Recommended Reading

And in Act 2, How Larry Brooks Talked Me Down From a Full-On Rant

Dear Reader,

The Maximum Customer Experience-y portion of the MCE Blog will be somewhat brief today. In part because I had more fun with Act 2 than with Act 1, but Act 1’s more to our point here, so let’s dig in!

Act 1: Put It in Writing

MCE-readers do not need lessons in phone manners, right? Yet I’ve heard this story twice in the last week in very different circumstances, so I’m wondering whether it’s an aspect of Customer Experience that’s being forgotten right now.

Ever need to contact someone at a small firm about… let’s say, a critical issue for your family? Could be health-care related. Could be housing related. Could be banking, or transportation. The business itself or the division you’re contacting is very small, and The Person Who Makes Decisions has few layers between him or her, and you. Only a little gatekeeper…

Many readers of MCE are at small businesses just such as this, so you know what I’m talking about (even though you may not deal in “critical” issues at your company). Folks call you up, they say “I need to discuss XYZ, who in the office deals with that,” and you put them through to that person.

Only sometimes, the receptionist apparently doesn’t think the job is to be “receiving,” as in welcoming, to folks who call in. This person could instead hassle callers into mainly giving up their question… and if that fails, loudly shout for the hatchetperson.

The hatchetperson could be even more abrasive, attempt to dissuade the still-polite customer even more, and throw in random lies as suits the situation, to stop the fool’s attempt to get answers or solve problems before they become large.

The last lie is that the person you need to speak to does not have a phone. Does not return calls. And will not, in fact, speak to you, unless you put your request in writing. Over everything you attempt to say, in your most apologetic, maybe-I’m-not-explaining-myself-well-enough tones, comes the repeated, increasingly shrill, increasingly surreal, “Put it in writing!”

Folks, if this is going on, there are only a couple of possibilities: one, there are crazy people in the front office acting independently, or two, this procedure is acceptable and known to all. Either way, when you do speak to the person you need to, by finding “the back door,” all will be denied, you will be treated as an even bigger fool who misunderstood the lies and shouting in that earlier conversation, and someone, inevitably, will claim they’ll “get to the bottom of this” to get you to shush about it. And the original issue you called about, which was, as you know, critical, will seem like mush next to the craziness of how you’ve been treated.

Naturally, this is against all the rules of Maximum Customer Experience.

So, if you have folks like this in your office, tell them adios. They are toxic to your growth.

If you have people complaining that you have folks like this in your office, assume you do. How many of your customers have nothing better to do than to make this up?

And if you’ve been unaware of it, get more involved. Audit your company’s phone manners now and then. You may be surprised how things can get out of hand, even in a small firm.

Losing one customer is no big deal—that may be what folks who are manning your phones think, and maybe they even believe they’re protecting the business in some way—but believe me, that customer’s going to mention you to a lot of folks in her circle.

Act 2: Thank goodness Larry put this in writing

So, yeah. That small rant, combining two recent experiences, was going to be… a lot more rant-y.

And then I got a small missive from Larry Brooks (he’s a friend of a friend, but this wasn’t a personal missive, just the email-feed from his blog, the great Storyfix). Talking about getting your bad self published.

Well, since I just happen to have done that last week in exactly the same way as Larry Brooks is today (thanks to all of you who’ve bought a copy of our new e-book on website usability, I really appreciate your reading the guide and helping to spread the word!), I couldn’t resist clicking through and reading Larry’s pitch about his new e-book.

If you’d like to read his pitch, click here to find out more about Get Your Bad Self Published. I can write a fair pitch myself, but Larry always draws me in.

Disclaimer that doesn’t disclaim anything: As is often the case here at MCE with my reviews, Larry has no idea I’m inviting you to read about his new book on getting published, and as is always the case, he’s not compensating me in any way for saying Wow here.

It’s unusual—almost unheard of, in fact—that I talk about a book that’s outside of our small-business subject matter, but I know many readers here at MCE are writers for their businesses, and I have a notion that some folks may have a novel hiding in a drawer as well. (In addition to all my other writing? Yes. I do.) So please enjoy my off-topic review.

In my completely biased opinion Larry Brooks could sell anything to anyone and should never be allowed to stop pitching for businesses, just to focus on his awards-and-kudos-winning creative writing. Such a loss! So, because I was completely drawn in by his persuasive writing about his latest e-book, I decided to grab a copy of Get Your Bad Self Published.

And then I read it all, e-cover to e-cover, before I remembered that I hadn’t yet finished this post.

There’s a lot to recommend in Larry’s new, 101-page e-book, even if a novel’s not what you’re working on. His advice on queries, agents, and publishing applies to non-fiction folks as well… heck, even his advice on the quality of your work and how to compare yourself to the “big names” publishing in your niche is… to borrow a phrase from earlier in this post… critical for any writer considering traditional publishing.

His voice is calming; his pace is instructional but never slow. Just as at his blog, his advice is unapologetically stern—the unvarnished truth you don’t want to hear—with real advice to get your real talent noticed, if you’ve got it! For better and for worse, Larry can keep you from banging your head against the wall unless you really should be doing so—and if you should be, he can soften the blows.

So now that you’re half-through reading Why Your Website Sucks and How To Fix It,  :)  making big bad strides for your business, and you’re looking for the next voice of reason, go on and grab Larry Brooks’ Get Your Bad Self Published for your bad self. It’s definitely a Wow.

& who knows? He might even talk you down from writing a full-on rant.

Happy reading!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Of Ideas and Putting Them to Use, and of Hobbies That GROW

If you’ve always wished you could buy me a coffee and pick my brain, please stay tuned: toward the end of this post, you can come pretty close to doing both. In the meantime, allow me to get sentimental for a few minutes. Dear reader, this is the 500th post at MCE, and milestones like this give me a chance to thank you.

 

“Watch out when a Capricorn lets loose on a new hobby,” I said to a friend last week.

Whether you believe in the pull of far-off orbs at the moment of your birth or not, for this January baby that’s always been true.

In July, 2007, the idea for the Maximum Customer Experience Blog was born, with the simple idea that great Customer Experience helps small businesses grow, and that I would always have far more Customer Experience ideas, tips, rants, and raves, than I have clients to share them with.

I hoped to offer help in bits and bytes (sorry, the pun was irresistible) to a much broader audience than I can ever reach here in the greater Philadelphia region. In that I’ve been successful, and I thank you, reading right now, and the many thousands of other entrepreneurs and small-business folks from all around the globe who drop in here, for helping me to make MCE a hobby I’m proud to be obsessed with.

 

The idea was born, but as all of us business owners know, a good idea is not enough. Execution is everything. Could I keep this infant blog growing?

Well, it turns out every post here is yet another birth, at least for me. I’ve never gotten the “serious” bloggers’ knack of writing ahead or planning a week in advance. Maybe that’s because I’m serious about Maximum Customer Experience, but I never want the blog to become too “serious” for us to enjoy—so I’m happy to wait for a little idea to give me a kick and say “it’s time.” Then the post is born, and it makes its debut with you.

In that I’ve been lucky again. Your input and your interest makes writing these articles week after week easier, and more interesting, in so many ways. Not only have these posts touched a chord with you, encouraging you to comment, to pass on the link, or even email me sometimes, but many readers have become trusted colleagues, clients, and even dear friends. So thanks once again—for reading, and for working with me, of course, but more than that, for connecting with me.

 

Now, this Capricorn has been let loose on many hobbies that have become minor obsessions over the years. Back in April, a former client and much-admired colleague asked, fairly casually, whether I could fit more writing into my schedule, and I gained a new hobby/obsession for a while. It’s been six months, and The Big Day is here for that TOP Secret project as well (and no, it wasn’t planned to go with post #500, it’s just worked out this way).

Ever wished you could buy me a coffee and pick my brain for a while, and get really in-depth on just one topic? This might be what you’ve been looking for:

Why Your Website Sucks—

and How To Fix It!

The latest in the TOP (Travel Online Partners) Mastery Guide series launches today, with your intrepid Experience Designer, Kelly Erickson, as co-author. My friend Andy Hayes and I have given birth to one of the most usable Guides you’ll find anywhere to website “usability”—making your site user-friendly, making it as easy as possible for folks to decide to buy from you, and closing the deal.

Now I want you to know, dear reader, that this 126-page Guide and action-oriented 28-page workbook (instantly downloadable e-books)were written specifically for the travel industry. Andy’s written books, magazine articles, and runs a nice-sized media empire dealing with the travel industry from a B2B and consumer perspective, so naturally we wanted to keep this Guide focused on real-world examples (and goofy asides) that folks in travel and tourism could appreciate. At VisionPoints and here at MCE, travel, and hospitality in general, are fields I have extra expertise in (and a soft spot for), so working with Andy was an easy Yes.

Though the examples come from one field, you’ll find the principles are universal, and the ideas we’ve put together for you are so easy to follow that… well, to put it slightly crudely, it’s pretty kick-ass. (If Andy can name it “Why Your Website Sucks and How To Fix It,” then I guess I can be a little bit rough in expressing how thrilled I am with the end result.)

Early word is that reviewers are flying straight to the workbook to start taking action right away—then loving the book as its companion. I should have predicted it—you may not know how your work will be put to use—that’s straight from Chapter 5!

And since we were talking about buying me a coffee and picking my brain, I might as well tell you that you’ll be picking my brain, Andy Hayes’, and in a fun little bonus, you can listen in at the coffeeshop, too, as Andy and I discuss the truth about usability with the ever-delightful Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz, in a 45-minute recorded call that we’ve packaged with the Guide. That’s a ton of experience all in one place.

 

It’s been an intense birthing process—just as 500 posts at MCE have been—so I guess it’s right that all this hip-hooraying should fit into one big post today. I’m ridiculously proud of the results. (And exhausted. And sweaty. But that’s another story.) When we put the last touches on the Guide I told Andy it’s better than anything I’ve seen in the stores and far more targeted toward what small businesses really want—to put ideas into action—and I love it so much I wish I could buy it.

(“At $37.99 for all we’re giving in this Guide, it’s a steal,” he said. “Treat yourself.” Hm.)

So if you’ve ever wanted to pick my brain, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Why Your Website Sucks—and How To Fix It. For six months, I’ve picked my own brain (and Andy’s, and for a fun hour, Naomi’s), to bring only the best pickings to the readers of this TOP Mastery Guide.

 

Well, dear reader, that’s a wrap. 500+ births and a special announcement, straight from my heart and my experience—to help you grow your business with awesome, rockin’, Maximum Customer Experience. I hope you’ll continue to find it encouraging, enlightening, and as much fun as we can squeeze into a business blog. You’ve been all that for me, personally and professionally.

And once again,

because birthdays make me all mushy,

my sincere thanks.

Keep reading, keep commenting, and keep spreading the word about the little blog with the simple idea—that great Customer Experience helps small businesses thrive. Together we’ll keep making your business Maximum.

 

As always, grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

I won’t take long here at MCE today, because I really want you to click through to this post from Jason Whitaker:

Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men

Whether you are one or you’ve hired one, you’ll get a kick out of the story. Jason did a great job in hunting down the original article (you’ll see when you get there) and he’s right—it’s as applicable and as interesting today, as it must have been when it first appeared in The American Magazine.

Remember Jason’s article when looking for your next hire. He’s on to something brilliant.  :)

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

A book that gets under your skin…

The zeitgeist:

A fancy term for “collective unconscious.”

But wait! That’s a fancy term for “stuff we all know, without being able to define it or even knowing exactly why we know it.”

Hm. No wonder Chris Houchens stuck with “zeitgeist” when he wrote his new book, Brand Zeitgeist. Even the term is something we know, without being able to define it or knowing why we know it.

 

Brand Zeitgeist by Chris Houchens

 

Chris is the author of the Shotgun Marketing Blog, mentioned here at Maximum Customer Experience several times as one of my favorite places to get simple wisdom and occasional A-ha! insights on marketing. When I heard he was writing a book talking about how your business can ride the waves of the zeitgeist to develop deeper relationships with customers, I was pretty psyched. I jumped at the chance to read a pre-publication version of the book and write a little something in praise of the book… if I thought it deserved the praise.

I won’t keep you in suspense. Chris had described it as a book for marketers who are at the beginnings of creating their strategy—and for learning the basics with an easy, straightforward guide, this book can’t be beat. It deserves the praise.

True, if you’ve spent 20 years devouring every book ever written on marketing, branding, and the like, this may not cover a lot of new ground, but even for a marketing geek like me Brand Zeitgeist was a fresh way to look at the larger issues of creating a brand that gets under the buyer’s skin. If you’re more of a marketing-geek-in-training (and especially if you never want to be a marketing geek), I think you’ll really enjoy Chris’s friendly style. Here’s the (typical Kelly-humor) review I sent to Chris a couple of months back:

Peppered with practicality! Rife with real-world examples!

It’s not easy to find a marketing book where all the hype is in other authors’ endorsements. The refreshingly no-nonsense volume you hold in your hands is one. Brand Zeitgeist answers the critical question you should be asking to grow your business: What does it take to get under your customer’s skin?

Chris Houchens delivers with this thoughtful work, in the same easygoing style that’s made his Shotgun Marketing Blog a must-read for me. If you’re trying to figure out how to connect with customers when traditional marketing has lost much of its value, and why “connecting” is a whole lot more than today’s buzz word, this is the book for you.

Zeitgeist is a real zinger!

I was pleased as punch that Chris included a snippet from this blurb on the back cover of the book—because I’m happy to help convince a reader who’s on the fence that they’ll get plenty of value from Brand Zeitgeist.

 

Brand Zeitgeist, back cover (detail)

 

From first impressions, to crafting your message, to—you guessed it—Customer Experience, Brand Zeitgeist is a slim volume that will get under your skin and keep you thinking about relating deeply to your customer for a long time to come. I hope you’ll click over to amazon and give Brand Zeitgeist a try.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

P.S. Links to amazon are affiliate links. Buy a copy of Chris Houchens’ new book, Brand Zeitgeist, through these links, and I might buy a cup of tea with the proceeds one day.

P.P.S. This is not a paid review. I expect Chris is as surprised as you are to read it this morning.  ;)  Wishing you continued success, Chris!

Can’t-miss gifts for the 2009 Holiday Season and beyond—as always, with an MCE twist!

Full disclosure up front: All amazon links are affiliate links (except one to amazon.ca), which means if you click here, and buy there, the book costs you not a penny more but you may end up buying me a coffee. Thank you! All of the books are on my shelf right now, which means I believe in them enough to have purchased them. None of the other links are affiliate links, which means I get not a penny from them.

Everything here has been hand picked by me. If I linked to them you’d better believe they rock. Tell ‘em I sent you.

FOR YOU

C’mon, I know you’re going to shop for everybody else in the next month, but during your down time I’ll bet you’re wondering how to gear up so 2010 is your best year ever—and so you can pay for all that shopping for everyone else.

First, the books that’ll help you Dream Big and think bigger, fine-tune your message, and rock out your Customer Experience. (If you insist, you can give these away to your own customers, too.)

Thought-provokers:

Trade-Off, by Kevin Maney. We’ve talked about it here and Maney really digs into it—there’s only so many dollars in the business or consumer budget—why do they go some places and not others? My newest personal purchase, it left my jaw on the floor and had me making a million notes about what I can do with these ideas.

Why She Buys, by Bridget Brennan. I couldn’t decide if this is an actionable butt-kicker or a thought-piece. Two things it isn’t—it isn’t just for folks who want to market to women, because most of the insights will make a product or service more saleable to anyone, and it isn’t just for men to read to figure out what women want. Ladies, if you think you know it all because you live it all day long, you will be the most surprised by this one. Use it wisely, because if you see it as a butt-kicker and a thought-piece as I do, it could be a game-changer, too.

The Soccer Mom Myth, by Michele Miller and Holly Buchanan. These two incredibly talented authors give it away all the time at their blogs, and when they decided to join forces to write The Soccer Mom Myth, boy, is the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Another brilliant read that left me speechless.

No Size Fits All: From Mass Marketing to Mass Handselling, by Tom Hayes and Michael S. Malone. It’ll be years before I finish digesting all the great ideas in this book. ‘Nuff said.

Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters, by Bill Tancer. Search terms and Internet activity are a window onto your potential customer’s soul. When Bill Tancer digs into that soul the results will surprise you and give you plenty of ideas for focusing your online and offline efforts.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, by Seth Godin. By far his best work to date. Absolutely awesome.

Actionable butt-kickers:

Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. What can I say that’s fresh about a book I’ve often called life-altering? How about get off your duff and live every word of it starting today? I guess I could try that.

Duct Tape Marketing, by John Jantsch. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t fallen under the spell of Duct Tape Marketing, go ahead and get yourself a copy. This is Sticky-Ideas-101 for even the smallest of small biz.

Pow! Right Between the Eyes: Profiting From the Power of Surprise, by Andy Nulman. The guy read my mind when he wrote this book. I’m sure of it. Here, we call it delivering delight; Andy calls it Pow!—and okay, I’ll admit he’s got ideas that go way beyond mere delight. Some of the examples he gives have gotten companies fans that truly deserve to be called fanatics. I’ve plugged this book before; I’ve given it away to almost anyone who’ll stand still long enough; and I still want to know why you haven’t read it and started putting Andy’s ideas to work. Get the point?

Get Clients Now! A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches, by C.J. Hayden. Practical, powerful, and in spite of the quick-fix title, endlessly useful. You’ll get as much out of it as you put into it—and then some.

Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug. Because no matter how much you’ve simplified, over and over again as I audit and test clients’ sites with real users, I discover you—yes, you—haven’t simplified enough. If you’re already a proud Steve Krug follower, check out Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed, by Jakob Nielsen and get your advanced degree in usability. It’s a few years old but so soundly researched and written that almost every usability rule in it is still just as viable today.

How to Become a Rainmaker, by Jeffrey J. Fox. Simple wisdom and steps you can take today or any day to make it rain customers for your business. I love this little book.

Non-business cool stuff you have to have:

I won’t lie to you. Kim Jennings is my cousin and I loved her way before her new CD came out. But the release date for My Own True North is December 1 [UPDATE 1 Dec: link now takes you right to her label's store—I got my copy!], so you can fall in love, too—with her lilting voice and her timeless lyrics. While you’re waiting for the release, catch a glimpse of her appearing on the NECN Coffeehouse in October. And if you’re in the New England area and you’re dying to be a VIP at a CD release party, Kim would love to see you on December 4.

Other CDs I’ve gifted several copies of in the last year: the brooding, intelligent Fangless Wolf Facing Winter, by Kevin Parent (tip: the link sends you to amazon.ca—not an affiliate link for me but you’ll save a bundle), and the sparkling, intense-yet-peppy, self-titled Zee Avi. My books and music superstore must think we’ve got a huge Québécois and Malay population here, because as soon as the titles come in, I think of someone else with a birthday coming up and give one or the other away. My daughter’s brilliant guitar teacher is getting a copy of Fangless Wolf for Christmas (shh, don’t tell).

The Film Club, by David Gilmour. No, not that David Gilmour. If you have a teen, were a teen, remember when your kids were teens, or think that little guy who hangs on your every word now may someday be a teen, I urge you to buy this book. About once a year I read something so beautiful that I literally forget that I should sleep, and pull an all-nighter begging for the magic never to end. This totally true story of a father’s immense gift of time to his son, and what he and his son did with that gift, was just such a book.

UNUSUAL CLIENT GIFTS

Tired of giving the same old bookstore, Starbucks, and iTunes gift cards to thank your customers for being marvelous to work with and your best sources of referrals throughout the year? I’ve got a few great client gift ideas that should earn you more “Wow!” than “gee, thanks” this year. All of these businesses are as small as yours, so you can feel great about supporting other small businesses while you’re finding an unusual way to remember your own loyal fans:

Todd Smith Photography’s 2010 calendar is out, and like everything Todd’s camera touches, it’s evocative, observant, and filled with a sense of longing. How can photos of nature capture so much human emotion? Plus when you buy 3, you get a fourth free so you can keep one for beside your own desk. Your clients will thank you for this beautiful gift.

Lindisfarne Mead (U.K. site), available in the U.S. through Partners in Spirit. If your clients enjoy that holiday bottle of wine you bring by every year, but never seem too surprised, then this ancient delight is the perfect gift. Probably the oldest alcoholic drink in the world, mead was around even before agriculture. (The story of the drink, the company, and the beautiful Lindisfarne Island is at their U.K. site.) The flavor of Lindisfarne’s mead is out-of-this world—warm, friendly, and perfect for the holiday season.

Update: I’d been waiting on an email to be sure. Doug from Partners in Spirit just let me know that at present they can not ship Lindisfarne Mead to Canada. They’re interested, but they haven’t been able to make it happen yet. Sorry about that, my northern friends. I’ll just have to bring you a bottle the next time I’m travelling your direction, eh?

Coffee Break languages from Radio Lingua. Does your client have a trip coming up in 2010 that has them nervous, because they can barely remember their high-school Spanish-French-German-Italian? Give them the gift of language learning for the iPod, iPhone, mp3 player, or computer, with a taste of dozens of other languages including Gaelic, Mandarin, and Russian. Quick and easy lessons designed to fit into your coffee break. There’s a ton of free materials, but to really rock it out the premium materials—all incredible values—are a must. I love ‘em. It’s how I got my French in shape, and The Kid has bolstered her Spanish with the help of Radio Lingua, too. Plus Mark and the team are just fabulous to deal with.

FOR THE KIDS

Yours, or your clients’. Don’t underestimate the power of a gift that’s not for the client, but for those the client loves best in all the world.

Whale Rider (DVD). I know, it’s been around a while. But this little film never got the audience that the very best girl-power movie ever should have—I’ll bet you know a few people who haven’t seen it. If there’s a girl in your life who’s between 9 and 92, trust me, this movie is going to get them all fired up and ready to rule the universe.

Fresh chestnuts. I had planned to recommend a well-respected local grower, Delmarvelous Chestnuts, but wouldn’t you know it, fresh, sweet American chestnuts are such a hot commodity that they are already sold out for the season. If you and your kids have never had chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I suggest you buy a big bag from a small farm like Allen Creek of Ridgefield, WA (you may want to buy a roaster, too) and make it an evening of holiday fun. And for next year—get on Delmarvelous’ mailing list (and don’t forget to buy early like I did!).

The Kid, who’s 10, puts her stamp of coolness on The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen, The Name of This Book Is Secret and its sequels, by Pseudonymous Bosch, Twelfth Night—yes, she saw this Shakespeare play performed this summer and then read and utterly loved it in print (your mileage may vary), and The Encyclopedia of Immaturity.

She also suggests that Pokémon videos, gift certificates to Chuck E. Cheese’s or your own local torture chamber for grownups/ gaming-entertainment place for kids, and tickets to your local science museum will never go out of style for your clients’ children.

(Never let it be said that we don’t have a well-rounded lifestyle.)

MY BEST WISHES

For a joyous season and a happy and prosperous 2010. I hope everyone on your list lights up when they see you went to a little extra trouble to tell them how much they mean to you this year.

And because I may forget to say it later in the week, to my friends and readers here in the States:

I wish you the best of parking spots this Friday.   ;)

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Thoughts on getting the numbers to work

Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.
—Herman J. Mankiewicz

Dear readers and friends, crowd around. Having you join our luncheon once again is worth millions to me. Turns out Mankiewicz was inviting a colleague to write for Hollywood in the 1920s, but he could as easily have been sending you a spam email last week, suggesting you jump into business for yourself—after all, making millions is so easy right now! I’ve invited new friends and old to look into the ease and the ethics of getting the word out and growing your business today, and folks, it’s eye-popping, but it’s not all pretty. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know them—leave them a comment, and come on back to share your thoughts around the Maximum Customer Experience Round Table!

To lead off, in the short and sweet There’s a Ferrari in Here Somewhere, Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer reminds us that word-of-mouth (WOM) referrals are still more powerful than any other method of getting the word out about your firm—the ugly truth is that nothing else works as well, even though almost everything else is easier to control. Great chart to drive the point home, too.

“Unfortunately, for the typical individual salesperson or small company, the numbers simply don’t work.” Yeah, and I just said word-of-mouth is so powerful. What to do? Don’t get me wrong, I advocate doing everything in your power to increase WOM, but Paul McCord nails it when he Talks about the reality of WOM marketing, especially for small businesses. The False Promise of Word of Mouth Marketing at AllBusiness’ Sales Coach blog. A sharp reminder that a WOM strategy should only be a part of your marketing mix.

What about advertising? Bob Hoffman, The Ad Contrarian, tries to figure out the role of the industry in Nothing To Sell but Uncertainty Note: The comment section here is as thought-provoking as the post itself.

This week’s stealth stunner in the ugly truth department is Ronnie Lebow’s We Have Become Cheap Whores. I felt a bit ill as I read it—there’s more truth in this killer post than in everything else I’ve read this month. And more ugly, too. Try to think about it from the provider side and from the customer side. Your head will hurt.

And if cheap isn’t low enough, consider The Audacity of Free! Chris Brogan says, “Sometimes free is a promotional matter, a loss leader, the chance to build some buzz, but sometimes, we get confused on how that works, too…. free is a choice, and it’s not your buyers who decide this, no matter what we like to think in social media kumbaya-ville.”

Lets finish up with a bit of ugly fun. Advertising sometimes gets a bad rap—yet it puts bread, one way or another, on everyone’s tables, and good advertising allows us to enjoy that bread a lot more, too. The very funny Rory Sutherland ties intangible (perceived) value together with everything from prostitution (oh, the search terms I’m going to get now) to Pernod in Life Lessons From an Ad Man. From TEDGlobal:

2.0 or Same As It Ever Was?

Craving dessert? Click here to see all the posts in the Round Table series, along with other great recommended reading from MCE!

Community and Experience

We all come from our own little planets. That’s why we’re all different. That’s what makes life interesting.
—Robert E. Sherwood

Dear readers and friends, crowd around. Having you join our luncheon once again is what makes this a round table discussion. I admit, even after The Death of Everything But ME Online, and the rollicking conversation we had here Tuesday—I’m still thinking about community and the planets we all come from.

As we do spend more and more time online, is it pie-in-the-sky to think we can, or we should, engage each other meaningfully in the 2.0 world? Can a few dashed-off words be substitutes for deeper discussions that took a bit of time out of our virtual days, in the not-too-distant past, and created a richer online experience?

If I engage you (or hope to), human-to-human, have you become too cynical to believe I’m sincere? Is the shortchanging of conversation encouraging that cynicism?

In talking to a “2.0 friend” last night on the phone, we were wondering how much has changed—we are able to spread ideas and beauty so far in our www, and how we’ll interact is definitely evolving right now—but for me, the ideas and the discussions are the same as ever. Funny, I think he was a little surprised that I’m real. But I’m sure he wouldn’t have liked it if I were surprised that he’s real. Only my ability to reach out to you, right where you are, has changed. In the 1.0 world I was still a designer, an artist, a businesswoman, (an obvious post-hippie throwback), and a writer. Once I was quite fond of hosting dinner parties to meet great new people and stir up the fantastic exchanges I aim for here at MCE with your help.

Now, we belly up for virtual martinis at the Round Table, but man, the guest list is always stunning. Thanks for being here.

My point is (oh, yes, I have a point), there aren’t two worlds. You, my dear reader, have chosen to spend part of your time here, online. 2.0 is same as it ever was. With a screen. “Community” isn’t a dirty marketing invention to rope you in—though some companies can abuse the idea, for sure, and some companies (like yours!) are as sincere as I am. When I see the explosion of distractions and the implosion of attention spans online, I worry that we’re losing something critical, and making a foothold for cynical isolation. Being an active part of the online world, and not a passive receiver, is still a worthwhile pursuit—on a personal level, professionally, and yes, for creating a great Experience for your customers.

I’ve invited new friends and old to share their fresh perspectives today. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know them—leave them a comment, and come on back to share your thoughts around the Maximum Customer Experience Round Table!

Post-hippie optimism alert: “Researchers put a cute-looking cardboard robot on the streets of New York. It could only go forward but it had a note asking people to help it to its destination. It got there quickly with the help of 43 people. They asked for nothing in return.” Want proof that there aren’t two worlds? Head on over to Tim Berry’s (oft-linked) Planning, Startups, Stories to read and watch The Web as Random Acts of Kindness.

Chris Brogan, too, had a chance to talk with a friend he knows through his blog this week. In Feeling the Community, Chris explores the nature of the communities we’re most comfortable with online. Be sure to check out the comments, which carry the discussion even further.

In Do Blog Readers Buy? James Chartrand of Men With Pens took a look at community from a different perspective. My takeaway: focus as you try to build a community. It is okay to want to gain something from your efforts, at the same time as you want to give something away.

Need some examples of companies that have successfully created online communities to inspire you and give you ideas? Try (the inauspiciously titled) Five Companies That Fix Their Story To Inspire Service, by Valeria Maltoni (of Conversation Agent) at Fast Company, and Validating Customers on Twitter, by Steve Finikiotis at TouchPoints. How can you create Maximum Customer Experience online? “Unlike a lot of companies whose message is ‘Gee, look how cool we are,’  Zappos’ message is ‘Wow! Look how cool our customers are.’” Yep. That ought to do it.

Last—ripped from Steve’s comment section, this video which I promise has nothing whatsoever to do with MCE, and everything to do with thanking you. You’re awesome, but don’t take my word for it. The award-winning short film Validation from Kurt Kuenne, at YouTube.

Thanks, as always, for the pleasure of your company and your commentary. Let’s do lunch again soon.

Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Learn something fantastic as you clicked around? Think I missed the best one of the week? Have your say in the comments—you know you want to!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

If you’re going to write, don’t pretend to write down. It’s going to be the best you can do, and it’s the fact that it’s the best you can do that kills you.
—Dorothy Parker

 

Last time, Mrs. Erickson and the Vision Circle (that’s you) entertained:

Top-Secret Ways To Deliver Delight!

Craving dessert? Click here to see all the posts in the Round Table series, along with other great recommended reading from MCE!

So Secret, We Should Have a Handshake

The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one. I have based it very deliberately on a well-known psychological principle and have refined it so that it is now almost too refined. I shall have to begin coarsening it up again pretty soon.

The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.
—Robert Benchley

Dear readers and friends, crowd around. Having you join our luncheon once again means let’s not keep it a secret anymore—the Round Table’s a great way to do some work that’s not the work we’re supposed to be doing at the moment! I’ve invited new friends and old to share their fresh perspectives today. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know them—leave them a comment, and come on back to share your thoughts around the Maximum Customer Experience Round Table!

Let’s start off with the wonky post, before you get too deeply into your first martini: What’s the secret to making all our boring numbers, well, less boring? Dan and Chip Heath lay it out for you in The Gripping Statistic: How To Make Your Data Matter at Fast Company. Now is it fair for me to call it wonky when they promise gripping? Nah. It’s a great read.

As you chew thoughtfully on your olive I’m going to spin you in another direction. Nothing that the acerbic-tongued Heather B. Armstrong (better known as Dooce) writes stays a secret for long, folks (oh! she would have fit right in at the Algonquin!), but this post does have an ending from a company that delivered total delight in an utterly unexpected way. I’ll never link to another post as long as Containing a Capital Letter or Two, but I guarantee you will be laughing so hard you will never notice that this diatribe-slash-Customer-Experience lesson scrolls on for at least a couple of miles.

“I’m sorry, today the brands people love don’t create satisfied customers. They create enthusiastic proselytizers.” George Tannenbaum, as always, is in on the best secrets, and his quickie tale of Mercedes-Benz’s strategy for delivering delight belongs on a post-it at your desk. Like, go make one. Now. Check out Any Color as Long as It’s Beige at Ad Aged.

Dyson, the little vacuum-company that could (topple established Big Boys), knows a thing or two about creating enthusiastic proselytizers. (Aside: What’s the typing equivalent of tongue-tied? In my eagerness to spell “proselytizers” correctly without resorting to cut-and-paste I typed “enthusiastic” wrong three times… thanks George.) Delivering delight does not end when you deliver the product! Read Spic and Spam at Andy Nulman’s Pow! Right Between the Eyes.

Why are we so eager to find the complex solution? Zippy read of the day: Set Your Business Apart by Cody Heitschmidt at Small Biz Survival sent me in search of simpler approaches to everything I worked on over the past week. This secret’s hidden in plain sight.

On the other hand, if you need to drum up business in a way that no one’s ever tried before, get inspired by Steve Sammartino’s personal tale, Inventing Demand, at Start Up Blog. I particularly love this line: “As entrepreneurs, we need not be afraid of how we can build demand and momentum with our start up. We must do this because action creates reaction and often people simply liking our idea isn’t enough.”

You may have seen the incredible viral video, Your Business Card Is Crap, on YouTube. Today you’re going to see it in context. And what a context! I got curious about that video and discovered the short documentary it originally came from. Let me tell you, if you do nothing else today, click on over to Chris Zubryd’s blog Galahad Productions and watch The Pitch, Poker, & the Public. You could take notes on almost every minute of this show, based on intimate interviews with Mike Caro, poker guru, Howard Bloom, who discusses public relations for Joan Jett and others, Joel Bauer, pitchman extraordinaire, and others. You will learn secrets I almost don’t want you to know. You will think better and worse of the business of promoting your business. It’s both grindingly cynical and beautifully ethical, full of real takeaways, and scattered with disarming clichés like this gem: “Conduit of joy—the fact is it’s what we are. We either connect—or we don’t exist.” Riveting.

Thanks, as always, for the pleasure of your company and your commentary. Let’s do lunch again soon.

Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Learn something fantastic as you clicked around? Think I missed the best one of the week? Have your say in the comments—you know you want to!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

If you’re going to write, don’t pretend to write down. It’s going to be the best you can do, and it’s the fact that it’s the best you can do that kills you.
—Dorothy Parker

 

Last time, Mrs. Erickson and the Vision Circle (that’s you) entertained:

Are You Talkin’ to Me?

Craving dessert? Click here to see all the posts in the Round Table series, along with other great recommended reading from MCE!

Why the Hell Not??

There are plenty of good five-cent cigars in the country. The trouble is they cost a quarter. What this country needs is a good five-cent nickel.
—Franklin P. Adams

Dear readers and friends, crowd around. Now that you’ve joined our luncheon once again, I know the talkin’ is about to get really good. If you’re talking to the right audience, you can sell that 5¢ cigar for a quarter with their thanks. Mind you, I’m not advocating stiffing people on cheap cigars. But this week I’ve been in conversations with clients and fellow blog authors about how essential it is to know who you’re talking to before you can decide what their Maximum Customer Experience looks like. I’ve invited new friends and old to share their fresh perspectives on knowing and talkin’ to your audience today. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know them—leave them a comment, and come on back to share your thoughts around the Maximum Customer Experience Round Table!

Could This Be the Reason Why Your Customers Aren’t Finding Your Blog? Or your business? Michael Martine says: if you’re talkin’ to me, you’ve got to talk about my problems. We mention this a lot here at MCE. Michael’s quick video post at Remarkablogger lays it out in simple terms. Can’t-miss advice.

You’re ready to talk to them, but who are they? Maybe that’s not as easy as it seems to answer. Paul Williams breaks down one of his own early audiences in an easy-to-follow format. Give it a try with your own business after reading Marketing Lessons From School Lunch at Idea Sandbox.

Okay, you’ve found them. Now how do you get to them, with the basic meaning of marketing seeming to change moment by moment? “A new study published in McKinsey Quarterly… reports that 2/3rd of touch points in a buyer’s active evaluations process are now consumer-driven marketing touch points: user generated reviews, word of mouth, and in store interactions. Only 1/3rd of the touch points are still company-driven. DID YOU HEAR THAT? You still control 1/3rd of the touch points!” François Gossieaux says the old “funnel” metaphor is broken, and points us toward solutions in Where Are My Leads? at Emergence Marketing.

The news that “only” a third of marketing touch points are still company-driven may strike fear in the hearts of small business owners, in spite of the positive spin François put on it. The advantage entrepreneurs and small biz folks will always have is our ability to put our ears to the ground and hear what the Big Boys can’t, especially in our local markets. Earl Sigmund makes this point perfectly in Serve the Underserved Market at Small Biz Survival. A fast read that will stick with you.

Well, this one’s no fast read, but between the post and the lively comments, it’s well worth a few minutes: PR Gone Bad: How to Anger Bloggers and Hose Your Client. We love a good rant here at the Round Table and this could have been one, but for Jonathan Fields’ grace in handling a “dinosaur” (thanks MM) who just doesn’t know how to talk to his audience at all. This post at Awake @ the Wheel struck very close to home for me. Reading the comments assured me that we don’t all know what to do with this brave new world but we’re feeling it out thoughtfully. We’ll get there.

Last, dear reader, you may know I have a thing for thank-you knowts. Looks like David Sherwin does, too, at least since he received what may be the very best thank you note ever from artist Curtis Steiner. Let David show and tell you all about it in Remembering To Say Thank You at ChangeOrder. WOW. Now that’s talking personally—straight to an audience of one. Follow his lead just a little, and you’ll be doing more than 99% of small business owners do. Go for it.

Just for fun… were you wondering where the quotation in today’s title comes from?

Of course not, Kelly.

You aren’t wondering, because you know that Robert DeNiro says it to his reflection in the mirror in Taxi Driver, right?

Joe Mantell, in Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room. The Twilight Zone, 1960.
You impatient types can skip right to 2:45. Learn something old every day.   ;)

Thanks, as always, for the pleasure of your company and your commentary. Let’s do lunch again soon.

Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Learn something fantastic as you clicked around? Think I missed the best one of the week? Have your say in the comments—you know you want to!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

If you’re going to write, don’t pretend to write down. It’s going to be the best you can do, and it’s the fact that it’s the best you can do that kills you.
—Dorothy Parker

 

Last time, Mrs. Erickson and the Vision Circle (that’s you) entertained:

From Haute to Hot to… Hammy?

Craving dessert? Click here to see all the posts in the Round Table series, along with other great recommended reading from MCE!

If it’s Labor Day Weekend where you are, save me the last slice of apple pie. I’ll be right over. Enjoy your holiday!

Mangia! Food for Your Small Business Soul

A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika.
—Dorothy Parker

Dear readers and friends, crowd around. Having you join our luncheon once again is like getting dessert before my martini. It might seem like overkill to Mrs. Parker, but today we’ll have dinner, too—come hungry! I’ve invited new friends and old to share their fresh perspectives today. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know them—leave them a comment, and come on back to share your thoughts around the Maximum Customer Experience Round Table!

Starter course: What do the Big Boys do when they need to re-examine… well, everything? If you’re Starbucks, experiencing the biggest dip of their long history, maybe you quietly start again. “It’s a way for Starbucks to RE-learn some of the personal touches it has lost due to making so many compromises in order to grow to over 16,000 locations in 40-plus countries around the world.” John Moore tells us more in Starbucks’ Petri Dish at Brand Autopsy.

Paul Williams’ Friendly Falafel is hot story of a simple delight—and it really does show what kind of loyalty a thoughtful Customer Experience can evoke. If your idea of “personal” service isn’t this personal, take a tip from Idea Sandbox and warm up.

I hope you saved room… At Pow! Right Between the Eyes, Andy Nulman serves up Food for Thought, a tale of truly Maximum Customer Experience. “It didn’t merely shatter expectations for a restaurant, it was one of my great life experiences, period.” You may never get to Alinea to have this experience yourself, but all through this post are the ideas we talk about here every day—written so you can start now to (as Andy puts it) make the world itself a better place for your own customers.

After such a feast, you’re ready for something simple, something comforting, something you remember fondly from your mother’s kitchen: let’s see What We Can Learn From Spam! Well, Drew McLellan isn’t actually going to go to that hammy place in this post about making your marketing messages memorable, but I did have a salty memory or two before I… got into the meat of the post.  ;)  At Drew’s Marketing Minute, an unusual angle that might keep your emails and ads from getting canned!

A little of this coffee after our luncheon will wake you right up: “The surest way to fail is by conforming. If only 5% of people succeed, then ‘conformity,’ by definition, must be a synonym for failure.” Whether or not you agree with every word of Creative Espresso by Steve Sammartino at Start Up Blog, it’s an eye-popping visual that you won’t be able to stop thinking about.

Thanks, as always, for the pleasure of your company and your commentary. Let’s do lunch again soon.

Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Learn something fantastic as you clicked around? Think I missed the best one of the week? Have your say in the comments—you know you want to!

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

If you’re going to write, don’t pretend to write down. It’s going to be the best you can do, and it’s the fact that it’s the best you can do that kills you.
—Dorothy Parker

 

Last time, Mrs. Erickson and the Vision Circle (that’s you) entertained:

Today Only! There IS Such a Thing as a FREE Lunch

Craving dessert? Click here to see all the posts in the Round Table series, along with other great recommended reading from MCE!