Tip of the Week

In These Trying Times…

(Is anyone besides me sick of that kind of phrasing?)

*ahem* Back to our Tip of the Week.

I’m making out holiday cards right now. Lovely things, all blue and silver and wintry. Not over-the-top expensive, but not cheap either. They came with lined envelopes, which, after getting the cards ready, I began to stuff.

The cards got caught on the lining, pulled it out partway in some cases, caused all sorts of difficulty.

Turns out that in an apparent cost-cutting measure, these envelopes are only partly lined. Just on the flap where you can see it, and a little ways down. That’s why I’m having trouble.

These are no less expensive than last year’s from the same company, with fully lined envelopes, so I’m paying the same for cheaper stuff.

Nowhere on the box does it say, “partly lined envelopes.” “Lined,” it says. I think I’ll call that lying.

They’re a big pain in the tush. If you don’t want me to notice your cost-cutting measures, or at least don’t want me to complain about it, it better function like it used to.

What’s the solution?

Unlined envelopes.

Pass along a little of the savings to me, save a little for the company. Make a splash about it on the back of the box—”saving you a little money to make your holidays bright!” You could even spin it pleasantly and call it a green initiative. Then I wouldn’t think about your profit motivations, which are really none of my business. If you’re in business, you have profit motivations. So do I. Fine.

In these trying times, all the old rules apply.

Don’t cheap out on your customers and ask them to foot the same bill, or your times are going to get a lot more trying next holiday season.

Partly lined envelopes may save money, but unlined envelopes save customers.

I won’t buy from them again.

We all know that times are tough for business. Got any “cost-cutting measures” that you’d like to see companies trying out?

What cheats bug you, and what can concerned businesses get away with?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Or Not…

Why bother going beyond your comfort zone for that outside Perspective?

We hear what we want to hear, so the saying goes. Oh, yes, I’m guilty of it sometimes, too. I know how good it feels to be surrounded by Yes men.

So what’s the easiest way to accomplish that?

Ask those you “want” to ask.

Not those whom a little annoying voice in your head says, “You should ask them.” They’re just naysayers, you say back to the annoying voice.

Only consult with the ones you think it will be fun to ask.

The ones you want to ask, will say exactly what you wanted to hear. Then you don’t even have to worry about sticking your fingers in your ears and saying, “Nah, nah, I can’t heeee-ar you!”

Got that?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. Tip of the Week is early this week, so I can be around today to chat in the comments. The kid and I are off tomorrow to the mountains on the lovely New York/Vermont border, for a little family time through Thanksgiving.

In case you were considering rending your garments if you don’t hear from MCE for a few days, I’m letting you know: I have not a thing pre-posted, and I haven’t decided whether I’m even going to write—for a whole doggone week! (I have a feeling I won’t be able to resist.) Until later…

If You Ain’t There, You Won’t Be Making Any Money

When I was a real estate agent, I was as young and green and full of plans as they come. I read Danny Kennedy and anyone else claiming to know how to be the best agent ever; I determined to work day and night introducing myself to folks; I focused my head off; I made a plan, and worked it like anything.

In part this was because of my mentor, the Realtor who managed our office. He was a wise man who knew how crazy the turnover is in real estate and wasn’t afraid to tell us—if we weren’t afraid to hear it.

“Most people sell a few houses for their friends and family, come in fifteen or twenty hours a week, wonder why their business isn’t taking off after such a promising start, and give up in six months,” he told me. “If you don’t come in you won’t make any money. I tell you this now because I don’t like to bring people in who don’t want a full-time job. Okay?”

I was far from friends or family, so I had no chance of that jump start from my personal market. I had energy, and I had cocky faith in myself. I had one more thing—an astounding desire to avoid looking like a fool to my mentor. I’d be the hardest working marketer he’d ever seen, so he wouldn’t be sorry he hired this young blonde chick.

I’ll keep you in suspense no longer. I’d never give the brilliant Wendi Kelly a run for her money in r.e. sales. One house in six months of fifty and sixty hour weeks. I was horrified, but not mortified. I worked it and worked it, but so many years later, I ask myself, would I have bought a house (or listed one) with that very young lady? Perhaps not. So I’ll give me the benefit of the doubt and say that I looked as young and green as I was, and it worked against me. I went on to things I loved a lot more, but every lesson I learned in that time has come in handy in the years since—and you may have guessed that my mentor was not a bit sorry that he brought me in, either. He was a great fan of mine, even as I moved on.

Fast forward.

There’s an office I know of that’s teetering on the edge of going out of business. I know because they tell me (and others) so. Things are rough, they can’t drum up new business, etc. “It’s the economy, stupid,” one principal was heard to say.

I don’t hear from them near as often as I might, because of the eight folks in the office, only a few are ever there, and plenty of days, not a single light ever goes on.

People ask me if they’re out of business (even their clients have asked!). I shrug, then a couple of days later, they show up again. Work for a few days. Complain about how slow things are. (Well, what kind of Customer Experience are you providing?) Talk about how great the golf was on Tuesday… had the course all to themselves, apparently.

Yes. Everyone else was working.

Whether you’re drumming up business for your store, your office, or your home business, it’s well worth keeping those long-ago words in mind:

If you don’t come in you won’t make any money.”

You get out of it what you put into it. Darn, that s**ks. No matter what you may have heard, there’s no such thing as easy money. That, folks, is why they call it work.

Beware of any scheme that plays on that deep desire of ours, to make money while working less. Remember before “passive income,” when “passive” was a sickly, ugly little word? For the most part—gee I hate to burst the bubble—it still is.

I’d rather see you buy lottery tickets and have honest fantasies.

Are you putting into your business, all that you hope to get out of it?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Discretionary Spending

Is your business slowing right now? Are you struggling to keep old customers, and just barely keeping the hope of gaining new customers alive?

Well, duh. Who isn’t?

Walmart. Their sales are up, in a sea of down. How do they do it?

They’re cheap.

Okay, they’re cheap. I agree. But there’s something more, and you can aim for it, too: They’re selling the essentials.

What’s essential?

  • Basic food and clothing.
  • Transportation.
  • My income.
  • Shelter.
  • Health, well-being, love.

So where are you on that list? No matter your industry, you can find a place to belong. (Walmart is the lowest common denominator, but that’s not really a prize you want to win.)

What you need to do is to demonstrate how your product or service is, in fact, essential, to your clients. If you are seen as a “discretionary expense,” believe me, folks are going to exercise their discretion and skip it. Even my beloved daily jaunt to the bagel shop has been curtailed to once a week since gas prices began to throttle my well-worn red leather Liz Claiborne wallet.

You can’t be essential to everyone. But you can be essential to your Ideal Customer. Let’s add one more essential.

  • A little cheer in a world of hurtin’.

Cheer?

“In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Charles Revson introduced opaque nail polish and created Revlon Inc.* Ever since, the cosmetics industry has been regarded as a good business even for bad times. Women, the theory went, could always be counted on to spend at least some of what little disposable income they had to look attractive and feel good about themselves.”**

I know, you aren’t selling makeup. Here’s how it works:

We’re all about basics now, right down to that bag lunch. Skip the bagel. Save gas. Get more work done. Bag lunch. Skip bagel. Do more.

*Boom*

That brown bag begins to gnaw at me, more work leaves me feeling like a drone, and then *boom*—I need a little splurge.

Oh, yeah. I need a darned smile!

It’s as essential as cutting back was only a moment before. If you can’t be the basics—and even if you can—be more. Beyond essential. Be the thing I can’t cut out of my budget. Be a little cheer in a world of hurtin’. Adjust your thinking about that Ideal Customer for now, to include folks who are having that *boom* moment. Position your business to appeal to them.

What does it mean for you?

Adjust your message to show that you’re not a discretionary expense, but an essential part of your customer’s work or home life. That you won’t just deliver, you’ll deliver smiles. Yes, I’m more serious than ever, when I say that to make money right now, you’re going to have to deliver joy.

So how can you be a little cheer in a world of hurtin’?

What do you go for when you can’t stand “the basics” for one more minute? More importantly to your Customer Experience—WHY is that little bit of cheer suddenly essential?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

*For my well-traveled blog readers, experiencing a bit of déjà vu: Contrary to what Brian Clark wrote at Copyblogger a while back (probably quoting Clayton Makepeace?), the cosmetics industry was not born in the Great Depression. The industry weathered the storm better than others, and some companies were born then such as Revlon, but the industry was already an international phenomenon, and had already made both Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden multimillionaires long before the start of the Depression. Little luxuries rock.

**“Shake-Out in the Skin Game,” Time Magazine, Oct. 1982. The point of the Time article was actually that the old saw was being proved wrong at that time (1982), as women did cut back on everyday cosmetics purchases. Uh oh….

Our job is to be beyond those everyday purchases that experience cutbacks—to be essential, we’ll need to be extraordinary.

Forget They’re Looky-Lous

I’ve been hearing a lot about businesses with sullen customer service—there are more “looky-lous” than ever right now, saying “no, thanks, just looking.” When an actual buyer shows up, the staff is so sick of calls and visits and proposals that go nowhere, that they grump at the guy with money, expecting to lose another sale.

That’s how to lose one!

Tip: Treat them all like they might become your biggest customer.

I say “might become,” for those of you who may take your own biggest customers for granted. Woo your prospect, woo your customer. Seduce them. Pretend it’s not a sure thing, because folks, it isn’t. Nobody has to stay with you because they’ve been with you forever, and your buyers are acutely aware of that right now.

That’s the same advice I gave before the economy became a roller coaster.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. Things move so fast right now—when I began this post I was going to say, “it seems to be a particular problem in B2B” (business to business). A week after I began thinking about it, I’m hearing about this problem in retail, too.

Have you felt brushed off or ignored since the global recessionary woes have deepened when shopping, dining, or selecting a service provider? Are you sensing staff are so sure you won’t buy, they don’t try to earn your business like they once did?

Do staff do this where you work?

And just to make this P.S. a little longer: If this is The New Customer Experience that many companies seem to want to provide, aren’t we (in our workday capacities) creating our own recession?

On Scent…

Scent. I’m a big fan of it. Wear some when you come to see me. Better yet, bring me some.   :)

Scent is part of your personal Experience. and I approve heartily. It’s one of the quickest and most enduring paths to our memory (neurologically speaking) so it may even help me to remember you.

If all I can think about for the rest of the day is coconut, and whether I should spell it “cocoanut” when I blog this, you’ve done yourself no favors in my memory banks.

All things in moderation, okay?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

National Public Radio Made Me Write This Tip

People tend to seek out information that agrees with what they already believe.”

The statement was made yesterday on NPR’s Day to Day by Professor Robert Lichter, discussing why Independents likely won’t go to see any movie with a strong political message that might have the power to sway them.

It grabbed me, stayed with me all day, and demanded that I write this Tip. Because it’s true.

I read blogs where I’ll mainly agree with, sympathize with, or be inspired by similarities with, the authors. I go to stores where I won’t be challenged to try anything too new. I eat food I like, and while I might try that new Thai place, Thai probably being similar to Chinese, I’m no more than curious about Ethiopian or Romanian cuisine. I make friends, go on dates, with people who have a hobby or an interest in common with me, or who are friends with my friends. I’m thinking about seeing one of the movies they discussed on Day to Day (though I think I’ll wait to rent it, since the reviews are rather tepid), but the one from The Other Side of politics doesn’t interest me a bit, even after hearing it’s pretty good.

And among people I hang out with, who we’ve established, probably are quite a bit like me, I’m very, very adventurous. I do explore a lot of new things, I do have a very wide variety of interests, and I am open to a lot more than most (of them). I’ve even recommended exploring unfamiliar places and experiences here.

Heck, tackling industries I know little about, and learning all about them and their customer base, is part of what I do for a living as an Experience Designer. Yet I can only hang my head on this one.

(When I’m not at work) I tend to seek out information (and experiences) that agree with what I already believe.

So today, I’m going to:

Read a blog on a subject I am not even trying to be an expert in, where someone takes a position I don’t agree with, to see what other folks have to say;

Eat at a restaurant I’ve heard is good, that I’ve resisted trying;

and probably,

Go see that movie from The Other Side of the political fence. I’ll try not to groan.

I’m going to integrate experimenting into my life more than I pretend I already have, and by golly, I’m starting today. I don’t like it when a prof from George Mason University can call me out without even knowing me.

Check back with me Monday, when I’ve read all my favorite blogs, talked to my usual colleagues, and I’m eating lunch at my favorite bagel shop. I’ll look and sound entirely different, because boy, I’m busting out.

This is one hot Tip to expand your horizons. If you’re ready to take inspiration from wild new places and points of view, you never know—it could alter the way you do business.

Are you with me? How do you feel about seeking out information that doesn’t fit with what you already believe?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Are You Stuck in Now or Focused On the (Pretty Near) Future?

In conversation with a financial advisor yesterday, I made my prediction:

You know what’s coming?
Eighteen bad months, and then…
The 1950s.
It’s gonna hurt and then whoosh, it’s gonna take off.
People who know that and can handle it have a lion in their pocket right now.

Controversial? Maybe, but an average recession in the U.S lasts only 11 months. This one looks to be rather above-average (below?) which should result in an above-average expansion, too. Expansions last an average of six years.

Get your head out of the sand. See the big picture. Put a lion in your pocket today.

Plan, prepare, and perfect now for growth in the pretty near future—18 months goes by in a flash.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

P.S. If you haven’t had a lion in your pocket for a while, click here for a flashback to the roaring 80s. The Purple One doesn’t let his vids stay on You Tube, so I can’t embed it to inspire you.

No Obligation…

As human beings, we seem to be born with a need to “give back” to others. We want to keep the balance of obligations even in our relationships.

Even a very young baby will smile back if you smile at her.

Later, we give to friends more readily when we get from them. Holiday cards, dinner invites, tips on where to save money on office supplies.

We may help colleagues out when they’re behind out of the goodness of our hearts, yet find that they reciprocate as quickly as possible to even the score. At home, our children’s playdates flip back and forth between our house and theirs, or one may feel put out and the other may feel beholden.

Send no money now. No obligation.

When your company gives to me, a potential customer, you claim there’s no obligation but I feel it anyway.

But…

The more detached and anonymous the interaction, the more you’re right.

What’s the answer for your small business?

If you want to create Maximum Customer Experience, think small. Do it sincerely, out of the goodness of your heart. Even a larger business can keep interactions warm and personal, to create a connection with me. Maybe your offer is no obligation, like those holiday cards. Still, Mrs. Jones suddenly felt the need to send a card back to you, didn’t she?

  • Give literally, with samples
  • Give figuratively, with advice
  • Give constantly, with caring, attentive service
  • Give generously, keeping the customer’s needs central to the interaction

The way you treat your customers every day can deliver an Experience that makes them feel connected to you, so that your relationship is not “no obligation” after all.

When a business owner or employee stops to give to you—what changes?

How do you make use of that irresistible urge to give right back, in your own business?

Have you found the hamburger yet?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

This Post Is Not About Awnings

11 Awnings, north of Wilmington, Delaware
7 Awnings, north of Wilmington, Delaware
9 Awnings, north of Wilmington, Delaware

A two-mile—yes, two-mile—stretch of just one road near my home north of Wilmington, Delaware. Here you see 27 awnings; I missed at least three.

Can you do it, when it’s been done?

NO.

What’s this post about for you?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson