They’re both on first

“Inspire Your Customers” by Jim Champy (Baseline Magazine, 24 September 2009)

“Keeping Employees Engaged in Tough Times” by Corinne Bernstein (Baseline Magazine, 24 September 2009)

Inspire? Engage? Same thing, right? Actually, right! People are people and both customers and employees are guests. They should all be thought of as such. Employees want inspired customers. Customers want engaged employees. Join in the conversation and go make it happen. Alright!

Rules that leaders should follow

“Decoding Leadership” by Norm Smallwood (HarvardBusiness.org, 15 September 15, 2009). And where do you stand? Where do you wish to stand? Better yet, where do you need to stand? Something to ponder this weekend as you indulge in some downtime, eh?

Look good. Feel good.

Design matters. Why? Because it is one of the first things to effect The Guest Experience. It establishes the tone of the on going relationship. Whether it’s your store, your club, your restaurant or your web site, these impressions matter. If you have any doubts about the value of investing in good design, and thus The Guest Experience, these two articles should help reorient your compass.

“Environment Plays a Huge Role in Member Retention” by Bruce Carter (Fitness Business Pro, August 2009).

When you spend on your club’s environment, you are spending on marketing. Think about having an environment that is so exciting, fun and stimulating that people actually love being there, and it makes them want to tell their friends about it.

“Turning Up the Juice” by Garrett Peck (Sante Magazine, September 2009)

No matter the size or demographics of your bar, creating and sustaining a successful vibe requires tuning (and sometimes retuning) the sensory experience and physical layout to match your clientele’s expectations and, above all, affording each customer personal and professional service.

The key is empathy. Stop thinking about what you see, or what you think you see. Now look at your company from the outside in. What do they, The Guest, see? And what impression(s) does that make on their experience?

The wary reader gets wise

“Courting a Wary Customer” by Sid Liebenson (Deliver Magazine, July 2009). In case you’re not already aware, Deliver is published by USPS. Natrually, it tends to be biased towards the usage of direct mail or other pro-USPS mediums. None the less, there are often pearls of wisdom worth consuming. Unfortunately, Mr. Liebenson’s article is going to be used as a poster child for don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Please pardon the dip into what might be perceived as the negativity pool.

Below is the letter inspired by Sid’s article. I’d like to add that while the overall tone is somewhat off-centre, my intention was not to bully him. There just some obvious holes in this conclusions. I’d also like to mention that in the letter I describe myself as a “punk-ass kid”, which is hardly the case. The phrase was just used for dramatic effect, if not comic relief.

Hello Sid,

As you can see I felll a bit behind on my reading. I just read your article and found it inspiring and enjoyable. Thanks for taking the time to share with the rest of us.

Let me cut to the chase…

I realize you’re the high flyin’, swashbucklin’ marketing exec and I’m just a punk-ass kid trying to grow up to be you :) but there were two points in your article that I would hope you can take a moment and clarify for me. Btw, please pardon my tone if it comes off as a bit “East Coast” but I’m just a straight shooter. I do not mean to offend. In fact, I’m hoping you see the humor in the delivery.

— One —

You said: Your marketing messages need to be not only personalized, but frequent. In a tough economy, it’s common for consumers to question where every penny is going. When they do that, suddenly every relationship is a little at risk. Their question becomes “Am I really getting value from this relationship, or is there something that will satisfy my needs equally for less money?”

— Pardon me for asking but it’s not clear to me how frequency answers that question. More often is not an answer, at least not to the question you suggest they are asking. In fact, if said organization is not delivering value then it’s likely that frequency will only remind the customer of the (failed?) relationship and the brands inability to understand and in turn satisfy them.

If your question is *the* question then it would seem to me that the focus should be on actually delivering value that satisfies and not just delivering more marketing spin more often. Sorry, but I don’t think it’s safe to assume that every company has it’s “stuff” together and should just repeat marketing formula X more often. Maybe it’s just me? It would seem to me that your recommendation might actually be doing quite a few (of those in denials of their flaws) a disservice.

— Two —

You said: From April 2008 to August 2008, there were more than 83,000 visits and 2,357 messages left on the site. This clearly shows the effects of empathizing with consumers.

