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It’s You!

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

More than any other question is the one that defines each individual, each effort toward the achievement of the next planned goal—the simple definition of success. In advising others, we occupy sacred ground. How do we help without giving over to a simple expression of the way we are, as though our way is the answer for everyone who asks: What should I do with my life? Today, the most quoted answer is engineering, healthcare, or government. These are the high-growth areas. We must first, and foremost, take stock of who, in the most essential guise, is the asker.

Once a common understanding of this quality joins our thinking, we may ask the second essential question: How good do you want to be… at something? Same question in different words: How hard are you willing to work to achieve it? The answer helps to clear the way for the potential in the asker. We may all be “able to prepare” for the outcome we seek, but few are willing to do the work. The so-called work begins with a realistic self-assessment, the stuff that begins the process of self-esteem building. The last, though not least among its building blocks is “personal accomplishment.” Without these, one can only imagine a brighter future. The idea is more the “Hollywood Effect,” or the mistaken notion that if others, their apparent success as witness, can reach great heights, so can we. Unfortunately, one may only move from one place to another by taking individual steps. Some things we alone must accomplish. Good luck—where preparation and opportunity meet—may appear given of little personal effort, but the experienced would deny it.

The people you work with are the incredible resources necessary to a brighter future. When we invest ourselves in their success, and they do likewise, the results are astounding. Join with those that are going somewhere, with purpose, and for the good of all, and personal dreams come into focus. This is how one engages others and how many become the vehicle to personal dreams. This level of fulfillment is not only personal, but also delivers the energy that fuels collaborative work.

We gain fulfillment when actively engaged in meaningful work. When joined with others of the same mind, financial and corporate results soar. Organizations with strong financial results have employee engagement levels that are twice those with poor financial results. The numbers are similar for those organizations that have better customer experiences, which relate directly to the attitude of the organization’s most valuable resource—people.

The limbic system of the human brain informs much of how we feel about things and the decisions we make. Few elements of brain function provide more direction than this system to realize one’s personal aspirations. Although there is much to do in exercising the healthy use of it, the limbic system benefits greatly from an outside/inside view of the world. That is, how we see it as an extension of ourselves.

When one sees another living out a core value of the group or society, engagement jumps by double digits, according to studies. It is no wonder that the very powerful sense of belonging (to others) that is in each plays such a significant part in the achievement of life goals. Fulfillment may be just two levels above, but requires that we first grow a healthy model in addressing our sense of belonging. In the pursuit of our personal best, we must do a few simple things:

  1. Find Clarity: Know where you are going, how it feels to imagine it, and write it down. Thought becomes behavior. The simple act of acknowledgement begins the process called “knowing,” the total body immersion in the person you want to become.
  2. Commit to Action: Envision the steps along the way. Include the hard parts, such as a long educational commitment, or apprenticeship. Map out the sequence of events, and add the flexibility necessary to adjustments (not excuses) along the way.
  3. See Your Dreams Moving “Toward You”: See all things as puzzle pieces to your goals, as though each has purpose and fits well. Take a position as one who claims the things that happen daily as necessary to your ultimate goals. Watch them coming toward you.

We have little more important to do than to grow with every tick of the clock. We must be ready and available as growth opportunities arise. It is not only our desire to fulfill our personal dreams; it is also our birthright.

 

March 24, 2017 |

Winning the Customer, Part X

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

The most compelling attribute of receiving something from another is gratitude. It’s the sort of reciprocity that warms the heart and cements a good experience between people—no less buyer and seller.

“Thank you for your business and have a nice day” has become so automatic that it often loses its appeal by the lack of sincerity in the gesture. While minimally necessary to speak as customers leave (with or without) a purchase, the sentiment is worth a consideration of the ways to encourage customer retention by simple acts of sincere interest and kindness. Studies indicate that even a ten-cent item raised likeability in customers for product and service providers.

Created to find joy, when we find it, we respond in ways that create opportunity for those participating in the exchange that produces it. The “wow” on our lips when the expectation of good food at a restaurant is surprised by “great food,” is a common experience. We can’t wait for someone from the kitchen to ask us how we liked our choice. “Surprise” is a dopamine rush that excites interest and engagement when the surprise is a good one.

Surprise can turn reluctance into willingness, increasing interest in another or products and services offered. A pet store that gives away a “training dog clicker” for all those who are leaving the store, with or without a purchase, surprises customers with something of value. Add a one-page primer on how to use it, and its value increases. Offer a brightly colored red pencil to every customer that uses your deli and your brand enhances (and is remembered) every time they see the color red.

Send a plastic comb to every patron of your hair salon to thank them for the opportunity to brighten your day by their decision to use your salon. It works wonders. The surprise factor is priceless—and the brand enhancement with daily use of the comb might turn into a thousand dollars over the course of a year. Further, surprise follow-up gifts encourage a “customer of the third kind,” the one that becomes an extension of your marketing effort.

Wow one customer! Give a single customer a customer service experience so “off the charts” that they are compelled to tell family, friends, and social media followers the story for weeks and months to come. Word-of-mouth remains the best way to grow business—period.

If you are a landscaper preparing a spring look at a customer site—residential or commercial—surprise them with a lusciously appointed garden plant (with description), at no charge. Every time they walk past it, your brand grows, as does their appreciation for the gesture. Remember, a clean car drives better; at least in the mind of its owner. We naturally incline toward things that make us feel good, and those who surprise us with goodwill.

If your products ship, such as printed material, surprise your customer with a delivery before the expected date. Add a note that expresses your effort to offer service that outperforms expectations and watch your retention revenue grow.

Send a distant customer a coffee card for a refreshing treat. Stop in with something in hand when you’re in the area. Acts of kindness and sincere gratitude pay real dividends for those dedicated to a good customer relationship and a good customer experience,—the two most successful building blocks to a healthy retention revenue model.

 

March 17, 2017 |

Winning the Customer, Part IX

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

True representation of our positions is a minimum requirement in fruitful exchanges between people. For most, it requires that we confront our own reality. Each has one, but very few are prepared to look objectively at themselves or accept that an alternative view has merit worth consideration. Then, how do we help people grow their sense of historicity over the positions they take? Though helpful, the first response to another’s alternate views is a defensive rearguard action to prove one’s own.

When we approach a customer with an alternative view, a fruitful outcome follows efforts to see the other’s side of things first. It is difficult to do without first attempting to defend the other’s position. Only then might we understand the validity of another’s view of things.

A more objective exchange between buyer and seller benefits from a number of methods to “confront each with his own reality.” One such method is to present both the suggestion and the architecture of the model that differs from that of another—buyer or seller.

A sale occurs in every exchange between buyer and seller. It is either to accept the offer of one or the other. Salesperson and customer work hard at turning the result their way. The customer seldom wants to be sold, so sells the salesperson on the idea that what he’s selling is not needed. The salesperson hopes to convince the customer of the opposite. One always wins, and the sale made.

When we take an opposing position it typically has one of two results: it raises the other’s defenses, or raises the curiosity of the other and encourages creativity and objective problem solving in the process.

Salesperson: The influence of print advertising finds support by the way humans “relate” to things, through their senses.

Customer: Everybody is buying online. How can print help me sell my products to locals?

Salesperson: Let’s consider your view of online sales. You might see things differently after we discuss what you already know about consumers and how that can benefit you through print advertising.

Customer: I don’t know. Most people see the newspaper as a thing of the past.

Salesperson: Agreed. And most people also believe they’re going to wake in the morning to continue their lives. But many never see the light of the next day, despite this belief.

The point is that we all take things for granted, such as the idea that most sales happen online. The facts: only 25% of consumers buy online, and only 7% of total retail sales are converted on the Internet. Despite the success of amazon.com, most people have a relationship with the things they buy, and that relationship is based on their analog senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and feel. It’s why over 40% of Home Depot sales first seen online are purchased at the store. It is also why amazon.com will open stores to show people how to use their enormous data technology to reach their own customers. They believe that a physical model of that process is more compelling than their very successful digital blueprint. Why? Relating to products physically develops a better understanding of them. Finally, did you know that there are many more newspapers across the nation than fifteen years ago? They are largely local papers that meet the demand for community news, while regional and national newspapers falter.

Customer: Hmnn, I never thought about it like that. How can print help draw customers to me?

Salesperson: Some say that your service is too complicated (i.e., cell phone service), but taking a self-effacing approach that admits the problem will warm customers to you and your solutions to this and other problems, creating a competitive advantage for you.

Reality necessitates support for it. It is not enough to make “mother and apple pie” claims. To reach the customer, to relate to his wants, needs, and habits, we must relate to them. This relating is more effective by an opportunity to objectively discuss the position of both sides. Studies conclude that it increases our resolve for better decision making and uses the vulnerability in frank and honest information to draw people together.

