Category Archives: Huh?

Don’t Waste My Time

I wasn’t going to write this week until Foodie Friday but I got aggravated and this seems to be one of my saner outlets to express my frustrations. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I moved into a new home last February. In the new home, since it is newly constructed, are brand-new appliances. So far, they’ve been wonderful.

I especially like the ice-maker feature built into the fridge. That’s why, when it wouldn’t dispense ice last evening, I was horrified to find that the ice maker seems to have ingested itself. Somehow the little plastic tray that forms the ice and dumps it into the bin got tangled in the worm screw that pushes the ice to the dispenser. To paraphrase the Soup Nazi, no ice for me.

This morning I called the folks at Sears bright and early (7:30 eastern) to get a repair person out here and this is where the business angle comes in. If you’ve been following Sears at all in the business press (or even in this space), you know that they are in all kinds of financial trouble. Without getting into why that is, it’s safe to say that the last thing they want to do at this point is to alienate a customer. You with me so far?

Back to the phone call. Obviously, the fridge is still under warranty – it’s not even a year old. I called the number on their website that gets you to service for products under warranty and was greeted by an AI bot. I’m not a fan of these things – I think they aren’t that great yet and I’ve been frustrated more than once by a bot that couldn’t get what it was I wanted. Without a lot of gory details, I got this one to send me to a human. Except the humans weren’t in yet. “Please call back during business hours.” I spent 4 minutes getting to that point. They didn’t even bother to say what “business hours” were and in which time zone.

Let’s not alienate a customer, right? What would I have done differently? First, maybe they shouldn’t answer the phone with anything other than “our business hours are…” and ask you to call back. Even better – ask for my phone number so you can call me back when you get in. Don’t tie me up for several minutes and waste my time.

Sears isn’t the only company I’ve had a negative experience today. Two members of my family ordered new phones from ATT. Neither wanted insurance, told the salesperson so, and yet both were going to be billed $8.99/month without their permission. I know only because I got the “welcome to your new insurance” email since I’m the main account holder. That means more time out of my day to fix a problem that neither I nor my family members made.

If you run a business, especially a business that’s in financial distress or a business that is in an insanely competitive area, spend more time hugging your customers. Find ways to reduce their pain. Don’t waste their time or connive ways to take their money. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Living For The Likes

I’ve been meaning to mention the thing that Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all either testing or have deployed outside of the USA: killing the like count. They’re not eliminating the positive feedback (or any other kind) that people reading your content provide. What they’re doing is deemphasizing it by not showing total like counts. I, for one, am a fan and I’ll tell you why.

Actually, I won’t tell you. I’ll instead quote a Wired piece on the subject of living for the like and tailoring your message and tactic accordingly:

These tactics are attracting increased scrutiny, about their impact on the health of the internet and on society at large. Publicly measurable indicators—including views, retweets, or likes—are “one of the driving forces in radicalization,” says Whitney Phillips, a media manipulation researcher and associate professor at Syracuse University. It works both ways, she says. A user can be radicalized by consuming content and a creator can be radicalized by users’ reactions to their content, as they tailor their behavior around what garners the most interest from their audience.

Unfortunately for marketers, it also eliminates a metric that many marketers use to guide both their spending and their own content. While a minor disturbance in the marketing Force, they’ll get over it and move on to something else. My hope is that it destroys the “influencer” world. I’ve never been a fan and if this hastens its demise, I’m all for it. These are vanity metrics and not real measures of engagement which can be tracked in other ways. It’s also the final solution to those scam artists that sell fake “likes”.

The real issue for me is that many people – especially young ones – seem to develop feelings of inadequacy if they can’t generate sufficient “likes.” Maybe it even deters them from sharing anything in the first place and withdrawing.  For those of us that were there when all of this social stuff began, it’s been hard to watch it go from a great way to stay in touch with your friends and family to a weaponized space where trolls proliferate and it’s often hard to tell what’s real and what’s not.

I’m sure there are some selfish business reasons behind these moves while remaining hopeful that it’s really the start of the social media company’s coming to grips with all of the downsides of their worlds. When you like these screeds, do I see the counts? Sure. Do I change what I have written? In broad strokes, yes, but not based on the likes as much as on the overall readership and responses. In the 11 years I’ve been writing the screed, things such as a regular post on music (TunesDay!) and blogs about research (only rarely now) have gone because you don’t read them. Would I still write on those topics if I thought I could produce something that would interest you? Of course, likes be damned.

Live for today, not for the like.  You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Don’t Surprise Me

You just can’t be too careful these days, can you? It seems that we hear every day about another data breach involving stolen credit card numbers or passwords or anything from your search history to your online shopping list. If you don’t pay much attention to your data security you are definitely, as my Dad used to say, cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

Since I try to make it a habit to practice what I preach, I’m quite careful about security. I use a password manager and I don’t generally store credit card numbers online, preferring to use that password manager to fill in the number as needed. It was quite disturbing, therefore, when my phone buzzed like a tornado was imminent yesterday. It was American Express notifying me of what they thought might be a fraudulent charge at the Microsoft online store. An email arrived simultaneously, telling me about the charge and asking me to click if I had knowledge of it. I didn’t and told them so, which immediately canceled my Amex card (and to their credit, Amex immediately generated a new number and I’ll have a new card today – why I’ve been a member since 1979).

Imagine my surprise this morning when I got an email from Microsoft telling me they “tried to charge your Xbox Live Gold subscription on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, but the charge of $60.59 to American Express was unsuccessful.” Well, no kidding. I told Amex not to pay it because I didn’t know that it was the renewal of something I very much did want to renew. Maybe if Microsoft gave me a little advance notice, which is what many other companies whose products I auto-renew to a credit card do, I wouldn’t have clicked the button that will now result in my having to change credit card numbers on several other things – my cell phone bill, two newspaper subscriptions and several magazines, and a streaming service among them. Every one of them notifies me before charging my card so that I’m expecting the charge. I guess Microsoft hasn’t figured out that when it comes to charges on a credit card people do NOT like to be surprised.

Had Microsoft put on their customer-focused thinking caps, they would have recognized that. Instead, I’m sure someone thought “let’s not give them the chance to cancel and go ahead and charge the auto-renew without telling them ahead of time.” That’s bad customer communication and bad strategy. By keeping the customer’s needs and perspective front and center, we won’t make mistakes like this. Agreed?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Pumpkin Spice

This Foodie Friday, we’re taking a leap ahead into Fall, and if Fall means one thing to most people, it’s pumpkin spice. I know – you were thinking football, but no, my guess is that far more people are affected by the pumpkin spice thing than the pigskin thing. It’s a relatively recent development as spice companies didn’t actually make “pumpkin pie spice” until the 1950s and that became “pumpkin spice” in the 1960s. Some candle company began marketing a pumpkin spice candle in 1995, Starbucks picked up the flavor after many small coffee shops did, and the rest is food history.

Today, I saw what might be the last straw in the craze: Pumpkin Spice Spam. This is not a joke – it will be available only online and there are already cans of it out in the wild. Apparently, it doesn’t taste too bad – kind of like breakfast sausage. While I’m generally a believer in the “anything worth doing is worth overdoing” philosophy, I think we just might have hit our limits here, although one might wonder where that limit lies after pumpkin spice hummus, Four Loko, Pringles, gum, and vodka, to name only a few of the products that are out there.

There is a serious business point to be made here. Pumpkin spice is a flavor and a scent, and of course, you can add either of those things to a product to make it seasonally relevant, at least to some people. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should which is the broader business point. There are often moments in business when we’re confronted with what some might call opportunities while others might see them as dilemmas. A bank might be able to make more money if it charges its own customers a fee to use their own ATMs or to have a debit card. That’s a bad idea.

There was a great piece published years ago called “Companies and the Customers Who Hate Them.” It talked about charging penalties and fees especially in the cell phone, cable, and banking industries. It concluded:

One of the most influential propositions in marketing is that customer satisfaction begets loyalty, and loyalty begets profits. Why, then, do so many companies infuriate their customers by binding them with contracts, bleeding them with fees, confounding them with fine print, and otherwise penalizing them for their business? Because, unfortunately, it pays. Companies have found that confused and ill-informed customers, who often end up making poor purchasing decisions, can be highly profitable indeed.

I don’t think that adding pumpkin spice to an already good product is on a level with some of the outrageous fees we’re charged as consumers but it illustrates the point that just because we can do something in business doesn’t mean that we should. Not only do you run the risk of having seasonal merchandise go unsold (unhappy retailers!) but also of having customers question your sanity. Neither is good business in my book. Yours?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Reality checks

Looking In The Horse’s Mouth

As you might have read the other day, I had a birthday. It was lovely, thank you, and in addition to numerous phone calls, texts, and social media shout-outs, I received a bunch of emails from companies sending me “gifts.” Yes, in quotes.

I’ve written before (in fact, just a couple of months ago) about the gifts many companies “give” us. I also wrote about how nothing is free several years ago, so my rant today isn’t exactly new ground. However, I think it’s an important enough thought for those of us in business that it bears repeating. I also am happy to point out how two companies got it right.

The vast majority of the emailed birthday greetings contained an offer that generally read “Happy Birthday! He’s a gift of $15 off on your next order.” Sometimes it was a percentage discount but you get the idea. I had to spend money to take advantage of the offer, and I had a limited window in which to do so, generally 30 days.

Let’s unpack that. First, what if I don’t need your product or service in the next month? I mean, a discount on an oil change is fine but I just had my oil changed (at your shop, by the way – you should know that). You’re revoking my gift because I was just in? Second, what if my typical order is a lot more than your general average order value, something else you should know if you’re actually on top of your data and not just auto sending something based on a birthday you have on file. Shouldn’t I get a bigger “gift” since I’m a more valuable customer? I got one restaurant that I go to infrequently sending me a $15 “reward” on my birthday that I could redeem only by installing and using their app and dining there. That would be in the next 30 days, of course. To which party is that a gift?

I’m a believer that gifts need to be unconditional. You should be giving because you want to and not because you expect something in return. Two offers I received actually met this criterion. The good folks at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema sent me a free movie ticket. That’s it. I’m not obligated to buy food or drinks, I don’t have to bring a friend. I can redeem it via their app but I don’t have to – just present some ID and my account information at the box office. The gas chain I use frequently sent me a coupon for 200 bonus rewards points. I just have to have it scanned the next time I visit and they will be added to my account. I can redeem those points along with the others in my account for free stuff – gift cards, food, etc. And 200 points is significant – it’s what you’d get from spending about $25 with them. No strings attached. Happy Birthday!

It’s nice (and important) that we surprise our customers with gifts, whether that’s content, discounts, or something else. We need to do so without strings because those strings are quite visible and will harm the customer’s opinion of us, not enhance it. As I wrote in June, A gift involves altruism. If there is an ulterior motive lying within, it’s not a gift, right?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

False Inferences

This Foodie Friday, let’s give a round of applause to Burger King, A&W, White Castle, and all of the other burger chains who are beginning to serve Impossible Burgers. OK, throw in the donut chains who are serving the Beyond Meat “sausage” products too. Are they indistinguishable from their meat-based versions? I have no idea – I generally don’t go to QSRs when I want a burger although I might have to just to try one out.

The round of applause is not for taste but for trying to expand their customer bases to include vegetarians and vegans. My vegan daughter will (rarely) go to a QSR and get what amounts to lettuce and tomato on a bun (think a chicken sandwich without the chicken) although some of the chains offer truly vegan patties and sandwiches.

