Learning from Tow Truck Drivers

Greetings.  If I were to ask you to list some of your least favorite people on the planet, you might include tow truck operators…especially if you had recently been on the wrong end of their services.  And you'd likely cite the one or more occasions when they unjustly snatched your unsuspecting car from its illegal parking space seconds after the meter had expired or an instant after you'd left your vehicle with its warning lights flashing to quickly visit the ATM or grab a double-triple-decaf-skimmed and skinny-mochachino latte with an extra shot of free-trade, locally-grown and gluten-free espresso on top for good measure.

"Unfair."  "Unreasonable."  "Unconscionable."  "Unnerving."  "Unprofessional."  

And just plain WRONG.

Simply barbarians of the highest order who seem to be the last vestige of a time when lawlessness was the order of the day.  Marauding through our towns and villages pillaging, plundering and hastily removing the beloved personal property of residents.  All in the name of revenue opportunities thinly veiled as the most modest of parking transgressions.

This topic came to mind recently when one of our most law abiding neighbors, himself a lawyer by profession, had his car absconded as he quickly ran into the bank.  With his wonderful dog inside.  In roughly the amount of time it takes for Usain Bolt to run 100 meters…with a tailwind.  A circumstance he seemed to take in stride once the car and dog were safely returned.

Which got me thinking that it might be possible to learn a thing or two from the grease-covered folks who are efficient to a fault…because, at their best, leading tow truck drivers are:

–  Focused,

–  Purposeful,

–  Results-oriented,

–  Supremely gifted at time management,

–  Detail-oriented,

–  Able to navigate in tight spaces,

–  Respectful of property that is not their own,

–  Experts in the concept of leverage, and

–  Modestly empathetic.

All traits that would benefit our companies and organizations at times when we are in a bind.

Tow truck 

We win in business and in life when we bring our very best to the job at hand.  And when we pay more attention to the unreasonable laws that relate to the parking of vehicles by people in a hurry.

Cheers and have a great week ahead!

Sweating for Fun and Profit

Greetings.  It has been six days without power and air conditioning at home and the office and we're really beginning to sweat.  Six days in which the temperature has ranged from 98 to 104 degrees.  And all because of a freak storm with a highly unusual scientific name that seemed to catch everyone by surprise.  Even Ella, our trusty canine family member, is beginning to "sweat like a dog" which is no small feat given that dogs don't actually sweat.  Fortunately, I'm not panting like a dog yet–but when I do you'll be the second to know.  And that could happen any day now given the less-than stellar track record of Pepco, our electric utility.  In fact, I can say with almost total certainty, after multiple calls to their outsourced help desk located in some distant part of America where the weather is probably cool and pleasant, that I have no idea when our power will be restored.  Though their best estimate is Sunday at 11:00 p.m. which would mean nine days without power, air conditioning and many of the other creature comforts that we tend to take for granted.

But rather than get even more overheated by writing about life in the territory of our nation's poorest performing electric company, the one that paid its CEO $18 million last year (no doubt as a reward for poor performance), I thought it might be fun to talk about science and the science of sweating–because as we all know one person's energy meltdown is another person's business opportunity.  

As it turns out, up to 20% of Americans–and presumably people in other countries around the globe–experience a condition that is known as axillary hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating.  It's a condition that affects them even when the temperature isn't 100 degrees and they have a more competent utility company than Pepco.  And it's also a condition that has attracted the attention of some very thoughtful scientific and entrepreneurial minds.  At the top of the list are the folks are Miramar Labs who have figured out a way to use microwave technology to eliminate excessive underarm sweat.  And you thought that microwave technology could only be used in the fields of radar, telecommunications, energy development and cancer treatment.

But now, for a mere $3,000–which is roughly my annual bill from Pepco–you can render your electric utility obsolete through a simple and slightly painful procedure that literally zaps the sweat right out of you by eliminating your sweat glands.  A procedure that sounds totally natural (not exactly), has been approved by the FDA and probably won't win the Nobel Prize for Medicine.


We win in business and in life when we don't sweat the things we can't control.  Or when we figure out how to help people to stop sweating completely.

Cheers and stay cool!  

Putting Communication in Con-Text

Greetings.  I've finally decided to GWTP (get with the program).  After all, I am keenly aware that YOLO (you only live once) and while I prefer meeting friends, colleagues and customers F2F (face to face) I realize that texting is the way of the present and maybe even the future.  And besides, I have been noticing that our kids are LOL-ing (laughing out loud) whenever I try to demonstrate my growing–but highly limited–competency using a cell phone or mobile device.  Yes, MIRL-ing (meeting in real life) seems to be taking a backseat to quick little messages sent instantly around the globe, down the hall or even across the room.  And while I don't agree that this development is AISB (as it should be), I definitely don't want to alienate myself from a new generation of communicators.  So I'm determined to RTSM (read the stupid manual) in order to learn the essential rules, nuances and acronyms required to compete in our 140 character or less world.

So WML (wish me luck).  And I thought learning Swedish was difficult.  Because if I can't achieve some basic level of fluency, I've be UACWAP (up a creek without a paddle) and the entire effort will be a big WOMBAT (waste of money, brains and time).

And HAGW (have a great weekend) or at least HAGO (have a good one)…and I'll BRB (be right back) next week with some new perspectives on innovation, unlocking genius, delivering compelling value and GMMA (getting my message across).


We win in business and in life when we figure out how to communicate effectively with everyone.  Even when that means using only acronyms.


(Cheers for now!)

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Greetings.  Many of you will recall the theme song for the very popular TV show "Cheers"–a classic comedy from the 1980's about a group of friends who hang out at a Boston tavern.  The title of the song (and the essential theme of the show) was the simple and important notion that we all want to be "Where Everybody Knows Your (or 'Our') Name."  It's a really powerful idea that speaks to the very nature of belonging, being part of something and of connecting with others in our various "communities" in some meaningful way.

So it should come as no surprise that all the companies and organizations we deal with would like to know our names.  And not just our first names but also our last names.  In fact, they'd like a lot more information about us than simply our names but that's a topic worthy of another blog post.

Which means that a typical interaction with Verizon, Apple, Johnson & Johnson or most other businesses will begin with their representative asking us what our name is "so we can better assist you."  But shouldn't we also know their names in case we need to follow up, sing their praises or refer back to a service experience that has gone less than perfectly?  Seems reasonable enough, unless you happen to be part of the customer service team at Wells Fargo.  Now I know that I wrote about them recently, but they continue to provide amazing insight on how not to provide great service.  Insight that should be beneficial to all of us.  And my latest request for help was another case in point on how some companies don't actually give a _ _ _ _ or a Flying Walenda about their customers.  

It turns out that I needed a simple document–i.e., a copy of the modification for my home equity credit line–and called Wells Fargo to get their assistance.  After dutifully following two minutes and forty-six seconds (but whose counting) worth of prompts I was excited when an actual human picked up the phone.  "Hi, this is Rachel," she began, followed by "Can I start with your first and last name?"  Then after a few essential security questions talk turned to the required document.  It was a legal document that I was told could not be faxed or emailed directly to me because "it had to go to a secure fax machine."  And when I told Rachel that our office fax machine was "pretty darn secure," she disagreed and indicated that I would have to have it sent to the fax machine at our local branch–something she would do the following day.  "Okay," I said realizing that I didn't have the time or blood pressure to change her opinion of the security of our fax machine.  And then I asked if I could have her full name and contact information just in case I needed to call back.  "We're not allowed to give out our last names," she replied, "and we don't have direct phone numbers or our own email addresses."  Wow! I thought. No last names and no way to be contacted directly.  Is that a tragic predicament for a customer service representative or what?

The next day I headed to our local Wells Fargo branch to pick up the fax.  A fax that, had it actually been sent, would have arrived at an exceedingly unsecure fax machine located right in the middle of the branch–just a few feet from the queue where everyone waits for a teller.  And when no one at the branch offered to call Rachel to find out what had happened to my document, I headed back to call myself.  But there was no way to get Rachel on the phone.  Instead, I got David who asked for my first and last name, along with a set of security questions, so he could pull up my record.  A record that included no mention of my conversation with Rachel.  And given that it included no notes stating that Rachel had found the desired document and was planning to send it to the secure fax machine at my branch, David quickly told me that he would be unable to help.  His reason was the belief that it would simply take too long to search on-line for this document and that I would have to talk with someone in the Line Management Department of the bank.  "Can you connect me to them directly?" I asked.  "No," he replied, "I'll give you the phone number" (so you can be put on hold by their office).  "Before we get off, can I have your last name and contact information," I inquired, "just in case I need to follow up?"  "We're not allow to give out our last names," he noted, "and there is no way to contact us directly."  "But you do have a last name," I continued.  "Yes I do."  "That's a relief," I concluded, hoping that there weren't an entire subculture of people in America without last names who were condemned to work at Wells Fargo.

Then after three minutes and thirty-seven seconds of being on hold at the new number I got through to LuAnn.  And while she also had only a first name, she was kind, thoughtful and somehow figured out how to find the document and fax it directly to me.  If only I knew her last name, I'd be delighted to send a letter to the CEO singing her praises as the one person at Wells Fargo who actually cares about customers.  And if only she knew her last name, she'd be able to take her skills to another company that might share her commitment to customers.


We win in business and in life when we are eager to know the names of people we have the privilege to serve.  And when we are eager to let them know our names too.


Dear Wells Fargo

Greetings.  "Happy" is a very nice word and in recent years it has become a very popular idea in the world of business as companies work to make their customers and employees happy.  In fact, there are even books, articles, blogs and seminars dedicated to the simple proposition that happy employees make happy customers. And we all know that having happy customers makes it a lot easier for employees to be happy.  You might say that these two groups have a "symbiotic" relationship.

So you can imagine my delight (or happiness) when I called Wells Fargo and was told by the customer service representative that she was "happy to help."  Happy to help me complete a form that would enable our newest customer to directly deposit payments into our corporate account.  The only problem was the fact that she was unable to do it.  And so were the next three people I was handed off to during my thirty-five minute call.  Though each one began and ended our conversations by saying:

"I'm happy to help you!"

Sounds like this part of their training really worked.  They had taught them to be happy to help (or at least 'say' that they were happy to help) but not how to be helpful.  And I suddenly realized that I would rather have someone help me than be happy to help me.  Of course, I'd love both.  But given the choice, and a limited amount of time to spend on matters like this, I guess that I'd rather accomplish my objectives with the help of someone who isn't even that happy to help me.


And to make matters worse, I had an even bigger issue with Wells Fargo.  Because for some reason unknown to me I have been living without a banking relationship manager since mine decided to leave the bank.  Without telling me, or presumably her colleagues, that they might want to connect with a loyal customer.  I can only imagine that I fell through the cracks while they were all attending a workshop on the importance of being happy to help.  And when I made my status as a customer who was lost in the Wells Fargo wilderness clear to the representative on the other end of the phone she didn't even offer to remedy my situation.  Instead, she decided to offer me a business platinum credit card–a card I absolutely didn't need but one that she would be happy to help me obtain.  "No thank you," I replied in response to her insistence.  "I'm happy to not have a business platinum credit card.  In fact, I'd be kind of uncomfortable having one given that I don't even qualify to have a banking relationship manager."


We win in business and in life when we actually help those we have the privilege to serve.  And when our happiness is the icing on the cake.

Cheers and have a happy Presidents' Day Weekend!