Showing posts with label basic communication. Show all posts
Showing posts with label basic communication. Show all posts

Monday, January 4

Setting The Pace: Present Tense

"How did I do, you know, last year?"

Although my son didn't know it, his question followed a common conversation trend. Most people were (and still are) mulling over last year.

AdAge called it the year the marketing world will happily put behind it. Politico recapped the top media blunders. Andy Carvin at NPR posted a word cloud expressing the responses of more than 500 people about last year. And so on and so forth.

"It's the wrong question," I told him.

You might ask how you are doing instead. Then you might find out "how you did" is irrelevant by comparison.

"How am I doing?" he asked.

"That's my question for you," I laughed. "How are you doing?"

Last Thursday, he didn't feel like he was doing all that well. He had a math paper to redo, 300 pages in his AR book to read, and felt rundown after taking a break from tae kwon do during the holidays. He didn't feel like he could get it all done.

This morning, four days later, he feels differently. Because after our conversation, he stopped focusing on how he did and started focusing on what he was doing.

So when I asked him today, he said was doing great. He had finished his math on Thursday, read 100 pages in his book every day to complete it, and began an exercise program with an investment of 30 minutes a day. Today — with all of his holiday homework complete, readiness to test on an AR book, and feeling positive about the future — he really is doing great.

In fact, he said, meeting all of his pace-setting objectives for 2010 wasn't even difficult. He still had time to visit his grandparents, work on a beginner electronics project with me, play with his younger sister, and enjoy free time on Club Penguin. We took in a movie too.

What can you learn from a ten-year-old?

By changing his focus from what he "had done" to what he "is doing," we were able to put his ideas into actions and his actions into results. Results tend to motivate people to move forward. And maybe they can for your team too.

Five steps to jump start internal communication.

• Plan to take action based on current employee assessments.
• Provide a clear direction to help them move forward today.
• Discuss and implement pace-setting actions that can start immediately.
• Practice reflective listening, using it to help overcome doubt or fear.
• Promote mutual trust by asking them how they "are doing."

By the end of the day (or throughout the week), ask them how they are doing. If they answer with enthusiasm, it's working. If they answer with anything other than, find out why and help them prioritize in order to achieve those early pace-setting goals.

It might seem overly simple, but my son wasn't the only beneficiary to setting the right pace for a new year. Within four days, we sent one business proposal out for review, added two new clients, and completed three major projects. We're doing great.

Putting in a few weekend hours on my part didn't dampen my spirits either. I still had time to tackle a few household chores, start a training program, and work in plenty of free time. So I'm doing great too. How about you?

How are you doing?

You don't have to answer right away. Give yourself a moment to adjust. Take until the end of the day (or end of the week if you really have to). And then let me know if the present tense feels better than the past tense for you, your family, or your team.

Wednesday, November 25

Understanding Economics: Recessions Are Optional

On the day before Thanksgiving, the National Association for Business Economists predicted real growth in gross domestic product for 2010 would be 2.9 percent, up from its October forecast. The forecast is cautiously optimistic, even if the association anticipates the jobless rate might hold at around 10 percent through the second quarter of 2010.

While the estimates seem promising, and mirror other economic data, public sentiment remains stalled. Even among the readers of SmartBrief for CFOs, 42 percent of those surveyed predict the U.S. economy will not begin adding jobs until 2011 or later and almost seven percent wouldn't even hazard a guess.

So who is right? Economists? Employers? The general public?

While it might matter, its significance is about as important as knowing that the sun requires 226 million years to complete one galactic orbit or that our galaxy also moves up and down on a 62-million-year cycle, with biodiversity increasing and decreasing in relation to where we might be. Abundant biodiversity as well as planetary temperatures have historic relevance to our planet and how entire civilizations rise and decline. The people who measure this stuff are astronomers.

How outlook and communication play a critical role in experience.

My grandfather once told me a fable about a gas station attendant and two road-weary travelers looking for a new town to open a new business. While they arrived at different times, both asked the same question. Do you think this town would be a great place to start a business and settle down?

"I dunno," said the gas station attendant. "What was the last town you lived in like?"

The first man frowned: "It wasn't very good for business. The people were lazy, and genuinely unfriendly. Unemployment was high, people wanted to be paid too much, and the housing market had bottomed out. I can't say anything good about it."

"Oh," said the gas station attendant before leaning over to whisper. "You wouldn't like it here then. This town, it's exactly like that. You'd be much better off continuing on and finding a better place than this miserable place."

"Wow," said the man, smiling. "You sure saved me a big waste of time. Thank you."

When asked the same question, the second man smiled: "The people were optimistic, and genuinely friendly. Even in a tight economy, people were willing to work hard, appreciated our efforts in the community, and were generally optimistic about the future. If it wasn't for our expansion, we would have stayed there for years to come."

"Oh," said the gas station attendant. "You'll love it here. This town, it's exactly like that. You can continue on and look if you like, but mister, I think you just found yourself a new home."

"Wow," said the man, smiling. "You sure saved me a big waste of time. Thank you."

When people ask me about what I think about the economy and our outlook, I have two different answers because they are two different questions.

The big picture is pretty obvious, I tell them. As long as employers are waiting for consumers to spend more, and consumers are waiting for better employment, the best anyone can hope for is slow growth through the first two quarters for 2010. And for the most part, that is in line with most economic forecasts.

Our outlook, of course, is different. Since the recessionary pressures took hold, I have always said participation is optional. It is optional because we can either fret along with those best described as the 42 percent who now predict the U.S. economy will not begin adding jobs until 2011. Or, we could invest in finding the 17 percent who predict the U.S. economy will begin adding jobs in the first half of 2010. I'm interviewing my first hire for 2010 next week.

The same can be said for individuals. As much as I think Pat Olsen's post on How to Survive in an Unhappy Workplace might help some people, his third point is the most important of all. With the exception of abusive leadership, workplaces and cities and economies and galactic positions don't make you unhappy. Only you can do that.

It might be the day before Thanksgiving, but it's never too early to be grateful. Until tomorrow then.

Wednesday, October 14

Forgetting Flights: Virgin America

On most flights, Virgin America has it all. Its mission is to make flying good again — with brand new planes, attractive fares, top notch service, and innovative amenities. It's the kind of reinvention that has passengers clamoring to board the plane even if it means waiting 15 minutes or an hour on the tarmac.

Or is it?

While anyone flying out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) might know that fog or rain frequently set departure times back as it did yesterday, no one anticipated that Virgin America would forget to notify passengers that their flights would be delayed. The first notification came 25 minutes after the scheduled departure time.

Sure, most passengers had a hunch that the flight was delayed, given it had never been assigned a gate. Some learned about it while hovering around the departure screens scattered throughout the terminal, partaking in a surreal event as their scheduled "on time" departure came and went without so much as a gate notification, actual departure time, or service agent update. A few checked the Website on smart phones and laptops. A handful turned to passenger service agents boarding other flights.

"We don't know. Watch the terminal monitors."

It was the most common answer before busy passenger service agents would take off for parts unknown. Less common was asking delayed passengers to empathize with other passengers who were also delayed. Those passengers had to wait an hour, one agent said, pointing to the group he was about to allow to board.

