Archive for June, 2004

A simple way to make change

Monday, June 28th, 2004

I like this simple idea from a little newsletter called Winning at Work. When you have a problem you want to solve, call the concerned parties together. Make sure they’re all willing to participate fully in doing what has to be done.

Next, get three pieces of flip chart paper and label them “Stop” “Start” “Continue” — then ask your staff to work in groups of 3. First group brainstorms answers to the question: “In order to (raise revenue by XX dollars, solve this issue, etc.), what do we need to stop doing?”

Second group does it with “In order to (raise revenue by XX dollars, solve this issue, or whatever), what do we need to start doing?

Third group brainstorms this one: “To (raise revenue, cut costs, solve this issue, or whatever) what do we need to continue doing? Hint: Brainstorm about what’s working really well.

Then rotate everybody around so that everyone gets a chance to give each question their best shot. Now you summarize all the points, assign a financial impact to each point that’s been raised, make it all into a report that says exactly what you will do (lay someone off? cut a program?) if your stuff doesn’t work.

This is a powerful way to get buy-in from the supervisor with the budget reins. As a business owner, if you’ve kept your employees in the loop on how your business runs so that they’re not unaware of important factors, you can consider it a compelling argument in favor of authorizing your employees to give it a shot. You have much to gain by respecting their process. And the only thing you really have to lose, is the problem.

RANKING 89 – The small and midsize business can use this technique as well. It’s a little more important to have the boss in on it from the beginning, though, because resources are likely to be somewhat less flexible.

P.S. No response from Blogger/Google. That’s four email requests now.

How now apostrophes…

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

Found this “punctuation test” when I was checking a few links to my blog. Actually it’s not a real punctuation test because it includes some rather arbitrary questions. And of course it’s written by the BBC folks–watch out for the question that requires you to know the difference between the English approach and the American approach.

But if you’ve got 6 minutes to kill, check it out. British punctuation test

RANKING 96 – The small and midsize business especially should be wary of publishing marketing materials with typos and punctuation/grammar errors. When big business publishes something with an error in it, readers may be more willing to dismiss it as the work of an underling. But because potential customers more frequently associate a smaller business with its owner, they may think of you as the sloppy or ignorant one.

Sent another email to Blogger/Google. Wonder how many I’ll send before I get an answer?

Businesses resisting the urge to splurge

Monday, June 21st, 2004

It’s dizzying–the speed at which technologies tumble over each other to outdo the previous iteration. Wireless is no different–and the talk is so full of jargon and acryonyms it’s hard for a civilian to read the score card.

The best I can figure out is regular sort-of “original” wireless 802.11c (is that the same as 2G GSM networks?) was upstaged by 802.11g which is on the way to the dumpster as 3G (third generation) UMTS (also called Wideband CMDA) has come out, which itself is being threatened by the latest: Flash-OFDM which can carry data 10 times faster and cheaper than 3G networks (and deliver superb audio and high-quality video), or WiMax which offers wireless Internet connectivity up to 45 kilometers (okay I’m getting this from a European source–that’s roughly 28 miles).

What this means to our businesses is that we must measure even more carefully how much difference each improvement in a technology will really make to us. How much will it improve customer service? Productivity? If it makes employees happier, will that impact service and productivity dramatically? How often can we re-invest in the same technology and make a real gain in efficiency that justifies the cost? Some of us will rush out and buy the latest no matter what; some will wait until the second generation of the technology appears (and let the early adopters suffer with the initial bugs); some will only buy new when the old is breaking down. And some of us will buy any time the expected improvement promises a huge return for our businesses–a big leap forward in efficiency, or productivity, or cost savings, or even a big enough boost in our image in the marketplace.

It can be exhausting to keep up; poor decisions can cost a lot of money. But there’s one constant–no matter where you fall on the curve of adopting new technologies, you can maintain customer trust and loyalty by keeping in touch with them. Newsletters and blogs are indispensable tools in this world careening with change. Don’t neglect to use them.

RANKING 91 – The small and midsize business is already used to watching its budget like a hawk. Owners are not as easily lured by the glitz and gleam of stuff just because it’s new. The big caution here is not to wait so long to adopt new technologies that you fall too far behind in efficiency or lose your competitive edge.

P.S. Still no reply from Google/Blogger. Think I should send another email into the black hole?

Cleveland goes international BIG time

Sunday, June 20th, 2004

Big guns. Big names. Big event. Big deal. No kidding. Cleveland, Ohio will be bursting indeed with international flavor for five days this July.

An international trade conference July 29–held preceding and in conjunction with the first-ever celebration of The International Children’s Games 7/30 to 8/2–will feature lots of presentations on going global, doing business in China, and lots more.

The Games, endorsed by the Olympic Committee, are a tremendous opportunity for cultural exchange and idea sharing, as well as a time to congratulate 12-15 year old athletes from five continents on their excellence in sports.

Kids from 55 countries will compete in 10 sports categories. Performers on stage, entertainers in the crowds, art shows, and international trade and tourism exhibits will line the streets around the Festival Village set up in downtown Cleveland. There’ll be a CyberScene spot to play with the latest tech gadgets, food from all over the world, and DJs playing cool music for “the largest international teen dance club in Cleveland’s history.”

And to top it all off, tonight I opened a brochure touting an all-day motivational seminar on increasing productivity to be held at Gund Arena on Monday (the last day of the Games) featuring lights like Zig Ziglar and Rudy Giuliani–and it only costs $49 for your whole office. I wonder if all these speakers were planning to attend the Games anyway and decided they might as well share their wisdom with Clevelanders and the community of international visitors? Check it out 800.715.6712.

Five weeks hardly seems like enough time to grasp all the potential ramifications for your business from what sounds like one of the most momentous series of events ever to take place in the Northeast Ohio area. Even if you can only get down there for an hour, go, absorb, and be proud.

Visit the website: International Children’s Games

Seth Godin gives away secrets of success

Friday, June 18th, 2004

A powerful force is loose in the marketing world, and his name is Seth Godin (former Yahoo employee and now contributing editor at Fast Company). Godin contacted me to see if I’d be willing to review his newest book. I agreed and I’m glad.

“Free Prize Inside!” was a pleasure to read. Even more, it was a joy to see someone expose–in simple peppery language–the secrets of how to get your ideas adopted in a corporate environment. Writing from his own experiences in high-visibility organizations, he gives solid hints on who, what, where, when and how. I love this one: “Let them pee on your idea.” Frankly, this is a book I’ve long wanted to write myself (with someone else giving the actual tips of course because I’m notoriously bad at corporate politics), but couldn’t get past the first tongue-in-cheek outline. If you are serious about being a successful–even outstanding–corporate employee, with lots of promotions and plenty of mentors, this book has some excellent suggestions.

The crux of Godin’s book is the idea that you–and all of us–are capable of and should be making “soft innovations” (changes that result in improvements) in your company and thus charging up your work life–creating your own “free prizes” as he calls them. Arriving packed in a mock cereal box, the book is actually titled “Free Prize Inside!

The point, Godin says, is that you can always do more with what you have–i.e., invent new ways to use it, make it better, faster, easier, more fun, etc. And that every single person in the organization has the creativity to do that–no matter what their role in the business. This is sound philosophy for any area of work, and it’s based on the continuous improvement principles espoused so long ago by Deming.

As for writing style, Godin follows the age-old advice to address himself to a single reader–he uses “you” liberally and writes as if he were speaking to you (the single most powerful way to make your writing compelling). Easy to read.

And then the book goes on to give you suggestions on how to actually do this soft innovating. “Go to the edges” of an idea, says Godin. For example: “Make a product that is very safe or very dangerous: antibacterial wipes for kids…helicopter skiing.” Go extreme, get “purple” (a term he introduced in an earlier book called Purple Cow).

There are lots of big names in the advertising and marketing business–just wrote about Saatchi and Saatchi in New York a couple of posts ago. In Northeast Ohio just look at the attendee list for the upcoming NOCA event (Northeast Ohio Communications Association) and you’ll see some of the big and medium-size local lights. And then there is a short list of a few legendary gurus.

I’m going to hazard a guess that Seth Godin is in line to get on that list one day. Keep your ears open.

RANKING 99 – This is dynamite stuff for small and midsize business owners. You can take the ideas for navigating corporate culture and apply them to your dealings with lending sources, partners, vendors, etc. And you, as a small business owner, have absolutely every reason in the world to go to the edges for ideas to grow your company. Just be sure you’re ready to handle all that additional business.

P.S. Still no reply from Google.

Measuring customer love?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

Yep. It was bound to happen.

You know, the job of marketers is to psyche out the marketplace in as many ways as possible. And lately the bone-crunchingly tough economy has sent them scrambling for new answers because the old reliance on measuring things like market share, unit sales and gross margin has gone to hell as a way of making marketing decisions.

Now come some of the New Yawk big guys Saatchi & Saatchi (article in a recent issue of Fast Company) announcing they’ve invented a way to give “lovemarks” to your brands. What’s a lovemark? Supposedly a measure of respect (which includes performance, trust, and reputation) and love (which includes mystery, sensuality, and intimacy). The respect part is old hat, but the love side takes it far beyond the trust idea. And while this sort of thing has traditionally been hard to sell to corporate executives, more of them seem to be getting the picture. Procter & Gamble does it with Tide, Honda with cars, McDonald’s with fast food, Kodak with cameras.

The article goes on to describe the old 4-quadrant technique for positioning subjects of study–in this case brands by how they score: high on respect-low on love, low on respect-low on love, low on respect-high on love, or high on both. That quadrant approach is a common method of quantifying concepts that involve touch-feely stuff that’s hard-to-pin-down. Starbucks and Google, for example, are in the high-high quandrant. Janet Jackson and the VW Beetle are in the low respect-high love (fad) quadrant. And corn flakes, salt and gas are in the low-low section (commodities–meaning people simply don’t give them much thought). Kevin Roberts, the inspiration behind this whole thing, wrote the book on it called Lovemarks: The future beyond brands.

Supposedly the high-respect-low love section (Dell, Chevrolet) isn’t a good place to be–not enough love. Not enough intimacy and excitement. They claim Microsoft is headed this direction. Remember the old commercial GM used for Buick? “This is not your father’s Buick”–trying desperately to say the brand was not about being old and stodgy and respectable. Another important point is that few people in today’s world will continue to put up with bad service or crummy performance WITHOUT some mitigating factor like excitement or sexiness.

Talk about timing… Just stumbled onto those beautiful quote so relevant to the topic at hand:

“Compared to sums and percentages, myth may appear wildly irrelevant and unreliable, and so to appreciate it we may have to step outside the modern spirit that wraps itself in numbers and find truth and insight of the highest order…”

~Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life

Your brand connected with a myth? Why not? Anyway, this is all further evidence of what I’ve been saying: Be personal. Be yourself. Speak the truth. Tell your story. Then those who respect what you say will find you–and fall in love with you.

RANKING 95 – For small and midsize businesses this approach can pay off big. The trick here is to first establish your brand! Make sure your brand is really you and then spend some time and some thought getting it out there. And if you intend to stay in business past next month, you might as well get started now. Then you can start regularly double checking that you’re accurately and consistently conveying who you really are (what people will love about you). Results guaranteed.

P.S. Still no reply from Google.

Google's schmoogling

Friday, June 11th, 2004

Okay. I’ve sent three email requests to Google aka/Blogger to ask for help with various technical issues with the hosting of this blog. I was actually begging for help in the last one.

I have received absolutely no response whatsoever to my requests. I am doubly surprised because other people have reported receiving help. But since I’m not a technical person, I can’t even guess why my requests–sent directly from their help screens–have gone unheeded.

I’m tempted to say that Google is missing the boat on customer service–yet I know others who have not had this kind of experience. I was tempted to say Google was missing the boat entirely because it took them more than a year after they purchased it to make even the slightest improvements to Blogger. Then at last the Google folks did make some cosmetic changes to the Blogger interface (actual value of the usability improvements seems a bit limited).

But now I’m really wondering what’s wrong with Google. Even if there is some issue that’s set up slightly off for this blog, it doesn’t seem likely that would interfere with the proper functioning of the “Email us here for support” area of their site.

So I’ll begin my petitions here in this blog in the hope that Google will eventually hear my cries for help. In case you’re listening there at Google, my issues have to do with not receiving my blog entries via email (several weeks now), errors with my Bloglet connection, can’t make the Atom feed work, etc.

Hey, Google! Are ya there?

Blog for business, CIO-style

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

You’ve probably experienced this phenomenon: when you do something new–say you buy a new white car–you begin to notice just how many white cars are on the road. Amazing, you think to yourself, where did all these white cars come from? I thought my car was pretty special and unique. Same thing happens when you start to go bald, or you get pregnant…

The phenomenon is called selective attention, and it happens because of the fact that the human brain can only process so much information at a time. The world is simply overloaded with “stuff” that you don’t have time or energy to pay attention to. But if you find yourself owning, or participating in, or having to notice something you formerly kept out of your consciousness (like when you have to write a paper for school), you’re surprised at how much of this “stuff” is already out there that you didn’t know existed.

Here’s the quote from the online Australian publication CIO that reminded me of this phenomenon in regard to blogging for business:

“Early business adopters are finding they [blogs] can have significant impact. Ostrow, a postgraduate student, did a class study last semester comparing different enterprise Web sites. One enterprise, IT consulting firm Gartner, maintains a series of blogs written by its analysts, some freely available, some for clients only. Ostrow’s class recognized this as an affective [sic] approach. Gartner, the class agreed, was using a more active Web content model than Forrester. By providing fresher information and more of a daily newspaper feel, it was also giving visitors more reason to visit the site more frequently, creating a much ‘stickier Web site’.”

Adoption is spreading quickly and quietly throughout the world. Though two million is the count so far on bloggers in general, only a small percentage of those are business blogs, but the point is this: Everywhere business men and women turn, they’re finding that content is critical to taking full advantage of their websites’ power as a tool for reaching prospects and retaining customers.

INTRODUCING…for any blog entry that warrants it, I’ll be posting a score (based on 100%) called the “Small and Midsize Business Index” that ranks how relevant the information is for the SMB market and mentions any cautions or special notes.

RANKING 90 – Small and midsize businesses can go to the bank with a 90% certainty that delivering fresh content frequently (including a blog) will pay off–in terms of revenue, new prospects, and/or more loyal customers. The only caution is to set up a program you know you can sustain. Don’t stretch your resources too far, or you may strain your readers’ trust by not delivering as you promised.

Public transport critical to economic development

Tuesday, June 8th, 2004

Have you ever relied on public transportation to make your way around? I’m from Chicago–spent almost 21 years there and I never owned a car (okay, so for 15 of them I wasn’t old enough to drive). The point is, you can do anything, go anywhere almost anytime of the day or night in Chicago without a car.

The Cleveland area isn’t quite there yet. But RTA is getting better and better. And some of my household and/or friends used public transportation when I lived in Shaker Hts. so I happen to know that RTA communicates very well with anyone who asks for information. I called to ask about bus routes when my kids were starting Shaker High, and not only did I receive flyers with the complete schedule (coming and going) of the rapid trains and the bus routes I’d mentioned, but every time they made a change to those routes, they remembered to mail me the updated flyers. I was pretty impressed.

Now I’ve seen some of the other materials they put out–among them statistics on improving ridership numbers and stronger fiscal management policies. It’s good stuff. I love the system map that shows all the bus routes (numbered and clearly marked on a map) from Westlake out to the far edges of Euclid–and there’s even one all the way to Chagrin Falls. The farthest southern routes appear to be to North Royalton and Brecksville–a fair distance from downtown. The map also shows Park’n'Ride locations where you can leave your car and read or snooze your way into work.

RTA also puts out a handsome newsletter every couple of months–edited by Jerry Masek, the guy who also edits the electronic newsletter of the Society of Professional Journalists. So you know it’s well written and informative.

And here’s some exciting news for Cleveland area residents: RTA is in the process of planning and building several new “transit centers” (nice comfortable places where passengers can wait, out of the weather, for their trains into town). The first to be completed in 2005 will be in Parmatown (to serve customers who now use about 6 different bus routes–and hopefully to draw many more customers who might not ride a bus but wouldn’t mind riding a train). Businesses will have workers more rested and less stressed from facing traffic bottlenecks on the way to work.

And for those who have heard my laments in my personal blog about not being able to get down to listen to the blues without risking driving late at night when I’m really tired, they are planning one in the Mayfield area. I am psyched for sure.

Congratulations to RTA for its forward thinking, fiscal responsibility, and continuing efforts to improve customer service. Now if we can only get the rest of the economic development pieces rolled into place, Cleveland is on its way to becoming a world-class dynamic city…

The way to a customer's heart…

Monday, June 7th, 2004

A tale of customer service. Once upon a time the marketing folks at University Circle came up with a great idea: team up with the hotel and cultural institutions in the area and create an entertainment package that would generate attendance while giving the customer a chance to experience services they might not otherwise encounter.

Okay. Sounds good. So UC publishes a brochure listing the “African Safari Adventure” package–includes a room at the Intercontinental Hotel on Carnegie and tickets to the 4 Circle museums (art, natural history, gardens, historical society) with an option to purchase orchestra tickets at a great price. I’m hooked. I invite my sister from Chicago and we sign up. I won’t here go into the incredibly rude person who handled my telephone reservation. I don’t know who she actually worked for (perhaps an answering service) but when I hung up with her I told her: “Miss, you need to find yourself a different kind of job.” Being rude and giving out misinformation is not a good way to make more sales and grow your business…

The windup
So far so good; we assume we are reserved with the optional orchestra tickets. Comes the day; we haven’t heard anything so I call to confirm check-in and ask about the orchestra tickets; we wanted to go to a Sunday afternoon matinee. The hotel reservations clerk confirms our reservation but says he’ll have to transfer us to the front desk because they handle the tickets part. Okay, that young lady confirms the museum tickets, but as I’m explaining about the orchestra tickets, she keeps saying she doesn’t know what I’m talking about and “where?” did I read this? Several times I repeated “the University Circle brochure that advertised this package.” She says okay, she will check on it and call me back in an hour.

The pitch
We never get a call so we just spend our afternoon doing other things and arrive at the hotel about 7:15 to check in and be on our way to enjoy Cleveland’s restaurants and nightlife. The clerk greets us with relief and the manager rushes over to introduce himself. “Oh, we were so worried you wouldn’t get here on time,” he says. Seems they even called us at 7 to check to see where we were. Because, he announces proudly, “we got your orchestra tickets. You were right; they were an option on that package, and we’re very sorry about the misunderstanding.” He proudly produces an envelope with two box seats at Severance Hall–for 8 o’clock…by now a mere 35 minutes away.

The strike
I look at my sister and we are pretty much in agreement. We don’t really want to go to the symphony tonight–we never planned to go to the symphony on Saturday night. We thank them, and we can see the manager struggling as he asks, are you sure you won’t use these tickets? We confirm it, and I ask politely how did they get the tickets? He says the performance tonight is sold out, but we know some people. He said you’d be amazed if I told you what these tickets cost… Now I know tickets to the orchestra are not cheap–but box seats produced out of thin air on a sold-out night? Whew.

So Shirley (my Chicago sister) and I feel bad, but we simply aren’t prepared to go at that time. We haven’t even had dinner yet. We proceed to our room, wondering how this situation developed, and find on our desk a lovely platter of perfect fruit–grapes, apricots, plums and apples–and an envelope with my name handwritten on it. Inside is a note of “deep apology” for the interoffice miscommunication that caused their desk people not to know the details of the package we had signed up for. We were pleased.

So we talk about the whole misunderstanding for the first half hour we’re out. The whole problem, we conclude, hinges on the fact that we didn’t get a message about the tickets early in the afternoon as we were supposed to–or we would have organized our day differently and been prepared to attend the symphony that night.

The home run
Next morning the front desk clerk I had spoken with the previous afternoon (who hadn’t known about the orchestra) answered the phone when we called for concierge assistance. After helping us, she asked my sister what happened yesterday. Shirley explained that we hadn’t received a message from her; she said she’d left one. We hung up, called my voice mail, and by heaven, she had left a message–we had apparently been out on the patio at the time preparing our grilled chicken and mushroom lunch and didn’t get the message. AND none of my telephones with voice mail has a visible message waiting signal…

On our way out to investigate the service at the Old Stone Church on Public Square, we saw the young lady at the front desk and told her, yes we did after all find your message–and here’s the best part–she said, “Oh, that’s good, but we are very, very sorry for the confusion. We have discussed it with our management and this will be a good thing. We should have been more organized. Things will be better for the next time.”

Thank you, Intercontinental and staff. Classy. Cool. Customer service doesn’t have to be perfect…but the best companies know that taking responsibility for misunderstandings is the way to the customer’s heart.

Anybody know how to get a visible signal with SBC voice mail? Phones with flashing message lights don’t work with it…

Oh, and P.P.S.
The beds at the Intercontinental Hotel are luxuriously comfortable–with four huge, plump feather pillows on each. Delightfully, you can actually make the room any temperature you want (unlike some places that control how low you can adjust the temperature). And the bathroom is especially lovely–beautiful artwork, separate frosted-glass shower, adjustable lighting, and an in-wall telephone by the commode. ” )