Corporate America Uncategorized

Is your coffee shop someone’s office? Want to keep it that way?

Coffee shop owners… Just a little tip for you this morning.

Look around your shop mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Is there a slew of laptops and little business meetings going on?

If so, think about how you can make your business friendlier to those using your shop as an office. Don’t look at them as dust bunnies using up a table. They’re customers who get into a groove in your shop and use it repeatedly.

Until you run them off.

In the last month I’ve been on the road (air, whatever) quite a bit and have been run out of a few coffee shops because they don’t seem to want me working there.

There seem to be a few common issues, at least recently.

$10/day wireless. Borders and Barnes & Noble just don’t get this. I know, they don’t want to deal with administering it. Still, there has to be a solution. These places are like a ghost town mid morning and mid afternoon for this reason. You very rarely see anyone working there. This is a really dumb way to “cheap out”. Yeah, some people will come in, use the internet, buy nothing and leave. Guess what…they aren’t customers anyhow. Maybe they’ll buy someday, maybe they wont. Charging $10 a day for internet access just ticks off all your REAL customers.

No sound-proofer doodads on the frappe machine (that super noisy blender thing that creams the ice). You know how loud they are, though you may not notice anymore because you are used to it. This is one thing that Borders (usually) has over other shops. They actually USE theirs. Most independents that I visit don’t have em or the staff doesn’t use em. City Brew, a chain here in MT doesn’t have or use em. Why does this matter? Take a seat somewhere in the shop. Call your spouse from your cell phone. Signal a barista to hit the frappe machine and start making an ice drink. Now try having a conversation. Ouch. Remember, you’re not in the coffee business.

Electricity. Laptops suck the life out of batteries, even today’s. Clearly, its difficult to have a plug at every table, so just keep this in mind when you place tables in your shop. Do the best you can. When there’s no power available, the laptop crew will either not stay long or will not stay at all.

Firewalls. City Brew (no, I’m not picking on them – in fact, the local area manager of the stores in the Flathead is a really sharp guy who truly gets it). Recently, they put new routers or a new firewall in all their shops in northwest Montana. Result: NO ONE can use the internet anymore because they didn’t take the time to test them, configure them, or something. It has been going on so long that there are signs about it on the cash register. Very un-CityBrew-esque. In 1 (Whitefish), I can get browser access. No other ports work (think cpanel, ftp, any custom application, ODBC). In the rest that I’ve tried (Kalispell), it doesnt work at all. The last time I was in one in Kalispell, no less than 5 people approached me asking if mine was working (I was writing and didnt need the internet). Suddenly, the laptop crowd is gone from City Brew. They come in, they try to connect, figure out it isnt working and they are gone. Notice the routine of your business clientele. They come in, they setup their laptop, they get hooked up and hit the check mail button and then order coffee and whatever else. If they never get connected, you just lost a sale.

Train your staff to be aware of their surroundings. Today I’m sitting in a coffee shop in a small town. I know the owners aren’t dense, as they have 4-5 shops in this area. However, the entire staff of this shop is in the office, watching video on the internet at a volume level that *I* can hear 40-50 ft away, and the staff is giggling and carrying on so loud that you cant hear yourself think. The only customers in the shop at the moment are working, several on laptops, another interviewing an potential employee, another doing paperwork of some kind. Not a good first impression.
That’s enough for now.

By the way…you should be blogging too.

Corporate America

Death by Tarmac? What JetBlue needs to do.

And not just JetBlue. American Airlines suffered the same thing about a month ago – keeping passengers on a plane, on the tarmac for 7 hours.

Somewhere in this mess, you have to wonder where the common sense went. Airline pilots may be union members, but they aren’t stupid.

Scenario: You have a plane on the runway. After an hour, you would expect that your customers (you know, those passenger people in the back) are frustrated, tired, dehydrated, ticked off and who knows what else.

Think about it. Airliners are uncomfortable enough as it is. Stuffy, hard narrow seats, surly service (mostly). Sharing a metal tube in that environment with 200+ of your “closest friends” for ELEVEN hours is enough to cause a mutiny.

Frankly, the inability of the airline pilot to simply pull back to the gate (permission or otherwise) and give ground ops an ultimatum: “Hello, Major Tom to Ground Control (apologies to David Bowie). Move the jetway up against my plane’s door or I deploy the emergency chutes, your choice. You have 2 minutes.” was simply an illustration of the weak sheep mentality that people are pushed into these days.

Employees need to be ENABLED, not turned into sheep who cant make a decision because you havent given them the authority, or wont make a decision for fear of reprisal. Give them the tools and power to do their job – taking care of your most prized possession – the customer.
Airline management knows this kind of stuff happens. 100 years from now, my grandkids will be reading the MoonToday  and wondering why someone stayed on the USS Enterprise IV that was forced to sit on the Tranquility Base tarmac (or something like that). Unless of course management gets with the program.

Training the pilots to sit on the tarmac like good little boys for 3, 6 or 11 hours at a time, and cowtow to airport ground operations is a ridiculous waste of pilot intelligence and customer loyalty. Those pilots need to be enabled and trained to make the decision to do what’s best for their clients.

Sure, airports are uncomfortable places to sit around for 11 hours, but they’re far more comfy than a jetliner. Get an Amex Platinum ($300/year at present), then you at least can hang out in the various airline lounges (Delta, Northwest, Continental, perhaps a few more) in relative peace.
What are you failing to enable your staff to do and take care of? Do they have to wait until you return from a trip to Office Depot in order to make a decision to keep a client happy? I hope not. That isnt customer service.

Corporate America

Bank of America – Spineless?

I see B of A taking more heat about the credit cards for illegal immigrants thing.

Tancredo says it’s illegal (I’m not sure).

The big mistake: Refusing to speak to anyone about it.

Are they just another spineless big corporation afraid to defend their decisions?

Are they smart?

What do you think?

Corporate America The Slight Edge Uncategorized

What first impression does your business give people?

Today I spent the better part of the day flying across the country. 6am flights, yummy. Spending a few days with Dan Kennedy in DC.

When Dan has meetings in DC, he typically has them at a particular Hilton. Most of the experiences at that Hilton are very good, if not outstanding. The staff is typically right on top of everything, every time.

But there are always first impressions that a business gives to clients, some they never think about, or just dont realize if they don’t secret shop their own business by following the same path that their clients follow.

Here are the first impressions that I had from a few businesses today.

Arrived at Dulles. Noisiest airport ever on the INSIDE, particularly down by the shuttle area (again, INSIDE). I go to the courtesy phones, which are difficult to hear with because there’s a muzak speaker right above the phone (not an ideal design, of course). Add to that, the phone’s earpiece is too quiet and there’s no volume control like there typically is on these setups. I’m not hard of hearing (at least not since I was a teenager<g>). Anyone who is hard of hearing will find these phones very difficult to use.

I call the Hilton from the courtesy phone. A couple dozen rings, I get the switchboard (who I can barely hear). While all of this is going on, its a very noisy luggage roller fest next to me (again, not Hilton’s fault). I get reservations, they cant find me.

I call back, ask for the front desk, note to the girl that I cant hear her, she does something and I can finally hear someone and carry on a conversation. We speak for a minute, she starts taking care of my stay details and we get disconnected.

I call back and it takes 3 minutes of rings to get the switchboard (I know this because I have to keep hitting the “more time” button on the phone screen) and then it takes 3 more minutes before the front desk picks up (very unusual for them). Anyhow, I get the same pleasant woman, she says she’s gotten it taken care of and tells me about the shuttle.

It arrives every 15 minutes. I’ve been standing outside for 30 minutes already, which is why I came in and called. A British-sounding gentleman was there when I first went outside, he’s come back in, called and gone back out.

Finally, I go back out and the Hilton van is sitting there in the same place I’d left about 10 minutes earlier. No driver. 20 degrees out, wind blowing. Its colder in DC than it was in Montana at 5am when I left for the airport. I start to walk around to van to find a driver and a head pops up. He’s taking a NAP in the van, in the pickup lane.

I open the door, he is somewhat startled, pulls on his shoes and ties them, I sit down. He gets my suitcase. We rumble about 100 yds and he finds the British sounding guy, who is fairly annoyed by now but only makes a brief comment to me about it. He tells me he’s been waiting for an hour. 45 minutes for me.

We take off for the Hilton. Driver is in a rush, dodging left and right, van is lurching around, making “Im your universal joint or main bearing grinding and Im going to explode at any second” noises. Not a Hiltonesque experience.

Driver is going way too fast for this van, not unsafe, just too fast for a vehicle driving clients around and making the van continue to lurch about. Imagine if your grandmother was being brought to the Hilton, she’d be freaked. Not what Conrad would have wanted. Probably not even what Paris would want:)

Of course, once I’m inside the Hilton, their well-trained, competent staff takes over and all is well. Its a very well run place once you’re inside and the HHonors rooms are fantastic. Giant marble showers, plasma screen on the wall above the desk, etc.