Unfortunately, any empathy for others eventually eroded as it took a full 2 1/2 hours before Virgin America would have any direct communication with passengers again. All the while, British Airlines and JetBlue updated their customers, offering apologies for the briefest of delays, which only seemed to add insult to injury for those left in the dark by Virgin America.

Even after Virgin America finally assigned the flight a gate, it took another half hour before the team provided updates with any sense of clarity. Shortly after, they attempted to infuse fun into the situation by offering free drink vouchers to the passenger who could produce the oldest penny or guess the singer of a song playing over the gate intercom.

While the games did temporarily take the edge off a bad situation, one wonders if Virgin America took too long to find its groove. Are leather seats, in-flight video entertainment, and mood lighting enough to keep passengers coming back for more?

It mostly depends on the unique perspective of each individual passenger and whether previous experiences make the mix-up an exception or the rule. Otherwise, it seems Virgin America learned a valuable lesson. If you don't deliver on your core service, no amount of reinvented amenities, services, or selective apologies can make up for it.

There are, after all, only two core services for every airline. Deliver passengers and their luggage to the destination on time, and communicate with them when you don't. Added values — ranging from comfort to humorous onboard educational videos — only count when the first two services are met.

In this case, Virgin America didn't break guitars. It only broke an opportunity to turn more passengers into advocates or evangelists.

Friday, September 4

Considering Effectiveness: Face-To-Face vs. Technology?

According to a new survey conducted by J. Spargo & Associates, Inc., meeting planners believe that technology cannot replace specific benefits related to face-to-face meetings. However, based upon the six benefits meeting planners said cannot be replaced by technology, those surveyed demonstrate that while they are right in general, their conclusions only demonstrate they may not be using technology to its full potential.

What Meeting Planners Said Technology Cannot Replace

1. Socializing and networking spontaneously. Half True. Social networks do provide a social outlet and spontaneous networking built around topical interests and an opportunity to learn more about people on a social basis. However, face-to-face does provide an opportunity for participants to experience something beyond other connection points. Where social networks win out is in the ability to establish more consistent engagement.

2. Helping attendees best put names with faces. False. Actually, social networks and blogs that include accurate photos and full names can be more powerful than meetings. Anyone who has attended any conference consisting of social network participants and bloggers know that when they meet face-to-face, social networking not only makes people immediately recognizable, there is an immediate connection that would require dozens of face-to-face meetings to establish.

3. Allowing more free and open dialogue between attendees and vendors/presenters. Half True. Social networks and blogging can create a free and open dialogue between attendees and vendors/presenters, particularly on networks like Facebook. Where face-to-face might win is often in the depth of the conversation and provide the ability to enjoy a private and candid dialogue (assuming someone won't post it later).

4. Training effectively via live and personal interaction. False. While face-to-face can provide an effective arena for training via live and personal interaction for some skill sets, Webinars and online presentations have come a long way and sometimes provide better retention as the formats require more focus.

5. Paying greater attention to others when face-to-face. False. As mentioned, Webinars and online training can provide more focus on the material being presented as opposed to conducting meetings where note passing/texting/breaks often become more important than the material. Online meetings eliminate the emphasis we place on body language.

6. Engaging in real-time conversation that is not interrupted by technical glitches. False. Anyone who has spoken in enough forums knows that face-to-face meetings that include any audio-visual component have an equal opportunity to be set back by technological glitches. It's why most people never speak unless they have a contingency plan.

Technology And Face-To-Face Work In Tandem

There seems to be ample discussion that centers around the concept that face-to-face and technology can operate independently of one another. On the contrary, they tend to work best in tandem. Here are six examples:

1. Face-to-face provides a greater opportunity to establish corporate culture, with technology providing a means to reinforce it.

2. Face-to-face provides a greater opportunity to conduct impromptu gatherings after structured events to discuss what was learned, and technology (instant message services like Twitter) can be used to help facilitate it.

3. Face-to-face clearly provides a better venue to communicate change, deliver bad news, and provide meaningful recognition, with technology allows such information to recapped, defined in depth, or shard beyond the face-to-face audience.

4. Face-to-face deepens relationships in that online relationships, even those that seem intense, are sometimes turned on/off as easily as a television program. Conversely, as noted, technology increases the opportunity for engagement between such meetings.

5. Face-to-face provides a 360-degree view of how people interact whereas technology tends to provide a glimpse of how people think. Both are equally important.

6. Face-to-face education can provide some tactile advantages in teaching someone how to do something whereas technology provides an ability to review specific sections of the material over and over again. Sometimes, it takes less time.

I always chuckle when someone runs in to me someplace and then follows up with a note that says it was great to see me in "real life" as if online communication is somehow artificial. As communicators, we can serve our clientele better by looking at how to bridge face-to-face and online communication rather than think the two streams somehow work against each other.

Harvard Business Publishing recently released an update entitled "Creating and Sustaining a Winning Culture" by Paul Meehan, Darrell Rigby, and Paul Rogers. In the article, the authors use Sydney, Australia–based St. George Bank as an example, the CEO broke down departmental silos by bringing executives together to jointly define a new culture and then allowed the executives to drive that message into the organization with a singular voice.

Considering this example of effective culture building as it relates to face-to-face meetings vs. technology provides an opportunity to chart an effective approach using both. Had it been available, St. George Bank could have defined the message after face-to-face meetings, allowed the executives to deliver the message, reinforced these messages via online internal and external communication channels, and encouraged cross-departmental interaction.

Wednesday, April 29

Blogging For Hope: Hunger And Hope

Scientific American recently published an article that asks a question designed to strike at the heart of everything we know: Could food shortages bring down civilization? The article, by Lester R. Brown, included three key concepts, before calling for a massive and rapid intervention.

• Food scarcity and the resulting higher food prices are pushing poor countries into chaos.
• “Failed states” that export disease, terrorism, illicit drugs, weapons and refugees.
• Water shortages, soil losses, and rising temperatures from global warming that impact food production.

"As the world’s food security unravels, a dangerous politics of food scarcity is coming into play: individual countries acting in their narrowly defined self-interest are actually worsening the plight of the many," he wrote. "The trend began in 2007, when leading wheat-exporting countries such as Russia and Argentina limited or banned their exports, in hopes of increasing locally available food supplies and thereby bringing down food prices domestically."

John Holmes, writing for the UN Chronicle, cites an earlier date. He pinpoints that food prices began to rise in 2004 while production increased at a pace slower than demand. The result? According to Bread for the World, 963 million people across the world are hungry and 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes daily — one child every five seconds.

There Are Big Calls To Action, But Change Happens Small.

When the fact and figures become so immensely staggering, people tend to tune out and shut off. After all, what can one person possibly do to change the world? How could helping one person matter, when it fails to help the nearly one billion who need help now? How will talking or writing or posting about any specific world problem possibly help? How indeed.

One of the greatest lessons I ever learned from working and volunteering in the nonprofit sector was that people tend to contribute less when the tasks seem overwhelming. (The same can be said in the private sector too). So much so, the outcome results in characteristics similar to depression, except en masse.

