Well Played

Crisis Communications planning

Johnson didn’t hide behind a statement, a lawyer, or a “no comment”. He delivered an apology and owned every word.

Did you see it? Did you see Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO, apologize again and again and again on live TV?

What Johnson did is probably one of the best damage-control efforts by a company-in-crisis’ leader in many years, and he had the network anchors praising him for it.

In a nutshell he:

  • Moved swiftly to contain the crisis;
  • Immediately went to Philadelphia, the site of the crisis;
  • Spoke to every major network immediately after the crisis broke;
  • Apologized with sincerity and took full responsibility;
  • Privately met with the two black men who were arrested to deliver his apology personally;
  • Met with Philadelphia political and community leaders to discuss what happened and commit to fixing the problem;
  • Acted the way a CEO should act.

In case you missed it, last Thursday, two black men went to Starbucks in Philadelphia for a meeting. While waiting for their colleague to join them in the meeting, they asked to use the bathroom. The store’s manager told them they couldn’t because they hadn’t bought anything. Then, she asked them to leave. When they didn’t, Starbucks’ manager called the police. The men were handcuffed, removed from the restaurant and arrested.

Now, that’s odd because Starbucks markets itself as being a place people can go to to work and meet, without being obligated to buy anything. What’s outrageous, to use Johnson’s words, is that two black men were accused by the store manager of trespassing and were arrested for doing exactly what Starbucks invites people to do.

Where other corporations and their leaders have failed, Starbucks succeeded. Their crisis communications plan worked. They were armed and ready. How do we know? Because they were in front of this horrendous story before it got out of control. They issued a statement of apology on Sunday and immediately framed the narrative, so that no one else had the opportunity to deliver a different message about Starbucks.

 “It takes a lifetime to build reputation and only a few seconds to destroy one.” ~ Unknown

That was no coincidence. Johnson and his Public Relations team may not have known the specifics about what was about to unfold, but they had planned for some type of crisis like this. They had fill-in-the-blank talking points ready to go. Johnson was trained to speak to the media and deliver compelling messaging from the heart and with sincerity. They developed a theme – I am sorry and I take full responsibility – and Johnson delivered it.

Johnson didn’t hide behind a statement, a lawyer, or a “no comment”. He delivered an apology and owned every word. Then, he put his words into action with a commitment to close their stores in order to educate staff about conscious and unconscious biases so that it doesn’t happen again. He reached out and personally delivered his apology publicly and privately to the two people who deserved it most.

This was textbook crisis communications management at its best.

Now, take a look at your company. Would you be ready to roll before things got out of control in a crisis? If the answer is no – or even I don’t know – it’s time to put your plan together, because a crisis isn’t going to wait for you to be ready.

The One-Off

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” ~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

You’ve written a press release, you’ve run an ad in the newspaper, you’ve put a post on your company’s Facebook page, and you’ve sent out a flyer to your customers. All good efforts, but nothing happened!

Marketing takes patience and time.

One-off marketing is a waste of effort and money. Marketing takes patience and time.

That’s a pretty typical response to what I call one-off marketing. Yes, you did all of those things and you were doing great, until you stopped.

Successful marketing demands a commitment of time, money and patience. When I hear a business owner ask why their marketing isn’t working, my first question is whether or not they’ve made that commitment.

For many businesses, it is difficult to have the time to run the day-to-day of the business, while committing more time to put together a meaningful marketing strategy. And, allocating money for marketing is always a challenge.

But, in my experience, the most overlooked part of marketing is patience. Marketing takes time.

Successes don’t happen overnight

Rarely are there overnight successes, and even when you feel like you’ve seen your promotion far too many times, your customers probably haven’t seen it yet. Remember, you’re looking for your promotions; they aren’t.

Think about it in terms of your own behaviors.

  • How often do you read all of the ads in a newspaper?
  • Do you put off reading your mail for a day or two?
  • Are you constantly on Facebook?
  • As you’re driving down the road, do you pay attention to what’s on the radio all of the time?

Timing plays a very important role in marketing. Believe it or not, experts estimate that it takes 10 media impressions before someone recognizes that they have heard or seen a company’s message. And, you haven’t even gotten them to act on the message yet!

Demographics are key

That’s why it’s important to research the demographics of your targeted audience and to know when they’re paying attention. Don’t waste your money on newspaper ads when you’re trying to get the attention of Millennials. Demographics show that Millennials don’t read newspapers. They get news on their phones, and I can assure you they don’t even know what the Yellow Pages are!

If you invest time to know how to reach your audience, allocate the appropriate budget to do what you need to do, and resist the impulse to change things up after a couple of weeks, you’ll not only be doing the right things, but you’ll get the right results.

Reputation is Your Brand

“Employers and business leaders need people who can think for themselves – who can take initiative and be the solution to problems.” ~ Stephen Covey

People Buy From People They Trust road sign

Years ago I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In one chapter, author Stephen Covey asks readers to envision their own funeral. He asks you to think about what people in the room are saying about you.

We all hope that the words will be kind. It’s not a morbid exercise; it encourages us to really think about reputation and legacy.

Covey’s exercise is a good one for businesses, too. How would people describe your company’s reputation? What would they say is the reason to interact with your company? When you have their answers, you have, in a nutshell, what people think your brand is.

Perceptions

How do people form their perceptions of your brand? Many things go into creating a brand – promotion, corporate responsibility, and probably one of the most important is employees.

Consider two brands – Best Buy and Disney. Both are in the business of serving the public, one through consumer products and the other through entertainment. Both have worked hard to establish and maintain their brands. But one, according to Business Insider Magazine, is considered by corporate executives to be among the worst brands, while the other is ranked among the top 20 best brands globally.

The difference between the two is in how their leaders have inspired and enlisted their employees to build and protect their brands. At Disney, every employee – from the park attendants to the ABC news crews – get that they work for a global company and that all of their actions reflect upon Disney’s reputation. Their loyalty is nurtured and they are empowered to satisfy customers. Executives invest time, energy and money into making sure everyone feels they are part of the “cast” and understands expectations of representing Disney.

Recent hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of Houston and surrounding communities, threw a blow at Best Buys’ brand, as well. During the storm, one Houston Best Buy store found itself fodder for Twitter. When a picture was posted of packs of bottled water being sold for $30 to $50, it went viral. A company spokesperson said that this pricing was a “big mistake” on the part of a few employees at the store, but the damage was done. The picture appeared on all mainstream media and negative perceptions were solidified.

Invest in Employees

Companies spend billions of dollars on advertising in order to convince you that they are the best at what they do. However,  advertising will never have the impact that the action of one single employee – for good and for bad – can have. Too often an investment isn’t made into ensuring that employees can be ambassadors for their employers.

Armed with the right training and support, employees will be one of the most valuable tools you’ll have to build a brand.

What Do They Think?

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” ~ Thomas Berger

Ask and Learn

As human beings, we tend to see things, well, as we see things. But, what your potential customers, existing customers and employees think of your company will open your eyes.

That eye-opening knowledge can make you proud, or can make you cringe. No matter the feelings this insight evokes, it’s what you do with the information that makes all the difference between moving forward, marching in place, or even losing ground.

Make Research a Component of Your Marketing Plan

Every company can benefit from market research. Quantitative and qualitative research should be a regular part of your marketing plan, and making sure your budget has money for research is essential.

Why is market research important? Simply put, you’re not a mind reader. You can’t tell what people think until you ask. Remember one thing; ask no matter how painful you fear the answers will be.

Until you inquire, you don’t know how you can respond to your employees’ and customers’ needs, how to improve their experience with your company and how to develop your products and services going forward. As important, until you ask, you won’t know what you’re doing right so that you can keep doing it!

There are many ways companies conduct market research. Most often, it is a combination of surveys and face-to-face feedback that allows for a complete view of what people are thinking.