But my first impression is of the napping van driver, our lurching trip from the airport, and the wait in the cold.

I’m guessing that shuttle drivers are hard to find and retain, and as such, Hilton pays less than ideal attention to that function when they train, analyze their quality processes, do customer service checkups, and so on. But that’s just a guess.

What first impression customer contact are you forgetting about? Icy sidewalk? Mario Andretti driving the van? Male flight attendants talking about “getting some” while female passengers just a few feet away are getting settled into their seats? (that happened on Delta this am on the SLC to IAD leg).

The slight edge. Keep looking for it. The investment makes big payoffs. First impressions last.

Corporate America

Bank of America carding illegal immigrants – brilliant

Bank of America decides to give credit cards to illegal immigrants. You can see the story at

Set the politics aside for a moment, heck, even set aside my undying devotion for Bank of America’s horribly arcane online banking site (a topic for a future rant, perhaps), and of course, assuming it really is legal to issue cards to these folks, this is a brilliant move.

Everyone in the banking biz is out there fighting (well, as much as a bank WILL fight) for new clients. Most of them are doing the same old things and getting the same old results. Taking a customer from bank A by giving away a toaster, giving the customer to bank C because of a free whoosewhatiz, and so on. Yawn.
Why is this brilliant?

  • It gets a pile of new customers to open accounts (note the requirements to issue a card).
  • It gets this new group of clients perhaps their first taste of banking.
  • The next time they need bank services, where do you think they’ll go?
  • When they decide to start a business, where will they go?
  • When they need a loan for a new truck for their business, or a car for their family, where will they go?

Yeah, I know all the political connotations and the complexity of the whole thing, but on a strictly business basis, this is a smart move if they handle it properly.

At least it shows that they are thinking. Maybe they’ll even fix that awful website:)

Corporate America

Seeking a pulse at The Daily Interlake

The phone rings and I just cant believe it. More on that in a moment.

Every time I see fellow GKIC member and newspaper industry wizard Jim Hart, he has another amazing story about the incompetence of the newspaper industry. If your newspaper is struggling, open your wallet and talk to this guy.

Thing is, I dont even have to go out of town and visit with Jim to hear these stories. I get em right here at home. Makes me crazy. This really isnt that difficult, but I digress. is our local daily newspaper. They cover the Flathead Valley in Montana.

Delivery is another matter.

I have attempted to subscribe to the Daily Interlake no less than 5 different times, probably more. Every single time, they struggle to get a paper to me. They refuse to deliver Sunday only. Even when I subscribe daily, the papers don’t show up consistently, or consistently before I leave for my office (which is usually after taking the kids to school), or they stop the paper delivery on their own because I’m out of town for a week, yet they never start it again. Or call.

BUT the most insane thing of all for me, the geek, is that their circulation department’s telemarketing group apparently has no access to the newspaper’s circulation database. If they did, they wouldn’t need to call active subscribers to ask them if they want to subscribe (again?). Yet, they keep doing it.

Worse yet, they’re paying a telemarketer to make the calls, so there’s real money involved by not having this data available to the marketing folks.


I should note that I used to get almost a dozen small town papers from all over the Rockies. Salida CO, Jackson Hole WY, Pinedale WY, Lander WY. These days, I still get papers from Columbia Falls MT, Hamilton MT, Fort Benton MT, and Plains MT. NONE of them have these problems. In fact, I cant remember a goof from any of them. Good job to those guys.

PS: Work on the website, please. Even if I have to pay for access. In fact, make me feel like its worth paying for. Till then, I’ll get my Interlake at City Brew or Coffee Traders.

Corporate America Good Examples Marketing

Amazing customer experiences – is your business giving them?

Every February, an old friend comes to mind. Before I get ahead of myself, lets go back in time a bit.

When my wife was carrying our 2nd boy, back in Feb 1992, we went on a cruise along the Mexican Riviera (the same cities that “The Love Boat” went to).

If you havent been on a cruise, an important tidbit is this: Typically (at least when we went) you sit at the same table with the same group every night at dinner, you become good friends and your waiter is the same person every meal. As such, you get to know the waiter and about his family and such.

Ours was an Filipino man, probably in his late 30s at the time. Because he was on the cruise ship during season, he was away from his family for 5-6 months at a time. It became clear during our cruise that this pained him greatly, but he knew that his work on the ship would provide for his family for the entire year.

When he found out that my wife was pregnant, he turned up the service several notches. There wasnt anything he wouldnt find, do, change, or whatever for her. He funneled the feelings he had for his family into the service we received that week. It was a fabulous week and his service was a substantial part of it. Maybe the service on all cruise lines is like his, regardless we’ll be looking hard at a Carnival the next time we go – simply because they did such a great job of finding him. A guy perfect for the job, even though he saw different faces and did the same job every day, day in – day out, for 6 solid months.

Turn the calendar forward about 5 years. I’ve taken the family to Florida for the standard tourist bill of fare when you have 2 young kids (Disney, etc) and we’ve been lucky. It just so happens that a Space Shuttle launch is on the launch pad and they are dodging clouds and such as usual. An insider tip was given to us that the cruise lines dock near Ft Lauderdale is a great place to see the launches, so off we go.

There are several ships at the dock, and lots of crew members are milling around as we join dozens of cars and people on the side of the road.

A short, olive-skinned man in a waiter’s smock walks up to us and says hello. He remembers my wife and asks about the kids. Finally it hits us, its our waiter friend from the cruise. 5 years later, he has remembered us from sight and rather than ignoring us, he’s come over to say hi and such. We’re both floored that he remembers us. While we wait, we talk about the kids, his kids, how his wife is, etc. He still works for Carnival. At the time, I could remember his name, unfortunately I cant remember it today (raising teenagers can do that to a guy, I guess).

Our Filipino friend has just created a lifetime memory for his company, as well for himself. He also has performed a marketing task that his corporate marketing group couldnt possibly have pulled off.

Dont you want to go on a cruise and have this guy be the one who takes care of you all week? Sure you do.

Now the tough question: Are your people doing that? Do they understand that their actions, service, demeanor and everything they do is a form of marketing? How long will you wait to share that with them? How often will you put things in place to help them do that and help them remember to do that?

Get moving.

Corporate America

Stay at Hampton during the Holidays

I always look forward to the mail, not just because there’s going to be a check, but because there is ALWAYS a business lesson there somewhere.

Today, I received a letter from Judy Christa-Cathey, VP of Brand Marketing at Hampton Inns. Judy might be looking for work…here’s why.
On the outside front of the envelope:

Addressed to me through a glassine window envelope with a barcode.

No return address, but instead the Hampton logo.

Sometimes its smart not to leave off the return address. Given that they used a 17.3 cent presorted indicia rather than a live stamp, they probably werent interested in getting first class returned mail anyhow (ie: corrected addresses). Maybe they used the USPS address correction database to correct any recent moves. Hard to say.
Under the indicia: “You’ll want to peek inside before the holidays! (It’s a gift for you!)”

On the outside back of the envelope:

Inside the envelope

The coupon:
A coupon-sized piece promoting their end of the year “gift”, which is extra bonus points, an e-coupon from Target and 3 or 4 other items for “air” – ie: things they already do. Nothing special – and of course the back is plastered in terms and conditions in light gray ink (weasel alarm! weasel alarm!).
The “100% Hampton Guarantee” – doesnt bother to say what it is. Boring name. Why not “100% best sleep away from home Guarantee”, or something a little more interesting – and at least tell me what it means. NEVER assume.

The silly mistake on the coupon piece? At the bottom left it says “1-800-Hampton Offer not available by phone.”. Ok, so if the offer isnt available by phone (which is dumb in the first place) why in the world would you print that RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR TOLL FREE NUMBER????

The letter
“Dear Mark Riffey” – excuse me, but do ANY of you start a letter like that? If youre going to write a letter and attempt to personalize it, dont do this. Get your software figured out and collect your contact info properly so no matter what country your clients are from, you know which is their first name and which is their last so that you can use them properly.

Mistake: No use of my name or other personal info in the body of the letter.

The letter describes the “dreamy comfort of Cloud Nine. The new Hampton bed experience”, but fails go beyond that. Most Bencivenga or Kennedy-trained copywriters would have banged out 2 paragraphs about the bed so soft and comfortable that the manager would have to drag you out of it with a tow truck.
Scarcity: “Once news of our holiday promotion gets out, rooms may go quickly.” – MAY go quickly? Such confidence. Folks, that’s not even false scarcity.

The letter did have a P.S., so at least they are trying.

Nothing on the back of the letter except more exclusion language in light gray ink.

The letter included a printed rendition of Judy’s signature in blue ink – printed, of course, but at least they tried.

