Posts filed under ‘Customer Service’

I get Twitter now – finally

About two weeks ago we saw one of the longest running threads on an ASAE listserve topic – about 4-5 dozen posts regarding Twitter. It was fascinating to watch and be a part of. It’s why I’m an ASAE member. As that discussion was starting I was sitting down to write an article to explain why I didn’t ‘get it’ and why I’d stayed away from the ‘stupid, silly, time wasting fad’ for more than three years.  A few weeks later, with some 250 ‘followers’ hanging on my every word (yeah… right), I can honestly say that I now ‘get it’ – and thought it might be useful to share what this ASAE member now ‘gets’.

First thing worth mentioning? I have no way to prove this, but I suspect that more than a few readers of this infrequently updated blog have just bypassed this post because they saw the word ‘Twitter’ in the subject line.  I did the same thing for three years. Twitter? Not interested. Nothing there for me. Nothing to see here. Move along…


First? It is perfectly, totally, 100% true – there’s a lot, an awful lot, of banality on Twitter. There’s a fellow I know – a rather good cartoonist and podcaster  – who’s on Twitter. Follow him (ie. Subscribe to his Tweets (ie. Postings)) if you want to know what flavour ice cream his kids have dropped on the floor, what colour T-shirt he’s wearing or whether or not he arrived at the Mall yet. I Followed him for a day or so, had a small brain freeze as a result, and then removed him from the list of people I was following (you can do that – it’s allowed)…

Why mention him if I’m trying to build a case for an association getting involved with Twitter? (and yes, that’s what I’m doing here) Well, for starters, as many Assns would like to have,  he has a ‘personal’ and a ‘national’ brand… each month he has about 50,000 people download his podcasts. Raise your hand if 50,000+ of your members (you have 50,000+ members… correct?) download your Assn podcast each month. (You have a podcast… correct?)

Of those 50,000+ people, 6,899 (just checked) people follow him hourly on Twitter.  Why do they follow him? I have no idea. All I know is that they do. They get some value from this – he benefits from that. Seems like a reasonable deal all round.

One of the perennial questions posted on the ASAE listserves is, “How often should we be e-mailing/contacting our members.” Because we’re concerned that sending them mail ‘too’ often (more than once or twice a month) might be problematic in some way. Yet? There is a segment of our membership, and our potential membership (more on this in a second), who are ready, willing and able to receive information from us continually, every hour of the day… And our ‘stretch goal’ is to bump our frequency of communication to once a week?

Sometimes, not always, solutions to existing problems stare us in the face as we blindly step over them.

Another perennial concern shared by most, not all, associations is declining membership. We’re getting older and the retirees at the top aren’t being replaced with youngsters at the bottom. Add to this, the effect of a shaky economy (is it okay to say we’re in a full blown recession yet?) and we have a recipe for ‘interesting times’ ahead of us. Two questions are always on the table, “How do we attract new members?”, and “How do we communicate with the alphabet soup of Generations?”

Who’s on Twitter? Mostly 18-24 year olds… mostly college and college grads.
Google {Demographics of Twitter} for a slew of recent sources for detailed stats.

Who were we looking for again to join our organizations?

One of the most fascinating (to me any way) uses of Twitter, that’s directly applicable to Associations of all shapes and sizes – is how it’s being used in conferences. People are blithely Tweeting away the nuggets of ‘wisdom’ that sometimes fall from the mouths of speakers. They’re also creating a strong sense of community and a ‘Wish you were here” mentality — what’s THAT worth in future attendance numbers?

I can immediately hear some objections to this. A) How could we charge for this? B) How do we restrict this flow of Assn generated content to Assn members? C) How do we control this?

Short answer? We can’t. – But we can be more active in our participation of this phenomenon. Want REAL feedback about your conference? Want to build community? Want an organic way to encourage people to be more of a part of what’s going on? Encourage Tweeting.

The thing is… Tweeters are already doing this at the conferences of Associations who want nothing to do with this new fangled way of communicating – gosh darn it! And while you’re at it? Get off my lawn you young Whippersnappers… The things kids get up to these days… why in my time we used to…


If you’d asked me a month ago what I thought of Twitter – I’d have told you. You know me well enough to know I would not have pulled any punches in my assessment that Twitter was an absolute waste of a professional’s time. I would have been perfectly, totally, 100% wrong. That happens from time to time. I find those occurances educational and informative. Even useful.

Truth is, Twitter, like all tools, is what we make of it.



April 2, 2009 at 4:30 am Leave a comment

Making a Date with a Crisis

Regardless of our circumstances we often share the same thoughts. The notion “It can’t happen here”, is such a common way of looking at disaster, that even Kissinger got into the act with his famous “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”

Humor aside, disasters happen regardless of what you had planned for the week. How badly they affect us, is determined by our ability to respond without warning to crisis situations.

The traditional approach to disaster planning is to create a methodology, install contingency plans, ensure that proper backups of crucial data are made, and place all this documentation in yellow binders on a shelf. If we’re diligent, we take it out once a year for some exercise.

This way of planning for disaster, while it provides many benefits, also contains a serious flaw. It’s not so much the cost – insurance of any type always costs money. The flaw is more subtle, but it is potentially serious enough to scuttle the best laid plan.

It is this, Disasters by their very nature, happen unexpectedly. Our success on the day is based upon how we react when we’re confused and don’t know what’s going on. Planning allows us to think through the process of what to do if (when?) something happens, before it actually occurs. That thought process alone is the central core of any contingency plan, but just thinking about it, isn’t enough. We have to go into the water before we know how to swim. We have to live it, to learn from it. Planning for the experience is not the same as experiencing the plan.

How to improve a disaster recovery plan? Given the stated nature of disasters, ‘unexpectedly and without warning’ seems like the right approach.

At 9:00am on a Monday morning, inform 50% (or a mere dozen if that would be too disruptive) of your management team, individually and personally, that they’re leaving immediately for an off site location for an emergency meeting. No prior warning. No details provided. No excuses accepted. All meetings regardless of importance are ignored. No notification to secretaries/assistants or clients allowed. All cell phones and blackberries collected. In other words, just like a real life crisis.

When they arrive via the waiting bus, they’re told of the ‘disaster’ that has taken place. They are to respond to this ‘disaster’ over the next day or two. What is the ‘disaster’? That depends on how severe you want it to be and what you think would provide the best information.

There’s a certain beauty to this exercise – NO PREPARATION IS REQUIRED. (except possibly for the bus) The Exercise starts at 9:00am when your employees are informed. NO hotel is booked – no coffee pre-ordered, no Flip Charts on site.

I already hear the objections… we need to book the hotel in advance otherwise…

Question… on the day our building is on fire, bombed, flooded, the senior exec team all killed in an air crash, captured by ninjas etc. etc. will we already have a room booked? If we cannot manage this minuscule exercise in crisis – then we are fundamentally incapable of handling a real emergency.

Back at the office the remainder of the management team can take the exercise one step further and pretend the entire off site team are victims of a disaster. This secondary exercise might be more than your organization can handle without severely impacting day-to-day operations. The alternative is to merely explain what is going on and cope with their unexpected absence for two days (week?). There is learning even this minimalist approach.

The exercise provides two benefits. First? An immediate and relatively inexpensive evaluation of how well your management team responds to an unexpected crisis.

Secondly? In a very short period of time, with minimal impact to your organization, you highlight those areas most vulnerable to the ‘disaster’ you selected. With that in hand you can now move forward to a ‘real’ contingency plan with specific objectives in mind.

The objections to this exercise are many and obvious. You can’t afford the time. The board would object. You can’t afford the negative impact to the business. Your schedule is full next week.

June 19, 2008 at 7:42 am 2 comments

Forget the Turtles, its PEOPLE all the way down, and up.

I’m baffled… If I go to the Tim Hortons corporate site I read the following…

“The Tim Horton Children’s Foundation was established in 1974 by Ron Joyce, Co-Founder of the Tim Hortons chain, to honour Tim Horton’s love for children and his desire to help those less fortunate.”

And then I’m forced to contrast THAT worthy value statement with the article in today’s Toronto Star, where one of their employees in London, Ont is FIRED for handing a toddler a single Timbit…

Has Tim Hortons lost its mind?

Folks? From a marketing perspective alone this has to be one of the most incompetent management moves I’ve read about in a long long time. I don’t CARE if they have a corporate ‘policy’ against ‘theft’ – this isn’t THEFT, it’s called ‘Customer service’ and it’s the type of action that management should encourage in their employees. Instead she gets fired? For giving a customer a $0.16 Timbit? They put a person’s livelihood at risk for a Timbit???? Good grief.

It’s possible to try and condone, and even support the manager’s actions by pointing to the ‘policy’ and stating “The employee took a Timbit. She didn’t pay for it. It’s theft.” But when it comes to the negative PR? This is an unmitigated and totally unnecessary, disaster.

I sometimes wonder if the corporate world has forgotten what the term ‘customer service’ means anymore. It means treating customers as if you valued them. Handing a child a Timbit will likely result in the parent feeling grateful and spending a few extra dollars in the store. It’ll certainly prompt them to return to the store from time to time.

Be prepared for a backlash on this one. The best thing Tim Hortons could possibly do, is immediately re-instate the employee with a public apology and hold a ‘free Timbit’ for toddlers policy. If anyone should be fired, it should be the three managers involved in this PR fiasco.

Updated: 3:22pm May 8th 2008 same day the story broke:

Well, I tip my hat to Tim Hortons – common sense has won the day. The employee was rehired and is now working at another store. Full story here.

May 8, 2008 at 10:04 am 1 comment

The Room that Eats Speakers

Here’s a Catch-22 that affects all of us, we learn best from failure, but the last thing we want to discuss are our failures. In the spirit of sharing, I’m going to discuss some personal professional ‘failures’.

Some background, not as any sort of self promotion, but in an effort to position the context of this article. I’m a keynote speaker. I’ve spoken for more than a quarter of a century and have a reputation sufficient to take me to 37 countries and have me invited to speak at the prestigious World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In short, I know what I’m doing, I do it well, I’m a bona fide professional.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t failed to deliver from time to time. Not often. Three times to be exact, in more than 25 years.

The first time it happened I wrote it off as ‘the fault of the audience’ … what can I say? It was early in my career and didn’t realize that it’s never the fault of the audience.

The second time? It was a presentation I was giving for the first time… I wrote that failure off to not having the timing down, and suspected that the flow of my talk wasn’t perfect. Better than my first excuse, but as we shall see, not the real reason.

The third time? I knew it wasn’t the audience. I’d grown out of blaming others for the quality of my work. Nor was it a new talk, it was one I’d given hundreds of times, and I’d presented it as I always had, but despite my knowledge of the topic, my passion and delivery – the presentation fell flat, and I died on stage for the third time. If it wasn’t the audience, and if it wasn’t ‘me’ – then why did I fail? As a speaker – that’s an important question. The answer is an important one for any meeting planner.

Each time I failed, I had the same sense of never once connecting with the audience. With that as the only thing in common that I could easily remember – I sat down, took pen and paper and wrote down everything I could reconstruct from my memory about those painful experiences. The result is this little bit of sharing.

Cavernous rooms – Exhibit halls are not the best rooms to speak in. The 50ft ceilings swallow all but the best sound systems. They place a great distance between the speaker and the listeners.

Elevated podiums – When the podium is 3ft or more off the ground? Then you’re guaranteed to be far away from the audience, not only with respect to distance, but psychologically as well. Here’s a made up formulae to consider, the difficulty of creating rapport with your audience, increases as the square of the distance between you and the listener. I’ve nothing but my experiential data to back that up.

Open space in front of podium – A tall podium usually causes the first row of seats to be 20-30 ft from the podium… They have to be that far back or they’ll get a crick in their neck looking up to you! This adds more space between the speaker and the audience. At one of my failures, there was literally enough space for a pipe band between myself and the audience. I remember them well as they marched out and I marched up to my guillotine.

A wide centre aisle – if the room is large, the temptation is for a wide central aisle – meaning that if the speaker stands in the centre of the podium, then he/she is speaking to blank space all the way to the back of the room!

Wide rooms vs. deep rooms – some rooms are wider than they’re deep. This means that listeners to the left and right of the speaker are further away than those all the way at the back of the room. For a speaker to make eye contact with those on the left, requires that we turn our back to those to the right. AND if we’re wearing a lavalier microphone? Then you MUST turn your shoulders in the direction you’re speaking OR the mic won’t pick up your voice.

Rounds vs. Rows – If a room is filled with round tables rather than rows of seats, then 300 people or more are scattered over a few acres… being spoken to by a tiny speaker far away in the distance? Eye contact? You’re lucky if you can see the speaker… sooo… the meeting planner solves the ‘problem’ by…

Cameras and large screens – and in doing so they deliver the final death blow to the valiant speaker. In order that the audience can see the speaker, they’ll bring on the camera… which requires lighting… which ensures the speaker will never even see the auidience through the glare of the lights.

Now, I’m well aware that large audiences forces some of the above onto the meeting, but when they ALL converge at a single meeting then the risk of failure is high. As I thought back to each of my three failures? All of the above were in play, I was doomed from the start.

As I’ve grown older, and spoken more, I’ve grown wiser. This week I was presented with the room that eats speakers. But! I now recognized the beast. I was able to make some changes – both in the room layout (minor changes) and in my presentation (more minor changes)… I’m told the meeting was a roaring success. I’d beaten the monster. It didn’t eat me this time.

The key? Know that certain rooms pose more of a challenge. If possible? Change the room, if not? Then be aware of the room, know the threats, embrace them and respond to them. (But change something in the room… the room layout is not fixed in stone.)

April 21, 2008 at 10:00 am 8 comments

Just Trust me

Regardless of whether we’re politicians, managers or parents, our most valuable relationship asset is “trust”. With a healthy accumulation of “trust” in hand all relationships with constituents, employees and children are easier, simpler and more pleasant. Without “trust” life is difficult. If this is obvious, and it is, then why do we seem to go out of our way to squander these benefits?

Without cracking open our well worn dictionaries and thesauri and digging up a lifeless definition… what is “Trust”? Two images come to mind; a parent standing in a pool entreating a nervous child on the edge of a swimming pool to “jump! I’ll catch you!” and of Charlie Brown running, for the 700th time, to kick the football held by Lucy the Deceitful.

Those simple images sum up what we already know. Trust is our willingness to accept a risk on someone else’s assurance of safety. The reasons behind this willingness are worth dissecting, because hopefully they’ll provide a basis for techniques to both build and retain trust in the workplace.

Benevolence: The child trembling with fear at the edge of the pool will leap into the waiting arms of her parent, because she knows, with absolute certainty, that Mommy won’t let her down. That the parent has the best interests of the child at heart: no deceit; no hidden agenda.

Do those we want to trust us, know that about us? That we have their best interests at heart? That we won’t let them down? Have we demonstrated our benevolence in the past with more than words? Do we put their interests before our own, once we’ve made them a promise or given our word?

Credibility: The child knows that Mommy won’t lie. That if Mommy says she’ll catch her, that she will catch her.

This is perhaps the easiest aspect of trust to avoid violating. Never make a promise, a statement, or even suggest you’ll do something and then not do it. Once upon a time, perhaps in a fantasy land, our word was our bond. Once we said something, then we’d follow through no matter what the consequences. Sadly, today our word isn’t sufficient. We exchange contracts and employ legions of lawyers to ensure that we all agree on what the phrase “I will” really means.

Competence: The child knows that Daddy won’t drop her. That he has the skill, the strength and ability to catch her and keep her safe from harm.

Your knowledge of my competencies is a crucial component of your trust in me. If I say I’m going to do something, one of your first thoughts is “Can he do it? Does he have the skills? Can I rely on him to deliver?” This consideration forces me to do two things. First? I’ll never commit to something I can’t do. Second? I need to ensure you have a good understanding of my capabilities.

There’s more to this thing called “trust”. We could explore the notion of fairness; do we treat everyone equally both in terms of rewards and punishments? Do we adhere to Golden Rule?

We could also include concepts of openness and shared risk. We could explore the notion of trust between strangers and arrangements based on mutually shared consequences, but the bulk of trust is based on the concepts of benevolence, competence and credibility.

Meanwhile… we left Charlie Brown running at that football… you’ve read the comics, you know what will happen this time. Lucy, for personal reasons beyond our ken, will pull that ball away for the 700th time and Charlie will once again launch himself into the air, to land with a sickening crunch on the wet grass. He never learns.

A news flash to all managers – Charlie Brown doesn’t work for you. Good old Chuckie is a cartoon figure. Those working for you are real people, with memories the envy of Elephants. We never forget.

That’s the glass jaw of this thing called trust. It can take years to develop, and then a single betrayal of someone’s trust will not only demolish all we’ve worked to achieve, but it severely hampers our ability to build trust in the future. Unlike Charlie Brown, we’re unlikely to trust people after a single betrayal, never mind constant betrayal.

Understanding trust isn’t difficult, all we have to do is just remember why we were willing to leap into a parent’s arms, and then be willing to trust the reasoning of the child we once were.

February 20, 2008 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

Capability in Context

Many years ago I was handed an assignment which would cause any technologist to drool over their keyboards. At the time I was working for a retail company with about 100 stores spread across Canada. The question raised by management was “should we install personal computers into the stores to improve store efficiency?”

The motivation for the question was obvious. PCs at head office were delivering huge gains in productivity. If this was possible at head office, was it also possible in the stores? If it was, then it would reduce store workload allowing store management more time on the sales floor.

To answer the question, a consultant – yours truly – was sent into a store for six months. The rationale was that there was no better way to gain store experience/knowledge than by assuming the role of a store employee. I was given no other responsibility but to observe the store, identify all store activities that might benefit from a local PC. Once the six month sojourn was complete I was to present a report and a conclusion. Oh… I also had regular store duties. I offloaded trucks, did inventory and sold goods.

The in-store experience was invaluable. It is one thing to have an intellectual understanding of how your company operates, and something else entirely to be a part of that process. To put it very bluntly… there’s a very good reason why the ‘field’ nearly always believes that ‘head office’ is populated by fools. This isn’t readily apparent until you are given totally contradictory prime directives… sell more… and always complete the paperwork.

It convinced me, beyond all reasonable doubt, that to intelligently integrate computers into an environment, one must be more than casually acquainted with that environment.

To that end we did something rather unusual. Stores received information in the form of memos, updates, shipping lists, inventory sheets, sales figures, employee schedules etc. etc. from every department in the organization. Since nobody at head office had an accurate sense of how much info was being sent out, we had to correct this. The solution was to identify the CEO’s office as store #999 and everything sent to the stores was also sent to his office and piled on a desk. The CEO had only to ‘read’ everything sent to him. That alone reduced the flood of info being sent to the stores, as he began to complain there was far too much junk in his growing store pile.

The final report concluded there was no question that PCs, properly used to manage store activities by properly trained store managers, would significantly reduce store work load allowing managers to work the floor and increase sales…

BUT… far greater and more immediate gains were achievable, if we reduced the amount of paperwork sent to the stores. Conclusion? Do not automate anything until what you’re already doing makes sense.

To my great surprise, this conclusion wasn’t embraced. There was a covert belief that we could find the solution to the problem of overworked managers in technology, and not in changing existing management practices. It was perceived that spending money to put PCs in the stores was an ‘easier’ solution than changing the existing Status Quo.

Here are the prime highlights of the ‘context’ into which we’d have catapulted the PCs:

i) Store employees, including managers, were not hired for their technical expertise. The effort necessary to bring a geographically dispersed group to the necessary level of technical competence, while taking turnover statistics into account, would be huge, expensive and ongoing.

ii) The development time necessary to create a system capable of supporting all the existing, and rapidly evolving, paperwork would take at least 2-3 years.

iii) Store managers motivated to sell would ignore our efforts to achieve that objective. They would ignore/resist the automation project.

These issues by themselves, were sufficient reason not to introduce PCs into the stores.

Regardless of how capable technology is, the readiness of the users to take advantage of the technology is the determining factor of the final result.

January 4, 2008 at 10:33 am 1 comment

Confessions of a Change Inflictor

Let’s face it. If you make your living in IT, then compared to most people you’re a techie God/Goddess. As techies, even dilettante techies like me; our technical knowledge is so far beyond that of typical Homo Saps, that we’re almost an alien, and often hostile, race.

While intended as mostly tongue in cheek, this observation is unfortunately an accurate description of typical IT behaviour as we deal with the technically challenged. As techies we often have less empathy and sympathy for non-technical folks than we have for mosquitoes and other buzzing insects. This is particularly true when we attempt to implement new systems intended to increase organizational efficiency in some significant manner.

You can find the anecdotal data to support these opinions on any online forum where we techies gather to lament the daily ineptitudes of our end losers users. If the audience for this article weren’t blog readers by definition, then I’d provide a few URLs for your reading pleasure, but we’re techies and we know that Google is our friend, so I won’t bother. You’re smart enough to find the watering holes of user disdain on your own.

October 18, 2007 at 1:11 pm Leave a comment

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