New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common. (John Locke)

March 10, 2017 |

Can Capitalism Save Us?

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Few in America would argue against a free enterprise system when opportunity appears. For the disenfranchised—those that are and those that like to believe they’d share the fruits of their labor “equally” with the less fortunate—free enterprise becomes reality the moment they choose among identical products with different pricing. The lowest price is typically that choice. Once done, this group has exercised the “free enterprise system,” proving that demand sets the price of goods and services. Think gas pump prices. As demand rises so does price if the goal is profits, unless a volume model multiplies profit faster and beyond the ability of exclusivity markets to grow it. Think amazon.com.

The natural tendency in the human condition is to extend one’s influence and gains to the fullest. In other words, it is to take advantage of opportunity when it presents. The opportunist sees opportunity in most everything (read: how can I take advantage of this?)—a false positive. In a world bent toward discovering another’s weaknesses (to exploit) it is small wonder that so-called “have-nots” often “feel the weight” of another’s thumb.

Weekly, theologians present an age-old alternative: namely, service to others. In fact, the Good Book states that … we are “to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves … Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others … ” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Cooperative commerce and communities, so seldom the blush in a “Postmodernist” world, remain the driving force in community growth and wealth building. Post-modernism means to “ … dissolve the merging of subject and object, self and other, and a radical, anarchist rejection of all attempts to define, reify or re-present the human subject.” An example is the non-gender reference to “they” for all who will not accept defining by anything, including gender.

The freedom to control the means of production (by our choices) presents unusual opportunities for cooperative societies: namely, free-enterprise systems only slightly akin to capitalism in its strictest sense. Freedom is the natural underpinning of well-being, a spirit of completeness that brings order and fulfillment to our lives. We are most content when we feel competent in the things we do, authentic in our lives, and connected to others in shared lives—the model of self-determination theory.

Equally, enterprise is the natural tendency to put our best into things, to make things happen by the expressions that uniquely qualify us as individuals working together for a common good. The two are prodigious in their outcomes, but the distinction between free enterprise and capitalism must be clear.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, contemporary thinker and author, clearly measured American capitalism as better than his homeland Russia’s communism or Europe’s varietal socialism, but it still leaves us wanting, he concluded. American capitalism was more concerned with “Is it legal?” than “Is it right?” according to Solzhenitsyn. What he saw may have been more a model of CYO that defines expedience, and not ethics. Similarly, he saw its culture more concerned with “Is it profitable?” than “Is it good?” The outcome is a nation that is “more materialistic than spiritual, more interested in superficial success than genuine human progress,” in his view. Not coincidentally, his criticisms don’t apply to the model of free-enterprise that has only supply and demand as catalysts, and little or no government regulation.

Thus, a free market system tends to be privilege blind, accepting all equally, according to one’s needs and willingness to pay. The means of production are “not so much owned,” as they are “granted” by the same math in supply and demand, largely without the constraints of regulation. The result is a population of buyers and users and sellers and builders of products and services that go to those with need of them and at the market price; a cooperative model that engages others to serve their needs while joining to grow sustainable local economies and communities.

If we call this model of free enterprise, Community Capitalism, the vision of it clears; that which places a priority on the well-being and sustainability of the entire community, not just the privileged. This is not a new idea, but takes on a fresh scent when practiced in countries like Australia, Germany, and Denmark; and in U.S. markets such as Kalamazoo, Michigan and the E2M Community Capital project. We see clearly the seeds of the approach as we consider the key focus of community resources on place, capital, infrastructure, talent and education. The model suggests that viable communities must successfully address all five concomitantly. Further, it joins with organized philanthropy and investment to grow commerce and communities cooperatively, already in practice across America.

Creative Applications

Few local organizations can develop the funds necessary to fuel even moderate growth objectives. Local, regional, and state governments can. Starting businesses and community organizations that fill local needs, then turning them over to private enterprise for sustainable growth accomplishes more than to provide a shoemaker or donut shop for communities without them. It is the clearest demonstration of tax money at work for community good. Simply, commerce builds communities, and local towns and small cities offer the best opportunity to provide the needed capital to fuel growth. The obvious question asks if locals will buy into communities with empty storefronts lining its streets, or towns with character and successful small businesses. The local level is where “community capitalism” (conscious, family capitalism) has the greatest impact and growth opportunity, because towns can use tax funds for growth and not just service additions. In fact, community capitalism has a better chance of funding both than the typical tax model.

March 3, 2017 |

Winning the Customer, Part VIII

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

Readers of this column have read that sellers’ exchange with customers turns on four things: who they are; what they sell; what the customer wants, needs, or is in the habit of buying; and finally, what you deliver. Quality, convenience, price, peer recommendations, and service are the spindles of this wheel of engagement between buyer and seller. Very often, and perhaps even most effective at engaging customers, are the seller’s values. Think L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, Henry Rifle, OshKosh children’s clothing, Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, amazon.com, and its child, Zappos. This last company, like its parent, amazon.com, sees itself as a customer service company that also sells shoes. Values matter!

Studies show that consumers are not very loyal to companies, but they are loyal to what they stand for. Often called “cause marketing,” the things important to a company are also important to many that would buy their products. Simply, we connect with others out of an inborn need to belong and for the gratification in joining with like minds. Notice how many executive teams share a common love … of a sport, organic foods, boutique breweries, a particular author or musician, a business guru, etc. Meaningful work is always more enjoyable when those with whom we work are brothers under the skin. Note how much more time women with twins spend with each other on the job.

Who we are can make all the difference in maintaining a loyal customer base and is often the reason we attract customers. It’s the thing that makes us attractive to a buyer. We might buy our caviar from Mote Aquarium because of their extraordinary preservation efforts on behalf of whales, sea turtles, manatees, and other wildlife. The caviar is also excellent and fairly priced. During the years when IBM and Microsoft owned the personal computer business, Apple maintained its presence having convinced the world that Apple was “the computer for the rest of us.” IBM trades on the idea that “nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.” This view has meant more revenues for IBM than are counted, but often is the reason those looking for enterprise computer solutions go to IBM. It’s a safe choice for those unwilling to risk their reputation or job in taking a chance on a lesser-known quantity.

A key question asked of me by startups is what to name the company. After toying with the serious and the playful, I found a good answer. Understanding what you do and the value perceived in it is critical to a quick connection to customers. Ever asked someone what “they do,” only to scratch your head after their telling you they’re an OD (Organizational Development) expert? It happens every day. When you imbue your company name with two things you go a long way toward answering the key question about what you do. Simply, choose a name that associates with some industry and communicates something of value. Everyone knew that GE makes refrigerators and AC units, so when they added the slogan “We bring good things to life” in 1979, the company introduced the buying public to the breadth of products and technology that defined GE. When L.L. Bean says its return policy is a simple two-word statement—100% Satisfaction—we learn they mean: no questions asked. Ever been twice to a store that gives only a store credit, and then only if items are returned in thirty days? Shame on you! Most consumers won’t return to stores (Jennifer Furniture) with such policies—nor should they.

When sellers openly support causes, they are giving notice to those with like minds to come together. It works! So, too, do values such as “the customer is always right—no questions asked.” Speak plainly and often with customers about your company’s values. They may be enjoying the driveway you just paved for them, but the most loyal customers will appreciate most what you stand for—that you’ll return to fix cracks or heaves, no matter when they occur. Values matter!

February 24, 2017 |

Winning the Customer, Part VII

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

 

The opportunity in our uniqueness is often the “fanaticism in orthodoxy.” We naturally look for others to relate to well before joining with them or their initiatives. We are more likely to trust a policeman’s urging to protect ourselves in taking cover, than a passerby that offers the same. In both polite and heated discussions over differing opinions, we are inclined to position the opposition in a poor light in comparison to ourselves. The tactic is even clearer today as the nation divides over the iconoclastic model of governing that our new president prefers. Effusive overstatements result—positioning the opposition as grossly negligent. It would appear, after the dust settles, that neither side is without sin. So it goes, when seeking advantage is the only goal.

We warn combatants in the game of commerce: “If one does not establish a position in the marketplace, the competition will willingly supply it.” Effective positioning is the sine qua non of market distinction. We have it either, by our own making, or another’s.

Presenting the enemy for comparison is no scrim or fog to obscure one’s own weaknesses. Rather, it is to establish a rivalry that more clearly distinguishes one from another. Achieving a preference for one’s brand is money in the bank. Whether by “who we are,” “what we sell,” “how we satisfy the customer’s wants, needs, and habits,” and “what we deliver,” positioning is the ne plus ultra of this market math, and creating a rival (for comparison) one of its very effective methodologies.

The discriminating mechanism in humans, largely the work of the prefrontal cortex, relies on two separate networks that inform value judgments (risk vs. reward), and cognitive control that provides a check on ultimate behavior. We may like to eat all of a tasty dessert, but choose not to when considering its potential effect on us.

Goods and service providers seek to create an “in-group,” what we might call customers. Customers find “themselves” in your products, services, or approach, and quickly form mutual bonds that build long-term relationships. Your products may appeal to them on several layers, such as design or peer excitement. They may also satisfy an important need. However, when there is seemingly little advantage to offer, it may be useful to create a physical enemy.

Many small businesses decry the advantages of “big box stores.” They have great inventory, variety, and attractive pricing. They also have poorly trained people, customer indifference, and an impersonal feel, as the turnstile at checkout is in stark contrast to a small business with similar products. The fact is that any small business can find an enemy to position for its disadvantages and easily compete by honing its own unique approach. When we join in liking a product, service, or provider, we form huge biases for those in the group and against outsiders. The enemy can be a belief system, such as “organic,” “sustainable” product, or a model that warms customers, such as a “no-questions-asked” money back guarantee. The purpose in this approach is not to spear the competition, but to associate certain models of likeness with customers while putting distance between you.

Apple Computer was first “the computer for the rest of us,” which created a strongly bigoted following (against giant Microsoft) among youthful, computer literate types. To prove that we can reinvent ourselves to satisfy the needs of customers, Apple refocused on unique, qualifying design and user-friendly products to outdistance the competition. They were qualifying you, the consumer. It led them to become the most valuable company in the world. It could happen to you.

February 17, 2017 |

Winning the Customer, Part VI

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ROI by Frank J. Rich

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Frank J. Rich

 

When hungry, nothing satisfies more than to see food on the table. Americans are often referred to as the “McDonald’s Society” for our insistence on having our food when we want it, how we want it, and where we want it. We have been prepared (by design) to wear this habitual tracking wherever and for whatever we are shopping. This gratification response most easily and quickly overcomes the pain threshold in the buying process. (see Part Ill of Winning the Customer.)

Not coincidentally, efforts to excite “instant gratification” in us are rooted in science. Brain activity rises quickly when anticipating pleasure. When stimulated by a quick meal, or any form of quick delivery, the frontal cortex is very active waiting for the object of the stimulation. The mid-brain, or mesencephalon, ignites when we expect the thing we want to appear right away— the “instant gratification” we respond to best. Our desire for things, driven by want, need, or habit, leads us to consider the route to satisfying them. The process encourages anticipation, which in turn forms the imagery of receiving the “thing” in mind, including its delivery, unpacking, first sight, and exploration. When all take place in the moment, we give ourselves over to a purchase, the deal is “sealed.” This is the very process that prepares both the seller and buyer for a “good customer experience,” and relationship—the two most influential elements of a “retention revenue model.”

Clearly, so-called “brand companies” know the model well. Why else would amazon.com attach a “2-day FREE delivery” to every “Prime” purchase? Their system design to first sign you up is a kind of loyalty program. Using fundamental behavioral technique, they engage the customer in a “value exchange” with the promise to “deliver” on the promise, to his satisfaction. Consider the model: “wide choices, near 100 percent inventory, quick and free delivery, and guaranteed satisfaction.” It is so simple and prodigious a model that most believe it is uniquely an amazon.com creation. It is not! The early days of catalog mailings brought us the Horchow catalog, D.A.K. Innovations, Hammacher Schlemmer, Lands’ End, L.L. Bean, and countless others, that helped perfect the model and prove the elemental nuance that ensures success. Add store pick-up, where 40 percent of Home Depot’s online products are bought. Walmart, Lowe’s, Sears, etc., all make a trip to the store an easy way to get product faster; a system that provides benefits far beyond the pick-up of an ordered item. Few leave these stores with only the item they came for.

Why does this model work so well for sellers and buyers alike? Simply, we are problem solvers by nature. When confronted with a problem, the mind and body join on the path to solving it. When we present a want, need, or habit to a seller they do well to start the process of satisfying it, and quickly. Nothing works as well. Thus, the pain thresholds we are hoping to manage in the buying process are much better informed the moment we “believe” our needs are near at hand. Punto y final!

In your appeal to customers, use words like quick, instantly, free, new, in-stock, at your convenience, etc., etc.; keeping in mind the formula that excites buyers to action—choice, inventory, quick and free delivery, and satisfaction guaranteed. If you’re writing ads for others be sure to include a compelling (value) offer to encourage a visit to your website or store. This is where the magic begins. “Nothing happens until something moves.” (Albert Einstein)

February 10, 2017 |
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