The Macaron Nazi.

soupCraft a perfect image for your business complete with logo, tagline and mostly stellar online reviews. That’s great. You WANT all those things. But many businesses have a hard time getting their heads wrapped around the idea their identity is public property and that even though it’s your blood, sweat, tears and money that built the business, you have an unpaid marketing department.

They’re called customers and they notice every detail. And to make it worse, every one of them is an expert. The sooner you get comfortable that their “expertise” is perfectly valid and will be shared relentlessly, the better.

There is a French bakery in a neighboring town that I pass by quite often. Their macarons are sublime and I would put anything they do that’s vaguely pastry up against anyone. The couple that owns the place are as nice as can be…until something happens that they don’t like.

It can be a dog tied to a lamp post in front of the shop, a noisy group, a guy moving a chair from one table to another, someone who asks a lot of questions and, mostly, Yelp reviews that are anything less than 5 stars. Reading their Yelp replies is as horrifying as anything Stephen King has written. Anyone who offers the slightest criticism gets a faceful of “what culinary school did you go to?” In this day and age, if you have a sizable number of Yelp reviews (and they do), there is no need to panic over one or two mediocre reviews. But if you insist on ripping into customers on-line, you, yes YOU are the one tearing down your business. New potential customers don’t want to run the risk of running into Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. They’ll find somewhere else to buy a tart as I reluctantly did. I just could not reward their aggressive online persona with my money.

It’s natural to want to defend your business or your employees but keep a level head. Online reviews are generally opinions and opinions are highly subjective. Generating what amounts to a court transcript of a back-and-forth with a disgruntled customer can never be good for you. Your regular customers will most likely side with you and the other 99.9% of the population that makes up people you WANT to be your customers will not want to get involved. Maybe your regular customers will mention that they read the bad review and give you an “attaboy” for your crusty (see what I did there?) response but that doesn’t make the cash register ring. Cold solace I’d say.

Writing a defensive “it’s easy to hide behind the internet” response to a bad review should be given the same consideration as drunk texting an ex. Think about it. Think about it again…and then don’t do it.

So what SHOULD you do? Remember your three constituencies in this case:

  1. The reviewer.
  2. Happy customers who will most likely continue to visit in spite of the review.
  3. People reading the review who are not customers yet

Think of the reviewer. But think HARDER about #3. It’s perfectly acceptable to offer your email address and ask for more details on their visit. Let them know that their business in important to you. Heck, it’s perfectly fine to get more to the point and say that YOUR business is important to you and you want to make it better.You should want to understand what could have made their experience everything they’d hoped it would be.

Get the information if it’s offered and see if there is anything to learn from. If it’s helpful, see what you can change or retrain staff where appropriate. If the feedback is a corner case or not helpful, disregard it and don’t feel you have to explain why it’s not helpful to the reviewer.

Remember, it’s more important to grow your business than be right on the internet.

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The NFL, billionaires and your money.

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The late Art Modell, Cleveland Browns owner who spirited his team away in the dead of night pictured with Art Spanos who is ill-advisedly moving his in broad daylight to a city that doesn’t care.

It was with some sadness this morning that I heard the San Diego Chargers were moving, inexplicably, to a small soccer stadium in Los Angeles. I lived in the San Diego area for a few years in the early 2000s. As a huge sports fan, I never forgot my Bay Area roots. When the Giants played the Padres, my sons and I wore black and orange to the games and cheered loudly for our guys. And while I remained a 49er fan, I did root for the Chargers while I was down South. They didn’t play in the 49ers division and, in fact, didn’t play the 49ers at all while I was there. Chargers tickets were easy to acquire and the great weather made tailgating, almost literally, a day at the beach. The fans were were wonderful and the games were a positive experience unless the Raiders were in town.

As a city, San Diego is a sweet good natured kid. Because of the huge military influence between the Navy in Coronado and in the Bay as well as Camp Pendleton, many people come in from other parts of the country. Some stay. Some go. But San Diego has greeting, embracing and saying goodbye down pat. Everyone is welcome and when you have to leave for whatever reason, folks buy you a beer and wish you well.

When I heard that the Stockton-based Spanos family was pulling up stakes to become, at best, the fifth most popular team in a city (Los Angeles) that doesn’t even like pro football, I wasn’t surprised.

When Spanos wanted a new staduim, San Diego said no and billionaires like Spanos don’t like being told no.

When San Francisco told my beloved Giants no, the Giants investors (for the most part) financed their own stadium and now that we’re 17 years down the road on that, they’ve done quite nicely for themselves. The City too benefited as the surrounding neighborhood is now vibrant. Even on non-game days and even in winter. San Francisco is just not the type of city to give spoiled rich guys a hand. They stop just short of giving them the finger as a matter of fact. But SF knows what it offers and if you want it, build your own damn stadium.

When the 49ers wanted SF to hand them a stadium with a big bow on it, the City said no. The team leaned hard on my childhood home (Santa Clara, CA) and there they built an odd, soulless collection of luxury suites with a football field next to it. The Yorks who own the team are doing well financially on the stadium with Taylor Swift concerts, WWE wrestling matches, truck pulls and the like. Football-wise, the place was a ghost town last year and now the city of Santa Clara is suing the 49ers for various reasons.

Santa Clara, it turns out, had nothing to offer but acreage next to an amusement park and glass cubes that house tech firms. The warm, inviting town where I spent my childhood sold itself down the river to a rich family that doesn’t need it.

Long story short, San Diego deserved better but it’s not a market that rich, flinty profiteers like Spanos value. And while the fans deserve better, I’m happy that San Diego didn’t prostitute itself out to keep a rich man’s toy in its warmth. San Diego is a great place to live and raise a family. That’s good enough. In fact, it’s great.

Rather than being seen as a city that “lost” an NFL franchise, I hope they’re the latest example in what becomes a long list of cities that keep their priorities straight as carpetbagging sports team owners move from city to city and wonder why so many seats are empty.

One more thing: Oakland? Be strong. Be smart.

 

 

Customer Experience When They’re Walking Away.

apple store What makes you “like” a business? What makes you love one. What makes you feel you’re a valued and enthusiastic part of an entire ecosystem that forms that enterprise?

When building a customer experience, it’s easy to cherry pick. It’s easy to gravitate toward the part of the experience that is most obvious or the one that’s most personally interesting to you.

When putting together a retail experience such as a brick-and-mortar store, a restaurant or a winery tasting room, everyone puts a LOT of thought and effort into the initial impression. The visceral feeling of the “unveil” is hard to resist. Who doesn’t love a good “voilà moment?”

I’m not agitating for undervaluing that part that part of the experience but a flush of excitement that fades is common. Ask yourself this: Would you prefer a customer loving you most on the way IN or loving you most on the way OUT of your business?

One of my favorite customer experiences to be had is at the Apple Store. Every second of the customer experience has been tailored to put you in the proper frame of mind. The precision look of the stores with their reliance on glass and modern design set your expectations as you approach. The eager staff that greets you as you walk into the often crowded stores has the right balance of clean eager nerdiness to make you feel like it’s a place of endless possibilities that will be quickly curated to your particular need.

If all customers walking in were there to primarily do one thing, the Apple Store would not be so amazing. But a person looking at a $3000 MacBook Pro, one looking for a charger cable and one looking for repair services all have needs for a vastly different experience. Triaging that quickly is key so that the superior experience for the unique use case starts immediately.

More often than not, customers walk out of an Apple store not feeling gouged by the incredibly high profit margins but with a feeling that “you get what you pay for.” They often walk out with a – some would say smug – feeling that they’re part of something special. Statistically, Apple customers are among the most loyal in tech and the customer experience building to THAT feeling is a huge part of it.

How do you want your customers to feel when they walk out of your business? Build your customer experience from back to front. How they felt walking in is important in teeing things up but how they feel leaving is who you are to them.

Don’t just stand there, manage something!

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I was just at my regular Starbucks. When I got there, it was the usual for a Sunday morning. Maybe six people in line at any given time with three baristas working. I sat at my usual perch reading my Kindle and drinking my dopio espresso macchiato. I also treated myself to some oatmeal.

After a while, one of the baristas went on break just as everyone in the entire Tri-Valley area came in for Frapuccinos. The line doubled and then tripled and then quadrupled. Ashley and Jasmine kept their heads down. Ashley ringing, pouring drip coffee and warming food. Jasmine making drinks that became more labor intensive as the weather heated up. Simple lattes became Fraps requiring blending and all those powders and syrups that pump the calorie count through the roof.

I was starting to wonder how this was going to play out. The looks of the folks in line got less happy. A few would-be customers walked in and out when the saw the line. But Ashley kept greeting people by name and asking if they wanted the usual and apologizing for the delay. Jasmine kept baristaing and taking the neverending order fine-tunings from the customers gathered around her station waiting for drinks. Throw in numerous requests for water, trays and bags.

I was thinking, wow, this is a scheduling nightmare. What would I do if I were a manager? Call someone in? Surrender revenue and start giving out free drink coupons as an apology? And then I realized that the employees were doing exactly the right thing. They didn’t start working at an exaggerated panicked pace. They didn’t get short with customers. They kept working quickly and smoothly. They continued asking Little Leaguers how their teams were doing and if drinks were made perfectly.

Eventually, another employee came on shift and took the register. Ashley then cleaned like a madwoman and asked Jasmine about stocking levels. Milk, cups, lids, syrups and powders got restocked. And just like that, it was over and order was restored.

While the manager-mind in me was racing to figure out what could be done to improve the situation, Ash and Jasmine were working the issue. They knew what they were doing and they did it. They trusted each other and went about their business in a way that I think would have made Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz proud. Had Howard been there (or some other “suit”), I’m sure it would have been a disaster of making moves for the sake of making them because that’s how the management mind is wired.

Do something. Improve. Suggest. Take command.

As a manager who manages in a completely different business that has nothing to do with coffee or retail, I learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing other than trust the team, trust the process and shut the hell up.

It Has Been Zero Days: The Important Lesson of Casey Fury.

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In May of 2012, a shipyard worker aptly named Casey Fury wanted to leave work early so he did what anybody would have done.

He set a box of rags on fire.

The thing is, Casey Fury was working on a nuclear submarine. He thought there’d be a little smoke, he’d cough dramatically a couple of times and they’d send his sorry ass home. Instead, the fire got a teensy weensy bit out of control. Over 100 firefighters fought Casey’s fire for 12 hours but alas, the USS Miami was a mess.

The original estimate for repairs was $450,000,000. Yes. Fourhundredandfiftymilliondollars. You could burn Detroit to the ground and not cause that much damage on a dollar basis.

As it turns out with most government estimates, $450 million was a pipe dream.

On further review, as they say in the NFL, it was decided that Casey Fury’s ruse to get to the Dew Drop Inn a little early one Friday had a final price tag of $700 million. But the USS Miami was already 24 years old and while $450 million is just the cost of doing business, $700 million was deemed too steep.

The decision was made to give up the ghost and spend a paltry $54 million to bury the nuclear innards in the cool depths of the Idaho countryside, decommission the old girl and cut her up for scrap which is what they’re doing as you read this.

So, when you feel like the dumbest person at the office for making “a massive error in judgement,” think of Casey Fury. He’s cooling his fuzzy jets in Federal Prison for 17 years, the entire time hoping that no one asks him what he’s in for.

An Open Letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook

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Dear Tim,

First of all, belated congratulations on your promotion. I know it came from terrible circumstances. You’re handling it with class. Kudos for that.

Just to be clear, I love your products. I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro. Of course I have the iPhone and the iPad. I’ve got a damn box of iPods in the garage someplace. I’m old so I owned the Apple II and the original Macintosh 128k. Small black and white screen and enough RAM to hold the operating system and, um, nothing. It cost $2200 in 1984. If I’m doing the math correctly, in current dollars that’s like the cost of your Prius with the leather seats, nav system and upgraded sound system. I even got my boss to buy a Newton. Go look it up. You sold three of them. So on a percentage basis, I was one of your top reps.

I used to drink orange cinnamon tea at the Good Earth in Cupertino with my resume in hand hoping to strike up a conversation over a bran muffin and a tofu scramble with someone from Apple who might hire me. Even though at that time, I’d only worked at three jobs, it was a six page resume. I worked at a Burger King for a year, an amusement park and then Macy’s. Six pages. I can spin a little BS, Tim. I had Apple written all over me.

Now that you understand that I bleed Apple um, pure white, help me out.

Your battery life is terrible. Not yours personally. I saw that interview on Rock Center with Brian Williams a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, you get up at five in the damn morning or some such nonsense and put in a 20 hour day. I’m speaking of the products.

