Category Archives: Organizational Behavior
I recently had the good fortune to experience a magical few days in Disney World. Though I spent most of my time enjoying the parks as my six-year old did, I could not help but notice how thoughtfully and thoroughly the Disney Company does its job. If ever there was an enduring – perhaps, indestructible – brand, it’s Disney.
That kind of success and endurance does not occur by accident. The culture of Disney was clearly set in stone (or castle rock) by its founders and has been protected and carefully enhanced ever since. I’m certainly not the first to be struck by Disney’s operating style and culture – countless business books have been written about the company over the years. But below are one small business person’s takeaways from a five-day immersion in the Disney experience.
Exceed expectations. Disney prides itself on over delivering and delighting customers. If an employee (who the Disney company refers to as a “cast member”) learns you are visiting the parks for the first time, you will be given a “First Time” button. And if you wear that button, you are likely to receive not only kind words and warm greetings, but extra scoops of ice cream on your cone or free stickers as you wait in line for a ride. When my husband commented on how much he enjoyed the raspberry sorbet in Cinderella’s castle, our server appeared with an extra serving in a to-go cup (which served as a great distraction from the bill he was signing at that moment). Are your employees encouraged to look for ways to exceed customer expectations? Is your leadership setting the example to do so?
Make it personal. Cast members say “Welcome home,” every time a guest walks into a hotel. While it may feel a bit saccharine or presumptuous to the curmudgeonly visitor, by the third or fourth reference, you really start to believe it – and you do feel at home. Who wouldn’t want to live in the most magical place on earth?
Own every mistake. If something goes wrong with a food order or during a ride, cast members are quick to acknowledge the problem, apologize for the inconvenience and offer some small reparation, such as a fast pass (to skip lines on a ride) or a Mickey trinket. The folks at Disney know that large crowds + hot weather + bad service = recipe for disaster. Cast members cannot control the weather and they welcome the crowds, so they do everything in their power to ensure that your experience is pleasant and your irritations are minimized. Is your company quick to acknowledge customer concerns and address them? Are your employees empowered to do so?
Protect the brand (and propagate it wildly). Disney is famous for fighting to preserve and protect its greatest asset – the Disney brand and everything it encompasses. You don’t find the Disney mark stretched out or misrepresented in weird colors and crazy fonts. And by and large, toys, apparel and even cultural experiences (think “Lion King” or “Beauty and the Beast”) are high quality products that are well marketed across all types of consumer goods. I happen to be a Perry the Platypus fan – you wouldn’t believe how much Perry paraphernalia is available! Are you cross selling your services and leveraging your business investments creatively?
I know. I sound like a crazed mom who had a little too much Disney cool aid on spring break. That may be true – my family had a wondrous vacation and I’m grateful. But as we rode the monorail one night after a parade in the Magic Kingdom, I pulled out my iPhone to look at the historical performance of Disney stock (NYSE:DIS) against the Dow and decided these folks know a thing or two about how to run a business over time.
Have you adopted any Disney principles in your small or large business?
“What are you thinking over there? You’re awfully quiet,” a client once said to me. It felt more like an accusation than an observation. We were midway through a strategy session on a new product and I had been listening intently as the sales team shared information – much of which I was hearing for the first time. Aside from asking a few questions, I hadn’t interrupted, interjected or otherwise hijacked the conversation to share half-baked recommendations or serve my own agenda. Was that wrong? I didn’t think so but, at that moment, it sure felt like it.
Being an introvert in what often seems like a world of extroverts can be tough. Quiet, thoughtful reflection is often mistaken as shyness or disinterest. It’s especially difficult in fields like marketing, sales or even public relations, which tend to attract extroverts. (I’ll never forget taking the D.I.S.C. personality test in a roomful of hospital marketing directors a few years ago and being the only “analyzer” in a room full of “promoters.”) Right or wrong, identifying yourself as an “introvert” often seems a notch above “hermit” or a “weirdo.” That’s why it’s a label many of us have been reluctant to accept.
