Innovation

Wish I’d Thought of This One

Target Now Hiring banner

Image of Target “Now Hiring” banner by Sarah Gilbert (cafemama on flickr).

 

Workplace Counselors?

Richard Chaifetz’s ComPsych is supplying Target and other stores with on-site workplace counselors, described as “a social worker crossed with a reference librarian.”

Target “aims to cut absenteeism and high staff turnover by helping workers with problems such as financial stress and poor health.”

Click here to listen to the podcast from Thursday’s Marketplace Morning Report from American Public Media. (A great story in just over 2 minutes.)

More staff who are happier, less distracted on the job, and feel more proud of and loyal to their jobs. It’s what every employer, big-business or small-business, needs. Why?

Of course it creates Maximum Employee Experience, which is a wonderful end in itself. But you know the funny thing about being good to your staff is that they’ll turn around and do good for your customers. ComPsych’s built a wonderful tool for employers to do good all around and benefit (profit!) as a company as well.

If you’re not one of the Big Boys like MCE’s favorite discount retailer Target, able to provide big services like on-site counseling, you can still take a page out of their book.

Even with a gesture as small as flexibility, if your employees know you’re solidly behind them when they need to get through their personal “stuff,” they can’t even dream of going off to some other cold, impersonal employer. And that means they wouldn’t dream of treating your customers coldly, either. Win-win-win!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Pens. Ideas. Employees.

Even, in the spirit of Black Friday coming upon us here in the U.S., parking spots.

Nobody steals the cheap (bad) ones.

Make yours worth stealing. Then don’t worry about it too much. Because the business concept, the employee, the invention… it’s not the raw materials, it’s your execution that’s invaluable.

And that’s not something that can be pilfered.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

10 Ways To Know If Your New Idea Is a Winner

So you’ve got a new concept and you’re itching to take it to market. Maybe you’re extending your product line, or perhaps you’re ready to take your company in a whole new direction. Naturally, you think it’s a dandy idea. You’re sure the whole world can’t wait… well, except when those doubts creep in. What are the best ways to decide whether to invest time and money in your new concept?

A countdown from “maybe good” to “definitely killer”:

10. Ask yourself whether you’re solving a NEED with your new product or service. If you are, is it (a) a need your customers know about, or (b) one you’re “sure” they have but you’ll have to show it to them? If your answer is (b), keep refining until you’ve hit upon a need customers already know about. Education is a tough business to be in unless you’re a teacher.

9. Ask a skeptic. This is tricky, because with no skin in the game and no need to buy from you, many friends and family will say “yeah, that’s a great idea,” to be done with the conversation, but we’ve all got that one friend who’s willing to play devil’s advocate with us on any subject. Get brave now, before you’ve sunk a lot of cash and energy into it, and tell him or her to give it to you straight. Take notes. A great refinement, or the next winner idea, could be hiding in the details of what he or she says to you. (No skeptics around? Get a professional opinion. Money you spend now to refine that concept will be a drop in the bucket compared to getting the business running smoothly—consider it insurance against running with a bad idea.)

8. Keep your ear to the ground. Check blogs, online forums, local business networking groups, newspaper articles… even classified ads… for people with needs your widget will address. Focus on those people. If you’re ready to solve a problem at the moment when buzz about that problem is high, you may have a good idea.

7. Put it aside. An underrated technique for knowing whether your idea’s a winner, is simply to walk away for a week. Ever known someone who’s just got to buy that new website address, have business cards designed, or rent a cute storefront, right now while the idea is hot? Any business that’s going to provide you with income long-term can stand to wait a week while you cool off and come back at it with fresh eyes. (If it can’t wait a week—it’s not a good idea.)

6. Ask current customers what they don’t have. What’s missing in what they currently use/ do/ buy? If you’re planning to supply what customers are itching for, then your itch to take it to market may be justified.

5. Better: Ask customers what’s wrong. If you can supply the “ahh” to something terrible that customers hate or dread, you could have a winner on your hands. “I hate” is a stronger motivator than “I wish,” especially since folks often don’t know exactly what they’re wishing for.

4. Find out whether anyone else is doing it. That’s right, in this wide world it’s pretty unlikely that you’re completely alone even when you’re coming up with a “new” killer idea, so do your research! (I know you feel like the lone, brilliant inventor, but if nobody’s doing it, there’s probably a reason.) If someone else is doing it, AND MAKING MONEY AT IT, then chances are the market’s got enough room for you in it, too. Caution, here: Make sure you’ve got a critical difference from that competition, that you can make crystal clear and exciting to buyers.

3. Write about it. I’m probably swimming against the tides, suggesting that business plans are still a very useful tool, even if banks won’t listen to you with or without one—but they are. Write a business plan. The real-world research that goes into writing a business plan, even a bare-bones one, can help you see the holes in a so-so idea and craft it into a killer.

2. Roll it out on a limited basis. Want a 4-star restaurant with your new-new-nouvelle cuisine? Try catering a few events for friends first. Dying to quit your job and become a full-time leatherworker? Do some projects on the side and see how they go over at craft fairs. Chat with folks who seem interested in buying, and learn from the market. What separates winners from also-rans in your industry? (Hint: Chances are, quality has less to do with it than you think. And you’ve got quality, anyway, haven’t you?)

1. The very best way to know that your new idea is a winner: Find someone who wants to buy it now, either as a pre-order or in “beta” condition. Better: Find more than one. Think like a venture capitalist: VCs get most excited over ideas/ products where customers have already plunked down cash for something that isn’t even ready to go yet. Early adopters may get a little discount, and of course you’ll give them a Super-Maximum Customer Experience with lots of handholding—in exchange, they’re very likely to be your most loyal customers and devoted referral sources for that long growth cycle to come.

 

What’s your biggest worry about taking your “killer” idea to market? Try these tips today to get it in shape!

 

Congratulations, you’ve put it through ten tough tests and made it shine. Your new idea’s a winner—now get it into the hands of your Ideal Customer so they can give you a big shout of thanks for solving their needs!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Worldviews, cynical views, and contrarian views

More thoughts on habits, and packaging your ideas to fit with the customer’s worldview instead of trying to change their worldview to “make” them want you…

Buying a (quick-fix no-work prepackaged) “solution” is way easier than solving the problem.

Even if you know what the real solution is, it allows you to forestall necessary actions and pretend you are moving forward. Sadly, motion ≠ forward motion, but we convince ourselves it does all the time.

And everybody loves thinking they’ve found a cheat.

Something to ponder for yourself, but also for your products or services. It might sound a bit cynical, but you can take advantage of that simple fact and save yourself a lot of banging-your-head-on-the-wall. In the comments earlier this week we talked briefly about the diet and the smoking-cessation industry, both of which are filled with companies which have accepted that we’d rather buy a solution than solve a problem—and thrive as a result.

Is it right for you? (Is it right?)

Loyal readers know I proudly make a living solving problems with my clients, so it’s not the direction I’ve gone. But there’s plenty of head-banging in the path I’ve chosen, especially when it comes to my beloved small-business clients.

And (indulge me for a moment) thinking about the larger picture, beyond your business…

Are people becoming afraid of real-world, get-off-your-duff, solutions? Were we always? Is this good news or bad news or not news?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

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

People are very open-minded about new things—as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.
—Charles F. Kettering

Yesterday we talked about not trying to change customers’ minds and habits, but fit into an existing mindset or set of habits. The path to growth is clearer if you can showcase your product or service to dovetail nicely into those existing habits, yet (I hear some of you argue) aren’t some of the most revolutionary successes based on totally transforming habits?

Well, we do seem to have a genetic need to change things up now and then. We like “new” and “improved.” It’s sexy to think of ourselves as daring change-seekers when we’re the consumers, and in business we love the idea of being change agents for our customers.

My thinking on transformative innovation is that at its core, most change isn’t such a shift in habits after all—and as Kettering says, in the end we like our change to look just about same-as-usual. Maybe a little sexier.

Sure, the Kindle is a revolutionary way of taking a book around town, but it’s unlikely to make readers out of folks who haven’t picked up a book since high school. It only changes how existing readers haul their treasured tomes around with them.

Sure, fast food was a revolutionary way to feed the family, but the kids were gonna get fed—and quickly—after Mom and Dad both started coming home from work in the 50s and 60s. McDonald’s and others just tapped into an existing need and changed the delivery system.

The BlackBerry replaced the paper planner. The planner replaced the trusted personal secretary. But the need to organize a complex day has been with us since the days became complex. More people with complex days now, though, so spotting a habit that’s growing could be a great boost to any company.

Your business? How can you shorten your path to success, tapping into familiar, old habits—making them sexy and “new”? Is there a habit that’s being adopted by more customers, that could help you grow even faster?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

P.S. If you liked this article, I hope you’ll make the Maximum Customer Experience Blog a habit. Please subscribe now for fresh, sexy new ideas delivered regularly to your inbox or RSS feed. And thanks for being part of the MCE community!

Shocking, I know…

So instead of asking your customers to break their habits in order to do business with you, a much more solid growth strategy for your business would be to find a habit the Ideal Customer already has, and become part of helping them to enjoy their habit.

We don’t want folks to stop buying their snowboards from XYZ and buy from us. We want folks to be able to do the flips they’ve always dreamed of, and only our boards have the revolutionary technology to make those moves accessible even to occasional snowboarders. Flips, not flops.*

Take a look at the Experience you provide, upside-down, and fill in the blanks:

We don’t want folks to stop patronizing [our competitor] and buy from us;

we want them to [do the thing they already do or try to do]. We make their habit [possible/successful/unbelievably-rockin-better].

What would happen if you stopped trying to change your customer’s behavior? How do you enable a habit your Ideal Customer already has?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*To all you real snowboarders out there, I apologize for my giddy Vancouver Olympics-inspired example, no doubt full of an outsider’s guffaw-inducing fake-terminology. Thanks for your indulgence.

Shh… 1 addiction and 7 brand-new secrets I’ll bet you can get ideas from, today

I don’t let too many people in on the deepest workings of my mind, nor on the details of what I do when I’ve stolen a moment away from creating great customer experiences for my clients.

My private life is my business. My addictions… *shudders* … you don’t want to go there.

Well, I’m breaking down that wall around my innermost secrets, for only a day.

Folks, I’m addicted—and I don’t want your help at all.

Creative Copy Challenge came into being only a few short weeks ago, and I’m completely hooked. The premise: whenever they feel like it, the wonderful Sean Platt and Shane Arthur, and the quiet but incredible coder David Wright, write a blog post containing 10 random words or phrases. In the comment section, you take all ten and write a story tying them together.

If you’re a wordsmith, a writer, a creative type, a humorist, a daredevil, a poet, or a puzzle-lover, this site is for you, too. And for as long as no one invents a 12-step program, we can both be happily, guiltlessly addicted.

Yeah! Are you with me?

As often happens, that’s not what this post is about

This post is about Maximum Customer Experience! So how are Shane and Sean (try saying that ten times fast) and David so quickly creating a rabid following among the likes of Ari Herzog, Sonia Simone, James Chartrand, Jeff Sexton, and now you?

Recreate this if you can

1. Crazy-simple premise, which must take almost no time to maintain now that it’s going. (It’s also simple for readers to jump in and out without feeling like they have to commit to it.) Warning: The “easiest” things are the hardest things to come up with.

2. Easy-to-remember name. Plus their initials make it obvious for a fan to nickname them CCC without thinking too hard (a nickname helps when raving about them), which brings me to…

3. No participation = no site. This is the ultimate involvement device. Enthusiastic fans are creating their site, one comment at a time, so they’d better find some fans…

4. It pays to have friends. Though I was not personally invited, I found out about the site because I check in on Sean periodically to see what he’s up to at Writer Dad (always something amazing), and lo, he’s got a new site, so I check it out, and all sorts of folks are already jazzed about this baby blog! There’s a great community building up quickly, yet naturally at CCC, but I suspect from its fast start that some personal invitations got things rolling. The important point about this is: if you can get a leg up from old connections, whether it’s through blogs, Twitter, or a former job of yours, don’t be afraid to do it. And, um, be nice. (I didn’t have to say that, did I?) People love to help out nice people like themselves.  :)

5. It’s a writers’-block-preventer! It’s a mental jog! It’s a puzzle to solve! It’s a great way to slack off without guilt, because you’ll still feel productive! It’s addictive to do, it’s entertaining to read! It slices, it dices, and it chews your food for you! I know, I’m always reminding you to focus on doing one thing. CCC is doing that. They are providing one highly focused Ideal Solution, but remarkably, people see that Ideal Solution from a lot of different angles, including two I left out because they’re the Holy Grails of Customer Experience…

6. It’s a dare! Sure, they’re nice guys and they used the word “Challenge,” but we all know what they’re saying, folks. They’re saying “betcha can’t.” And there is no better way to get people to jump in and yell “yes I can!” than to challenge them.

7. It’s a chance to show off! Hard to underestimate this factor. Not a lot of real-world products have it (Lexus? Apple?), and even fewer online sources can provide it. I read Seth Godin, but it’s kind of hard to show off about that. (Best Godin-reader, anyone?) I comment all over the blogosphere, and you probably do, too, and lots of folks tweet, run around on facebook, etc., but showing off in most places is considered bragging. Welcome to one place where you can try to top yourself or hope to do something better than anyone else is doing that day and get a half-dozen pats on the back if you succeed.

New addiction in two words: Deceptively Simple. (Ack! Not ten?)

Creative Copy Challenge is truly the stuff that good-guy successes are made of. Part luck, part hard work, part years of building relationships with people who want to help spread the word about you. Lightning in a bottle. Try to recreate their success at your own peril—or just take a couple of elements, and start incorporating them into your own Maximum Customer Experience right away.

If you haven’t taken a trip over to Creative Copy Challenge yet, what are you waiting for? After you’ve wandered around and begun your own addiction, come on back and share—what else do you think is helping CCC to create a great Experience for their community?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Wednesday Words

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

The really good idea is always traceable back quite a long way, often to a not very good idea which sparked off another idea that was only slightly better, which somebody else misunderstood in such a way that they then said something which was really rather interesting.
—John Cleese

And that, dear readers, is what I love about great discussions, ever-changing communities, and working with incredibly intelligent, creative collaborators.

When you want to expand your thinking, you’ll always get farther with the patience to watch ideas evolve, and a little help from your friends.

1+1≠2.

1+1 (or more)=Creative lightning.

Let’s spark a great discussion…

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Staying Above the Fray, Part 2

Tweaks reek

If you want to catch the attention of the public, don’t tweak the other guy’s latest and call it a miracle.

You don’t spell innovation “reactive.” You spell it “revelation.”

Going a little further in some other company’s direction just paves the path for them to mow you over while you’re counting your pennies.

Go your own way.

Better yet, go the customer’s way.

Yes, yes, of course, you can do your own thing.

Well, maybe. Maybe.

If you want to make money, then you can only do your own thing if somebody wants it. Needs it. Has to have it more than they have to have their dollars!

Big hurdle. How do you get there?

Delight. Amazement. The revelation that your thing is like no other thing, and it is an answer to their wishes. Wishes they’ve never said out loud before. Your own thing solves the customer’s unspoken needs. “How the hell did they do that,” they’ll say of you.

Innovation. Revelation. And strategy: to put your own thing in the terms they want to hear so the customer knows you’ve connected with their silent, urgent needs.

1. Begin with the customer’s way.

2. Back up to solving it with your own thing.

We’re staying above the fray this week. Don’t tweak the competition’s thing. Forget the competition’s thing.

Think of companies that consistently seem to reach in and solve problems you didn’t know you had, get you drooling for things you never heard of before, companies that are changing the game, rather than playing the game—not asking you to buy their stuff, but revealing your new stuff to you. What do you think they know about your way, that their “competition” obviously doesn’t?

If you’re ready to launch the next BIG THING, you need to know: What is the customer’s way? What are the needs they never say out loud? How can you solve those needs with your thing?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Jonathan Did

jugglah.com, Wilmington, Delaware

Jonathan’s jugglah.com van, recently spotted north of Wilmington, DE

What do you think? Is this the best use of a personalized (vanity) license plate ever? Now I wish I were organizing an event that needs a creative self-promoting juggler.

Lesson: Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most memorable.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson