I'm tired of all the nonstop spin we hear in the news about the Affordable Care Act. I had coffee this morning with a local business owner I really respect. He has about a dozen employees. He told me that as of next month, his health insurance premiums for his staff are jumping from $1800 a month to $6400.
BAM! More than tripling his costs to provide health insurance for his staff. He's a good guy; this isn't one of the companies where the solution to that ridiculous price hike will be to just stop providing insurance (though that'd certainly be cheaper for him in the long run, even with IRS fines considered).
Small company. A dozen employees. A hardworking owner (believe me, this guy starts his day with 6:45 meetings, and frequently isn't home until after ten PM, because he's heavily involved in community service in addition to running his business).
That's a real, tangible, hard cost he's going to have to absorb, somehow, month after month going forward, and will likely find that triple-the-cost is delivering a higher overall cost for his employees, too -- because their out-of-pocket limits and deductibles will both increase drastically, too.
So where will that money come from? This isn't a company making hundreds of millions a year! It's a small business. He doesn't drive a Mercedes. He works hard. He's going to have to figure out how to deal with this hit. Can he pass it all along to his customers? Nope.
So where will that extra several grand a month come from???
How can you possibly use the word "affordable" to describe this situation????
When we bought our new house this summer, I was thrilled to realize we're now the custodians of a half-acre of "Before" garden. It's really "Before" because it's been ignored for what looks like a LOT of years, maybe decades.
I have the grand opportunity to build a garden, from scratch. So, I was delighted when I noticed a posting in our local newsletter about the formation of a new garden club for our area. I volunteered to create and manage the website, which is still skeletal but live at http://pinerygardenclub.weebly.com/
We had our first meeting last week (second, actually -- but very few knew about the first). 16 of my new neighbors and soon-to-be friends showed up, and it was fun!
I look forward to helping build this club, and grow the site. Anyone who loves plants is a friend of mine!
This is so cool. What an excellent reminder that HARD WORK is what built our nation -- and it's still very much in need TODAY.
From http://profoundlydisconnected.com/skill-work-ethic-arent-taboo/“THE S.W.E.A.T. PLEDGE”
(Skill & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo)
1. I believe that I have won the greatest lottery of all time. I am alive. I walk the Earth. I live in America. Above all things, I am grateful.
2. I believe that I am entitled
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing more. I also understand that “happiness” and the “pursuit of happiness” are not the same thing.
3. I believe there is no such thing as a “bad job.” I believe that all jobs are opportunities, and it’s up to me to make the best of them.
4. I do not “follow my passion.” I bring it with me. I believe that any job can be done with passion and enthusiasm.
5. I deplore debt, and do all I can to avoid it. I would rather live in a tent and eat beans than borrow money to pay for a lifestyle I can’t afford.
6. I believe that my safety is my responsibility. I understand that being in “compliance” does not necessarily mean I’m out of danger.
7. I believe the best way to distinguish myself at work is to show up early, stay late, and cheerfully volunteer for every crappy task there is.
8. I believe the most annoying sounds in the world are whining and complaining. I will never make them. If I am unhappy in my work, I will either find a new job, or find a way to be happy.
9. I believe that my education is my responsibility, and absolutely critical to my success. I am resolved to learn as much as I can from whatever source is available to me. I will never stop learning, and understand that library cards are free.
10. I believe that I am a product of my choices – not my circumstances. I will never blame anyone for my shortcomings or the challenges I face. And I will never accept the credit for something I didn’t do.
11. I understand the world is not fair, and I’m OK with that. I do not resent the success of others.
12. I believe that all people are created equal. I also believe that all people make choices. Some choose to be lazy. Some choose to sleep in. I choose to work my butt off.
On my honor, I hereby affirm the above statements to be an accurate summation of my personal worldview. I promise to live by them.
I am a very fortunate person. I'm not bragging, not trying to toot my own horn -- I'm just VERY GRATEFUL at present.
For the past nearly-two decades, I've worked at many challenging tasks. I've driven projects that I'm exceptionally proud of, that have had lasting results. Just today, I walked into a business and found a rack of brochures that I created back in 2005, still in use! Today, I'd advise against even printing all that paper -- but it did amaze me to see my handiwork still on display this many years later. (And not coated with dust, either!)
The reason I'm fortunate is that I've been given a major gift: the gift of TIME. I'm in exploration mode right now; I'm allowing myself to be open to learning new things and meeting new people. I'm studying. I've been able to tour some amazing Colorado businesses and done a bit of traveling.
All this, because I'm planning my next career step.
Since I was a teenager, I've always had a business. Some years, I've been "Business Owner Laura" first and foremost; other years I've been "Mommy-Laura who also has a business" -- and other years I've been "Employee Laura who's a mom with a business" -- but "business" has always been in the mix. Honestly, I don't know how people who just go to a job and then leave work behind at the end of their shift manage to fill their hours! I'm so accustomed to having a home office as well as a work office that I don't see much of a dividing line between my personal and professional life.
Right now, I'm asking lots of questions. And this quote by Rainer Marie Rilke, sums it up:
"I beg you... to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without ever noticing it, live your way into the answer..."
Getting people to PAY ATTENTION to you
I noticed an article recently, on how to get busy people to answer your email
. Honestly, it's all good advice -- IF you're wired to ONLY use email to reach people.
As I read the tips in the article, I flashed back to several years ago when I first started working with Jay Conrad Levinson, the Father of Guerrilla Marketing.
If you're a marketing person, you've heard of Guerrilla Marketing. But you might not readily associate the term with the person. Jay is an amazing man. One fine day, I picked up a first-edition copy of one of his books in a local bookstore near my house, and noticed that we lived just a few miles apart in Marin County, CA. Jay had been one of my heroes for years; I'd read all of his books and used his tactics with clients to great success.
So I decided to "Guerrilla Market the Guru."
I put together a package about what I do along with what I'd like to do for Jay... and I dropped it on his front doorstep. (Admittedly, walking down his long, long driveway to his huge and beautiful home was a bit intimidating!)
He phoned me the next day and asked to meet. He hired me on the spot to produce videos and help wrangle his subscription-based website. It. Was. So. Cool.
I worked with Jay for the next few years, until we moved from California to Colorado. I still think the world of him, and I consider him one of the smartest people I've ever had the privilege to work with.
I spent time at the library on Saturday. I booked a study room for two hours, and spent it with a pen in my hand, and a stack of notecards in front of me. Usually when I spend time at the library with my laptop, I'm ADD Girl -- bopping from one task to the next, to the next, to the next site, to the next post, to the next video... I'm all over the map -- AND I'm watching the clock.
This time I was startled by a knock at the door. It was three and a half hours after I sat down and arranged my writing supplies! I didn't even notice.
I was booted out of my study room because someone else had it booked at that time. A nice older gentleman, who was very polite about letting me gather my materials, stack up my scatter of notecards and stamps and such. He said, "you must have gotten a lot done" -- and I replied, "I totally lost track of time -- I was doing the old-fashioned thing, writing personal notecards."
His response? "That's what makes relationships strong. We all rely so much on our easy technology, and it's certainly easy to crank out emails quickly -- and thoughtlessly -- but when you get right down to it, it's those personal touches that matter most to people."
He was dead right, as far as I'm concerned.
I mean -- think of when you pick up your mail. What's the drill? Bill, bill, bill, junk, junk, junk, magazine, junk, bill... and WHOA! Suddenly you see a hand-addressed envelope, and THAT's the one you care about, right?
Alexandra Stoddard wrote a wonderful book called The Gift of a Letter, where she proclaims the beauty and value of the old-fashioned letter. I have it somewhere in a box (we moved recently; most of my paper books are still in boxes because the new stuff lives in my Nook and Kindle) and I want to read it again.
I love writing letters. Yeah, nowadays it makes my hand sore after a few hours -- I'm so our of practice holding a pen! -- but when people get an actual letter, it usually makes them happy.
Take a few minutes -- write someone you care about a letter. By hand. It's a great thing to do.
Last night I did some shopping. I'm giving a big presentation tomorrow, so I hit the local mall (or "Retail Resort" as it likes to be called) and exercised my shopping muscles. Found a new outfit, a new iPhone case... but I did not find a new computer bag, which was on my list.
I MIGHT have bought the perfect bag -- but the store clerk annoyed me right out the door.
He was TOO attentive. He was attentive to the point of obnoxiousness. There were two clerks in the store -- and two people trying to shop. Shopper A had a clerk velcroed to his side. I was Shopper B. I had earphones in (listening to the speech I'm going to give -- I like to rehearse) and I was trying to browse. This clerk wouldn't have it. The minute I said, "Well, I'm browsing -- but I'm also looking for a new computer bag" -- WHAM! He was ON me and I could not shake him. He brought me three (kinda ugly) bags, and when I started to walk away to another display, he said, "Oh, I can bring it to you -- which one are you looking at?" I said I just wanted to look around and I'd let him know if I had any questions.
