Business success: Epic customer service

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Business Success LogoImagine you are having a rough day on the ski slopes. You’re a new snowboarder or skier. Suddenly, a Vail Resorts employee glides along side of you. You wonder if she’s going to ask you to get off the mountain so you don’t endanger yourself or anyone else. But instead of making fun of you, she asks if you’d like to attend a group skiing lesson. Free.  Normally, the class would cost $160.

Wouldn’t that make your day?

Wouldn’t you want to tell everyone you know about the experience?

Wouldn’t you want to come back to that same resort, year after year? Me too.

This week, John Tschohl, president of the Service Quality Institute, shares how Vail Resorts keeps knocking customers socks, or at least their skis, off.

Vail Resorts: The Ultimate Customer Service Experience

The story above isn’t a fantasy.

John Tschohl

John Tschohl

It happens every day, many times each day, at Vail Resorts, a company that knows how to manage every aspect of the customer experience.

And that’s not all Vail Resorts does to earn the customer’s trust, loyalty and dollars. It’s the special, unexpected things they do to ensure their guests have an experience like no other.

If the chair lift shuts down for more than 15 minutes, people waiting on the chair lift or gondola get a free lift ticket. They receive two tickets if the wait is more than 30 minutes. Each ticket is worth up to $129 according to the resort’s peak window ticket pricing this season.

In fact, customer service representatives at Vail Resorts are empowered to give away vouchers for free lift tickets, group lessons, food and non-alcoholic beverages, free ski and snowboard rentals and other services.

Vail Resorts’ “Epic Service Solutions” program empowers employees to quickly resolve any guest service issue and live up to its brand slogan to provide an Experience of a Lifetime™.”

Customer service members are instructed to use the LAST formula when they give a voucher: Listen. Apologize. Solve & Thank.

They are taught “the conversation is more important than the voucher.”

This practice is paying off. Vail Resorts is both the most popular and most expensive company in the industry it dominates. It operates several resorts including Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Heavenly as well as Northstar, Kirkwood, Afton Alps and Mr. Brighton. In the U.S. they have 5 of the 10 most visited ski resorts and 3 of the top 4. Vail also develops, owns and manages hotels, condos, restaurants, and retail stores.

Companies can learn a lot from Vail Resorts. It is the most customer focused company I’ve seen. Its customer base includes the richest people in the world. Everything they do is based on the customer experience. At Vail Resorts, they understand they are in the customer service business. They focus on the customer experience.

“Your challenge is not just to improve. It is to break the service paradigm in your industry or market so that customers aren’t just satisfied, they’re so shocked that they tell strangers on the street how good you are,” said Jack Welch, Author, Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric.

But it is surprising how few companies actually do this!

Very few organizations focus every part of their business around the customer experience. Very few businesses walk the talk. At Vail Resorts, everything from the lift equipment to the technology is based on the customer experience. They track all down time over 4 minutes and the lifts are down less than .5% of the time in terms of what the operators can control, or excluding weather.  That includes keeping the gondolas in a heated area overnight so guest will find the seats toasty warm when they make their first runs on cold mornings without frost.

Most companies think “How can we charge as much as we can and deliver the least amount, while causing the customer the most problems.” Most companies look at short term gain. They don’t appreciate the lifetime value of the customer.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

It comes down to compensation when problems happen. Give the customer something of value. Every organization has something of value it can give to a customer who has experienced a problem. What does your organization manufacture, sell, or provide as a service that costs less than the value it has in the eyes of your customers?

Of course, customer service doesn’t have to be just about solving problems. It can be about creating opportunities. While other vacation destinations charge for taking pictures, Vail Resorts shoots pictures for free. Then they make it easy for you to post the picture on Facebook – with the Vail Resorts logo on each photo. They understand marketing, social media and the customer experience and have built a brand around  Vail Mountain … “VAIL Like nothing on earth™.”

That’s how you build customer loyalty and enhance the customer experience!

You can see my photos at http://ow.ly/u19iH.

Business success: Not in public!

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Business Success LogoIf public speaking is tied with, say, having a colonoscopy on your list of favorite things, then you will benefit from the wisdom of Scott Topper, Corporate Improv Skills Coach and three time Emmy nominated TV show host. Scott helps organizations and individuals learn business improvisational skills and theatrical techniques to achieve better sales presentation results and gain confidence in public speaking. Here, he offers five public speaking fundamentals for business owners.

Boost Your Brand Behind the Microphone

Scott Topper

Scott Topper

As he approached the podium, Taylor could feel his face begin to redden and the perspiration building on his palms. He mentally recited his opening line with each step to center-stage, hoping above all else that he did not stumble over his words, or worse, draw a complete blank. His business was still in its infancy—it had been less than 18 months since he officially opened the doors—but the immediate dent he aimed to make in his market was more like a surface-scratch, and it became blindingly apparent that new avenues must be explored to expand his brand and increase companywide profitability. He shook off the looming nerves, adjusted the microphone and began to speak.

Many business owners can identify with Taylor’s anxiety and apprehension, as the stage is leagues away from the comfort-zone of the boardroom. Addressing a crowd of contemporaries is vastly different than delivering a presentation to a small group of colleagues, but nevertheless, speeches are one of the premiere channels for brand construction, and public speaking prowess is a rubber-stamp to your status as a thought-leader in your field.

There’s an inaccurate belief in business that only professional speakers should talk publicly. The truth is that only a small number of people who are actively speaking at local events, conferences and meetings are professional speakers. Most of them do it for product and service promotion or expanded visibility for themselves or their brand. When you employ these five fundamentals, you can become a great public speaker and learn to market yourself successfully.

1. Assess Your Skills and Knowledge

The first thing you should do is to assess your skills and abilities. Are there any topics that you’re an expert on? Let’s say you’re passionate about healthy eating and fitness. You could use your knowledge to help people understand the importance of good nutrition. Write engaging speeches about organic food and its benefits or talk about the role of physical activity in disease prevention. Show people how they can lose weight without starving themselves or spending a fortune on supplements. Just think about how many topics you could cover in your speeches!

If you’re a business professional, you can talk about the most effective marketing techniques and help people improve their lives. Show them how to start a business, attract more customers, and promote their products more effectively. If you’re a blogger, you can host webinars and teach your audience about Internet marketing. Regardless of your field, you can use your skills to educate and inform people—and create a steady income, as well.

2. Create Your Statement and Share Your Story

Your primary goal when delivering a speech is to engage the audience with a dynamic message that creates value and resonates in their minds. Create a clear statement of what you do and how you can help customers.

If you want to grow your business, focus on shaping a successful brand that tells your story and inspires people to take action, and craft a presentation that imparts your values and ideals on your audience. The most influential speakers have something special to say; they speak from personal experience and share real life stories that engage and motivate people. Personal stories are easy to relate to and have the greatest impact on your audience. If you want to become a good speaker, come up with something new—make the mundane interesting. Encourage your audience to see things from a new perspective.

3. Rehearse, Practice and Scrutinize

As the old adage goes, “Practice makes perfect,” and this is especially true when building your business and reputation through public speaking. Scrutinizing each and every aspect of your speech, committing it to memory and rehearsing in front of a small group of people will help allay any pre-performance anxieties.

Public speaking can be a risky business. Drawing a blank, failing to engage the audience or forgetting a line is entirely possible while onstage, but with constant practice, you diminish the risk of all of them. It’s important to understand that starting a public speaking business requires hard work and commitment. Anyone can become a good speaker with persistent practice, but this doesn’t mean it’s easy.

4. Contact Local and National Associations

When all of the legwork involving crafting an insightful, engaging speech is complete, you need to find your audience. Many neophytes in the speaking world are confounded regarding the ins-and-outs of securing engagements, but it can be as simple as marketing yourself and your presentation to your target market.

As a business owner, you need to contact local and national organizations in your area of expertise and tell them you’re looking for speaking engagements. Search for business events where you could talk about your products and services. Depending on your niche, you can go to schools, colleges, libraries and social clubs to make informative speeches. Tell them about your business and ask for permission to hold a speech. Find a way to tie your message to theirs to maximize your opportunities.

5. Get the Audience Involved

Inviting your audience to be active participants in your performance is one of the best ways to ensure engagement and connection. Encourage questions and sharing of ideas—create a dialogue. Ask people to stand up, group themselves, and share one or two things they found useful in your presentation. Tell them why you enjoy speaking about this topic and how your speech can help them.

The audience was abuzz, and Taylor was elated—a combination of relief from conquering a fear and the knowledge that his performance was the first-step in elevating his brand and business.

Follow Taylor’s lead and dive into the world of public speaking. There’s no better way to boost your business and increase name-recognition and visibility.

Business success: How’s life?

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Business Success LogoMany of us seem to compartmentalize “work life” and “home life,” almost as if we are two different people — one in each world.

Wellness expert and author Dr. Carmella Sebastian says employers would be wise not to think of their employees’ lives that way, however. Helping workers balance both “lives” leads to happier, healthier employees — and a bigger bottom line.

Why Smart Employers Care About Work/Life Balance—and How to Help Your People Find It

The line between “work” and “personal life” has become really (really!) blurred for most American workers. Thanks to evolving technology and an unforgiving economy, we’re under constant pressure to perform. The result? Even when we’re not at our desks, we’re tethered to our devices. While we’re helping kids with homework, we’re also thinking about how to fine-tune that proposal, and while we’re watching TV, we’re checking our email.

DrCarm021-crop

Dr. Carmella Sebastian

And when we’re on vacation—wait, what is a vacation again?

You might assume most employers would love this scenario—don’t bosses want their employees to be “on” 24/7? Not at all. Counterintuitive as it may seem, smart leaders know that when people have a healthy work/life balance they are better employees, period. And the smartest employers don’t just pay lip service to this idea; they actually take steps to make it happen.

As an employer, you’re in the best position to help employees turn the chaos in their lives into balance. At Florida Blue, I oversee the National Committee for Quality Assurance-accredited wellness program “Better You from Blue” and manage over 100 client consultations per year. You’re the one who will benefit from their increased productivity—and frankly, you may be the main reason their lives are out of balance in the first place.

Very few employers overtly discourage vacations, “mental health days,” and sane work schedules. But still, it’s also true that few take the initiative to make sure that their people are maintaining a healthy balance. (In fact, the OECD Better Life Index, released yearly, concludes that the U.S. ranks 28th among advanced nations in the category of “work-life balance,” ninth from the bottom.) That’s not too surprising; after all, going out on a limb and encouraging your people to (gulp) stop working so hard is pretty scary!

When you take that risk, though, you’ll find that helping with work/life balance attracts better talent and increases productivity, loyalty, and engagement. But I want to stress that employers have to be the ones to get the ball rolling—employees might be afraid to ask for and initiate these changes themselves because they don’t want to be labeled lazy or uncommitted. High performers in particular have to be “forced” to take time, whether it’s to care for themselves or even to adjust to a stressful life event.

Here, I share 11 win-win strategies to help your employees separate their work lives from their personal lives and enhance both in the process:

First, walk the walk yourself.  If you’re serious about helping your employees achieve a healthier work/life balance, you have to be willing to set the example. This isn’t negotiable.

If you want your people to unplug from their devices, take time for themselves, de-stress, and more, you can’t be sending them emails at 10 p.m., frantically making requests of others on their way out the door, and constantly calling in while you’re on vacation. They’ll follow your lead, not your suggestions. And have you ever considered that maybe improving your own work/life balance might make you a better leader?

Encourage employees to take those unused vacation days. According to Expedia’s 2013 Vacation Deprivation study, on average, Americans were given 14 vacation days but used only 10 of them. (That’s twice as many unused vacation days as the previous year.) And let’s not forget—this is paid time off we’re talking about. So why do employees leave those four—or sometimes more—days on the table? In some cases, they’re too busy. In others, they may feel that company culture discourages “too much” absence, or they may want to prove themselves indispensable. And, of course, some people are workaholics or simply forget to plan.

As an employer, let your people know that it’s okay—and even encouraged—to take the full amount of vacation. Tell them explicitly that you believe rest, relaxation, and outside adventures make them better workers. To put your money where your mouth is, you may even want to build “extra” vacation days that aren’t calendar holidays into your schedule. Either the whole company could close, or different departments could rotate having three-day weekends, for instance. You’ll be surprised by the effect this has on morale and productivity.

Keep an especially close eye on your high performers and workaholics. You know who they are. If you see a particular employee exhibiting signs of stress or burnout after burning the midnight oil on a tough project, step in and suggest taking a few days off. Even if they don’t realize it themselves, these folks may need your freely offered permission in order to unclench.

Specify that the beach is not a sandy office. No, you may not go as far as France, which recently passed a law specifying that workers in the digital and consulting industries must avoid email and switch off work phones before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m. But it’s still a good idea to encourage your people to back away from their devices when they’re not at work. Fair warning: This might be an uphill battle. According to Expedia, 67 percent of Americans stay connected to the office (checking voicemail and email) while on vacation.

Tell your people to enjoy their evenings, weekends, and especially vacations. You can use many of the tactics I share to ensure that as much work as possible is completed within the workday, and you can help individuals work ahead prior to taking vacation days. But as I’ve already mentioned, unplugging is a part of your organization’s culture that will need to start at the top. If you don’t practice what you preach, you can’t fault your employees for feeling that they, too, need to stay connected outside of work hours.

Teach time management. Often, employees remain tethered to their devices in the evenings and on weekends because they’re worried about unfinished tasks and loose ends that might require their attention. While you might not be able to guarantee that your people can leave work at work every single day, you can help them gain the skills that will reduce their amount of “homework.”

Training on time management, prioritization, organization, the effective use of lists, and so forth can be surprisingly effective. I can almost guarantee that all of your employees have unproductive work habits. By addressing them, you can help your team manage their workloads and be in a more comfortable place when it’s time to go home each evening.

Teach stress management techniques, too. Unless you oversee an organization of ice cream tasters or mattress testers, there’s no such thing as a stress-free workplace. That’s not a bad thing; a small amount of anxiety keeps us alert and motivated. But too often, employees feel an unhealthy amount of stress that bleeds into and affects their personal lives, too. Believe it or not, stress costs American businesses around $300 billion each year!

Work-related stress contributes to health problems, absenteeism, burnout, and turnover. If you offer a short workshop that teaches stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga, for instance, your employees will reap the benefits. And just knowing that you’re concerned about their mental health will also lift a weight from their shoulders.

Also, educate your employees on the benefits of getting enough sleep. Let them know that you want them to get an adequate amount of rest, which is seven to nine hours a night for adults. Point out that sleep is essential for focus, creativity, a positive attitude, and general health. This may discourage workaholism; after all, people can’t work till 7 or 8 p.m., take care of all of their personal obligations, and get eight hours of sleep. It’s just not possible.

Help them understand the business cycle. As a leader, you know from years of experience that your business goes through (more or less) predictable seasons. For instance, September through December might be crunch time, but you know that after the new year things will be more relaxed. Just don’t take for granted that your employees share this understanding!

Educate your people, especially newer hires, about your company’s natural business cycle. If things are hectic and overtime is mandatory, rookies might assume that it will always be like this and worry that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. You can reduce their anxiety by pointing out that in a few weeks the pace will slow down. It’s easier for people to push hard through crunch time if they know a lull is just around the corner.

Include exercise in the workday. Exercise is one of the most effective stress management tools available. It’s also fantastic at increasing energy, improving focus, and boosting attitudes. And, of course, it’s good for your health. Best of all, exercise can be both easy and inexpensive to integrate into the workday: Think lunchtime walks or even walking meetings (assuming your company has enough land to make it feasible). This is a great solution for employees who just can’t find the time to stop at the gym in the midst of their hectic personal lives.

As an employer, you’ll find that at-work exercise programs pay off. In the February 2010 issue of Health Affairs, several wellness program studies were published, revealing that medical costs fell $3.27 for every $1 spent on wellness. Furthermore, absenteeism costs fell $2.73 for every $1 spent. That is a 6:1 ROI! Harder to quantify, but just as impactful, is the fact that your investment in your employees’ well-being will jump-start their morale, loyalty, and engagement—all of which is good news for their productivity and your bottom line.

Be flexible on when and where work happens. Depending on your field, technological advances may mean that many employees are no longer tied to their desks. (And isn’t that one of the reasons why our personal lives and professional lives have become so hopelessly enmeshed?) If possible, allow your employees to take advantage of being able to do work from their homes or from the coffee shop down the street.

Unless it’s absolutely necessary that someone be at a desk from 9 to 5, allow them to work from home, on their own schedule, from time to time. This will allow your employees to live their lives while also doing their work. Think about it this way: You don’t want a payroll full of clock punchers—you want people who are self-directed goal achievers. That’s the message that offering flex time sends.

Dare to get personal. On a regular basis, try to connect with your employees in a way that doesn’t revolve around “shop talk.” Ask about their kids, what they’re planning to do over the weekend, and whether they watched the latest episode of Mad Men, for example.

When you establish a personal connection with your employees, you’ll have a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in their lives and how it might be affecting them at work. They’ll also feel more comfortable coming to you with requests to attend an upcoming out-of-town wedding, a child’s recital, or a relative’s funeral. Working with employees so that they can attend to personal obligations without feeling guilty is a great way to gain their long-term loyalty.

Play hard to work hard. Work doesn’t have to be all, well, work. That’s why I suggest integrating “fun” activities in the workday once a week or so: office scavenger hunts, trivia, darts, hall putt-putt, bring-your-pet-to-work days, cookouts on a Friday afternoon, etc. Use your imagination, and if you’re lacking ideas, ask your employees what they’d like to do.

There are several benefits to scheduling “fun time” into the workday. For one thing, these activities give people a chance to get to know each other and become friendlier, which will streamline teamwork. They break up the monotony of the workday and counteract popular “work is drudgery” attitudes. And fun also boosts energy and creativity, so you’ll probably find that the “lost” time is made up by subsequent spurts of productivity. Just don’t schedule work “fun” outside of work hours! People don’t like it when you cut into “their” time.

Help with the housework. Some companies offer laundry services and on-site dry cleaning pick-up and delivery. Others provide their employees with free housecleaning services and take-home meals. If that’s in your budget and capabilities, it can take care of one thing on the long list of chores your employees have to complete outside of work, leaving them that much more time to relax.

Of course, perks like these are expensive to institute and maintain, and simply aren’t feasible for many companies to offer. And that’s okay. Alternatively, perhaps you could purchase and distribute coupons to a local dry cleaner or housecleaning service, for instance. You can also offer time: Close the office a few hours early one afternoon a month and encourage your employees to use that time to catch up on their personal to-do lists.

Remember, anything you can do to show employees that you care about the quality of their lives outside of the office will earn their goodwill and loyalty. The happier and less stressed you can help your employees to be on and off the job, the more loyal and engaged they will be—and the more your bottom line will benefit.

 

 

 

 

Small business marketing: Ten techniques

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“Having the best, most innovative product on the market is not enough to drive traffic to your office or store,” says a marketer at a trade show display company. “It takes a carefully planned strategy to effectively promote your products or services.”

In an article at Duct Tape Marketing, she offers 10 techniques to “help increase brand awareness, drive more traffic to your website, and gain new customers”

Among the ten are:

1. A measurable goal
2. Know your target market
3. Get involved in networking events
4. Grow your social media presence
5. Join volunteering groups or start your own

The full details on all tens tips are here.

Business success: You don’t care

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Business Success LogoWe’re all familiar with the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” But what if we aren’t aware of what our actions are telling other people? Most of us care about doing our jobs well, and about the relationships we have with clients and coworkers. But your actions might be sending the opposite message, according to Jon Gordon, author of The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All.

17 Things You (Unknowingly) Do at Work That Say “I Don’t Care”

You care deeply about your clients, employees, and coworkers. Of course you do. But if you’re like most people in the workplace (be they leaders, front line workers, or someone in the vast middle ground in between), you may occasionally do (or not do) things that send the wrong signal. And that signal is, “I don’t care.”

This accidental carelessness is not surprising.

Jon Gordon

Jon Gordon

We’re all so busy these days. In fact, we’re overwhelmed. And when we’re trying to survive, sometimes even the most well-meaning among us don’t realize how we’re coming across.

The good news is that the more you care (and show you do), the more you stand out in a world where many don’t. Caring is great for business. The even better news is that by making, say, one percent more effort and paying attention to the little things, you can transform your relationships and see your overall success skyrocket.

First, of course, you need to know what you’re unknowingly doing wrong. Here, I shine a spotlight on 17 things that say to others, “I don’t care”—and offer advice on how you can reverse that perception:

You fail to touch base on projects. Sure, you’re busy, and sure, teammates and clients can always call you if they need an update. The problem is that when people don’t hear from you they naturally assume the worst: “I just know he hasn’t done what he said he’d do.” Or, “I bet she’s only doing the bare minimum.” When you don’t proactively reach out to provide information and updates, it seems as though you don’t care about others’ concerns.

The solution is simple: touch base often. Don’t force your colleague to ask if you’ve finished compiling those statistics, for instance; send an email saying you’ve done so. Actually, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of sending daily or weekly updates not only to team members, but to clients, too.

You wait too long to respond to calls or emails. (And sometimes you don’t respond at all.) Often, hours or days pass before you reply to a colleague or client’s questions. (Hey—you have about 200 more important things on your to-do list!) And sometimes, enough time passes that responding completely slips your mind.

You may not think a slow response is a big deal, but the other person probably does. Even if you truly don’t have time to deal with the matter immediately, it’s easy enough to send a text or email saying, “I got your message and will touch base later.” Whenever possible, try not to leave any unanswered emails or voicemails overnight.

You forget customer preferences. Part of providing good service is remembering that Mr. Smith dislikes being called on his cell phone after 6:00 p.m., and that Mrs. Jones always wants to work with a specific vendor.

When you don’t keep records of these things, customers will conclude that they don’t matter to you. Keep a file on each client, and take a few moments to record their preferences after each interaction.

You nickel and dime them. Yes, you and your customers know that your relationship is based on an exchange of money for goods or services. And of course you shouldn’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. But obsessively keeping track of every minute and every coin doesn’t sit well with clients. It makes them think your first priority is not taking care of them, but getting everything that’s owed to you.

Try to balance the bills you send against the long-term value of your client relationships. For instance, if you spend an extra hour or two outside your contract, consider not itemizing that time on your next bill. The customer will likely sing your praises and send you plenty of referrals.

You “hand off” customers to an employee and never personally contact them again. Sure, if you’re the owner of the company or the leader of a team, you can’t personally take care of every single client’s needs. But you can call or email each of them from time to time to let them know they’re still getting your attention. This is especially important if you conducted the initial meetings or signed a contract with a certain client.

In my business, I make it a priority to respond personally to readers who ask me questions via email, Facebook, and Twitter. While I could hand these tasks off to members of my staff, I truly do appreciate that readers care enough to take the time to contact me—and by engaging with them individually, I am showing them that I care, too.

You wait till the last minute to ask for what you need. Say a project has been on your desk for a week—but you don’t ask your subordinate to make revisions until a few hours before the deadline. This puts the stress burden on the other person, and makes him feel that you don’t respect his time. (It doesn’t do your in-office reputation any favors, either.)

When a project requires a group effort and you’re a part of that group, never forget that your time management should take into account their time, too. Show others the consideration you yourself would like to receive.

You rush through projects and leave loose ends. The world is filled with those who get things done the fastest and the cheapest, but it needs more artists, craftsmen, and craftswomen. When you become a craftsman in a world of carpenters, you will stand out, and people will clamor to work with you.

When you put forth the least amount of effort and do only the bare minimum, someone else will have to come behind you and make improvements—that, or you’ll have provided an inferior product. Both tell people that you don’t care enough to do the job right.

You miss deadlines. We all know that missing deadlines is a bad thing, yet many of us persist in (often creatively) figuring out how to buy more time for ourselves. Every once in a rare while an extension may be necessary; say, if too little time was initially provided to do a good job or if an emergency pops up in the middle of the project. Usually, though, the extra time you spend gets taken away from someone further down the line.

Missing deadlines is another way of conveying to others that you don’t respect their time. Do as much as you possibly can to stick to the agreed-upon schedule.

You stress people out right before vacation. Leaders and supervisors, take note: An employee’s upcoming vacation shouldn’t give you license to demand Herculean feats from her right before her absence. You know she needs to pack, board the dog, and (ideally) get a restful night’s sleep before hitting the road or flying the friendly skies. Making her work till 8:00 p.m. the night before she departs shouts, “Work is more important than your family time!”

Vacations should be something your people look forward to, not something they semi-dread because they know the days leading up to a getaway will be horrendous. Part of being a caring leader is planning ahead with each employee to ensure that essential tasks are completed without last-minute hassle and headaches.

You neglect to say “thank you” or “great job.” Even if someone is “just” doing what’s in his job description, and especially if he has gone above and beyond to help you, take a few moments to verbalize your appreciation.

Often, we don’t express gratitude not because we aren’t thankful, but because we’re busy or have already shifted our focus to the next thing—however, the other person doesn’t know that. Saying “thanks” takes only a few seconds of your time, but can do wonders for your professional relationships. When people feel valued, noticed, and appreciated, they’ll be motivated to do better work. It’s that simple.

You don’t take care of the “little things” that make work flow smoothly. Broken equipment, outdated computer programs, no coffee cups, burnt-out light bulbs, even office furniture that’s seen better days—all of these things send employees a message about how much you don’t care about their comfort.

Your employees get that you don’t have the resources to provide expensive, cutting-edge gadgets and an in-office spa. But when you fail to provide basics that are within the budget, especially when it’s clear that you and other leaders aren’t going without, you’ll cultivate a “haves vs. have-nots” attitude that fosters disengagement.

You listen with half an ear. You know how this goes: You make the appropriate noises during a client call (“Mmmhmmm…I understand…No, that won’t be a problem…”) while simultaneously typing an email to someone else. You may think you’re getting away with multitasking, but the other person can usually tell that your attention is divided, and will feel unimportant as a result.

Giving a client or colleague your full attention is so meaningful. Being fully present says, “I really care about you and what you need. You are my top priority right now.”

You’re curt or disrespectful with people. Everyone has feelings. Take care not to bruise them. Even during disagreements or when negative feedback needs to be shared, there is usually a way to say what you need to say without crossing the line and hurting someone.

In my experience, most people don’t mean to be hurtful. Rather, their tone reflects their own high stress levels, or their blunt speech is a product of their attention being focused elsewhere. This is why it’s so important to be fully present when you’re interacting with someone else—you’re more able to consider your words and gauge the impact they are having.

You gossip or make snarky comments behind people’s backs. You may think, “Well, she’s not here so it’s okay,” or, “Everyone gossips at the water cooler,” or even, “He deserves to be taken down a peg!” Wrong. Uncaring words have a way of getting back to the other person—and even if they never do, they cause the people with whom you’re speaking not to trust you.

Tempting as it may be sometimes, make it your policy not to say bad things about your coworkers when you’re on the clock. If you simply must vent, wait until you can do so outside of work with a family member or friend.

You neglect to ask about things going on in their personal lives. Whether you’re interacting with a colleague or a client, you may think that keeping the conversation focused on business is a sign of professionalism. But actually, it can paint you as a rather callous individual—especially if the other person is going through a difficult time.

Ask others what’s going on in their personal lives, and follow up. Express your sympathy when a client’s parent passes away, and your willingness to help when a colleague is dealing with a health crisis. It’s so easy to spend five minutes making these connections before getting down to business—and it means so much.

You hijack people’s stories. In the course of conversational “give and take,” it’s fine to share when you have a related story. But resist the temptation to make everything all about you. When you forcibly take the reigns and steer a conversation in the direction you want it to go, you send others the message that you don’t care about or value what they have to say.

Nobody appreciates “that person” who always manages to turn the spotlight on himself or herself. In general, it’s wise to listen more than you speak. Not only will you learn a lot through listening and observation; when you do contribute, others will be more receptive to hearing what you have to say.

You ignore important milestones in people’s lives. It only takes a few seconds to say, “Happy Birthday,” or, “Happy Anniversary.” And while you can’t always attend every colleague’s child’s birthday party or every client’s retirement party, go (or a least send a card) if you possibly can.

Your presence means a lot. People are surprised and pleased when you acknowledge important milestones in their lives—precisely because the assumption today is that most people don’t care about what’s going on outside their own bubbles.

Most people don’t intend to be uncaring or inconsiderate. Actually, I believe that the busy, stressful nature of modern life forces us to spend too much time looking out for number one and too little time looking out for others. We need to make a conscious effort to reverse that behavior.

So take a few moments and evaluate your behavior and habits. What messages are they sending? What small changes can you make to show others that you care? I promise, the effort you put forth will energize you and others, and will lead to mutual success.

People buy from who they like: Give your business a likeable personality

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Business Success Logo“There’s an old saying in sales: People buy from people they like,” writes the Financial Post. “So what have you done lately to encourage prospects to like your company?”

The article notes that “companies that want to be liked should be caring, sensitive, and have a sense of humor” and offers 10 ways to make your business more likable. Among them:

1. Make your presence felt —open and friendly with all employees, accessible to all.
2. Present a well-rounded person.
3. Stay in touch with customers
4. Your email is prominent on the company’s “Contact Us” webpage.
5. Travel to meet customers and find out what’s new.

The full list is here.

Business success: Beware the oxymoron

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Business Success LogoIf you’ve forgotten from your grammar lessons a few(!) years ago, an oxymoron is two words used together that, separately, mean the opposite of each other, like jumbo shrimp, cruel kindness, same difference, deafening silence… a word geek like myself could go on and on. But instead, I suggest we consider a phrase not typically included in a list of oxymorons: “strategic planning.” Do these two words really contradict each other? Mark Faust, founder of www.EchelonManagement.com and author of Growth or Bust! Proven Turnaround Strategies To Grow Your Business, says they do.

“Strategic Planning’ is an Oxymoron

mark-faust-gobTo say, “strategic planning” is a call of management and board, is to ply an oxymoron, or at least refer to a practice for the moronic.

There is strategic thinking and there is planning and implementation. Strategy is the framework within which decisions are made which set the nature and direction of an organization. Planning has to do with implementation and tactics and tactics are what it takes to implement the strategy.

People claiming to be consultants who facilitate “strategic planning” probably don’t know many of the rudimentary aspects of strategy nor management. Beware of the “Strategic Planning” expert.

Rather than “strateegery” and the latest management fad mumbo jumbo, board members must hold leadership accountable to making sound decisions around the strategy to compete and position in the marketplace but this process is more about assessing your potential and position in the marketplace from the perspective of the customer than “strategic planning.”

The more apt term for the process an organization needs is that of self-assessment and it begins with your marketing and market-related objectives, which can be determined by questions like these:

  • What is your decision on concentration? What is your competitive advantage, and in what areas of the market can you be most successful? What differentiates you from the competition, how do you prove it and how clear is this to your best customers and non-customers? What are the different activities we’re performing that our competition is not? What are the similar activities we’re performing in a way that differs from our competition?

Answering these questions accurately helps to ensure that your market focus and positioning strategies are most effective and thus helps you to win what to your company will be the lowest hanging fruits.

  • What is your decision on your ideal market standing?

There can be great dangers to having an 85 percent market share, just as having too small a market share could be proof of gross ineffectiveness and lead to great vulnerability. It is better for you to have 50 percent of 250 than 85 percent of 100. Companies that are near monopoly face significant growth pressures and usually cannot effectively innovate. Choosing the most market share is not the objective; choosing the optimal market share is your objective. Boards must ensure leadership is determining the optimal.

Only after answering the above can leadership most effectively set Innovation objectives which can be determined by asking questions like these:

  • What is your business, and what should it be? What is the result that customers buy from you, or what is the job they want accomplished?

These questions can be an opportunity of great innovation and repositioning for you in the marketplace. GE Aircraft Engines made a significant leap in the marketplace and in profits when they realized that rather than selling engines, parts and services that what the customer would value more would be “power by the hour.” This all in one offering at a unified price empowered airlines to better align costs and gain a new advantage.

  • What areas might you not be adequately serving?
  • What businesses, products, or practices, if you weren’t in them today, would you still choose to get into? Which ones would you not enter, and thus, what markets might you need to exit, or what practices might you need to abandon?
  • How do you prioritize potential new markets, and what are the triggers that signal that you should enter them?
  • What are all of the potential distribution channels you could employ? What are the advantages of each, and where might you consider changing your distributive organization?
  • What is your customers’ perception of your service, and how do you compare to their alternatives? What is the optimal service standard and performance you need
 to aim for, and how do you best leverage this strategic choice in the marketplace?

Ensure your leadership begins a process of ongoing self-assessment and refinement of the above and other questions behind the process and you can transform the opportunities and growth of your organization…but whatever you do, don’t fall for strategic planning!

Discover “20 Awesome Productivity Tricks Anyone Can Use”

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Business Success LogoThis morning I came across an article by Inc. Magazine‘s Jeff Haden titled “20 Awesome Productivity Tricks Anyone Can Use.” Well, there’s a headline I’m certainly not going to ignore! Scrolling through the tips (which you do by clicking on each picture in the article), I decided there are lots of ideas here I will use, and I wanted to share them with you.

“Even though we all want to be more productive, it’s hard to make major changes. Small changes are easy – and can be incredibly powerful. That’s why the following 20 tips are simple enough you can immediately incorporate them into your daily routine,” Haden writes. “Some tips will help you better use your time. Others will help you harness your energy. Others will help you stay more focused. No matter what, they all work. So try a few – or try them all!”

Read the article here.

How to (not) make your employees’ lives harder

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Business Success LogoBeing an inspiring and knowledgeable leader can be a long trial-and-error process to figure out how to maintain enough control over your team to ensure their success, but provide enough distance to help them truly grow, writes tech manager Avery Augustine. “It’s not too surprising, then, that during my time working for some a variety of leaders, then becoming a manager myself, I’ve seen (and done) plenty of things that managers do that seem like normal, boss-like duties—but don’t actually help the team along. In fact, they actually make employees’ lives harder.”

She notes five “team-hindering habits” to watch out for:

1. Failing to Give Your Full Attention
2. Talking More Than You Listen
3. Being Constantly Unavailable
4. Making Promises for Your Employees to Deliver On
5. Giving Too Little (or Too Much) Information

Read the full article here for details on these problems — and how to avoid them.

 

Short videos: Use Vine to build your brand

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samsung's vineVine’s looping six-second videos can help marketers spread their messages across social media in innovative ways says author Bob Cargill, who offers 10 ways to use Vine in your own campaign.

“If you really want to make a splash in the social media waters, you should try making videos with the mobile app Vine,” says Cargill, who is director of social media at Overdrive Interactive. “Sure, with more than 1 billion unique users visiting the site each month, your potential audience on YouTube is going to be gargantuan. And with more than 150 million monthly active users on Instagram, you’d be hard-pressed not to experiment there as well, even if your videos can only be up to 15 seconds in length. If you want to socialize with all the cool kids, however, you can’t overlook Vine, where more than 40 million registered users, are telling their stories in short, continuously looping six-second videos.”

Among his 10 tips are:
1. It’s Easy to Use.
2. It’s Quick to Digest.
3. It’s Spur of the Moment.
4. It’s Convenient.
5. It’s Instructional.

Read details on all 10 here — with example videos.