Archives for posts with tag: branding
(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.

 

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.

Why does being a customer suck?

Does it at your business?

Are you being honest?

How would you know if it did?

What happens when you walk into a restaurant you’ve never been to before? Do you stand there for a moment wondering whether you need to seat yourself or wait to be seated? Do you go up to the counter and order? How open are they going to be to changing one of their dishes to meet your needs?

O.K., enough question marks.

As a restaurant owner, or any business owner for that matter, it is obvious how your business works to you, but your clients almost certainly don’t walk through those doors every day -mores the pity.

Education of the client is often held up as a key component in a lot of service industries to solve these issues (yes veterinarians, I’m looking at you). Our job, as delivers of services however, should be to hold our clients hands through this process and make it as painless as possible. Clients should not need to become experts in how to deal with us, or the industries in which we work.

As I discussed at some length in this post about marketing and branding, what you sell is not necessarily what your clients are buying. The customer experience should reflect this. I had a recent customer service experience that brought this all into sharper light. Because the owner of the business is a friend, I’m not going to go into that particular experience directly, but it did cause me to re-evaluate what I do, how I respond to clients who do have issues, and do some thinking at length about what “customer service” actually is. Instead, let me tell you about my bathroom…

A while back I had a bathroom tiled. I spent a significant amount of time picking out exactly the right shade of tile that I wanted and the size. At the end of day one of the installation however, I come to find out that the tiles are actually two slightly different shades. I talk with the installer and the answer is “Well that is how they come – It is to give the effect of real marble.” Well, I did not want two tone tiles, I wanted them all the same color. Who is right here, and who is wrong? The store, and the installer, are both perfectly right – the tiles are manufactured that way and I’m sure that for most installations it would have made lots of sense, but that was not what I was purchasing! I was purchasing my bathroom tiled in a particular shade!

Interestingly, I was was in a locally owned and operated store a little while later and happened to look at their tiles. Their display was actually setup so that for tiles of the type I was looking at, all the shades of the same batch of tile were shown together as a single piece rather than just an individual tile. This removed the “different shade shock” that I had experienced when I had bought tiles for my bathroom.

Other than showing my bad taste in tiles, what does this experience tell us? It tells us that it is very difficult to forget information or view things as if we don’t know about that information. Chip and Dan Heath, in their book “Switch – How to Change things when change is hard,” have an excellent exercise that you can use with staff – or even just friends – that shows this in action. Give a volunteer a piece of paper with the name of a very common tune written on it and get them to ‘knock’ out the rhythm of the tune on a table and see if the others in the room can guess what tune it is. Try it with a number of different tunes and people. Those knocking the tune out will find it really hard to understand why everyone else in the room can’t guess correctly. The reason for this is that they are hearing the tune in their own heads along with the knocking. They have knowledge which everyone else in the room does not. Not only are they unable to communicate that knowledge, but they don’t understand how or why everyone else in room does not have that knowledge – it is an alien perspective to them.

This is just like my tile sales man and installer who could not understand why I did not know what they knew about tiles. It is also the same phenomenon that has you hesitant and unsure in the lobby of a restaurant you’ve never been to before – the big sign saying “please wait to be seated” can be a huge relief. I’d also argue that this is one of the reasons why chains are so successful. Familiarity is easy!

So what does this all tell us?

Well perhaps we need to start really listening to our clients and thinking about their experience and how it is not our experience. It might sound trite but customer service is about serving the customer. If we have a lot of education deliver to a client, perhaps the problem is that we have not made things simple enough. Of course, if the client wants more information they need to have it, and we need to have the resources to hand to help deliver. But we also know, from numerous studies, that very little information is actually retained when we deliver large amounts of it in person. We also know that lots of choices actually result is less decisions being made.

Clients are not stupid, but they don’t have, and shouldn’t need, a manual to use our businesses or get the services we are trying to deliver to them. One of the reasons why Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad are so successful is that anyone can use them from day one with the minimum of instruction. Our businesses and services should be the same way.

Being a customer can suck – but it is our job to ensure that it doesn’t!

 

A check list for removing suckyness from the customer experience

  • If we have have to explain things over and over how can we stop the need for explaining?

  • Do we get frustrated with our clients lack of knowledge – perhaps they are not the problem?

  • What do our clients complain about?

  • How successful are we with our recommendations?

  • Do we have compliance issues?

  • When issues arise, how could they have been avoided?

If you have any additions to this list, or have any customer service stories to share, please let me know in the comments!

So Facebook and Twitter, which we looked at last week, are now part of your lexicon, what now?

There are other social media tools out there which can be of significant benefit. For Business to Client (B2C) businesses such as veterinarians, Facebook and Twitter are the ones to be using. However, having a strategy for some of the other sites can set you apart from your competitors and provide some interesting opportunities.

Foursquare

A personal favorite of mine, Foursquare is a location based social media tool with game elements. What does all that mean? Well, Foursquare allows users to “Check-in” to businesses and other venues using their smart phone’s GPS functionality. By “Checking-in,” users of the service let friends, via the service itself or by sharing on Facebook and / or Twitter. know where they are and why they are there. The game element comes from trying to rack up the most check-ins, and there by points and “badges,” than your friends. Users of the service can also compete with strangers for the title of “Mayor” of businesses or locations. The Mayor title does not mean anything other than bragging rights and more points when checking in. Badges can sometimes be difficult to get and so the competition can drive behavior. An example of this is the “Gym Rat” badge, that can only be achieved by checking in at a gym 10 times in 30 days.

Foursquare Badges

A selection of Foursquare badges

 Businesses can offer specials to Foursquare users when they check-in. Chilli’s, for example, offers free chips and salsa to anyone checking in on Foursquare – customers just show their smart phone to their server. Businesses may also reward the mayor of their business, making the title more coveted and therefore create competition around their brand.

 The grand theory of Foursquare is that it creates loyalty. If users have a choice between two businesses, one of whom there trying to become mayor of, they will choose that business or one is running a special for Foursquare users. Users of Foursquare can also leave tips, good and bad, about locations helping other users to choose where they might want to eat – for example. Because it is location based, it only offers places that are nearby, and allows the user to filter the results by type. This solves the information overload that can occur if smart phone users just trying to use Google.

Foursquare definitely has the potential to create a community of loyal users, and it has personal benefits (I use it to help keep track of my expenses!) However, the user base is small compared to other social media sites – particularly outside of major metropolitan areas. There are a number of other competitors in the location based world, the largest of whom is Facebook Places. The advantage of Facebook places is that it is part of Facebook, but it lacks a lot of the game elements that makes Foursquare fun and does not have the same controls on sharing.

Foursquare and other location based services have come under fire for the potential safety implications of letting your social media “friends” know where you are. This has been way overblown and as long as users are sensible, not creating a venue called “home” and checking into it for example, location based services will be around for a long time to come.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn, is often called the professional Facebook and with good reason. Like Facebook, LinkedIn revolves around a profile. The difference is that your LinkedIn profile is essentially your resume. You can find mine here. Users of LinkedIn can then make connections with current, and former, colleagues to create a network. It is then possible to reach out to colleagues of colleagues more easily because you know which of your network knows them. LinkedIn has an introduction feature specifically for this. It is also possible to recommend, and get recommend, which also then appears on your profile.

Mike's LinkedIn Profile

Part of my LinkedIn Profile

Groups on LinkedIn are pretty much just like other web forums, but by being directly in LinkedIn it is possible to be a member of large numbers of different groups, on different subjects, without having to login to multiple sites. The additional functionality of being able to make connections that can help you professionally in the real world is obvious.

 A questions section does pretty much what you’d expect – allows for users to post questions and then other users to answer them. The advantage that LinkedIn has over other sites with a similar model, such as Quora, is that you are able to research the person giving the answer to see whether they know what they are talking about. You also then have a mechanism for connecting with them.

 A recent, and extremely innovative feature from LinkedIn has been news. This allows users to browse and share news items with their connections based on popularity within professional categories. It also allows users to share these news stories via Twitter – expanding the reach of your network yet again.

 LinkedIn does allow companies to have their own profiles, a bit like pages on Facebook, and this is interesting from a recruitment perspective. Groups are also being used successfully for recruitment and many feature a jobs section. LinkedIn also recently launched an “apply via LinkedIn” button that can be used for online job postings outside of the main LinkedIn site.

LinkedIn is a business to business tool (B2B), rather than the B2C tool that Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter can be; however, don’t be surprised if LinkedIn does not become more and more a factor in recruitment of even minor posts in organizations. LinkedIn does have many issues (their mobile app is hopeless for anything other than news for example), but is a great professional tool for anyone interested in their career, or profession.

YouTube

YouTube is the video sharing site on the web and although being social it not at its core, it is still social media. Users uploaded material which they, and other users, can then share and comment on. Users can even create their own channels of material making it easier for other users to find similar videos. YouTube also has a number of great tools allowing you to embed a video directly into a website or blog. Video dramatically increases your website’s visibility to search engines, like Google and clients love it – a win all round!

Where YouTube really comes into its own, however, is that it is very easy for a video to go viral – spread around the internet like a virus. Of course, the video has to have some kind of merit; be funny, very dramatic, or even just be very bad, but if your brand is attached to this video it can be great publicity or almost zero cost. For example, it is not unusual for clips of TV shows on YouTube to have dramatically higher ratings that on the channels they were produced for!

Above is a great example of a viral pet video – 10 1/2 million views as of this writing and massive mainstream media attention for Denver’s owners. All from a video shot upon getting home and finding someone got into the cat treats!

 A great test of YouTube’s power is to pick any subject you like and search for a video on it at YouTube. Your are almost guaranteed that someone has shot and posted a video on that very subject. Thank you Corey for showing me this!

 Video production is really outside the realm of this already overly long post, but it is simple, very low cost and an extremely effective way to market your business.

Some of these social media tools may appeal to you, and other may not. There is definitely a take it or leave it feel to the services that we have talked about today but it is important to understand that to not be involved in social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and to an extent Foursquare does not mean that your brand and business are not affected by these mediums. Your clients are using these tools and so might your competitors you should at least have an awareness of what is being said and why. The genie is out of the bottle and without getting involved, it is possible for you to loose influence over your brand – the control probably went some time ago as it is now the customer who ultimately defines what your brand means.

Next week, a change of pace: Up to your neck in traditional media!

%d bloggers like this: