Author Archive

Who Are Your Hours For?

Headed to the library this weekend with my daughter. She was ready to go at 9 and chomping at the bit. I told her we’d get breakfast and take our time, since the library doesn’t open on Saturdays until 10 am.

Why aren’t they open now?” she asks. I said they probably thought the folks who work there deserve a little break on the weekend. “Why aren’t they open when the people who use them want to go?”

I pointed out that to accommodate everybody, their hours would probably have to be much later at night and earlier in the morning, more like a college library, since people have all different hours at which they are wishing for that one book or video, or a quiet, well-lit place to get some work done.

We went at 10, stayed a while, then came back at 5:30 pm when my daughter developed a desperate need for a Pokémon video to watch for movie night. Guess what? Closed again. Unbeknownst to me, they close early on Saturday.

The funny thing is, the very next day I’m sitting outside the library writing this post at 12:30 pm, having mistakenly thought they opened at noon (don’t weep for me, they’ll be open in another half hour).

I’m going to leave aside issues of public funding and possible declining interest in libraries, which are very real but not the subject of this post. In fact library hours are not what all this has got me thinking of, since I’ve rarely found myself here when they were not open.

Guess the Crazy Schedule and Win a Prize

This happens a lot at smaller shops and restaurants I try to purchase from. Days they aren’t open, hours when I can’t get to them—one shop near me has different hours for every day of the week!

Do you think anyone will memorize those hours, or will folks find the one hour that’s covered on all the days, and either go at 2:30 pm or skip the visit for fear of wasting the gas? Skip it.

Will some customers stop coming? Yes.

Customers will not do the work of figuring out your crazy schedule. Boom, the dollars go elsewhere.

Who are your hours for? Me (the customer). Not you (the owner). Sorry.

Why aren’t they open when the people who use them want to go?”

For people living in small towns, the headache is even more familiar. This is no small town, but I don’t think (town) size matters anyway. Growing your business matters, to you and to me, so here’s any easy change with long-term impact:

Find out when your customers need you to be open.

Be open then.

Big P.S.: Get a website now. It’s like hiring your own 24-hour, 365-day employee.

Earlier, later, or both? When do you need your favorite small business to be open?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Q: What’s Sweet and Blissful and Makes It Hard to Imagine Problems in the Future?

A: Your Brand-New Blog

A lot of you who are small business owners are considering starting up a blog right now. You’ve read what an important tool it can be for creating community and you are hungry for advice on whether to do it or not.

This Tip will not tell you whether to start a blog or not. Why? A blog is an very big commitment. For those of you who don’t think the work of owning a puppy is worth it, a good blog that has the fortune to be well-read takes more time than that. (It does shed less, thank goodness.) Better to be an awesome commenter and enjoy your reading than to add writing to the mix. I can’t tell you if you should start writing a blog. (Well, I could, but not here. There’s a lot about you I don’t know.)

If you’re further along, you’re reading about taking the plunge, and you’re thinking about blog platforms. I like at least a couple of them, including the one I am with now (TypePad), though I am leaving them within the next few days.

This Tip is not about which platform (CMS) to choose. There are pros and cons with any blog platform. That’s what you read ProBlogger for.

You’ve decided to start? You’ve narrowed it down to one or two platforms you’re seriously considering? Then you are ready for the one piece of advice you need today:

Tip: Get your own domain name from the start. It will save you a bunch of headaches later.

How do I know? See the “.typepad” up there in my URL? I can’t take it with me…

It’s a small detail that you will thank me for insisting on later. You’ve got a lot of choices to make if you’re a new blogger. Let me make this one for you. Own your domain name from day one.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

When I Saw the “From” Line, I Did Think It Was a Joke

The reason Guy wrote to me was:

  1. Because Leo’s Been So Quiet?

No, this wasn’t anything like that letter I got from Leonardo DiCaprio. I wasn’t expecting this letter, either, but no trees were harmed and I loved getting it.

  1. Because he heard I’m switching from TypePad this week?
  2. Because he knew I hadn’t finished my Thursday post?

This last is because I’m consumed by switching to WordPress, but I’m assuming he didn’t know that. (Nearly ready and making me very happy, thanks for asking.)

  1. Because I’m a Big Boy* on Alltop now?

Yes!

You, of course, are subscribed to Maximum Customer Experience (No? Over there on the left. I’ll wait), so you don’t need another way to find me, but there I am, in the new-ish Customer Service section of Alltop.

Good morning, Alltop!

I have a lot of good things going on with the MCE Blog right now, and this, friends, is the cherry on top.

For those of you who don’t know who on Earth I am talking about, Guy is not just the dude behind this cool new spot called Alltop, which he likens to an “online magazine rack” and I call a place to find only the very best of what’s being written for the web. To quote Wikipedia, Guy was “one of the original Apple employees responsible for marketing the Macintosh in 1984.” This is why his smile is always so incredible.

He’s a venture capitalist now, a very well-known blogger (please read How to Change the World today—his post Hindsights is a must), and the author of a book I loved from the minute I first read it, The Art of the Start.

Many of my own can’t-miss blogs are also featured on Alltop, including Church of the Customer, Customers Are Always, Planning, Startups, Stories, Damn! I Wish I’d Thought of That!, Brand Autopsy, Men With Pens, and IttyBiz. All the biggest Big Boys are there, like Seth Godin, Inc., and Entrepreneur, and a bunch of other faves I’m forgetting to mention. Click around; the categories simplify your search, what’s there is hand-picked, but you’ll still get lost for a while. In a good way.

Guy and I aren’t close buddies, so I won’t quote his email, introducing himself and telling me I’m listed on Alltop, but I will quote what I wrote back to him in part:

I’d like to tell you how very cool it is when as big a “name” as yourself says Hi, and introduces himself as if anyone writing a blog for over three minutes doesn’t already know your name. *big smile*

Well, folks, I gushed a little. Alltop is some very fine company to be in, true, but the gushing was really because of his charming letter.***

I’ve got to work a little Customer Experience lesson in here: Never get too big for your britches, and someday folks may gush about your “Aw, shucks” style.

Does this banner make my butt look big? ‘Cause I was thinking of having it printed on my jeans.

Featured in Alltop

Aw, shucks. Thanks, Guy. 🙂

We will return to the serious matter of growing your business with Maximum Customer Experience in our next article. In the meantime, consider this fair warning. You’ll need to update your bookmarks and feeds and email subscriptions very, very shortly. I love my readers and you have spoken loudly on this subject, so it’s on its way. Besides, I gotta get better digs if I’m gonna have Guy Kawasaki’s friends coming to visit with all of us.

Thank you, dear reader. Our conversations are what makes the MCE Blog a neat place to hang out.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

*I know, I know. Not a boy. But if I wrote “big girl,” I couldn’t tie in with one of my favorite posts, on lessons from the Big Boys. (She’s a wily one, that Kelly.)

**I can not tell you how much joy spellcheck brought me on this post. The highlights included offering “winkled” for Wikipedia, “Haydn” for hadn (hadn’t, missing the apostrophe and the “t”), “Iscariot” for DiCaprio, and “gonad” for gonna. Normally I don’t share my Maximum Spellcheck Experience but oh my goodness you had to know, didn’t you?

***The first email he sent was standardized. (Proving that standardized letters can still be perfectly written.) The second email, writing back to me, was personal. Nice Guy.

Wednesday Words

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

The best time to make friends is before you need them.
—Ethel Barrymore

This week, scratch a back. Not because they might scratch yours; because it’s the right thing to do. Because you feel good for doing it. A little zen thought for your business. The best time is now.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

The Secret Fears of Small Business Owners Considering Experience Design

In the comments of Friday’s post about search queries was a question so compelling it had to become its own post. Thanks to Janice, of the utterly fabulous Painting a Day blog, for the inspiration.

Kelly- I would like to know if there is a most asked question that your clients ask you about their stores when you consult with them. Seriously, is there a top spot in their FAQ’s?

Janice,

Oh, yes, there’s a number one, and close runners-up in two and three. If you’re feeling these pains, you are not alone:

Money

The number one question is a variant of “Why aren’t we making more money?” No surprise there. Sometimes it’s, “Sales are slumping, can you help us,” sometimes it’s “We think we’re doing everything right but it’s not taking off like we want.” When we help solopreneurs and startups, it’s “How do I position the business to make money?”

People realize they aren’t capturing all the business they could. They may sense there’s something wrong with the Experience they deliver, but figuring out what to do is overwhelming. Prioritizing into their busy day it is a lost cause. Getting the directions laid out so they’re ready for the future seems impossible.

Everybody’s too darn busy, and they need us to take this nagging question off their minds, answer it, and fix it. Like a plumber for their Customer Experience pipes.

If you’re feeling this way, we’re only too glad to help—just contact us. Check out my Experience Design 101 series for a ton of great ideas you can tackle yourself, or read how we start the process.

Power

Next most asked is “How can we get our staff more thrilled about us?” and its cousin, “Our employees are running all over us.” Many folks understand that their human “resources” are critical to customers’ joy but they don’t think the joy has to come from within. Your people will not fake loving your company. Unhappy staff=unhappy customers, period. Usually the solution is not as simple as the equation.

Do you need to push, or get out of the way? Read more about true leadership here.

Self

Another one I hear more these days is about the owner himself/herself. “This isn’t anything like what I want it to be.” I talked to a restaurant owner a few weeks ago who was floundering, had lost his own joy, and could just barely remember why he himself was coming in to work every day. He was thinking about giving up, and I’m not going to kid you. Sometimes that may be the answer. I’ve seen a lot of good come from spectacular failures. Not for this owner. He decided to jump up and get his business flying again.

We worked on his Solution by backing up to see the original picture. As he saw where the plan was going, he got his own mojo back. Yes, we worked on his interiors and his graphics, and planned some staffing changes, but it was the work at the start of the project that made the major difference. That’s why I always put such emphasis on it. The research and planning was what he was unbelievably grateful for, even before we got to executing the plan. That felt really good.

For small business owners Vision and direction is a huge part of success or failure. When you’re overworking yourself wearing too many hats, have no balance with your personal life (or don’t have one!), and go from sale to sale without a plan, it’s a crazy existence that eventually breaks you down. You go from “when will I get a break” to “what if this is my last success, I can’t slow down” without that plan in place. One day you wake up and you are not doing what you meant to for a living!

If this is your situation, read what to do before you give up hope for a little inspiration, then dig right in and become the Visionary you’re meant to be.

 

Folks call to us to get perspective, finally let go of a little control, have someone else look at things, help them make improvements without having to overextend themselves even more, and to make a key decision: bring the plan back to the original Vision, or revise the Vision to go with the state of my business today?

Working with us is about a lot more than beauty. It’s about function: clients want to make money, lead a great team, share their passion, and love their work. If relieving pain points with strategy + design can do that, well, then I’ve got a great job.

Money, power, or self? What’s the big pain in your business?

(Are you creating Maximum Customer Experience to ease the pain?)

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Because the Road to Hell Is Really Paved With Indecision*

“Everything I’ve done with my blog design is intentional,” Chris Brogan wrote last month.

This got me thinking about more than what he intended in that very fine post.

Can you make an unintentional choice? For that matter, isn’t indecision also intentional?

You may get unintended consequences, but if we’re free beings then all our decisions—and decisions not-to-decide—are intentional.

As an Experience Designer, I help clients define their Purpose toward the beginning of a project. Ideally, this is a focused, carefully crafted statement defining your Vision and the direction your company will take to get there. It involves research into your current position and aggressive planning for the future.

Even if you haven’t reached that ideal yet, your Purpose is still there. You have a Vision, however misty, and you are going in a direction.

What are you doing? You are letting others write your story. Intentionally.

Whether you take an active role in planning for growth or let circumstances wash over you, that’s a decision you make. It’s your intention.

The consequences are more likely to go your way if you know which Way is yours.

Tip: Write your own story. Define your Purpose, intentionally.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

*“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

—NOT Samuel Johnson

If you want to geek out for a minute, there’s an interesting discussion of the mis-quotation at the Samuel Johnson Sound Bite page.

This Is How I Know My Readers Are Brilliant

 

“What would you ask your customer about your store?”

Yes, word for word, that was a term that helped a dear reader arrive at the Maximum Customer Experience Blog last week. Thanks, I love that question, and those that follow. I think they’re worthy of direct answers.

 

If I could ask my customer about my store, I’d ask:

1. How did you find us?

2. What was the first thing you noticed today?

3. What would you add? (This is the positive phrasing of “What are we missing.” Try not to ask questions that spin your own story in a negative way.)

The Big Take-Away Point:

You can!

Go ahead, walk with a few customers as they shop today. Ask if you can help; be truly helpful; then ask if they’d take a moment to help you. Ask your 3 questions. Respect your customer’s time; take just a moment.

Write down the answers, and learn from them.

 

“When do companies need to know customer’s perception?”

ALWAYS.

 

“When to walk away from pushing a change at work?”

I expect plenty of comments on this one.

For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume this change is aligned with the company’s overall Vision, and is geared toward helping your Ideal Customer. If not, then the answer is walk away now.

I’m also going to assume you mean, initiating a change, because that is something you can do. “Pushing” change always fails.

With those assumptions: Walk away when it jeopardizes a job you love or can’t do without, if you’re an employee. If you’re The Big Cheese: Make the changes your company needs. Be a leader. Don’t walk away from that responsibility.

 

“Kelly Erickson” +Olive

I got nothin’. Whatever you’re looking for, I hope you found it here. Subscribe (at top left), and I’ll see what I can come up with. We aim to please.

Your turn: What else do these searchers need to know?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

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

Quality is more important than quantity. One home run
is much better than two doubles.
—Steve Jobs

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

These Guys Should Be

Every time I talk to those guys I feel like I need a shower,” whispers a friend last week.

Lunchtime, and he’d just managed to shoo the guys from the next building out of his office, after twenty excruciating minutes. “He talked on and on and I still have no idea and don’t care.” What’s my friend’s problem with the owners next door?

I guess the real estate thing didn’t work out. They don’t even have a sign anymore. This week it’s, ‘We’re doing an Internet thing now. And we do dry cleaning pickup. And we’re doing some custom framing, too.’ I almost asked, house framing or pictures?, but then I was afraid he’d answer. If he stayed one more minute I know he would have told me there’s a free set of Ginsu knives with every order.”

Can you hang a sign?

I’ve heard about them before but I don’t know any details. The thing that struck me is, how could they have a sign up? If they don’t have a focused Vision of what they do, what would they tell their designer to put on the sign?

You may have heard advice about having a different business card for each business you are involved in, or each situation you run into. Maybe these guys have heard it, too. They just come to talk to my friend, not to sell, but perhaps they have their pockets coded for sales situations (left front is real estate, right is Internet-thing, back left is dry cleaning, back right is framing…).

Three little words:

This is BAD.

You have lots of interests. You’re a Renaissance person extraordinaire. Great. You can’t do it all for a living.

Nope, sorry. You can’t.

How did my friend open that conversation? “Every time I talk to those guys I feel like I need a shower.” They make him feel slimy. They’re fly-by-night. They’re experts in nothing at all. If I gave them real-estate-thing dollars two months ago, and they’re picking up dry cleaning today, what happened to my dough? If I give them framing money today, but they’re feeling more like dry-cleaning-drivers, how high will the quality of their work for me be? Who would ever buy anything from these guys? Please, believe me: You can’t do it all for a living.

If you can’t fit it on a sign, forget it. You don’t have to have a sign (if you work from home you probably won’t, but if you’re not at home for heaven’s sake do get one designed now! Don’t hide your business from the world).

You have to get yourself out of the coded-pockets thinking, if you ever want to be taken seriously. One sign. One business card. ONE business.

No more commitment phobia

It’s time to walk down the aisle. Just you, and that special business. The one that you want to shout to the world: “I’m ready to spend more than just the next couple of weeks with this one!” You’ve flirted, you’ve courted, you’ve considered others, but you and I know that you’ve found The One, because you took these steps:

Find your thrill. Research, then focus like a laser. You’ve looked into it thoroughly. Maybe you’ve had help with this stage. (Need help?) You’ve found a real Pain Point that real people have, and that they have the money to fix. You provide their Ideal Solution.

Yes, knowing your Ideal Customer this well takes research. Do it before you throw your time and money out the window! If your business description involves the word “thing” (“real estate thing,” “Internet thing”), you are not done. Get outside Perspective.

Know what you love so well that no one else knows as much as you, within your target market. If you’re replaceable, you’ll be replaced sooner or later. Be the go-to expert.

Love what you do so much that you couldn’t possibly switch to some different business tomorrow if skies are cloudy. When you are committed, you’ll work it out. You’ll find a creative way to bring what you know and love (that Ideal Solution) to your Ideal Customer, because love (of your work) means doing whatever it takes. You have to be your number one brand Propheteer. Nobody should sing the praises of your business in quite the devoted tones that you do.

Haven’t taken those steps yet?

Are you still clinging to your commitment phobia? The aisle’s short and sweet, and there’s far more business on the other end. Take one little step at a time and your business will make more money:

I will find my thrill.

I will know what I love, and become The expert at it.

I do love what I do.

That didn’t hurt at all. You’re committed now, or re-committed if you’re an established business owner who’s gotten a little off track. I’ll see you around as your business grows, and I’ll be sure to throw some rice.

What would your sign say? Are you committed?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Spark Your Creativity With a Little Time-Travel

I took time off from “real” work yesterday evening, pulled out some tools I haven’t worked with in a long while, and totally changed the direction I was going with a project.

Copperplate practice hand

A few bottles of ink, some lovely old pens. Revisiting line and form and backing away from the computer. I back away a lot and I recommend you do it, too, but I don’t usually back all the way into the past!

While I worked I thought about the pen, the ink, the feel, (the difficulty), all the generations who worked this way and didn’t know any other; I thought of the hours I used to spend practicing and the projects I did; I thought about old manuscripts I’ve read, old quotations I love, movies and titles and hand-written signs. I fell back into the past and my mind wandered. Suddenly, I had an entirely different perspective on the project I’d been stuck on.

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn't know you left open - John Barrymore

We don’t always leave the door open in our 9-to-5s. If you’re stressed and miserable, others will feel it. You can’t be as creative or productive as you should be without allowing happiness in.

Le papillon est une fleur qui vole; La fleur un papillon fixe - Econchard LeBrun

I used to do a lot of calligraphy, many years ago. My unsure hand makes it clear that it’s been too long! You don’t need to travel back to my past, or the past, to learn something old. No need for a new skill—try re-learning something from your own past. How could picking up an instrument, a tool (of any kind), or even a board game that you haven’t played with in a very long while spark new ideas for your business?


find the hambu

Don’t think you have to be perfect. Blow horrible notes on your trumpet. Draw terrible stick figures with piece of charcoal. Use a router to shape the edge of a length of scrap wood, just to remember the feel of the tool. Go to the ice rink—and fall down until your knees hurt and you’re still laughing. Or write letters too big to fit a word on a page. Eight times…

find the hamburger

… until you’ve found your direction. Learn something old every day. Renew your creativity. Then you can get serious about Maximum Customer Experience all over again.

What long-abandoned tools have you got lying in a box, waiting to be rediscovered? Make a little time to putter around, and re-connect your past and your present. It’s the weekend—get your kids in on it if you want. They’d love to learn something old from you.

When you’re back at the 9-to-5, those connections may just surprise you.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. “Learn something old every day” is one of my favorite quotations, from the very wise and infinitely creative Fred Rogers. Thanks, Mr. Rogers.

P.P.S. Want to find your hamburger? You might need to give the cow away. Click here to read why.