Tag Archives: business thinking

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?

Ball Position

I haven’t bored you with a golf-related screed in a while so let’s try that today. Yes, it relates to business too, of course. As I generally do over the weekend, I played golf. If you’ve been a reader for any amount of time you know that I find a great number of life lessons (and business lessons) on the links. Of course, given how badly I played the last few rounds, the only learning of which I became convinced was that I was really terrible at this game.

This morning, with my head a little more clear I went to the driving range. For those of you who are golfers, I thought that my problem was that I needed to shallow out (make a little flatter) my swing because I was digging very deep divots and not striking the ball particularly well. From time to time, especially when I was off the fairway (it happens), I was spraying the ball right because I couldn’t get the clubface back to square due, I thought, to the steepness of my swing.

None of that technical stuff matters, however. I had diagnosed the issue and thought I knew the answer so I went to the range to make a swing change. As with anything, big changes take time and I wanted to get going. You with me so far?

Well, as I was warming up to begin practice, an odd thing happened. I hit a ball with it positioned farther forward (think closer to my left foot) in my stance. The result was an absolutely pure shot – straight, high, and far. No real divot either, just a nice scrape along the ground. I tried it again – the same result. OMG – I don’t stink – the ball was just too far back (toward my right foot) in my stance and I had to come at it too steeply to hit it. With it forward everything else was fine. The club pro was on the range giving a lesson and he wandered over when he was done. He confirmed my swing looked pretty good. and that yes, something as simple as moving the ball forward 3 inches could change everything. Which is, of course, the business point.

How many times have things not been going well and someone – the boss, the management team, maybe you – rants that wholesale changes are needed? This usually starts a chain of events that paralyzes the enterprise. Here is the thing – it’s rare that a business loses its mojo overnight. It’s usually a gradual process of tiny changes, much like me having the ball slide further back in my stance little by little until I became used to playing it too far back which was making it difficult to play well. Businesses let things “slide back” too until they can’t operate well.

Much like my fix, it’s rare that major changes are needed in a business. It’s usually just a matter of paying attention to what had become different over time. It may require some outside eyes to help with that, but usually, the folks with good institutional memory can provide answers (yet another reason why you don’t get rid of all us older employees!).

Wholesale swing changes? Nah – just a tweak in ball position. Think about that the next time you’re contemplating a major change in your business. Yes, that might be needed but isn’t starting with some simple changes much easier and cost-effective?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Symptoms, Diseases, And The Long Term

We’re into that time of the year when corporations are reporting their results for the last quarter. I tend to look at any single quarter’s results as a data point and since I’m a believer in watching things through the lens of the long-term, I mostly ignore anything strongly negative or positive unless it’s part of a long-term trend.

I’m sure it’s not a shock to any of you that the cable TV provider business is in a downward trend. I’ve written about this before and you might be one of the millions of folks who have cut their cable cord and gone pure streaming or supplement your streaming with an HD antenna to get your local TV over the air (everything old is new again!). Charter Communications is one of those cable TV providers who is watching their user base deteriorate. This last quarter, the company’s video customers sank by 150,000 subscribers, now totaling 15.8 million. At the same time, their Internet customers grew 221,000 to a total of 24.2 million, which also mirrors what’s going on elsewhere and the aforementioned trends. At the same time, these distributors are getting hit with increased costs for programming – what the cable networks charge the delivery guys to carry their programming (and in theory, the availability of which is why people pay for cable in the first place).

What the CEO said in making the results announcement, however, doesn’t mirror other CEO’s thinking and that’s what I want to highlight today:

Asked why the company doesn’t raise prices to cover increased programming costs, CEO Tom Rutledge said, “If you do a 10% programming price increase and lose 10% of your customers, you don’t really get anywhere and yet you’ve alienated a lot of people. In fact, that’s actually happening and has been happening. I expect continuous fighting for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Rutledge gets it.  He is not confusing a symptom (customer loss amid increasing costs) with the disease (a rapidly changing business model reflecting consumer resentment at the high monthly out of pocket costs). Rasing prices would, in my opinion, accelerate the negative trend. It would stabilize earnings and make investors happy in the short term, but it’s not sustainable and would ultimately result in disaster.

More of us in business need to think that way. What’s a symptom and what’s the disease it reflects? What’s the right play for the long term even if it hurts in the short term? Does that make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

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?

Foreign Flavors

This Foodie Friday, let’s think about the Black Cheese donut. Yes, there is such a thing although unless you live in Jakarta you’ve probably not sampled one. It’s a donut that’s glazed in chocolate icing and then rolled in parmesan cheese. No, I’m not making this up – you can find them at Dunkin’ outlets in Indonesia.

Then there is the Thai snack food of BBQ-flavored fish. They’re bite-sized – yum! You can buy a creamed corn pie (think apple pie but creamed corn) at KFC outlets in Japan or haggis-flavored potato chips in Scotland. If you want a brief around the world tour of some odd food products that will probably seem strange to those of us with American palates, click here and scroll through 46 of them.

The thing is that they’re not odd, not to the people in the areas where they’re made and distributed. As with most things, if there wasn’t demand the product wouldn’t continue to exist. The fact that they got made in the first place is a tribute to anyone who was involved in the process but for whom the product has no appeal. Ignoring our own prejudices is something that helps us succeed in business. Most of us aren’t the typical consumer of our product and, therefore, must keep an open mind where research or other data tells us that there is a market opportunity.

You might not need to be reminded that not everyone sees the world in the same way. One glance at the evening news or even your own social media stream will confirm that for you. Not everyone will love a Black Cheese donut but apparently, enough people do to justify their continued presence on Dunkin’s shelves. We need to try some flavors that are foreign and, even if we don’t like them, remind ourselves that others do.  Crab flavored Pringles might not be your thing. Maybe you prefer the Iberian ham chips. I had my first ketchup flavored chips when I was in Canada. They seemed like a good idea – ketchup goes on french fries which are potatoes, so… Well, they weren’t, but I don’t think any less of our Canadian brethren for making them popular.

Want to keep your business open? Keep your mind open as well. The flavor might only be foreign to you!

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Filed under Consulting, food

Becoming An Icon

What do you think of when you hear the word “icon”? You might think of those little squares on your smartphone screen that link you into an app. You might think of some other graphic that has meaning in the way that it looks. Or you might think about someone or something that is a symbol and is the object of uncritical devotion, as the dictionary defines it. It’s this last meaning that I want to address today.

Photo by Agnieszka Kowalczyk

You can probably think of several iconic brands – companies that are market leaders and offer great (read that as high-value even if they’re not high-cost) products to their customers. Disney, Apple, and others would qualify here. They have a lot of things in common despite their very different business sectors. They have strong branding that is unique in the consumers’ mind. The brand itself has a clearly defined meaning in those minds as well. Customers know what to expect and the reality of the product they receive usually beats those expectations.

Icons offer high value. Customers get their problems solved at what they perceive to be a fair investment of time and money. Icons are also very consistent – it’s a repeatable brand experience. Lastly, their positions are highly-defensible. It will be very hard for another brand to take its place. None of that is news to you, right?

The question I have is why don’t we think of our personal brands in the same way? Do we think about becoming an iconic business person, one that has a strong, unique branding in the business world? Are we consistent, offering all of those with whom we interact the same, high-quality experience? When people deal with us, whether they are partners, clients, suppliers, peers or employees, do they know what to expect? Are they excited about that prospect because they know a positive experience awaits?

In a world where we’re heading for a million corporations of one, your personal brand is becoming your corporate brand. Why not make it as iconic as you can?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

The Fear Barrier

I spent last week at a conference of franchise consultants and franchisors. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know that one of the recurring themes is the need to be learning constantly and going to meetings like that one is one of the best ways to educate yourself. After all, who knows more about that challenges that you face in your business than other folks who are dealing with the same issues?

One issue that came up a lot in my conversations with my peers is the issue of fear. We’re in the business of helping people realize their dream of business ownership. We find out their “why” and then find businesses – franchises – that match their goals and their budgets. In the process, we end up sending them a lot of very specific information about potential investments and it’s at that point that the fear barrier sometimes kicks in.

Imagine that you’re looking at several opportunities that could make your dream come true. You have the resources to make it happen. The next step is for you to speak directly to the development people at the brand and to continue your investigation. What often happens at this point is that people “go dark.” They don’t respond to phone calls or emails. I suspect that it isn’t that they’re not interested but, rather, that they’re TOO interested and suddenly things are VERY real. The notion of quitting your job and investing your savings in something completely new can be terrifying.

The people with whom we’re having these discussions identified themselves. They filled out a request to chat with someone about franchise opportunities. They WANT to make this happen, or at least they want enough information to see if that’s what they want. I’ve had people say they’ve reviewed the information and a company I’ve found for them isn’t quite right. That’s fine: we keep looking (I represent over 500 different brands). They’re not unafraid but they’re not letting the fear paralyze them. They use it as motivation. They believe that they can change their lives for the better and 94% of the time they will be right (that’s the percentage of franchisees that consider themselves successful).

No matter whether you’re looking at franchises or at changing companies or jobs or careers, the fear barrier will be there. The people who are truly successful – the ones who realize their dream and find self-fulfillment – are the ones that break through the fear barrier, not waiting for the “right time” or accepting the things in their lives that are really unacceptable to them when they step back and think about it. Is that person you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks