Summer Blog Break 2016

Remember those sweet childhood days when school was out and summer vacation started?

I do, even though I’ve been working over more summers than I care to count. I’m not complaining, as I love working with my clients regardless of the season.

My summer compromise is my annual blog break when I take a much-needed breather to relax, refresh, and consider new ideas for content marketing.  That break starts now and runs through late August/early September when I’ll return with new posts.

In the meantime, I’ll still be active on Twitter and LinkedIn sharing other thought leaders’ ideas on employee engagement, volunteer engagement, the customer experience, and non-profit marketing. You can also find loads of evergreen content on my blog in those and other topics listed under “Tags” in the right sidebar.

Best wishes for a safe and happy summer!


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.”

Customer service Engagement Musings Training & Development

Top Takeaways from 2015

Like most committed professionals, I’m always in learning mode. I find a constant stream of new ideas, lessons learned, and other important information from reading online and offline, speaking with participants in my workshops and presentations, attending conferences and webinars, talking with people inside and outside of my network, watching movies, etc.

Here are several of my most memorable takeaways from 2015.

On recognition and employee engagement:

“Attention is the new black.” Tim Sackett, Globoforce webinar guest speaker, “Better than Robots: Why Your Employees Deserve a More Human Workplace.”

On the decline in customer service:

“To differentiate your brand, you need to be one step above crap.” Peter Shankman, speaking at BlogPaws 2015 Conference.

On leadership:

In one of my internal marketing workshop discussions, a participant shared her revelation that some executives consider the concept of “leadership” to be both a verb and a noun; i.e., they presume they lead by virtue of their title. As a result, they feel they’re exempt from ongoing leadership training and development.

On mindfulness in the morning:

“Everything begins and ends within the greater presence of all, whether I’m paying attention to the way the sun’s rising, or whether it’s misty out in the morning on the trees. When I wake up now I have the privilege of listening to real twitter.” Oprah Winfrey interview in Fast Company.

On perspective:

 “All right! We did not die today, I call that an unqualified success.” Spoken by Fear in the animated film, Inside Out.



How to Keep Your Employees Engaged During the Holidays

The last few weeks of the calendar year are stressful in the workplace as people become distracted preparing for the holidays. Employees can be overwhelmed with year-end reporting and planning deadlines just as everyone else seems to be using up the last of their vacation days. And those at work may be so into the holiday frenzy that they’ve mentally checked out.

Here are five ways managers can help employees stay on-task and engaged during the holiday season.

  • Keep employees mission-focused, customer-focused, and connected.
    Respectfully remind employees how year-end projects and planning are critical to your company’s mission and goals. Make time to recognize employees’ individual and collective efforts in taking care of customers and each other as the year winds down.
  • Acknowledge and alleviate seasonal stresses.
    Consider what you can do ahead of time to minimize year-end pressures such as starting your business planning cycle earlier (if feasible) to avoid a planning crunch when fewer people are at work. Or schedule the employee holiday lunch or dinner party in January when there are fewer social activities; this also gives employees something to look forward to after the holidays.
  • Ask employees to share their ideas.
    Go to the source and solicit suggestions from your employees as to what might be done to improve productivity during this time of year — whether in a special discussion at staff meetings or as a project for a designated employee task force.
  • Inspire and de-stress.
    • Invite employees to share with each other how they cope with seasonal work stress … the funniest holiday situation they’ve encountered at work … how they successfully defused a difficult situation with a customer, etc.
    • Give-back to the community by volunteering time as a group to work in a food bank or collect gifts for needy families. To keep such an activity from creating more stress, however, employee involvement must be voluntary with no management or peer pressure regarding time and financial contributions.
    • While bringing holiday sweets to the office is welcome by many, also consider healthy ways to reduce stress. For example, a licensed massage therapist can be hired on-site to provide 10-15 minute back massages for employees or a yoga instructor can lead mini-meditation sessions.
  • Patience, patience, patience.
    Keep in mind the end of the year can be a challenging time for everyone: you, your customers, employees, colleagues, and business partners.

Try one or more of these ideas to help get through the season. When you find what works, you can apply it next year when you go through this all over again. Happy Holidays!



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.


Engagement Musings

Summer Blog Break 2015

Happy Summer! It’s time to kick-back and enjoy the lazy, hazy days of the season.

While I don’t usually take an extended vacation this time of year (except for an occasional long weekend), I do enjoy a brief break from blogging to refresh my content ideas.

For those of you who work through most of the summer like I do, you can still find hundreds of helpful tools, tips, quotes, ideas, etc., on this blog – just look for the tag(s) to the right for the topics that most interest you. I’ll also continue to share noteworthy content on internal marketing, workplace engagement, the customer experience, and nonprofit marketing via Twitter (@SybilQSM) and LinkedIn.

For those of you who are on vacation – what are you doing reading this?! You should be indulging in great contemporary or classic fiction … just relax and enjoy.

Seriously, I’ll be back with new content in late August or early September. In the meantime, have a safe and happy summer!


Customer service Marketing

The Three Most Important Questions You Need to Ask in Marketing

A brilliant marketing colleague of mine taught me the three most important questions that need to be considered based on the customer’s perspective. These apply to both product and service providers in B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) organizations.

  1. Who cares?
    To better understand who needs the company’s products/services, and how it matters to them.
  2. What difference does it make?
    For insight on how the company’s offerings solve the customer’s problem or fills a specific need (rational and/or emotional).
  3. What’s in it for me?
    To understand real and perceived benefits and the degree to which the customer feels the solution is worth paying for – in terms of money, time, and convenience.

Why are these marketing questions important?
Because they’re what your customers are asking themselves as they consider whether to do business with you or your competitors.

How do you learn the answers to these questions?
Your customers will tell you based on their experience with you, and they’ll tell others as well. If you’re not listening and responding to your customers — via feedback from front-line employees, customer surveys, complaint tracking, social media, etc. — then it’s time to start.



Customer service Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Best Quotes on Customers

Customers – love ’em or sometimes hate ’em – if you’re in business, you can’t live without them. True customer-focus means understanding, respecting, and serving customers as the basis of your business rather than considering them a necessary evil.

Following are several of my favorite quotes about customers and their importance. Think of them as customer-focused words to live by. You can also incorporate them in your customer service training.

“Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.” Stanley Marcus

“If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier.” Doug Smith

“You can forget about an over-satisfied customer, but an unsatisfied customer is one of the most expensive problems you can have.” Jan Carlzon

“Anyone who thinks the customer is not important should try doing without him [or her].” Unknown

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

“Customer feedback is free until you don’t listen, then it gets very expensive in the form of lawsuits, poor word-of-mouth advertising, and adverse publicity.” John O’Malley

“Isn’t it really ‘customer helping’ rather than customer service? And wouldn’t you deliver better service if you thought of it that way?” Jeffrey Gitomer

And when it comes to hiring and training the employees who serve customers:

“The customer-facing organization with the fewest assholes wins.” Olivier Blanchard



Training & Development

What Do a Business Training Professional and Zumba Fitness Instructor Have in Common?

Quite a bit actually.

Several years ago, I decided to ramp up my exercise and tried Zumba. It took me quite a while to get with the program, so to speak, as participants are not “taught” the dance moves – you just follow the instructor’s moves. I was WAY out of my comfort zone with this, despite the fact that the instructors don’t expect you to follow along perfectly; they just want you to have fun and get fit in the process.

Eventually I became more comfortable with the challenge of following the different dance moves and routines offered by various Zumba instructors. It’s great to get away from my office and enjoy the loud music, the camaraderie in class, and exercising my body as well as my brain.

I take an average of three  Zumba classes a week. Observing different instructors and listening to feedback from attendees, I began to analyze the instructors’ approaches to teaching Zumba and rapport with their classes. The best and most popular instructors share these characteristics:

  • A passion for doing and teaching  Zumba.
  • Smiling and making lots of eye contact.
  • “Connecting” with attendees by facing the class as much, if not more, than they face the mirror; also periodically moving away from the mirror/front of the class and dancing among the attendees.
  • Making the dance moves easy to follow with clear hand signals, verbal cues, and repetitive steps.
  • Encouraging fun and fitness while reinforcing attendees’ participation throughout the class in ways that are most comfortable for them; no one is ever made to feel inept.
  • Preparing for each class by practicing the routines and learning/demonstrating new ones to mix things up a bit.
Gladys Colon, Zumba instructor
Gladys Colon, Zumba instructor

I recently spent time outside of class with Gladys Colon, one of the more popular instructors, to talk about her experience teaching Zumba. I also wanted to let her know how much I enjoyed her class. The more we talked, the more I realized we had much in common as instructors even though our classes are so very different: she teaches Zumba fitness in a gym and I teach marketing workshops in a corporate business setting.

Here’s what we have in common. We both practice as much as possible – regardless of how well we know our subject matter. We intentionally engage our attendees without overwhelming them. We work hard to ensure the people in our classes feel the time they spend with us is worthwhile. Above all, we both share a passion for what we do — whether it’s energizing people through cardio or helping them broaden their marketing acumen.

In what unlikely places do you find professional inspiration?

[With special thanks to my favorite instructors Gladys Colon, Tarnisha “Moe” Sass, Manny Balseiro and Krista Cernansky … you all rock!]

Customer service Marketing

A Review of Sprinkles – How Little Things Inspire Exceptional Customer Service

Who doesn’t like sprinkles to enhance cookies or cake or ice-cream? It’s the little extras that make a difference in special treats … and brands.

That’s the essence of best-selling author Chip Bell‘s newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service. Chip advocates “value-unique” rather than “value-added” service, explaining: “We all have unlimited ways to serve uniquely, but only a finite number of ways to add more.” Sprinkles books-order_stack

Sprinkles shares the “secret sauce” of what it takes to make the most of those opportunities, such as amazement, allegiance, and adventure, to name a few. Just like in his well-received book, The 9- ½ Principles of Innovative Service, readers will find easy-to-understand and relatable stories that illustrate value-unique service. Equally important, Chip includes thought-provoking questions that managers and employees can use to better understand how to create awesome experiences for their customers.

The range of examples Chip cites can spark ideas on delighting customers. It’s also a great reminder that not all innovative service has to be cutting-edge; some of it is quite basic, yet often assumed or overlooked. Just like sprinkles – simple, yet impactful.

“The key to achieving customer delight is not excess, but opportunity. While most service is routine, every once in awhile an out-of-the-ordinary situation presents itself – a complaint, a question, a special request, a chance for the employee to go the extra mile. If employees are trained to look for those opportunities and empowered to act on them when they appear, customers will be delighted … ” Peter Gurney