September 7, 2014


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Surprise Your Customers

Remember when you used to stick your hand into a box of Cracker Jacks to find the prize buried deep inside? In retrospect, the offerings weren’t all that grand but the element of surprise was magical.

Management writer Peter Economy, on Inc.com, suggests that you need to find a way of instilling such gems into dealings with your customers. To gain customer satisfaction, focus on customer surprise:

  • Put a surprise inside: So you don’t sell Cracker Jacks, but maybe there’s a way you can still surprise your customers with something extra. He suggests, for example, that a car dealer could set the stations on the new vehicle’s radio to match those programmed on the trade-in.
  • Provide service before the sale: Think about the entire customer experience and devise ways to add some surprise and delight before the sale.
  • Slash wait times: This won’t come as a surprise to you, but customers don’t like waiting. “Bureaucracy needs to be replaced with customer-friendly processes. Be easy to do business with, and your customers will reward you over and over again,” he advises.
  • Turn an “oops” into an opportunity: When you fumble, recover strongly, with grace. Customers don’t expect you to be perfect but they do expect you to care and you can show it after a goof, creating a surprising degree of customer loyalty.
  • Happy birthday every day: Treat your customers every day as if it’s their birthday, making a big deal about them – a surprise they will cherish.

2. Rules For Your Inbox

Our inboxes don’t mean to harass us. But they often do, piling up messages for us to sort through. You undoubtedly have some rules for controlling the stream, but here are some more you could employ from social media executive Alexandra Samuels’ post on Harvard Business Review Blogs:

  • You miss important messages in a sea of newsletters: You may have a system for filtering newsletters, but she suggests using a rule that checks for common bulk mail phrases such as “to unsubscribe click” and “please unsubscribe”, streaming them all into a separate folder. If you want a separate folder just for your deal alerts, filter emails with both unsubscribe links as well as phrases like “sale” and “deal.”
  • You keep checking for an anticipated email: Create a rule that will forward that important email to your mobile phone as a text message as soon as it arrives. Then you don’t need to keep checking your inbox.
  • You’re frazzled from juggling too many projects: If your inbox is jammed with emails from a slew of projects, set up folders for each major project, account, or area of responsibility you handle. In effect, each initiative then has its own inbox, and you can go through it when focused on that specific work.
  • You spend too much time on scheduling: If the day is swallowed up by emails coming in to schedule meetings, send all calendar requests and RSVPs (anything with an .ics file attached) to a special folder. Review those once a day.

3. Three Critical Ways To Use Time

Time is one of your greatest assets. And leadership blogger Ron Edmondson says it’s important you devote yourself to these three critical aspects of time:

  • Time reflecting on past experiences: Leaders must evaluate where they have been and what they have done, or they’ll soon be disappointed in where they are going.
  • Time focussing on current tasks: Leaders must take care of the immediate needs of the organization. “The busier a leader becomes … the more he or she tends to naturally neglect the routine tasks required of everyone. Things like returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner, for example, remain critical at every level of leadership,” he writes.
  • Time dreaming about the future: Leaders must spend time thinking – dreaming, actually – about the future. The larger your responsibilities or organization, the more time must be spent on this activity.

4. Don’t Skimp On Coffee

Chief Technology Officer Matt Holford says coffee is a Rosetta Stone, a way for your staff and others to evaluate your culture and commitment to employees. Even stable and well-funded companies show their hand, cutting off free coffee or providing a cut-rate stale offering from the office supply store.

In a Keurig era, you can, and should, do better, providing the best — for free. If not, he notes, your staff leave the building regularly, at a cost in productivity to your organization. “The twice-a-day Starbucks run is the modern smoke break,” he observes on FastCompany.com.

5. Zingers

  • Hare or Tortoise: Do employees prefer a quick, decisive leader or a slower, deliberative thinker? Both, it turns out, at the right time. New research suggests people seem to be less drawn to and less open to being influenced by individuals who overthink small decisions or underthink big ones. (Source: Professor Michael Roberto’s Blog)
  • Use Familiar Icons: A user’s experience with a web site icon is based on previous experience and since there are few universal icons —home, print, and magnifying glass are amongst that small number— assume people viewing your pages are unfamiliar with such graphics and insert text labels to communicate meaning and reduce ambiguity. (Source: Nielsen Norman Group)
  • Let The Best Idea Win:  President Narinder Sing of Topcoder, which administers computer programming competitions, says the best leaders aren’t afraid to be challenged, even if that means they won’t always seem to be the smartest person in the room: “If I have somebody working for me who’s really good, I should lose 80 per cent of the arguments I have with them because they should know their area better than I do. People have to feel that the best idea wins.” (Source: New York Times)
  • Don’t Hide Behind: Trainer Dan Rockwell advises: “Stop using others as excuses. You are smaller than the people you hide behind.” (Source: Leadership Freak)
  • For Change, Lean On Leaders: Delegating is fine for day-to-day operational matters but consultant Susan Cramm warns that for difficult, strategic, change-oriented initiatives, you need hands-on leadership by senior executives: they have the passion, perspective, and power to make it happen. (Source: strategy + business)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Stimulating Word of Mouth

Question: How can we use word of mouth more effectively to promote our services?

8020Info president and CEO Rob Wood responds:

There is probably no more powerful influence in marketing than word of mouth (or click). Some studies suggest that 20-50% of all purchasing decisions, for example, are based on what our neighbours recommend, family members praise and friends endorse. At the same time, social transmission is probably one of the trickiest marketing forces to “manage”.

We have suggested some techniques here before — making your message “sticky”, making it easy to pass along, using demos and samples to “seed” your story, promoting it through people who are active and/or influential connectors, and reaching out to small social networks that may be isolated but internally well connected.

Last year Jonah Berger published the readable Contagious: Why Things Catch On, which not only explains the sometimes surprising dynamics that drive word of mouth but also presents his STEPPS framework for making your message more infectious:

  • Social Currency:  How does your news make people look in a social context — smart or dumb? Cool? In the know? Fashionable? Helpful? Caring?
  • Triggers:  What cues might trigger people to think about your message by association? (The way, for example, peanut butter might make you think of jam, or coffee cueing thoughts of a particular doughnut shop).
  • Emotion: When we care, we share. How is your message connected to feelings? Does it have arousing emotional content — concern, inspiration, annoyance or humour? Emotion drives action (such as passing along your news).
  • Public Visibility: Does your idea or service advertise itself? Can people see that other people use it or endorse it? (Think of the distinctive Apple logo that’s clearly visible when someone is using one of their products.)
  • Practical Value:  People like to help their friends, acquaintances and family. Does your message have real, focused practical value? Is it valuable enough to be worth passing along? Is it focused enough that a person could easily identify who might benefit from it (like tips on mortgages for a house-buying friend)?
  • Stories: Is your core message or idea embedded in a broader narrative that people find interesting and want to share?  Memorable and easily repeated stories teach new behaviours, celebrate behaviours and articulate identity.

Despite the hype, research by the Keller Fay Group found that only 7% of word of mouth happens online — in part because we spend eight times as much time in offline conversation. But online or off, and especially when used in combination, these six factors will help your word get around.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  A Tempered Approach To Change

When individuals or leadership teams think about change, they often characterize it as a discontinuity — a dramatic change in direction or drastic action forced by a financial crunch, technological innovation, a new mandate, regulation, competition or other external factors. This type of change is typically fast and associated with significant pain and stress; we wince as we gear up to manage it.

But there’s another type:  evolutionary —but relentless— change. Evolutionary adaptation is gentle, incremental, decentralized and, over time, produces a broad and lasting shift in culture with less upheaval.

You may know your organizational culture needs constructive change, but if you push your agenda too hard, resentment builds against you. You need to rock the boat without falling out. What’s a manager to do?

You may wish to become a “tempered radical”, a term used by Debra Meyerson in her 2001 Harvard Business Review article, Radical Change, the Quiet Way:

“Tempered radicals gently and continually push against prevailing norms, making a difference in small but steady ways and setting examples from which others can learn. The changes they inspire are so incremental that they barely merit notice—which is exactly why they work so well. Like drops of water, these approaches are innocuous enough in themselves. But over time and in accumulation, they can erode granite.”

She notes that tempered radicals use these tactics:

  • Disruptive Self-Expression: Demonstrate your values through your own behaviour, language, dress or office environment. People notice and talk – often becoming brave enough to try the change themselves.
  • Verbal Jujitsu: Reframe and/or redirect negative statements or actions into positive change.
  • Short-Term Opportunism: Be ready to capitalize on unexpected opportunities for short-term change while orchestrating a deliberate, longer term transition.
  • Strategic Alliance Building: Gain clout by working with allies to enhance your legitimacy and ability to implement change. Don’t make “opponents” enemies — they can be your best source of support and resources.

8020Info helps teams develop and implement their strategic plans, stakeholder consultations and marketing communications effectively. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries at (613) 542-8020, or by email at watercooler @ dev2.8020info.com .

8. Closing Thought

“Not admitting a mistake is a bigger mistake.”  — Robert Half