms: YouTube, Vimeo, and a startup called CatVideosRule. You notice that the first two are crystal clear and in full high-def, while the last takes forever to load, buffers a lot, and isn’t very clear. It’s likely that the reason for that isn’t that the startup is using bad technology but that your ISP is prioritizing traffic. Maybe they are getting fees from YouTube and Vimeo. Maybe they don’t like cat videos and are slowing down the startup. The reason doesn’t matter. What does is that it’s discrimination and it’s going to be legal. In my mind, once ISPs get to pick and choose, it’s not a big step for them to begin censoring the content as well. You know: if you want to be on our network at full speed you will not criticize us, etc.

The new head of the FCC is suggesting that we just ask the ISPs to promise they’ll play nice. These are the same ISPs that promised you 50MB speed and deliver 30MB with no fee adjustment or apology. We are already seeing some services become “zero-rated”, which means that using them doesn’t count against any data plan you may have. It’s bad enough that the ISPs are boosting their own services at the expense of others. Legalizing another form of discrimination could be the death knell of one of the things that have fostered the dynamic, disruptive growth of our digital world. Do you agree? Are you following this story?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

You Calling Me A Liar?

The screed is a little late today because I’ve been tied up on the phone trying to get the central air conditioning fixed. This saga started a week ago when I noticed that the house seemed rather warm. While the vents were blowing air, it was not cold air. I called the American Home Shield folks with whom we have a warranty and they set me up with a local repair firm. This is where the fun – and today’s business point – begin.

Last Wednesday, I set up an appointment for yesterday. They were supposed to arrive between 3 pm and 5 pm. I was not happy that it would take them almost a week to get to me, but I was told that’s the first appointment. On my calendar it went (not knowing that AHS has a 48-hour service policy, by the way, and that I could have asked them to set me up elsewhere. Doh!).

At 4:30 yesterday when no one had arrived or called to say they’d be arriving, I called the repair folks. The customer service rep had my info from AHS but didn’t have my appointment. In fact, she said they’d tried to call me, failed to reach me, and never set anything up.Obviously, someone screwed up and didn’t write down the initial appointment. I was told that after 8 minutes on hold, a hang-up, and calling them back. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy, but I became far less happy when I was told that the next available appointment was next week sometime, two weeks after I initially set up a repair with them. The manager got on the phone to inform me that I was making the whole appointment up. I offered to email him screenshots of my phone’s call log, showing that I spoke with them twice last week but he didn’t care. I asked him if he was in the habit of making up appointments and adding them to his calendar because I certainly wasn’t. He wasn’t either. I asked him if he was calling me a liar and he said he didn’t know what I was but I certainly never had an appointment. Finally, I mentioned that I wrote a business blog and that he was providing me with great material for what a business shouldn’t do and he laughed and said: “as long as you tell the truth.”

So I’m here to tell you the truth. None of us can ever call our customers liars or make them feel that way. None of us can ignore evidence that someone on our end screwed up and blame the customer instead. None of us can shrug our shoulders and tell a customer who has been harmed to get to the back of the line. Finally, none of us can ignore the potential social media backlash. Not that the screed is read by millions, but it only takes a few readers to start a backlash against your business. Hey – don’t you know who I think I am? The odds are you don’t know anything about the megaphone any of your customers hold but you should know that it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of writing to do a great deal of damage to your reputation.

AHS reached out to these bozos this morning. They again denied I ever spoke to them. We set up an appointment with another repair company, who called me 10 minutes after I spoke with AHS. By the way – when the new guys couldn’t see me until next week, AHS escalated my issue to a unit they have that will call all the area vendors to find someone who can cool me off (in both the physical and psychological sense at this point) in 48 hours or less.

So to the folks at Modern Mechanical HVAC, hopefully this will help you see why you can’t call your customers liars, along with the bad Yelp review, the link to this screed I’ll be posting on Nextdoor (a local bulletin board), and a bunch of other local information and review sites that will advise people to stay away from you. I’m just doing as you asked: telling the truth.

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Slow Play

Another Monday, another golf-related rant. But as with most things golf-related, there are points to be made about life well beyond the links.

An animation of a full golf swing displaying t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I played a couple of rounds over the weekend (you’re surprised, right?) and both were slow. By slow, I don’t necessarily mean any specific time. It’s more about the general pace of play when compared to the conditions. I also accepted something I have learned about younger (Millenial) golfers. Both have implications for your business.