That may be changing though, thanks in part to a new book that’s focusing renewed attention on what being an introvert really means. In a recent Time cover story, Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” maintains introverts aren’t necessarily shy or anti-social. They simply tend to be more cautious and sensitive – preferring an environment of minimal stimulation to one filled with chaos. As a result, they’re better listeners, which often makes them better leaders. In fact, Cain cites a Wharton study that found introverted leaders delivered better results than extroverts when managing employees, in part because they encouraged others’ ideas.
You see, it’s not that introverts can’t engage. Sometimes they just don’t want to… at least not right then and there. Introverts like to gather information and internalize their thoughts before speaking up. As such, their recommendations tend to be thorough, well thought out and often more strategic than those from their charismatic, shoot-from-the-hip counterparts. In fact, a recent New York Times editorial asserted introverts may make better doctors for these very reasons. I’d say the same can be said for communications and marketing strategists, as well.
What’s more, introverts value preparation, engage in meticulous planning and ask insightful questions that can inform strategy and uncover hidden landmines. They are often better speakers because they take the time to research their audience and tailor a presentation that provides meaningful information. Perhaps most importantly, they prefer to express themselves through writing – a key skill for any communications professional.
While introverts bring tremendous value to any organization, research suggests they become truly powerful when paired with extroverts whose strengths complement their own. So the next time you’re assembling a team to develop a marketing strategy or tackle a communications challenge, be sure it includes an introvert or two. We probably won’t be the ones waving our hands on the front row, but our influence will be equally strong and far-reaching.
Photo by: David Castillo Dominici
I am stunned to see that the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), an organization to which I belong and generally support, sponsors an article advising small business owners not to apologize to customers when a mistake has been made.
How did the the enewsletter piece, entitled, “Why You Shouldn’t Apologize to Customers” get past the otherwise sensible editors and member advocates? In my opinion, telling small businesses to be careful not to apologize for a mistake is the singular worst piece of business advice I’ve heard in a long time.
The article suggests that you are more likely to be sued if you issue an apology because it infers guilt. Not necessarily so. Telling business owners, especially those of small businesses, to stay away from the “sorry” word seems irresponsible and short-sighted to me.
Most small businesses are built on relationships. The owners usually know every customer by name and, in fact, the customer frequently considers the business a partner, rather than just a vendor. Not apologizing for a mistake with your partner is just plain rude – and it’s bad business. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that indicates an earnest apology can help defuse customer tensions, preserve goodwill and reduce law suits.
We all make mistakes and when we do, as a general rule, we should fess up and fix it. It’s my experience on both a personal and professional level that when you are honest with your friends and partners, they feel validated and listened to … and they will work WITH you to help get the problem resolved. Refusing to admit the mistake leaves them no option except to get testy and aggressive.
In fairness to NFIB, I clicked through to another article that is far more sensible and offers advice on how to deal with customer complaints. Perhaps it’s just the title of this article and all it insinuates that I really object to.
A friend once told me, “If you have to ‘eat crow’, eat it while it’s hot.” I couldn’t agree more.
Have you ever had to apologize, admit an error, or bow and scrap before a customer? How did it go?
Green Marketing Grows Up
While some environmentally responsible organizations began incorporating green marketing initiatives into their overall business strategy as early as the 1970s, green marketing came into real prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. Today, green marketing has evolved into a sustainable movement that’s at the forefront of a growing number of CEOs, corporate boards and investors, too.
This evolution is clear in “The Sustainable Economy,” published in this month’s issue of the Harvard Business Review. The article is co-authored by the founder and chairman of Patagonia, known for its commitments to environmentalism and social responsibility, the founder of Blu Skye, a sustainability consultancy, and Patagonia’s VP for environmental initiatives.
The authors quickly acknowledge a simple problem in the quest for a sustainable economy: It’s generally cheaper to buy the product that has a worse impact on its environment than the equivalent product that does less harm. At least today that still holds true. But they go on to provide hope that three key developments in the quest for a sustainable economy will at some point inevitably converge, resulting in a new paradigm where a successful business and a sustainable business are one in the same. Could it possibly be so?