Not good enough for this guy!
He shadowed me as I walked around the store. When I headed toward the luggage area, he said, "oh, there's no computer bags back there" -- so I had to say, "well, I'll be needing new luggage soon."
Last straw? I picked up a bag that I thought would work... I set it on the counter to unzip the compartments, check it out. I flipped up the cover -- and suddenly there's the damn clerk again, fondling the tags on the bag I'm looking at.
I looked him in the eye and just said, "Thank you." And beat feet out the door.
I had asked the man twice to just let me browse -- I had made it clear that I'd let him know if I had questions. The experience was so creepy and over-anxious, that I'll probably never enter that store again.
That's one extreme -- driving off business by over-zealousness. What's the other? Driving off business via apathy and lack of follow-through.
I was researching a company recently, and tested their customer service response. I asked for info on a membership I was considering (fairly important membership decision) -- I got a prompt email back... and that's it. No follow-through. It's been two weeks, and they've not nudged me, reminded me, checked back with me to see if I had more questions -- nada. I'm a lost sale.
People like the middle-ground. They like to know you're ready to assist if/when needed, but they don't want you to hover and smother. They also don't want to be ignored. Finding that balance is what drives sales.
So this morning I walk in to Panera Bread in Lone Tree, CO to connect with a colleague for an early breakfast meeting. I get my coffee and sit down. I'm early. A smiling lady carrying an iPad and a paper map sidles over to me and says she's doing some research for Panera and asks if I'd be willing to answer a few questions. Sure! I love getting tapped for research.
She asked me where I was this morning before Panera and how long my drive here was; I told her -- she said, "Oh, I'm not from here, I don't know the area -- can you show me?" Sure. Where am I going next? Work. Where? I point on the map. She says, "Oh, I know that area, my hotel is right off that street."
That's it. Total exchange about three minutes. (Oh, and I didn't get a coupon or anything to thank me for giving her my info.)
She walked away... and after pondering a bit, I called her back. I asked her why she'd left out what I'd see as the most important question:
WHY did I come to Panera? Why am I HERE, and not at Starbuck's on the next block?
She gave me a glassy, stewardessy smile and said, "oh, we only care about location."
Here is a company paying salary and T&E to ship a body to our area to ask quasi-meaningless questions of patrons.
The REASON I'm here? I'm meeting someone! He picked the place! It's an anomaly for me nowadays to come to this location. I used to come here frequently when I lived just a few blocks away -- but now, it's just not on my route. BUT... I do come here for meetings fairly often, but that's the ONLY reason I'd stop here; to meet with people who (like I used to) live in the neighborhood.
Since I moved out "to the country" I now have to alter my route for this sort of morning meeting, and I'm happy to do it. But what the Panera researcher got from me was cloudy information at best. Yes, I'm here. Yes, I bought a cuppa joe. But -- SHE HAD MY FULL AND COMPLETE ATTENTION at that time, and she COULD have asked me a lot more questions! She could have done Customer Discovery work with me, and she could have learned some valuable intel about a customer profile.
Opportunity missed, big time. Total cost of this research? Who knows? It sure seems like it's just a checkmark off some executive's checklist. Too bad they don't understand customer discovery.
What would I have done, had I been crafting this program?
Two tiered research:
FIRST: The short/brief/minimalist survey for people in a hurry and/or when the place is busy -- the stuff she asked would be fine with the addition of the "WHY?" question. (and I'd give them a coupon for a free cuppa coffee on their next visit -- that's just POLITE and something people tend to expect nowadays when you ask for even a sliver of their time.
SECOND: Sure, use the location-based questions, but then create an interaction with an additional three minutes to dig deeper. Entice me with a higher-value coupon, like for a breakfast sandwich or a few bagels in exchange for my time. I don't know exactly what Panera's trying to find out -- where to build additional locations; profitability comps for various locales, etc.... but from a Customer Discovery point of view, I'd want to know:
WHY did you come to Panera today?
Where else would you go for breakfast?
What do you LIKE about Panera?
What DON'T you like about Panera?
Would you recommend Panera to your friends?
I assume that when I walked away from her, she made a guesstimate on various demographic items -- the easy stuff, like I'm female, my approximate age -- but man, I would have ASKED the standard demographic questions at the end of the survey, just before handing over the coupon:
Employed or no (in my case, she could have skipped that one because I'd already told her I was heading to work after my meeting)
Family - kids
And, I'd also ask about my social media use -- do I use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube?
After she was done with me, the manager walked over to her and ordered her to leave -- I heard her say, "Well, I'm sure supposed to be here! They flew me in and put me up in a hotel!". She left for about 20 minutes, and now she's back... I haven't seen her interview anyone else yet, though. I've now been here almost an hour -- my friend ended up missing our meeting, so I've just worked on my blog and checked email -- and chuckled to myself about the expensive cost of missed opportunities.
By the way, my breakfast sandwich sure didn't look like the photo in the restaurant!
Here's an example of the right way to provide customer service via email. I've been an Audible customer for years, happily paying them $23 a month (who says "nobody" will pay for online subscriptions?). I listen to a LOT of audiobooks, mostly business titles but on occasion a novel or two -- I even listen while I swim laps, with a waterproof setup for my iPhone!
On the very rare instances when I've had to contact their customer support, they're always just plain marvelous.
Here's an example of my most recent interaction. I kept hearing from my kids that I should check out "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card -- and the Audible description made it seem like it would be more of a radioplay than just straight narration -- which I thought would help, since this is more of a Harry Potter-teen-audience-type book, from what I'd heard. So I spent the one credit and... I HATED it. Hated the narrators, the plodding, leaden text, the shallow characters. I tried three times to get into it, but couldn't.
Problem was, I'd already returned my two books for the year that Audible allows with no question (you can do that automatically) -- so I had to email them.
Here's what I got back. Check the TONE of this! Isn't it GREAT?
From: Audible Customer Service [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, August 29, 2013 10:33 PM
Subject: RE: Can I please return Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card?
Thanks for contacting Audible. My name is Mela and I'll be glad to help you today!
I understand that you would want to return the book "Ender's Game". I'm sorry that the book didn't work out. I can definitely process the return right away so that you can select another book that will best suit your taste.
At your request, I refunded the credit that was spent on this book back to your account. Your credit has been reinstated and it can be used towards the purchase of any alternative book.
We want to ensure your audiobook listening experience with Audible is always enjoyable. You can check our Best Sellers section for books that you might be interested with.
I appreciate the feedback and may you continue enjoying your favorite audiobooks. Thank you for doing business with Audible. It's our pleasure to serve a valuable customer like you.
If I can do anything else for you, please don't hesitate to contact us. Please feel free to call our Customer Care at 1-888-283-5051 (USA & Canada), (US Country Code) 1-973-820-0400 (International) or simply reply to this email. We are here to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Have a nice day!
Audible Customer Support
Thank you for your inquiry. As a valued customer, your experience is important to us. We invite you to answer the question below regarding your Customer Care experience.
Your feedback will help us better serve your future needs.
Did the support Customer Care provided exceed your expectations?
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To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit us at audible.com/help.
I read a post by GE chief Jeff Immelt
today - I read it, read it again a bit more slowly, and then I had to shake my head. Here's a guy who by all the usual measurements has me beat six ways to Sunday as a leader. He leads a bigger company, makes a lot more money, is a lot more important than I am... and yet, I just think he's off-base.
He said these are the five most important things to ask about GE's top leaders:1) Is the leader self-aware?2) Is the leader committed to the company/organization; do they drive change?3) Is the leader a "giver or a taker?"4) Is the leader a critical thinker?5) Lastly, does the leader have a dream for themselves and the company?
I'm not saying these are all BAD questions. I just think they're... dusty? Trite? A tad obvious? Then I started thinking that maybe my reaction is because Immelt is, by definition, an elite gentleman who lives in an ivory tower. Just like when there was a furor years ago over then-President Bush not knowing how the grocery checkout line works, so, too, is it challenging for a major-major-honcho to really be in touch with "the real people."
Look, I admit I'm not poverty-stricken. I'm writing this on a nice laptop, overlooking the golf course at our country club, drinking an imported beer and killing a few minutes before I head to my singing group's rehearsal. But those are NOT the questions I'd ask of a leader. I might not have five -- might be more, might be less -- but here are a few that strike me as TRULY important:
A. Is the leader an ethical person? Does he do what he PROMISES?
B. Does he treat his employees with respect? Does he break his word? Does he fail to communicate?
C. Does he have the willingness to work as hard as his staff? Will he do work he's OK assigning to others?
I see a theme here. It's INTEGRITY. For me, a leader must have integrity. He must do the right things right; he must care, genuinely and deeply CARE about his employees. You give lip service to that -- and you end up with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
I have worked with and for leaders who were at both ends of the integrity spectrum. Those with a high moral and ethical standard always come out ahead; those lacking integrity, fail. They always fail in the long run.
How can YOU be a leader with integrity?