Every new generation touts “improved battery life.” Tim, I’ve had every generation of everything. If there’s been improvement, it’s barely noticeable. Like, not noticeable enough to mention. To your average customer, “improved battery life” would mean that they could sit at Starbucks and write an additional…let’s say…six pages of dialogue for their screenplay that will never get optioned. And that’s at a minimum.

And Tim, don’t embarrass us both by showing me a sparse yet aesthetically pleasing graphic of a bar chart showing battery improvement. Improved battery life is like pornography, to paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter, I’ll know it when I see it regardless of your chart.

And the iPhone battery? When I go to the Apple Store, they tell me that I must have a rogue app running. Or too many apps running. Or Bluetooth running. Wasn’t that the point, Tim? To run apps? To do stuff I wanted to do because I decided that said apps or Bluetooth enriched my life? When you tell me to not do stuff that it seems I should be able to do, the dream dies a little bit, Tim. Just a little bit. Barely noticeable. I could do a sparse yet aesthetically pleasing graphic of a bar chart on my disappointment if that would help drive the point home.

OK, that last thing was kind of catty. I’m sorry. I really am a fan.

Here’s an idea: With your NEXT next generation products, instead of being obsessed with making it one one-hundredth of an inch thinner, make the thing as fat as it needs to be to have a battery that works in the real world. Or solar! I had a solar powered calculator in about 1987.

So Tim, thanks for reading. I know that batteries aren’t sexy and you’re busy with your new dream of becoming the new Bang and Olufsen and going into the television business but if I have to borrow my kid’s Samsung Galaxy S3 to make a call one more time, the dream could be gone for good, sparse yet asthetically pleasing graphic or no.

Regards,

Brian

Sales.

Here’s some advice. Take it or leave it. Before I impart it, I’d like to say that I am not currently in sales but spent the last 30 years (until March ‘11) in sales or sales management. I’ve done everything from inside sales (prospecting) way back when to managing large accounts to managing sales teams selling high-end software and/or services for the largest software and consulting companies in the world.

Why am I not doing it now? An incredible opportunity came up to do something really special for an amazing company called Toolwire and I never looked back. But I still think a lot about sales and selling and I tried to distill the most important things I’ve learned. With a shout-out to the great Tom Mackey (Follow him here on WordPress!), here you go:

1. Make more calls: Prospecting calls. Checking in on your customers. Whatever. Reach out. Before you go to lunch, before you go home for the day, make one more call. Talk to one more person. It’s so easy to have internal meetings about crafting your message, social networking strategies, etc. I promise that you will not sell one dollar’s worth of anything to a co-worker unless it’s your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies and that doesn’t count.

2. Time is your only currency: If you’re really serious about your career and you are sitting at your desk reading Fantasy Football blogs right now rather than following rule number one noted above, I don’t want to hear that you’re serious about rising to the top of your field. Your time is finite. Yeah, you’re not a machine and blah blah blah but certainly you could be a little more focused.

3. Add value: When you do call customers or prospects or even go to internal meetings, engage your brain and be a business partner. If you think your job is to “be available” if someone in your territory wants to buy something but you don’t think it’s your job to understand their business or your product, go do something else. You’re just annoying everyone.

4. Be pleasant to every single person in your company who supports you: You probably don’t build the product or process the orders or do the dishes in the break room but someone does. WIthout these people, you’d have nothing to sell. Be nice to them. Know their kids’ names. Buy them small (or large) gifts at holiday time. Kiss their asses. You want them to want you to be successful and they won’t if you’re an ass. You want them to work harder on your deals and for your customers than they should and you want them to leap on the grenades you leave lying around. They’ll make you better than you are.

5. It’s not a “sales cycle”. It’s a buying cycle: I know “nothing happens until something is sold” but nothing is sold unless it’s bought. Understand the buying cycle in ridiculous detail so you can to tweak it in your favor. Qualify relentlessly. If there is a difficult question you are afraid your prospect will ask, ask it yourself just to get it out of the way. It’s uncomfortable but you gain control of the situation and have a better chance of overcoming it. Or you can waste three months of your time just to get blown out of the water by something obvious.

That’s it. It’s not rocket surgery.