Surveys and Focus Groups

Surveys conducted in person, over the phone and online are all options to gather quantitative data. The information you hope to extrapolate from a survey will dictate which tool is best. Investing in a professional to create your questions will ensure objective results.

There are a number of free online survey tools available (Survey Monkey, Google Forms, Zoho Survey, Typeform, Survey Planet) and they are easy to use. The key to getting good results from surveys, however, is making sure they are designed to give you valuable data and feedback.

Qualitative research – focus groups – gives you the opportunity to dig deeper than responses to a survey. You have the opportunity to ask more than the question and to understand why respondents answer the way they do and what they mean by their answers. This research offers the most insight into the thoughts of your customers. This research is more costly than surveying, but some argue it gives the best data. Again, a professional leading this research is essential to getting the best information.

Bottom line, guessing at what people are thinking is not a good business strategy. If you want your business to succeed, be open to the feedback your customers, your employees and your potential customers have to offer and then act on that feedback.

Sign It!

“I have finally perfected my signature. It took hours of practicing… I decided early on just to write Pippa, not Middleton.” ~ Pippa Middleton

 

There is a free and effective marketing tool that requires almost no effort, and you use it every day. In fact, it’s right there at your fingertips.

Imagine this:

email signature

Include contact information on all emails.

You’ve sent out an important follow-up email to a potential customer who you’ve been courting for months. The recipient is on vacation, but has been awaiting the email from you, so she assured you she would regularly check her smartphone. When she gets your message, she wants to talk with you directly to approve moving ahead.

She scrolls to the bottom of the message, and there’s no contact information. None! It’s likely she’s not going to go to the trouble of tracking your phone number down while sitting on the beach watching her kids play in the water. So, now she will wait, and probably get caught up in her vacation plans, and the green light you’ve been waiting for is stuck on red.

Easy Tool

Never underestimate the importance of an email signature. It’s essential for contact purposes, and it’s one of the easiest tools you have to market your company and yourself.

Email signatures are easily set up and can to be automatically added to every email you create. A signature should contain your name, phone numbers (office and cell), and website at a minimum. But, they also can include things like your logo, social media channels (personal and business), certifications, and your blog. Whatever online tools you have to market yourself are options for inclusion, too.

If you’re going to include social media, and professional accreditations, don’t forget to utilize the badges and icons they make available for your use. They’re easily added to signatures and can link directly to your pages.

Make It Memorable

Personalize your signature! Don’t be afraid to include something that makes your email signature memorable.

Every email you send, even your replies, is an opportunity to market your company. Not only does the intended recipient read your emails, but some are forwarded to others, who also have exposure to your thoughts, ideas, and – you’ve got it – your email signature!

You never know what will prompt someone to have a sudden interest in learning more about you and your company. Why not make it effortless for them?

Common Sense and Customer Service

Good and bad experiences determine where you do business

Do you ever look around and wonder what happened to common sense? Take, for example, the United Airlines debacle of having a paying passenger dragged off of an airplane to make room for their own employees. Then there’s the couple that received an extra charge on their credit card from a hotel where they stayed after writing a bad review on TripAdvisor.

Craziness! How could those companies’ leaders let such stupidity happen? It’s just common sense that you wouldn’t do that to customers. Customers are the best source of marketing any company has!

There is an old saying; Don’t throw stones when you live in a glass house.

The pace at which our businesses operate today often leaves the door open for those cringe-worthy moments to stumble right in. In our haste to get things done, in our efforts to be competitive and efficient, we forget to BE the customer.

You are a customer, no matter who you are. Every day, the experiences you have – good and bad – determine where you do business. It makes sense then to take the same satisfaction measures you set for others and use them for your own business.

Empower Your Employees to be Customers

Walk in your customers’ shoes, and empower every one of your employees to do the same. If you don’t understand (or appreciate) an experience as a customer, you can be pretty certain your own customers won’t either.

The popular television series Undercover Boss exposes executives to the customer experience when they are disguised and take on an employee’s role. Their goal is to learn about what their employees and customers think. The experiences are eye-openers and these executives come away knowing a great deal more about how their companies need to operate.

But, you don’t need to go on television in order to improve your customers’ experiences. Take a long, hard look at your operation and make sure your practices pass the common-sense test. If you wouldn’t like something, change it.

A company’s operations shouldn’t start with the company’s needs; it begins with the customers’ needs. How does a change in pricing, a new phone system, a new website, new products, etc…, appear to your customers?

Step into their shoes, BE your customer. And then see just how well they’ll market your company!

 

“We take most of the money that we could have spent on paid advertising and instead put it back into the customer experience. Then we let the customers be our marketing.” ~ Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com

 

Your Enemy to Being Understood? Jargon!

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation and not understanding a word that’s being said? Acronyms, technical terms and trendy phrases are thrown around as if everyone should know what they mean. It’s jargon, and it’s getting out of hand.

Jargon Causes Confusion

Jargon

Years ago, I watched as a doctor used the term “palliative care” (another term for end-of-life care), while discussing a patient with her family. Now, unfortunately, the family thought this was a treatment that would lead to a cure for the patient’s cancer. You can imagine their devastation when they discovered what the doctor was saying.

This week, I was forwarded an email that contained information from a sales professional explaining a proposal for a new website. The email’s author talked about a “firewall that blocks FTP traffic”, “blacklisting IPs that fail authentication”, “responsiveness”, and “SEO”. Overwhelmed, the recipient forwarded the email to me for my “thoughts”.

Jargon is an enemy of everyone, and I mean everyone! Witnessing my teenager’s explanation of how Snapchat works when his dad inquired about the recent cover story in Time Magazine had me giggling. Facial algorithms, graphic overlays and a bunch of other terms that came from my son’s mouth, when “It’s an app on your phone, Dad, and it’s pretty fun,” would have sufficed.

Jargon Causes Confusion and Alienation

At best, jargon confuses people and at worst it makes them feel stupid, uneducated and inferior. And, when you use it, you run the risk of alienating your audience.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 14 percent of the United States’ population can’t read, and 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, while 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read. Those are important statistics to understand as you consider the terms you use.

Here are tips:

  • Never assume that people understand your technical terms until they show you their understanding. And, remember that some folks will acknowledge understanding so that they don’t look ignorant. Err on the side of over-explaining, rather than under-explaining.
  • The key to ensuring understanding is to know your audience. If you’re addressing an audience of people in your field, or who share your passion, you can assume a level of understanding that allows for complex or technical terms. If the audience is broad, jargon will be your undoing.

Remember, your message is completely lost when you aren’t understood.

How We Socialize

I’ve been watching the news every day with anticipation for the latest Tweets from our President-Elect Trump. I know I’m not alone!

Communicate through social media

Social Media is our form of communication today

Whether you’re cheering his words, or shaking your head in dismay, there’s one thing for certain; Donald Trump is addicted to Twitter and we better get used to it, because this is how he’s going to speak to us.

Twitter has been around long enough now that people have gotten comfortable with communicating in 140 characters. These little written “sound bites” have forced us to get to the point quickly.

We have discovered that pictures and videos can say what words never could, so we post them to Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube, with no hesitation. Heck, now you can even speak to a full audience – hundreds and thousands of people – live whenever you like! Our political leaders have jumped on the opportunity to speak directly to us – minus the press’ filter – through Facebook Live. This is how we socialize!

When I train executives on how to speak to reporters, I tell them to put their most salient points into short, easily digested phrases. Give the reporter a heads up that the phrase is coming with something like “And, what I want people to really understand…” and then let the phrase rip.

What I don’t encourage them to do is speak in a stream of thought – to say whatever flashes through their heads. I teach them to take a breath and consider their words, to put up a yield sign in their brains before speaking.

Social media is a profoundly effective communicating tool. I would argue in several cases that we have never had a tool that has worked as successfully as social media.

But, there is the other side of social media that presents a challenge. Too often, people are lulled into the comfort of a quick way to communicate and forget that their words are on the Internet for the world to see. Once out there, they can’t be taken back. Far too many celebrities, business leaders and politicians have learned that lesson the hard way.

So, here’s my advice, and it’s the same advice I give my teen-aged son. If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t post it on Twitter!

Where We Fall Short

As business owners and managers, we want to ensure that our customer service is excellent. We have systems and procedures, computer programs and even talking points to make sure our employees are making our customers happy.

customers need personal service

Rule #1: Don’t frustrate your customers

We have all sorts of access points – face-to-face, email, telephone, social media, online chat – to let our customers get in touch with us. We can pat ourselves on the back because we are providing “excellent” customer service.

Whoa! Slow down a second. Before we get all self-congratulatory, ask yourself one thing. Despite all of the best practices you’ve put in place, did you solve your customers’ problems?

The answer might well be no.

When it is no, your customer walks away frustrated and unhappy. Trust me, they don’t keep that frustration to themselves, either. The words of an existing customer can make or break any business. It is, by far, the most trusted form of promotion a company will have.

So, how do you fix the unsolved problem issue? Ask your customers about their experiences with your company. If they say their issues are unsolved, find a way to fix the issues and don’t put the responsibility for fixing the issue in your customer’s lap.

I recently had an issue with a company that did not fulfill my online order. When I tried to get the pending charge for the item removed from my card, I was told by both the company and the bank that neither one could remove it. I literally felt like a ping-pong ball, bouncing between two customer-service reps. Now, I’m dissatisfied with two companies!

Where we often fall short is in living our customer’s experience and implementing changes that prevent failures in our systems. With today’s technology, either company could have solved my problem with a simple three-way call between both reps and myself.

The best advice any business owner and manager can accept is to walk in your customer’s shoes.

The first step is to realize that you are already customers with other companies, so identify the things that you don’t like and make sure they don’t happen to your customers. Then, go a step further and find ways to see your business through their eyes.

Your customers don’t know the inner workings of your company and they shouldn’t need to, so don’t make excuses or offer apologies for your systems. All they need from you is an experience that fulfills their needs and is pleasant.

A satisfied and appreciated customer equals many new customers!

Simply Words

Thank you. Thanks. Appreciate it…

We say the words so casually these days. It seems like it’s nothing more than the end to a sentence – the period – when actually, it should be the exclamation point.

Thank you is really important, when you think about it. The words are intended to express gratitude, but somehow have become so diluted, so matter-of-fact, that they fall short.

Two simple words, meant to convey so much. But, to really mean some

thing, it’s not the saying of the words, but the action of gratitude that we must express. When was the last time you showed your customers, your staff and colleagues, your friends and your family gratitude? I’m not talking about just saying words. I mean showed your gratitude.

So often, in the busyness of the day/week/month/year, we forget that gratitude is the foundation of our relationships. It’s so easy to take for granted these relationships, only to find that over time they are lost for the lack of showing gratitude.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Words are important, but actions speak more than words ever can. I had an editor years ago who hammered into me a mantra: “Show, don’t tell.” I learned that the words I wrote needed to show my readers how the story unfolds, not just tell them about it.

The same can be said about relationships, particularly those we have with customers and employees. Showing gratitude doesn’t have to happen every day, but it needs to occur often enough that they clearly understand just how much their relationship is valued, how much we rely on them and appreciate them.

It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture. It can be simple, yet meaningful. Reaching out a hand and offering it as a sign of appreciation. A handwritten thank-you note instead of an email or text. Birthday wishes sent on their special day.

Next week, we will sit down over a turkey dinner and celebrate Thanksgiving. In the days leading up to the holiday, it seems like the perfect time to express our thanks beyond the words.

So, in the spirit of gratitude, I am reaching out to you, my readers, with great appreciation for your interest and support. May your Thanksgiving fill you with gratitude and give you the peace of knowing you are greatly appreciated.