Friday, September 30, 2011

I Hate Working Out

My daily habit, like many of you, is to visit the gym at least once a day.  We all have our favorite routines, songs to motivate us, shoes and other equipment that help keep our bodies fit.

Featured image courtesy of Caleb Phillips licensed via Creative Commons.

But, I'm not going to lie to you that some days, it's really hard for me to tie those laces up and hit the elliptical.  And today was no different.  I've had a stiff neck the past few days and I was dying to use that as an excuse to not go...  But, then I remembered the awesome meal I had on Wednesday with S. and S. (hi!) and also on Thursday with Amir so off I went to face the music.

As I was plodding away and watching the Today show it occurred to me that this very effort, as unwanted as it was, was the key to making all other efforts possible.  Though it is, at its best, a repetitive and iterative (not redundant) experience, it is a must do to be in it for the long haul.  And a repetitive and iterative process is required for business, too.

Yeah, it hurts sometimes.
Anytime you try a next exercise, you'll likely "feel it" the next day because you've worked something that normally doesn't get worked.  It does get easier, though.  So too with our business lives, we've got to stretch our boundaries with ourselves, our brands, our customers or our products to see how we can improve our business conditions.

You're not alone.
I work out with my sister on Saturdays and it's great bonding time for us.  That sense of camaraderie should be infused within our work teams, as well.  As I mentioned in my last post as well as many others, the level of employee engagement can be correlated to level of customer experience.  Why wouldn't we want to work together for the greater good?

We need a north star, sometimes.
So, I should mention that my sister and I work out with a trainer on these Saturday mornings.  Sometimes we have to look to others to see what we can't see for ourselves.  This is why reading other blogs, commenting, participating in tweetchats, going to conferences or whatever your favorite way is of learning new things is so critical.  We can't afford to sit in our own echo chambers 24-7.

It's not rocket science.
You don't always need complex expensive equipment at the gym.  A ball, a band and some basic weights can do the trick.  It's the same in business.  There's nothing complex in checking in with your customers, asking if we are making them happy and finding out if there are new or different things in their business dynamics which impacts how we help them.  Ask good questions and put your thinking cap on.  Effective tools and - bonus - free!

Someone changes the channel.
Nothing irks me more than when someone changes the channel on the TV I'm watching without asking.  One man used to change it to Price is Right all the time.  This happens in business (late delivery of product, etc.) and you've got to protect your customers from any negative effects.  Take it in stride, learn from it and adapt.  It's about being quick on your feet.  It's not the situation but how you react to it that matters.

Make your heart go pitter pat.
Cardio is for boosting up your heart rate.  You want that to happen.  Similarly, you should demonstrate your passion for what you do and how you help others.  Let people see you sweat and let them see the time, effort and energy you put into your exquisite brand, product, service, etc.  Careful, though, showing passion is different from showing emotion.  You should never be emotional about business - guaranteed to result in some sort of error.

What would you add to this business exercise list?  Please share below and, if you've enjoyed this post, please share with others.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

p.s.  This post was inspired by this originally published on

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Customer Experience Oasis

Hi!  I was on vacation last week celebrating my parents' 50th anniversary.  They took us on Oasis of the Seas which is, in a word, gobsmacking.  You've got to see it up close to believe it.  Have a look at this video and you'll understand why.  But, truly, you need to be on the ship to appreciate it.

Why Not?
Do you know what my favorite part of this video is?  It's their stated commitment to bring more and more "why not" experiential moments to their customers.  After all:
  • Why not have the first living park at sea?
  • Why not have the first Atlantic City style Boardwalk at sea complete with hand carved carousel and an aqua theater?
  • Why not have 2 story loft style staterooms?
  • Why not have 25 different dining options?
  • Why not have a full size basketball court and two flowrider simulators?
  • And there are so many others...

I won't cover the actual service displayed by their employees nor the fact that this is actually a logistics company operating under the guise of a cruise line (that will come later).  We both know that it's an occupational hazard of mine to pay attention to service delivery and execution of fine details -- I'd say they knocked it out of the park during this trip.

It's the experience, stupid.
So, of course that's a riff on Bill Clinton's 1992 election strategy...  The point is that as the economy was in '92, so is experience in this example today.  Anything that deviates from focusing on brand promise and the actual delivery of the brand promise in the form of exquisite customer experience is a waste of time.

As you know, I'm a big fan of #CXO tweetchat.  Yesterday's was about the blending (or sometimes not) of marketing and customer experience.  We talked about when customer experience begins, who owns it, if marketing initiatives impact it and the relationship between the brand promise and experience.  During the chat, it occurred to me that my trip was a living example of a perfect symbiotic blend between the brand promise, the marketing and the actual customer experience.

There's the courting...
Royal Caribbean has created a vibrant, interactive site and has presence on most social platforms to create a pre trip experience.  Their YouTube channel has their own content and they also encourage fans to upload their own as well as part of the "Nation of Why Not" site.  This smartly complements traditional marketing to stimulate purchase, helps stem buyer's remorse post purchase and encourages excitement for your upcoming trip (also helps keep the magic alive when all you have is memories of your past trip).

And then you fall in love...
When on board, you have the marriage of the magic of what is promised to the magic of what is.  I won't lie - I knew it would be good but couldn't guess at the volume of goodness.  And, it would be impossible to do it justice by writing it all down which is why I shared the video.  Suffice it to say that from beginning to end, I was constantly amazed by all of the (not so obvious) things I discovered thanks to their choice of a "why not" mindset in their customer experience design and delivery.

Why not ask why not?
The lack of boundaries (in a good way), the pushing of limits, the asking of "why not" helps to create the magic of what is promised that is paid off by the magic of what is.  It speaks to focus on knowing your product, where you succeed in delighting others, exquisite marketing and (most importantly) exquisite delivery.

The point: it is possible to have a symbiotic relationship between the promise and delivery.  We can all do better.  How are you going to do just that?

If you liked this post, please comment, tweet and share with others!  I'd love to hear from you.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are You a Business Superhero(ine)?

Amir and I have made a study of learning from and about Trusted Advisors over the last few years. We’ve spoken to many a client and colleague to see what separates Trusted Advisors from the rest of the pack. All in all, we’ve learned that success springs more from design and not by luck, mainly due to a consistent set of behaviors. We thought our observations were worth sharing with you. You no doubt have spotted some of these super hero qualities in your business meetings.

1. Trusted Advisors are not self referential.
We see many LinkedIn profiles these days with the Trusted Advisor title which is rather like calling yourself beautiful. Trusted Advisor is an earned title and one should never refer to one’s self as such. Just as Lois Lane looked to Superman as her hero, your audience/network/clients determine if you really are one.

2. Not everyone is a Trusted Advisor.
Not everyone is Captain America and not everyone actually is a Trusted Advisor. Some people have it in their DNA and yet others go through intensive training to break their bad habits and learn some of the Trusted Advisor fundamentals.

3. Listening is an underrated skill set.
Trusted Advisors are awesome listeners. If this were a super hero talent, it would be in the form of an enormous ear. They listen so well for the obvious cues and the very subtle cues that they are able to repeat both verbatim. And it’s hearing the subtle cues that set these people apart from the rest.

4. They ask insightful questions.
If Amir had his way, Columbo would have been classified as super hero for his questioning skills. Trusted Advisors ask great questions and are like a surgeon diagnosing and locating the problem area. Their ability to ask a series of questions to get at the root of the problem quickly set them apart from the mortals.

5. Problem solving is second nature.
Like Batman, Trusted Advisors are caped crusaders in the pursuit of wiping out business problems. Thanks to #4, they separate themselves from the pack by solving the problems their questions have identified. Bad advisors ask terrible or irrelevant questions that can get annoying. Batman may have been overly serious, but he was never annoying!

6. They make it rain.
Thanks to #3, #4, and #5, their super hero skill is a welcome refreshing rainshower that makes flowers grow and rainbows appear with pots of gold. Because they efficiently separate wheat from chaff, they become very successful very quickly.

7. Trusted Advisors are niche-o-holics.
You can’t make Spiderman do what Wonder Woman can do. What made Super Friends an awesome Saturday morning cartoon was that they all banded together to leverage their individual strengths. Trusted Advisors know their #1 skill and leverage it to everyone’s benefit. If someone says they can do it all, we say they might be The Joker! Beware.

8. Behind every Trusted Advisor is a key mentor.
Trusted Advisors like to pay it forward. They typically have at least one person who helped guide and mold them. You’ll recall that Superman always held his father as a role model. And, though not a superhero, Mork had Orson. Trusted Advisors have mentors because they welcome feedback and want to constantly improve their game. It explains why they are very good at what they do.

9. They could eat strategy for breakfast.
They strategize a lot almost and we mean a lot. Prior to calls, meetings, they really understand what can impact the deal (both in a positive way and also in a negative way). They understand that planning is a key element of a high success ratio. They dont get in front of a lot of people but when they do, their chances are in their favor. Spiderman didn’t do things blindly!

