Dear Reader,

(Most Dear Reader letters, I enjoy writing. This one, not so much…)

I’d hoped for a quick resolution and back-to-normal, but I reckon the time has come to admit that I’ve been given a couple of extra balls to juggle (don’t worry, loyal follower of MCE, both The Kid and I are in good health), and it’s clear that it’s taking a toll on my writing.

:)  A little understatement for you.

The well hasn’t run dry—there are so many ideas I’d still like to share here—but something’s got to give. So for the next little while, the Maximum Customer Experience blog is on hiatus.

In the meantime there is, I notice while contemplating this post, a wealth of information hiding in these archives. You might start with the Best of right there in the sidebar and get energized by those ideas and then move on to the rest. You’ll find that over the years at least two or three books’ worth of information for making customers sing your praise and for making more money in your small business has been given away, for free, in bite-sized chunks at the MCE blog. Plenty to keep you busy whenever you’re feeling stuck or uninspired!!

And please don’t be shy! If you’d like to work with me on creating your own Maximum Customer Experience, you should definitely click through to our Website Audit and Web Experience Solution and we’ll get started. Right now is a great time to work on changing your business for the better—and helping you to grow your business is one ball I am always glad to juggle!

 

Until next time, grow and be well!

Kelly Erickson

Complicated hero of designers everywhere, he uncomplicated design…

… and made everyone a designer—and a fan (or a critic) of design

Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011

I’ve been accused, over the years, of believing in very deeply Steve Jobs’ message of good design within reach of all of us—and I do. Whether you’re an Apple acolyte or you avoid the trendy buggers like the plague—the computer you use, the websites you visit, the typefaces you print letters with, your music collection, the phone you carry in your pocket, and dozens of other products and Experiences all around you have been irrevocably changed by Steve Jobs’ devotion to the ideal of clean, easy, uncomplicatedly usable products—often, products once reserved for business and tech use only.

Either you’ve bought into it, or the companies who make the products you own have, if for no other reason than to keep playing catch-up with Apple’s constant stream of innovations (another subject near and dear to our hearts here at MCE).

He started the smallest of small businesses (just like you?), and kept his Pinpoint focus, from day 1 to the end of his fabled tenure with the company that changed the world. Here’s to him:

Steve Jobs featured on Maximum Customer Experience:

3 Critical Lessons You Can Learn From the Big Boys (and One You Can’t)

Firm Growth (Not) Guaranteed

Warning: Some Friends Don’t Want You To Be Like Steve Jobs

How To Knock It Out of the Park

Amazingly, This Is Not About the 2008–09 Recession

If The Beatles Hadn’t Been The Beatles

10 Sneaky Ways To Capture 10% of Your Market

13 Ways To Be Like Steve Jobs—Don’t!

 

I want to put a ding in the universe.
—Steve Jobs (1955–2011)

You did, Steve. Good night.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.
—Henry Ford

And when someone is looking?

Quality is your chance to outshine every other Experience the customer has had. That’s Job One.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Two Ways…

FUDGE, verb
: to fake, falsify; to dodge; to cheat; to hedge

[Or The Kid’s definition: “I know what fudge means... that’s ‘to make something up as you go along,’ right?”  Right, Kid.]

 

1.

So, there was this package I was expecting last Friday. Expecting, not because I’d particularly arranged for it to be there on Friday, but expecting, because I checked the U.S. Post Office website and the package said, “Out for delivery” on Friday morning. Super luck! I was hoping to have it in my hands before the weekend, and it was on the truck, on its way to me.

The guy who delivers our mail was right on time, 12:30 as usual. He handed me a bunch of mail, but I stood waiting impatiently for the package, and he didn’t hand anything else to me.

“Do you have a package there for me as well?”

I explained that the website said out for delivery, it’s rather important, etc. He shrugged.

Asked again, in case I wasn’t being clear, Could he have left it on the truck? He said, “Nope. Sorry, that’s weird,” and left.

All day, I had a sneaking suspicion he’d be back with a grin and a “Sorry, it was in a dark corner” or some such. He’s pretty new, at least to our area, and he comes around to deliver mail a second time, in just that way, fairly frequently. Plus… now it had gone from I wish I’d have it before the weekend, to the Post Office promised me I’d have it.

Such are the unintended consequences of convenience-features like package tracking.

Well, he never did come back. Instead, I checked the website at 4:30, and it still said “Out for delivery.” Then at 4:40, before shutting my computer down for the afternoon, I hit the refresh button.

Delivered at 12:35pm with Delivery Confirmation.

Whaaaa?

I checked around the door to see if he’d been too embarrassed, maybe, and left it outside, or if he was on his way back into the building now, and perhaps their site was referring to 12:35 in California or something. No package, no returning letter carrier, and I had signed for exactly nothing. What kind of confirmation is that?

I gave it another few minutes, then called the P.O. to report the problem, starting from the beginning. I got the standard, “You must be mistaken,” that they give to all us dummies, their paying customers, so we feel small instead of them, then she checked the tracking number and saw that it said exactly what I claimed it said.

“You’ll have to file a claim.”

“The letter carrier should still be around, it’s still business hours—can’t someone just ask him or something?”

“You’ll hear from us within two business days,” she said, after getting my particulars.

 

Today, the guy who delivers our mail was right on time, 12:30 as usual. Only I was on my way out when he was coming in. “Hi! Remember how I was telling you about that package I was expecting Friday, that it said on the website out for delivery, etc. The weirdest thing happened—later on it said it had been delivered.”

“When?”

“At 12:30. With delivery confirm. And you were here at 12:30 of course, but you didn’t have it.”

“Yeah. I remember. Hey, that’s weird,” he said, as if he’d made quite a discovery.

“Yeah, weird. Maybe you have the package on the truck now?”

“Nope. Just something for the doctor’s office over there.”

“Okay. Thanks anyway,” I said.

I sat in the drive and fiddled with my cell phone for a few minutes to listen to a hard-to-hear message before driving off. Less than two minutes later I popped back in because I’d forgotten to take something I needed.

The package was waiting for me.

 

2.

A friend of mine, has a client at work.

(This is not the news.)

Once, a while back… maybe two years ago now, this client dropped in for a meeting, and brought brownies. Oh, not just any brownies… I may cry as I describe them, because I was lucky enough to pop in just after her client had left, and I got to taste these still-warm morsels of Heaven… the most miraculous dag-nab brownies that have ever been bitten into. (And I have bitten into a lot of brownies, so I feel qualified to say this. No, your own/ your girlfriend’s/ your mom’s are not better. Mine aren’t better, either. *sigh*)

My friend told her she should be doing this for a living. And she was (almost) right, because I kid you not, I wanted to run after her and pay her for more.

The next time that client came, she also brought brownies. My friend gave me one later, and even when the halo of the oven had floated off, they were still the most unbelievable brownies ever. Heavenly + sinful. Mmmmm.

The next time my friend mentioned her name, in passing, I realized that even though I know the names of none of her other clients, that name is burned into my head… and makes me hungry. Oh, dear. I resisted asking how dare she mention the name without a brownie in hand, though.

Several months have passed since then. This morning, I had an urge for a brownie.

Any ol’ brownie, really… I think I’ll get one when I’m done with this work…

And my friend’s client’s name popped into my head.

So a bit later I called my friend and said that she’d trained me like Pavlov’s dog, and that I was pretty embarrassed to have made neural connections in my brain between her client and brownies, but that I guess she could pass the compliment along the next time she sees her.

“I told her, everyone loves them, and she should be doing it for a living,” she said.

I know. You told her that a while back, right?

“Well, I told her again. They’re like nothing I’ve ever tasted. And you know what she said?”

No…

“She said, ‘Everyone who’s ever tasted them has said that to me—but a business is a lot more than a miraculous brownie.’”

 

Moral of the story:

Some people are fudging it, and even though I promised you two ways… some people are not.

A business is a lot more than a product (or a service). Sometimes this means you’ve got to up your game; sometimes, it means you’ve got to know that business is not the game for you. (Both take guts and wisdom.) If you’re going to run a business that grows and succeeds, you don’t get to fudge.

 

Now, has anybody got a brownie?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

The entrepreneur in us sees opportunities everywhere we look, but many people see only problems everywhere they look. The entrepreneur in us is more concerned with discriminating between opportunities than he or she is with failing to see the opportunities.
—Michael Gerber

The world is a crazy, topsy-turvy place right now.

I know it can be tough to invest in the future.

Heck, some days it’s hard to believe in the future. It’s tough to pull your head out of the muck enough to make short-term choices or long range plans that will grow your business…

… unless you stop seeing it as muck.

Funny thing about a topsy-turvy world—all sorts of things you might not normally see have been turned over, turned out, and turned toward you, if you’re willing to take a look. When all around us, things are completely different from the norm, it’s almost a guarantee that some quiet time will allow you to think in a fresh way.

Take some time to see the many opportunities that are everywhere you look today—and instead of grimacing at the problem ideas, have fun discriminating which is the best among them.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

The Strange Relief of Borders’ Closing

A short while back, I wrote a post thinking about the closing of the U.S. bookselling giant, Borders Books. The doors are closed now. Both they and their largest competitor are (were) within a few miles of us, and interestingly, The Kid and I went to that rival, Barnes & Noble, this weekend to browse.

It was quite interesting, because we noticed they’re still as packed as ever they were, but no more packed. I had expected either fewer people, with everyone having had their fill of books for a while (I confess to having bought a few when the sale got pretty good, for myself and for The Kid—so as I walked into Barnes & Noble I did wonder why we were going), or more people, with folks who used to go down the street for their bookstore fix crowding into the last shop standing.

But it looked no different than B&N always does, and that got me thinking.

Borders and B&N both had loyalty cards, as so many retailers seem to these days, which give you a discount when you shop with them. Borders made their card free a couple of years ago, in one of their attempts to hold on (as they were sinking). Once they did that, I gave up my B&N discount card, which had an annual fee, for the free Borders card. I always made back my B&N fee in discounts (I do love books!), but FREE is hard to argue with.

The result: I nearly stopped buying books over the last two years. Yet I’d never thought about it until I stood in B&N this weekend.

So, why did I stop buying books?

Because I was a devoted Barnes & Noble customer, but I had this free card, see? So I couldn’t go to B&N and waste money (by not getting a discount) when I should go to Borders to do my book browsing and buying.

At first I tried to switch loyalties, but eventually I just stopped hanging out at either store. Borders did what every business, including yours, wants to be able to do—they changed a customer’s shopping habits—but for them it was bad, BAD.

This all hit me when I stood in B&N this weekend and felt… relief. The strangest feeling of relief that Borders was gone, that I’d be able to go to Barnes & Noble’s without feeling guilt, that I’d get my discount card again…

Yes, that card that costs an annual fee. I’ll probably get one again. I mean, who wants to pay full price for their books and mags?

Lessons:

A discount card can’t change habits if it’s all you’ve got in your bag of tricks. Borders never “felt” right to me, and without realizing it, I changed my shopping habits rather than shop there.

What about amazon.com? I hear you say. I did shop online for books when I knew what I wanted in advance and didn’t need it now-now-now. I still do. This is usually much more of a discount than retail-plus-discount-card, but it’s changed my retail bookshopping very little. Much as I love them, amazon can’t completely fill the need to see and experience the product in advance, and they have a hard time being in my face at a weak moment when I just “feel like” having something new to read. If your business is online, keep this in mind and find ways to be there at serendipitous moments; if you’re mainly an offline, bricks-and-mortar place, remember that seeing, touching, and discussing purchases in person—convincing ourselves into the purchase with your help—is still your great advantage.

And a last, unscientific musing on Borders’ passing:

If my Barnes & Noble store is typical, and if the volume of their business this weekend wasn’t just a coincidence, then why are they not (a) less packed or (b) more packed than usual?

I’d guess loyal B&N customers aren’t immune to a good sale, but that like me they didn’t spend very long at Borders’ closing sales. They bought a few things they probably didn’t “need,” but couldn’t pass up at the prices, and then went back to their normal habit, of hanging out now and again, browsing and shopping at Barnes & Noble.

Loyal Borders customers, on the other hand, don’t need a book right now, and they’ve lost their place to shop. Like me with a discount card for a place I didn’t really like, their shopping habits are disrupted, and whether they’ll ever change loyalty is, right now, anybody’s guess.

Shopping is about a lot more than what you buy.

A simple conclusion, but it should be comforting to us small business people.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

Suppliers and especially manufacturers have market power because they have information about a product or a service that the customer does not and cannot have, and does not need if he can trust the brand. This explains the profitability of brands.
—Peter Drucker

The department store salesperson who created such a great Customer Experience for me (in yesterday’s post) had information I did not, for sure. I’d had the usual sales conversations with other folks in the weeks surrounding that trip, and no one had shared this info with me.

Yesterday’s post also prompted a few discussions off this site, confirming that I am not the only shopper who’d never heard of the method some stores use to keep some items on near-permanent sales. (When I worked as a retail buyer, we knew there were rules against permanent sales too, so we switched back and forth between similar items the way your grocery store switches between sales on Coke and Pepsi. But to sell the same item, with a different covering… surprising!) Good to know it’s not common knowledge that I’d missed, but it did make me think back to this old quotation from Peter Drucker.

While it’s true that there is power in knowing that an item will remain on sale forever, more sales power was given to the knowledge (in the case of this undecided window-shopper) by sharing it. Now I know that rather than having to decide-quick-or-find-another-store, I can decide slowly and come back to this store, the store where the staff was so helpful.

I don’t think this means Drucker is wrong, though. Instead I think it has to do with the second half of his statement—the power of brands.

In many industries, the power of the brand is essentially gone. Too many choices which are too similar, and are available from too many locations online and off, means that the item of your dreams comes down to intangibles—like Customer Experience.

Put another way, there are many industries in which the “brand” no longer sways sales as it once did.

Where Drucker misses the boat, for me, is in making a blanket statement about brand trust. Sure, I may trust a Cadillac more than a Hyundai (your customers still do make a lot of assumptions about price and quality), but if we’re looking at items in a similar price range many folks will do their research online and trust no one offline, no matter their name.

The market power that may be in trade secrets is no longer yours because you hang on to it tightly. It’s very likely that your brand doesn’t have that pull now.

With today’s customer, the power may be in giving that insider info away.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll subscribe by email or by RSS (it’s free!), and link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.

Back in the soft, pillow-y saddle…

Hello, dear reader of the Maximum Customer Experience Blog! It’s not such a secret that MCE took an unplanned holiday for personal reasons recently—thanks to those of you who sent a note down into the rabbit hole to see how the MCE-bunnies were doing. With a bit of luck, only planned and announced holidays from now on.    :)

And now, back to Customer Experience!

Well, I had occasion to consider buying a new mattress recently. That’s a big chunk of change, so I did my research online, determined what I might be interested in, then found the store near me that carried the mattress and went to try it out.

When I got there, as is often the case with matters of personal preference, the one I thought I liked based on reviews online, was not the one I liked in the store. So I checked out a couple of others that were similar and found exactly what I… think I… want. Then I walked away for a couple of weeks to think about it, and went back again to see if I still liked it.

The verdict: I still haven’t decided. Buying a new mattress is a long-term commitment to a good night’s rest! Maybe I’ll stick with the one I have, maybe I’ll get a new one. But I had an experience the second time I went window-shopping that many of us could put to use in our own businesses.

Listen to what this gentle salesperson (GS) had to say:

Me: I’m not sure yet. I was here before to try them out. I do think I like this one, but I’ve had some awful back trouble and so I’m picky…

GS: Sure, it’s a big decision.

Me: They’ve almost all got these pillow-y things on top now… seems like that might be too hot! But the one I thought I would like was too soft, and the one without the squishy top is pretty hard. [Note my dazzling use of technical terms... and distinct resemblance to Goldilocks.]

GS: Some people do find the pillow-tops keep them too warm. But the one you’re considering has [name of fancy-pants fabric] which the company claims alleviates a lot of that.

Me: Does it work?

GS: I’d guess about half of the people feel like it does.

Me: Wonder which half I’d be in…

GS: [Smiles, knowing this was not a very salesy thing to say and also knowing, I suspect, that being less salesy is working on me.] Well, if it’s the one that feels best to you in the store, you can give it a try. You’ve got 30 days to do a return or a “comfort exchange.” That’s where you just call us up and say “I guess the other one would be better after all” and we come out and change your mattress out, set it up, and everything. Everything except make the bed.

Me: If you made the bed, my kid would have your guys out every week, ha ha.

GS: [Goes on to explains other salesy stuff that all places that sell mattresses have in common about delivery, very conversationally.]

Me: Just so I know how fast I should decide… How long is this sale good for?

GS: Ah, well, here’s the funny part. Up at one of the corners of the bed [I pull the pillow away from my corner and I see an odd fabric swatch sewn on]—right, that’s it— this main fabric and that one on the corner are the two covers that you may get when the mattress is delivered. See, they make your mattress to order the week you buy it. That’s nice because it doesn’t sit around in a warehouse warping or getting dusty, but also because—I’m probably not supposed to mention this, but the sale goes on for most of the year. We just switch which cover we make for you, so we’re selling something “different” on the sale. So you don’t have to hurry. Same mattress, same construction, whenever you decide.

Me: Wow, really? So the only difference will be what fabric you cover it with?

GS: Yep.

Me: Thanks. I am going to think about it a while longer, but I’ll be back when I can make a decision.

GS: And I’ll be here…

Now, I had already tried mattress-hunting a couple of weeks earlier, at this store and a couple of others, and I’ve done it in the past as well. Much of what he said was what most anyone would say… but not all salespeople understand the art of the gentle sale.

Like you, probably, I really don’t like being pushed or “convinced.” A salesperson who lets me convince myself creates a memorable experience for me, but the salespeople I’d talked with on my first expedition hadn’t understood that at all. I had expected their sales pitches—and I had ignored their sales pitches. Because it was the expected pitches in the usual style, I couldn’t remember a word anyone else had said. This gentle salesperson, I listened to.

The truth is, I haven’t bought a thing from any of them. And I can’t guarantee that (if I do make up my mind) I’ll go back at a time when GS is there. I’m not even sure that he works on commission, so I don’t know if I’d help him personally if I did come back and ask for him. But the gentle salesperson, giving away “insider secrets” to me about the sale and their manufacturing process, encouraging me to be undecided for as long as it takes, he sold me on the store. I was pretty sure I’d buy there before I talked to him, and I was certain of it afterwards. So his technique was good for everyone who works at that store… and in the end, what’s good for the store is good for all the salespeople at the store.

So for our MCE purposes:

1. Don’t be afraid to be conversational. Not to “act” conversational, but to have a real conversation with your customer. Be yourself.

2. Don’t feel like you have to make the sale today. You may just save the sale for your company by being the guy who doesn’t need to make the sale right now.

3. Don’t be afraid to tell a few trade “secrets.” Maybe even agree in advance with your staff on some little insider secrets that you don’t mind letting out to a customer who’s still undecided… things to make the conversation valuable enough, and to extend it long enough, that he or she can’t forget to come back when they’re ready.

Which “insider secrets” might your customers enjoy knowing? How can you use those secrets to make a more interesting conversation, and a more memorable experience for your customers?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

If [hand-drawn animation] is a dying craft, we can’t do anything about it. Civilization moves on. Where are all the fresco painters now? Where are the landscape artists? What are they doing now? The world is changing. I have been very fortunate to be able to do the same job for 40 years. That’s rare in any era.
—Hayao Miyazaki

Yesterday, we discussed possibly-fading industries and what might (or should) be done about them); today, the great animator/auteur Hayao Miyazaki weighs in:

[Be amazing and] hang on longer than almost anyone else in a fading industry. Don’t worry too much about the way things are trending.

The funny thing is, that’s great advice whether you’re way ahead of the curve (at the forefront of an industry that’s just getting started) or the last of a breed.

In fact, Be amazing and hang on tenaciously is pretty fine advice no matter what your industry is up to.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

One more Little Engine That Could, Can’t. Thinking points, discussion points

Borders bookstores, one of only two giants in the U.S. bookselling industry, bids a fond farewell this month. Within weeks their shops will be empty shells and Borders will be no more. It’s as dramatic an indication of industry change as you can imagine.

Newspapers and magazines as time-tested as Gourmet, and as necessary as city dailies, are going under at an alarming rate.

Record labels continue to consolidate and redefine as best they can, but still find themselves called “hopelessly out-of-touch” and “anachronistic.”

Industries do die, or at least wither to unrecognizable proportions. It happens.

Some of that is seen (usually much later) as necessary to growth and change overall. What happened to calligraphers and copyists when the printing press came in? What happened to cobblers when shoes were first mass-produced? What happened to horsebreeding when the automobile became omnipresent?

(And related industries like blacksmiths, saddle-makers, and buggy and wagon builders are always sucked under by the tide, as well….  Or in the first example above, just imagine the trouble you’d have finding true parchment and a quill pen today. More recently, we’ve lost all but a few typesetters and letterpress printers to the computer. Etc., etc.)

No, there are no answers, but so many related questions, that I thought I’d wonder out loud about some of them today.

We have decided that as a general rule, we don’t want to pay for what these folks are selling.

We don’t want to pay for finely crafted fiction or well-research and developed non-fiction, or for the folks who will hunt it down and present it to us;

We don’t want to pay for well-written editorial or reportage;

We don’t want to pay for the creative genius and complex production logistics in a finished piece of music.

What’s going on? We’re collectively choosing to push the value of all the things these folks used to sell, down towards zero.

But are these occupations and industries—booksellers, publishers, and quality book-writers, print media like mags and rags, record labels to filter through the junk, and find, develop, and distribute the gems—really no longer relevant?

*Are* they the same as scribes, shoemakers, and saddlers, or are we consumers making big mistakes now, trading our own time and energy for the efforts of experts?

Are we devaluing Experience for very temporary expedience?

Of course, you know that we will still make exceptions. Or, we will still make exceptions some of the time.

Some folks still go to bookstores for “real” books, still read newspapers, still pay for music, etc. Almost all of us do so at some times, even those who are most bitten by the “free” bug.

To which, when I put on my MCE-hat, I say: Then be the exception! But only a total Pollyanna would fail to see that this is becoming a very tricky target to hit indeed.

I’m really thinking hard about these changes and very open to your thoughts—on saving industries (maybe this is happening in your own industry, too?), or moving on.

If you’ve got a crystal ball, I’d love for you to look into it today. Can anything be done to stop these trains? Should anything be done?

Much later, will these changes make perfect sense? Or will we wish we hadn’t given up on the booksellers, the record labels, the newspapers and the like, who used to help us keep order in our lives by picking and selling only the fruits that were ripe?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or use this post to start discussions of your own today—you can link to it, Stumble it, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below.. The more crystal balls, the better!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Next Page »