Engagement Marketing

HR Pro’s Name Favorites in the “Cartoon Employee Hall of Fame”

[With Employee Appreciation Day approaching, I’m delighted to share this special post from my friends at myHR Partner. These HR professionals are serious about their work, yet also have a great sense of humor. I encourage you to visit their Modern Employer blog where you can find helpful and informative content.]

myHR Partner’s Cartoon Employee Hall of Fame

In recognition of Employee Appreciation Day, which falls on March 1st this year, we would like to share our first Cartoon Employee Hall of Fame. It’s a short list right now, but we’ve included our expert commentary to make it special. We’ve also included suggestions for what to do to celebrate your workforce on their special day in honor of these inductees. Enjoy!

The Simpsons © 20th Century Fox.

Homer Simpson
With famous quotes like “Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers” and “I think Smithers picked me because of my motivational skills. Everyone says they have to work a lot harder when I’m around,” how could we not recognize Homer’s influence on legions of employees who seek to improve their work habits and have been encouraged to realize that at least they are not as bad as that guy.

Our HR commentary: Watching Homer Simpson at work, you have to wonder “Who the heck was that guy’s hiring manager?” Can you imagine what kind of antics would have turned up on his background check? The show’s writers are missing out on comic gold by not covering that in an episode. Talk about a company in need of help with its hiring process!
           Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by Mr. Simpson: Donut buffet.

SpongeBob Squarepants © Viacom International

SpongeBob Square Pants
SpongeBob loves his job as a short order cook at the Krusty Krab, and he’s good at it, too. We salute his positive attitude and work ethic, although his mannerism and overly outward personality can at times feel like an assault on the senses. What he lacks in workplace etiquette he does make up for in song-and-dance routines, however. Because he doesn’t ever intentionally mean to annoy anyone, it’s funny to us. For Squidward, not so much.

Our HR commentary: Could you have a more energetic or optimistic employee? That type of enthusiasm in the workplace is definitely needed — in moderation, of course. When it begins to become a distraction to his coworkers, that’s when a constructive conversation should occur. Maybe Mr. Krabs could conduct such conversations 2,000 leagues under the sea.
          Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by the square-pantsed one: Karaoke and line dancing lunch hour.

Mike Wazowski and Sully
In a world where monsters generate their city’s power by opening random doors and scaring children, the Monsters Inc. team of Mike Wazowski and Sully are the undisputed company champs. They always bring in the most screams and are hailed by management as the greatest thing since sliced bread. They are good guys and dedicated workers and deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their achievements, including induction into our Hall of Fame.

Monsters, Inc. © Pixar, The Walt Disney Company

Our HR commentary: Mike and Sully rock, there’s no doubt, but their rock star status might have inadvertently worked against the larger team they belonged to at the company. Even putting creepy, evil Randall aside, when team leaders focus too much on just the brightest shining gems in the company, they miss out on the diamonds in the rough. Missing opportunities to build up the rest of your team can really stifle growth, create internal resentment and discourage other talented employees.
          Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by Monsters Inc.’s most famous duo: Door prizes, of course.

The Flintstones © Hanna Barbera

Fred Flintstone
The world’s most famous prehistoric “bronto crane operator” (we believe the more politically correct title “geological engineer”) is anything but your typical quarry employee. He works at Slate Rock and Gravel Company, and even though his boss, Mr. Slate, has fired him on many occasions, Fred’s better work traits always seem to win him his job back at the end.

Our HR commentary: Fred Flintstone may be loveable but he is definitely the kind of employee who needs help keeping his emotions in check on the job. If you have a lot of Freds on your team, you probably should have training for managers on how to work with “drama queens” and other distracting personalities, as well as some team training on how to communicate more effectively.
          Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by our favorite caveman: Company bowling tournament.

The Jetsons © Hanna Barbera

George Jetson
He works at Spacely’s Sprockets turning the Referential Universal Digital Indexer (R.U.D.I.) on and off. It’s reassuring to know that in the future a nine-hour workweek full of button pushing may be the norm. We must also admit that the we like the idea of someday being able to come home from the office to find that housework consists of pressing more buttons, when it’s not being done by a robotic maid, of course.

Our HR commentary: More than 50 years after ‘The Jetsons’ first aired on TV, there are still so many workplace communication issues in those episodes that are relevant. Email, texting, social media and other technological advances haven’t cured the problems. In some cases these modern conveniences have actually made the communication problem worse. One accidental reply-all email or ill-worded voicemail can make you want to just scream “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!” 
     Employee Appreciation Day idea inspired by the Mr. Spacely’s star button pusher: This is a tough one. Maybe a ’60s inspired lunch theme and serve moon pies all around?


3 Customer Questions That Belong in Every Marketer’s Toolkit

Working on new product/service development or re-positioning an existing offering? Then you can’t afford to ignore what your customers and prospects are thinking.

“It’s very easy to think you are the expert on your own product. But in many ways, that’s a myth. The true experts are your customers.” Jamie Wong

That’s why you need to consider your customers’ perspective. Answering these inter-related questions are crucial to your success because they’re what your customers and prospects are asking as they decide whether to purchase from you or your competitors:

  1. “Who cares?” What, if anything, about this product/service offering appeals to me?
  2. “What difference does it make?” Does this offering solve a problem or meet a need (physical, emotional, social, financial, etc.) that I have or anticipate having?
  3.  What’s in it for me?” Based on real and perceived benefits, is this offering worth paying for in terms of money, time, and convenience; i.e., is it of value to me?

How to get the answers 

Finding the answers is simple: intentionally listen to your customers. Pay attention to a combination of listening posts such as customer surveys, feedback from front-line employees and other employee-customer interactions, call center analysis, complaint tracking, social media, etc., and any additional “voice-of-the-customer” market research that addresses these questions.

Most customers are eager to will tell you what they think, and they’ll tell others as well. Successful marketers respectfully listen.

“Listening is a commitment and a compliment.” Omar Khateeb



Customer service Marketing

How Careful are You with Your Brand?

Your brand is conveyed in everything you do to communicate and deliver your product/service offerings; i.e., what and how people think about your brand is based on the experiences they have with your business.

This story illustrates how a business manager formed her impression of a company’s brand when seeking a new payroll processing firm.

“I created a short list of companies and decided to do a bit of research before contacting any of them. My research was to simply visit each applicable website.

Turns out one of them had so many typos I immediately deleted them from the shortlist. Perhaps I should have contacted someone to tell them about the numerous errors, but I suspected they probably wouldn’t care. After all, if they cared there wouldn’t have been any typos, especially on their home page.

My thought process was this: if their website is so grammatically messed up, what will they do with our payroll?”

Organizations in all sectors — B2B, B2C, and nonprofits — need to be vigilant with their brands. In a study of mobile customers, 55% agreed with the statement “A frustrating experience on a website hurts my opinion of the brand overall.” That’s just one segment of customers, and it’s just one channel of brand communication.

Details, details, details …

While a brand is an intangible concept, its impact on the company’s bottom line is tangible. A spectrum of even minor product problems, customer service missteps, and communication errors can impact people’s perceptions of a company’s brand and its ultimate ability to attract or lose customers.

“The most successful people know that you either pay attention to the details now or you will absolutely pay the consequences later.” — Steve Keating, The Wisdom of Brown M&M’s

Can you afford to be careless with your brand?





Engagement Marketing

Can You Treat Customers Like Employees and Employees Like Customers?

Curiosity. A hunger to explore what works and what doesn’t. Respectively challenging others’ ideas. These are among the many reasons I enjoy speaking with groups of young adults preparing for leadership roles.

I recall one such gathering that involved an open discussion on marketing. We talked about dealing with difficult customers (it’s OK to terminate a relationship with customers when there’s no longer a good fit) and engaging employees with internal marketing (how to apply marketing inside a company to educate, motivate, and engage employees to deliver the brand promise).

