Business Success: PR is not a verb!

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Business Success LogoThis week, Rodger Rouser of The Eisen Agency explains just what public relations actually is, which might suggest how your business can better work with a “flack” of your own — and help you get the news coverage that can help your business prosper.

To PR or not to PR:
PR is Not a Verb

This is not an article debating the changing landscape of the public relations or advertising industry, or preaching best practices — rather, it’s an examination of the two simple letters that encompass all that we (as communications professionals) do: PR.

Rodger Roeser, APR

Rodger Roeser, APR

As a public relations professional, I respect that there are some commonplace misconceptions about what “we” do here at our agency, and likely every other PR agency on the planet for that matter. The perception of what we do is made worse by certain reality television shows that make me want to claw my eyes out because of how they insult my intelligence and profession.

There is a significant difference between a PR firm and a publicist. All publicity is PR, but not all PR is publicity.

There are some novel notions around Publicity that I’m able to write off in good humor, including some personal favorites related to the mystique and glamour of the industry, and the all-too-frequent assumption that all story placements occur with the drop of a hat. Why yes, whatever story you’d like to have placed, just call me and I’ll get it in – I have a direct line. When clients say they need me to get them in the paper tomorrow, I quickly grab my ski mask and advise them to meet me at the nearest bank. I find running naked through the streets is also helpful. If only it were that simple to secure press… but I know a few tricks and have certainly been successful at securing solid placement, even in the absence of a quality story.

However, a minor but irritating thing I’ve been asked to do has always left me without a witty comeback. The question: “Can you PR this?” Even my own mother, who, upon hearing about one exciting upcoming project or another, has suggested that I do a good job of “PR-ing” for the client. I suppose I should thank my mom for reminding me to do my job by….doing what I do for a living, but I’ll never understand why she and so many others make those two letters into a verb.

Imagine someone asking a web developer to “website” something. PR is just not a verb, but it certainly is an ongoing action: The ongoing action of relating. Write it out. “Public Relations-ing.” Is that what we do every day? Sadly, I think when some people mention PR, they aren’t even referring to public relations, but instead to a Press Release – but that also makes no sense. “Can you Press Release this?”

This mistake frightens me. To me, the PR-as-a-verb phenomenon signifies a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of our industry, and mitigates the value of our strategy by implying that we exist solely to ‘get stories in the paper.’ If that were true, and that’s how it worked, think about the media landscape for a moment: Every story in every media outlet would be from a PR firm, right?

Of course, this isn’t to say that “PR-ing” doesn’t have its place.  Publicity, as we pros call it, is a great vehicle for interesting characters and stories, but in no way does it encompass the full extent of public relations. Publicity is also not the same as media relations – in fact, I work with some businesses to keep them OUT of the media or to simply maintain good relationships when confronted with an issue. (We call this “closed shop media”).

So again, publicity is part of media relations — which is part of public relations. Advertising is part of public relations. How you were greeted by your waitress today is public relations…

And while we’ll always recognize that publicity is a key component of any good marketing campaign, for an agency or practitioner’s abilities to be equated solely to publicity is a waste of good counsel. You need a great story, a good hook, proper timing, tenacity, the contacts and yes, a little luck. A good stunt now and again is fun, as is a press release duct taped to a pizza and sent to the newsroom.

Admittedly, this is just a rant from a word junkie hooked on technicalities — but it serves as a reminder to the PR-ers of the world that we need to explain the foundations of our practice, which we so often take for granted. Just as we tell newbies that Public Relations is far more than event planning, we must also ensure that our clients recognize that what we are doing is communicating.

So: don’t confuse PR with publicity. You don’t ‘ing’ PR. But, done right, we promise to sING your praises to your public, and get the phones to rING with leads — and if someone dINGs you in cyberspace we’ll be sure to brING out a little PR magic.

Business success: Photos are memories… But what else boosts recall?

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We often speak of photography being all about capturing for posterity the big events, beautiful locations, and our closest loved ones and friends  — and how we as an industry must do our best to help customers preserve their precious memories.

But while photography is great for memory (so much so that I am writing a book on that topic!) it’s not the only tool available to us — and in many ways, a powerful memory can boost your overall success in business, and elsewhere in life.

This week we present information and tips from Chester Santos, an actual recognized “Memory Champion” — yes, they have competitions!

Memory Exercises + Brain Fitness = Success

Chester Santos

Chester Santos

By Chester Santos

I am a memory expert: I help people to realize the benefits of an improved memory and sharper mind.
In order to win the USA Memory Championship in 2008, I practiced simple memory-building methods that can help anyone.
Wouldn’t it be helpful in your career to remember the names of everyone you meet, and to give a presentation or speech without notes? I teach that and much more.
My entertaining, interactive presentations and workshops provide my clients, from Fortune 500 companies to Harvard graduate students, with the tools to perform their functions at the highest level.

In any profession, you seem like much more of an expert in your field if you can recall important information rather than having to always look it up. If you have mastered your field and you are the expert, then you shouldn’t have to rely so much on reference — that makes you seem like a novice, not an expert. Another thing to consider: Whether or not there is a connection between memory and intelligence, there is definitely a perception: People with a razor sharp memory are perceived as more intelligent… and we always want to hire the more intelligent person.

My clients include businesses and organizations from various industries, including finance, technology, medicine and law. Many trial attorneys take my workshop because when they lose eye contact with the jury, they’ve lost the jury’s attention. You aren’t going to be as persuasive if you are always pausing to look through a mass of notes. Even the Harvard Graduate Council recognized the value of memory skills for students, and I conducted seminars for students from all thirteen of its graduate schools. “After listening to Chester, I realized the possibilities,” said Pukar Malla, President of the Harvard Graduate Council. “In a short span of time hundreds of students were using powerful memory techniques.”

I believe that memory techniques are especially important now in the technology age where people are less reliant upon human memory. The brain is very trainable. The more you have your brain do something over and over, the better it gets at doing it. The opposite is also true: The “use it or lose it” principle is definitely applicable to the brain. We all used to be able to remember the phone numbers of friends and family — Now no one knows anyone’s phone number. Things have gotten so bad that a lot of people don’t even remember their own phone numbers.

I engage my audiences and motivate them to memorize in the age of technology by demonstrating what is possible for all of us with just a little training: skills like remembering the names of one hundred people in the audience that I met right before the event, and memorizing a random list of numbers the audience created only a few seconds prior. I also can memorize an entire deck of cards in 90 seconds, or remember a sequence of 100 numbers in just five minutes (all challenges I performed in the USA Memory Championship). I never tell people that everyone is going to achieve my level, but what I do say is that everyone can dramatically improve their memory. My presentations are interactive, with audiences actively practicing memory exercises.

Most of the techniques I teach originated with the ancient Greeks. One of the core methods is known as the Method of Loci (“loci” meaning location). The Roman orator Cicero used this technique to give lengthy speeches from memory without any notes, and it was known then as the Roman Room method. This technique involves using a familiar venue such as your own home to create visual imagery that represents things you want to remember. In order to memorize a speech or presentation you choose several locations from your own home, and then link images that remind you in some way of each topic or section in your presentation. When you want to remember the topics you just take a mental walk through your residence, and “see” the images that you placed at the different locations.

These techniques magnify anyone’s memory many times over because you are using more areas of your brain. Scientific studies support that notion: When I appeared in an October 2012 PBS Nova ScienceNow segment, “How Smart Can We Get?” I trained the host of the show, David Pogue, how to use the Method of Loci memory technique. Pogue memorized 40 words in approximately ten minutes by using images connected to his own living room. In order to remember some of the words, I told Pogue to imagine that on top of this piano there is a monkey dancing, and this monkey picks up a giant iron. I later told Pogue that we tend to remember things more if there is something interesting actually happening, rather than just a stagnant object. Neuroscientist Dr. John Golfinos of New York University Langone Medical Center explained during the segment that memory champions can remember large amounts of information with these techniques because they are using the parts of the brain that process language as well as images, so employing other parts of the brain makes their memories stronger.

Since I know the importance of scientific support for my memory training, I offer programs along with Dr. Adam Gazzaley, Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Gazzaley explains the science of memory, and then I discuss the practical benefits of memory training in any career.

Clearly, memory techniques can help boost productivity for anyone in their business or personal life, and recently, I discovered that corporations might also want to get into the memory game. I brought the first-ever US corporate team to the USA Memory Championships. I do one-on-one memory coaching for Mike Faith, the CEO of Headsets.com, and he saw the benefit of memory training in his career. Faith believed in the value of memory training so much that he asked me to train his employees to compete in the USA Memory Championship this year. I started a trend: other corporations have already entered for next year.

Memory is fundamental to learning, so memory training and brain fitness are invaluable tools in the workplace — and who knows where the next corporate memory champion will come from? But it’s not all about competing against others… When you can improve your personal memory you are a winner in any arena. Just follow these basic and specific memory training tips to jump-start your memory.

Basic Memory Tips

1. Attach vivid visual images to information that you want to remember.

2. Establish a connection between new information and a familiar location, such as your home or office. Use this for remembering lists, presentations and speech topics.

3. Involve additional senses, including hearing, taste, touch and smell to assist in committing facts to memory. This aids in the process of encoding information into your brain.

4. Practice relying upon your memory and not technology, to recall telephone numbers and other information. This will help to re-program your brain to become more accustomed to remembering.

How to Remember Names

Everyone likes to hear his or her name, and it’s a great way to get ahead in business. Try these techniques and names will be more than just on the tip of your tongue:

Associate an image with the name of someone that you want to remember. So if someone has the name Jill, imagine a hill and someone jumping up the hill. Try linking another sensory cue to names such as sense of smell or hearing. When you meet someone, notice the scent they are wearing or the tone of their voice. If anything stands out, link it with the name. For example, if a woman is wearing a sweet-smelling perfume, link the word sweet with the name, “Sweet Sue.” If someone has a nasal voice use that with the name, “Nosey Jim.”

How to Remember a List

Imagine that there is a grocery list that you need to remember. Some of the items are milk, eggs and cereal. The best way to remember these items is to visualize them, but in an unusual way. For instance, think of a carton of the milk the size of a building, with eggs flying out of the windows. When the eggs splatter on the ground, cereal pours out of them. In order to cement the list in your mind, create a story surrounding the images and repeat it to yourself several times.

How to Memorize a Speech or Presentation

In order to memorize a speech or presentation you can use the same techniques for remembering a list: Connect an image with each topic or point in your material. For a particularly long speech or presentation, the Method of Loci works well. Just select a familiar location such as your home or office, and attach visual spots in that location to each topic. Picture your living room and take a walk around it in your mind, linking each piece of furniture, art and other objects to the points you want to make. It’s best to use vivid imagery when making these connections so that you have the best chance of remembering the information.

For more information on Chester Santos’ presentations and training go to www.InternationalManofMemory.com.

 

Business success: Rock on

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Business Success LogoIt’s been a while, but a few years ago I used to see the saying everywhere: “Everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten.” Rodger Roeser, APR, president of The Eisen Agency, has a little twist on that idea. Everything he needs to know about marketing and PR, he learned in a rock ‘n roll band.

On that note (ha!), take it away, Rodger…

Rodger Roeser, APR

Rodger Roeser, APR

Those that know me know that I speak allegorically – I have a penchant for using nickel words and often turn to analogy and allusion to make a point. I have always found that it makes complex issues more personal and enables someone to better understand and appreciate an issue or an argument. My favorite analogies and stories typically tie in my experiences as a working, and often times starving, musician. Even as a suit and tie running a successful boutique agency, I am still that same wannabe rock star who practiced public relations and marketing before I even understood the so called “right way.”

There are literally endless ways businesses, personalities, civic and social leaders, and others utilize marketing and public relations in their efforts. In offering some practical and useful advice that I often learned the hard way, created as I went along, or simply worked harder than others would be willing to to make the seemingly impossible happen, understand that everything involved in good marketing and PR can be distilled into a story about rock and roll.

