Tag Archives: Engagement

The Prime Discriminator is Within

Edward Ladd & Sons

Company Jacket created by Cat’s Pyjamas

As an opening aside, I find it an interesting statement about the immediacy of the Internet that I would hesitate to share an article or blog post I encountered because it’s more than a week since it was published. Nevertheless, I did hesitate when I came across this particular article in Fast Company. I ended up sharing it on my Facebook Fan page and I’m going to share it here, with a little bit of personal annotation.

Many years ago, when I was in my family’s wholesale food business, I realized what I found to be a very sobering fact. As long as we weren’t manufacturing or producing anything, the only way to stand out from the crowd was to provide service over and above everyone else. Anyone can buy and sell items that are readily available and this was surely true of food. We could break the ice with price, but that was ultimately a losing proposition as the customers we sold to would inevitably leave us for someone offering a lower price.

However, not everyone could provide exceptional service. As a result, we were constantly thinking of ways in which we could provide value that others didn’t even think of. One way to do this is to just be available. When a restaurant runs out of product for whatever reason – whether it be unexpectedly busy days or flat-out stupidity in anticipating certain inevitably busy days – always being there and coming through was one way to stand out.

But that wasn’t enough. I think the real discriminator was the mind-set that our relationship with our customers was more than just seller-buyer; it was that of partners. Such a mindset had us thinking as though we were in their shoes and, frequently, it made enough of a difference in how we anticipated their needs and even helped them understand their needs in ways they weren’t always capable of. I think it worked pretty well while I was there.

So when I read this article today I was both intrigued and somewhat satisfied. I never thought of what we were doing as anything other than providing good service. I didn’t realize it was providing a special customer experience. Back then, as the article points out, customer experience wasn’t what it is today, but in our little corner of the world – in the kind of business we were engaged in at the time – it was what we were providing.

Now, it seems, it’s what everybody needs to do . . . and I agree. Here’s a quote from the article I’m referencing:

You don’t have to take my word for this. Over the last five years we’ve been running a study in which we ask consumers to rate the customer experience at companies they do business with. What we can now prove is that customer experience correlates to loyalty. Specifically, it correlates highly to willingness to consider for another purchase, willingness to recommend, and reluctance to switch to a different provider. In other words, if you want that next sale, if you want good word of mouth, and if you want to keep your customers, it’s unlikely that anything else you do matters more than delivering a superior experience.

Indeed!

Here’s the link. You can read the whole thing at Fast Company. It’s well worth it, even if it is almost two weeks old.

http://www.fastcompany.com/3000350/why-customer-experience-only-thing-matters

Enjoy


Fittingly for Halloween, I’ve Become Invisible

Am I That Transparent?

Am I That Transparent?

Does Retirement Make You Disappear?

When I accepted an early retirement from the company I  had worked at for well over two decades, I did so because I knew both our business and the economy in general were shrinking. I knew, because of my position in the enterprise Program Management Office (actually, an attempt at a Project Portfolio Management Office, as I recall), there were going to be layoffs and I had reason to suspect I might be one of them. There were lots of good reasons to believe so, not the least of which was my propensity to push for the use of social media to both enhance internal communications and to better market an organization that had never really marketed itself (have you ever heard of Rocketdyne? You have and don’t even know it. See if you recognize any names here). Neither of these positions had proved all that popular amongst either the leadership or the rank and file.

I was also over two and half years into the demographic the offer was made to (everyone 60 and over) and whether they meant to or not, they were telling me I was getting long in the tooth and, perhaps, they wanted me to move over for younger blood. At least that’s how it felt. They may not have meant it that way but it felt a bit like they were telling me, regardless of my service or anything I had previously done for the organization, I was no longer needed and, perhaps, no longer wanted. Again, that’s pretty much how it felt.

For those, and many other, reasons I accepted the severance package they offered after some little deliberation and a lot more financial analysis to see just how tenable my position would be. I have often referred to their offer as a gold-leafed handshake; not exactly gold-plated and hardly a golden handshake. It amounted to about a half year’s salary. Fortunately, my wife and I had scrupulously saved and forsaken a lot of things we might otherwise have spent money on over the years in order to build up a reasonably large nest egg. With the knowledge it would be years before we had to sell the house and live out of our vehicles, and knowing the skills and capabilities I possessed stood me well in the business community, I took the plunge and accepted the offer.

Shortly after leaving I started looking around for the possibility of finding an organization that could use my services and wasn’t in the position my previous company was in; that is, they were hiring rather than laying off. I posted a few resumes with some very large companies and was even asked to apply for a position with a very large tech company that provided many of the tools – or types of tools – I had been learning and evangelizing at my previous place of employment. Unfortunately, nothing panned out and I didn’t much feel like spending more time than necessary beating my head against a wall, especially given the continuing deterioration of the economy.