The letter has a headline off to the side next to the Hampton logo. It isnt awful, but clearly Judy could use a visit to Planet Dan.

Oh yeah, one last thing. The offer covers the dates of Nov 1 2006 through Dec 31 2006. The offer ARRIVED in my PO Box on Tuesday January 9, 2007.

Yep, you got it. I received the offer 10 days after I could actually use it. Now maybe, just maybe this isnt entirely Judy’s fault. Maybe the mail house messed up. Maybe someone chose junk mail postage for this letter, causing it to be delayed until after all the Christmas and Jan 1 mail. Who knows. The bottom line is that Hampton wasted their money mailing it and their partner (who probably paid as well) didnt see the sales they expected to reap because of the 10% discount e-coupon that the letter described.
Too many mistakes. Judy can afford (maybe) to blow a mailing. You probably cant. Think hard about how you could improve the mailings you get and use those lessons to improve your own.

Corporate America Uncategorized

December retail sales were down…

Or were they….?

Yep, the stats are in for the 2006 holiday season and sales were down, despite early season stats that showed a positive start to the season’s sales.

WalMart reported their holiday season sales were “the worst on record”. What they really mean is that their holiday “same store sales INCREASE” was the worst ever. For them, that wasnt surprising given that “same store sales” numbers fell in November for the first time in TEN years. It isnt just Wally World. All major retailers except for JC Penney reported sales below their Christmas season expectations and reported having to do major discounting. JCP was about .4% above their expectations.

The next time you feel sorry for yourself or your business because of those “awful big box stores”, remember that they dont have the mystery solved. They have a weakness you’ll probably NEVER have.

Actually, they have several:

#1 – BILLIONS in overhead.

#2 – They dont know who their clients are. If they had to contact every single one of their customers for some important reason – THEY COULDNT DO IT.

You, on the other hand, if you’ve been listening…. dont have those two problems.

Think about how you can take advantage of that using the direct response marketing techniques that we talk about.

Stop worrying about Walmart. Start worrying about what your customers want (note that I didnt say “need”).

And remember, the world isnt as bad as Katie would have you think. Really.

Corporate America ONE Uncategorized

ONE. Bad number for a business.

“One is the loneliest number that…”

Three Dog Night sang that song in the 70’s, though in their case, love was the subject at hand.

In business, one isn’t as much lonely as it is deadly.

ONE supplier.
ONE client.
ONE employee.
ONE product or service.

Any ONE of those, if you’ve allowed them to become too important, can be deadly to your business.

Over the next few emails, let’s talk about why ONE is such a bad number. We’ll start with ONE supplier.

ONE supplier: If you have just one supplier for a critical raw material or service, what happens when and if that supplier goes bankrupt, gets bought out and broken up, doubles their prices because someone stole money from them (or the IRS slapped them hard), and so on? YOU are the one who pays.

You can see the reality in this in our local aluminum plant here in Columbia Falls. They operate using commodity raw materials (price controlled) and their product is also a commodity (price controlled). They have ONE power source (commodity, price controlled). When that power is expensive, they cant do business using their current model. When it isnt expensive, they incur massive startup costs to ramp up production. Its a 1960’s business model, but this is the 21st century. ONE supplier of power has them by the shorts.

I recently spent some time finding alternative suppliers for the raw materials that we use at my wholesale skin care products company. Why? Because I had ONE supplier for a few things and it scared me. I refuse to be at the mercy of one supplier, even if that supplier currently does things wonderfully. Things change. Be prepared (that’s the Scoutmaster speaking…)

Look at your business. Is their ONE supplier that could cripple your business if they went under? Or if they decided to get militant with you, or if they doubled their prices? Dont just think that you are immune because you sell software, or are a consultant, or run a day spa.

ONE affected a recent football playoff game. A team came to Montana saying they had the ONE best player in the country. Everything their team achieved depended on that ONE player. Unfortunately for the team, their coach bragged that that ONE player was the best and implied that nothing else mattered. He found out the danger of ONE. The other team keyed on that ONE guy, shut him down, and sent his team home without scoring a touchdown – in fact, almost without scoring at all.

ONE recently put our local Staples on its knees during a holiday shopping weekend. A hard drive crashed, preventing them from taking credit cards most of Saturday and preventing customers from using reward cards (or reward certificates) all weekend until Monday. Despite the fact that there were plenty of hard drives on the shelves, they could do nothing until first of business on Monday. Wonder how much that REALLY cost. Ouch.

ONE. Don’t let it happen to you.