Cybercriminals are smiling

Here’s an extra guest post for you this weekend.

It comes courtesy of Knowledge @ Wharton – and it’s extra because I think it important that anyone with a computer and a business have their act together when it comes to securing their business data.

http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2317

It isn’t that long. Read it *now* before they steal your cookies.

Something special in the air

I have to say that I never expected a country-western song to be a guest post, but it is what it is.

For the rest of the story about how United Airlines baggage handlers trashed Dave Carroll’s guitar and more importantly, their customer service and management mistakes afterwards, drop over to FastCompany.com.

4.5 million views later, it’s more than the old saw that customers who have a bad experience tell 10 people. Nowadays, they can tell everyone, everywhere.

If your service isn’t what it should be, don’t be surprised if you end up going viral for all the wrong reasons.

Of course, that assumes that you care in the first place.

PS: Play close attention to the winner in this deal: Taylor Guitars.

Update: CNN’s Wolf Blitzer covers the story.

Update: United Breaks Guitars – Song 2

Update: A video that was supposedly made by the Mrs. Irlweg referred to in both songs. I don’t know if it’s really her or not. If it is, not a wise move IMO.

#amazonfail, Niemoller and your business

choc bunny
Creative Commons License photo credit: Asti21

First they came for the chocolate bunnies, and I did nothing because I am not a chocolate bunny.

Quite a weekend we’re having: Passover, Good Friday, Easter, the Masters and a few thousand Easter Egg hunts, to name a few.

Oh, and I smoked a pork roast that turned out totally incredible. But I digress:)

In the midst of all the holiday celebrations, worship, family time and so on, Amazon gets into the act. So much so that they are trending #1 on Twitter (you must be logged into Twitter in another browser window/tab BEFORE clicking this link, sorry but that’s just how Twitter search works).

The hashtag (ie: search term) on Twitter that is receiving all the attention is #amazonfail.

First they came for those with an Amazon rank

It’s been a while since the online bookseller stepped in it and alienated a huge number of people, but they got into the act again this weekend.

Last time it was about Amazon shafting authors who use print on demand services that weren’t owned by Amazon.

This time, it’s some or all of the “adult” community.

At first, it wasn’t clear exactly what was going on (and still may not be), but an official customer service response from Amazon indicates that they are removing sales rank data for content with adult ratings. Amazon now denies this, calling it a glitch.

A growing number of folks in the GLBT (or LGBT) community (particularly on Twitter) are noting some inconsistency of the removed ranking data, noting that it seems to apply more to content of interest to them than to adult material across the board.

No matter what your feelings about the various forms of sexuality, I should remind you about two things:

  • First, the Rev. Martin Niemoller poem, “First they came“. If your business (through you) is willing to take on a group, be careful what you wish for. Be sure of your staying power with your stance on an issue.
  • Second, while there are political and other sensitive issues here, this isn’t why I bring this up. There are business issues intertwined throughout this.

In Amazon’s case on this issue, they risk a nationwide boycott from the LGBT community. If they change their mind, they risk a boycott by other groups. If they waffle and end up somewhere in the middle, they might get both.

Yeah but this stuff has nothing to do with my business!

Not really.

It’s 2009. For no cost, anyone can get detailed info about your political contribution numbers and plot them on a Google map and do any number of things with it, including to suggest that people pay you a visit.

Are you ready for that?

If you think your personal values don’t affect your business, think again.

Every business owner will inevitably find themselves taking a side on a political, theological or similar issue at some point (probably several dozen). You need to think through how you will handle situations like this.

  • Will you bring your stance on contentious issues into your business?
  • If you become active on an issue, will it impact your business and if so, are you strong enough to stand firm when the public attaches the issue to your business? It doesn’t matter what the issue is. What matters is how you will handle it and how your staff will handle it.
  • Are you willing to deal with the fact that your staff feels differently about the issue (whatever it is) than you do? Whether you are or not, you should talk to a HR specialist or an attorney who specializes in employment law before hiring people. HR problems are a great way to lose your shorts.
  • Is your stance on an issue going to affect the clients and employees you attract? As long as you are sure of yourself, that’s the primary concern. Well, that and are you acting within the law?
  • Will your ethics on the issue in question suggest that your business ethics should be called into question?

I’m not asking nor suggesting that you temper your views or how and where you share them with others. Only you can make that decision.

Nor am I suggesting that you be hypocritical. Congruent for sure, but not hypocritical.

What I am suggesting is that you need to decide in advance if you are willing to lose your business (or a part of your business) over your stance on an issue. It’s ok either way,  just be sure of yourself before you go down that road.

Some might suggest that you’ll get more business if you show your colors. In some cases, I think that’s absolutely right. One of the easiest examples I can think of where this likely helps a business is Ian’s stance on China, human rights and his Catholic goods store.

More than anything, I am suggesting that you consider the big picture before you step onto the soapbox.

No matter how you feel, it is difficult to get the genie back into the bottle.

PS: It’s all about the malted milk eggs for me.

UPDATE: An interesting theory on what might be happening to Amazon: http://tehdely.livejournal.com/88823.html

Whether this theory is true or not, it’s a valuable lesson for system designers of social media systems, interactive/community feedback systems and the like.

Meanwhile, a bunch of tweets reference people actively tagging conservative books with keywords that might get them de-listed from the sales rank numbers for the same reason that others are being de-listed.

UPDATE: Amazon says the change in sales rankings is a glitch. In social media circles, they arent getting a lot of traction on that. Time will tell.

Lessons from companies that have NEVER laid off an employee

Today's News
Creative Commons License photo credit: timsamoff

Today’s guest post is a story from CNNMoney.com about 9 companies who have, as of mid-January 2009, never had a layoff – some going back over 80 years.

Check out the stories of Nugget Market, Devon Energy, Aflac, QuikTrip, The Container Shop, NuStar, Stew Leonard’s, Publix and Scottrade.

Cross-training, telecommuting, careful hiring and resource use, flexible salary review periods, flex schedules, focused expenditure justification, tons of training, great communication, loyalty that runs deep – in both directions, thinking long-term, focusing on the staff as an asset instead of a cost, and employee ownership.

There are lessons here on far more than just avoiding layoffs.

Take one home with you.

Would you buy $34MM for $5MM?

One of the industry-specific discussion groups that I belong to was recently discussing a $5 million fee (for three years of effort) paid in exchange for bringing $34 million worth of value to an organization.

Just so there’s no mistaking the result: we’re talking about the receipt of $34 million dollars in funds.

Oddly enough, it was felt by some that this fee was out of line, and several considered this fee patently unethical simply because of the amount, regardless of the circumstances.

If you own a business and have employees, you probably pay them by the hour. If so, I suspect you are aware that “paid by the hour” thinking is not the road to success, though it can get the bills paid.

Most people don’t start a career with a big audacious goal of “I want to get the bills paid”, or “I want to make $17 an hour”.

That kind of thinking will get you nowhere financially in the long term.

Generally speaking:

  • Successful people get paid substantially more than whatever is “normal” for their expertise, training, investment in themselves, experience, ability to deliver and value delivered.

That’s a major reason why we talk about stepping way beyond the value delivered by anyone else in your business by thinking harder and being creative and innovating in how you think about what you do for other people or their businesses.

You want people to believe – in fact, KNOW in their hearts – that you can deliver that $34 million (because you have in the past, repeatedly) and as a result, they’ll gladly line up to pay the $5 million to get it, and they’ll feel like they got a deal in the process because they were confident of your ability to deliver value that (possibly) no one else can.

Likewise, if you know you can deliver that sort of value more often than not, you’ll fully guarantee the fee and charge nothing if you don’t deliver.

That’s positioning you – and your clients – can take to the bank.

If I told you I could deliver $34 million in sales to your business, what’s that worth to you?

$50 or $75 or $125 an hour is the wrong answer.

How to tick off a big group of customers

Homeschoolers do what they do for a number of reasons.

Some dont like the local schools. Some homeschool so they can include religious teachings in the curriculum, or to avoid stuff in the public school curriculum that contradicts their faith.

Some do so because their child has something going on that might not help them succeed in public school. Some do so simply because they can – who wouldnt want to spend an extra several years with your kid, all day long, if you could?

Today’s guest post is from Ian over at Musings from a Catholic Bookstore, where he talks about the business lessons that the folks over at Subway missed while implementing their misguided campaign for school kids.

Me? I’m cooking for 80 or so folks at the Order of the Arrow Ordeal weekend near Bigfork, MT. See you Monday.

Transparent economics. Are yours?

Last Friday, we talked about the surging rate of fuel surcharges for ocean-going containerized freight and how it will soon affect the price of imported goods.

As you might expect, fuel surcharges aren’t just going up for seagoing freight customers.

It’s hitting air travel customers as well.

This Times UK article talks about the recent, substantial increase in per-ticket airline fuel surcharges. On the flight they checked, the fuel surcharge was about 218 Pounds Sterling for a London to San Francisco flight. That’s $424 using the exchange rate on June 5, 2008.

$424 per seat? Man, I must have packed on a few pounds lately. Let’s look at a little rough math and see what impact this fuel surcharge has on the airlines.

Assuming that a Boeing 767ER (Extended Range, often used for long international flights) flies this route and uses every drop of fuel that a 767ER can carry, the price for that flight’s fuel is $91603.60. That’s 23980 gallons at $3.82 per gallon for Jet A as of May 30 2008, per IATA.

A 767ER’s range is 12,200 kilometers or 7580 miles, according to Boeing. Assuming that means a full tank, then we get 3.16 gallons per mile (rather efficient, aren’t they?) or a current fuel-only cost of $12.08 per mile to fly 7580 miles. Given that we have a couple of hundred people on the plane, that’s not bad.

The trip from London to San Francisco is 5357 air miles, according to InfoPlease.com.

According to Boeing, a typically configured 767ER holds 224 people in a 2 class configuration, IE: coach and first class. 224 people paying a fuel surcharge of $424 add $94976 to the gross receipts for that flight if it is full (as most planes are these days).

Unfortunately, even that $95k of fuel surcharge isn’t covering the 90% increase in Jet A fuel prices in the last year. Not even close. If that flight is full, you aren’t paying for the difference in fuel prices since 2000 (what the IATA calls their baseline or “100 points” price).

You’re paying the entire fuel bill for the flight.

Presumably there has always been a fuel cost component of the airline ticket. Apparently that is no longer the case.

Only thing is, you only flew about 5400 miles. Remember, a full tank flies the 767ER about 7600 miles. A little more rough math means that we left 883 gallons of $3.82 Jet A in the plane upon arrival at the gate in San Francisco (about $3000).

But I’m a generous guy. We’ll call it even for the $3000, assuming that extra 883 gallons over the average gallons per mile fuel efficiency is burned during taxi and takeoff. And we need to keep in mind the safety margin to have the fuel to steer around storms and/or circle incessantly because of delays caused by weather and Presidential candidates using the same airport.

Finally, you might want to lay off the donuts and pack lighter clothes. The airlines are also allegedly considering a weight-based fee.

If there are any airline pilots reading this that have better numbers on fuel, I’m all ears. I’m sure YOU aren’t seeing any of that extra money.

Are the economics of your business this transparent? What would your clients say if they could do this kind of math on your fees? Are you delivering so much value that they don’t even think about it?

The airlines aren’t. You had better be.

Related articles:

NY Times article about steps airlines are taking to make planes more efficient. Smart stuff. Kudos to them for looking at everything, but not just cutting for the sake of cutting.

Quoting from the article:

â??Our fleet is over 500 airplanes,â? said Beth Harbin, a Southwest spokeswoman. â??If you can make a difference on one airplane on one flight, and multiply that by 500, in this day and age that is significant.â?

Amazon launches their weapon of mass destruction, steps on the long tail of independent authors

No Known Restrictions: President Woodrow Wilson Addresses Congress, 1917 (LOC)
photo credit: pingnews.com

People continue to have this idea that companies like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Starbucks and Microsoft are bulletproof.

Folks, it just isn’t so. You might also have thought that UCLA was bulletproof Thursday night against Western Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, except that no one told WKU about it. Top-seeded UCLA pulled it out in the last 4 minutes, after leading 12th seeded WKU by only 4 points with 5 minutes remaining.

David and Goliath plays out every day, if David is clever enough.

These big companies that small business owners love to complain about are great at building giant customer lists and then turning right around and crapping in their corn flakes. They do it everyday. All you have to do is look around (one of the reasons I mentioned the Google Alerts thing yesterday).

It’s Amazon’s turn. They just got punched in the word of mouth.

What am I talking about?

The Amazon print on demand (POD) story at WritersWeekly.com.

And the Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, Washington Post, TechCrunch, Computerworld and Publisher’s Weekly. And so on.

Before you think that this only affects big print on demand publishers, don’t forget that little (and some not so little) independent authors sometimes see the bulk of their sales via Amazon and POD.

If there are fewer authors able to sell on Amazon (because of their demands), what happens? Does the record industry try to do this next? They’ve already lost control, but there is leverage out there if they want to use it (movies, for one).

What about your ISP? Perhaps they will require that all websites updated from your DSL account must be hosted with their web hosting services. They can easily control this.

The upside is that the market always has a way of sorting this stuff out. Somewhere out there, there’s a little print on demand house just rubbing their hands together.

Oh yeah, and I just realized that my Google Alerts are not covering enough bases.

20 word of mouth marketing questions

Now that your head is feeling better from whatever you did or didn’t do a couple nights ago… Did you ever ask yourself a question about the ethics of your marketing?

It’s natural to ask questions about other people’s, but ethics problems are rarely an issue with them (not non-existent, just rare). Usually it’s just stuff that isn’t too smart, or it’s amazingly smart.

If you’re concerned that you need to examine your practices from an ethical point of view (I submit that you should already know if your marketing is ethical or not), then check out the 20 question list produced by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

I think the 2 bonus questions at the end of the list all but take care of the prior 20.

They are:

  • Would I be uncomfortable if my family or friends were involved in this campaign?
  • Is there anything about this campaign that we would be embarrassed to discuss publicly?