The first of these three developments is an effort to measure ecosystems in dollars and cents. While that may sound a bit “cold,” the authors make the point that while “the bounty of nature is priceless,” the failure to put a price on resources creates a mind-set in which they are treated as free. With a valuation system for natural resources, the “cost” of environmental damage and resource depletion can be factored into the bottom line as never before, making it more difficult for companies to downplay or disregard these impacts.
The second development also pertains to dollars – investment dollars, to be exact. Investors today increasingly use factors like environmental sustainability and social responsibility not only to filter out negative investment prospects but to positively valuate companies that limit their environmental impacts. These companies, investors are learning, are often better managed overall and their sustainability efforts help mitigate risks of negative impacts like regulatory enforcement actions, lawsuits and the depletion of natural resources essential to their business.
The third trend is the development of “value chain indices.” A VCI establishes parameters by which companies in a particular industry segment can be compared against one another. This tool could be used to weigh the difference between a company that generates a high volume of emissions that impact air quality, utilizes non-recyclable packaging and discharges toxic chemicals in the wastewater from its treatment process against another that powers its operations from renewable energy sources, minimizes packaging and uses recyclable materials and effective treats or reuses its wastewater.
All of these factors “add up,” if you will, to a very real and quantifiable impact to the bottom line that may finally take sustainability mainstream, not just for companies like Patagonia but for any value-seeking organization or investor.
Read the full article “The Sustainable Economy” by Yvon Chouinard, Jib Ellison and Rick Ridgeway in the October 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review. And let us know where your organization stands in this evolutionary chain. What types of green marketing strategies have you tried? And where does your organization fit into the sustainable economy of tomorrow?
As the mother of an (almost) two-year-old, taking turns is a frequent topic of conversation in my house. We’re still working on mastering the fine art of sharing but – despite an occasional “my turnnnn!”-induced meltdown – it’s a concept my toddler innately seems to grasp.
Aside from the occasional aggressive driver and that guy in the Southwest boarding line who pretends he didn’t see you, most adults seem to understand when it’s their turn as well. However, even the most fundamental lesson can be forgotten in the glare of the media spotlight. I was reminded of this recently when working with a hospital client that had been involved – ever so indirectly – in an unfortunate event that generated quite a bit of media attention. While I can’t share the details, I can tell you that the hospital did not cause the event, nor were any of its personnel involved. As news crews descended upon the hospital’s campus, the CEO – who understands the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with local media – began preparing for an on-camera interview.
Normally, this would be the right move. We often blog about the do’s and don’ts of media relations and the importance of being accessible – especially in times of crisis. Yet, speaking out on news that isn’t “your’s” can sometimes do more harm than good. Rather than respond to inquiries – and become the de facto point of information about this event, we advised the CEO to provide minimal information off camera and politely refer media to the local authorities for more detailed answers. As a result, the hospital was largely excluded from media coverage – likely a different outcome than if the CEO had gone through with the interview.
By acknowledging the incident without assuming ownership of it, the hospital made the best out of a bad situation. Yet, sometimes the lines aren’t as clear. When something bad happens to someone we know – even indirectly – it’s human nature to want to help by providing information and even expressing sorrow or regret. Apologies are appropriate in many cases, however they can backfire in others. While there are no “textbook” answers in public relations, it’s important to evaluate the pros and cons of each media request carefully. Stop and ask yourself “is it my turn to talk?” Sometime the answer will surprise you.
Photo by: Maggie Smith
Ever heard the saying any publicity is good publicity?
Until recently, one online retailer lived by that adage with astounding success. Like many people, I was aghast after reading a recent New York Times article profiling this retailer’s practice of leveraging negative customer reviews to secure top ranking in Google and other search engines. Essentially a nastier, online version of the famed Soup Nazi (minus the quality product that kept people lining up for punishment), the retailer achieved infamy by berating, harassing and even stalking customers and then capitalizing on their outrage as they posted negative comments
You see, in the world of search engine optimization (SEO) the more a site is talked about or linked to, the more important it becomes to search engines. It’s the same logic that makes blogs, in and outbound links and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter effective tools for raising your online profile. In this case, the retailer ignited such a fury in his customers that their angry comments actually helped propel his site to the top of Google rankings – ahead of national chain stores and even the designer eyewear brands it sold. Bad for their reputation? Yes. But also good for business… According to the retailer, his site’s top ranking translated into serious profits.
But karma – and, in this case, Google – appears to have had the last word. After initially side-stepping the issue in the NYT piece, Google took quick action – convening a team of experts and ultimately altering its search algorithms to exclude sites with significant negative feedback. While it won’t reveal its methods, Google addressed the issue on its blog – providing a straightforward and human response to this complex mathematical issue. Since then, the retailer has been arrested on charges of cyberstalking and fraud.
There are many lessons to be learned from this debacle. Of course, any publicity isn’t good publicity. (Just ask BP, Bernie Madoff or Segway.) But, more importantly, it underscores the fact that doing the wrong thing is bad for business. Always. Exploiting a loophole might result in short-term gain but will ultimately be outweighed by long-term consequences. It’s a lesson business-owners and marketers alike can take to the bank.
Hint: Don’t Gripe to the Customer About the Discount You Offer
I am a big fan of Groupons, the email coupon offers delivered to my inbox every day. I’ve purchased several over the last year and have visited a few new restaurants, shops and spas as a result.
While I have had a few great experiences, I’ve also been absolutely mystified by some of the businesses I’ve visited to redeem a Groupon I’ve purchased.
More than half the time, when I present the Groupon, the salesperson (and even the business owner!) rolls her eyes and starts complaining about the Groupon. I can’t believe that, instead of asking me if it’s my first visit to the store or just engaging in a friendly conversation with a customer, they whine to me about how much money they are losing on Groupons and how they can’t wait till the expiration date rolls around. It’s very awkward.
Somehow, I’m made to feel like I’m taking advantage of someone. Never mind the fact that I paid good money for the Groupon; never mind that the business entered into the coupon arrangement with full knowledge of the discount they were offering, I’ve gotten to where I’ve started to apologize for buying anything with it.
Instead of thanking me for shopping with them and trying to establish a relationship, it’s clear they can’t wait to get me out the door. It strikes me as such a loss. They’ve essentially “paid” to get me in there, and now they appear to resent the fact that I had the nerve to actually use the discount they offered.
I think Groupons are a great way for a business to promote its products and services for a relatively low marketing investment. Unless the proprietor is completely incompetent at pricing, businesses have to be making at least a small profit. And, even if they aren’t, they can use this successful bit of advertising to engage with the customer and let them know more about the services or products available.
Ask for my email addresses. Invite me back for a future sale. And how about this one: Say thank you for my purchase instead of huffing and sighing at the cash register.
I can name at least eight businesses where I will never again darken the door because of the way I was treated when using a Groupon. Did nobody ever teach these people anything about marketing – or customer service? A happy customer is a loyal and frequent customer. An unsatisfied customer tells ten people. Or, in my case, maybe a lot more.
Are you having this same experience with these Groupons?
Both PR firms and ad agencies have to be especially careful to fully disclose any association they have with a client when it comes to endorsing or even speaking favorably about the client or its products.
It’s quite simple, really. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t act like an unbiased consumer when you are speaking favorably about a client’s product or service; because you are not. If you are getting paid in any form, new regulations require that you clearly and prominently state your relationship to the client.
The regulation put into effect last year by the FTC prompted our firm to have several educational sessions, starting with me attending an excellent (albeit scary) presentation by an attorney who specializes in ad agencies. His stories made my hair stand on end…and I promptly shared them with our staff.
Then yesterday I read Michael Lasky’s PR Week article about a small PR firm recently busted by the FTC, with which it had to sign a consent decree agreeing to refrain from making any endorsements of their clients without acknowledging their relationship.
What is particularly interesting to me is that the PR firm had made the endorsements prior to December 2009 when the FTC issued their Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials.
For a variety of reasons, we are abundantly careful to make all necessary disclosures in our blogs, tweets and other consumer-generated media – most notably, because it is the right thing to do. However, the FTC action reminds me that we all may need periodic refresher courses on this subject.
Let us know of any great (or horrifying) case studies you may come across.