“Excuse me,” asked one of the attendees, “but I think you have it backwards. You talk about ‘firing’ customers as if they are employees, and you also talk about ‘marketing’ to employees as if they are customers? How can this be?”

An excellent question … and one whose answer is based on understanding customers’ and employees’ respective roles and their value to a business and each other.

Customers pay for a firm’s products/services, which means they contribute the revenue that helps pay employee salaries. No customers =  no operating income = no business = no employees.

Employees serve customers by providing the products/services offered by the firm. No employees = no business to compete in the market = no customers.

A company needs to apply both marketing and management strategies to developing positive, loyal relationships with employees and customers so it can:

  1. attract, engage, and retain the right employees who are competent and committed to serving customers, and
  2. attract, engage, and retain the right customers whose needs will be best and profitably served by employees.

The takeaway: Yes, you can market to employees and you can manage customers. Done effectively, you’ll be able to work with the best of both.

Customer service Marketing Training & Development

What Do You Notice About These Three Customer Service Stories?

In honor of National Customer Service Week (observed the first week in October), here are three amazing stories told by customers — all marketing professionals — who experienced and analyzed them. They represent different situations that share a common theme.

Customer experience #1:

“I walked into an Eckerd Drug Store to buy a sympathy card. Before the clerk even rang up the purchase, he took a silk rose from a display at the counter, presented it to me, and said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss. I hope this will cheer you up a little.'” Toby Bloomberg

Toby’s takeaway: “There were no dramatic gestures, no casts of thousands, no high cost involved. Simply an elegant approach to ‘service’ between two people. And when you get right down to basics, isn’t that what “legendary service” is all about — people who go the extra mile to connect to the customer?”

Customer experience #2:

“It was a Saturday around noon at the Hyatt Woodfield hotel in Chicago for an American Marketing Association chapter leadership meeting. Just as our people were sitting down to lunch, the first alarm went off. We were quickly hustled outside by the staff and stayed outdoors for the better part of an hour due to a water emergency.

“A couple of weddings were scheduled to take place at the hotel later that day. One of the brides arrived that morning and, not finding a closet hook high enough to hold her wedding gown off the floor, she hung it on a fire system water sprinkler. The weight eventually broke the sprinkler head, spewing rusty water all over the gown in her room and other rooms on the floor that were linked on that sprinkler water line. The water also leaked through to rooms below the bride’s floor. The hotel could have easily blamed the bride for her misfortune and the inconvenience caused to everyone else in the hotel. But instead they summoned a limousine, took the bride and her mother across to the Nordstrom’s at Woodfield Mall to buy a new dress.” Chris Bonney

Chris’s takeaway: “I don’t know if the hotel was insured for this kind of thing or not. But they knew that it was cheaper for the bride to get a new dress so that her wedding could proceed and worry about the details later. They recovered the situation without embarrassing the bride and her family.”

Customer experience #3:

“My husband and I were traveling to Boston to attend a conference for his work when I had a medical emergency on the plane. Upon landing at the airport, I was immediately taken off the plane in a special ambulance gurney and transported to the hospital. While filling out our medical forms in the ER, my husband and I suddenly looked at each other to ask, “What happened to our luggage?!” since we left the plane in such a hurry.

“While I was in surgery, my husband took a taxi to the conference hotel and explained our situation. The Marriott Copley Hotel front desk clerk called the airport to find and hold our luggage. The hotel also arranged for a staff member to drive my husband back to the airport to collect the luggage, drop him off at the hospital to be with me after surgery, and place our luggage in the hotel room for when my husband returned.” This is my customer service story.

Here’s my takeaway: “In our situation, we were guests who arrived at the hotel with a problem that had nothing to do with the hotel itself. Yet the front desk staff showed their compassion and concern by going the extra step take care of us.”

What these stories share

My colleagues and I had different customer experiences with a common theme: demonstrations of exemplary service by employees who were empathetic and responsive to their customers — all in situations where the service provider did nothing wrong. Nonetheless, front line employees went “above and beyond” to do everything right.

