Surpassingly, Divinely Exceptional

This morning, I was reading Psalm 48 (link leads to a modern-English version; I’ll be referencing a few phrases from it in this post), and marveling at the heart-mind response of people to God’s glory.

The psalm paints a picture of an outstandingly-aboveness – a unique greatness – that evokes the most devoted human response.

Being a businessman as well as a worshiper, I found myself thinking – what kind of surpassing wonderfulness, as depicted in this psalm, could turn customers into devotees and devotees into a growing business?

1. Unmatched greatness – in short, spectacular-ness that people cannot help but praise. When devotees line up for days in front of an Apple store for the latest product, so they can be the first to experience it and praise its excellence, this isn’t a mere transactional relationship. It moves into the realm of awe for Apple’s design and execution genius. Those 150 psalms in the Bible? They are bursting with praise that words can barely express. Wouldn’t it be something to have customer testimonials like that?

2. Outstanding memorable-ness – we are surrounded by forgettable, commodity products. Yet these worshipers cannot help but dwell on the surpassing quality of what they’ve been able to touch. Exceptional means top-of-mind in a very noisy, distracting world. You know when your favorite artists releases a new album and a couple of tasty tunes keep occupying your mind and escaping your lips? That.

3. Evangelistic enthusiasm – in this psalm, people are encouraged to look at the beautiful details, to consider and count and marvel, to rejoice with others – and to tell the next generation (organic word-of-mouth). I go out of my way to tell people about Loveless Cafe in Nashville, or Amica Insurance. Why? Their consistent excellence makes me want to see more people enjoy what they offer.

True worship of God has never been about miserable conformity to a set of nonsensical rules – it is about above-all-else greatness, heartfelt awe, and a personal attachment that is grounded in divine beauty. A form of religion with forced or transactional followers isn’t much of a model for us. People yearn for spectacular, not run-of-the-mill.

Our goal should be nothing less than being exceptional and creating enthusiasm. I guess you could consider that kind of business one that begins to reflect, in some feeble but real way, the image of God.

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A Tale of Two Welcomes

This past week, my 3 brothers and I took our annual pilgrimage up to the White Mountains of New Hampshire for some bro get-away time. We hike, we play tennis, we joust over the card table, we verbally spar – it’s a fun time to re-connect. And we love upper New England in October.

There’s a lot of tourist activity in this part of the United States, so it’s interesting to see how different states and communities pull it off. Shortly after entering Vermont on I-91, there is a Welcome Center (Guilford exit) that trumps all other welcome centers I’ve ever seen—>

Beautiful post and beam construction. An eye-catching variety of country implements, Vermont memorabilia, information stations, clean restrooms, lovely exterior design and landscaping – and a huge carved-in-granite welcome sign. Plus, as a bonus, there was a pavilion outside inhabited by friendly locals who were serving coffee and selling a nice and diverse selection of baked goods (many of the healthy/organic variety). One of whom went out of her way to take a group picture of us.

A Welcome To Vermont that was truly memorable.

Then, on the way back south after our stay (which was lovely, by the way – the fall colors were just about at their peak), we left Vermont and re-entered Massachusetts. Now, I’ll try to be fair here – the more touristy sections of the great state of Massachusetts are to the east (Boston and shoreline) and to the west (Berkshires). But I-91 is a major corridor, and I’d like to think the powers-that-be would want to leave a good impression of the state. At least a nice welcome.

Instead? After the obligatory Welcome to Massachusetts sign at the border – “Pull-off area, 2 miles.” No Welcome Center. No facilities. Not even – get this – a trash can.

Well, at least there was a nice threat. Does this type of user experience encourage a repeat visit to the state? Is this the memory anyone wants to leave?

Now, not many of us are in charge of state tourism bureaus. But we do run businesses. And first and foremost on our minds should be our Welcome Centers. What is it like when people first encounter us on social platforms, for instance? A barren, sterile, and functional presentation with nothing to offer the user isn’t going to be particularly memorable – except in a negative sense. A vibrant place of beauty and interest and personal interaction, however, can color the impression of an entire entity – all the way up to the level of an entire state, let alone a business.

I’m a New England boy, so I happen to know all the goodness that Massachusetts has to offer. But had this “welcome center” experience been my first impression of the state, it may have also been my last – and my lasting – impression.

How’s your welcome center? Your first impression may be the last. Make it like Vermont!

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>> Creating a Welcoming Climate

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Four Reasons Why I Bought a Ford This Weekend

This weekend, I did something I don’t believe I’ve ever done before.

I went to a Ford dealer and bought a Ford automobile.

We tried getting by with our two cars but, with 2 high-school age kids and the ever-growing list of places-to-go and people-to-see, we finally had to make an addition. The odd fact is, that I never even bothered seriously considering another make of car this time around. This, from someone whose last few business cars were all Mazdas and whose family van is currently a Toyota.

Why? Let me give you four simple reasons:

1. Quality. I don’t care what the item is, or what the argument for domestic production is, if you’re not high-quality, you don’t earn my business. Ford has been making great strides in this area, enough that they slowly but surely edged back onto my radar screen. When my 18-year old and I took a test drive in a gently used 2010 Fusion, we were quite impressed (at the top of his list: the sound system, and the cool blue vanity lighting in the cupholders!)

2. Scott Monty. Scott is Ford’s social media guru, though I became acquainted with him back in 2007 or 2008, before his tenure with Ford. Scott has done a great job putting a more human face on a venerable American institution, and that goodwill (earned over time) translated into, not only consideration, but strong leaning, when it was time to make a purchase. It pays to hire good people. If you’re keeping score, President and CEO Alan Mulally: +1, Scott Monty.

3. Principle. Ford had the guts to refuse the government bailout years ago. While Chrysler and General Motors decided to become state-run institutions (or facsimiles thereof), Ford held to free-market principles. Thousands of us Americans never forgot that, and when it was time to make a purchase this weekend, guess which two companies were not even in the running? Granted, Ford is not some perfect company filled with angelic beings, nor are the employees of GM and Chrysler the spawn of evil. I reserve the right to re-consider GM products in the future, of course – but only if and when they are no longer a ward of the federal government. It’s not personal – it’s principle.

4. Referral. My entire solopreneur business model is based on trusted referrals. When I reached out on Facebook about my upcoming decision, a good friend (thanks, Janice!) recommended that I deal with Tommy Garcia over at Wayne (NJ) Ford. They also said that the General Manager (Troy Mol) was great. I reached out on-line and got an immediate and friendly response from Milca Irizarry, and meeting each of them over at the dealership was a pleasure. Purchasing cars can be a dreadful experience. My time at Wayne Ford has, without a doubt, helped advance my view of the Ford brand. If you’re keeping score, Mr. Mulally: +3, Wayne Ford.

I am not going to change the world of business by one little car purchase, or through any of my social media rants about it (e.g., here and here). But this entire experience simply reinforces the power of what should be obvious, in any business. Make great stuff. Do the right thing. Hire the right people. Treat customers right. And the end result will be the vein of gold that every business seeks – enthusiastic referrals. And sometimes, very public commendations…

(lest there be fuel for cynics, so let me say up-front that I have received no financial or other consideration for writing this post. I just believe in telling it like it is – and that includes the good stuff when it is earned!)

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Is your professional direction and message CLEAR? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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Sweet Customer Service by Vosges

Count me very happily surprised.

I was ordering a gift card for someone, and figured – what could be more universally-loved that some luscious Vosges chocolate? (if you’ve tried it, you know – if not, well, what are you waiting for??)

So I go on their site, and the ordering process is easy, with one interesting chocolate-centered twist – when you plug in the zip code of the recipient, the site does a quick calculation about the destination and the time of year, and if it’s going to be a hot trip, Vosges automatically adds some cooling materials for 10 bucks. After all, you don’t want to receive a gooey mess in July, do you?

Except plastic gift cards don’t melt like chocolate. Oops.

A bit frustrated, I filled in the on-line form for Questions and explained the dilemma. I wanted to order, but…and I went off to walk the dog, grumbling under my breath that:

  1. I would probably not hear from anyone in a timely fashion;
  2. Any response would likely be some canned apology with no resolution;
  3. I was going to have to abandon the shopping cart and go buy something else.

Wrong, wrong, WRONG, you overly cynical consumer from New Jersey!

While still out strolling with my black lab Mystic, I received an e-mail from a “Chocolate Concierge” named Anna. In that message, she apologized for the problem (and promised to alert the web team so that it can be fixed), and provided two avenues whereby we could complete the process, including a direct phone call. Speed and a pathway forward – problem solved. Customer happy.

I’ve talked up and given away Vosges chocolate bars in the past, but now they’ve really won my heart. How’s your responsiveness? Is it personal, and fast, and blog-worthy like Vosges’ is?

Well-played, Anna and Vosges. That’s some pretty sweet customer service!

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How’s your message? Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy!

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Cattle Disguised as People

Yesterday, I had the displeasure of going to a pharmacy and being treated as a non-human.

Walking up to the window with a prescription, the person behind the counter, busy inputting something-or-other into a computer, barely registered any recognition of my existence. Now I understand the desire to complete a task before moving on the next one, but to make no eye contact, to give no greeting, to not say (with a smile) “just a minute, please, sir, while I get this finished up, then I’ll be right with you.” – nothing?

I’m a person, a customer, not cattle. What a contrast from my recent experience being in the more hospitable South.

When it was finally my turn to exist, the person behind the counter, without even looking up into my face, extended his hand as the signal that he was now ready to process my paperwork. Not serve a customer. Not be an ambassador of good for the company. Just take on the next task, which happened to be me. Totally de-humanizing.

Yes, jobs can be repetitive and boring (read this article: Confessions of a former TSA agent). It can be tempting to treat customers as objects, particularly when those customers have no other options. But you can be outstanding – either as someone who brightens another’s day, or someone who darkens it. As we all seemed to conclude in last night’s #LeadershipChat, hire for passion and attitude – skill can be imparted. And fire the bad apples quickly!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

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LinkedIn Listens, Reconsiders

After two volatile days of negative user reaction, LinkedIn has reconsidered its plan to use the names and pictures of members in third-party advertising.

I had no earthly idea, when putting up this blog post on Wednesday morning (which, 2 days later, has now been viewed 200,000+ times), that such a firestorm would be the result. Nor did I think that LinkedIn would take such prompt action. What we’ve been telling people all these years about the power of social networks? – well, it’s true! :>)

While it’s too soon to fully gain perspective on all this, because it is now hitting national and international media outlets, it’s not too soon to dispel misconceptions that may occur. So…

1. Lest anyone think I have it in for LinkedIn – some kind of vendetta – I don’t. I was a very early adopter and have been a (paying) Premium member for years. My outpost there, including managing several groups, is substantial. I actually like LinkedIn a lot – I’m sure that fueled my sense of disappointment about the new policy.

2. LinkedIn didn’t change course this week because some semi-obscure blogger in NJ “blew the whistle.” They did it because they listened to the sentiments of thousands of their customers. It was smart of users to speak their minds, and very smart of LinkedIn to pay heed.

3. I fully embrace the fact the we make a conscious choice to give up a lot of privacy when engaging in social networks. However, experience continues to show that people have a visceral and negative reaction to these two things:

- the use of their name and face for promotion by someone else in uncontrolled or unapproved circumstances

- forced opt-in at maximum exposure levels when privacy policies are changed

It doesn’t matter if technical, under-the-radar notification is given. What may be legally defensible is not always professionally and personally palatable. Companies really need to not only ask themselves, “can we get away with this?” – but also, “how will this be perceived?” Perception is reality – especially in privacy issues.

4. One person can make a difference – as part of a network. The alert came to me from one unexpected source (in my pharmaceutical network), and once I tossed it up in a quick blog post, it spread like wildfire via another part of my social network.

Kudos to LinkedIn for reacting so quickly. I hope other social platforms will learn the lesson about respecting customers first. As we’ve seen this week – it matters. A whole lot.

(Image credit – Travis Isaacs on Flickr)

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (personal or company Brand Therapy)

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Twitter: @swoodruff | @ConnectionAgent

Interview: Becky Carroll on Rockin’ Customer Service

If you don’t yet know Becky Carroll, you definitely should. She is one of the first bloggers I discovered 4-5 years ago in the marketing/social media space, and her Customers Rock! blog is well-known as a destination for all things customer service.

She’s also a really nice gal. We’ve collaborated on projects, spoken at an event together – I even had lunch with Becky and her family while staring at the Pacific Ocean in southern California (where she resides).

Becky’s just-released book, The Hidden Power of Customers, is a guidebook for any business that wants to put customers – especially existing customers – front-and-center in their business growth plan. And that should be – well, EVERY business.

Pardon the minor hiccup in 2/3 of the way through the interview when we had a connectivity blip. You’ll see a rather abrupt lighting change…!

Be sure to pick up a copy of Becky’s book today! (note: not an affiliate link. I have no financial interest in sales of this book).

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