1. Play With Your Heart, Not Your Head

Too often, I see practitioners, either the so called professionals or internal teams, over thinking, over analyzing and over just about everything in an attempt to implement or develop a given marketing or public relations program. We’re likely all familiar with the term “paralysis by analysis,” but in marketing, it seems to be a rampant virus. So often, organizations and practitioners will laboriously fret (get it) over every conceivable outcome and focus on tactical minutia rather than looking at the big picture or worse, failing to see something beautiful in its simplicity that would actually work. Achem’s Razor: All things being equal, sometimes the most obvious is the right choice. Stop over thinking and DO SOMETHING.

I find too often that most would rather talk endlessly about ideas and theories and outcomes instead of finding a simple E chord that would crack someone’s ribs and really have an impact. Yes, it’s important to be prepared up front, but in looking at your organization, find what will make your customers (the listening audience) passionate and want to sing along to your tune. Stop focusing inward and think outward and let yourself be creative and passionate about what you do and how it makes a difference, solves a problem and tells a beautiful story. Because, as you talk with your customers, they’ll know when you’re playing a song you really love or just going through the motions. Marketing is not about keeping quiet in the cube: Shout it out loud.

2. The Show Must Go On

Things happen. It’s marketing, not rocket science. No matter how much you plan for an event, a grand opening, publicity or even desired outcomes – rarely does everything go exactly as planned. You can plan and you can spend head time on creating desired outcomes and what you believe is every possible contingency, but it will happen that the drummer is going to show up late (trust me), six people and your mom will be in the only ones in attendance, or the fact that you’re lip synching will be exposed on live national television. Things happen, it’s inevitable. How you recover, roll with the punches, and still make everything seamless is the mark of a true professional.

A good pro is prepared when something outside of their control happens. Last I checked, even the best agencies are not the magazine publishers, nor do they tell CNN upon what they should report. Businesses must understand that fact. It can rain. So as opposed to getting electrocuted when you plug in your amplifier, you are ready in advance for such unexpected opportunities to shine. You’re drummer fails to show up, time to grab the acoustic guitars and go “unplugged.” Whatever happens, have a back up and be prepared because the event or the interview or the program is in motion. As Frankie says: Relax. Do your job, and be the professional.

3. Know When To Hire a Manager and Outside Professionals

Sometimes, being a good musician (having a great company or product) is simply not enough. Hiring outside marketing professionals, just like hiring a lawyer or accountant, is a prudent move. You play your music well, we’ll show you how to take it to the next level and market it accordingly – that’s why all the great bands have great publicists. Over my 20 years in this marketing and PR business, I’ve seen, witnessed, created or otherwise had some involvement in just about everything at one point or another. Not much would shock or surprise me. I’ve made more mistakes over the years and learned from them than anyone else should have to go through. I taught myself how to play guitar, instead of hiring a teacher – which caused me to fire myself after I discovered guitarist after guitarist was so much better than me. I had a basic understanding, but these guys were good and better than me. They made the entire band (your business) better and I could focus on being the consummate front man.

I see the same thing in business. They “try” to do their marketing and public relations, but trust me, people like me know a heluva lot more about this than you do – it’s all we do. I see unintegrated programs, poorly written and self centered articles and press releases, websites developed by your cousin Tony’s high school son yet you’re a “high end” retailer. A good agency will save you money, not cost you. A good agency will bring hard work, fresh ideas, creativity and also bring to bear all these nifty tools and expertise not afforded to most businesses – particularly small or medium sized ones. And, if you are an internal marketing and public relations pro, don’t think that hiring outside expertise makes you look bad; rather it’s quite the opposite. A good producer can make a good song great. Bet you can name 20 rock bands (you, the client), and not 20 producers (me, the agency). Count on the experts and let them do their job. It will save you time, money and give you a competitive advantage. If you make widgets, make them great – just let someone else market it.

4. So, You Broke a String During the Song

Remember, it’s only one song of an entire set, an entire show, and possibly even an entire tour. Put things into perspective and refer back to rule #2. Just grab your second guitar or replace the string while you’re drummer does his solo (it’s called a distraction). Rarely will one single instant or tactic that may have to be changed or altered affect the overall outcome.

Also, keep in mind that sometimes hitting the “wrong chord” or playing the “wrong note” can lead to a much better song or outcome. Serendipitous mistakes have made for some of the most memorable songs – “Just Look Over Your Shoulder’s Baby” – was a mistake by Michael Jackson in a Jackson 5 hit. Never be so rigid in your thinking that you believe there can’t be a better way or that a serendipitous mistake can’t make a program as a whole even better. A good marketing professional must have the ability to improvise on the fly – and with the good ones – you’ll never even notice.

5. We’ve Got To Play These Kinds of Places First

One of the most amazing things I see in marketing, particularly in public relations and publicity, is how centric most companies and CEOs see their importance in the marketplace. No matter the size of the company or the arena in which it plays, all too often, I see them act and even expect to be on par with the Microsoft’s, IBM’s, or Procter & Gamble’s of the world. They are amazed that CNN is not interested in devoting 30 minutes to talking about how amazing and brilliant this company or this CEO are – and the fact that they’re not in the paper or on TV is because we simply haven’t called the media. They refuse to do interviews in the Cincinnati Enquirer because they’d rather hold out for USA Today. FastCompany is the only magazine I’ll be interviewed in, they say. I hope that one interview that may never come is a damn good one.

You see, you have to play a lot of dirtball clubs and bars before you get to play Madison Square Garden. I suppose you could rent out MSG (advertising), but who would come anyway? It takes time to build a solid following and also takes time to develop and create programs that will be most attractive to a journalist and media outlet – hard working people that are NOT on MY payroll. Although a good agency would have strong relationships with many journalists and reporters, good reporters have a job to do as well.

A good agency or practitioner can work with an organization or entity and find what is most likely to peak the interest of the media and how they can most likely secure coverage – regularly. Because, one show at a club doesn’t mean you get to play MSG the next night. It takes time, takes consistency, and takes tenacity. You must be able to put yourself and your organization on context and be willing to commit to a longer term program.

6. Good Publicity Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Good Attendance

Trust me. Most of the bands in the Cleveland area were not real big fans of my group because we were so media savvy (they had a great PR guy). We were on the cover of music magazines, newspapers, did live TV and radio interviews and performances, had press kits, did video and photo shoots, saved whales and still found time to throw TVs out of hotel windows – but that didn’t guarantee a packed house. You know what did? Hard work, practice and a heluva show.

In business, nothing is going to make up for a bad experience by the customer. I call it Brand Operational Dissonance (BOD), where the ads and smarmy PR guy say one thing, but the person behind the counter is rude, disinterested or your coffee is cold. Operations and your customer service, and honestly, the expertise of your people or the novelty of your new product is still going to be key. Find good insights. Test and retest with marketing research and secret shoppers in your specific target audience – and remember, you’re mom doesn’t count. If she likes your songs, you’re doing something wrong i.e.: ask your target and don’t be afraid of honesty. Use that information to refine and make your service, your product or you better. This is why good brands are always cautious of what appears in the news media or new media – and are protective of those things. Spin is exactly that. You don’t have to spin a fantastic new restaurant.

7. Passion Can Make Up for Talent

Just ask KISS (Sorry, couldn’t resist throwing that analogy in there). They have never claimed to be great musicians, but they are certainly amazing entertainers and you can feel the love for what they do, witness how hard they work, and experience the passion they have for their fans (your target audience) and their music (their product). They are second only to The Beatles in number of albums certified gold.

I am not the greatest public relations practitioner that ever lived. I’m not the smartest, I’m not the most creative – but I am the hardest working. I have the pleasure of having the best job on earth. I LOVE what I do and, ask my team, it can be sometimes all consuming and often times a challenge for others to keep up. I work late. I work weekends. My mind is always going, looking for other ideas and better ways of going about something. Do I get up at four in the morning to deliver cheeseburgers or flowers or coneys to the news media – yep. Pass out coupons or deliver hot coffee to the homeless in the dead of winter –  you bet. I stuff press kits, lick envelopes, make cold calls and entertain complete strangers at events. I’m not too proud to do anything that has to be done for the good of my clients or the good of the company, and sadly, I don’t see that very often.

This job is a paycheck. I’m too good for that task – it’s not my job. That kind of attitude is a killer in business. Again, people are smart and know when you’re faking it. Not that every program is perfect or every idea a winner, you just have to practice your passion and not be afraid to surround yourself with great people, talented people – if only they would learn how to play with their heart and not their head (refer them to rule #1).

8. Practice

There is no substitute. They say amateurs practice until they get it right, but professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong – it just becomes second nature. I can stand out on stage, play a killer bassline, belt out my song, jump up and down, press the button for the fog machine and point to a “fan” all at the same time without even thinking about it. So, too, must business. You must work with your team over and over and over again. Rehearse your speech, your movements, your key messages, your interviews.

A good agency has, as I’ve mentioned before, been there, done that with so many different programs – we’ve practiced. Marketing is not a good place necessarily for trial and error. During the show is probably not the best time to try out your new flaming guitar trick. Keep things simple and do what you know and do it better than anyone within the context of what you’re trying to do. Should you shred a lead guitar solo during a slow ballad just because you can – clearly not. Understand how you and your expertise fits in to make the whole greater than the individual parts, then work together in the many facets of your organization or your marketing program to create a comprehensive and leveraged program. Need help? Rule #3.

9. What Comes After 4?

One. With marketing and public relations, it is a process that involves upfront research, assessment, strategic communications and implementation, and finally an evaluation. Many of us are familiar with R.A.C.E. Again, if you’re not, refer to Rule #3. But, I’ve always felt this left something out of the equation – Continual Process Improvement. A good business and a good marketer will constantly find ways to make something work better, work smarter and more efficiently. If what you’re doing isn’t working, don’t keep doing it because ‘the plan’ says so. If the strategy is solid, but the tactics are not working as expected, don’t be afraid to improve upon that process if you’ve given enough time for the tactics, or personnel, to do their job.

Constantly measure and evaluate based on set key performance indicators, such as traffic, impressions, sales, leads and a host of other measurable objectives. Use unique URLs to track the efficacy of a given advertisement, direct mail or publicity endeavor. Utilize your tracking services and survey programs with clients and customers – items like surveymonkey and zoomerang have made this process simple and efficient. Set your benchmarks at the beginning, run the program well, evaluate then make it better.

10. Turn it Up!

“If life is a radio, turn it to 10.” Turn it up. Have fun and enjoy what you do and do your best on each program, each event, each time. Look for fresh ideas and never be afraid to get a “no” from a client, a reporter or a sales prospect. If you never give someone a chance to say “no,” they’ll never have an opportunity to say “yes.” Said another way: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Soak things up like a sponge and take time to learn and be positively influenced and impacted by everyone around you. 10 is sometimes analogous to perfect, but understand that rarely will everything be perfect – marketing and public relations is a process and should be treated as such.

The number ‘10’ also makes me think of surveys and research, which are keys at the beginning of a program and also the rule of thumb as to the percentage of your total budget you should spend on research – competitive, demographic, segmented and the like. Doing your due diligence and investing in that research at the beginning of a program will save time, money and a lot of headaches.

11. There is no eleven in music. Unless you play for Spinal Tap. Rock on.

Small-business survival strategies

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Business Success LogoIn the UK, a study of 20 small and medium-sized high-growth companies showed they “utilized a blend of three strategies to stay competitive, proactive, and aggressive, and to continue growing while the economy contracted.”

The companies grew at a consistent rate over a recent four-year period—outpacing their competitors by more than 50 percent despite operating in slumping industries, according to this article, which compiles the best practices the study revealed the businesses all used:

• Keeping costs down: All the high-performing companies strove to keep their production budgets low and their prices competitive.

• Differentiation: Thirteen of the 20 firms studied simultaneously employed innovation strategies designed to regularly introduce new products, services, or processes.

• Customization: Eight of the 20 companies emphasized working closely with their customers to identify and produce tailored solutions, altering their product lines to meet their customers’ ever-changing criteria.

The full article is here.

The complete report is here.

 

Retail analytics for small business

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Swarm might sound like a horde of bees from which you should be running away, but it’s instead a system for tracking foot traffic in a store that can help with staffing and sales, the New York Times reports.

San Francisco-based Swarm says it does not “just give raw data back — we give insights.”

The developer, whose parents “lost a lot of money in their first year owning a country store,” says there were no such tools specifically for small businesses —  those available were aimed at businesses of all sizes and were too expensive for small companies.

Here is the full story.

Business Success: The customer is always….

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Business Success LogoThe customer is always right. Right? Except for when they’re totally wrong. With people taking to social media in droves to complain about the tiniest perceived slight from a business, what can you do when the customer is just wrong? 

Kelly Riggs, author of “Quit Whining and Start SELLING!” and founder of performance coaching firm Vmax Performance Group, offers some great insights.

(When) Customers Have Issues

Many years ago I was telling my dad about a challenge I was having at work with a particular manager. This boss rarely considered input from his employees and frequently made amazingly poor decisions. After listening to some of my story, my dad said something to me that was quite interesting: “The boss isn’t always right,” he said. “But — he is always the boss.”

Kelly Riggs

Kelly Riggs

Okay. Well, thanks for the support. That’s what I thought at first, anyway, but, as it turns out, he wasn’t actually supporting my boss; instead, he was trying to tell me something important about dealing with people. He was suggesting that you need to respect the boss, even when he or she does things you don’t agree with.
Old school stuff. Respect for authority, that kind of thing.
It is, by the way, good advice. If you don’t respect what the boss does, instead of becoming a problem go somewhere else. (What better way to penalize a bad boss than to take your talent elsewhere?)
Thinking about that story reminded me of a very similar saying that businesspeople should always remember: “The customer isn’t always right, but he (or she) is ALWAYS the customer.” Same idea as above; same take-away. If your customer has a problem, he or she may not be right, but it still makes good business sense to respect the customer.
First, delighted customers are the best marketing money can buy. Second, dissatisfied customers can be more destructive that just about anything (just look at all the websites devoted to trashing companies that treat customers poorly). Third, a customer’s value to your business is usually measured over a lifetime, not a single purchase. Unless it is unprofitable to do business with the customer, it makes (dollars and) sense to deal patiently with customers who have issues.
The stark reality is that almost all customers have issues. Some issues are big, some are small. Some are easily resolved, some are chronic. Some issues are imagined, others are the real deal. Regardless of the size and scope of the issue, business owners and managers, and their sales and staff members, should be diligent in resolving issues – real or imagined. Why? Because the customer may not necessarily be right, but he/she can certainly influence the decisions of a whole lot of other potential customers.

Tips on Dealing with Customer Issues

In my experience, one of the traits that seems to appear consistently among top businesspeople is their ability to effectively handle customer issues. In fact, top businesspeople just seem to know how to parlay customer issues into additional business, new opportunities, and qualified referrals. While some seem to do it quite naturally, I have found that in most cases it’s simply a matter of learning a few key skills and looking at each issue as an opportunity to impress the customer.
The question is how do they do it? What exactly are they doing to negotiate through or around these issues?
One critical idea to consider very simple, but widely abused. Some people tend to throw other departments under the bus when things go wrong. “I don’t know what those guys in shipping are doing,” they might say. Or, “Our accounting department is clueless.” Stuff like that. The idea is to deflect blame and be the “good guy.” However, by blaming others, that staff member is sending a very clear message: I don’t take responsibility for problems, and I am willing to blame anyone else at any time.
This not only erodes your integrity, but it will eventually destroy your credibility.
Some quick tips:
1. Take responsibility for the issue personally (regardless of the cause)
2. Avoid assumptions – get a clear definition of the problem from the customer
3. Make sure the customer’s assumptions are valid
4. Be positive and amiable – even in disagreement
5. Learn everything you can this time, so you can proactively avoid the same issue next time.

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.