Stuff You Can Always Use

Below is Seth Godin's Blog entry from 5/6/2011.  His headline for it is What's High School For?  I would re-name it: Stuff You Can Always Use.

When I read it, it struck me that I practice some, not all, some consciously, some not.  I think for anyone wondering how to make your way in the world, what to focus on, how to better your lot, what do you do to succeed, how to challenge yourself to grow personally, this is a good (but not complete) list to consider: 

Perhaps we could endeavor to teach our future the following:

  • How to focus intently on a problem until it's solved.
  • The benefit of postponing short-term satisfaction in exchange for long-term success.
  • How to read critically.
  • The power of being able to lead groups of peers without receiving clear delegated authority.
  • An understanding of the extraordinary power of the scientific method, in just about any situation or endeavor.
  • How to persuasively present ideas in multiple forms, especially in writing and before a group.
  • Project management. Self-management and the management of ideas, projects and people.
  • Personal finance. Understanding the truth about money and debt and leverage.
  • An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.
  • Most of all, the self-reliance that comes from understanding that relentless hard work can be applied to solve problems worth solving.

Apply as needed!

Beware Of Excellent Reviews

About a year ago, I went through the process of purchasing a new car.  My salesman was personable, and overall the experience was pleasant.  When we finished, he handed me a customer survey to fill out.  The salesman explained it would be sent on to the manufacturer to monitor the dealership’s overall performance and my experience.  Incredibly, I was then told by the salesman that should I mark all areas ‘excellent,’ I would get my first oil change free.  I’m thinking that the manufacturer is getting a lot of ‘excellent’ surveys from this particular dealership!   Honest feedback, it would seem, is a premium for corporations.

According to Chris Casey, a contributor on, “Getting meaningful, honest feedback from customers can be an amazing tool for managing your business.” He added that the process needs to be independent of the provider or department getting surveyed.

Not news to us of course, but Chris goes on to explain some specific benefits on why having an independent process in place can provide huge leverage for a company, including:

Immediate feedback to fix a problem – allows you to respond in a way that can salvage a customer that would otherwise be lost.  The statistics are overwhelming that customers will be MORE loyal after having a bad experience that the company fixes.   

Feedback to recognize great performance – one of the most important reasons that people work is to be recognized.  Comments and scores become the basis for significant and meaningful recognition for associates.  Letters, plaques or dinner for two will go a long way to motivate and increase their commitment to your company.

Great, independent feedback brings a great opportunity for improvement.  With improvement comes more loyal customers and happier employees.

So is the moral of the story “beware of constant excellent reviews?”  Actually, yes it is.  From the consumer side; however, I can say, I did enjoy my free oil change.

Baseball Isn’t The Same

Its spring -- one of the most beautiful seasons of the year. Spring means a lot for sports – the Final Four, the Masters, the NHL Finals, and finally the opening of baseball season.

That’s why I’d like to talk about baseball. Rangers Ball Park – Arlington, Texas. It’s the Rangers against the Angels. I bought my tickets online a week before the game.

The day before the game, I received a “Thank you” e-mail from the Rangers. The e-mail included a lot of information about the game. For example, it had pictures of the pitchers, their stats, and even video links with highlights of the pitchers’ previous performances. The Rangers also included helpful information such as directions to the stadium, information about the stadium (including a link to a seating chart), and a link to an A-Z Guide with a lot of information on the way things work at Rangers Ball Park at Arlington (customer service).

In that e-mail, there was also a banner with information about the Major League Baseball Application for smart phones (cross sales), and a second banner with information about how to buy more tickets (up sale). There was also some information about the pitchers’ “Scouting Report,” for the lovers of the game. It had precise information about the pitchers’ strengths and weaknesses (precise information about the product). The only thing missing was information about the weather for game day.

The game started at 7:00. At 5:30, a huge rain storm arrived. I was in the middle of the storm 40 minutes before the game, and I think a lot of people thought the game would be canceled. But I had hope, like I did as a kid. I hoped that there was sun in Arlington. When we arrived in Arlington, there was.

I was greeted at the entrance by a smiling and friendly lady. She had great attitude. She smiled and helped me scan the tickets. At the end of the interaction, she said, “Enjoy the game,” (Customer Service) and we headed to our section. We entered the tunnel through the field, and there it was: this magic view. I felt like a kid for a moment.

When we got closer to our seats, another nice lady approached us. She smiled and pointed us to our seats, but did not come all the way with us. I passed by a paper towel roll, and wondered why it was there. I sat down in my seat and my legs and back got all wet. Then I realized that the lady missed the opportunity to provide me with great customer service – she could have given me a paper towel to dry my seat before I sat down.

I had nice seats behind home plate – it was amazing to see a 94 mph fastball from such a short distance. I hoped to catch a foul ball for my kid.

Play ball!

Wherever I looked, there was a brand name. Everyone was trying to sell me something. There were three video screens, with video game brands presenting short video presentations prior to each Rangers batter. There were promotions, contests at every half inning, and a lot of noise. There was so much sound that I was surprised during the few moments when it was quiet. Noise came from the stadium speakers, attendees tweeting messages that would appear on the main video screen about food preferences in the stadium (authentic and live customer preference surveys), and people sending text messages trying to guess the total attendance. Suddenly, it seemed hard to pay attention to the game!

There were a lot of options for food and drink. One could find a local or Dutch beer, eat a burrito, and—obviously the “must” for a baseball game—have some peanuts and a hot dog. There were also lots of seating options. One could be seated on the top row of the left field for less than $10, or sit in the Cuervo Lounge (invitation only)--it’s up to you, the customer. It’s about giving a lot of options which target several segments, all with the goal of getting people to the ballpark.

If you could manage to pay attention to the game, you would realize that the game itself is pretty much the same. It’s still just as hard to hit a 95 mph pitch or an 84 mph changeup. Even today, when pitchers throw faster, hitters are stronger, and players have more athletic capabilities, it’s about the same thing it always has been: trying to hit a small white ball in the “field of dreams.”

I had a great time. I saw the game, ate peanuts and a hot dog, drank a beer, sang “Take me out to the ball game,” and danced to country music during the seventh inning. I got to spend some great time with my family. The Rangers didn’t win, but there are many more games to play. While I was in the ballpark, I forgot about the daily stress of life. I was disconnected from my busy life and my long list of “things to do.” I was so happy for those two and a half hours.

While I was walking that night to my car, I thought, “What did I buy with my ticket? What did I get from my ticket? What do the Rangers actually sell?” I think I got joy. I think that the Rangers sell recreational experiences, and that they understand what they sell very well.

That night in bed, I thought, “Do the Rangers know that I went to the Stadium?” Obviously they do know, but my real question was:  What will they do about it? The next morning, I got an e-mail that answered that question. The e-mail was personalized with my name, and had the subject line: “Game Recap and thank you from the Rangers.”  It contained the score; a recap, video highlights of the game, information about upcoming games, and a link to purchase tickets (Keep selling). It also had coupon codes with ticket discounts (Sales Promotions). Finally, it had another very important section, which read: “GIVE US YOUR FEEDBACK. Did you enjoy your time at the game? Is there anything you'd like to tell us about your game day experience at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington?” It had a link to an eight-question survey, where they asked about the overall experience, the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff, and the entertainment value of the audio, video, and music. It also asked about the experience at the Rangers retail stores, the concessions, and the factors that influence your decision to attend to a ball game. The only thing that could have made the e-mail better would have been some incentive for the customer to actually take the survey, like a coupon or discount.

After this experience, I understand that it is not luck that makes Major League Baseball teams so profitable. I understand that it takes a lot of effort to have good communication with your customer, and that it is even harder to create a great experience for your customers. It’s not just about the desire to do it. It’s not even only about money. It’s about good planning of the full customer experience; it’s thinking as your customer thinks, all the time.

How often do you think as your customer thinks?

Own Your Customer Service

A recent article in USAToday reports that, "The government is introducing sweeping protections for fliers to bar long tarmac delays on international flights; require airlines to reimburse bag fees if luggage is lost; and pay people double if they're bumped off flights."  The article further points out that after regulations were implemented a couple years ago barring tarmac delays on domestic flights, long tarmac delays in the U.S. have "...all but been eliminated."  You don't say?  What a shock.   
The airlines have practiced "customer abuse" for so long that they are having more and more regulations to protect fliers (customers!) imposed on them.  Whether it's the government if you're in a quasi-monopoly business like the airlines, or customers voting with their wallets if you're in a truly competitive business and provide poor service, this a great example of: if you don't own your customer service, someone will do it for you.  
You choose to provide good service or not.  You choose whether serving customers is noble and worthy of you, or a "pain."  You choose whether customers applaud, hug you, and return, or complain, yell at you, and go somewhere else.  If you don't choose, or if you make the wrong choice, you'll have your choice made for you.  Ask anyone at the airlines who might really care: it's better to do the choosing.

Asking The Right Questions

Mystery shops are a great way to measure if a company’s procedures and protocols are being followed by a company’s associates.  Are the floors clean? Are you greeting each customer within 10 seconds of entering the store?  How long is the average wait for service?  All of these are important quantitative metrics that provide insight into the specifics of a store’s operations and compliance (or lack of).  More importantly, how do these policies impact the customer?  Do they really care if the entire product is fronted perfectly, and if so, how greatly does this impact a customer’s perception of his/her experience?  In order to gain these insights, you must also ask subjective questions in your mystery shops.  

Simple ratings questions are one the most effective methods for capturing qualitative information.   Asking shoppers questions such as rating the friendliness of the associates with whom they interacted; rating the knowledge of the car salesman; and/or what the likelihood is that they would recommend a location to a friend based on the visit are all great questions to ask in a mystery shop.  The averages of these ratings can then been filtered against certain key behaviors or procedures to gauge their relative importance to the overall shopping experience.  Take the following as an example:

When asked to rate their likelihood to recommend a large convenience store chain to their family and friends on a scale of 0-10, our mystery shoppers gave an average rating of 8.9 in 2010 (a really excellent average).  When the shelves were not fronted, this rating dropped to an 8.12.  When the restrooms weren’t clean, the average rating was a 7.93.  When the shoppers were neither greeted nor thanked during their visit, the likelihood to recommend rating dropped to an average of 6.6.  Armed with this information, our client was then able to implement initiatives and contests that focused on fostering interactions with the customers (without diminishing the importance of keeping the stores clean and in good order), since this behavior was shown to have the greatest impact on the customer experience.

If the goal of any mystery shopping program is to create actionable data which improves performance—and ultimately brings an increase in sales and profit—you must ask the right questions to achieve that end.  Utilizing both qualitative and quantitative data, and, thereby, analyzing these two types of information in tandem, is an important method for maximizing the effectiveness of a mystery shop data, thus gaining the best tactical insights; however, to get useful answers, you need to ask useful questions.  Are you asking the right questions?