Perspective

A few of the things that are in my conversations and on my mind right now…

Are you struggling for direction, or struggling to accept the direction you’re aimlessly aiming in?

Are you really afraid of the new move, or afraid of what someone else thinks of it?

Have you dodged a bullet this year (this month, this week…), or have you only delayed it?

Do you have jitters now? Or is it easier to admit to being indecisive now, even though that’s always been you?

Are you wishing for a safety net to plop down from the sky… not realizing you’ve got to make your own?

When you turn your fears over and over in your mind, do you know you’re making them worse? Why not get active and stop giving them so much play?

Are you losing steam, or gaining stodgy intractability?

How will you turn your struggles around?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

aka How ruthlessness might change your bottom line

In a wonderful piece I heard recently on NPR (wish I could remember the show to give a link, sorry), a rowing team took lessons in team harmony, being in sync, and zen-like techniques to get them focused on working together and behaving as a unit to take their races to the next level.

They did become more harmonious. Their strokes were more in sync, and they thought less of individual performance and more of team unity. They were one smooth, sleek machine instead of a bunch of hotshot athletes… everything they and their coach had been aiming for.

Except… It had the unintended consequence of making their racing times slower.

Rewarding harmony versus winning, squelching creativity and individual desire for glory, and focusing too hard on team spirit made for a happier team who couldn’t win races. And who no longer felt quite so strongly that winning was everything!

(Nice guys really do finish last? But that’s not what this story’s about.)

One client I had a while back ran a café. Right into the ground. He made the café a gathering place, warm and inviting, suffused with his personality. People bought a tea or a coffee and told him their problems, or caught up with friends, or played chess. His regulars were so loyal it was like that rowing team.

But new folks felt uncomfortable there, and old regulars had days when they couldn’t make it, and when they were there, being regulars, they bought something tiny or sometimes nothing at all, feeling like my client was getting their money over time, why bust the piggy bank to hang out with him?

He busted his piggy bank trying to keep their hangout afloat, and wondered if there was a solution far too late.

The unintended consequences of trying to be everyone’s friend.

Another client spent enormous amounts of time introducing her firm to new prospects. Believe it or not, word-of-mouth spread about these (free) presentations. Everybody wanted to be pitched to—but no one was buying. It’s still a work in progress, but she’s been able to put new procedures in place, make her website clearer so she can point to it first instead of running all over town, and no longer pitches to looky-lous. When she makes her (still great) presentations, it’s almost a formality, because people have pre-sold themselves and she and they are clear on whether her services are right for them in advance.

The unintended consequences of being a killer presenter.

A friend of mine is a genius idea-man. He really belongs in a think tank and I’ve told him so a million times (email me if you’re at a think tank and looking for a supergenius), mixing problems all around and then solving them like a Rubik’s Cube, but the linear jobs he was in for many years left every employer complaining he was a dreamer and a drifter and not much of a finisher. He couldn’t be satisfied with the linear life, either, so “drifter” wasn’t far off—when he’d solve the Cubes at one place he’d be in search of another job that posed a mental challenge in a hurry. At last he found a company with fresh and wildly different projects starting every few months and plenty of help to do the “boring” part of finishing them, in between bits of more linear work, and he couldn’t be more happy.

The unintended consequences of being a brilliant starter.

So many websites I see are great at pulling visitors in but not at convincing them to buy.

So many retail shops have unique offerings and a fabulously skewed view of the world perfect for attracting devotees, but they’re busy marketing themselves as everything for everyone, wondering why no one comes in.

So many professionals want to be your friend, but like that rowing team, they’ve lost their edge. They’re bland and comfortable instead of driven and forward-thinking, believing that they’d scare off tradition-bound clients. To heck with the tradition-bound clients! Results will pull in far more of the clients they want—the ones who are ready to move forward with them—than zen attitude.

So many restaurants work way too hard on being a hangout. That client of mine was not alone. Being a place to spend time is good only IF: customers tell your friends, and keep telling ‘em; they spend money while hanging out; they don’t make the atmosphere too “insider” to draw in new customers, so they can hang out and spend money, and tell their friends…

Maybe you see yourself here. I’m guilty of creating some unintended consequences myself, and I suspect from time to time we all are.

The best remedy, from my perspective, is to keep on strategizing. Create as many intended consequences as you can. Watch for plans that go awry and don’t be afraid to deep-six ‘em quickly. Your don’t have room in your bottom line for a wait-and-see attitude—be ruthless about the plans that create unintended consequences.

And of course, never encourage your rowers to develop zen habits.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Just when the fog lifts, the storm begins…

There’s a steady, drumming rain as I write this post. From where I sit, I can watch three seagulls who’ve staked out the parking lot of this office complex today. The showers don’t seem to bother them.

Every few minutes they swoop down, stupidly hoping a crust of bread that they missed last time will appear on this dive. There are three lampposts, one for each bird, yet a gull often returns to an already-occupied post. A loud argument ensues: if you’ve seen the wonderful kids’ film Finding Nemo, you may know how it goes—

“Mine.”

“Mine, mine.”

That’s all the birds have to say (ours yell with a Philly accent, I’m sure), but apparently some are more persuasive in their monosyllabic discussion than others, because in seconds one or the other will shove off.

Then balance returns to my view, and the three posts are each topped with a stupid scavenger for a moment longer.

They call to each other intermittently, and one sets off for another twenty-second scope of the completely unchanged landscape.

Why?

They’re here, so it must work; both in an evolutionary sense—I’ve often wondered why such a stupid bird hasn’t died out (and why the noble dodo, rest in peace, got the name that seagulls surely deserved)—and in a microgeographic sense—they wouldn’t hang out here if an office park’s parking lot was a ticket to starvation. Maybe they’re not so stupid after all.

Are they working together, or competing? You never can tell with these birds. We have many gull-stories to tell here on the Atlantic coast, and one I see repeated often is the merchant with only a few birds that everyone thinks are (almost) cute, until some small child drops his lunch one day when coming to shop with Mama. By the next day the infestation is so bad it’s hard for customers to get out of their cars at all without feeling like Tippi Hedren in The Birds. (Whether that’s intentional collaboration or not I can’t say.) Then there’s no choice for the business’ owner but to call in a pest control company.

May that never happen here.

I do love the rain. It makes stories like this possible, in a way. Clears the brain, makes fresh connections appear, and muffles the incessant noise of modern urban life for a while.

And lest you think the fever’s gone to my brain, lessons from the birds:

Be persistent.

Don’t assume the situation hasn’t changed just because you can’t see anything new.

Stake your claim.

Talk to others in the business whenever you have the chance—their perspective is very different from yours.

A little competition tells you there’s a market.

A bandwagon everyone’s already on, may spell disaster.

Seek quiet time amidst the noise and haste.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

… before they’ve even started

The 3 Most Critical Pages on Your Business Website:

Home

About

FAQs

Repeat after me: Home. About. FAQs.

I know, I know. You like your fancy Services page. Hey, I like it too. It sells so well, once I get there. And those Product pages, those are great. So zippy, so to-the-point. But I don’t know you yet. You’re a small business, and I just got here. Believe it or not, though it’s awfully logical, I’m not going there first.

You like your blog. It’s got content! Search Engine Optimization! Thought gol-durned leadership and the sweat of your brow! All integrated with your business site like you heard you should!

I love it. And pretty pictures, too. Just riveting. When I’m wishing to kill a bit of time I really appreciate digging into your knowledge base. Really I do. Something from your content may even have drawn me here via search. The effort is not going unnoticed, but…

You want to make some sales on your website?

Home.

About.

FAQs.

I have to know what you want to sell me, and care, before I leave the homepage.

If I care but don’t quite know I’ll give you another chance: I’ll go to the FAQs or the About page (about 50/50 which one I’ll choose, if they’re both easy to spot). Boy, you better tell me why I should care there.

If you are somehow very, very close to telling me what I want to hear, or I very, very much need what you (may) have, I’ll give you one more chance, and visit the About or FAQs that I didn’t choose the first time.

That’s it. If I don’t figure out how you can help me, feel drawn by your incredibly persuasive writing to let you solve my problem, and see frequent, gentle links within the text on those three pages to your services or products, I’ll forget your cute navigation bar had ways to go directly to what you offer. Back to Google.

Sounds crazy, huh?

I watch an awful lot of users test websites, dear reader. Heck, I research new websites just like yours constantly, and even knowing (as I do) that you have a cute nav bar, I find myself following the same pattern.

Hm… what’s here? Home.

That didn’t tell me much. But search brought me here for a reason… Well, who are they and why should I buy from them? About.

Jeez, maybe they’ll tell me what they sell when they’re telling everyone else. Surely “WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR ME?” is a Frequently Asked Question… FAQs.

Tell me. Tell me again. And yeah, then tell me again. Call me dense if you like, and repeat yourself for me. Forget that you’re bored, forget that you’re frustrated by having to find fresh ways to say it. If you make it hard for me to figure you out, I’m frustrated, and that’s the worst possible Customer Experience. Because it’s not only me walking away, it’s your potential sales.

Never assume I’ll follow your path through the site, and never forget: Home. About. FAQs.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Or, How I wrecked one of my favorite shops and got paid to do it

Favorite spots become our favorites for many reasons.

When you’re an Experience Designer, you find yourself poking at those reasons all the time, looking for things to enhance, modify, and maximize for the client.

Yet sometimes, I just want to be a regular customer. I shut down the analytical brain the best I can and enjoy the shopping like it’s not an Experience, capital E.

(The way you do… you may come ‘round here and say “Wow, yes, everything’s an Experience!” but then for much of the day you just get on with things. Shame on you. But I digress.)

So it was one day in a favorite shop outside of Philadelphia. Milling about, money burning a hole in my pocket, time to kill before my next appointment, thoughts wandering everywhere…

Until I noticed a guy with a clipboard. Subtle, I thought. No one will notice him doing an audit.

I fingered the merchandise in front of me with a bit less interest. Experience Designer mode was kicking back in, darn it.

He wasn’t making any secret of his trip, chatting with salespeople as he checked the racks and tables, observing them interacting with customers, coming back around corners like Columbo wanting to ask the perp “just one more thing.”

Did I mention I like the place? I like the place. It is one of my favorites. Because salespeople leave me alone (though I know it’ll come as a shock to you, I’m rather a shy type), because it’s well-worn and never pristine, because they don’t try hard, and when I’m there I don’t look closely. They’re part of a major chain, but this seems to be the quirky, black-sheep brother who won’t do as he’s told. Sometimes I just like to be alone in a crowd, and that’s how being in this place is. I make allowances for their flaws, which are many, and they seem to make allowances for mine. Our “relationship” works.

Like I said, I come to this shop when I don’t want to be an Experience Designer. Ironically, that’s the Experience they’re offering.

Not this day.

Bloody clean, the place was. It even smelled pretty good. Smiling, friendly staff everywhere. On top of things. No racks half-put-away, no chatty staff in plain sight doing nothing, no bits of paper stuck on the rug, not a single customer ignored. I’d been accosted twice by the help before I spotted Mister Clipboard, and was so bewildered by their smiles that I’d almost turned around to leave. Now it made sense, and I began to take note of everything that was “wrong” with my favorite place. Suddenly I started to think about whether the other days were the days that were wrong, which of course I know is true, but darn it I don’t mind that they’re not maximizing their business. I want the place to stay grubby and quiet.

No I don’t, says Experience-Designer-Kelly. Mister Clipboard runs across the store manager, whom I know by sight. They mumble together for a moment. He must go help a customer, of course that’s his first priority! he says with a big show, but he’ll be right back to discuss the results.

I’m writing on the back of my business card at a (thankfully unattended) table at this point. As soon as he hops away, I walk up to the regional manager, leaning over another table finishing his notes. I set down my card, nod politely, and walk away.

ASK ME WHAT IT’S LIKE WHEN YOU’RE NOT LOOKING, I wrote.

The regional manager called me an hour later, and we got the job of doing work that would really help the company improve this underperforming store.

Moral(s) of the story for you:

1. You can’t see the forest for the trees. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, I’m just saying it’s nothing like getting the Perspective of an outsider’s eye.

2. Warning staff that it’s audit day is danged counterproductive. Do you leave your house messy when your mother-in-law’s coming over? Thought not.

3. Every day should be treated like audit day, because you’ll never grow your business off customers like me who’re glad no one else likes shopping at the quirky black-sheep store.

Moral for me: There are no days off.   ;)

First, the question you can’t answer: What’s your business like when you’re not looking?*

Take a look around the shops, offices, and even websites you visit this weekend with an outsider’s eye, and take mental notes. What’s taking away from Maximum Customer Experience at those places?

What clues might other people’s trouble spots give you about your own place of business, if you’re ready to face them squarely?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*Email me: kellye (at) visionpoints (dot) net if you’d like to get started with your own audit or Experience Design Solution. I’ll tell you what it’s like when you’re not looking and exactly what to do about it, and if you’re ready to grow, we’ll create the solution just for you, too. I’d love to help you maximize your business!

What do you know about your Customer Experience?

So you want to grow your business in 2009? This is the first in a sometimes-series at Maximum Customer Experience called Building Your Business. Glad to have you along!

You’re committed to creating a better Customer Experience, because you know that your customers will be more loyal, buy more from you, and spread fantastic word-of-mouth about your company if their Experience with your company makes you one in a million.

Where do you start?

Start with a map

When you want to get to a new destination, you take out a map that shows where you are now, and where you want to get to. You plot out the route, and you start driving.

(I know, I know, you use MapQuest and it does all the messy work for you. Humor me!)

What was that first step? Take out a map. It has to show you where you are now, or there’s no hope of getting where you want to go.

When I work with your company, the first thing I want to do is to create a map of your current Experience. We call this an Interactive Experience map, but hey, you can call it Fred if you like. That’s just our fancy term for “mapping out all the interactions your company has with your customers and potential customers.”

To go where your VisionPoints with great Experience Design, you need to know where you are now.

What goes on your map

For your map, you’re going to write down everything that can happen between you and your customer, start to finish. Depending on your business, this may include:

Pre-Sale (aka Prospecting or Lead gathering)

Advertising/ marketing methods

Telephone, web, in-person service

Sales calls, presentations, follow-up

Sale

Point-of-sale interactions (Cashier or waitstaff, for instance)

Order processing

Delivery (of product or service)

Post-sale

Thank-yous

Follow-up (Gauging/ ensuring customer satisfaction)

Re-sales, cross-sells, up-sells (Encouraging repeat business)

Ways of encouraging referrals/ word-of-mouth

Thanks, Kelly, all done!

No, no. My list tells you what will go on your map. Now you’ll need to write down, specifically, what your company does in each of these areas. What do you do to generate leads? Who handles your telephones or your email? How do you handle presentations, and what kind of follow-up do you do?

All down the list, until you know, start to finish, every interaction an interested party may have with you, from when she’s a lead in your “pipeline” until she’s a joyous Propheteer, spreading the word about you.

You’ll be surprised at how many opportunities to improve your Customer Experience you’ll see through the simple act of creating this map. You may find you’re skipping steps, you may find you’re operating in ways that don’t further your Vision. You’ll discover your strengths, too.

Map the entire Experience: Pre-sale, Sale, Post-sale.

Now you’re ready to drive forward at Maximum speed in 2009.

(And hey, if you’d rather hire VisionPoints and let us do the messy work for you… well, email me!)

Let’s look at it from the customer point of view—when you’re buying, where do you see companies hitting (or missing) the mark? How can you relate that to the map of your own company’s Customer Experience?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Meh…

Adequate, reasonable, sufficient, satisfactory, good, fine, nice, pleasing, lovely, fantastic, awesome, magical.*

Go ahead, describe:

Your last three dining experiences

Your last three shopping experiences

Your last three doctor’s visits

Your last three new hires

Get critical and describe:

Your last three telephone conversations with a customer

Your last three client presentations

Your last three (printed) self-promotions

Your last three blog posts

And just for fun:

Your last three boyfriends (girlfriends)

Your last three rush-hour drives

Your last three vacations

Your last three desserts

Is it just me, or are we not giving, and not getting, good enough?

 

Grow and be awesome,

Kelly Erickson

*The astute among you will note that I didn’t include any negative terms, just a spectrum from merely “meh” to “wow.” If you need a lower scale to describe your last three rush hours, you probably live near me. Hi, neighbor!

Until the Next Time

So, there’s the deadline. When you want to be done with the project, so you can get on to the next one. Then there’s The Deadline: When the boss, the client, or even you yourself, says you must be done with the project.

With me so far?

The deadline passed Thursday. I needed to be done. I wasn’t letting the client down, not That Deadline, but there were other projects waiting on this. I wanted to bust it out in case the other things took longer.

Instead, this took longer.

And when I say longer, what I mean is, late weeknights. A week or two of late weeknights had already been put in. All day Saturday. All night Saturday. Around 2:00 Sunday, morning, I finally finished, after every technical glitch possible had plagued me Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday. On the weekdays, people knew the general direction I was going, but with technical stuff causing steam to come out of my ears, let’s just say people kindly left me alone. Then on Friday night and Saturday, it was me and my sofa.

Sunday morning it was beautiful. The sun was shining, the work looked awesome, I felt brilliant. I expanded on the concept; I tweaked, I puttered, I admired.

Monday morning, someone asked if she could look at it.

“That’s not the direction we agreed on.”

“It’s not? Well, it’s pretty darned beautiful, though, isn’t it? It’s gonna rock.” You may be assured that “darned” is not the word I used. I was feeling a bit defensive.

“It’s kinda, umm, not ugly, but not right for this industry.”

I’ll proudly say that this conversation does not happen very often. In fact, this particular one is a couple of years old now. But as I worked on a project until the wee hours this past Saturday night, I remembered it all too well. When I knew I was getting high on my work, I put it down, unfinished. I’ll work on it after I’ve gotten some distance from it. Even Experience Designers need Perspective now and again.

Don’t fall in love, folks. Get that outsider’s eye. Let someone else fall in love. Then you’ll know.

Have you ever busted your hump to make the best, most incredible [insert product of your industry here], only to discover you’d gotten too close and fallen in love with a dud?

Hmm. Now that I look at it, this one is pretty rockin’.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to link to it, Stumble, Digg, or otherwise bookmark using the “Share” button below. And be sure to subscribe to the MCE Blog, so you’ll hear all about it the next time I fall in love.

What Seems to Be the Problem Here?

Many studies have reported that customers who have a problem resolved to their satisfaction are more loyal than customers who’ve never had a problem at all. Immediate problems with a transaction, you know you need to fix right away—make it easy to register more general complaints, too. Why listen to your customers’ complaints?

  • You’ll learn from what they have to say
  • They’ll feel a lot better
  • You might actually resolve the issue

In-person, by telephone, online form, or email, even *gasp* by snail mail if they’d like to. Make it easy. Give customers the opportunity to tell you what needs fixing, and call it cheap outside Perspective.

Think about how you feel when someone listens to you about the pothole in the parking lot—you know it’s not the guy who’s going to fix it, but the fact that the manager listens, responds, and writes something down makes you respect the company, doesn’t it?

A company that seems unafraid of facing complaints tends to receive fewer, and gets bonus points in the customer’s mind for being willing to take the heat. Customers feel free to say their piece and go on instead of letting resentment build up.

See this as a compliment; the customer cares about your company enough to say something rather than walking out forever.

What do you think about companies who hide their complaint department—How far are you willing to go to get through to them, and does it influence your future buying decisions? Does your company do it better than most?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Are You Too Nice?

  • No rush…
  • When you get a chance…
  • Do you think you could…?
  • Are you busy?
  • Would you do me a favor?
  • Sorry about [the short notice, adding to your workload, etc.]
  • …just…
  • …only…

Do you find yourself using these phrases with your staff on a regular basis?

Even (an overused) “please” can sneak up on you, making you look weak, apologetic, and indecisive.

With one supervisor, I fought back against this talk. Did my boss really think I was that incompetent or slow, or was it her own problem? “No problem, right away” was my constant response. I even told her straight out more than once, “I work for you. Not when I get a chance, when you get a chance!”

Most employees won’t be so kind. You think you’re overworking me? Okay! That means I can do less! And you’ve created a productivity-sucking monster. By being “nice.”

“Listen, friend,” I once said, joking with another former boss. He looked at me funny, then very sharply said, “You are not my friend.” At the time, I was offended. I mean, we were kidding around—what a time to go serious! (A few months later I asked him about it. “Remember that time….” Nope. He didn’t recall.)

I never forgot it, and I’ve continued to learn from and teach with that offhand zinger since then. He was right, and I knew it. That’s why it hurt. Your boss is not your friend.

Break free from the Big Suck

So if you’re the boss, how do you get out of this trap?

1. Say it out loud. Here’s the policy, I’ve gotten away from it. You are not my friend.

2. Stop apologizing. You pay folks to do what needs to be done. Period.

3. Grow balls. There’s no other way to say it. If you’re a wimp, your staff will walk all over you, costing your company time and money. It’s human nature to take liberties when we know we can, so end it today. You aren’t running a business to make friends with your staff.

Would you do me a favor? I was wondering if you have “nice” phrases that create a productivity-sucking monster in your workplace? I’m only looking for a comment or two…

UGH! Sound off below. How does “nice”—yours or others’—mess up your productivity? What’s it all about?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. If you’re a solopreneur thinking “this one’s not about me,” think again. These same phrases come out in your writing and your conversations with friends, family, and suppliers, and they convince people you aren’t headed for the big time. Because you seem to think that about yourself. You are still the head of your growing company, even if you have only you to manage right now. You’ll never need step 1, if you make steps 2 and 3 part of your day now.

P.P.S. “Just.” It’s the one that I have to watch out for. As in, “I just need,” or “I was just thinking.” When Kelly goes wimpy and waffly, “just” is usually close by. Just don’t point it out, okay?