Category Archives: What’s Going On

Vividly Dumb

Last week I wrote about my feeling that companies should quit selling as we all deal with the fallout from the Corona Virus. This morning I received an email from Vivid Seats, a ticket reseller. They apparently purchased another reseller from which I’d bought tickets. Here is part of the text:

As a welcome to Vivid Seats, we are giving you $30 off your next purchase!* Grab tickets to your next heart-racing concert or edge-of-your-seat game. Either way, here’s $30 to get you started — let’s get you cheering again!

Notice the asterisk. The offer expires next Tuesday. So where to begin?

First, can any of you say with any certainty when, or if, concerts, shows, or sporting events will resume? Why in the world would you go out and buy tickets to anything at this point? Vivid has a full refund policy if the show or event is canceled, but with this much uncertainty, are you seriously going to lock up your money until that happens? And what if the date changes and you can’t go? Of course, they’ll help you sell your seats, but is that without the 10% fee normally charged to sell? That’s not stated anywhere.

Second, it’s highly unlikely the situation will have changed a heck of a lot by next Tuesday. If you really want my business, why not make it open-ended?

Third, how freaking tone-deaf. We’re all being urged to stay home. Tours are being canceled. I’ve already had two shows for which I have tickets postponed and I’ve got more shows coming up in May that I’m thinking won’t happen. This is a reminder that our lives are different now. Hopefully, not for long, but there are no sports or shows or concerts happening. Why rub it in?

Ok, I believe in giving people hope and this WILL end. That said, it has just as much a chance to crush spirits if the events don’t happen and you bought tickets. This is why these different times call for different approaches, don’t you think?

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Quit Selling

What the heck do you do when everything changes in a couple of weeks? I fell behind reading my daily newspapers and as I was catching up it dawned on me that nearly everything I was reading related to a world that really didn’t exist a week later. The sports sections were previewing games and events that will never take place. Forget the numbers and analysis on the financial pages. Even the front pages dealt with topics that now seem so unimportant.

People can’t travel. You can’t really go out to eat or hang out with friends. Who could ever have imagined that the bars would be closed on St. Patrick’s Day as they were here and in many other places. Those are just a few examples of the devastating impact this pandemic has caused and the businesses that can survive this will be badly damaged. Many others won’t survive at all.

So If you’re a businessperson what can you do? May I offer a radical thought?

Quit selling. I’ve received many emails from companies that are behaving as if nothing is different. They’ve not changed their tactics or messaging at all. Others have done even worse by trying to capitalize on this global tragedy. Not only do I find these messages offensive but I’m making mental notes never to buy from those businesses again.

Everyone is suffering losses of some sort. Some folks are out of work completely with no income at all. Others are trying to work from home while schooling or at least amusing their kids. My parents who are in an assisted living facility can’t leave their room. Meals are sent up and there is no socialization. I think it’s the right course of action but I feel horrible for them and the other residents. People have had to cancel vacations and weddings. Others can’t attend funerals of loved ones. Everything has changed.

So quit selling. Recognize that now isn’t the time. If you give any sort of credence to the notion that you need to love your customers, love them now by asking how you can be helpful. Ask what you can do for them and not what you can sell them. There will be plenty of time for that when things return to whatever normal will become.

Maybe it’s a radical thought but these are times that call for radical thinking, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Last Night’s Lesson

It’s Foodie Friday. We went out for a bite last night to one of the places that’s in the usual rotation. On most Thursday nights the bar is crowded and there’s often a wait to grab a table. Last night we pretty much had the bar to ourselves and there were tables available without any delay.

My buddy Tina the bartender said that business wasn’t great and I think we all know it’s due to the fear of the coronavirus. It’s hard to keep a safe distance from folks in a crowded bar or when tables are close together. While you expect your servers and cooks to have clean hands, it’s not a great time to find out otherwise. Apparently, my little microcosm isn’t much different from what’s been going on around the country and, I suspect, around the world.

What a number of food businesses (this one included) are doing is a great lesson for those of us in other businesses with respect to how to behave when the proverbial pandemic hits the fan. I’ve seen Facebook posts and received several emails from places I patronize and most of them have the same message. First, they aren’t minimizing the situation with any kind of casual joking (“Hey! Come on out and play! It’s just a little flu!”). Second, they all talk about both their normal cleaning process as well as the enhanced measures they’re taking during the crisis. This includes more frequent cleaning using higher-strength disinfectants and retraining of staff.

It’s the big guys too. Starbucks, which markets itself as a gathering spot (not something we’re being encouraged to do these days) has actually taken to limiting seating, spacing seats further apart, and even closed a store temporarily after a worker fell ill. The message is loud and clear: we place our customers and their health above the short-term profit hit we’ll take. Well, duh, people. Dead customers don’t buy things, so helping to prevent the spread of this virus is smart business no matter the cost.

Some places have amped up their delivery service. I’ve heard of other places that will bring your food to the curb so you don’t have to get out of your car if they don’t deliver. Who knows – maybe those services will become a normal part of their business going forward – we all know how delivery services’ menu of menus has grown over the last year or so. Acknowledging that not everyone is comfortable or able to go out for dinner at this time and not attempting to persuade them otherwise is being supportive and adult. That’s what any of our businesses need to be.

We overtipped last night (50%). Why? These are our friends and they might be hurting for the next month or so. If you get out, do the same. Buy a gift card at your favorite place, restaurant or otherwise, and use it down the road when you go back. We’re all in this together, right?

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South Bye Bye

These are odd times indeed and it’s when we’re under stress that our true nature often shows. That same is true of organizations and that’s often to their detriment because that true nature is often anti-customer. There is an excellent example of this in what’s going on with the SXSW Festival.

If you’re unfamiliar with the South By Southwest festival, or South By as it’s commonly known, this is how it describes itself:

The event has changed in many surprising and meaningful ways since 1987, but at its core, SXSW remains a tool for creative people to develop their careers by bringing together people from around the globe to meet, learn and share ideas.

It’s sort of a spring break for the tech, marketing, film, and music communities and it attracts thousands of people who attend for the connections they might make, for the music they’ll hear, and for the learnings they’ll take away. It’s become a huge deal and passes to the event cost about $1,400 per person for mid-priced interactive badges that last the length of the 9-day festival. It’s an investment, obviously, and that doesn’t include all the spending by agencies and sponsors.

Here is the problem. They canceled the festival over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus and won’t refund attendees and vendors. They’re offering to defer your ticket to 2021, 2022, or 2023, but they won’t give you back the money. Is this in accordance with their stated policies? Yes, it is, but as we began the piece, these are odd times and maybe, just maybe, it’s time for this business to have another think about alienating their customers.

Many agencies have been cutting back their spending as the festival has become too big and unwieldy. I suspect this might anger those who haven’t been cutting back. Airlines have been refunding tickets and Airbnb recently announced that some coronavirus-related cancellations will qualify for refunds under its “extenuating circumstances” policy.  Many of the attendees are small business people looking to promote themselves or artists they represent. Tying up this money for at least a year can be a big hit, one that just might put them out of business by the next festival.

On top of all this, the festival company fired 30% of its employees. Insurance won’t cover enough to maintain the full-time staff where it was.

Should a cancellation something that should have been in the disaster plan? You would think so. This didn’t happen overnight. Companies and artists began pulling out of the festival weeks ago. Should the decisions that seem to have been taken about how to handle the aftermath of a cancellation been more consumer and business partner-friendly? Based on the extreme negative responses in both sectors, definitely so. Will SXSW ever recover from this? Time will tell, but the lessons we can learn will be the same. Be customer-centric. The short-term pain leads to long-term gain most of the time.

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Stocking Up

It’s Foodie Friday and the big news this week is the coronavirus. Besides the presidential election here in the US, nothing else seems to be getting nearly as much news coverage and rightly so. It’s a very serious thing, one that could require you to “self-quarantine” for 10 days to two weeks.

One of the more interesting effects that the spread of the virus has caused is people stocking up. It’s impossible to find hand sanitizer, either in a store or online and some enterprising folks are selling $5 bottles of the stuff for hundreds of dollars. Nothing like a little price-gouging, right? In Australia, it’s apparently hard to find toilet paper as Aussies have been stockpiling toilet paper in response to the coronavirus.

I did my regular weekly shop yesterday and the shelves were full of everything except the aforementioned hand sanitizer. It’s interesting. Every time there’s been a mention of a spell of really bad weather, bread, water, and eggs are hard to find as people stock up in case they can’t get out for several days. In this case, several days will extend for much longer and yet as I looked over other carts in the store, nothing seemed different. Maybe they’re not thinking yet about how to make three meals a day with limited access to the outside world.

It got me thinking. Most people don’t have a well-stocked pantry. I’m willing to bet most also don’t have a large, stand-alone freezer. I happen to have both, not because I’m a hoarder but because I like to have a lot of ingredients on hand to be able to deal with whatever meal situation arises. One study estimated that 80% of households don’t make dinner plans until 4pm that day. I try to plan ahead but the reality of work and energy sometimes sets in and those plans get changed. It’s good to have the ability to change up and having the pantry and freezer stocked up make that possible.

There’s a business point to be made here. I’ve worked in places where there was no “stocking up.” Budgets were locked and inflexible. There wasn’t any training system in place to help employees grow their skill sets. There was THE PLAN and that’s what was going to be executed regardless of changing conditions. As businesspeople, we need to think ahead. Not hoard nor overspend on solutions to problems that are highly unlikely to occur. But when there are warning signs, or as in this case, very clear examples, of a situation developing that could impact the business, we need to plan and move quickly. Think about how many businesses’ supply chains from China have been interrupted and you’ll get what I mean. For example, investing in training means that when some folks are absent and unable to work from home you’re covered.

How serious is the coronavirus problem? Watch the news for a few minutes and you’ll see that it’s quite serious. Stock your pantry with staples that will keep – pasta, canned goods, etc. Stock your freezer with frozen veggies and maybe some proteins. Hopefully, this passes quickly. Do the same for your business. Invest in stocking up and you’ll be prepared for any eventuality.

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Posts Of The Year 2019 #2

We’re continuing to review the most-read posts of 2019 that were also written this year. Today it’s my post from September 11. It really doesn’t need much explanation other than one thing that this post taught me is that you folks respond well when I make things more personal. A thought for the screed in 2020…

I was going to write about something else this morning but then I looked at the calendar. Today is the 18th anniversary of what is arguably one of the most significant days in America’s history, one whose aftereffects permeate a lot of our daily life here in the USA. Many of them are big and obvious. Wars that have gone on for nearly two decades as a result of that day and the financial decisions we’ve made as a country to support them that affect everything. The sometimes scary and intrusive security measures we’ve taken at airports and elsewhere. The suspicious looks some folks give to others based on their clothing or appearance.

What 9-11 changed in me was something different. My strongest memory isn’t of the smell that wafted northward to where I worked in midtown Manhattan nor is it the incessant sirens as first responders charged into lower Manhattan to try and save lives. My strongest memory is of how beautiful the September morning was and how it’s hard for me 18 years later to experience a crisp, clear morning with a clear blue sky without thinking of that horrible day.

I used to commute via train to my job. That morning, I was heading to the office before catching an afternoon flight to SF with a group of my NHL peers to meet with a client the next day. We had actually switched our flight. We were going to go out that morning on what became one of the planes involved that day but that’s another discussion. I vividly remember coming up the escalator out the Grand Central and looking up at the beautiful sky as we rose. As I left the station, the cool air hit me and I might have even said out loud “what a beautiful day for flying.” No clouds, no wind, no NYC smells, just clear blue air.

Within the hour, the world had changed. A co-worker ran into my office saying a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I said it must have been a small plane and planes had hit buildings in NY before. We turned on the TV as the second plane hit and realized that this was not an accident.

The rest of the day is a blur of making phone calls to check on friends, receiving phone calls from people checking on me, wondering how I’d get home since the trains and other transport was shut down, and helping my staff deal with the day. The one thing that still won’t leave me though is the memory of leaving the station and walking to my office on one of the most beautiful NY mornings ever, a wonderful day for flying.

No business points today. Please think about those who were lost on 9-11 and those first responders who are still paying the price for their bravery.

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Looking From The Inside

While you’re busy reading this, I just might be anesthetized. Today’s screed was actually written yesterday while I was preparing for today’s colonoscopy. For those of you under 50 who have yet to enjoy the ride on what my friends and I call “The Silver Stallion”, you’re really not missing much. Anyone who has ever had one will tell you that the prep is worse than the actual procedure. Then again, how could it not be since you’re mostly unconscious during the exam?

The prep involves a day of a liquid-only diet. Clear broth, coffee or tea (NO milk though), sports drinks (nothing red or orange). You get the idea. At some point, you drink some nasty stuff that evacuates your bowels. It’s basically the worst case of diarrhea you can have without a trip to some restaurant with a D health rating.

OK, you get it. So why am I bring this up on a business blog? Well, there are lots of other ways to screen for colon cancer but colonoscopy is by far the best. If you’re over 50 you need to get one and keep getting them every 5-10 years (your doc will tell you how often). The reason it’s so good at detecting a problem is that you’re being examined from the inside out. It’s not looking at symptoms, it’s not guessing. It is a first-hand observation of what’s going on.

That’s something more businesspeople need to keep in mind. Too often we don’t do the first-hand investigation or look directly at what’s going on, preferring to look at data. Sometimes you need to speak to the people who are producing what’s reflected in the data. You need to reach out to customers, partners, suppliers, and employees. You need to get inside the business.

The other thing that goes on during a colonoscopy is that the doctor will remove any polyps that are found. Most of them are benign but can become something that’s problematic. The scope can spot even tiny ones. That’s another advantage of getting inside the business – you can often spot small issues and address them before they become big problems.

Unlike a colonoscopy, getting inside your business isn’t something that can happen every 5-10 years. It needs to occur regularly, with quarterly mini-reviews and annual exams. Like the colonoscopy, prep for that review makes people uncomfortable and unhappy. The good news is that the prep is worse than the exam, and isn’t it nice to know that you’re in good health?

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