With all due respect Sid, no that does not clearly show empathizing. It’s a simple statistic – nothing more, nothing less. Now if you supported that conclusion with “as compared to a control group” or made reference to some sort of follow up interview then that stat might hold some water.

As it is, 2,357 out of the universe of all BCBSF customers (or potential customers) doesn’t sound like much of a sample to me. Can it help? I’m sure it can. But a sub 3% “response rate” as a ratio of visits (btw, is that unique visits or just visits?) really isn’t very meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like the client was pleased. It’s just not clear to me how the stat you mention translates into some conclusion about empathy.  Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed that someone who should know better tried to pull the wool over our eyes with some old media-esque broad brushed spin.

Again, I hope it did not offend. I look forward to your reply.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Btw, this letter was sent earlier in the week and Sid has yet to reply.

The theory and the practice

“5 Minutes With… Jack Daly” by Daria Meoli (New York Enterprise Report) In theory Mr. Daly makes some good points, multitasking management and sales roles isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. On the other hand anyone who has been an SMB owner understands that what Mr. Daly proposes isn’t that cut and dry.

So what are the alternatives?

Instead of loosely vowing to split your time, take it a step further and schedule time in your calendar of choice. But don’t stop there either. Log your time. At lunch and with two hours to go in the day assess your time budget. Adjust and repeat as necessary. If you’re within a reasonable margin of error come Friday, buy yourself something special for lunch. But if you’re not that close then buy pizza for the team or take a client out to lunch. Take your shortcoming and use it as an opportunity to keep in touch with your people or clients. Ideally being more aware will help with arranging your time the following week.

Another alternative is to delegate some of your responsibilities. Force yourself if it’s not your nature to do so. If you can save yourself 15 – 20 minutes a day that’s approx 90 minutes at the end of the week. That’s pretty good “found money”, no? The bonus is you might discover  an employee who’s  more capable than you thought. If they come up short, then you’ve learn something there as well and now having some training to do.

Regardless, there’s are always good times for investing in the promise of tomorrow. It’s not going to happen on its own, is it?

It’s alive! The new Falco Design site is launched

alchemy-united-expression-engine-web-development_175wIt’s alive! AU client Falco Design (www.FalcoDesign.com) launches their new web site.

Highlights

— All of site’s content, including home page slide show, is user controlled via the content management system (CMS) Expression Engine (EE).  EE allows pages to be created on demand (i.e., they are not static). The FD site makes considerable use of EE’s categories. This allows the CMS to be programmed to deliver the right content at the right time as based on FD’s biz rules. For example, services pages only display portfolio work for that service.

— “SEO friendly” design and architecture: Every page has a unique URL, page <title>,  meta tags, etc. This level of thoroughness is applied all the way down to each individual portfolio piece, even as you page through them. Images are also named and titled to increase “findability”.

— Google Ad Manager (GAM) is used to serve and track the banner ads. The control of GAM’s content is further targeted via EE.

AU’s Contribution

— Expression Engine architecture and development. Behind the scenes the content is managed / displayed via a collection of widgets.  This modular approach makes the site easier to maintain and enhance as Falco’s business needs evolve. For a complete list of EE’s features please click here.

— Incorporation of jQuery plug-ins

— Recommendations on UX / UI

— HTML and CSS enhancement and tweaks

— Copy writing (including “branding” and development of brand message)

— Recommendation of and integration of Google Ad Manager

— Selection of images for banner ads, as well as the development of associated copy / messages

Finally, the site was designed by (Falco Design employee) Stephanie Bayard (www.StephanieBayard.com). When not on the clock at Falco, Stephanie is also a member of the AU Collective.

In short, this site is a kick-ass example of the capabilities of AU and the AU collective.

Mr. Ed would be proud

“Taking Customer Care to Heart” by Gerald Shields (CIO Magazine, Sept 2009). There is something to be said for the power of story and Mr. Shields strengthens that perception.

Behind everything we’re working on, there’s a person with a business problem, and we should be there to make life better for them. It must never become just a job — it must be something we have passion for.

Regardless of your role you should find that this one-pager succeeds on multiple levels. Now it’s up to you to make a moment to consume Gerald’s story. Enjoy.

Change will never change

“Survival of the Relatively More Fit” by Denis Pombriant (CRM Magazine, Sept 2009). These are evolutionary times and not just for CRM.  Read it and reap.

The beautiful game of business

“Are You Holding Your Business Back? 5 quick tips to overcome your mental barriers.” by Joe Nunziata (The New York Enterprise Report, Sept 2009). Alright, let’s get this week started off right. Mr. Nunziata offers a fairly good pep talk. Somewhat clinical but ultimately he gets the job done.

Naturally, there seem to be a couple tweaks in order. First, it’s just that, the order the items are listed. Here’s the AU order. (The original place of each in Mr/ Nunziata’s list is in parentheses.)

1. Embrace change (5)
2. Willingness to do whatever it takes to move forward (4)
3. Accept that you are the creator (2)
4. Focus on the cause, not the effect (1)
5. You cannot be a victim (3)

Also, you’ll notice each of Joe’s steps ends with “Take action”. Or as David Schwartz says (in the classic “The Magic of Thinking Big”), “Action cures fear”. Analysis and planning are great but they are nothing without action. Never underestimate the power of action.

Another addition would be: Accept  set backs. Business, as is life itself, is like soccer. Not every pass is forward. Not every run results in getting the ball. What matters is the final score. So don’t let occasional missteps distract you from keeping your head in the game. Keep on movin’.

Three is enough (for now)

Oh! What the heck!! Here are two more helpful goodies on social networks.

“Understanding Users of Social Networks” by Sean Silverthorne (Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, 14 September 14)

“Q&A with:Sunil Gupta — Social Network Marketing: What Works?” by Sarah Jane Gilbert (Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, 27 July 2009)

Ok, that’s enough soc netting for a while.

More building blocks

This is a follow up of moderate commitment (i.e., it’s not quick) to yesterday’s post on online communities / social networks. All of these were sourced from CRM Magazine (www.DestinationCRM.com), which always comes highly recommended.

“The 7 Benefits of Online Customer Service Communities” by Christopher Musico —A new Forrester Research report highlights the return on investment in social media communities.

“10 Steps to Social Media Success” by Lauren McKay — Internet Week ’09: Brand Exposure event shows companies how to join the conversation.

“Webinar: How Social Media is Transforming Customer Service and the Customer Experience” from Parature’s blog — Note: Free registration is required.

“Find Out How Businesses Are Leveraging Social Media” from AIM-Partners (via SageSpark.com) — Note: Free registration is required.

Grab a coffee and sip some more soc-net knowledge. Enjoy!

Lessons in community building love

“If You Build It, Will They Come?” by Angela Connor (EContent Magazine, September 2009). This article is an excerpt from Ms. Connor’s book “18 Rules of Community Engagement”. First, let’s hit some of the pull quote highlights. Then we’ll finish with some AU commentary.

We are living in the conversation age, where one-way communication is no longer enough. Savvy consumers with infinite choices across the web expect interaction and engagement, and those who can’t deliver will find themselves at the end of the line. What that means is the days of broadcasting your message to the masses and reaping huge benefits are fading fast. The deepest pockets once delivered the biggest audience, but the audience can no longer be bought. It must be earned.

Many businesses and organizations are aware of this fact and have built online communities or have become involved in existing social media platforms to actively listen to and communicate with customers. They understand the power of engagement and recognize the importance of transparency. Others are still in denial, ignoring the conversations and refusing to embrace this new way of communication. However, when the president of the U.S. creates a new office dedicated solely to public engagement, it underscores a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.

Growing a successful online community, for me, has been a trial by fire, and in some aspects it still is. What seems like a great idea can easily flop, and the simplest ideas can resonate with the community in ways you could never imagine, bringing new members in waves and causing participation levels to skyrocket.

If You Build It, Will They Come? The answer, simply, is no! Many organizations and businesses mistakenly believe that if they provide the tools for community engagement and interaction, a community will form on its own and ultimately engage and interact. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While providing the tools does indicate a desire to bring people together, it does nothing to actually make it happen. It takes a different kind of investment to grow a community, and a major portion of that investment is time.

This was published in the Business and Technology section of The Wall Street Journal’s website on July 16, 2008. The headline was “Why Most Online Communities Fail.” According to the article, Ed Moran, the Deloitte consultant who conducted the study, indicated that most of the sites failed to attract visitors because businesses focused on the value the community could bring rather than investing in the actual community.

The key phrase in that statement is “long-term.” Success will not happen overnight, and anything short of a long-term commitment will produce mediocre results.

These differences make the role of a community manager very unique and underscore the importance of having clear goals and knowing what constitutes success.

Without a clear-cut mission, you will find it difficult to reach your goals. General goals such as “reach out to the community and communicate” will only get you so far. What are you reaching out to the community for? What are you communicating about? Those are the questions that have to be answered so you can gauge your success.

“The value lies in the community manager serving as a hub and having the ability to personally connect with the customers (humanize the company), and providing feedback to many departments internally.”

Keep in mind that shared interests bring people in a community together, and online communities can only thrive if people visit regularly and spend a good amount of time when they do visit. And given the fact that no one willingly wastes this precious commodity [i.e., time], it should be a major priority to create experiences that are worthy of their time and make them want to return and give even more of it.

In my book, I will share what I know and some of the things I’ve learned from others while managing the online community GOLO.com, from its infancy to its current status of more than 11,000 members with dozens joining every day.

And now for the AU value add…

Ms. Connor makes a number of excellent points, many of which should be applied beyond the idea of community. For example, time, time is always precious and should be respected. Waste your guests’ time during an interaction — in your store or on your web site — and you’re certain to struggle but save them time and you’ll earn a following.

Next, while the general idea of Community Manager is certainly sound there seems to be a couple tweaks in order. First, as minor as it might sound, the title of Community Manager itself should be changed. Assigning  someone to “manage” a community seems to  be counter to the foundation of  many of Ms. Connor’s ideas. In short, words matter (because they are the building blocks of ideas). For example, Community Facilitator would a step in the right direction. Certainly there are others.

The other issue with Community Manager is, why have just one? Why have all your eggs in one basket and risk losing your center if that person leaves or isn’t the right fit? It would make more sense to spread that assignment across as many people are possible. Why not eat the elephant one bite at a time instead of trying to swallow it whole?  Having “behind the scenes” staff seems counter productive to the idea of community.  Getting everyone out front and involved will help keep everyone engaged and focused on the goal(s) of the team.

Finally, Ms. Connor finishes with a comment about the size of GOLO.com. The question is, is that good? Did they meet their goals or not? The other issue is, is size really the ultimate measurement of success? Maybe it’s another chapter in the book but further discussion on various useful measurements of a community seems to be in order, as well as how those might change as the community grows.

p.s. Did anyone else notice the irony that a male, Martin Read, is the founder of Female Forum?

Less news isn’t bad news

Time for some shameless self-promotion…

“News Unfit for Print” by Michelle Manafy (EContent Magazine, May 2009). The article dates back to May but what’s new is that EContect printed an AU submitted letter. Please take a moment to read what we thought and they printed. Ironically, EContent does not post printed letters on their web site.

This is my first issue of eContent and so far I like it. It’s definitely of the same quality as the other Info Today publications I read. With regards to your latest Edit This: “News Unfit for Print”, I’d like to share a couple thoughts with you (and Dennis).

I’d make the “argument” that it’s actually the true media companies that are succeeding. On the other hand, the companies and organizations that see themselves as being “newspapers”, or “television broadcasters”, etc. are the ones who are being hurt by their own archaic mind-set. Until those traditionalists realign themselves with how the market see them, they will continue to struggle. And rightfully so; where’s the surprise?

The pull quote said, “In this collapse of the media business, the ensuing news vacuum will need to be filled.” Please excuse my tone but… Pardon me, what vacuum? It is actually the ubiquitous availability of information that has destroyed the market’s need for printed / televised word. Just because less people are getting the paper or watching the news does not mean they are not keeping informed. The only vacuum I’ve seen is in the minds of traditional media companies’ and how it effects their ability to meet the needs of the market.

Thanks again for eContent. I’m looking forward to the next issue already.

Hoist a new flag,
Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

There is one additional point I’d like to add in regards to the current state of traditional news outlets. The majority of the time it’s difficult to tell if they are trying to inform me or entertain me. Between the interviews overflowing with softball sized questions to the “it’s on Twitter so it must be true” insights there’s hardly any value added and  little true news disseminated.

It’s odd that these brands wish to be taken seriously as news sources yet devote so little energy to spin-free, honest and insightful news. They want to talk the talk but they don’t want to walk the walk. That’s fine, they just shouldn’t be shocked that they’re losing a battle to their (market defined) equals.

The bottom line… If you want real news then watch, listen and/or read the BBC News.

Be there, do that

“The Grill: Shawn Broderick” by Sara Forrest (ComputerWorld Magazine, 7 September 2009). As is often the suggestion here, look past the niche specifics (i.e., tech) and find the more universal gems. The pearls here come in the last three Q&As. Here’s a teaser of each but to gain the full impact you’ll have commit 120 seconds to this quick and fulfilling read.

SF — What are a few common mistakes that people make when they get involved in creating a new high-tech venture?
SB — In my experience, the two most common mistakes that kill new ventures are what I refer to as “missing the pain” and “messing the team.”

SB — Many people probably have a million-dollar high-tech idea floating around in their mind. What is the single most important piece of advice you could give to all of them?
SB — Execute! Ninety-nine percent of the time, ideas aren’t worth the paper they’re not printed on. Truly everybody is capable of having great ideas.

SF — Is there a certain mind-set that one must have in order to succeed with a start-up?
SB — The most important and valuable mind-set I see in entrepreneurs is drive. The path to high-tech entrepreneurial success is rarely easy or simple.

Burn Hollywood, burn

“JetBlue Genius And Hollywood Hustlers” by Bob Evans (Informationweek.com, 17 August 2009). When the ideals of The Guest Experience start showing up in geeky publications such as Information Week you know it’s time to get on board. His words might not be exactly the same but the concepts are in concert with our own. Could this be the article that inspires you to adjust to the new normal of guest-centricity? Or are you too Hollywood?

Serious business

““Innopreneurs:” Tips For Success During A Recession” by Duncan Stewart (Business XPansion Journal, September 2009). Another round up to keep you focused and on the straight and narrow. Chances are you’ve heard these before but it’s always helpful to get another nudge.  Now that the summer is over and the kids are back to school it’s time to get back to business.

The AU faves:

3) Make it a no-brainer to try your product.

4) Find money in unexpected places.

7) Now is the time to finally invest in the latest productivity technology.

8) For better marketing results, go direct.

These are just the highlights. It’s up to you to consume the rest.

A good team is hard to find

“Creating a Team Mentality” by Jay Bahel (CIO Insight, 28 August 2009). Influence, we all know, is also a function of culture. Is the culture open minded, dynamic and pro-innovation? Or small minded,  slow moving and in denial of change? Obviously, it makes a difference.

Unfortunately, creating an efficient and effective culture is easier said than done. It’s certainly not something that can just be imposed from above. None the less, the cost of the status quo can be significant, if not fatal. So try we must to develop teams that produce positive results. Hopefully Mr. Bahel’s ideas can help get you rolling in the right direction.

Also there were two related articles on CIOInsight.com: “Key Questions on Recruitment” by Larry Bonfante, as well as “An Absence of IT Talent” by John Parkinson.

Here’s to better times ahead

“Influence Others To Take Action” by Stacey Hanke (Business XPansion Journal, September 2009). Another page from the School of When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Revist, Refine & Re-Attack. If things are slower today than you’d like use that time wisely, use it to invest in the future. Even if tomorrow isn’t that much better than today at least you and your company will be. Relatively, that will translate into better times.

While we’re on the subject of influence… “Influencer – The Power to Change Anything” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillian & Al Switzler (McGraw Hill) raises some interesting points. I won’t say I’m thrilled with the quality of the writing itself (i.e., how well the ideas are presented) — just stick to the ideas / concepts. If you believe what they say then there’s the potential for  some simple game changing lessons. Worth a go if you’re looking for something to stir the gray matter a bit.