Mind If We Stay In Touch?

Now, I’ve written before about the need – as I see it – for companies such as the one I retired from to stay in touch with former employees. I had proposed a method of doing so at least seven years ago when I suggested we provide access to our internal expertise location/sharing tool (an early, proprietary social media tool) for retirees who wished to remain engaged on an as-needed basis after they left. It seemed a small investment to make and I knew there were lots of former employees who, despite their retirement, would have welcomed being asked to throw in their two-cents worth on an important issue. We made rocket engines, for crying out loud, and our engines had propelled virtually every American astronaut since the very beginning of the Mercury project. Nobody I knew really wanted to totally stop being a part of that kind of awesomeness.

Needless to say, my proposal fell on deaf ears. Ironically, although the aerospace industry designs and manufactures some of the most technologically advanced products in the world (in our case, the Space Shuttle Main Engine, numerous other rocket engines, and some pretty cool energy products involving what we called “extreme engineering“), their embrace of computer technology is almost always way behind the curve. This is not necessarily so in terms of engineering computing, but is most definitely the case when it comes to business processes and internal communications. It was a source of mildly aggravating bemusement for over twenty years, but more of that at a later date.

Back To The Grind . . . Eventually

Back to this ongoing communications thing. I have come to realize, despite the over two decades I spent at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, my departure has made me completely transparent to the company. Many of the people I used to talk with daily, even those who are Facebook friends, haven’t said word one to me. I guess it’s kind of a cultural thing. Once you’ve retired and are presumably out of the workforce, you just don’t exist anymore. Unless, of course, I were to play golf with the company golf club. Then, at least for the duration of the game and the drinking afterward, I would exist in perpetuity. There are, as well, a few notable exceptions. Several people with whom I worked closely have remained in contact with me and I am deeply appreciative of our ongoing relationships.

Speaking of cultural mores, I suppose this is a logical extension of how we treat older people in general. We are, after all, a culture that exalts youth and all of its frivolity and mundane inanity. I suppose I should have known this would happen and, truth to tell, I’ve really been enjoying this retirement thing. I know it can’t last; we don’t really have enough money to maintain a decent standard of living and still be able to send our two young girls to college in 8 and 11 years from now. However, I’m just about ready to return to working at something that will take close to a full-time effort. Right now, though, I still feel a bit like the Invisible Man.

Photo shamelessly linked from Monsterland


Are Marie Callender’s & Applebee’s Providing Us Object Lessons?

Recently, our local (here in Simi Valley, CA) Marie Callender’s restaurant – a staple of the community for at least a couple of decades – was shut down as part of the recently merged (with Memphis based Perkins) company’s bankruptcy. I belong to a business network that has met there for most of the time they’ve been in business, though I’ve only been a member for less than a year. Still, having to eat breakfast there once a week was a bit of a trying experience, as the food was a couple taste buds short of mediocre.

The business network has a system of points one can earn for providing “tips”, which can run the gamut from a couple thousand dollar repair to your vehicle or home or eating a meal at a member’s (which Marie Callenders was) establishment. It’s a system that just invites gaming (in the worst sense of the word), inasmuch as each tip carries the same weight or value. Needless to say, many of the members found themselves eating there a couple of times a week. I never could bring myself to do so.

As part of my membership, I offered to provide a couple of free hours of social media marketing coaching and to see to it that each member had access to those services that promised to help their business out. Very few of them took me up on it; probably because most of these guys are almost as old as I am :). Marie Callenders was one of those businesses I struggled valiantly to see the efficacy of at least paying attention to what was being said about them online, especially the reviews that were being written on Yelp. They wouldn’t pay attention. My research had shown they were getting some pretty uniformly horrible reviews and, clearly, no one was paying much attention to them. I’m not surprised they’re no longer in business.

Though I can no longer check the reviews of our local Applebee’s – you see, they’ve closed down as well, actually before MCs did. Yelp doesn’t retain reviews after a business closes its doors. I now wish they would, if only so I could make sure my understanding of what happened is close to the truth.

I’m bringing this up in large part because a friend of mine posted an interesting piece entitled “Applebee’s Review Explains Why Companies Should Care About Online Reviews” (link). I think Mark hits the head right on the nail (sic) and find myself wondering if the experiences we’re seeing with Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t indicative of just how useful these growing online review services are to those of us who like to eat out.

