Changing the Equation

Greetings.  A fascinating article by Chico Harlan in Sunday’s Washington Post reports on a startling discovery…that school children in Japan actually love school lunches and their parents routinely ask schools to share their recipes.  But what makes the story even more amazing is the fact that school lunches in Japan are extremely healthy, nutritious, and made from scratch each day in every school…using mostly fresh and locally grown ingredients.  It’s a far cry from the frozen pizzas, french fries, chicken nuggets, fried burgers, and other “savory” treats that fill many American school cafeteria lunch lines.  As a result, Japan not only has one of the lowest childhood obesity rates in the world but also the longest life expectancy of any nation except Monaco.

So it stands to reason that the U.S. might want to take a page from the Japanese school lunch “cookbook” in our not-so-successful efforts to improve the health and well-being of our young people.  Yet, for some odd reason, neither our schools nor the large food and food service companies that play a big role in school meals seem particularly interested in changing the equation.  Maybe because it would force them to rethink their business models and their commitment to health.  And it suggests that our kids are being held hostage by a lack of innovation and openness to the wisdom of strangers in other parts of the world.  Wisdom that could improve not only health, but also school performance.

And it begs the question of how open you and your company or organization are to new ideas that are half a world away.  Ideas that could challenge you to make your business and its offerings way more healthy and valuable to the customers you serve no matter what industry you operate in.  And that might help you to stand out from the crowd in ways that really matter.

We win in business and in life when we choose to embrace the simple genius of others. And when we make the health of those we serve our absolute highest priority.


Tired of Disclaimers?

Greetings.  We live in a world filled with disclaimers.  A world of little fine print in which very few things are as awesome as they initially appear to be.  That's why companies like outdoor outfitter L. L. Bean, cookware maker Le Creuset, bicycle rack manufacturer Saris, and the mid-priced hotel chain Hampton Inn are so impressive.  Each of these companies have the gall to stand behind their products and services unconditionally, allowing the customer to decide if their expectations have been met or exceeded.

But too many other companies and organizations make offers and promises that don't really mean a lot.  And as we start a new week it might be fun to share some common and not so common "disclaimers" that are part of the landscape of doing business today…

All sales are final.

No purchase necessary.

Some assembly is required.

Batteries not included.

Contents may settle during shipment.

Contents may explode under pressure.

May be hazardous to your health.

Made with 100% natural and artificial flavoring.

Prices subject to change without notice.

Please allow 4 – 6 weeks for delivery.

A restocking fee may apply.

Ride at your own risk.

Management assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of these statements.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.

Not intended for children under 5 or people who act like them.

If condition persists please consult your physician.

Do not place a live animal in the microwave–doing so could be fatal.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of management or our Board of Directors.

We make no warrants or representations regarding the use, validity, accuracy, reliability or quality of this product.

The decision of the judges is final.

It is safe to say that none of the disclaimers above provide any real comfort that the company or organization making them has taken the time to:  (a) understand the real needs and hopes of customers; or (b) figure out how to offer products, services and solutions that are the best and fairest they can possibly be.  

Which suggests that you and the geniuses you work with have a great opportunity to create unique value by being as "disclaimer-free" as possible.  All it takes is the commitment to be customer-centric and willing to stretch your thinking…and a willingness to tackle the challenges behind disclaimers head-on.

Warning Sign

We win in business and in life when we offer the real deal.  And when our fine print provides pleasant surprises that show how much we value our customers.


On the Road to Exceptional

Greetings and welcome back for Day 3 of my quest to have phone service restored at our office.  But don't worry, through the wonders of technology we have had our office phone line forwarded to our cell phones–so we are definitely reachable even if we're a bit frustrated.

If you missed the first part of this exciting saga, soon to be a major motion picture, simply click here for Wednesday's post.

When we last left our friends at Verizon they were, no doubt, hard at work trying to solve this problem.  As an outsider it seems that their secret formula for success includes the following core elements:

  • A keen lack of communication between their own team members.
  • A general unwillingness to believe the customer when he (or she) explains the work, or lack of work, that has been done thusfar to solve the problem.
  • A general unwillingness to believe their own technician when he explains that the source of the problem is their central office and not our business location.
  • A less than perfect customer information or CRM system which somehow fails to capture the right information from each customer interaction and, as a result, requires each new Verizon representative to ask the very same questions over and over again.  (Note to Verizon:  I might call the CRM system provider and ask for a refund.)
  • An overly-enthusiastic text messaging system with the incredible ability to continually send messages that the problem has been fixed even though it hasn't.
  • An equally-enthusiatic voice messaging system with the uncanny ability to continually leave messages that said problem has been fixed even though it hasn't.
  • Representatives who passionately proclaim that the problem will be fixed by 1:00 p.m. each day–clearly confident that eventually one of them will be right.
  • A remarkable ability to continually ask the customer if they would rate their service experience as "exceptional" even when the problem has not been resolved.

Which leaves the customer waiting for Godot while waiting for a dial tone.

And wondering what the heck they're actually doing at Central Office.

And wondering if anyone really needs a land line.


We win in business and in life when we are able to quickly solve basic customer problems.  And not wasting the customer's time while we get our act together.

Have a great weekend!  I'll be in the office talking with my friends at Verizon and taking notes.


How Well Am I Doing?

Greetings.    We all know that customer support is an important business function.  The simple capability to respond to customers in a timely and effective way in order to meet their needs and address their problems often determines their loyalty and their success in getting the most value out of our products, services and solutions.  We also know that getting real-time feedback is a very good thing.  The simple capability to find out quickly if we are meeting customers' expectations and needs.  So many companies have decided to combine the two–asking customers at the end of support calls to instantly rate their performance.

And it's not a bad idea, unless our needs haven't yet been met.

Take my recent call to Verizon when our office phones stopped working.  Simply lost the will to make calls, provide a dial tone or ring when someone was calling us.  Though they were able to transmit the strange voices and conversations of a group of people from what sounded like a galaxy far away.  It was a problem that Verizon initially suggested was on our end, though a brief diagnostic test quickly determined that it was more likely somewhere in their network.  So they wrote a ticket and put us in line for the next available technician.  And I'm optimistic that he or she will arrive and solve our problem sooner than later.  But the fact that we would now be waiting to have our problem solved did not prevent the kind woman from the support center from asking us "how we would rate the service that she provided…with '10' being exceptional and '1' being unsatisfactory."

"I apologize," I said feeling somewhat confused.  "You seem like a very nice person and I do feel that you have been helpful in listening to my problem and beginning the process of resolving it.  But I still have the same problem I called about, and it's hard to give you and Verizon an 'exceptional' rating (or any rating for that matter) until I see how and when it is resolved."

"Not a problem," she said…hopefully still getting credit for our interaction.


We win in business and in life when we are serious about customer feedback.  But only after we've actually provided the right service.


Clearing the Air

Greetings.  We've just arrived in Sweden for our annual pilgrimage to the land of Vikings, Nobel Prizes, marinated fish, universal healthcare and blond people.  On the way here we changed planes in Frankfurt–a large and busy airport connecting flights and people from around the globe.  And it was interesting to see how many of these people either enjoy or are addicted to smoking.  So many, in fact, that the airport authority, in collaboration with the very wonderful people at Camel, have created an amazing number of "smoking zones"–clearly an attempt to allow this group of customers to smoke while maintaining a somewhat "smoke-free" environment for the remaining customers.  And it was even more amazing to see that these zones included a lovely sign that says "inspiring creativity since 1913."  

How's that for trying to rebrand a company and product that might not be major contributors to improving life on the planet.

Not being a smoker I can only imagine how delightful it must be to light one up in one of these "creativity" chambers, surrounded by so many strangers with whom have at least one thing in common.  And I can also only imagine the number of remarkable ideas that have been generated by people stretching their minds in such a concentrated and smoke-filled environment.

But as I looked at these smoke-filled rooms I couldn't help wondering about all of our companies and organizations and how often we not only allow, but condone, bad habits.  Habits that hamper innovation and collaboration, and work to suck the air out of the room whenever an employee or team of employees suggests some very new or different way of doing the things that matter most.  And how often corporate cultures conspire to resist new people and new ideas by putting up smoke that drives us to continuing the same behaviors and ways of thinking we've always had in the name of conformity parading as progress.  Or how we put up smokescreens in the hope of avoiding difficult issues and difficult questions.  

Because it's better to get another fix than to rethink the way we do things. 

Camel Station

We win in business and in life when we take the time to clear the air in our companies and organizations.  And when we give everyone the real opportunity to have a fresh start in bringing new ideas forward.