What’s equally impressive is that these experiences took place more than 25 years ago. Extraordinary customer service — good and bad — leaves a lasting impression.

Customer service Engagement Marketing

Are You Guilty of Treating Your Customers Like Chopped Liver?

The phrase “What am I, chopped liver?” is uttered when a person is made to feel that he or she is not special. It’s exactly how some customers feel as a result of neglect by companies.

I’m seeing this scenario play out in a membership-based company that’s constantly offering special discount pricing to acquire new customers while ignoring their current ones. Those in the latter group are questioning their customer loyalty given management’s attention on attracting new business while little investment is made to improve member services and facilities. Some customers are paying fees higher than those offered to prospective customers. However, they can get a few extra months of free membership IF they help bring in new customers.

Churn, churn churn
With little confidence in the company to take care of current customers, turnover continues … as does the search for new customers. The company may not realize it, but turnover would be much greater if it weren’t for customer inertia – whether their customers are locked into annual contracts or unable to find suitable alternatives. The reality is unhappy customers who stay don’t bring in additional business.

Heavily promoting to attract new customers at the expense of taking care of existing customers is the perfect recipe for making customers feel like chopped liver. It’s also a strategy that leads to continued high turnover and brand damage. Customer churn isn’t the only issue here – employee turnover is also evident.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are four steps companies can take so their customers and employees don’t feel like chopped liver.

  • Take the time to proactively engage with and listen to your current customers and respond appropriately. Consider formal customer satisfaction surveys, customer roundtables, or lost customer analysis. The latter can be as simple as asking why a customer left, although it’s better to learn of customers’ frustrations before they leave.
  • Communicate with customers. If improvements in member services and/or facilities are in the works, let them know about it. If not, let them know why and when they can expect a future fix. The absence of such transparency leads customers to speculate about the company’s health.
  • Also take time to proactively engage with and listen to your employees, and respond appropriately. Seek their input on signs of customer frustration.
  • Communicate with employees and equip them to be customer-focused. Ensure they know what’s happening so they can address customer questions and concerns. Provide with them with training to provide top-notch customer service, and in the event of a problem, equip them to deal with customer complaints and recovery.

NOT for customers only
Engagement and retention efforts shouldn’t be limited to customers — if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.

How does your company make its customers and employees feel?

Customer service Engagement Marketing

How to (Gently) End a Customer Relationship

good-bye blue-1477872_960_720When I asked other business professionals when it’s best to lose a customer or client, the reasons boiled down to the customer’s lack of respect and not being fully committed to the working relationship. Examples cited included:

  • difficult interactions with or mistreating customer-contact employees
  • being unresponsive and uncooperative
  • paying late or not at all.

The question then is how do you actually end such a business relationship in these situations? The best advice on “how to fire a customer” comes from customer-loyalty consultant and best-selling author, Chip R. Bell:

“Firing a customer is a bit like disarming a bomb; ‘very carefully’ is the operative term. The goals is to subdue animosity without scattering aftermath. Sometimes customers are so incensed at losing a favorite punching bag — even though it’s actually you who’s ‘lost’ them — they can move quickly from anger to vindictiveness, seeking opportunities to punish, not just put down. You can limit your chance of such backlash by handling firings in cool-headed but still sensitive ways.”

When terminating a business relationship based on the first two examples — when the customer has become abusive or difficult to deal with — Bell cautions against taking an angry, defensive, or otherwise emotional approach to avoid fueling the customer’s anger at ending the relationship.

” … a rational explanation for why a continued relationship will harm your business—how harsh treatment of service reps impairs productivity, or how a difficult relationship steals time from other deserving customers—should be your modus operandi here. The goal is to give the customer a signal that he or she is unwelcome if the unwanted behavior persists.  ‘Ms. Jones, I must ask you to leave. The morale of our associates is critically important to their well-being and to the well-being of our organization. While we are by no means perfect, our employees must not be repeatedly subjected to actions that demean them as people.’

Bell also advises a rational approach when the issue is based on the bottom line, such as the client not paying.

“[Emphasize] how a continued relationship will negatively affect the business, not on how a parting of ways will make your long-suffering staff feel like it’s just won the lottery.  ‘Mr. Jones, we’ve greatly appreciated your business for the last year. We have elected to apply our limited resources in a new direction and will not be soliciting your business in the near future. Should you want to continue our relationship it will likely need to be at a (higher price, greater volume, faster cycle time, lower cost, etc.).’

Granted, none of this is easy in a competitive and challenging marketplace. But it is essential to stand up for your employees and organizational principles. As Bell explains:

” … courageously ending relationships with customers who continually turn the blowtorch on the front line, or who over time siphon more funds from the bottom line than they return, sends a message about what you stand for as an organization.”

[Note: above excerpts cited with permission from Chip Bell’s book, “Wired and Dangerous,” co-authored with John R. Patterson.]

Marketing Training & Development

When It’s Best to Walk Away from a Prospect

For anyone focused on growing a company, it’s hard to turn down new business. But sometimes it’s necessary.

My first experience with this situation took place nearly two decades ago, and I remember it clearly. After much debate and hand-wringing about submitting a proposal, I turned to a fellow consultant for feedback. I explained my hesitancy based on my gut feeling that a prospective client would be difficult to work with, but business was slow and I really needed the work. I’ve never forgotten the sage advice I got that day from Alan Kay, who told me: “Don’t ever walk away from a prospect in that situation. Run as fast as you can.” I felt incredible relief at the time, and his words of wisdom continue to serve me well.

Recently I asked several colleagues to share their experience dealing with the dilemma of whether or not to turn away a business prospect, and here are their responses.

It’s time to walk away from a prospect when …

“When the prospective client does not understand the value of your services and 99% of your clients do. When you can be certain of this, it will be come crystal-clear that this client will never find the investment in your services worthwhile. You will expend more energy on this client than on what will likely be your longer term clients … It’s never easy but it always seems to open space up to let better clients in.”  Tina I. Hamilton, President, myHRpartner

“The cost of servicing/working with the business exceeds the benefits you receive. Or if your health is compromised because they are just too high maintenance. In 34 years in business I have only resigned two pieces of business. Once it was all said and done, I never looked back with regret.” Michelle Elster, President, Rabin Research Company

“You know what you’d have to charge exceeds what they would get back in a year. If it takes more than a year to achieve ROI, I am not the right coach or the right speaker for you or your team.”  Phil Gerbyshak, Sales and Leadership Speaker

It’s time to walk away from a prospect when …

“They insult you in the initial meeting. Several years ago, I was invited in to a company to meet with the Marketing head to discuss a proposed training initiative. In the meeting, the Marketing head said to me that she was very busy and that she can’t waste her precious time answering my questions. If I can’t just do what they need done, she said, then what good am I to them? She added that she might as well do the training herself.” Terrence Seamon, Leadership Coach/Career Coach

“You are exhausted when you are with them. Every time you attempt to identify the project scope, you discover it is made of jello and keeps morphing. RUN!”  Linda Reed Friedman, Advanta Strategies

Bottom line: Trust your instincts on whether you’ll be engaging in a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s not worth taking on a client you’ll resent – you won’t be at your best, and that’s not helpful to the client and your business.

Special thanks to my colleagues for sharing their thoughts.

[For a related post, check out When It’s Best to Lose a Customer or Client.]




Revisiting the Old “New Different” for Marketers

It’s been nearly seven years since I featured excerpts from Chris Bonney‘s white paper, The View from the Front, about adapting to the recession in my post, Help For Marketers Dealing with the “New Different.”

Back then …

What’s amazing to me is how little conditions have actually changed since Chris described them in 2009:

  • “Consumers have become dangerously polarized over even the most innocuous of subjects. Political feelings have become so polarized among some people that this anxiety has spilled over into the consumer marketplace.”
  • “Trust in institutions isn’t what it used to be. Whether in religion, commerce, sports, government, science or technology, individual and institutional models of propriety and high ethical standards are, well, fewer.”
  • “There are not just new words in our vocabulary, but entire new ways of interacting with other people. [Social media] has its own patois and a different level of engagement and expectation than traditional verbal and written communications. Navigating this new way of communicating is more than just plugging your old communications techniques into ‘social media.'”
  • “We are undeniably part of a complex global economy. One of the biggest battles raging in the United States … is between the nationalists and the internationalists. The former thinks it’s as easy as throwing up a wall. The latter embrace the variety and connectedness of a wider world life.”
  • “We don’t use information like we used to … We’ve evolved from a nation that had fewer, but more reliable sources of news and information into a nation of self-selecting information consumers … News and information [also] has a much briefer half-life.

And now …

Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup CEO, reflects on the reality of today’s business environment in a more recent article, Human Age 2.0: Future Forces at Work:

“Many expected that as the recession subsided the world would return to business as usual. That hasn’t happened. The recovery is unlike any other and so is the business environment. Both are less stable and harder to predict, yielding new challenges and opportunities. Businesses will need to plan for uncertainty and be built for change. What is certain is the uncertainty that lies ahead and that we will see the effects of this acceleration of structural and cyclical forces.”

What’s a marketer to do?

How do you effectively compete in a continuing uncertain market? I agree with Chris, who advocates going back to the fundamentals in recognizing that consumers STILL:

  • “need reasons and confidence to spend.”
  • “need to know how products and services will enhance and integrate into their lives.”
  • “want something to get excited about.”

And we, as marketers, still “need to understand how to communicate with consumers in ways that are relevant and timely.”


Today’s Marketing: Less IS More

Signs of intelligent marketing at last! Lately I’ve seen more marketers respond to consumer sensitivity and backlash to promotional and informational overload – a major contributor to attention and intention deficit.

Here are two examples. The first is an excerpt from Penny Sansevieri’s Book Marketing Alert newsletter*:

I don’t know about you but I’m overwhelmed almost daily with all the stuff I need to get done and learn (because we always need to be learning, right?). And I hear this from authors all the time: I don’t have time OR I don’t know where to start.

Because at the end of the day, you’d rather be writing, right?

That’s why the AME team has decided to change up our newsletter. Less information = less overwhelming.

If you’re an information junkie you can still find tons of tips on our blog and social media all week long, but our newsletter will now focus on one or two action items and that’s it. Strategies you can manage that won’t send you into a tizzy of “I have no time for this!”*

The second is an email promoting AMA’s Marketing Workshops**:

18 Workshops | 2 Days | 0 Distractions

That webinar you wanted to check out just got pushed off your calendar. That new book you bought has taken a backseat to pressing emails for the third night in a row. And that idea you’ve been trying to find time to research for the past few weeks is now on life support somewhere in your subconscious.

With all the roles marketers play, it’s hard to find the time to hone our skills, develop our ideas and keep up with the fluid, tech-fueled landscape we call our careers. That’s why when you get an opportunity, you really have to make it count.

dontcalluswellcallyouAs a consumer and professional marketer, I’m tired of robo calls and junk email clogging my email inbox. I’m annoyed with financial service firms’ limited opt-out options that allow “related” businesses to continually promote their services to me. (No, I don’t need more credit cards or more insurance!) Ditto for nonprofits that sell my name to other donors’ lists.

I’m OK giving my email when I make a consumer purchase or request a white paper for business; it’s quid pro quo permission marketing. It’s the onslaught of frequent emails following afterward that make me crazy. Just because a retailer features frequent daily specials or a business offers a weekly webinar doesn’t mean I care to know about it. I know who you (as a retailer or vendor) are; presuming my experience was positive, I’ll be happy to call you when I need you or refer you when appropriate.

Bottom line: Respect the consumer/customer and they’ll respect your brand. Bombarding them with promotional messages results in brand alienation – not a good strategy for building customer relationships and retention.

Less IS more.

*Reprinted from Author Marketing Experts, a full service book marketing and publicity firm. Find out more at:]
**Disclosure: I’m one of AMA’s Workshop speakers.