Who Says the Customer is ALWAYS Right?

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Everyone at some time or another has worked on the service side of the business – trying to manage the client’s expectations while, many times, acquiescing to their demands, just to make them happy.

Smaller companies and start-ups, whose customers are everything to the business, cannot afford to leave any of their paying clients unhappy. But that does not mean being at the beck and call, or relenting to customer demands.

Working in the new media space, we find ourselves educating clients on the new best practices and the new way of marketing, many times to an audience akin to deer-in-headlights, who respond to our presentations with a hesitating nod and uncomfortable grin. They love the approach [or so they say]. They want to move ahead of their competitors and capitalize on opportunities, “So tell us what we need to do”, they say.

Customers buy from those they trust

Everyone goes through a decision-making process. They ask friends/family for recommendations. They go through the exercise of researching, comparing and contrasting prices and services detail. For B2B clients, they go through an RFP process, exhaustive meetings and legal due diligence and at the end of this process, they’re quite confident at the choice they’ve made.

The honeymoon period doesn’t last very long. The agency says all the right things. The client nods their head in agreement, excited to begin the process of developing this new program that has promise of reaping them amazing rewards!

Everything goes right until it goes wrong….

And that’s when the honeymoon ends.

When things go wrong, the customer is NEVER at fault

I recently read a post from my colleague, Amy Tobin, who had written a post for the restaurant industry. It’s here she stated:

The Customer is Always Right – one of the most cliched and repeated phrases in marketing. And frankly, I don’t believe it’s true. I know that in some circles it’s scandalous to say, but the reality is that, the customer is wrong, and ANYONE who has worked as a waitress or in the restaurant business probably knows this. There, running into an irate, expectant, obnoxious customer is part of the job… and understanding how to handle and diffuse the situation is also ‘part of that job.’

When things go wrong, someone needs to be blamed. The client will never take responsibility because they don’t have to. When a deliverable is late to market or when things go awry, this knee-jerk reaction to find the culprit always points the client in one direction: the onus is always on the agency to explain what has happened.

A friend, who founded a start-up explained this to me [paraphrased]:

An irate customer called me on the phone, and told me of a glitch in his system that caused some of the end-terminals to improperly process customer transactions. He indicated it was working perfectly before we had made changes to it. He asked us what we had done to cause the problem. I immediately apologized and said we’d look into it.

A few hours later, we realized that the customer, himself had changed a setting within the system that inadvertently defaulted the system to a prior setting. Since the code had been changed, the reset had resulted in the problem identified. When this was brought to the client’s attention, he remembered what he had done and apologized for the mishap. And all was well “again”.

So, we let bygones be bygones… but to the point of complete submission. All for the sake of protecting a revenue stream.

Are we all Yes-Men?

I read this post the other day from Entrepreneur, 30 Ways to Show Your Customers They’re Always Right: This primer on customer service will leave your clients happy and your business booming.

One particular area angered me. It read,

  • “I will take responsibility.”  Tell your customer you realize it’s your responsibility to ensure a satisfactory outcome to the transaction…
  • “I will deliver on time.” A due date that has been agreed upon is a promise that must be kept. “Close” doesn’t count.
  • “Monday means Monday.” The first week in July means the first week in July, even though it contains a national holiday. Your clients are waiting to hear you say “I deliver on time.” The supplier who consistently does so is a rarity and will be remembered.
  • “It’ll be just what you ordered.” It will not be “similar to,” and it will not be “better than” what was ordered. It will be exactly what was ordered. Even if you believe a substitute would be in the client’s best interests, that’s a topic for discussion, not something you decide on your own.

What follows is something more horrific, in my opinion:

Neglecting any of these steps conveys the impression that you were interested in the person only until the sale was made. This leaves the buyer feeling deceived and used, and creates ill will and negative advertising for your company.

Now, I’m not advocating for any company not to make those promises to clients. In potentially 80% of the cases, if all goes according to plan, an agency can deliver all those things. However, the reality is things will happen. Directions change in the process; strategies are diverted; decisions get delayed. And yes, many times, miscommunication can lead the agency to make unfortunate errors. But 100% of the time the blame cannot lie solely on the shoulders of the vendor.

When the agency has to come, yet again, to explain the mishap, they must do so without somehow alluding to some client-side mishap that led to the eventual outcome. This is a perpetual state of disrepute that many agencies find themselves in.

A friend, Sean McGinnis, recently shared a post that made me aware of one such situation that made me applaud, Chicago ad agency fires client Panera, calling company ‘difficult’.

CEO says Panera was a difficult client and “in the end, no amount of money makes it worthwhile”….

The memo cites “the constant last-minute shifts in direction, the behind-the-scenes politics, the enormous level of subjectivity that disregards proof of performance — all churn people at a rate that becomes much too much even in this crazy business.”

The “environment of inconsistency” at Panera Bread apparently drove the decision to walk away from a major client.

“That’s hard to do in this increasingly low-margin, high-churn business,” Krivkovich said. “Most agencies just suck it up and take it.”

The ultimate relationship comes back to trust

In my later years, I’ve become so much different than when I was a young account executive for a large Ad Agency. Back then we were trained to properly manage the client expectations. We needed to be one step ahead of the client at all times. If you’ve worked in agency, all contact reports, follow-up emails were necessary, all for the purpose of CYA documentation {ie Cover your Ass} and limiting agency liability.

However, I’ve also come to believe that clients come to you because of your expertise. You have something that no other agency has. People who hold the purse strings can easily blame the vendor because they have nothing to lose.

What changes the dynamics in the relationship between the client and the agency is a true understanding of the value that the chosen agency brings. Many times clients, who think they know better, will make decisions they feel are best for the business and decide to go in a different direction than what has been recommended.

While this may be true, clients may also feel pressured to perform and they can easily fall back into the tried-and-true. And many times this isn’t communicated.

The need for transparency between the customer and the agency

Where many of my relationships with clients have come to a head, we begin to have transparent discussions about the client’s anxieties, investor expectations, management pressures. When that happens, it opens the doors to having full context into their world, and what they are up against on a daily basis.

That’s the opportune time to have the conversation that addresses each of those issues – one by one – and giving the client a new-found confidence that you’re there to do everything in your power to give them the result possible. But it means a quid-pro-quo:

  • Identify the issues when they happen. This allows both sides to give each other the heads up before situations get worse. For better or worse, the investment in this relationship means that both sides need to work together to produce a better outcome.
  • Educate the client. In many cases, the best way to get a program approved is to take the client through a learning curve and teach them what you know. They, in turn, will advocate the program internally.
  • Insider scoop. Until there is trust between customer and agency, will the former keep the agency at bay. But once this has been built, it’s incumbent upon the customer to provide as much ‘necessary’ information to help he agency succeed. This has happened in our favour countless times, and we were able to over-deliver on client expectations time and time again. In the end, the client looks like a hero internally.

In the end is a true understanding that doesn’t leave two parties on opposite sides of a fence. In the end, the customer does not feel the need to continuously test the agency. In the end this ‘relationship’ puts both on an equal playing field that allows each to do their job without feeling the anxiety or mistrust that befalls many of the client/agency relationships today.

Photo source: Flicker: Beltzner

This article was originally posted on Steamfeed

The Perpetual Lie: When your Online Persona Precedes the Real You

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I believe all humans were created with a reasonable sense of integrity. We are on this earth to do good, right? But along the way, we were misguided. Our egos got the better of us and we lost our way.

The real life that we lead can be easily masked, however. We have the haven of online to safeguard who we really are.

Integrity and Fakery: Are Some People Invincible?

I’ve witnessed this on more than one occasion. In my specific circumstance, I have followed people online who seemed reputable, who had the perception of being the epitome of integrity.

I felt honoured to be in the company of such people, who have built a loyal following because of their magnetic words of wisdom, how inspirational they are, as well as through the hypnotic, emotion-laden stories they share.

I, too, have been taken in by these masters.

One person in particular, in my eyes, could do no wrong. When we connected, I felt lucky she made the time to talk. She had been on a pedestal in my mind for many years, as well as in the minds of her many loyal followers. This gal had integrity!

But the community wasn’t privy to the relationship that I was building with this amazing person. No, this wasn’t a Jim Jones cult (although it does eerily feel like I was programmed).

I brought this person into my life and we became fast friends. It took some time, but I started really figuring out this individual. The persona that had been so carefully crafted was slowly crumbling before my eyes. She didn’t reveal herself readily, but nuances of the real person came out.

The person who she claimed to be — the persona the world knew — wasn’t the person who sat before me. She was a sham. She was a hypocrite. And I had been fooled. Shame on me.

Reputation is Absolutely Everything

We carefully shape the way we want to be perceived. There are those among us who are calculated in the way they approach situations and people, always mindful of how others will react, and how they will be judged.

When I met people who know (knew) of my affiliation, they couldn’t believe how “lucky” I was to be in the company of such a great individual. How little they know. And how desperately I wanted to shout, “You have no idea!”

In real life, we falter. My mother says all she has to do is look into my eyes to see the window to my soul, and when she does, I know I’ve been found out. I can’t hide the truth. My actions speak louder than words.

Online, Somehow, Seems So Much Safer

For those who have built their reputation online and have carefully honed it to perfection, the online space is a safe haven. The words on their blogs hide their true selves.

Words can easily manipulate and influence the human spirit. We cannot see the eyes of deceit as these words are carefully crafted on the keyboard.

And so we continue to believe the lie.

However, this “keyboard” that unites individuals across the social space cannot – and will not – ever be substituted for face-to-face contact.+

I’ve come to believe that.

Hypocrisy is Perpetuated by the Community

When I opened my eyes to the truth, it didn’t seem real that I, alone, could have discovered this false integrity.+

The reality is, there are so many instances of people portraying false personas of themselves.

They continue to walk among us. We can easily point them out. But we don’t. I wonder why.

And there are many naive individuals who buy into these falsehoods.

They follow in droves and they are the very ones to come to the defence of these manipulators again and again – because they’ve been programmed.

Perhaps Online is the ONLY Place to Hide

I’ve come to believe that those who exist mainly online, are there for a reason.

The fairy tale they’ve built around them is enough to properly shield them from the reality of who they actually are.

If there is disparity between who you are online and offline then there is something very wrong.

As much as I believe in transparency, I also believe we do not have to fully disclose every part of our being to the world.+

But, at the very least, have some integrity. Be true to who you really are.

I’ve become more pragmatic these days. I live online but I also have a balanced and healthy life outside of the Internet.

It’s what keeps me real and keeps me grounded.

These days, I’m not as easily fooled by gurus and online pundits. Because sadly, I’ve learned the hard way to be more judgmental of my online relationships.

I’ve come to believe in the value of meeting people in person. And the value of a gut check. It tends to go a long way towards revealing the truth.

This article was originally posted on SpinSucks.com

photo credit: Rickydavid via photopin cc

Being a Start-up Mom: An Introspection

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As I write this, it is early on a Saturday morning. Trying to find some quiet time before the family rises, I retreat to the dining table, riddled with the incessant flow of paper work – yes, work that I must put on my to-do list– but after I get this post written. As I furiously try to get my mind focused on the task at hand, I am reminded that this is the life that I have chosen.

There was a time when I worked to live

I never really had ambitions to do anything great. I came out of business school just wanting a job, to make some decent money, to see the world, and live comfortably. This was no different than anyone out there. I came out of school with mediocre grades, but enough to get a respectable degree that would land me places. It introduced me to a discipline called database marketing, and I was hooked.

In the years that followed, my love for data and its possibilities created opportunities for me in consumer loyalty, banking and B2B. It was here that I was also introduced to the advertising world (ie the client-driven world) of 80 hour weeks. I hated the hours. The weekdays would blend into my weekends. I was losing control of the balanced life that I had desperately sought to achieve. Then along came the internet…. and I changed.

Wanting to change the world makes you a different person

It was a new frontier. Everybody was figuring things out. We were on the cusp of developing this new channel into whatever we wanted. Everyone had ideas about how to do it. They all tried. The start-up world became this haven that empowered people to take their ideas to fruition, no matter how crazy. No one waited for judgement. They just did it. Money or no money.

I was introduced to this environment, albeit Yahoo! was not new to the game. In Canada, however, we were a start-up in many respects. After the dot.com bubble burst in the late 90′s, most of the satellite offices were shut down. When I came on board 5 years later, the Canadian office was resurged. It was here that I began to apply what I knew to this online channel.

I was excited, and absorbed every last ounce of knowledge that anyone was willing to feed me. I became consumed with ideas and possibilities. This was an environment that allowed us to try new things, fail, then try again. Engineering and Product were my best friends. They allowed me to “play” and try anything and everything. I became embedded in this world of endless possibilities and I didn’t pay attention to the amount of time it was consuming. I was drinking this Purple Kool-Aid and it started to affect me in ways that continue to challenge me to this day.

Along the way, family suffers

During this period, my children were still young. Maddie was 4 and Nathan was 1. The responsibilities at work made it increasingly difficult to manage both work and home.

I am reminded of this post, The Guilt Grind — And Why I Love Every Minute of It!, that I wrote a few years back when I worked at a new and promising social tech start-up. It’s here that I wrote,

And while I try to make every soccer practice, hockey game, school play or choir, there have been many times I’ve had to make the disheartening decision to choose this “path” over family. And that has burned me each time. I will never forget when my daughter was four and I missed her first year-end gala, to make a dinner with an important executive coming into town the same night. I’ve regretted that decision ever since.

I still remember the performance reports I had to present every Monday morning. For months, I compiled the reports Friday night when they were available for all the 20 Yahoo! properties and proceeded to do the analysis into the wee hours of the morning. I convinced myself that if I could get the work done before the weekend then I could use what was left of the weekend to spend with my family. It wasn’t long before I became friends with the same cabbie, who drove me home every Saturday morning at 2:00 AM, to a family who had long gone to sleep.

The person I became did not separate work from family. They became intermingled, sometimes to the point of annoyance. My husband was losing his patience and our marriage was teetering on the brink of turmoil.

I emerged as someone who couldn’t stop thinking about the problem or the task at hand. Sometimes it got in the way of life like a bad drug that you just can’t seem to get out of your system. Many late nights, I remember hearing the song, “Cats in the Cradle” like an incessant ring unwilling to relent. It was telling me something and I was unwilling to listen.

Starting over

Over the years, I’ve worked at ad agencies and social tech start-ups. Through this experience it became clear that no one was doing enough to move the needle forward when it came to social data and the organization. I felt compelled to take what I’ve known and build a company, ArCompany. I became convinced that starting this business would allow me to see my kids more. I promised myself that I would make each and every one of their hockey games, skating practices, soccer tournaments and school concerts. Perhaps I could make up for lost time.

Starting a business is hard. It didn’t take me long to realize this. The opportunity to do something different and to challenge the status quo, while compelling, takes an immense amount of effort and will. Amy Tobin, my colleague, can tell you about the number of anguishing conversations we’ve had over the last year. There were many bleak moments in just starting this business. It takes a great deal of discipline and motivation to get out of bed every morning even when things look like they’re going to fall apart. My friend Nicole McKinney continues to remind me to #KeepMoving and never to look back.

Today, my workplace is the dining room table. I’ve decided that I don’t want to carve any office space in the house for myself. I want to greet my kids before they leave and when they return from school. My children are now older. Maddie is 14 and Nate is 11. They don’t need me as much as they used to but I want to be present in their lives. It’s not too late.

I continue to struggle

I love the foundation that I’ve created for myself. We’ve built a business that seems to resonate with what the market needs. The work is challenging but extremely fun. We’ve created some amazing relationships and continue to build strong business cases that prove out our business model. The bleakness of the previous year is starting to bear its fruits and the opportunities are starting to present themselves.

But all this comes at a cost. It has forced me to focus more of my time on developing these opportunities. My days are spent churning out proposals and reports, client meetings, pitching more business, taking care of bills, meeting with partners. When dinner’s done, I find myself habitually making my way to my trusted laptop. Sometimes it doesn’t leave me until the early hours of the morning. Where I’ve promised myself to keep my weekends sacred, that is now not the case. My advisor warned me that we are a start-up and what we’re going through is normal. I just have to suck it up. In the same vane, he also advises me that I have to be human.

Through this period, I’m proud to say that I’ve been just as relentless, a hockey mom and parent. It’s still tough, however, to focus when I’m attending a game. While I’m physically present, my mind is not. But I’m trying.

What is my legacy?

Sometimes I convince myself that all will be better when we make $X revenue, or when we have budget to hire more people. It’s at that time that I can rest and give more time to my family. But I know that when that time comes, I’ll find other reasons to do more and eventually drown myself in more work.

I’m not going to fight it. For all my faults, I have to acquiesce to the path I built for myself.

My daughter asked me the other day me what would be a good job to have when she grew up. This is the advice I offered, “Do what you love to do not because of money, but because it it makes you smile. Do not stay in a job because it’s safe. Move towards jobs that challenge you. And never ever stop learning.”

I am in no way perfect. And I don’t think I want to put in the effort to be. I can be conscious of my own limitations and do what I can do to ensure I keep on course. My family is my priority. Enough said.

As a mom, I’ll continue to fight to make sure I become a significant force in my kids’ lives. But I also want to make sure that my existence was worth something while I was here. I love this quote that was sent to me by my friend Bilal Jaffery:

Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow truly know what you want to become. Everything else is secondary. -Steve Jobs

This was originally posted on Steamfeed.com

photo credit: ~PhotograTree~ via photopin cc

The BEST Morning Shake via @RyanPannell

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Every since my dear friend, Ryan sent me this recipe, I was hooked. It may sound cliche but healthy can taste really good. Another friend of mine calls this my morning green goo! Little does he know how very very good it is for you.

So, I used to drink this every morning 7 days a week. Ryan’s told me that it’s best to use the kale in moderation: 3-4 days is optimal.

1 apple
1 pear
½ cucumber
1 stalk celery
1 2″ chunk of ginger
1 carrot
½ pineapple
Big handful of kale
Big handful of spinach
1 peeled lime
1 avocado

Juice everything except the avocado (and spinach, if you have a Vitamix) and put in a blender. Add avocado and spinach (if you didn’t juice the spinach) and 5 ice cubes. Blend until smooth. Serves 2 adults and 2 kids. Tastes like pineapple lime juice in case the ingredient list looks scary! It’s delicious, even if you hate veggies.

We add ½ cup hemp seeds, 8 tsp of Nu-Greens spirulina (but don’t try that right away – it takes a while to get used to that taste).

Cheers! and thanks Ryan!

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