10. They have bionic vision.
Steve Austin had a bionic eye and so do Trusted Advisors. Some of the most successful ones we have worked with see almost immediately whether they can help the customer or not. If they can't, they quickly disqualify themselves and move on which saves a lot of time and energy! This also helps with finding simpatico colleagues.

11. They have sidekicks!
Thanks to #10, they are very good at putting together a list of strategic providers and other complimentary vendors. Bruce Wayne had Alfred and Batman did have Robin, after all!

12. They like to help!
Trusted Advisors accept their roles gladly. Like a super hero, you never hear them resent the awesome responsibility they have. Also like your favorite super hero, they never do it for the accolades. A simple thank you suffices.

Are you doing any of the above? Do you have a person in your network whom you think embodies super hero qualities? If so, send them this post with our compliments! And, please introduce us to them. We’d love to shake their hands.

If you've enjoyed this post, our other 12 Most posts can be found here.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Friday, September 16, 2011

Does Your Business Need Parking Sensors?

My parents were kind enough to lend their SUV to us for a few days. We had quite a few things to haul hither and yon so it was a great and much needed help.

When you drive someone else’s car, it takes some getting used to. The buttons are foreign looking, the switches are in different places and you always set the car alarm off at least once – and not for entertainment purposes!

This SUV is fun to drive for a host of reasons. The seats warm in the winter and cool in the summer. What’s not to love about that? The other nifty thing is that this SUV is also equipped with a parking sensor gadget which means that if you get too close to something, the car will let you know about it. It also has a funny little camera that helps you when you drive in reverse.

It occurred to me as we were driving that there were many interesting lessons about business (and life) that were to be had thanks to this parking gadget. And with that, I'd like to share this list with you (co written with Amir and originally published on 12 Most).

1. Watch your back.
We always talk about being forward thinking and innovative – all good things. We’d suggest that looking at the past and absorbing lessons learned then so that we can be better friends, spouses, partners, colleagues or what have you. And, oh yeah, watch out for that car.

2. You're too close.
Sometimes, if we’re so enmeshed in something, we lose objectivity. The temptation’s there to keep working at whatever business problem we seem to be facing. We say resist it, move away and take a cleansing breath. When you come back, you’ll see things in a whole new way. And you won’t hit that garbage can either.

3. Sometimes, other people see things better.
Like #2, this is about objectivity. Let a different perspective inform your thinking and help you process information, ideas, etc. You don’t always have the right answer – and that’s okay. That rear facing camera can let us know how far that bumper is – and that beeping noise will too!

4. It’s okay to ask for help.
There’s no shame in asking for help. It’s the courageous ones that recognize that outside assistance may be needed to be successful. The ancillary benefit: you just may learn something new! You don’t always need that rear facing camera. But it’s okay to use it.

5. It's okay to accept help.
Sometimes, we don’t know when or how to ask for help. It’s the tragedy of the human condition. If someone comes along and offers a helping hand, accept it gladly. And if it appears they need your help in future, please return the favor.

6. You're still a free thinker.
We love gadgets and we love talking about them. It’s knowing when to stand on your own two feet and putting a stake in the ground that matters. You’ve not lost your sense of reason nor analytical skills. Use them or lose them! You don’t need that beeping noise to know that you’re about to hit that bike.

7. Look before you leap.
We like it when people embrace chance and risk. We admire that level of courage. But, those mirrors, beeps and cameras can stop you from an “oopsie” moment.

8. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
A lot of times, we like to do the same things in the same way ad nauseum. We can’t argue with it if it works. But when new gizmos come along that help you look and do things in new ways, we should embrace it. Similarly, if someone wants to share new things with us, let’s spend that extra moment to listen.

9. Humility never gets old.
It’s okay to be gobsmacked by the new and different. The more we learn, the more we realize we have to learn. When we play with all of these new toys, we grow even more impressed with the creativity and genius of the engineering mind. And it pushes us to work harder to test our own limits.

10. It’s okay to be old fashioned.
Like #6, you can get by without new gizmos. Be immune to others’ judgment if you prefer to do things (sometimes) that hearken back to a simpler time… like a few years ago. Be careful though as this should not be mistaken for being resistant to change. That’s typically not a successful strategy.

11. Don’t lose the forest for the trees.
At the end of the day, the purpose of the car is to get you from point A to point B. Similarly, in business, we have objectives that we are tasked to hit. Getting caught up in the minutiae of tactics instead of the big picture confuses the issue. The new and flashy stuff is great – but make sure you have the eye on the prize.

