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.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cutting Edge Customer Service

How one company won a customer for life. Pretty sharp! Have a great weekend?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Client Service and Google (The Conclusion)

In Chris Brogan's post, Google Gets Back To Nick, we learn that the story of the disabled Google account not only has a happy ending for Nick Saber, but also comes to a reasonable conclusion for the rest of us Google users, who otherwise may have been left to wonder if we would be the next one to receive a "Saber Surprise."

Chris points out that there had to be a better way to handle this than to make Nick, and by proxy the rest of us, sweat this out for a day and a half. So could Google have handled it better? Communicated more clearly perhaps? Or were there other considerations that may have compromised the investigation so to speak had Google been more forthcoming earlier?

We may never know, but I can't help think that Chris Brogan played a role in accelerating the process that eventually relieved Nick of his angst. Looks like a little "Saber Rattling" did the trick. Nicely done!

Client Service and Google

I just read Chris Brogan's post When Google Owns You, and I'll have to admit to being stunned by what I read. It's the story of Nick Saber and how he returned from lunch this past Monday to learn he'd been shut out of his gmail along with his other Google accounts.

Worse yet, under the guise of "privacy issues," Nick can't find out how or why this happened. If Google won't tell Nick why his account was disabled without warning, Google should tell us why such a fate can't happen to us and do it fast. I need to know, and you should too!

I use many of the Google apps, which causes me concern about the prospect that at any given moment, I could lose access to my blog posts, family photos, e-mails, etc. It's unsettling to say the least. Nick and Google users in general deserve an explanation. I plan to contact Google about this issue, and I suggest you do so as well. I'll let you know what I hear. If you'd like to contact them also, here's the link!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What Client Service Really Means - Part 2

In yesterday's post What Client Service Really Means, I highlighted a post from AdPulp about David Wieden's speech that advocated placing the work over the client relationship.

Wieden makes a practical point here, but I wonder if we're talking about valuing the work over the client relationship or challenging the client and the agency to keep the work separate from the relationship.

Selling new work to a client is a negotiation; Roger Fisher and William Ury, authors of Getting To Yes - Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In say:

"Dealing with a substantive problem (the work) and a maintaining good working relationship need not be conflicting goals if the parties are committed and psychologically prepared to treat each separately on its own legitimate merits. Base the relationship on accurate perceptions, clear communication, appropriate emotions, and a forward-looking, purposive outlook. Deal with people problems directly; don't try to solve them with substantive concessions."

Assuming you've chosen your clients well, I believe this is the stronger way to look at it. A commenter yesterday remarked that a good relationship involves the client trusting the agency. I would only add that a great relationship is when they trust each other. Clients who believe you place them or the relationship second are often the same clients who accuse agencies of not listening and being arrogant.

I would advocate keeping the relationship separate from the work, but not second to it. What do you say?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What Client Service Really Means

What "Client Service" Really Means is the title of a recent post by David Burn on the blog AdPulp. Burn recounts the remarks from a speech given by David Wieden of Wieden + Kennedy about the importance of the work coming first - before the client relationship. Wieden said:

"In big agencies, the client/agency relationship is the most sacred thing. The difficulty seems to be that the work then serves the relationship, and everything becomes political. And when things get political, the work suffers. And when the work suffers, the business suffers, then the client agency relationship suffers, and you suffer.

"And when we say the client/agency relationship is second to the work, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Because the work is a direct reflection of the quality of that relationship. If it is strained, the work shows it. If people are having fun, it shows. If people are bleeding, it shows. If people are just trying to turn other people on, it shows."

This line of thinking squares with what Roger Fisher and William Ury describe in their book Getting To Yes - Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. They note: "Every negotiator has two kinds of interests: In the substance and in the relationship." Often times, the closer the relationship, the more that parties are likely to compromise, which can often lead to results that are not completely satisfying to either side.

Wieden says putting the work first is the only practical solution. Is he right? Or is there another way?

Friday, August 1, 2008

"Relentless Thanks" To Continue

I'd like to think there's some real synergy between Mullen's team blog relentlessPR and CSI/Season 2. That being the case, there's no reason not to continue to reward those who contribute to the conversation with two links rather than one. So the monthly tradition continues! Contribute to the conversation either here or at relentlessPR and get a double-link thank you!

So a relentless thanks to:

Todd Andrlik, Gavin Heaton, Gerry Riskin, Tom Kane, Becky Carroll, Karen Miller Russell, Doug Simon, Martin Lynch, Leanne Heller, Jonathan Yarmis, Ampatzis Panagiotis, Joseph Wilburn, John Koetsier, Ruth Seeley, Luke, 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, Robert French, Josh Morgan, Barbara B. Nixon, Todd Defren, Paul Ritchie, Timothy Parcell, Boyd Neil, Claire Celsi, and Ed Lee.

Earlier in the 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.

A blog is only as strong as the conversation it inspires. Thanks for your support! On to August!

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