It's not uncommon for people feel sad, guilty, or avoid taking any action because "doing anything is too much effort" or "nothing one person can do has any impact." It's just not true. Change happens in small, sometimes unnoticeable ways.

Heifer International Makes A Difference.

And sometimes it is noticed. Heifer International has more than 180 projects that make a difference all over the world. In fact , since 1944, Heifer International has helped communities learn to become self-sufficient by raising animals that provide direct benefits such as milk, eggs, wool, fertilizer, as well as indirect benefits that increase family incomes for better housing, nutrition, health care, and schools.

It's more than a hand out, it's a direct and sustainable hand up. And its those small successes that make all the difference. Here are just a few from and bloggers. They contributed more than 10,000 individual posts and actions (and counting).

Wednesday, April 15

Bagging On Taxes: American Taxpayers

April 15, which is the date Americans file their tax returns with the IRS, used to be a day filled with fear for most. Now, it seems to be shaping up as a day of reckoning, as citizens in more than 2,000 locations across the United States are holding "tea parties" to protest higher taxes and out-of-control government spending.

Using the same tool — the Internet — to organize as President Obama did to win the presidential election, ordinary citizens are expressing their apparent dissatisfaction with the "real change" as opposed to the "promised change" that the new administration has taken. By 2010, the estimated national debt, or debt held by the public, will equal approximately $81,000 per U.S. household. That is almost three times as much as it was in 2007.

As if taking a page from the fans of Jericho and others, one of the more creative ideas developed by the GOP is to help people send tea bags to their choice of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Harry Reid, or Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Each tea bag features an elephant watermark. The effort is duplicated by another organization, without an elephant watermark, here.

Regardless of how one feels about tea parties or the administration, there is an interesting side story playing out today. There seems to be discrepancies between the majority of news organizations and live reporting from everyday people. In short, the public has a clear choice between which reality they want to believe: either Americans are upset with taxes or they are not.

Either you call the original Boston Tea Party "shameful" like Charles Arlinghaus did for the UnionLeader, or you consider it one of the first steps toward independence in America like history does. (While Arlinghaus is right that the tea parties will have to grow into positive action beyond rallies, he's wrong in believing such protests don't mean anything.)

Are Tax Parties Hype Or Hope?

If you believe CBS, the concept of any public outcry is contrary to recent polls that place President Obama's approval rating as high as 67 percent, Americans largely approve of higher taxes, and 74 percent want the "rich," now defined as anyone making more than $250,000 per year, to be taxed more.

Or, you can wonder what President Obama might know about the real numbers behind the movement given he choose to speak about simplifying the tax code at the same time some cities had organized their rallies. This strategy seems to fall in line with what everyday people are reporting — that there is a real grass roots movement at work, and not just among conservatives.

One of the best examples of the extreme reporting that we noticed today comes courtesy of the Washington Post. The Post reported on a Facebook tea party group with 1,800 members. However, when we checked, it had 31,000 members.

The Post story links to a defunct blog as an example. However, CNN chose the National TEA Party, which has 18,000 Facebook members. Among the best non-news reporting seems to be found at Ta Day Tea Party. There are also several localized Facebook accounts, with as many as 500 to 1,000 members each.

One of Michelle Malkin's posts seems to suggest why there might be so much confusion. She says there are as many as four or six different hashtags to follow tea parties on Twitter. Why is that significant? It demonstrates that the varied reporting is indicative of largely independent groups rallying around a common theme, but very different campaigns. And, contrary to the CBS poll, another poll conducted by Harris Interactive suggested that the majority of Americans think taxes are too high.

The Real Facts Are Being Buried.

In order to find the truth, you have to remove some of the opinions. Polls don't reveal facts as much as much as figures.

Americans will pay more in taxes than they will spend on food, clothing, and housing combined this year. In fact, according to the Tax Foundation, most Americans have to work between 82 and 120 days just to pay their taxes, depending on the state in which they live. Alaskans pay the least and the people in Connecticut pay the most.

The only reason most people feel comfortable taxing the rich more, despite the fact that the top 5 percent of all wage earners already pay 60 percent of all taxes while the bottom 50 percent pay only 3 percent of all taxes, is because, well, it's the other guy. And, the reason some people chose to protest today is not because they are dissatisfied with recent tax cuts, but rather because they know that the mounting national debt will have to be repaid sooner or later, and taxpayers will have to pay it.

Our country's current fiscal policy is best likened to a teenager on a spending spree. It seems like there is progress toward creating a better lifestyle with the recent purchase of a new flat screen television, smart phone, and club clothes. But that progress will quickly come to a halt when the bill comes due, the repo man takes the stuff back, and still charges interest.

Friday, April 3

Considering "That Guy": Chris Brogan

Yesterday, Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, wrote a post about "that guy." You know, "that one" who engages in social media from a purely push marketing perspective.

"'That guy' shows up and starts bullhorning (sic) her message into the crowd," he writes. “'Hi! I can show you thirty ways to make money while you sleep!'”

To make matters worse, the less attention they receive, the louder they get. THE BIGGER THEIR WORDS BECOME. And the more exclamation points they use!!! As if ... as if punctuation and caps can somehow communicate what their words fail to say.

Sooner or later, "that guy" or "that gal" might even find themselves in a virtual vacuum because the outcome of their marketing message results in aversion as opposed to attraction. Don't they know, in the words of Mary Stewart, that "it is harder to kill a whisper than even a shouted calumny." Shhh...

Brogan then offers ten ways to build relationships before you ask anything. It's a useful list. I encourage you to check it out.

However, all the tactics in the world can't help you if you don't change the strategy. Most online communication, especially one-to-one communication, is virtually identical to face-to-face communication, with exception to its relative permanence. The brain doesn't distinguish between online and offline experiences, and perhaps, neither might you.

There is no difference between online and offline engagement.

"That guy" and "that gal" exist offline too. They are the same people pumping business cards into the hands of everyone at a business luncheon before the smile that accompanies an initial introduction has time to fade long enough for our brains to file away their face for future recognition. "That guy" and "that gal" are the ones who give marketing sales a bad name.

Sure, card pumping works in the short term much like a lion pouncing on prey. But long term, it only leads to indigestion as little whispers become attached to their reputation. You might have heard them before. "Oh no," they might say. "Here she/he comes again." And with those whispers, over time, come feelings of aversion.

Really, it's not all that different from what Bill Murray's (Phil Conner) character felt when he saw Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned Ryerson) on the front end of the film Groundhog Day. In fact, we all felt aversion to Ned. That is, until we had a chance to see him as a real person, much later in the movie.

My point is simple enough: there is only one secret to online engagement. While business blogs are fine, and we all expect they might share something about the business, individual engagement is person to person and requires offline sensibility. Why? Because it's the same. Did you hear that? Yeah ... it's the same.

Just don't tell "that guy." We appreciate the early warning.

Thursday, March 26

Revealing Inconsistencies: Timothy Geithner

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner demonstrated why message consistency is important. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, he said the U.S. is "open" to a call for a new global currency to replace the U.S. dollar.

"We’re actually quite open to that suggestion — you should see it as rather evolutionary rather building on the current architecture rather than moving us to global monetary union," Geithner said, saying it deserved consideration.

Except, um, the U.S. is not.

"I don't believe there's a need for a global currency," said President Barrack Obama, rejecting a new global currency to replace the dollar at a press conference 24-hours before Geithner spoke.

The consequences of the Geithner gaffe led to the dollar immediately falling on world currency markets. In fact, it fell 1.3 percent against the euro within 10 minutes of his remarks.

It also opened a renewed flood of criticism over the Obama administration's plan to increase the budget deficit this year to 10 percent or more of the gross domestic product, with the most outspoken being Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. He described the current U.S. policy as "a road to hell." He has since tendered his resignation, but will retain the E.U. presidency through June.

China is not alone in alluding to an abandonment of the U.S. dollar as it expresses worry over higher budget deficits resulting from increased spending. Russia has been pressing G20 members for a single world currency for some time.

This is also not the first time Geithner and President Obama had directly contradicted each other. Nor is it the only time the new administration has sent mixed messages nationally and internationally.

In fact, the current U.S. policy seems to be a contradiction in itself. While Geithner plans to impose government control over financial markets to "decide how much risk to take in the pursuit of profit," President Obama's policy races toward extreme spending, which carries overwhelming risk.

All of it demonstrates a growing communication challenge exhibited by the new administration. While always reasonably adept during the campaign trail to deliver a unified message, the President seems incapable of delivering a consistent message with his administration. And you know what that usually means. If there isn't a consistent message, then there likely isn't a cohesive plan, at least one that everybody knows about or anyone can agree on.

It applies to business communication as well. Inconsistent communication is often a symptom of something else, much like that initial sniffle before you feel sick. Someone might want to pass the administration a tissue. It seems to be going around.

Thursday, February 12

Blacklisting Vegas: President Obama

According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), Las Vegas hosted 22,454 conventions and meetings that attracted more 6 million business people and conventioneers in 2008. It accounted for an economic impact of $8.5 billion, employed more than 46,000 Southern Nevadans (75,000 with indirect employment), and represents close to 15 percent of the city's total visitor volume.

On Monday, President Obama said he wanted to end that.

“We’re going to do something to strengthen the banking system. You are not going to be able to give out these big bonuses until you pay taxpayers back. You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime. There's got to be some accountability and some responsibility.” — President Obama, Town Hall discussion in Elkhart, Indiana

There does have to be accountability and responsibility.

"Mr. President, I understand the enormous burden you carry in dealing with the worst economy since the Great Depression. I also understand the need for accountability, but your comments are harmful to the meetings and convention industry as a whole and Las Vegas specifically." — Mayor Oscar Goodman, Las Vegas, Letter posted at Las Vegas Now

Careless research and ill-advised words damage lives.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, President Obama based his decision on a report that cited "$300 hotel rooms" as an example of extravagance. The Venetian, which is a more upscale property, lists rooms for $189 per night. The LVCVA reports the average room rate was $119.19 in 2008, with a low of $96.39 in December.

Specifically, businesses attend conventions and meetings in Las Vegas because of its room rate discounts, reasonable air fare, diversity of offerings, and the strong local infrastructure to support it. Since 2000, the city has gone to great lengths to carry a dual message that, despite its party town image, it is an extremely smart and cost-effective choice for business.

At least four major companies have already canceled their plans to meet or hold conventions in Las Vegas this year. Some of the cancellations have to do with the perception of Las Vegas, while others might be because of their own financial constraints. State Farm planned to book 11,000 rooms in September, but those rooms will now remain vacant. Wells Fargo, which received some bailout money, also backed out of a 12-day junket in response to cries that the meeting represents wasteful spending.

Unless replaced, the damage caused by these lost bookings could be severe to a local economy already experiencing a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, well ahead of the national average. It is anticipated to hit double digits this year, with the state facing a economic crisis, which began after it was hit especially hard by the subprime mortgage situation.

The campaigning needs to end and bailouts too.

During campaigns, politicians are sometimes quick to call out and vilify opponents, industries, and government. The message becomes simple. Everything is bad, and we need to change it all. While I'm not a fan of peddling fear, many campaign managers understand all too well that these trumped up rally cries can move certain publics to the polls.

However, once elected, most politicians are seasoned enough to understand that the communication needs to shift in order to govern. As elected officials, most know that effective leadership requires the polarization to stop and productivity to begin. They recognize that they no longer represent campaign slogans but rather the Wall Street stock broker in New York and the maid in Las Vegas and the automotive lineman in Detroit. They are no longer entitled to pick and choose which American people they represent. They represent us all.

Regardless of how you feel about Las Vegas, President Obama's message did not communicate anything about this city as much as it communicated something about the recent waves of bailouts and the stimulus package in general. The power of the purse is the ability of one group to manipulate and control the actions of another group by withholding funding, or putting stipulations on the use of funds. This power grab is alive and well in America.

After Monday, it now seems all to clear that President Obama is intending to use this power and perhaps abuse it, under the guise of protecting taxpayer money. However, in delivering this message, he neglects the obvious. The 46,000 Americans directly employed by the convention industry in Las Vegas are taxpayers too. They are owed an apology.

Good night and good luck.

Tuesday, January 27

Balancing Acts: Real-Time Communication

An interesting, spontaneous, and live debate occurred between Shel Israel, co-author of Naked Conversations, and Scott Monty, a new media communications executive at Ford Motor Company, on Twitter, the popular real-time short messaging service, today.

The discussion began shortly after Israel pointed to a New York Times article. It provides an engaging look at real-time social media in action.

Here is a portion of it, minus background noise and side discussions.

Monty: Shel, the issue is a little more complex than you're making it.
Israel: Issues are always complicated until a solution simply emerges.
Monty: A single, nationalized standard is what's needed, not state-specific standards.
Israel: Ca welcomes other states to join our standard. The Ca standards 1st offered 12 yrs ago. What progress has Detroit made towae=rd compliance during that time? During that time what has Detroit spent to block or delay the standards during that time?
Monty: The entire auto industry - not just *Detroit* - is behind a single, national standard. You should familiarize yourself with what Ford is already doing (and plans to do) to meet fuel econ & emissions standards.
Israel: So then, you should have no problem with selling Fords everywhere that comply with the new Calif, emissions standard, right? Now ask that question of your customers.
Monty: This is just me speaking (not Ford): I think a single, high standard would be preferable to multiple standards. We're raising the fuel economy standard across every single vehicle we make - to best-in-class or among best-in-class.
Israel: How much $$ was spent by Detroit to oppose tougher emission standards. What would have happened if you had invested in R&D.
Monty: It's not just R&D Shel. It's the associated $ to retool entire plants.
Israel: You know, I've been sympathetic to Detroit, but if given a choice between sustaining Earth & Sustaining Ford Motors--sayonara.
Monty: Just goes to show me that you know next to nothing about our sustainability efforts. You should research before you tweet. (To others: Please check out some of our efforts in the green area. There's lots here
Israel: Golly, Scott. You don't sound like that when I take Ford's side. Why is it that I'm considered knowledgeable then & stupid now?
Monty: Because you did your research then.
Israel: My position requires little research Calif chooses strict emission standards. Ford can choose to comply or not. I do not argue that Ford is working on sustainability. But you are unwise to say that the Feds should prevent CAlif. standards.
Monty: I don't think the CA should be denied (again, Scott talking). If we use that as the single standard, great. Not multiple states
Israel: When Calif acted out of frustration, Detroit went to DC to stop us. There's been a recent change in policy.
Monty: If CA wants to spend its money to fight global warming, good luck. There are other important priorities at stake in the economy.
Israel (hours later): [Scott Monty] wants to point out the good efforts Ford has made and in fact, I believe that's true. But Detroit doesn't get to set the pace.
Monty: You're absolutely right. There's a new pace being set - but at the same time we need to operate within what's realistic now.
Israel: With all due respect, that's precisely what Detroit said to CA in 1997, when hearing were held in this state. CA is throwing down a Green Gauntlet. It's an easier challenge than Kennedy saying man would walk on the moon in 8 yrs. It's time to take the issue seriously for the sake of your kids & my grand children.
Monty: With all due respect, Shel - when did you become an automotive analyst? We've got no problem taking it seriously. We're moving faster than you know. ... But real business decisions need to be made for today as well as for tomorrow. It's a balance.
Israel (hours later): With all due respect, no expert on automotive but I do see an entrepreneurial opportunity when I see one. I'll be happy with any company that complies w/standards. I'll be at the Ford showroom the day you meet that standard. I'll even tweet your virtues.

What wasn't communicated that could have added value to the conversation?

California took the lead in setting the strictest auto emissions because it began taking steps to regulate emissions well before federal standards were set. In fact, California has been at this much longer than Israel gives the state credit. The California Legislature passed the Mulford-Carrell Act, which combined two Department of Health bureaus — the Bureau of Air Sanitation and the Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board — to establish the Air Resources Board (ARB) in 1967. The ARB wasn't even California's first emission reduction effort.

However, California is also the leading polluter in the United States. In 2008, the American Lung Association's 2008 State of Air Report, California metropolitan areas account for five of the top ten most long-term particle polluted metros (with seven cities received a failing grade) and five of the top ten most ozone polluted metros (with twelve cities receiving a failing grade) in the U.S. The cause isn't automotive as much as it is lifestyle.

Of course, much like California, the automotive industry has a mixed record on environmental issues too. You can find an extensive, and reasonably brand neutral, account of the automobile and the environment by Martin V. Melosi right here. It doesn't take an automotive industry expert to deduce that fuel prices more than any other factor dictate what consumers will purchase.

When gas prices are high, like they were in the 1970s, consumers buy fuel-efficient cars. When gas prices are low, they buy SUVs. The American automotive industry tends to compete better in the latter market, although Ford does have 13 U.S. models that achieve 30 miles per gallon or better. The Ford Focus was named one of the top ten greenest cars in 2008.

The American automotive industry has made significant contributions in the development of green vehicles, sometimes at the expense of their own viability (and sometimes for the benefit of competitors). And sure, they've made mistakes too. But blaming the automotive industry for attempting one of the trickiest balancing acts in history seems disingenuous.

You see, I drove one of the earliest electric cars in the 1990s. The public didn't want them. The infrastructure wasn't in place to support them. They were creepy quiet to drive. And, while researching them, nobody could tell me what they planned to do with all the spent batteries. In fact, almost 20 years later, there is no real indication that any of this has changed en masse.

The bottom line is that we need solutions. However, considering we all contribute to the problem every day, those solutions will only come from shared accountability and consensus building. We need discussion over diatribe, the kind that has helped us realize substantial reductions since the 1960s.

Do real-time online conversations add value to communication or cause confusion?

It depends on the conversation and the participants. This one today, despite praise from observers, doesn't add much value.

To his credit, Monty delivered more communication than non-communication during the discussion, better than 2-to-1. In comparison, Israel delivered more non-communication than communication, almost 3-to-1. But this wasn't a boxing match.

Nobody wins, especially those who were listening.

Even with what little truth was alluded to, it's difficult to walk away with a real appreciation of this complex issue beyond polarized content. Simply put, Twitter was not a suitable platform for this discussion. Beyond that, maybe you can tell me.

Monday, December 22

Toiling Over Titles: Everybody Online

Reflecting on last week's post, Chris Brogan noted that some people questioned his journalistic integrity even though he is not a journalist. But what struck me about his post, and the comments that followed, is a lesson learned 12 years ago.

What's In A Title?

Absolutely nothing.

For Chris, maybe he learned it last week (maybe sooner, I don't know). For me, it was while overseeing a statewide literacy benefit. As the event chair, I had an opportunity to meet both outgoing Gov. Bob Miller and incoming Gov. Kenny Guinn. One introduction seemed smooth; the other, not so much.

Afterward, a colleague and mentor of mine asked me which introduction went better. So I told him, along with my rationale.

Copywrite, Ink. was founded as a sole proprietorship in 1991. In 1996, we became a C corporation. For the team and me, the incorporation was a pretty big deal. Personally, it also meant I didn't "grant" myself the title "president." In the short course of five years, I earned the title as well as the address inside the Bank of America building in downtown Las Vegas (we've moved several times since).

When I spoke with Gov. Miller, I presented myself in exactly that way — as president of a fast-growing corporation. But when I spoke with then Gov.-Elect Guinn, we spoke mostly about my early work as a freelancer and as a sole proprietor. From my perspective, one conversation was delivered with confidence; the other with uncertainty.

"I have news for you," said my colleague. "They both went well and they were the same. They didn't see the president of Copywrite, Ink. or a freelance writer (as I was then, with support staff). They only saw Rich Becker."

While there are a great many people who will disagree with it, the lesson was well-learned. People are neither titles nor are people what they do (eg. visit a Four Seasons and you'll see a hotel manager is equally likely to flip a cushion).

How Titles Apply.

Without going into too much detail (some things are best left for other projects), appreciating that titles don't mean anything at all has served me pretty well. It's helped me connect on a human level with some of the world's wealthiest men during interviews (you'd be surprised how many journalists are intimidated by their subjects), and hopefully kept me human and approachable (I have half dozen or so titles on any given day).

For me, if it wasn't for search terms, I wouldn't mention any of them. In fact, the next time we print business cards, I'm leaving the labels, er, titles off entirely. They matter to me about as much the number of people someone employs, awards they've won, or, for the online crowd, the number of followers they have. Sure, we have those numbers if people care to have them, but they don't mean much beyond a context.

Playing With Labelers.

It's also why, even though some people disagreed with my take on Chris Brogan or even Forrester for that matter, I tried to be balanced among several perspectives. In one case, I only saw the situation (with Brogan just happening to be at the center of it). In the other, I only saw a study with missing components (that were later added in via a blog post). In both cases, it could have been anyone.

It also helps me decide who I read online. After a few months or more, you can get a sense of who feels entitled by their labels, er, titles, or whatever other buzz words mean something to them. They also tend to be the same people who call other people names or demand credentials anytime their ideas are challenged.

"Who are you?" "What study will back you up?" or "Why I haven't I heard of you before?" they demand from others while resorting to name-calling and judgments with an impecuniousness of character (sometimes puffing up their own credits in the process).

Yeah, I know that trick too. When the ideas can't stand on their own, toss some weight behind them with a long list of "fill in the blank." You know what? As an online participant, never feel obliged to answer these charges because the question reveals less about you and more about them. Of course, I sometimes make exceptions for sport.

"Which titles, accounts, relationships, and awards interest you?" I ask them. After all, at that point, it's all about them anyway.

For everyone else, I'm just me. My name is Rich. Nice to meet you too.

Friday, December 19

Thinking Internal: Watson Wyatt Study

Never mind external communication for a minute, think internal too. According to Watson Wyatt, more than one in five companies (23 percent) plan to make layoffs in the next 12 months, with almost two in five (39 percent) reporting that they have already done so. But layoffs aren't the only concern employees have.

Hiring freezes also jumped from 30 percent in October to 47 percent this month. Eighteen percent are planning a hiring freeze in the next 12 months. Salary freezes jumped from 4 percent in October to 13 percent. And 61 percent are revising merit budgets. Other changes include any combination of the following: travel restrictions, benefit reductions, restructuring, reduced training, health premium increases, and salary reductions.

“All indications are that 2009 will be a difficult year for both companies and ultimately employees,” said Laura Sejen, global director of strategic rewards consulting at Watson Wyatt. “It will be up to employers to find an effective way to manage this challenge by balancing their financial situations with the likely impact on employee engagement.”

Watson Wyatt's report encourages employers to help mitigate the effect of any decision by considering employee morale, including: choosing the greatest cost savings while doing the least damage to the company's employment brand; communicating extensively and frequently; differentiating bonuses and pay increases; and heightening employee recognition programs. Here are some additional tips from employee communication programs we have developed with several companies over the years:

• Educate supervisors about any upcoming changes first. Not only are employees likely to go to them with questions first, such meetings also provide a forum to prepare for any unforeseen questions.

• Allow supervisors to communicate the basics. Studies consistently conclude that employees trust face-to-face communication the most, and look to their immediate supervisors as the most credible source of information.

• Demonstrate consistency in communication. Depending on the changes being made, employ the company's standard communication model (face to face, video conference, etc.) as a means to connect employees to top executives.

• Provide employees with written material. The outline should include why changes are occurring, what changes are being made, the rationale behind those changes (it will save jobs), and a defined timeline for communication updates.

• Establish clear lines of two-way communication. When employees have questions their supervisors cannot answer, scale for appropriate contacts, such as designated human resources personnel and/or high level management. Collect feedback and address concerns in follow-up communication.

• Communicate straight. Provide employees with clear expectations of what the changes mean, what management expects to happen, what management expects to do if it does not happen, and the frequency of updates to come.

• Notify all external stakeholders as appropriate. Provide a consistent message, including to the media if appropriate, with similar commitments to keep communication candid, open, and honest. In every case, communication should flow from the inside of the company, out.

• Follow up the communication frequently. Communication from supervisors should be reinforced by other established communication channels (eg. bill inserts, newsletters, bulletins, etc.), demonstrating the progress of the plan. (Avoid e-mail notifications as electronic communication elicits stronger emotions and has a higher risk of being forwarded.)

• Increase management visibility. Change represents an opportunity for management to establish trust with employees. It is especially worthwhile for upper management to visit departments to recognize top performers and teams.

While one Gallup poll pinpointed that employees are hoping to be reassured that they have "stability, trust, hope, and compassion," the word to remember is empathy. Understanding a person's experience by sharing that experience, especially in regard to layoffs or temporary cutbacks, can help communicators and management avoid breakdowns that leave management appearing unconcerned and untrustworthy.

Keep in mind, like all communication, communicating change is not a cookie cutter operation. It is a process that guides communicators through a series of steps, allowing them to make situational adjustments. Almost every company culture is slightly different.

More importantly, internal communication remains top of mind because no amount of external communication can reverse employee morale once it is damaged. In some cases, the effects of improper communication won't be felt until an economic turnaround, when disengaged employees will quickly leave. Where will they go? Somewhere that has created a climate of trust.

Friday, December 5

Keeping Clients Engaged: On Blogs

"Once you help a business start a blog, how can you teach the business to sustain it?"

This conversation seems to come up frequently enough. It has come up during my last couple of speaking engagements. Alan Weinkrantz asked it during Gylon Jackson's show. Lee Odden addressed it among five reasons business blogs fail. And Seth Godin included it in his e-book Flipping The Funnel.

"Faced with a semi-blank page, most people write stuff that is either boring, selfish, or indecipherable. Most bloggers quickly lose interest and their blogs wither away," says Godin. "But if you give people a template, you’ll discover that they can thrive. Give them a hole to fill, and fill it they will."

Godin's right, and it goes beyond blogging. Many employers and clients appreciate communicators who help them keep up on industry news and trends. (It's also a good practice, ensuring that we, as practitioners, look beyond the communication industry and invest time in the industry or industries we serve). In many cases, doing so will also provide the author or authors some fresh content to source, share, or offer up with an opinion. Of course, I also like and have employed Odden's idea to assign multiple authors to a business blog, thereby ensuring that no one person is tasked too much.

Every communication tactic deserves a contingency plan.

One contingency we've implemented successfully for several clients is to allow for one "generic" author account identified by "staff" or some other moniker. While it won't work for everyone (eg. it wouldn't work on this blog), it does work elsewhere.

A staff account allows for non-attributed postings, guest posts, or a communication specialist to write a post based on multiple sources within the company that is not clearly associated with anyone specific. Sometimes, such an account can even be used to help guide other company authors as they become familiar with communication or simply to ensure the company can maintain a consistent publishing date when no other posts are available.

The end result is a sustainable blog, primarily because this contingency prevents one missed week turning into two weeks and then three missed weeks from turning into "we haven't updated in so long, it's not worth saving." In fact, from what we've seen, it also removes any obligation from the client, making them much more inclined to contribute content without a set deadline.

I appreciate not everyone gets excited by the idea of "unattributed" postings. However, it seems to work well as a contingency or as an alternative when a definitive single author isn't warranted (eg. does the CEO really have to author a post about a workshop or a roundup of ten news articles?). Besides, while there is demonstrated value to helping some executives engage in social media, the set objective should never be to transform them into full-time "bloggers."

They have other responsibilities too.

Friday, November 28

Starting Conversations: About Conversations

Everywhere you look, people say social media is about conversations … conversationsconversationsconversationsconversations … and conversations.

I have a friend who is an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, "Look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. But then he'll say, "I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull." I think he's nutty. — Richard P. Feynman

When it comes to social media, I tend to look at it as a strategic communicator and not as a conversationalist. Sure, I see social media can be used for conversations, but I also see it as an effective communication tool for engagement, which is not unlike how many social media experts got their start.

From their original content, conversations arose. And there seems to be some value in that, especially when those conversations aspire to provide some level of academic review and criticism.

As such, I've had some great conversations with people at every level of the so-called online influ ... er ... popularity scale. But I also recognize that these conversations have a purpose to further the space or fine tune speaking points for educational purposes. These conversations aren't really about business at all. But I wonder if they recognize that too.

I stuck my finger in, and started to read: "Triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is the list emitted when crystals are crushed ..." And there, have you got science? No! You only have what the word means in terms of other words. You haven't told me anything about nature—what crystals produce light when you crush them, why they produce light. Did you see any student go home and try it? He can't. — Richard P. Feynman

It seems to be the same for business. They are told to apply conversations to social media, but they can't. Why not? Because social media is a medium and conversations are only one aspect of it. And more often than not, conversations are not about business.

When you look at almost every study that came out this year, you'll find less than 30 percent of online participants produce original content in the United States. Of course, there are many other ways to participate. Reading a blog is participation. Watching a video is participation. Digging a story is participation. There are hundreds of other ways people participate too.

But are all those activities really conversations? And of those that are conversations, how many are personal? And how many of those conversations have no interest in allowing company representatives into the conversation? And among those conversations that aren't personal, how many of them can the company count as actually occurring with customers?

Or, how many of those conversations will most people never see because they are really taking place away from the originating site … on other blogs, in forums, in social networks, and in real life? And knowing this, then why would comments be a conversation measure, especially when some folks follow a comment for comment rule?

Sure, there are some consultants that have leveraged conversations solely because their primary income is derived from book sales and public speaking. But, for the greater majority of business endeavors, it seems to me that the overemphasis on conversation is only leading to some questionable practices.

Consider Magpie on Twitter or apply any number of common examples such as Direct Messages from new Twitter followers that declare "I like you. You can connect to me here, here, and here." Or more covert, dropping in client names from time to time, without the usual objectivity filter on those client products. Or more covert, screening people to friend and follow based upon keyword searches (e.g. mention divorce and a lawyer might "friend" you for a "conversation").

Social media is not only about conversations. And social media experts might know it if they listened to businesses as much as they tell these businesses to listen to their customers. But most of them won't. They're too busy having conversations with everybody else.

Thursday, November 27

Quoting Five: And Examples That Exemplify

While Thanksgiving might be an American holiday, the value of gratitude seems universal. Even in business, as Dr. Charles Kerns, author of Value-Centered Ethics, writes:

"Effectively applied in the workplace, gratitude may positively impact such factors as job satisfaction, loyalty, and citizenship behavior, while reducing employee turnover and increasing organizational profitability and productivity."

Then why does there seem to be some discrepancy in the application? After all, while approximately 70 percent of businesses intend to thank employees (American Express), only 25 percent of employees feel appreciated (Gallop).

Maybe the reason is simple. True gratitude requires something more than saying "thank you," sending out sentiments of such, or offering incentive programs that are eventually viewed as an extension of salary or an incentive. True gratitude requires someone internally recognizing that they have benefited from someone, and then expressed how that benefit has added specific value.

Five Timeless Ideas And Matching Examples

"Praise the bridge that carried you over." — George Colman

Illustrated by Edinburgh Day by Day

"The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness." — Dalai Lama

Discovered at DailyNebraskan

"Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us." — Albert Schweitzer

Demonstrated by Taylor Sloan Presents

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." — John F. Kennedy

Exhibited by Ryan Anderson

"God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say 'thank you?'" — William A. Ward

Thank you. And Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 19

Removing Customers: They Don't Want You

Ever since Blu-Ray started selling 100 units for every 98.71 units of HD-DVD last year, the writing was on the wall. There was going to be change. And for some, change for the sake of change would be painful.

Earlier this year, Netflix sent some consumers in a tail spin after announcing that it will carry high definition videos in the Blu-Ray format backed by Sony and others, but not in the HD-DVD standard once backed by Toshiba. Today, in what appears to be a licensing deal gone temporarily wrong as opposed to an answer to Microsoft's Xbox Live campaign, the Xbox 360 will not stream Sony Columbia Pictures Films. (Sony Pictures Entertainment movies are still available.) Sony Columbia Pictures Films doesn't want Xbox 360 customers.

Did you get all that? Netflix didn't want Toshiba customers. Now, Sony Columbia Pictures doesn't want Netflix customers, at least not those using an Xbox 360. And, long term, it seems doubtful Netflix will want Blu-Ray customers because the adoption rate is less than stellar.

Sure, Netflix remains vigilant in communicating that the company's current business strategy is still firmly rooted in DVD technology, but most weeks it communicates a growing number of streaming deals. However, when you compare a few choice quotes from Netflix, they don't add up:

"There are 100 million DVD players in U.S. households. If you really think people are going to stop renting DVDs, you need to lie down until that thought passes.” — Barry McCarthy, CFO, Netflix.

"As watching instantly becomes a more prominent part of the Netflix service, our goal is to have all of our streaming content licensed for all of our partner devices. We're doing well in this area, but it will take some time before we fully achieve that goal." — Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications, Netflix.

More and more, it seems electronic companies keep asking consumers to replace hardware at a dizzying pace just so they can replace all their media content once again (just in time for the next new hardware) or, perhaps long term, only allow them to borrow content from time to time for a monthly subscription price model that made cable companies profitable.

So what are they really saying? Your children's children won't know what a DVD is (or Blu-Ray for that matter) and they might not know what a book is either. While we keep aiming to make content more portable, the side effect might be that content becomes increasingly controlled and temporary. That will be painful. But as mentioned, change for the sake of change is always painful.


Friday, September 19

Communicating Disparity: Reuters On Wall Street

There is an interesting communication insight that emerges after reading Reuters collection of public opinions on the recent market drop.

Wall Street workers said:
• People are in misery. You can see it, you can feel it.
• It's at the level of 1929, I'm sure.
• It's mind-blowing. There is no place to hide.

Non-Wall Street workers said:
• Look at this -- it's jam-packed with people and they don't look too stressed.
• If the market dropped 25 percent like it did in '87, I'd be worried, but a 400 point drop isn't that much.
• Today, anyway, the money that the Fed put into the markets seems to have straightened things out.

Communication can be decidedly different depending on vantage point. It's something to keep in mind when deciding whether to run with a campaign based on insider or outsider perspectives. Here's an idea: stick to the truth and manage from a point of authenticity, never minding what either group says. It's your message as long as you manage it.


Tuesday, July 22

Dialing Up Everything: Blog It

BlogTipz, one of several blogs dedicated to blogging, has been running a series on the growing number mobile blogging applications for the iPhone. While the overviews mostly recap the software features, the posts provide a nice round up of applications.

WordPress and TypePad were among the first to provide custom applications. Since Blogger has yet to offer an iPhone application (though it does offer mobile blogging via text messaging or e-mail), BlogTipz suggests Blog It, which is a multi blog and presence application platform offered by Six Apart.

Setting up Blog It via Facebook is easy enough. Setting it up via the iPhone browser takes a little more time, but only because Blog It doesn’t allow a direct connection to Blogger like it does through Facebook. As an iPhone browser application, you have to use OpenID or one of four other account options.

Of course, mobile blogging is easy enough just signing onto Blogger via the browser. So the true benefit, at least from the Facebook version, is that Blog It makes it easy to update multiple accounts, including: TypePad, Blogger, FriendFeed, LiveJournal, Moveable Type, Pownce, Tumblr, Twitter, Vox, and WordPress. Of course, Blog It is still not a replacement for Twitterific (which also has an iPhone applicaton) or Twitter thincloud (browser application) so it’s not really a replacement for presence platforms.

How Phone Applications Impact Marketing

The applications reminded me of a Media Snackers post written back in November. There is little doubt that social media is changing some aspects of communication, especially as applications become simpler and more streamlined.

In less than a week after 2.0 software was released, my dentist concluded that he would be taking all his banking mobile. He also mentioned how easy it was for him to see that that the future of computing will rest in the palm of our hands. Yep. That is the way Apple innovations are steering the industry.

When you add message mobility to the list of six ways social media is impacting communication as I offered up in the Media Snacker post, the most effective communication will trend simple, not complex. In other words, if it takes too long to load on a phone, fewer people will be reading.

Technology isn’t the only driving force for simpler, more direct, and authentic messaging. Consumers are asking for it. As everyone is impacted by more and more messages every day, our patience to wade through long leads is over.

Whereas it used to be only 25 percent of the population wanted cut to the chase, most customers today expect any product contrast points to be delivered up front. It makes sense.

All of us are being impacted by more and more messages every day in every facet of our lives. Our patience to wade through a long lead is gone. In fact, other than a few people who have incorporated the long lead into direct sales-driven Web sites, the only remaining advocates seem to be a few old school direct mail shops.


Thursday, June 19

Confusing The Issues: The Consumerist

The Consumerist recently asks whether a CVS/pharmacy is discriminating against teens by only allowing two teens to enter the store at a time after the local high school lets out. The student who wrote in to The Consumerist called it ageism and has vowed to avoid the store from now on.

While most comments seem to defend the CVS/pharmacy policy as did many on SpinThicket (some even suggesting the letter writer ‘chill out’) based on the knowledge that stores around high schools have been employing similar tactics for years (even when I was in high school), most are wrong. Customers are allowed to express their dissatisfaction with a poor customer service policy and the best way to express that displeasure is to write a letter or shop elsewhere.

While I have a difficult time classifying this as ageism or legally forcing CVS/pharmacy to change its policy, I do think it’s beneficial to encourage teens to peacefully express their dissatisfaction with what amounts to poor customer service policy. And, in doing so, it might remind CVS/pharmacy (or any store with such policies) that shopping there is not privilege. On the contrary, it’s a privilege for the store to enjoy the after school rush crowd.

If the students boycotted the store for a few weeks, it seems to me that CVS/pharmacy would to have weigh the risks and rewards of a policy that doesn’t seem to be working for their customers, regardless of age. Not to mention, the security personnel who allegedly sneer at the students might consider that these students are probably the only reason that position exists.

Where this applies to communication is simple enough. Sometimes people tend to overextend their arguments (eg. ageism) when a simpler, less emotional statement might just be enough. And that is where the letter writer could have benefited. Conversely though, those who rose to defend CVS/pharmacy might consider reacting less and looking to the root of the problem. It’s a customer service issue.

You know, it really doesn’t make sense to teach students that they must accept disagreeable customer service simply because they happen to attend high school. On the contrary, learning how to communicate as a consumer early on will help them far into the future. All companies have to be reminded from time to time to time that companies and customers have choices.

Do you want them as a customer? Do they want you as a vendor?

For CVS/pharmacy, which invests millions in CVS Caremark All Kids Can to be kid and family friendly, I suspect they might be able to come up with a better solution that meets their needs of young customers. Likewise, I hope the student who wrote the letter learns that we don't need to scream discrimination when poor customer service is enough.


Tuesday, June 17

Making Lazy: Passive Customer Service

When it comes to communication, the most impacting miscommunication almost never appears on the news, in print, or anywhere near the marketing department. It happens on the front line, and the people impacted are customers, one at a time.

The two most common causes of miscommunication for larger companies is trending to be passive communication (eg. expecting customers to stay up to date on the company Web site) and scripted employees (eg. requiring representatives to work from scripts even in non-script circumstances).

There are plenty of examples that we’ve helped several companies resolve recently, but I thought it might be fun to share some personal examples to illustrate the point.

Passive Communication.

Cox Communications Inc. recently implemented a new e-mail filtering program to block a specific Internet port. The only mention of the service change is on their Web site.

The reasoning behind the implementation was a good idea, but they did not notify their customers of the change in service beyond posting to their Web site. In fact, we may have never known there was potential problem had it not been for a small number of clients and contacts using Cox as their primary e-mail provider. For some reason, our Cox service provider was disallowing our POP e-mails to Cox customer clients.

Their customer service representatives are now investing time to research the problem and provide a solution. To their customer service department’s credit (once the script questions were ruled out), they immediately upgraded their level service, even calling back with updates rather than leaving us on hold.

While the person-to-person customer service was great, I’m still wondering if better front-end communication might have prevented any service interruption.

Scripted Employees.

It works in reverse too. Not all companies are so fortunate to have proactive employees willing to research the impact to their customers. Some customer service representatives seem too lazy to move off script. This recently occurred when one of our last payments to Volkswagen Credit disappeared in the mail.

We were notified of the missing payment, first by receiving our next payment coupon, which required a double payment, and then by an automated call from the company on the same day the double payment went out. (Again, these are passive communication solution as opposed to a letter or live person phone call). Regardless, my wife called immediately about her car.

Despite learning the payment was likely lost in the mail, the first customer service representative insisted she answer personal questions, without explanation, including about her employment status. Not only did it seemed overly intrusive for a lost payment call, the representative informed her that the missing payment would be reported because the company had allegedly made numerous calls to notify us. Knowing that was not true, she then asked to speak to a supervisor.

“No, you may not speak to anyone else. I’m handling your account.”

For real? As unbelievable as it sounds, yes. She took his name and number and then promptly ended the call. She called back to speak to someone new. The difference was like night and day.

“I see you’ve never missed a payment. I’ll clear this up right now.”

As for those calls? They never happened. The first representative made it up. As for the general ill-tempered representative? The second representative was left having to apologize. As for the personal questions? Volkswagen Credit has recently created a program to save people who are struggling financially from defaulting on their payments. It’s a great idea, but it didn’t apply to our circumstance nor did the first representative mention “why” he needed to ask.

Mixed Messages.

Considering how many companies lean toward intrusive marketing to push products and services (I even had a mortgage company come to my door yesterday), it’s equally amazing how many become passive once you become a customer (I hope you know that periodic calls to your credit card and insurance company almost always result in lower rates).

As for the examples above, proactive communication seems like it could have been the best answer to keep everyone happy. And, once we, as customers, were forced to take proactive steps, the outcome was tied to how empowered the representatives were to make decisions.

Sure, some executives think scripting employees helps representatives stay on the same page. In reality, scripting employees only leads to one-way communication, which we already know is no communication at all.

The solution is somewhere in the middle. Proactive post-purchase communication and strong internal communication can help develop a consistent, and not overly scripted, level of service that empowers employees and reinforces to the customer that they have the right company.


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