12. Be open to change.
The first month my parents had this car, my mother didn’t drive it at all because it was a bit overwhelming. We sympathized because it did look a mess of buttons and knobs on the inside. Now, she can tell you all of its intricate details. By accepting change and being open to learning even when it does seem overwhelming always leads to something new and positive.

This parking thing-a-ma-jig is just an example but really, anything that is new that forces you to see things in new ways can test limits we didn’t know we had. Alternatively, when faced with things that are now “obsolete” our minds have difficulty in absorbing how it was used and why it was so loved. Ultimately, it’s a “use what works for you” type of thing with a dash of willingness to step out of your comfort zone.

What would you add to this list?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Social Media Half Life & A 50th Anniversary...

My parents will be celebrating their golden (50th) anniversary next week.  It's quite an accomplishment for anyone who makes it this far because marriage requires a lot of hard work.  I'm biased, of course, but my parents make it seem rather easy breezy.  Here's how I think they do that:
  • They like each other.
  • They celebrate each other's strengths and complement the other stuff.
  • They respect each other.
  • They listen to each other.
  • They enjoy each other's company.
  • They can spend some time apart.
  • They appreciate one another.
  • They compromise.
  • They apologize.
In other words, they are in constant pursuit of a life together that's well lived and meaningful on their terms.  They share the good times with each other and try to forget the bad ones.

What of Social Media?

Our friends at Hubspot published this blog post last week covering's research on the relative "half life" of a shared link across social media platforms.  The gory details are as follows:
  • The mean half life of a Twitter link is 2.8 hours.
  • For Facebook, it's 3.2 hours.
  • It's 3.4 hours if delivered via email or instant messaging.
  • On YouTube, it's a whopping 7.4 hours.
The research goes on to conclude that it's not where you decide to share the content but it's the quality of the content in and of itself that matters.  Hooray!

If a social media tree falls in a forest...

and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?  Look, I'm happy that the research shows that it's not where but what it is that gets shared...  So, whatever channel you choose to receive information is no less worthy than another channel.  However, I find it depressing that a link only lives for a few hours until the next bon mot type of link comes along because we're all fighting for share of eyeballs.

The replacement rate of all of this quality content boggles the mind.  It's not that I doubt the quality, it's just that it's impossible to appreciate the quality truly and it makes me wonder:  
  • If it is true that it's quality that rises to the top, why do we need so much of the quality all the time?  
  • What do we miss when the mean half life of a link is only a few hours?
  • What's the opportunity cost of this short period of time?  
  • What if the best people to read what you share aren't online that day?

What does this have to do with an anniversary?

Relationships last because we take the time to celebrate the details and intricacies of one another.  We remember favorite things, eye colors and bucket lists.  We talk, we ask questions and yes, sometimes we even bicker.  All of these things take time to appreciate truly.  All of these things are, though small, not fleeting. 

Instead of fighting for share of eyeballs, let's fight for share of mind or even share of thought.  I realize it's a romantic notion and I might look a little foolish for suggesting it.  But, given the amount of information overload these days, it may just be that what I'm asking for is not so silly after all.

What's your take on the social media half life?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Child of the 80's...

So, my sister and I took a road trip to scenic Door County, Wisconsin.  Good times were had and I do recommend a trip to Wilson's in Ephraim.  The ice cream is homemade and top notch.

On the drive home, we listened to an 80's CD which included The Fixx, Level 42, Soft Cell, Culture Club, you name it.  For the next hour, we sang every song word for word and knew exactly how old we were and what we were doing when those songs were popular.  We had smiles on our faces and fond memories dancing in our heads even though we were teenagers then with all of the awkward trappings, thick glasses and bad hair.

To get you "in the mood" for this post, I've shared an "oldie but goodie" video.

True love has no ending.

In my last post, I quoted a Rev Run tweet which suggested that true love has no happy ending, rather it is that true love has no ending.  And I've suggested before that we have an obligation as product/service providers to let our customers know how much they are appreciated regardless of the size of business they've given us.

So, this means that at a moment's notice, if a customer should happen to think of our company or one of our employees, it should be with a fond smile and happy thoughts.  Our customers should be able to recount the number of different ways they are made to feel "special" because we listen and offer solutions that help their wallet instead of thinking of our own.

What does this have to do with Depeche Mode?

You could swap in a hair band in place of DM if that was more your thing.  Regardless of the genre, these bands and their music videos were a seminal part of an 80's child's growth and history.  They fed the environment, contributed to experiences and allow us to bond with others today (A.G. and B.P-S.).  Without these iconic images, we may not be able to recall ourselves at a particular point in time nor will we have a framing of sorts for how we react culturally (or otherwise) to things today.

And so too, we should be thought of as a key part of our customer's growth and history.  They should be able to think of significant milestones and link our activities to the accomplishment of those milestones.  They should be able to set goals in the future that include our participation in helping them achieve those goals.

If we continue to do right by them, we will be inextricably linked just as those 80's jams are inextricably linked to me today.  What's your perspective?  And if you are a child of the 80's, what was your #1 tune?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

@RevRunWisdom and Retail Revenues

"In relationships::: True love doesn't have a happy ending,, TRUE LOVE doesn't have an ending" -- @RevRunWisdom

Many moons ago, I saw that tweet (complete with multiple weird forms of punctuation) from Rev Run and, true to form, saved it for a future blog post.  My friends, this is that future blog post.

A dose of retail therapy.

This past Friday, I was dangerously close to Bloomingdale's (with whom I've had a true love relationship), I decided to pay homage.  It was "safe" of course to do so, I reasoned.  Even if I were to purchase anything, it would be on sale and I had a coupon, too.  Virtually guilt free!

I said hello to the pretty shoes, winked at the David Yurman counter, and innocently, happened upon a cute little dress which, after multiple discounts was roughly 25% of the original price.  It had me at hello.  I didn't have my Ultimate Premier Insider card with me but, no matter, I knew they could look up my information at the register.

Gone are the halcyon days of service.

In store service hit a new low for me on Friday.  And it's because the register I approached was managed by a person in the middle of a personal phone call -- a call she didn't end during said purchase.  She took the dress, scanned the bar code, scanned my coupon, affixed a return sticker to the label, took my credit card and asked for my zip code while she was still on the phone.

The multitasking was impressive -- especially when she stapled her business card to my receipt while speaking to the other party.  The only time she stopped multitasking was when she realized she couldn't still cradle the phone under her ear while placing the dress in the bag.  She finally asked her friend to hold.

Frankly, this experience was hilariously bad.  

The mind boggles at the seemingly small things that people do.  I'm not so naive as to just notice that customer service in large department stores just isn't like it was "in the old days" et cetera.  The mind boggles that we sometimes forget that there are multiple opportunity costs from these seemingly small actions.  In this case, there were at least four opportunity costs (however tiny in scale) for them:
  1. I changed my mind at the last minute and didn't use my Ultimate Premier Insider card to make the sale.  It wasn't in a fit of pique - I just didn't "feel the love" at that point in time.  This is bad because stores enjoy a margin savings when you use their card as opposed to another piece of plastic due to interchange rates, etc.  The dress was 75% off and they lost a few more basis points (at least) because I chose another method of payment.
  2. I did end up going to another department afterwards and chose only one other item even though I had my eye on another -- margin hit.  And, though it was a different register, I still used another piece of plastic instead -- another margin hit!
  3. The business card she stapled to my receipt serves as a good reminder (to me) of who to avoid on my next trip given the less than stellar performance on this last trip.  It's not dislike per se but perhaps I'll avoid her department altogether next time.  Or perhaps, if I want to buy something and she's my only choice, I may not buy at all.
  4. I'm telling you this story.  No need to say more on this point! 
Wait for it...

I do have a point in all of this and it's not a sneaky ploy to get special attention from Bloomingdale's.  Rev Run is right that true love doesn't have an ending because a constant true love is continuously fed and nurtured by each person in the love affair.  It doesn't have to be tumultuous and it may even occasionally be a bit of a snooze but it is sustaining because of the care given to it.

And so this experience, however small in the grand scheme of things makes me wonder at the sin of omission/sin of commission element to how we treat customers.  Sometimes we know we're not doing right by them and yet sometimes we don't.  In the former case, my little anecdote should perhaps help you consider changing habits.  In the latter case, my little anecdote reinforces the need for checking in, sincerely asking for meaningful actionable feedback (beyond Net Promoter Scores) and then putting action plans in place.

It's about revenues, ultimately.

The opportunity costs I outlined for you all had a revenue impact for Bloomingdale's.  If we want the revenue love to be true and never ending, we've got to open our eyes and realize that the things we do and the things we don't do matter.  What are we willing to do to keep the cycle of revenue love moving forward?  That's the ultimate question.

Your take?  Please leave comments below and, if you'd like, please share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef