Friday, December 26, 2008

A 2008 Thank You!

Thank you for another enjoyable year and for supporting Season 2 of Client Service Insights. Listed below are the people who contributed to our conversation in 2008! Your comments, suggestions and insights are deeply appreciated. I hope you share your thoughts with us next year as well.

Have a safe and happy holiday season! See you in 2009!

Leo

Todd Andrlik, Gavin Heaton, Gerry Riskin, Darryl Ohrt, Drew McClellan, Kami Huyse, Michelle Golden, Tom Kane, Becky Carroll, Karen Miller Russell, Doug Simon, Martin Lynch, Leanne Heller, Jonathan Yarmis, Ampatzis Panagiotis, Joseph Wilburn, John Koetsier, Ruth Seeley, Jason Whitmen, Luke, Eric Montague, Michael Bourne, Larry Bodine, Tom Kane, More Partner Income, Rjon Robins, Jenny Love, Kevin O'Keefe, Jim Calloway, Dr. Alan Freitag, Stacia, Eric Eggertson, Marc Rapp, Liza Jones, Dan Hull, Maria Palma, Amanda Chapel, Matt Kucharski, Ben Waugh, Dr. Kent M. Keith, Kiker, John, Katie Paine, David Alston, David Maister, Laurie Wilhelm, Rodger Johnson, Geoff Livingston, David Mullen, Chris Brogan, Jose Teixiera, Jeff Davis, Scott Baradell, Sherrilynne Starkie, Lara Kretler, Lynn Crymble, Susan Iskiwitch, Angie Chaplin, Walter Stevenson, Sharon Bond, Joyce Lofstrom, Heather Yaxley, Tyler Hurst, Kristen Smith, Terry Morawski, Phil Gomes, Richard Rinyai, Robert French, Josh Morgan, Barbara B. Nixon, Todd Defren, Paul Ritchie, Timothy Parcell, Boyd Neil, Claire Celsi, Laurent Pfertzel, Catharine Montgomery, Rodger Johnson, Chris Mitchell, Jason Keeling, Andrew, Inga Rundquist, Michael Kolowich, Patrick J. Lamb, Brian Keith, Kelli Matthews, Shannon Paul and Ed Lee.

Monday, December 22, 2008

World's Best Client Service?

Well, I can't be sure exactly. There are some amazing client service organizations out there, and as I stated in one of my earlier posts, it should be noted that world's best client service organizations are not the ones seeking bailouts. Maybe great client/customer service matters after all.

So during this holiday season, for those of us who'd rather do our shopping from the comforts of home, there may be no better place to do so than amazon.com. For my money, amazon doesn't just deliver the best service among internet retailers, but arguably the best among everyone.

The site has just about anything you want. It's easy to navigate, even easier to place an order (or gift order) , and if you shop them often enough, you don't have to re-enter the same information over and over again. Amazon has a great tracking sytem and, best of all, if you have a question or problem, the Click-to-Call service is hard to beat. It's not only that you receive a call from an amazon.com rep at the click of your mouse, but the representative already knows why you're calling and stands ready to help you.

So if you have any last minute shopping, consider a place where you'll get great prices and world class service!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"An Unbeatable Combination"

When it comes to achieving excellence in client service, it's our duty to challenge our leaders, and it's their responsibility to listen to the professional judgment of subordinates.

As Warren Bennis explains, "The most important characteristic may be a willingness to tell the truth. In a world of growing complexity, leaders are increasingly dependent on their subordinates for good information, whether the leaders want to hear it or not. Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination."

At Seton Hall University's Learning Leaders Symposium, I offered ten keys to speaking truth to power:
  1. Trust yourself

  2. Consider it your responsibility to share your professional judgment

  3. Know your audience

  4. Prepare by understanding your point and anticipating any questions you may receive

  5. Make your point succinctly

  6. Do so in the broader interest, not self interest

  7. Persuade – don’t take ceremonial positions

  8. Be patient - let the information sink in

  9. Understand that bad news is better coming from you than from the outside

  10. Trust your leadership
Consider sharing your story of when you had to speak truth to power.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Life or Death?

Last month, I spoke at Seton Hall University's Learning Leaders Symposium in Phoenix on a topic I covered on this blog several months ago regarding our responsibility to speak truth to power in our organizations - to question our leaders and offer our professional judgment even if it conflicts with prevailing opinion. In my next post, I'll share the ten keys to speaking truth to power successfully, but before I do that, I want to share a story I heard about from Todd Defren.

It comes from a post titled Entrepreneurs and Leadership, where Richard Branson shares a brief anecdote about the importance of questioning our leaders. If you don't think it's a life or death issue. Guess again.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Seven Things You Don't Know About Me

Whenever I've asked for help or participation, my social media friends have always been there, so since I got tagged by Terry Morawski to participate in the Seven Things You Don't Know About Me series of blog posts, what was I to do? I'll keep it short:

1. In elementary school, I had a pen pal for five years. His name was Toshio Tsuchiya, and he lived in Yamanashi Japan. He would send me some amazing pictures, including dozens of shots of Mount Fuji. I've always wanted to climb it, and one of these summers soon, I plan to do so.
2. As a child I was a fanatic about astronomy and space travel. I never wanted to be an astronaut per se, but I did think about becoming an astronomer. My lack of talent in the sciences steered me in another direction.
3. The only thing I was more obssesed with as a kid than space exploration and Red Sox baseball was politics - and it remains a passion today. As a kid, I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1968. I memorized delegate data the same way most kids remembered batting averages, and I had a Humphrey for President sign on my bike. (Apparently, as a 9 year old, I was wise beyond my years). My role models were the politcal leaders of the day.
4. In my sophomore year, I played the lead role (Paul Berthalet) in our high school musical Carnival! The role was played on Broadway by Jerry Orbach. Not comparing the performance mind you, just the role.
5. I had the distinct honor of knowing and working for Senator Paul Tsongas. His intellect, humility, sense of humor, and quiet strength were simply extraordinary. I wish the country got to know him better.
6. In 1984, I drove Claude Pepper to the airport - just he and I in the car. We drove from New Bedford to Boston, which with traffic that day took about two hours. At the time, he was the oldest member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Chair of the powerful House Rules Committee. Mr. Pepper was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1936, lost his senate seat during the McCarthy era, and was later elected to Congress. You can only imagine the amazing stories. What a thrill!
7. I never left the U.S. until the age of 40. I've since been to about a dozen countries and look forward to visiting dozens more. There's no greater education than to travel both here and abroad to meet the people, walk the streets, and experience the wonder of our world's cultural fabric.
There you have it!
Now for a recap of the rules and a list of the seven people I plan to recruit for this task:
The rules (courtesy of TM):
Link your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post. Share seven facts about yourself in the post. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs. Let them know they’ve been tagged.
Here are my seven names:








Enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Birthday Parties?

In the MarketWatch interview I posted yesterday from Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner, he offers a number of insights that separate truly customer oriented companies from the rest. Here are three of them:


  1. Goldner and his team are always trying to learn from their customers. It's more than just pouring through research or getting feedback from retailers, it's about keeping your eyes open at the childrens' birthday parties of family and friends both here and around the world. To see, and pay attention to, how and why children are responding the way they do upon opening and playing with their gifts adds important insights to raw data.
  2. Goldner is clearly a man who listens more than he talks. His natural curiosity and desire to understand what's happening with every aspect of the company in every corner of the world is palpable. When it comes to his customers, Goldner not only wants to know what media they're watching, but how they're watching.
  3. Goldner fundamentally understands that he's not just in the toy business. He's not leading a company that manufactures products; he builds experiences that shape the lives of young people, their families, and their communities. Because this is the lens through which he views Hasbro, the Hasbro brand naturally belongs in the broad spectrum of consumer entertainment experiences.

It's no secret why Hasbro has transformed and why it will prevail even in these tough economic times. It also shouldn't be lost on anyone that the companies with a reputation for delivering for their customers are not the ones needing bailouts right now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

MarketWatch CEO of the Year 2008

Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner talks about how focusing on the customer transformed his business!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Helping Hand

When Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters talk about the customer coming second, this is not just advice for the management team; it applies to all employees. If a co-worker needs your help with something, sends you an e-mail, or leaves you a voicemail message, then you should respond with the same timeliness and enthusiasm that you would afford a client. If a co-worker needs your help, do it fast and do it well. Don't put them in a position where they have to ask you TWICE!

Sometimes co-workers and even family members say things to one another that they wouldn't dream of saying to clients or even perfect strangers. (I always liked the term perfect strangers. They're only perfect because we don't know them.) We simply don't always give our co-workers the same level of consideration we provide to our clients. And it's our clients who pay for it.

Making one another feel appreciated is not management's job alone. We all have to play a part. Be kind. Express appreciation. Go out of your way to help a colleague. Create a positive work environment. Think about how great your client service could be if everyone worked together in this fashion each and every day.

The person sitting next to you comes first; the client comes second. Employees are happier; the workplace is more productive, and your clients get better service. How 'bout giving yourselves a hand!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Back to Client Service

Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters wrote a book titled, The Customer Comes Second in 1992. They came out with a 10-year anniversary update in 2002. It was a book that inspired the culture I wanted to create in my company back in 1995 and served as the inspiration for my passion for client service today.

It's a basic but important read. While you might feel as if you can grasp the concept from the headline, that's true. Rosenbluth's theory was simple: if you want your people to deliver great service to your customers (clients), then you have to put your employees first. The genius of the book however is how Rosenbluth created that culture. It's sheer brilliance.

A Publishers Weekly review of the updated version tells the story nicely:

In an update to the volume they published 10 years ago, Rosenbluth, the CEO of an eponymous travel management company, and Peters, his former communications officer, remind readers that despite great changes in the business world, the need for companies "to attract, retain, and develop astonishingly great people" is a constant. They argue that company's employees, not its customers, should be management's top priority: managers should hire "nice people" and create an environment in which friendships can develop. Maybe it sounds a little wishy-washy, but it's worked for Rosenbluth International (NB: they have a 98% customer retention rate and $6.2 billion in annual sales). Tenets include: monitor company morale, keep leaders accessible, make your company "a lifestyle," offer lots of opportunities for learning new things, celebrate success, be flexible. By charting the changes within their own company, Rosenbluth and Peters show how other businesses can become better places to work as well.

I wrote to Rosenbluth in 1995 when I started my company. As you might imagine, he promptly wrote back to me and wished me luck. It may be one of the only letters I ever had framed. I hung it in my office back then and cherish it today as a reminder of the importance if its message.

American Express acquired Rosenbluth International in 2003 for what I can only say was for a "slightly higher" purchase price than I received when I sold my PR firm with only 10 employees three years earlier.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A New Era of Governance

After predicting a landslide nearly a month ago, albeit McCain did better than Goldwater, there wasn't much else to do but watch the election unfold. I might suggest that while much is being made of our electing America's first African-American president, my hope is that history will also regard this moment in time as the dawn of a new era of governance - a time when we transitioned from red states and blue states, back to the United States. We have tough challenges ahead, and I believe that we've elected the right leader to unify the country and move us forward to a brighter future for generations to follow. I haven't felt that way for quite some time.

While picking a big victory only a month or so ago is hardly noteworthy, I don't mind reprinting the post I wrote the day after he announced. At the time I was not only hopeful for the prospects of Obama as a candidate, but also optimistic that the country would be ready for his brand of leadership.

Public Service (Originally posted on February 11, 2007)
Yesterday was such an extraordinary day in U.S. history that it warrants a Sunday departure from client service to public service. At the old State Capitol Building in Springfield, Illinois, U.S. Senator Barack Obama electrified a crowd of several thousand to declare his candidacy for President of the United States. At the same place where Lincoln spoke of America as a house divided and challenged its citizens to recall the values of the nation's founding fathers, Obama asked America to join a collective campaign to unite us once again. To join a campaign for hope.
Though there are many political lifetimes between now and November of 2008, we may have witnessed the announcement of the next President of the United States. The prospect of winning is daunting to say the least. Obama has only been in the U.S. Senate for two years. If he were to win, he'd be the only Senator other than Warren Harding and John Kennedy to be elected to our nation's highest office.* What's more, he'd be the first African-American president in our country's history.
I'm sure there may be countless other reasons why Obama's prospects for victory are improbable. That's why his courage is so compelling. Yesterday, he invited America to get to know him better. To join his journey of hope. To share his vision for an America that can regain a positive standing in the world. To offer average voters a voice in Washington, and to unite a country that has been carved and divided between red states and blue states for too long.
The reason I think he'll win is because of what has shaped him. I'm not talking about his parents, mixed race background, political experience, or his time at Harvard Law School. Obama's greatest asset is his experience as a community organizer. It should be required duty for anyone who plans to run for public office. Grassroots community service promotes people who listen, people who care about the challenges that face average Americans, and those who truly understand that one person can make a difference.
Obama is a once in a generation candidate whose commitment to public service is actually greater than his personal ambition. He's a powerful combination of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Whether one is a Republican, Democrat or Independent, we owe it to ourselves as a country to listen as Obama makes his case for hope.
I'm ready to listen and maybe even get involved. In another lifetime, I was very engaged in political campaigns at the national level, but the changes that have occurred in how Presidential campaigns have been run since 1988 caused me to walk away from a process I once loved. If nothing else, we should applaud Obama's candidacy because we're likely to see a positive shift in how candidates and the news media conduct themselves in a Presidential campaign. We can only hope.
*For historical clarification, I should have been more specific, as there have been 15 U.S. Senators who have served as President, but only two elected directly from the Senate to the Presidency.
This blog will return to the topic of client service next week.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Forty-Four Years Ago

We're hearing quite a few references lately to what happened forty-four years ago. In discussing swing states, it's often said that the last time xyz state voted the Democratic ticket in a presidential campaign was forty-four years ago. It was also the year the Civil Rights Act became law and the last time a Republican Senator from Arizona served as the party's nominee for President.

While one of Goldwater's campaign themes was "America Needs A Change," consider also that the opposition painted him as erratic. Sound familiar? In three and a half weeks, history may repeat itself with a landslide victory for the Democrats. What's more, the promise of the Civil Rights Act may be realized far sooner than almost anyone would have ever predicted.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

McCain Ayers It Out

It's the politics of guilt by association, and it's been happening since the presidential campaign began nearly two years ago. Is it a valid point for criticism? I suppose in rare instances it could be, but in nearly all cases it's nothing but a desperate attempt at the kind of intellectual dishonesty that has scarred too many other campaigns during my lifetime.

Think about it in terms of your own life. Would you like to be tied to all the political views, bad judgments, or questionable actions of all your friends and family? How about with people with whom you may have sat on a not-for-profit board? You know, those people you saw maybe once every month or two, assuming you both attended all the meetings - people who you hardly knew other than to recognize them on the street. The result is you could be accused of exercising bad judgment for supporting a worthy cause. Nice. This is precisely the reason that a larger number of talented citizens don't run for public office.

The good news is that the more McCain "Ayers it out," the more the lead widens for Obama. That's not only good news for Obama, but with any luck, it's good for the future of American politics.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Listening and McCain's Disdain

Last night's town hall style debate was supposed to have been the forum in which John McCain would shine. Let's face it, he's held hundreds of them. I believe the Senator presided over 100 town hall gatherings in New Hampshire alone during the primary season. And it was his performance during those personal exchanges with New Hampshire voters that got him back into the race during primary season.

So why did post debate polls favor Obama? I believe in many respects it's less about what Obama said and more about how McCain listened. McCain's reference to Obama as "that one" only served to punctuate McCain's obvious disdain for his opponent - disdain made evident every time Obama addressed the audience.

You see, the difference between a town hall debate and a town hall meeting is that you have to share the stage with your adversary. How you well listen is just as important as how well you speak. And while it's important in any debate format, it's crucial in the more free-wheeling town hall setting. Over the course of 90 minutes, McCain was often disengaged when Obama spoke, sometimes walking aimlessly around the stage until it was his turn to speak again. There was a restlessness about him as he listened - a stark contrast to words about experience and being the steady hand during tough times. McCain was confident when he spoke but less likeable when he wasn't speaking, and it cost him with viewers last night.

To illustrate the point, I was driving home and had to listen to the debate on NPR. I thought McCain did pretty well in the scheme of things. It wasn't until I got home and watched a re-run on CNN that I realized why viewers sided so overwhelmingly with Obama in post-debate polls. I couldn't watch McCain listen on the radio. Seeing the exchange on TV completely changed my point of view.

It's a great lesson for all of us. While we may never have cause to participate in a nationally televised debate, it's important to understand that regardless of how well spoken one may be, people place a premium on listening. As well they should.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Rock 'em Sock 'em Politics

As rough as it can get in the primaries, there's nothing quite like general election nasty, particularly when (with 30 days to go) one side is looking at internal poll numbers and watching the election slip away.   You could argue that if McCain gets too rough, it could forever tarnish his reputation, and if Obama responds too harshly, it could impact his ability to govern in the bipartisan manner he's promised.  The history of past presidential campaigns has proven otherwise, and at this moment, the prospect of losing the race for the White House trumps all concerns of legacy or governance.   Sad but true. 

At a fundraiser over the weekend, Palin accused Obama of consorting with terrorists, and the Obama campaign plans to release a 13 minute documentary online at "high noon" today titled: "Keating Economics: John McCain and the Making of a Financial Crisis."  With the electoral map swinging in Obama's direction, look for 30 days of gloves off, no holds barred attack politics.  

What makes this year's general election Rock 'em Sock 'em affair more interesting is that there are still two debates left.  As early as tomorrow night, Obama and McCain will be face to face answering to one another as the American people look on.

We won't need John McEnroe for this one.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Where's John McEnroe When You Need Him?

Had John McEnroe been moderating the vice presidential debate, he would have taken a more, let's say, aggressive approach than did Gwen Ifill. When Sarah Palin expressly ignored the moderator's questions and chose simply to participate in her own debate, McEnroe would have exclaimed, "ANSWER THE QUESTION!!!" And if she continued to duck the questions, "YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!!!" Now that would have been entertaining television.

Early feedback from voters responding to who won the debate answered yesterday's question regarding what standard the public would set in evaluating Sarah Palin's performance. It's clear that they wanted to see if she were up to the job. And to be convinced of that, they wanted answers rather than rehearsed monologues. No knockout, but Biden clearly won on points and on substance.

The McCain debate prep team apparently operated under the time-honored philosophy that "spontaneity has its time and its place." The Rehearsed Talk Express continues - at least for another 32 days.

Pal-in Comparison

Well, the Dow is falling again today, but considering that the Senate didn't do anything that was unexpected, last night's vote had little effect on the reaction of Wall Street and companion global exchanges. We'll have to wait for the House vote for that. Of course the big story today is the Biden-Palin or Palin-Biden debate - depending on your political persuasion.

It will likely draw a bigger audience than Obama-McCain 1. First of all, it's not taking place on a Friday night, and second, people will be watching this for the same reasons they watch NASCAR or the Indy 500. People want to see the crash. They'll be watching and listening for the gaffe, stumble, or clever one-liner. Between the two candidates, the viewing audience likes the odds. Look for big numbers tonight.

Much has been made of the McCain campaign's efforts to lower expectations for Sarah Palin. Of course, recent Palin interviews have helped that cause as well. But tonight, it will be interesting to see what standard the viewing audience chooses when it comes to judging her performance. Does Palin have to be more substantive than Biden? Up for the job as Vice President? Show she has the capacity to step in as President? Of just perform better than she did during the Katie Couric interviews?

Given that we're a nation at war and confronting the most daunting economic crisis of our generation, I hope we set the bar high for both of them. I hope neither crashes. It would be terrific if we could simply hear 90 minutes worth of sound debate over issues that will shape America's future. Let's watch and see!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

From Client Service To Public Service

With only 34 days until the presidential election, it would seem that relevance trumps otherwise timeless conversation on the topic of client service. Since I've worked in dozens of campaigns, including two presidentials, my passion for public service and politics will move to the forefront - at least until the November election.

As I write this post, the Dow is down slightly after a record loss on Monday and a bit of a rebound yesterday, based largely on the hopes that despite the House vote against the bailout plan, there will be a deal in place by week's end. Let's see how the Senate steps up today and how the market responds.

This economic crisis has offered a rare blend of electoral politics and high stakes governance. There's nothing quite like watching the conflict between self preservation and doing what's truly best for the country. What's more, poor communication has been center stage as the public rages against a bailout plan that was horribly presented and so poorly explained to the American people.

Voters typically don't support bills (especially the $700 billion variety) when they don't understand the issue. Of course, since Capitol Hill doesn't trust the White House, voters don't trust Washington, and members of Congress (of which all 435 are up for re-election) need voters' support to get re-elected, therein explains the results of the House vote and the market's response.

It should be a fascinating week!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Are Pirates to Blame?

As Democrats and Republicans were pointing fingers and blaming one another for the defeat of the "Wall Street Bail Out" bill, the Dow lost nearly 800 points and we're now left holding our breath for yet another day. While it's clear we need to take a big step here, the country finds itself feeling like former Enron employees - the parallels are eerily similar. Just so happens that while we can tolerate the demise of Enron, letting the country go by the wayside isn't a viable option regardless of how violated we feel. Even Andrew Shepherd, in the movie American President, finally had to say, "Make the deal." With any luck, we'll get one by week's end.

So where do the pirates fit in here? Well I can't blame the Democrats or the Republicans (as much as I'd like to) for my recent blog-cation, so since we're fresh off International Talk Like a Pirate Day, pirates are as good an excuse as any. Anyway, it's great to be back on the keyboard again. Avast! It should be a fascinating week.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Arrrrgh...September 19th Is The Big Day

Ahoy Matey! View this important instructional video t' help you make t' most o' International Talk (Blog) Like A Pirate Day!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I AM A Pirate!

Before engaging in the particulars of how talking and blogging like a Pirate can help you in your quest for client service excellence, I should remind you that I AM a Pirate. As a graduate of Seton Hall University's MASCL program (Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership), I'm a proud Pirate and pleased to promote International Blog (Talk) Like A Pirate Day on September 19th.

In the meantime, I'm crafting my Pirate client service excellence post and have enlisted the fine people at Linkedin for their thoughts on the matter as well. I look forward to receiving more answers to my Linkedin question and any comments you may have about why you believe talking and blogging like a pirate are important client service skills. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Preparing For The Big Day!

Ahoy!

So what's blogging like a Pirate have to do with client service you ask? Well about two years ago, Todd Andrlik commented on a post I had written about what I once described as the pillars of client service excellence, and he pointed out correctly that I had left out the important skill of talking like a pirate. Ever since, I've always included talking like a pirate as necessary for anyone seeking to achieve true client service excellence. Over the course of the week, I'll explain. (Give me a day or two to come up with something!)

Avast! So if you learn to talk like a pirate, you should also learn to blog like one. But don't run before you can walk. Try this English to Pirate Translator on your Twitter posts this week. The goal is that with a little practice and some help from the E to P Translator, you'll be blogging like Edward Teach himself (aka Blackbeard) by Friday!

Please join Todd Andrlik and me along with countless others in spreading the word.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

9/11 Tribute

Join U2 for a few minutes of your day today in remembrance.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Phone Or E-Mail?

Another client service related post I've been saving for awhile is also from July by Rohit Bhargava titled: 37signals and Freshbooks Disagree On Customer Service 2.0.

I really enjoyed this post and hope you take the time to read through it and think about it as well - both from the perspective of a business owner and a customer/client. Rohit notes two persuasive, but conflicting opinions on the effectiveness and efficiency of e-mail versus phone when it comes to responding to customers. Have a read and let me offer the question Rohit asked in his original post:

"So here's an open question - which side of the debate do you fall on? In order to grow and be successful, can you really afford to take calls and have a human on the other side of the phone as Freshbooks does, or do you need to be hyper focused on efficiency like 37signals?"

Only 56 Days Until Election Day

What does this have to do with client service? In a tweet a week or two ago, Todd Defren stated that SHIFT Communications employees are being encouraged to vote before they come into work on election day. If they have to stand in line for 8 hours and don't make into the office, then so be it. Some things are more important. (I hope I've characterized this correctly).

Great client service can only come from satisfied employees, and part of keeping employees satisfied at the workplace is recognizing from time to time that life can be bigger than one's job. I've owned my own firm and have worked for others. The toughest part about working for others is having to live with their priorities. It's why identifying priorities is the first thing I look for when evaluating a company and its leadership.

Since election day isn't a national holiday (which I believe once every four years it should be), Todd is offering his people the next best thing. I believe his employees and clients are the big winners for it. With only 56 days to go before the culmination of the longest and most expensive presidential campaign in US history, consider offering your employees a similar consideration on this very important election day.

If Todd were running for office himself, he could easily claim that he made it easier for SHIFT workers to vote in presidential elections. Not bad.

Monday, September 8, 2008

More Than 35 Examples

In late July, Aaron Uhrmacher, posted 35+ Examples of Corporate Social Media in Action at Mashable Social Networking News. I've been meaning to write about this post for awhile now.

This is an extremely valuable collection of stories you may find very helpful in sharing with clients and prospects. Most of us have few examples, if any that we can share, of how companies have used social media to their benefit. What's more, this post offers a wonderful range of ways companies used it to underscore their particular brand.

If you have clients who are hesitant about engaging in social media, send them the link. No pressure, just send it as an FYI and see how they respond. For the PR agency pros out there, read the examples, commit your favorites to memory, and use them to illustrate your point the next time you're speaking to a prospect or client about social media. Finally, and arguably most important of all, send this link to your colleagues and schedule a brown bag lunch to discuss the content, identify your favorites, and shape your own point of view.

What are your favorites?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Are You Smarter Than This 5th Grader?

Dalton Sherman is a 5th grader at the Charles Rice Learning Center in Dallas. He may not be smarter than you NOW, but he may already be a better presenter. Take the time to watch and enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Convention(al) Wisdom on Leadership

Convention season in the US offers us a wonderful opportunity to watch some eloquent speakers wax poetic on their vision of the world; while admittedly, they also work to demonize the opposition as either un-American or out of touch. But if you love language, it's entertaining to listen to a speaker turn a phrase or paint a picture to make a point regardless of whether you may agree with it.

Of all the great passages I've heard over the past few weeks, (and I'm sure they'll be many more by Thursday night), I was particularly struck by a phrase Bill Clinton used last Wednesday night. It wasn't a partisan potshot, but a profound statement about leadership. And one that's as relevant to business as it is to politics. In speaking to the role of the United States as a world leader, he said (and I'm paraphrasing), the world has always been more impressed with the power of our example than by the example of our power.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, were likely beaming at such a remark. Among their five leadership practices, they advocate the importance of modeling the way. "Leaders set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values."

Everyone knows that staying true to one's values is easier during good times than during difficult times. For whoever becomes president, I hope he takes the concept of modeling the way to heart. Our standing in the world depends on it, and it will also serve as a model for the leaders with whom we work each and every day.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Keep Thanking It Forward

Welcome back from the long weekend!

For you bloggers out there, you know all too well that we not only depend on those we know in social media circles, but also on those we have yet to meet. That's what keeps writing a blog interesting!

Remember, a blog is only as strong as the conversation it inspires. I hope to inspire your continued participation in the months ahead. In the meantime, if you write a blog and don't do so already, thank those who contribute to your conversations at least once a month - thank it forward, and you'll likely meet some wonderful new people as a result.

The following people were generous enough to contribute to our conversation here at CSI/Season 2 this past month. As always, I'm grateful for your participation and hope you continue to offer your insights.

Todd Andrlik, Gavin Heaton, Gerry Riskin, Darryl Ohrt, Drew McClellan, Tom Kane, Becky Carroll, Karen Miller Russell, Doug Simon, Martin Lynch, Leanne Heller, Jonathan Yarmis, Ampatzis Panagiotis, Joseph Wilburn, John Koetsier, Ruth Seeley, Jason Whitmen, Luke, Eric Montague, Ben Waugh, Kiker, John, Katie Paine, David Alston, David Maister, Laurie Wilhelm, Rodger Johnson, Geoff Livingston, David Mullen, Chris Brogan, Jose Teixiera, Jeff Davis, Scott Baradell, Sherrilynne Starkie, Lara Kretler, Lynn Crymble, Heather Yaxley, Tyler Hurst, Kristen Smith, Terry Morawski, Phil Gomes, Richard Rinyai, Robert French, Josh Morgan, Barbara B. Nixon, Todd Defren, Paul Ritchie, Timothy Parcell, Boyd Neil, Claire Celsi, Laurent Pfertzel, Catharine Montgomery, Shannon Paul and Ed Lee.

Last month, CSI/Season 2 held a subscription drive. So if you didn't sign-up then, please do. You may elect to receive it by e-mail or use your favorite RSS reader. On to September!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Customers First

So do you think they're taking the idea of trying to please the customer (individual viewer) too far? Enjoy the long weekend!

Five Creativity Tools For You

As we head into a long weekend, I thought I'd try to inspire your creativity with five simple online tools. Take some time to give them a try and share some of your favorites with CSI readers. Creativity and client service are two sides of the same coin; it’s about seeking solutions beyond the obvious, showing you care beyond the expected, and finding simplicity in the complex.

Crayola - By visiting Crayola.com you can tap into the creative fearlessness of your inner child and create greeting cards and crafts that are similar to what we made as kids when instead of buying cards or gifts at the store, we'd make our own.

Jackson Pollock-A-Scetch - If you really want to have some freewheeling fun, this tool is for you. Just start dragging your mouse along the white screen and with every mouse click you can change color. It offers hours of enjoyment.

Wordle - Use wordle.net to make a picture out of as many words as you like. It's one of my favorite ways to create a visual depiction of the qualities we see in others.

BeFunky - Barbara Nixon told me about BeFunky Cartoonizer. It's easy to use and will take any photograph and turn it into a B&W or color scetch. You probably already run across them all the time and wonder how they were created.

Dumpr - According to the site, "Dumpr is where you create marvelous photos to share with your friends." I used it to make the "painting" of myself you see hanging in the museum above.

Like most things in life, you can hone your creative skills by taking time to create things. Practice doesn't always make perfect, but practice almost always makes you better. Don't forget to share some of your favorite online creative tools as well!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Pixar Principles

Yesterday, I posed the question that Ed Catmull discusses in the Harvard Business Review article titled: How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity. The question is essentially whether it's tougher to find good people or good ideas. Catmull understands that good people is where good ideas come from and that fostering the type of environment which nurtures and inspires creativity is what separates Pixar from so many other organizations.

As is so often the case, the genius of Pixar's operating principles lay in their simplicity:
  1. Everyone must have the freedom to communicate with everyone.
  2. It must be safe for everyone to offer ideas.
  3. We must stay close to innovations happening in the academic community.
My friends at PROpenMic will be delighted with number 3, but all the principles are applicable to all types of organizations. The lessons from Pixar are not only found in the three principles outlined here and explained further in the article, but also in the fundamental value of looking outside one's particular profession or industry sector for lessons that can make us better.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Client Service, Creativity & Pixar

Clients expect creativity from their agencies. It should be among the reasons your agency is part of the team. So if you're looking to model others when it comes to fostering a creative environment, who do you model? Other PR firms? Or companies outside the PR profession?

I'm not trying to make this Harvard Business Review Week at CSI/Season 2 (although that wouldn't be such a bad idea), but I do want to share one of my favorite articles from the September 2008 issue, How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity.

Consider this anecdote from Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios president, Ed Catmull:

"A few years ago, I had lunch with the head of a major motion picture studio, who declared that his central problem was not finding good people—it was finding good ideas. Since then, when giving talks, I’ve asked audiences whether they agree with him. Almost always there’s a 50/50 split, which has astounded me because I couldn’t disagree more with the studio executive. His belief is rooted in a misguided view of creativity that exaggerates the importance of the initial idea in creating an original product. And it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how to manage the large risks inherent in producing breakthroughs."

So what's tougher? Finding good people or good ideas? I encourage you to read the article. Tomorrow, I'll look at some of Catmull's practices and principles for managing creative talent and fostering a relentlessly creative work environment. I look forward to the conversation!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Client Service Excellence and Leading for Loyalty

Just before leaving for a recent trip, I received the September 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review. As usual, I read it cover to cover and enjoyed the insights, ideas, and wisdom contained within. But before I talk about September, I'd like to recall an HBR OnPoint piece written by Frederick F. Reichheld in 2001 that I think sets a great tone for the week: Lead for Loyalty.

If you aspire to becoming a world class client service organization, leading for loyalty is a great place to start. Here are Reichheld's six loyalty principles:
  • Preach what you practice. It's not enough to have the right values. You must clarify them and hammer them home to customers, employees, suppliers and shareholders through your words and deeds.
  • Play to win-win. If you are to build loyalty, not only must your competitors lose. Your partners must win.
  • Be picky. At high loyalty companies, membership is a privilege. Clarify the difference between loyalty and tenure.
  • Keep it simple. In a complex world, people need small teams to simplify responsibility and accountability. They also need simple rules to guide their decision making.
  • Reward the right results. Save your best deals for your most loyal customers, and save your best opportunities for your most loyal employees and partners.
  • Listen hard, talk straight. Visit call centers, internet chat rooms, and anywhere else customers offer feedback. Make it safe for employees to offer candid criticism. Use the Loyalty Acid Test survey. Explain what you've learned and communicate the actions that will be taken.
You can see where if this article were written in 2008, Reichheld would have likely included social media among the ways we need to listen hard and talk straight. I look forward to this week's conversation!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Good Call

Well, it's time again for Client Service Excellence Video Fun Friday. Where did the week go? Let's just hope the customer washed his hands! Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Bolt of Excellence

Usain Bolt may have had competitors, but not much competition as he set a new world record in the 200m event in Beijing yesterday. Look at the race and consider its relevance to you and your business. Ask yourself if you could create the kind of distance from your competitors that Usain Bolt did.

In Jim Collins' book Good to Great, he refers to the Hedgehog Concept. Collins suggests you ask yourself three questions:
  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • What can you be the best in the world at?
  • What drives your economic engine?
Collins essentially says good can be the enemy of great. "To go from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence." Agencies don't deliver great client service because they are already pretty good at it. If you want to separate yourself from the pack, consider taking your commitment to client service excellence to an all new level.

Take a look at what excellence looks like. By the way, if you don't speak the language, don't worry. There's no mistaking what's going on!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Fourth R

Laurent Pfertzel, co-founder of eCairn, recommended that a fourth R should be added: Relevancy. It's hard to argue with the importance of relevance. We look for it in what we read, strive for it in how we write, and use it as a means to identify the people with whom we associate.

Online and off line, we tend to build relationships with people who have common interests and priorities. Relevance is based on a shared sense of purpose. Your personal brand is brought to life by what you care about and how you engage with others. Relevance empowers the other three Rs.

So would you rather be liked, disliked or irrelevant? I'd take the first two any day.

Susan Sontag once said, "Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future."

So read, write, build relationships and for heaven's sake be relevant. Thanks Laurent!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Social Media's Three Rs

What are they? Reading, Writing, and Relationships. And by recycling the recycling logo itself, we even have a fitting graphic for the 3 Rs of social media.

I've spent several posts on writing blogs and reading content from others online, but the most important R of all is relationships. It's what makes social media social. From the comfort of your own home or office, you can build real relationships with customers and countless other stakeholders anywhere in the world. You can share ideas with the terrifically smart individuals you'll discover and build lasting friendships with people whom you may never meet face-to-face.

It's actually amazing how well you can get to know someone online. To illustrate the point, one of my former learning team members in Seton Hall's MASCL program is a dentist. He told me that he got to know his online classmates better than he did the students he sat next to everyday in dental school. It's kind of like the difference between staying in a hotel and taking a cruise; there's something about everyone being in the same boat that promotes an entirely different level of interaction and sharing.

Social media provides a plethora of reading, writing, and relationship resources. Let's face it, the three Rs of social media and the three Rs of PR are two sides of the same coin. Now you just have to convince the rest of your colleagues.

Once You Start Writing, You Need To Read Even More!

Yes, it's true. Once you start writing your blog, others who write blogs will find you and you will in turn visit their blogs, read what they have to say and contribute further to the conversation. That's how it works. It's how you grow and how the conversation grows. It's how you build relationships and why it's imperative for PR professionals to join the conversation. We ARE IN the relationship business!

Here's a list of client service blogs along with many of my other favorites. I hope you add them to your favorites. Pardon me if you know I read your blog and for some reason you are not on this list - please just send me a comment/link, and I'll add you immediately!

Client Service Blogs Other Great Blogs I Read

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Don't Get Crazy!

For the past week we've been talking about the importance of understanding social media to delivering truly excellent client service. I even went so far as to say, that in today's day and age, if you're providing PR counsel to your clients and you don't have a working knowledge of social media, then you're delivering PR-lite at best. And if you're a client, and your outside PR counsel looks confused when you talk about blogs, Twitter, Linkedin, etc., then you should run - don't walk, run!

Well it appears that for some of our colleagues, their zeal to become educated has sadly turned into an addiction.

In Todd Andrlik's informative post (and vivid imagery) on the subject, he points us to The Center for Internet Addiction. Get informed and engaged with social media, but don't let this be you someday.

I look forward to continuing our conversation this week in good conscience, as you've been so advised.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Auto "Out of Office" Replies

I've never been a big fan of the auto "out of office" e-mail reply. In most cases today, what does being out of the office have to do with your relative accessibility? They're way overused. Most of the time, I receive an auto out of office reply message only to be followed by an actual reply five minutes later. In fairness, they do have some utility, particularly if you're traveling out of the country and your times zones fall dramatically out of sync or if you're in one of these all day meetings with only short breaks in between where it can be extremely difficult to get back to clients or colleagues on a timely basis.

Vacations? Well that's a choice. Some people like a total break from the workplace. For me, I'd rather take a little time each day to keep up with my e-mail so I don't have hundreds of them sitting there upon my return.

Todd Andrlik offered what he describes as the Top Ten "Out of Office" Auto Replies. While Todd's Top 10 may be a little over-the-top and turn more than a few heads at your office, if you have to use an auto "out of office" reply, then at least be a little creative!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Client Service and Employee Communication

I've always believed great client service is a team sport, and great internal communication is the glue that bonds the team. Kudos to Barbara B. Nixon who earlier in the week shared this very entertaining video link on twitter. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Post Time

Once you've read a number of blogs, decided what you want to write about, and for whom, it's time to just do it. It's post time. Now a personal commitment I made when I started my first blog at Collective Conversation, and one which I've continued here at CSI/Season 2, is to post at least every business day. Do you need to post daily? Of course not, but you should offer new content as often as practical. Give your audience a reason to keep coming back. While some people ask me how I find the time, I tell them I steal it whenever I can. I regard my blog as a labor of love; it's simultaneously relaxing and stimulating.

Many of my close friends kid me about having run out of material a long time ago. I tell them that as long as I continue to read some of the great blogs I enjoy out there, they'll always offer me fresh ideas. That said, rather than provide the typical list of what I believe makes for a successful post, I'll simply say that it's important to find your voice and to offer variety with passion.

Finding your voice takes time, but you'll know it when you find it. I try first and foremost to be myself which I believe delivers a voice of self-deprecating authority, with a dash of humor. Most importantly, I want readers to feel that I put extra effort into every post. Kind of like the athlete who hustles all the time, where even if he/she has a bad night, you can't help but acknowledge the effort. I'd be interested in how others perceive this blog's voice, but for what it's worth, it's how I would describe it.

Finally, when it comes to posts that keep the content fresh for you and your audience, offer as much variety as possible. I've written short posts and long posts (be sure to include links). I've included videos, charts, quirky photos, interviews, polls, contests, you name it. Putting that extra bit of thought into not only what you want to write, but also how you want to express it is the key. I know I appreciate it as a reader.

If you are looking for a fun list of what makes for a great post, I'll direct you to Five Ways To Make Your Blog Post Worth Reading at Life Is Colourful where I borrowed the "How 2.0 Blog" button. More on this subject next week! Don't forget: Friday is Fun Video Day! See you then!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Writing A Blog

"Now you can show the whole world why no one listens to you." Yes, that's the line under the word BLOGGING, courtesy of diy.despair.com. I believe this is one part of writing a blog that I've mastered. Let me start by saying that I'd like to divide my ramble about writing a blog into two parts. The first relating to the "strategic aspect" of what to write and to whom to write for. On Thursday, I'll address the tactical aspects of what I've learned about posting.

Let's deal with "what" first. Up until my very first post, I planned to write about crisis communications because I served on Hill & Knowlton's crisis specialty group and I felt comfortable with the subject matter. However, I was also Director of Client Service for the US and concluded that client service was not only a sustainable topic that offered me lots of opportunity for variety and creativity, but also a subject that I didn't find being written about much in PR blogs at the time. It seemed a good combination of personal passion and opportunity.

Regarding whom, my blog is for people primarily in PR, or in other professional service businesses, who are truly passionate about client service. This is where you come to learn what I refer to as the blogger's survival credo: The true measure of a blog is who reads it, not how many. I learned quickly that despite being part of Hill & Knowton's Collective Conversation, which is a bit like a high-rise condo for bloggers, building any kind of critical readership mass, even among the neighbors so to speak, can be a challenge.

The bottom line is to write to your passion and an audience will follow. (Remember, it's about who, not how many). Pour yourself into every post and update your blog as often as you can. My favorite blogs are written by people who clearly love to post, and every post shows it.

Writing a blog has allowed me to discover some great bloggers and even more social media tools. The comments I receive have offered me a wealth of perspective on client service and the PR business in general. What's more, I've met (online) some of the smartest people I've ever known. Engaging in social media, starting with reading and writing blogs, has been among the most rewarding learning experiences of my career. That's why after suspending my blog at H&K, I was compelled to launch CSI/Season 2!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Reading Blogs

For me, reading blogs is where my education in social media began in earnest. (And where it continues today). Though I was interested in the idea of writing a blog, I considered that similar to writing a book, I should probably read a few first before I attempt to author one. So I did.

I spent several weeks reading blogs from colleagues at Collective Conversation, and then I ventured into other blogs about PR as well as those about politics, entertainment, journalism, etc. In most cases I found the writing to be refreshing. Informal, but direct. And more often than not, quite intelligent.

The lessons for "traditional PR" were hard to miss - most especially the bad habit of PR people to drift into corporate speak. That's a no-no off line and online. That alone, made my foray into blogging worthwhile.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about diving in to write my first blog.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Client Service and The Blog

It was not long after this BusinessWeek cover appeared on newsstands in the Spring of 2005 that I began reading blogs. As I had mentioned previously, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with my lack of knowledge of the blogosphere and social media tools in general. As the sub-head reads: Catch up...or catch you later. I headed the warning, and I'm very glad I did. (Note: BusinessWeek updated its article earlier this year).

While some may regard this as harsh, I don't believe you can serve today's public relations client without a working understanding of social media and the broader discipline of digital communication. And clients shouldn't pay hundreds of dollars an hour for PR-lite. Now if you're reading this blog (along with many others I hope), you've already taken steps toward becoming more educated about how to leverage social media to build important relationships for your clients. This is a good thing.

Over the next several weeks, I'll walk you through my personal social media journey. One that started with reading blogs, later writing one, and then testing a number of social media sites, where by trial and error (with an emphasis on error), I began to understand the power of these incredible tools. If you're comfortable taking a journey that will likely never end, come aboard.

As I recount my experiences, I look forward to you sharing yours and our learnng from one another. If we play our cards right, we'll illustrate how a blog can serve as a powerful (and inexpensive) professional development tool. I look forward to our conversation over the coming weeks.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Client Service "Google" Insights

In David Mullen's post, New Google Tool for Big Marketers, he introduces his readers to a new service from Google called Google Insights for Search (beta), which offers just that. For example, I was able to check search for client service and learn which are the top 10 countries that demonstrate interest in searching for the term.

Sadly, the U.S. was not on the list.


Maybe someday the U.S. will break into the top ten. We can only hope!

Client Service and The Relationship Toolbox

Bryant Hilton writes a blog called Great Communicate. In his post It's All About Networking, Bryant talks about online and offline persona and touches on the relationship tools available to us today whether it's blogs, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

In my comment to Bryant, I briefly explained that several years ago I participated in a client meeting and when the subject of social media came up I was really at a loss. I left the meeting believing that if I didn't learn about social media soon, I would be left behind. (Mowing lawns in 5 years is what I muttered to myself). So I took the plunge. What I soon realized is that to learn social media you've got to engage in it. In the same way you couldn't learn to play golf by reading a book, social media can't be taught, it must be learned.

With the help of Niall Cook at H&K, I started a blog and have been learning ever since. As PR professionals, we're in the business of building relationships. To serve our clients well, we need to understand and avail ourselves of all the relationship tools necessary to be successful.

Over the next several posts, I'd like to share what I've learned and invite you to share your experiences as well. We're all learning. Let's do it together.

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