How Amazing is That?

Greetings. On a recent visit to a veterinarian’s office a bright red brochure caught my eye. A brochure that promised to solve one of the most important challenges of dog ownership…keeping Fido’s, or in our case Vincent’s, teeth as clean and healthy as possible. For while we have taught Vincent to sit, stay, lie down, be gentle, pick up the Wall Street Journal from curb, stay off of the furniture, watch English Premier League soccer games with focus and passion, and remain calm when the mailman or UPS driver knock on the door, we have somehow failed to teach him how to brush his own teeth. And, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure that this skill was within his grasp.

How to Teach Your Dog

So when the folks at Milk Bone promised to solve this problem for us, my ears jumped straight up as though someone had just offered me a peanut butter-coated biscuit or the world’s largest squirrel had just appeared outside the back door. And I quickly imagined placing a new soft bristle brush in his furry little paw and then demonstrating the proper technique for keeping his adorable canines all pearly white. (Yes dogs and humans have “canine” teeth!…but I digress.) I also imagined taking Vincent to CVS where he could pick out his favorite brand of salmon-flavored toothpaste along with a spool of rabbit-flavored floss. That is until I actually opened the brochure and discovered that the innovative folks at Milk Bone were simply being clever marketers of a clever new dog treat designed to remove tartar, plaque, and halitosis (a.k.a., dog breath). Simply by chewing on. And that these benefits had somewhat miraculously been “proven in clinical trials.”

Not quite as impressive as teaching a world of dogs to actually brush their teeth. But it got my attention.

And it struck me that all of us, and all of the companies and organizations we work for, have the same ability to make remarkable promises that we could keep in slightly less remarkable but “clinically proven” ways.

So why not spend a few moments thinking about a new and bold promise that would really matter to the customers you have the privilege to serve. Then follow it up with a very creative and engaging way to solve it that gets their attention and inspires them to want to know more. After all, a big part of marketing and business success is the act of starting a conversation.

We win in business and in life when we get the attention of others. And when we use that attention to deliver on a promise that really matters.


Keeping Customers Waiting

Greetings.  I'm normally a very patient person, but after the latest round of delays in getting my Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" I'm starting to get a bit frustrated.  I realize that creating a state-of-the-art airplane is a difficult thing to do.  It involves lots of innovation in terms of design, technology, collaboration and production.  But let's be serious, we were promised this product originally in the beginning of 2008.  

Now, roughly three and half years later, most of us are wondering when ours will arrive.  And, some of us, including China Eastern Airlines have decided to cancel their orders and move on with older and less energy-efficient aircraft as Boeing tries to figure out how to ramp up its output.

Okay, so I'm not really holding my breath waiting for my plane to arrive.  Sure it would be slightly cooler than continuing to drive my Volvo station wagon…even with its pedestrian-sensing capability.  But the highly-publicized case of the 787 raises some very important questions for companies, government agencies and organizations of all shapes and sizes.  These include whether or not we can ever afford to keep our customers waiting?  Or, whether we have the right to waste their time as we get our act together?  Or, whether we should ever make promises that we can't keep (when we probably know we can't keep them)?  Not by a hour or a day.  But by three and a half years or any other amount of time that really matters to them as they go about their lives.

In a sense, Boeing is very lucky.  Airplanes are a big purchase and customers have very few choices.  So most are willing to wait through lengthy delays because they have limited options.

The rest of us aren't so lucky.  Our customers typically have lots of choices and our ability to deliver on our promises is essential to keeping them engaged, happy and successful.  We need to make compelling promises and be committed and organized enough to meet them.


We win in business and in life when we don't keep our customers (or anyone) waiting.  Because time is the one thing that once lost can never be found.


Customers for Life

Greetings.  Looking to build and maintain great customer relationships?  If so, you're not alone.  Because it's a question I hear all the time from leading product, solution, and service companies that recognize just how important the customer experience is to their long-term success.  It's not enough to have great offerings. We also need to spend time with the customer, ask the right questions, spark the right conversations, develop the right understandings, bring exciting ideas and possibilities, and make the customer feel that our world revolves around them.

And here are seven ideas to keep you on target…

1.  Commit to understanding the customer's needs better than anyone else.  This means "living" in their world so you really get to know the challenges and opportunities they face and the results they hope to achieve.  A few years ago I had the chance to work with a large vending machine company.  While I asked a lot of questions and did a lot of homework at the beginning of the project, the way I really discovered how their business worked was by spending a week hanging out in the warehouse, talking with almost all of their employees, and driving one of their trucks on its route where I got to fill and clean a lot of vending machines and talking with a lot of customers.    

2.  Make and deliver on a promise worth keeping.  Once you understand what really matters to your customers, figure out how to "guarantee" that together you'll make it happen!

3.  Create and tell a powerful story about how you will meet their needs in a remarkable way.  And make sure the story, or at least the first chapter, ends with the customer achieving the results that matter most in a way they could only dream might happen.  Then write the second chapter, and the third, and so on as you continue to deliver even greater value.

4.  Challenge yourself to cast a wider net in the search for ideas and inspiration that can really meet the customer's need.  To do this, combine your best knowledge and know-how with a world of genius and learning about how to build enduring customer relationships.  And if you work in a large company that includes many lines of business, start by identifying the best practices hidden somewhere else in your organization.  

5.  Find the right customer relationship model to meet the desires and budget of your customers.  Remember that some people stay at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel while others stay at the Hampton Inn.  And both groups get a great customer experience–even if it's very different.

6.  Seek to make the customer smarter.  It turns out that the smarter you make your customers, the more value they'll place on your relationship.  So look for opportunities to drive knowledge in ways that enable them to get more out of your offerings and achieve greater success.

7.  Rethink what it means to be responsive.  It seems that almost every company talks about being available "24/7" to support the needs and issues of their customers.  But few really are.  So here's your chance to raise the bar in your industry by being ready and able at a moment's notice.

We win in business and in life by building relationships that stand the test of time.  Need a little spark in the way you work with customers? Why not try this quick check-up before it's too late.


Is “Sorry” Enough?

Greetings.  Saying "I'm sorry" is never easy to do.  Especially when the reason is very significant.  Which could explain why it took Toyota's CEO, Akio Toyoda, so long to apologize for the growing number of quality problems that have resulted in gigantic global recalls.  What started with dangerous floor mats, has now grown to include sticking gas pedals and failed brakes–issues that have put many drivers in jeopardy.  And these problems, as well as the over-delayed announcement, have quickly altered the market's perception of Toyota–long revered as the automobile industry's quality leader.  They also leave two equally gigantic questions:

First, How did all of this happen to a company that has always been so focused on quality?  And, second, Will the Toyota brand be able to regain it's position after such a colossal series of screw-ups?

We should begin to learn the answers very soon.  But what really happens in the business world when "Sorry seems to be the hardest word" (Music by Elton John, Lyrics by Bernie Taupin)?  Because "sorry" in this, and almost every case, is all about "trust" and breaking a "promise" to those we serve.  It turns out that trust based on a promise of quality is a hard thing to regain in the face of so many big mistakes.  And it was such an essential part of why people bought Toyotas in the first place.  The belief that they were the one company that was absolutely focused on designing, testing, refining, retesting, and delivering the highest quality car at an affordable price.  The one company we could trust because of its unwavering commitment to innovation and renowned ability to challenge every employee to find and correct problems at every step in the design and production process.  Yet somehow their trusted system failed.  Not once, but at least three times.  


We win in business and in life by earning and maintaining the trust of others.  And by making and keeping promises that matter.  That's the real genius of great companies.  A genius that is vital to our long-term success.