For quite some time in the enterprise world, the questions those of us advocating for greater use of social media had to answer consistently was, “What’s the ROI (Return on Investment) of using these tools? Why should we spend the money unless you can show us there’s added value in it?” Frankly, for a long time I struggled with the answer. It seemed clear to me they provided the basis for greater collaboration, easier communication, faster innovation, etc., but these things were hard to quantify in a classical sense. The answer that has stuck in my mind, though, (and I can’t recall where I heard it) is “The ROI of using social media is you’ll still be in business in five years.” I know that was somewhat glib, but I’m wondering now if Marie Callenders and Applebee’s aren’t providing us object lessons on just how prescient that statement was.


The Hell It’s Not About The Tools!

Hand Axes

What Would Lizzie Borden Do?

I had lunch a while back with a former colleague from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. He is also a fellow cohort member from my Masters in KM program, from which we both graduated in late 2009. We have worked together extensively. After eating we were discussing the situation at my former (and his current) place of employment, which is a bit unclear at this point.

As I shared my thoughts about the value (as I see it) of using social media to increase the organization’s capabilities (you know, the innovative, collaborative, communicative ones), he said something he had said to me over and over while I was still a colleague . . . “It’s not about the tools!”

Now, essentially I agree with him – at least to a point. Tools are, by themselves, absolutely useless unless they’re used to get things done in the manner for which they were designed. Even better, if you can figure out how to use them creatively they can be even more powerful. Try pounding a nail into a stud with your bare fist, though, and then tell me it’s not about the tools.

Nevertheless, this argument is valid when taken in the context of an organization where people think that throwing tools at a problem will somehow, magically I guess, solve the problem confronting them. I have personally seen this happen quite a bit and, in fairness to my friend, it did seem to be a common occurrence at our place of employment.

On the other hand, we’re probably all aware of situations where the simplest of tools served an organization well in dealing with a particularly difficult situation. This can only happen, I think, when the people confronting the situation are open and honest about what they’re facing and how it’s affecting the processes and people who are tasked with dealing with it.

This means they have to be able to think both critically and creatively. Too often people get to thinking in predictable ways and they pigeonhole the problem, thereby confining their possible solutions to the things they’re familiar with and have previous knowledge of. This usually leads to failure.

The thing about tools, though, is that they frequently give us the ability to use a bit of lateral – or even sideways – thinking. In the case of social tools such as Jive or Socialcast or Yammer, we’re also given the possibility of working together and sharing our information and knowledge in ways not previously possible.

A perfect example of how not to do it is the way in which the company I used to work at shared their knowledge of rocket engine design and manufacture. It was always the case that younger Engineers would send email requests to their older counterparts, requesting information on design intent or material properties or manufacturing techniques, etc. The older colleague might spend days researching and crafting an answer, which would then be sent back to the requester in an email.

The problem with this was that access to all this wonderfully useful information was now confined to the two (sometimes a few more, depending on who was included initially) people engaged in the conversation. Usually, within a short while the information and knowledge so thoroughly and carefully created was lost; frequently even to the original person asking the question. This was because there was no useful method by which email could be easily searched.

Nowadays we can do much better. We have tools, applications, and systems available to us that provide functionality like instant broadcasting (micro-blogging), collaborative creation (wiki, even Google docs), and ubiquitous indexing and search. There is, in my opinion, no excuse for not taking advantage of as many of these tools as is reasonably affordable – taking into consideration the culture of an organization and its tolerance for experimentation and change. Frankly, from what I’ve experienced and from what I learn from friends and others who are engaged in community organization and leadership, there are ways to introduce, champion, and develop these kinds of tools in just about any organization.

So I would wish to characterize the use of tools just a bit differently. I would say it most definitely IS about the tools, but it’s just not entirely about the tools. Having functionality available that was not possible five or ten years ago can change things dramatically. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a conscious effort and, sometimes, dramatic changes in the culture of an organization. Nevertheless, the pain associated with change is usually ameliorated by the newfound capabilities the change brings; the possibilities of developing innovative processes and organizational structures and of increasing both the efficiency and effectiveness of those things we engage in. If anyone tells you it’s not about the tools, as if to say they aren’t important, ask them when was the last time they combed their hair with a fork!


For Restaurants Engagement Has Always Been on the Menu

Engage!

Make it so!

Everyone and her aunt – at least those in the social media world – is talking about engagement nowadays. For instance, just a few weeks ago Brian Solis posted “The Rules of Social Media Engagement” on his blog. Ten days ago, Laurel Papworth wrote “7 Levels of Social Media Engagement” at socialmediatoday. Way back in January of 2010 Jason Falls wrote a rather scathing review of the concept in social media explorer entitled “What is Engagement And How Do We Measure it?”

Now, I’m far from an expert in this field. I have no training in marketing, PR, or advertising, though I have pretty extensive experience in sales, having spent many years in the wholesale food business doing just that (lots of cold calling on people who were already buying from someone else, actually). However, since embarking on my new career as a social media marketing strategist and bottle-washer, I do have some thoughts about what “engagement” means to me.

I’m of the opinion the use of “engagement”, in today’s rapidly changing social media fueled world, means a shift away from broadcasting one’s message out through print media, email blasts, websites, etc. toward a model that invites dialogue and conversation. I believe the difference is fairly well expressed in the concepts of “outbound” and “inbound” marketing. As I said, though, I’m a bit of a novice at this, so maybe I’m just full of hot air myself.

Nevertheless, I do have a fair amount of experience with the restaurant business, having eaten at lots of them, as well as managed a couple, and sold lots of product to many. I learned all about service from the restaurant business. I learned how to make people not only comfortable, but happy they did business with me.

So . . . what do I mean by the title of this piece? I am doing some low-level reputation management and I have some Google alerts set up to let me know when some of the businesses I’m working with, or am interested in, are being discussed. Today I got one that led me to read a couple of reviews of a particular sports bar I would like to have as a client. One of the reviews mentioned how the owner walked around and talked to each of the tables where people were eating, drinking, and watching a game. The author of the review also suggested this was no longer the norm, which was why it stood out. Also mentioned was the author’s belief this wasn’t just a cursory walk-around, but a genuine conversation; an “engagement” with the people that pay his rent and his employee’s salaries.

It made me realize the best, most successful restaurants have always done something like this. They make their customers feel as though they are eating with friends, that they matter, and their comfort and satisfaction matter. It’s not something that goes on a checklist of things to do. It’s natural (at least with the best of owners and managers) and – which it always was for me – fun and fulfilling. It’s also a way to get immediate feedback and to address problems before they get out-of-hand.

Engagement is important, and social media provides ways for most anyone in business to participate as never before possible. However, as many also point out, it’s important to be genuine and it helps if you really care. Successful restauranteurs understand this in their bones. Their success proves its value as well. Have you figured out how to genuinely engage with your customers?


Do You “Like” Me?

 

I Sure Do Like This!

 

One of the easiest ways to use Facebook is to “like” the things you actually take the time to read, unless of course either you don’t like what you read or you take even longer to post a comment and engage in conversation. Most of the time you’re probably skimming through stuff your friends or the Fan Pages you’ve “liked” are posting.

You might want to consider clicking the like button for those posts. It’s simple, quick, and goes a long way to let people know you’re actually paying attention. This is especially true of Fan Pages because the admins of those pages have access to Facebook Insights, a set of analytics that tells them if they’re reaching their audience or not. Feedback is one of the things that social is all about, most frequently in the form of some kind of engagement, e.g. comments to blogs, re-tweets, etc.

Clicking on the “like” tag is surely one of the best ways to engage with your friends and the brands and stores you care about. Give it a try. You’ll like it!


The Wisdom of Engagement

Foursquare and Yelp Logos

Two "Big Hitters" for Retail

I just came across a couple of quotes that rather succinctly state the issue anyone using Social Media for marketing needs to keep in mind with respect to engagement with their customers. I think it comes from some of the activity surrounding a virtual Enterprise 2.0 Conference event. I picked them up in my tweet stream. I wasn’t able to attend, but found them because I have a continuing search on the hashtag #e2conf, which keeps me in the loop.

These two quotes appear to be traceable to Sameer Patel, a man I admire for his business savvy and knowledge of social media engagement. I have been using the tag line “People are talking. Are you listening?” His quotes are a bit longer than my tag line, but I think they state the issue rather well:

Part of the problem is trying to “control the message”. The conversation will happen with or without you.

This is one of the things that I’m trying to get across to some of the small businesses (I’m beginning with restaurants) I’ve been working with. The other line is even more important:

Your brand perception is now in the hands of strangers. Isn’t it time you got to know them?

This is so important for small retail establishments to understand. With the advent of services like Foursquare and Yelp, the conversations about their businesses are already taking place. They need to, at the very least, claim their venues in each of these and get involved in the conversation. If a customer has a bad experience, don’t you want to know about it? Don’t you want to have the opportunity to make it right . . . publicly?

It’s true and it’s only going to get “worse”. People ARE talking. Shouldn’t you at least be listening? Better yet, why not engage with them. I’m convinced the process will strengthen your relationships with your customers and do wonders to make you more accessible and easy to do business with.


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