I’ll admit upfront that I play more quickly than many golfers. I also tend to play early in the morning when the course tends to be empty. When I play 18 holes by myself, it generally takes about two and a quarter hours; two and a half if I’m stinking it up. My regular Sunday game with another gentleman takes up about 2:45 to 3 hours. My regular foursome used to take about three and a half hours. Those are fast times but they’re also times made by doing a few simple things. Keeping up with the group in front of you. Being ready when it’s your turn and not waiting for someone else to hit if they’re behind you but looking for their ball. Lining up your putts while someone else is putting, parking the cart so you never have to walk backward to it, and a few other things that make a few seconds’ difference that add up to many minutes saved in a round.

So what have I learned about many Millenial golfers? I play with them all the time and they are slow. I hate to generalize, but they are. Rather than socializing while traveling between shots, they stand on the tee, staring at an empty fairway, and talk rather than tee off. They are very polite and allow the golfer farthest back to hit even if that golfer isn’t ready. Why aren’t they ready? Another thing: they take forever to make up their minds. They take multiple practice swings. They park both carts together to watch someone hit rather than splitting up, dropping one golfer by their ball and moving on to be ready. In short, they’re not focused on making decisions and on getting things done, and because of that, they fall behind. We played in over four hours yesterday and were never held up once by anyone in front of us. Arrggghh….

What does this have to do with your business? We need to do what faster golfers do. We need to assess the situation, make a decision, and go. We can’t wait on others, we can’t take forever to think, we can’t make endless practice swings (read that as internal meetings and discussions). Golfers have GPS devices and laser yardage readers to help them know where they are on the hole. Businesses have analytics, financial data, and staff meetings.  I’ve yet to play with any golfer who played better because they lollygagged around the course nor have I met many businesspeople who were more successful because they fell behind.

Golfers find a rhythm as they go and so too do businesses. Slow play disrupts that rhythm whether it’s golf or business. The PGA Tour assessed its first slow-play penalty in over twenty years yesterday, this despite 5+hour rounds being routine on tour. That’s ridiculous (and a bad influence on young golfers!). Let’s all speed it up on the course and in the office, ok?

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Filed under Reality checks, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Lose The Ego Or Lose The Customer

It bewilders me that some businesses can’t put their customers‘ needs ahead of their own. I’m going to tell you yet another horrific tale of business stupidity but first, a little data to support my point.

The folks at Marketing Sherpa did some research and they found the following:

When asked about the marketing of the company they were highly unsatisfied with, the top way unsatisfied customers described the company’s marketing was — not customer-first. This description was more frequent than complaining about privacy issues or intrusive, boring or irrelevant marketing. “The company does not put my needs and wants above its own business goals” was chosen by 35% of unsatisfied respondents.

With that as context, let me show you this in action. A friend of mine bought a car recently from a car dealership with which she had done business in the past. Her previous experience was good enough that she went back to them to buy from them again. This time, things were quite different.

The car died in her driveway after a few weeks of use. The battery died and the car wouldn’t jump-start. When she bought the car, she was told to bring the car to the dealership in the event of any issues and they’d take care of her. She did as she was told and had the car towed to the dealership. Despite the lip-service paid to a customer-centric focus, the service department said they’d charge her $165 for a new battery even though the car is still under warranty. If she wanted it fixed under warranty, it would have to be moved to a Ford dealer. Strike one.

The dealership said they’d arrange for the car to get to the Ford folks “as a courtesy.” That was Thursday. It’s now Monday morning and the car still hasn’t moved. Strike two. My friend has been calling and emailing to no avail. She is in the process of renting a car – the dealership didn’t mention a loaner. Strikes three and four.

I’m beginning my search for a new car – do you think this dealership is under consideration? Do you think my friend will tell her friends to rush over to purchase from these folks or will she caution them to avoid the dealership like a plague? The dealership had its main need addressed – they sold a car, in part by doing a great job in addressing the customer’s needs and wants at the time. They are unwilling or unable to focus on the customer beyond the sale nor can they put the customer’s needs above their own goals (servicing a car that’s under warranty takes time and reduces margin). This is a perfect example of what the research cited above shows since in my mind customer service (or lack thereof) is part of the marketing mix – a critically important part. Do you see the problem?

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