Archives for category: Marketing
(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

 

Please don’t buy this book.

I’ve seen Jay speak a couple of times and the most recent time I was intrigued by the study he conducted with Edison Research that forms the back bone of “Hug your Haters.” The study asked two basic, yet fundament, questions in this new age of online reviews and online customer service:

1: How has the proliferation of social media, review sites, and other online forms changed the customer expectations of what good customer service really means.

2: When interactions between brands and humans are played out on the public stage, how must brands perform to in order to satisfy not only the customer, but the customer’s audience.

Hug your haters is a guidebook, informed by real data, on how to best handle complaints in this age of onstage public complaining. When I read a new business book it will sometimes take me down a particular intellectual path, other times it will provide nuggets of useful information that I can use, and sometimes I will disagree with it to such an extent, that I cannot wait to be done.

Hug your haters is different.

Hug Your Haters, for me, is validation of what I have come to believe over the last few years. Negative reviews are a chance to shine. Upset clients can be loyal clients if you can turn them around. Onstage interactions with upset clients is chance to show all those watching that you care enough to listen, empathize, apologize, and try to fix individual complaints.

It is amazing to read a book and have the author focus on a point of technique, where Jay talks about shock and awe was my favorite moment for this to happen, and realize “hey I love to do that – nice to know I’m not the only one!” Although the book primarily focuses on online strategies for customer resolution, is does deal with offline issues and really provides a blueprint, with real world examples, of how to provide customer service in almost any sized business. The basic philosophy is simple – answer every negative complaint, every time, in every channel. By doing this the author, and I agree, believes that customer service can become marketing.  This is because, more often than not, these interactions are conducted in public with an audience.  

If I have to have a complaint about the book it is that Jay lets Yelp off the hook far too easily. My own personal feelings about Yelp have evolved over the years; from outright despising them for their failure to engage with their clients and critics which you can read here, to acceptance with a few reservations which you can read here. However, the issue that Yelp arbitrarily filters out reviews from real paying clients, but does not seem to have the same scruples when it comes to negative reviews from people you do not recognize, and refuses to engage about what has happened, still stands.

However, this really is a minor quibble about what is without doubt the bible of how handle customer service in the modern age. It is not for the faint of heart. Following Jay’s playbook, you will encounter managers, owners, and employees, who feel that you are opening the company to being taken advantage or creating a culture where customers are rewarded for complaining. And there are some merits to these fears; however, these are far out-weighed by the rewards.

For me this book is validation – thank you Jay.

For others, it is heresy.

For most it will be revelatory.

But I like my competitive advantage, so please, don’t buy this book.

 

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

 

Statistics, standardized testing, crime prediction, Google, Facebook, “Moneyballing,” insurance risk analysis, and mathematical models all have one thing in common; they can all fall into the catch all term of “big data.”

There are very few parts of modern life that are not impacted by big data; for better or for worse. The mathematical models that harness vast amounts of data are used for everything:  to determine who should receive a bank loan, which teachers should be fired, whether to hire a particular worker, where police should patrol, which colleges are the best to apply to, which students should offered a place in a college, how sports are played, and even the sentences that convicted criminals should receive.

Some of these mathematical models are transparent.  The model featured in the book and movie “Moneyball” (you can read my review of the movie here) would be an example of a transparent model. The data and the rules that lead to the model’s conclusions are open and available for everyone to see. However, more and more, the models are opaque and it is these models that Ms. O’Neil goes after with devastating logic and passion.

The fundamental issue with these opaque models, other than a lack of openness and therefore the impossibility to challenge their assumptions, is that they can suffer from a lack of feedback or create self-reinforcing feedback loops. Because the models are opaque, many people may not even realize that are in a mathematical model, or that the model is partially or wholly responsible for their circumstance.

As Ms. O’Neil states in her introduction: “Without feedback; however, a statistical engine can continue spinning out faulty and damaging analysis while never learning from its mistakes. Many of the W.M.D’s (Weapons of Math Destruction) I’ll be discussing in this book … behave like that. They define their own reality and use it to justify their results. This type of model is self-perpetuating, highly destructive, and very common.”

Ms. O’Neil does go to some great lengths to stress that a lot of these models have been built with the intention of being fairer. The idea being that removing flawed human beings from decisions that could be made by mathematical models would remove their biases and faulty logic from the progress. However, it is these same flawed humans that are creating the models and without proper feedback, monitoring, and proper understanding of statistics, the models themselves can cause far worse problems than the ones they are supposed to solve.

Written for the layperson, about a subject that would cause most peoples eyes to glaze over unless written by Ms. O’Neil, this is a great and important book and one that I feel will become only more important as mathematical models become even more entwined in our lives. This is also an important book for those is position to make use of mathematical models in their business as there can be significant pressure to accept the word of a program when we should be asking some pretty hard and detailed questions; not only to ensure that what we are getting is correct, but also to ensure that we are not contributing to the Weapons of Math Destruction problem.

Garbage in – Garbage out, has never been more apt.  

By Mike Falconer

The most popular post to date on my site is: “Why I hate Yelp (and you should too!).”

I still do by the way; and everything is that post still stands today three years later; however, I have grown to accept it as part of the daily life of being in business and feel that, a few road bumps aside, I’ve made my peace with online reviews and even with Yelp.

That mighty sound a little contradictory, but the bottom line is that reviews are here to stay so we all have to deal with it.

“Scott, we have a Yelp problem. We keep getting these horrible reviews what can we do about it?”

” – Build a better product.”

Scott Stratten @unmarketing

There is no strategy or tip that I, or anyone else, can give you that will fix your business and your online reviews overnight (those that promise to do so are scamming you). If you are a horrible business the chances are you will have horrible reviews online.

Now you can write your own reviews, and risk the wrath of companies like Yelp or Google which are filled with people smarter than you or I (sorry it’s true) who spend a lot of time and energy trying to foil the attempts of those gaming their systems. If you are really unlucky you could also find yourself the subject of a FTC investigation and slapped with a serious fine. It has happened a few times already to those trying to buy or reward those for reviews (many thanks to he great Mike Blumenthal @mblumenthal for this awesome nugget of info and indeed for solidifying my thoughts on Yelp, and online reviews, in general) and expect it to happen a lot more when the government figures out how prevalent it is and how much money can be made. But why bother? It is simpler, easier, and better for your business to just fix the problems in the first place.

Think Yelp or Google (or whatever review site you feel tortures you on a regular basis) does not accurately reflect what your clients think of your business? Prove it! Survey your clients. Make it easy for them to complain and give you feedback. Have a policy to deal with complaints. And, of course, read, learn, and above all, reply to your reviews. If your survey results really are different from what you are seeing from the review sites then publish the data and be honest about what people were complaining about and what you are doing to fix it.

When I started reviewing my business’s clients what I found from the was that they wanted to respond. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive, and it allowed me to fix issues, even minor ones, quickly before they blew up online. It also provided real data about what problems we did have and where we were excelling.

A splash page with links to review sites helped make it easy for those who already reviewing us privately to review us in public. As a rule I and not a big fan of asking for reviews – particularly when companies just try to flood one channel. (400 reviews on Google and 10 on Yelp just makes you look shady.) However, a simple splash page with three or four links is tasteful and is the least spam-like way I have found and does not seem to offend anyone.

Unhappy clients will, of course, still happen. How you respond to them is all important, not just for the client, but your future clients who will read your response and see how you deal with complaints.

Apologize – it costs you nothing.

Try to resolve the issue – D’uh!

If you can’t resolve the issue – apologize again!

Do not get into a protracted fight online – would you rather be right or have an unhappy client, a bad review, and maybe worse? Genuinely apologize and try to make things right.

And never, never ever, send, say, or do anything that that you are not completely happy with being splashed all over the Internet. “If you take your review down we will give you your money back” means you care more about the bad review than the unhappy client. If the client deserves their money back – give them their money back!

I am a big fan of responding to even positive reviews – a simple thank you goes a long way. The interesting thing about responding to every review and trying to keep clients happy is that it is not just new clients that notice. Potential new employees use the tools available to them when researching their potential new employer. Those tools are Yelp and Google.

While I still hate Yelp – it really is a flawed product. It exists because customers used to basically be powerless. The balance may have shifted but I know at my business we try to solve issues, I know that we sometimes succeed and sometimes we fail. We are not perfect, but we have not stopped trying and I think even those that view us on Yelp can see it.

And I can live with that.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

“We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson shines a, sometimes unwelcome, light on the unforgiving nature of Internet shaming. Ronson convincingly argues that almost 200 years ago we abandoned shaming as a form of punishment, not due a lack of effectiveness with rise of the larger towns and cities, but because it was seen as overly cruel.

Ronson has extraordinary access to those who lives have been ruined because of a bad out of context joke, calling out someone for perceived sexist comments, for making perceived sexist comments, and for being too irreverent in a selfie at a national memorial. The author also cleverly focuses on those less worthy of pity; the successful author who gets found out for making up quotes, and exposes our own attitudes to shaming. And then there are those who seem to have beaten the shame cycle; the UK publicist who went to war with the tabloid press, and the small town where almost a hundred of its citizenry where reveled to be visiting a local prostitute.

As well as telling the story of the various victims of the modern age of public shaming, Ronson also tells us of his own journey and grappling with his own role in the shaming of others and of being of control of his internet persona. This does not hang together quite as well as the rest of the book. I have a hard time, for instance, that such a talented researcher cannot look back through their own Twitter history to see who they have previously shamed. However, this is minor quibble and a brave personal exploration and opening up about personal shame.

The book does end on a relatively positive note due to the miracles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), however the real point of the book is for the reader to examine how they feel about this return of public shaming. Even for those whom it is hard to defend; the hunters seeking big game trophies, the Vet taking pleasure in shooting a cat with a bow and arrow, and the plagiarizing author, to name but a few – do they really deserve this level of life altering destruction?

For those who answer yes, this book is for you. “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is, if nothing else, a testament to how much of a double edged sword internet shame can be, how cruel and destructive it is, and how uncomfortable we should all be with it. The Internet shows us at our best and worst as a culture – it is we who have to change.

Note: I have refrained from using the names of any of the subjects, or related people, in this post so as not to add to add to the problem.

By Mike Falconer

In the very short history of live streaming with mobile devices through apps such as Periscope, and perhaps more importantly Facebook due to its ubiquity, there have been number of notable firsts. Some have been amazing, some have been funny, and lots have been horrific.

The shooting death during a traffic stop of Philando Castile by a Police Officer, quite apart from being an awful tragedy which is still under investigation, had its immediate aftermath streamed live over Facebook as you have undoubtably heard if not indeed actually seen.

The debate, the police response, and I am sure the entire investigation, surrounding this shooting has been framed by one of the witnessing participants and their actions. Not that fact that a video exists but that a video exists and a significant portion of the population of the country, if not the world, will have seen and even taken part in the immediate aftermath.

There may actually be a lot of good that comes from the instant live streaming of events, even when bad things happen; however, we live in a pretty unforgiving world. And so it was the Philando Castile shooting that started me thinking about the wider implications not just for race relations and policing, but for how people will deal with difficult, or even impossible situations, and how that will impact those on the other end of those situations.

Social media, and its close cousin the online review, has created a culture that embraces the shaming of mistakes and, for the most part, rejects the idea of context. All to often these tools are used as instruments of revenge rather than as a tool to achieve resolution or inform other consumers. We don’t put people in stocks in the town square any more, but we do ruin their lives for a bad joke in ill taste or a photograph that seems to mock our most cherished beliefs. As Jon Ronson writes in his excellent – So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – “We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

In business, we may yet yearn for the days when an unhappy client meant a vitriolic Yelp post at 2AM. All businesses prefer, or at least they should, clients to complain when they are unhappy for whatever reason. A complaint from a client is an opportunity to salvage a situation and gain a more loyal client at the end of it. However, when the complaint itself becomes an instrument of revenge and shaming how should, or indeed how can, businesses respond?

The nightmare scenario could take many forms, however in the veterinary world it could take the form of difficult conversation about quality of life, cost of treatment, and accusations of medical error live streaming across the Internet, with the client’s social circle providing encouragement and additional fuel to the fire. Add to that nightmare scenario that most people are nervous when on camera and that as a business you have little chance to respond due to social circles being closed and content being shared far and wide. Imagine your worst experience in an exam room and then add 10s, 100s, maybe even 1,000s of additional participants not as a moment on what happened, but actively participating.

In this situation, it will not be about customer service and it will not be about a complaint. It will be about damage control. This will be about the power of one person to control their environment, and those around them, by leveraging their social circle and social reach. This will no longer be a conversation with a client, it will become responding to a leader of an angry mob.

With power comes great responsibility, but also the potential for great irresponsibility.

As people who deal with the public at stressful times we all need to be comfortable with the fact that live streaming is here and what it could mean for all interactions. The time to be thinking about this is not as the person across from you says “by the way I’m streaming this on Facebook.”

I do not have great insights into how to deal with these situations other than the same insights as to how to deal with online reviews. Deal with them the same way as if the camera was not there. Easier said than done I know. Try and address your clients concerns, be accommodating, and try and deliver excellent customer service. Be the reasonable one – be the professional. It may mean that we all need to be comfortable on camera – how we sound, how we talk, and what to say and not to say.

Live streaming has huge potential and has already affected the world and how we view events. However, it’s greatest impact may be at the personal level and end, or a new appreciation for, personal privacy. Banning technology rarely works. Adapting and being prepared, however, is far better option that sticking ones head in the sand. Facebook will still see the rest of you if you do anyway.

Notes on Startups, or how to build the future – with Blake Masters.


(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

Some will know Peter Thiel (pronounced teal) as one of the founders of PayPal, or maybe even as an Silicon Valley investor. However, it is much more likely that you recognize his name from his brief portrayal in the movie: “The Social Network.” Wherever you know is name from, even if it is from my blog, he is a man worth listening to. Blake Masters certainly thought so when he attended a series of lectures that Theil gave at Stanford and took more copious notes than anyone else. These notes started to circulate to a much wider audience than the student body and so a book project was born.

Zero to One is a reference to the ability of a technology company to go from nothing to something and thereby change the world. Interestingly, Theil defines a technology company as any company with new ideas – doing more with less. This generally means software startups in the mold of Google, Apple, and Facebook, but he is at pains to stress it does not have to be.

Zero to One is interesting because the ideas it contains about business are quite contrarian to what we believe as outsiders about startups and Silicon Valley (and I’m sure to a number insiders as well). We have all been brought up to believe that competition is a good thing; however, Theil makes a convincing case for competition as a destructive force. “Monopoly is the condition of every successful business” and “Every business is successful to exactly to the extent that it does something that others cannot.”

He is on less firm ground when he tries to apply his startup thinking to the wider geo-political world. Although he is undoubtedly on to something with defining groups of people as “indefinite optimists” “indefinite pessimists” “definite optimists” and “definite pessimists” – particularly as it relates to politicians, and finance – it is hard to buy this as it relates to entire continents.

It is interesting to note that a lot of the ideas contained in Zero to One are self evident but are so against standard business thinking (it is a brave man who says Malcolm Gladwell needs to rethink his ideas) that they have the favor of heresy. Why should you expect any business to succeed without a plan? A business that cannot provide a ten fold improvement in technology over its competitors is doomed to competition death. Don’t disrupt – avoid competition. The history of progress is one of monopolistic innovation.

What helps sell these heresies is how Theil relates these to the high tech modern fables that we have all grown to know, but not understand: Google vs. Microsoft. Microsoft vs. the United States Government. The rise of Facebook. And the reemergence of Apple.

One thing that explains a lot of the success of the Silicon Valley startup is the focus and vision of founders. However, as Theil points out this comes with its own drawbacks and potential pitfalls – particularly as you try to apply his thinking to general business environments.

“…(the) strange way that new technology companies often resemble feudal monarchies rather than organizations that are supposedly more modern. A unique founder can make authoritative decisions. Inspire strong personal loyalty. And plan ahead for decades. Paradoxically, impersonal bureaucracies staffed by trained professionals can last longer than any lifetime but usually act on short time horizons.”

The cult of personality can come at a cost for both the founder and the companies they have created. Founders are important not because they are the only ones who’s work and add value but because they can bring out the best work in other people. Adulation of a founder has to be tempered by the fact that it can turn into demonization and notoriety at any point. Theil indeed makes a striking comparison between founders and the worshiping of scapegoats and sacrifices of ancient peoples.

Zero to One is that most rare of things, a business book that actually contains new and interesting ideas about companies and markets that you felt you already knew about. It also has some stark lessons for those who seek to emulate the success of the startup model, without understanding what makes it successful in the first place. Hint: it is not the perks!

This is less a manual for the modern startup, and more a cautionary tale about borrowing ideas without understanding context. Whatever you take from it, it is certainly a book worth reading and Theil is a thinker we should hear more from outside of Silicon Valley.

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Talk about feeling conflicted…

For my American non-car fetish readers, Jeremy Clarkson is larger than life public figure and journalist from the UK who is known world-wide for the BBC motoring television show Top Gear.

When I say larger than life, a serious aspect of Jeremy Clarkson’s public persona is his often outrageous and politically incorrect statements in private and on Television. Some might say that everything has come to a head with the presenter multiple times in the past; however, for most the head was reached today when Clarkson was fired for punching a producer during an argument over food following a days filming.

The personal conflict comes from my love of Top Gear and Clarkson as a broadcaster. As a person, I am sure he is not someone I would like to spend much time with (I’m not a fan of his writing or politics.) However, the deeper conflict is how the media in the UK has essentially manufactured and over blown any number of remarks into career damaging scandals. The culture of bullying by majority over remarks or misunderstood events, by the major media and the social media hordes has to stop. We risk complete disengagement by future generations due to the risks of getting involved – it is just not worth it.

Finally, the human resource and management side of me applauds the BBC for having the courage to fire a key employee for completely unacceptable behavior in any workplace. Sorry Jeremy – but to needed to be fired for that.

The scandal is not the punch, the scandal is not incidents over number plates, or ill chosen remarks. The scandal is that television personalities and programing will be a little more bland and a little less interesting because we can’t just dismiss a personality as an idiot and not watch them if we disapprove.

(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

“Scott, we have a problem with social media. People keep going on there and complaining about our products. We just don’t know what to do!”

“Well, for starters, how about you make a better product?”

Unselling is about sales and how the rules of selling have fundamentally changed.

After two fun books (that I reviewed here and here) on the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media and customer service, Scott Stratton and Alison Kramer have given us a great and insightful book on taking the pulse of our customers and where our businesses should be aiming. These concepts of pulse and aim (you’ll have to buy the book for the definitions) tie together a lot of what Scott has been talking about online and on the Unpodcast for the last couple of years.

What Unselling manages to achieve is to create a structure and understanding of why certain methods work and why others don’t. It is one of the frustrations, for example, to here about customer service failures and successes that can seem to contradict each other. Unselling provides keys to unlocking these mysteries. It also debunks a lot of nonsense that other marketers and marketing books talk about.

An extremely easy read, with short chapters, this is not Scott Stratten the borderline stand-up comic and keynote speaker, this is Scott Stratten the insightful and intelligent marketer who had risen to the top of his profession (the jokes almost get in the way). While the previous books concentrated on the how and the what, Unselling is very much about the why.

This is not a book for sales people, or a book for marketing people, it is a book for business people, and people in businesses, because we are all sales and marketing people now.

For frequent and long suffering readers of my blog (there are some of you out there so my analytics tell me) may already know that I am a bit of a Scott Stratten fan boy. Last year I reviewed The Book of Business Awesome / Unawesome and wrote my own diatribe about kittens and QR codes which owes a lot to one of Scott’s talks. I am also a huge fan of the new “UnPodcast” and the “Vegas 30” podcast. The bottom line is  then, how could I not review Scott’s latest venture into the publishing world.

Subtitled “How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground,” QR codes kill kittens is familiar territory for anyone who follows Scott on a Twitter or Facebook (and familiar content if we are being honest about it). Essentially a short picture book, if gives example after example of bad implementation, missteps, and general marketing / social media insanity which makes QR codes are an excellent meta fore.

It is not that QR codes themselves are bad, it is that on the whole the implementation sucks and we use them for the wrong reasons – it is not customers who want QR codes, but rather the companies that think using them says something about how “tech friendly” they are, when in truth it normally says the reverse due to bad implementation.

This is not a how-to guide by any stretch of the imagination (see his two previous books for that kind of experience), but rather an affirmation that you are doing things right (or wrong).

Funny, clever, and vintage Scott, QR Codes Kill Kittens is the perfect present for the marketing or business person in your life…

…Or just a great treat for yourself.

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

At first glance this book does not have a lot to do with management or marketing, and even less with the practice of veterinary medicine (the three focus areas do my blog. However, Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow, deals with how the subconscious mind influences us in everything from our daily interactions, teamwork, and hiring, to our business and product choices.

Although the book starts off slow and in a manor that one might expect of a research based science book. The revelations start coming about half way through and don’t really stop.

Using, and citing research, as well as history and personal experience, Mlodinow draws a compelling picture that we rely on our unconscious mind more than we realize. The book does assure us that we can overcome the influences of the subconscious mind; however, it is difficult, and on the whole we are far better off with its input than without it. The real insight of the book, however, is the window it opens into the behavior of others – particularly for managers about their staff and their customers.

Possibly one of the most startling revelations of book is the scientific experiments that prove that our expectations of others are self fulling. In other words, if you believe that an employee is going to underperform, the chances are that they will because of your non-verbal cues and unconscious actions, that as a manager, you give to that employee. Researchers gave two teams of research students two sets of mice. One set they were told were normal, the other set had been genetically modified to increase their intelligence.

Both sets of mice were given the same intelligence tests and the results proved that the genetically modified mice were indeed significantly more intelligent. But in reality the mice were not the subject of the experiment but the research students themselves – both sets of mice were normal. The only difference between the two groups was that one had been labeled “more intelligent.”

As humans, we are very good at showing our emotions, but hiding them takes great effort. As the book points out, great method actors are successful because they actually try to experience the emotions they are trying to portray. The subliminal mind controls muscles that the conscious mind cannot. That is why some politicians, and car sales men, can come over as “sleazy.” Non verbal communication forms a language more complex and nuanced than our verbal communication. In schools, a child’s popularity has been found to directly correlate with that child’s ability to read the non verbal cues of their peers.

Non- verbal cues can also extend to surroundings, logos, and uniforms. Our subconscious mind takes these elements and if they resonate with our expectations of an business, for example, we will actually thinking better about that business than we would if these trappings are not there. It may not overcome a bad customer experience, but it could make the difference between a client returning not if the experience was neutral. The subconscious mind stets the stage for our interactions before they take place. Designers of lobbies and logos, as well as job seekers please take note! Presentation matters, even when we think it doesn’t or shouldn’t.

Another fascinating insight is the area of categorization and groups. As humans we automatically put ourselves into groups and categorize almost everything we see and interact with without being aware that we are doing it.

This explains why departments in a business that have a strong identity can actually harm wider team work. Examples of this abound where people spilt themselves into groups and then have issues with similar groups who should be working towards the same goal. With some fantastic examples from social research, that would now be considered unethical, as well as historical, and scientific examples, the author paints a picture of how we ignore the subconscious mind, and it’s influence at our detriment and peril.

That goes for mangers, employees, wives, husbands, children, parents and humans as a species.

(Clicking on the cover above will take you to the book’s Amazon page and contribute to my book buying habit / problem.)

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