Are You Really Listening?

Originally posted on CU Insight – 9/26/14

My late mother had a favorite saying – “Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.” In other words, “shut up and listen!” I’m sure that we’ve all found ourselves in the middle of a discussion where the other person is talking and while we are supposed to be listening intently, what we’re actually doing is preparing our response – formulating what we’re going to say and how we’re going to say it.

Organizations across all industries will inevitably have to address complaints and concerns from their patrons. It’s going to happen. Many organizations put a focus on customer service training, which includes of course, handling complaints. The problem that exists with such training is that many companies don’t include any serious training on the art of listening.  Instead, employees are given a folder or binder full of potential complaint scenarios as well as scripts or “comebacks” to handle those situations. NEWSFLASH – the consumer is smarter and savvier than ever before in history. They know when they are being fed a line.

Here is a list of phrases/comebacks that should NEVER be used:

“There’s nothing we can do” – Awful. There is always something you can do. It may not be exactly what is requested but at least make the effort to find some kind of solution. Consumers come to you for solutions. They want you to empathize. Many times, simply offering tiny concessions can diffuse anger and ease tension that exists in a difficult situation.

“It’s our policy to….” – NEWSFLASH! No one gives a damn about your policies. Don’t get me wrong – it is important to have policies in place in order to protect the integrity of your business and to ensure that the organization remains viable. But for goodness sake, don’t point to a policy as a way of getting out of listening to someone that is asking for help!

“Unfortunately…..” – Say this and you’ve already lost. Using “unfortunately” to begin a response basically sends a message to your brain that it’s going to be disappointed with the rest of the response so it stops listening! What happens instead is that the consumer gets a rush of adrenaline and, like a lion about to pounce on its next meal, as soon as you’re done talking (or before you’re done talking) the unmistakable displeasure of an even angrier consumer will be thrust upon you. If you’re in the service business, eradicate “unfortunately” from your vocabulary.


Need training?? HINT: every organization should be developing its employees! Take a look at our customizable training packages.


Posted in Building Relationships, Business Development, Conflict, Credit Unions, Employees, Gen X, Gen Y, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Performance, Productivity, Training | Leave a comment

Co-Working: A Different Meaning

Excuse me, but how can there be a “different” definition of co-working? It means working with other people, doesn’t it? Yes, it does indeed; however, when people use the word “co-working,” they are usually referring to the people that work at the same company as they do.

I was recently traveling to see a client by way of Amtrak was thumbing through the on-board magazine, Arrive. I came across an interesting article entitled, “Officemates Wanted.” I was intrigued so I continued reading. The article provided information on a new trend in the corporate space.   Co-working is shifting from those you work with to those you want to work with. Allow me to explain:

People that work at the same companies are often put on the same project teams or are encouraged to brainstorm and collaborate with each other. Many times, this is a “forced” scenario. As you know, this can sometimes cause friction and negatively affect productivity.

But what a lot of companies are doing (some Fortune 500s are on the list) is giving their most innovate employees the opportunity to meet with likeminded people or groups from outside. That is, they are forming what has been referred to as a “mastermind” group. These groups meet once a week or a couple of times per month to share ideas, get the creative juices flowing, and just “be” around other people who are just as passionate, excited, and enthusiastic. Please note that this is NOT a description of networking groups. Those serve a different function. In the “co-working groups,” there are no strings, no expectations or pressure to try to get new clients. It’s just likeminded professionals sharing ideas.

There are a couple of Apps that help to bring these professionals together. Two that were mentioned in the article are WeWork and NextSpace.

The marketplace has changed drastically and will continue to do so. As a result, the business model has to adapt. Perhaps you can find a way to introduce this concept to your company’s executives or bring it to your local Chamber of Commerce. But just remember the rules: no soliciting, just share ideas.

Here is a link to the article in case you want to take a look:

What are your thoughts about this concept?  Share them by commenting on this post!

Posted in Building Relationships, Business Development, Change, Collaboration, Conflict, Decisions, Employees, Gen X, Gen Y, Global Network, Human Resources, Innovation, Leadership, Management, Networking, Performance, Productivity, Strategic Planning, Training | Leave a comment

Experiences Sell Better Than Products

(Part 3 of 3 in a series)

Disney’s “Magic,” Southwest Airlines’ “Company Spirit,” and Zappos’ “WOW Philosophy.” These and other great organizations don’t necessarily focus on the products they sell. They know that if they are able to provide a memorable and extraordinary experience, the products will sell themselves. Sure, they have product development teams. But any products that are developed must enhance the experience that the companies are providing to consumers. If this isn’t demonstrated, the products simply aren’t rolled out.

Here are 3 ways that your organization can concentrate on providing experiences:

Be crystal clear on your value proposition.  Lofty talk won’t get you very far.  Consumers need to understand the value of a product before they will use that product.  A memorable experience can help communicate that value. Put a greater focus on the entire experience of doing business with your organization rather than pushing product. Believe it or not, consumers really care about value and brand. They need specifics.  They need clarity.  They need reasons. Give them what they need.

Have a thorough understanding of your target market.  Think about this – if you are a student in a classroom, you want the teachers/professors to have a thorough understanding of the subject matter, right?  You want them to have certain skills, abilities, and credentials.  Most of all, you want them to relate to you in some way.  Consumers need to believe that the companies with whom they do business understand what they are experiencing, know about their surroundings and circumstances, can relate to their challenges and share their successes.  If your organization has not done research studies related to demographics, consumer behavior, household financials, and employment on its service area, target market, or community – it will be more difficult to relate to the consumers in those markets.  How can you possibly create a memorable experience without knowing what makes your target market happy?

Position your organization as a “solutions-provider.”  Consumers with problems are looking for one thing: someone or something to solve their problems by providing a viable solution.  Economics 101 tells us that people buy product to fulfill an immediate or perceived need. By their very nature, these needs are fleeting. The consumer may or may not come back to you when another need arises. However, if you are diligent in not only providing product but you also create an atmosphere that exudes your organization’s commitment to service, solutions, and experience, the likelihood that consumers will continue to do business with you increases exponentially. There are a lot of people looking for solutions right now.  If your brand reflects that your organization can provide those solutions, people will take notice.  If all you do is talk about your products, your message will get lost in the shuffle.

I hope you enjoyed this series of posts! I welcome your feedback and comments! Let’s continue the discussion.


Posted in Branding, Building Relationships, Business Development, Cross-Selling, Digital Marketing, Gen X, Gen Y, Innovation, Leadership, Marketing, Performance, Productivity, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Shift In Branding

(Part 2 of a 3 in a series)

The best organizations are encouraging and rewarding their customers for helping them to build their brands. In essence, the ecstatic (not merely satisfied) customers are becoming unofficial employees and very official brand ambassadors for the companies.

How can you create that dynamic at your organization?

Here are 3 suggestions:

Generate & maintain enthusiasm – this doesn’t only go for your employees. The enthusiasm has to be the contagious kind that spreads outside your 4 walls. In order to shift your branding from being just about “us” to being more inclusive of “them,” they have to share the passion and enthusiasm. Then they have to be willing to communicate the same to others that need to hear it! If you’re not fresh, fun, creative, and evolving, it will be difficult to achieve this. How do you go about it? Read last week’s post on “experiential marketing.”

Reward loyalty – your organization should take steps to identify your very best patrons. Pull some research reports – find out who’s “buttering your bread” and take appropriate steps to reward that kind of loyalty. The airlines do it through their Rewards programs – most of them now include a dollar-spend requirement to qualify for the different tiers (silver, gold, elite, diamond, etc.) It’s not just about how many miles you fly anymore. A lot of people were pretty upset when these changes were announced. From a consumer perspective, it can indeed seem that you’re being short-changed. However, from a pure business perspective, it makes perfect sense. Think about this – a person could fly from New York to Hong Kong once and be very close to achieving rewards status because of the number of miles flown. But they were able to get a great deal on the fare and only paid $750 for the ticket. By rewarding those that fly often and spend some significant coin on travel, it becomes easier for the airlines to justify giving out freebies. If you take steps to recognize and reward those that are most loyal to you, they will be more likely to become your brand Ambassadors.

Create experiences instead of products – my good friend Mark Arnold commented on last week’s post that introduced this 3-part series. His feedback read: “If consumers truly love you and are more than “satisfied” with you, they’ll have more products and services. For example, I don’t just love Apple–I have like all their products. So how is your product penetration looking these days? Increase engagement and you’ll increase sales.”

Apple is a perfect example – when you walk into an Apple store, they don’t just want you to buy a product. They want you to take you through a unique purchasing experience. The dumbest question that any retail sales associate can ask is “can I help you find something?” Why? Because the default answer that is given 98% of the time is “no thanks. Just looking.” Right? Apple associates let the products speak for themselves. They bring personal engagement and involvement to a different level. About a year ago, I converted to Apple products. As long as the experience of being an Apple customer continues to evolve and get better, Ill stick with them. It’s not just about the product. Could a better experience with another company come along? Absolutely! It’s the same with your organization. That’s why it is so important to keep the experience at the forefront of your strategizing.

By the way – my writing about Apple on this blog qualifies me as a “Brand Ambassador” which illustrates exactly what I mean by the term.

How can you create the experience? Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series that will be published next week!

Happy Labor Day!

Posted in Branding, Building Relationships, Business Development, Collaboration, Credit Unions, Employees, Innovation, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Performance, Productivity, Strategic Planning | Leave a comment

Experiential Marketing: Beyond the Survey

Part 1 of 3 in a series.

Isn’t marketing about colors, and paper, and design? Perhaps. But it has to be much more than that now. That’s why your organization’s marketing executives and employees need to be smarter, innovative, and strategic. If all you have is a marketing person that either can’t do or is unwilling to do much more than design pretty flyers (and Heaven help you if you’re still taping things to doors and walls,) then it’s time to get someone that has the required skills to bring your organization’s marketing efforts to a more sophisticated level.

Your organization’s marketing and branding efforts should be transitioning from “telling” to “interacting.” Other words are “engagement” and “experiential.”

Go to your marketing personnel right now and ask them to describe experiential or engagement marketing to you. If they can’t, it should scare the hell out of you – or at the very least, it should concern you greatly.

So stop reading and go ask them….right now.  Of course, I want you to come back and read the rest of this when you’re done!

There is a dangerous belief among some marketers that simple surveys constitute engagement or experiential marketing. They don’t. They never will.  Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

The “post-transaction” telephone survey: Does this sound familiar – “we are contacting you today to ask about your recent experience with XYZ Company. With 1 being the lowest and 7 being the highest, please press the number that would describe how satisfied you are with your latest transaction.” So….you press your number and then hear: “Thank you. Your response has been recorded. Good-bye.” Click.

What’s wrong with this survey?

First, the use of the word “satisfied” taints it from the beginning. As an executive of XYZ Company, I don’t want to know if people are merely “satisfied.” I want to know if they are “ecstatic.”

Next, there is no opportunity for the survey respondent to provide any kind of actual, useful feedback. The robot that called simply hangs up after the number is pushed. Too bad you can’t change your answer after being hung up on. I certainly don’t feel “satisfied” after being cut off and I am so far away from “ecstatic” that I forget the meaning of the word.

Finally, there is no focus whatsoever on allowing the organization’s patrons to help “create the brand.” Branding is being redefined. It’s no longer just about messaging – it’s insanely deeper than that now. The best organizations are encouraging and rewarding their customers for helping them to build their brands. In essence, the ecstatic (not merely satisfied) customers are becoming unofficial employees and very official brand ambassadors for the companies.

How? Part 2 of 3 in this series will be posted next week. Stay tuned!

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If You Want Loyalty, EARN It!

Hello friends! It’s been a while since my last post on this blog. For that, I apologize. However, my “vacation” from blogging was necessary so I could complete the work associated with my company’s next initiative that I’ll be announcing a little later on this year.

OK – back to the blog!

Do you know what they call a leader with no followers? Just another guy or gal. I can’t remember when I first heard that but whenever it was, it made an immediate impression on me.  Being a leader isn’t about titles and power. It isn’t about shouting orders at people. It isn’t about treating people as if they are your personal valets.

True leaders understand that in order to be effective and successful, their team members must be committed to the team and must have a deep loyalty to the team’s leader. Otherwise, the team members are just killing time and collecting a paycheck. Productivity suffers as a result and consequently so does profit.

Here are a few ways that leaders can create that commitment and earn the loyalty of those that they manage:

Stand Up – No one respects a wimpy leader. Employees want their leaders to stand up for them when standing up is needed. Great leaders know how to respectfully but persistently state their cases. Great leaders know how to deal with people that hang on to old ways of thinking. They are not afraid to remind “idea-blockers” that they are the experts in their disciplines – not in a boastful manner but in a confident manner. Great leaders also understand that they will not always win. But the efforts undertaken on behalf of the team are sure to be appreciated by the team members.

Reward – If your team does a great job on a particular initiative, give them a significant reward. Shouldn’t the company do that? In an ideal world, yes it should. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Sometimes a leader has to be creative and yes, maybe dig into his or her own pocket to show appreciation for a job well done. No one is suggesting that the leader splits a paycheck with the team. How about taking the team to a nice dinner as a reward? If a leader wants to create loyalty, he or she must praise the team for a job well done. Leaders that do these things will create buzz and momentum that is contagious to other teams in the organization. Perhaps other team leaders will follow suit. Then, the higher-ups will really start to take notice.

Sacrifice – Sometimes it’s necessary for a leader to “fall on the sword” and make sacrifices for the benefit of the team. This is one of the most difficult yet essential things that a leader does. Our natural instinct is to continue the battle. Great leaders are able to overcome the desire to come out on top if being right would mean other people would be hurt or humiliated. Great leaders don’t pass the buck. They don’t blame others for their shortcomings. They don’t cower from taking responsibility for the performance of the team. They take the hit and move on. And the team members notice this. When they do notice, they commit to working harder and smarter so that their leader (whom they respect and appreciate) doesn’t have to take any more heat.

What are some of the ways that you create loyalty and commitment at your organization?

Please share your comments!


Posted in Building Relationships, Leadership, Management, Performance, Productivity | 4 Comments

Sneak Preview of My New Book

Hello everyone!  In this post, I wanted to give you a sneak preview of my new book that is due out a little later this year.

What follows is the Introduction  section.  I hope you enjoy it and will be eager to see more. I also welcome your comments and feedback – let me know what you think!


The process of decision-making goes something like this:

It starts with a spark- a person wants something.

Up next is the debate that happens every time (whether consciously or subconsciously.) But it does indeed happen EVERY TIME.

Then there’s data collection. This is the information-gathering stage. (You may be thinking that the data collection happens before the debate stage. Incorrect. Keep reading to understand why.)

Now comes debate #2 – the Great Debate. The first debate was your brain’s way of deciding whether or not to enter into the data collection stage. Compared to the Great Debate, this first one is almost inconsequential. Very few decisions are stopped cold in their tracks during the first debate. But this one, the Great Debate, is the critical juncture. It is the crossroads of the decision-making process. And it has several stages that go something like this:

Need vs. Want – The classic scenario that we’ve all heard so much about.

Now or Later – This could also be considered the “is it the right time” part of the Great Debate. Throughout human history, fortunes have been won and lost at this stage.

Why this product, service, or action? Are there alternatives? This is the height of the bargaining phase – when decision-makers look for the same kind of product, service, or action that may be cheaper. Or they look for shortcuts to achieve the desired results. During this phase, the old saying, “you get what you pay for” is sometimes ignored or is otherwise lost to oblivion. DISCLAIMER: It should not be inferred that the most expensive option is the best or the least expensive option is the worst. However, there have been and will continue to be instances where both consumers and businesses realize that there is some truth to “you get what you pay for.”

Is this a priority? This is a critical phase. Prioritizing needs, goals, and desires leads to better decision-making. If something isn’t identified as a priority, then any decision-making with regard to the non-priority item should be put aside to allow the priority items or projects to assume……well….priority.

Finally, the decision-maker comes to the final and most important question of them all. This is the question that your brain REQUIRES you to answer before all of the wiring (and whatever else goes on up there)  will allow you to make a decision to buy, sell, do, invest, create, destroy, build, write, say, sign, hire, fire, ………the list goes on and on….and on.

For the consumer, it is the most important determinant as to whether he or she will buy anything. For the business owner, it’s what will ultimately lead to a decision regarding whether or not to do business with a vendor or service provider. Foe everyone, it is the very nature and basis of every single decision that we have ever made or will make in the future. The question that must be answered is simple enough in its wording but stunningly profound in its effect on human events ranging from the mundane and routine to the life-changing and significant.

That question is: What’s In It For Me? Or, WIIFM. for short. The acronym WIIFM will be used copiously throughout this book so remember what it means!

In the following chapters, we will explore how WIIFIM affects everything that we do. We’ll look at how a thorough understanding of WIIFM greatly benefits business owners that are trying to attract more business, service providers that are in the market for new clients, entrepreneurs that boldly go where they’ve never gone before, leaders that manage employees who are responsible for executing on action plans and reaching goals, and employees that want to further their careers and lives through professional and personal development.

By the end of this book, you’ll have a better understanding of WIIFM, its psychological underpinnings, and its role in your life, your business, and your career. You’ll be more equipped to understand how you and other people come to the decisions that are ultimately made – decisions which alter the course of both the present and the future for better or for worse.

Let’s begin.

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