Burger King is not one of those – their veggie burger has both milk and eggs in it. However, they are one of the first chains to add the Impossible Burger to their offerings. As it seems with many things business-related, there is a dark lining to the silver cloud. It turns out, unless you specifically ask, the Impossible Burger is cooked with the same broiler as regular burgers and chicken. So much for vegan or even vegetarian. Burger King says that 90% of the people who ordered the Impossible Whopper during a trial run this spring are meat eaters, which means most diners may not care if their faux-meat patties are cooked alongside classic beef ones. In fairness, they don’t label the product as vegan either. Still, it raises a point I want to bring to the surface today.

Humans make inferences. We use our beliefs as assumptions and make inferences based on those assumptions. We do that because we can’t act without them. We have to have some basis for understanding and the only way for us to take action is to use our assumptions to make inferences. An assumption is something we “know” based on our beliefs or previous experience.

When Burger King offers a burger that is a vegan alternative to a meat-based product (something that’s known) you can see how a customer will infer it’s still vegan even when it’s not labeled as such.  If there is room for the customer to draw a faulty inference based on reasonable assumptions, I think we need to go out of our way to correct them. I also think that it’s way out of bounds to create those false inferences knowingly – having the customer see that something is 35% off and a good buy when you marked it up the week before with the intent of marking it back down.

The difference between “relaxing” and “wasting time” is all in the meaning we assign to what we’re doing, the inferences we draw. The difference between “selling” and “dishonesty” or “hyperbole” or even “grifting” is also based on inferences. Not allowing customers to draw a well-constructed line from their assumptions to inferences and meaning is bad business in the long run, don’t you think?

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Filed under food, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Too Much Cabbage

I’m in South Florida this Foodie Friday celebrating my mom’s 90th birthday. While my mother is hardly a “foodie”, one food group that we both love is deli, and Jewish deli specifically. Living in North Carolina as I do has many wonderful food aspects but the availability of a good pastrami sandwich is NOT one of them. Because of that as well as my mom’s love of the genre, I’ve taken her (and my dad) out for lunch the last couple of days to get Jewish deli.

Yesterday I ordered a Reuben sandwich, having had my pastrami the day before. One thing really good deli is known for is overstuffed sandwiches. Even if you choose not to overeat and finish the thing, you always have something to bring home. The photo of the Reuben on the menu showed a typically large offering (the photo here is not the one from the menu since that’s probably copyrighted). What showed up reminded me of a great business point.

The photo isn’t my sandwich but it’s one from the same deli. As you can see, the Reuben was made by rolling the corned beef around the sauerkraut. The thing is served on toasted rye bread with Russian dressing. It’s hard to tell but when I picked the thing up it was immediately obvious that the bread was smaller than a typical loaf of rye which meant that there was less “there” there. More importantly, while rolling the meat around the sauerkraut like a meat and cabbage jelly roll was clever, it also meant quite a bit less meat was used in the sandwich. If you look closely at the photo you’ll see that unrolling the thing would yield about a half a dozen thin slices of corned beef, hardly something a proper deli would serve as an “overstuffed” sandwich. The meat in my sandwich didn’t fill the bread either – the roll stopped about halfway back on the bread. Most Reubens (or Rachels – a version of the sandwich made with pastrami) pile the sauerkraut on top of a stack of meat.  Is this presentation designed to hide the fact that there is far less meat than one would expect?

What does this have to do with your business? Customers do “unroll” the filling.  When they come up with too much cabbage and not enough meat they’ll find a competitor that really does deliver what they promise. I think overpromising and underdelivering is the biggest mistake any business can make. While this chain of delis does quite well (most of their other food is terrific and does deliver), they need to revisit the Reuben or delete the photo from the menu since it sets expectations that are not met. None of us can afford to do that, not if we want repeat business.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Huh?