Saturday, June 30, 2007

LNB #043: Who Are You REALLY Listening To? Customers, Maybe?

"We're committed to excellent customer service."

Interesting idea. However, I'm not sure that we really are. Most of the time, I assert, we're too busy listening to the little voices inside our heads. I mean the voices that are constantly filtering our experiences--judging and assessing, telling us that we agree/don't agree/like it/don't like it/seen it before/trust you/don't trust you and on and on and on. With our little voices giving us the blow by blow from Radio Free Saigon, it gets a little tough to hear much of anything else.

So, are we really listening to our customers, vendors, suppliers, employees and business partners? Probably not.

Setting up listening posts, routine ways to listen to our customers, can be a daunting undertaking. We face loss of management control, changing the fundamentals of the business, reliability of information and scalability. We tend to contact people only when there's a problem we're trying to solve--not to learn about how to improve services that are already great.

Request for Help
If you have a contact at MTV, send me an email. I have a business associate who's trying to make a contact there.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't
Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home
Lessons in Listening to Customers (has the overview of the Vodaphone survey)

Listen Now: 25:47

MP3 File

Monday, June 25, 2007

The iPhone Launches and Now There's Global Peace

Is it me? Or does it seem to anyone else that the launch of the iPhone is being heralded with lots of iHype? New industries are springing up as people are trying to figure out how to get out of their current cellphone planes to switch to a plan that utilizes the iPhone features.

Now, many of you know that I love hand-held tech and should have already been standing in line for this one. I just don't think we're a love match.

Here are a few things that concern me:

  • You can only use it on AT&T service (which 2/3 of users don't have)
  • It doesn't have a removable battery, so you can't keep an extra battery charged and on-deck (saved my bacon on numerous occasions). If it goes bad, you have to send it in for replacement--just like the first generation iPods.
  • The face of the iPhone is vulnerable to damage. I have a clamshell designed, Kyocera 7135 smartphone. After years of use, there is not a single mark on the screen. Point of fact, when I took it in to my local Wireless Toyz store (I go there to breath in all that tech air), the owner snapped a picture of it "I've never seen something so old that was in such great condition!" Get ready to purchase a case to fix this design flaw.
  • It's a multimedia device that lets you do some work-related stuff (email, calendaring, etc.). Just don't count on being able to do those bread-and-butter things easily. There's still no verdict on whether or how well it will interface with corporate servers (like the Blackberry).
  • There's no mechanica keyboard and no stylus. You tap an onscreen keyboard and programmatically, the iPhone guesses what you're trying to write. Neat. However, mechanical keyboards have proven to be difficult for women with fingernails and men with fleshy fingers to use.
  • Credit Suisse, in their analysis of the market, think that women will be the surprise buyers, purchasing the device like it was a new Prada bag. They're banking on female vanity. Um, good?

I wonder what everyone else is thinking.

The Case of the Wandering Pants

Where do I start with this one? Picture this: Man's down on his luck. Man gets new gig. Man needs pants let out so his suits will fit. Man brings suits (with pants) to cleaners. Cleaners can't immediately find one pair of pants. Cleaners finds pants later. May says "pants they may be, but mine they aren't." Man sues cleaners...for $65 million.

The man was administrative law judge, Roy Pearson, who insisted that he'd been lied to. Seems that Custom Cleaners had a "satisfaction guaranteed" sign up in their shop--a sign that, according to Pearson, was the height of effrontery. His calculations of damages included the hiring of a private car to drive him weekly to another dry cleaners for the next 10 years.

Curiously this was all over the international news (read Greta Van Susteren's interview and in-depth discussion of Judge Roy's pants with the Chungs' defense attorney--if you can stand it).

The courtroom scene had drama and pathos. Judge Roy cried over his pants...and so did Mrs. Chung, co-owner of the shop. It had international news and a courtroom filled with more reporters than family, or anyone else. The judge in the case sided with the Chungs, giving Judge Roy nothing. In fact, he may be paying the court expenses of the Chungs to boot and faces disbarment.

All in all, a very sad case: I think Judge Roy has other issues I hope he gets help for.

In the Washington Post article, Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federal of Independent Business Legal Foundation is quoted as saying "Small-business owners like the Chungs live in fear every day that they will be the next victim of a frivolous lawsuit and could possibly lose their business."

In an age of law suits filed because spilled coffee is actually hot, it is something for those of us in business to be worried about.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

...And My Inner Nerd Quivered with Delight

Scientists, inventors and researchers. Oh, my! Just my kind of place. For about sixty bucks plus my travel expenses, I can roll in tech at Wired Magazine Nextfest until my head caves in.

I wanna go. Maybe, if I take vitamins and meditate and don't drink anything with caffeine, I won't roll around on the floor moaning at all the tech toys.

I doubt it.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

TED Talks with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: How to help Africa? Do business there.

Years ago, I heard a talk from African business and civic leaders with one challenge: We want trade. Not just aid. Ngozi's talk is a very fine one and she actually refers to that talk (Africa: Open for Business).

Now, what am I going to do?

Friday, June 22, 2007

LNB #042: Virtual Offices/Real Power

We're not in business the same way we were in the PE (pre-email) days before 1987. Small businesses are proliferating in a curious way. Non-micro enterprise businesses with between 11 and 499 staffers have declined from 12% in 1997 to 9%. Micro enterprise business, however, has grown by 95%, with 76% of that growth coming from firms with no employees at all. Over half of those new businesses are being operated out of people's homes, lofts and garages.

Yup. The business horizon has changed! Along with that, people are challenging their thinking behind choices for administrative and office services. Intelligent Office locales like the one here in Indy, are helping firms get all of the flexibility and prestige of the bigger, bricks-and-mortar dogs while staying lean like their other flourishing clicks-and-mortar brethren.

People who use Intelligent Office, tend to be forward-thinking firms who consider:
  • Ways to get more out of their scheduling system (even if they're firms of one)
  • The real need for office space (either permanently or on an ad hoc basis)
  • How to get the most out of their current administrative staff, if they have one.
  • How they'll supplement their administrative staff for less complex tasks (like mailing and booking appointments)

The IO staff route calls, book appointments, handle mail, create mailings while at the same time offering modest rates for premium office space for hourly, daily, weekly and monthly lease.

Part of the challenge in using a service like IO is shifting one's thinking from the traditional to the innovative. For me, that meant the 4 months it took for me to realize that I could set up my cellphone to ring over automatically to my staff at IO if I wasn't answering.

They've bailed me out in crises (mother's death, father's grave illness and husband's emergency hospitalization) allowing me to keep my business rolling rather than being forced to close up shop.

Love the book, Working from Home, by Paul and Sarah Edwards. It's a must for people who run SOHO's (small offices/home offices). Here's an interesting article on virtual office service uses you might also enjoy.

When you find Chris from Intelligent Office, be sure to congratulate him on becoming a new papa.
Listen Now: 40:22

MP3 File

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Stephen Colbert Interviews Expert on Email. Choice!

Stephen Colbert interviews Will Schwalbe on his new book, Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. If Will can hold his own with Colbert, I'll bet his book is a winner. I'll let you know more after I give it a read.

My Keyboard is Covered in WHAT?!

The computer keyboard on my black HP laptop looks pristine every time I type there (and you know how I feel that this laptop is charmed by angels). So, when I heard the NPR report on grimy keyboards, I walked quietly over to a computer with a less heavenly company's file server, steaming cuppa tea in hand, and gave that off-white keyboard a look.

It was disgusting. There was some kind of junk on the most used keys and the color...well, wasn't exactly factory fresh (to describe it, I'd say a brownish-gray crayon had melted on it). I've washed it but have resigned myself. over the years, to the junk as a cost of doing business.

Hospitals and other health care centers, routinely scrub down their keyboards for more than aesthetic reasons: "The average keyboard harbors 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat" -- germs that can lie in wait for the unsuspecting typist for an entire day.

So, what have people done to ease the microbial burden on their keyboards? Of course, put them in the dishwasher! The keyboard comes out spotless...yay! But after it's scrubbing, it doesn't!

Enter in the Seal Shield company, whose keyboards are dishwasher safe (I kid you not). Now, rather than worrying that the hospital staff will be passing along colds, flu's and other contagions, they can be easily scrubbed every day.
For those of us who share keyboards, this is something to consider. Unless, of course, you like looking at that yearly accumulation of the sweat, tears and Diet Coke from projects gone by.

More Raving

I got a call from a dear friend. He's started a consulting firm after having been a senior internal training and management consultant for a multi-national firm and an attorney in private practice before that. He's a good guy and a talented one, to boot (always wanted to work that phrase into a conversation).

He was explaining that he hated what's commonly practiced as sales and networking--that these processes leave little room for generosity or authentic communication.

I'm with him. I hate this aspect of sales and I don't like spending too much time with people who are the comsummate salespeople. You know who you are and you know that people run from you at parties and family gatherings, so don't give me any of your lip.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Plato, the Ring and Spam

For this one, I'm going to mess with your noodle a bit. Hang on.

I had two calls today from an auto-dial telemarketer needing to speak with me immediately about my credit card accounts. They were offering a lower interest rate (an astonishing 6% and change) and I needed to dial 9 to talk with an operator. My offer was set to expire soon and this would be my only chance.

They called twice.

The second time, I did ring through. A cheerful voice asked me if I was on hold to reduce my credit card interest rate. "No," I replied "I just want to get taken off your list." Her response? A sing-song "That'll never happen!" Then she hung up.

I had no way to contact them again (number was blocked). To let you know what I did, I called the state's Attorney General's office and lodged a consumer fraud complaint and a complaint for violation of the Do Not Call list.

Here's the baking-the-noodle bit: Plato predicted this call.

In book 2 of The Republic, Plato told the story of Gyges of Lydia, a trusted shepherd for King Candaules. One day, there was an earthquake and a cave opened up. Gyges entered it and found a mummified king on a throne wearing a gold ring that rendered Gyges invisible when worn (ever wonder where JRR got the inspiration for a magic Ring that made you invisible while corrupting your soul?). He pocketed the ring and arranged to be one of the people who gave a report to the king on his flocks (kind of a sheep damage report). There, under the cloak of invisibility, he killed the king, took his wife for his own and staged a coup d'etat, crowning himself monarch.

Now fast-forward a couple of thousand years to my call. It's clear that, if I had a way to trace her call (no data on my called id) she wouldn't have behaved that way (OK, I'm assuming here). It's also clear that they're likely to call again.

Plato wondered whether our character was a social fiction caused by the fact that we are seen.

Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another's, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another's faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.

Huh! Are we righteous in our business and personal dealings because we can get caught? Would we do the right thing even if no one knew? Would we be idiots if we did?

These questions have had me reflect on my business dealings and I've found some troubling things. One of the most troubling was the case of a manager who'd left his desk keys and computer passwords to his most trusted employee and then gone on vacation. I got the call from my husband, who was an IT manager, asking me "what do I do here?" Seems the employees opened the desk drawer and found folders full of child pornography. As an HR rep, I took care of the standard stuff: he needs to be let go, locked out of the system, etc....and when we meet with him, we need to support him in getting help.

He was one of the warmest, friendliest people I'd ever met and one of my favorite people at that company.

And he'd been corrupted by the Ring.

We speed when we think we can't get caught, buying detectors to help us stay invisible (I, too, have found myself surprised by how fast my car will go), we pause at stop signs (my Dad calls them optional stops late at night) and the list goes on. Spammers try to get in "under our radar," scamming us out of our information, at times moving their operations off-shore to countries that are unconcerned with this type of crime....and the cost of doing business (for the consumer and the business operator) continues to climb. Earlier this month, Robert Alan Soloway, 27, was found guilty of sending billions of illegal emails daily. He could face over 60 years in the pokey. And he's only one of many spammers who may, unfortunately, never come to justice. His tsunami of spam costs companies billions in lost productivity as well as lost intellectual property (customer information and other company secrets). Oh, and the impact on workplace relationships is becoming more strained as employers are trying to protect themselves from the actions their staffers may take under cover of darkness.

My thinking is that this culture of invisibility is increasing the operating costs of business. In the example of the suspiciously low credit card interest rate (a 6% interest rate offer is like an offer of dollar gas), I can't see this as anything other than fraud. Get you to cough up your particulars and then use them for nefarious means.

Here's my question: in our business dealings, where are we operating under the cloak of invisibility? Where are we thinking that just because we can't be seen that we're free and clear? Does it matter?

(Side Note: Thanks to my college philosophy professor from so long ago, Martin Curd, for introducing me to this story. Goes to show you how applicable the things we learn can be when we think!)

Does Paris want a piece of the View

Rosie leaves, Paris is in the slammer and then this happens. After reading this article, my spidey yorky sense started tingling, and it hit me. The View got addicted to the sweet nectar of day-time ratings during the Rosie episode. My precognition is firing on all cylinders on this one. Tata Simple Life, watch Paris transform her brand from blondy to brains in 45 days flat and see why the term bad publicity does not exist in the world of branding. It's just how you manage it.

And the Pope Says "Thou Shalt Drive..."

This is summer. Summer tends to give us more time behind the wheel...time behind the wheel on the road with the sweaty, unwashed masses (but not us, of course). Those of us who travel for a living, either between cities or between appointments, can attest to the fact that people are getting a little more (choosing words carefully here) aggressive.

I saw one man get flipped off and almost ran off the road laughing. The chick with the finger was sporting one of the spanking new "In God We Trust" license plates on her rage-mobile (still laughing just thinking about it).

So, now Il Papa (the Pope, for those of you who don't know the two words of Italian I know) has waded into the fray with a 36 page document put together by a blue-ribbon papal panel. In it, they say things like:

  • Make the sign of the Cross before you travel and pray while on the road (not bad advise if you drive in Boston, LA or Atlanta!)

  • Thou shalt not drink and drive

  • Thou shalt not make rude gestures behind the steering wheel

The document goes on to remind us that driving can bring out our most "primitive" nature and we can get caught up in our vehicles as vanity-stroking, status-announcing ego machines.

Still, we get ourselves wound up tight before we even get to our important meeting--so much so, that it steals our calm and focus. Me? I know that late afternoon drives on the north/northeast side of town may be somewhat, um, troubling, and plan accordingly. It's so much easier not to be an ass (let someone in it you can see an exit coming up and they're trying to get over) if we leave early.

Watch the BBC report. Something to consider!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Moving to a 20 Hour Work Week? Really!

I was reading this Workforce Magazine online Quick Take on the purported demise of the 40 hour workweek and it got me thinking. As a long-time business owner, I often work more than 40 hours a week to get all of the customer, administration, marketing, service development and other tasks taken care of.

Now, before the "work-life balance" wonks get themselves into a lather, it's about choice and what works rather than rigidly adhering to a system that doesn't. I do my best, creative thinking late at night and love to crash (side-by-side, laptops at the ready) with Garland in front of the TV to watch The Daily Show and the Colbert Report (and yes, we have actually IM'ed each other during the show--so we don't talk over Jon or Stephen...and stop've got your own brand of weirdness, I'll wager).

I remember my HR days when we adopted a new performance management criterion. Work-life balance was a new criterion and no one (and I do mean no one) knew what it meant. Managers were a little timid about staying late (they did anyway) and professionals were concerned that if their balance was off (according to whom?) they might not be eligible for promotion.

Like I said: it's about what works.

Research agency Gartner Inc. cites the proliferation of digital communication and collaboration tools in the rise of "digital free agency" and say that by 2015, traditional work schedules will have gone the way of the albatross. Retirees, working parents, workers with aging parents and GenXers are increasingly unwilling to work a rigid workweek that requires them to build personal priorities around work.

Work has to work for the worker.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Future of Coaching? What Future!

Oh, Lordy! I've been chatting with Jonn, a friend and fellow consulting professional, on the future of the coaching profession. He was wanting to know where I thought this industry was going to go.

Truth is: I'm not a real fan of the coaching industry, as it currently sits. There is little agreement on the skills and training that makes up a coach; the skill set is interdisciplinary and still the accrediting bodies want you to take coach-specific training (huh?), so people take whatever courses are available just to get or keep their accreditation and not to build their skills; and the name "coach" cannot be branded (like "realtor"), so anyone can refer to themselves by that moniker. The coach training organizations are making their money teaching skills, but tend to have little to offer in terms of setting up your firm, so the failure rate hovers at upwards of 96% in the first year!

I used to teach principles of coaching at NYU and coach skills training for another international company. The students were an interesting lot, some seeking to learn about themselves, some looking to make a career change and others, well, they could have told me a hundred times and I still don't get what they were in there for. True to my earlier statement, years later, they weren't making any money or any difference for the people they wanted to impact.

A few years ago, I saw this episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit--a brilliant riff on the coaching industry. How did I laugh? Like a goon!

Penn and Teller's Bullshit Episode on Life Coaching (part 1 of 3)

Penn and Teller's Bullshit Episode on Life Coaching (part 2 of 3)

Penn and Teller's Bullshit Episode on Life Coaching (part 3 of 3)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Everybody falls...

As I studied this graphic, the most obvious trend to me is that ALL of their numbers fall. Also, none of these presidents, not a single one has ever gotten back to their starting number.


I’ll tell you why, you already know. Candidates spend ginormous amounts of lucre to build a brand and deliver a face that people would love to vote for. After some time in office, the real grimy reality begins to show through the shiny fake patina of glossy showmanship.

Sometimes this is how brands go through life. We vote with our pockets and they fade from the shelves and from our “top of mind”. It’s like we say back home in Jamaica;

“Fi si yuh an’ fi live wid yuh, a two diffrent sin’ting”
(to see you and live with you are two different things)

Will there ever be a president that can endure the grueling time in the White House. Can a brand survive a bad review or customers leaving your service. Sure it can, Just pray you take less than 4 years to fix it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Indiana Advisory Group's Women's Leadership Series: Collaborate and Win!

First, thanks to Mike McGlothlin for the kind invitation to be with you and to you for your warm welcome. I appreciate your attention and your interest in the subject matter. We had a great conversation and, in the interests of keeping that conversation, going, I offer this online space for you to continue challenging and sharing with each other.

Keep collaborating!

I'm providing this blog entry as a reference point for your questions and comments--particularly on how you're attempting to apply what you've learned. Further, if you find additional resources you'd like to share, you may do so here.

Also, if you find others who would like to hear elements of my talk, please let me know. I'd be happy to meet with other groups.


Friday, June 08, 2007

LNB #041: Sales vs. Referral Mindsets

OK. You’ve started lining up your raving fans—people who know, like, understand and trust you. You’ve begun meeting with them, but are concerned that your relationships are starting to feel the chill. Consider these two broad mindsets when meeting with your raving fans and the prospects they bring you.

Sales Mindset (Referral Mindset concepts in parentheses):

  • People who may need to be "sold to" (Raving fans find people who are ready to be buy. Need established by your raving fans who can ask more and better questions than you can based on their relationship)
  • Convinced of your competency (Prospects found by your raving fans are predisposed to be believe in you by their business/personal associate. They already trust Jane and come to you believing that you'll be trustworthy as well)
  • The sales rep is responsible for moving the prospect through the sales prospect (Your raving fan moves the prospect through the sales funnel)
  • Lower level of repeat business (Raving fans generate more business with more of a likelihood to continue and expand. They are much more comfortable with the sales process and feel more confident in doing business with you).
  • Longer sales cycles (The work of your raving fans produces sales more quickly).
  • Demonstrations are a must (Your raving fans have already demonstrated your competence, referring prospects—people they know—to your website or your sales literature. They need little more convincing. Instead, be sure that you’ve asked them for their understanding of your product or service and see if they need any more information—it my not be the information you think).
  • Now that you’ve lined out these two broad ways of thinking, consider this: both are necessary for prospecting using your raving fans. No matter how hot the prospect they bring you, you will still need to be skilled in the nuances of closing the sale. The fish can still jump off the hook.

The challenge is keeping your referral network, well, working! One of the chief ways you can cabbage-up your network is by selling to them. Given the amount of information you’ll be giving them so they can better support you, they’ll know if they need to have a conversation with you about a paid client arrangement. Trust me on this one: Don’t push.

Another challenge is in the lack of reciprocity that can occur between business associates. The feeling can be “if she wants me to help her, she’d better ask.” Interesting sentiment, however, she’ll be more likely to tag you as the stingy-gus you are and never help you again. Instead, ask her “Where are you challenged? And how can I help you win here?” Spend real time focused on her business and be willing to champion her business.

Pay it forward, my friend.

Endless Referrals, Third Edition, Bob Burg
Get More Referrals Now!, Bill Cates
76 Ways to Build a Straight Referral Business, ASAP!, Lorna Riley

Listen Now: 27:58 minutes

MP3 File