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It’s What You Do NEXT That Counts …

6 Apr

Bill Lee over at the Harvard Business Review blog presented another angle on the value of customer referrals.  It got me thinking…

The blog is entitled “The Things Customers Can Do Better Than You”.  The title threw me off a bit, but the real meaning behind the blog is that there is no substitute for customer referrals.  This is an opportunity and a challenge to businesses, B2B and B2C.

Bill’s points:

  • Customers know more about each other than you know about them. 
  • Customers are more credible than you are.
  • Customers are more persuasive than you are.
  • Customers often understand buyer needs better than you do.
  • Prospects in your market would rather affiliate with their peers (your customers) than with you.

These are all good points as far as why referral business is important.  However, from the supplier side,  there is a bigger issue at play here…

In the B2C world, I don’t need to even leave my own home to see the effect of existing customers on prospective new customers.  When my wife buys something online, the FIRST thing she does is look at customer comments.  I used to wonder why, but now I always do the same.

I’m in the market for a VCR/DVD recorder to take some old family movies and preserve them.  In the past, I would look for a name brand I recognized and a decent price.  Not any more!  I checked out reviews of several models from reputable electronics companies, and found numerous complaints about product quality.  I am reconsidering buying any VCR/DVD combo.

We belong to Angie’s List.  Through that service, we have been introduced to excellent local painters, landscapers, etc.  Word of mouth has now been automated!

This creates an enormous challenge for suppliers.  I’m not saying you can’t make a mistake, everyone does.  The issue is that each mistake is now in the spotlight.  It’s what you do NEXT that counts.  The key to success is HOW YOU REACT.  What do you do to make it right, and how quickly do you do it?

There is a local tire store in Milford, OH that I use religiously.  Do they have the best price?  They’re competitive, I wouldn’t say best.  Do they advertise heavily? Not like some of their competitors.  So why do I go there?

They screwed up.  About 5-6 years ago, I had a problem with their service and it was clear that they were at least partly to blame.  They had been a little ‘over-zealous’ in tightening the lug nuts on my wheels, so much so, that neither I, nor my two teenaged sons, nor the guy from AAA could remove one of the lug nuts when I had a flat (luckily, at home).

What did they do next?

They stepped up, fixed the problem (which was a costly fix, involving many hours of labor and a new alloy wheel by the time they were done) and they did not charge me a cent.  I had no proof that they over-tightened the lugs.  It had been months since I purchased the tires.  No matter, it was a problem with a product/service I purchased from them and they made it right with no questions asked.

They earned my loyalty.  Since that incident, I have been back to them on several occasions, probably have spent $3,000 – $5,000.  When anyone asks me for a recommendation for a tire store, I happily re-tell this story.

The funny thing is, the shoe (tire?) is on the other foot now.  In my new position, I AM the customer service guy…   In the software  business, an industry not known for being great at customer service.

It’s my organization that is in the spotlight.   Here’s the thing;  I know that we will not be perfect, I know that we will make the occasional mistake…

… but in those cases, it’s what we do NEXT that counts!  That’s where we excel.

– RTR

All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different

22 Mar

Chairman of La Rosa’s Pizza, T. D. Hughes, is fond of saying, “All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different”.  Well, I’m here to tell you as I begin day 4 at Vinimaya, when you talk about small, entrepreneurial software companies, it doesn’t look different either!

Examples:

Next man in:

This phrase is typically heard in a sports context (or military, I suppose).  When someone ‘goes down’, the next man (woman) in picks up the task and runs with it.  No one needs to ask, no one waits for permission.  It just gets done.  With one Client Service Manager stuck in business travel purgatory, another stepped in to solve a pressing customer issue.   The new guy (yours truly)  didn’t have to do anything, in fact, I didn’t even know it happened until after the problem was solved.

We’re overworked AND driven:

In my initial interviews with my team, there were comments that I more or less expected, walking into a role that had been largely vacant for 3-4 months.  People needed to vent, but even through the turmoil and frustration, nothing gets in the way of doing the right thing for the customer.  There is no one RIP here (‘Retired In Place”).

Diplomacy:

There is always a delicate balance between doing what’s right for the customer, and doing the customer’s job for them, especially with a product that is such a key element of the customer’s procurement infrastructure.  The level of diplomacy required is significant.  Seeing this diplomacy at work is great, I’ve seen some examples already that would make Dale Carnegie smile.

Not Enough Time for Quandrant II:

The self help ‘bible’ of the 1990’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks to the value of ‘Quadrant II activities‘, the activities that are important, but not urgent.  The speed and urgency of everything that goes on in the small entrepreneurial software company environment tends to drive quadrant II activities back into the shadows.  I believe my job is to help facilitate a proper balance.

Well, that’s enough for now, nearly a week in and still lovin’ it.

– RTR

Commenting on Team Building

20 Mar

While I have managed a team at various times during my career, my most recent assignment was more of an individual contributor role, and, I’ve not had to ‘inherit’ a team in quite a while.  With this in mind, I found this blog over at Harvard Business Review to be very interesting.

The blog was called “The Hard Science of Teamwork” reported by Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland.  The author is the Director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program.   The ‘Hard Science’ in the title refered to the use of ‘sociometric badges’ to mathematically measure communication.  The blog stated with points related to the ‘new science of building great teams’.

Our data show that great teams:

  • Communicate frequently. In a typical project team a dozen or so communication exchanges per working hour may turn out to be optimum; but more or less than that and team performance can decline.
  • Talk and listen in equal measure, equally among members. Lower performing teams have dominant members, teams within teams, and members who talk or listen but don’t do both.
  • Engage in frequent informal communication. The best teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meetings or as “asides” during team meetings, and increasing opportunities for informal communication tends to increase team performance.
  • Explore for ideas and information outside the group. The best teams periodically connect with many different outside sources and bring what they learn back to the team.

An interesting point made by Mr. Pentland was that content of communication (the ‘what‘) did not matter as much as they way that communication took place (the ‘how‘).  This makes sense to me.   Material presented in dull monotone will not have the effect as the same material present with passion.

One learning from this blog that did suprise me was Pentland’s assertion that communication (charisma?) can be taught:

In our work we’ve found that these patterns of communication are highly trainable, and that personality traits we usually chalk up to the “it” factor — personal charisma, for example — are actually teachable skills.

This bears watching.  In my new role, an effective team will be key to our continued success, and communication will be a very important factor.

More to come….

– RTR

Commenting on “The Only Question That Really Matters”

10 Feb

Every so often, I read something that knocks me back in my chair.

This morning, it was a blog by Tony Schwartz over at the Harvard Business Review entitled, “The Most Important Question You Can Ask”.  The question is “Why are you here?”, Schwartz’ answer:

I’m here to add more value to the world than I’m using up.

Simple… Powerful… What a great philosophy!  Imagine a world where everyone felt that way?

Many realizations came hard on the heels of reading this statement.  Take social media, for example.  What blogs/tweets do I gravitate toward?  The ones that add value.  The ones that give me an additional insight on a topic.  What are the blogs/tweets that make me want to move off the grid?  The ones that are blatantly self-serving; thinly (or not even thinly) disguised marketing product pitches.  White noise.

Look at any credible sales training methodology (Jeffrey Gitomer and Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage are two that come to mind).  What do they preach? Add value, show a genuine interest in the other person (the key word being ‘genuine’).

BTW: One of my favorite tweets;  Deirdre Breakenridge simply tweets “Good Morning” every day.  It’s almost like greeting an old friend.  I find myself looking forward to it.  No veiled (or unveiled) message, no hidden agenda, just “good morning”.  As Schwartz points out in his blog, even the simple gesture adds value.

Back to the topic:

I’ve always felt that the credit crunch and the financial malaise of the past few years can be attributed to an attitude of “me first”, exemplified by a VISA advertising campaign from decades ago:

“Who says you can’t have it all?”

What a siren song!  Of COURSE I can have that big screen TV,  I DESERVE it.   People (or institutions, or countries) are using money they don’t have, then demanding a bailout when it all comes crashing down.

As we prepared to invade Iraq following the events of 9/11/01,  I was debating the merits of that strategy with a former co-worker.  His view, we need to take over Iraq for the oil.  Iraqi national sovereignty had no bearing on the discussion.  We need the oil.  It’s all about us.

It’s disappointing that our political system seems to fall into one of two camps.  The Democratic “The rich must give to the poor” and the Republican  “I’ve got mine, you can’t have it”.  I find myself disillusioned by both.

I’m looking for a party or candidate that truly lives by “I’m here to add more value to the world than I’m using up”,  I’ll follow him or her anywhere.

In the meantime, I’ll just strive to live up to that ideal myself.  I have a long way to go.

Thank you, Mr. Schwartz!

– RTR

Why Didn’t I Think of That? Intellectual Diversity

9 Feb

Bronwyn Fryer wrote an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review blog titled “Wanted: Idea Fusers”.  She uses examples such as Steve Jobs (everyone’s favorite example) and his fusion of calligraphy and technology in creating the Macintosh user interface.

In the closing paragraph, Fryer issues a challenge:

Now, take a good look at the people your company hires. Do they come from all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences? My guess is that there may be a diversity policy on the books, and that there are people of different genders and races. But we need more diversity than that. We need much more intellectual diversity, and we need to find ways to put unlike ideas together in new ways.

Connecting the dots here, I thought of my own family.  One of the things I always admired about my wife is how she encouraged our children to be self-sufficient and find their own way at a very early age.  They learned to make their own meals, do their own chores MUCH earlier in life than I would have expected.  I remember our youngest filling a pot of water and putting it on the stove to make tortellini when he couldn’t even see the top of the stove!

When the kids were frustrated, she would say “Use your words”.  When they were punished for some disgression, they would not be allowed out of “time-out” until they could present a ‘plan’ for how they would act in the future when faced with a similar situation.

I was more old school, resorting to “… because I SAID SO!” as a reason way too often.

Our children became independent thinkers, unafraid to present what we now call ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions.  All three of our children turned out to be great adults.

Ms. Fryer is really on to something with her comments.  Most organization do NOT gravitate toward people who think differently.

Our children took different educational paths when we moved to Cincinnati from Boston.  Our middle child started 1st grade in the local public elementary school, and followed the public school path through high school, the youngest was in Catholic school from Kindergarten on.   Regardless of the school choice, the boys (not as socially adept as their big sister) were sometimes a ‘challenge’ to the elementary school environment, due to their out-of-the-box independent thinking.  In both cases there were teachers along the way that saw their potential and nurtured it, but I sometimes wonder, what if my wife and I were BOTH “because I said so” parents?  What if our children’s educational experience had not included those teachers that saw their true value?

I think the same applies to business organizations.  We naturally gravitate towards people who think and act like us.  Free thinkers can be a burden.  They can be disruptive.  They’re not like us…

I believe that it’s a rare organization that can foster free thinking and idea fusing and survive over time.  Eventually the success of the free thinking culture is challenged by market forces, and management brings in a ‘proven leader’ to whip the organization into shape.  Think Apple during Steve Jobs ‘hiatus’.   The non-conformists desert, the company becomes another nameless, faceless organization and another ‘idea fusing’ start up kicks them out of the limelight.  What would Apple look like today if Steve Jobs had not returned?

It’s not enough to find idea fusers, you need to be able to foster their growth and understand that not all fused ideas will be winners.  It will be a wild ride, but definitely worth the journey!

– RTR

The Brutality of Search

17 Jan

I have to thank Oleg Shilovitsky for the title.  In a comment in Jim Brown’s blog “A Maturity Model for Product Data Accessiblity?”, Oleg stated:

Think about differences between Google and Facebook. FB provides an additional angle of data access for individuals by trying to reduce “noise effect” created by brutality of search. 

The term set my head spinning.  I told Oleg I would use it (steal it)!

Two events, one historical, one personal, came to mind:

In 1948, Thomas E. Dewey and Harry S. Truman were locked in a battle to become President of the United States.  Truman was elected, and the most famous photograph of the campaign shows an elated Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune, with the headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”.  The trusty pollsters working for the Trib did a telephone canvas and determined that Dewey would win by a landslide.   Truman was elected, predominantly we assume, by people who had no telephones…

In 1960, my baby sister was born.  As she moved from infant to toddler, we noticed that she wasn’t speaking (In a loud Italian family with 6 kids, that could be easy to miss).   After conferring with family doctors, my parents loaded us in the car and we drove down to Baltimore to visit a world renown expert in Aphasia at Johns Hopkins.  He thoroughly tested Cathy, and diagnosed Aphasia.  He pronounced that she could hear, but not speak.  My parents enrolled Cathy in a school that specialized in this condition. 

We found out later that Cathy was hearing-impaired.  She was bright and precocious, and seemed to ‘anticipate’ what the expert was looking for at Johns Hopkins.  I believe this was not difficult, because he already KNEW what he was looking for.  He was looking for Aphasia!

The moral of the story? 

You will find what you are looking for.  Not necessarily the truth.

-RTR

 

 

What is Networking for? Thought provoking post from the PLM Group on LinkedIn

21 Dec

Thanks to Jennifer Montez, Online Marketing Coordinator at New Grad Life for this one.  Unlike most of my blog ideas, this one sort of came out of  ‘left field’.  The referenced article struck me because of a combination of the holidays, thinking about family, and about my youngest, who will soon enter the job market.  The article’s provocative title:

“Networking means you’re looking to use people to achieve selfish goals, or opportunistically ask people for help.” – True?

That statement pushed me back in my chair.  Is that really what networking is?  Is that what I want my son to be doing as he enters the workforce?

A little introspection.  I like to jokingly say that I’m a ‘recovering engineer’.  When I was 22, I knew that I was really smart, and I wanted everyone else to know it, too.  Deep down, it was insecurity talking.  People that know me would probably not think of me as shy or insecure, but I talk a good game.  Always have.  Happy to give you my opinion.  At great length….

It has been a combination of tireless coaching by my wife, a bit of maturity, Dale Carnegie, and, strangely enough, the internet, that has started to turn me into more of a social being.  If I’m posting, I have time to be thoughtful, to edit, to think about how my comments would be received.  People that I have never met, from all over the world, become friends via shared interests (it’s also harder to interupt someone on the net).

So, what is networking for?  Is it shameless self-promotion?  For some, I’m sure.  For me?  I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an exhilirating feeling when someone responds to a blog, or decides to follow me on Twitter.  It makes my day.  But,  I don’t see it as self promotion, and it is fairly easy to see who’s interested and who’s promoting when I get responses and followers.

The best ‘networker’ I ever met was my mother-in-law, Nora.  I believe you could have parachuted Nora into a foreign country and in 24 hours she would have made a dozen new friends.  Her daughter (my wife, Mary) has the same trait.  When we go to a party, I tend to look for people I know.  We talk.  I run out of things to talk about, and I’m ready to go home.  Mary makes it a point to meet new people and find out about them.  When we drive home, she always has an interesting story about someone she met.  It’s a skill that I wish came naturally to me, but it’s something I have to work at all the time.

So what is the key to successful networking?  Dale Carnegie said it best:

“Become Genuinely Interested In Other People”

… or as the New Grad Life article quoted (also from Carnegie):

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

That is the advice I will share with my son, and the advice for anyone entering the job market.

-RTR